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The Never-ending Road

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Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, but loving someone deeply gives you courage.
--Lao Tzu

PART ONE: The Chamber of Secrets

Summer lay thick across Hogwarts, the sunlight like butter. Hagrid was reporting a record number of bowtruckle births; Sprout had gone to holiday in Egypt; Minerva was up to her whiskers in preparations for the upcoming term. Dumbledore spent the time being inscrutable and mysterious, but that was so typical of him it was hardly worth remarking.

Severus was enjoying a castle free from impossibly shrill little nitwits, grading, and everything that encompassed that most loathed of career pastimes, teaching. He avoided the staff room lest Minerva try corralling him into something bureaucratic and because Flitwick was revising his syllabi again. With the optimist’s incurable daftness, he could never comprehend that Severus would never do more as a professor than the minimum required. He was still using the same syllabus he’d drafted at twenty-one, which he’d drawn up a week before classes were due to start. The little buggers could learn something from it, or not, as they chose.

But today, the beatific absence of students wasn’t enough to ensure his mood was fit for human consumption: Dumbledore had finally selected a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Like the eleven times before, he’d called Severus up to his office, to ply him with tea and sweets and sour them with the news that, once again, he’d passed over Severus’s application in favor of some rank new fathead.

And this time, the selection was worse than usual.

“Gilderoy Lockhart?” There wasn’t a curse in any language Severus knew, magical or Muggle, that could possibly convey the depths of his loathing and revulsion. He said as much.

“Well,” Dumbledore said with a meekness that Severus didn’t believe for a second, “after what happened with the last applicant, I thought perhaps it would be best to choose someone whom it seemed very unlikely that Tom would possess. Jam doughnut, Severus?”

Severus ignored the doughnuts, which had pink icing on top and what looked like raspberry jam inside. A single bite would probably put him in a sugar coma, he thought longingly.

“And if he pops off, it’s no great loss,” he said as snidely as he could manage.

“Now, Severus,” Dumbledore said, but Severus fancied his heart wasn’t in it. How could it be? They were talking about Gilderoy Lockhart.

“The man is an eyesore,” Severus said. “Literally. He wears sequins.”

“I have a fondness for sequins myself,” Dumbledore said, his mustache twitching. His robes today were a deep twilight purple, embroidered with a glittering constellation map. Capricorn shimmered on his right sleeve, Lyra on his shoulder.

“Staff meetings should be very entertaining,” Severus said. “I can picture Minerva’s face even now.”

Dumbledore smiled, but then it faded, and his gaze drifted to settle on the logs crackling in the grate. The fire whited out his irises. Severus remembered a time when Dumbledore hadn’t fires in the summer. He was getting older.

The sleeping Heads of Hogwarts watched them from the corners of their drooping eyes. One day the man sitting in front of him would be up there, pretending to doze. Severus was always rather surprised by how much he didn’t like to think about it. He wondered if Dumbledore’s portrait would be half as clever, conniving and uncomfortably insightful as the real thing.

If Dumbledore died before he’d made an end of the Dark Lord, they had better hope so.

“Have you felt anything?” Dumbledore asked, his eyes so clear and bright it almost hurt to look at them.

The fire popped. Severus’s left forearm prickled with awareness, though not with the burning-cold ripple of primordial magic. He did not rub the Mark, but it took effort. “Nothing as yet.”

“Well.” Dumbledore sat back in his armchair, pressing his long fingers tip to tip. “It does seem too soon, after only two months . . . ”

Severus remembered the crumpled ruin of Quirrell’s body, the hole in the back of his head, the gory mess of his ruptured face, and felt the urge to smile. But he repressed it. Dumbledore would only become grave and say they should never cease to mourn the passing of their enemies, which was the kind of noble, maudlin rot Severus had no patience for.

“How do you think he fled?” he asked.

“I believe him to be something between spirit and corporeal, at this point.”

Severus wondered how the bastard had survived in the first place. Dumbledore, he knew, had his theories, but he was mysterious and inscrutable about them, the old bugger.

“He can hardly dominate England without a body,” he pointed out.

“No,” Dumbledore agreed. “He cannot. Which means that one day, he will need one. What form do you think he will take?”

“What are you asking?” Severus said. “Whether I think he’ll return as a giant centipede?”

Dumbledore’s mustache twitched again, but he asked calmly, “Is it your belief that Lord Voldemort—”

“Don’t,” Severus said, his voice jagged and brittle, “say his name.”

Dumbledore opened his mouth, but then closed it again. His eyes showed a terrible compassion, and Severus loathed it.

“Forgive me, my dear boy. Do you think Tom will possess a body, as he did this time?”

Severus forced himself to think of the Dark Lord, not as he’d been two months ago, a sickly, grotesque imprint on the back of a fool’s head, but as the wizard who had branded the Dark Mark into his forearm. The Dark Lord’s face had been as white as bone, his eyes tinged with red, like blood on the water, his hair curling and dark like loam.

Do you give me your devotion, Severus? Do you swear to me your loyalty? Do you offer me your soul?

Even then, it had seemed like love twisted into something it should never become; should never become, but could transform into so easily.

“That was a means to an end,” Severus said as the memory washed away like the light of a dying fire. “Quirrell . . . was weak. The Dark Lord would have used and despised him, and discarded him in the end, no matter what end it came to. He would consider no one truly worthy of holding him.”

“That is my belief, too,” Dumbledore murmured. “He will want his own form again.”

“There are ways to construct that. I can think of several without even trying.”

Dumbledore gave him one of his Looks, although Severus couldn’t tell whether it was meant to be stern, solemn, or approving. Necromancy was one of the Darker branches of Dark magic, something Dumbledore disapproved of exponentially, but there weren’t many in his circles of goodness and light whom he could discuss it with.

“How many other of his followers would know?” he asked Severus, who shrugged.

“Not many. Bellatrix. Lucius could find out without much effort, although study,” of anything not under a skirt, he added privately, “was never one of his interests. But the Dark Lord will know—he’ll only need to find a follower willing to assist.”

“And of those who escaped Azkaban, how many . . . ?”

“Of those who escaped Azkaban, none,” Severus said flatly. “But you had better hope Bellatrix stays locked up.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed. “We had better.”

Then he smiled. It didn’t look like a forced effort, although Severus didn’t see how it could be genuine. “Well! Thank you, my boy, for your estimable insight. That is enough of darkness for one afternoon, I think.”

Severus thought he left the rest unspoken: There will be long days and nights of it to come.

“Have you written a new syllabus yet?” Dumbledore asked, a low-level twinkle glimmering in his left eye.

“Not since 1981,” Severus said, unabashed. “And I won’t, until the students become any less moronic.”

“Now, Severus—even you occasionally find the will to acknowledge that one of your students is very nearly intelligent. What about Miss Granger? Young Harriet Potter’s friend.”

And there it was. Severus had known they would come to it eventually. Dumbledore hadn’t mentioned the girl all summer, not since she’d climbed aboard the train with all the other foul little miscreants, but Severus had known it was a state of forbearance that couldn’t last. Well, he wasn’t going to take the bait. He wasn’t going to be tricked, cajoled, or entreated into sharing his thoughts about that girl. Dumbledore had tried again and again, all last year, and Severus had always managed to coolly deflect—

What do you think of Harriet, Severus? You had your first class with her today, I think?

He could still see it—that class—it was always disconcerting to meet the first years for the first time, to see how young they were; to fight off the rush of memories of being that young and not knowing into what dark and treacherous thickets the future would wind. The wizarding world was so small, it was always full of the same faces in different incarnations . . . but that class . . . Draco’s white-blond hair and eager smirk, a little carbon copy of Lucius, and the girl . . .

The first thing he’d thought—the first time he’d seen her, beneath the flickering brilliance of the banquet candles—he’d thought Potter with a rush of loathing so powerful, it had churned in his stomach, a physical presence. She had the same sloppy hair, the same thin face; and the glasses and shapeless school robes created the androgynous illusion of a small James Potter returned from the dead to remind Severus of everything he’d feared and witnessed come to pass.

The feeling had rushed back in Potions class the next morning at the sight of that thin, Potter-like face and the name on the roster. He’d located the girl in the dank gloom of his dungeon, stared at her with naked hatred, he was sure, and she’d gazed back with wide, nervous eyes, not backing down but somehow making herself smaller, as if she was trying to preserve her dignity and her safety at the same time. Potter had never looked at him like that. Potter never would have. Potter had been smug and superior and would never have seen the need to shrink in on himself. He had never known what it felt like.

Severus knew that need. He understood it. And he’d remembered that somewhere, behind the mop of black hair and the ugly glasses, were Lily’s eyes, staring fearfully at him, the way she never would have done. She had stared at him in disbelief, in loathing, in contemptuous indifference, but never in fear. She never would have lowered herself to fear him.

This was all that was left of her, this wide-eyed little girl with horrible glasses, sitting in his Potions class. This was what he had given his future, since he was twenty-one, to protect: this little amalgam of two people whom he’d killed, with Lily-eyes and Potter-hair.

What do you think of Harriet, Severus?

She was the last of Lily, and he’d sworn to protect her. That was all he knew. It was all he needed to know.

He hated children, anyway.

“Miss Granger,” he said now to Dumbledore, in his sun-bright study—and he tacked on a sneer, to do the thing properly, “is not as big a dunderhead as most of the little monsters, I’ll grant you, but she lacks originality. She’s also too hungry for praise.”

Dumbledore looked amused. “Surely this isn’t coming from the Head of Slytherin?”

“She shouldn’t be so damned obvious about it.”

Dumbledore’s beard twitched in that way that suggested he was smiling broadly. “But she’s not so easy to crush, I think?”

“I wish she were,” Severus groused, envisioning six long years made even longer by the overzealous length of Granger’s essays.

“Miss Potter can only benefit from having a friend of such tenacious spirit,” Dumbledore said. “Raspberry scone, Severus? You haven’t touched the desserts at all.”

Something in the corner behind Dumbledore’s desk gargled what sounded like a death rattle.

“Your phoenix looks about ready to drop dead,” he said, grabbing a scone and crumbling it.

“Burning Day is almost upon him,” Dumbledore said. “But,” he rose from his armchair, delicately knocking crumbs off his beard, “he does need some help feeding, at this point—thank you for reminding me, my boy.”

Severus was saved from replying by the house-elf that cracked into the office clutching a standard-sized Muggle-looking envelope.

“A letter for Master Head Professor Dumbledore, sir,” squeaked the house-elf, bowing low and thrusting the envelope above its head.

“Would you take that, Severus?” Dumbledore asked, bending over his phoenix.

The elf held up the plain white paper envelope as if it were an offering to a prince of ancient Persia. Severus took it and, with the same wrist, flicked the elf’s dismissal.

“It’s Muggle post,” Severus said, turning it over as the elf vanished. He stared at the return address. “From . . . Miss Granger.”

The familiar sight of her tidy handwriting made his eyes ache. Too many bloody essays. He vowed to deduct an entire letter grade the next time she went a quarter of a centimeter over the required length.

“Miss Granger?” Dumbledore truly sounded surprised. “I would have thought she possessed an owl. Well, we live to be contradicted. Open it, Severus, would you, and read it out to me?”

Severus tore off the end of the envelope, blew the thing open, and unfolded the letter. Halfway through the first paragraph, he crushed the empty envelope. He was almost surprised by his own vehemence. He wouldn’t have thought he cared this much.

“Severus?” said Dumbledore.

“I knew it,” Severus said. He continued reading the letter to the end even as he snarled, “I bloody knew it.”

“Knew what, my boy?”

“Petunia,” Severus said, hearing the venom in his own voice over the echo of hers in his memory. You’re freaks that’s what you are “Once she knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that the girl was a witch, all her old hatred and jealousy would return. I told you.”

He really had said it, once he’d muddled through the opening stages of his grief. He’d pictured Lily’s face if she knew her child had been handed over to her magic-hating sister, the one who despised her own ordinariness so much she couldn’t bear anyone else to be special; and the despair of knowing that Lily would never know what had happened had blocked out every other thought, including his embryonic consideration for the infant itself, until he had all but forgotten about her. At least, he hadn’t remembered in any immediate way. Sometimes her existence would bob to the surface of his thoughts, like flotsam stirred by the sea; but the daily currents of life had always pushed her away again, into the depths of his remorse and self-hatred.

Dumbledore rustled back over to the armchairs. “Severus, if something had happened to Harriet, I should know,” he said, with something so like gentleness that Severus saw red beyond the garish Gryffindor crimson tainting the room.

“Oh?” he hissed. “‘Sir, Harriet hasn’t answered any of my letters, nor any of Ron’s. I must have written to her twenty times and told her over and over how worried I was, but I haven’t received a single letter and Ron wrote me that Harriet had received a letter from the Improper Use of Magic Office for an unauthorized Hovering Charm and I’m more worried than ever because we haven’t even covered Hovering Charms, as they’re not till this year—’”

He broke off, his eyes narrowing at some telling flicker of emotion in Dumbledore’s face. “You knew about the letter from the Ministry.”

“My friends there keep me reasonably well-informed, yes,” Dumbledore said composedly.

“Well?” Severus brandished Granger’s letter at him. “And how well-informed are you about this?”

“You believe Petunia Dursley is refusing to let Harriet communicate with her friends?”

It sounded petty and exactly like Petunia, and the small nature of the offense made his anger seem ludicrous. He knew that. But he remembered the girl at the Sorting Feast, her hair cut short and horrible, wearing those ugly plastic glasses, smiling like she expected to be told to stop, eating like she expected to have the food taken away from her, and the decades-old echo of Petunia’s words had run through his head: “You and that Snape boy, you’re freaks, that’s what you are—it’s good you’re being kept away from normal people, for our safety.” He would never have put it past her to drill the same vindictive trash into the girl’s head, but it had only taken one look to tell him that Petunia had sunk even further than he’d imagined.

It had been a long time since he’d been surprised by what cruelty any one person was capable of. And he bullied children on a regular basis.

“I wouldn’t put it past Petunia to burn the letters in front of her.”

Severus couldn’t define Dumbledore’s expression, but it reminded him of being nine years old and wishing he had never told Lily that he hated going home.

“What would you have me do, Severus?” Dumbledore asked, his tone inscrutable.

“Threaten Petunia,” he said without a trace of irony. “Or let me do it.” Oh yes; he would enjoy that . . . he’d never been able to threaten Petunia the way he’d wanted . . . he’d always had to hold off. . .

Dumbledore gazed across his study at a closed cabinet, the doors of which were carved in a raised pattern of vines. In there, he kept photographs of members of the Order, personal snapshots that they’d sent him. He had one of Lily. Severus knew it was there, but he’d never looked at it. He was sure she would be standing in the circle of Potter’s arms, perhaps even on her wedding day.

It shouldn’t still have hurt, but it did. He despised himself for feeling it. He wished he could crush the ache that flickered inside him every time he set eyes on her daughter, but not once last year had he been able to.

“Yes,” Dumbledore said slowly. “Yes, I think you should go.”

At first, Severus was sure his ears were deceiving him. “What?”

Dumbledore looked at him, as bright and unreadable as a one-way mirror. “You should go to the Dursleys.”

Severus stared, then picked up his cup and looked pointedly down into it. “What was in this tea?”

“An update from Miss Potter would not go amiss.”

Severus set the tea cup down hard. “You’re not afraid I’ll relapse?” he said bitingly. “It wasn’t too long ago it was my job to threaten people in their homes.”

Dumbledore’s gaze was calm and deep, like the lake at midday. “I think that was a long time ago, my boy."

Some things will never be long enough, whispered a cold voice inside Severus.

“You’ve never permitted me to even know where they live.” He felt perversely determined to show Dumbledore why he shouldn’t give Severus what he wanted. Why he should keep Severus away from the temptation of being cruel to someone he despised.

“I trust you, Severus,” Dumbledore said.

The words were like a chain.

You should never trust a Slytherin, Headmaster. “The address?”

Dumbledore told him.

As Severus wound down the twisting staircase, he found himself wondering if Lily had told her sister what he’d done to destroy their friendship.

He found himself hoping she had told Petunia everything. 


 

“Maybe I should give myself a prison tattoo,” Harriet said. “What do you think?”

Hedwig fluffed her feathers.

“Fluff them this much for yes”—Harriet held her thumb and forefinger a couple of centimeters apart, then widened the gap—“this much for no.”

Hedwig tucked her head under her wing.

“That’s less than helpful, you know,” Harriet said, stroking her fingers over Hedwig’s head. Her owl hooted moodily.

“I know,” Harriet sighed. “I’m sorry, I really am.”

They were locked up in the Dursleys’ smallest bedroom, with extra bolts on the door and bars on the window. Technically Hedwig was supposed to be trapped in her cage, but Harriet had picked the lock with a broken quill nub she’d found in her jeans pocket. She couldn’t let Hedwig out to fly—the stench of owl droppings said that, if nothing else—but she could at least let her out of her cage.

“I dunno how I’d make one, anyway,” she said, petting Hedwig, whose talons were clamped onto Harriet’s footboard. Harriet hoped they were leaving marks, and that Aunt Petunia wouldn’t find out until after Harriet was safely concealed on Platform 9 ¾.

But then she looked at the bars and the way they cut up the sky and remembered Uncle Vernon’s purple, piggy face looming close to hers, hissing, “You’re never going back to that school . . . and if you try to magic your way out, they’ll expel you . . . ”

“I know what it would be, though,” Harriet said dully. “Hogwarts. A nice remember-me-by, since I’ll probably never see it again.”

Hedwig gave her a peevish, yellow-eyed look, as if to say, Please, are you being melodramatical again? Although it might have been, It’s all your fault if we don’t. Maybe even: Not to mention that we haven’t had a proper meal since they locked us in here.

Their last meal had been a bowl of stone-cold tinned soup. Harriet had given Hedwig most of the soggy vegetables, since Hedwig was the more innocent one of the two of them. Although it hadn’t been Harriet who had smashed the pudding and brought the owl swooping in to terrify that stupid Mrs. Mason; it had been that bloody house-elf.

Dobby. Just Dobby. Dobby the house-elf. That’s how he’d introduced himself. He’d given Harriet the peculiar experience of not only meeting him—which had been very peculiar—but also of feeling sorry for someone at the same time you’d gladly have wrung their little green neck. She’d thought she had it bad at the Dursleys until she met Dobby . . .

Hah. That meant more than one thing, now.

She’d pestered Hedwig with questions and theories about Dobby and what he could have been about. A great danger at Hogwarts? What could that be? How did he know? Why would he go to the trouble of trying to warn and protect Harriet, who’d never, of course, met him before?

Hedwig had no contributions to make besides ruffling her feathers and going to sleep, but Harriet didn’t have anything else to do or anyone else to talk to. At least now, though, she had no one to talk to because she was shut up in Privet Prison and not because she didn’t have any friends. Dobby had been the one hoarding her letters.

Hermione and Hagrid and Ron must be worried. At least, she hoped they were, because then she might not be left here to rot. Maybe Hermione would figure it out somehow . . . or find Harriet, somehow . . . or let a teacher know . . . although Harriet wasn’t sure the school could do anything if her legal guardians wanted to keep her here . . .

She was just imagining Hermione finding her bleached bones lying on the floor of the Dursleys’ smallest bedroom when she heard the floor outside her bedroom door creak. Was it time for dinner already? Her stomach ached with hunger, so hard she felt nauseous. She’d been smelling Aunt Petunia’s roast chicken for what felt like hours. Not that she’d get any of it, that was for sure.

She sat up straight when something outside the door went clickickickickick.

The locks were being undone all at once.

She stood up from the bed, staring—and then took a step back when the last lock wrenched open so hard that pieces of wood flaked to the carpet and the door banged inward.

Hunger must be making her delirious, because the dark shape filling the doorway looked like Professor Snape.

The Snape-delirium stepped into the room, his face locked down in rage. Harriet had never seen him this angry—she’d never seen anyone this angry—but she was pretty impressed with her imagination, because this Snape looked damn scary.

His eyes moved across the room like they wanted to peel it apart. Over the crooked wardrobe, the drab wallpaper, her messy bed, her desk with Hedwig’s dropping-covered cage. His expression flickered when it scanned past her, but he spent a lot more time glaring at Hedwig’s cage than he did looking at Harriet. Her imagination was probably drawing on what it knew: Snape had almost completely ignored her all last year.

Then he turned away. Her heart jumped, thinking he was leaving, because even if it was just her going crazy, Snape was a part of Hogwarts, of magic, and she missed all that so terribly.

But he wasn’t leaving. He was looking down at the cat flap in the door, where Aunt Petunia had pushed her food through.

When he turned back, the expression on his face made Harriet’s skin tingle with cold.

For a moment, he looked straight at her, in a way that was so fierce it was almost like hatred.

“Where are your things?” he asked. It was just like class: he spoke just above a whisper, but you heard every single word. They cut into your ears like winter.

“Erm . . . my school things?” Her voice came out thin and high. When he just stared at her in that fierce, unnerving way, she said, “Er—downstairs in the cupboard under the stairs.”

“Get whatever you need out of this room and come with me.”

You didn’t ask Professor Snape Why, you just did what he said. She stuffed her few blouses, trousers, socks and knickers into her old Muggle rucksack (trying to block the knickers from Snape’s sight), and then went to coax Hedwig into her cage. Except Snape was in the way, standing between her desk and the bed, looking out the window. At the bars.

He didn’t say anything, and Harriet didn’t either. She just coaxed Hedwig onto her arm, glad she’d thought to pull on a windbreaker when Hedwig’s talons prickled her through the nylon.

Snape picked up Hedwig’s cage and swept out, the hem of his robes slithering into the silence.

Silence . . .

Harriet followed him into the hall, straining her ears. She could hear the telly going downstairs, playing a car commercial, but she didn’t hear any real voices or movement. The smell of gravy and rosemary from Aunt Petunia’s cooking hung thick on the landing. Her mouth watered painfully and her stomach ached with sickness and longing.

Professor Snape had magicked open the cupboard door and hauled out her trunk, and was bent down looking inside the cupboard as if to check that was all she had.

“It should all be there,” she said. “Erm. Sir. I haven’t been in it since school was over.”

“Very well.” Snape slammed the cupboard door so hard it seemed to shake the house. Harriet winced.

When he moved to pick up her trunk, she saw the Dursleys.

They were sitting at the dining room table, eating dinner. Aunt Petunia had knocked over her wine glass, and it had spilled across the table and run over the edge onto the carpet. It had happened so recently that the wine was still dripping off the table onto the floor.

It was the spreading stain and the fact that Aunt Petunia wasn’t moving to clean it up that chilled Harriet the most.

She stepped slowly past Snape, fully into the room. The Dursleys’ eyes followed her—their wide, locked-open eyes. Dudley’s fork was stuck in his mouth, his hand glued to the handle. Aunt Petunia’s hand was caught in mid-air where it must have struck her glass. Uncle Vernon was twisted half around in his chair, as if he’d been about to rise when Snape had frozen him. He’d frozen all of them.

The tinny laughter on the telly jangled in the silence.

Harriet met all the Dursleys’ eyes, one by one as she walked up to the table. She didn’t say anything, and they couldn’t.

Then she grabbed a leg of chicken off the platter in the center and said coolly, “See you next summer.”

Back in the hall, she found Snape standing with the front door open, his bottomless black eyes glittering.

“Come.” His voice was so cold, the edge of it burned.

Harriet stuck the drumstick between her teeth, steadied Hedwig, and followed him out the door.

Chapter Text

Severus shrank the girl’s trunk, Scourgified the cage (although even that didn’t improve it much, it was so filthy), and told her set free the owl.

“Why?” she asked, Lily’s eyes wide behind the most hideous spectacles Severus had ever seen. Round and enormous, with clear plastic frames—Petunia must have picked them for her precisely because they were so ugly.

“I’m not Apparating with your familiar,” he told her. “She can find her own way to Hogwarts.”

The girl hesitated but then did as she was told, stroking the bird’s snowy feathers and whispering to it. The bird treated him to a yellow-eyed, impertinent stare. Then it nipped the girl on the ear, spread its wings, and took off into the gloaming sky.

“What’s Apparating?” the girl asked.

“You’ll soon find out.” He held out his arm. “Hold on.”

Lily’s eyes flickered from his arm to his face, and then the girl rested her fingertips so lightly on his forearm, it was little more pressure than a butterfly’s weight.

“More tightly than that,” he ordered. “My arm doesn’t bite.”

With an expression that said she was only doing this because it was better than being locked up in her bedroom, she gingerly wound her fingers in his sleeve.

He sighed, shook her off, and gripped her wrist. Then without a word of warning, he Apparated.

Hogwarts slammed into sight like the rushing tide, the golden light of the setting sun knifing long across the grass, burnishing the towers and turrets. The girl gasped like she’d been underwater for too long.

“You could’ve warned me!” she said indignantly, but then darted a wary look up at his face. “Sir,” she said, a bit sulkily.

He probably could had. “This way,” he said, ignoring her glower, and strode toward the gates. At the motion of his wand, their locks slithered open like vines growing in reverse.

He felt her annoyance with him draining away as they climbed the path to the castle. He had to force himself to slow down and not leave her behind. She looked excited, hardly daring to hope, but also sickly and exhausted. He thought of the cat flap in the door, the rank smell of the room, of bird droppings and unwashed bodies, and had to recite the instructions for the Draught of Living Death step-by-step so as not to outpace her and descend upon the Headmaster’s office to rip it apart from carpet seams to vaulted ceiling.

Severus, if anything had happened to Miss Potter, I would know—

Oh, how Dumbledore owed him for letting those human shitstains live . . . for walking out of the house without doing anything worse than freeze and terrify them. . . Locks on the door, bars on the windows, and that little cat flap for pushing food through—

The Draught of Living Death wasn’t complicated enough. He tried to remember the Wolfsbane, a werewolf prophylactic whose preliminary findings had only been released last month. He’d been following the progress of that one ever since the early stages were announced ten years ago. It was fiddly and dreadful and potentially lethal, and took three days of brewing to complete. Once he had the ingredients’ list and instructions memorized, he’d have minutes of anger management on hand.

He glanced down at the girl to make sure she was still following as he mounted the great staircase. Would Pomfrey be in the staff room trying to prescribe Minerva analgesics, or would she have retired to her infirmary in a huff after Minerva refused them like an angry cat?

The former, he found when he swept the girl into the empty infirmary.

“In,” he said shortly when she lingered reluctantly in the corridor.

“I’m not sick,” she said.

“That is for the matron to decide.” When she replied with a look that mingled obstinacy and uncertainty, he said, “Tell me what was the last full meal you had, and when.”

“Er. . .” She looked down at her hands, clearly intending to count on her fingers while trying to be subtle about it. A Ravenclaw might as well try to say three sentences in a row without using “thus.”

“That should not have been a difficult question to answer.” He pointed inside the vacant hospital wing, with its rows of pristine beds glowing white and gold in the light of the setting sun.

The girl flushed. “It wasn’t my fault,” she said, but she slouched into the room and sullenly permitted him to stare her to a chair close to Pomfrey’s office.

No child deserves to be starved as a punishment, he thought, but he didn’t say it. Instead, he said, “House-elf.”

The girl’s eyes widened before one of Hogwarts’ elves answered. When it appeared, she stared as if fascinated. She was surprised but not shocked. He filed this unexpected discrepancy away for mulling over later.

The house-elf bowed to him without speaking. All the Hogwarts’ elves had quickly learned that if Severus called them, it meant he wanted something and they didn’t need to ask pointless questions or deliver empty greetings.

“Bring me a bowl of rice gruel, adding no spices or flavors but salt. And fetch Madam Pomfrey—and Professor McGonagall—from wherever they might be. Tell them why.” He considered asking the elf to bring Dumbledore as well, but he wanted to rage at the old man in private before he saw the girl, to maximize the impact. If Dumbledore could be made to feel guilty. Sometimes, Severus wondered.

The elf bowed again and cracked away.

“I told you, I’m not sick,” said the girl, but she was staring at the place the elf had stood and seemed more curious than mulish. “There’s a house-elf at Hogwarts?”

“There are over a hundred,” Severus said. “Even a magical castle doesn’t clean itself.”

Now she was frowning at the spot the elf had stood. “Are any of them named Dobby? The elves, I mean.”

Severus stared. “Dobby? You’ve met a house-elf named Dobby?”

Her eyes flickered up to his face again, and he saw the moment her curiosity retreated behind a shield of wariness, like a film of ice spreading across a pond. She shrugged, an overly nonchalant motion.

For the love of—children were so bloody annoying, whether they were Lily’s or not.

A small platter winked into existence on one of the little swinging tables meant for bed-ridden patients. Although it seemed outside the realm of possibility for house-elves not to adhere to the letter, he conjured a spoon and tasted the gruel. Adequately tasteless, although they’d included a pink and white orchid in a vase.

“That’s nice,” the girl said, touching the orchid.

“Drink that,” he said, vanishing his spoon, “and if you can keep it down, you may eat again in a couple of hours.”

She glowered but reached for the bowl. As he’d suspected, she couldn’t finish half of it.

“Don’t force it or you’ll be ill,” he told her as the infirmary doors clattered open and Pomfrey rustled in, followed by Minerva, who had her mouth pressed into a line so thin and hard, it could have cut diamond.

“Severus,” she said, undercurrents of wrath in her voice, “there had better be a good explanation for . . . ”

She trailed off as she got a good look at the girl. Pomfrey had already swooped in, diagnostic spells unspooling from the tip of her wand in red and blue trails.

“Gracious Rowena,” Pomfrey said, taking the girl’s pulse. “You’re not fevered, at least,” she added, peering into the girl’s red, mortified face.

Since Minerva wouldn’t be likely to pack her off without a due injunction from Dumbledore, Severus figured the girl would be safe enough in the infirmary. “The Headmaster?” he said shortly.

“He left for Hagrid’s after dinner,” Minerva said. “I needn’t ask where you were.”

“Clearly not,” he said, and left them: Pomfrey grimly officious, the girl protesting that she really wasn’t sick, and Minerva presiding. Hagrid would have been a better comforter. Both Pomfrey and Minerva were too no-nonsense, the sort to fuss with glares and sharp orders . . . rather like Severus himself.

Dumbledore was indeed at Hagrid’s, sitting outside on a sort of crude lawn chair that was about five times too big even for a man of his height. They were both smoking pipes, the sickly sweet smell curling into the descending twilight.

“Ah, Severus.” Dumbledore’s mustache moved in a way that suggested he was smiling, though his eyes did not twinkle at all. “How did you find Miss Potter?”

Severus had to count to ten in fractions of a quarter before he was able to answer. When he did, he could barely unclench his teeth.

“Pomfrey will no doubt be able to tell you when she’s done examining her.”

“Wha’?” said Hagrid, inhaling a wad of pipe tobacco. “Harry’s here?” he asked once he’d cleared his nose and wiped his streaming eyes.

“In the infirmary,” Severus said, his gaze fixed on Dumbledore, who stared back at him through a curling haze of pipe smoke.

“Miss Potter has come a bit early to school this year,” Dumbledore said, his voice smiling now. “I’m sure she’d be delighted if you went up to say hello, Hagrid.”

“Righ’!” Hagrid pulled himself out of his chair. He spent a few moments crashing about inside his hut, and then re-emerged, his sleeves pulled down and sloppily buttoned, and loped off across the lawn.

“Won’t you have a seat, Severus?” Dumbledore asked, as if he was genuinely concerned.

Severus just watched him, feeling his fingers curling into claws like Minerva’s.

“I knew the moment you took her, of course,” Dumbledore said, peering over the top of his spectacles.

Severus had no doubt about that. He was fairly certain, too, that Dumbledore had been surprised, though not unprepared.

“Do you know what a cat flap is, Headmaster?” Severus asked softly.

Dumbledore didn’t blink, but a slight crease appeared between his bushy white eyebrows. “I’m afraid I don’t, dear boy.”

“Muggles install them in their doors to allow their cats access to closed rooms. They’re quite small.”

“Large enough to allow a cat to pass?”

“Precisely,” Severus said, even more softly. “Miss Potter had one into her bedroom—so Petunia could push the food in to her without undoing the five bolts on the door.”

Dumbledore did not move at first. Then he slowly lowered his pipe. Finally, finally, his eyes held a glint of something cold, like fury.

But “I see” was all he said.

“I told you.” Severus could feel his heartbeat in his throat, smell the room, hear the drip of the wine as it dribbled off the table onto the soft carpet. “All those years ago, Dumbledore, I told you—”

“Severus,” said Dumbledore, in a voice that was somehow both gentle and final, with a hint of warning that it might not be gentle for long if Severus continued to push. “I remember, dear boy. And I remember what I told you—”

“Then go see her,” Severus hissed, wishing he had the power to make Dumbledore flinch; but no one did, not even the Dark Lord. “Go up to that fucking infirmary and see her.”

He turned to leave, and then stopped and snarled over his shoulder, “And ask her about a house-elf named Dobby. Maybe she’ll tell you.”

Then he left to find something to smash.

It felt good to have a bath.

When Madam Pomfrey had told Harriet the date, she realized she’d only been locked up in her room for five days. She said only because it had felt much longer than that. They had let her out to use the bathroom morning and evening, but not allowed her time even for a shower; just a sponge-bath with a bowl of cold water, a hard bar of soap and a flannel pushed through the cat flap.

Now Harriet wallowed in the enormous infirmary bath, big enough that if she stretched out her arms to either side she was just short of touching the rims, where the water was so hot it steamed the air and turned her skin pink. The shampoo smelled like mint and the soap like honey.

How weird that she owed her current happiness to Professor Snape.

He was an odd bloke, Snape. Odd-looking and odd-acting, and not just today. Of course, today he’d been extra odd, but he was never what you’d call normal. He was definitely the meanest teacher in Hogwarts, and a couple of older Ravenclaws were doing a research study to determine if he was the meanest teacher in the world.

He’d never been mean to Harriet, though. On the first day of Potions class, when she had already been unnerved by the cold dungeons and pickled animal fetuses floating in jars along the backlit walls, he had looked up from his roster and glared at her, his eyes dark and cold like empty tunnels, and she’d forced herself to keep staring back. And his gaze had hardened, then flickered, and he had glanced away, moving on down the list to Dean Thomas.

He’d never really looked at her again—not during that class, not for the whole year. Whenever he would swoop around the dungeon berating the other students for their crappy potions, he went right past her. The only thing he ever wrote on her homework was the letter grade, and he always dropped the parchment on her desk instead of handing it to her. Although he unpleasantly surprised the Gryffindors with pop questions during class, he never once called on her (and always ignored Hermione’s hand, but with a different air than the one he used to ignore Harriet).

Harriet had been confused but grateful, though she’d also lived in dread of doing something that would confirm her as another Neville in his eyes, and then he’d call her a blithering worm-brain or an incompetent fathead and pick apart her failures. But Snape was never as nasty to the Gryffindor girls as he was to the boys. True, he had once told Lavender Brown that she would fail out of his class before the end of term if she couldn’t stop thinking about Myron Wagtail for two minutes together, and if Hermione answered a question when she hadn’t been called on he told her to stop being an overachieving show-off, but he let Harriet alone. She worked very hard to be let alone, using techniques she had perfected at the Dursleys to appear meek and insignificant. Of course, at the Dursleys’ her temper always spoiled it, and a time or two some of the things Snape said to Ron or Neville had made her steam, but Hermione always kicked her under the table before she could open her mouth and bugger things up.

And really, Snape was scarier than Uncle Vernon. Uncle Vernon was just mean and stupid; Snape was clever and really mean.

He’d also saved her life by counter-jinxing her broom when Quirrell had tried to kill her, and then refereed the next match to stop him from trying it again. But all the while, he’d barely seemed to care that she existed.

Now he’d shown up at the Dursleys’, hexed them immobile, and brought her to Hogwarts. It had a pretty strong flavor of rescue to it.

It was as weird as that visit from Dobby.

This was turning out to be a weird summer. It must be the Hogwarts influence, she thought contentedly. She was all right with her life being weird as long as it was connected to magic.

She checked her toes and found them very pruney. Also, the water was now only warm, not steaming hot. It was probably time to get out.

Someone had hung a nightdress and dressing gown from a hook on the wall and laid out a fluffy white towel stitched with the Hogwarts crest. A house-elf, maybe?

That’s right: Hogwarts had house-elves. If Dobby didn’t work here, maybe one of them would know how to find him. Harriet still had several things to ask him. Like what at Hogwarts could possibly be so dangerous to make a lifetime of imprisonment at Number Four worthwhile.

Especially when Dobby had said it didn’t have to do with Voldemort . . .

She pulled on the nightdress, wondering why Snape had been so surprised that she knew a house-elf named Dobby. He’d seemed specifically shocked about the name. Was it a weird name? A bad word in house-elfish? Or did he know a house-elf named Dobby?

Outside the steam-thick bathroom, the air in the infirmary felt thin and chilly. She shivered. Castles in the highlands weren’t exactly warm in summer. The stone was clean but cold beneath her bare feet.

It was nighttime now, and the high windows that lined the ward were black and glimmering. In a wide pool of lemony lamplight sat Professor Dumbledore, reading a book with a brightly painted, moving cover that showed a boy and a dragon sailing a boat on an ocean.

“Professor?” Harriet said in surprise.

He looked up at her, bright-eyed and curious, and smiled. Or at least, she assumed he did; it was a bit hard to tell behind all the beard. But it moved in a smiling way.

“My dear girl, good evening,” he said, marking his place in the book and setting it in his lap. “Madam Pomfrey told me you were enjoying a much-deserved bath.”

“Yes, sir,” Harriet said. Her eyes went to a tray of food sitting on a table next to him. She wondered if he’d conjured it: the table had curling griffin’s feet, a blue tablecloth embroidered with shooting stars, and a centerpiece of yellow flowers that chimed softly like little bells.

“I don’t remember that being in the hospital wing before, sir,” she said, pointing at the table.

“Ah, no.” His smile widened. “I went a little overboard passing the time. I used to be the Transfigurations professor, did you know? Before the unparalleled Professor McGonagall joined us. I do miss the constant occasion to transfigure all manner of things, so I occasionally find ways to indulge myself.” He shook his long sleeve back from his hand, extending his wand. “What’s your favorite color, my dear?”

“Green,” Harriet said, surprised. Aunt Petunia hated it when she wore green. It was Slytherin’s color, too, but green couldn’t help that any more than her wand could help having the same kind of core as Voldemort’s.

Dumbledore drew a shape in mid-air, and a real armchair formed like a starburst, upholstered in a beautiful dark green that reminded Harriet of the color of the Forbidden Forest in the sunset that evening.

“Thank you, sir,” she said. The upholstery was the softest velvet she’d ever felt.

The smell of the food made her mouth water. More gruel (she grimaced), and rice, and thin strips of some kind of fish.

“Please,” Dumbledore said, gesturing. “I’m sure you must be hungry.” He smiled again, but Harriet thought she sensed something hiding behind it, as if there were several closed doors and a curtain between her and that extra emotion.

She felt awkward and embarrassed in a way she didn’t understand, just like she had all evening, with Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall looking grim and trading grown-up eye-messages over her head. The more she’d said she was fine, the grimmer they had looked.

“They feed me normally,” she said to Professor Dumbledore.

“I am glad to hear it,” he said, but somehow it made her want to hide. She busied herself with the rice and the soup, clinking her spoon noisily against the bowl to fill the silence.

“You might be wondering why I am here,” Dumbledore said a few moments later, all traces of that unsettling emotion gone. “Besides the indisputable enjoyment of your company, of course.”

Harriet paused like Dudley with her spoon stuck in her cheek. “I thought you sent Professor Snape to get me?”

“You are quite astute, my dear,” Dumbledore said. Harriet was sure she’d imagined the tiniest pause. “But did you not wonder why?”

“I thought maybe Hermione had done something,” Harriet admitted. “After Dobby told me he’d been stealing all my letters, I figured she’d know something was up, and she’s . . . she’s not really the do-nothing sort, Hermione, sir.”

“Yes, I had a letter from Miss Granger—by Muggle post, in fact. I take it she doesn’t have an owl? Surmising that our world has spies in the Muggle post is just the sort of redoubtable action I’m always delighted to encounter.”

If that wasn’t Hermione all over. Harriet wished she was one eighth as clever.

“Who is Dobby, by the way?” Dumbledore asked curiously.

“Oh—a house-elf. He came to warn me about some danger he said was at Hogwarts. Is he one of the castle elves?”

“I’m afraid I have never made the acquaintance of a house-elf named Dobby,” Dumbledore said. “At Hogwarts or elsewhere. But he sounds like the sort of chap I’d be most interested to meet. Did he tell you nothing about himself?”

She described Dobby’s ratty old pillowcase (which made the clothes she wore at the Dursleys look like they’d come from Harrods, although she didn’t tell Dumbledore that), and that his wizarding family was apparently horrid.

“. . . and he kept banging his head on things whenever he said something wrong, to punish himself,” she said, remembering Dobby beating himself with her desk lamp. “He said he was always having to do it—he was going to have to shut his ears in the oven door for coming to see me, even, and warning me—and his family let him and even told him to do more.”

She stopped, embarrassed again, but also hot with anger. But Dumbledore was looking grave and not smiling at all.

“The house-elf’s way of life is a form of enslavement so binding that it shapes the core of their very being,” Dumbledore said. “Many of our old families look upon it not as a sacred contract between wizard and elf, but as a right their magic grants them, and they abuse their power terribly. As a result, house-elves like this Dobby suffer greatly. You are right to dislike it.”

Harriet’s ears were burning. “He said it was even worse when Vol—sorry, You-Know-Who—”

“You may say the name, my dear,” Dumbledore said, his smile glimmering again before fading away.

“Well . . . Dobby said it was worse for house-elves when Voldemort was in power. He was glad he’s gone and came to warn me, he said, because he . . . liked me, I guess, for—you know,” she mumbled. It sounded so self-important to say for defeating him when she’d been so young she couldn’t even remember doing it—and in May, she’d just held on, literally, until the professors saved her.

“It sounds, my dear, that if Dobby risked detection and courted punishment to warn you, he must admire you greatly. And he would be right to,” Dumbledore said, making Harriet’s face and neck flame.

“He admired you, too, sir,” she mumbled.

“And yet it was to you that he came. Although he had never met you, he cared enough for you that he put himself at risk for you. It was a noble action, worthy of the greatest of us. Remember that, Harriet.”

Then he made a steeple of his fingers and gazed up at the dark ceiling, which Harriet was grateful for, because tears were prickling thickly at her eyes.

“Did Dobby tell you the nature of this danger?” Dumbledore asked, still staring into the shadows overhead.

“No.” Harriet blinked several times against the tears. She wasn’t going to cry, not today of all days, when she had everything to be happy about. “I asked him if it had to with Voldemort”—Dumbledore’s eyes fixed sharply on her face—“but he was really positive that it’s not.”

“Not to do with Lord Voldemort,” Dumbledore repeated. “He told you nothing more?”

“Well, he was acting like that was some kind of a clue, but he couldn’t get anything else out. He started having a fit when he tried. Then he wanted me to promise not to go to Hogwarts, and when I said I couldn’t . . . ” She told him about the smashed pudding, the letter from the Ministry, and a very glossy retelling of her punishment. She wondered how much Snape had told him.

Dumbledore followed alertly along, nodding when she was done. “You do know how to live, don’t you, my dear?” he said, eyes twinkling like the stars on his robes.

“Oh, no, sir,” Harriet said. “I like the quiet life.”

“In that case,” he said, “perhaps I shouldn’t have arranged for you to spend the remainder of the holiday with the Weasleys?”

Harriet was sure she couldn’t have heard right. She held her breath. “You did? Sir!”

“In fact,” he said, twinkling even more brightly, “Mrs Weasley was quite insistent that she have you in her sight this very night. She had a few suggestions on what she might to do me were I tardy, fates which put me rather in mind of your friend Dobby—”

Harriet dropped her spoon into her bowl. “I’m ready! I’ll get dressed—it’s not too late, is it? What time is it,s ir?”

“A quarter past eleven, but Mrs Weasley assured me she would wait all night,” he said. “While assuring me what she would do to me, were I so remiss . . . ”

“I’ll be quick!” Harriet promised, dashing away.

Against all expectations, this had turned out to be a pretty wonderful day after all.

For the first time in a month, Severus wished there were some students around. In his present state of temper, he would have loved to terrify a few of them into tears and dock a few hundred points for illicit snogging.

But without the little cretins to bully into submission, he had to resort to other methods. He withered a whole field of dusk-blooming violets, frightened a family of innocent voles in their burrow, insulted Filch (though not his cat, since he needed the caretaker as an ally), got into a bolt-shooting skirmish with Peeves, and rounded off his juvenile behavior by upsetting all of the birds in the owlery.

The girl’s snowy owl hadn’t turned up yet. Well, it had several hours of flying ahead of it and was probably glorying in its freedom, if owls did such things.

With these stresses taken out on the undeserving, he retreated to his quarters to indulge in a good brood.

The air of his dungeon was less stale at this time of year than usual, seeing as he’d been there for most of the summer. With the Dark Lord’s cameo in May, Dumbledore had asked Severus to be on hand for those times when he wanted to strain information from him. Severus got very little information in return, but he preferred a summer spent at Hogwarts with Dumbledore at his most cryptic to several weeks in dreary Cokeworth, even if it was much easier to get cigarettes at Spinner’s End.

He brooded over to the mantle. Years ago, Dumbledore had handed him a box of old photographs and asked if he wouldn’t deliver them to Minerva, as she had been asking after pictures of the Order from the old days. In it, Severus had found a recent photograph of Lily, sans Potter, Black, even her child. Of course, the box contained other photographs with her and some combination of the others, but he had slipped the Lily-only photo out before dumping the rest in Minerva’s lap. He kept it framed on the mantle, although he’d spelled it so that nobody but himself could see it.

“Your child is an ill-mannered brat,” he told her. She put her hands on her hips and gave him an arch look.

“But they all are,” he said, “and she has more reason than most.”

Far better reason than most . . .

The memory of Petunia’s face when she’d seen him standing in her dining-room returned to the fore, clear and sharp as Technicolor. She’d hated him from the first moment of their meeting as children but had never looked at him that way before. Lily had told her about him, then, all those years ago.

But he remembered her darting glance toward her son, her hand flashing out toward him, a silent, frantic communication of No. The boy had been staring at the flickering television, stuffing his face, not even realizing what was happening until Severus had frozen them all and he hadn’t been able to pull his spoon out of his mouth.

And Petunia’s eyes, so full of agony as she watched Severus’s wand . . .

There had never been much resemblance between her and Lily, but in that moment he’d wondered how similar their feelings had been in fear for their children. And then he’d gone upstairs and found the girl locked up, hollow-eyed and disbelieving, and even without Leglimency he’d wondered if her incredulity hadn’t come so much from the sight of him as from the possibility that someone would come help.

Unless someone went and performed the counterspell, the girl’s family would be trapped in his Immobulus until some time tomorrow, like mosquitoes in amber. It would be an uncomfortable and frightening time.

“They’re lucky to still be breathing,” he told Lily’s photograph. It gave him an inscrutable stare and then looked away. Well, why shouldn’t it? He was a cruel bastard.

Right now, he liked that about himself.

A small glass globe on the mantle glittered gold, signaling that Dumbledore was at the door to his quarters. “Come in,” he barked.

The headmaster rustled in, his robes twinkling in the lamplight like the sky on a clear night in winter.

“Good evening, my boy,” he said. “I hear you’ve been enjoying yourself. Was it you who dropped that old grandfather clock three stories onto Peeves’s head?”

Severus pushed away the memories of Petunia and her son, of Lily and her daughter, like winding up a skein of yarn and putting it in a cabinet, shutting the door.

“He threw the axe,” he said coolly.

“I believe that clock was over three hundred years old,” Dumbledore said pleasantly. “A gift of Charles II to Headmaster Hyde.”

“Neither of them has needed to tell the time for centuries.” Then, because being rude had no effect on Dumbledore, positive or negative, he asked, “What do you want?”

Dumbledore conjured himself a seat uninvited next to the fireplace (because Severus only kept one armchair for a reason) and sat, and damn him if his eyes didn’t skim across the mantle. But Severus was sure he couldn’t see the photograph. He just guessed that it was there.

“I thought you might like to know that Harriet is safely tucked up at the Burrow by now.”

Severus made no acknowledgment: only stared at him, flat and indifferent.

“And I wanted to tell you,” Dumbledore went on, now examining a Muggle print that Severus had found years ago in an old re-sale shop, a woodland scene of an old man petting a doe, “that you did the right thing in bringing her away.”

Severus hated the way his heart jumped with gratitude. He hated disappointing Dumbledore to roughly the same degree that he despised hating it.

But, coldly he said: “I knew that without you telling me.”

Dumbledore smiled at the print of the old man and the doe. “Of course. Did you want to hear what Harriet told me?”

Yes and fucking no. “Did she mention the house-elf Dobby?”

“Yes.” Dumbledore finally looked at him, expectant.

“Dobby,” Severus savored it, “is Lucius Malfoy’s house-elf.”

Dumbledore blinked once, then sat up a little straighter. “Does he wear a filthy pillowcase and have green, tennis-ball sized eyes?”

Severus nodded. Dumbledore pressed his fingertips together, then against his mustache.

“Harriet said he came to warn her that there terrible danger awaits her at Hogwarts,” he said, staring at a spot in mid-air. “A danger so great that remaining with her Muggle family would save her life.”

Severus felt as if he had dropped straight through a hundred feet of ice into arctic water. His own eyes shot to the mantle, where Lily’s photograph watched them, her eyes as bright and curious as her daughter’s.

“Do you credit it?” he asked hoarsely.

“That depends,” said Dumbledore, still staring at that spot in midair. “Anything is possible, but do you think it probable that Lucius Malfoy’s house-elf would do such a thing unbidden?”

“You mean, is it more likely one of the Malfoys is pulling a prank, or that the family is involved with something Dark at Hogwarts?”

“Quite so.”

Severus sank into thought. Although both he and Lucius had been sworn Death Eaters, Lucius had only ever congratulated Severus “on getting away so cleanly.” Lucius didn’t scruple to discard whatever loyalties he needed to in order to save his hide, but he respected the need in others to do the same. But Severus had naturally never told Lucius that his agenda had really changed. Lucius had always taken it for granted that he and Severus thought alike on the subject of the Dark Lord and extricating themselves from the ensuing scandal, but Severus was quite sure that, should the Dark Lord return, Lucius would be among the first to scrape back into his good graces, trampling any and all others in the mad rush to protect his own interests.

“Do you think it’s likely that Lucius has been contacted by Tom?” asked Dumbledore, his eyes grave yet penetrating.

“No,” Severus said with flat certainty. “The Dark Lord would not stoop to begging of servants who deserted him. If he returns”—and he felt a powerful surge of cold, burning hatred course through him at the thought of that creature walking the earth again—“he will only appear before the wayward when he’s regained his former power. He’ll want us to abase ourselves, those who escaped punishment. I’m fairly sure Lucius thinks the Dark Lord is dead for good.”

Dumbledore looked straight at him. “Do you think you could find out?”

“Naturally.”

The Headmaster smiled.

Chapter Text

Petunia had always hated magic.

hated it because you can't have

It was wrong, it was unnatural, it was perverted—it perverted everything it touched. Flowers returning to life after they'd fallen, dead, off their stalks. Humans flying free through the air, like their bones were as hollow as a hummingbird's. Things changing their shapes, people changing their hearts, changing who they were, who they loved . . .

As a girl, Petunia hadn't been able to decide which she hated more, magic or Severus Snape. Maybe one or the other couldn't have taken her sister away, or maybe they could have, she'd never know, but both together . . . Even when Lily had finally seen what a freak Snape was, when she cut him off without any remorse and Petunia had taken to saying his name to watch and relish the way Lily's face twisted, she hadn't come back. There had still been that chasm between them, broken open by magic, by Snape. There had been no putting it back together.

all the king's horses, all the king's men

Petunia hadn't seen him since he was a skinny boy of sixteen—fifteen?—seventeen?—the last time she'd been forced by her parents to greet Lily at that terrible (wonderful, exhilarating, wretched, hateful) platform. Lily and Snape had been fighting that time, so it might have been the start of that summer, but they had always fought. They were always rowing, always quarreling, and Lily would slam doors and shout and tell everyone she was never speaking with him again, only to flash merrily down the stairs the next day, calling I'm meeting up with Sev, don't wait up on her way out the door. Then she'd come back smelling like cigarettes, her clothes all dirty and dusty, her face flushed and her tongue sharper, tossing her hair and thinking she was queen of Cokeworth.

But after that summer, except for a distant glimpse of him somewhere—up the street from the grocery, maybe, or on the edge of the park near their house, down by the curve of the river—Petunia had never seen him, because Lily had told the truth for once and hadn't made up with him. Even if she was never again Petunia's sister the way she once had been, Petunia had at least gotten that triumph: Lily wasn't hers, but she wasn't Snape's, either.

Lily had warned her about him. He's going to be a Death Eater. It's hard to explain—no, just listen, would you, Tuney? Death Eaters, they're like this cult, this death cult, they practice awful magic—not really like Satanism, but think of it that way if you want—no, not yet, but he will be, all right? They hate Muggles like you and Mum and Dad and Muggle-born witches like me. So if you see him . . . just watch out.

And there he had been watch out in Petunia's dining room so if you see him all grown up. Beyond ugly, beyond nasty, terrifying just watch out his face white and twisted and his foul, uneven teeth bared watch out

His wand was made of black wood.

She'd reached for Dudley, staring at the wand, the sight of it burning into her retinas, knowing she couldn't do anything but just watch she had to try.

And then he'd frozen them and just walked away. Taken the girl. And she'd gone with him.

Petunia didn't know about Vernon and Dudley, what they thought; but she had known that Snape could have killed them if he'd wanted to, and they'd have been able to do nothing except die.

She hated magic hated it hated it

The telly kept playing. The clock in the parlor ticked. The wine she'd knocked over was staining the carpet for good. Her muscles were aching, protractedly and unnaturally, all over. She could barely breathe, couldn't even blink. Her eyes stung like ants were crawling in them. Sweat was running down the side of Vernon's face. She couldn't see Dudley. Her hand was stretched out toward him but she'd been facing Snape in the doorway.

He'd taken her. God only knew what he was doing with her even now, the sick, nasty, perverted freak of a wretch—not that Petunia cared, it served them right, but it was sick, all the same. . .

The clock in the parlor began to toll midnight. How many hours was that (five)?

When the last gong died into the ticking silence, it left the house quiet enough that she heard the front door click open.

Her heart began to race. Her whole body filled with the desperation to move, to protect her baby, to call for help, but it couldn't move, not even an inch, not even a hair—her throat crowded with her breath, unable to expand, frozen as it was—

The intruder climbed the stairs. The faint creaks were audible but subdued, like footsteps calmly walking. In the midst of panic, Petunia was bewildered. Had this intruder also come for Lily's brat? Well, he wouldn't find her.

Please God let him not be angry that he couldn't find her let him just go

The stairs creaked as the uninvited guest walked back down, a few minutes later, and a shadow undulated across the wallpaper in the hallway outside the dining room. Coming toward the dining room. She couldn't blink, but would she had if she could? Would she have closed her eyes even for that long?

A man appeared in the doorway, tall and wearing ludicrous wizard's (freak's) clothes in glittering purple, with layers of silvery beard and hair reaching to his waist. Petunia knew him, she remembered him, from Lily's funeral, when he'd walked her up to the coffins and held her hand until she'd shaken him off.

His wand was in his hand now, abhorrent thing, making her sick. He waved it in the air like a child drawing invisible pictures and said clearly, "Finite Incantatum."

She felt Snape's spell lift, like plastic wrap peeling off of her skin, like electricity shooting across her muscles. She, Vernon and Dudley all gasped, sagging, clutching their throats, trying not to slip out of their chairs to the floor.

Dudley's breaths were sobbing and loud, wrenching at Petunia's heart, and she forced her stiff, aching body out of her chair to gather him against her. He clung on, and somewhere in the depths of her fear and her relief and her loathing (for magic and Albus Dumbledore and Snape and Lily and her brat), her heart flew, because she couldn't remember the last time her baby had done more than suffer her affection. Dudley was growing up, becoming a man, and although it made her burst with pride, she ached for those years when he had reached for her, crying real or false tears, because he wanted to be held, and her world had revolved around that. It still did, even though it was seldom allowed.

But now he hung onto her, miserable and bewildered and scared, because of these wizards, and she felt a sense of rightness and of shame.

"You." Vernon's voice was garroted, gurgling. He had pushed himself to his feet, but he had to lean unsteadily on the table to stay upright. Petunia couldn't help noticing how the old man towered over him . . . but it didn't matter whether Dumbledore was the larger man or whether he was as small as Snape, whom Vernon could have crushed if it weren't for magic wands. Because there were magic wands, and no competition would ever be level between those who had and those who hadn't.

"You—get out of my house," Vernon croaked, "before I call the police—I'll have you locked up, so help me—"

Dumbledore had folded his hands into his wide, bell-like sleeves, was listening to Vernon with every sign of courteous interest. In that moment, Petunia despised him almost more than Snape.

"I doubt the attempt would alleviate the suffering tonight has caused you," Dumbledore said, almost gently. "And you must have seen . . . that it would be little more than an attempt."

"You—" Vernon had got his voice back; Petunia could tell he was now only speechless from fury and the memory of what had happened. "You-u filthy old—"

"Bullies." Petunia was startled to hear her own voice, a whiplash of venom, that made Dumbledore turn his attention serenely on her. "Cowards and murderers—you come into our home and you threaten—"

"I make no threats," Dumbledore said, and she loathed how tranquil he was. "If Professor Snape delivered any, you may now consider them withdrawn."

Professor? Petunia's rage, driven off-course, gave way to confusion, and she stared in silence; Vernon, too, Dudley snuffling but listening, watching around the sharp angle of her own arms.

"Yes," Dumbledore said, as if hearing every unspoken yet incredulous question, "Professor Snape is one of Harriet's, your niece's," his voice cooled, Petunia heard it, and could have killed him, "teachers, and under my employ. I sent him to check up on Harriet after I received an alarming communication that she was not being allowed certain natural freedoms."

He tilted his head to look at them over the tops of his spectacles. His gaze was not kind or threatening, or even considering: it was the gaze of a priest, of a man with the power of God to see into your soul, all the stains of sin and guilt inflicted on it through the years. And like a priest in a confession box, he made no condemnation, but he had heard you through that thin partition, and he knew what you'd done.

"I have little wish," he said, "to involve the authorities, but conditions such as Professor Snape informed me of, and which I have now verified for myself, are matters which could place you, Mr and Mrs Dursley, in an awkward position with the law. Forceful imprisonment and starvation are matters that child protective services would not easily condone."

"Then call them," Petunia whispered, her voice hissing out in a bitter taunt. "Either call them or get out of my house."

"That's right," Vernon said, his voice so loud that Dudley jumped. "Either call the ruddy authorities or get out of my house before I call them, you pompous old windbag—"

Dumbledore held up his hand. Even though it was empty of his wand, they all froze. He gazed at them . . . sadly, Petunia thought.

A carving knife for the chicken lay on the table, bits of flesh stuck to its blade. She could feel the phantom weight of it in her hand, the dimensions of the handle, the chill of the stainless steel. She wondered how the impact would judder through her bones if it sank into living human flesh.

"Eleven years ago," Dumbledore said quietly, "I asked that you take Harriet into your home and provide her with love and care. The first part of my request you answered . . . however begrudgingly. But can you tell me that you have answered the second? After what I have seen upstairs, can you tell me this?"

The clock chimed three light notes: a quarter past midnight. No one spoke.

"I regret what Professor Snape has done," Dumbledore said, still serene but solemn, too, still in that priest-like way. "But I regret infinitely more what has been done to that poor child he took away with him."

"We couldn't stop him," Vernon said immediately. "Shouldn't you, with all your ruddy magic, be able to find the bastard, if you're so ruddy concerned about the blasted girl? Not that she didn't go with the freak all willing—"

"Mr Dursley," Dumbledore said, in a voice like a professor calmly restoring order in a classroom, after a student has just said something lewd or racist, "Professor Snape brought Harriet straight to Hogwarts. I am sure you will be relieved to hear that Madam Pomfrey—our resident . . . physician, as you would call her, I believe?—was able to combat Harriet's malnourishment. She is now quite safe in the company of her friends."

"Good," Vernon said with feeling. "Then she can ruddy well stay there. We're not having that little freak back in this house. We've had nothing but trouble from your lot—"

"I am afraid," Dumbledore said, "that you must accept Harriet back into your home."

There was no change in his inflection, his stance or his expression, but Petunia thought she felt, ineffably, that he did not want to say this any more than they wanted to hear it. She certainly didn't want to hear it. The very thought was a violation. Take that brat back into their home, put her within reach of Petunia's own beloved boy, when at any moment those wizarding freaks could raze the house to the ground and murder them all, with a snap of the fingers or a flick of the wrist? Who did he think he was, to ask that, who did he think she was—

She realized, then, that she had been shrieking all this out loud, screaming at Dumbledore. Dudley had ducked his head, cowering against her hip, because she'd got to her feet and grabbed the carving knife and was waving it at Dumbledore like a wand, jabbing and slashing at the air. Vernon looked horrified. His slack face, his wide eyes, said he wanted to calm her down but didn't dare.

She wasn't one of them. She wasn't a murderer, wasn't a freak. Even if they deserved it.

She dropped the knife. It bounced off the edge of the table with a clatter and thumped to the stained carpet.

"Look what you've made me do," she whispered.

The whole time, Dumbledore had been silently, attentively watching her, as if he were listening to a potent speech by the Prime Minister. She placed her hand on Dudley's shoulder and felt him quivering with fear, or perhaps with the aftereffects of being frozen for five hours, or maybe from watching his mother scream and wave a knife through the air.

"No," she said simply, her throat tight.

"I am afraid you must," said Dumbledore.

Her rage made the light in the room flare, incandescent. "How can you ask—"

"How," he returned, his pale eyes fixing her with the force of a spell, "can you have treated the daughter of your sister so?"

Do you really want to know old man do you really

"Now wait just a minute—" Vernon started.

"There is no crime a child can commit that would justify the imprisonment and starvation you have so recently inflicted." Dumbledore's voice made the pale shadows on the wall seem to warp, the brightness of their electricity to dim, the stuffy, panicked warmth of their house to cool. "Nor the emotional neglect of a lifetime. It pains me more than I can express to have no choice but to return Harriet to this place." His gaze swept the room as though it were the most rancid of prisons, like that Azkaban place that Snape used to go on about, with those creatures that could suck out your soul. "But I do have no choice. And I must remind you that you have no choice but to take her."

When Vernon spluttered, Dumbledore went on, "As I told you eleven years ago, as Harriet's relatives, you are vulnerable to Lord Voldemort's machinations and those of his followers. But if she can call your home as hers, then the protection that Lily's sacrifice gives to her will also encompass you. So long as you honor Lily's memory by allowing Harriet to have a home here, her protection is yours as well."

And Petunia could imagine it all to plainly, now: wizards, breaking into her home, coming for her precious baby, all because of Lily . . .

But something wasn't right, something he had said was wrong, very wrong, like a jagged edge that wouldn't fit. It only took her a moment to find it, while Vernon grumbled and chuntered under his breath. "Then how come he was able to get in and take her?" she demanded.

"The charm protects Harriet—and you—against those who would harm you," Dumbledore said, unfazed. "Professor Snape was acting, by his beliefs, in Harriet's best interests, from a desire to help her. But if she hadn't wished to go with him, he would not have been able to remove her from this house—"

"He put us under a spell!"

"He Immobilized you. It is not a harmful spell, and was chosen for that reason. Though I do not doubt its psychological repercussions under these circumstances," he went on before they could retaliate, "the nature of the magic allows for it. But Death Eaters—Lord Voldemort's followers—would not be so . . . benign."

"He's a Death Eater!" Petunia spat. "She told me, all those years ago—"

"Death—?" Vernon repeated, clearly bewildered.

"Please allow that the situation is more complex than can be succinctly explained," Dumbledore said. Without waiting for their reply, he said, "Will you submit to the protection of the spell and allow Harriet to return?"

Petunia wanted to say no, oh, to God she did. She didn't want that nasty, unnatural spawn of freaks anywhere near her baby (whether she meant Snape or the little brat she didn't know, she could easily have meant both, since one brought the other). But . . . if it could protect Dudley . . . if letting the girl back in would keep him from harm . . .

"All right," Petunia spat. She had to force the words out of the twisted mass of hatred in her heart, out of her throat clogged with desperation, and ignore Vernon's sputter of disbelief. (The last was the easiest part.) "Now get out."

Dumbledore inclined his head to them. "I thank you," he said. Then, without another word, he left. Perhaps he didn't want to offer any words, perhaps he knew they wouldn't have helped. Petunia didn't care. Now that he was gone, it would be ten, almost eleven months before they had to see another wizard.

Until the girl grew up or died, that was all they could hope for.

Narcissa's gardens were in bloom, mostly irises at this time of the year. Today Wiltshire was sunny, and the scent of grass drifted on the wind.

There were times when the evidence of how his life had diverged from his expectations struck Severus so forcibly, he almost reeled. The approach to Malfoy Manor was like some literal manifestation of memory lane. Whenever he walked the path to the front gates, he was reminded of ambitions long turned to dust: not of wealth and influence centered in a great house and sprawling grounds, not necessarily, but of power and status. He used to come to this house to find it, back in those days when the Dark Lord's presence at one's dinner table was an honor.

The house itself was dark, heavy and imposing. It suited Lucius, although it had suited his father more. With every generation the Malfoy blood seemed to water down, producing heirs who were more sociopathically self-involved than ruthless. Looking at the steeply sloping black roof, the windows like narrow eyes, he couldn't imagine Draco becoming head of this household. The moldings in the nursery had given him nightmares until he was nine.

The smell of gravel was strong on the drive, and the fountain gushed cool, clear water. Its sculpture resembled Bernini's Apollo and Daphne so closely that Severus had always wondered whether some Malfoy ancestor hadn't robbed the Galleria Borghese and left a replica in place of the real thing. That was a pureblood all over for you: scorn Muggles and everything to do with them, but drink their wine and steal their art.

The house-elf let him in the front door, just as he'd hoped.

Its appearance was as miserable as the girl had described to Dumbledore, and there were recent welts on its ears that looked like the marks of an oven door. It cringed at his feet in a sort of abasing bow, and it was all he could do not to tell it to get up off the floor and stop cowering.

A glance said the front hall was empty of company, and the house around him was silent. He stared down at the elf, wringing its hands while it waited for directions.

"Miss Potter sends her regards," he said softly.

The elf went rigid, as if hit with a Full Body Bind. It darted a fearful, bewildered look up at his face but then screwed its eyes shut immediately.

"D-dobby does n-not know wh-what Profess-ssor Snape Sir-r means—"

"Don't lie to me," Severus hissed, checking again to make sure the hall was empty. "Where is Lucius?"

"Mmmmaster Malfoy and Young Mmmaster Draco are at D-diagon Alley—" the elf squeaked.

"And Narcissa?"

"On the s-south terrace!"

He made a dash for an umbrella stand, in punishment for what, Severus didn't know, but he grabbed it by its skinny little arm.

"What is coming to Hogwarts?" he demanded.

"Dobby cannot say!" it squealed. "Dobby cannot! Dobby has told Harriet Potter she must stay away to be safe! Dobby—" He clamped his mouth shut and shook his head so hard his ears went flap flap flap.

Internally, Severus swore. Leglimency didn't work on house-elves; their brains were too different. And, he thought as the elf thrashed in his grip, straight interrogation wasn't going to work.

He was under no illusions about himself: if it would help to torture the elf, he would do it. But he knew enough about house-elves to know that it would do no good. They were magically bound to serve one family until released either by decree or by death, and that service was absolute. Their masters didn't have to order the elves to keep their secrets; it was so deeply ingrained into their being that the elf had punished himself for delivering a warning. More than the warning he wouldn't be able to give.

The elf gasped, "Dobby must go!" and vanished from beneath Severus's hand.

Swearing aloud this time, Severus headed for the south terrace. He had known how it would be, and yet he was disgusted and furious.

He debated setting some of Lucius's silk damask drapes on fire but decided that while it wouldn't make him feel any worse, he wouldn't feel any better, either.

As he let himself out onto the south terrace, he wound up all his feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety and slipped them underneath his everyday contempt. Although he considered himself to be, in some ways, particularly subtle, he was aware that he had only two ways of getting information: frighten it out of them, or snoop. The first technique had failed, so now it had to be the second.

Of course, anyone who tried to frighten information out of Narcissa Malfoy had obviously never met her.

Malfoy Manor suited Narcissa even less than it did her son. It was no surprise to find her sitting on her tiered terrace beneath a sunshade, drinking lemonade from a long-stemmed crystal goblet at a wrought-iron table painted white. The long, full hem of her silvery gown rippled in the breeze. Narcissa always reminded him of a Watteau.

"Severus, my pigeon," she said, glancing up as his shadow fell across the table. Her mouth did not smile because she didn't want to risk wrinkles, but her eyes said she was pleased. "It's good to see you—and looking more like Dracula than ever. How ever do you manage it?"

"I live in a dungeon," he said. The chairs were likewise white-painted wrought iron, but someone had applied a cushioning charm and they weren't uncomfortable at all.

Narcissa sighed, a soft, wistful, almost yearning sound. "Don't you wish summer was longer?" she asked, staring around at her garden, which the house-elf no doubt tended for her. If Narcissa had ever had dirt under her fingernails, the last time must have been when she and her sisters had still plaited ribbons in their hair.

"I wish it were indefinite," he said, thinking drearily of all the long days and coming nights when the students would be back in residence. His Slytherins had appalling tendencies to knock on his door at all hours and tell him the most inappropriate stories, most of which ended with his suggesting flatly that they invest in contraception and preventatives against disease.

"If only it didn't have to be boarding school," Narcissa said. "If only Draco could come home in the evenings, the house wouldn't feel so wretchedly empty. I'm re-decorating the Slightly Greenish Drawing-room just to have something to do. And Potentilla Parkison has far too much time on her hands to nurture everything about her that is insufferable now her last daughter's out of her hair."

"I'm shocked to think she was ever involved in that girl's life at all," Severus said. Pansy Parkinson demanded too much attention from everyone to suggest otherwise. She particularly loathed Lily's daughter for taking some portion of it away from her.

"I couldn't believe it myself, but what else could be the explanation? The wretched, ugly girl went off to Hogwarts at the same time as Draco. Severus, darling, you'll let me know if it seems like Draco might do something horrific like fancy the little gorgon, won't you? Young men always take the most ludicrous fancies to the most unsuitable girls . . . "

It isn't Pansy Parkinson you're going to have to worry about, Severus thought. No, if Draco's constant attempts at one-upping Lily's daughter and sulking when he failed were any indication, he'd be nursing a full-blown crush by the start of next year, if not sooner. Severus hoped the girl, at least, had better taste. He was very fond of Draco, but he it would probably take him a good fifteen minutes to think of a more self-absorbed little prat . . .

No, in fact, it wouldn't. "You won't believe who's going to be the next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

"Ooh," Narcissa said, sparkling at his tone. "Someone dreadful, is it?"

"If I don't wind up developing an ulcer, I'll probably commit murder before Easter."

"Oh, that tells me nothing. You want to murder at least twelve different people every quarter of a minute. Who is it this time?"

"I believe it was you who told me you saw him in Baudelaire's Beatific Parlor, having his hair set."

"No—not Gilderoy Lockhart?" Narcissa gasped. When Severus grimaced, she let out a peal of silvery laughter. "Him, teach Defense? He can curl an eyelash with the best of us, but Defense? What is that absurd old man thinking?"

"That there were only two applicants for the position, and one of them was me," Severus said with a sneer that conveyed his many-layered disgust.

"Oh, well, then," said Narcissa. "No, Severus, he's too afraid you'll torture the little beasts—or that the curse will get you. Come now, my lamb," she said when he snorted, "there's not been a single teacher who could hold that post more than a year, not since before we were students . . . and if you dare to recall how many years that is, I will give you a good sharp jab in the eye with my sunshade. It must be cursed."

He scowled at a patch of yellow iris. "Well, it's done. They won't learn a bloody thing, unless it's about eyelash curling."

"He has written all those books, you know," Narcissa said contemplatively, rotating her sunshade so the shapes of the shadows on her arms warped like a kaleidoscope. "And the majority of them are on the booklist that dreadful McGonagall sent, in fact. Speaking of gorgons . . . Well, this explains it."

"I'm sure he plagiarized every word," Severus said.

A clatter on the terrace above made him look around. Draco had run out, wearing Quidditch robes stitched in the same cut and colors as the Appleby Arrows and dragging a broom that Lucius must have just bought him; all the twigs were sleek and in place and the mahogany handle gleamed in the sunlight. No twelve-year-old boy could keep a thing in such good condition if he'd owned it more than a day.

"Mum!" he said imperiously, strutting down the steps toward them. "See the broom Father's just bought for me! Oh hullo, Professor," he added with a negligence that he must have been practicing for some time; it was quite good. Very decently obnoxious.

Narcissa paid the broom several practiced compliments, even managing to sound to Severus's cynical ears as if she meant them.

"Well, I'm off to fly her," Draco said, and in his excitement forgot to act like the heir of a crashing snob. He ran down the flight of stone steps to the bright lawn below, looking for a moment as if he were just a normal twelve-year-old boy, not a child who might be living on the verge of a long, dark shadow . . . some of which might soon be cast by his own father.

Severus gauged the expression on Narcissa's face as she watched her son. It was tender yet fierce, pride mixed with humility.

"He's happy at Hogwarts," he told her.

"Yes." Her eyes looked bright, but he was certain that if he tried to count the years it had been since Narcissa had last cried, she'd jab him in the other eye with her parasol. "He had a delightful first year. Although he was quite put out about that business with the House Cup at the end of the year—"

That. Severus had refused to speak to Dumbledore for twenty-six days. To abase his House like that, in front of everyone . . . Severus had always been aware of Dumbledore's House bias, but that stunt had been even more blatant than anyone (mostly Minerva) had ever accused himself of being.

"But it's to be expected," Narcissa said, her lip curling with ladylike distaste, "from a school run by Gryffindors."

"A great many atrocities are to be expected from such quarters," drawled Lucius's familiar voice, so posh it sometimes made Severus's teeth ache to listen to it. He always winced inside when Lucius pronounced 'years' with an 'h.'

". . . But what is it this time?" he asked, coming to a stop next to the table and looking down his straight, aristocratic nose at them. Severus felt old habits clicking on, like lights in a Muggle house: betray no new expression, watch for the subtle tells of lies, agendas, anxieties.

Lucius looked like someone who wanted to bring something up, but was waiting for the opportune moment.

"Lucius darling," Narcissa greeted him. "Oh, Severus and I were only rehashing that criminal business with the Cup."

"Ah." Though naturally less ladylike, his sneer had all the precision of his wife's. "Of course. Draco wrote us, and we had—"

"Mu-u-um!" Draco's voice went wheeling overhead. "Hyyyyyaaaaaaah!"

"Spectacular flying, my darling," Narcissa called after him, but he was already a whooping dot in the distance. "Another broom, Lucius?"

"I purchased the lot for the Slytherin Qudditch team, I had to get him one, too," Lucius said irritably.

"The whole team? What in Merlin's kingdom for?"

"For Draco to bribe his way on, naturally," said Lucius, as if it should have been obvious but he was pleased with himself nonetheless. "What do you think, Severus?"

Severus would be dearly disappointed if this was all Lucius had been waiting to talk about. "What position?"

"Seeker," Lucius said, with a subtle look and grimace that dared Severus to connect this to Draco's nascent obsession with the girl.

"I thought Draco preferred Chaser," Narcissa said, which told Severus that she had skimmed right over the parts of Draco's letters that had even remotely dealt with Quidditch.

"All I know is that Seeker is the desire he professed," Lucius said. "It might be Beater tomorrow, for all I know."

"Whoohoo-hooo-ooh!" Draco commented as he shot overhead in a sou-sou-westerly direction.

"Seven Nimbus 2001s," Lucius told Severus slyly. He must be in a good mood today to play the bribery game to the hilt; normally, he would have bribed just for the sake of acting the part of the Honorable Slytherin while not-so-subtly reminding Severus what sort of lamentable social position he occupied.

"Which will naturally give them an edge over the whole of the Gryffindor team," Severus said blandly, "whose best broom by far is a Nimbus 2000." And the girl's.

"I have full confidence in Slytherin's ability to outperform the Mudbloods and pinheads of Gryffindor," Lucius said smoothly. "But there's no harm in doing the thing properly, is there?"

"None at all," Narcissa said warmly, while Severus forced his fingers to uncurl from his palms. His skin stung where his nails had dug in. "Draco will be so happy to be on the team, Severus, he talked of it endlessly all last year." So she had read that much. There had probably been no avoiding the general impression.

"I'll let the captain know," Severus said. His voice, he was pleased to hear, sounded as normal and subtly self-satisfied as Lucius's. Of course, this was only a small test of his ability to feign and dissemble, but for the moment it had returned to him as naturally as breathing. And he was here in the capacity of a spy.

He might have expected to regret that, even though he could find no trace of the feeling. These people had been his friends for years. Draco had thrown up on him more times than he could count during infancy (whenever anyone looked at him sideways, it had seemed).

But he remembered the girl's skin when he'd torn her away from Quirrell: as cold as marble and hot as dry ice, gray tinged with green, only the whites of her eyes showing. If Lucius was plotting something at Hogwarts that would threaten her, then a line was drawn and crossed.

He wasn't going to fail Lily again.

"Dobby," Lucius said coldly.

With a crack, the house-elf appeared on the terrace, looking just as miserable as before. His bow this time looked like an attempt to tie himself into a knot.

While Lucius abused his elf with an order to bring wine, Narcissa murmured, "Oh dear. Draco's decapitated the topiary."

A few moments later, Draco clattered over to the table, dragging his broom (several of whose twigs were already snapped), his white-gold hair sticking out like a haystack infused with a corona of broken leaves.

"This broom is brilliant," he declared, throwing himself into a chair next to his mother, who began picking the leaves out of hair. She could have used a spell, but she didn't.

"I'll leave those Gryffindorks in the dust," he gloated. "Won't I, sir?" This last was said to Severus, who had apparently returned, for the moment, to the ranks of People Worth Noticing. But not too far: without waiting for a reply, Draco went on haughtily, "Even Potter won't be able to keep up with me."

"That Potter girl plays Quidditch?" Narcissa asked, and if she didn't use any insulting epithets, it was only because they were sewed into her tone.

"Mu-um," Draco said, aggrieved, "I told you this only like a billion times!"

"Is that how you speak to your mother?" Lucius asked coldly, and Draco went pink.

"I apologize, Mother," he said, stiffly formal, deflating in relief only when Lucius permitted him an infinitesimal nod of approval.

The house-elf reappeared with a crack, carrying a carafe of porcelain so delicate, the wine shone dark red through the vessel's sides in the sunlight.

"I'm terribly sorry, my darling," Narcissa told her son, smoothing his hair. "It must have slipped my mind. Well, I don't consider it remotely ladylike. But even when I was at school, Gryffindor girls played on the House teams . . . " Her expression conveyed her explicit thoughts about these girls, and her deep satisfaction not to have been one.

But the girl flew like it was in her blood, with a speed and flair that had sent Minerva clutching at Severus's arm in terror and Flitwick squeaking Gracious Rowena! Goodness me! Severus had watched her drop like a stone through the air, his own stomach shooting into his throat, not seeing how in Hell she was going to manage to pull up—and then she'd toppled lightly onto the grass and coughed up the Snitch into her palm. He remembered Dumbledore's delighted laughter, a sound of pure, unfettered joy. The girl's beaming face when she'd held up the Snitch to stadium-wide cheers had made Severus ache with the knowledge that his choices had stolen Lily's chance of ever seeing this. He had told her photograph about it later, feeling maudlin and foolish, and the photograph had smiled at him.

It always smiled when he talked about the girl. But it wasn't smiling a smile for him, he knew. It was a smile for her daughter, the mirror image of Narcissa's when she looked at her son.

Feeling weary, Severus glanced at Lucius, who was listening to Draco natter about Quidditch with an expression that could only be described as boredly indulgent. Of all the truly dreadful things Severus knew about the man, he couldn't imagine him doing something to endanger his own son.

"I expect you'll make me proud this year, Draco," Lucius said as the Quidditch drone wound down. "I hardly anticipate that your exam scores will again be bested by a girl of no wizarding family whatsoever."

Draco's cheeks flamed, while Narcissa shot Lucius a look like a frozen bradawl; but he was busy tasting his wine.

"Yes, sir," Draco said, still pink. Then his expression darkened to a shade between sulky and menacing, and Severus was reminded that he was growing up. Many things came with adulthood, including an adult's hatred. "I would had last year if that miserable old coot of a Headmaster hadn't stolen the Cup from us to give to Potter and Weasley and that Mudblood Granger."

Severus wondered if he could convince Draco that when he docked him points for saying that word, he was really doing it for showing a lack of Slytherin subtlety.

"We saw them in Diagon Alley today," Draco went on, his pale eyes glinting, "all those stupid Weasleys and Potter with them all covered in soot, don't know what she'd been—"

The house-elf dropped the carafe. Before the echo of breaking porcelain had faded, Lucius had cracked Dobby upside the head with his cane.

"Idiot elf!" he snarled, hitting Dobby on the other side. "That was the '47! There are only five bottles of it left in the cellar!"

"Dobby is sorry, Master!" the elf squealed. "Dobby will not do it again!"

"It's no wonder he can't do anything right, if you beat him around the head like that," Severus observed. "His brain must be addled from rattling around in his skull."

"He's always been useless," Lucius said in disgust. "That had better not have been the last of it you dropped," he told Dobby with a menacing snarl. "Fetch the rest! And if it's ruined . . . " He let the promise of unspeakably terrible punishments linger in the air.

"Thank you, Master Malfoy Sir, thank you," Dobby gasped, and vanished.

"That house elf is so stupid," Draco said. "He can't do anything right."

"It is down to personality," Narcissa said. "My Aunt Walburga had the most delightful creature—wretchedly ugly, of course, but so devoted. You know, I wonder what happened to him? I sometimes wonder if Regulus's death didn't carry him off . . . "

Both Lucius and Draco were clearly uninterested in the deaths of people whom the former had never cared about and the latter hadn't ever met, so she left it at that, with only a single, fleeting glance at Severus. He inclined his head the barest amount to acknowledge it. Walburga Black meant nothing to him, but he'd known Regulus. They still didn't know what had happened to him. If the Dark Lord had killed him, even by proxy, they'd have heard; the Dark Lord had never let his kills suffer anonymity. Severus had always suspected Regulus's murderer had been Sirius Black, which was why it had been no surprise to him when he killed— after his own brother—

The house elf returned, thank God. He almost wished it would do something else foolish; the beating would distract him from thoughts of—

"Oh!" Draco said, bouncing. "And that ponce Lockhart is going to be our Defense professor! What a load of rubbish. He'll probably teach us all to curl our hair. Though Granger doesn't need it, at least," he said, sniggering.

"Defense Against the Dark Arts," Lucius said softly. "If the old Muggle-loving fool Dumbledore really wishes to teach the children to combat darkness, he's failing miserably. Well." His sneer shifted to a smile, but one that was no less unpleasant. "After this year, he may find himself deeply regretting his negligence."

Severus's attention sharpened to a knife point, cold and hard and pinned on the elf's miserable unhappiness, the subtle triumph in Lucius's face, the flicker of wariness in Narcissa's pale eyes.

"Why?" Draco asked eagerly. "What's special about this year?"

"Now, Draco," Lucius told him, gray eyes glinting, "Good things come to those who wait."

Chapter Text

"That was a nightmare," Harriet said grimly, trying to drag her trunk up the sloping grounds without putting too much weight on her left ankle.

"Of all the rotten luck," Ron said, "we had to hit the tree that hits back."

Their luck had certainly been patchy all day. First they'd been shut out of the barrier at 9 ¾, which had seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen; especially to Harriet, who'd more than once drifted out of nightmares where she was back at the Dursleys' with bars on her window and locks on the door. It had always taken her a while to fall back asleep, staring at the patch of starlight glittering through Ginny's small, bright window.

But then, brilliantly, Ron had remembered his parents' car. They'd flown it out of London and followed the train to Hogwarts, making good time; but then the engine had failed as they'd flown in, and they'd crashed into a tree that had nearly beaten them to death.

"And my bloody wand," Ron moaned, trying to stuff a catatonic Scabbers into his pocket. "How am I supposed to do anything with my wand bloody broken?"

"I'm sure they'll be able to fix it?" Harriet said.

"They'd better," Ron said grimly. "Or Mum'll sew my skin back on once she's done taking it off for losing the car, just so she can skin it right back off."

"Surely someone'll be able to find the car?" Harriet said, wincing at this disgustingly horrifying picture. "I mean, how far can it go?"

"I don't want to find out. Here, let's stop before my legs break off, they feel like they're halfway there already."

They dropped their trunks at the foot of the front steps. Windows glowed golden high overhead on the turret's faces; stars shone against the silky backdrop of the night. A few low clouds skimmed the tallest towers, and moonlight glittered on the black waters of the lake below.

Professor Sinistra had told them the stars made humanity aware of its own insignificance, but for Harriet it was Hogwarts, only in a good way. It was easy to believe that Hogwarts had always been there and always would be; that it would outlast everyone, and yet there would always be someone new to come home it.

When she placed her hand the castle's wall, she was surprised to feel it was slightly warm, as if it still remembered the afternoon sun. She thought of the tables full of food in the Great Hall; of her four poster in the messy red and gold of Gryffindor tower; of the passageway she and Hermione and Ron had found that grew over with violets; and the permanent smell of dog and pipe smoke on everything in Hagrid's hut.

I'm home, she thought.

For a second, she thought she felt the castle stone flaring warmth beneath her hand. Surely it was her imagination, but she smiled anyway.

But then something moved in the darkness that made her smile and all the blood drain from her face.

"Hey, it's the Sorting!" Ron said, standing on his trunk to peer into a bright window near ground level. "There's Ginny! Harry, come see . . . Harry?"

But Harriet couldn't answer or go over to the window. She was frozen to the spot in terror, because melting out of the shadows, his gaunt face white as bone, his teeth bared in fury, was Professor Snape.

"Do you have any idea WHAT YOU'VE DONE?"

For the first half of the sentence, Harriet had been marveling (in a dread-filled way) how Snape could make you want to cringe just by whispering; but in the second half his voice rose to a shout and she did cringe. She'd never heard Snape shout before.

"Hon-honestly, Professor," Ron stammered, "that tree did more damage to us than we—"

"Silence, Weasley," Snape spat, and Harriet tread on Ron's foot, because Snape looked about two seconds away from murdering them right there in his office. "You don't grasp the enormity of the situation, do you? You are guilty of more than being criminally stupid." There was such venom in his voice that Ron flinched.

"Wecouldntgetthroughthebarrie r," Harriet blurted, "ithadjustturnedtosolidbrick—"

"Oh?" Snape hissed in a voice somehow as icy with rage as it was hot. "And you felt that justified stealing the Weasleys' property and leaving without a word to anyone? Did it not occur to you, you foolish girl, that after the events of last May, it might be rightly assumed that your life was in danger?"

"I . . . " Harriet didn't know what to say. Snape's sneer could have peeled paint.

"Or," he said, and threw a newspaper down on his desk, where a black and white miniature of the Weasleys' car flew across the front page photograph, "that a twelve-year-old is hardly the world's most accomplished driver, that a Muggle vehicle enchanted to fly is hardly reliable, and the pair of you could have crashed and killed yourselves? Have you ANY CONCEPT—"

He stopped, breathing audibly through his uneven, yellowed teeth, which were bared like a dog's.

"You two," he hissed, "will wait here. Right here, in this exact spot. If you move by so much as a centimeter, you will wish I had never been born."

Then he swept out, the door banging shut behind him.

Even though he was gone, Harriet and Ron didn't dare look at each other. Harriet was sure that Snape would count moving her head as moving in general.

"If we're going to die," Ron said suddenly, speaking like he was trying not to move his lips or teeth too much, "I just want you to know, it was nice having you for a mate."

"Even if I'm a girl?" Harriet asked. But she stopped her smile in case Snape would also count that as moving.

"After five brothers, I don't mind girls," Ron said.

It was bad when Professor McGonagall came, but more like badness layered on top of badness: she was clearly angrier with them than she'd ever been, even when she'd caught Harriet and Hermione out of bed last year after they'd gotten rid of Norbert, but her anger had nothing on Snape's. He stood in the shadows, his black eyes staring cold-blooded death threats.

Then Professor Dumbledore showed up, and it was worse.

He heard them out in silence. When they had finished, he said nothing for a few moments, and that silence was somehow the worst part of all.

"We'll get our stuff," Ron said in a hollow voice.

"What are you talking about, Weasley?" snapped Professor McGonagall, as if she'd had quite enough of them acting stupid.

"Well, you're expelling us, aren't you?" Ron asked.

There was a tiny pause, but when no one said You bet your arse we are, Harriet dared to look up.

"Not today, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said, though he was still grave. "But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done. I must also warn you that if you do anything like this again, I will have no choice but to expel you."

In the corner, Snape made a soft sound like he wished that moment would come sooner rather than later.

"Professor McGonagall will decide your punishment," Dumbledore told them, and glanced at her. "I must go back to the feast, Minerva. I've a few notices to give. Come, Severus, there's a delicious-looking custard tart I want to sample."

Snape treated Harriet and Ron to one last look of disgust before allowing Dumbledore to sweep him away. Harriet, feeling like someone had taken sandpaper to her skin, was glad he was gone.

She'd been right: being on the receiving end of Snape's temper was awful.

Everyone in the Gryffindor common room wanted to congratulate them for the ultimate coolness of flying a car into the Whomping Willow—except for Percy, whose horn-rim glasses flashed dangerously when they stumbled through the portrait hole, and Hermione, who wasn't even there. When Harriet tore herself away from everyone (Lavender and Parvati saying, "You're famous, why couldn't you have flown in with someone so much cooler and better-looking than Ron Weasley?") and escaped upstairs, she found Hermione in her nightdress reading Voyages with Vampires.

For a split second Harriet was so glad to see her, she could have cried. But then Hermione looked up, her scowl just like Percy's, and Harriet almost groaned aloud.

"Please," she said, "Snape tried to take my skin off with sandpaper, and I didn't know McGonagall's mouth could go that thin, and Professor Dumbledore was even worse, and it wouldn't have happened if I'd thought about Hedwig, I know, but we couldn't get through the barrier!"

It came out like one huge, long word. When it was done, Harriet stood breathing heavily, and Hermione sat staring fixedly at her, Vampires open on her knees.

Then she said, "You could have been expelled."

"I know—"

She slammed her book shut. "You could have died!"

"I know—"

"Muggles saw you!"

"I KNOW," Harriet said, tugging at her own hair. "Look, Snape already yelled all this, I mean yelled, with whispering, too, and glares, and we wouldn't—we wouldn't have done it if we thought, we just weren't! Didn't, I mean! We . . . " She pushed up her glasses to rub her eyes. "I didn't mean to scare everyone, honestly. I never wanted that."

Hermione stood up, her lips pressed together like McGonagall's, her scowl tight, her eyes narrowed. Then she said, "What do you mean you couldn't get through the barrier?"

Harriet told her how the gateway to the platform hadn't been just an illusion but real, solid brick. Muggles had stared at them, and then eleven o'clock had passed, and the train had gone . . .

As if she couldn't help herself, Hermione said, "You could have just waited for the Weasleys to come out—"

"Hermione!"

"Well, I just don't understand how you could have thought of flying the car to school but not thought of any of the obvious solutions!" Hermione said, like she really, really couldn't understand and it was driving her mad.

"I don't know either," Harriet said wearily, dropping onto her bed. "It all seems so obvious now. And we're in so much trouble . . . "

Hermione went as white as her nightdress. "You're not expelled!"

"Nono," Harriet assured her, waving her hands. "But we've got detention and Dumbledore said if we break any more rules we will be. Expelled, I mean. And he's writing to our families . . . not that the Dursleys will care, they'll just count it an unlucky miss that the Willow didn't squash me flat."

"Well," Hermione said, frowning, "it could have been a lot worse. And your family are horrid," she added.

"I know," Harriet sighed, dropping face-first onto her duvet.

Dumbledore force-fed him tea with a Calming Draught. Severus knew it was in there from the way the steam drifted sideways over the rim of his cup, but he drank it anyway because he thought that otherwise he might murder Ron Weasley in his bed.

The Calming Draught also allowed him to sleep a good portion of the night, almost six hours, and so it was with only (for him) low-level rage that he ascended to the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning.

The hall was already ringing with the raucous voices of those demons in human form known collectively as students. Dumbledore had saved him a seat next to himself, and smiled at him, no doubt wanting to remind him that if he poisoned the Weasley boy, it would place Dumbledore in an awkward position.

Severus scanned up the Gryffindor table. When he saw the girl, something in his chest clenched in the region of his heart. But he didn't have a heart anymore. It had been surgically removed and replaced with a steel trap.

She looked much healthier than she had at the beginning of August, thank Molly Weasley, who had also trimmed up her hair but been unable to lessen her resemblance to a hedgehog. Granger sat on one side of her, the Weasley female, who appeared to be gazing at her worshipfully, on the other. Granger had her nose in a book, and even halfway across the hall she radiated chilly displeasure. On the other side of the table, Ronald Weasley was stuffing kippers in his mouth, the nauseating cretin.

Speaking of nauseating cretins . . .

"I see Lockhart's not here," he observed, stabbing a kipper.

"Setting his hair, no doubt," Minerva said with asperity.

"I wish mine looked half so good," said Sprout, leaning around Severus to help herself to toast and tomatoes. She smelled like she'd been rolling in the dirt all morning; typical Sprout.

"It would if you spent Godric knows how many Galleons on hair potions and several hours applying them," McGonagall retorted. "You've better things to worry about."

Severus almost admired the way neither of them looked once at his own hair during this exchange.

"Definitely better things to be doing," Sprout agreed, heaping marmalade onto her tomatoes in all defiance of gastronomic decency. "Been slinging the Willow all morning after those dear Gryffindors of yours, Albus—bless their wretched little hearts—flew that bally car into the blasted thing—"

"Speaking of which," Dumbledore murmured. "I believe we're about to witness the conclusion to last night . . . "

Severus looked back at the Gryffindor table as a tureen exploded from the kamikaze descent of someone's owl and a sausage hit Longbottom between the eyes. Weasley extracted a red envelope from a milk jug and then thrust the thing out at arm's length as if it he'd just realized he was holding a scorpion. The Weasley female's eyes fixed on it, round and fearful; Longbottom looked horrified and sympathetic; Granger and the girl perplexed. Severus wished he could see more than the back of the Weasley boy's head. His expression might have been worth the sight of his face.

A second later, Molly Weasley's amplified voice exploded to the vaulted ceiling, rattling the windows and turning heads.

". . . STEALING THE CAR, I WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED IF THEY EXPELLED YOU, YOU WAIT TILL I GET HOLD OF YOU. . ."

"Ah, how I do miss being young, sometimes," Flitwick said as Molly Weasley's Howler continued to rage at her son.

"Now?" Minerva said, attempting to hide her smile in her tea.

"I remember the Howlers, of course," Flitwick said, beaming, "but I remember the things I did to deserve them with significantly greater clarity."

"Right you are, there," said Sprout, chortling. "You should've heard the one I got from my mother right before N.E.W.T.s, God rest her soul. Was almost a shame Howlers let it all out at once, that one could've been preserved in a museum. Well, I'm off." She stuffed the last of her toast between her teeth. "Got the second-years potting mandrakes, bless them. I wouldn't miss the looks on their darling little faces for a galleon of Galleons."

Severus was glad she was gone. Morning people were insufferable. Minerva was the only one he could abide at breakfast; Sprout was as sunny as Dumbledore. At least Minerva was always in a suitably catty mood.

"I want Miss Potter's detention," he told Minerva across Dumbledore, who was eating toast very neatly to avoid getting boysenberry jam on his beard.

Minerva made a noise that sounded like poor girl. "Not Weasley's, too?"

"Not on your life. Give him to Filch," Severus said.

"I had been planning on it," she said tartly.

A sudden silence pressing on Severus's ears like cotton meant that Molly Weasley's letter had stopped shouting. A small curl of smoke was rising from the table in front of Ronald Weasley, who'd sunk below the bench, and the girl looked both mortified and miserable.

He was surprised to feel the faint tendril unfolding inside him as he looked at her was something like sympathy.

"Mandrakes are fascinating, aren't they?" said Hermione as they headed across the lawn, away from the thick heat of the greenhouses toward the castle. The scent of perfumed earth followed them, rubbed onto their robes after the mandrake-potting.

"Although I think it's rather cruel to cut them up as soon as they've grown—" she went on.

"I don't," Ron said with feeling. "Unless it's cruel to us not to cut them up sooner. I wonder if that's what Slytherins look like as babies?"

"I don't really like it either," Harriet said, remembering the way the mandrakes had squirmed and wailed, unheard through their magical earmuffs. "It doesn't seem fair to let somebody grow up just because you need them to get big before you can . . . you know . . . "

"They're only plants," Ron said.

Harriet ignored this. "It's like that book with the pig and the spider."

"What book with a pig and a spider?"

"Charlotte's Web," Hermione said automatically.

"Right." Harriet nodded. To Ron she explained, "There's this pig, see, named Wilbur, who's supposed to die because he's a runt, only this girl named Fern thinks it's too cruel, so she makes her dad, who's the farmer, not kill him. He says all right, but actually he's only going to wait for Wilbur to become big enough for slaughtering—"

"Well, that's what happens to pigs, isn't it?" Ron said as the shadows to the entrance hall folded over them. "We've got to have bacon."

"It may seem like nothing to you—" Hermione started hotly.

"Only there's this spider in the barn," Harriet raised her voice to break over their bickering, "named Charlotte, and she doesn't want Wilbur to die either, so she writes things in her web to make all the humans think Wilbur is an amazing pig and they won't kill him."

"Sounds a bit barmy," Ron said, sitting down across from Harriet and Hermione at the Gryffindor table, where platters of lunch had started appearing between the empty plates.

"It isn't," Hermione said resentfully. "It's a beautiful and touching story. Charlotte saves Wilbur's life."

"But then she dies," Harriet said, not reaching for the baked potatoes that had appeared next to her. "I hate that bit."

"It is very sad," Hermione said. "But that's what the whole book is about, you know—death, and how it's natural, even though we don't want it to be."

"You know what I don't want?" Ron said. "Double Potions with the Slytherins."

He was probably thinking about Draco Malfoy. Harriet was thinking about Pansy Parkinson, and she'd bet Hermione was, too. They all grimaced.

"I mean, bad enough we've got to suffer two hours with Snape," Ron said. "But always with Slytherins on top of that? Why couldn't it be with the Ravenclaws or Hufflepuffs?"

"Really, Ron," Hermione said as she helped herself to buttered asparagus. "After the troll and the Devil's Snare and the giant chess set, is Double Potions with the Slytherins and Professor Snape really that terrible?"

"Yes," Ron said. "I dunno how you can even ask, Hermione. Compared to Slytherins and Snape, that other stuff was a lark."

Harriet finally dragged a baked potato onto her plate, but she had trouble doing more than poke it with a fork. She didn't admit it aloud, but she was nervous about Double Potions. It would be the first time she was meeting Snape since she and Ron had crashed into the Whomping Willow, when he'd been so furious. Was he going to be mean and nasty to her now?

She ate her potato because it was silly not to. She knew the value of food. But she ate less than she otherwise would have, and she was sure it didn't taste as good as it ought to have done. When it was time for Potions, she pushed her plate away, shouldered a bag that felt oddly heavy, and plodded down into the icy dungeons with Hermione and Ron.

Snape didn't have his door open yet, curse him. Harriet hoped he'd let them in before the Slytherins arrived. Last year, Pansy Parkinson had really enjoyed taunting Harriet and Hermione in the queue so that everyone could hear and her gang of girls could laugh until the cold, dark corridor rang.

Yes, Harriet decided: she'd rather deal with Snape about to murder her and Ron on his office rug than listen to Pansy's taunting. It wouldn't be so bad if she could punch Pansy in the face, but if Snape did his nut because she and Ron ran a car into a tree, she didn't want to know what he'd do if she smacked one of his precious Slytherins.

"Oh, no," Hermione whispered with distaste as the unpleasant sound of a gaggle of Slytherins echoed through the dungeons. A moment later, they showed up, like bedbugs in clean linen.

Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, and sundry Slytherins. Urgh. Harriet didn't know what it was that made Slytherins seem so ugly, because really, they didn't look any better or worse than Hermione with her overlarge front teeth or Ron with his long nose and freckles or Harriet herself with her hedgehog hair and horrible glasses. But every time she saw the Slytherins in her year, she just wanted to give them fat lips. Maybe they reminded her too much of Dudley and his gang and her aunt and uncle: she could feel them itching to do something mean.

"If it isn't Potter the Glamour Girl," said Pansy Parkinson, to the snickers of her posse. She had a short, turned-up nose—literally turned-up at the tip. It made her look rather like a pug, but she thought she was God's gift to second-year Hogwarts' girls because her hair was sleek and shiny and she wore handmade Italian shoes and always had perfectly manicured fingernails. Well, that's what Harriet guessed. She couldn't see what else it could be.

"I'm surprised your family could afford a car, Weasley," Malfoy drawled. "Or did your brothers steal it off some Muggles too stupid to defend themselves?"

Harriet and Hermione grabbed the back of Ron's robes as soon as his face started turning maroon.

"Maybe you can sell some of Potter's signed photographs," Malfoy said, while Pansy pointed at Ron and laughed. "Buy another car . . . or at least a small piece of it or something."

"Leave it, Ron," Harriet said shortly, doing her best to act as if the Slytherins weren't laughing in loud, carrying voices. "He's just a jealous git because he'd never—"

She bit off the sentence when the classroom door swung open. They all waited to see if Snape would appear—the Gryffindors apprehensively, the Slytherins eagerly—but when he didn't show, Hermione grabbed Harriet and Ron by their elbows and hustled them inside. Snape had a cauldron set up on his desk, the fire lighting his face eerily from beneath as he stood over it. He made no sign that he'd seen them as they scuttled past his desk.

"Sir," said Malfoy over the scrape and clatter of settling in, "sir, Weasley tried to attack me in the corridor just now, I thought you should know—"

"He did," Pansy added. "I saw it, Professor, we all did."

"He did not!" Harriet said loudly, before she could stop herself.

"Harriet!" Hermione whispered in a frightened voice, struggling to grapple with Ron as he tried to push to his feet.

Snape looked up at Harriet's table, not at his Slytherins. His expression was so cold and remote, it made Harriet shiver.

"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley," he said in that voice like cold, dark tunnels. "Your disruptive behavior ends now. Do I make myself clear? Miss Granger, release Mr. Weasley or I'll have another twenty from you this time."

Ron was gripping the edge of the table, on his feet. Harriet's heart pushed hard and hot against her ribcage. She did not look at Malfoy or Pansy because she was afraid that if she did, she'd throw her cauldron at them. The injustice of it flared so incandescent inside her, she couldn't clearly see or hear what was going on around her.

"Sit down," Snape snapped at them.

Harriet dropped numbly into her seat.

She'd been expecting it, really. She didn't know why it stung so badly.

"—and then," Sprout was saying as Severus pushed open the staff room door late that afternoon. She paused, glancing toward the door; Minerva, Flitwick and Pomfrey mimicked her.

"It's only Severus," Minerva said, as if it weren't obvious. "He'll want to hear this."

"We're abusing Lockhart," Pomfrey said to him in a stage-whisper.

"Don't let me stop you," he said, taking a seat near Flitwick, close enough to hear them clearly but not near enough to reasonably participate in their conversation. He was exhausted, anyway. First days back always did that to him. After two months of near-isolation, the return to the racket and demands of the constant presence of other (and criminally stupid) people drained him.

"He was flitting around the Willow this morning like a blasted nuisance," Sprout resumed. "Tries to tell me how to bandage the tree that I planted, and clearly doesn't know a bally thing! 'You've got to let it thrash,' he says—while I'm bandaging it? Daft daffodil brain, that's what he is. 'When I saved the historic bo tree of Barun Valley,' he goes—"

"I hope he decides to try telling Severus a thing or two about potions," Minerva said, her square lenses glinting. At least she had said potions, not his hair.

"Oh dear," Flitwick said. "Minerva, you mustn't. It would be the shortest term a Defense teacher has ever served."

"Shh!" Pomfrey said, while they all tried to muffle their laughter (except Severus, of course, since he was constitutionally incapable of laughter). "Someone's coming . . . "

They all listened avidly to the murmurs of footsteps and voices out in the hall.

"Yes, it's him," Sprout told them in a half-whisper, "I'd know that smarmy voice anywhere, more's the pity."

". . . well, of course," said Lockhart's indisputably smarmy voice through the staff room door, "soon as I heard, I knew it was all my fault—"

The door clattered open and he came in trailing Dumbledore, who was listening to him with every sign of interest. Lockhart was wearing turquoise trimmed with gold, but Dumbledore had out-done him in cerulean blue with a pattern of peacock feathers along the sleeves, the hem and the shoulders. Together, they were more than a bit of an eyesore. Severus saw Minerva lift her eyes to the ceiling.

"—could have kicked myself," Lockhart went on, shaking his head in a self-deprecating way that somehow managed to look entirely self-important. "Gave her a taste for publicity. Gave her the bug. She got onto the front page of the paper with me and couldn't wait to do it again."

Severus was momentarily so mesmerized by the way Lockhart managed to show every single one of his gleaming teeth at any given moment that the true meaning of this speech did not immediately register. But then he realized Lockhart was talking about Lily's daughter.

"Now, Gilderoy," said Dumbledore, ushering Lockhart to a chair slightly apart from the other teachers', "I'm sure you take too much upon yourself."

"No, no, Albus, not at all!" said Lockhart. "I understand how it is. It's natural to want a bit more once you've had that first taste, and I blame myself for giving her that—it was bound to go to her head—but—"

Dumbledore glanced at Severus, who realized that, as unbelievable as it seemed, the headmaster was enjoying himself.

"—see here, young lady, I said to her, you can't start flying cars to try and get yourself noticed! Plenty of time for that when you're older!"

"Yes," Minerva said waspishly, "when she has an operator's license."

"I'm positive she took me to heart," Lockhart said, no doubt failing to hear her because the remark contained no praise of anything to do with him. "Understood me completely! Had a look of real amazement on her face by the time I was through."

I'm sure she did, Severus thought.

"It was most kind of you to take Miss Potter's interests to heart, Gilderoy my boy," Dumbledore said, sounding fully sincere, although his eyes flicked toward Severus again. What was that supposed to mean? "She's a dear girl—quite special to us all."

"Oh, of course, of course!" Lockhart said, showing all of those perfect gleaming teeth. "You know, Albus, I wondered if I might take that detention of hers? All my fault, you know, like I said! And I think she might like to take a few lessons from me on the best way to handle fame—caught her offering to give out signed photos today! Looks a tad bigheaded at this stage, as you can bet I told her, but I'm sure she was only trying to emulate me. Dash it, she's not met anyone quite so famous before, it's no wonder she'd make a few wrong choices at first. Overcome with admiration—only seeking to emulate—stands to reason!"

Somewhere beneath Dumbledore's expression of good-natured interest was a gleam of unholy amusement, but Severus was sure one of his ribs was going to crack with the strain of not committing bloody murder.

He met Minerva's eye across the room and saw his thoughts mirrored there exactly:

This is going to be a very long year.

Chapter Text

Harriet had never thought she would see the day when food would be sitting in front of her and she wouldn't want to eat it. Meals at the Dursleys were often sparse and small because Aunt Petunia wouldn't feed her, not because the food was inedible, and it was unthinkable that she could ignore the food at Hogwarts. Even the prospect of Snape's classes right after lunch, which still made her food less tasty than usual, didn't take away her appetite completely.

But it had totally disappeared after Professor McGonagall had descended on Gryffindor table to give Harriet and Ron their detentions. The words Miss Potter, you'll be with Professor Snape this evening had sucked absolutely all the taste out of Harriet's steak and kidney pie.

"Whatever happened to lines?" Ron said once McGonagall had left. "Or manuring the greenhouses? Cleaning out bedpans in the infirmary? Fred and George got that one more than a few times, but they never got a whole evening spent with Snape!"

Hermione fussed with her bookmark in Voyages with Vampires but said nothing. She didn't have to, though. Hermione could be unspeakably loud without saying a word.

"If I hadn't already learned my lesson, this'd teach me," Harriet said, pushing away her plate with a grimace.

Hermione's deafening silence seemed to say, Well, you did break the rules. Harriet loved her more than anyone else in the world, but right then she was just as glad to leave Hermione reading fifteen chapters ahead of their homework assignment and head off with Ron for their evening of misery. She already had detention with Snape; she didn't need Hermione suggesting she deserved every bit of it on top of that. It was bad enough to know she deserved it. Her stomach coiled like a dying snake every time she remembered that Mr Weasley was facing an inquiry at work because of her and Ron.

"Good luck, mate," Ron said to Harriet as they parted at the great staircase: Ron to climb to the trophy room, Harriet to descend to the dungeons.

Snape's dungeon. She thought of the jars of ghastly floating things he liked to decorate with and shuddered.

She'd never been in the dungeons at night before, but discovered they ought to be creepy enough during the day for anyone's taste. The long, icy corridor oozed with shadows in the flickering torchlight, reminding her what castle dungeons were originally built for. She wondered if Hogwarts had included them for the same reason.

Considering her destination, she could have done without thinking it.

The door to Snape's classroom creaked ominously. She wondered if he made it do that.

Peering inside, she searched the darkness for the only bit of him you could sometimes see, i.e. his sallow face, but she didn't see anything this time. The greenish light from the walls somehow made the shadows worse, and it was horribly cold down here.

"Shut the door."

Snape's icy voice came from out of nowhere, making her jump in her skin.

He melted out of the wall, floating behind him a steel barrel that was nearly as tall as Harriet. No—not out of the wall, stupid, she told herself: he'd only been in his storeroom.

She shut the door, wishing she hadn't noticed how bad-tempered he looked. Or how the bang of the door echoed like the dot-dot-dot on the sentence: "And then something happened, something so horrible that . . . "

Snape dropped the barrel in the middle of the room, where a few desks had been pushed aside in a kind of polygon. The clang echoed off the bare walls.

"Well?" he said, waving his wand to slide the lid off the barrel. It gave a nasty, ominous scrape as it came free, and she smelled the tang of formaldehyde.

Instead of looking in the barrel, which she was certain contained something really disgusting, she glanced up at Snape's face and straightaway regretted it: his eyes were glittering in a malicious yet satisfied way that she didn't like at all.

"These are horned toads," he said.

She looked at the barrel and wished she hadn't eaten so much at dinner.

"You will disembowel them."

Or anything, really.

"Without gloves," he finished.

She stared at him. He smiled in a way that shouldn't have been called a smile, and handed her a small knife with a serrated edge.

"The whole barrel," he said softly.

*

Harriet wondered (as their guts caked beneath her fingernails) if disemboweling horned toads was better than, say, helping Lockhart answer his fan mail or something. She wasn't sure. Snape now made her horribly nervous, but he didn't make her want to tear her hair out. Still, she reckoned Lockhart would probably faint at the idea of anyone gutting a horned toad, if only from what it would do to their nails.

All this past week Lockhart had kept turning up wherever she went, winking roguishly and trying to give her advice on fame. Partly this was Colin Creevey's fault: he had memorized her timetable and arranged his route to classes to cross with hers so that she ran into him about six times a day. Whether Lockhart turned up so often because he wanted to talk to Harriet about how famous he was or simply because he knew she was stalked by a fanboy with a camera and he could get into the photos, Harriet wasn't sure, but she wished Colin would just transfer his obsession from her to Lockhart. It would save her a lot of embarrassment.

Lavender and Parvati were very jealous and simply tuned Harriet out when she said they could have Lockhart and Colin for the asking.

"He's so handsome," Lavender would sigh.

"I hope he comes out with that range of hair care products he talks about in his book," Parvati said. "His hair always looks amazing . . . "

"Just find out what he uses now and yours'd look the same," Harriet retorted.

"I know he's got the wrong idea about you," Hermione would say when Harriet complained that her teacher was stalking her, "but think of all the inside information he could give you on everything he's done!"

"Harry doesn't need to listen to that idiot talk more about himself," said Ron, looking horrified at the very thought (and offending Hermione).

Harriet snorted at the memory.

"I said disembowel them," said Snape's cold voice, "not inhale them."

Harriet looked up warily. Snape was sitting behind his desk with a small mountain of marking spread out in front of him in messy piles. She knew it was marking because he was writing from a huge bottle of red ink. It gleamed on his quill tip like blood.

Snape's narrow eyes glittered at her past clumps of long, greasy hair. With that great beaky nose and the red ink staining his fingertips, he reminded her of a vulture. Ron said Neville had nightmares about him. Small wonder.

"Remember you've the whole barrel," he said, and went back to his marking.

Grimacing, Harriet pulled the toad's guts out of its belly and let them dribble into the bowl Snape had given her to hold them. She wondered if Snape actually needed these for potions or if he just kept the toads so he could give out really disgusting detentions. This made Ron's slug-spewing problem look downright cute.

She dropped the gutted carcass into the rubbish bin and reached back into the barrel. The whole thing? She'd already done about half, but she had no idea how long she'd been here, since Snape didn't keep a clock. It felt like six weeks.

She pulled out the next toad and tried not to look too closely at it. At least it was dark down here.

As she pushed the dirty knife into its underbelly, she heard the voice.

"Come . . . come to me . . ."

She froze, staring down at the dead horned toad as the voice, cold like venom that had been trapped in ice for a thousand years, like hatred that cut to your bones, pierced into her head and streamed into her thoughts—

"Let me rip you . . . let me tear you . . . let me kill you . . ."

She jumped back from the toad, the barrel, all of it, dropping the knife with a clatter.

" . . . kill . . . so long . . . "

She pressed her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut.

" . . . kill . . . KILL . . . "

"Miss Potter!"

Her eyes flew open. Snape was standing over her, his expression fierce yet somehow odd.

"What are you doing?" he said, gesturing at her hands.

She lowered them from her ears, heart pounding, but the dungeon room was silent. She stared at the barrel of horned toads but heard nothing.

"I . . . " Had she imagined it? Yes . . . that's probably what it had been: gutting those dead toads, down here in Snape's creepy dungeon, him sitting there like a half-full vulture—it was no wonder she was hearing voices.

Really horrible voices . . .

"Nothing," she muttered, seeing Snape still looking at her with his narrow, bottomless eyes. "I thought I heard something but I think . . . I think I was just hearing things."

"You think you heard something . . . because you heard something," Snape repeated.

"Yeah," Harriet said, a touch defiantly. "Like audio hallucinations?"

"I know what 'hearing things' means, Miss Potter." But Snape kept staring at her. "What exactly did you hear?"

"The horned toads talking," she said.

He stared at her a moment longer, almost incredulous, then glanced over his shoulder at the barrel. "The very dead horned toads?"

"Yes," she said defiantly.

"The ones with or without their intestines?" he asked with an air of mockery.

"The one I was cutting into," she said, not quite daring to glare but settling for a glower.

Snape sighed. It was very quiet, but it was definitely a sigh, the sort Mrs. Weasley gave when the twins weren't behaving but hadn't blown anything up yet.

"Very well. That will do for tonight," he said. "Know that the next time you decide rules are for others, the rest of the barrel has your name on it."

"Yes, sir," she said, in a tone of voice that was just rude enough to make him raise his eyebrows.

"Would you like the next time to be now?" he asked, softly menacing.

"No, sir," she said, deciding it was much safer to stare at her shoes.

"A good answer, Miss Potter."

She heard the lid scraping back onto the horned toad barrel. "Wash your hands," Snape said.

Harriet scrubbed underneath the icy jet from the gargoyle's mouth for several long minutes, trying to pick the gunk out of her nails.

"I haven't got all night, Miss Potter," he said from where he stood beside the open door with an air of slightly scornful impatience.

She hurried forward, wiping her hands on her jeans, and stopped in surprise when he followed her out. He shut the door behind himself and moved his wand in a soft motion that made the door glow golden.

"Well?" he said, now waving his wand at her in an obvious shoo. For a split second, she expected to grow horns or something. "Get a move on."

"Er?" she said when he followed her.

"It's past midnight," he said. "You have a curfew. Unless you would rather Filch entrap you with another detention already?"

"No," she said quickly. "Sir."

He walked her up to the Pink Lady in silence and waited until she was climbing in through the portrait hole before sweeping away without a backwards glance.

*

After he had seen the girl slip, bewildered, behind her portrait, he went straight to the headmaster's office. It was past midnight, but he knew Dumbledore would still be awake.

"Good evening, Severus," he greeted, looking up from where he was, to all appearances, knitting a sock for someone eight feet tall. Well, there was always Hagrid. "I trust you arranged something suitably appalling for Harriet's detention?"

He was smiling as he said it, and Severus was reminded of his amusement over Lockhart's bragging. He scowled.

"The reckless little brat deserved it," he said. "You've already forgiven her, of course."

"I try to remember what it was like to be young," Dumbledore admitted. "But it is easier to forgive others when we have learned how to forgive ourselves. You, of course," he pulled a ball of aquamarine yarn from a basket at his feet, "have still not forgiven yourself for offenses committed when you were fifteen."

He sounded like he regretted this, which made Severus unspeakably angry for a reason he didn't care to define at the moment.

"I didn't come here for a bloody therapy session," he snarled. "I came to tell you Miss Potter had a fit."

Dumbledore blinked. "Dear boy, what did you have her doing?"

"Because she was hearing voices."

Dumbledore sat up a little straighter, his gaze suddenly as piercing as an arrowhead. "Tell me."

Severus described seeing her jump and drop the knife, her face white, shocked and disturbed, and then press her hands over her ears, Lily's eyes screwed shut.

"And you heard nothing?" Dumbledore said when he'd finished.

"Not a thing. The door never opened, the ghosts cannot make themselves invisible, and Peeves would never be so subtle. With the gloating, if nothing else."

Dumbledore looked troubled. "And so you thought—"

"Yes," Severus said shortly.

Dumbledore rubbed the knuckles of his left hand absently, still watching Severus as he thought. "The house-elf must have been behind the business with the sealed barrier," he murmured, even though they'd decided this on the night the girl flew a fucking car into the Whomping Willow. "And though he couldn't give you any more information . . . "

No, and Lucius had given him nothing. When Severus had said, If you're planning something at Hogwarts . . . he had only looked supremely self-satisfied and said, I'm not planning anything, Severus, nothing at all, in that way that was as good as gloating. We mustn't press it, Severus, Dumbledore had told him. We must tread carefully, lest we show our hand. Lucius is clever, clever enough to keep himself out of trouble all these years, and for that reason alone he would be a good ally to Tom . . .

Although it had been barren of particulars, that visit to the Malfoys had confirmed one thing: there was something dark coming to Hogwarts . . . and now the girl was hearing voices, voices that Severus hadn't, or couldn't hear. The elf had risked detection to warn her specifically, and Lucius had seemed so satisfied with himself and secure in the apparent knowledge that his own son would not be harmed . . .

But if the Dark Lord hadn't contacted Lucius, which Severus was sure he had not, for Lucius wouldn't have come out of such a meeting unscathed, then Severus couldn't see what the man could possibly gain. Why this particular timing? If all he'd wanted was retribution on the girl, he could have sought it last year. He would have known when she was due for Hogwarts.

The information that would illuminate everything was remaining stubbornly opaque. He hated it when life got like that. All the Houses were suffering the lowest tally of points in recent history because of his foul temper, and this was only Saturday of the first week. On Friday evening, Flitwick had even gone so far as to ask him if he was feeling quite all right, and Minerva's conversation was becoming distinctly frost-chipped.

"It's good you accepted Lockhart's application after all," he said to Dumbledore. "The way he's been following her about, if anything attacks her, it might kill him off first."

Dumbledore's mustache twitched. "Severus, your sense of humor remains irreparably morbid."

"This, coming from you, Headmaster?" Severus said pointedly. "After you've been courting the society of that obnoxious cretin?"

"I have never been able to refuse the allure of the ridiculous," Dumbledore admitted.

"With him it's practically an art form."

"He is something of a masterpiece," Dumbledore agreed.

"I maintain that he's a creep of the first order," Severus said, well aware that practically everyone at Hogwarts, even Flitwick, would probably describe him the exact same way, six days out of seven. At least.

"Well, yes," said Dumbledore. "But, in the way I believe you are thinking, relatively harmless. I'm quite sure he will never have half the interest in anyone that he does in himself. His attention to Harriet is predominately a need to pit his fame against hers."

"It had better be," Severus said bitingly, even though he agreed. He'd been watching, and when there wasn't a camera involved, Lockhart wasn't interested in the girl at all. At mealtimes, when she sat well within sight, Lockhart always spent the time admiring his own reflection in his silverware.

Because he was a bizarre man, Dumbledore smiled warmly at Severus. "I assure you, Severus, were it otherwise—should I have the slightest suspicion that Harriet or any of the children was in danger—I would dismiss Gilderoy Lockhart and take the Defense position myself."

Severus glared. "Don't trust me, do you," he said, ignoring his Inner Hufflepuff's attempts to point out that Dumbledore oughtn't and he knew it.

"The school could bear to lose me," Dumbledore said. "Minerva would make an excellent Headmistress, and in these times that, I am sure, will grow gradually darker, you, Filius and Pomona have my utmost confidence in keeping the students safe from harm. If the curse didn't finish me off—"

"That bloody curse again," Severus said.

"The curse is very real," Dumbledore said, serious for the moment. "And you must remain at Hogwarts, Severus."

He didn't add You know this, because Severus did know and Dumbledore knew it. But that didn't mean Severus had to like it, nor would the knowledge prevent him from bitching about it.

"At least we only have to put up with that garish twit for three terms," he said.

"There's the silver lining." Dumbledore smiled. "I knew you would find it."

*

By Halloween, Harriet knew she hadn't been hallucinating about the voice.

The really obvious clue came when she, Ron and Hermione found Mrs Norris hanging apparently dead by her tail from a torch bracket next to a message painted in blood on the walls. Harriet was glad Mrs Norris wasn't actually dead, if only because that might have gotten Harriet expelled.

Dumbledore was very firm that she, Ron and Hermione couldn't have had anything to do with it, but Snape seemed to doubt it: after the Petrified Cat incident, he was more horrible to Harriet than he'd been so far, and took to following her around the castle and snapping at her if she did something he disapproved of. Because Things Snape Disapproved Of ranged from going to the library to eating dinner to walking up the stairs, Harriet had very little means of behaving herself.

If she'd wanted it, she had all the satisfaction of knowing she'd been right: making an enemy of Snape was a fate she could've done without.

"Miss Potter," he said one day as everyone in Potions readying to make their escape, "you will stay behind."

"What? Why? Sir," she added, because it was amazing the way Snape could make his stare feel like nails.

"Good bye, Miss Granger, Mr Weasley," he said without looking at her friends, who were hovering behind him at the door. Hermione shot Harriet a deeply sympathetic look as she dragged an indignant Ron out of the room.

"Do you see these desks, Miss Potter?" Snape pointed at them.

Harriet was tempted to say something pretty sarcastic but couldn't bring herself to be so suicidal. "Yes, sir?"

His tone became even more mocking. "Do you see what's on them?"

She grimaced at the flaky remains of their potions' ingredients. "Erm . . . tubeworms?"

"Very good," he said, in a tone of voice that wasn't anything like a compliment. "They need scraping off."

Harriet had no choice—she wouldn't had with any teacher, but somehow being ordered to do something by Snape was more binding. But she fumed as she gouged at the crusty tubeworm leftovers, honestly wondering why Snape suddenly had it in for her so bad. Was he that attached to Mrs. Norris?

Actually, it started when you flew the car, said a helpful voice in her head. At least it was nothing like that horrible, hissing, echoing voice that had led her to the scene of Mrs. Norris's Petrification, to that evil message on the walls.

But why should Snape care so much about a flying car that didn't even belong to him or anything? Everyone else has already got over it . . .

Professor Dumbledore said he didn't like Dad, didn't he? And he only worked so hard to protect me last year because he owed Dad a debt.

Maybe now that Snape had watched out for her last year, he was okay with singling out Harriet with his temper now? But then why had he looked so angry when he saw how she lived at the Dursleys'? Aunt Petunia would love a postcard of Harriet scraping up tubeworms. She'd probably frame it . . . or maybe not, because that would mean having a picture of Harriet in the house.

Grown ups were very strange.

"Very well, that's enough," Snape said a few minutes later as he closed the last cabinet where he'd been putting things away. "Get up to lunch before it's over."

As if it had been her idea to hang around in his dead creepy classroom prodding at tubeworms. She grabbed her bag and ran out the door before he could change his mind.

"Miss Potter!" he shouted after her. "Five points from Gryffindor for running!"

Grinding her teeth, she slowed to a walk as she approached the stairs, and then jumped when she noticed Snape billowing up behind her. She thought of the way he'd looked after he'd Apparated them from Privet Drive to Hogwarts, with the sun bursting golden against the pale sky and whorls of magic sinking around him like ink and water, like he could summon shadows everywhere he went.

"What did I do now?" she blurted.

"Seeing as it's lunchtime," he said with an expressive sneer, "I assume we are heading to the same place."

"Oh," she said, not sure whether she should feel weak with relief or hot from embarrassment.

"Well?" He shooed her forward and followed her into the Great Hall like a malevolent shadow.

She found Ron and Hermione waving at her from halfway down the table and walked as quickly as she could, definitely not running, to meet them.

She squeezed in next to Hermione, who pushed a plate of shepherd's pie in front of her. "Thanks," Harriet said fervently.

"What did he want this time?" Hermione asked anxiously.

"Does it matter?" Ron scowled up at the High Table. "What is with that greasy old git?"

But Harriet, who'd started to nurse the fear that Snape could not only hear a pin drop on the other side of the castle but also read minds, made a frantic shushing motion. "He'll hear you!" she hissed, watching anxiously as Snape cut savagely into his lunch.

"Honestly, Harry, he can't hear across the hall," Hermione said, but she sounded a bit doubtful all the same, and they all huddled down a bit, counting on a group of fifth-years to shield them from Snape's view.

"Where's Ginny?" Harriet asked. There were four bright patches of Weasley hair at the Gryffindor table, but none of them were Ginny's. "She wasn't at breakfast either . . . "

"Maybe we should go look for her when you're done eating," Hermione said, looking troubled. "She's been looking rather unwell lately . . . And Ron didn't help," she added with a nasty glare.

"Whaf?" Ron managed to ask around a huge mouthful of treacle tart that made his cheeks bulge like a chipmunk's who was storing for winter.

"Saying it was a shame Filch hadn't been Petrified along with Mrs. Norris—"

"She juf nobbin onna wrong fide ofilch et—" Ron swallowed. "—that's all," he finished sagely. "Once he's tried to get her with detention for tracking mud up the corridor, she'll feel differently."

"Well, I've known Filch for more than a year and I don't think it's funny to joke about people being Petrified, no matter who they are—"

Harriet let their bickering float past and concentrated on her lunch. It was extra tasty today. She wondered if house-elves had baked it.

"Oh!" Hermione said. "Thank goodness it's come!"

Harriet looked up as a magnificent tawny owl swept down overhead, so close the beat of his wings fluttered the hair on her forehead. He landed on the table with a reverberating thunk owing to the large package tied to his feet.

"Whaffaten?" Ron said, chewing.

"A book," Harriet guessed, and not just because it was being delivered to Hermione: it had a definitely bookish shape to it.

Ron wiped his chin with his sleeve. "More books? Have you read the whole library already, then?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Hermione looked amazed, though whether this was because they hadn't guessed what she was up to, or from Ron's table manners, Harriet wasn't sure. "I've been trying to find out about the Chamber of Secrets, of course! Only everyone else is, too, and I had to leave my copy of Hogwarts: A History at home because of all the Lockhart books—Mum's just sent it to me—here, could you give him a treat, Ron, Mum's tied the twine too tight—"

By the time the owl had been fed some scraps of Ron's leftover lunch and sent off, Hermione had found the right chapter in the index. She read it out to them—the founding of the school, Slytherin's prejudice, his fight with Gryffindor and leaving, his secret chamber with a monster that could only be found by his very own heir, and which never had been found . . .

"Blimey," Ron said as the bell rang and the noise in the Hall grew even louder as everyone got up to leave. "I always knew Salazar Slytherin was a twisted old loony, but I never knew he started all this pure-blood rubbish."

"Honestly!" There were bright patches of pink on Hermione's cheeks, maybe at the idea that Salazar Slytherin would have considered her untrustworthy. "It's no wonder everyone in his House is perfectly horrid, with a founder like that! Bringing a monster into the school, to purge it of the unworthy—"

"And you heard Malfoy," Ron added darkly as they headed into the shadow of the Entrance Hall, making for the Grand Staircase. "'You'll be next, Mudbloods!' Joyful time for him that'd be, the slimy little snake. I wouldn't be in Slytherin if you paid me. Bunch of nutters, they are."

"Yes, and they . . . Harry?" Hermione put a hand on her arm. "Are you all right?"

Harriet had been thinking about Snape. His cold black eyes had followed them out of the Hall, his expression shuttered. "I'm fine," she said, turning back to her friends. "Well . . . at least now we know what Dobby was warning me about."

Chapter Text

"Whoa," said Harriet, blinking numbly.

Lockhart's dazzling grin tried to stun her. Well, it wasn't so much the one grin as the several dozen of them. She would really have liked some sunglasses.

"They must have finished it," Hermione said in hushed awe.

They stood gazing at the enormous mural, if mural was the word Harriet wanted, of Lockhart. It spanned the wall between Lavender's and Parvati's beds, teeming with photographs of Lockhart snipped out of colorful magazines mostly, but some black and white newspapers, too. He grinned, winked, beamed, glittered, twinkled and posed from every angle.

"I wonder if this is what he looks like to a fly," Harriet said as a dozen different Lockharts checked their hair and flashed their teeth and blew kisses. At each other.

Hermione giggled, pink in the face.

Harriet checked to make sure Lavender and Parvati weren't in the room, because Hermione wouldn't talk about it if they were. She had outlined Lockhart's classes on her schedule in little hearts and memorized all his books (well, she memorized everything she read, honestly), but the whole time Lavender and Parvati had been working on their mural Hermione had sniffed and looked as if she had no more idea than Harriet that Lockhart's secret ambition was to rid the world of evil and market his own range of hair-care potions.

"Why do you like him?" Harriet asked. She started to say He's sort of a loony but realized it was the sort of thing Ron would say and Hermione would only clam up and hide behind Gadding with Ghouls.

Hermione went a shade of deep pink that Lockhart had worn last Tuesday. "Who says I like him?" she asked, her eyes darting around as if to check, like Harriet, that they were alone except for the dozens of posing Lockharts.

"Nobody says," Harriet said, "but I'd have to be Petrified not to notice."

Hermione looked like she wanted to deny it, but then she gave up and went more deeply pink. "How can you not like him? You've read his books!"

"Actually, I've tried not to," Harriet said. "They're sort of... rummy."

"But everything he's done!" Hermione said, staring at Harriet as if she couldn't believe her ears. "The way he saved that entire monastery in Tibet from the ice zombies! And that village in Armenia from a whole werewolf pack, he did that single-handedly!"

"Well, yeah, all that stuff's really brave," Harriet said truthfully. "But I mean . . . " She watched a Lockhart in pale sea foam green wink at a lilac-wearing Lockhart in the picture caddy-corner to him, who flashed his teeth. "I just can't imagine Lockhart doing it."

"He wrote the books, Harriet."

Harriet gave it up. Lockhart had written the books. She just thought it was weird that he'd done all that amazing stuff but couldn't handle some pixies, and besides, Professor McGonagall and Snape really seemed to hate him. That was normal for Snape, who everyone knew wanted the Defense position, but McGonagall? They looked disgusted whenever he talked to them, like Lockhart smelled as bad as a troll. And they would stare at each other with clear Can you believe this? expressions whenever he checked his hair in the silverware at dinner.

Someone knocked on their dorm room door. It turned out to be Ginny, looking pale with dark circles under her eyes.

"There you are!" Harriet said, pulling her into the room. Ginny's hands were like ice. "Where've you been?"

"We tried to find you at lunch to see where you were," Hermione said, her eyebrows creasing at the sight of Ginny's unhealthy color. "And before dinner, too, you didn't come to either—"

"But no one could tell us where you'd gone," Harriet finished.

"Oh," Ginny mumbled.

For a moment, Ginny looked blank—not like she didn't understand, but like she wasn't there at all, like nothing was looking out from behind her eyes. A chill crawled up Harriet's back like the spiders they'd seen fleeing from Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

Then Ginny rubbed her eyes. "I . . . I was asleep . . . I think . . . "

"You think?" Hermione asked sharply. When Harriet poked her, she looked apologetic and softened her tone. "I just mean—have you been to Madam Pomfrey?"

"She gave me Pepper Up," Ginny said wearily. "I just felt the same."

"The same like what?" Harriet asked.

"Tired," Ginny said. "And . . . cold, kind of." She shivered.

Harriet traded a look with Hermione, whose eyebrows looked troubled and thinky, like she didn't like the sound of this anymore than Harriet did. It was almost December in a drafty castle in north Scotland, but Gryffindor tower was so warm in the winter that sometimes you had to go walk around the chilly corridors just to cool down, especially if Fred and George were letting off fireworks under the chairs of people studying for end of term exams. And the girls' dorm had a nice fire going right now. She and Hermione had thrown off their itchy jumpers and were just wearing their shirts.

They sat Ginny in front of the fire and wrapped her in blankets. Harriet wondered if students could call the house-elves like Snape had done, or if that was a teachers-only privilege. She thought Ginny would do better for some hot chocolate.

"Are you homesick, Ginny?" Hermione asked in a kind voice.

"No," Ginny said. "Honestly, it was more lonely last year when it was just me and Mum and Dad. I mean, sometimes it was heaven, not having brothers around, but weird, you know?"

Hermione clearly didn't, but she was an only child. "Well, then, is it Mrs. Norris?" she asked, more kindly still.

Ginny, whose knee was pressed up against Harriet's, went as hard and stiff as stone.

"Mrs. Norris?" she said faintly.

"Yes." Hermione stared. "Ginny, what's the matter?"

Ginny's hand crept up to her mouth. She looked like she'd seen a ghost—not one of the Hogwarts' ghosts, but something dreadful, like a piece of a nightmare.

"I . . . " she whispered, shaking all over. She stood up, the blankets falling off her. She stared at both Harriet and Hermione, her lower lip trembling, and then ran out of the room, crashing into Lavender and Parvati, who were just coming back in.

"Merlin! Watch where you're going!" Lavender squealed, but Ginny was already gone.

"What happened?" Parvati asked them, eyes wide.

Harriet looked at Hermione, who seemed equally mystified.

"We've really got no idea," Harriet said.

*

"What do you think it was about?" Hermione whispered to Harriet later that night. They'd pulled the hangings shut around Harriet's bed and the covers up over their heads, because Lavender got cranky if they kept her up whispering, even though she and Parvati sometimes talked and giggled together for hours.

"Maybe she knows something about Mrs. Norris," Harriet whispered, staring up at the crimson darkness of her canopy. "Maybe . . . maybe she can hear the voice, too."

She couldn't see Hermione's face, but she could imagine her expression as clear as the moonlight outside the window. When she was thinking hard about something that bothered her, her eyebrows drew down and her mouth thinned.

"Have you heard it at all past those two times?" she whispered.

Harriet shook her head, then remembered Hermione couldn't see her. "No. But . . . maybe different people can hear it at different times."

Hermione lapsed into a Thinking Silence. It was thicker than her Reading Silence, but not cold like her Disapproving Silence.

"Well," she whispered at last. "You should get some sleep. You've that Quidditch match against Slytherin in the morning."

"And Oliver'll want me to go at it like I'm fighting Slytherin's monster," Harriet yawned.

*

As it happened, it wasn't Slytherin's monster but a Bludger that Harriet had to fight off. She just barely managed it without breaking her neck, but it was a near thing. After hitting the mud, dizzy in the knowledge that they'd bloody won and Draco Malfoy could take that and tell it to Slytherin's monster, she fainted.

She woke up to glittering teeth.

"Oh no," she moaned, "not you."

"Doesn't know what she's saying," Lockhart told someone. Harriet made out blurs of red and gold around her, probably a crowd of Gryffindors. "Not to worry, Harriet, I'm going to fix your arm."

"No!" Harriet tried to pull it away from him, but the pain surged like a tidal wave and her vision went green and black. She thought she'd been going to say something else but she had no idea what it could have been—

Dimly, she heard a squelch and a thud.

"—gawping idiots," snarled a familiar voice. "Get back, get out of the—Miss Potter?"

"I didn't do it," Harriet said thickly, wondering if she was dreaming, because it seemed like Snape had come into her nightmare to blame her for something else. She blinked, trying to see, but her glasses were coated with mud.

Then something lovely happened to her arm—something that made it hurt less—and she was lifted gently out of the mud and onto something soft and stretcher-like.

"I thought I told you to get—" she heard Snape snarling from somewhere close-by. "If you must, Miss Granger—Weasley, move out of the way, where do you think I'm going, you daft boy—"

Harriet found out later, after Madam Pomfrey had dosed her with a pain potion and fixed her broken arm, that Snape had, according to Angelina and Katie, kneed Lockhart in the back and tread him into the mud; magicked her onto a stretcher and carted her up to the hospital wing, followed by Hermione, Ron, and the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team; and that Filch had just about had an apoplectic fit at all the mud they'd tracked through the castle (but Snape had sent him packing with a pithy remark that Fred said he'd treasure always).

Harriet dearly wished she could have seen Snape knock Lockhart into the mud, which Fred, George and Ron assured her had been an experience worth remembering. She was sure he'd also saved her arm from some horrible fate, like Lockhart turning it into an elephant's trunk.

"I'm sure he wouldn't have done anything of the sort," Hermione said a bit shrilly as they left the hospital wing to clean up. Even though she and Ron hadn't been flying through the rain, they'd gotten plenty wet and filthy kneeling over Harriet in the mud.

"I wouldn't want that nutter anywhere near me with a wand," Ron said. "Every time he gets it out, disaster strikes. He's worse than Neville."

"Oh, rubbish!" Hermione said, pink-cheeked, as they stopped where the edge of the hallway met the empty drop in the vault of staircases, to wait for one of the flights to swing over. "Look at all the things he's done!"

"He says he's done," Ron said. "Oh, hurry up," he told the staircase, which was stuck waiting for a couple of Hufflepuffs to gather up their things; one of their bags had split open and they were scrambling to save everything from rolling off the stairs into the long, long drop of nothing below. "I'm starving. . ."

"Of course he's done everything he says he has!" Hermione snapped.

Harriet was only half paying attention to their row, though, because something nearby was rattling. Then it went CRASH. She looked up to see a suit of armor toppling at her, the axe swinging down. Hermione cried out, but Harriet dodged backward, neatly out of the way - and felt her foot slip off into nothing -

*

They watched the box rattle across the floor as the Bludger fought to break out.

"I always check the balls against foul play," Hooch told Severus and Minerva above the shuffling and thumping. "There was nothing wrong with this one. Bludgers always fight."

"Except that clearly," Severus said coldly, "there was something wrong with it."

"I checked it before and after," Hooch insisted with a dirty look. "Go on, then, have at it. If it'll set your mind at rest."

Minerva unlocked the box and they both ran diagnostic spells over the thing while Hooch stood with her arms folded, looking like a local police chief having his work inspected by Scotland Yard in the smug yet offended knowledge that the interfering detective wasn't going to find anything. And indeed, even Severus's most sensitive Dark scans came up negative. To his magic, the Bludger was faultless.

And yet it had followed Lily's daughter across the Quidditch pitch for over an hour, screaming through the rain-whipped air, until her arm had snapped so hard he'd heard the break from the teachers' stands. He could still see her plummeting toward the ground, hanging onto her broom by nothing more than her knees. All for a fucking Snitch—

"House-elf," he snapped.

Hooch blinked as a house-elf appeared in her cluttered little office amidst the Quidditch bric-a-brac.

"Severus, what in Godric's—" Minerva started, but Severus ignored her and pointed at the Bludger in its box, which had jerked its way across the floor and was now banging metallically against a file cabinet.

"Tell me if this Bludger bears any mark of house-elf magic," he told the elf, which he thought was probably female.

She bowed and went over to the box, putting her hands on it, and the Bludger fell eerily still and silent. She stroked her hands over the Bludger's curve and tilted her head as if listening, her ears standing out from her head.

"Yes, Professor Snape Sir," she squeaked. When she released the Bludger, it immediately started shaking again. "But it is not a Hogwarts' elf, Professor Sir."

"Thank you," Severus said, and with a bow she disappeared like mist in a gale.

"House-elf magic?" Minerva asked him in a tone of voice that had an old ring of Severus Snape You Will Tell Me This Instant Why It Is After Curfew And You Are Not In Your Common Room to it. "Severus, what's the meaning of this?"

"I suggest you ask the Headmaster," he said in a way calculated to make her tail bristle, and swept out without a backwards glance at Hooch. But beneath that, he was more baffled than before. If Lucius's house-elf wanted to keep the girl safe from whatever Lucius was unleashing at Hogwarts, why in God's name would he try to kill her?

As he gained the entrance hall, he heard something swishing close behind him. "Severus Snape!" Minerva barked, now in tone of a Fifty Points From Slytherin And See Me After Class. He forced his legs to keep walking, although he turned his head slightly to show that he'd heard, and raised his eyebrows as she hove alongside.

"Yes, what is it?" he asked coolly, and thought he was lucky she wasn't transformed or he'd have had unsheathed claws coming at his face.

"You will cease to think you can emulate Albus this instant!" she said, red spots in her cheeks. "I won't have two of you on the grounds, so help me, Severus—one is almost more than a saint can handle!"

Wasn't that the truth—and if there were any saints on staff, he and Minerva would miss the short list by a mile. Still, he said, "You know how the Headmaster treasures his wheels within wheels."

"Oh, certainly," Minerva scoffed. "But I do not. And I agreed with you, if you will remember, that the Quidditch game ought to be stopped. I was in Hooch's office, investigating that infernal Bludger, while Albus is off polishing his wheels within wheels. So you will tell me this instant what house-elf magic on that Bludger means, or so help me . . . "

Gryffindors never finished their threats. "If you must know," he said coolly, knowing it would infuriate her, "it's—"

But that time he was the one who didn't finish. A noise cut him off from somewhere not too distant, somewhere overhead: a faint crash, and then a scream—

He and Minerva looked up. They'd come to the vault of staircases, stretching from the ground floor to the height of the castle . . . and something was plummeting through the air down toward them, something small and black—

His heart jolted in horror as the girl bounced off one of the moving balustrades and spun down through the air—Minerva cried out, and the ground was rushing up—

Chapter Text

Miss Granger was crying so hard Madam Pomfrey had to force-feed her a Calming Draught. Weasley was white as chalk.

"It was a suit of armor," he croaked, his freckles standing out on his face, as stark as drops of blood. "It started to fall over, and Harry dodged it, but the staircase hadn't swung back over—"

Tears were dripping off Miss Granger's chin onto her robes, but she had stopped sobbing, and her stare was glassy and unfocused now that the Calming Draught had taken effect. Weasley was gripping her hand. Minerva stood next to to them, her hand laid over her heart. She hadn't stopped clutching at it since they'd stopped the girl from hitting the ground floor.

"She was lucky," Pomfrey whispered to Dumbledore, just inside the barrier of the curtain drawn around the girl's bed. "If she'd hit the railing at a slightly different angle than she did, she'd have been paralyzed . . . "

Severus didn't trust himself to speak. He was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he'd break every window in the ward.

Dumbledore emerged, rustling, from the curtain drawn around the girl's bed and glided over to the children. "Harriet will be all right," he told them with a kindness that sounded infinite. "Would you like to see her?"

They trailed him to the bedside, Minerva following. When Dumbledore nudged the curtain aside, Severus saw the girl looking pale but deeply asleep, her black hair spread out on the pillow like a dark corona.

"She'll be all right?" Miss Granger asked in a calm, distant voice, still clutching Weasley's hand.

"Yes," Dumbledore told her gently. "By the morning she'll be herself again and ready to see you."

Severus routinely thought his relationship with Dumbledore was as complex as the mechanics of quantum physics—it encompassed resentment, admiration, loyalty, bitterness and grief on any given day, sometimes at any given moment—but he was always baffled by Dumbledore's ability to handle an emotional crisis without any apparent effort. When turned loose in a tense moment, Severus knew hewas sure to make it a disaster whether he intended to or not. But Dumbledore was able to induce enough docility in Weasley and peace of mind in Granger to allow Minerva to lead them away without any more display of reluctance than a mulish expression on Weasley's face.

Dumbledore turned to look at Severus as the door to the infirmary closed silently behind Minerva and the children. There was no twinkle this time, no lightness in his expression; he looked grave and thoughtful. But when he spoke, it was to Madam Pomfrey.

"How is she truly, Poppy?"

"Stable," Pomfrey said, her face lit by the multicolored back-glow of the diagnostic spells webbed in the air above the hospital bed. "I've put her in a healing sleep. Spinal injuries are nothing to be taken lightly, you know."

Severus's insides twisted, hard.

"Do you foresee any repercussions?" Dumbledore asked, quite serious.

"She should be fine," Pomfrey said. "I've repaired the damage, the sleep is just to make sure the nerves and muscles rest."

"Did the damage seem to be what Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger described?"

"She hit something hard—most likely stone—at high velocity," Pomfrey said, a bit tartly. "Other than that . . . "

"Thank you, Poppy, for your exceptional skill. Severus will be sitting up with her."

Severus resumed feeling annoyed. It was his strict intention, even if he had to barricade Poppy in her office, but he hadn't said anything yet. He'd had a whole repudiating speech planned. Infuriating old—

"If he must," Pomfrey said, giving Severus a stern look. "She'll be sleeping most of the night. She might start to stir in about five, six hours as her body resumes natural sleep, but other than that, there shouldn't be much to see."

Except, perhaps, a third attempt on her life. But Dumbledore was apparently keeping this from Pomfrey. That was fine with Severus. The fewer people fluttering around, asking questions and exclaiming, the better. He didn't know why Dumbledore turned everything into an enigma, but Severus kept things private simply because people were so bloody irritating. They bleated instead of acting or making useful plans.

Pomfrey set a charm on the girl's bed that made it glow momentarily. A little light flared to life above her heart, pulsing in time with her breath. It was apparently exactly what Pomfrey wanted, because with a satisfied nod she excused herself and rustled back into her office.

"The Bludger?" Dumbledore asked once the door had clicked shut behind her.

"House-elf magic," Severus said curtly. "Minerva knows now."

Dumbledore merely looked thoughtful. "And we don't yet know about the suit of armor?"

"You're welcome to look into it," Severus said, leaving I'm not budging unsaid (but audible all the same).

Logic dictated that Dumbledore was certainly the cleverer and more powerful of the two, that he was magically more capable of protecting the girl should a threat materialize in the hospital wing; but some sense more mutable than logic told him that Dumbledore didn't care as much as he did. Oh, Dumbledore cared, but the girl didn't mean the same thing to him. Protecting Lily's daughter was the only thing Severus had left. If he failed at that, then Lily, who had died from things he had done that could never, ever be redeemed, had died for nothing.

Dumbledore was watching him with that light blue, penetrating gaze, as if Severus was as translucent as water. Severus glared back, daring him to smile and say something cryptic and soft-hearted, wondering how he himself would react to it. But all Dumbledore said was, "Then I leave Harriet to your watch, Severus."

*

The night crept past. The hours were long on the cusp of winter, the windows black by half past four. Pomfrey sank the lights in the ward around eleven and retired to bed at precisely midnight. All the while, the girl continued to sleep, her breathing rhythmic and nearly inaudible even in the dead silence.

Severus did some marking for the appearance of the thing, but his mind wasn't on it, and he wound up grading on a sliding scale: top marks for the Slytherins, matching average marks for the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, and slightly below average for the Gryffindors. They were first year essays, and it was always funny to see the Ravenclaws' initial reaction to mediocre grades. He went ahead and gave high marks to a couple of Hufflepuffs, knowing it would try the Ravenclaws high.

Sometimes he wondered what it would take to make Dumbledore step in and do something about his methods, but for eleven years Dumbledore had only seemed complacently amused. Well, he'd never done anything about Slughorn, either. Slughorn had been just as biased, in his more pleasant way. If you weren't special enough to be a collector's item, he had barely known you existed. Severus knew every single one of his students, Slytherin or not; he simply loathed the sight of more than three quarters of them.

But once Madam Pomfrey went to bed, he forced all distractions away. It was deadly dull, but he was used to dealing with physical and mental boredom. Well, he ought to be; he taught vapid little human pustules to wipe their noses ten months of a year.

God, he hated children.

Dumbledore loved them—said they were little mines of potential, the keys to the future. Severus saw the potential, but any promise they possessed was always overpowered by their utter determination to squander it. It had been just the same when he was a child. He, on the other hand, had been determined to make something of himself . . . and then had wound up here, at the end of a long chronicle of sins and failures.

Had Lily lived, he wouldn't be here right now, in the shadows of the hospital wing, guarding her daughter as she slept. He probably wouldn't have had anything to do with the girl at all: as little as he'd attempted the first year of her schooling. Had Lily and Potter lived, they'd surely have had a brood of messy-haired, green-eyed children, and Severus would have relocated to Latvia before the first of Potter's hellspawn had darkened the halls of Hogwarts.

"I want three children at least," Lily had told him when she was about fourteen. "That way, if two of them don't get along, there'll be a third."

"And it'll get left out anyway," he'd said.

She had stolen his cigarette and faked like she was going to smoke it, but then dangled it over the edge of the river, threatening to drop it. "Well, what do you think is the perfect number, then, Mister Clever Trousers?"

"None."

"And I wound up with thousands," he muttered to the silent shadows cobwebbing the infirmary. Lily would have laughed until she cried, had she lived to see him teaching.

He wished he had her photograph. It was a bit mad, talking to a photograph, but he did what he had to.

Since he was a child, he'd done what he had to.

He sifted through his memories, combing back through the years. He was certain it was only Occlumency, his ability to shut down his emotions at will, that allowed him to do this; to find within the acres of grief, bitterness, and broken chances the memories that had once been something else, and hold off, until the charm was cast, the tarnishing knowledge of what they became.

He took hold of the memory of Lily dangling his cigarette just out of his reach, her face sly and sparkling, and hung it between thick nets of Occlumency. He shut out all the connected memories, the knowledge that she was dead and she would never have any more children, would never even know the one she'd had, allowing himself to remember nothing but the laughter in her face, the mock scowl as he deliberately spoiled her game, the sunlight in her hair, nothing like wine or apples or any color he'd seen since; a color that belonged to those memories, and to them alone.

Expecto Patronum, he thought.

The hospital wing filled with starlight as the doe coalesced in motes of brilliant silver and white. The clearer she became, the more he felt himself relax, as a sense of calm mixed, as always, with powerful sadness exhaled through him like waves up an ocean shore. He wondered how many other people could achieve hand-in-hand with grief what Dumbledore called the Patronus, the perfect manifestation of joy. Every memory he possessed of Lily was touched by the knowledge that she was gone, but her absence did not diminish her power that lingered in his heart. It would always be there, bound up in his sorrow, his guilt, his—

"Oh," said a soft, wondering voice.

He looked past the doe. In the circle of argent light it threw across the room, he could see the girl propped up on one elbow. Her eyes were wide, colorless and dark in the night, but she didn't seem to see him—she was staring, rapt, at the doe.

It had turned at the sound of her voice and now moved toward her, a trail of coruscating brightness lingering in its wake. The girl sat up, stretching out her hand, slow and dream-like. Severus kept absolutely still.

Then the Patronus faded, more slowly than it usually did, diminishing to an outline and then to a single mote of brightness where the heart would have been. The world seemed darker, colder, even though the Patronus gave off no warmth.

The girl lay back down, her face just visible in the soft light of the lamps that burned at the end of the ward. Her eyes were fixed on the spot where the doe had been. Severus watched the light shine in pinpricks in her eyes until she closed them some time later. Shortly after, her breathing slipped into evenness again, and she was asleep.

For the first time, he thought not only of what Lily had lost, but her daughter also, eleven years ago.

*

When Harriet woke up, she knew she'd been having a really beautiful dream. . . a dream about a doe that was made up of stars. . .

She felt very tired and groggy, so tired her eyelids didn't want to open and her brain just wanted to slump back into sleep. She could hear shuffling and voices whispering, and someone moving near her bed. . .

What were Hermione and the others doing? Why were they even awake? She was so tired, it had to be the dead middle of the night. . .

She forced an eye open a crack, and then pulled both of them open all the way. Snape was standing next to her bed, one hand on her hangings, looking at something to the side—

Except those weren't her hangings. They were pale curtains, with light glowing through the back. She wasn't in her dorm; she was in the infirmary.

That was when she remembered.

She lay still, listening to the whispering. She knew that if Snape saw she'd woken up, he'd order her to go back to sleep and she'd never find out what was going on. And after Dobby's warning, the blocked barrier at King's Cross, that evil, disembodied voice, the message on the walls, Mrs. Norris Petrified, Ginny acting weird, the murderous Bludger, and the falling suit of armor, Harriet needed to get to the bottom of it.

" . . . etrified?" whispered a woman's voice. Madam Pomfrey?

" . . . leeve so . . . " said a man's voice, quiet but deep. That was definitely Professor Dumbledore.

Harriet kept her eyes open just as slits. Snape hadn't moved from his spot next to Harriet's bed, just inside the curtain. She wanted to see what his expression was, but she didn't dare open her eyes enough to see.

" . . . sneaking up here . . . visit Miss Potter," said Probably Professor McGonagall. " . . . Albus hadn't . . . no telling what . . . "

Not Hermione, Harriet thought with a jolt of panic.

" . . . camera?" Madam Pomfrey whispered.

There was a sudden sound of something hissing, and even across the ward Harriet smelled something stinking.

"Gracious Rowena," said Madam Pomfrey clearly, but her voice dropped immediately, like she hadn't meant to say it that loud.

" . . . what . . . mean?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"It means," Professor Dumbledore murmured, his low voice carrying clearly this time, "that the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open again."

The words wrote themselves inside Harriet's mind in bright scarlet, just like the message on the wall outside Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. She sat up quickly, trying to see around Snape, to see who was on the bed and what had happened to them before he—

Snape swept the curtain shut, blocking his own face with shadows. "Miss Potter—" he started in a low, dangerous voice.

"Who's over there?" Harriet said quickly, pushing back her blankets to climb down from the bed. "It's not Hermione, is it?"

"If you put one foot on that floor," Snape said, "I will forcibly restrain you."

Harriet paused with her toes a few centimeters from the ground, and then slowly retracted her foot. "Who's out there?" she repeated. "What's happened to them?"

The curtain rustled to the side and Madam Pomfrey appeared, wearing a wooly cardigan sloppily pulled on over her nightdress, her gray hair in a braid. "Miss Potter," she said severely, "go back to sleep."

Grown ups! Frustrated, Harriet said, "I can't until I know what's—"

"It is not Miss Granger," Snape said in his cold voice.

Relief made Harriet sag on the bed. "But who is it?"

"Never you mind," said Madam Pomfrey in a voice that did not sound entirely steady.

"I do mind!" Harriet said indignantly. "Somebody said they were coming to see me, whoever it is!"

Madam Pomfrey looked at Snape almost helplessly; he looked as if he'd rather be anywhere but here. Forcible restraint or not, Harriet was about to jump down from the bed and run past them if they wouldn't—

The curtain snicked aside, revealing Professor Dumbledore in a brilliant purple dressing gown. He looked rather tired and grave. Harriet was suddenly sorry for making a fuss, but still determined to get out there and look.

"Poppy . . . Severus . . . Harriet has a right to know," he said calmly.

"Headmaster," Snape started in a dark voice, while Madam Pofrey said, "I really don't think—"

Professor Dumbledore held out his hand to the side, as if gesturing Harriet along. "Come, Harriet, if you wish."

Feeling embarrassed at her own fuss and shy in front of several of her professors in a nightgown, Harriet climbed down from the bed and followed Dumbledore resolutely across the space between the beds to the one directly opposite hers. Professor McGonagall's mouth was very thin again, but Harriet hardly noticed. She was staring at the body on the bed, rigid as a corpse, with its hands locked in front of its face like it should be clutching something, and its face . . .

"Colin." She swallowed a heavy weight that settled in her stomach like a sickness.

"Surely that is enough now, Headmster," said Professor McGonagall sharply.

Professor Dumbledore laid his hand on Harriet's shoulder. She expected him to steer her away and back to her bed, but he said in a grave, gentle voice, "These are Harriet's friends, Professor McGonagall."

Professor McGonagall's silence was like a living presence.

"Who did this to him?" Harriet asked, staring at Colin's wide, terrified eyes and thinking of the voice that whispered death and blood into her head, imagining it was Hermione on the bed like that, frozen . . .

"I am afraid the question is not who," Professor Dumbledore murmured. "The question is how . . . "

Harriet looked at Professor McGonagall's face, at Madam Pomfrey's, at Snape's, and saw they didn't understand any more than she did.

And knowing that none of the adults in this room had the answers was the most frightening thing of all.

*

The next morning, Harriet awoke to fluttering daylight. It was snowing, and the flakes drifting past the infirmary windows made shivering shadows on her bed.

Snape was still there, looking bad-tempered, his hair even lanker than usual. Whenever Harriet glanced toward the high curtain completely surrounding Colin's bed, Snape looked like he was restraining himself from saying something pretty nasty, only Harriet couldn't imagine why he'd restrain it.

Madam Pomfrey was checking Harriet over with glittering spells when the infirmary door crashed open and Hermione and Ron came tearing in. Even though Ron was at least half a foot taller, Hermione was outstripping him. Snape barely got out of her way before she skidded around Harriet's bed and flung her arms around her.

"Harry!" she squeaked, sounding near tears. "Oh, Harry!"

Hermione's grip was almost throttling her, but Harriet squeezed back just as hard, thinking of Draco Malfoy's You'll be next, Mudbloods. Colin was Muggle-born, too . . .

"You all right, Harry?" Ron asked. He looked pale and tired but alert. "If Hermione doesn't strangle you, I mean."

Hermione let go, to give him a dirty look, but then she turned back to Harriet. "We heard about—"

But then she noticed Snape. Harriet didn't think he'd moved or made any noise, but Hermione turned to look at him, went bright red, and fell mute. Ron's expression clearly said What's HE doing here, then? but he kept his mouth shut. Snape just looked at them, as good as a sneer, and then glided over to Madam Pomfrey's office. He didn't leave the ward, but for the rest of the time he ignored them.

Harriet ate the porridge Madam Pomfrey brought her and then escaped with Hermione and Ron. She felt Snape's eyes boring into her as she left, and scratched the back of her neck.

"We heard about Colin," Hermione said in a low voice as they hurried along the corridors thrumming with students on a Sunday morning. "That was him behind the curtain, surely?"

"Yeah." Harriet noticed a portrait of some bearded men in ruffs watching them with clear curiosity and added, "I've got something to tell you. Somewhere we won't be overheard."

"Lucky we know a place that's so depressing nobody ever goes," said Ron.

Chapter Text

"A Dueling Club?" Minerva said with deep and weary misgiving. "Albus, you can't be serious."

It was one of Minerva's stock phrases that she always uttered regardless of the fact that she must have known it would never do any good. Even Severus occasionally found himself saying it. He wasn't sure whether it was a habit he'd picked up from her or the force of sheer, simple frustration, as when one asked the universe, "Why me?"

"Gilderoy thought it would be a good idea, in these dark times, to start one, and I thought him right on point," Dumbledore said, smiling in that daft way that made dafter people think he was just a daft old man. "The students should know how to defend themselves, don't you think?"

"The students should feel they know how to defend themselves, you mean," Minerva said tartly. "I highly doubt Slytherin's monster will observe the rules of engagement."

Severus agreed with her, but he didn't say so. He and Minerva never agreed with each other aloud. Of course, they'd made such a habit of keeping silent when the other said what they agreed with that their silence was now tantamount to agreement anyway. Perhaps he should say something snide . . . but that would mean approving of a scheme of Lockhart's, and Severus would award a million points to Gryffindor first.

"He'll need some help, of course," said Dumbledore, twinkling in a way that boded ill for someone's dignity.

Severus groaned internally. If dignity was at stake, it would always be his.

"Severus."

Bloody fucking—

Dumbledore gazed at him beatifically. "You wouldn't mind helping Gilderoy with a small demonstration, would you? There's only time for one meeting before the holidays, I think—"

Minerva was giving Severus a look that was half commiseration, half indecent amusement as his expense.

Severus opened his mouth to say, with utmost respect, Bugger Off You Barmy Old Codger, but his Inner Slytherin reminded him with a gentle cough that he was being handed an opportunity to openly curse Gildeory Lockhart in front of witnesses. Without repercussions. All in the name of an educational demonstration.

He barely managed not to smile.

"Of course," he said blandly. Minerva blinked. Dumbledore beamed.

"Excellent!" he said. "Most excellent. I am sure the students will enjoy themselves immensely, and that is what we all could use, I'm sure."

---

A stage had been set up in the Great Hall in place of the student tables. It was a garish gold and ringed by a sea of excited, chattering hellspawn. Even before Severus saw it, he was already regretting that he'd consented to this farrago of nonsense. Only the prospect of injuring Lockhart in a few minutes was keeping him from doing it right now.

"Excellent!" Lockhart rubbed his hands together as he looked out at his shrill admirers. "Truly excellent turnout! Couldn't wait to see how an old pro does it, eh, Snape old man?"

Severus just stared at him, to no visible effect. Another thing that enraged him about Lockhart was how it was truly impossible to tell whether he changed the subject because he was intimidated or because he simply wasn't hearing any praise of himself.

"Well, let's get to it!" he said happily, and flitted out of the side door into the hall.

"Hello, hello!" Lockhart greeted everyone with an enthusiasm that made Severus want to wring his neck. "Can you all see me? Can you all hear me? Excellent!"

The girl was there, with cronies Weasley and Granger, clumped close to the stage. Granger was staring raptly at Lockhart, but the girl looked resigned. Weasley muttered something in her ear that made her grin. It was probably one the lines of Let's hope they finish each other off.

" . . . me to introduce my assistant, Professor Snape," Lockhart was saying merrily.

. . . And Weasley could count on one of them being finished off, at any rate.

"He tells me he knows a teensy bit about dueling himself and has sportingly agreed to help me with a small demonstration. But don't worry—you'll still have your Potions master when I'm through with him—never fear!"

Severus realized there was no curse he could cast on Lockhart in front of witnesses that would make this worth it. Anything to compensate for the sheer bloody frustration of enduring Lockhart's existence beyond this point would earn him a prison sentence.

Lockhart prattled at the children about the Disarming Charm. The spell was so simple and pragmatic that Severus figured Dumbledore must have skillfully inserted the suggestion into Lockhart's self-absorbed brain in such a way that he thought it was his own idea; left to his own devices, the evening probably would have been an enactment of his subjugation of the Wagga Wagga Werewolf.

Now Lockhart was bowing at him with flourishes that wouldn't have been overdone in 1640. Wishing he could just start hexing, Severus jerked his head at him in acknowledgment.

"Notice we're holding our wands in the accepted combat position," Lockhart told the students. Severus didn't bother to point out that it was better not to let your opponent get the drop on you by acting the part of the honorable moron; his Slytherins already knew it, and the others would figure it out after they lost a few duels. Well, perhaps not the Gryffindors.

"One!" Lockhart counted. "Two—three!"

"Expelliarmus," Severus barked before Lockhart had finished saying three. He put perhaps more force into the spell than was necessary: brilliant scarlet light rocketed across the stage, slammed into Lockhart's chest, and flung him bodily across fifteen feet of open space, into the wall behind him. He slid, limp, to the floor with a crash. Draco and his group cheered.

"W-well, there you have it," Lockhart wheezed as he tottered to his feet, his hair standing on end. "The, the Disarming! I've lost my wand—thank you, Miss Brown—

"A brilliant idea to show them that, Professor Snape," he said as he staggered back onto the stage, "although if you don't mind my saying, it was pretty obvious what you were about to do, and if I had wanted to stop you, it would have been only too easy . . . "

Severus was going to kill him—not here, but some day. Perhaps the intention had finally registered on Lockhart's wavelength, because he said, "How about some student demonstrations, then?"

So Severus was forced to leave the sanctity of the stage and wade into his hell-sent students. He headed straight for the girl and Miss Granger, who looked up, anxious and wary, to see him bearing down on them.

"You two," he said, pointing at them. If either of them managed the spell properly, which in Granger's case at least was likely, the other girl would only lose her wand. "You're a pair. Weasley, you can partner Mr Malfoy."

Draco strutted over, looking anticipatory; Weasley's freckled face darkened. Severus supposed both Narcissa and Lucius would have strong words with him if Weasley's unpredictable wand did something irreparable to their darling heir, but Lucius should have thought of that before he started scheming. Besides, it was equally likely that Weasley would be rendered worse than helpless by his own backfiring wand.

"I think it was Expelliarmus," Granger was saying to the girl, mimicking Severus's own movement with admirable exactness. He forbore to tell her so.

"Now," Lockhart was saying from the stage, "you'll be casting your spells to disarm only—only to disarm!"

Severus sincerely doubted this injunction would be observed. Weasley and Draco were gripping their wands in a way that promised the nastiest spell they could think of, and of all the confused babble around him, the only ones whom Severus could hear pronouncing the charm correctly were Granger and the girl.

"—three!" Lockhart counted.

A series of deafening explosions rattled the windowpanes and snuffed a third of the floating candles overhead; clouds of multicolored smoke erupted from various spots across the room; a flock of ravens rocketed out from a knot of Ravenclaw sixth years; and while Severus was blinking the afterimages of the light show out of his eyes, Weasley had thrown away his wand completely and was rolling around on the ground with Draco in a headlock. Something hit Severus on the arm, and turned out to be Miss Granger's wand.

"Stop! Stop!" Lockhart was crying above the chaos, flapping his hands.

For the love of— "Finite Incatatum!" Severus shouted, cancelling out all the spells at once.

Smoky haze hung in the air over a hall still babbling with noise, although it was no longer the cries of ineffectual spells and the squeals of their marks being hit. Weasley and Draco were still thrashing around on the floor.

Severus reached down and dragged them apart, or tried to, but they strained against his grip, clawing at each other. Then four small hands appeared out of nowhere and grabbed onto both Weasley's arms: the girl and Granger, hauling him back.

Severus let go of Draco, who dived for his wand lying on the flagstones, and sweeping it up, jabbed it at Weasley. "Serpensortia!" he shouted.

A streak of black shot toward Weasley, but it lost momentum halfway through its arc as it transformed into a giant king cobra as thick as Severus's arm. The snake dropped into heavy coils on the floor and for a moment seemed to lie dazed; then it unwound, raising its head, its hood unfolding.

The surrounding students screamed. Draco, his eyes glittering, blood running down his lip, raised his wand, but Severus grabbed his hand and wrenched it back. The cobra wasn't staring at anyone; in those few seconds, it seemed disorientated, thankfully. Severus moved to vanish it—

"Allow me!" Lockhart cried, and to Severus's horror, the idiot shot a bolt of bright yellow light at the fucking thing. The cobra was flung into the air and came back down, hard, apparently unharmed and now enraged. In that mood it rounded on the nearest target—which turned out to be Granger, and Severus had her wand—

And then Lily's daughter bloody shoved Granger aside, her expression fiercely determined, and opened her mouth as if to tell off a fucking cobra—

And hissed at it in a long, unbroken stream of snake-like sounds.

The snake stopped, as if confused. The girl pushed Granger fully behind her and hissed again, her eyes locked on the cobra as if she expected it to obey her. The sound of her voice wrapping around those syllables traveled down Severus's spine like flashes of cold electricity, rippling out into the hall and the students ringed around them, all of whom fell silent. They wouldn't have heard that sound before, not like Severus had, although they might guess what it was . . .

The cobra sank back, its hood folding into its neck, suddenly docile. The tips of Severus's fingers felt like ice.

"Evanesco," he said, and the snake dried up into nothing, like ash flaking away on the wind.

The girl relaxed, her expression both relieved and pleased. Then she noticed everyone staring at her as if she was now the most unnerving thing in the hall, and she blinked. Around their little circle, whispers rose into the air in angry, frightened mutters.

Weasley, blood running from his nose down his chin and onto his shirt, his expression grim and resolute, grabbed her by her sleeve and started pulling her through the crowd, which parted as though it didn't want to touch them. The girl looked baffled. Of course, raised by fucking Petunia, she probably had no idea . . .

"Miss Granger," he said coldly as she made to hurry past him. "Your wand."

"Oh—thank you, sir—" Looking shaken and bewildered, she grabbed it and ran after Weasley and the girl.

Draco stared after them, his mouth slightly open.

"Well . . . " came Lockhart's voice from the stage. "I . . . suppose that concludes our first meeting . . . "

---

"Parseltongue," Dumbledore said slowly.

"Yes." Severus was thankful, at least, that Dumbledore didn't ask Are you sure? Bloody biased Gryffindor he may be, but he did not waste time bleating senseless phrases. Well, of a sort. He did like to natter about love and wisdom, but during a crisis he stuck to the point.

This time he was saying almost nothing, and Severus found it almost disquieting. Dumbledore seemed unnerved by the report, more than even Severus was. And he had been reminded of nights in the Dark Lord's service, listening to those sibilant hisses as his pet snakes coiled around the Death Eaters' feet, smelling for scents on their bodies that counteracted their stories of where they had been, what they had been doing . . .

Dumbledore stared in the direction of the fire, but did not seem to be looking into it. He was rubbing the knuckles on his left hand with the fingers of his right, a gesture that Severus had connected to his thinking about something that troubled him.

"What do you think it means?" Severus asked bluntly.

Dumbledore didn't answer or even look at him right away. When he did, his eyes were. . . not troubled, but inscrutable.

"Parseltongue is a rare gift," he said eventually. "Said to be passed on by Slytherin himself."

"He was the most famous, but I really doubt he was the only wizard who has ever had the ability." It was hard to know; any wizards or witches preoccupied with their public image would have kept their Parseltongue a secret, and most historical mentions of self-proclaimed Parselmouths reported them as frauds.

"James Potter wasn't a Parselmouth," Dumbledore said, his eyes drifting toward the fire again.

Severus was starting to feel irritated. Well, it was never very far beneath the surface. "Perhaps it's recessive."

"Recessive?" Dumbledore said, raising his eyebrows, and Severus felt the momentary disconnect he always did when he knew something that Dumbledore didn't.

"Muggle genetics." He drummed the fingers of his free hand on the arm of his chair. "What I mean is that the ability might lay dormant in the blood for generations before revealing itself. Just because Potter wasn't a Parselmouth doesn't mean it never ran in his family."

"It has never run in any of the Potters, as far as I'm aware," Dumbledore said. "And she cannot have inherited it from Lily."

"Well, how could she be a damned Parselmouth if it isn't in her blood? Abilities like that don't just appear."

"No," Dumbledore said quietly. "They do not."

He was clearly keeping something back, perhaps more than one thing. Wheels within bloody fucking wheels, all right.

"I would prefer knowing what you are thinking, Headmaster," Severus said coldly.

"You would in general, I believe," Dumbledore agreed, though with another of those inscrutable looks, as if trying to read Severus's fine print.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Severus snapped.

Dumbledore shook his head, but he was now smiling faintly, as if thinking of a good story he'd heard a short time ago. "I know you're worried, my boy. . ."

Severus sat down his tea cup sharply so he wouldn't break it, because that film of beatitude was spreading over Dumbledore's face, the one that signaled the approach of another nauseating story about the sodding wisdom of love.

"And I admire that in you," Dumbledore said sincerely. "That after all this time—"

"Can you save this?" Severus asked. "I've just had to deal with Lockhart and a morass of mutton-headed students authorized to hex each other to their foul little hearts' content, and I've a pile of end-of-term work waiting to nauseate me for the holidays."

For a moment Severus wondered if he'd succeeded in annoying Dumbledore. But then the old man smiled, and Severus sighed inside.

"Not that anyone would ever believe me," Dumbledore said cheerfully.

"Good thing." Severus sneered. "Since you're so certain the Dark Lord will be returning—a Death Eater who's got a handle on the power of love isn't a Death Eater at all."

"No," Dumbledore said. "He's not, is he?"

Chapter Text

"Hairy Potter, the Heir of Slytherin," Pansy said. "What rubbish . . . "

Pansy was jealous of Potter because she was famous and Draco would talk about her sometimes, when Pansy only wanted Draco to talk about herself. She bitched forever about how ugly Potter was, with her nightmarish spectacles and her even more nightmarish hair. But sometimes at night, when she thought the other girls were asleep or too busy in their bedtime routines, she would stare and stare at herself in the mirror, touching her own face, as if wondering what Draco saw in Potter that he didn't see in her.

"Well, the talking to snakes is impressive," said Tracey said coolly. Tracey did everything coolly. She also had a flat, unimpressed stare for everybody. No one had ever seen her open her eyes all the way, but sometimes she raised her left eyebrow very slightly. She did not care two straws about Potter. She said Potter was just a dumb girl jock.

Pansy glared over her own shoulder at Tracey, through the mirror. "She was making that up. She's a disgusting little show-off faker."

Tracey moved her eyebrow. "Then how did she get that cobra to back off of Granger?"

"Potter can't be a Parseltongue, Trace," Pansy said, as if this should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. "Obviously. Only Slytherins can be Parseltongues, and she's just a daft, stupid, fatheaded Gryffindor jock."

"I suppose if you say it, it must be true," said Tracey like she didn't care.

"Everyone knows it's true," Pansy snapped.

"Draco doesn't think it's Potter either," said Daphne from her own dresser. She always slipped into Pansy and Tracey's fights like that, right before it got too ugly. She also shuddered when she saw Potter. Her hand would always fly to her long yellow hair, smoothing it down even though it was always perfect.

"Thank you, Daffy, I know what Draco thinks better than you do," Pansy told Daphne. She couldn't bear even for another Slytherin girl to have a piece of Draco's attention. "He tells me everything." She picked up her brush and started her ritual of pulling it through her long dark hair, one hundred times on each side. "He'd like to know who it is, the Heir, so he could help them—and so would I. A school rid of Mudbloods and their ugly, stupid faces would be a paradise, not like this sordid place at all. It's positively crawling with Mudbloods."

"Surely not Slytherin," said Tracey coolly.

Pansy's mouth hardened. Of course, it was always sort of hard. "Well, of course not Slytherin. That should be obvious."

Everyone wanted to know who the Heir of Slytherin was. Draco's father had warned him the Heir was coming to Hogwarts but wouldn't tell Draco who it was. The older Slytherins didn't talk to lowly second-year girls, but even the seventh year prefects knew that if Draco didn't know, nobody would.

Millicent didn't think it was Potter, either, but nobody asked her opinion. They never did. Pansy would just sneer and snap anyway. She was their leader by right. Tracey was only a half-blood, and it was a witch's half, at that; everyone knew that was worse. Daphne's family was pure-blood but so poor they'd been punting on tick for two generations now, as Millicent's Da said; no clue how they'd marry off those four daughters. Mr Greengrass couldn't let any wager pass, not even if it was backing a kappa in a race against a grindylow. At least the Greengrass girls were all beautiful.

Millicent's branch of the Bulstrode family was made up of nobodies, as Pansy was always keen to remind her. Mum had just hung her apron on the door and left one day, and her father worked for no pay in a job nobody respected. He was just a door-to-door salesman, selling stockings he'd never be able to afford, even if he'd wanted to buy any for his daughter. But he never would. And silk stockings would look a joke on Millicent, everyone'd say. Pansy would be first to say it.

A couple of days earlier, Pansy had held up her copy of Holidays with Hags and said, "Doesn't this look like you, Millie," laughing at the square-jawed woman on the cover, like she was telling a joke.

"Oh, Pans," Tracey had said coolly, "did you hear what Claudia Dearborn said about you? She said you looked like her grandmother's pug bitch. Her words, not mine."

"Oh, no," Daphne had said, "I think I'm getting a pimple. . . Trace, look . . ."

But Millicent did think she looked like the hag on the cover. That's what made the joke so mean.

At least she would be away from Pansy for the holidays. She was going to visit her grandmother in Dublin. It smelled like gingerbread there, and she liked reading all the static Christmas cards lined up on the mantle and watching the programs on the telly. She didn't care that it was a Muggle flat. All her grandmother's Muggle friends pretended that she was pretty and told her grandmother how lucky she was to have such a sweet granddaughter. And there was a girl named Olive who lived in the flat below. She knew Gran, so she was always stopping by to chat. Millicent didn't think Olive would ever call her a friend, but to Millicent it was almost like having one, talking like you could like each other if you knew each other better.

"I was so sick with disappointment that Mudblood Granger didn't get it in the neck from that cobra," said Pansy—almost word-for-word what Draco had said after the Dueling Club earlier. "I can't believe Professor Snape was so mean to poor Draco about it."

"Yes," said Tracey, not looking up from her book. "He really overreacted. He must've forgot that Slytherin's monster could kill Granger any day now."

"Draco was only helping Slytherin's monster, Trace. Professor Snape ought to be doing the same!"

"You should really tell him that."

"It's a shame that Lockhart is so wet," Daphne said, smearing a goopy green cream across her cheekbones. She had turned thirteen only last week but she already looked like the Muggle film stars that played on Gran's telly in black and white. "He really is frightfully handsome."

"I think Professor Snape is handsomer than that Lockhart ponce," Millicent said.

Daphne accidentally put her elbow in her jar of green goop. Tracey actually looked up from her book. Even Pansy turned fully around on her stool so she could stare, forgetting to keep brushing her hair.

"You think what?" she said, her mouth hanging open. Millicent wasn't sure whether Pansy was more shocked by what she'd said, or that she had a thought of her own, or that it was a thought that Pansy Herself hadn't approved.

"I think Professor Snape's much better-looking than Lockhart," Millicent repeated.

"No, you don't," Tracey said. "You can't possibly."

"Yes, I do," Millicent said stubbornly. "Lockhart's got his head on backwards, he talks out the back of his fat neck. He couldn't find his arse with both hands. Or without telling you how he helped a whole village in Lapland how to find their arses. He's too sheep-brained to be good-looking. He's a twat."

"You must be joking," Daphne said faintly. Pansy's mouth was still hanging open.

"All right," Tracey said. "I'll give you that Lockhart has cabbage for brains. But Professor Snape is . . . look, I like him, he looks after all of us. But he looks like Dracula."

"What's a Dracula?" asked Daphne.

"A vampire," said Tracey.

"He looks interesting, all right," Millicent said.

"So you fancy Professor Snape," said Pansy. A familiar light curved over her face, the light of Millie is so big and stupid, isn't it funny. "This is enlightening, Millie."

"Didn't say I fancy him," Millicent said truthfully. "Said he's better-looking than that Lockhart twat. Not the same thing."

"Oh no," Pansy said with false enthusiasm. "No, you don't need to hide it from us, Millie. You can count on our support, always. Do you have the names of your babies all picked out?"

"Please don't let any of them be 'Pansy,'" said Tracey. "I hate that name. Present company excluded, of course."

Pansy's eyes stared hot hatred at her. Daphne said, "Lockhart was wearing a gorgeous shade of turquoise, wasn't he? I loved the gold trim . . . it set off his hair . . . his eyes . . . you know, I think he has those kind of eyes that change from blue to green depending on what he's wearing . . . "

It was no wonder, Millicent thought, that she couldn't really be friends with her roommates the way Potter and Granger were friends. It was never a good idea for her to talk around Pansy. And honestly, if they couldn't see how bacon-brained Lockhart was, especially compared to Professor Snape, she didn't think much of their standards. It was like Tracey said: Professor Snape looked out for them. If Lockhart had ever looked at anybody but himself, then she was a pixie. Lockhart paid attention to people who were famous like Potter or who asked for his autograph and told him how amazing he was, but nobody else. Professor Snape knew all the Slytherins' holiday plans. It was the way people treated you that counted, not the way they looked.

Someone had told her that, so long ago she didn't remember when. She'd held onto that. She wanted to believe it was true. She thought it was. She felt nothing when she saw Lockhart's beaming smile, except for wanting to punch him in the teeth. But when she had signed the paper to go home on the train and Professor Snape had said, "To your grandmother's?" that had felt nice. And the way her gran's friends wrote their Christmas cards to her, too. And Olive asking her what her favorite subject was.

It must be the nicest feeling in the world, Millicent thought, to have a best friend who would jump in front of deadly snakes for you. She'd like to have a friend like that.

--

The days marched on toward Christmas, through constant sleet and snow. Harriet couldn't wait for the holidays. She, Hermione and Ron had signed on to stay over, and Harriet was looking forward to a school empty of so many people pointing at her and whispering not-so-quietly, drawing away from her in corridors and treating her like the carrier of a terrible plague.

In this case, the plague of Slytherin.

"It'll get better," Hermione assured her, with a dirty look for Lavender and Parvati, who had, with a great show of nonchalance, hung special charms all around their beds to keep away Slytherin's monster," Just in case, of course," they'd assured Harriet.

"Is Slytherin's monster afraid of onions, then?" Harriet had snapped, and refused to speak to them for several hours. Since her ignoring them only made them looked relieved, though, she hadn't got much satisfaction from it.

"Yeah, it'll get better," said Ron, glaring at a pack of Hufflepuff first years who were passing in a wide-eyed clump. "When all these stupid gits go home for hols. What are you pointing at?" he asked one girl rudely. She squeaked and collided with her friend in a hurry to get away from him.

But then everyone's trunks were packed, the carriages rattled round to take them to Hogsmeade station, and Harriet, Ron and Hermione were left virtually alone in the school, with only a few straggling students and the teachers for company. They spent a lot of time in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom overseeing the Polyjuice, and even though Myrtle wailed almost constantly, Harriet found herself becoming more cheerful. Soon they'd have the truth out of Malfoy about the Chamber of Secrets. Soon the danger would be over . . .

After Percy had caught them coming out of Myrtle's bathroom a few weeks past, they'd taken turns checking the coast was clear before they all left. On Christmas Day, it paid off. If they'd all come trooping out that time, they might have lost all opportunity to question Malfoy. She and Ron might even have got expelled.

At the time, Harriet walked boldly out the door, because it was silly for a girl to look guilty coming out of a girl's lavatory. She looked casually left, then right, as if considering which way to go. And then she heard the voice.

Not the disembodied voice, but the other one: the voice that struck cold fear into the heart of every Hogwarts' student.

"And just what, Miss Potter," said Snape above her head, "do you think you're doing?"

Harriet was glad she was facing away from him because it gave her time to paste an expression onto her face that she hoped was innocent enough before she turned around. But Snape didn't look convinced. If anything, he seemed to think she'd just confirmed all his worst suspicions.

"Oh, hello, Professor," she said, like it was nothing remarkable, them meeting here. "I was just . . . " She waved at the peeling door of Myrtle's bathroom. "You know."

Snape looked at the door mockingly, as if it had just put forth as feeble a story as Harriet's. "Really," he said with heavy sarcasm. "And I suppose this particular lavatory's being in this particular spot had no bearing on your decision?"

Right—this was where the first message had been, Mrs Norris and the spiders. Snape would remember.

"Well, when you've got to go . . . " Harriet said. It was really embarrassing, talking about this with one of your professors, especially Snape, but the darkest alternative was him going in there and finding the Polyjuice. While she wasn't sure if conning a note out of Lockhart to make a potion that was listed only in a book from the Restricted Section was something that was normally totally against the rules, she and Ron already had black marks on their record that would make it look pretty awful. Even like an expelling offense, maybe. And if Snape wouldn't connect Polyjuice to the boomslang skin they'd stolen (and the firework Harriet had thrown), then he'd been replaced by an impostor who would start handing out kittens for presents at Christmas dinner. Only that sneer was too mean and sarcastic to be anything but authentic Snape.

"Do you know what I think, Miss Potter?" Snape asked in such a way that made Harriet absolutely sure she didn't want to know what he was thinking. "I think this looks like amateur sleuthing and borderline rule-breaking. You remember, I dare to hope, what the Headmaster promised would happen should you break any more rules?"

"How is it rule-breaking?" Harriet blurted, because even for Snape this seemed a bit much. Well, without any evidence.

Snape's cold, suspicious eyes narrowed. "Do you want me to keep looking until I find out?"

Harriet didn't, but she was at a loss for a way to respond that wouldn't incriminate herself. Heart beating hard, she cast about for some solution, any . . .

Then her eyes fell on Myrtle's bathroom door. Her heart beat faster. It would be even more dangerous . . . it could be a disaster . . . a huge gamble that could backfire like Ron's wand . . .

She seized her courage in both hands and strode over to the bathroom door, pushing it open. "See?" she said. "Just a loo."

Snape looked at her, his eyes still narrowed, and then shoved the door all the way back and swept inside. Harriet's heart just about stopped when he went over and started banging open the cubicle doors, and she tried her hardest not to glance at the cubicle where the Polyjuice cauldron was . . .

Then Snape pushed it open anyway and glared inside. Harriet closed her eyes in horror. This was it. She was going to be expelled, and stuck with the Dursleys forever . . .

Her eyes flew open when Myrtle shrieked. Snape was glaring inside the next cubicle. He'd left the one with the Polyjuice potion alone.

"You're not a girl!" Myrtle screeched from within the stall.

"Oh, well spotted," Snape said acidly, banging the door shut. He swept over to Harriet with a glare that said he hadn't found anything on her yet, but he knew there was something, and when he did . . .

She stared up at him dumbly, wanting to clutch at her throat the way ladies did in old black and white movies when they'd had a nasty shock.

"Students shouldn't wander the corridors alone," he snapped. "With me."

Mystified, Harriet followed him. She didn't dare look behind her. Snape glared her along the empty corridors to Gryffindor tower, then glared her into the portrait hole. Even after the Fat Lady had swung shut, Harriet could feel him glaring at her through the layers of paint and canvas.

She didn't dare go back outside again. She collapsed into an armchair where she could see the entrance, and about fifteen minutes later a blushing Hermione and a scowling Ron clambered in.

"How—" Harriet said.

"Your cloak," Hermione whispered, looking shaken. "We climbed up on the toilet and threw it over us and the cauldron—"

"Brilliant," Harriet said, impressed and weak with relief. "I'm so so sorry—I thought he'd give it up if I acted like I wasn't hiding anything, that's why I showed him in there—"

"It's not your fault he's a bleeding suspicious creep," Ron said with feeling. "He was waiting outside the Fat Lady for us! Can you believe it?"

"Of Snape, yeah," Harriet said, shuddering at the narrow escape.

"If he's keeping watch on us," Hermione said, chewing her lip, "it'll be harder to find out what Malfoy knows . . . maybe we oughtn't do it tonight . . . maybe we should wait until Snape's lost interest . . . "

"Which could happen, you know, never," Ron said. "Snape could make a grudge die of old age, I'd bet. We've got to find out what Malfoy's up to, Hermione—we can't let that slimy old git stop us."

"I guess one of us'll just have to keep Snape distracted," Harriet said slowly. "Think about it," she said when they stared at her in alarm. "Crabbe and Goyle'll be the easiest to get hairs from, but that leaves one of us needing to impersonate some other Slytherin anyway, and that could get too complicated. Especially if Snape's looming like a . . . a what was that thing that had a thousand eyes?"

"Argus Panoptes," Hermione said promptly. "Only it was a hundred, not a thousand."

"Right." Harriet nodded. "That thing."

"I suppose . . . " Hermione said reluctantly.

Harriet steeled her courage. "I'll do it. Distract Snape, I mean. He's got it the worst for me, if he's minding me he might not care where you two are."

"Blimey, Harry," Ron said, whistling low. "You know, I think I'd rather face Slytherin's monster."

--

Severus didn't bother informing Dumbledore that the girl was up to something. Dumbledore would only smile and twinkle, and Severus was in no bloody mood for smiling or twinkling.

Normally he enjoyed the Christmas holidays, or at least what passed for enjoyment with him. Anyone else would have said he was as dour and crotchety as ever (the other teachers frequently did, although with more subtlety), but he felt more relaxed with most of the students cleared off. He didn't have to attend meals with the other professors unless he was just dying to, which he surely never would be; he didn't have classes or grading to suffer; in short, he had the days mostly to himself. It was as close to content as he ever nearly got.

Usually.

The tension in the air this year was as thick as the cold, however much they all tried to downplay it for the students' sake. The Dueling Club had been an attempt at allaying the children's fear, but it had only bisected the problem. Now, in addition to worrying Slytherin's monster, everyone thought they knew the identity of Slytherin's heir. Adrenaline shot through the gossip like impurities through crystal, fear mixed with excitement.

Severus was also displeased to find that the Malfoys wouldn't be back from Brussels in time for Christmas. They had been visiting Lucius's mother there for several weeks, a prospect so grim and unnerving that Narcissa had spared her son in the only way she could, by leaving him at Hogwarts for the break. Severus had hoped for the regular invitation to the manor so he could induce a tipsy Lucius to brag about his successes, such as they were (or perhaps complain that they hadn't been greater); but Lucius had to be such a disobliging wretch as to answer his mother's commands to visit Belgium for the holiday. Well, at least Severus knew Lucius was suffering.

And as ever, there was the girl to worry him.

Even if she hadn't been wearing that laughably pseudo-innocent expression, Severus wouldn't have bought for one second the story that she'd been loitering around that bathroom for no more reason than the obvious. She radiated disobedience. Maybe it was the hair.

No; it had been the look on her face after Dumbledore had shown her the Petrified Creevey boy. It had said, Slytherin's monster, you're on my list.

If she went after any legendary monsters, now or later, he was going to wring her glory-seeking Gryffindor neck.

She looked quite innocent right now, eating Christmas pudding. She'd got on some woolly, scarlet jumper with an intarsia Gryffindor lion woven on the front; the sleeves were too long, so she'd rolled them back from her (much too) bony wrists. All the Weasley children were wearing something similarly hideous.

He could see the drama of adolescence already settling in across the table, missing only Crabbe and Goyle. Draco was sulking about something; the Weasley female looked ill and was only picking at her food; her eldest brother was making sheep's eyes at one of the Ravenclaw girls. Granger, Weasley and the girl were sitting clumped together in their usual design, engrossed in private whispering. Severus wondered how long it would take before that friendship succumbed to a teenage love triangle.

Then the three of them glanced up the table, right at himself.

I knew it, he thought, though he was unsure whether he felt more satisfied or disquieted. He'd never met three children who were more adept at scheming themselves into life-or-death situations or more ungrateful at being preemptively extracted from them. If one of the little pustules hadn't been Lily's daughter—if he hadn't had debts as deep as Hell to pay—he'd have bloody left them to it.

What disobedience could he pin on them on Christmas Day? He could fabricate an excuse in his sleep, but today was the one time when Dumbledore might interfere . . .

"Christmas cracker, Severus?" said the meddling old pseudo-do-gooder in question, proffering a cylinder of iridescent crimson and emerald paper.

"Yes, that looks like one," Severus said.

Minerva, who was sitting across from him at the single long table set up for everyone, rolled her eyes. She'd probably had quite a bit of the spiced eggnog by now.

Dumbledore merely twinkled at him. "I thought so! Now, remind me what I'm supposed to do with it?"

"Offer that end to Minerva and have her pull on it."

"Such a stick in the mud." Sprout whacked him on the arm, probably harder than she'd intended. Her cheeks were almost as red as the tinsel she'd stuck to the brim of her hat, which was almost falling off her ear. "I'll pull it with you, Albus."

"Thank you, Pomona," Dumbledore said meekly, but his eyes were laughing at Severus.

Sprout reached across Severus to take hold of the cracker. It split open with an ear-ringing bang, and he had to close his eyes against the cloud of red and green smoke that erupted from it. He felt something living land in his lap in a coil—a bright green garden snake—at the same time somebody dumped their drink down his arm.

"Oh!" said a high, girlish voice. "I'm so sorry!"

The girl stood next to his chair, clutching an empty goblet, her face as red as her jumper and equally guilty. If it hadn't been for her expression, Severus would have assumed she'd come to ask something of Dumbledore and been startled by the exploding cracker, but her face said she'd upended her drink on purpose. He couldn't see why she should have. Well, perhaps for vindictive pleasure, considering how he'd been hectoring her all term, but she didn't look pleased that she'd succeeded; on the contrary, she looked like she'd rather be falling under a bus than standing next to him.

"Aha, raining in here, is it?" Sprout said, and dissolved into semi-drunken chortles.

Wordless, Severus took out his wand. The girl's wide eyes fixed on it, but she didn't back off, even when he pointed it at her—or appeared to. His intention was to dry off his arm, but he wanted to see what she'd do if she thought he was about to curse her.

She clutched her goblet but stayed her ground.

Still saying nothing, he waved his wand down his sleeve to dry it, watching his silence have the desired effect of making her look even more nervous.

"There," Dumbledore said cheerily. "No harm done. My, what spectacular prizes came out of this cracker. Belgian chocolate, Severus? Harriet?"

"Oh—thanks," the girl said blankly, and took one from the bright pink box Dumbledore was holding out.

Belgian chocolates and snakes. Severus flicked through the rest of the prizes that were lying scattered across the table . . . one of which was an ornament in the shape of a fawn. He drew his hand back slowly.

"Oh," the girl said, her voice now soft and her fingertips coated in chocolate. "That's like my dream."

"This, do you mean?" Dumbledore asked, holding up the fawn. It was blown glass, glazed white.

"That night I fell off the stairs." She'd noticed her fingers were chocolatey and was licking it back off. "I had a dream about a deer made up of stars. It was really lovely."

Dumbledore glanced at Severus, who busied himself with his goblet, monetarily wishing that he ever permitted himself to drink something stronger than water.

"Then perhaps you should have this," Dumbledore said to the girl with a smile in his voice; from the corner of his eye, Severus saw him hold out the fawn to her. "It seems to have been meant for you."

"Oh," she said for the fourth time, now sounding surprised. "Thank you, sir."

It was then that Severus, scanning up the table to avoid meeting Dumbledore's eyes, noticed that Granger and Weasley were gone. Indeed, all of the other children were. Only the girl was left, and she didn't seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. She was now sitting contentedly next to Dumbledore, in a chair he'd drawn for her, going over the flavors in the box of chocolates with him. ("Hazelnut, I think I had the cherry crème, what's Moroccan?")

The absence of her two inseparable sidekicks was significant, Severus was sure of it; but as long as she was in plain sight, not getting herself killed, he did not care so much about the rest.

His peace of mind lasted until Dumbledore started twitting her about the deer in her dream.

"Was it doing anything in particular?" he asked her, patting his mustache clean with his napkin.

The girl frowned it over. "Not really. It was just there. I was . . . I could tell I was in the hospital, but it was like I was just dreaming about being there, with the deer. Then it sort of . . . melted away. It was really—I was sort of sad it was gone, but at the same time there was a nice feeling . . . " She trailed off, looking embarrassed, and took another chocolate with a lot of self-conscious rustling.

Severus's nail jarred as he picked at one of the emeralds set into his goblet.

"As a matter of fact," Dumbledore confided, "I've seen something similar myself."

Severus almost ripped his nail off, scraping at the goblet. The old man wasn't seriously going to—

"Have you, sir?" the girl said. It was ridiculous how wide her eyes could go.

"Only a handful of times," Dumbledore said. "But each one was an honor."

Severus would have left the table if it weren't for needing to keep a hard eye on the brat. He didn't know what Dumbledore was playing at, but he didn't need to listen to it.

"Is it like a ghost or something? I could see through it—only it was brighter . . . "

"It is something like a ghost, you could say. It is a piece of very powerful magic, some of the most powerful in the world, and rarely glimpsed in that particular form. You were very fortunate to see it."

"Why did I?" The curiosity was plain in her voice, but Severus wasn't looking at her or at the Headmaster; he was staring across the hall at the enormous Christmas trees glittering to either side of the doors, wanting this damned mortifying conversation to be over.

"That, I cannot tell you, my dear, for I don't know. But were I to guess, I would say it was because that very powerful force of which I spoke just now was protecting you."

The girl was silent. Severus prayed that she would now go away and cause mischief. Then he would have an excuse to leave—and to be cruel and vindictive, to rid both her and Dumbledore of the notion that he was doing any of this from any motive more shining than soul-wracking guilt.

"Are you enjoying your Christmas, my dear?" Dumbledore said to her now.

"Oh, yes, sir."

"That would appear to be a Weasley jumper you are wearing. They're quite famous, did you know?"

"Mrs Weasley knitted me one last year, too. They're ever so warm."

Severus found himself wondering if Petunia had denied her warm clothes in addition to everything else she'd withheld.

"Molly Weasley does have quite the talent," Dumbledore told her. "I have tried knitting my Christmas gifts on and off again throughout the years—socks, mostly, for no one can never have too many socks—but I have never been able to turn the heel when I should. I always wind up giving them scarves out of necessity. Severus has several of them, don't you, Severus?"

Severus thanked him with a cold stare. Dumbledore was twinkling again, and the girl looked like she was trying not to laugh, lest it should get her detention. It probably would.

"Mine do have heels," Severus said. "But you forgot my legs aren't six feet long."

Dumbledore laughed.

"But, my word, how I've been monopolizing your time, my dear," he said suddenly, as if he'd just noticed how much time had passed. Severus knew his surprise was faked; Dumbledore could keep time in his head down to the half minute. "I'm surprised your friends haven't come to rout me. But perhaps they were at the door and heard me talking of my knitting, and wisely stayed away."

"Nah," the girl said. When she grinned, she looked like Lily or Potter or both or neither; it was impossible to say. "I think Fred and George were planning something for Percy—Ron and Hermione probably got roped into it. But I should probably go. Thanks for the chocolates, sir, and the ornament—"

"Not at all, my dear. I thank you for the pleasure of your company. Are you going, too, Severus?" he asked, with equally false surprise, as Severus stood from his chair.

"Yes," he replied. "Now that Miss Potter is escaping your knitting stories, it would fall to me to listen to them. I'm getting out while the getting is good."

Dumbledore looked extremely amused. The girl . . . did not looked alarmed or displeased, as he'd been sure she would. In fact, she looked satisfied, even relieved, about the fact that he was clearly intending to follow her out. What was she up to?

Once they were out of the hall, she surprised him further by asking, "Does Professor Dumbledore really knit six-foot long socks?"

"Yes," Severus said shortly. "Which was an improvement over the twelve-foot ones."

She started climbing the Grand Staircase in silence, not saying anything as Severus followed her up, nor looking remotely surprised that he stayed with her. So she had no plans to misbehave for the present . . . but they'd been whispering together, she and the other two . . .

Ah. One possibility crystallized out of the ether of his suspicions: Granger and Weasley were up to something, and the girl was the diversion. But he had no idea what Granger and Weasley could be doing that was harmless enough for the girl to leave them to it with no apparent anxiety, but adequately dangerous that they didn't want him finding out about it. They clearly weren't worried about the other teachers or the girl would have lingered longer in the Great Hall.

It was something to do with the boomslang skin that had gone missing, he'd bet. That would explain the firecracker, too. But why they would be brewing advanced potions, Severus had no idea. Neither the girl nor Weasley was interested in Potions, and he was fairly sure that Granger only tried so hard because she was a desperate overachiever.

"I'm probably not going to get attacked by Slytherin's monster," the girl said out of nowhere.

Severus just stared down considerable nose at her. This usually had the desired effect of unnerving his victims and making them babble on to what they really wanted to say. But the girl stared back at him—quite boldly, all things considered—and said, "I'm half-blood, I mean. Slytherin's monster is supposed to rid the school of Muggle-borns, isn't it? Hermione's in more danger than I am."

A look of anxiety flitted across her face at that, but then it was subsumed by determination once again, just like the night in the hospital wing. So that's what it was. She was fretting for her friend's sake. It surprised him. He wouldn't have thought she realized that something so abstract as "a danger to Muggle-borns" signaled "a danger to Hermione Granger."

"I'm glad to have the matter explained to me," Severus said, with enough sarcasm to make her blush. "Tell me then, Miss Potter, as I still seem to be in the dark—what caused the Bludger to attack you, and the barrier at King's Cross to seal itself against you? And—yes, I believe there was the matter of a strange house-elf warning you, specifically you, against a great danger at Hogwarts? Despite this insoluble protection of your bloodline."

The girl flushed. "I didn't say there wasn't other stuff, I just said Slytherin's monster wouldn't hurt me."

"Yes," Severus said coldly. "Because legendary monsters are really so discerning about blood purity."

"Well, that's the whole point, isn't it?" she asked, in a tone that said That is the whole point, duh.

"It is a legend, Miss Potter. In legends, myths and stories, the truth is neatly packaged. In real life, however, madmen are always willing to accept what they call collateral damage."

She looked confused. The desire to continue, to make her understand that nothing was protected from deranged evil, warred with the knowledge that she was probably too young to understand.

"But everyone's saying I'm the heir of Slytherin anyway." Was that a tinge of bitterness in her voice?

"Have you set a legendary monster on Mr Creevey and painted threatening messages on the walls in rooster blood, then?"

"No, of course I—wait, it was rooster blood?"

It wasn't until she repeated it that Severus realized what he had just said. Of course . . . Hagrid had been losing those birds to human sadism . . . but there was something else, something about roosters, that was still niggling at him . . .

"It was," he said absently, trying to dig up the connection.

"Well, of course I haven't been doing that stuff. But I can talk to snakes, and that's what Slytherin was famous for, wasn't it?"

"Yes?" he said, but his mind was elsewhere. His thoughts were unfolding, exposing the core; and when they did, when he saw what he had been failing to see, he felt like the greatest fucking fatwit walking. Dead roosters—Slytherin—Parseltongue—Petrified bodies—Dumbledore had probably figured it out as soon as Severus told him about the Parseltongue, at the very least. He might even have known all along.

Slytherin's monster was a fucking Basilisk. That's why the girl had heard it when no one else did; to anyone else, the hissing would have registered only as meaningless noise, not as words—

A small, cold hand grabbed his. "Professor," said her high, frightened voice.

Halfway up the shadowed corridor, a body was lying on the floor, and a ghostly, opalescent shape was suspended above it in midair. In the first moment of dread, Severus thought it was the spirit of whoever was lying on the floor; but then he realized it was the Gryffindor ghost, his head sagging off his neck, his face blank and motionless, the way people looked when they were dead and gone.

The girl struggled in Severus's grip, which was when he realized he'd pushed her behind him.

"Stay where you are," he snarled. "Did you hear that voice again? The one you heard in detention with me?"

"N-no," she said shakily. "Who is it on the floor? Is it Her—"

"It's too big to be Miss Granger," he said, and felt her sag with relief. "Tell me if you can hear the voice now, Miss Potter."

She stopped speaking or moving, apparently listening, and then said in a confused voice, "No, but why—?"

"If I am to take your word for it, Miss Potter, you had best be very sure."

"I'm sure, I can't hear anything. Why would I—"

Ignoring her questions, he dragged her after him over to the body on the floor. The hair lying across the face was long and curly, and for a moment he feared he'd told her false—but in the torchlight the curls were the wrong shade, too pale; and Miss Granger had been wearing corduroy trousers, not a long blue gown.

He shifted the hair off the student's face and felt relief trickle down through his limbs. She was only Petrified.

And thank Christ, by the way, that he hadn't dragged the girl over to see a dead body.

"Who's she?" the girl asked in a hushed, subdued voice.

"Penelope Clearwater," he said. "A Ravenclaw." He reached into his pocket for the moonstone all the teachers carried for emergencies, in case they needed to call each other, and summoned both Dumbledore and Flitwick.

"Was she . . . was she Muggle-born?"

"As far as I am aware." He knew the histories of all his Slytherins, but on the other students he was less informed. He knew of no wizarding family by name of Clearwater, though.

"What happened to Nick?" she asked. The ghost's opalescent light reflected off her spectacles. He was rotating slowly in place, but other than that he did not move.

Severus felt a chill that had nothing to do with being in close proximity to a ghost. If a Basilisk could kill what was already dead . . .

"I mean," she said, "he looks dead . . . I mean, of course he's dead, 'cause he's a ghost, but he looks—"

"I know what you meant, Miss Potter."

Her face was very pale. "What could kill you twice?"

Footsteps pattered against stone down the corridor behind them: Dumbledore and Flitwick. Their expressions, which had been confused and alarmed, changed when they saw what they had been summoned to.

"No," Flitwick whispered. Severus thought he hadn't meant to.

"She's only Petrified," Severus said shortly. He was watching Dumbledore, whose face was grim. Indeed, grimness radiated out of him like an aura, tangible in the pearly light cast off from the Gryffindor ghost.

"You found her like this?" he asked Severus, who nodded curtly. Then, with no softening of expression, Dumbledore's eyes traveled to the girl.

"I think Harriet ought to be returned to her dormitory," Dumbledore said a few moments later, his voice resuming its kindness. "Severus, if you will—?"

Severus nodded and swept the girl on her way. Madam Pomfrey passed them at the next corner, hurrying toward the scene he had just left, her face frustrated and upset. Minerva and Sprout were with her. They didn't say anything to him since the girl was there, but their expressions flickered as he and the child passed them by.

The girl was silent the rest of the way to the tower. Severus was debating the wisdom of telling her to leave it to trained, adult wizards. He suspected that it might not be wisdom at all. Both Lily and Potter had been the type of people to feel they knew better than those around them, and Severus had never met a piece of advice he'd had the patience to take. He felt quite sure that telling the girl to keep her nose out of it would only galvanize her.

He thought of the look on her face and the tenor of her voice the two times that she had said, It's not Hermione, is it. He could practically feel the danger; as if they stood at a crossroads and he alone saw the double path, and his only hope of steering her onto the safer road—down which she wouldn't go looking for a great bloody Basilisk—was so inchoate, it slipped through his fingers even as he tried to grasp at it.

"They all think I'm the heir of Slytherin, don't they," she said abruptly.

This was so unexpected that Severus almost said, What are you on about?

"Isn't that what you were telling me not ten minutes ago, Miss Potter?" he asked instead.

She darted a fleeting look up at him, but then stared fixedly away, and he understood.

"The other professors? Miss Potter, don't be absurd."

"I saw the way they looked at me just now," she said with a flare of hot defiance.

Severus opened his mouth to tell her in detail how ridiculous this was . . . and then remembered Dumbledore's troubled silence after the debacle of the Dueling Club. Good God, he didn't really think—?

"Even were they so fatheaded," he said, "you have an alibi, do you not? You have been in the Great Hall, and now with me. You couldn't possibly have done it."

The girl looked up at him again, her eyebrows furrowed, and then to his astonishment her expression cleared. He'd probably never had a non-Slytherin student look so relieved by something he had said. Certainly not a Gryffindor.

"You'll tell them I didn't?" she asked anxiously, and he was reminded of how young she was. Or rather, he was reminded of what being young meant.

"If you insist," he said.

She nodded, quick and eager. He wondered whether she was worried because she was a child and didn't know that he couldn't possibly withhold an alibi, or because she wouldn't put it past him to be so vindictive. Well, he couldn't really have faulted her for the latter.

The Fat Lady had been drinking with a trio of fifteenth century Flemish nuns and refused to believe the password was Rumplestiltskin the way the girl insisted it was. She looked very offended, in a drunken way, at Severus's telling her to stop swilling and open the damn portrait, but she finally let the girl into the tower.

Severus left to hunt up Dumbledore and find out what he was thinking.

As much as anyone could, with Dumbledore.

Chapter Text

He went to Dumbledore's office instead of trying to root him out in the corridors. The study smelled of the usual cinnamon and seasonal pine. Dumbledore had arranged a giant Christmas tree draped with gold and silver tinsel and strung with multicolored fairy lights that faded and brightened like the stars in the sky. Although the office was warm, almost stifling, gusts of snow from the storm outside rattled and banged the black windows. Severus had noticed the weather worsening during dinner, the dark grey mass of the enchanted ceiling thickening and churning as they all worked their way through goose and stuffing, cider and mulled mead and minced pies.

A mound of presents was piled beneath Dumbledore's tree, so many different styles of wrapping and shapes to the packages that, even ignorant of how much the Headmaster was beloved, Severus would have known they were genuine and not merely decorative. He never bothered to put up a tree in his own quarters. There wouldn't have been much under it—Dumbledore's present; Narcissa's; the one from the staff Secret Santa (he rolled his eyes). His House usually gave him something communal because Slytherins recognized the importance of doing the needful. His mother never sent him anything, not even a card, but he didn't expect it of her. He had quit sending her presents over ten years ago, after she'd sent a curt note telling him not to waste money.

Dumbledore had tacked an obnoxiously bright stocking to his mantle. It was lurid orange and pink with Albus stitched across the top in a childish hand. The 'S' was backwards. Severus had told a house-elf to fill it with coal in the night, an honest impulse that he knew Dumbledore would think was funny.

He had just sat down in a chair next to the tree and started prodding the packages, seeing if he could guess what was what, when the door opened and Dumbledore stepped in. He didn't see Severus right away; instead, he drifted over to his phoenix and stroked its mottled head. It had burned a week or so ago and was now a downy chick again, canary yellow with a scarlet head and beady black eyes.

Severus wondered how it felt to be as old as Dumbledore looked right now.

"This looks like toffee from Hagrid," he said, and had the satisfaction of seeing Dumbledore give a quiet start at the sound of his voice. "I pray it doesn't pull out any of your teeth, old as they are."

Dumbledore smiled slightly. "I usually soften it over the fire. Ever since '77, when I forgot and cracked a tooth." But then the smile dissipated and he just watched Severus, his palm resting on his phoenix's bright head. So Severus went on nosing through Dumbledore's presents.

"Elphias Doge." He rattled the box. "Sounds like a set of false teeth, appropriately enough."

Dumbledore made a vague noise, sounding as if his mind was elsewhere.

Severus picked up a lumpy, lopsided present from Arabella Figg and turned it over in his hands as if trying to gauge its weight. In the same tone of voice that he'd commented on the first two presents, he said, "You've been thinking the girl is the Heir of Slytherin, weren't you?"

Dumbledore didn't answer right away, which told Severus all he need to know.

"Probably a hand-knitted cat pillow," he said, tossing the present back into the pile. "Why in God's name would you think she was sicking a giant Basilisk on Muggle-borns?"

"So you've deduced that it's a Basilisk, too," Dumbledore said quietly. He had a peculiar expression on his face as he looked across the study at Severus, like he was deep in an emotion that had nothing to do with what they were talking about.

"Roosters," Severus said, curt and quick, like he was reading off a list. "That voice she heard—it was the Basilisk's voice, that's why she heard it and I didn't, and we were in the dungeons at the time, which was Slytherin's domain. Salazar was a Parselmouth, which doesn't only mean you understand snakes, it means you can control them."

"Yes," Dumbledore said, more quietly still.

"You seriously thought she hurt that Creevey boy?" Severus really couldn't believe it. That wasn't Dumbledore's style. It certainly wasn't Severus's to have more faith in any person than Dumbledore did.

"Even if she had some track record of violent or sadistic behavior," he continued when Dumbledore didn't say anything, "which she doesn't, she was unconscious at the time of the attack, just as she was with me for this one. And her best friend is Muggle-born—"

"So was yours," Dumbledore said, even more quietly than before.

Severus felt himself go white. Dumbledore just watched him, sober and grave.

Severus felt his heart beat, hard, into the silence of their voices. The heat from the fire was suddenly suffocating, and yet Severus felt like ice through and through.

Then the phoenix chirruped, a sound like tiny silver bells, and Dumbledore closed his eyes.

"Forgive me, Severus," he said heavily. "I know . . . " But he trailed off, as though he was too weary to be wise.

"Fortunately," Severus said, barely moving his lips, "Miss Potter is better at making abstractions." He forced himself to keep speaking. "She has already understood that danger to Muggle-borns means danger to my Muggle-born friend."

"Has she?" Dumbledore asked, looking at him without any trace of mockery or sarcasm. When Severus jerked his head, Dumbledore rubbed a hand across his chin.

"I admit that any notion of Harriet as the culprit is not simply a matter of twisting the facts, but of outright ignoring them," Dumbledore said slowly. "Yet I have not been able to rid myself of the suspicion. . . "

"Perhaps I am not making myself plain," Severus said, still feeling cold everywhere that warm blood should have been running. "I know the signs of a child bent on domination of her peers. Miss Potter exhibits none of them."

"Tom Riddle was quite adept at hiding them," Dumbledore said, almost gently. "I taught him, you will remember."

"But you saw it in him, even at the time. When he had charmed everyone else into knots, you thought there was something to be wary of, didn't you? Other than the fact that she is the only known—known—Parselmouth in the school, have you any reason to suspect her? And anyway, we know it has something to do with Lucius Malfoy."

"Yes . . . " Finally, Dumbledore moved to sit down. "I had not forgotten Lucius. Or Dobby, come to that."

"If James Potter was related to Salazar Slytherin, I'll hug Longbottom," Severus said.

Dumbledore half smiled, but it faded almost as soon as it had come. "Lucius Malfoy's apparent involvement is a significant part of the matter."

Severus noticed that Dumbledore didn't say what part, or why it was significant. "But you're still not convinced it isn't her? Why not?"

"It would not be very wonderful to me," Dumbledore said, carefully now, almost tentatively, as though he was leery of saying this, "if Harriet were to . . . demonstrate some of the same . . . weaknesses as Tom Riddle. Both are orphans who suffered great neglect as a child. Both, from an early age, have shown talents far beyond their peers'. And both . . . both possess the rare gift of Parseltongue."

"She is not the Dark Lord, Dumbledore." Severus didn't even need to think this over. He didn't know why he believed it, or why he was so insistent, but he did and he was. Maybe he didn't want Lily to have died to protect her child, only to have it grow up and turn into another Tom Riddle. Maybe because he knew nastiness and malevolence far better than Dumbledore did, whatever he said or believed. Dumbledore might have brushed against darkness long ago, but he had never followed it breathlessly, never sought it and gloried in it, until the darkness within himself shattered all the brightness of his hopes. "She's something else entirely."

Dumbledore was watching him with a peculiar expression on his face. It was as though he was trying very hard not to beam like Christmas morning and throw his arms around Severus and start prating about love and joy and—dear God, Severus was getting nauseous just thinking about it.

"She's an impertinent brat whose peerless talent is risking her neck for no good reason." He wondered if he should sneer. The expected touch, or overdoing it? "She and Weasley and Granger are up to something—don't you twinkle at me," he snapped. "They robbed me of boomslang skin so they could brew invisible Potions in that miserable out-of-order girl's bathroom on the second floor, God only knows what they—

"What?" he demanded, because a very strange expression had just flitted across Dumbledore's face, an expression almost like gobsmacked astonishment.

Dumbledore blinked. Then he said, "You have not deduced, then, who the Heir of Slytherin must be?"

Severus was thrown off-kilter. What did that have to do with—

. . . Wait. Was Dumbledore offering him information about the Heir of Bloody Slytherin to distract him from whatever had astounded him? Oh, yes he bloody was, or Severus was the reincarnation of Helga Hufflepuff. "Never bloody mind that, thank you, Headmaster. I want to know what it was that shocked you just now when I said—"

"The Heir of Slytherin is Tom Riddle, Junior."

That time, Severus thought he actually felt the room tilt. Then his dread surged like the tide before a storm, and the weight of the thought It's too soon it wasn't supposed to be this soon was crushing.

"I have no reason to suspect Tom's direct involvement," Dumbledore said calmly, as if he weren't shaking Severus's tenuous peace by its foundations. "But we know that Tom has always been adept at influencing others. We were just remembering it. His powers of manipulation and personal enchantment were as great as his magical skills—though he would surely not wish to admit he was so talented at something so mundane."

This time it was understanding that broke over Severus, a softer wave but no less icy. "You think the Dark Lord is manipulating or controlling one of the children in the school."

Dumbledore inclined his head.

"You think it's her?"

"I think the connection would certainly be difficult for Tom to resist, do you not? The temptation to take by guile what he has not been able to by force—to destroy the avatar of our peace and hope, by forcing her to take the lives of Muggleborn students—do you not think this sounds like Tom?"

"No . . . " Severus said slowly. "You were right that the Dark Lord does not stoop to the mundane any longer. Magic was—is—all that he considers worthy. That . . . the other . . . that sounds like Lucius. Jesus Christ, that's Lucius all over."

He might have stared at Dumbledore in horror. Not because Lucius would be capable of that, for he knew that Lucius was, and anyway, it was a waste of time to sit aghast at the depths of cruelty in the human heart. But he was disturbed by what it signified. He had always been certain, as certain as it was prudent to be, that the Dark Lord had no contact with Lucius, or vice versa; but if Lucius wasn't merely acting on some sadistic lark—if he were somehow channeling the Dark Lord's essence into one of their students, Severus's certainty would have been in error, and he could not afford to be in error.

"So you agree," said Dumbledore, "that—we'll say Lucius, or perhaps Tom—is using one of the students, possibly unwillingly, to control the Basilisk and attack Muggleborns?"

"Yes. I do." Severus scrubbed his hand across his eyes. "I'll have his guts out through his nostrils."

"You know," Dumbledore said pensively, "that really does warm my heart, Severus. Who would have thought? It delights me, to see you caring for the children."

"I hate children," Severus snarled. "But I hope I'm not so mad as to fail to hate more the people who turn children into murderers for their own ends."

"Oh, Severus," Dumbledore said, giving him a fond and knowing look that made Severus wish he'd told the house-elves to put twice as much coal in his stocking. "I think I just proved, at least twice during this conversation, that your heart is in the right place."

"I don't have a heart," Severus said. "I had it removed and replaced with a steel trap years ago."

--

"I was just so sure it was Malfoy," Ron said for the millionth time.

"Oh, Ron, do let it go," Hermione sighed.

"I can't believe it," Ron said as if he hadn't heard her. "All that work, and we didn't find out a bloody thing we didn't know already. Well, there's that secret panel in the Malfoys' drawing-room—I'll write Dad and tell him—but we already knew the Chamber had been opened before, from what Harry overheard Professor Dumbledore saying—"

"We didn't know that someone died last time," Harriet said quietly. A vision of Penelope Clearwater lying on the floor with her curly hair spread over her face made her feel so cold, it was like being stabbed in the ear with an icicle.

"And we know that someone got expelled for opening the Chamber," Hermione added. "I bet it was in the paper . . . "

"Oh, well, that's great news," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "We can just travel back in time fifty years and swipe somebody's Prophet and get this whole thing wrapped up."

"Or," Hermione snapped, "we could just go to the library—"

"What, has it got a time vortex, then?"

"Honestly, Ron!" Hermione banged her fist on her knee. For good measure, Harriet smacked Ron lightly on the arm. "Thank you, Harriet." Fixing Ron with a beady, McGonagall-like gaze, she said forcefully, "There are old Daily Prophets, hundreds of them, going back decades. Whoever was expelled and whoever was," she swallowed, "killed, it would have made headlines. We can start about forty-five years ago—'fifty years' could be just a general—"

She broke off, looking up apprehensively; Harriet and Ron followed suit, but it was only Fred and George. They'd come over to the couches, and now sat down to either side of Ron and Hermione, who book-ended Harriet.

"Rotten way to end Christmas, isn't it?" said Fred.

They all nodded and then fell silent, staring at the fire. It was cheery and bright and warm, unlike them. Harriet felt cold inside. Dumbledore's expression kept haunting her . . . and Nick's slack face . . . Penelope Clearwater's wide, glassy eyes . . .

"Where are Percy and Ginny?" Hermione asked the twins quietly.

"Percy went to see if he could help with that Clearwater girl," George said, while Fred rolled his eyes. It made him look very much like Ron.

"Pompous prat," he said, without enthusiasm. "But it's Ginny we wanted to ask you girls about."

"We think she's up in her dorm, but obviously we can't get up the girls' tower," George added.

"Why not?" Ron said.

"The Founders arranged it that way," Hermione said immediately. "The stairs disappear if one of you tries."

"But you and Harry've been in my dorm loads of times," Ron said.

"Ah, dear, sweet boy," said Fred, putting his hand flat on Ron's head. "But he'll soon learn, won't he, George?"

"That he will, Fred," George said solemnly, ruffling Ron's hair into his eyes as soon as Fred removed his hand. They snickered at the scowl on Ron's face as he shoved his hair back.

"We'll go check on her," Harriet told the twins.

She and Hermione let themselves into the girls' stairwell. It was icy and dark inside; the torches in their brackets on the walls burned like sinister eyes. The diamond-paned windows rattled in the moaning wind, and some snow flecked the floor around them, blown in through the cracks in the masonry.

Their dorm was all the way at the top of the staircase, with the first year girls' one level below. They knocked on the door and listened, but nobody answered.

Harriet pointed at her wand at the glinting brass lock and said, "Alohomora."

Hermione pushed the door open. Empty of all her dorm-mates and their things, Ginny's room looked almost unlived-in. Trunks were gone and dressers bare, there was no light but the fire, and it was cold and silent . . . except for a hitched, whimpering noise that made Harriet's stomach clench.

She and Hermione traded a silent look and then made their way slowly, softly, to the one bed that was occupied. A lump sat upright underneath the covers, rocking back and forth, over and over, whimpering.

Harriet reached out and gently tugged the blankets off. She saw Ginny's red hair, vivid even in the patchy darkness.

Then Ginny rounded on them, her teeth bared in rage and lips pulled back in a snarl, her eyes wild and almost inhuman looking, with a glint Harriet could have sworn was red as blood.

Hermione gasped and grabbed Harriet's arm, but Harriet didn't back away. Her heart beating hard and fast, she stayed where she was, staring into Ginny's strange eyes.

"Ginny?" she said quietly, like she was talking to a frightened animal, because she wasn't sure that she wasn't. "It's Harriet and Hermione."

At first, nothing changed. And then her expression sort of melted, like the lines on her face were running like paint . . . no, they were tears . . . Ginny was staring at them and crying out of wide, terrified eyes, shaking all over like Dobby getting ready to run at Harriet's wardrobe and bash his head on it.

"It's okay," Harriet said, although she had no idea; even though it didn't feel okay at all. Her arm was going numb from where Hermione was gripping it. "Ginny, it's okay."

Ginny let out a sob, and then another, and then she was sobbing so hard her breaths sounded like frogs croaking. Hermione stepped forward and wrapped the blankets around her again, and Harriet lay Ginny's head in her lap. They stayed like that, Harriet and Hermione holding Ginny and looking at each other, wondering why Ginny should cry like her heart was breaking.

--

Ginny cried herself to sleep. Harriet and Hermione brought her up to their dorm and let her have Parvati's bed. All they told Ron, Fred and George was that Ginny was feeling a bit of a flu or cold or something and just wanted to sleep, but Harriet wasn't sure the boys had been convinced. They'd all noticed how Ginny had been unwell all term.

"I think we should write Mr. and Mrs. Weasley," Hermione whispered as the light from the fire died slowly in the dark. She and Harriet lay tucked up in her bed, Ginny asleep across the aisle. Her face looked distraught and unhappy even as she slept. "Maybe Ginny . . . maybe she should take some time off from Hogwarts for a bit."

"I think it's got something to do with the Chamber of Secrets," Harriet said quietly. "I think the monster, it's hurting her."

"So getting away could only help her," Hermione insisted.

Harriet hadn't told her friends yet what the teachers suspected. She had thought, in fact, about not telling them at all. But in the darkness of her dorm, in this safe, familiar place that smelled of home, like Hogwarts' soap, Parvati's amber perfume and Lavender's rosemary shampoo, and Hermione's books, she felt the urge pressing at her throat. She wanted Hermione to tell her how silly it all was, the way Snape had said Don't be absurd.

So she told Hermione that the teachers thought it was her, the Heir of Slytherin. Pinpricks of light from the fire swam in Hermione's wide, dark eyes. She said nothing from start to finish.

"They can't," she said at last in a hushed voice. "Of course it isn't you. Oh, they can't!"

"But the voice," Harriet whispered, anguished. "How come I can hear that killing voice if nobody else can, if I'm not the Heir of Slytherin?"

"Well, I . . . " Hermione froze. Then she grabbed Harriet by the shoulder, startling her. "Harriet! Oh, I—I think I've just understood something!" She sat up suddenly, pushing off the blankets, breaking a wave icy air over the bed. "I've got to go to the library!"

"Hsst!" Harriet gestured at Ginny, but she was so deeply asleep that she didn't even twitch. "You can't go to the library, it's the middle of the night!"

"We'll wear your dad's Cloak," Hermione said, breathless and quick. "We've got to, Harry, I'll never be able to sleep until I know—"

"Know what?" Harriet asked, as Hermione scrabbled around pulling on her slippers and a dressing gown.

"Slytherin's monster! Harriet, what if it's a giant snake? What if you were hearing Parseltongue? Oh, where's your Cloak? I'll go by myself—in fact, maybe I had better—"

"And get Petrified by a great dirty snake?" Harriet said in a hot whisper. "I don't think so. Hang on, let me find my slippers . . . "

As quietly as they could, they pulled the Cloak out of Harriet's trunk and sneaked out of the dorm. The Fat Lady was passed out with that load of nuns she'd been drinking with earlier, and they were all snoring hugely, their wimples fluttering over their faces.

Through the Cloak, the darkness looked silvery. The corridors were so cold that their breath misted in front of them in ghostly clouds, and the storm pounded and shrieked at the windows. They walked carefully, quietly, even though their slippers didn't make any noise above the wind and rattling glass. It was surely the creepiest walk Harriet had ever taken.

When something moved in the corridor ahead, they both froze like they'd been Petrified and clutched at each other. For a few paralytic moments, they stood like stone statues, hardly daring to breathe . . . and then Professor Sprout came into view, holding her illuminated wand in one hand. She swept its silver-blue light along the walls, to the grumbling of the portraits, and pulled aside a tapestry concealing a staircase to look up there, too. Was she patrolling? Looking for the monster? For more Petrified students?

She moved past them, her wand's light shining on the wall behind Harriet and Hermione's invisible bodies.

"Teachers!" Hermione uttered in a terrified whisper once Sprout had gone.

"We could just wait for morning," Harriet said. "That'd be the sensible thing."

She and Hermione looked at each other.

"I mean, I guess," Harriet said. "I'm not sure I'd know sensible if I met it, really."

"We'll be in such trouble if we're caught," Hermione breathed, the words warm and damp on Harriet's face. "You in particular. I don't know . . . "

"I'm going to the library," Harriet said. "I'm going to find out if Slytherin's monster is a great dirty snake, because then I can tell it to bugger off back to its rotten Chamber of bloody Secrets. But I'll take you back to the tower if you'd like—"

"Oh, shut up," Hermione said, squeezing her hand. They set off again, gripping each other by the hand now, on the watch for monsters as well as teachers.

"But if we see Snape," Harriet whispered, "we're going around."

--

Harriet had been in the library once before at night, and she liked it just as little this time around. Books at night were creepy.

They kept the Cloak on as they thumbed through the card catalog, Hermione looking up magical snakes, and as they crept into the Magical Creatures section. Hermione levitated an ancient-looking, smelly book off a top shelf and smuggled it beneath the Cloak, where they spread it out on the floor and read it by the light of their wands.

"This is it!" she whispered triumphantly. "'Of all the fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it' . . . it all fits, Harry!"

"Okay," Harriet said, "so I'm the only one who can hear its voice—except the Heir of Slytherin—because I can talk to snakes—like the Heir of Slytherin . . . but how could I hear a giant monster snake and not see it?"

"Salazar Slytherin could have built tunnels for it to get around," Hermione said, frowning in the white-blue wand-light. "A normal-sized snake could probably use the plumbing, but a Basilisk is supposed to be huge."

She pointed to a picture that the writer had helpfully penned in. The Basilisk was a snake with the head of an eel and the eyes of a crocodile. Harriet couldn't see how the artist could possibly know what it looked like since the Basilisk's stare killed you immediately.

"But no one's been killed," she said, "only Petrified . . . "

She and Hermione stared at each other, and then they both said, "The water on the floor."

"Colin had his camera with him," Harriet recalled, remembering the acrid smell. "It was burnt to a crisp inside. He must've looked at the Basilisk through the lens—"

"And Penelope Clearwater must have seen it through Nearly Headless Nick—"

"He looked like he'd been killed twice . . . He must've seen its stare head on . . . "

Hermione clutched the book to her chest. "We've got to tell the teachers," she said breathlessly.

"We can't right now," Harriet said. "They'll know we've been out of bed, and I bet you anything they won't give us awards for it."

"No," Hermione said, worrying her lip. "No, you're right . . . "

"We'll take the book with us and tell them in the morning. The Basilisk's not going anywhere, after all," she said grimly.

--

Harriet woke up just before dawn to the sound of something scratching. At first, as she lay blinking at the chink of firelight visible through a gap in her drapes, she thought it was a mouse. It was a familiar sound, at any rate. Then she realized it was the sound of a quill on parchment.

"Hermione?" she said, sitting up and pushing her bed hangings aside.

But it wasn't Hermione; it was Ginny, sitting in front of the fire wrapped in blankets, scribbling in a leather book like a diary.

"Harry?" Hermione said sleepily from the bed next to Harriet's. "What are you writing?"

"It's nothing," Ginny said in a funny voice. She stood up, blankets and all, and climbed back into Parvati's bed, jerking the curtains shut behind her.

Hermione and Harriet looked at each other. Then by unspoken agreement they climbed out of bed and dressed shivering in the darkness, pulling on several layers of their warmest clothes. The wind was still hammering at the dorm-room windows. Hermione grabbed the book on the Basilisk, and they let themselves out of the dorm.

"D'you think it's weird how she won't tell us what's wrong?" Harriet whispered as they groped their way down the black, icy stairwell.

"That's what troubles me the most, actually," Hermione said. "I can understand her not telling her brothers, Fred and George tease her so horribly, but we're her friends . . . "

"Maybe she's told the friends in her year something," Harriet said as they reached the common room. A roaring fire was lit in the big hearth, but the flames kept guttering from the gusts of wind coming down the chimney.

Hermione checked her watch. "It's still really early . . . not even dawn yet. I doubt any of the boys are awake—"

She broke off as the portrait hole creaked open. It was Percy. His usually neat hair looked flat and uncombed, and his robes were rumpled, like he'd slept badly in them.

He stopped when he saw them. For a few moments, all was silent staring.

Percy cleared his throat. "You two are up early."

And you're out late, Harriet thought; but of all Ron's brothers that she had met, Percy was the one she was least familiar with, so she just shrugged.

"Yes," Hermione said, after an awkward lag of time had crept past.

Percy's face twitched in what might have been an attempt at a smile, but could just have easily been a grimace. Then he said, "Well . . . "

"Yes," Hermione said again.

"I'll . . . see you two later," Percy said, and escaped into the boys' staircase.

"That was weird," Harriet said. "Where do you suppose he's been?"

"Helping the teachers?" Hermione said, though she sounded like she was suggesting it because she didn't have anything better to offer.

"But he wouldn't need to act all awkward about that . . . "

"No . . . that's what's strange."

"Chalk it up to just one more mystery this year," Harriet said. "What are we at now? Fifty seven?"

"Well, we've been able to explain one, at least," Hermione said, hefting the library book. "Let's find a teacher. Oh!" She said, so suddenly Harriet jumped.

Hermione rooted around inside her jeans' pocket and pulled out a round, brassy compact mirror. "I found this in Lavender's dresser—I thought we could use it to check around corners—for the Basilisk, you know—so that way, if we do see it—"

"—we won't look it in the eye," Harriet finished. "Brilliant."

It was brilliant. But what it meant made her feel as if the icy wind from outside had swept down her throat, through her heart, all the way to her soul.

--

The storm had hurled so much snow at the castle in the night that if it hadn't been for magic, they'd all have been barricaded inside. Drifts stood ten feet high against the great oak doors fronting the Entrance Hall, and the windows were so crusted with frost that you couldn't see out of them. It was as if the world beyond the walls of the castle had been erased in the night.

Severus hadn't slept. He'd patrolled, suffered an intenser-than-usual attack of insomnia, and gone out patrolling again; he was starving, but his dyspepsia was acting up, so he wouldn't be able to stomach more than weak tea with a bit of dry toast, if he was lucky; and now, when it was so cold even he had to put on extra layers, he had blundered into that fucking ape's arse, Lockhart.

"Shame I wasn't there." Lockhart shook his head with regret. He looked pristine and well-rested, not a disgustingly golden hair out of place, not a wrinkle in his foul robes of a shade of pink that was practically an assault. Severus hadn't seen him out in the corridors last night, not once. "I know the exact curse that could have saved that girl. If only I had been on hand, this whole affair would have been in the bag."

They were alone in the corridor outside the staff room, and Severus knew that nobody was inside. His hand stole toward his wand, almost without his meaning it to—just not entirely. Just one curse . . . Lockhart would never see it coming . . .

"Professor?" said a young girl's voice, very familiar.

Looking down, Severus found himself confronted by the wide, earnest stares of Hermione Granger and Lily's daughter. They were both bulkier than usual in several layers of knobbly sweaters, and Granger was carrying a book that was almost as big as she was.

Lockhart beamed. "If it isn't my best students!" (Granger went pink and looked extremely flattered; Lily's daughter looked annoyed.) "Already hitting the books, eh? That's the ticket! Take it from me, if you want to be where I am—"

"Right," said the girl firmly. "Thank you, sir. We just wanted to ask Professor Snape something. About potions," she added. "Potions homework. That he gave us."

Severus did not react. Lockhart appeared almost taken aback, but he recovered his aplomb quicker than you could say "self-aggrandizing arsehole."

"Right ho, right ho—carry on, carry on," he said merrily. "I think I'll just see to a spot of breakfast. Good morning to you!"

And he flitted off. Severus regretted that he hadn't been able to curse him, but at least he'd buggered off now. Severus could always curse him later, anyway.

"I didn't give you any Potions homework," he said to the girl, who looked embarrassed.

"I just wanted him to go away, sir."

"We, we wanted to tell—someone—something we've found out," Granger said in a high, apprehensive voice, speaking quickly. "The monster, it's a Basilisk, sir, we figured it out last night—"

She had pulled the book open as she spoke and now pushed it into Severus's hands.

"—it was the Basilisk's voice Harriet heard in detention that night—"

"Yes, Miss Granger," he said, glancing down at the spotted, ancient parchment with its faded drawing of a serpent with enormous, slitted eyes, "we already knew that."

"oh," she said in a tiny, mortified voice.

"But then why didn't anyone say anything?" the girl asked indignantly. "Sir," she added when he gave her a cold stare, but her tone was almost aggressive.

Severus had absolutely no intention of telling them that Dumbledore had kept it a secret and Severus had only figured it out yesterday. He hoped to God it had been before a pair of twelve-year-old girls.

"Miss Granger?" he said coldly. "Can you answer Miss Potter's question?"

"Oh . . . " He could see her thinking it over, even though the question obviously bewildered her. But a teacher had asked her for an answer, and she was still smarting from the earlier disappointment, so she was thinking fast. "Not wanting to induce panic, sir?"

"I would've liked to know," the girl said hotly. "I thought I was going mad, hearing that horrible voice out of nowhere, being the only one who could, if I'd known it was a great dirty snake—"

"Am I to take it you heard it more than once, Miss Potter?" Severus asked in a voice that made her indignation flicker into wary guilt.

"Once was enough," she muttered.

She was clearly lying, but she was also staring back at him defiantly.

"That is not a direct answer, Miss Potter."

"That's how we found Mrs Norris," Granger said quickly.

The girl's mouth dropped open. "Hermione!"

He was glad he was holding the book; it gave him something to grip so he wouldn't throttle her. "And you didn't see fit, Miss Potter, to tell anyone?"

"You said you all knew," the girl said, and he couldn't be sure whether she was just being childish or if she honestly meant it. Granger looked like she dearly wanted to leave; she had an embarrassed, awkward expression on her face, like she was witnessing someone doing something lewd.

"That isn't the point," Severus sought refuge in saying, shoving the book back at Granger. "The point is that you withheld information from the Headmaster, and after he asked you a direct question. Thirty points from Gryffindor, and be glad it isn't fifty."

He knew he was being nasty, and he wasn't surprised when she went bright red, probably with fury. Granger looked mortified.

"That's—" the girl started; but Granger, apparently feeling that enough damage had been done, grabbed her by the arm.

"Thank you, Professor, we're so sorry, Professor," she gabbled, and dragged the girl away.

"I trust you'll be more honest in future," Severus called after them, knowing, even as he did so, that he was only inducing her not to be.

He heard her bleat a reply, but Granger hustled her around the corner and the exact words were lost.

When he was sure they were gone, he gave into his self-disgust and rubbed his face, only because kicking the wall would only have resulted in a sprained toe. "Nicely done," he said out loud, with the acrimony he usually reserved for Longbottom. "Next time they'll go to Lockhart."

Then he realized that he had let the girl walk off with a Muggle-born, and that whatever he'd told her yesterday, Slytherin's monster—or at least its heir—had proved capable of discerning blood purity and acting accordingly. Cursing himself for a bloody fucking fool, he took off after them. But when he rounded the corner, they were already gone.

Chapter Text

"That—" Harriet uttered. "That—"

"Shh!" Hermione whipped her head left, then right, staring fearfully up and down the hall to make sure they were alone. But the corridor was empty even of the ghosts' silvery glow.

"I can't believe him!" Harriet said. "That was so unfair! And why did you have to tell him?"

"Oh Harriet, he knew you were lying," Hermione said, almost tearfully. "But thirty points . . . !"

"At least we've lost more before," Harriet said bitterly.

"Let's just go back to the tower." Hermione patted her pockets for the hand mirror. "Ron will want to know about the Basilisk—"

I smell blood . . .

At first Harriet thought it was the wind or the storm, beating snow at the walls and windows, hissing down the corridors. But the wind really didn't have a voice, at least not one she could understand the way she could understand a giant monster snake.

She grabbed Hermione's arm so hard that Hermione yelped.

"Harry, what—"

Harriet clapped a hand over her mouth. "Shh!" she choked.

Find the Mudbloods . . . let me kill this time . . . let me rip, let me tear . . .

Hermione's rigid face said she understood. She was clutching Lavender's mirror in a shaking hand, her fingers dug into Harriet's jumper.

"I can't tell where it is." Anguished, Harriet stared up and down the empty corridor, imagining the shadows thickening into nightmares with huge, glowing eyes that could kill—

"We've got to shut our eyes," Hermione whispered back, trembling all over. "If we don't look in its eyes—"

Where are they? I smell blood . . . blood . . .

The words threw themselves back over each other, echoing and blotting each other out, filling the hall with noise so that she couldn't figure out where the voice was coming from. It was somehow even more frightening now that Harriet knew what it was, knew what they were waiting for, because she still didn't know what they should do. How were they supposed to fight a freaking—

Her own words from last night streaked back into her head: "I hope it is a great dirty snake, because then I can tell it to bugger off to its Chamber of bloody Secrets."

She worked her throat, an idea forming . . . Form faster, form faster! she thought fiercely.

"Go away!" she tried. Hermione stared at her. "Was that in Parseltongue?"

"No, English," Hermione whispered frantically.

And then Harriet saw, rippling on the walls, a shadow like something rushing up on them from the adjoining corridor; and that time, she heard her voice come out in a menacing hiss—

"Go away!"

The shadow shrank—but it wasn't turning away from them, it was rushing around the corner, and Harriet slammed her eyes shut, Hermione whimpering against her. "Go AWAY—"

"Miss Potter—what are you doing?"

Harriet's eyes flew open, and she and Hermione stared up at Snape, who was bearing down on them with a hard, angry face.

"You're not the Basilisk," she said stupidly.

Snape's breathing was harsh, like he'd been running. "You heard it?" he asked in a voice so sharp Harriet flinched.

"Yes," Hermione said in a faint voice, clinging so close to Harriet that her heart was beating against Harriet's arm. "Harry, what—what was it saying?"

"It could smell us but it didn't know where we were," Harriet said. "It wanted to kill us—like usual."

Snape's gaunt face looked almost bloodless. The light from a torch on the wall cut shadows into his skin and glittered in his eyes.

"Come with me," he said, his voice tight and low. "And stay behind."

Harriet had been pretty steamed at him earlier, but now she followed him gladly, clutching Hermione's hand as they trailed him through the corridors like pieces of his shadow. The windows were still black, and the portraits' many, whispering voices sounded like the wind.

"Maybe the portraits have seen something?" Hermione said tremulously.

"So far," said Snape without turning, "every attack has been perpetrated in parts of the castle that are bare of portraits." There was a hint of Obviously we thought of this already in his voice, but he didn't say anything else, which Harriet supposed counted as restraint. With him.

Snape stopped in front of an extremely ugly stone gargoyle with a beak for a mouth and two lopsided, bulbous eyes. "Sherbet lemon," Snape told it in a threatening voice, barely opening his lips, like he didn't want to say it.

The gargoyle rolled its eyes toward Harriet and Hermione, but with the sound of rock scraping on rock, it clambered aside; the floor shuddered as the wall behind split in two, like a sliding door made of stone.

Snape impatiently gestured Harriet and Hermione through the gap in the wall. They edged onto a spiral staircase that twisted up and up overhead. As soon as Snape stepped onto the stair behind them, the whole staircase began to move. Like an escalator, it wound them up and around, around and up, until Harriet was dizzy.

At the top was a half-circle landing and a set of double doors carved with a woodland scene: a forest with regular deer and birds, but also centaurs and unicorns, goblins, house-elves and dwarves, two wizards and two witches, all with long, flowing hair and robes. Harriet wondered if they were supposed to be the four Founders.

Before she could figure out which might be Slytherin, Snape rapped on the door. He waited only a moment before opening it, shepherding the girls inside. Neither of them dared speak to each other, but Harriet would bet Hermione had already guessed long ago that this must be Dumbledore's office.

It was too grand to be a regular professor's. Enormous and circular, it was fitted with huge bookcases and dozens of portraits, who all appeared to be napping, and decorated in a style of exuberant mismatch. The carpets were crimson and gold; armchairs sat in midnight blue and bronze velvet; tapestries in silver and green and yellow and black hung from the walls. A fire crackled in a hearth big enough that Harriet could have stood in it, and its mantle was carved with vines and flowers. A cabinet filled with crystal bottles glittered in the light like the hundred twinkling eyes of Argus Panoptes' much kinder twin, and shelves all around the room were crammed with unfamiliar instruments that puffed, whirred, and clicked. It reminded Harriet of the Burrow more than a bit.

For the first time since she saw Mrs Norris hanging Petrified by her tail from a lamp bracket, Harriet felt . . . safe.

"Is that a phoenix?" Hermione whispered, nudging Harriet, who looked where she was trying to point without Snape seeing. On a perch behind Dumbledore's enormous desk sat a lanky bird with canary yellow- and- blinding scarlet feathers. It had the beginnings of splendid plumes on its head.

Snape was putting something in his pocket, a kind of white stone that fitted in the palm of his hand. Harriet had seen him holding it when Penelope Clearwater was attacked last night.

It felt longer ago than that.

"You two," said Snape in a tone of voice that made them jump. But he just pointed at the chairs in front of the fire. "Sit down."

"We didn't touch anything," Harriet said automatically.

"Did I say you had, Miss Potter?"

Harriet refrained from saying that nobody, least of all his students, would put it past him. She and Hermione sat near the fire, feeling a bit warmer but not all the way through. It was like the heat touched her skin but everything beneath it was ice. She kept hearing the echo of that hissing voice, the voice of a monster, of a murderer . . . How near them had it been? How close had they been to . . .

The office door opened and Professor Dumbledore came in, looking mildly surprised. At the sight of him, the phoenix trilled. When it did, something warm and golden, like warm honey, trickled into Harriet's heart.

"Miss Potter says she heard the Basilisk," Snape said by way of hello, pointing at the girls. "In the third-floor corridor's west wing, just now."

Professor Dumbledore turned to look at them. For a split second his face was alarmed, but then it sobered.

"That must have been a dreadful shock," he said, grave and serious, "especially so early in the morning. Were you on your way to breakfast?"

"We were going back to Gryffindor tower, sir," Hermione said in a small voice.

"They had been to see me," Snape said, as if the meeting hadn't been a total disaster. "And to the library before that, apparently, to fine-tune their Nancy Drew skills."

Hermione looked at him curiously; so did Professor Dumbledore. Harriet didn't see why.

"Hermione figured out it—the monster, I mean—was a Basilisk," she told Professor Dumbledore. "We went to the library to check, and then to let someone know, but Professor Snape said you already knew. We're sorry, sir."

"There is no need to apologize, my dear," Professor Dumbledore said, and Harriet had to fight the urge to make a face at Snape. "On the contrary, it demonstrates an impressive mastery of logic. I think thirty-five points to Gryffindor are in order—what do you say, Severus?"

It was really, really hard not to make a face then. Snape gave them an unfriendly scowl, as if he knew exactly what Harriet, at least, was thinking. If Hermione felt vindicated, it didn't show; she just turned bright red with pleasure and embarrassment.

"Was the Basilisk preparing for an attack, Harriet?" Professor Dumbledore asked, now grave again.

"I think it was looking for Hermione and me," she said. "I mean, it mentioned Mudbloods—"

Snape's expression darkened, but Professor Dumbledore lifted a finger and Snape just looked away. Harriet was indignant. Obviously she was just quoting.

"It was trying to smell out where we were," she went on, "but for some reason it couldn't. I mean, I guess it couldn't—it said . . . " She ransacked her memory. "Find the Mudbloods . . . let me kill this time . . . "

"Harry!" Hermione whispered urgently, her face rigid. "You're speaking . . . " But she apparently didn't even want to say the word.

"Oh." Harriet looked at Snape's and Professor Dumbledore's faces. They both looked—odd. Not scared or anything, only . . . She didn't know what. It was some complicated, grown-up emotion. She resisted a frantic impulse to say that she didn't mean to speak it, she didn't even want to know that stupid, creepy language. "Sorry," she muttered, staring at her knees.

"There is no need to be, my dear," Professor Dumbledore said. "Parseltongue is not, in itself, evil, or even Dark. It merely carries those associations, due to the wizards who have mastered it."

"Miss Potter," Snape said suddenly, "what were you saying when I found you and Miss Granger? You were hissing," he said when she stared at him.

"Oh . . . " Harriet felt her face heat. It seemed stupid, now. "Nothing . . . "

"Miss Potter, what did I tell you about telling the truth?" Snape asked in a dangerous voice, but Professor Dumbledore just looked at him and Snape glanced away.

"If you must know," Harriet said in a tone that made Hermione groan quietly, "sir, I was telling it to go away. Well, it worked on that snake at the Dueling Club," she said defensively when both professors stared at her. "I didn't know what else to do."

Professor Dumbledore blinked, but said with conviction, "The situation must have been a frightening one. You acted very bravely, the both of you." He stood from his chair; Harriet and Hermione hastily did the same. "When I received Professor Snape's summons, I quickly issued orders to the Heads of House to see that their students remained in their dormitories. For now, I must have you two obey the same injunction. You may use my fire to return to the Tower."

He crossed to the mantle and lifted down a Chinese porcelain urn. "You'll all be served meals in house. I know it's not anything like a delightful way to spend the holiday, but we must keep you all safe."

He smiled down at them, and his phoenix trilled again, dripping those honey-warm drops through Harriet's heart.

"You first, my dear," he said, removing the lid from the urn and holding it down to her. Harriet thought of Mrs Weasley doing the same at the Burrow. Thinking of the Burrow made her realize she didn't want to leave Professor Dumbledore's cozy study. It was just like the Weasleys' house, warm and safe and inviting. For some reason the Gryffindor common room wasn't like that anymore.

"Is it just like Floo?" she asked, taking a handful of ash that smelled like incense.

"Ah, so you've traveled by Floo before, then?" Professor Dumbledore said, smiling. "Yes, it's exactly so. Have you, Miss Granger? No? Observe Harriet, then."

"Gryffindor Tower," Harriet said, slinging the ash into the grate. The fire flared a brilliant green, and she shut her eyes and stepped into it, feeling neither cold nor warmth, just a gentle tickling sensation—and then a powerful suction, like she was being sucked down a drain. Her stomach roiled, her head whirled, and with a sudden rush of icy air she was tumbling painfully onto the carpet in the Gryffindor common room.

"Blimey!" said Ron's voice. "Where'd you come from, Harry?"

"My thought's the fireplace," said Fred or George as Harriet coughed and wiped at her sooty glasses. "My first clue being, she came out of the—"

"Mind the fire, Hermione's coming—"

But Harriet wasn't fast enough: Hermione came hurtling out of the flames, collided with Ron, and knocked the both of them down on Harriet herself.

"Ouch!"

"Wh," Hermione hacked. "Wh-what was that?"

"Floo," George said, hauling her up while Fred levered Ron to his feet so Harriet could breathe. "A bit of a shock the first time, eh?"

"I hope it was the last time!" Hermione's hair was even bushier than usual, sticking out like a briar patch, and there was ash all over her indignant face. "And I thought brooms were bad!"

"Sacrilege!" Fred clutched dramatically at his chest.

"It's a good thing I didn't have breakfast yet." Hermione took out her wand and started brushing the ash off her jumper, then doing the same for Harriet.

"There's food there." Ron pointed at a table piled with plates, cups, and covered platters. "McGonagall was here to tell us we've got to stay put, and to magic the table up. What happened? Where did you two go?"

"And what did you do to get everyone in school confined to their common rooms?" Fred asked.

"Not that we're complaining, mind you," George said. "A bit dull for us, but it must've been a choice piece of mischief, whatever it was."

"Didn't know you girls had it in you," said Fred.

"We almost got eaten by Slytherin's monster, that's what," Harriet said, lifting a cover off one of the trays. It contained toast. She doled some out onto her plate and then Hermione's, who served her some fried tomatoes.

"Is that a joke?" Ron asked sharply.

"No," Hermione said, uncapping the marmalade. "Last night I figured out the monster was a Basilisk—because Harriet could hear it, you see, when no one else could—"

"Parseltongue," Harriet explained, because of Ron's slack expression. "A Basilisk's a giant, man-eating snake."

Fred and George were staring at each other, apparently communicating through some kind of silent twin language.

"Wh," Ron said, his mouth hanging open.

"So Harriet and I went to the library," Hermione said matter-of-factly. "Thank you, Harriet—no, one egg is fine—"

"Of course you went to the library," Ron said faintly.

"And then you tackled a giant, thousand-year-old snake?" George said. "Just trying to put events in order, see."

"Then," Hermione said, a bit haughtily, "we went to find a teacher."

"Only we found Snape," Harriet said. "You can probably fill in the rest yourself."

"Doesn't take any effort at all, actually," said Fred. "Go on, girls."

They told them all the rest. When they had finished, all three boys were silent.

Harriet chewed on her toast and looked around the circular space. Neither Ginny nor Percy was there. As for Ginny, Harriet wasn't surprised. It would have been stranger if she had been there. Was she upstairs crying? Writing feverishly in that little black book?

An idea popped into Harriet's head. Slowly, she lowered her crust, staring at the wall.

"You know," Fred said quietly, nudging her back to the present, "if the Heir of Slytherin is a student . . ."

"That means it's got to be someone who stayed behind for Christmas," George finished.

"There's not that many of us it could be," Ron said, his expression dark and troubled, looking not unlike Snape's. "There's Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle . . . all of us, that Clearwater girl . . . "

"Almost everyone went home," Hermione said. "Afraid, because of . . . "

She trailed off into silence. Even though it was now day, the snow tufting against the windows made the light dark and dim. Shadows swam around the edges of the common room, melted across the floor, ebbed over their faces.

"Well," said George eventually. "We might all be home, soon enough."

"What d'you mean?" Ron asked.

"If they can't catch the person who did this, little brother," George said.

"It'll mean Hogwarts is shut," said Fred.

--

Harriet had told the Weasleys she was just going up to check on Ginny, which wasn't the whole truth. In fact, if Ginny was awake, it was going to put a crimp in Harriet's plan.

But when Harriet pushed open her dormitory door, the room was empty. Just a bunch of long shadows that used to be furniture, in the light.

She went over to Ginny/Parvati's bed anyway, but the covers had been kicked to the foot of the bed; it was obvious no one was there. She checked the other beds just to be sure, but no; she appeared to be alone.

Ears straining for the sounds of an approach, she went back to Ginny's bed and started rummaging for the little black book.

She found it stuffed in a slit in the mattress. Had Ginny cut open Parvati's bed? That seemed so unlike her . . .

Maybe Parvati had done it, to hide her own things . . . but that didn't seem like Parvati's style either. If Parvati was going to hide something, she'd do it in such an obvious way that one of the other girls would find it and have to ask her about it, and then she'd pretend not to want to tell them before spilling the whole story with more information than anyone would really want to know.

Stop thinking about Parvati, Harriet scolded herself. You're finding out what's wrong with Ginny.

She knew this wasn't really on, snooping in Ginny's private things, but she didn't know what else to do . . . and when she remembered Ginny's face yesterday—her bared teeth, the red light in her eyes—Harriet knew something was really wrong. It was worth doing something a bit immoral if it saved Ginny.

So she took a deep breath and opened the book . . .

And found nothing inside. Nothing at all.

Confused, she flipped through the pages, but there wasn't even a single mark. The pages had dates printed on them, spaces for appointments to be filled in, but no writing from a person. Maybe this wasn't what Ginny had been scribbling in . . .

But why hide an empty diary in a hole in a mattress?

Blimey, maybe it's magic, Harriet thought sarcastically. If only she knew how to read invisible writing in addition to talking to bloody snakes.

There were two other things that were weird about that diary: one was the calendar, which was for the year 1941. The second was that on the back, it had a name printed in cheap, flaking letters, some of which had flaked off so much only the marks where they had been were left. They had once read T. M. Riddle. Maybe Ginny had got the diary second-hand in Diagon Alley.

Frowning, Harriet turned the unhelpful diary over in her hands. She knew she should put it back before Ginny came in, but she couldn't quite let go of it. What if she took it to Hermione and asked how you read books that had been charmed private? Hermione probably wouldn't like it . . . but if she could—

"You're just as enterprising as I'd hoped, Harriet."

Harriet didn't jump up from the bed or drop the diary, but her heart slammed against the front of her ribs. She stared at Ginny, who had come silently into the room and moved to stand at the foot of Parvati's bed without making a sound. The firelight shone behind her, turning her long red hair to blood and bronze.

Harriet opened her mouth to apologize, to say she'd just been worried . . . but then her eyesight adjusted enough for her to see Ginny's shadowed face.

"Ginny?" Harriet said slowly.

"Harr-ee?" Ginny replied, mimicking Harriet's drawn-out voice.

Harriet looked at Ginny's peculiar smile and felt a kind of certainty settle in her stomach, like sand at the bottom of a pond.

"Or maybe not," she said quietly. "Who are you?"

Ginny laughed. It made all the hairs on Harriet's arms and the back of her neck prickle.

"Oh, very good," she said, not sounding like Ginny at all. It was Ginny's voice, it was coming out of Ginny's mouth, but it sounded like a grown-up talking; a cruel one, laughing at a joke that Harriet didn't understand but that she hated all the same. "Very, very good. I was beginning to worry you didn't have the brains. Well, you can see why I was worried, didn't you?" The not-Ginny shook her head, like she was rather disappointed.

Harriet did throw the diary on the floor, then, and jump to her feet. "Whoever the hell you are, you get out of Ginny right now or I'll—"

"You'll what?" asked the not-Ginny in a tone of voice that shot lead through Harriet's veins; but she was so angry she felt it boiling away.

"I'll make you sorry," Harriet snarled.

The not-Ginny paused, and then she laughed harder than ever, so hard she doubled over, bracing herself against the bed post.

"That's the best you've got?" she asked. "You absurd, foolish, stupid girl—but I can see you don't understand yet." She straightened up, smiling that disturbing smile again.

"Understand what?" Harriet spat. She really wished she knew more curses—but that would only have been hurting Ginny. Unless this was someone Polyjuiced to look like Ginny? And the real Ginny was . . .

But Ginny had looked like this yesterday, and then she had looked like herself. This was Ginny, not like Ron Polyjuiced into Crabbe.

Keep her talking, whoever she is, find out what's going on.

"Everything," Not-Ginny said. She laid her finger against her lips, and when she turned just right, Harriet saw the firelight glint in Ginny's brown eyes like blood on the water.

"But I can't show you in here," Not-Ginny said. "We've got to go to the Chamber of Secrets. Don't you want to see the Chamber of Secrets, Harriet Potter? I want you to see the Chamber, dear Harriet."

Harriet stared at Not-Ginny as the final puzzle piece clicked into place. "You're the heir of Slytherin."

Not-Ginny sighed. "Thick as a brick after all. Well, come along anyway, Harriet Potter. Stupid little Ginny tells me you have a Cloak of Invisibility. Normally children's trinkets wouldn't interest me, but we might as well avoid having to explain ourselves to these criminally stupid teachers, hmm?"

When she smiled, it seemed to split her face in two.

Chapter Text

Not-Ginny didn't seem to want to touch Harriet. She hissed if Harriet brushed too close to her, like she thought Harriet had some deadly, flesh-eating disease. Harriet would have pushed it, but she didn't want to hurt Ginny.

"If you scream for one of the idiot professors," Not-Ginny said calmly, "or think to tip them off in any way, I will make things very hard for poor Ginny."

Her eyes glistened. Harriet said coldly, "Lead on, then."

Not-Ginny's smile flickered onto her face and stayed there, like a shadow on the wall.

Beneath the silvery drape of the Cloak, invisible to everyone else, they sneaked through the common room. Harriet prayed Professor McGonagall might have sealed the portrait with magic, but if she had, Not-Ginny was able to counter it: she pushed open the portrait and they climbed out, unseen and unheard by the quietly talking Weasley brothers and Hermione.

Harriet followed Not-Ginny down the corridors, through the dark, silent castle. She had never heard the castle so quiet, never felt it so cold.

On the grand staircase, they heard voices. Not-Ginny moved nonchalantly to the head of the stairs and looked down, Harriet doing the same. At the bottom stood a clump of professors—Snape, Sprout, Flitwick, Lockhart. Harriet tried to look as if this fact were completely uninteresting. She could feel Not-Ginny turning to look at her, and faked a bored yawn.

" . . . moment has come at last," Snape was saying. Harriet could hear the malicious sneer in his voice.

"S-sorry?" Lockhart stammered in reply.

"Just this morning you were telling me, were you not, Lockhart, that the affair had been deplorably bungled?" Snape said.

"Yes, Gilderoy," said Professor Sprout. "I distinctly remember you saying you knew exactly where the Chamber of Secrets was—don't you, Filius?"

"Yes, yes, certainly, I do."

"W-well—I—" Lockhart sputtered.

"I certainly remember you saying that if you had been on hand when Miss Clearwater was attacked, the whole thing would have been in the bag," Snape said.

"D-did I? I don't recall . . . "

"Well, I think that settles it!" Professor Sprout clapped her hands together. "We'll leave it to you, then, Gilderoy. We'll step right aside and let you at it. You'll have that free rein you've always wanted."

Lockhart gazed desperately at the three of them, but they stared resolutely back. Professors Sprout and Flitwick smiled fake smiles of encouragement, and Snape (whom Harriet could see only in profile) looked nothing so much like a bird of prey observing a small rabbit from on high.

Lockhart didn't look so handsome anymore. He looked suddenly smaller and frightened.

"Shall we follow you now, Gilderoy," Professor Flitwick said after a long silence, one colder than the snow piling against the window panes, "or do you need time to—?"

"Yes." Lockhart's voice came out like a death rattle. "Yes—time, that is—a little time and I'll—I'll be ready."

"We'll come find you in half an hour," Professor Sprout said cheerfully. "Then you can show us how it's done, old boy."

"R-right." Lockhart didn't manage to smile. When he left, it was practically at a run.

"That's taken care of him," Snape said in a voice of disgust so cold, it could have been the signal for a second blizzard.

"Wretched little oik," said Professor Sprout, but she sounded rather depressed.

Professor Flitwick sighed and said, "Let us carry on, then."

They split up, Snape sweeping down the stairs to the dungeon, Sprout heading off along the ground-floor corridor, Fliwtick making his way up toward the girls. Not-Ginny and Harriet backed against the wall, but Flitwick passed them by without noticing a thing.

"Good girl," Not-Ginny said softly to Harriet once all the teachers had gone.

Harriet wanted to punch her in the back of the head. If she hadn't been in Ginny's body—

They reached the bottom of the stairs, but instead of continuing down to the dungeons after Snape, Not-Ginny chose the way Professor Sprout had gone. Harriet would have bet anything that Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets was concealed somewhere in the dungeons, but they were walking away from the dungeon entrance along the ground floor. Well, obviously, it'll be a secret entrance, she thought.

Not-Ginny suddenly stopped and held up her hand. Then Harriet heard it—footsteps, pattering toward them at a run—

Not-Ginny pulled out Ginny's wand.

"What are you doing?" Harriet hissed.

"Just having a little fun," Not-Ginny said. "Don't be so boring, dear Harriet."

She raised her arm, pointing the wand at the junction of the corridor. The person was almost there. "Avada—"

Harriet had no idea what that spell would do, but she wasn't going to find out. She shoved Not-Ginny hard from behind. She stumbled, breaking off the spell, as Lockhart came dashing around the corner. He looked frantic, his hat missing, and was clutching a carpetbag to his chest; without noticing them, he pelted out of sight.

Not-Ginny rounded on Harriet, her teeth bared, her eyes bright scarlet, her face contorted in rage. "Silencio," she spat. Harriet, who had been expecting worse than that—a Silencing Spell?—blinked, but then Not-Ginny's face rippled with cruel satisfaction.

"Crucio," she whispered, almost lovingly.

Harriet's skin caught on fire—no, it was her blood—no, her muscles her bones—everything it was burning it was needles burning needles sliding under her skin stabbing into her brain her eyes her mouth she opened her mouth to scream but she couldn't hear anything—

She could hear laughter.

The pain ebbed away, like water flowing back down the seashore. Harriet realized she was sobbing, but no sound was coming out because Not-Ginny had Silenced her. She'd fallen flat on the floor without realizing, still underneath the drape of her Cloak, and Not-Ginny was standing over her and laughing like this was the most fun she'd had in years.

"Was he worth it, then?" she asked. "That stupid, brainless excuse for a wizard? Was he worth the pains?"

Breathing hard, feeling like she'd been slammed by dozens of Bludgers, Harriet managed to raise her arm and give a two-fingered salute.

Not-Ginny's face hardened. Before Harriet could do anything—though what it could have been, she didn't know, not even much later, when it was all over—the pain returned like a fire trap opened over a charcoal pit, scorching her—

"Enough," Not-Ginny said, shutting the pain off again. "If I do much more, you won't be good for anything. Get up, you stupid brat." She kicked at Harriet's ankle, hard.

Harriet's legs didn't really want to support her, but she made them. She wasn't going to crawl after this sick freak, she wasn't going to let her know how much it hurt. She was actually grateful for that Silencing Spell because then Not-Ginny couldn't have heard her say please or stop it or cry for her mum. She didn't know if she had, but it had hurt so much she could have believed it.

"That was your first time under the Cruciatus Curse, wasn't it?" Not-Ginny asked mockingly as Harriet lurched after her, breathing hard. "Most who endure it once learned to behave themselves with me, but you really do seem to be thicker than most, even than the other Gryffindors I've killed. Ah, here we are."

They were at the door of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Not-Ginny pushed it open and gestured Harriet lazily inside. The words Gryffindors I've killed ached inside Harriet's head, because she knew that Not-Ginny wasn't like Lockhart, wasn't just making it up.

Myrtle was floating above the sinks, picking at a spot on her chin. When Harriet pulled off her Cloak, Myrtle sat up straight.

"What are you doing in here now?" Myrtle asked them.

"It's a pity only my pet can kill ghosts," said Not-Ginny, moving toward the sink. Myrtle flitted higher into the air, looking alarmed, like she knew there was something up with Ginny that she didn't want to mess with. "And even then it doesn't last.

"Come, Harriet." She crooked a finger at Harriet, splitting her face in a smile again. "Watch and learn."

She bent until her eyes were level with the tap, pulled her lips back from her teeth, and hissed, "Open."

That time, Harriet heard that it was Parseltongue, even as she understood the words. The sound made the hair on the back of her neck stand up and the skin under her fingernails prickle. That's what everyone else always heard? No wonder they looked at her like that . . .

The bathroom, the whole room, shuddered from floor to ceiling, bits of old tile and dust shaking loose; Myrtle squealed and dived down into a toilet with a splash. The floor ground away from the wall, the row of sinks sank into the gap in the floor, and the mirrors pulled up—exposing a dark, cavernous opening that stank like old, rotting water and ancient slime.

Not-Ginny turned that smile on her, like she was waiting for some words of praise. Harriet worked her jaw.

"Oh, that's right," Not-Ginny said, although Harriet bet she'd remembered all along about the Silencing Spell.

"This surely wasn't a girl's loo when Slytherin built it," Harriet said. Her voice sounded hoarse, like—well, like she'd been screaming.

"Of course not, idiot," said Not-Ginny.

"Not very theatrical, a girl's loo," said Harriet.

Not-Ginny looked disgusted. She swung her wand up and hit Harriet square in the chest with a bolt of mercury-colored light; it felt like being smashed in the windpipe with a hammer, and it flung Harriet straight into the dark, slimy opening. She slammed into the floor of the chute and plummeted down head-first, her cheek scraping on the slippery stone, unable to right herself, so winded she couldn't suck in breath. She'd lost her glasses and she couldn't see, only flashes of light flickering in the blackness.

She crashed into a pile of old bones, choking and wheezing, trying to breathe. Don't cry, don't crydon'tcry—

There was a slick hssssssht and a crunch; Not-Ginny had landed. "Rather a good ride, don't you think?" she asked, giving Harriet a kick in the ribs. "What's the matter, dear Harriet? Didn't have a good time?"

Harriet couldn't speak, only wheeze and cough.

"Well, get up off the floor," said Not-Ginny. "And stop being so pathetic. I'm starting to regret bringing you along."

"Really?" Harriet managed. "I'm—loving it."

Not-Ginny dealt her a casual slap that knocked her back into the bones. "Get up," she said casually.

Harriet couldn't see very well; her glasses were who-knew-where now. All she could make out was a lot of blurry darkness. She tried to follow Ginny and "Ow!" cracked her head on something sharp and rocky.

"Stalactites," said Not-Ginny, unconcerned. "Do watch your head."

Harriet wound up pushing her hands in front of her face to feel out the stalactites, but this left her slipping and stumbling on the uneven ground. Not-Ginny mocked and hectored her the whole way. Every part of her was throbbing, fiery with pain.

"What's that light?" she croaked after what seemed like ages, squinting ahead, where a kind of greenish gloom had bled into the blackness.

Not-Ginny didn't reply, but the speed of her footsteps picked up. Consoling herself with visions of what she would do to the crazy bitch once she got her out of Ginny, Harriet picked her way along behind, until she at last waded out of the black tunnel and into the eerie green light.

It was like being at the bottom of a really deep lake among the black grass, staring up through the algae at the sun. It smelled even less nice, though. When Harriet got close and squinted, she saw the door, set with a raised relief of writhing snakes, their eyes emeralds the size of her fist.

Not-Ginny ran her hand over the door like she was touching something precious. "Open," she hissed.

"Your passwords aren't too creative," Harriet said, knowing it was stupid, but hating the Not-Ginny so much she didn't care.

The snakes writhed on the door, pulling their heads back, their emerald eyes glinting, and the latch clunked open. Not-Ginny sighed.

"I'm going to kill you, dear Harriet," Not-Ginny said as she climbed up through the now open door. "Did I mention that? I always intended to, you understand, but now I know I shall really enjoy it."

"Funny thing," Harriet grit out. "I've been thinking the exact same thing."

Not-Ginny smiled. It was a bit different from the others, like it was a bit of an effort, maybe because what she really wanted to do was bleed Harriet's brain out her ears.

"I know how to value bravery," she said. "But you . . . you're just a stupid, pathetic, immeasurable fool."

"And you're just a—" Harriet was going to say murdering psycho, but the sight of the room beyond the door stopped her.

It was grander than a room; chamber really wasn't a bad word for it. Black, motionless water lay like long mirrors to either side of a glistening walkway that stretched past stone pillars entwined with snakes, their hollow eye sockets pitted with shadows. The ceiling disappeared into the blackness overhead, and that odd, algaed light emanated from nowhere Harriet could see, as if the air itself were that color. Ginny's hair looked like oxidized copper.

She was picking up her pace, striding toward the end of the path. Harriet followed, wiping at the slime on her face, only smearing at it more with her slimy palms. At the end of the path she could see . . . feet? An enormous set of feet . . .

Her eyes followed the feet to the sweeping robes, over the long, thin beard, up to the towering face carved in stone. It must be Slytherin. He didn't look like Harriet had been expecting, although she hadn't realized until then, looking at Salazar's ancient face, that she'd been picturing him as Snape, only with a beard.

Not-Ginny dropped to her knees in front of the statue, and was bowing her head, like she was praying.

"Oh, please," Harriet croaked scathingly.

But something was happening . . .

Ginny's hair rippled, like she was facing into a light wind. She hunched her shoulders down. Harriet thought she might be shaking.

Then Ginny's head snapped back, back so far that Harriet could see her inverted face. Her eyes rolled back in her head, only the whites showing. Her mouth opened, wider and wider as Harriet watched, like she was trying to scream louder and louder but had no voice.

She was clutching something to her chest.

The black diary.

For a moment, Harriet was too bewildered and stunned and frightened to move. But then, as if hearing a command that she didn't, her body darted forward, toward Ginny. She would grab that book, throw it in the water and drown it—

A burst of wind erupted from nowhere, catching her in the chest, shoving her back. She staggered as the wind unfurled. It blackened like a cloud of chimney smoke, charcoal lashed with color, red and pale pink and yellow swirling like paint in dirty water; rising in a twisting tunnel all the way up to the ceiling, whistling and keening. A terrible roar, like the scream of something so that the power of its voice split her eardrums apart, knocked her painfully to the floor.

When she raised her head, the black mass was shrinking . . . it was the height of a giraffe now . . . and now a man . . . it was turning vaguely person-shaped . . . there was the head, the arms and legs . . . Harriet plunged her shaking hand into her pocket and pulled out her wand, and stuffed it up her sleeve so she could hold it without looking like she was.

Like a camera suddenly brought into focus, with a final jerk the bubbling cloud solidified into a young man. He had wavy dark hair, and his Hogwarts robes had a Slytherin crest on them. He stood as perfect and immaculate as if he was meeting the Minister for Magic.

Behind him, on the floor, Ginny lay motionless, her hair spread across her face like Penelope Clearwater's, the diary beside her.

Harriet pushed herself upright. The Heir of Slytherin, whoever the bloody hell he really was, was stroking his hands across his arms and face like they were some interesting Christmas gift he hadn't been expecting. Then he looked down at Harriet and smiled.

She had been expecting it to be like that smile on Not-Ginny's face, mad and evil, making your blood crawl. But it was a handsome, pleased smile, almost charming.

It was even worse than the other one.

"So, Harriet Potter," he said softly. "We meet at last."

Chapter Text

Harriet was stupefied. Then she found her voice.

"Shouldn't you be stroking a white cat as you say that?" she croaked.

The young man sighed. When he held out his hand, Ginny's wand slipped from beneath her body and floated over to him.

"I can tell you think you're very clever." He caught the wand out of the air, as naturally breathing. "At first, I thought you must have some intelligence, if only a little, but after having to deal with you for half an hour . . . It's truly a mystery to me how you managed to defeat the greatest wizard who ever lived."

"The what wizard?" Harriet felt her anger returning, bubbling beneath her skin. "If you mean Voldemort—"

"You dare speak his name?" the boy said in a soft voice. He was playing with Ginny's wand, pressing the tip against each of his fingertips. "Stupid Ginny Weasley said you did . . . more of your foolishness, I see. . ."

"Maybe you didn't hear," Harriet said, shaking with anger and pain, "living in a diary or wherever you were, but Voldemort's pathetic, he's nothing at all—I saw him last year, and he's nothing but a wreck, he can't even hold his head up because he hasn't got one—"

The boy's face contorted; Harriet shouted, "Expelliarmus!"

The boy's wand shot out of his hand and soared over Harriet's head. He blinked, and then unexpectedly he began to laugh. It was high and cold and made Harriet feel like she'd slipped off the edge of the walkway into the icy black water.

"Very good, Harriet," he said, so mockingly she wanted to throw her wand away and punch him in the face. "But . . . dear me, now what are you going to do? How many spells do you know, to finish your enemies?"

"Who the hell are you?" Harriet grit out, not wanting to admit he was right. She knew stupid kids' curses, to make you dance or laugh yourself sick, but she didn't know anything to hurt somebody the way she wanted to hurt this boy for what he'd done, to Ginny and to Colin and Penelope Clearwater and that girl who'd died all those years ago whose name she didn't even know.

"You really haven't figured it out, have you?" He looked totally unconcerned to have no wand, or to be on the wrong end of Harriet's.

"You say I'm stupid," she said, "but you're not too bright yourself. I asked, didn't I?"

He didn't like being called stupid. He reminded her a bit of Draco Malfoy—malicious, cold-hearted, suave until something didn't go his way.

Her eyes flicked toward Ginny and the diary—

The diary from 1941.

Fifty years ago, the Chamber of Secrets was opened . . .

"You're T. M. Riddle, aren't you?" she said slowly. "You opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago."

"Obviously," he said, sounding both bored and faintly disgusted with her. "I am the one, the only, Heir of Slytherin. The blood of Salazar himself runs in my veins." He ran his fingers along his lapel, like it was one of his precious veins with the precious blood of loony fucking Salazar inside; and that time, when he smiled, it was just like he'd made Ginny smile in the shadowy dormitory. "I have always been able to feel his greatness within me."

"Greatness that made you go live in a diary?" She said it to annoy him, but he only laughed again, a mocking, disdainful laugh.

"Oh, yes. That's no ordinary diary, Harriet." He tapped his foot on the stone floor next to it. "It's a mark of my genius—not the first, but one of the most inspired. For a long time it was rather dull, I admit . . . decades spent waiting, biding my time . . . Imagine my surprise when, just a few months ago, someone started communicating with me." He said communicating like he meant something else.

"Ginny," Harriet said. Her face was so white and still . . .

"Yes," Riddle said. A sneer curled his lip, a hundred times uglier than any sneer of Snape's, even though this face was so handsome. "Stupid Ginny Weasley. No, I shouldn't mock her—she's the reason I stand before you, Harriet. She's the reason those Mudbloods are lying still as stone. She's the reason you've all been so terrified, so out of your wits, waiting for a monster you couldn't name . . . These last months have been so delightful, and all because stupid, whiny, trusting Ginny Weasley wrote in a diary she found . . . "

Harriet was shaking with anger, and Riddle could tell; it seemed to delight him. He laughed again, and she hated him like she had never hated anyone.

"The more she wrote to me, of her fears, her desires, her jealousies—she's very jealous of you, Harriet, did you know? Famous Harriet Potter, whom everyone talks about, who can buy as many new robes and spell-books and ice creams as she wishes, whom her brothers praise when they only tease their stupid little sister terribly—oh, she hates you, sometimes."

Harriet refused to believe him. Even if he was telling the truth, she had no business hearing what Ginny had written in a private diary. Ignoring the fact that she had been planning to read that diary herself, she let Riddle talk on. He seemed to like to hear himself talk. She would have used his monologue to form a plan, but all those thoughts slid through her grasp like they were coated in slime. What if hurting Riddle could still hurt Ginny?

Hurt Ginny . . . hurt . . . she wracked her brain, trying to figure out what it was about that thought that was piping up and saying, Yes, that, that. How the hell would hurting Ginny hurt—

Not-Ginny hadn't wanted to touch me. Like it would hurt her.

Could that have been because of Riddle, possessing her? If Harriet tried to touch him, would it hurt him?

"The more she wrote to me, the stronger I grew," Riddle was saying, now starting to pace up and down, along Ginny's motionless body. "I decided to return to that noble work I'd had to abandon fifty years ago. They were going to close down Hogwarts after that Mudblood died, and I couldn't let that happen. You understand, I'm sure. Stupid Ginny told me you have the most appalling Muggle relatives.

"Shall I tell you a secret, Harriet Potter?" Something glinted to life in his eyes and stayed there, something both bright and dark at the same time: a shade of red. "I had filthy Muggle relatives, too. Worthless wastes of flesh. I killed them, of course. It was immensely satisfying. You might think on it."

"I'm nothing like you," Harriet said, her voice shaking.

"No?" Riddle said, unconcerned. "We are both half-blood. Of course, my blood is by far more powerful . . . but you, too, have the rare gift of Parseltongue, so who is to say whether or not there isn't a drop of greatness in you? And then . . . " He took a step toward her, gazing down at her as if she were an absorbing problem. "There is the fact that Lord Voldemort was interested in you . . . and, they say, defeated by you . . . How could this have come about unless you could work magic to rival the power of that great wizard?"

"Oh," Harriet said, her nails digging into her palm as she gripped her wand. "Is that what you want to know? Well, I can answer that one—it was my mother. My common, Muggle-born mother," she spat, watching Riddle's face go curiously rigid, like a grimace frozen midway. "When that loser Voldemort came to kill me, she wouldn't let him, she died so he wouldn't, and he couldn't touch me. There's your answer—it was a Mudblood who defeated Voldemort, who turned him into a wreck—"

She choked off because something was blocking her windpipe, not Riddle's touch but his magic. She saw his face contorted, his eyes bright scarlet—she couldn't breathe—

An explosion of golden-orange light boomed between them; the pressure on her throat vanished. Coughing, hacking, Harriet pressed a hand to her throat and sagged forward, trying not to fall flat on her face or drop her wand. It was still sparking in her hand.

"Well," Riddle said, a bit breathlessly. "So that was it . . . "

Looking up warily, Harriet saw him brushing his hair down, his expression resuming its smoothness.

"A lucky chance, that was all," he said in a voice as smooth as his face. "It was only a lucky chance that saved you from me . . . Sacrifice . . . that is a powerful magic, yes . . . impossible to guard against . . . but not to overcome."

"From you?" Harriet croaked. "What do you mean, saved me from you?"

Riddle smiled at her, a cruel slit on his handsome face. "Silly, stupid Harriet," he said. "I am Lord Voldemort. He is me, the man I became. Eleven years ago, you faced me at the height of my powers."

Harriet stared up at him. She remembered the face in the back of Quirrell's head, that sickening sight that had hung in her nightmares for weeks, that she still glimpsed there sometimes—she saw that face, and this boy's face, and felt a disorienting familiarity and discordance. They weren't the same, there was nothing about them that was the same . . . that face had been inhuman, flat and smashed, white like maggots, with bloody eyes . . . this face was handsome and mobile . . . and yet there was something else, something curious and sadistic . . . and that was the exact same.

From somewhere inside her, a fierce thought rose up: And he hurts when I touch him, just like with Quirrell.

"Let us see what you make of me," Riddle said softly, staring at her with a kind of hunger that made her feel sick, like her clothes were peeling away, like her skin was coming off. "Now that your mewling Mudblood mother isn't here to save your neck."

He turned and tilted his head back, as if looking up at the statue.

Get close to him—

Harriet tried to stand. Her left knee and right ankle screamed with pain, and she wobbled, staggering, falling back down. He was too far away. She needed to get him back over here, she needed to distract him.

"Oh yeah," she said loudly, hating the way her voice shook, like her hands, her arms, her whole body was already shaking. "You're a r-real great wizard. You killed a girl with that Basilisk fifty years ago, and now you're going to kill two more. R-really impressive. It's no wonder you're afraid of Dumbledore—"

Riddle turned back toward her, his face more than ever like that thing on the back of Quirrell's head.

"Lord Voldemort fears nothing," Riddle hissed at her in English, or maybe Parseltongue, maybe both, the syllables blurring together, pressed between his bared teeth.

"Yeah, he does," Harriet challenged, speaking wildly, "he's scared of Dumbledore, always has been, because Dumbledore's the greater wizard and he knows it—"

She was saying it to try to anger him into losing his cool, and had the sickening satisfaction of seeing his face contort. She tried not to look at Ginny in case he did something, because he was nearer to her; wondering if she'd even be able to lift Ginny and run from the Basilisk at the same time with an injured knee. They hadn't learned how to make things float yet, certainly not something as heavy as a person.

Then she heard the cry of a bird . . . its symphony of a voice. . .

In a blur of scarlet and gold, a magnificent bird, like Dumbledore's phoenix all grown up, came soaring through the greenish air with trails of glittering gold streaming behind him. For a wild, hopeful second, Harriet thought it must be coming ahead of Professor Dumbledore—but the bird fluttered its wings and alighted on her shoulder, dropping in her lap . . .

. . . the Sorting Hat?

Riddle thought this was the best joke yet. He laughed and laughed until the only sound in Harriet's head was his laughter, ringing off the slimy walls, the snake-wrapped pillars, Slytherin's statue, and she gripped the Sorting Hat in her slimy hands, wanting to strangle him with it, wanting to cry.

"That's what Dumbledore sends his great defender!" Riddle said delightedly, amusement gross in his face. "A chicken and an old hat! Oh, that's priceless. Don't you see, Harriet Potter? Placing your faith in that old man is like putting water in a sieve and expecting it to be there when you need it later. Well."

He smiled down at her and Ginny. "Good-bye, Harriet. It's not been entertaining, but it has been enlightening."

He turned away again, walking off, and this time Harriet had nothing.

"Speak to me, Salazar," Riddle hissed, his voice as bloodless as the Basilisk's, crawling under Harriet's skin, burrowing beneath her fingernails, winding into her brain like worms. "Give to me, greatest of the Hogwarts four."

The whole chamber rumbled like thunder. From behind Slytherin's statue, something was moving . . . a portion of the stone was drawing back into blackness . . . Harriet flung herself forward and grabbed Ginny's hands. Her skin was cold as marble and she didn't move.

The whole floor shook as the Basilisk moved.

Well, Dumbledore had given her one thing that could help: a blindfold. She crammed the Hat onto her head, wrapped her arms around Ginny's middle, and dragged. Her knees spiked with pain, her shoes slid on the slick floor, and Ginny was so heavy, weighing like she was dead . . .

Fawkes fluttered off her shoulder, brushing her face with wings as soft as clouds. Where are you going?! she wanted to scream. Not that he'd been any bloody use—

The whole chamber shuddered, water rippling and surging over Harriet's socks as the Basilisk slithered toward them, the sound of its scales on the floor hissing as fast as a bullet train.

"I've got you, Ginny," she gritted, her feet sliding, her heart beating a rhythm of panic in her chest. "I've got you—"

Then the phoenix screamed one shrill, glorious note, and something fell through the top of the Hat, hard, and bashed Harriet on the head.

--

Lockhart's office had been hastily ransacked, a wardrobe flung open, some books tumbled off a shelf, pictures knocked off every imaginable surface, their frames shattered by trampling feet. A haze of smoke thickened the air; the fire was belching and guttering.

"Done a bunk, he has," said Sprout, one third satisfied, one disbelieving, one disgusted.

"It seems as if it didn't take much," said Minerva with a Gryffindor's patent repugnance for cowardice.

Severus knelt next to the fireplace and extinguished the flames. Inside lay a heap of ash . . . and paper.

"He was burning something," he said. "Handwritten notes, it looks like."

"Well, we'll leave it for later." Minerva's voice was firm, but her hands were gripping each other so tightly, the pressure bled her skin white. "We haven't time to fool with this—this fool. I know we've searched the castle from Sibyl's tower to Severus's dungeon, but we haven't searched well enough."

"As before," Flitwick said, "I suggest we concentrate on those parts of the castle that are empty of portraits. The Heir of Slytherin has clearly surmised that he must confine his attacks to areas where he won't be detected except by chance."

Cunning, like a Slytherin, Severus could feel them all thinking.

"It's too bad it's a buggering secret chamber," Sprout said without humor.

"It's too dreadful to imagine He Who Must Not Be Named using one of our students in this way," Flitwick said.

"They could be doing it willingly," Severus pointed out coldly. Flitwick looked wounded; but then, he was softhearted.

"Or by Imperius," Minerva said sharply. "That was one of You Know Who's specialties, making marionettes out of people."

I think I know more about the Dark Lord's specialties than you, Severus thought, but he managed to bite his tongue on the words.

"See here, we're not going to find the bally Chamber by fighting," Sprout said simply. "If we could, I'd let you both at it, but we've got to be practical and keep our—what the devil?"

This last was said to the Fat Friar, who had come rushing in through the wall in a streak of opalescent silver.

"Professors," he said, slightly out of breath even though he didn't breathe or feel fatigue, "a group of students are out of their House and won't return at our bidding—"

"If it's those wretched bloody Gryffindors," Severus started in a flash of fury.

"Severus Snape!" Minerva retorted.

"In fact," said the Friar apologetically, "they are Gryffindors . . . I'm terribly sorry . . . "

--

Harriet might have blacked out, but it must only have been a couple of seconds, because when she jerked awake she was still alive, the hat was still covering her face, and the whole world was shaking around her. She clearly wasn't dead, which must mean hardly any time had passed at all.

Her hears filled with the sound of something massive slithering, and Riddle's voice shouting out its Parseltongue. Something screamed, so high and piercing and gut-wrenching that all the hairs on Harriet's body stood up and her fingertips tingled, her heart quailed.

"No!" Riddle screamed, too, the phoenix echoing them, so the whole chamber reverberated with their cries.

She couldn't turn and look or she'd die. She pushed herself up—and the hat fell off her head. No! Arms shaking and heavy, she snatched it back up, keeping one hand gripping Ginny's wrist—

And a sword clattered out, magnificent and golden, glittering with rubies in the greenish gloom of the Chamber.

If Harriet thought anything at all, which she wasn't sure she did, it happened at light speed. She grabbed the sword and flung herself over Ginny, rolling and scrambling across the slick black floor, ignoring the pain in her knees, her shoulders, her head, her whole body, to where the diary had last lain. She couldn't see well at all, and the book was the same color as the stones in the floor, but it had been over here, next to the water.

"What are—NO!" Riddle shrieked, from much closer than Harriet would have thought, or wanted him to be. A moment later, he'd grabbed her by the hair.

A searing, blinding pain spiked through her head, whiting out the world. Riddle's scream curdled her blood. She swung the sword around, spinning after it, but he'd already let go, and she felt the sword's tip nick something as he lurched away.

"KILL HER!" he shrieked at the Basilisk, and in the whirl of fear and panic and adrenaline, Harriet looked toward it.

But it was blinded. Its enormous eyes had been punctured, gouged, turned to a bloody mess in its face. Even though it was a giant monster snake, it was in agony, Harriet could tell, disoriented and confused—and enraged. It reared, turned its ruined head toward her, and surged.

Scrambling, she threw herself after the diary again. She had to destroy it—if she could stab it, maybe—

Her hand hit the diary. The Basilisk's weight and power shaking the floor rattled all the teeth in her head. She looked up, into its mouth that was opening, stinking, festering, foul, rowed with teeth that she could see glistening, even without her glasses, even in the gloom—

As it came down, she grabbed the sword with both hands and thrust up, as hard as she could.

--

The look on Minerva's face would have been something to savor, had Severus not been in such a state of rage.

"Where are they?" Sprout asked, already half out the door.

"The last I left them—with the Grey Lady following—they were headed toward the vault of staircases—"

Minerva, Sprout and Flitwick dashed toward the Grand Staircase, which would lead directly to the vault; but Severus took the opposite route, heading to approach it from the side. He gained the upper corridor just in time to see Miss Granger, and Miss Granger alone, throwing herself at the peeling door of that out-of-order bathroom he'd caught Lily's daughter emerging from only yesterday; God, it was only yesterday.

"Miss Granger!" he shouted at her, but the door was already banging shut. Cursing, he hurtled through the door—

A large hole stood in the wall, leading into a festering pipe. Puddled on the floor at its base was a mound of silvery-looking cloth. There was no sign of Miss Granger, no noise but the drip of water somewhere in that desolate space.

"A fucking girl's loo?" he snarled, hoisting himself into the pipe, where the dank of centuries filled his nose and mouth and throat.

The bathroom Albus changed the subject rather than speak about? whispered his Inner Slytherin.

The shock of that thought hit him in the chest—and then it seamlessly turned into the sensation of falling down, down, down, as if through time. He gripped his wand, ready for the spell to arrest his momentum, and cast it just in time to prevent himself crashing into a pile of rotting old bones.

Miss Granger gasped and scrabbled away from him, but he moved as quick as a mongoose to grab her by the arm.

"What," he hissed, "do you think you are doing, you abysmally foolish girl?"

"H-Harry and Ginny are down here!" she said tremulously, but she didn't cower or cringe. She did wince, though, when his hand tightened cruelly on her arm. He forced himself to let go of her, to preserve his calm, or at least not to raze the tunnel down around their heads. No, if he were going to lose the last fingernail grip on his control, it would be because of Lily's fucking bloody fool of a daughter.

"I will find them," he snarled at Granger. "You, Miss Granger, will wait here."

"B-but—"

"You will wait here or I swear by every god known to man, I will see you expelled."

He could see dread warring with every Gryffindor impulse of her heart, fighting for plain dominance on her face. Hermione Granger, model student, who in four terms had only lost points twice, who was desperate for approval from authority to the point of alienating her peers, would surely die rather than be expelled—

"I'm n-not staying here," she managed. "S-sir."

GRYFFINDORS, he almost screamed.

Miss Potter can only benefit from having a friend of such tenacious spirit, Dumbledore had said.

"Very well, then," he snarled, rejecting the thought of Stunning her and leaving her there. "Get yourself killed. I'm not writing to your mother to tell her."

That made her flinch, but then she just raised her chin and said, "I know."

He pushed her behind him and then ignored her, ducking low stalactites and stumbling on particularly slick rocks. Granger scrambled along behind him, saying nothing, breathing audibly.

--

Shaking, Harriet pulled herself free of the dead Basilisk's mouth. Its fangs tore at her clothes. She felt funny . . . odd . . . distant from herself . . . hurting everywhere, but that was nothing new . . .

Except in her elbow, where pain raged like a lightning storm.

Trying not to retch, she groped for the tip of the fang and pulled it free. She didn't manage not to scream as the flesh in her arm pulled with it, and she fell down, sobbing, gritting her teeth, the bloody fang clattering next to her.

"You. . ."

Riddle's shoe tapped into her line of sight. Despising him, she raised her head enough to see his face hovering far above her, contorted with triumph and with hatred.

"That creature was over a thousand years old," he said, disgusted. "I do truly despise Gryffindors."

"Piss . . . off," Harriet croaked. Every part of her felt like it was being Crucioed. Her elbow hurt worst of all, the wall of pain spreading out from there, growing as it blazed up her arm.

"No matter," Riddle said softly. "His sacrifice, at least, has ensured your death. The Basilisk's poison will kill you shortly . . . and then I'll be on my way."

As Harriet lay panting, all her nerves on fire, her skin feeling so icy cold it burned, a dim thought pushed to the front of her mind:

The DIARY.

She rolled painfully onto her back, gritting her teeth, hoping Riddle would think she was doing it to die; turned her head away from him to look for the diary, praying he'd just think she didn't want to look at him. Her hand groped for the Basilisk fang, her eyes searched for the little black book. . .

And there it was.

"Going to try and stab me again, Harriet?" Riddle asked above her. "Really, with you dying, I think I ought to be able to dodge."

"Yeah?" Harriet ground out, wheezing. "Dodge—this."

And with the last of her strength she rolled the rest of the way and plunged the fang into the diary. Ink gushed out, drenching her hand and wrist, and Riddle screamed, long and high, longer and higher, and she sagged onto her back to watch him die, the man who'd killed her Mum and Dad and Ginny and herself. He was dissolving, like a photograph thrown into the fire, warping and coming apart in sticky black spots, like film melting. . . It was the last thing she was going to see, and it probably should have felt better, but it didn't.

He was gone.

She closed her eyes. Something brushed feather soft against her forehead, and chirruped, and honey-golden drops melted into her heart.

"Sorry it didn't work out, Fawkes," she mumbled, or tried to. She didn't know if she succeeded.

Then, she slipped away, Fawkes's song running like golden water through the dark.

--

Ahead, a greenish light melted out of the blackness. The source shone out of an open door embellished with a raised relief of emerald-eyed serpents.

The stone corridor was completely silent.

Severus pulled himself up into the elevated doorway and descended into an eerie chamber of glimmering black water and stone, lit by a greenish light that reminded him of his own dungeons. Ahead, a burst of color, of red and gold—

Dumbledore's phoenix, and the tangle of Ginevra Weasley's hair, spread out on the black floor. The phoenix was perched on the chest of Lily's daughter, who lay completely motionless.

"Oh," Granger gasped, like she really couldn't say any more. It was more than Severus himself could do. "Oh—"

The phoenix spread its wings and flitted off the girl's body.

Somehow Severus found he'd moved over to the girl, around the massive form of the snake that had sagged, dead, onto its side. He didn't remember kneeling over her, but there he was, looking down on her. She was filthy, covered in ink and slime and blood. Her face was turned toward them, missing its glasses, looking still and peaceful.

Granger was sobbing, brushing at the girl's hair, pushing it away from her face, crying Harriet, Harry, please.

He felt something flutter against his fingertips. At some point, he had picked up the girl's hand and wrapped his hand around her wrist.

He was feeling her pulse.

"Miss Granger, shut up," he said—or he tried to. His voice seemed to have gone.

There was a pulse in her throat, too. It was getting stronger as he felt it.

A groan came from nearby, and a cough: the Weasley girl was moving.

"Oh!" Granger gasped again. She scrambled over to the She-Weasley. "Ginny!"

"H-Hermione?" the Weasley girl said in a quavering voice. "Where—how—oh!"

Severus ignored their bleating. He turned Lily's daughter's face toward him, checking her for head injuries. She didn't seem to have any, although there were blood-flecked scrapes on every visible part of her skin, and the left knee of her jeans was torn and stained. Her pulse, though, was gaining strength under his hand. It would probably be a good idea, he thought, to speak her name, to wake her, but his voice seemed to have gone to that place where all his emotions had fled, not simply into Occlumency but somewhere else altogether, somewhere outside of him, leaving him an empty shell with no power but automation.

But then she stirred and opened her eyes.

She stared at him, in that unconcerned, unfocused way of the recently unconscious. Then she blinked, recognition and confusion coming together.

"Professor?" she croaked. Off to the side, he heard Granger and the she-Weasley bleat in tandem.

At the sight of those eyes, Severus came entirely back to himself—all his terror, his rage, his frustration, his guilt, his relief, all bound together and returning as powerful as the tide. They crashed through him, so strong he felt his own foundations reverberate. He should shake her until her teeth rattled loose, scream at her until his throat ran dry, lock her up someplace where she couldn't be heroic ever again and nothing dangerous could touch her, because the suicidal little fool had proved she couldn't be trusted—

"It was Voldemort," she said in an exhausted, breathless voice, pushing herself up so she could point at something near his knee, but he didn't look, he didn't give a goddamn fuck. "Only he was calling himself Tom Riddle, it wasn't Ginny, sir, I swear—"

"It w-was his diary!" She-Weasley sobbed.

"He was living in the diary, I stabbed it with the Basilisk fang, And it exploded ink and he disappeared, Tom Riddle, I mean—"

"Shut up," Severus said, his first words since he'd told Granger to stay behind him. "Just fucking shut up before I kill all three of you."

They did, the Weasley girl even stopping her crying, each of them staring at him with varying levels of shock and wariness. He forced himself to stand and pace away from them before he did something irreparable. Everything inside him felt raw with fury, with, with—

A cool breeze passed over him and something sharp pierced his shoulder as a weight landed there—

Dumbledore's phoenix. It regarded him with bright black eyes and trilled.

"The same goes for you," he said, but he could feel the murderous rage ebbing. Still, it had a long way to go. "Goddamn you."

The phoenix chirruped and nuzzled him.

When he finally stalked back to the children, he found the girl holding a garish, glittering sword inlaid with rubies, and wondered if it was in self-defense. Clumped together, the three girls peered up at him warily. Lily's daughter almost relaxed when she saw the bird sitting on his shoulder.

"Can you walk?" he snarled at them.

They all nodded, not seeming to dare speak yet. Good.

"Then get up and follow me."

They did, clutching each other's hands.

And he knew he was going to have a long—a very long—talk with Albus fucking Dumbledore and Lucius motherfucking Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Harriet was exhausted and aching. Hermione had to steer her, not just because she'd lost her glasses and could barely see, but because her left ankle throbbed with every step. She held onto Hermione with one hand and the sword with the other, using it like a walking stick.

The portraits sent the word ahead of them, whispering like the wind.

Snape slammed open the door to the Headmaster's office, really slammed it, so hard one of its hinges fell off. Harriet heard Mrs. Weasley's voice, raw and so grief-stricken it couldn't even be happy: "Ginny!"

The blur of Ginny's copper hair flashed across the room, her voice sobbing along with her mother's. Someone was wheezing, "Rowena, Helga and Godric—what's wrong with Miss Potter?" That was Professor McGonagall.

"I lost my glasses," Harriet said, putting out her hand so as not to knock into the furniture.

"A great deal more than that seems to have happened! Severus, what—?"

"Where the sodding fuck is Pomfrey?" Snape snarled.

"Severus Snape!"

"I'm right behind you," said Madam Pomfrey's indignant voice, "there's no need for that kind of language in front of the children! Yes, Professor, I see her—Miss Potter, what have you been doing?"

"It's all my fa-a-ult," Ginny sobbed.

"See Ginny first," Harriet protested, "she's been ill all term—"

"Ginny, what happened?" cried Mrs. Weasley.

"It, it was this," Hermione said in a high-pitched voice, and several people started babbling at once.

Someone grabbed Harriet by the elbow—Snape—and pushed her into a chair.

"Will you do your job?" he snarled at Madam Pomfrey, who huffed and started passing her wand over Harriet. The colors of the spells flashed over her, the prickle of the diagnostic magic.

"What happened to your glasses, Miss Potter?" she asked as she worked.

"I lost them falling down the pipe into the Chamber of Secrets," Harriet said.

"What happened to her arm?" Snape demanded.

Pomfrey took Harriet's elbow gently and peeled back her bloody, punctured sleeve. "There's blood, but I don't see a wound."

"The Basilisk fang stuck me there," Harriet said. "But Fawkes—"

Something exploded in the room, something made of glass. Several people shrieked.

"What in Godric's name!" yelped Professor McGonagall.

"Severus," Dumbledore said over the cacophony, "a word, if you please?"

"Oh, no you don't—" Snape snarled; but a second later, he was gone, and Harriet was left at her chair with just Madam Pomfrey.

Pomfrey muttered, "I worry about that man's—" But then she abruptly stopped and went back to work, as if she hadn't meant to say it.

She repaired Harriet's ankle, knitted her cuts, soothed her bruises, and then switched Harriet for Ginny and herself for Professor McGonagall, who transfigured Harriet a pair of glasses. When Harriet slipped them on, she saw that both Professor Dumbledore and Snape were absent.

No wonder it's so quiet now, she thought.

Hermione was holding the golden sword, reading it. Harriet marveled at this level of devotion to words, that Hermione looked for something to read even on the hilt of a sword.

"Harriet—look." She beckoned Harriet closer and held up the sword hilt. "Can you read through those glasses? Look at this."

Harriet peered at the sword's dirty blade. Underneath the hilt, someone had etched in angular Anglo-Saxon letters. . .

"Does that say Godric Gryffindor?" she asked slowly.

"That is Gryffindor's sword."

Professor Dumbledore's voice made them jump. He'd returned silently, minus Snape, and was smiling broadly beneath the acres of his beard. Professor McGonagall walked over to stand next to them, looking down at the sword with raised eyebrows.

"Well, the hat was Gryffindor's, you see." Professor Dumbledore waved at the patched and filthy hat that sat upright on his desk, looking like it was watching them all. "Gryffindor charmed his sword to appear to any Gryffindor who had true need of it."

Professor McGonagall's hand brushed Harriet's shoulder, squeezing gently, and then pulled away.

The Sword of Gryffindor, Harriet thought as Hermione laid it delicately on the desk. Harriet didn't have the heart to mention that even throwing it off the Astronomy Tower probably wouldn't so much as ding it, since it had gone through the roof of a Basilisk's mouth and come out only a little dirty.

Gryffindor's sword had come to her when she was fighting Slytherin's monster, whom she'd been able to understand when no one else in the castle could. The Sorting Hat, who'd given her Gryffindor's Sword, had wanted to put her in Slytherin before any other House.

What did all of that mean?

"There will be no punishment," Professor Dumbledore said, turning to the Weasleys with a smile. "Older and wiser wizards than Ginevra have been hoodwinked by Lord Voldemort."

Mrs. Weasley shivered at the name; Ginny's eyes leaked tears. Mr. Weasley, looking tired and older than Harriet had seen him last summer, put his arm around his daughter's shoulder.

At that moment, Harriet envied Ginny more than anyone else in the world.


When Dumbledore opened the door to his sitting-room, into which he'd hustled and locked him, Severus turned on him with a snarl of rage.

"You knew where the entrance was all along, didn't you? Didn't you? Just like you knew it was a fucking Basilisk—"

"Severus," Dumbledore said.

"When I mentioned a girl's bathroom, you deflected me!" He was shouting, but he couldn't bring his voice down; he didn't want to, he didn't give a fuck if anyone was in the room beyond. "And a girl's bathroom is exactly where the bloody fucking entrance was, you knew all along! How could you have—Jesus fucking Christ—I thought you cared what happened to that girl, to—"

"Severus," Dumbledore said, "I came in here because I thought you might be interested to know that Harriet has just left to give Tom Riddle's diary back to Lucius Malfoy."

Severus stared at him. Dumbledore stared back.

Severus shoved him out of the way and took off running.

Leaving—he'll be heading for the exit—he'd take the main route, it's the easiest—

The inside of his mind was like a shattered mirror, shards of piercing brightness refracting light and darkness. Find Lucius—find the girl—find them find them—

"You shall not hurt Harriet Potter!" cried a shrill, reedy voice, unseen but close at hand. The air in the icy corridor imploded with the force of magic released; he heard it impact a body, and then the crash of the body falling into something hard—several times.

Rounding the corner, he found Lucius's house-elf standing in front of the girl with his finger outstretched, gazing fiercely down at the bottom of the stairs. The girl looked stunned but proud and joyous.

Alive.

"You shall go now," the elf said fiercely to the thing at the bottom of the stairs—Lucius. "You shall leave and not hurt Harriet Potter!"

She glanced up at Severus as he bore down on her, her eyes widening behind a pair of unfamiliar spectacles.

"We were just—" she blurted.

He gripped her arm so hard that she winced. He felt dizzy, not from the running but from the panic. He couldn't seem to stop panting.

"Harriet Potter!" the elf squealed.

"Shut up—" (She made a tiny noise in the back of her throat, a noise that sounded like pain. He needed to let go of her arm but he couldn't.) "You will get back to your Tower. NOW."

She nodded jerkily. He pushed her away from him; she stumbled and rubbed at her arm. He watched until she rounded the corner, throwing a frowning look over her shoulder as she disappeared.

When he turned toward the elf, it gave him a potent, reproachful look before cracking away, vanishing from the hall.

At the foot of the stairs, Lucius had picked himself up, knocking at his cloak, flinging back his mussed hair from his face.

"That miserable half-blood brat," he snarled. "She's just cost me my servant! The cretinous little—what are you doing?" he asked blankly, staring at the tip of Severus's wand.

"I'm showing you the price of ambition," Severus whispered.


It was almost strange how quickly life returned to normal, or at least as normal as it ever got at Hogwarts.

For abandoning his job, Gildeory Lockhart was sacked. A scathing article appeared in the Daily Prophet a couple of weeks later (Investigative Reporter, Rita Skeeter, reporting), claiming that all of Lockhart's books were forgeries, with scads of notes, looking partially burnt, in his handwriting printed alongside. There was even some hinting that Lockhart would be brought up on charges. Hermione looked mortified and Snape very smug. The other professors got funny expressions on their faces whenever they heard anyone talking about it, like they were trying not to smile. (Most of the female population at Hogwarts ranged from heartbroken to indignant.)

Professor Dumbledore took over the abandoned DADA classes. Some days he led the students around the school, teaching them about its defenses. When he weather warmed, he brought them outside, sat them in the grass and told them stories about the Founders. He spun for Harriet's class legends about the Sword of Gryffindor, which they all crowded round in awe, and guided them through learning the Disarming Spell. Harriet got top marks.

Colin, Mrs Norris and Penelope Clearwater remained Petrified until May, since the Mandrakes had to grow up enough for harvesting; but Madam Pomfrey assured everyone that being Petrified was just like sleeping for a long time. Harriet hoped they didn't have nightmares of giant eyes. It would be terrible not to be able to wake up from frightening dreams. At least she could wake up from hers.

On Valentine's Day, Harriet received so many cards and so much chocolate that the huge pile buried her at the Gryffindor table up to her waist. Pansy Parkinson sent her a bouquet of posies that would have squirted Stinksap on her, but it got squashed by a ten-pound chocolate cake decorated with iced sugar socks, sent up from the kitchens by Dobby.

Professor Dumbledore told no one that Ginny Weasley had been possessed by the spirit of Tom Riddle, or that Lucius Malfoy was the reason it had happened; instead, he blamed the whole thing solely on Voldemort. After spending a month with her parents in Romania visiting her brother Charlie, Ginny returned to school looking much better; but she was horribly tense around Harriet. Remembering Riddle's taunting, Harriet figured it was from fear of what Riddle might have told her. She tried to get Ginny alone to tell her not to worry, but whenever Ginny saw her coming she would go bright red and escape into a passel of students who were crowding near to hear, for the eighty millionth time, the story of Slytherin's Basilisk and the Sword of Gryffindor.

Hermione suggested writing her a letter, so Harriet did. At least, she tried. After writing Ginny she sort of dried up, chewing on her quill and then pausing to spit out feathers.

"Just write what you feel," Hermione said.

So Harriet finally wrote:

Ginny that Riddle was the greatest git who ever lived. Well we can tell, cause he turned into Voldemort. I don't let it worry me, anything he said, and anything he told you is total rubbish to. I'm still your friend if you want to be.

It wasn't super eloquent, but Harriet knew that she wasn't, either. She sneaked glances at Ginny the next morning at breakfast, watching her unwrap the letter, clearly confused, and then go as red as her hair as she read it.

That afternoon, Ginny walked resolutely up to Harriet after Charms, threw her arms around her neck, and burst into tears. Hermione and Ron helped Harriet pull her away from the rest of the curious class, because Ginny was sobbing I'm sorry, I'm so sorry over and over.

"It was horrible," she told Harriet. Her eyelashes were stuck together from her tears and she looked miserable. "The first time he started writing back, I thought it was so lucky, that someone had left a magic diary in one of my second-hand spellbooks and forgot about it . . . he was so—so understanding. Everything I told him, even things I was afraid or ashamed of, he made me feel brave and clever for thinking . . . " More tears leaked out of her eyes.

"Professor Dumbledore said Riddle could always charm the people he needed to," Harriet said quietly, holding onto Ginny's hand.

Ginny wiped her nose with her sleeve, and Harriet made a mental note to start carrying handkerchiefs. "Then I started having these black-outs . . . hours would disappear . . . I'd remember opening the diary and starting to write to Tom, and then just a blankness . . . there'd be red stuff on my hands and feathers on my robes, and I'd be with people I didn't remember meeting up . . . I wanted to tell you and Hermione what was going on, but Tom made me knock over that suit of armor on you and after you nearly died he said that if I didn't do what he wanted, if I told you, told anyone, he'd make me kill you next time . . . "

It was a long, sad talk, but things became better after that. Ginny and Harriet returned to being friends. Fred and George weren't teasing Ginny so much anymore, although Ginny voiced doubts to Harriet and Hermione that it would last for very long.

And last, but not least, Snape was back to ignoring Harriet. He swept past her cauldron in class without pausing, handed back her homework without speaking to her, never forced her to stay behind the others, and had entirely stopped shadowing her through the school. It was just like first year when, of all his students, Harriet alone had seemed perfectly invisible.

"I suppose he was trying to protect you," Hermione said when Harriet noted this discrepancy. "He did only start following you after Hallowe'en, when Mrs Norris was attacked . . . "

"Huh," Harriet said, even though, as she reviewed Snape's behavior (unpleasant as it was, the impression lingered) she could see that Hermione was right. "He's got a funny way of showing he cares."

"I suppose it's about that debt you told me about, the one to your father," Hermione said, turning a page in a book Professor Dumbledore had recommended to them during last class, Tales of Beadle the Bard. Harriet liked the one about the Three Brothers because there was an Invisibility Cloak in it. And sometimes she dreamed about holding the Resurrection Stone, and that her Mum would come back to her and tell her how proud she was, how much she missed her, how much she loved her, how she was sorry she'd ever had to go away.

"Snape took care of that last year, though," Harriet said to Hermione.

"Apparently Professor Snape doesn't think so."

"'Cause he didn't stop Quirrell or Riddle from hurting me, not directly . . . " Harriet mused. "I guess he's waiting until he saves me from a runaway train or something."

It was a little mystery of its own, but happily it was the only one left. And as the days grew longer and golden and the mandrakes ripened, Harriet soon forgot about that one, last mystery entirely.


Severus watched the light turn to fire in the egg-sized ruby on the hilt of Gryffindor's sword.

"Unbelievably ostentatious," he said, knowing that Dumbledore had just come into the study.

It wasn't a suitable opening for the first words he had spoken directly to Dumbledore since he'd screamed his voice out after the Chamber of Secrets had closed, but they were the only words he had.

The Chamber had closed four months ago. Another spring was gilding the castle now. Severus had not forgiven Dumbledore for withholding about the Basilisk and the Chamber and he never would. He wondered if this was how Lily had felt after he'd called her that loathsome word. He had gone over and over it in his mind, and yet he was quite certain: Dumbledore had known the location of the Chamber's entrance all along, and he had not only concealed it, he had done his best to prevent anyone else from discovering it. It was beyond anything Severus would have thought of him. No matter how long he wrestled with it, he couldn't quite believe the danger Dumbledore's actions had posed to all the students, whom surely the Headmaster cared for. Surely. 

The answer must lie with the girl. Had Dumbledore thought he was protecting her? He had suspected her of being the Heir, or of at least being controlled by the Dark Lord. Yet he had not stepped in to help, except, it appeared, by telling his phoenix to go to her aid. Why?

It was a question Severus's own mind could not answer. The events of last year disgusted him.

You disgust me

But he was wearied of having no one to talk to. He and Minerva were too quarrelsome, especially with the Potter girl on the Quidditch team. She didn't believe Dumbledore had known all along about the Chamber. Her perception of the Headmaster's wheels within wheels didn't encompass that. 

"Well, it is the Sword of Godric Gryffindor," Dumbledore replied easily. Even though Severus wasn't facing him, the twinkle in his voice was audible. It was as if Severus hadn't been snubbing him since the New Year and only turned up now, with no warning. 

"It's all been very fitting," Severus said. The first spring sunlight of the year shone through the crystal bottles in Dumbledore's cabinet, refracting on the many rubies in the sword's golden hilt, so that it seemed full of bright little eyes, all watching him. "The legendary Sword of Gryffindor to triumph over Slytherin's monster."

"Yes . . . " Dumbledore said pensively. "And yet, I wonder . . . "

Severus waited. He sensed Dumbledore's quiet determination to stay quiet until Severus stopped pretending to ignore him. Normally he would have pushed it, just to be contrary, but he found he didn't have the energy today, not even to be so emphatically himself. This year had exhausted him with caring, even the warped form of it that was all he was capable of. 

When he turned around, he found Dumbledore sitting next to the window, looking on the grounds below. Late snow lay scattered across the green, and the sunlight gleamed white-gold where it touched the glass.

"Well, Headmaster?" Severus said coldly. "What have you been wondering?"

"It's been such a delight to teach the children again, you know," Dumbledore said, apropos of nothing. "I wish you'd permit yourself to enjoy it more, Severus."

"I'd have to like people to enjoy it."

"Then I might wish you'd let yourself like people more." But Dumbledore was smiling. "I've been teaching them about the castle, you see, about the Founders . . . and all of that, as well as what happened in the Chamber, has got me thinking . . . "

He trailed off again, his eyes drifting back to the window. 

"It was the Sorting Hat itself who told me," Dumbledore said, still watching something out the window. "It was, oh, many years ago. It's not a story it circulates often, it said, because few wish to hear it . . . but it truly seems that all those lifetimes ago, when Slytherin left the school, he left the other three brokenhearted. He and Gryffindor were once the best of friends, after all. The Founders were never quite the same when they weren't Four."

Severus had heard this story before. He had gone often to the nave in the Slytherin common room, where Salazar was said to have prayed, and curled up in the cold hard little space, where the light shone green in the lake water through the shape of a Christian cross, thinking of Lily and wondering why, after a thousand years, it was still impossible for magic and Muggle, Slytherin and Gryffindor, to be one. He had sometimes comforted himself with the knowledge that no one had achieved it, so the failure was not entirely his own; and sometimes despised himself because he ought to have done it, he ought to have been great enough to overcome it. He had meant to be great enough. Greater than Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor both.

The dreams of youth always died when the kingdom of childhood fell apart.

"If that's the case," Severus said, "then Slytherin probably regretted leaving."

Dumbledore smiled at him, as if Severus had said something delightful, not depressing. "Yes. That is exactly what I've been thinking."

The gentle, comforting sounds of Dumbledore's office settled around them in the absence of their voices. Severus watched Dumbledore gaze out the window, that argent light glazing his half-moon spectacles, and wondered how many of the rumors of his youth were true.

"That doesn't, however, account for the Basilisk," Severus said eventually.

"Maybe not," Dumbledore murmured. "But do we really know for certain that Slytherin wished for it to kill all Muggle-born students? We only know that Tom Riddle did. It was subject to his whims in the end, just like poor Ginny Weasley. It's not particularly to Slytherin's discredit that he nursed a monstrous pet . . . After all, our own, dear, gentle Hagrid has been known to raise dragons, man-eating spiders, and three-headed dogs." He laughed. "To name a few."

" . . . Wait," Severus said flatly. "Are you—Albus Dumbledore, the greatest modern patron of Gryffindor—trying to say you don't think Salazar Slytherin was such a bad bloke after all?"

Dumbledore shrugged, still smiling. "I am saying . . . that the truth is much less tidy than legends would have us believe . . . less tidy, and harder to live with . . . but more precious, for all that. Wouldn't you prefer a truth where Slytherin was not a monster?"

"You don't prefer one truth over the other," Severus said, his heart twisting up inside him, that thing he didn't have anymore. It wasn't supposed to hurt when it was gone. "You have to take what you get. Things are either true or they aren't."

"Are they?" The sunlight turned the blue of Dumbledore's eyes as clear as water. "I'm not so sure. But after a thousand years, I think we can all find our truths just the way we like them. In the end, it is what's here," he touched his long fingers to his chest, "that matters."

"Of course," Severus said. The sneer came so easily, he wasn't sure whether it was from long practice, habit, or sincerity. "The language of the heart. I don't speak that, or Parseltongue."

But Dumbledore just smiled at him, his eyes bright and clear.

Chapter Text

 

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

-Khalil Gibran

PART TWO: The Prisoner of Azkaban

At Christmas, Harriet had got a (small, beaten up) package from Aunt Petunia. It had held nothing but a note that said nobody would be coming to collect her at King's Cross; if she couldn't magic herself home, she could take the train down.

Harriet had assumed Aunt Petunia meant the Muggle trains. She had never ridden them before, but if she could fight Quirrell-demort and Tom Riddle and Slytherin's monster, she could figure out how to get a train from King's Cross to Little Whinging.

But some things are subject to powers that no amount of girl-heroing can overcome: Harriet didn't have any Muggle money.

"Oh no." She stuck her hands in her pockets and pulled them inside. A button that she'd stuck in her pocket after it had come off her anorak clattered to the pavement.

"What is it?" Hermione asked.

"I haven't any Muggle money," Harriet said. "Have you got some? I can pay you back in Galleons."

"Why do you need Muggle money?"

Hermione waved to a woman Harriet recognized as Hermione's mum, Dr Granger. And there was her dad, who was also called Dr Granger. Ron had already been swept into a clump of Weasleys and was enduring his mum's hugs with loads better grace than most thirteen-year-old boys could have.

Harriet hadn't told Hermione about the Dursleys' note. She hadn't wanted to see Hermione's reaction, which would have made it horrible instead of a reprieve. Honestly, any Dursley-free time was a blessing. But if she told Hermione, then she'd have to acknowledge the part of the story that meant going to a place she was forced to call home, to people she was forced to call family, who so terribly couldn't stand the sight or thought of her that they didn't care if she made it back to them or not. They probably felt even worse about her after last summer.

But before Harriet had to answer, Mrs Weasley hurried over, saying, "Oh, sweetheart," and swept her into a hug that smelled like baking bread and grass.

Harriet was so unprepared that she almost hugged back. She caught herself at the last moment. Ginny hates you sometimes, Riddle had said. This wasn't Harriet's mum; she was Ron and Ginny's. She wasn't Harriet's mum to hug and breathe in, thinking, This is what my home smells like.

Harriet's home smelled like lemon-scented Pledge and crisp carpet and Aunt Petunia's perfume of gardenias and oranges that she dabbed behind her ears every morning. Harriet despised those smells.

"How are you?" Mrs Weasley asked, pulling back and putting her hands on both sides of Harriet's face.

"I'm okay, Mrs Weasley." She saw Mr Weasley speaking to Percy and felt a wrench of terrible guilt about the car. "And I'm so sorry—"

"Nonsense," Mrs Weasley half-whispered, like she couldn't make her voice go any louder, and kissed Harriet's hair. "Don't you dare."

Over Mrs Weasley's shoulder, Harriet could see Hermione hugging her mum and dad. She and Mrs Weasley hugged their children the same way, as if they were trying to pull a piece of themselves back inside.

Mrs Weasley turned to Mum-Dr-Granger and reintroduced herself; both Dr Grangers shook her hand. The rest of the Weasleys trickled over, including Mr Weasley, and hellos and names floated back and forth.

"Harriet, dear," said Mrs Weasley, "where are your . . . relatives?"

Harriet saw the expression on Mum-Dr-Granger's face and wished the platform would open up and swallow her. "Er . . . "

"Muggle money!" Hermione exclaimed, thrusting her hand in the air like they were in class. "That's why you need Muggle money, isn't it?"

"How'd you work that out?" Harriet said, half vexed with embarrassment, half impressed.

"You wouldn't need Muggle money except for anything to do with, with them," Hermione said, her lips thinning.

"I'm afraid I'm not following, Hermione," said her mum. Her voice was tightly pleasant and brisk, exactly like a dentist telling you to be sure and floss every day.

Hermione bit her lip rather than reply. With a thicket of eyes on her—fourteen Weasleys' and six Grangers'—Harriet was more reluctant to admit it than ever, while knowing she had no choice.

"I need to take a train to Little Whinging," she said.

The grown ups' expressions turned to stone. Mrs Weasley's eyes were fierce like brushfire.

Then she and Mum-Dr-Granger looked at each other, like they were connected by Mum Telepathy.

"Don't be silly, Harriet," said Mum-Dr-Granger. "We'll drive you down."

"Oh—" Harriet felt that she ought to refuse, even though she wanted to throw her arms around Hermione's mum. "You, you don't need to do that, please—"

"Don't be silly, dear," she said, sounding exactly like Hermione: pitch, expression, everything, only somehow more. "It will be our pleasure. Are these your things? We're parked this way, then . . ."

In an enormous, roving group, they all set off: the seven Weasleys, the three Grangers and Harriet, lugging their trunks and owls and Scabbers and gathering perplexed looks like wildflowers. The Grangers looked so commonplace, the Weasleys so outlandish, and Harriet fitted somewhere in between. The Dursleys would have fled in horror. She loved it. 

The Grangers drove a pale blue Corolla. It sent Mr Weasley into raptures and made Harriet and Ron squirm. There was some difficulty cramming both the girls' things into the boot, and Hedwig would have to ride on Harriet's lap, but Hermione's dad managed without the help of magic while her mum and Mrs Weasley chatted about becoming better acquainted. Harriet hoped they would talk about magic and mum-things and not about her.

Then, with final hugs, they left the Weasleys waving at them and inched into the traffic snarled around Kings Cross St Pancras.

"Are you girls hungry?" Hermione's mum asked from the passenger's seat.

"Ooh, yes, Mum," Hermione said.

"What do you like to eat, Harriet?"

"I eat anything, Dr Granger."

"Jean, please," she said. "And this is Daniel." She laid her hand on her husband's arm, who smiled at Harriet in the rear-view mirror. "You must have some preference."

"No, really, ma'am. I . . . don't go to restaurants much." Aunt Petunia resented restaurants, as if they were trying to pretend their cooking was better than hers, and Uncle Vernon only ate English food anyway. The only time they had taken Harriet out with them had been during their attempt to flee the Hogwarts' letters.

"Japanese!" Hermione said quickly. "Harriet will like Japanese."


Harriet did like Japanese. She liked the sight of unfamiliar writing on the menu and the chopsticks that she couldn't use. She liked being there with the Grangers, who never made her feel stupid or like a poor, neglected orphan when they explained the menu or tried to teach her how to use the chopsticks.

But most of all, she liked how everything was strange and yet wholly normal, or would have been normal if she'd been a different person. The Dursleys would never come here, even though it was a Muggle place in Muggle London. It would be as foreign to them as the Leaky Cauldron, as foreign as Hermione's family was to Harriet. The Grangers were like a family from the telly, something you didn't expect to really exist, like unicorns to Muggles. 

But there were some awkward moments, like when Hermione's mum asked how the year had gone. Harriet nearly choked on a dumpling.

"Well . . . " Hermione blew on her tea to give herself time. "Our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was sacked. Again."

"That position seems to have a high turnover rate," her dad said.

"Yes," Hermione said with a nearly straight face.

"Should we get you back, dear?" asked Jean as Daniel counted out cash for the bill. "Are your family worrying?"

"No," Harriet said without thinking.

"Ice cream, then," said Daniel cheerfully, tucking away his billfold.


Twilit shadows had bled across the earth by the time they pulled onto Privet Drive.

As Harriet watched the mind-numbingly boring houses flit past, with their bright windows and dark blotches of lawn, she felt herself growing more and more numb inside. She had just had more fun than she could ever recall having outside of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, and to punctuate it with the Dursleys . . .

She remembered (with a pulse of vicious satisfaction) how Snape had hexed and left them. She was surprised they were taking her back at all. What if they locked her up again? What if they took all her letters for real? What if, once they got hold of her, they really didn't let her go back?

Snape saved you last time. Maybe he'll do it again.

She wasn't sure about that, though. He'd been so enraged when he'd found her in the Chamber of Secrets. (She was still confused about that. Was he just furious that she'd broken so many rules?) He might think it served her right this time, getting locked up.

The Corolla bumped into the Dursleys' driveway. When Daniel powered off the engine, Harriet felt her happiness snuffing out with it.

"I'll see you to the door," said Jean, unbuckling her seat belt.

She squeezed Harriet's arm before she rang the doorbell. 

When Uncle Vernon answered, Harriet's stomach twisted.

At first, Uncle Vernon was perplexed by the sight of Hermione's mother: a professional-looking, attractive woman standing on his doorstep. 

"Can I help—" he started.

Then he saw Harriet.

"You," he snarled furiously, belligerence turning his face purple.

Then he remembered Hermione's mum. Maybe it was her appearance being at such odds with Harriet's, or maybe it was his natural desire to act normal around normal people, but he tamped down on his hostility.

"If you've been causing trouble," he said threateningly.

(Well, sort of tamped it down.)

"My name is Dr. Jean Granger," said Hermione's mum. She sounded calm, but there was something hard in there, too, like a layer of rock underneath grass and earth. "I'm Hermione's mother. Perhaps you've heard of my daughter?"

"Daughter?" Uncle Vernon glanced uneasily over Jean's shoulder to where Daniel and Hermione stood next to the car. They had the same curly hair, although Daniel's was much shorter.

"Harriet and Hermione go to Hogwarts together," said Jean.

Uncle Vernon's expression fluctuated. He was probably battling the desire to shout her off his lawn. But he glanced uneasily now at the car. The Grangers' devoutly normal appearance was having the effect on Uncle Vernon that normalcy always did: he had to respect it, the same way he had to despise everything freakish.

"Well," he muttered. "Well. Good of you to bring her home. She . . . she wanted to take the train."

"I can certainly see the appeal," said Jean coolly. "But we were quite happy to take her. In fact, we'd like to have her for a bit longer, if you don't mind."

Uncle Vernon stared at her. Perhaps he couldn't wrap his mind around the concept that someone would want Harriet around.

"I," he said.

"Vernon, who is it at the door?"

At the sound of Aunt Petunia's voice, Harriet very nearly cringed. She hated Aunt Petunia more than Uncle Vernon. She hadn't realized it until that exact moment, but she did.

Aunt Petunia's thin, horsey face appeared over Uncle Vernon's shoulder. "Can we help—"

And then she saw Harriet.

"You must be Harriet's aunt," Jean said. Her hand had moved to rest on Harriet's shoulder. "I'm Jean Granger, Harriet's friend Hermione's mother. I was just inviting Harriet to come and stay with us." Her hand squeezed, warm through Harriet's jacket. "Tonight, in fact."

Aunt Petunia's face flickered, as if she, like her husband, couldn't imagine anyone deliberately seeking Harriet's company, especially after an hour's car ride with her. But then her expression shut down, going hard and distant.

"That's very kind of you." Like Uncle Vernon, she couldn't resist the respectability of Hermione's mum. "But I'm afraid she has to . . . stay here. For a while."

"I see," said Jean. "When could we steal her away from you, then?"

Aunt Petunia's eyes were narrowed, but she was apparently thinking seriously about it, because she said, "Let's say a week, shall we."

Harriet couldn't believe she was hearing this. Only a week? Only a week with the Dursleys? She could have sung and danced and turned cartwheels and shot fireworks from her wand.

Hastily she tried to look as if this news wasn't elating, in case Aunt Petunia saw and made it two weeks, just so she wouldn't be giving Harriet something she wanted so desperately it was making her toes curl.

"A week, then," said Jean. "Unless we hear otherwise. Thank you. It's ever so kind of you."

Aunt Petunia nodded curtly. Uncle Vernon fiddled with the doorknob. They clearly wanted the Grangers gone but couldn't bring themselves to look so bad as to slam the door in Jean's face.

She turned to Harriet, who found herself being hugged again. Hermione's mum smelled clean and crisp, like nearly unscented fabric softener and the briefest tang of mint.

"We'll see you soon, dear," she said.

A patter in the grass, and then Hermione was throwing her arms around Harriet as her mum let go.

"Try not to turn them into newts," she whispered. "Even though they deserve it."

"Keep in touch, Harriet," said Jean. "Molly and I are expecting to know how you're doing."

With that subtle parting barb, the Grangers climbed into their Corolla and pulled away, Hermione waving through the window until the lamp post-tinted darkness swallowed her.


"Everything goes in the cupboard," Aunt Petunia said, like she really wanted to say Everything goes on the fire. "And it will be locked. You're not to touch any of this freakish rubbish so long as you're in this house."

"Right," Harriet said, trying to unclench her fists and make her voice sound normal, easy. Just one week, just one—

"And you're to give me your wand."

"What!" Harriet stared in horror, first at her aunt, then at Uncle Vernon. They were both wearing terrible smiles, although Uncle Vernon's was more like a grimace and Aunt Petunia's had a gleaming edge, like a knife in the sun.

"Now," Aunt Petunia said, holding out her hand.

Her hand shaking with anger, Harriet groped inside her anorak. She clenched her wand by the handle. Giving it to Aunt Petunia—it was so much worse than just locking it in her trunk.

"Careful, Petunia, dear," Uncle Vernon said, sounding genuinely anxious. "You never know what those freaky things can do—"

"They're not like guns, Vernon," Petunia said. She didn't look at him. "They're nothing but wood. Give it to me now," she snarled at Harriet, and wrenched it out of her grip.

Harriet tried not to feel like something was being ripped out of her inside. It was like giving Hedwig to Malfoy.

"I am going to put this in a safe place," Aunt Petunia said, gripping Harriet's wand. "If I catch you snooping around for it, it's kindling. Go to your room."


Next morning, life with the Dursleys had resumed its routine horribleness. Then again, routine horribleness never left Privet Drive.

Harriet looked out her tiny bedroom window, into the tidy backyard that was identical from the tidy back yard on the other side of the fence. She thought of the street, straight like an arrow and lined with identical houses. You could probably walk down the streets of Little Whinging until you lost your mind. She thought she remembered Aunt Petunia gossiping, once, that one of the neighbors' wives had done just that, put on a house coat over an evening dress and pearls and just walked out of her life.

Harriet would much rather fight a Basilisk than live here. And Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon loved it.

At least she only had a week's worth of Dursley-suffering ahead of her. Only a week of being treated like her Invisibility Cloak had been sewn into her skin, except when the Dursleys wanted to be cruel. Then she'd get to stay with Hermione for a bit. She didn't care if it was only a single night. Anything to get her out of this life for even that long.

It didn't matter what happened during the year, how she triumphed, what she suffered, who hated or loved her. At the Dursleys', there were only the Dursleys. At the Dursleys', everything else started to unravel, memories turning into dreams. Sometimes that meant they were sharper and clearer—sometimes stranger and more frightening—but always less real. When she was cleaning coffee grounds out of a sink in a kitchen that smelled like lemon Pledge, under the glare of fluorescent lights, it was hard to imagine that she was some kind of hero who'd held a magical sword and slain a monster.

This summer, the Dursleys let her eat, but they didn't offer her dinner or a place at the table. There were only three chairs now, and Aunt Petunia told her strictly that the leftovers were for Vernon and Dudley only. Harriet fixed a lot of toast and cereal and scrambled eggs: quick things, because if she took up too much time in the kitchen Aunt Petunia would throw her out and dump the uncooked food in the trash, scolding her for wasting.

Dudley had returned to being terrified of her, just like the summer when Hagrid had given him a pig's tail. He jumped up and fled the room whenever Harriet entered it, even during dinner (which was why Harriet wasn't allowed to come downstairs until the family had finished eating). He spent most of the day outside of the house, and Harriet never saw his gang at all. She thought seriously about sending Snape a thank-you note.

On the second day, Aunt Petunia dumped her at the grocery with orders to see to the shopping while she drove up the lane to the salon. She had been doing this since Harriet was nine. It was actually one of her backhanded kindnesses: as long as Harriet was in the grocery store, she was away from Aunt Petunia. She couldn't buy anything for herself because Aunt Petunia always demanded to see the receipts, but the clerks didn't get paid enough to care if she paged through the comics while she was shopping.

Aunt Petunia sat in the car while Harriet loaded the groceries into the boot and then climbed in the back seat. Aunt Petunia didn't like for her to sit up front, but again, the further from Aunt Petunia, the better. The air in the car stung with the scent of hairspray and nail polish; Aunt Petunia had also gotten a perfect, salmon-pink manicure.

"The receipt," she said tetchily, even though Harriet was already pulling it out of her anorak pocket. "And don't forget the change."

As they drove to Privet Drive, it started to rain. Drops pattered on the roof of the car and sluiced off the windows. The rhythmic thump thump thump of the windscreen wipers threaded the thick silence of two people who hated and had nothing to say to each other.

"I suppose you wish you were back with that pervert," Aunt Petunia said abruptly.

"What pervert are you talking about?" Harriet said, honestly bewildered. "I don't recall knowing any perverts."

"Don't you," said Aunt Petunia. Harriet could hear Aunt Petunia's lip curling. "Does he like for you to play the little innocent, then? I would rather have supposed he put you in a red wig."

If Aunt Petunia hadn't been so relentlessly Muggle, Harriet would have thought she was talking to an invisible person. "A . . . wig?"

"Because he was sick as a dog for your mother." Aunt Petunia braked so hard at the light that Harriet was jerked against her seat belt. "Of course, she wasn't innocent, or at least she never played like she was."

Now this was about Harriet's mum? "Who are we talking about?"

Aunt Petunia's eyes fixed on her in the rear-view mirror, hard and cruel and something else Harriet didn't understand. "That professor who you went with so willingly. Snivellus Snape, the pervert, all grown-up. Never thought I'd live to see that. He looked like an overgrown bat."

Harriet had thought that once Aunt Petunia explained the name, things would clear up. But she was only more confused than ever.

"Snape didn't know my mum," she said coldly. "You're making it up, the way you made up everything about me before Hagrid came and you had to tell me the truth—"

Aunt Petunia laughed, a short sound as nasty as her words. "She was always like that, too, thinking she knew everything. Oh, he knew her. She knew him. He used to stalk her about the neighborhood. At first she ate it up, little queen of Cokeworth that she was, but then he did one too many things she didn't like and he fell right out of favor. Well, I'd told her how it would be, but she did so like being worshiped."

"You're lying," Harriet said even more coldly than before. She was quite certain that it was all a lie, because there was no way it could make sense . . . but she had a hot, queasy feeling in her stomach.

"Did he tell you that you were precious to him? Is that it?" Aunt Petunia asked, her voice meaner than Snape's had ever been. "That you were special? He's seeing her when he looks at you. You're nothing to him but a little copy of his spoilt princess."

Harriet opened her mouth to say that Snape didn't even like her; that he ignored her, except when he felt like being mean . . . but then she shut it. A vague, formless notion was drifting through her like smoke, so light she knew she couldn't try to see what it was just yet or it would evaporate. But it made her stay quiet for now.

Aunt Petunia pulled into the driveway. "Bring in the groceries," she said without looking at Harriet as she patted the plastic hood over her hair. "And put them away."

Like the conversation had never happened. Harriet couldn't help comparing Aunt Petunia's method of ignoring her with Snape's and finding them very similar. But Snape had tried to save her from being murdered by a giant monster snake. Aunt Petunia would surely be disappointed to learn how close Harriet had come to dying, only to have survived.

Once the groceries were all put away and the kitchen was left looking like a display in a model home, Harriet escaped to her room. She wanted to be alone and think.

She was still confident that Aunt Petunia could be lying. For ten years the Dursleys had pretended that Harriet's parents had died in a car accident. Both Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had big fat lies on their track record.

But . . . the night Hagrid had told Harriet the truth, Aunt Petunia had burst out about Mum, her face twisting when she shrieked about how proud her parents were to have a witch in the family, how deluded, because Lily was nothing but a freak . . . And then she married that Potter and they had you, and then she got herself blown up . . . Like she'd been waiting to tell Harriet how much she'd hated her own sister. That stuff in the car about Snape and Mum had been a lot like that.

There was also the part where Aunt Petunia knew who Snape was. If she was lying, who'd told her his name? What did she call him? Snivellus? That seemed like a pretty realistically nasty nickname for "Severus."

So . . . had all that been true? Had Snape known Mum? Fancied her?

This must be what Uncle Vernon had felt when Dr Granger had asked for more Harriet-time. She just didn't see how this could possibly be true. Snape, having warm and fuzzy feelings? For her mum? Next she'd find out Dudley had a brain.

She wished fiercely for her photo album, but it was shut away in her trunk, locked inside the cupboard. She was certain there were no pictures of Snape in it or she'd have noticed and her jaw would've dropped, but she couldn't help feeling the sight of her mother's face would solve some part of this bloody maddening mystery.

She reminded herself that Aunt Petunia's version of the facts, if facts they were, was probably as twisted up as wet laundry. Aunt Petunia had hated Mum, whereas all Harriet had heard since meeting Hagrid was how great her parents were, how many people had loved them, how much sadness there'd been when they'd died. All Aunt Petunia seemed to care about from Lily's death was that it had stuck her with Harriet.

And the idea that Snape would fancy her . . . He was a grown-up! He was her teacher. She was twelve (well, very-almost thirteen, but she was the smallest girl in her year, something Pansy Parkinson loved to point out). After a homeless man had given Harriet some chocolate when she was seven or so, Aunt Petunia had bewildered her with a talk about blokes who loved kids the way they were supposed to love women, but there was no way Snape could be like that. 

And most of all, Snape couldn't stand her. The idea of him ever telling her that she was precious was madder than she'd ever thought dragons and unicorns, before she'd seen one being born and the other dying.

No one had ever told her she was precious.


The next day, the wind and sun stripped the clouds away, and Aunt Petunia handed her a long list of chores to finish before lunch. In Aunt Petunia's sharp, slanted writing it read:

"Wash the car. Mow the lawn. Paint the garden bench. Wash the windows. Manure the flower beds. Prune the roses. . . "

And so forth.

And as if some other spirit had slipped into her body, Harriet said quite calmly, "I think Professor Snape would think this was too much work for me."

Aunt Petunia dropped her glass of lemonade. It cracked on the counter, the lemonade and ice cubes gushing across the tiles. Harriet forced herself to keep staring into Aunt Petunia's twisted face. She was just another villain, like Quirrell-demort or Riddle.

"Go, then," Aunt Petunia said, ripping the list out of Harriet's hand so hard, it tore in half. "Walk the neighborhood, run away to Kuwait, I don't care, but get out of my sight!"

Harriet meandered toward the play park on the edge of the neighborhood, where the rusted equipment creaked in the wind. Now she knew what that vague smoke of an idea had been: to play off Aunt Petunia's fear and suspicion of Snape to protect herself.

Very Slytherin of you, said a sly little voice that reminded her of the Sorting Hat.

We're a lot alike, you and I, Riddle had said.

"No, we're not," Harriet said aloud. "You'd have killed her."

The grass whispered in the wind that pushed the creaking swings, sounding nothing like snakes. Harriet could understand snakes. The grass was just speaking gibberish. Were there wizards who could understand the wind?

"I'm not their house-elf," she told the unintelligible grass.

She hoped Dobby was happy working at Hogwarts now, where no one would be cruel to him. She really had loved Professor Dumbledore then. When she'd asked for Tom Riddle's diary to give back to Lucius Malfoy, he had said, Of course, and as she'd run from the room, Do let Dobby know that if he ever needs work, he can find it at Hogwarts. The food at Gryffindor table had been extra rich all the rest of the year. And there'd been that cake that had squashed Pansy Parkinson's stinksap-squirting bouquet.

It had all worked out, hadn't it? Slytherin's monster had been defeated. Lucius Malfoy had lost. The Muggle-born students were restored to life, and Dobby was freed from enslavement. There had even been a magical sword. Just like a fairy tale.

Only it wasn't over, not the whole story. If it were over, then Harriet would be free, too. There would be no threat of Voldemort, no Dursleys . . . just her and Hermione and Ron and Hogwarts, forever.

She waded into the grass, walking carefully in case of snakes. If she concentrated, she thought she could hear them murmuring to each other.

Chapter Text

The lights were too bright, the voices too loud, the room too warm. Some woman standing nearby was wearing too much fucking perfume. The clouds of cigarette smoke made the back of his throat burn, wanting one of its own.

He found Narcissa easily, reigning over the roulette wheel. A besotted ass old enough to know better was lighting her cigarette, looking far too pleased with himself when Narcissa leaned in almost close enough for their noses to touch. Severus was too far away to see it, but he knew her sliver of a smile would be calculating and amused. Narcissa knew the effect she had on men.

So, she didn't need him yet. When she did, she would send one of her admirers to find him. So Severus swiped a pack of cigarettes off the bar, where a young wizard flirting with a snubbing blonde witch had been careless enough to set them down, and slipped out of the refracted brightness.

Beyond the main room, the casino descended from glint and glitter into lush velvets in dark colors, gilded wallpapers and warm lamplight. Go even further, and one could find its rich supply of shadowed corners, dark and secluded balconies, and sound-proof bedrooms.

Severus went past several balconies that he knew would be occupied until he found himself one that wasn't. He stood on it alone, in the regrettably balmy night air, and lit up, watching the end of the cigarette burn like the lights of the city spread through the darkness.

He hated coming to places like these. Only Narcissa held the cards of his obligation; only she could inspire him to suffer the tedium and tension of a night full of raucous drunks. He'd felt stirrings of pity for few people throughout his life, but Narcissa's stoic, brokenhearted calm in the face of Draco's growing away from her had resigned him in a way few things ever could. She had stoically borne Draco's enthusiasm at spending a month of the summer with relatives on the Continent, but when she had suggested casually to Severus that he accompany her to Milan, where she would be within Apparating distance of her son, he had understood and acquiesced.

He hated to be around people—anyone—drinking. He stayed away from pubs and bars and clubs, eschewed dances and concerts, even avoided festive staff-room parties. It was a moment of acquaintance he dreaded, figuring out what sort of drunk a person was. Everyone thought of it as letting their hair down, lightening up, having some fun; for him, it was being wound tighter and tighter until he wanted to break. He never drank anything stronger than water. He took a glass of mead or wine or brandy when propelled to, but he never drank it. He'd hold the glass he'd been forced to take and methodically vanish the contents throughout the evening, the only one in control of his faculties, his heart hammering and his palms sweating as everyone around him degenerated into slurring, shouting, cackling, staggering, falling. Nobody ever noticed. 

Instead of drinking, he'd taken up smoking. And Dark magic. Death Eating.

He ground the stub of his first cigarette into the stone and lit another.

On the balcony below, two people were having sex. He flicked ash over the balustrade, but it probably blew away in the tepid wind before it landed on them.

He really fucking hated places like these. 

At least it wasn't Hogwarts. He'd needed to get the fuck out. He needed to spend time among adults, even if they were irresponsible addicts—needed to spend time with one other person, at least, who he knew was as incensed as himself about the Basilisk, the risk to one child in particular, even if it was a different child.

"How could he, Severus? Endanger my baby, the only child I will ever have. I could kill him, in cold blood I could. . ."

The waitress Narcissa sent to fetch him wore her nut-brown hair styled in a coil and a dress that was at least one size too small; smelled of perfume and cologne and smoke and sweat. Her eyes were glassy and unfocused; she'd been taking something. He could smell it on her breath, a sharp scent like crushed flowers. The pure-bloods called them candied violets.

He pushed her away as her hand grazed his arm and left her. The sweat from her shoulder stuck to his palm, and he wiped it on a silken drape in the hall.

"You didn't have to come right away, darling," Narcissa said when he located her divan inside the card-room. An older man whom women would surely have described as handsome and distinguished sat with her, while a much younger man, as pretty as he was vapid, hovered jealously. "Otherwise I'd have sent a waiter to get you."

"So you did send her," Severus said. "As doped as she was, I wasn't sure it was really me she was looking for."

"Oh, dear," Narcissa murmured. "Well, now that you're here . . . Julian," to the older man and, "Larkson," to the younger, "I must abandon you for the night."

"Please stay," said Larkson, the yearning half-wit.

"I'll get your cloak," Severus told her, more to escape the sexual melodrama than from any chivalrous urge. He left Narcissa looking archly amused and went to the cloak room, bullying his way to the front of the queue. When he returned, Julian skillfully scuppered Larkson's chance at draping Narcissa in her cloak, and she bid them both a fond and sparkling good-bye.

"I promise you I didn't give the girl anything," said Narcissa as they left. "She looked . . . friendly. That's the only reason I sent her."

Severus grunted.

Narcissa threaded her arm through his. "Thank you for escorting me, my lamb. I know how you detest it, but I do promise to make it up to you. Shall we go to the club? I have a wide range of acquaintance there whom you can bully with impunity."

The offer of bullying was tempting, and he knew that Narcissa had only left the casino because she wanted a change of venue, so he agreed. Narcissa kissed his hand and they strolled onward; or at least Narcissa strolled and Severus approximated her pace. He wasn't sure he had ever been relaxed enough to stroll in his life.

Even at night, the wizarding quarter of Milan couldn't be described as fully dark. Patches of blackness so deep and silent they spoke of concentrated secrecy alternated with bursts of dazzling light and sound. Sometimes they passed people whom Narcissa regally acknowledged; others, without speaking to or even looking at. Jewels glittered in Narcissa's hair, at her throat and on her hands as they parted the folds of her cloak, where a blue diamond brooch whispered of wealth and curses. But Narcissa didn't fear a mugging. She didn't travel with Severus because she needed protection; only an escort, for a daughter of the Blacks would never suffer the ignominy of venturing out alone.

"How is Lucius enjoying Brussels?" he asked with irony. His hand tightened in his pocket as he remembered the tingle of the spells he'd cast, there on Hogwarts' steps.

"Not at all." Narcissa's fingers curled on his arm, nails scraping through her gloves and his sleeve. "I understand his mother is very upset with him, poor lamb, for endangering the succession."

Not nearly as upset as I was. "I don't think I ever saw his mother ever truly upset. Does her hair turn to snakes and her gaze to stone?"

Narcissa's smile glinted like her brooch. "Something like that, I believe, yes."

"What are you doing, Severus?"

"I'm showing you the price of ambition."

Dumbledore would also have been very upset with him, had he found out. Severus had almost told him, just to get back at him, to make him feel as betrayed and disappointed as he'd felt at Christmas. But then Dumbledore might have revoked the spells, and Severus hadn't cast them only for his own satisfaction.

Lucius wouldn't remember what he'd done, and the spells were undetectable. If—when—if the Dark Lord returned, there would be one less Death Eater whom the girl would have to worry about hurting her to gain the Dark Lord's favor.

"And all to stop that shabby circus-freak Arnold Weasley's Muggle Protection bill," Narcissa was saying with cultured disgust. "Lucius should just poison the blood-traitor and leave my son out of it."

"I'm positive that he thought any object left to him by the Dark Lord would never harm a child as pure of blood as Draco," Severus said, adding to himself, The fucking fatwit.

"Lucius is a baboon's arse," Narcissa said coldly. The use of a common vulgarism like that would have shocked at least three quarters of her acquaintance, but he'd heard Narcissa say much worse. He'd taught her most of it. "He didn't even know what that wretched diary would do. Releasing a Basilisk, for Merlin's sake—how was Draco supposed to be safe from that?"

But that's Lucius all over, Severus thought. Do what seems to get him ahead first, get hit in the nose with the consequences later.

In this case, it had been the consequences of Severus's own . . . displeasure.

"He learned nothing, twelve years ago," Narcissa said. "He thinks the Dark Lord is gone."

Severus could feel her looking at him. He watched the black windows of closed shop-fronts, smelled a thick burst of jasmine from a bush climbing over the wall of a late-night restaurant. Narcissa's hand tightened for a moment on his arm.

"Do you think he has gone, Severus?"

"I believe the events this year have proved he hasn't."

"But the Potter girl destroyed whatever was in that diary."

"She did." He had not told her about Quirrell. "But Dumbledore does not think he has gone. And however little you care for the man," he added when she made a soft, scornful noise, "he's always been right about the Dark Lord in the past."

He had been right this year, too: it had been the Dark Lord's spirit, possessing a child, driving her to commit evil. He had been exactly right. And about Quirrell, too.

The only place Dumbledore's intellect had failed had been in Harriet Potter.

 


Harriet had never been to a Waterstones before. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon didn't read fiction; they considered it to be too full of unnatural things that no decent person could support. Hermione's parents, as they walked through the bright summer evening light, argued about the merits of libraries vs. bookstores. Jean thought they should save the money and patronize local libraries, but Daniel said that owning books was good for the soul. "It's like playing with someone else's pet versus having your own," he said.

"They always do this," Hermione whispered to Harriet. "Whether we go to the library or the bookstore."

But then they'd come to the store, and Harriet had been overwhelmed by all the books. The Hogwarts' library was enormous, but frankly creepy, with all those dark, thick grimoires and Madam Pince glaring over the top of her desk. But these books were cheerful, disorganized, chaotic - and there were so many.

After wandering for ages, reading curious titles like The Phantom Tollbooth and The Left Hand of Darkness, she wound up on a very educational aisle.

"Hey, Hermione . . . come look . . . "

"What is it?"

"Just come look."

A teetering pile of books with Hermione's bushy hair appeared at the end of the aisle. 

"Are you buying all of those?" Harriet asked, awed.

"Of course not. Mum's said I can't buy more than fifteen books at a time," said Hermione's brisk voice from behind the moving library. "I've got at least twenty-three here. I need to sort through them to see which ones I want most."

"You're done looking, then?" Harriet asked innocently. "Been through the whole store?"

"No, of course I haven't been through the whole store." Hermione crouched to set the books carefully on the floor. "This aisle, for instance—" She gave the brightly colored books (most of which were pink) around her a look of scornful superiority. "I know there's nothing on it for me. What are you doing here, anyway? These are romance novels, you know."

"Really?" Harriet made a show of looking at the cover of the book she was holding, where a woman with yellow hair streaming in the wind was about to fall out of her dress and into the arms of a bloke who'd lost his shirt. "Suddenly this cover makes loads more sense."

"Oh, ha." Hermione rolled her eyes. "That's not what you wanted to show me, I hope."

"You bet it is. Listen to this." Harriet turned the book over and read off the back in a low, feeling voice, "'Don't make me love you, she whispered, and the steely look in her eyes warned Tanner not to take her words lightly, even while her supple body responded to his burning kisses'—"

"Eurgh," Hermione said, doing a good impression of Snape when he looked at Neville. "What rubbish."

"It's called Passion's Bride," Harriet said. "They're both willing prisoners of their passion. She wants to give herself up to the exquisite pleasure of his embrace."

"Please tell me you aren't buying that," Hermione said, starting to sort through her books, all of which were very large and had serious-looking covers.

"'Imprisoned by his passion, she became a captive of his love,'" Harriet read. "I am absolutely buying this."

Hermione shook her head, an incredulous look on her face.

"Gilderoy Lockhart," Harriet said idly.

Hermione went pink. "Oh shut up," she muttered, opening a book and pulling it over her face.

 


Narcissa's club was decorated with more velvet and gilding and crystal that would ensure he had a migraine before the night was over.

"There are the Blenkinsops." Narcissa unfurled her fan, a reality-defying ephemeral construction of lace and gauze. "Let us navigate that way, hm? They deserve a bit of a verbal scything from you."

As Narcissa steered them through the overdressed throng, so skillfully it looked like he was the one steering her, she suddenly sucked in a breath.

"Cornelius," she breathed, and her hand tightened on Severus's arm. Her discomfort was so subtle that even the most hawk-eyed socialite wouldn't have noticed anything wrong; Severus only did because he knew her so well - and because he knew why Narcissa would pale and stumble at the sight of Cornelius von Ritter.

Everyone called him "the Baron," although he had no title. He was the last of a proud Austrian line that once had owned half of Europe, and twice he had almost cost Narcissa everything.

"He hasn't seen you," Severus said, pretending complete unconcern.

"I'll have to acknowledge him," Narcissa said. They were both speaking so quietly that no one around them noticed a thing. "It would give rise to too many questions if I don't."

"He won't do anything to compromise you."

"Of course he won't, darling." Narcissa's voice caught somewhere between wistful and pained. "You know very well that isn't why I'm—Carlotta, dearest Carlotta, how have you been faring?"

Carlotta, whoever she was, had chosen a gown of such obscene chartreuse that for the sake of his eyes Severus had to look away. He lookedtoward the Baron von Ritter, who was partially hidden by a crowd of women wearing upright ostrich plumes on their heads. 

But then one of the ostrich-headed women dropped her purse and bent to pick it up, giving Severus an unobstructed view of Narcissa's only devastating liaison (if you discounted Lucius and his Death Eater involvement), and Severus wished the woman had fucking stayed put.

"Shit," he muttered.

Narcissa heard, because with all the natural grace in the world she sent Carlotta on her way. "What, darling?"

He thought about not telling her, but Narcissa had the tenacity of a steel clamp. 

"Von Ritter has a woman with him," he said, flat and wanting it over with. "She used to work for Melisande."

Narcissa glanced swiftly toward the Baron, whose head was bent toward a woman with a coil of dark, loamy hair. The last time he'd seen her, her hair had been a striking dark red. She'd never looked anything like Lily, but the hair had been incentive to choose her above the others for the evening .

"When?" Narcissa asked.

"Seven years ago, at least. She never keeps anyone for very long." No; some appearance of freshness was paramount in a business that eroded it as unerringly as the moon shifted the tide.

"Well." Narcissa's expression was languid, but when she snapped open her fan, Severus head the whistle of a guillotine. "She's done well for herself in the interim. Let us go and say hello, lamb of mine."

Severus almost said, Do we have to? but he might as well argue with Dumbledore and expect to get anywhere. He was used to humiliation. At least, he experienced it enough.

Narcissa's method of "going and saying hello," however, involved circling around the room, dropping into groups of acquaintances or relatives, so that a person less familiar with her might have dared to hope the evening would end before she got near the Baron and—he was pretty sure she'd called herself "Florivet." It wouldn't have been her real name. But that pair was Narcissa's goal, and she had only been majorly thwarted twice in her life. 

But in the end, the Baron came to them.

Severus felt a hand on his shoulder, which was startling in this place, where he was always treated like an overlarge cheesemite. He turned and found the Baron smiling a warm smile of welcome and pleasure.

"Master Snape," he said, holding out his hand. "A very long time it has been."

Florivet adorned his arm well. Severus could tell that she recognized him. Well, he'd probably been ugly and pathetic enough to stand out, even in that business. She was dressed in the Italian fashion, with a high-cut waistline and a low-cut neckline, her now-dark hair arranged loosely in delicate curls. It suited her more than the red had.

She smiled at him: a private smile, which told Severus that she wasn't there as the Baron's demure and proper companion.

"Mrs. Malfoy," said the Baron, releasing Severus's hand to take Narcissa's with courtly grace. "I hear that at the casinos, you carry all before you."

"My Lord von Ritter." Narcissa afforded him a light curtsey. "It was well done, I'm sure you'll agree."

She might have been talking about the gambling but could have been talking about anything. In fact, she was probably taking about three things at once, and possibly more.

"Allow me to introduce to you my companion, Olivia Lacourt," he said, and Formerly Florivet curtseyed deeply to Narcissa, as meek as a merchant's daughter being presented to Marie Antoinette.

Severus pretended to be interested in the moldings in the ceiling. He wasn't sure what the etiquette was when one encountered a high-class prostitute one had patronized for one night seven years ago, but he'd always been shit at etiquette anyway.

When the Baron and Narcissa decided they had chatted long enough for vague acquaintances who weren't embroiled in a hushed scandal fourteen years ago, they parted, freeing Severus from durance vile. 

"Isn't she a sweet one," Narcissa said, though she might as well have said diseased hussy. She looked idly after the Baron, wafting her fan. "Was she very good, when you knew her?"

"She was adequate," Severus said, which was as much as he could remember. He never enjoyed those encounters very much. Only on a physical level, and that quickly eroded.

Narcissa looked almost amused. "You're an incurable romantic, my pigeon."

"She probably said even less of me," Severus said, truly unconcerned.

"You know," Narcissa tapped him with her fan again, "you're supposed to enjoy it, Severus. I'm sure I wouldn't tell anyone if you managed to have fun for an hour seven years ago."

"I need a bloody smoke," he said instead of answering this.

"Merlin, so do I," Narcissa said, and they slipped away to one of the club's many balconies.

He lit her cigarette and then his, remembering when he was eleven and Narcissa sixteen and she had followed him behind the greenhouses, where he'd go to hide when Lily wasn't with him, to smoke and generally hate the entire world and everyone in it (except Lily). Narcissa had bribed him with expensive chocolates, asking to learn how to smoke, studying Muggle swear words; her separate objectives of seeking to entrap Lucius Malfoy into marriage and indulging her crude, decadent side entwining.

Narcissa expelled smoke toward the skyline that glowed with all those electric lights and souls. Unlike so many people Severus had known as a boy (too many), Narcissa had grown into the person she had always meant to be.

"I'm not fun," he said, after he'd smoked through half his cigarette. 

Amusement etched across Narcissa's face, just visible in the dim overlay of light and shadow. "Now, how am I supposed to reply to that? If I repudiate, you'll only scorn me, but conceding would only be cruel."

"You enjoy being cruel."

"To others, of course." Narcissa did not laugh, because laughter was vulgar and common, but the mirth was there in her voice. "So do you, my lamb."

"Of course," he said, which made her eyes brighten.

They smoked on the balcony for a time. Narcissa ordered a glass of ice cold gin for herself from an unobtrusive waiter, and they talked of nothing at all. Draco was enjoying his holiday with those distant Continental relatives who had young daughters whom Narcissa did not loathe too terribly. She was already on the lookout for a suitable daughter-in-law. Lucius had written her a grovelling letter that she might deign to respond to within a week or ten days. She'd lost sixteen thousand galleons at the casino and won twenty thousand, five hundred and sixty. Larkson had also written her a letter, full of very inappropriate sentiments and suggestions that would have been quite amusing if the rawness of her meeting with the Baron hadn't been too fresh for anything similar, however juvenile, to be anything but ironic.

Part of the reason Severus always accepted Narcissa's invitations to squire her around a load of tedious soirees and casinos was because it made his life at Hogwarts seem more remote. Ten months of every year of his life since he was eleven had been spent in that place; a place he called home more than any other, but which was full of duties and reminders, desiccated hopes and fossilized nightmares, oppressive solitude mixed with claustrophobic company. There, he was a teacher, standing in loco parentis to two hundred children, disciplinarian terror and pathetic old creep to eight hundred more. His life was taken up with something he didn't give a bloody fuck about.

So often he felt as if his life, the life he'd meant to lead, had washed away from him, borne off to sea on the tide of all his worst decisions; and the life he could have had, though close enough for him to distinguish, however distantly, was never near enough to touch. He sometimes felt as if he wasn't an adult yet because he had chosen a life that proscribed so many adult experiences: loves, marriage, children, even the irresponsible things adults did. He was surrounded by adolescents but he wasn't a pedophile, so even the humanity of lust and affectopm was mostly foreign to him. 

He existed on the fringes of Narcissa's real society, but it was distinct enough from Hogwarts that he found relief in it. Even among the other Hogwarts' teachers he did not really feel like an adult, perhaps because they had known him as a student and he wasn't sure they would ever stop thinking of him that way. Certainly they didn't like him very much. Hardly anyone did. He couldn't seem to make them, even when he tried.

Narcissa laid her hand over his. Her palms were always cool and dry. "Now, don't hurl me off the balcony for saying so, my darling," she said, sounding not the least bit timid, "but I think you ought to seriously consider getting married."

Severus stared at her. Narcissa stared calmly back, her pupils so wide in the twilight they almost entirely consumed her pale irises.

"I thought you didn't get drunk," he said.

She didn't roll her eyes—it would be too plebeian—but the vibe was the same. "I don't, as you well know. Don't deflect, my peach."

"I'm not deflecting, I'm incredulous. There are a thousand absurdities in that statement, but I'll start with who, in God's name, am I supposed to marry?"

"I didn't have anyone in mind," Narcissa said. "I merely think you ought to consider it as a . . . future possibility."

"In Merlin's name, why?"

Narcissa considered him. "Most people either need to be around people or they don't; anyone will do for the purpose. You, however . . . I believe you choose to be alone if you can't be with someone whose company you truly enjoy. It doesn't mean the desire for. . . companionship isn't there."

"I loathe people." And he hated being psychoanalyzed. "They're a race of fatuous cretins."

"Yes." Narcissa patted his hand. "But you like certain persons. A minuscule few in all the world, yet you do."

"Given that it's difficult enough for garrulous social parasites to find someone whom they wish to marry and who wishes to marry them, my chances of achieving the same would be so infinitesimal as to be nonexistent."

"Well." Narcissa shrugged, not as if she was dismissing it, but with an air of que sera, sera. "You never know. All you need is luck. It all comes down to that, with each of us."

"I've never been remotely lucky in my life. It's why I don't gamble."

She shook her head, earrings glimmering. "Oh, darling, most gamblers have the worst luck in the world. You don't gamble because you believe, deep in your heart, that you'll always lose."

Severus's gut twisted. She had said it playfully, but far beneath the light surface of her voice was a depth of certainty.

"M'sieur?" The waiter skillfully insinuated himself into the silence, barely an intrusion at all. He was holding a tray in both his hands, and on it lay a single white envelope.

The memory of a similar letter, coming to Severus at a similar time in a similar way a year ago, pinged bright in his mind. This letter was addressed not to Dumbledore, however, but to himself. His name, in Dumbledore's familiar, looping script, bleak on the parchment.

He tore it open and shook the message free. It contained only one line:

Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban.

Chapter Text

Remus was bartending in a seedy joint when Albus Dumbledore walked back into his life.

Even at the time, the irony amused him on some level.

The bar was nameless, simply referred to as the bar, perhaps because it was the only bar that most of its patrons could frequent south of the Hog's Head; and even the Hog's Head was more respectable than the bar. Remus had always felt the Hog's Head gained a veneer of respectability from Hogsmeade (in a village you watched yourself because everyone knew everyone's business and Strangers' Business was always no good). But in London, nobody knew anybody's business because they didn't want anyone knowing theirs; and instead of a chill of suspicion, the bar was thick with the miasma of mind-your-own-fucking-business. These were people whom the wizarding world would chew up and spit out, and sometimes had already. It was the only place where Remus could hold the same job for any length of time. Darius, who ran the place, was so used to his employees disappearing for a time without a word, only to turn up again later, that Remus's planned absences and habit of coming to work bruised and battered didn't register as anything suspicious, as long as Remus varied the pattern. He had a few people to help him; people whom he otherwise might not have dealt with, but he'd survived long enough not only to outlive a lot of ethical squeamishness, but to forget any projected lists of people he might never want to know.

He already knew most of them, anyway.

The night Albus returned, Remus was suffering the society of one of his comrades-in-crime, Mundungus Fletcher. Or suffering the odor, at least. He was thankful that the lore about werewolves having a heightened sense of smell was bollocks.

"'Ere now," Fletcher said, failing to lean across the bar because he'd been drinking cheap firewhiskey for the last hour, the kind that took the roof off your mouth and shriveled your tongue, "really think you ort to let me, mate, oy do."

"Mundungus," Remus said pleasantly, trying not to breathe, "I am not letting you cover for me on the full moon. You'll pocket all the cash in the till and drink all the stock under the bar before Darius opens, and he'll find you passed out with your pockets stuffed with Galleons and haul you off to Petty Azkaban."

"Righ' you are, mate," Fletcher said, grinning loosely. Then, without any noticeable change in expression, he gently toppled backwards off his bar stool and didn't get back up.

Remus dumped his glass in the sink, mopped the firewhiskey puddles off the pitted wooden bar top, and dropped a few of his own Knuts into the till to pay, because he knew Mundungus had paid for that last glass with rocks he'd painted himself.

"Are you just going to leave him there, then?" asked a young woman curiously. At least, her voice was young, though her face wasn't, nor her hair, which straggled around her shoulders in a candyfloss-colored snarl. Her eyes made her look like she was about to walk off in two separate directions. She looked to be a hag so hideous that her warts were probably growing their own warts, but something made Remus suspect she was playing dress-up with a really good glamor.

"He could use the rest," Remus said, not smiling because a smile to the wrong person here had once been responsible for a pair of singed eyebrows, and that was only because he'd ducked in time. "Would you mind terribly kicking him behind the bar? He'll sleep better back here, where there's only me to trod on him."

The hag grinned, showing several snaggle teeth. "Would I mind terribly, or would I kick him terribly?"

"Yes."

"Oh, ha," she said, rather good-naturedly for a hag. But she took out a wand and Levitated Fletcher over the bar, dropping him none-too-gently on Remus's side. Fletcher snorted in his sleep, then rolled over and started snoring, rattling the row of bottles nearest the ground.

"Cheers," Remus said. "What'll it be, then?"

"None of whatever he was drinking," said the friendly hag. "I could smell the fumes out on the street. Can you make a Vermouth carnassis?"

It was an old-fashioned drink, favored by pure-blood ladies of a certain class and age. Unlike the teeth and the crooked eyes, which were going stereotypically overboard, the drink was incongruous.

"Is that your order?" he asked, raising his eyebrows in mock-skepticism. "Or are you just asking?"

"Oh, go on," she said, her grin showing the snaggle teeth again. "Stop being smart and just make the bloody drink."

"Yes, ma'am. Tell me how accurate that is," he said, setting the glass down in front of her a minute later, "or isn't."

"It's totally dreadful," she said, smacking her lips, "so I'd say you'd got it right."

He didn't ask why she'd asked for it if she didn't like it. Instead, he folded his arms against the bar and leaned in. "A word of advice?" 

She leaned in, seemingly in spite of herself. "What?" she asked, just as lowly, her cocked eyes moving from his eyes to his mouth (or at least one of them did, anyway).

"Three snaggle teeth are overdoing it just a bit," he whispered.

She stared at him. Then she ran her tongue over her teeth. "How—"

"It just seemed like a disguise," he said apologetically.

She sighed. "Bugger. Look—it's okay if you say no, but can you act like you think I'm the most super bloody convincing hag you've ever met?"

"If you'd like," he said, bemused.

"I'm in a test," she stage-whispered.

"Say no more," he said.

It was in that lull of silence that he first noticed that the bar had gone strangely quiet. When he looked up to see who—or what, in a place like this—could silence this crowd, he saw Albus Dumbledore standing in the doorway, smiling at him, resplendent in robes of magenta and gold. The cheap spell on the lamp outside shone orange on his waves of silver-white hair.

"Albus," Remus said blankly, for they hadn't spoken in over ten years.

The hag turned on her bar stool and choked.

"Remus." Dumbledore drew up to the bar and reached across it to shake Remus's hand with both of his. "It's ever so good to see you."

Dumbledore didn't say he was looking well, which Remus appreciated because he knew he wasn't. He looked at least ten, fifteen years older than his contemporaries, weary and ill.

"It's good to see you, too." Remus wasn't sure if it was, but neither did he know if it wasn't. He let a wry smile sketch across his face. Dumbledore, at least, wouldn't try to hex it off. "Shocking, too, I must admit."

"I would have written," Dumbledore said, "but as I intended to come anyway, it seemed unnecessary work for one of our poor Hogwarts owls—and Fawkes is, regrettably, undergoing the intermediate stages of sexual maturity. I'm afraid I can't rely on him whenever he does that."

Remus couldn't help laughing. "He reminds me of—" But then he could help laughing, because he never spoke that name anymore.

He glanced at the hag. She seemed paralyzed. When Dumbledore turned an inquisitive smile on her, she gurgled and scuttled away, tripping over her bar stool.

"Friend of yours?" he asked.

"Just a customer." From the floor, Mundungus let out an ear-ripping snore.

"Then that is what I shall be," Dumbledore said cheerfully, and nimbly seated himself on a stool. "I don't suppose you've any oak matured mead stashed back there?"

"You and the hag have just asked for the most sophisticated drinks this bar has ever served. I think Darius actually pours turpentine into old firewhiskey bottles."

"Well," Dumbledore smiled, "fortune favors the bold."

He accepted the firewhiskey and drank half the glass without a blink. "Potent," he said thoughtfully. "I'm not sure even Aberforth serves anything this strong."

"It's been known to knock teeth loose with one sip. You're tougher than most, Albus."

Dumbledore smiled. "I would love for this to be a social call," he said, obviously meaning that it wasn't. "There is a great deal for us to catch up on, and you deserve more than the cursory visit this must, regrettably, be. But I have very much to do, and quickly."

Remus nodded along. Dumbledore folded his hands on the bar and looked at him in silence, not hesitating, but as if preparing the both of them for what he was going to say. But Remus's heart did not speed up with nervousness, his palms did not dampen, he did not fidget. He'd known from the first sight of Dumbledore's face that he could only be here for something serious.

"Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban," Dumbledore said.

For a long moment, Remus felt no reaction. Then his heart did speed up. His hands did feel cold, his stomach weighted with lead . . . but not with fear. Not with despair, either. This . . . was something else.

"Good God," he said, hoarse. "How?"

"That, we have not been able to ascertain," Dumbledore said, no twinkle in his eye or smile on his face. "Nor his whereabouts. Remus. You know I have no wish to cast suspicion on you, nor any ulterior motive of malice, but is there any chance you know what means he used to escape or where he might be?"

Remus was so numb he could only shake his head—numb all over his skin, but his blood and his heart were beating hard.

Dumbledore nodded once. "I thought not. Which brings me to the second, though related, reason for my visit. I want to offer you the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor at Hogwarts."

Remus's mouth actually fell open.

"I do not do so lightly," Dumbledore said, holding up a hand, as if to forestall whatever objections Remus would raise; but Remus was too stunned to say a damn thing. "For your own sake—the curse upon it is very real. You will only serve three terms at the most, and several of its occupants have terminated their lives with their posts. But I have a powerful reason to suspect that Sirius Black's target is his own goddaughter, and if that is the case, I need you on hand."

"You think Sirius broke out of Azkaban to kill Harriet," Remus repeated. For a moment, he pictured James pulling her away from the fireplace, the day she learned to crawl. She had crawled for the first time when it was just the two of them in the house, and James had been so worried that Lily would be upset for missing it that they had never told anyone and had pretended, when she crawled again that evening, that it was for the first time.

"I can think of no other explanation," Dumbledore said. And if a brain like Dumbledore's could find only that possibility, who was Remus to argue?

It had never seemed right, what Sirius had done. It had never seemed like something he would do. It still didn't, twelve years later, even after Remus was so used to thinking his name with a twist of bitterness in his heart that if they cut him open, they'd probably find that organ tied in a knot. Yet Sirius had done it, and Remus had been so very wrong about him that who was he to say whether anything Sirius did needed to make sense?

He'd be mad anyway, after twelve years in Azkaban.

"Perhaps he just wanted his freedom, after all this time," he said slowly.

"It is possible," Dumbledore acknowledged. "But why now? I feel the timing is significant, though I have not yet seen how. And according to the dementors," a darkness of emotion rippled across his face, "he was heard saying She's at Hogwarts in his sleep."

Remus scrubbed a hand across his face.

"Good God," he said again. "Of course I'll take it. The Defense position, I mean."

"Good." Dumbledore's smile returned and he took Remus's hand again. "It relieves a weight from my mind. Oh—I meant to add a further incentive, but consider it a bonus for your estimable good nature. Have you heard of the Wolfsbane potion? Very recently released to the public—"

"Incredibly expensive and virtually impossible to procure?" Remus had been following the preliminary findings since they'd been released eight years ago. "It sounds vaguely familiar, I think."

"Well." Dumbledore's eyes sparkled. "I happen to have—somewhat under my thumb, if you'll pardon the expression and keep it to yourself—one of the foremost Potions experts in Britain on staff, and have managed to oblige him to brew it. If it interests you, of course."

Remus felt like someone had hexed his head spinning. "Merlin—yes, it does, of course. Albus—that's incredible, I don't know what to—"

"Well, seeing as you've already accepted the position," Dumbledore said cheerfully, "you've thanked me in the best way you can. I thank you, my boy. You've done me—and the children, of course—a great service." He stood; Remus remained swirling in disbelief. "You may come to Hogwarts whenever you are ready, though of course by 1st September."

"Of course," Remus parroted dizzily. "Albus—Headmaster—thank you."

They shook hands again. That time, Dumbledore held both his hand and his gaze. "If you remember anything that might help us find Black or uncover his motives, share them with me. Even if it is in the dead of the night. I found, once I passed a hundred, that I hardly need much sleep at all anymore."

"Of course," Remus said again. And again, "Thank you."

Dumbledore smiled once more, and then he was gone, the door snicking softly shut behind him.

Remus did not know how he spent the next few minutes or even hours. He went through the motions of his nightly routine almost without feeling them, his head and heart full to bursting. The last time he'd seen Harriet—wailing in the arms of her aunt at Lily and James's funeral—the last time he'd seen Sirius, hair falling into his tired, laughing eyes—Peter's mother sobbing as she held the box containing all that was left of her son. The moonlight shining on Prongs's antlers, when they'd all transformed for the first time on a night when Remus was human, so he could see. Wormtail cleaning his whiskers. Padfoot. . .

CRASH. He'd dropped a bottle of Darius's best firewhiskey on the floor, but he was too preoccupied to care that it was eating through the concrete.

Perhaps the reason they hadn't found Sirius yet was because he could turn into a dog, and nobody alive knew that except for Remus and Sirius himself.


 

 


Harriet awoke the morning of her birthday, snuggled beneath the blankets on Hermione's trundle bed. The sound of Hermione's sleeping breath, soft and familiar, threaded the silence, and her nightlight—a globe with a lamp inside—glowed dim against the dark.

Harriet let her eyes adjust until she could see the things she knew were there: the photographs of the Earth as seen from space, the movie poster for Labyrinth; the bookcases crammed with Hermione's favorite books, since she had so many she had to pack away several boxes for storing in the cellar every six months; the old record player with her dad's favorite albums stacked next to it; the burbling fish tank. It was the sort of room Harriet had always wanted, when she was lying on her cot in the cupboard under the stairs, staring at the grille in the door, listening to the rattle of the telly and Aunt Petunia's nasally voice gossiping on the phone.

Since leaving them three weeks ago, she hadn't communicated with the Dursleys at all, though before she'd escaped Privet Prison she'd overheard Aunt Petunia talking on the phone with Aunt Marge, Uncle Vernon's sister (and so not really Harriet's aunt, thank God; she couldn't have handled being blood-related to both Aunt Petunia and Aunt Marge) about a long visit at the end of July. The last time Aunt Marge had come over, her bulldog had bit Harriet by the hair and dragged her down the stairs.

Bitch. And Harriet didn't mean the dog.

For Harriet's birthday, Hermione's parents had made plans to be home from the office early to take the girls to dinner and a play. Harriet had never been to a play before. Before coming to the Grangers, she hadn't been out in public much at all. Even at the Weasleys', Mrs. Weasley hadn't liked for them to spend too much time in the Muggle village, which was too foreign and strange to her. She worried about cars leaping off the street and hitting them, the way Uncle Vernon worried about Harriet's wand going off and hexing them.

Harriet rolled quietly out of bed and padded to the kitchen, savoring the feeling of being able to move freely and feed herself whenever she wanted, even if it was just cornflakes and toast.

When she got to the kitchen, she saw an unfamiliar owl perched outside the window over the sink, watching her impatiently through bright yellow eyes.

School letters, she realized.

She couldn't reach the window over the sink; she was still too bloody short. Resigned to her extreme non-height, at least today, on her sure-to-be brilliant birthday, she pushed one of the kitchen chairs over and climbed up to let the owl in.

It dropped two fat envelopes on the table, spurned her feeble offer of cornflakes, and with one last burning, reproachful look, winged out the window.

"Sorry!" she called after it.

"Goodness," said Jean. Harriet pulled her head back inside the kitchen to find Jean staring after the owl. "I'm sure you find me silly," she said, "but that still takes getting used to."

"Wizards feel the same way about phones," she said. "Mrs. Weasley can't stand the way they ring."

Jean smiled briefly, which was the only way she ever seemed to smile, and held out a plain white paper envelope. "For yours and Hermione's shopping today." Then she leant down and brushed a kiss across Harriet's cheek. "Happy birthday, dear."

Harriet's face burned, and a lump formed in her throat. Jean straightened up and fastened her earrings. Unlike her daughter, she had dark brown hair that she wore cut slightly above her shoulders; about the length of Harriet's own hair, but so much tidier.

Jean left Harriet to open her letter. It seemed thicker than usual this year. There was the usual booklist, the standard greeting letter . . . and something else.

Hogsmeade Visit Permission Slip.

That was right—third years got to visit Hogsmeade. Harriet read it over, wondering why her stomach felt like it was sinking, why she didn't feel excited . . . and then, as clearly as if someone had pinged their fingernail against a crystal glass, she knew:

She'd have to ask Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon to sign it. And what were the chances of that?

She stuffed it halfheartedly back into the envelope with the other papers. The only way she'd have the tiniest hope was to make Aunt Petunia think Snape wouldn't like it if she didn't sign it, and she wasn't sure how much weight that threat could keep carrying. Still, she'd do it, if it meant not getting left alone at Hogwarts.

Cereal in hand, Harriet drifted into the parlor that looked onto the Grangers' little lawn, where a high brick wall and tall hedges blocked the house from the street, and turned the volume down on the telly very low before switching on the set.

The blank screen filled with the image of a corpse with blank, staring eyes. Daniel always watched the evening news, so the telly was always set to that channel, but why were they showing a dead person? This looked more like a B-horror film.

". . .escaped convict, Sirius Black. . ." murmured the newscaster's subdued voice. "The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. . ."

Oh. He wasn't dead; it was just a still photograph. Well, he looked dead—his skin waxy skin was the color of earthworms. His hair hung from his bony skull to his elbows in a matted tangle like thick, ancient cobwebs. What prison had he been in? He looked like he'd been locked in a hole in the ground and starved for at least a decade.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will announce today . . ." the newscaster was saying, as Sirius Black's image disappeared from the screen.

Harriet clicked over to another channel, but she wasn't really watching the cartoons as she ate her cereal. She kept seeing Black's dead-looking face. What had he done?

"Thought I heard the telly," said Daniel's cheerful, easygoing voice, making Harriet jump. "Anything good on this morning? Or are they being as bloody-mindedly dreary as ever?"

Jean and Daniel headed off to work within the next half-hour, while Hermione crept sleepily out of her room, rubbing her eyes. As soon as she'd awakened properly, however, she was filled with brisk instructions for the rest of the day.

"We'll need to get the clothes first, of course—we'll start at Marks and Spencer. And shoes, too—depending on how long shopping for outfits takes, we might have to break for lunch and then tackle the shoes—"

Harriet let her plan and just concentrated on trying to get the tangles out of her misbehaving hair. She didn't care what they did or in what order they did it, and organizing made Hermione feel better.

"This is already the best birthday ever," Harriet told Hermione as she gathered up her handbag and checked obsessively to make sure she'd got her wallet and house keys and Oyster Card. "And we haven't even done anything except eat breakfast."

"Well, you did spend your last birthday locked up with bars on the window and padlocks on the door. This one was bound to look up," Hermione said, pressing her lips together. It was weird how often she and her mum did that—nice, but also painful, like an electric shock in Harriet's blood. Whenever they did it, Harriet wondered what she and her mum would have done that was just the same.

"Well," Hermione said, reaching for the doorknob, "let's g—"

The doorbell chimed.

They looked at the door, then at each other. Hermione's mum had been quite firm about not answering the door when she or Daniel wasn't at home.

The bell chimed again. The girls stood quite still, looking at each other, not saying a word.

Then someone banged on the door.

Harriet stood on her tiptoes ("Harry!" Hermione whispered) and squinted through the peephole.

"It's Professor Snape," she hissed.

Hermione dropped her bag.

"And Professor Dumbledore."

"What did you do?" Hermione squeaked.

"if either of you is in there, you had better open this bloody door," said Snape's voice through the wood.

Harriet pulled the door open to hear Professor Dumbledore saying, "You would make a very interesting door-to-door salesman, Sever—ah, good morning." He smiled brilliantly down at Harriet and Hermione, who were peering around the door frame. "It's a pleasure to see you two. May we come in?"

"Yes, of course, sir," Hermione said, in a robotic way.

Professor Dumbledore was wearing an electric blue velvet suit with pants cut like bellbottoms. It was as astounding as anything Lockhart had ever worn, especially with Dumbledore's hair and beard. Snape, however, was all in black, but other than that looked relatively normal. For himself, anyway, or those artsy Muggles you saw round London. Together he and Professor Dumbledore looked like they should be sitting in a cafe, smoking and drinking coffee and arguing about Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (something Harriet had seen Daniel reading).

Harriet looked at the hard lines on Snape's face, his cold, biting eyes, and couldn't imagine him ever fancying anyone, let alone her mum.

Dumbledore glanced around the house, which was dim with all its lights off, the only sound the ticking of the clock in the foyer. "Are your parents at home, Miss Granger?"

"No, sir," Hermione said, clutching her bag to her chest. "They've gone to work. Did, did you need to speak to them?"

Snape made a soft noise but said nothing. Harriet didn't know what that noise meant, but it sounded scornful. She frowned. As if he could hear her displeasure, he looked away from the wall photograph he'd been glaring at. His severe black eyebrows met over the beaky bridge of his nose as he glared at her.

You're nothing but a copy of his spoilt princess, Aunt Petunia had said. But if that was the truth, then Snape couldn't really have liked her mum, because that wasn't the expression of someone who thought nice things about you.

"I will eventually," Dumbledore said, "but at present I want to speak to you, Harriet."

"Me?" Harriet blurted. Snape rolled his eyes. Harriet glared at him but spoke to Professor Dumbledore: "Why me, sir?"

"I think the point of this visit is to explain that," Snape said with all his usual charm.

Dumbledore looked mildly at him, but that one glance made Snape subside (irritably).

"The—the parlor's through here," Hermione said in a high-pitched voice.

"Thank you, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said pleasantly. Hermione led them through, still clutching her bag and looking terrified to have two teachers in her house.

Dumbledore took the sofa Hermione's trembling finger pointed to, hitching up the legs of his trousers as he sat. Snape stood behind the couch with his arms crossed. 

"Won't you both sit?" Dumbledore smiled at the girls, who perched together on the end of Daniel's Barcalounger. But no sooner had Hermione sat than she sprung back up.

"Tea!" she cried rigidly.

"Sit down, Miss Granger," Snape snapped.

"Tea would be lovely, my dear," Dumbledore said, ignoring him. "Thank you."

Hermione scuttled out of the room, going the long way round so she wouldn't have to bypass Snape. They heard her spilling a whole cabinet full of pots across the floor, by the sound of things.

"I hope your holiday has been going well," Dumbledore said to Harriet.

"For God's sake," Snape muttered under his breath.

"It's been terrific, sir," Harriet said, glaring at Snape again.

"I'm delighted." Dumbledore smiled. "I wonder, do you watch the news at all?"

Harriet had no idea what that had to do with anything, but surely Professor Dumbledore hadn't come visiting the Grangers—with Snape—to ask about her holiday or talk about the news. He must be working up to something else. "Dr. Granger—that's Hermione's dad—he watches it every evening, sir."

"I wonder if you saw the recent segment about Sirius Black? The escaped convict."

Harriet nodded slowly. "I saw it this morning."

"Then there is not quite so much to explain."

Harriet glanced from Dumbledore to Snape, who was watching the headmaster now, his black eyes fierce and intent.

"In brief, Harriet—I regret to say we believe that Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban in order to find you."

Harriet blinked. She blinked again. She looked from Dumbledore's calm, grave face to Snape's. His expression was ferocious, his gaunt features crystallized with something like . . . hatred. 

The thought I thought he was only a Muggle flitted through her mind and out the other side, as quickly as the Hogwarts' owl had come and gone. She thought of Jean's surprised face and thought, Yes, that's how it feels.

"Find me?" she repeated. "What . . . what for?"

"Twelve years ago," Dumbledore said, "on Hallowe'en night, when you lost your parents and Voldemort was defeated"—

(Harriet saw Snape's hands spasm where they were clenched on his arms, and his face became, if possible, even more hate-filled.)

—"Sirius Black, believed to be in a rage at his master's loss, murdered thirteen people on a street full of witnesses—twelve Muggles, one wizard. For that, and for the many crimes he is believed to have committed as an agent of Voldemort, he was sentenced to Azkaban prison, where he remained until he escaped three nights ago."

Harriet's chest felt oddly tight. She saw Black's corpse-like face, his matted hair, his dead eyes. She'd wondered what he'd done. Now she knew.

"So he's coming after me because he's, what, angry I defeated Voldemort?" 

"That is our belief, yes." Dumbledore's voice was calm and measured. Harriet wondered if this was how doctors talked to patients with fatal diseases. "From things he was . . . overheard . . . saying during his final days in prison, we are fairly confident we have the right of it. Accordingly, we must take steps."

"Steps?"

"I am afraid," Dumbledore said, his voice gentling, "that you can no longer remain with the Grangers."

Harriet sat up straight, like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water down her spine. The dread certainly felt that cold.

"It is not safe," Dumbledore said, still gentle.

"Please don't send me back to the Dursleys." It came out sounding, not pitiful like she'd feared, but tight and upset.

"That was not my intention," Dumbledore said. Snape moved slightly, but by the time Harriet's eyes flicked across him, he was motionless again. "Instead, I am inviting you to come early to Hogwarts."

She digested this offer. She knew that under other circumstances she might have been, maybe even should have been, thrilled, just as she knew that this wasn't really an offer offer.

"It isn't an invitation," Snape said. Now he was glaring at a knick-knack on Jean's mantle, a doe with her fawn.

"Severus," was all Dumbledore said. "Harriet?" he asked her in a kind voice. But for the first time, Harriet wasn't glad to hear that kindness, and she didn't want to see him anymore. She wished he would go, take Snape with him and leave her to enjoy her birthday without the shadow of Voldemort creeping across her life.

"I don't—it's not like I have a choice, do I?" she said to her knees.

"We always have a choice," Dumbledore said.

That wasn't really helpful. Especially since she didn't think she did.

"Professor Dumbledore?"

Dumbledore turned to look at Hermione, who had come through the door that joined onto the dining room, which led to the kitchen. She was holding a tray with her mother's turquoise teapot and four matching cups, and she looked pale but resolute.

"Yes, Miss Granger?" Dumbledore said.

Hermione walked determinedly around the sofa, but instead of setting down her tea tray, she stood holding it, as if gave her strength to talk.

"Tonight we, we all had plans to go out for dinner and see a play," she said. The cups on the tray tinkled as her hands shook. "It would be a sh-shame if we didn't—after all, it's Harriet's birthday. Could—could Harriet stay one more night, and go to Hogwarts tomorrow morning?"

Dumbledore studied her, his fingers trailing along the edge of his beard. Snape had turned to stare at him incredulously.

"You surely aren't going to—" he started, but Dumbledore held up his hand and Snape swallowed the rest of what he'd been about to say, although the taste of the unsaid words seemed to twist his stomach.

"Yes," Dumbledore said, smiling from Hermione to Harriet. "I think that sounds an excellent idea. Harriet ought to be able to enjoy her birthday celebrations."

Snape choked. Harriet wondered if he was swallowing his tongue. She barely resisted the urge to give him a gloating look. He looked so furious that he might have killed her if she did.

"Thank you, Professor," she said to Dumbledore.

"Not at all, my dear. I'm sorry to have to cut your holiday short at all. Thank you, Miss Granger," he said, accepting the tea cup she handed him. "Two sugars, please. Severus, do stop looming and have a seat on this very comfortable couch."

Dumbledore stayed to drink his tea, drawing Harriet and Hermione into conversation about—something. When he got up to leave, Harriet wasn't sure what they'd been talking about, although they'd been chatting the whole time. Well, Snape hadn't. He'd sat crunched into the corner of the couch, glaring into his cup, and whenever Dumbledore had said something to him, he'd just transferred the glare from to Dumbledore.

"Thank you for the tea, Miss Granger. I'm afraid I have much to do or I would linger for longer. Professor Snape will stay to explain the situation to your parents."

Snape's sour expression was totally lacking in surprise, but Harriet couldn't stop herself from staring at Hermione in horror, and seeing that horror mirrored exactly in her friend's face.

"Y-yes, sir," Hermione stammered. "They—they might not be home—for a while."

Snape rubbed at his forehead, like he'd been dreading that.

"Severus will stay however long it takes," Dumbledore replied. 

Then he left.

They stared at Snape. Snape did not look at either of them.

"Well?" he said, trying to kill a potted ficus with the force of his glare. "Haven't you something to be getting on with?"

"We were going shopping," Harriet said. 

"Where are your parents?" Snape asked Hermione, making it sound like they were terrible people for not being there.

"At work, sir. They'll—they'll be home at lunchtime." Emboldened a little by Snape's not biting her head off immediately, she said, "Harriet and I have been out loads of times by ourselves—"

"There wasn't an escaped convict after you then," Snape said in a tone like liquid nitrogen.

The silence that followed was sharp and fragile.

"I'll go call my parents," Hermione said in a high, thin voice.

 

 


The Grangers were clearly bewildered and quietly mistrustful. Harriet didn't blame them. She felt that Professor Dumbledore would have been much better at instilling confidence, because Snape clearly didn't give a damn if he didn't. It could not have been plainer that he intended to bring Harriet to Hogwarts by hook or by crook. Whether the Grangers liked or understood the situation didn't make any difference to him.

"Well," Jean said, reading over the letter from Professor Dumbledore. "I appreciate your time, Professor Snape, but I believe we are fully capable of looking after Harriet until tomorrow."

Snape's distasteful expression didn't flicker, and he didn't budge.

"The letter says you may leave Harriet to us," Jean said, not quailing the way people normally did when Snape stared at them like that. "She'll be perfectly safe."

Snape still didn't move. Daniel cleared his throat.

"Would you like to read it?" Jean asked with icy, precise politeness.

"No, thank you," said Snape in a tone that wasn't anything like grateful. "I can imagine what it says." He stared at Harriet and Hermione as though they were unpleasant potions ingredients. "You will get your wands and keep them on you."

"But what about—" Hermione said, and went bright red when Snape's eyes flashed dangerously.

"Thank you, Professor," Jean said, not sounding grateful either. In fact, she sounded like she wanted him out of her house. She stood as she spoke, in case the tone wasn't clear enough. "I'll see you to the door."

"I'm not so mentally incompetent that I can't find it myself," Snape said. With one last glare for Harriet, he strode out of the room.

"So," Daniel said once the front door had shut, just short of a slam. "That's your teacher, is it?"

 

 


Once out of the Muggle house, Severus didn't Apparate. He Disillusioned himself and settled in to wait, blending into the bricks and the grass. He'd watch the fucking play with them, if that's what it took. Muggle protection wasn't worth a paper boat in a flood.

People were so fucking stupid, wizard or Muggle. Nobody ever learned a thing. Life must go on, they said, but it wasn't courage so much as thick-headedness. Selfishness.

He didn't blame the girl so much as he blamed everyone else.

He blamed Dumbledore most of all.

Chapter Text

Harriet hated Sirius Black—not because he was a follower of Voldemort, not especially, nor because he had murdered thirteen people with one curse, or even really because he was probably coming to kill her. Harriet hated Sirius Black because he'd cut short her holiday with Hermione. She would have seen him thrown back in prison for that alone.

Hermione almost made it a bit easier to leave, however, by severely annoying Harriet the night before she was to go.

"It's probably better that you go," she said briskly as she checked off the inventory she'd made of Harriet's luggage, making sure Harriet didn't leave behind any socks or homework essays. "If Sirius Black is really after you, which it makes sense that he would be, Hogwarts would definitely be the safest place for you."

"Right." Harriet shone a torch under the bed, looking for her Monster Book of Monsters, which had scuttled away yesterday after trying to chew her fingers off. "Because after Voldemort and a great dirty Basilisk lived there for ages, there's no way Sirius Black could ever sneak in."

"For God's sake, Harriet!" Hermione said, so loud and sudden that Harriet jumped and banged her head on the bed's footboard. "There's a madman out to kill you, and you're sulking!"

Harriet grabbed a spare trainer from under the bed and chucked it into her trunk, not caring if it was hers or Hermione's. "Oh right, and that's never happened before! It only seems to happen every bloody year! You're acting like you're not even going to miss me!"

"Of course I'm going to miss you!" Hermione balled up her list and threw it into her rubbish bin—or at it—or so Harriet guessed; it hit the wall about three feet to the left and landed in her open trunk. "But it's better I miss you than you die!"

Hermione's face was flushed and her lips were pressed very tight together in a way that Harriet knew meant she wanted to burst into tears. Harriet suddenly felt very horrible.

"I know," she said. "I'm sorry. I just . . . I hate these people. They don't just try to kill me, they bugger up all the times they're not around, too. I've got to live with the Dursleys because of them, and now I've got a proper holiday, they've got to ruin that, too."

"You spent last summer with the Weasleys, though," Hermione reminded Harriet as she slumped next to her onto the bed.

"I wanted to spend this one with you, though. I love the Weasleys, but you're my best friend."

Hermione blinked. Then she did burst into tears, and threw her arms around Harriet. A second later, Harriet jumped up swearing; the Monster Book of Monsters had just bitten her on the ankle.

They swore to write every day. In a moment of guilty Slytherin-like intuition, Harriet asked Hermione to send her some more romance novels. Hermione rolled her eyes but agreed.

"Really trashy ones," Harriet clarified.

"Trashy what?" asked a cold, forbodeing voice just above and slightly behind their heads. They both jumped, not having heard Snape come in to the parlor. He moved as quiet as a cat.

"Er." Harriet looked at Snape's sharp, sardonic face, his shrewd black eyes that drove into you like a drill press. She was enjoying Passion's Bride, but she would face Voldemort, a Basilisk, and Sirius Black before ever telling Snape she was reading a single romance novel, let alone asking for more. "Magazines?"

"You aren't sure?" Snape's expression was sarcastic.

"It's a private conversation," Harriet settled for saying.

"Well said, dear," Jean said—pleasantly enough, but she did not seem to like Snape. "Are you ready to go, or would you like a few more minutes?"

"Whether or not she would like a few more minutes is immaterial," Snape said to Jean. "I said I would be collecting her at 8:30. It's 8:32. Miss Potter, find your things."

"Here they are," Harriet said hollowly, kicking at her trunk. Hedwig clicked her beak inside her cage.

"Then come along," Snape said. He couldn't really swoop around wearing Muggle clothes, but he still didn't walk like a normal person. She imagined that's what Dracula would look like if he had to wear trousers and a regular coat.

Harriet shot Hermione one last, mournful look. She seemed to be trying to put on a It's for the best face, but was clearly having trouble pretending that extra Snape-time would be anything like fun.

Jean and Daniel followed Harriet, Hermione and Snape to the door. Snape stalked to the foot of the lawn while Harriet dared to linger and hug Hermione one last time.

Hermione kissed her cheek. Harriet kissed her back, and then took Hedwig from Jean, who kissed her, too, and trudged down to where Snape was standing, looking tense and suspicious, one hand clenched on his wand inside his coat while his narrow eyes glared up and down the street.

"You look like a kidnapper or a bank robber or something," Harriet said. When he turned the glare on her, she added, "Sir."

"Whereas you are all that appears respectable and well-groomed. Stand back, Miss Potter."

"Why stand back? Aren't we doing that Applerating thing again?"

"No one has never Applerated, because it does not exist. Further back. Stop."

"Then what are we—"

A deafening BANG made her jump once, then twice when, with a CLANGSCREECHCRUNCH, the Granger's mailbox was completely flattened by a triple-decker bus painted in a shade of purple that must have been magical, because it surely didn't exist in nature.

"What just happened to the post?" Harriet heard Jean say.

"Wh," Harriet said.

"Get on," Snape said, shooing her.

"Is that a bus that appears from nowhere?" Harriet asked, not budging.

"Yes. Now get on. Take this," he snapped at the attendant who had just wrenched open the doors, and rammed the poor boy in the ribs with Harriet's trunk. Snape used the trunk to shove the attendant back on board, and then grabbed Harriet and shoved her at him, too.

Harriet clambered on, staring around in awe. She'd never been on a bus that appeared from nowhere, with armchairs for seats instead of plastic benches. The passengers looked a little strange, which was fairly normal for a bus; but these had greenish-looking skin and kept handkerchiefs pressed to their mouths.

"Why are so many of these people green?" she whispered to Snape, who was paying the attendant with such a hostile glare that the poor boy seemed very reluctant to take his money. When he handed Snape the tickets, his hand shook so badly that they fluttered to the floor.

"Because they're passengers on this wretched bus," Snape said. "I hope you don't get motion sick. Sit." He jabbed his wand at an empty armchair near the back of the bus. When he did, Harriet heard four loud thunks, like nails driving into metal.

She sat.

"Hold onto that owl," Snape said tersely.

BANG went the bus. Harriet slammed back into her chair; Hedwig screeched; several passengers' chairs went toppling to the floor, and one little old woman was flung free of her seat and went rolling down the aisle. Snape hadn't bothered to sit; he braced himself against one of the golden poles, looking disgusted and put-upon.

"Wh," Harriet said, staring out the window, which showed the jewel-bright coast of Cornwall whipping past. The bus vibrated around her like a thing possessed, juddering her teeth in her head. She gripped Hedwig's cage for dear life, wincing when Hedwig pecked her displeasure on her fingers.

Snape didn't reply. He seemed to have forgotten Harriet was there. She doubted it, though.

Looking at his vulture-like profile, she remembered how he'd protected her the last two years. Was this more of that? Surely he had better things to do with his holiday than babysit her sarcastically.

He was sick as a dog for your mother. . . Did he tell you that you were precious to him?

And of course, exactly when she was remembering Aunt Petunia saying that, was the moment Snape chose to look at her.

"What is it?" he asked testily as she went so brightly red she could see her face glow in the window glass.

"What is this thing?" Harriet asked, trying to act like nothing was any big deal.

"The Knight Bus. The Headmaster wanted you to be familiar with it." Snape's expression made it clear what he thought about that.

"I think I prefer the apple thing." She winced when the bus made another sudden leap, wrenching her to the right this time as it veered around Yorkminster.

"It's called Apparating and has nothing to do with apples. The trick to the Knight Bus," his voice grew colder, "is that it's impossible to predict where it will turn up." He swung forward as the bus braked so suddenly that Harriet would have been thrown to the floor if Snape hadn't grabbed her by the shoulder and wrenched her back.

"Or what will turn up," Harriet said, as she heard someone on the deck above being sick.

"I ordered the driver to let us off at the next stop," Snape said. "Don't lose your owl."

"I wouldn't. Shhhh, it's okay," Harriet said to Hedwig, who was screeching accusations at her and battering the inside of the cage with her wings. "At least our chair isn't rolling around. Why isn't it?" she asked Snape.

"I nailed it to the floor."

--

Harriet had heard of people kissing the ground when they got off a boat after a storm. When she climbed down from the Knight Bus onto the mushy Hogwarts road, she finally knew how they felt.

"Can't you shut that owl up?" Snape snapped; Hedwig was jabbering loudly.

"It's not her fault," Harriet said hotly.

"I didn't say it was, Miss Potter," said Snape in a dangerous voice, "I asked you to shut her up."

"Fine." Harriet unlocked Hedwig's cage. She took off with an angry screech, knocking Harriet's glasses crooked with a swipe of her wing. "I'm sorry!" Harriet shouted after her as she wheeled off into the gray, low-hanging sky.

"She's a bird, she can't understand you," Snape said.

"Then how was I supposed to get her to be quiet?" Harriet asked indignantly.

"You figured it out well enough. Come along. Watch your footing." Even though he had said two things that could be taken nicely—one praise, the other watching out for her safety—Snape managed to make both things sound like total insults.

Grumbling, Harriet squelched after him. It had been raining, or maybe pouring was a better word; the road was mostly mud, with bleak patches of standing water reflecting the clouds. The dark gray sky melted into the horizon, blurring it, trailing around the castle's spires. Harriet's trainers caked with mud and the hems of her jeans were soaked.

"Don't dawdle," Snape said sharply, turning his head to glare over his shoulder at her.

"It's hard to walk on this stuff," Harriet said. "It's almost pulling off my shoes." And I'm a lot shorter than you.

Snape sighed a put-upon sigh and stopped walking so that she could catch up, squelching. When he started walking again, it was much more slowly, though the snail-like pace seemed to irritate him. What didn't irritate him, though?

"Why've we got to hurry?" she asked.

"Have you forgotten about the homicidal maniac already?" he asked, making her feel like Neville adding his salamander blood at the wrong time.

She sighed. "No," she muttered. Why couldn't Snape answer a question like a normal person?

Aunt Petunia really was cracked, imagining Snape liked Harriet.

A cold, inhospitable breeze moaned through the trees and across the road. She shivered, tucking her hands into the pockets of her windbreaker. The air had been cold and damp and clammy from the moment she got off the Knight Bus, but maybe she had just been out in it long enough now for the chill to catch up to her. The cold had crept beneath her clothes and the smell of the mud was filling up her mouth so that she could taste it.

She suddenly felt very strange. Like something was pressing on her chest, squeezing her heart so it beat faster. She felt . . . scared. . ?

Blinking, she stared around at the surrounding trees. The forest that grew close to the road was soaked black with rain, still and silent and deep. It had never frightened her before, even when she'd been walking at night with the cowardly duo, Fang and Draco Malfoy. Was Sirius Black in there somewhere? Was this a kind of—of lizard-brain thing?

When a hand grabbed her shoulder, she gasped, her heart cramming its way into her throat.

"Don't stray," Snape said, sharp and tense. "Walk faster."

Harriet tried taking longer strides and kicked a spray of mud on him accidentally, dirtying his coat. He didn't say anything, which rattled her even more. The road ahead of them was so thick with mist, it was like the world ended there; just dropped off into nothing.

"Is he—is Sirius Black—"

"No," Snape said, and waved his wand in a complicated motion that looked somehow random and yet not, like a conductor leading an orchestra through a slow song. Through the mist she saw the towering gate opening slowly, its dark bars smudged by the mist.

She felt so cold, unlike she'd ever felt in her entire life, so cold her body was slowing up. She struggled to keep walking but she couldn't. Something black was closing over her head, like she was sinking through water, cold cold cold . . . and someone was screaming, far away and thin, screaming so scared, scaring Harriet along with her . . . she wanted to run to help but her body wouldn't move . . . everything was so black and far away except for the cold that was all around her, right there . . .

--

Harriet did not realize she had passed out until she understood that she was lying on her back on a creaky leather sofa, looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling, dark and dusty. The room smelt like cold, dry stone.

How'd I get here? She reached up to rub her eyes and bumped her glasses instead. The skin of her face was damp and clammy, and she felt weak and shaky all over and through.

She pushed herself up, dislodging a blanket someone had draped over her. Something clattered in the next room. She tried to stand, but she felt too ill and slumped back down on the couch.

She opened her eyes when she heard a step in the room: Snape, still wearing his Muggle clothes, coat and all. Mud was smeared all over his front, including a streak on his cheek, and he was carrying a tray packed with bottles and jars and a teapot.

"What happened?" she asked, her tongue feeling thick.

"You fainted," Snape said curtly, rapping the tray down on a nearby table with a sharp clink that rattled everything on it.

"Why?"

"Take off your glasses," he said instead of answering.

Harriet did, even without arguing, though only because she was too unnerved by what had happened. She'd never fainted before in her life.

Snape moved closer and knelt next to the couch. He touched the skin around her eyes very delicately, like he was handling very fragile tissue paper, and had her blink into a bright, concentrated light on the tip of his wand.

"Very well," he said, drawing away quickly, seeming relieved to have that over with. "How ill do you feel?"

"Like I've had a bad flu." She fumbled her glasses back on. "Why did I faint?"

Snape was mixing powdery green stuff in a little clay cup, the sort without a handle. From the clay teapot he poured a stream of something brown into it. She hoped it didn't taste like mud. She was sick of mud.

He handed her the cup without looking at her. "Drink this."

She sniffed it cautiously. It smelled like . . . chocolate? Yes, she found, sipping it; chocolate. Really rich hot chocolate, tasting a little bit like mint and cinnamon. She felt warmer, steadier.

"Thanks," she said. Snape didn't answer.

"Why did I faint?" she asked again, pleased her voice came out so much stronger.

"Drink the whole thing," Snape said as if she had asked something completely different.

"Why did I faint?" she repeated.

"Did you remember to eat breakfast this morning?" he asked, keeping his back to her as he fussed with his tea tray.

"I've skipped meals loads of times at the Dursleys and never fainted—"

Snape knocked a jar off the table. It fell to the stone floor and shattered. He turned to glare at it, his face looking somehow hard, like all his bones had suddenly turned to stone beneath his skin.

"Perhaps your constitution is changing now that you're older," he said, his voice gone chilling cold and distant. He vanished the shards of the little jar with a wave of his wand.

"It was cold," Harriet said doggedly. She kept her hands cupped around her hot chocolate, wanting the warmth to flow through the clay into her skin and blood. "And I heard somebody screaming."

Snape breathed in sharply, once. He reached out to straighten the jars left on his tray. It almost looked like he was holding onto them.

"I heard no one screaming," he said in a voice as brittle as ice.

"A woman." When Snape's voice sounded like that, it made her own want to shake. "Sounding—like she—"

Like someone was coming to kill her, she thought, with a slice of certainty, and took a drink of chocolate against the returning cold. She pictured it black inside her, like water so deep light couldn't reach to the bottom.

Snape was looking out the window. It wasn't raining, but the sky was still gray, the daylight cold and dim. He did not turn toward her.

"Do you know what Dementors are, Miss Potter?"

"No," Harriet said with certainty.

"They . . . " Snape's voice trailed away. He kept staring out the window. Harriet thought he really did forget she was there, that time.

"They are the reason you fainted," he said, sounding like himself again. "Finish your chocolate."

Then he left the room, went into another and shut the door, leaving Harriet alone.

She stood experimentally from the couch. When she didn't fall back against it, she picked her way over to the window. From there, she could see the dark slope of the grounds and the black presence of the forest, the sky trailing down in rain-colored wisps. The world was eaten up with mist.

She drank her chocolate, watching the clouds swirl across the grounds, thinking of the woman's voice. It was a memory no amount of chocolate could warm.

--

There had been plenty of times when Severus wished he drank. But every single time was just a reaffirmation of why he shouldn't. The number of days when he'd thought I could really fucking use a drink would have qualified him for alcoholism alone.

"I heard someone screaming. A woman—sounding like she—"

And he knew who that was likely to be, didn't he?

He felt as cold as if he were standing in a circle of fifty Dementors. Colder than he had when the girl had fainted and he'd lost his feeble grip on his Occlumency, which deadened the Dementors' ability to feed; when he'd carried her unconscious up the track, his memories of Lily's face during those years when she'd hated him and fallen in love with Potter trickling through his empty spaces like rain down window glass. A memory of a woman screaming, the girl said—a memory terrible enough to render a child unconscious—

Push it away—lock it away—get rid of it—

He couldn't this time. It was like trying to light a cigarette the Muggle way, with matches, when your hands were shaking because you hadn't had enough to drink, because you usually had too much and now a little was too little—

"Another vice, Tobias? Will this one cost more or less than the drinking? Will it be women next? They're the most expensive of all."

Goddamn fucking Dementors.

He reached out and found a jar. It fit snugly into the palm of his hand. Somebody might have given it to him, he might have bought it. He hurled it into the fireplace, where it exploded. He ground the shards into his carpet with his boot, and then broke another by chucking it into a mirror as tall as himself. The shattering of all that glass reverberated in his bones. He felt it in his collarbone.

He wanted to Crucio someone. He wanted to feel that magic like actinic electricity coursing through him, promising strength even as it shredded him; wanted to watch their faces contort and feel the panic and exhilaration press on his chest as they screamed, to feel the answering pain in his limbs as they thrashed, beating themselves on the ground. Was Dark magic more or less expensive than alcohol, smoking, whores?

More. It was the most expensive vice of all.

Something went tap tap tap at the door to the adjacent room. He'd left the girl in there somewhere.

His eyes dropped to the pieces of the mirror scattered across the floor. He'd ground a few of them to powder.

Shit. Had he forgotten to put up a Silencing spell?

He vanished all the debris and arranged his face into a distant, foreboding expression. After so many years, it took hardly any effort. The numbing embrace of his Occlumency slipped around him like a cloak placed by a paramour on a woman's shoulders.

He pulled open the door sharply. The girl blinked but she didn't jump. She peered up at him, her eyes smaller behind the thick lenses of her glasses. When she'd taken them off, he had been unnerved by how much they were like Lily's and yet were nothing like them at all. The shape was the same, and oh, the color—but set inside her thinner face, they seemed much larger; and the expressions they helped convey were entirely different.

"I thought I heard something breaking," she said.

He had meant to freeze her in place when he opened the door, but he'd gotten sidetracked. Today he was a fucking mess. A thirteen-year-old girl, with her miserable childhood and haunting memories and bold green eyes, could wrong-foot him.

"Well?" He thought about sneering but found he wasn't in the mood.

She opened her mouth, but then shut it, shrugging. "What are Dementors?" she asked, as before.

"Go to the library and look it up." I'm sure, with Miss Granger as your friend, you're familiar with how to use a card catalog. "First, though, get to your room." He pointed.

"Where did they come from?" she persisted.

"They have been sent from Azkaban to look for Sirius Black," he told her coldly. "Since Sirius Black is searching for you, the Dementors have decided that going where you are is the easiest way to find him."

"But what are they?" she asked, looking bewildered.

Ignoring this question, he said, "Your room is this way," magicked open the door to the corridor and strode out. Behind him, she let out an irritated sigh, but a moment later she was trailing behind him.

"Are these your rooms, then?"

He didn't answer that question either, only opened the door to the room Dumbledore had allotted her for the summer. Severus had converted it years ago to a storeroom for his old odds-and-ends; it had been easy enough to banish the rubbish to his quarters and shift this to a makeshift bedroom that would satisfy a child raised on the malicious avarice of Petunia Dursley. He had thought as much as he'd scoured the dust from the corners, and yet he'd found himself repairing an old bed from the Slytherin dorms that had broken last term, smuggling an armchair out of the staffroom, filching a couple of tapestries and a magical Axminster from the corridors above. He'd felt supremely stupid all the while he was doing it—especially at the end, when it was done and he found himself wondering if she'd like it, and had spent the rest of the evening despising himself for hating the fact that he was ruining her holiday with the know-it-all Granger. Because he wasn't ruining it, goddamn it, Sirius Black was. He was just trying to save her life, for all the bloody thanks it got him. He shouldn't care if she was happy as long as she was alive.

But if that were the case, he'd have left her with Petunia last year. He wouldn't have forced Dumbledore to have agreed to board her at Hogwarts, against all school rules. He certainly wouldn't have volunteered to give his summer over to the tedious task of babysitting a resentful thirteen-year-old girl.

He still had her trunk in his pocket; he'd forgotten to take off his coat. It was filthy now, since he'd dredged her out of the mud where she'd slumped in a dead faint, and carried her up the hill.

She hadn't weighed anything at all. He could almost believe she flew the way she did because her bones were hollow, like a bird's.

"You will be sleeping in here." He pulled out her trunk. It also fit snugly in his palm. "And doing whatever else. The Headmaster is allowing you to move around the castle, but don't abuse the privilege or you'll find it revoked. If you meet a locked door, do try to quash your inherent Gryffindor impulse to cause trouble and let it be."

She had been studying a fifteenth-century hanging tapestry of Yggdrasil, its uppermost branches extending into the heavens; but at that she turned to glower at him. For such a tiny person, it wasn't a bad glower.

"Fine," she said mulishly. "Can I go outside?"

"No." Dumbledore had said she could, but Dumbledore was worried about the decency of her summer holiday. Severus had no such concerns. At least, he was good at quashing them. More or less. With the Dementors hanging above the gates, he had good reason to keep her inside, at least.

"That's so unfair!" she said, sounding every inch the child she was.

"No doubt Sirius Black is saying the same thing." He restored her trunk to size mid-air, so that it made a deafening bang as it slammed into contact with the stone floor. "He'll be at least as cross about it as you."

"I thought Hogwarts was supposed to be safe." He couldn't tell from her tone of voice whether she was honestly asking or if she was trying to smart off but failed because he had at last punctured that genetic Gryffidor arrogance.

"And Azkaban is supposed to be impregnable," he answered.

She frowned, but it looked more thoughtful than petulant. She didn't reply, however.

He watched her, trying to tell if she was worried but finding it impossible. When it came to emotions that could be exploited, he knew he was an excellent judge, so he had to assume that if she was worried, it was so inchoate a feeling that she could repress it entirely. Even her pallor could be attributed to her run-in with the Dementors. Or perhaps the oversized glasses and shaggy hair left very little face to read. Despite all the evidence, he found it difficult to believe that even James Potter's hard-headed offspring could be entirely sanguine knowing that a mass murderer had escaped prison to come after her.

"Hogwarts is safer than anywhere else," he said at last.

"Yeah," she said absently. "But it's not exactly safe, is it?"

It wasn't, and no good came of pretending. "Nothing is."

Of all things, that seemed to relax her. Her body language softened, like she'd at last heard something she wanted to hear. Severus had no idea how that could be true, but it seemed to be.

"Right," she said, sounding resolute. Like the glower, she did a fairly good job of it.

"You will inform me whenever you leave this room," he said, ignoring this pint-sized show of courage. "In person. Sending your owl with a note isn't good enough. If I am indisposed or unavailable, you will stay put until you can communicate with me. Is that clear?"

The glower was back. "Fine," she grumbled.

He paused as he turned to leave. "You may also be interested to know that I have an impeccable memory for offenses committed during the summer holiday. I also have a habit of redressing them . . . appropriately . . . when the school term resumes."

She gaped at him. The expression on her face was rather amusing, really. Or it would have been, if he'd had a sense of humor.

"I'll leave you to get settled," he said, and left her to nurse those little wounds while he curled up with his own, which ran as deep as cracks to the core of the earth.

Chapter Text

Harriet didn't want to write first to Hermione. She knew that if she wrote complaining that Snape was tallying up all the times she was smart with him so he could give her detentions and dock a million points from Gryffindor on 1st September, Hermione would just lecture her on behaving well to a teacher and keeping her temper. She'd also probably approve of the no-going-outside. So Harriet decided to let Hermione write to her. Then she'd at least have something to reply to.

She looked round her room, remembering how she'd thought, just yesterday morning, that she'd wanted a room of her own. Not one in the Slytherin dungeons, though: one in a house on a street with a mum and dad and things they'd bought her.

It was a nice room, though. It had an arched window in a deep recess, with a sort of stone bench built in and a tattered velvet cushion to soften it. The bed might once have been in the Slytherin dorms; its duvet and hangings were deep green. The hanging of the tree on the wall rustled like its leaves were touched by the wind.

She changed out of her muddy clothes and spent the time before lunch in the library looking up Dementors.

One of the library doors was locked, but the other opened at her tug. She fully expected to find Madam Pince looming where she always did, behind her circular desk just to the right of the doors, but the desk was empty and the lamps on it dark. The whole library was much dimmer than she'd ever seen it in the day, lit by no light except the mist-tinted daylight shining against the towering windows. She remembered coming here with Hermione at night last Christmas, to find the Basilisk. It was slightly less creepy today, although she didn't like the way the books rustled in the shadows and almost seemed to breathe.

"Dementors," she said under her breath as she headed for the card catalog.

Her fingerprints left tracks in the dust of the first book she pulled down from the shelves. Its pages were parchment, but cut in different sizes, so their edges were uneven, and when she unlatched the hinge on the side, the pages crackled as they unfurled. She pushed them flat and found herself staring at an inky drawing of a streaming black cloak with skeletal fingers and shoulders, its suggestion of a face hidden by a deep hood. The ink flowed across the full two pages beneath her hands.

She stared at the darkness beneath the hood, where she guessed the face would be.

Slowly she turned the page over.

The origins of the Dementor are as lost, said the parchment in a scrawling script. History has become legend, legend has become myth, and even the myths have been forgotten. Created by magic, some believe, though most wizards shall never will themselves to think of the Dementor, by magic only can they be repelled. Non-magical beings have no recourse against the Dementor, whose evil power yet affects beasts and men alike. All creatures, possessing a soul or none, can feel the taint of the Dementor's evil. . .

"Lord," Harriet muttered, trying not to feel unnerved, "just get to the point. What do they do?"

. . . Their power to drain the life from every thing that lives, and to take from every conscious creature the memory of all that is good, and to leave in its wake only those feelings of deepest despair, misery, and fear. To cross paths with a Dementor is to become reacquainted with the darkest grief in one's heart: to meet a Dementor is to revisit one's worst days: to know a Dementor is to know fear.

She stared at the blotted scrawl on the page, understanding and confusion pulling at the edges of her thoughts. Was this book saying . . . what was it saying? She read it again. To revisit one's worst days. Did that mean . . . what did it mean?

The rest of the book was annoyingly vague like that. She shut it and went to the next book she'd found, Dangerous Beasts of the Dark. It began a little more concretely:

The Dementor is one of the most dangerous creatures that haunts our world.

Well, that was nice to know.

Even a single Dementor is to be avoided with all the power one possesses. Proximity to a Dementor will result in feelings of bodily cold and a pervasive feeling of despair. The Dementors do not have the power to manufacture fear or fantasies, but the power they do possess, to recall the worst experiences of one's life to date, and to—

Harriet stopped and read that again. Don't have the power to manufacture . . . the worst experiences of one's life to date . . .

But that . . . that would mean . . . that woman screaming in her head . . . she was . . .

She was from a memory.

She'd thought before that the light in the library was dim, but now it seemed too bright. Dust motes swirled in the air, which felt suddenly thick in her lungs. Her fingertips tingled, like she was cold. For a wild moment, she thought maybe a Dementor was close by, and she jumped, upsetting the book, so that it slammed shut.

The truth didn't come to her, not really. It was rather as though it had been exactly where it was, deep inside her, for her whole life, and she had only now just seen it was there.

Because it had been there all the while.

Hadn't it?

She felt a sudden, horrible urge to cry. It was so strong she didn't know, then or later, how she held it off.

Shoving her chair back from the table, she stood, leaving the books where they were. As she left, she heard them slipping off the table and rustling back to their shelves.

--

Some time later she wound up back in the dungeons, with no real idea of how she'd gotten there. She must have just walked downward until she came to them. They were as dark and creepy as she'd always thought, as stained with shadows as the grounds above were with mist.

And they were perfect for Snape to move silently about in.

"Where have you been?"

She jumped—not higher than usual, but with a stronger aftereffect. Even when she recognized Snape's voice, even when she thought, Of course it's only Snape, her heart was still beating a funny pattern against her ribs.

Fucking Dementors, she thought, using Snape's word from last year.

"Miss Potter," he said in a you-had-better-answer-me voice.

"I went to the library," she retorted, "where you told me I could read about Dementors. Since you wouldn't tell me what they were and all."

Snape stared down at her for a long moment. "I am far too busy to spoon-feed you information you are perfectly capable of finding for yourself," he said at last, his tone angry. She realized she had expected him to say something quite different. She couldn't think of what it would have been, though. Even the thought—that he might've been about to say something . . . kind—seemed mad.

"It's noon," he said, as though this were somehow her fault. "You will eat something. Follow me."

He glared her back to the room she'd woken up in earlier, which she guessed was some sort of sitting room or parlor. It didn't look like the kind of cozy she associated with parlors, though. There was the leather couch where she'd lain, but now that she was off it, it had been piled with boxes of books and papers and a flannel throw. The ceiling was vaulted, hung with a couple of age-spotted brass lamps; a sideboard running along one wall was crammed with bottles and jars in all sorts of different jewel-like colors, but they were muted with dust. There were even a few paintings stacked on the floor. How did Snape live in this mess? One look would give Aunt Petunia a heart attack, Harriet thought with satisfaction.

"Sit."

Snape was pointing a table cluttered with stacks of leather-bound journals that he told her not to spill on. She wasn't hungry, but she ate the potato and leek soup and the asparagus and the rhubarb crumble that had been laid out for her, while Snape messed about in another room. She could hear him rustling through the open doorway.

By the time she'd finished chasing the last of her rhubarb crumble around its dish, Harriet was heartily sick of her own thoughts. They were pretty much all she'd had until Hogwarts. Now, they were filled with the memory . . . and it was really a memory, wasn't it? hadn't she decided it was? . . . of something she would much rather not remember.

Or would she?

She shivered. No. Not that. Not like that.

She peeked into the next room. It looked like much more of a proper sitting-room, less crammed with dusty junk, but there was still almost nothing cozy about it. She didn't see any pictures of people (and certainly none of her mum), although over the fireplace hung an art print of an old man in an alpine forest petting a deer. It wasn't the sort of thing she'd have expected to see hanging in any room of Snape's, sweet and sort of twee.

Snape sat next to a soot-stained fireplace with a completely bare mantle, reading from a magazine with an expression of concentrated disgust/annoyance/ferocity. Every so often he would slash at the pages with a quill, circling or marking or scribbling in the margin. He did it so fiercely she could see droplets of ink flying. She wondered what the magazine had done to get on his bad side.

It figured that when Snape was on his own, doing his own thing, he was still getting mad about something—and being mean and sarcastic, probably, if that wrist action was anything to go by. It made a comfortable kind of sense. It would have been too weird if Snape had a soft, warm, caring side. If anyone asked her what Snape was like during hols, she could say, "Exactly like he always is," and nobody would be at all surprised.

Watching him, though, she felt there was something different . . . but she couldn't put a finger on what it was.

"What are you doing?" he asked suddenly, like he'd just looked up (which he'd done) and found her holding her bowl of soup over his precious journals (which she most certainly wouldn't do). He was giving her a strange look, too.

"I'm . . . " she started, but then she trailed off. She didn't know what she was.

"Then find something to do," he said, dipping his quill in its ink pot, readying for another assault.

She fiddled with a loose thread on her too-big flannel shirt. "I was reading about Dementors."

"You said." The ink was running down his fingers from the quill's tip while he held it in midair. "If you're done eating, go back to your room and find a decent way to occupy yourself. I'm sure you've holiday assignments to complete."

"I've finished them all. I was with Hermione," she explained. His disbelieving stare didn't make her feel smug or anything, even though it maybe should have. It was like the feeling just disappeared inside her, as if it was too small to fill up that big empty space that was suddenly there. Had the Dementors done this to her?

"The books weren't that helpful," she said, winding the loose thread around her finger so that it whited out the tip. "The ones on Dementors, I mean."

His quill scratched across his magazine. He didn't look at her.

She knew he wanted her to go away but she had to ask, and she didn't want to go back up to that empty library, with the books that moved on their own in the silence, and read about these things that made her feel cold and uncertain and . . . scared.

She hated being scared more than anything.

"Do they really make you remember—things?" she said in a rush. Terrible things, she thought, but didn't want to say. She didn't want Snape knowing she was afraid.

Snape looked up at her then. Was it her imagination or was his face wary?

"The Dementors do not have the power to manufacture fantasies," he said at last. Just as the book had done.

"So everything you . . . hear when you get near them," she said, curling her icy fingers into her palms to warm them, "that's all—that's a memory. It's something that really happened to you."

"Yes." He watched her for a moment, his eyes slightly narrowed, like he was thinking. But he didn't elaborate.

She willed herself to ask the next question. "How far back can they make you remember?"

Snape didn't move. When he did speak, after a long, long moment, his voice was somehow distant and strained. "I imagine there is no limit."

"Why would I hear something—from a really long time ago—and not from—from more recently? If the Dementors make you relive bad memories, I've got loads of those that are just a couple months old. Why didn't I see them instead?"

Snape was staring now at the mantle. Harriet folded her arms across her stomach, trying not to fidget, to show how anxious she was, or how much she wanted to shiver. It was freezing in Snape's dungeon, and the fire was over by him.

He finally seemed to realize his hand was covered in ink that had sloped off his quill. Silently, he conjured a handkerchief and wiped his hand clean. The red ink stained the white cloth bloody.

"Stop hovering in the door," he said without looking at her, and levitated a stack of papers off the other chair and to the floor.

Harriet gratefully drew nearer the fire, though she was rather nervous about getting nearer Snape. She didn't know why. It wasn't as if she'd never been near him before.

"Not very much is known about Dementors, aside from their effects on the human body," Snape said in a cold, detached voice, staring now into the fire. It was like her first year and all last term, when he'd looked everywhere but at her. "In part because not very much is known about the human mind. The range of any one person's experience is so variegated that it would be impossible to say why certain memories arise before others in the presence of a Dementor. Very often, however, one experiences the worst of them before the more trivial, even if that worst memory might have occurred . . . very long ago. The Dementor's power works in conjunction with your mind—or so it is assumed. From what we know of the mind, it is right to assume so."

Harriet digested this. It took her a while. She wasn't quite sure what "variegated" meant.

"Why did I faint?" she asked at last.

Snape looked straight at her for a moment, but then quickly away again, as soon as their eyes met, as if he hadn't meant to do it.

"The state of one's mind has a great effect on the body." His voice was less distant now, but more strained. "When one experiences great emotional distress, it translates to a physical effect. Presumably the memory you—re-encountered—was so—distressing that it caused you to lose consciousness."

Harriet opened her mouth, but then shut it again. She felt cold all the way through, like she'd been emptied out and a numbing wind was blowing through all those empty spaces. She couldn't help shivering and hoped that because Snape wasn't looking at her, he didn't see.

If the memory made her feel this bad . . . then it really probably was . . .

She almost, almost asked Snape, Do you think it could have been my mum that I heard?

But she didn't. He was clever enough that she was sure he would know whether it was or it wasn't—and she didn't know if she wanted to hear yes or no. She hoped he didn't remember her mentioning it right after she'd woken up.

"Is that why I feel—" hollow "—bad right now?" she asked instead.

Snape looked at her again, a frowning crease between his eyebrows. "You still don't feel well?"

"I felt okay for a while." But she she didn't want to say anything more because she didn't want to explain. "Maybe it's just because it's cold down here," she added.

Snape was still frowning. "Do you have a fever?"

She pressed a hand to her forehead, then her neck, then shook her head.

"The chocolate should have worked," he said, almost to himself.

"The hot chocolate?" she said in surprise. "Why?"

"It has healing properties, especially against emotional distress. I'll give you some more in a couple of hours. In the meantime, you might—have a bath," he said, gritting his teeth a little, as though he didn't want to talk about baths. Harriet tried her hardest not to stare at his hair, feeling a sudden, wild urge to giggle.

"There's an en suite joined on your room," he said irritably, shuffling the magazine he'd been abusing, and Harriet knew the conversation about Dementors was over. "Be back here at three. I need to know if you're still feeling unwell."

"All right," Harriet said, feelings of embarrassment and gratitude at being fussed over (in a warped, Snapely way) warring for prominence in her chest and finally intertwining like thread. She hesitated, then said, "Thanks," with a sudden timidity.

Snape grunted, already glaring down at his paper again. Harriet left him to it.

--

Write to him. Just pick up the quill and write it.

Remus rubbed his hands together. Because he was a werewolf, he was always warm; he figured it was evolutionary superiority at work. So many werewolves lived so much of their lives outside that the ones incapable of producing their own warmth died off before they could pass on the curse. At any rate, every werewolf he knew was always hungry, no matter how much he or she ate, and always hot.

But right now, his hands felt cold.

Pick up the damn quill, said a curt voice in his head. It might have been the voice of his conscience. It was frequently annoyed with him, and with good reason. It was getting angrier with him the longer he didn't do what it wanted.

It wanted him to write to Albus that Sirius Black was an unregistered Animagus.

You can tell him without incriminating yourself, said the conscience, like someone who's said this a million times before and is sick of it. You don't have to tell him that Sirius did it to lark around with you as a werewolf. You can just tell him that Sirius did it for his own lark.

He stood from his desk, or the crate that passed for it, and paced away.

Maybe Sirius didn't transform to escape Azkaban, said Conscience. You don't know if he did or didn't, so let's say it doesn't matter that you never told anyone before now. But he could certainly be hiding from everyone as a dog.

Could the Dementors distinguish between a regular dog and an Animagus? he argued back. We don't know that they can.

Shouldn't you let Albus decide that? At the very least, he can keep any black dogs away from Harriet. You're endangering her by keeping this quiet. She doesn't deserve to be in danger because you're too much of a coward to do what you ought. What you know you ought.

He scrubbed his hand over his face. Conscience was right. He didn't even have to be told to know it was right.

And yet he paced, and rubbed his hands together, and argued with the silent spaces in his mind, long into the night.

The letter stayed unwritten.

--

Snape's rooms were located on the uppermost storey of the dungeons, though the grounds' design made his room seem higher up than it was. From his windows the earth plunged away, part of it rolling toward the forest, the other dropping off into the deep moat that separated the castle from the lake shore. Harriet had no idea how far down the dungeons went or what their layout was; paging through Hogwarts: a History (which Hermione had given her a copy of last Christmas), she learned that Salazar Slytherin had designed them not only to prevent prisoners from escaping, but also as a place of retreat if the castle was under siege. He'd built corridors that looped back into themselves and ended in blank walls, stairs that made abrupt and disorienting changes in direction, narrow windows that opened onto other corridors, sudden drops into utter blackness. Layers of spells were woven into them, thick as a tapestry and so old now that no one living had any hope of understanding them.

Harriet navigated them with a trick she remembered from Greek mythology, where someone going through a labyrinth had unrolled a spool of yarn to keep track of the way they'd come. She unraveled an old, ugly jumper she had finally outgrown, threading the mustard-yellow yarn behind her so she wouldn't get lost, shining her Lumos-lit wand in front of her. She went so far down that she heard the rushing of an underground river that she couldn't remember reading about in Hogwarts: a History. She tried to find it, but the damp stone walls turned the roar of its breath into a thousand echoes.

Eventually, hunger stirring like a sleepy dragon, she turned to follow her mustardy yarn back upstairs, but dropped it when the Bloody Baron misted out of the wall right next to her. At least her heart clogging her throat prevented her from screaming in a very un-Gryffindorian way.

"The Professor is searching for you," said the Bloody Baron in a voice quite as creepy as the rest of him. It sounded like the invisible rush of the water, hollow and echoing.

"Okay," she said cautiously, scrabbling for her yarn. He stared at her unblinking, floating in place, his robes glittering with silver bloodstains. As she looped her yarn over her wrist, taking up the slack, he stayed where he was, watching her go with his lamp-like eyes that never seemed to blink.

Yep: the dungeons were creepy.

"You were exploring the dungeons?" Snape demanded when she explained where she had been. "Why am I not surprised? Have you any idea how perilous they are?"

"I read Hogwarts: a History. And I had this." She showed him her destroyed sweater. "Like in that story about the minotaur?"

"You are not to do that again," Snape snapped. "Now sit."

He pointed at the table where she always ate but where he never ate with her.

"Fine," she said, annoyed. "Where can I go then? Have you got a list?"

"It is very shortly going to be very short," he said, his eyes flashing in a way that would probably have quailed ten minotaurs.

"But I'm bored," Harriet said, poking her spoon into the vegetable stew in front of her. "There's no one here and I've got nothing to do except explore. I can't even. . . "

She glanced at the windows, where rain sluiced down the foggy glass. She'd woken up that morning to jagged walls of mist rolling in from the lake, thunder crumbling the air and rain thrumming against her window panes. A thoughtful house-elf had lit the fire in her bedroom, some time after she'd struggled into sleep early in the morning.

"Explore something other than the dungeons," Snape said, grabbing a stack of journals off the table and dumping them in a box.

"They can't be that dangerous or all your students couldn't live in them," she pointed out, feeling pleased with this assessment.

"They know their way," Snape said, with a look that was half prideful, half disdainful.

"The dungeons aren't really that dangerous," she said again, though his expression was making doubt creep in. "It would be way too unfair to let kids hurt themselves."

"Our House is known for its resourcefulness," Snape said, baring his teeth slightly. "And you, by the way, broke your back falling off a moving staircase. Hogwarts has never been a school well-suited the fainthearted."

"I'm not fainthearted," she pointed out.

"No," he said, with a nasty look that probably meant he wished she was. "I want your promise that you will cease this foolhardy prowling round the dungeons."

Harriet thought it was pretty rich for him to accuse her of prowling, but she said, "Fine. I mean, I promise."

He stared hard at her, as if wanting to nail that promise to her tongue. Then with a final scathing look, he picked up his box of rubbishy old papers and swept out of the room.

Harriet chewed on the vegetables in her stew, fuming at first, and then feeling increasingly bewildered. She just didn't get Snape. He didn't seem to like her at all, so why he went to the trouble of fussing when she did something dangerous, she didn't get. The Dursleys had been angry with her loads of times, but if she'd wandered into a creepy dungeon and fallen into an oubliette, they probably would have thrown a dinner party and invited Aunt Marge and all ten of her bulldogs. There was that whole thing about a debt to her father, but if that was the only thing making him watch out for her, why did he get so angry when she did something dangerous (or what he saw as dangerous, at least)? She was sure that a lot of people at Hogwarts liked her loads better than Snape did, and Hermione was the only person she could imagine getting as worked up as he did. Was it something about wizarding debts she didn't understand? Or something . . . something to do with her mum?

But her mum had been dead for twelve years. Even if Snape had fancied her, which Harriet still wasn't at all sure wasn't a lie, that was ages ago. He couldn't be worrying this much about Harriet breaking her neck for no more reason than liking her mum when they were both young. Unless maybe her mum had asked him to watch out for her . . . ? But then why would Professor Dumbledore say all that stuff about a debt to her dad?

She hadn't wanted to tell Snape, but she also needed something to do that would stop her from thinking and make her so tired she would just fall asleep at night, instead of lying awake fearing her own nightmares. Ever since she'd suspected that the voice in that black, ancient memory was her mother's, she'd been having trouble sleeping. When she did, she dreamt of her mother screaming, and she was trapped in her cupboard, where it was black and blind and she and couldn't get out, no matter how hard she kicked and pounded and scratched at the door and screamed for someone to let—

"Is there something wrong with the food?" asked Snape's cold voice.

Harriet jumped because she hadn't heard him come back in. She looked reflexively at her stew, which she'd been stirring round and round while she thought.

"No, it's fine."

"Your appetite has been waning for the past few days." He didn't draw any nearer, but his gaze was narrowed on her face, making her feel like she was under a Snape microscope. "Are you sleeping properly?"

No. But she shrugged and spooned up some of the stew. "I'm fine."

"That isn't what I asked," Snape said, like she was being deliberately untruthful.

She stared back defiantly. "I am fine. I'm just bored."

Snape looked disgusted. Harriet turned back to her lunch and diligently swallowed several mouthfuls as if he wasn't there. After a few moments, he made a soft, disparaging sound and left the room again. After checking to make sure he really was gone, Harriet let her spoon clink into her bowl and pressed her fists against her forehead, closing her eyes.

--

Wretched girl, Severus thought.

She had been at Hogwarts for five days, under his sole jurisdiction. Albus was off trawling for Sirius Black, Minerva on the same errand; Flitwick was so deep in research to reinforce the castle's wards that Severus hadn't seen him in ten days. Sprout and Pomfrey were still on holiday—and that was the list of all the useful teachers. He didn't know or care how Burbage, Vector, or Babbling spent their holidays, and Sinistra and Trelawney seldom came down from their respective towers.

It figured that, when given the sole charge of one thirteen-year-old girl, he was helpless to see her properly fed and rested and occupied. Only five days, and she looked pale and tired and drawn and had taken to picking at her meals. Even her current sullen obstinacy seemed listless.

Something was wrong with her; he wasn't such a blockhead that he couldn't figure that out. The Dementors couldn't be affecting her from their station at the gates, but if they had stirred up old memories, memories harrowing enough to cause her to faint when she was first exposed to them, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suppose that those memories could affect her mental state long after they had been dredged up.

I heard a woman screaming. Had she figured out who it was likely to have been? Surely hearing your mother's voice for the first time in memory—as she was being—

Surely that would be enough to distress anyone. Strong enough to make her faint when a Dementor was lancing it out of the darkest places in her subconscious; disturbing enough to rob her of sleep and appetite.

He couldn't even blame her for secreting it away, as she was doing. He could be aggravated, certainly, and want to wring her neck, but could not blame. He too had grown up placing very little trust for adults. Children knew they should be protected. When they weren't, it damaged something deep inside, draining their reservoirs of implicit trust. The girl wasn't as suspicious as he himself had been, but she was still wary and secretive. When she had the slightest doubt of how her information would be received, she didn't give it. And unfortunately, his methods of dealing with her had certified, in her mind, that anything she told him would be badly received, and so she told him nothing.

He wondered bitterly if she'd have told Dumbledore, if he were here; shared the truth with that manipulative old bastard who, uncertain whether she was a Basilisk's master or its victim, had left fate to decide whether she would live or die. Because Dumbledore smiled and called her "my dear" and gave her candies, she trusted him at least a little. Because Severus got angry with her for foolishly risking her neck, she mistrusted and resented him. Mean old git bastard Professor Snape.

His Slytherins appreciated his protection. It shouldn't have bothered him so much that one little Gryffindor brat didn't. He knew that.

But it did bother him. That simple, childish trust she placed in Dumbledore in exchange for smiles and sherbets should be his and more. He was the one who had argued that she shouldn't be left with fucking Petunia. He was the one who'd taken her away from those inhuman pustules. He was the one sleeping so little during the night at the thought of Sirius Black walking the earth, coming straight for her. Not Dumbledore. She didn't know that, but that's why it fucking mattered.

The candles around him were ribbed with wax, the drippings of hours of frustrated thought. He'd lit them ages ago, and the sun hadn't set until well after nine o'clock. He didn't keep mirrors around, except in the bathroom, but he knew he'd look terrible, his face lined with exhaustion and his hair hanging in greasy rattails round it.

The charm he'd placed on the girl's room to show movement flickered, as it had been flickering all evening since she'd disappeared behind her door. As it had been flickering for the past five nights. That's how he'd known she was lying, beyond a simple look at her tired face. She tossed and turned well into the night, finally falling still, except for the occasional flickers of deep-sleep movement, close to dawn.

Some nights he sat and watched the soft charm-light shimmer while the candles dripped to darkness around him, wondering what he should do. If had been the matter of finding the right spell—especially a crippling one—or the right information from an enemy, he would have been in his element. He was good at the things other people were wretched at. But what came so easily to others—understanding, kindness, comfort—were so alien to him that, even when he knew they were necessary, he didn't know where to begin.

Tonight, he felt the breath of an idea. Perhaps it was the product of his own sleeplessness, as when half-asleep, one stumbles upon an answer or a truth to a question asked long ago.

He slipped his wand out of his sleeve, where he always kept it, even when he slept, and let himself out of his room. The girl's door was dark, so at least she was in bed, valiantly trying to sleep.

He closed his eyes, breathed out, and shut everything away. His mind slipped into its pool of memories that were set aside to sustain him in those long stretches of life when every moment seemed as cold and hopeless as Dementors could ever make it.

"Expecto Patronum," he whispered.

The doe slipped past the wood of the girl's door, spots of brightness dancing where she'd existed for a moment, reminding him of Narcissa's earrings.

He went back into his room and shut the door.

Chapter Text

The light shimmered behind Harriet's closed eyes like stars.

She held her breath as the thought I know what that is danced through the cold spaces in her mind, because what if she was wrong?

She opened her eyes. There stood the doe, glimmering and bright, watching her placidly.

"Hi," she breathed.

She knew it wasn't a real animal—she could see patches of the dark room through its flank—but it was created out of magic and magic was real, so it was a real thing, even if she didn't know exactly what. She sat up slowly, afraid of startling it away, of making it disappear, and stretched out ever hand even more slowly.

The doe leaned up and nuzzled her hand. She felt it. It wasn't cold or warm or any temperature at all, but its nose tingled against her fingers. She felt a well of something bright and indescribable inside, something familiar and yet stronger, much more powerful, than she'd ever known it before.

When the doe faded that time, she cried, and felt like her heart was breaking.

--

Harriet didn't understand what Hermione saw in the library the same way she didn't understand what Pansy Parkinson saw in Draco Malfoy. As far as Harriet was concerned, they were both bloody aggravating and unlovable.

She'd been trying to read about Dementors for days. She didn't want to go outside because of them. This bloody. . . cowardice. . . had to stop. There had to be a way to fight them.

So she'd gone to the library. She knew that if she asked Snape how you fought Dementors, he'd assume that she wanted to march out and duel them, and then his eyes would flash with that dangerous black light and he'd lock her up in her room. So she'd taken a leaf from Hermione's book, which was a cliché her friend ought to approve, and gone to the library. The annoying, stupid, unhelpful library.

Maybe it was just that Harriet didn't know how to research properly. Whenever it was essay time, she would scratch her head for a few days, bumbling through enormous books with terrible spelling like "spreit" and "mair," while Hermione made exasperated noises like a pipe organ, until her noises grew so loud and frequent that Harriet knew her best friend was about to shove a stack of books at her and say, "Here. Pages two ninety one through three oh eight, I've highlighted the proper paragraphs." Left on her own, there was just more and more bumbling.

Sighing, Harriet crossed off two more books she had eliminated as being totally bloody useless. Considering how dangerous all her reading was making them out to be, she would have expected to find a boldly titled book called How to Fight for Your Life Against Dementors. But that book that had said wizards didn't want to think about Dementors at all had been right: no one ever appeared to have done any useful study of them. Most of the books were just creepy drawings of rotting corpses in cloaks who made Sirius Black look like Clark Gable.

She frowned at the table of contents in the next book the card catalog had suggested to her: A Historie of Deefinseive Chyarmes. At least it had been published since the printing press was invented, unlike that last one. She didn't recognize any of the spells listed in it, and didn't think it was just the spelling.

Flipping to the table of contents, she looked up Dementors. Page 367.

The Patronus Chyarme.

She tapped her wand against the book and said, "Praelego," a charm Hermione had written about in her last letter, which read the words out to you. It was loads more helpful than any of the books had been.

"The Patronus Charm," said the book in a Shakesperian voice, "is the only known means of defense against the powers most evil of the Dementors. Simple in concept though it is, the charm is most advanced, and troubles many wizards of quality."

(That was another thing about these books: they hardly ever mentioned witches. Sexist.)

"Its incantation, Expecto Patronum, translates from the Latin to 'I await a protector,' for exactly that is what the Patronus Charm affords. Upon fear and despair do the Dementors feed, as supplied in ample force by the human mind. The Patronus, however, being a magical manifestation of perfect joy, cannot thereby experience the negative emotions which give to the Dementors strength. A Patronus of great power shall weaken the Dementor, and act to the despair as a shield to a spear. Great wizards have been capable of producing a Patronus of such strength to repel a host of Dementors, though this feat has been attempted seldom, and would be beyond the capabilities of many. The Patronus is advised as a means of precaution, for a weapon in reserve shall it seldom be."

This sounded so exactly like what Harriet was looking for that for a moment she was afraid she must've misunderstood what the book had said. But when she re-cast the charm and listened a second time, the meaning seemed to be the same. A charm to repel Dementors—to drive them away. Perfect.

She cast another of Hermione's useful study spells, copying the writing on the page onto a separate sheet of parchment. The book said no more about the Patronus Charm than what it had read out to her, but she was starting to expect that. Magical books seemed to like to talk as airily about spells and things as possible, and leave proper instructions to other people. Still, now that she knew what the charm was called, she could go look that up.

She dragged down more and more books, casting her charms over and over. . .

Words, words, words. . . She was drifting on a sea of words. The library grew dim and soft around her.

The silver doe was there again, just like last night . . . just like last year, that night in the hospital wing . . . it shone like a galaxy stars, brilliant blue-white, the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, making her feel fiercely, tenderly safe . . . it looked at her and she wished it could speak, that it was magic enough to have a voice. . .

"Miss Potter," it said.

Harriet blinked. Everything was gray and blurry, and her face hurt. The doe was gone.

She'd fallen asleep with her nose mashed into the open pages of that last book. She remembered taking off her glasses and laying her head down. Rubbing her cramped nose, she groped for her glasses. The library came into focus, the table spread with her books, and Snape, a pillar of black. He was looking down at her books.

"The Patronus Charm," he said flatly.

"It repels Dementors," she said, blinking her dry, gritty eyes. How did Hermione do this so often? How did she like it?

Snape touched his long fingers to the pages of parchment she'd collected. Then he withdrew his hand, tucking it into the drape of his robes.

"You missed lunch," he said. Harriet looked up at him warily, expecting a storm of sarcasm, but his tone was almost . . . neutral, and his expression was weirdly bland.

"Sorry," she said cautiously. "I fell asleep reading."

He didn't answer immediately. Then he said, still in that bland tone, "Come eat something now, then."

She boggled. Who are you and what have you done with Snape?

"Okay," she said, even more cautiously. When that didn't set him off, she reached out to close the books, keeping an eye on him, waiting for the explosion.

Except Snape swept his wand over them and they snapped themselves shut, whipping off the table and winging back to their shelves. She gathered up her notes, rolling them up and stuffing them under her arm, eying Snape all the while. He looked un-Snapely back, without any glares.

Weirder and weirder.

All the way down to the dungeons, into his rooms, and halfway through her meal, neither of them said a word. Harriet was getting unnerved by this dully silent, expressionless Snape. She didn't know why he was acting so weird or what to expect from him, and was so distracted that she ate her dessert first.

"The Patronus Charm is highly advanced magic," Snape said at last, startling her into dropping her fork on her trousers and smearing chocolate mousse on her thigh.

"The book said," she replied still warily, watching him where he stood at his sideboard.

He tapped his nails on the wooden top. "Why were you looking it up?"

She shrugged, not wanting to tell him about the dreams now any more than she had before. She didn't want him to react in some way that would make the experience more horrible than it already was.

Snape's face had finally taken on some expression: a tint of annoyance around the eyes. She felt instantly relieved.

"You are voluntarily undertaking advanced research during the summer for a reason unclear to you," Snape said, a familiar edge to his voice. Her relief multiplied.

"I don't like them," she said simply, which was true enough. "Have you ever fainted?"

"I've lost consciousness, yes," Snape said in a tone designed to quash any questions.

"Well, then," Harriet said, though part of her filed that away for obsessing over later: what could have made Snape faint? "It sucks. It makes you feel so . . . " Weak, she thought. Helpless.

"Your reaction to the Dementors is beyond your control," Snape said, in such a way that she felt he was answering a question she didn't even realize she had asked.

"I don't want it to be," she said, slightly confused. "That's why I was looking up the Patronus thing."

"I sincerely hope you aren't doing so in order to take them on single-handed."

That made her feel as if things were really getting back to normal. Wasn't it exactly what she'd pictured him saying?

"No, but if they're going to be out there, then I might have to one day. I want to be prepared."

Snape seemed to be trying to find something in her to argue with. At last he closed his eyes and pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose.

Encouraged by this relative lack of sniping, Harriet said, "Can you do it? The charm, I mean."

Snape opened his eyes, looking at her past his fingers. For a second she almost didn't recognize him. It was so strange; she knew who he was, and yet in that moment it was like she didn't—as if she was seeing some part of him she hadn't known existed, a part that belonged to quite a different person from her teacher whom she'd known for the last two years.

Then he lowered his hand and the Snape she knew returned, the other vanishing back into this one.

"The Patronus Charm is notoriously difficult to cast. You might have read that many full-grown wizards and witches have trouble with it, even those who have scored high on their Charms and Defense N.E.W.T.s."

That didn't answer Harriet's question—or maybe it did. He might not want to tell her if he couldn't do it. She nodded companionably along.

"Yes, they said."

"You were reading Qureshi's book on the subject."

She honestly had no idea. "Was that the one that was being very confusing?"

"You might have found it confusing, yes," he said. "He was attempting to explain the nature of joy."

"One of the books said you have to find a happy memory," Harriet said. "At least. . . I think that's what it said. And then cast the charm. But they were talking about it being so hard I'm not sure that's really what they were saying? I mean, a happy memory—that doesn't sound that hard, everyone's got those."

"Very well," Snape said. "Finish your dinner and attempt to cast it."

Harriet was taken aback. "What—now? Here?"

"It won't destroy my house," he said.

Harriet had never really done magic in front of Snape before. Potions was different—like he'd said on the first day, there were no incantations or wand-waving in Potions. Well, she'd done magic in front of him at the Dueling Club, she supposed, and successfully disarmed Hermione . . . but the thought still made her nervous. At the Dueling Club there had been hundreds of other people. Here, there was just her. And Snape.

But she didn't want Snape to know she was nervous or afraid of looking stupid, so she said, "Okay," like it was no big deal, and turned back to her dinner.

She resisted the impulse to linger over it or to chase the stems of her artichokes around her plate—for the most part. She might have eaten a little more slowly than usual, but when she finished off her last bit of fish, she steeled her courage and went to the open door of Snape's parlor. He was sitting at his usual place near the fire, reading a book with gold letters that glinted on its thick spine in the firelight.

"What are you reading?" she asked, and she honestly wasn't sure whether she really wanted to know, or was just being polite, or was only stalling. Maybe it was all three.

Snape glanced up at her, moving only his eyes, the rest of him staying in the exact same position as he'd been when she first looked at him. Once again she felt that strangeness, that she was looking at someone very different than she'd thought.

"Anna Karenina," he said after a pause, as if he'd been judging whether or not she really wanted to know.

"Oh." It sounded very vaguely familiar, but she couldn't have said more than that to save her life. "Is it good?"

"It's considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written." The way he said it, though, wasn't chiding; it was more informative, like he didn't have an opinion on it one way or the other. She couldn't imagine Snape not having an opinion. Maybe he just didn't want to tell her what he thought. But then he said, "I doubt you would enjoy it," and closed the book, setting it on the crowded table next to his chair.

"I read," Harriet said, almost defensively.

"I didn't say you couldn't read it, I said I doubt you would enjoy it. The title character goes mad with jealousy and kills herself."

"Oh." Harriet eyed the book. That certainly didn't sound like something she wanted to read.

"Well?" Snape asked. "Have you thought of a memory suitable for casting the charm?"

Harriet chewed on her lip. "I thought, maybe, the, erm, first time I rode a broom."

Snape was restraining himself from saying something Snapely, she could tell. "Very well," he said again. "Do you know the incantation?"

"Expecto patronum," she recited.

Snape just looked at her. She stared back for a moment before realizing he was waiting for her to do it.

"Er." She pulled her wand out of her pocket and nearly dropped it.

"It's hard to concentrate with you staring," she said, when he continued to do just that.

"If you encounter a Dementor—or when, as you yourself believe—you will have a great deal more to contend with than my staring."

"Well, there aren't any Dementors now," she said, nettled. "And I've never tried before."

Snape sighed, sounding faintly but clearly exasperated. "Would you prefer I shut my eyes?" he asked, his tone communicating how ridiculous he thought that would be.

Harriet flushed. "No," she muttered. That'd make me feel even more stupid. She stared resolutely at her wand instead.

She remembered Malfoy zipping off with Neville's Remembrall, and slinging her own leg over her broom. She'd kicked off the ground and flown, the broom arching swift and perfect into the air, and her stomach had flipped and soared, and her friends had cheered—

"Expecto Patronum," she said.

Nothing happened.

Dammit.

She chanced a look at Snape, whose face was completely impassive.

"Um," she said. "Didn't work," she added, unnecessarily.

"The memory was perhaps not strong enough," Snape said, his tone pitched to match his expression. It was weirdly unnerving, just like he'd been when he'd fetched her from the library. She'd suspect he was an impostor—Sirius Black Polyjuiced into him, maybe—except in that case he could have blown her up a hundred times over by now.

She frowned at her wand. "I was happy then, though."

"Happiness can take on many different forms. One of the most common mistakes made with this spell is that people attempt to cast it on feelings of pleasure, which isn't sufficient."

"What's the difference?" she asked, confused.

"You can gain pleasure from relatively insignificant events," he said. "Or even from ones that bring pain to others. The Patronus requires joy."

"What's the difference?" She was sounding like a broken record, but she didn't know what else to say.

"Joy is more powerful yet more elusive, rarer. To create a Patronus, one must not only recall a memory when it has occurred, but must recapture the exact feeling."

Harriet was silent, partly because she still didn't really understand.

"Now you know why this charm is so difficult," Snape said.

"What's it look like?" she asked. "The Patronus, when it's cast."

Snape looked away. "Its form is unique to each person who conjures it."

Harriet repressed a sigh. Magic couldn't ever have an easy answer, apparently.

--

Days go by

Harriet climbed to the Owlery, a pair of binoculars, borrowed from Hermione, hanging round her neck on their strap.

She'd been having an easier time of sleeping ever since the silver doe had appeared in her room, lighting up the dark. She wished she knew where it came from, so she'd know why it came and when, and could figure out how to see it again. Why had she suddenly started seeing it, but only those two times? Professor Dumbledore had said it had something to do with the force of love, but she hadn't really understood. It was all as vague as the Patronus talk.

Magic was just like that, apparently.

Snape had lent her a book that would probably make Hermione faint with envy, because Harriet didn't understand a word of it. It was about the Dementors, but intensely confusing, not simply vague like everything else was. It said things like:

"When you are joyous look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

And it talked about the Patronus and Dementors being the bright mirror and the dark of the soul, one a punishment for surrendering to despair and hopelessness, and the other a means of reclaiming oneself. She had no idea what any of it meant, and Snape couldn't break it down enough for her to get it. Maybe Hermione could help.

Harriet might not understand exactly what joy was, but if the Patronus was tied to good memories, well, then she only had to find one that was good enough to cast it. Last night she'd done one of Hermione's favorite activities and made a list, this one of all the really good memories she could find.

Learning I was a witch and leaving the Dursleys was at the top of the list. Then came Becoming friends with Hermione, and Flying, and Becoming friends with Ron, and Seeing my parents in the Mirror of Erised because it was the first time she'd ever seen their faces. Also listed near the bottom, but then moved up, was Snape taking me away from the Dursleys. She was sure that other things had made her happy, but these things had made her the happiest, she thought.

But strangely, every time she tried to concentrate on them and cast the Patronus charm, she kept thinking of things that were linked to them that hadn't made her happy at all. Thinking about Hermione made her think of growing up without any friends, and especially of not having Hermione here with her now. Remembering her friends at all made her feel painfully lonely.

So she'd switched to learning she was a witch and leaving the Dursleys. But that reminded her that her parents were dead, that she'd lived with the Dursleys because they'd died, because Voldemort had murdered them, and whenever she went back to magic, she went back to people who wanted her dead. The happiness of coming into the wizarding world was tied up with so many painful things.

The Mirror of Erised was like that, too. Seeing her parents for the first time, but being unable to touch them; pressing her hands against that cold layer of glass, staring in at them, looking at their faces but knowing they weren't really there. Snape taking her from the Dursleys, that was all right, but in order to remember it, she had to remember being locked up in her room with no food, and how she'd just been left there for so long, until Snape had taken her away.

Was that what the book meant? That in order for things to make you really happy, they had to come out of things that made you so painfully lonely and sad? But then how were you supposed to cast a Patronus, if every memory with a drop of joy was washed with unhappiness, too?

The inside of the Owlery was cool and reeked of owl droppings. Hedwig fluttered down from the rafters, having forgiven her for the ride on the Knight Bus, and let Harried feed her owl treats.

"How are you doing, girl?" Harriet asked her as Hedwig nibbled her fingers affectionately. "Dementors don't bother you, huh?"

She'd brought the binoculars so she could try and see them. The thought of looking for Dementors scared her, so she'd made up her mind to do it. And she'd decided to do it from the Owlery so she'd have Hedwig there for moral support (and be very far away). Hopefully Hedwig wouldn't fly off to lunch.

Ever since Harriet had come back to Hogwarts, the sky had been gray and the air cold. Sometimes it rained, but mostly it was just the silver mist, creeping over everything, smudging the world in the distance like ink on a drawing that was hundreds of years old. She pressed the binoculars against her glasses, leaning out the window, sweeping the fog for the fluttering signs of a flying cloak.

Someone was standing at the front gates.

Sirius Black? thought her heart, bumping twice in one beat. But surely he wouldn't walk up to the castle gate and look inside.

The person was too far away for her to see much more than that, even when she twiddled the focus on Hermione's binoculars. Whoever it was, nobody seemed to be expecting him or her. At least, nobody was going to meet them. She was pretty sure that she and Snape were the only people in the whole castle.

Speaking of whom, Snape would surely want to know someone was there. More than that, he'd know what to do about them.

Dropping the binoculars to settle against her chest, she stroked Hedwig's feathers and said, "See you later, girl," and began the long descent to the dungeons.

--

Wolfsbane was fiddly, complex, frustrating; it required an intense understanding of its chemistry and an even intenser concentration during brewing.

If Severus ignored whom he was brewing it for, he loved it. With the constant, tedious demands of his daily schedule, there were so few potions he had opportunity to brew that provided him with any real challenge.

Since Sirius Black had escaped, Severus had reverted to his survival tactics of subsisting almost entirely on coffee and cigarettes. Coffee allowed him to stay alert after weeks of sleepless nights, and the nicotine allowed him to drink twice as much coffee without overloading his system; so he was able to drink and smoke all day, pawning from those two substances the emotional and intellectual focus he needed. The Wolfsbane, too, gave him something to focus on, so he only spent about seven-eighths of the day worrying about the girl tripping and breaking her neck, or falling into one of the dungeon's many traps in spite of his altering the wards to recognize and protect her, or being slain by an Azkaban-mad Sirius Black who'd somehow broken past Hogwarts' millennium of defenses and come straight for her.

Severus approved of the Wolfsbane, moreover. It was entirely possible that, even following the recipe to the last jot, it would poison Lupin fatally, and then he'd have one less threat to contend with. By all rights it should poison any werewolf who ingested it, but all of the research findings suggested that it worked as advertised. This was another thing about Wolfsbane that both frustrated and enthralled him: by every natural law it should kill, not aide, and yet since the formula had been perfected in its lab, every werewolf who'd ingested it had lived. It worked in defiance of all reason.

He was chopping rue when a movement flickered at the door of his lab, which he'd left open in case the girl needed to find him. When he looked up and saw her fidgeting on his threshold, he had a brief moment to enjoy the satisfaction of being right, before he started envisioning any number of dire scenarios that could have brought such a stubbornly independent child voluntarily to see him.

"What is it?" he demanded. At least all of her arms and legs seemed to be attached and she wasn't bleeding from any arteries that he could see.

"I was up in the Owlery and saw someone standing at the front gate." She fiddled with the strap of the binoculars hanging round her neck. "I thought you'd want to know."

He was rendered momentarily speechless by this evidence of sensible thought. "I would."

"D'you know who it is?" she asked. "I couldn't see even with the binoculars."

"Since I have been underground, I haven't even had the glimpse you did." He checked the room to make sure he'd started nothing burning. When he turned back around, he found the girl giving him a half-expectant, half-exasperated look.

"D'you think it's Sirius Black?" she said, in a tone that suggested he should already have answered this.

"After being so cunning as to escape an inescapable prison and elude the entire country, it would be very anticlimactic for him to walk up to the gates and stare inside."

"That's what I thought," she said, surprising him yet again, "but who else would it be?"

"It seems like it will shock you to learn that other people do visit this castle." He moved to shut the door, causing her to shuffle back into the corridor.

"Teachers, yeah," she said, "but all of you should be able to get in on your own, shouldn't you?"

"Perhaps," he said.

She scowled, possibly at his bloody-minded unhelpfulness, but then an almost comical A-ha! expression suffused her face. "It's the new Defense professor, isn't it?"

"Possibly," he said, for variety. "I'm still underground, aren't I?"

She gave him a look, one that Minerva would have been quite proud of. It said, You're being deliberately difficult but I'm going to choose to ignore this.

"And where do you suppose you're going?" he asked in a foreboding voice when she attempted to follow him up the stairs to the Entrance Hall.

"I want to see who it is."

"You certainly aren't coming along." When she opened her mouth to argue, he said, "The Dementors will be haunting the gates. Unless you've mastered a post-N.E.W.T. charm in one morning, they will most likely cause you to faint again, which is an experience I thought you wanted to dispense with? And it will be much simpler for me to deal with our visitor if I don't have to carry you."

She flushed, and he remembered how sensitive Gryffindors were to any circumstance that could be remotely linked to physical cowardice.

"You will save yourself the emotional turmoil and wait here. In your room," he added.

She sent him a look that was part defiant, part injured puppy, and then without a word turned on her heel and headed toward her room. He would almost have called it a flounce if there weren't an air of wounded dignity to it.

He waited until the door to the girl's room was shut before casting a shield across the exit to the dungeons. Then he stalked out of the castle, toward the front gate.

He was tempted to let Lupin linger out there until someone else found him. He could always claim never to have seen him. Dumbledore would know better, but what could he do?

Something or other, Severus knew. Dumbledore always found some way to redress the balance of Severus's sins against the innocent. Some little humiliation to pay back.

Well. If he had to meet the werewolf, it would give them a chance to . . . talk.

The sky trailed low, full of storm portents, as it had done since the Dementors stationed themselves outside the grounds. The grass near the gates had started to wither, the trees on the road to lose their leaves. Walking forward felt like breathing in despair.

He sank into the grips of his Occlumency, letting it deaden everything. The memory of the girl fainting, of her asking Who was screaming; of finding her lying motionless on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets, sank beneath the surface of his emotions, snapping free.

Lupin looked so much older—that was the first thing Severus thought as he drew near enough to see the werewolf's face. It was lined and tired, and his hair was paler than Severus remembered, streaked with gray. His clothes were shabby, patched, disgraceful. A sense of triumph pushed against Severus's shields: his life, at least, had turned out more comfortably than the werewolf's. Or Black's.

Or Potter's, come to that.

Lily's. He at least was permitted to see her child grow up.

Lupin's worn face rippled with surprise when he saw who was stalking down the path toward him. So Albus hadn't told him Severus worked here. Now, what did you mean by that, old man?

"Snape," Lupin said, almost like a question. But then his surprise vanished beneath a shield of politeness so flawless Severus might almost have admired the insincerity, if he wouldn't rather Lupin have dropped dead on the spot. The bastard even smiled. "I didn't expect to see you, but you seem to have been expecting me. Judging by that look of disgust on your face."

Yes, do fucking drop dead. Had they been teenagers, Severus might have said it. He was tempted to, anyway. "The Headmaster is withholding information from you already? What a slippery slope."

"Indeed," Lupin said pleasantly, not looking the least bit bothered. "Might I ask for permission to come inside, or do I need to pass an inspection first?" His tone was not offensive in the least, but his very existence offended Severus, so this effort at witty cordiality was quite wasted.

Severus drew closer to the bars, close enough to see the dark circles beneath Lupin's eyes, the lines on his face. "Did the Headmaster give you nothing to ensure your entry?"

"Let me guess," Lupin said, still smiling. "You'd leave me out here if he hadn't."

"No," Severus said softly, knowing there would be nothing soft in his own face, his eyes. "I'd hex you unconscious and leave you to the Dementors."

Lupin's expression didn't flicker, and his smile didn't waver. It should have. Instead, he reached into his pocket and produced a ruby the size of a hen's egg, which he held out in the palm of his hand. When he passed his thumb over the surface, it misted over golden, and a small cloud rose into the air, Dumbledore's voice leaking from it like a scent:

"Remus Lupin, have entry into Hogwarts."

Severus almost expected the gates to open at the command of Dumbledore's voice, which would make him look like an utter twat. But they stayed shut.

Lupin put the egg back in his pocket. "Does that satisfy you?" he asked mildly.

"Nearly." Severus watched him. "One question, and then I'll let you in."

Lupin made a go on gesture.

"Where is Sirius Black?"

And that, finally, got a reaction. A bleakness misted over Lupin's pale eyes, and his smile faded until his face was cool, remote and wary.

"I don't know," he said, his voice also cool. "Should I go down to the village and wait there until someone else is available to let me in?"

Severus looked at him. He took in the clenched hand on the handle of Lupin's battered briefcase, the tension in the narrow line of his shoulders, the hard emotion in his face, and nearly smiled. But he never smiled.

Waving his wand, he sent the unlocking spells rippling across the gates, his magic splitting the wards apart. He felt it all through his blood into his bones, the power of Hogwarts' protection. Hogwarts wasn't the safest place in Britain because it had Dumbledore; it was the strength of its magic, reinforced over a thousand years by the castle's own sanctity, the feelings of home and succor and sanctuary of all the students that had ever lived there.

And yet nothing was ever unbreachable.

Lupin walked through the gates, carrying nothing with him but that battered suitcase and a potted plant tucked into the crook of his arm. Severus wished, without much conviction, that Lupin owned just that little, but they were wizards; there was probably an Extension Charm on the luggage. Pity.

Another wave of his wand and the gates swung shut again, the wards knitting over, flaring bright white where they entwined; hundreds of them touching in syncopation, so the air shimmered from the ground to the top of the gates.

"So you're the Potions master Albus mentioned?" Lupin asked, as if Severus hadn't just threatened him with a fate worse than death.

"How am I to know?" Severus said coldly. He turned and began striding back toward the school, his pace not inviting Lupin to walk with him.

But Lupin jogged to catch up. "If you were," he continued pleasantly, "Albus mentioned something about you brewing the Wolfsbane for me."

"I am brewing the Wolfsbane, but it is certainly not for you. I am brewing it so that no one in the castle is endangered by you, as they have been before." He cut a look at Lupin, infusing it with as much cruel revulsion as he could. "At least, that is the theory. I would not allow it, but Dumbledore—"

"Is Headmaster, and what he says goes?" Lupin asked pleasantly, but Severus was good at detecting malice and knew when it was there.

"Yes," he said, curling his lip. "Unfortunately, he has been wrong before—placed his faith, and his suspicions, in the wrong people."

"Haven't we all," Lupin said quietly.

Severus had no desire to make any kind of heartfelt chat with Remus bloody Lupin; he'd only meant to snub him. So he ignored the regret he heard in Lupin's voice as he mounted the steps to the Entrance Hall, Lupin (annoyingly) just behind him.

"One more thing." Severus stopped and pivoted so suddenly that Lupin had to stumble to the side to keep from knocking into him. "You are aware, I am sure, that Harriet Potter is a student at this school."

"Yes, Severus," Lupin said, sounding almost irritated. Fucking finally. "I do know how old she is, and Albus—"

"You will want to tread very carefully there." Severus moved deftly into Lupin's personal space, a technique he'd had cause to perfect over the years, so close his robes brushed against Lupin's legs. The werewolf tensed but didn't step away, as Severus had been hoping he would.

"Very. Carefully," he said, staring into Lupin's pale eyes that gave nothing away, not even the faintest hint of emotion. "If anything should happen to Miss Potter, I will be looking to you, Lupin."

Lupin didn't say anything; he only gazed coolly at Severus. But beneath Lupin's measured reserve, Severus thought he detected anger. In his face only, though: not a single thought stirred to the surface where Severus's Leglimency could detect it. Was Lupin an Occlumens? But even so, Severus should have seen something.

Perhaps Leglimency didn't work on werewolves. It bore investigating.

"House-elf," he said curtly.

One appeared at their knees, bowing low. He snapped, "Take care of this," and left, hoping he'd managed to get Lupin to feel for him even one thousandth of the hatred Severus held for him.

--

"I wouldn't have thought it possible," Remus said to Ermentrude, "but Severus Snape has managed to become even more unfit for human consumption than the last time I saw him—oh, must be fifteen years ago now."

Ermentrude did not answer because he was a non-magical potted boxwood. Remus arranged him on the windowsill, where he'd be able to catch the light.

The house-elf had showed him to a handsome set of rooms that faced over the lake. The air inside was stale and unlived-in, with a quality of reminded Remus of hotel rooms. Places that passed from person to person, or rather, that person to person passed through, developed a certain haunting feel, as if by belonging to everyone they could never belong to anyone.

"The curse upon it is very real. You will only serve three terms at the most, and several of its occupants have terminated their posts and their lives simultaneously. . ."

"A hotel and a funeral home," Remus murmured. Not a cemetery. Graves were marked with some sign of the person who decayed underneath them, which these rooms, when all the possessions had been removed, were not. But funeral homes were the hotels of the dead.

Remus wondered if that made Snape the mortician. He had all the personal warmth of a corpse, certainly. Remus couldn't imagine him as a teacher. In fact, the thought of it lay somewhere in the vast stretch between hilarious and unnerving. He would've been better suited to a life as a prison warden; children could do nothing that would render them guilty enough to deserve Snape's level of menace. And even after tending bar in a place frequented by hags, vampires, banshees, and others who'd fallen off the broad spectrum of humanity, Remus still found that Snape was one of the more menacing people he could easily bring to mind.

They'd wondered about him, all those years ago. Lily had been definite that he at least wanted to be a Death Eater, and he'd certainly been thick with the Malfoys and with Regulus, who just as certainly had been part of Voldemort's inner circle. Rumors had scorched their way across the papers during the long months of the never-ending post-war trials . . . Remus had disappeared from the wizarding world for two years after that Hallowe'en, but he'd read up on them years after, grimly determined to learn all he could. Some of the trials had never been publicized, however, and if Snape had gone to trial, his was one of those closed to public record.

But Remus couldn't imagine Dumbledore letting Snape work with children if he had ever worked for Voldemort.

He clicked open his briefcase and began pulling out of it the few possessions he'd managed to hold on to through the years of evictions, repossession and poverty. His books, some so battered he'd learned book-binding to keep them readable (and thereby, through freelancing, managed to employ himself off and on over the years). His few robes, so patched they were more patch than original cloth. A hideous Ormolu clock that had once belonged to his grandmother, then his mother, and finally to himself; his bedroll, which at least he wouldn't need here; a small 17th century Potter heirloom Norwich carpet Lily had given him when during her pregnancy she had taken a sudden and complete loathing to it.

Harriet.

Remus laid out the rug on the floor in front of the hearth, which the house-elf had lit so discreetly he hadn't even seen it happen, and set his clock on the mantle. His ritual for every new place he came to.

Her name should have been Holly. Harry for a boy, Holly for a girl. Lily and James had decided it, after eight months of bickering that everyone had known was really an expression of love, elation and fear. They'd decided on the names only two days before labor had set in and terrified them all. But when the baby had been born, Lily had burst into tears and wept that she just didn't feel like a Holly. So they'd named her Harriet instead.

Remus and Sirius had said the name was too dowdy and old-fashioned. "She'll never get a date with a name like bloody Harriet," Sirius had protested, and James had lit up eagerly and agreed with Lily; she was much more a Harriet than a Holly.

Sirius had refused to call her Harriet. He'd called her "holly berry" instead, to Lily's annoyance; until one day the baby's eyes had changed from that milky, indeterminate blue of all babies to a bright, startling green, the same shade as her own, almost the same shade as holly leaves. And then Lily had stopped grinding her teeth at every "holly berry." And then she and James had gone into hiding and taken the baby with them.

And then Sirius had killed them.

Remus sat down in the armchair next to the fire. The brightness hurt his eyes, though he scarcely saw it.

It never made sense whenever he thought of it. He could still hear the way Sirius had said holly berry, so like the way Lily had hummed the baby to sleep on her chest as they'd fallen asleep together on the couch, or James used to hold her in the air and swoop her around like she was flying on a broom. They were all the same. It should have been as unthinkable for Sirius to have sent Voldemort to kill that child as it would have been for James or Lily to have done it. Remus couldn't, had never been able to, think about it without wondering why it felt so wrong.

Because he loved her. Because he loved them. Because he loved. . .

Remus rubbed his hand across his eyes. However little sense it made, it had happened.

. . . he told himself, one more time.

--

"Was it the Defense teacher?" the girl wanted to know that evening when he summoned her to dinner, after successfully managing to avoid her all afternoon. "What's he like? Or is it a she? We haven't had a lady teacher yet."

"You have several," he said, "or have you forgotten your Head of House?"

"I mean for Defense."

"It's a man." Arguably, he thought. But he knew enough about Gryffindors, and especially this one, to suspect that telling her Lupin was a werewolf would only triple his stock as a person of interest.

"What's he like?"

He's a two-faced animal. "I can't think why you would imagine I have any desire to discuss him. Eat your dinner," he said, and sought refuge in the other room.

He had the hope, though it was halfhearted at best, that she would simply retire to her room after she'd finished eating, but she was developing a bold and worrying habit of hanging round and trying to make conversation. If he'd had a sense of humor, her brave but awkward attempts to find something to talk about with him might have been amusing. As it was, he found the experience intensely uncomfortable, as if a joke he didn't understand was being played on him by someone he couldn't see.

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. Someone had said that, hadn't they? With the girl poking around his rooms, looking at his things, asking him what he was reading, he felt every inch that audience.

His Inner Hufflepuff reminded him that he'd wanted to earn her trust. He had wanted it, he still did, but he wasn't sure he really had it, and he didn't see what having a miniature Lily-Potter hybrid cluttering up his personal space with nosy questions signified of trust.

"I read some of that book you gave me," she said, suddenly and out of nowhere.

It was only years of habit at controlling sudden movements that kept him from starting up from his chair. He hadn't heard her come in; she moved as quiet as a cat.

"I'm not sure I got it," she went on, picking at a loose splinter on his door frame. "Although I was thinking some things."

"Congratulations." He eyed her warily, in case she should come any closer and decrease the good twelve feet of space between them.

She gave him another Minerva-like look. "I wasn't sure what it meant by all the hope versus despair stuff, but I was thinking—whenever I remembered things that made me really happy, they were all tied to stuff that had made me feel really terrible. And it was hard to think of the happy things without remembering the bad things, and I couldn't cast the Patronus while I was thinking of things that had made me unhappy."

Severus was almost stunned. He would have said Longbottom was capable of quantum physics before he'd have expected this level of introspective awareness from any spawn of Potter, especially one so stubbornly hard-headed as this child had proved to be.

"Is that why the Patronus is so hard to cast?" she asked. The intensity of her focused stare was almost unnerving. "Because when you think of happy memories, you also remember sad things? But," she went on before he could reply, though he almost wasn't sure how to, "not all happy memories come from unhappy ones."

"It is because the type of joy necessary for the Patronus is linked to despair," he said. "Simple happiness or pleasure has a less potent inverse."

She was quiet for a few moments. Then she said, "But then how are you supposed to cast it?"

"You put the despair from your mind," he said. "You simply don't think about it."

Her forehead creased. "How?"

"By training your mind not to."

She stared at him resolutely, brow furrowed, and then bit her lip. But instead of deflating, she looked determined. Weary, but determined. "No wonder hardly anyone can do it."

Hardly anyone has slain a Basilisk, either, he thought, but he didn't say it. It would be too close to praise, and he didn't do praise. It didn't suit him.

He groped for a piece of reading on the table next to his chair and, finding something that seemed plausibly legible, opened it. It was a knitting catalog. The hell? This had to be Dumbledore's, but he had no idea why it was in his room.

"Hermione bought me Travel Scrabble for my birthday," the girl said, apropos of nothing, "but I haven't got to play it yet."

"And yet you've survived admirably," Snape said, throwing the knitting catalog away.

"Have you ever played?" she asked.

That actually made him look at her, though he didn't have the slightest idea what to say. She stared expectantly back.

"Want to play Scrabble?" she asked, in a tone that suggested if he was going to be that way, she would ask outright.

When he just kept staring, at an absolute loss for words, she said, "Or hangman or something? Have you got cards? I'm rubbish at chess."

"You want to . . . play Scrabble," he said, feeling like she'd asked him something very different and he'd had to translate for the last thirty seconds.

"Yeah," she said.

He pressed his fingers over the crease between his eyebrows. This had to be a fucking joke. Not from her, but certainly from life, or the creator, or whatever force propelled the rightness and lunacy of the universe.

"If I endure one game, will you find something to do on your own?"

"Okay," she said happily. "Wait here?"

He grunted. Seemingly deciding she wouldn't get any plainer assent than that, she dashed away.

He looked at Lily's photograph. He'd been going to say, "Your child is peculiar indeed if she's voluntarily seeking my company." But the photograph was staring where the girl had stood, a look of yearning grief on its face, so powerful it transformed her into someone he didn't quite recognize, because he had never seen Lily look like that.

For the space of a heartbeat, he thought about removing the invisibility spells from the frame. The girl would see it—she always stared owlishly at Severus's things, each time she came, even though he never had anything new around—and she'd surely ask to touch it. He could almost picture her happiness, the photograph's multiplied joy.

And he could certainly hear the questions it would raise. He had no desire to answer those questions. He couldn't answer them. Not even to make these last pieces of Lily happy.

But for the first time, he almost wished he could bear it.

--

Harriet scrambled through her trunk and chucking socks around willy-nilly (though careful of the Sneakoscope Ginny and Ron had sent her for her birthday, along with the newspaper clipping of them on holiday), until she found the game stuffed underneath her schoolbooks. She'd not yet taken the plastic off. Then she dashed back to Snape's rooms, feeling triumphant at finding the door still unlocked.

Her triumph was slightly dented to find Snape in the exact place she'd left him, reading through his boring-looking papers and clearly intending to be as un-fun as possible. She was reminded of Ron when Hermione suggested he start his homework early, or of Hermione when Harriet tried to wheedle her into flying. It figured Snape would hate playing games.

"Okay," she said a few minutes later. "I set it up."

Acting very put upon, Snape set his reading aside and came resignedly into the room where she always ate her dinner, and where she'd laid out the game on his messy table. She'd been very careful to arrange his moldy old journals to the side so they wouldn't fall over.

"It's Muggle—" she started to explain.

"I know what Scrabble is, Miss Potter." He was eying the table as though what she'd really brought was a pile of Hedwig's owl droppings.

"You're going to make really long and hard words and win as fast as possible, I bet," Harriet said, starting to feel resigned along with him.

"Seeing as I'm allowed only seven tiles at one time and the game is only over when the tiles are all gone, I don't think that strategy would be particularly effective." He paused, then said, half under his breath, "Pity."

Harriet chose to ignore this spoil-sporty spirit. As if Snape had soured the game against her, though, she wound up with three Y's, a D, a Z, an X, and a G.

"Crap," she said.

"No better than chess, hm?" Snape said, and spelled morbid.

It was a lot like playing chess—with Ron, who repeatedly trounced her and always won in an embarrassingly few minutes. Snape got triple word scores without even trying, and Harriet was stuck with her stupid X. He came up with words too quickly, too, while Harriet was hard-pressed to think of even simple words like "chimp." And when she did think of it, she realized she didn't have a P.

"I don't know why Hermione got me this game," Harriet grumbled as she struggled to add up Snape's score. (Hers was about twenty-five, his somewhere around two hundred and thirty.)

"You forgot to carry the one," Snape said.

Harriet dejectedly scratched out 230 and wrote 240. "Unless it was because she wanted to use it to get back at Ron for always flattening her at chess. And then Seamus and Dean sit around and cheer whenever his players smash hers. Or mine."

"You're their superior at Qudditch, Miss Granger at academics," Snape said with a bored sigh in his voice. "You can't expect adolescent boys to be inferior and mature."

Harriet had no idea what to make of this. Was he being serious or mocking her? She decided she'd probably never know (though the mocking seemed more likely, since it was Snape). She looked at the new tiles she'd pulled. An A and an M. "Ooh. . . "

"Xanthum?" Snape read as she beamed at the board.

"It's a word. It's used in shampoo and salad dressing and stuff."

"Xanthum gum," he said, and she wasn't sure whether to be disappointed that she hadn't stumped him or relieved because he knew it and couldn't argue the realness of her word. "You haven't any 'gum.'"

"So?" she said defiantly, adding the slightly more impressive score—double word points!—to her pitiful twenty-five. "Xanthum gum is two words, and I got one of them. It counts."

Someone tapped on the door. Snape raised his voice: "Yes, what?"

Professor Dumbledore opened the door, wearing a long traveling cloak. It was the first time Harriet had seen him since he'd left the Grangers' house on her birthday. The electric blue suit was gone, replaced with robes that might once have been a startling purple, but they were so soaked it was hard to tell. He must have just returned from Sirius Black-hunting, and he clearly hadn't been expecting to see what he was now seeing, because his somewhat tired expression changed to one of pure surprise.

"Severus," he stated. "Harriet. A very good evening to you both." He looked curiously at the Scrabble board. "Is that a game of sorts?" he asked with even more surprise.

"It's Scrabble," Harriet said, blushing.

"Miss Potter has been experiencing persistent and incurable boredom," Snape said, folding his arms, "which she thought this might alleviate."

"Ah." Dumbledore smiled, but for some reason Harriet felt obscurely guilty, like she'd been caught doing something . . . not exactly wrong, but . . . inappropriate, maybe. She had no idea what it could be, though. "In that case, I hate to have to interrupt you both, let alone spoil your game, but I'm afraid I find myself constrained by circumstance."

"It's almost finished," Snape said, arms still folded.

"I'm afraid it cannot wait," Dumbledore said. There was apology in his voice, but something else seemed to be going on between him and Snape, some kind of silent and untranslatable communication.

"It's all right," Harriet said, scooping the tile holders and the score pad into the box and snapping the board shut. "It's for traveling, so you can put it away and . . . it's fine, I'll go."

"Thank you, my dear," Dumbledore said, smiling like she'd done him an enormous favor.

She smiled back awkwardly, strangely embarrassed, and said, even more awkwardly to Snape, "Thanks. G'nite, then," and left, wondering why she hadn't felt embarrassed or awkward for roping Snape into playing Scrabble with her until someone else saw she'd done it.

She tossed the game onto her bed and rolled down next to it. For a few moments she stared up at the ceiling. Then she sighed.

"Now I'm bloody bored again."

--

When the door shut behind the girl, Dumbledore did not immediately speak. He watched her go, and then he looked at Severus, who started re-positioning the rubbish on the table the girl had nudged aside to make room for the game board. She had done it very carefully, lining up his stacks of moldering old journals in straight rows.

The air was thick with surprise verging on disapproval, wafted in by Dumbledore. It made Severus's teeth ache. For once he'd been humoring the silly girl, and Dumbledore was going to act like a Sunday school preacher about it.

"Scrabble?" Dumbledore said eventually.

"It's a Muggle word came," Severus replied at his most sneering. "A birthday present from Miss Granger," he added in a tone designed to mock the way the girl had said it.

"I'm very surprised to see you playing it with her," Dumbledore said, so plainly that Severus actually stared at him. It wasn't like Dumbledore to cut this close to the chase.

"You haven't had the persistent brat on hand for the past two weeks, constantly lamenting how bored she is. It's been driving me up the wall. Short of sedating her, I had run out of ways to get rid of her."

"It isn't like you to be kind," Dumbledore pointed out, which was the exact truth and for some reason was fucking annoying. In any typical conversation, he would only be this annoyed for Dumbledore's suggesting he was being kind; but just now, he was inexplicably offended at the implication that he couldn't suppress his repulsive urges long enough to play a single bloody game of Scrabble. (Though it had taken aeons, while the girl chewed on her scoring pencil and agonized over her word choices.)

"Call it a moment of storm-sent madness," he ground out. Then he decided to cut to the chase. "Unless you're implying that I was setting up a seduction scheme to entrap a thirteen-year-old girl—in which case you had better sack me right now, if you believe I'd do any such bloody thing—and with someone who can't even spell 'chimp' correctly—I wish you'd get out what you want to say. I've plenty of things to do now that I'm not stuck playing a never-ending sodding game of Scrabble."

"Severus, I'm implying no such thing," Dumbledore said, looking truly astonished.

"No?"

"No," he said, quite firm. "But you must admit she is getting very near the age where such . . . tête-à-têtes are verging on impropriety."

"If you really thought that, you wouldn't have made me Head of Slytherin. I've had tête-à-têtes with girls that age and older for the past twelve years, and you've never breathed a word of whatever shock your sensibilities have just suffered."

"Conferencing is part of your duties as Head," Dumbledore said. "I've never heard of you . . . relaxing with any of your students before, however."

"You've absolutely no concept," he said incredulously, "if you think that was in any way relaxing. It was tedious and insipid. Miss Potter has a vocabulary and spelling that would make Rowena Ravenclaw turn in her grave, and she's entirely incapable of thinking without chewing on something."

Dumbledore looked at him with something so like exasperation that Severus almost didn't believe what his eyes were telling him. All the times spent in effort to ruffle Dumbledore, turning every trick in his considerable arsenal of personal habits that could've pissed off the Pope and never visibly succeeding, he now managed it without actively trying?

"I can't help thinking you're being deliberately obtuse, Severus," Dumbledore said. "But," he went on before Severus could vent his indignation, "I know you're intelligent enough to understand me, so we shall leave it there. How does Remus's potion come along? He thought you were both making progress, but with his lamentable Potions expertise, he said, he was wary of asserting more than that."

"Idiot," Severus said, transferring his annoyance with Dumbledore to thoughts of Lupin. "I told him we're still testing. How did he fail to understand that?"

"Forgive me," Dumbledore said. "It was two days ago now that he and I exchanged letters. I've only just returned."

"Yes, the cloak tipped me off," he said acidly, but Dumbledore's equanimity had returned and he only smiled.

"So everything is, as the Muggles say, ship-shape then?"

"As it can be. Lupin and I have . . . talked . . . " Severus didn't try to stop his lip from curling. "And he agrees he needs to transform in a safe location for this first trial."

Dumbledore regarded him over the tops of his spectacles. "Do you not trust the potion?" he asked. "Or the man?"

Anger prickled through Severus's blood and he stared back, but Dumbledore was not an easy man to intimidate with any amount of fury.

"You know my opinion on the werewolf," he said. Disapproval surfaced in Dumbledore's gaze, but he ignored it. "As to the potion, I trust nothing until I've seen its affects firsthand. Lupin has never taken it before, and abnormalities are just as likely among werewolves as among humans."

"Werewolves are humans, Severus," Dumbledore said, the disapproval strong enough to hear quite clearly.

"No," Severus said, "they aren't. Call them people if you like, but this potion proves that they are, in fact, categorically separate. This potion wouldn't work on a human nervous system except as a quick and deadly poison. Allow that I know more about this subject than you do," he said impatiently when Dumbledore only continued to stare at him with that palpable censure. "I do not dispute that you are a genius in many areas, if not most, but I do know more about this one potion, at least, than you do."

"I'm quite sure you know more about every potion than I do," Dumbledore said candidly. "It is an area in which you are, indisputably, a genius. But I do not like your letting your personal feelings about Remus transfer into prejudice toward those affected with his condition—"

"It isn't prejudice," Severus retorted with a flash of molten anger, "it is scientifically sound."

"That is what pure-bloods say about Muggle-borns," Dumbledore said, but if that reply was designed to assuage Severus's anger, it failed pathetically.

"It is entirely possible there is a genetic difference between pure-bloods and Muggles," Severus said sharply, "the same way it's entirely possible there's a genetic difference between a concert pianist and someone who's as tone deaf as a rock—the same way the Wolfsbane's effect on werewolves suggests there's a material difference between a person affected with lycanthropy and you."

"Of course there's a difference, Severus, but a difference doesn't spell a lack of humanity—"

"I am not saying werewolves are subhuman, I'm saying they're—forget it," he snarled, "I'm not remotely in the mood to debate this. I am brewing Lupin's prophylactic, which by all rights should poison him to death, not simply sedate him, and he's agreed to my conditions for the students' safety. That is all. If you've nothing further to accuse me of, you might get on and leave me to finish up my work."

But Dumbledore didn't move. "I know it's difficult for you," he said at last, sounding, contrary to Severus's every expectation, understanding. "Having Remus here, and Sirius Black out there. But if you—"

Severus didn't wait for him to finish. He strode into the next room and slammed the door.

He stood there, breathing harshly, the oppressive force of his anger pressing obliterating silence on his ears. If Dumbledore moved in the next room, Severus didn't hear.

It wasn't until almost a full minute had gone by that he at last heard Dumbledore's rustling step, and the outer door swinging softly shut behind him.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Professor Dumbledore visited Harriet in her own room, conjuring a rich and enormous breakfast on a curly-footed golden table he magicked into existence.

"I imagine you'd like to be free of these walls for a little while," he said as Harriet was overwhelmed by a spread of croissants, kippers, sausages, fried tomatoes and eggs, and stacks of jellied toast. Snape had always fed her some variation of hot cereal or muesli. "Growing bodies need nourishment as well as fresh air."

Harriet thought of the drizzling rain, the thick mist and the Dementors, which she still hadn't seen except in the pages of those ancient books. Still, she said, "Yes, sir," because she was bored, and somehow she knew Snape wasn't going to play Scrabble with her again.

"Splendid, splendid." Professor Dumbledore beamed. "What do you say to a spot of flying after breakfast?"

The words Did Professor Snape say that was okay? pushed to the tip of her tongue, but of course she didn't say them. She wasn't even sure if she'd have been joking or not. It wasn't that she thought Professor Dumbledore would make her stay inside if Snape didn't like her going out; it was that she didn't want Snape to rupture anything.

"Shall we meet in the Entrance Hall in, oh, an hour? Would that suit you, my dear?"

"Yes, sir," Harriet said again, through a jangle of confusion. Why did she need to meet him to go flying?

He left her to finish her breakfast. She hurried through it so she could finish yesterday's letter to Hermione before she went out. She'd thought about writing after her aborted game of Scrabble, but found she somehow didn't want to. Now, though, she was full of questions and writing them to Hermione (who would be sure to answer every single one) made her feel more centered. It was like Hermione's zeal for organizing.

By the time she'd wrapped up the letter and hunted through the mess she'd made of her room looking for her broom, she was feeling much more cheerful, even a little excited. She hadn't been flying since term had ended. Maybe if she tried casting the Patronus right after she'd flown, she would be able to recall that feeling of freedom strong enough to make it.

Snape's door was shut, no light behind it. Maybe he was in his lab.

When she trooped upstairs to the Entrance Hall, she found Professor Dumbledore deep in conversation with an unfamiliar man. The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher? she wondered, looking hard at him.

He didn't look like much, to be honest, but in all fairness neither did she. In fact, she looked like less than not-much. At least this man was fully grown, however thin and lined, with silver-flecked brown hair. An air of tiredness hung about him, and his robes were shabby and patched (but Harriet had made do all her life with clothes that Aunt Petunia begrudgingly bought her from Oxfam, which were always hideously ugly and never fit properly, and had led to Hermione's parents giving her several sets of nice clothes for her birthday).

As she stepped up into the Hall, the Probably Defense Professor looked over at her, and Harriet thought he maybe wasn't so tired after all. His expression was alert, his eyes intelligent, and although Lavender and Parvati would never in a million years build a magazine cut-out shrine to him, she thought there was something rather pleasant about him.

"Ah," Professor Dumbledore said, as though deeply content to see her again. "Exactly punctual. Harriet, allow me to introduce Professor Lupin, your Defense professor for this year. Professor, though she scarcely needs an introduction, this is Harriet Potter."

She'd much rather Professor Dumbledore had left out any allusions to her fame; it was embarrassing, and she wasn't able to say, "Pleased to meet you," as well as she would have without it.

But Professor Lupin only smiled, almost like they were old friends, and said, "The pleasure's mine," and shook her hand. It probably should have made her feel silly, but it didn't. In fact, she thought it was the best introduction she'd had since coming into a world where she was extremely, bewilderingly, undeservedly famous. It made her feel quite grown up.

"Excellent, quite excellent." Professor Dumbledore smiled somewhere in his beard, like they were two favorite grandchildren he'd finally arranged to meet each other. "I hope it doesn't inconvenience you too terribly, Harriet my dear, but I thought it best if Professor Lupin kept you company while you're outside—Hogwarts being what it must, this year."

Sirius Black. Dementors. Harriet's fledgling contentment evaporated like cotton candy in a blast furnace. "Yes, sir," she said. She supposed it didn't make much sense as a reply, but it was all she had.

"I hope you don't mind my not flying with you," Professor Lupin said, smiling down at her. "I have a history of nearly breaking my neck every time I get on a broom."

"No, it's fine," Harriet said. She hadn't expected to have any kind of company, let alone the airborne sort, and flying with a teacher would have been too odd.

"Then I'll leave you two to it. I hope you have a delightful time," Professor Dumbledore said to her, and then swept away.

Harriet felt awkward, standing there alone with a stranger, and one who was a teacher on top of that. But if Professor Lupin picked up on it, he didn't show her. Instead, he smiled again and opened one of the front doors.

"I'm afraid I can only spare the morning," he said as they stepped out onto the front steps, which were slick with foggy humidity, the air solid in Harriet's lungs. "Though we might not want to give it more in this." He peered into the hazy distance, where the mist rolling in from the lake blotted out the trees again today, just as they had done yesterday, just as they'd done since she got here two weeks ago. He glanced down at her, faintly smiling. "I'll leave it to you to decide. It's your outing, after all."

Harriet only nodded, not quite knowing how to talk to him. Maybe it was because she was used to talking to Snape, who bossed her around. She usually had something to reply to that.

Professor Lupin put out his palm, and breathed out once into his hand, long and slow. Blue flames sprouted up with tiny shapes inside them, flickering and leaping over each other. At least, that's what they looked like, though she'd hadn't seen or heard of such a thing before.

"What's that?" she asked, leaning forward to get a better look.

"Friendfyre," he said, in such a way that she could hear the old-fashioned spelling. "It creates warmth but doesn't burn—not painfully, I mean. If I were to drop it in the grass, the grass wouldn't even singe. And it'll stay lit until I cast the charm to put it out." He held it out to her, and passed his fingers through it for emphasis. "See?"

Harriet put her hand against the flames. They were intensely warm, but not uncomfortable, and tickled her finger when she poked it along the top. "Wicked."

"The only problem is, they must be held," Professor Lupin said as they walked down the steps, circling across the damp grass toward the Quidditch pitch. "They wither almost to nothing if you try and put them in a jar."

"What are the shapes in them?" Harriet peered closer. "They look like faces."

"Sprites," Professor Lupin said. "This fire is technically sentient—in a magical sense."

"Could I learn it?" Harriet asked, sure he would surely say it was too advanced for her.

But he only smiled. "You could always try."

Professor Lupin sat in the stands with his Friendfyre cupped in his hands while Harriet dived and looped around the goal rings. She wished she had a Snitch to play with.

Even without other teammates, without any competitors, any game, it felt wonderful to fly again. She was sure it felt as wonderful this time as it had the first, when she'd risen into the air so naturally she thought, This is magic, this right here.

She couldn't have flown at the Grangers', she told herself. It didn't make up, though, for having such a miserably lonely holiday. Maybe this wasn't strong enough a feeling to cast a Patronus, then.

Still, she was going to try. She'd try to cast the Patronus now, up here, with the memory of flying so recent in her heart. She wouldn't think about being alone; she would do what Snape had said, and put it out of her mind. Just think about flying.

Closing her eyes, she tried to push every thought away, tried to make her mind a blank space. Taking a deep breath, she went into a shallow dive, pulled up, and shot off. The feeling of soaring filled her; she imagined it was a tangible thing, one she could wrap around her and turn into magic.

And then an image bled into her mind: the image of a streaming black cloak, a flesh-rotting hand curling in a skeletal claw.

A feeling of cold—of fear—pulsed through her. She banked again. Were they near? She'd still never seen one. Snape said they haunted the gates. She scanned over the dark tops of the forest, looking for a scrap of cloak drifting through the midst, bringing the cold and the sound. . . the sound of. . .

But what she saw instead was curl of smoke rising out of Hagrid's chimney.

With a whoop of excitement, she shot toward his hut.

When she landed on the damp, squelchy grass outside his house, she found he was out. His door was unlocked, but she didn't see him anywhere inside or out in his garden. And it wasn't like there were many things around he could hide behind.

"Hagrid?" she called over the sloping, cheerfully untidy rows of carrots and cabbages, all entirely Hagrid-less. There was no answer, not even from the raven that watched her haughtily from its perch on the scarecrow.

Must be grounds-keeping, she thought, and had just swung her leg back over the broom to go looking for him when she saw the dog.

It was the biggest dog she'd ever seen—or at least the tallest. Though it was almost as tall as she was, weight-wise it was all shaggy, matted black fur and bones. It looked starved half to death, like it had lived a lot worse than sleeping in a cupboard.

Even ignoring its zombie-dog appearance, though, it was surprising to see a stray on Hogwarts' grounds; she never had before. In fact, Fang was the only dog she'd ever seen at school. Loads of cats and owls and even a couple of toads, but never a dog. She'd heard of Crups, but she'd thought they were much smaller and had forked tails.

The dog had been standing on the edge of the forest where the trees met the grounds when she first saw it, but now it folded back its ears and lay down, putting its head on its front paws, and made a whimpering, whining noise. It even wagged its tail—weakly, barely more than a twitch, but it was clearly intended for a wag.

"You look hungry," Harriet said, and then felt stupid, even though it was a dog and it couldn't understand her; of course it looked hungry. Hadn't she just been thinking it looked starved into zombiehood?

It whined again.

"Guess I'll have to start carrying steak in my pocket." She dismounted her broom again and stepped over Hagrid's cabbages carefully toward the dog. It didn't seem mad or dangerous, though. In fact, it wag-twitched its tail some more, and when she was close enough that she could have petted it, it rolled onto his side, which is when she saw it was a he, definitely.

"Poor doggy." Harriet scratched behind his ears. They were caked with dirt. "I wonder if Hagrid's got something you can—what?"

The dog had been lying peacefully, flopping his tail; but suddenly he scrambled up, a growl rumbling the back of his throat, his ears flattening, and then he scrambled back into the underbrush and was gone.

Harriet was stumped for a few moments, until she heard the crunch of someone approaching, and looked up to see Professor Lupin pelting across the green.

Oh, crap. She'd completely forgotten.

"I'm sorry!" she said before he'd even skidded to a halt, kicking up mud. "I saw Hagrid's chimney smoking and I just forgot, I'm sorry."

"Well, it got my heart rate up," he said, hardly out of breath at all. "All the same, I'd rather run with you than after you."

"I'm sorry," she repeated, thinking that Snape would've given her fifty detentions and probably sworn at her.

"There's no harm done—but let's not repeat the experiment." He checked his wristwatch. "We've still got a bit longer we can stay out here before I have to meet Severus. . ."

"You're meeting Professor Snape?" she asked curiously. "What for?"

Snape would have said something like, "When that's your business, I'll let you know." It was a very nosy question, and she almost apologized and took it back; but she was so astonished and curious that she didn't really want to.

But Professor Lupin only said easily, "He's brewing something for me. One of the conditions of my employment. I hear this job has a very high turnover rate." His eyes were bright with amusement, but Harriet had developed an instinct for telling when grown-ups were not being entirely truthful, and that instinct was whispering to her now. But she only nodded, because it had been a very nosy question. When she considered it, she thought she was lucky he hadn't been offended.

"We can go inside if you need to see him now," she said by way of a peace offering.

"It's not for a—"

But then he stopped, turning his head to the side and narrowing his eyes. In a movement so slight she almost didn't see him do it, he had his wand in his hand. Heartbeat kicking up, she groped in her pocket for hers, looking the same direction he was. She could hear it too, now—a crashing, from something very large moving through the trees—

Hagrid appeared from the forest on the other side of his vegetable patch, carrying what looked like a bouquet of dead ferrets (eurgh). Professor Lupin exhaled, so quietly Harriet almost didn't hear.

"Harry!" Hagrid said happily, knocking leaves and twigs out of his beard and hair. "Professer Dumbledore told me yeh was here early." He glanced at Professor Lupin, and then did a double-take. "Remus Lupin? S'tha' you?"

"Last I checked," Professor Lupin said, sounding amused. "I won't ask the same of you. I don't think you've changed at all. Even the beard looks the same."

"A bit more tangled, 's'all," Hagrid said, and leaned over to clap Professor Lupin on the back. He almost knocked him face-first into the cabbages. Just the fact that Professor Lupin managed to stay upright told Harriet he was a lot stronger than he looked. Her back winced in sympathy just watching.

"What were you doing in the forest?" Harriet asked curiously. "With. . . " She eyed the ferrets. "Have you got another—pet?"

"Ahh, well. . . " Hagrid looked a bit shifty but pleased with himself. He toyed with the end of his beard. "No harm in tellin' yeh, I s'pose, though I wanted it ter be a surprise—but I s'pose it'll be a surprise anyhow. I'm gonna be yer new Care of Magical Creatures professer."

"What?" Harriet yelped as a grin started. "That's fantastic!" She threw her arms around his waist, or what she could reach of it, which wasn't much. Hagrid patted her on the back, which made her sink ankle-deep in the mushy ground. "No wonder you sent me a biting book! But what were you doing in the forest?"

"Preparin' for me first lesson. You want ter see 'em?"

"Yeah!"

--

"What—what are they?" Harriet said, not sure whether to be awed or nervous.

"Hippogriffs," Hagrid said happily.

"Oh, my," said Professor Lupin, stopping some feet back from the paddock Hagrid had built on the other end of the wide clearing.

There were at least half a dozen of them, each one a cross between an eagle and some kind of horse, and all different colors. Their eyes, though, were all the same: blazing orange-gold, like a tiger's, with fierce, slitted pupils. They had to turn their heads to look at her and Hagrid, since their eyes were on either side of their faces, but one fiery golden eye was enough to see at once. Harriet thought they were surely the proudest creatures she'd ever met.

"Aren' they beautiful?" Hagrid said, gazing adoringly at the pack of hippogriffs, much the same way he'd looked at Norbert. Harriet supposed they were quite beautiful in a dangerous way, the way wild tigers were beautiful.

She glanced at Professor Lupin to see what he thought of them, but he merely looked thoughtful. He was standing exactly where he'd stopped on first seeing what was in the paddock, some twenty feet back at least.

"Wan' ter say hello?" Hagrid said, looking so eager that Harriet couldn't say no, even though she didn't really want to say yes. Snape would be pleased to know she did have some instincts of self-preservation.

"I'll wait here," Professor Lupin said mildly. Hagrid turned to look at him in surprise, and then something in his face—what little of it was visible between beard and hair—changed.

"Righ'," he said, nodding, suddenly serious. "S'a good idea."

A dozen more nosy questions crowded into Harriet's brain, but she let them go. Professor Lupin didn't look scared, but sometimes you couldn't tell. Maybe he was allergic.

In their paddock, the hippogriffs tossed their heads, looking immeasurably proud.

Reaching over the gate, Hagrid unlocked the paddock and shuffled in, motioning her along. "Now," he said, "the thing ter known about hippogriffs is tha' they're proud. You got ter earn their respect or they'll—well, see the claws?"

Harriet certainly did. They were talons longer than her hand. She swallowed. Snape would've grabbed her by the scruff of her jacket and dragged her off before letting her within fifty feet of a single claw.

"Not poisoned or anythin'," Hagrid said, "but they bite deep. So yer want to be careful."

"Yes," Harriet said feelingly.

"The thing ter do is bow. Look 'im in the eye—don' look away, makes yeh seem untrustworthy, an' they don' like that. Then yeh wait till they bow back. When they do, it's safe ter get closer."

"And . . . if they don't?"

"Well—yeh've got good reflexes," Hagrid said. "Here, let's try with Buckbeak."

--

Remus stood back against the trees, a spell on the tip of his wand to drag Harriet back if the hippogriffs seemed in any way ruffled. She looked nervous but determined—to go forward, and not to show any nervousness. Lily would probably hex his head on backwards for allowing her into that paddock. James, too. Once when Sirius had accidentally dropped her on the bed, James had just about had a conniption.

They'd certainly hex you for keeping quiet about Sirius, Conscience said with cold disgust. It still hadn't forgiven him for writing Albus three letters and not a single line about a big, black dog.

At half past eleven, Remus left Harriet stroking Buckbeak's feathers and headed back to the castle for his meeting with Severus. He was positive that Dumbledore would approve of Hagrid as a bodyguard. Human spells had very little effect on part-giants, and although Hagrid could feel Dementors, he could also theoretically rip one in half with his bare hands. Besides, if Sirius had enough wits to escape from Azkaban, he was unlikely to attack Harriet in the company of a half-giant and a herd of hippogriffs.

Still, he sent his Patronus on to Dumbledore to report where he'd left Harriet, before descending into the shadowed chill of the dungeons.

Years ago, the Marauders had decided the dungeons were a perfect fit for anyone creepy enough to be Sorted into Slytherin. It was stranger to see a Slytherin in broad daylight than to catch them skulking where it was dark and twisty and gave you the collywobbles. Naturally, the Marauders had enjoyed going where it was dark and twisty and gave them the collywobbles, but they were Gryffindors, magical purveyors of mischief; it was an adventure, not a place where they'd belonged. That had been the thrill: along with the possibility of crossing paths with a Slytherin and fighting your way free of evil. They hadn't even cared too much when the dungeons proved unmappable by any spell, remaining a mostly blank place on the map, except for the top corridor where the Potions classroom and professor's office lay.

Sometimes Remus longed for the naïve simplicity of those days, when every good thing had seemed possible and bad things came only from the enemy. Knowing better was one lesson in growing up: a moment when you realized it was better to stay young.

The dungeons were somehow still eerie. He could tell they were chilly, though his permanently elevated body temperature meant he only felt the dampness in the air, not the cold. His way was lit by flickering torches, their wavering light creating an ebb and flow of shadow, and no matter where he turned, he heard the intermittent drip . . . drip . . . of water.

"You took your time," was Snape's genial greeting when Remus knocked on his laboratory's open door.

Ah, yes: Snape.

"I don't remember the dungeons as well as I used to," Remus said, smiling because he knew it would annoy Snape. It certainly had at the gates, and Snape's temper patterns had always been too predictable. "I'm quite sure I've never been down this way before." He looked around the array of cauldrons, all neatly in a row and smoking above magical fires that glowed an eerie green. "You haven't got a mad scientist streak, have you?"

"Stop trying to be clever," Snape said, "or witty, or charming, or whatever that is, and," he levitated a beaker at Remus so sharply, it almost hit him between the eyes, "swallow this."

"Thanks, I'd love a drink," Remus said under his breath, though from the way Snape's glare intensified, he must have the hearing of an ocelot.

Unfortunately, Remus breathed in as he went to down the beaker, and almost dropped it when his whole body revolted against the smell. "Good Lord, what's in here?"

"The Wolfsbane, idiot," Snape said. "I need to see if you've an allergic reaction."

"Does vomiting count?" Remus asked plainly.

"Not from the smell or the taste. Only if it goes down and comes back up later. Drink it or I'll force it down you. I haven't got all day."

"Cheers." Remus held his nose and chugged. It did almost come back up. He was sure his esophagus shuddered. "God," he said hoarsely, wanting to pull out his tongue and scrub it. But now that the gunk was down, and though he felt queasy, it seemed to be staying down.

He opened his eyes to see that Snape was eying him as though resigned to the fact that Remus was probably about to spew all over his tidy lair. "Seems to be staying put," Remus said, if a trifle unsteadily.

"Sensations?" Snape said curtly.

"Queasiness," Remus said with feeling.

"Any tingling or numbness?"

Remus thought about it. "My throat feels a bit odd." He massaged it and coughed experimentally. "A kind of tickle. Might be a tingle." He hoped they weren't going to be the last words he ever uttered.

Snape made a note in some kind of moleskin journal. "Anything in your extremities?"

Remus wiggled fingers and toes. "None so far."

Snape made a final scratch in his journal, then shut it on his quill and turned to one of the cauldrons, which he stirred with the air of a man who was going to ignore Remus until he needed something from him again.

"What does it mean?" Remus asked politely. "The tingling. Or the queasiness. Or both, if it comes to that."

"Do you know anything useful about this potion?" Snape asked without turning, and equally without any suggestion in his voice of thinking Remus had a brain.

"If you mean did I read the findings, yes, I did. If you mean did I understand a word of them—only the commas. Everything else was much too specialized for someone of my thorough non-expertise."

Snape glanced at him with patent disgust—from looking at Remus, or from contemplating Potions skills so wretched, perhaps. Remus smiled at him.

"Wolfsbane contains large amounts of aconite," Snape said in a voice of practiced insult. "You do know aconite is a poison, I hope?"

"Mmm," Remus said mildly. "Particularly lethal to werewolves."

"Aconite numbs," Snape said. "Hence the tingling in your throat. Taken internally, it paralyzes the circulatory, respiratory and nervous systems, resulting in death in most warm-blooded animals. This potion," he waved his stirring rod at the row of smoking cauldrons, "is a werewolf sedative. Belby's theory is that if the werewolf is sedated, the human mind can regain control over the body."

Remus massaged his throat, considering.

"The potion is, on its simplest level, a balance of ingredients that allows the aconite to sedate the werewolf without poisoning the body. It has no recorded analgesic qualities. In fact, the werewolves who have participated in the studies—"

"—have said that remaining conscious through the whole transformation is worse than letting the transformation subsume them," Remus finished calmly. "Those studies I did read and understand."

"Yes." Snape's face showed no pity. "I am having to adjust Belby's measurements. The man is an ass. He made no provision for variance in body mass. His tests gave the same dosage of aconite to a hundred pound girl as to a two hundred and eighty pound man. No wonder it took him thirteen years to develop even a provisional prophylactic."

"I'm about one-fifty," Remus supplied. "And . . . I do think I'm about to be ill. You don't have anything I could be sick into, by any chance?"

--

Two hours later (Snape would only give him one dose per hour), Remus was nursing one of Snape's old, empty cauldrons after a third dose that had come immediately back up, when Snape suddenly barked: "Miss Potter!"

Remus managed not to upset the cauldron when Snape shouted, but then barely managed not to laugh when Harriet appeared in the open doorway covered in what James would have eloquently labeled "yuck."

"Yes?" she asked, looking far less scared of Snape than Remus had felt a couple of times in the last two hours. "Oh, hello," she said to Remus, with a slight smile. She rubbed absently at her cheek, smudging yuck across it.

"What have you been doing?" Snape demanded to know, while Remus, trying not to laugh or be sick again, did not trust himself to respond to her greeting verbally.

"I fell into Hagrid's compost heap," Harriet said with calm dignity.

"I thought you were going flying," Snape said, narrowing his eyes like he'd caught her out at some wrongdoing. Then he transferred the look to Remus. "And I thought it was only so long as he," the obscenity was implicit in the tone, "was with you."

"I was, but then I was helping Hagrid," Harriet said—quite reasonably, Remus thought, considering Snape was acting like, well, himself. He hadn't changed very that much more than Hagrid had, except that now he dressed like Dracula.

"Hagrid's compost heap is at least six feet tall," Snape persisted. "How did you fall into it?"

"I was flying." (Remus choked on a laugh. Snape either didn't hear or was ignoring him in favor of staring unblinkingly at Harriet.) "And I think there's a rotten peach just slid down the back of my jumper. Can I go have a bath now?"

Snape waved her irritably away. "Bye," she said to Remus, and left, grimacing and wiggling the back of her mucky jumper.

Snape stared at the spot where Harriet had stood, his forbidding eyebrows knitted together over the crag of his even more forbidding nose.

"Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition," Remus murmured.

"Shut up, Lupin," Snape said without looking at him.

"I'm sure Harriet is ruminating on the sins of falling into compost heaps," Remus said reassuringly. "Have you ever had a bit of rotten peach down your shirt? I haven't, but I had a bit of cucumber, once—"

"She was concealing something," Snape said, continuing to eye the spot where Harriet had stood, as if he could still see her there, misbehaving.

Remus blinked. "You think she was lying about falling into the compost pile."

"I said concealing, not lying," Snape said, searing him with a why-are-you-too-criminally-stupid-to-understand-the-nuance look. "And you've gone green. I shan't give you any more today. The aconite has likely built up in your system now. We won't get anywhere else today, or until you recover, so bugger off."

"Now, Severus, surely you enjoyed poisoning me? On some level."

"If I were to poison you deliberately, Lupin," Snape said, baring his teeth slightly, "my preferred method would not be suffering your company whilst doing it. Aconite doesn't affect your hearing, so I assume you heard me tell you to bugger off, though why you're still here—"

"Always a pleasure, Severus," Remus said genially and left, feeling stirrings of honest amusement.

Despite the poisoning, it hadn't been such a bad morning at all.

--

Harriet wallowed in her bath for a while, scrubbing all of the compost out of her hair, until the water started to feel like a cool drink on a hot day. She dressed shivering in the chill, and then, hungry, walked the six feet to Snape's rooms.

There was a note pinned to the door, with Miss Potter written on front.

You're eating dinner in your room from now on. Sit at your table and say "dinner."

And that was it. No "hello" or "you miserable brat" or "see you later." She wasn't that surprised, but on some level it was always a bit startling how Snape was always so very . . . Snape. Even when he was doing something technically nice, like seeing you were fed, he was rude about it.

And why was she suddenly eating in her room now? Had he loathed Scrabble that much?

Puzzling it over, she wandered back into her room, sat at the table Dumbledore had conjured earlier, and said, "Dinner, please." A covered platter appeared: a filet of baked salmon, citrus rice, a spinach salad, and iced custard for dessert. More Snape food. She'd noticed how the food she ate in his room was usually vegetarian, with only fish if there had to be meat, and very healthy. It was awfully different from the food the house-elves served all the rest of the year, and from what Professor Dumbledore had fed her that morning. She wondered if Snape ordered these healthy meals himself.

She left her door open so she'd know when Snape returned, and was polishing off the custard when she finally heard him. He rustled on by without acknowledging her open door, went into his own room, and shut his door so firmly it was just shy of a bang.

A Hermione-like voice in her head said that she should probably stay put. Of course, she didn't listen to it. She pushed her plates away and stood, letting them wink out of existence.

She knocked on Snape's door.

After a very long time, he pulled the door open just enough for her to see his face and eyed her narrowly. She thought of the hippogriffs, fierce and proud and with talons that could slice your belly open.

"What is it?" he asked in no very welcoming tone.

"Hello," she said, emphatically deciding not to tell him about the hippogriffs. She didn't want to be responsible for Dumbledore needing to hire a new Potions professor—or one for Care of Magical Creatures. "Why'm I not eating in your room anymore?"

"Your shirt is buttoned incorrectly," Snape said, instead of answering. "And you're wearing odd socks."

Harriet looked down at herself. She'd buttoned off by two, and one sock was green-and-red striped like Christmas, the other bright blue. Dobby had sent them to her for her birthday.

During her sock inspection, Snape had shut the door. Harriet put her hands on her hips, and knocked again. Another long silence ensued while she glared at the woodgrain and he did not do what any normal person did when they heard a knock, which was answer the door.

Then he did, jerking it open. "What?" he said, glaring like she was the one being rude.

"I was thinking about something else while I was getting dressed," she told him.

"Perhaps you shouldn't do that next time," he said, as if he didn't care one way or the other, and made to shut the door again.

"I tried casting the Patronus Charm."

Snape's left eyelid flickered. Or maybe it was just one of the torches guttering in its bracket.

"How do you just not think about unhappy things?" she persisted. "Is there a trick?"

"No," he said, after a brief something that was not quite a pause. "You just do it. It's something you will have to learn for yourself."

He started to shut the door for a third time, so she said quickly, "I need to learn how to cast it! Else I won't be able to get past them to Hogsmeade."

Snape stopped with one inch left between the jamb and the door. After a long, definite pause, he pulled the door back enough to look down at her, or at least at her shoulder, which he seemed to be staring at rather than at her face. "Then Professor McGonagall hasn't told you."

Her stomach started sinking as fast as if it had rocks tied to its feet. "Told me what?" she asked, trying to control her voice.

"Your aunt returned the form denying you permission to go," he said, after another almost-not-there pause. She might have imagined it—her heart seemed to be beating double-time, waiting for him to bloody get it out—and then he did—and she wished he hadn't.

She heard a faint ringing in her ears.

"I dare say it's for the best," he said.

"Stuff that," Harriet said, her voice shaking, and she spun on her heel and ran into her room, slamming her door behind her. She jammed the lock home, grabbed a pillow off her bed and screamed into it.

She hated this year already.

--

"Wretched Muggles." Minerva jabbed her wand fiercely at the teapot, like a fencer lunging for a final strike. "The worst sort imaginable—if I had my way—"

Tea exploded from the spout at the force of her temper. She made a noise like an angry cat, her spectacles flashing.

"Harriet will be so disappointed," Remus murmured, rescuing the plate of biscuits before they, too, could perish in the face of Minerva's wrath. "I don't suppose there's any way . . . ?"

"No." Minerva sighed and let her wand fall into her lap. "It's the law that it must be a parent or guardian. Though I wouldn't be surprised if, under other circumstances, someone could be prevailed upon to override it—all those wretched anti-Muggle laws might be good for something, at least—but with Sirius Black's escape— it is better that we keep her close. But the poor girl. Everyone else will skip off, merry as grigs, and she'll be left here. I can't remember the last time a student wasn't permitted to go to Hogsmeade. Thank you," she said as he handed her a cup of tea, having decided it was less dangerous if he served it.

"She came to me this morning asking if I could sign the permission form for her," Minerva said, her mouth twisting as she glared into her tea. "I'm sure I've had a harder time telling someone no, but you shan't catch me remembering it anytime soon. Wretched, worthless Muggles. . ."

As Remus poured himself some tea, he couldn't help thinking of Lily's reaction if she knew what Petunia had done—not just this time, but all the others he'd been hearing about. Rumors of Harriet's Muggle family had whispered through the wizarding world for years, from witches and wizards who'd glimpsed her. Six years ago, learning her relative location from Dedalus Diggle, he'd gone to see for himself, and he'd found a near-starved slip of a girl, much too quiet for a child so young, with a haunting air of loneliness. It had broken his heart, and she wasn't even his daughter. He couldn't imagine what James and Lily would have felt.

He'd given her some chocolate he'd had in his pocket, and she'd at least got to swallow a couple of bites before her aunt had seen and come to hustle her away. He'd only once met Petunia—she'd come to Lily and James's funeral, with the baby, with Harriet—but he was sure she hadn't recognized him. Plain even in his unlined youth, he'd spent the years since then wasting away.

Harriet wasn't a baby anymore; or at least, she was a baby twelve years older. She looked healthier now, though it was relative: she still couldn't be called really healthy-looking, in spite of being regularly fed. But she looked more like James and Lily, more like the child they'd all loved and envisioned, and less like a corporeal ghost. In fact, his first sight of her at Hogwarts had suckerpunched him, James's hair and the owl-like glasses and the glint of Lily's vivid eyes throwing him out of time.

"And after being left with Severus for the past month," Minerva sighed. "I really don't know what Albus was thinking."

"I'm surprised Severus agreed to it," Remus said honestly. "I would never have thought of him as someone who, er, enjoyed looking after children."

Certainly not James's. And Harriet looked enough like James that that would be the first thing anyone who'd known him would think. Snape had loathed James. In fact, "loathing" was probably too clean a word. Remus would probably have hated James, too, if James had treated him the way he'd treated Snape, if he'd muscled in on a girl he'd fancied.

"Oh, he despises it," Minerva said dryly. "He's a dreadful teacher, though if you repeat that, Remus Lupin, I shall transfigure your ears into leeks. In all fairness, he's more even-handed than Horace was with the Slytherin students as a whole, and he does keep them more in line, but in other ways he's equally and abysmally partisan. He'll turn the most dreadful blind eye to the most underhand tactics from his own House and dock points from the rest for the most ridiculous . . . rubbish. . . "

"Let me guess," Remus murmured, "from Gryffindor most of all?"

"I can see Albus hired you for your analytical mind," Minerva said tartly, the corner of her mouth twitching.

Remus raised his teacup in acknowledgment. "I'd say that's good for the Slytherins, though—to have a Head of House who's not interested in them only if they're well-connected."

"Yes. They're quite devoted to him, honestly," Minerva admitted. "I shall never humble myself by asking, but I'd almost like to know how he does it. If I could see even a third of that spirit from Fred and George Weasley, I'd shed tears of joy."

"Troublemakers?" Remus said, amused.

"That doesn't even begin to cover it. It's good you're here—they'll be your comeuppance."

"Mine?"

"Yes." Both corners of her mouth twitched that time. "You Marauders—oh, don't think we didn't know how you styled yourselves. Teachers gossip dreadfully. You'll find this out. For all the mischief the four of you wreaked, Fred and George will afford you a small slice of contrition."

"I look forward to it," Remus said, laughing. "I've made a study of mischief over the years; new specimens are always welcome."

"We'll see if you say that once you've had to try and teach them something," Minerva said, with smug wisdom that implied she knew what he would say later, and it would be mostly expletive-filled.

"Does Harriet cause trouble? I thought from Severus's behavior that she had, but it's hard to tell with Severus."

Minerva tapped her nails on the side of her teacup. "Miss Potter—and her friends—have a more . . . unique way of causing trouble. Since she's been a student here, there have been two instances of . . . I suppose you would call them evil. And both times, Miss Potter was actively in the thick of it."

Remus felt his eyebrows rising of their own accord.

"Many of my Gryffindors have sought out trouble over the years," Minerva said dryly. "Seeking to battle evil." Remus remembered his own reminiscences as he'd walked Snape's dungeons and smiled in self-deprecation. "Miss Potter manages to find it, however. So far she's come out on top. . . "

The but lingered in the air, unspoken but not unheard.

And this year. . . Remus thought, but did not say that either. They both knew.

They finished their tea in silence, the windows tinting with mist from the Dementors that haunted the gates. They both knew you couldn't fight evil with evil, but sometimes fighting it with goodness was just as hard.

Chapter Text

Everyone knew the Greengrass girls were from Cornwall, and it was said they had a very pretty house overlooking the sea. Everyone also knew they were so poor that the girls had to make up all their clothes themselves, and that each of them would have to marry quite well, and at least one of them very well, to provide for all the rest.

They had all been named from Greek mythology, as part of an old-fashioned trend their Mama had ascribed to, in order to make them appear to be desirable, traditional brides. Leto was eldest; then Daphne; then Asteria; and finally Callisto. It was widely said that each daughter was more beautiful than the last, but of course it was hard to tell with the youngest, who was only nine.

Daphne had come home from Hogwarts in June with a letter in her pocket from Tracey, written to her on the train while Pansy talked endlessly. Mama had fetched her at King's Cross and Apparated them to the rocky beach in the hamlet below their cottage, and chatted about Leto's prospects while Daphne fingered the letter in the pocket of her cloak and said, "Yes, Mama," in all the proper places. She'd long ago learned to listen, really listen, with half an ear, while thinking about something else entirely. She was never without practice: either Mama or Pansy was always talking.

The summer had gone by, full of the sound of the ocean, the isolation of the countryside, the joyful antics of her two sisters at home, letters from Leto abroad, and Tiffany, always Tiffany, her ink on parchment. And now, the day before they were to leave, back to school. . .

"I don't want you to go," sobbed Callisto.

"I know, Callie." Daphne stroked her youngest sister's flaxen hair, feeling the front of her dress grow damp and stick to her skin.

Across the tiny parlor, Asteria was crying too, although silently. Tears dripped down her miserable face. Her stoic silence was even more wretched to witness than Callisto's wild fits.

Their Mama and Leto (home again, at last) had escaped the house. "I can't handle all the weeping and sobbing and moaning," Leto had said in a low voice to Daphne. "Damn this miserable place. It's not that I blame Callie, and Aster cries at every little thing, it's to be expected from her, but all-powerful Merlin it gives one such a headache. If I'm not engaged by next summer I'll throw myself into the sea."

Leto probably would be engaged by then, with no need for the sea that crashed and churned against the cliffs of north Cornwall. Her summer with their cousins in Vienna had been full of social success and diversions (though not an offer of marriage, not yet).

Daphne envied Leto. She would have liked to have been the eldest. She knew she would have been better at it than Leto. Daphne was better at it even though she was the second daughter.

Since she was six years old, Daphne had been aware that she was more responsible than her older sister and their Mama, too. Her sisters were hers to look after. It was going to be hard, leaving little Callie all on her own while the rest of them were at Hogwarts. She would be lonely, on her own for the first time without any of them, now that Asteria was going into her first year. On her own with nobody but their Mama.

It wasn't that Mama was—well, bad. She didn't keep bottles stashed around the house or in her apron pocket, like Mrs. Greary on the moor. She didn't make her girls get jobs and then take all their pay the moment in came in, like Mrs. Wharton. Mama had brought them up very well, in fact: teaching them how to speak elegantly so they wouldn't have half-blood accents; how to be proper wives of a large household; how to entertain guests and be always a gracious hostess. Mama meant for them all to make excellent matches, but she had also seen their individual strengths. Leto knew how to win friends and admirers in the highest places. Daphne, collected and poised, could have spoken elegantly to diplomats and princes from the time she was ten. Asteria's music and art lessons had been more difficult, for they required masters and those required payment, but one of Mama's strengths was collecting favors from useful people. Callie was a little young yet, but one day she would probably rival Leto for vivacity and charm. Daphne knew that Callie had been a little overlooked, but she didn't blame Mama; her first and most important job was to see Leto married well. Callie, the youngest of four girls, two years away from Hogwarts, was the least of Mama's worries.

Daphne had asked Mrs. Martindale, a witch who ran a small, informal school in her home two mile's walk away, to keep Callie and teach her a few things, if she could. Callie would surely make friends there. She was good at that, unlike Asteria, who was so shy and resistant to new things and faces. In fact, Daphne was equally worried about Asteria coming to Hogwarts. The sudden change, the newness of everything, would upset her very much. It hurt Asteria quite as much to be leaving Callie as it hurt Callie to be left.

The front door clattered open and Leto came in, her curly yellow hair wild from the wind, her face flushed. She was clutching a mailing-tube, the sort used for international owl post.

"They wrote back!" she announced with fierce pride.

"Our cousins in Vienna?" asked Daphne, her arm tightening around Callie as her heart beat more quickly. What if it's an offer? she thought, hardly daring to hope.

"Of course—as if I'd care about anyone else." Leto avoided the chair whose seat still had not been repaired and threw herself onto the window-seat, knocking a basket of knitting to the floor. "Listen to this—oh, Callie, please do stop wailing, I can't hear myself think—'Dearest Leto'—they ask how we all are, dull stuff, but you're all fine, aren't you? Listen to this, here's the juice: 'You were such a hit this summer, we've been besieged with requests to have to back with us. So as not to disappoint the whole of our society here in Vienna, we beg you to spend your Christmas holidays with us.'" As she read, her face glowed bright with triumph, and when she looked up from the letter, her eyes were glittering.

Callie's mood, ever mercurial, had already shifted from bitter weeping to breathless excitement while tears were still trembling on her blonde lashes. "Oh, Leto! Does this mean you'll be married soon? Please let me be a bridesmaid!"

"Of course you'll be my bridesmaid," Leto said, laughing in the sparkling way that everyone loved. "You'll all be my bridesmaids, and my husband will feel the luckiest man in the world, marrying into such a gorgeous family of sisters."

Asteria burst into tears.

"Oh, Aster," said Leto in exasperation, getting up from the window to go to her. "You needn't do that, you silly goose."

"I'm s-sorry," Asteria sobbed. "I know it's wonderful—but it makes me so sad—if you go away—"

"Just for Christmas, you goosey goose," said Leto, rubbing her shoulders. "You'll be at Hogwarts with me all year! You'll get quite sick of me and be glad I'm going."

"Never!" Asteria gasped, white-faced.

Leto caught Daphne's eye, her face clearly saying Why are our sisters such gooses?

"We should all be thinking about dinner," Daphne said calmly, while Callie ran over to read Leto's letter. "What shall we make?"

"What have we got in the box?" asked Leto cynically. "It'll be potatoes and water again."

"Walter Matthias brought us a rabbit this morning," said Daphne. "I thought it would make a good stew. I'll make you a potato and leek soup, Aster," she added, for Asteria couldn't bear to eat meat. "Your favorite."

"You'll have to get the Hogwarts' house-elves the recipe," muttered Leto. "Or she won't eat a thing. And you know what Mama would say." She tilted her chin back and put on a prim, nasally voice that made her look and sound exactly like Mama. "Nobody wants a wife that's too fat or too thin, girls."

"Are you going to tell Mama?" Daphne asked, quietly so their younger sisters wouldn't hear. Callie, fully recovered, was now sitting next to Asteria, poring over the letter.

Leto shrugged. "I suppose. It should buoy her up a bit, at least—get her off my case. But I'll do it just before we leave. I don't want her lecturing me on what'll happen if I don't get an offer this time, either." Her voice said she paid little attention to Mama's lectures, but Daphne knew how much Leto had been disappointed to come back home without a single offer. In truth, they had all been surprised. At seventeen, she was quite old enough to be married, and her beauty was only matched by her charm and the purity of her blood. They were poor, but it shouldn't have mattered. Only Asteria had been relieved, and her happiness had made her feel so guilty that she'd cried more bitterly than she would have done if Leto was already married and living on the Continent.

"In that case you probably shouldn't have told Callie," Daphne said practically.

Leto scowled. "Sod it all if you aren't right. Well, there's no point in telling her to keep mum. The sky will fall in on our heads before Callie can keep her mouth shut. I've put up with Mama for years, I can do it for another week.

"Speak of the devil," she said under her breath as Mama's voice sounded down the hall to the kitchen.

"Did I see the post?" Mama asked as she bustled into the room carrying a basket of rosemary and rue over one arm. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright and eager. Mama was no longer as slender as she once had been, but she was still recognizable wherever they went as a former beauty. "Was it something for you, Leto my love?"

"Cousins want her to spend Christmas with them!" Callie said rapturously.

Mama's eager brightness dimmed. "Is that all? I thought surely it would be something of more . . . substance."

"Yes," Leto said, attempting casual; but it was brittle, almost challenging. "That's all. Just another boring old invitation from Vienna."

"But Lee, you said—"

"Callie," Daphne interrupted, "will you pick up that knitting for me? It's all over the floor, such a mess, and I need to be starting on dinner."

"Well, that's quite the shame," said Mama slowly. "Still, it's better than nothing, I suppose."

Leto said nothing. Daphne tidied her sewing as if nothing was wrong, but she saw Asteria absorbing everything as she piled the knitting back into the basket Leto had knocked to the floor.

"Which of you is helping me with dinner?" Daphne asked her younger sisters.

"I will," Asteria said, still grave, and followed Daphne down the tiny hall to the kitchen at the back of the house.

"You will have to work extra hard this trip, my love," Mama was saying to Leto as they left. "You can't waste all your time as you did this summer. The Christmas holidays will be shorter, but still a vital chance . . . "

Daphne shut the kitchen door, shutting off Mama's voice. She moved about the kitchen quite calmly, fetching the potatoes and leeks, of which there weren't many, from the store box, reaching for the rabbit—but then stopping, because Asteria was standing beside the table and the sight of blood made her faint.

"You won't want to help me with this stage, Aster," Daphne said.

"I can fix the soup," Asteria said quietly.

"Aster . . . "

Asteria took the potatoes and leeks and turned her back on Daphne, clearly intending to work at the sink. When Daphne passed around the end of the table, kissed Asteria's hair. She had to lean up a little for it. Even though Asteria was two years younger, she had always been half a head taller.

Asteria turned her head and smiled just a little. She did not smile broadly often, which was quite a sad thing for the world. Her joy was the quiet, heart-swelling sort, but if it ever burst into euphoria, she could probably light Muggle London.

Daphne strapped a leather apron over her shabby dress and leather gloves up to her elbow, neatly tied up her hair, and skinned the rabbit. She watched Asteria's back as she worked, but her sister faced the sink the whole time.

"Close your eyes, Aster," Daphne said once she was done.

Asteria obediently shut her eyes, allowing Daphne to wash the bloody knife in the sink.

"Why is it such a bad thing that Leto didn't get an offer?" Asteria asked with her eyes still shut.

Daphne kept rinsing the knife clean. She sluiced the water all around the sink, running all traces of blood away, while Asteria stood patiently with her eyes closed, breathing through her mouth to avoid the smell.

Daphne shut off the water. "I think you know why, Aster."

"I don't care if Leto gets married," Asteria said, opening her eyes again. "No—I do, only I would rather she didn't. I don't want her to go away at all, but going away for money is the worst thing she could do."

"It isn't just for money, Aster."

"I know." Daphne had always thought of herself as quite grown-up for her age, but Asteria looked equally grown up then, if not moreso. "It's for all of us. But I don't want her to do it for me. I don't want her to be unhappy so that I can be happy. I couldn't be happy like that."

Daphne slid the knife back into the block. "You would make that sacrifice for Leto?"

"Of course," Asteria said quietly, and Daphne knew she would.

"And Leto would make this sacrifice for us," she said gently. "So would I." She kissed Asteria's cheek. "I'm going to finish cooking the rabbit now."

It's true, Daphne thought. We're not children anymore.

--

"I hope you enjoyed your summer, darling," Mother said.

"It was all right," Draco said negligently.

He was lying crosswise on the bed, toying with a gold-plate and crystal Sneakoscope his cousins had given him for his birthday. He'd put all his cousins in stitches telling really outrageous lies with a straight face while the Sneakoscope screamed louder and louder in his hand. He'd had loads of fun in Lombardy, but it didn't do to appear too excited. And his mum always got into this mood at the end of August, where she grew quiet and asked him simple questions that seemed to be something else entirely.

She was folding his robes and packing his trunk by hand. It was something she'd done all three summers before Hogwarts, even before Potter had stolen Dobby from them. Draco didn't know why she didn't just use a spell.

"You're going to be careful at Hogwarts this year, my love," Mother said, piling all his school shirts into one neat stack and placing them inside the trunk. "Aren't you?"

"'Course," Draco said, and the Sneakoscope stayed dark and silent. "I'll keep Crabbe and Goyle around and throw them in front of the Dementors if we cross any."

The Sneakoscope flickered but then went dark again. Draco supposed it was because he wasn't sure if he was being serious or not.

"Never give a Dementor any opportunity to notice you," Father had said last night at dinner. "Travel always with others, and keep alert. Dementors do not understand pity, and they have no mercy."

"Do you really think he's broken out of prison to kill Potter?" Draco asked Mother as she packed in his trousers.

(Rita Skeeter certainly did. Reading her stuff, you'd think Sirius Black had really escaped from Azkaban to sit for a series of interviews with her. Either that or she'd smuggled him out herself so she could have uninterrupted access to his personal history.)

Father had said Black's motives were not to be guessed at, since after twelve years in Azkaban, he was certainly mad. Mother had only stared at the flames on the candleabra, the light shining in pinpricks in her wide pupils. But on her own, Mother was more communicative than Father, more indulgent. She used to let Draco hide underneath the tables when she had witches over for tea, and he'd spy on their conversations for her and only tell her what they said if she bribed him properly. (Of course, he'd had to learn to take bribes: he used to be quite easy to win over, Mother said, before she taught him how to hold out for more than a single truffle.)

"Mother?" he said when she didn't answer him. He lay the Sneakoscope down, tired it of it for now.

"Darling, why did you opt to take this ridiculous course?" She took out her wand to levitate his snarling Monster Book of Monsters into his trunk. He'd had to belt it shut to stop it from eating all his other books—and clothes, and shoes, and bedding. . .

"Sirius Black, Mum," he said, pushing up against his pillows so he could fold his arms properly. Father would have said Do Malfoys talk like that, Draco? and Do we slouch? "Is he really that dangerous?"

Mother didn't answer at first. "Sirius Black is our cousin," she said as she packed the rest of his books into his trunk. "Related to your father, too, of course, though much more distantly. But he and I are first cousins, which makes him your first cousin once removed."

Draco knew this. Mother and Father had taught him to read by tracing the silver thread on the family tapestry in the gallery through all the years, from the first Malfoi to himself, Draco, at the end, all alone. The names of dead family members were pewter, the living ones still shining bright. Regulus was dark, but Sirius was somewhere in between, dull, like nickel.

"He went to Gryffindor," said Mother. "He was friends with James Potter."

Draco sat up all the way. "What?" That definitely hadn't been in the paper.

"Mmm." Mother was looking out the window now.

"Does Potter know?"

"I couldn't tell you, darling. It was general knowledge to those who knew him. They were quite inseparable, even after Potter married that Mudblood harridan. But many of their contemporaries died in the war, after all. . ."

This was turning out to be a great deal more interesting than he'd thought it would be. "Did you know him well?"

"We met often as children—he was quite spoilt, in some ways, but in others dreadfully neglected. Uncle Orion was . . . not the warmest of men. And once Sirius was sorted into Gryffindor . . . he left home when he was sixteen and never spoke to any of us again—except on fighting terms, of course. He was quite quarrelsome whenever we'd cross paths."

She fell silent then, still looking out the window, across the broad green lawn.

"Had you asked me," she said quietly, "if Sirius followed the Dark Lord—if he would follow him for any reason—I would have staked my life on the negative."

She turned to look at Draco then, with a serenity as deep and vast as a lake whose opposite shore disappeared over the horizon. He felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

"It has taught me how little we can be certain of, in this life," Mother said.

--

The next day Mother and Father brought him to the train, as ever, and he permitted Mother to kiss him in front of everyone. He was surprised to still miss her whenever he had to go away. Zabini said he should've outgrown that by now, but how could you possibly not miss someone who stood and watched the train until it pulled away, standing there after it had shrunken to the size of a toy, and then a dot, and still imagined they could see you long after you'd disappeared?

He'd never seen Mother do that, of course. She'd be too far away. But he had no trouble imagining it. And if he could imagine it, then surely she was thinking these things about him.

Pansy was easier to find than a Gryffindor in a fireworks factory. In fact, all he had to do was turn around and he almost plowed into her. She oozed into his personal space, her eyes ringed in black makeup, her dark hair falling soft and pretty around her face; much prettier, honestly, than her face.

"Draco," she said breathlessly, looking at him the way Goyle looked at Christmas pudding. "How was your holiday?"

"All right," he said, drawling. He thought about slinging his arm around her waist to see how it worked, but he didn't really want her plastered to him all day.

It was easy to find Crabbe and Goyle, who sat in the same compartment every year. This year the car had developed a growth of Hufflepuffs. Draco and Pansy kicked them out, and the four of them settled down with the candy Crabbe and Goyle had bought, the hamper Mum had sent along with him, and some really vile cookies Pansy had baked for Draco. (All he had to do was "accidentally" move them near Goyle and they disappeared.) Millicent joined them before they'd passed Peterborough, but she just sat near the door and didn't say anything, like usual. After a time Zabini showed up, but went away again after Daphne turned up with her two sisters. Leto was in her final year, husband-hunting (Mum said), but the other was new and the prettiest one yet. Draco thought there was another Greengrass girl out there, a little kid. If it was true what everyone said, that each girl was better-looking than the one before, it was almost incomprehensible how good-looking the next one would be.

Pansy's hatred was instantaneous, but New Sister was so dead silent that after fifteen minutes everyone forgot she was there. Around Doncaster, Tracey slipped in, cool-faced, wearing her curly dark hair in a knot on her head and black rings like Pansy's around her eyes, looking much hotter than Pansy did. Was this a new habit with them, or had he just started noticing? Would Potter take it up, too? She'd have to get rid of those wretched glasses and fix her hair before she'd look halfway decent, no matter how she made up her eyes.

After a time Draco grew bored of talking about the summer—the upcoming classes—Sirius Black—and decided he wanted to go find Potter and taunt her mercilessly. Pansy was locking claws in some obscure argument with Tracey, seemingly having to do with how rich and beautiful his cousins were, so Draco collected Crabbe and Goyle and muscled up and down the train, looking for the Gryffindorks.

They found Granger first, coming out of the loo. She'd already pulled on her school robes, like she belonged here. He couldn't see any makeup on her face at all, and her teeth looked bigger than ever.

"If it isn't the long-molared Mudblood sidekick," he drawled. "Where's your famous pal?"

Granger looked at him like he was a half-dead squirrel someone had thrown on her lap. "Do you really not have anything better to do than taunt me and Harriet?" she asked, reminding him, for a second, of his gorgon grandmother.

"Loads of things to do that are better," he said. "But few things so fun."

Granger's look of disgust was really impressive, not that he would ever tell her that. He wanted to knock it off her big-toothed face. She tried to push past them, but Goyle blocked her.

"Excuse me," she said coldly, not looking the least bit intimidated. Honestly, Gryffindors were so bloody annoying. They were no fun to scare because they were too senseless to be scared of anything.

"Yeah," said a familiar voice behind Crabbe. "Excuse you gents. The lady wants through."

The Weasley twins, hard-faced and already armed. Eurgh. Unlike Granger, they'd hex first and ask questions later.

"Come on," Draco muttered to Crabbe and Goyle, and collecting them, he left.

He didn't see Potter's horrible hair or even-more-horrible glasses anywhere on the train. Dumbledore had probably given her some special escort. His mood soured, the way it did so often with Potter. If he saw her smug git face, he had to taunt her just to wipe that smile off it, the one that made his wand-hand itch. Even when her smug git face wasn't around he thought about it, itching to hex, until he had to go find her and bother her for that split-second where she stopped looking so smug and satisfied. He'd had to put up with not being able to rile her all summer and now she wasn't on the train.

It was just like her. Even when he did get to wrinkle that stuck-up Gryffindor-ness, she usually managed to win somehow.

Stupid Potter.

As they wound closer to Hogwarts, more and more rain rolled in, with a cold mist that frosted the windows all along the train. Looking out, all you could see was that mist. Draco changed into his school robes and pulled on his thick cloak and gloves when he estimated they still had an hour left to go. Lamps flickered up and down the train, shaking and shivering the light when the track got bumpy.

When they stepped off the train, the air outside was biting cold. Somehow Draco lost Crabbe and Goyle and wound up in a carriage with Daphne, New Sister, and Tracey. He wondered if Pansy was lying dead somewhere, because he couldn't see any other way she would have left him alone with three girls all much better-looking than she was.

But when the carriage lurched into motion, it was still Pansy-less, so he shrugged and settled back against the squabs that smelled like wet hay, wondering how much the Sorting Feast would bore him after a month spent with his cousins, who'd thrown him a goodbye feast with a full-feathered swan pie. Hogwarts would never have anything like that.

Out of nowhere, Daphne's sister—Asteria? Astoria?—gasped, like someone had poured cold water on her.

"Aster?" Daphne said.

And Draco felt it . . . a piercing, drowning cold, like the whole carriage was filling with water . . . he couldn't see what was going on around him, even though he knew his eyes were open. . . and then he forgot about even that as he heard voices, the voices of his parents arguing . . .

But Mother and Father never argue, he thought.

"—take him from you, forever and good, Narcissa, by Merlin and Salazar I will—"

"You will take him from me? You think you have the strength?"

"You know very well I have the power to make sure you never see my son again in your life—"

"Threaten me with lawyers, Lucius, with your contracts forged in blood, with all the power of your wealth, and still it will not be enough. I am his mother, and I would die once, twice, a thousand times before I will be parted from him so much as a day, even if it's his father who takes him from me. . ."

He couldn't see; he was someplace dark, and Mother and Father were near him, shouting, glass was breaking, magic was curdling his skin—he knew all this, even though he knew he was in the carriage with Tracey and Daphne and her sister and he knew Mother and Father had never fought. He struggled, trying to get out of it, the nightmare of his parents fighting, over him, over taking him away from each other.

Something heavy landed on his feet. With a gasp, he pulled free of the cold, drowning darkness. The rattle of the carriage was so loud around him. Tracey was gasping, like she was trying not to be sick. Daphne moaned weakly. Asteria—

Was the thing that had landed on Draco's feet. She'd passed out cold on the floor.

He scrubbed a hand over his clammy face. Icy sweat rubbed onto his palm. "Oy," he muttered, twitching his foot. Asteria stirred but didn't sit up. He leaned down and shook her shoulder. "Here, wake up."

"Oh," Daphne gasped again, differently this time. "Aster!" She slid to the floor and pulled her sister's head and shoulders onto her lap, pushing Asteria's heavy blonde hair off her face. "Aster, wake up, Aster."

"Dementors," Tracey muttered. "I read about them in the Prophet, but I thought Skeeter was just full of shit. . ."

Asteria was coming round. She was shivering in Daphne's lap in that threadbare coat. Somewhere amongst all the shittiness, Draco had the thought that it was a shame for someone so pretty to be cold.

"Here." He slung his cloak down onto her. "Your coat's pathetic."

"Thank you, Draco," Daphne said with real gratitude, or at least what sounded real. She was the Nice One, though, of the Slytherin girls in his year, so maybe she did mean it. "Wasn't that kind, Aster? Draco is such a gentleman."

This masterful study of his character made Draco feel a bit less shitty, and when he climbed down from the carriage into the damp cold, with mist crawling around his knees over the Hogwarts steps, he almost didn't mind that he was the one now shivering. Asteria looked so pathetic and so beautiful at the same time that he couldn't even hint for his cloak back, so he simply shoved his way through the swarm of Gryffindorks and Dufferpuffs, heading for where it was warm.

--

Harriet raced down the Grand Staircase to the Entrance Hall as soon as she saw the lamps on the carriages glinting in the gloom on the track far below. She took a spot a few stairs up so she could clearly see everyone who came in, searching for the riot of Hermione's hair. When Hermione appeared in the swarm, she was already scanning the Entrance Hall for Harriet, who stretched up her hands and waved. Hermione's face lit up, and they ran at each other at the same time, Harriet knocking a couple of Ravenclaws twice her size out of her way.

They jumped at each other, hugging fiercely, and for a few moments didn't say anything, just hugged. Then Hermione said, "I was so worried!"

"So worried you could only finish twenty-two of your twenty-three books?" Harriet asked, grinning.

"Oh, shut up," Hermione said, squeezing her. "I have no idea what any of them were about since you left."

Harriet felt a warmth glow around her heart. Hermione had missed so much she couldn't concentrate on her reading. (Well, she probably had concentrated at least half of the time, but considering she usually concentrated one hundred and ten percent, this was evidence of the strongest emotion.)

They turned to head into the Great Hall and almost plowed right into Professor McGonagall.

"We're sorry!" Hermione squeaked, like she was afraid Professor McGonagall would give them detention for almost walking into her. Well, Snape might have. . .

"There's no need, Miss Granger," said Professor McGonagall, "though I do need you to come with me."

Hermione went white. Professor McGonagall didn't speak any faster, but she said immediately, "It's about your schedule for this year. Miss Potter, you can proceed into the Hall."

Harriet was put out by this cruel sadism that robbed her of her best friend just when they'd been reunited after the threat of a mass murderer had separated them for a month. She'd have expected better from Professor McGonagall. But Hermione didn't seem to feel the same: as soon she heard "schedule," her face lit up. Harriet was resigned to sharing Hermione's heart with schoolwork again.

"See you in a bit, then," Harriet said, and watched Hermione trot off after Professor McGonagall.

"So here you are, Potty," drawled a voice as unwelcome as it was familiar. "Too good to ride the train with the rest of us this year, I heard."

Ugh: Malfoy. Harriet turned around and found herself staring at his chest. He'd got taller. It was very unpleasant to have to scowl up at him.

"Your head may have got bigger," he said, looking gleeful, "but the rest of you had best work overtime to catch up."

"And still it'll never match the size of yours," she retorted. "Asteroids are smaller. Piss off, Malfoy."

She turned her back on him, and almost had a heart attack when two new voices suddenly bellowed in her ears: "Harry old girl!"

"So long it's been!" Fred grabbed her by the shoulders from behind and lifted her up in a hug. No sooner had he put her down than George did the same.

"Though one couldn't tell," he said, "by how much you haven't grown."

"Oh, sod off," Harriet said, trying to kick one or the other of them in the kneecaps.

"Maybe she just doesn't seem like she's grown because you two are becoming even bigger gits," Ginny said, coming up as Harriet tried to squirm free of George's grip. "Who could keep up?"

"Your words wound, little sister," said Fred as George adjusted his grip to trap Harriet in a headlock.

"You'll get more than that once I learn that Bat Bogey hex," Ginny threatened.

"You let Harry go, George Weasley," said Angelina, "or you'll find out if I know the Bat Bogey hex."

George released Harriet, holding his hands up. "When women get tough, the tough get going."

"Not too soon for anyone," Harriet growled. Fred and George pretended to cower, and Angelina drove them into the Great Hall, jabbing her wand at them, which they fake-fled from.

"Gits," Ginny said, shaking her head.

When she and Harriet hugged hello, Harriet couldn't help noticing that Ginny had also grown several inches on top of the couple she remembered her already having. She didn't mind so much Hermione's being taller, since Hermione was almost a year older, and Malfoy was a boy, so it was inevitable he'd outgrow her; but Ginny was more than a year younger. It was deeply bloody disheartening.

"Where's Ron?" she asked, scanning the crowds for his bright Weasley hair and only seeing Percy, who was trying to boss everyone nearby and having success with no one.

"Catching a ride with the boys in your year, I think," Ginny said. "They were all being very blokey on the train. By the way, you won't believe it when you see Neville—he must've grown a foot at least and lost forty pounds. Where's Hermione got to? She was dying to find you."

"Professor McGonagall's talking with her about her schedule," Harriet said as they walked together into the Great Hall. People seemed to be whispering and pointing at her as she passed, but she was used to it. Not that this made it any less bloody annoying.

"That should cheer her up," Ginny said. Harriet laughed.

Finally Hogwarts looked like it should, full of people and noise and light. The thousand candles floated over the tables, which were slowly packing themselves with students; the ceiling-sky overhead was churning and roiling, a Dementor-mist gray, but with all the people and the light it was so warm below that Harriet stuck out her tongue at it. The teachers lined the High Table in their best robes that glinted like jewels, looking like teachers ought: distant and unknowable, a bit inhuman.

And there was Snape.

He was the only one all in black. He sat with his elbows propped on the arms of his chair, his hands linked in front of him, staring darkly into space. The robes did seem to be different than the sort he taught in; they sort of glimmered, even across the hall, like light was falling into them. But his hair was as greasy as ever, hanging around his deep-set eyes and gaunt face, and his expression was one of deep displeasure.

She'd spent a month with hardly anyone else for company, but she couldn't say she knew him even a little bit. She'd wondered more than once these past few weeks if anyone knew him at all. He seemed to live a lonesome life. He didn't have a single picture around his rooms of any friends or family, which even the vile Dursleys did. Even now, all the teachers she could see were chatting with each other while Snape sat by himself, staring into space.

A weird impulse rose in her to go up and say hello, which probably signaled a severe mental problem, because Snape would surely rather suffer food poisoning than want her saying hello to him. Anyway, she'd seen him just a couple of hours ago. But the feeling wouldn't go away, as she sat and watched everyone in the room greet each other and laugh, except for Snape, who didn't once smile or have anyone wave to him. Not even Professor Dumbledore did, but at least he had the excuse of being deep in conversation with Professor Flitwick.

Professor Lupin came in through the teachers' entrance behind the High Table, wearing robes just as patched and shabby as all his others and looking exhausted. But he was smiling as he looked across the Hall, and when he was looking in Harriet's direction he smiled even more broadly. Harriet waved on reflex, at the same time that Snape, who'd been treating Professor Lupin to a look of more-than-usually potent loathing, turned to look at her. Her hand froze in mid-wave, especially when he sent her a look of scathing disgust. Then he looked away to glare at the Hufflepuff table, before Harriet could do anything more than stare at him with her hand half-raised and her mouth hanging open.

"There you are, Harry," said Ron's voice. Still deep in Snape-inspired bewilderment, Harriet turned to see Ron sitting down across from her, with Dean and Seamus and—was that Neville? She did a literal double-take. Ginny was right: he didn't look at all like the Neville she remembered. This Neville was tall and lanky and hunch-shouldered, probably from growing so much so suddenly—but the expression on his face, the never-ending worry, was the exact same.

"H-hi, Harriet," he warbled, clutching Trevor, who hung resignedly in his grip.

"And she's still in one piece," Seamus said, making a show of looking her over. "Not a very big one, though."

Before Harriet could reply, the noise level in the Hall rose. Glancing around, she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary; but she did see the doors behind the High Table open and Hermione squeeze through the gap. She ducked her head down as Professor Sinistra looked haughtily at her and ran along the Gryffindor table bent almost double.

"Hi," she whispered as she squeezed into the space Harriet and Ginny had left her between them.

"What did Professor McGonagall want?" Harriet asked, but Hermione just shook her head and motioned shh: the main doors to the Hall were opening and Professor McGonagall swept in, carrying her scroll of names and leading the newest crowd of first years.

Harriet couldn't recall ever being so annoyed with Professor McGonagall, whom she'd always liked very much. But twice now tonight Professor McGonagall had interrupted her reunion with Hermione, first with her ruddy talk of schedules and now with her ruddy Sorting, which was the exact same every year. Of course, last year Harriet had missed it because she'd been busy flying a car into the Whomping Willow, and the year before that she'd been too terrified of being thrown out of Hogwarts or Sorted into Slytherin to pay much attention. But really, it was just watching a bunch of queasy-faced kids try on a hat, and this year there was no one particular to even cheer for.

She fell back into Snape-watching without really realizing it at first. He clapped only for the kids Sorted into Slytherin, and even then not very much: just hitting his hands together a couple of times and letting them drop again. In the intertim, he glared death and loathing at Professor Lupin, who, like all the other teachers, was watching the Sorting. If he noticed Snape's skewering looks, you couldn't tell. But that was typical of Lupin. Every time she'd run across him and Snape together, Snape was discovering new forms of blistering rudeness and Lupin was just smiling pleasantly through them all.

Grown-ups never stopped being strange.

With the last student (Yarrow, Emmanuelle) joining the Ravenclaw tables, Professor McGonagall magicked the Sorting Hat and its three-legged stool into her arms and strode away, and Professor Dumbledore stood up, the candlelight glinting on his beard.

"Welcome!" he said, his voice rippling across the Hall, washing all the students' voices to silence. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts. I have a few things to say to you all, and as one of them is very serious, I thought it best to get it out of the way before you become beffudled by our excellent feast. . . "

Dementors, I bet, Harriet thought, repressing a shiver.

"As you may be aware, our school is presently playing host to some of the Dementors of Azkaban, who are here on Ministry of Magic business."

Hundreds of heads swiveled to look at Harriet, who flushed bright red. Now she understood all the pointing and whispering.

"They are stationed at every entrance to the grounds," Dumbledore continued, "and while they are with us, I must make it plain that nobody is to leave school without permission. Dementors are not to be fooled by tricks or disguises—or even Invisibility Cloaks," he added blandly (Harriet blushed again). "It is not in the nature of a Dementor to understand pleading or excuses. I therefore warn each and every one of you to give them no reason to harm you. I look to the Prefects, and our new Head Boy and Girl, to make sure that no student runs foul of the Dementors."

Percy, sitting a few seats down, puffed out his chest, looking immensely proud and important. Ginny leaned into Harriet, muttering, "Fred and George charmed his badge to read 'Bighead Boy.' Get a look later."

Harriet turned her laugh into a cough, but Percy gave her a scandalized frown anyway. Knowing it would've been much worse if he'd known what she was laughing about, she put her head down so he wouldn't see her grinning.

"On a happier note," Dumbledore was saying, "I am pleased to welcome two new teachers to our ranks this year. . . "

At Professor Lupin's introduction, Snape renewed his glare of undying disgust and refused to clap. The applause from everyone else was pretty unenthusiastic, and Harriet's guilt at once thinking, like everyone else was clearly doing, that Professor Lupin didn't look like much made her clap harder than everyone else. He looked as unruffled by this lukewarm reception as he'd done whenever Snape had insulted him over the summer.

"As to our second new appointment," Dumbledore continued when everyone had clapped as long as was polite, "well, I am sorry to tell you that Professor Kettleburn, our Care of Magical Creatures teacher, retired at the end of last year in order to enjoy more time with his remaining limbs. However, I am delighted to say that his place will be filled by none other than Rubeus Hagrid, who has agreed to take on this teaching job in addition to his gamekeeping duties."

Hagrid got a much better reception: applause thundered across the Hall, deafening at the Gryffindor table in particular. The strip of skin visible between Hagrid's beard and wild hair went bright red.

"Well, I think that's everything of importance," Dumbledore said when the applause finally died away and Hagrid was mopping his eyes on the tablecloth. "Let the feast begin!"

"What did Professor McGonagall want?" Harriet asked Hermione immediately, as food bloomed on the golden plates all along the table and the smell of dinner rose like steam.

"Oh, just to have a word about my schedule," Hermione said, with an uncharacteristic airiness that pinged Harriet's internal alarm system. Hermione was never airy about schoolwork. Even schoolwork-related airiness in others wounded her soul.

"I was there for that part," Harriet said. "What about it?"

"Well—" Hermione paused to ladle buttered potatoes onto her plate. "You know how I'm taking a few extra courses this year—"

"You signed up for all the courses," Ron put in from across the table.

"Yes, well, my schedule was a bit full because of it," Hermione said briskly, "so Professor McGonagall and I had to talk about how I would be getting to all the classes."

"How are you?" Ron asked before Harriet could say anything. "Going to split yourself into two?"

"I'm sure it wouldn't interest you," Hermione said loftily. As she piled baked chicken onto her plate, her eyes got a familiar sparkle in them, and Harriet relaxed. "I can't wait to start Arithmancy—and Ancient Runes—and Muggle studies—"

"Your parents are Muggles," Ron interrupted yet again, and Harriet experienced a new annoyance with him, too. Would no one bloody let her talk to her own bloody best friend? "You grew up with Muggles. What do you need to learn about Muggles for?"

"It'll be fascinating to study them from a wizarding point of view," Hermione said earnestly. Ron shook his head, incredulous, and stuffed some yams into his mouth. Unfortunately, this didn't mean he would stop talking.

"I can't believe Hagrid's a teacher," Hermione said to Harriet. "In a good way, obviously," she added hurriedly. "It'll mean so much to him."

"He's really going all out," Harriet said. "Wait till you see what he's got for our first lesson."

"Whaff?" Ron asked immediately, spraying flecks of parsley across the table. Seamus and Dean repeated the question, though happily not the rain of half-chewed food. Harriet raised her eyebrows at them.

"You'll soon find out," she said loftily, which made them scowl and glower.

"You'll tell me, though, right?" Ginny asked, leaning in and smirking at the boys. "Since I'm not in your class?"

Harriet made a show of whispering it in her ear while the boys pretended not to care, but they clearly did, and Ginny gasped and said, "Really? I'm so jealous!" so well that they didn't stop pestering Harriet until the last of the desserts had disappeared and everyone started leaving for bed. By then Harriet was wishing she hadn't done such a good job of interesting them. She almost, almost told them, just so they'd bugger off, but she had her pride.

"I want to tell Hagrid congratulations," Hermione said, and they broke away from the crowd to rush the High Table. Harriet would have expected Ron to come with them, but oddly he stayed with Seamus and Dean, who were heading out the door.

"Congratulations, Hagrid!" Hermione squealed as they reached his chair.

"All down ter you two, really," said Hagrid, wiping his shining face on his napkin. "Clearin' up that business with the Chamber—clearin' my name, so everyone knows it weren't me killed that poor girl. . . "

Hermione patted him consolingly on the arm. Harriet felt a renewed surge of anger at Voldemort, one-time Tom Riddle, who'd framed Hagrid for killing Myrtle when he was the one who'd done it. She almost wished there was another diary full of him, so she could stab it and watch him dissolve all over again.

"Dumbledore came straight to me hut after Professor Kettleburn said he'd had enough," Hagrid said. "It's what I always wanted . . . great man, Dumbledore . . . "

The emotion became too much to handle, and he buried his face in his napkin. Harriet joined Hermione in patting his arm.

"Go on, you two," Professor McGonagall said, shooing them away.

Neville jogged up to them, clutching Trevor, who must have tried to escape again during dinner. His no-longer-round face was shining with worry. "We've got to hurry!" he said anxiously. "What if we miss the password?"

But the Tower was so far away, and as a House the Gryffindors rambled so much, that Harriet, Hermione and Neville were able to join the crowd hobnobbing outside the Fat Lady in time to hear Percy saying self-importantly, "Excuse me, let me through, I'm Head Boy! The password's Fortuna Major!"

"Oh, no," Neville said sadly. Harriet decided that, like Hagrid, he needed an arm pat, and gave him one. It made him go about as red as Hagrid had been when the entire Hall was applauding him.

Harriet had moved back into the Tower that morning, so she'd already had a chance to unpack her things and make the holiday-barren space homey again. Hermione's, Lavender's and Parvati's locked trunks were parked at the foot of their beds, and while Hermione immediately started pulling out her books (there were even more than usual, owing to all her new subjects), Lavender and Parvati were dumping cosmetics onto their dressers.

But they stopped in the middle of doing this, suddenly, and turned around to stare at Harriet.

"Harry." Lavender's eyes looked large and liquid, and she stared at Harriet as if just noticing she was still alive. "It's so good you're well."

"We heard what was in the paper," Parvati said, staring at Harriet with much the same expression as Lavender: a kind of soulful, morbid curiosity, like they were expecting Sirius Black to jump out from behind the curtains and murder her there on the carpet.

"Usually you read what's in the paper," Hermione said waspishly.

"That's what we mean," Lavender said, stopping her soulful—and frankly creepy—gazing to give Hermione a dirty look.

"About Sirius Black, you know," Parvati said, abandoning the airy-fairy manner too. "Is he really after you, Harry?"

Harriet didn't want to talk about this at all. "If they say it in the paper, it must be true."

Lavender and Parvati didn't notice the sarcasm, however. They gave her, and each other, looks of mingled excitement and horror.

"My God. I can't believe it. He's a mass murderer, you know," Parvati said in a low voice.

"I heard," Harriet said shortly.

Now Lavender and Parvati had joined the ranks of people Harriet wasn't usually annoyed with but sure was now. She turned away from them—and let out an un-Gryffindor shriek when something enormous and furry landed on her shoulders. When she screamed, Lavender and Parvati did, too; the huge furry thing on Harriet's shoulders let out a displeased hiss and, after jabbing its claws into her neck, launched off her back.

"What the fucking hell!" Harriet spun around, clapping a hand over the bleeding cuts on her neck.

"Harriet!" Hermione admonished. "When did you start talking like that?"

Hermione was cradling to her chest the biggest, furriest, gingerest cat Harriet had ever seen. It had a squashed face and malevolent yellow eyes, which it used to watch her with gross self-satisfaction.

"I do when that cat lands on my head and shreds my neck!" She pulled her hand away and showed Hermione her red fingers. "Bloody hell, that hurt."

"Bad Crookshanks!" Hermione scolded the cat, lifting him up so they were face to flattened face. "You don't scratch Harriet!"

"That's your cat?" said Lavender and Harriet at the same time.

"Since when did you get a cat?" Harriet asked, feeling weirdly betrayed. What was wrong with her this year? So what if Hermione got a cat and didn't tell her—why did it matter?

"And why did you choose one so ugly?" asked Parvati, making a face.

"Excuse you," Hermione said, while Crookshanks lashed his thick, fluffy tail and watched them all with smug feline menace. "Crookshanks isn't ugly, he's beautiful."

For the first time since meeting them, Harriet shared a thought with Lavender and Parvati. They looked at each other, all thinking: She's gone mad.

In all fairness, though, Harriet supposed Crookshanks did have a beautiful coat. It would look amazing on a throw pillow.

"Here." Hermione fumbled in her trunk and came out with a Muggle First Aid kit. "Come here so I can disinfect those cuts—"

And after that, Harriet couldn't even be put out with her. How many people had best friends who carried First Aid Kits?

What will all the unpacking (spreading all their things across the room and creating a gigantic mess), catching up (Lavender squealed over Harriet's small stash of romance novels and immediately started swapping them for her Fifi La Folles; Parvati was really looking forward to Divinations, because her mother ran a Psychic's for Muggles and she knew a lot already), and gossiping (were Malfoy and Pansy Pug-faced Parkinson really dating or was he just stringing her along? and Neville was so tall! but still hopeless), it took them all ages to get ready for bed. Crookshanks didn't help by winding beneath their feet whenever he could. But finally they all climbed into bed, and gradually their talking to each other in the dark faded away into sleep.

In the silence of her four-poster, as she drifted off, Harriet felt a brief pang of loss for her room in the dungeons. It had really felt like a room of her own, in the end. But it was good to be back in Gryffindor, with everyone else, where she belonged.

Now, finally, things could get back to normal.

Chapter Text

Harriet might have had hedgehog hair and a pair of ugly glasses and be half the size of some of the girls in her year, but she wasn't going to wear an unflattering bandage around her neck on her first day of classes. At least her hair was long enough to cover the scratches on her neck.

She also changed into her school robes behind her curtains, because she didn't want Lavender or Parvati seeing that she was still wearing the same training bra she'd worn all of last year, one that had (of course) come from Oxfam and had Winnie the Pooh on it. It was bloody embarrassing, but it was even worse not to need anything more grown-up because she had as many curves as a broomstick. People talked about young girls blossoming into womanhood, but Harriet had apparently been sold a packet of empty seeds.

Moodily, she supposed that if these things bothered her so much now, it must mean she was growing up—only figuratively, of course. And without the "figure" part.

When she pulled open her hangings, she found that Hermione had also been dressing behind hers. She kept smoothing a hand down the front of her robes, like it wasn't lying as perfectly flat as she wanted.

"What have you got to hide?" Harriet teased her. "You at least wear a real bra."

Hermione blushed. "An A cup, is all," she said, rolling her eyes.

More than I've got, Harriet thought, but she didn't say it because she was afraid it would sound too self-pitying.

Even though Harriet and Hermione's morning routine involved nothing more than pulling a brush through their hair and exchanging their pajamas for uniforms, it still somehow took them longer to get ready than any of the boys. But when they got to the common room, there was no long-suffering Ron waiting and complaining about being so hungry he was ready to eat the sofa cushions.

"Have you seen Ron?" Harriet asked Neville, who was stuck half under the sofa.

He pulled his head out. A spider dangled precariously from a lone thread hanging off his left ear. "He went down with Seamus and Dean. You haven't seen my Monster Book of Monsters, have you?" he asked anxiously. "It seems to have run off. . ."

"Mine did that, too," Harriet said. "Lay out a piece of meat for it, it'll come."

He hurried off, looking more worried than before.

"It shouldn't surprise me that Hagrid assigned us a book that has to be fed or is willing to take it out of our own skin," Hermione said as they climbed out the portrait hole. "Do I want to know what his first lesson is? Or am I really better off not knowing until I have to deal with it?"

"I heard he's got a colony of giant, man-eating spiders somewhere in the Forbidden Forest," said Fred, manifesting out of thin air and leering over their shoulders. "Acromantulas, as they're called, that love to eat titchy little third years. . . "

Harriet rolled her eyes. "Ron's the one with a spider phobia, not me."

"Ah, yes. Where is our little brother?" George asked, manifesting on Harriet's other side. "Thought he was joined at your hips."

"Apparently he went down to breakfast with Dean and Seamus."

"The lure of bacon being too strong to resist." After wiggling his fingers in front of his mouth to imitate pincers, Fred left, George taking off with him.

"D'you think Ron's avoiding us?" Harriet asked Hermione.

"I suppose he wants to have boys for friends now," Hermione said as they stepped into the hall of staircases, passing a portrait of ladies in crinolines who were playing cards with a group of Benedictine monks. "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they teased him about being friends with us. Fred and George, too."

Harriet frowned. "But Fred and George are friends with all us girls on the Quidditch team."

"Well, that's different, isn't it? You're teammates—and you're not Fred and George's closest friends. If it isn't pressure, Ron might simply want boys for friends now more than girls."

But if Ron was preparing to ditch them, he wasn't going all the way today: when they finally made it to the Great Hall, they found he'd saved their timetables for them.

"Loads of new subjects today," he said as Hermione eagerly snatched hers up. "You and me, Harry, we've just got Care of Magical Creatures and Divination, but Hermione's schedule's a madhouse."

Harriet peered over Hermione's shoulder and saw:

Divination, 9 o'clock

Arithmancy, 9 o'clock

Muggle Studies, 9 o'clock

She glanced at Hermione's face, expecting to see a sheen of scholarly terror at Professor McGonagall's booking her into three simultaneous subjects: since she couldn't possibly be in three places at once, it would deprive her of prime learning opportunities. But instead of the sheen of scholarly terror, Hermione was wearing the sheen of excitement.

"Told you," Ron said, shaking his head.

"Um, Hermione?" Harriet said.

"Yes, Harry?" Hermione tucked her sacred schedule safely into her day planner, making sure it lay entirely flat so it wouldn't get wrinkled.

"You don't see a problem with your schedule?"

"No," Hermione said, now digging a knife briskly in the marmalade. "I fixed it last night with Professor McGonagall, like I told you."

"But—" Harriet said.

"Oh, Harriet, don't worry," Hermione said, biting impatiently into her toast. "Professor McGonagall and I have it all straight."

Harriet shared a look with Ron, who shrugged and started shoveling fried eggs off a nearby platter and straight into his mouth. Harriet helped herself to sausages and fried tomatoes, wondering if everyone's friends were so odd.

"If Divination's first, we'd better get going," she said as Ron mauled a fourth helping of kippers. "It's in the North Tower, it'll take ages to get there."

"Sinf ennaroo deggsperd?" Ron asked, his mouth bulging. Hermione looked revolted.

"Since all I had to do for the past month was wander round the castle," Harriet said. "I can't believe I understood that," she marveled.

"I can't believe you'd try to talk with that much food in your mouth," Hermione said to Ron, who helped himself to three more fried tomatoes.

--

Everyone in Gryffindor had opted to take Divination, probably because it was a soft option. Due to Harriet's holiday explorations, she, Ron and Hermione (picking up Neville as they left, because they knew he'd get hopelessly lost) were first to the tiny landing on the top floor of the North Tower. Under the circumstances, though, being first was hardly welcome. It made them all worry they were in the wrong place.

"D'you think this is the right place?" Hermione asked anxiously, peering through the lone window, a narrow arch that looked out on the mountains.

"Harry, you got us lost, didn't you?" Ron asked.

Something shiny flashed off the edge of Harriet's lenses. She twisted her head to get rid of it—and then she saw what they were looking for.

"See for yourself." She pointed above their heads.

"Sibyll Trelawney, Divinations teacher," Hermione read, craning her neck back.

"No one told us to bring brooms," Ron said as Lavender and Parvati clattered onto the landing, clutching their textbooks and looking excited about a lesson for the first time in Harriet's memory. "Shortsighted of 'em."

"How are we supposed to get up there?" Seamus asked.

As if his words were the signal, the trap door unlatched and a spindly ladder unfolded like the legs of a giraffe, its bottom rung landing at Harriet's feet.

"Ladies first," Ron said, eying the ladder. Rolling her eyes, Harriet slung her bag across her body and climbed up.

The room at the top of the ladder was, well, like a fortune-teller's attic. Velvet and tassels seemed to cover everything; the lamps all had dark shades, dimming the light; and the thick smell of too many different flavors of incense crawled inside her nose and mouth like smoky worms.

"Harry!" Hermione prompted her from below, and Harriet edged out of the way, groping through the smoky darkness for stray pieces of furniture, so Hermione could climb into the room. The rest of the class followed, and they all stood clumped near the hole in the floor, peering round for the teacher.

Neville saw her first, with a trembling squeak. Harriet was badly started, too, until she realized their teacher couldn't possibly be a human-sized insect: it was just the effect of a huge pair of spectacles and a glittery shawl.

"Welcome," she said in a dreamy voice as she shimmered out of the shadows. "How nice to see you all in the physical word at last."

Nobody had any idea what to say to something so extraordinary, so they clumped together nervously instead.

"Sit, my children, sit," she said. They all managed as best they could, Ron stubbing his toe on an ottoman and swearing in a muffled voice, and Neville tripping over a stool and falling flat on his nose. Harriet collapsed into an armchair that sucked her into its seat like quicksand.

"Welcome to Divination." Professor Trelawney had seated herself near the fire. It lit her face on one side, dropping the rest into shadow, glinting off her left lens. It gave her an almost sinister appearance that was rather undone by her misty voice. "My name is Professor Trelawney. You may not have seen me before. I find that descending too often into the hustle and bustle of the main school clouds my Inner Eye."

As with Professor Trelawney's previous pronouncement, nobody had any idea what to say to this. If she was worried that she'd got a whole class of lumps, however, it didn't show on the side of her face exposed by the firelight. She continued as if their stunned silence was all the reply she wanted.

"So you have chosen to study Divination, the most difficult of all magical arts. I must warn you at the outset that if you do not have the Sight, there is very little I will be able to teach you. Books can take you only so far in this field. . ."

Ron turned from his seat next to Seamus to grin at Hermione, who was looking taken aback.

"Many witches and wizards, talented though they are in the area of loud bangs and smells and sudden disappearings, are yet unable to penetrate the veiled mysteries of the future," Professor Trelawney continued, her voice reminding Harriet of the incense. "It is a Gift granted to a few. You, boy," she said suddenly to Neville, who almost fell backwards off his pouffe in alarm, "is your grandmother well?"

"I think so," Neville said in a trembly voice.

"I wouldn't be so sure if I were you, dear," said Professor Trelawney. Then she continued placidly, "We will be covering the basic methods of Divination this year. . . "

She went on, describing the sort of fortune-telling they'd be doing, but Harriet only half-listened. Wasn't she going to say more about Neville's grandmother? If she knew something, she certainly ought to say more than that. Neville was now looking extremely worried—well, more than usual.

". . . unfortunately, classes will be disrupted in February by a nasty bout of flu. I myself will lose my voice. And around Easter, one of our number will leave us forever."

Tense silence fell on the room, almost as thick as the incense. Professor Trelawney didn't seem to notice.

"I wonder, dear," she said to Lavender, who shrank back from her, "if you could pass me the largest silver teapot?"

Lavender, looking relieved, got up to get it; but when she'd set it down in front of Professor Trelawney, she said, "Thank you, my dear. Incidentally, that thing you are dreading—it will happen on Friday the sixteenth of October."

Lavender went white—at least, a shade of gray in the dimness. Harriet looked at Hermione, and as one they frowned.

"Now I want you to divide into pairs. . . "

Harriet expected Hermione to say something as everyone started moving to collect their teacups, but she remained so intensely silent that Harriet knew she was thinking harder than usual about something. They both fetched their teacups without speaking, hearing Professor Trelawney say to Neville, "Oh, and dear, after you've broken your first cup, would you be so kind as to select one of the blue-patterned ones? I'm rather attached to the pink."

And as Harriet turned away, she heard breaking china behind her, and Neville giving a squeak of dismay.

"Right," Harriet said once she and Hermione were back at their table, trying to weigh down the bulging pages of her book with her saucer so they'd stay propped open, "what can you see in mine?"

"I'm sure I can't see anything," Hermione said in a whisper.

Harriet twisted Hermione's cup around, trying to make out a shape in the soggy leaves. The incense was making her eyes water and her head feel thick and stupid. "Maybe this is a hippo . . . could be a sheep. . ."

Hermione turned a page in her book, deeply silent.

"How are you doing, my dears?" Professor Trelawney had shimmered up next to their table. Both of them jumped.

"Um," Harriet said, trying not to wince as Professor Trelawney's beads refracted light off her own lenses. "Fine, Professor."

"Let me see. . . Is this your cup, dear?" She scooped it out of Hermione's grip even before Harriet nodded. "Let me see. . . Ah." Her eyes seemed to grow even larger behind her spectacles. "The falcon—my dear, you have a deadly enemy."

"Well, obviously," Hermione said in a normal speaking voice. The whole class stared at her, including Harriet, who'd never imagined she could talk to a teacher like that. "Everyone knows that. You-Know-Who?"

Choosing not to reply, Professor Trelawney continued to turn Harriet's cup in her hands.

"The club . . . an attack. Dear, dear, this is not a happy cup. . . The skull—danger in your path, my dear. . . And. . . what is this here?" Professor Trelawney held the cup closer to her enormous eyes while the whole class stared and Harriet wasn't sure whether to be afraid or mortified.

"No. . ." Trelawney murmured, staring at the cup as if transfixed, "this cannot be. . ." Then she screamed, making everyone jump. Neville smashed his second cup. Harriet's cup landed on the table, slopping tea dregs across the crimson table cloth, and rolled to the floor. Harriet's heart was thumping very hard.

"No—do not ask me—it is too dreadful," Professor Trelawney said feebly, teetering backward until she found her chair, which she sank into.

"What, Professor?" everyone asked. "What is it?"

"My dear. . ." Trelawney gazed soulfully at Harriet, her hand pressed to her throat. "You have the Grim."

A couple of people looked confused, but most of them gasped. "Oh, Harriet!" Parvati said in a tortured voice. Hermione, however, was watching Trelawney through narrowed eyes.

"The Grim!" Professor Trelawney repeated, perhaps because Harriet did not scream like the others and fall backwards off her chair like Neville. "The spectral dog that haunts the churchyard, the harbinger of death—there, in your cup! A great darkness is reaching out for you, my dear, as if you stand upon the brink of the abyss. . . "

Everyone sat frozen, having no idea what this dark pronouncement meant, but certain it was something very bad. Harriet's face was on fire and her hands felt like ice.

"I . . . I think that is all for today," Trelawney said, tilting weakly in her chair. "Yes. . . until next we meet, children. . . "

They all rose in silence and clambered down the ladder. Harriet could feel everyone looking at her. Hermione grabbed her arm and pulled her briskly along with her, and by the time they reached the Transfigurations hall, the bell had rung and a mass of students swarmed between Harriet, Hermione and the rest of their class.

"I don't believe a word of it," Hermione said under her breath as she marched Harriet toward Professor McGonagall's classroom. "Not a word."

"Which part?" Harriet's voice came out so sharp it surprised her. "The part where I have two mass murderers after me? You said yourself—"

"Oh, Harriet, everyone knows about You-Know-Who and Sirius Black—I don't at all believe she saw anything in your cup except a load of soggy tea leaves. She was just playing off what she knew—there was no Grim in that cup, if such a thing as a Grim even exists and she wasn't just, just making it up to scare everyone—"

"What about Neville's cup?" Harriet persisted. "She said he'd break two and he did—"

"Of course he did, because she told him he would. It's not fortune-telling, it's psychology!"

They were at the door to the Transfiguration classroom, though it wasn't open yet. All they could do was stand in the hall and wait for the rest of the class to turn up. Even though this wasn't a mixed class, Harriet felt like she was waiting outside of Potions for the Slytherins: she'd just rather they bugger off. When the other Gryffindors trickled up, staring at her again the way they'd done last night, only more, she grit her teeth and looked away, out the window.

Her eyes fell on the forest, and she remembered, for the first time in days, about the giant black dog. But that had been a real dog: she'd petted it, got its dirt under her fingernails. It wasn't an omen, just a dog.

It was much more likely that Sirius Black breaking out of Azkaban was the death omen Trelawney was really looking for.

--

Severus knew why Dumbledore always scheduled their start-of-term meeting on the first very long day of classes: it was so they could all get together and belt out their grievances. After two months spent without having to endure the little pustules, they were more sensitive to student antics than they'd been at the end of the term, when ten months of hardheaded stupidity had worn calluses on their hearts. But wounds opened fresh on the first day of term, when complaints were verbal and lengthy. By the end of the year, they'd be sitting in silence, trading weary looks of resigned disgust. Of course, Severus preferred to communicate through looks of disgust at any time.

Before all the teachers had dropped in, when it was just the four heads and (ugh) Lupin, Minerva started them off with a different sort of complaint than the usual.

"That wretched, pea-brained, chicken-hearted, gapeseed Sibyl Trelawney," she raged.

"What's she done?" Sprout asked kindly.

"What does she always do?" Minerva flashed back. "She's told her new crop of third years that one of them is going to pop their clogs—"

"Does that every year," Sprout commiserated, shaking her head; Flitwick nodded and sighed his assent.

"She what?" Lupin asked, curious. Sprout started to explain, but Minerva snapped:

"This year she told it to Miss Potter!"

A beat of cold, bright silence followed this pronouncement. Flitwick's mouth fell open, and Sprout's eyebrows flew into her hair. An odd expression flitted over Lupin's face, one that was almost like anger. For the first time, Severus was glad to attend a staff meeting: he could drop something into Trelawney's tea later to give her the runs.

"Yes," Minerva said into the silence, two spots of bright red in her cheeks.

"That insensitive, grandstanding old wart," Sprout said, shaking her head again.

"Why in God's name would she do something like that?" Lupin asked. He even sounded almost angry. Twat.

"Every year Sibyl makes an impression on her newest crop of third years by predicting that one of them will be dead by the end of the year." Minerva's eyes flashed like claws unsheathing. "It's nothing new—they all take it quite seriously, they're only children—but when they first walked into my class this morning, I thought someone really must have died. The look on Miss Potter's face—oh, I could wring Sibyl's neck. Terrorizing that poor child to impress the others—!"

"Did you talk to her?" Lupin asked, while Sprout continued to shake her head (which she'd been doing all throughout Minerva's speech).

"I told them that Sibyl Trelawney always does this and that no one has ever died. But no one looked really convinced, except Miss Granger, who seemed to have thought it rubbish from the start. You'll like Miss Granger," Minerva said to Lupin. "Very enthusiastic student. Almost a little too enthusiastic at times, but. . . "

"She is Miss Potter's closest friend," Flitwick added to Lupin, who looked interested. Severus wished the werewolf would go die. Preferably by falling off the top of the Astronomy Tower and landing on a bicycle with no seat.

The staff room door opened and Burbage came in, with that vapid look of silly good nature on her face, meaning that Minerva could no longer abuse Trelawney with impunity. She seated herself next to the werewolf, and they bent their heads together, continuing to whisper sharply (Minerva) and murmur (Lupin).

When Trelawney glided in, Severus wondered if it could be counted as evidence of how clairvoyant she wasn't, that she shimmered over to a seat and arranged her shawls without once seeming to detect Minerva's glares of murder.

Less than a minute later, Dumbledore joined them, beaming round as if he'd missed them all terribly.

"Good evening to you all," he said, managing to sound, every year, as if this staff meeting already held a place in his heart that outranked all the rest. "Thank you for taking the time out of your hectic evenings to meet with me—just a few announcements, and then we can all adjourn to cozier firesides. . . "

He always said this, or some variation of it, and yet the meetings went on forever. Severus had taken to walking out of them when he was done, since the others abused the opportunity to vent until his only option was to leave before his temper frayed and he started abusing them.

Trelawney had taken a seat near Dumbledore's, which she always did. Under the pretense of changing his, Severus moved round the table and sat next to her. It gave him an excellent view of the spikes in Minerva's eyes—but unfortunately left him sitting directly across from Lupin. Ugh.

Dumbledore called up the tea. Minerva stirred hers so hard she cracked the cup. Dumbledore appeared not to notice. Lupin looked like he was trying not to laugh.

"In the interests of not keeping you too long, we'll move on to our first order of business. . . " Dumbledore said.

And so the meeting went. Or rather, it started, and dragged. Severus said almost nothing, even foregoing the opportunity to twit Minerva about the Gryffindors, so he could concentrate on the right moment to douse Trelawney's tea. When it occurred—Dumbledore had turned to give Minerva, who was seated directly on his right, his full attention, and Trelawney was nodding off—it went off without a hitch; but he'd had practice.

After that, he gave his report of the day. "Students annoying, as usual."

Dumbledore twinkled, of course. "Anything unusual at all?"

"It's certainly astounding that they manage to dress and feed themselves, but not unusual."

The others clearly felt this level of repudiation was in bad taste. They always did. Lupin looked almost amused, though. Probably laughing at him.

"If that's all," Severus said, pushing his teacup away, "I have better things to be going on with."

"That's all I need," Dumbledore said cheerfully, while Minerva pursed her lips.

"I have a question, before Severus goes," Lupin said as Severus stood up. "What about—Asteria? Was that her name? Asteria Greengrass."

Severus bristled, the way he always did whenever a non-Slytherin mentioned one of his. "What about her?"

"When students have panic attacks in my classroom, I generally worry about them," Lupin said calmly, making Severus want to punch him in the teeth.

"Is that what happened?" Sprout asked interestedly. "I heard someone fainted—one of the first years, was it?"

"Severus?" asked Dumbledore, cutting cleanly through the rising murmurs of curiosity. "What of Miss Greengrass?"

Severus hadn't thought it was possible to despise Lupin more than he already did, but there his loathing went up a notch. He sent him a look of pure, poisonous hatred. The werewolf had the bloody gall to look confused.

"Asteria Greengrass is from a pure-blood family of limited means," Severus said in his most quelling voice. He hated discussing his Slytherins with any non. They always acted as if being from That Sort of Family was in bad taste. "She was raised near an isolated hamlet in North Cornwall. Her attachments to everything familiar are exceedingly strong. Her fear of the unfamiliar is so trenchant it approaches terror. Lupin's class was the last in her day. She overloaded."

Minerva's lips were pressed together in disapproval of some fucking thing-or-other; Severus, the Greengrass family, Slytherins, pure-bloods, who knew. Trelawney seemed to have nodded off next to him. If she slept through the meeting and left without drinking her tea, he would really be pissed.

"Do you think she can adjust?" Lupin asked, looking worried, as if this was any of his goddamn business. "Is this common?"

"We have had children who couldn't cope with boarding school life," Minerva said. "But rarely. She may have to be sent home."

"Asteria Greengrass is mine to deal with," Severus told them, You bloody stay out of it implicit in his tone. Minerva's phantom tail bristled. Lupin gave him a look he couldn't interpret but which he was sure wasn't complimentary.

"Do you think it feasible for her to remain at Hogwarts?" Dumbledore asked calmly, as if none of these silent spats were lancing across his staff table.

"I think it's much too soon to tell," he said impatiently. "She might adjust or she might not. I can't tell you after I've only met her in person for the first time last night—after she's only been in classes for a single day."

Dumbledore tapped his fingers against each other, considering. "You will keep me abreast?" But it wasn't really a question.

Severus just nodded once, curtly. Keeping Dumbledore—or any of the staff—informed about the lives and movements of his Slytherins was never of paramount importance. His House always operated best with the least said to outsiders. He'd had a more fruitful discussion about Asteria Greengrass's probable future with her thirteen-year-old sister than at this table.

"If that is truly all," Dumbledore said, "you may go."

Severus left them, despising the lot.

--

"I'm sorry," Asteria keep saying tremulously. "I'm so sorry."

"Shh, Aster." Daphne cleaned her face with a warm flannel. It was more to make Asteria feel better than from any real need; she was one of those few, fortunate people whom tears didn't disfigure. In fact, tears would surely only make her look more captivating to males, rousing their protective instincts. It would have been fortunate had she been more like any of her other sisters. Daphne knew that she and Leto both needed to make excellent marriages, because Asteria certainly wouldn't be able to bring herself to do it, not even for them.

"I really am—"

"Shh." She dried Asteria's face and then dropped both damp flannel and towel into the hamper for the house-elves to launder. "It isn't your fault, Aster. It was too much."

Asteria looked miserable. "Other people don't have panic attacks on their first day of classes."

"Now, how do you know? I'm sure they certainly do. Anyway, it doesn't matter what other people do and don't have. I think you were very brave today."

Asteria looked deeply skeptical but said nothing. Daphne knew she was tired, too tired even to speak to her dearest sister. If it weren't for the burning need to apologize, she probably wouldn't have said anything until some time tomorrow.

"Well, Professor Snape has said you may sleep with me, in my dorm," Daphne said. "Wasn't that kind of him?" Asteria nodded gravely. "Shall we go, then? Would you like to rest now?"

Another grave nod. Putting her arm around Asteria's waist—she couldn't comfortably reach her shoulders any longer; she was just a touch too tall—Daphne led her sister to the third year girls' dorm.

The only person inside it was Millicent. Daphne was grateful: Millicent wasn't likely to talk.

"Hello, Millicent," she said anyway.

Millicent just looked at her. She was chewing on a licorice wand. Daphne had always suspected Millicent didn't like her very much, but then she didn't know who Millicent did like.

"This is my sister, Asteria. She'll be staying in our dorm for a while."

Millicent's eyes traveled to Asteria, who was flinching at the prospect that she might be spoken to and have to suffer the agony of knowing she ought to reply while being too afraid to. But Millicent only kept chewing on the wand. Anyone else would have found this off-putting (Daphne included) but Asteria relaxed. Only a tiny bit, since in the presence of a stranger, the threat of a stray remark was always imminent, but even that tiny bit was welcome.

Pansy was probably in the hospital wing, attending Draco after the hippogriff had slashed him. She'd dictated a furious, tear-filled letter to Daphne, to be sent to Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy. Daphne was quite sure that Draco was all healed, but he'd tossed and moaned that he was in agony, and Pansy had hung over him, shedding tears and crying for Hagrid's resignation.

Draco had snogged (as the vulgar girls said) Pansy at the end of last year, which had turned her even more insufferable than usual; but if she was now Draco's not-quite-official girlfriend, then she was less likely to be in the dorm, tormenting Asteria. Daphne might ask Professor Snape if she could share Asteria's dorm instead; Pansy could be as cruel as a scorpion, and Asteria could be reduced to tears by the thought of a baby bird fallen out of a tree.

So she got Asteria ready for bed very quickly and hid her trunk under the bed. Then she bundled her into the four-poster, but Asteria was relieved to go. She closed her eyes, looking exhausted. Daphne paused in pulling the hangings shut, thinking that perhaps she ought to stay with her until she fell asleep—but then she heard Pansy's voice ringing in the hall and jerked the hangings shut instead.

"Millicent," she said quickly, "if you could say nothing to Pansy about my sister—it would be a great favor—"

"Don't like Pansy near enough to tell her anything," Millicent said around her wand.

Before Asteria could thank her, Pansy threw open the door and came into the room. It was obvious had been crying for some time, but unlike Asteria, she did not cry well. In fact, she looked so terrible, and so oblivious to it, that Daphne was really taken aback. She had always assumed that Pansy hungered after Draco for reasons of status, but it was impossible to think that she'd be this distraught unless she honestly had feelings for him.

"Oh, Pansy," said Daphne, because Pansy would know they weren't truly friends if she ignored her now. (Millicent just stared at them, chewing on a new licorice wand.) "Have you been with Draco all this time?"

"He's in agony," Pansy choked as more tears leaked out her eyes. "That useless hag Pomfrey couldn't do anything for him!"

This made Daphne even more certain that Draco was faking, but she said, "How horrid. Do you think he'll have to be sent to St. Mungo's?"

"How should I know?" Pansy snapped. "I only came back here because Pomfrey threw me out, the stupid old bitch." Then she caught sight of herself in the mirror. "I'm taking a shower," she snapped, and grabbing her bath things out of her dresser, she slammed out of the room so hard pieces of stone plaster dusted down from the ceiling.

Millicent snorted. "Cow," she said round her licorice wand. "If I was Draco, I'd fake being a hundred percent just so she wouldn't be blubbering all over me."

--

Draco was relieved Pansy was finally gone. He'd almost been regretting that he hadn't just let Pomfrey fix his arm and left, because having Pansy around for that long was exhausting. He didn't know why, but her habit of fussing constantly and agreeing with everything he said, and snapping at Daphne, who'd come to see how he was doing, had got on his nerves. It shouldn't have—she was only doing what any good sycophant would do—but it had become really quite boring and he'd wished she'd have gone to the loo or something so he could have had five minutes of normal conversation with Daphne, or even with Goyle, who came with her, and brought him an empty napkin from the dinner table that had once contained a bit of pudding Goyle thought he might like (only he wound up liking it more and ate it on the way to the infirmary).

Pansy was gone for the evening, at least. He'd decided he was going to go back to class tomorrow, because being an invalid was really amazingly dull, especially when everyone thought you were faking it. Well, he was, but he thought being clawed by a hippogriff would've entitled him to a bit more sympathy from Pomfrey, at least. Until she'd healed him, it had hurt a whole bally lot—felt like he was bleeding to death. After healing his cut, though, she'd clearly expected him to go, and given him such a look when he couldn't describe where it still hurt (because it didn't really), that only his pride had kept him from fleeing the hospital wing.

At least Mother and Father would be suitably angry. They might even try to get that oaf Hagrid sacked. What was Dumbledore thinking, making him a teacher? And those Nons said Snape took favoritism too far. . .

Deep inside, a tiny part of him wished he hadn't been slashed because he'd really been enjoying the lesson. Hippogriffs were terrifying and impressive. Father kept peacocks, but imagine having hippogriffs for pets. . . And then the thing had clawed him, and he'd looked like a total ass. The whole experience had been humiliating, and he knew all those Gryffindors would be saying he deserved it. . . the only thing to do was milk the negative part of the experience for all it was worth. A Slytherin had to save face.

He lay staring at the ceiling for a long time, both bored and something more unpleasant. It was times like this that you knew who your real friends were. The only people who'd come to visit him were Pansy, Daphne, and Goyle. He'd actually been surprised to receive them, even. He didn't expect to have friends. His parents had always been quite clear that people at the top had very few friends, true friends, and Malfoys were certainly at the very top. They had many things that other people didn't, but they didn't really make friends, only allies and enemies. It was just part of being who they were.

Sometimes, he wished it wasn't.

--

The next morning, Malfoy swaggered into Potions with his arm in a sling, acting as if failing to follow directions was some sort of heroic feat. Pansy Parkison immediately started fawning over him.

"Just to warn you," Harriet muttered to Hermione, "I might barf in my cauldron."

Hermione sent Malfoy and Pansy a scathing glance. "A waste of perfectly good bile," she said primly.

Harriet snorted trying to swallow her giggle. She had the odd sense that Snape heard her. But he didn't look up from what he was doing, except to say, "Settle down," to Draco, who for some reason was setting up his cauldron on Harriet and Hermione's table.

"Sir," Draco called to Snape, "I'll need some help cutting up my ingredients—what with my arm—"

Snape did look up then. His eyes flicked over Harriet and Hermione, and he said, "Weasley, cut up Malfoy's roots for him."

Harriet heard Ron make a choking noise behind her. She felt very bad for Ron, and extremely guilty because her first thought had been, Thank God he didn't send Pansy over here.

To make up for this selfishness, she said, "I can do it, sir—"

This attempt at soothing her guilt earned her a quelling sneer. "Miss Potter, do you think I'm so mentally feeble that I can't tell the difference between you and Mr. Weasley?"

Harriet blushed, but she knew when she'd been beaten. Or at least when she ought to shut up. This one time, that was.

Behind her, Ron was chuntering under his breath over the thwack thwack twonnng of his knife hacking savagely at Malfoy's daisy roots. He was probably imagining them to be Malfoy's neck, arms and legs.

"If you're dying to help me, Potter," Malfoy said, his gray eyes glinting, "you could skin my shrivelfig."

"You could stop being a git, too, but that's not likely to happen," she snapped. By accident she said it a little too loudly—Snape must have heard her that time, especially since he was sweeping past their table as she said it—but he only continued sweeping past without saying a word.

When he stopped at Neville's cauldron, Harriet would rather he stopped to sneer at her some more.

"Orange, Longbottom," Snape said, ladling some of Neville's Shrinking Solution into the air and letting it splash back into the cauldron. "Orange. What color should it be?"

Neville was so terrified of Snape he couldn't speak. Snape looked even more disgusted, which was impressive considering how disgusted he always looked during their class.

"Tell me, boy, does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours?" he asked Neville. "Didn't you hear me say, quite clearly, that only one rat spleen was needed? Didn't I state plainly that a dash of leech juice would suffice? What do I have to do to make you understand, Longbottom?"

Neville looked like he was about to cry. Harriet felt much more horrible than she would have if Snape had bullied her like this.

"Please, sir," said Hermione, raising her hand, "please, I could help Neville put it right—"

Snape turned enough to fix Hermione with a special blend of cold disgust. "I don't remember asking you to show off, Miss Granger," he said, and Hermione went as pink as Neville.

Hot in the face, Harriet glared at Snape. She would almost have sworn his expression flickered, but she knew she'd have to be as mad as Sirius Black to have really seen such a thing.

"Longbottom." Snape turned away from Harriet to curdle Neville with a look. "Unless you wish me to feed this rancid swill to you and find out what it will do to your insides, you will fix this travesty of a potion by the end of class."

He swept away, leaving Neville white and trembling.

"Help me!" he moaned to Hermione.

"Your pals aren't as stalwart as you, Potter," Malfoy drawled, unpleasantly close to Harriet's ear.

"You won't be so stalwart either if you don't watch out," Harriet retorted. She was intensely displeased to see that Malfoy had shifted round in his chair to lounge on the side closer to her. Eurgh. The dead caterpillars she was supposed to add next to her potion were more appealing.

"Aren't you worried about your oafish friend, Hagrid?" he asked, and Harriet seriously considered throwing leech juice in his face. "He was a teacher for a day or so, wasn't he?"

"How would you like to be permanently skinning your shrivelfig one-handed?" she ground out. She wasn't going to ask What do you mean "was," Malfoy? She wouldn't sink so low as to fall for that.

No one else was paying them any attention. Hermione was muttering instructions to Neville out of the corner of her mouth; Ron had taken advantage of Malfoy's distraction to return to his own potion.

"Father's not too happy about my injury, you see," Malfoy said in a mock-mournful voice. "He's complained to the school governors. And to the Ministry of Magic. Father's got a lot of influence, you know. And a lasting injury like this"—he heaved a long, fake sigh—"who knows if my arm'll ever been the same again?"

"You're putting this on to get Hagrid fired?" Harriet hissed.

"Well," said Malfoy, lowering his voice and leaning toward her; she leaned away. "Partly, Potter. But it has other uses, too. Weasley, slice my caterpillars for me."

At the end of class, Snape loomed over Neville again and examined his potion. His profile was facing Harriet—she could see only one of his eyes, and the great, scimitar-like curve of his nose. She thought again of the hippogriffs, how they'd slash at you without warning. Neville looked ready to faint.

"Miss Granger," Snape said, letting the ladle clang back into the cauldron, "I was under the impression that this is Longbottom's cauldron, and Longbottom's potion, not yours. I was under the impression that your cauldron is over there in front of you, not here in front of me. Five points for doing another student's work for him."

Hermione went bright red, looking mortified.

Bloody sick of Slytherins, Harriet grabbed her bag and Hermione's hand when the bell rang and shoved past the other students out the door.

As they gained the stairs, Ron came storming up to them, pushing between them so that Harriet had to let go of Hermione's hand. "Can you believe that arsehole?" he demanded. "Five points because the potion was all right! Hermione, you should've told him Neville did it by himself—"

Hermione didn't answer. Harriet looked around Ron, but Hermione was gone. Bewildered, they stopped and stared down the stairs, ignoring their classmates who streamed around them, heading to lunch.

"Where did she go?" Ron asked, turning, baffled, to Harriet.

Malfoy, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, climbed past them, smirking malice all over his git face. Harriet wondered she would achieve Snape-levels of disgust soon.

"There you are," Ron said as Hermione ran up the stairs toward them, staggering under a load of her books that seemed bigger than usual, and tucking something down the front of her robes.

"Where did you go?" Harriet asked as Hermione joined them, panting a little.

"What?" Hermione said, looking confused.

"You were right here with us—"

"Then you were gone," Ron said. Harriet wished he'd stop doing that. It made her feel like she was constantly talking to Fred and George.

"Oh." Hermione pushed her hair out of her face, which was red, perhaps from running, which had also got her out of breath. "I forgot something and had to go back—oh no—" she squeaked as a seam on her bag split and several books the size of small refrigerators thumped to the floor.

"Surely you don't need all those," Harriet said, bending to help her gather them up.

"You know how many subjects I'm taking—hang on, if you could hold those, I can re-sew the seam—"

"But you don't have any of these today," Harriet said, frowning at Rudimentary Runology. "Today's just Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"Mm." Hermione beamed at her bag as she got the seam to re-knit itself. "Thank you, Harriet. I wonder what's for lunch? I'm starving."

"D'you get the feeling Hermione's not telling us something?" Ron asked slowly as they watched Hermione march off toward the Great Hall.

Harriet didn't say anything: she knew Hermione wasn't telling her something.

--

Everyone was curious about DADA, considering that their history with it had gone from bad to worse. Professor Lupin's turning up to class only to lead them out again got them even more curious, and after he blithely hexed chewing gum up Peeves's nose, most of them (especially the boys) were impressed; and then, when he led them at last to the staff room, they were mystified. Already this was loads more interesting than Lockhart's "All About Magical Me" quiz.

Harriet had never been to the staff room before. It was a long room paneled in dark wood and scattered with furniture so mismatched it had all probably come from different centuries. The fireplace was enormous and carved on either side with a set of oak trees, stained with soot after all the fires. Snape was sitting next to it in a low armchair, reading the sad book about the woman who killed herself. He looked up when they entered, his eyes glittering.

"Leave it open, Lupin," he said as Professor Lupin made to shut the door. "I'd rather not witness this."

He stalked away, taking his book with him. But at the door he suddenly turned back, a vicious sneer gathering on his face.

"Possibly no one has warned you, Lupin, that this class contains Neville Longbottom. I wouldn't trust him with anything important, if I were you—not unless Miss Granger is hissing instructions in his ear."

Neville went a bright, humiliated red. Harriet felt her face grow hot, too, and she glared at Snape harder than ever. It was bad enough he bullied Neville in his class, but in front of a new teacher, in their first class?

But Professor Lupin only raised his eyebrows. "Actually I was hoping Neville would assist me with the first stage of my lesson," he said. "I'm sure he'll perform it admirably."

Snape's lip curled in a sneer more impressive than possibly any he'd ever done before, and he shut the door behind him with a snap.

"Down this way." Professor Lupin beckoned them toward an ancient, towering wardrobe, the kind with curlicues carved on every edge. When he stood next to it, the wardrobe jerked, banging off the wall and making several people, including Hermione and Neville, jump.

"Nothing to worry about," said Professor Lupin calmly. "There's a Boggart in there."

Harriet had no idea what this meant, but judging by the looks on most faces, this was something to be worried about. Neville went the shade of curdled milk, and Parvati edged behind Ron.

"Boggarts like dark, enclosed spaces," Professor Lupin explained. "Wardrobes, the gap beneath beds, cupboards under sinks—I once met one that had lodged itself in a grandfather clock. This one moved in at the end of last week and I asked the teachers to leave it for us to take care of.

"So the first question we must ask ourselves is, what is a Boggart?"

Hermione's hand shot up. "It's a shape-shifter," she said when Professor Lupin nodded at her. "It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us the most."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," said Professor Lupin, and Hermione glowed. "So the Boggart sitting in the darkness within hasn't, at this moment, assumed a form. He doesn't yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a Boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears.

"This means," he went on, ignoring Neville's small splutter of terror, "that we have a huge advantage over the Boggart before we begin. Have you spotted it, Harriet?"

Harriet was taken aback, not only because she'd been called on without warning, but also because she'd never had to try and answer a question with Hermione bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet next to her. "Er," she stammered, "because there are so many of us, it won't know what it should become?"

"Precisely," Professor Lupin said. Hermione put her hand down, looking a little disappointed. "It's always best to have company when dealing with a Boggart. He becomes confused. Which should be become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a Boggart make that very mistake—tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into half a slug. Not remotely frightening.

"The charm to repel a Boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a Boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.

"We'll practice the charm without wands first. After me, please . . . riddikulus!"

"Riddikulus!" said the class.

"Good," said Professor Lupin, smiling slightly. "Very good. But that was the easy part, I'm afraid. You see, the word alone isn't enough. And this is where you come in, Neville."

The wardrobe shook again, though not as much as Neville, who walked forward as though he was heading for the gallows.

"Right, Neville," said Professor Lupin, beckoning him closer. "First things first: what would you say is the thing that frightens you most in the world?"

Neville's lips moved but no noise came out.

"Didn't catch that, Neville, sorry," said Professor Lupin cheerfully.

Neville looked wildly around, as though begging someone to help him, then stammered, in hardly more than a whisper, "P-professor Snape."

Nearly everyone laughed. Even Neville grinned apologetically. Something about his reply bothered Harriet, though she couldn't put her finger on why it should. What with the way Snape treated Neville, it made sense. . .

Professor Lupin was looking thoughtful.

"Professor Snape . . . hmmm . . . Neville, I believe you live with your grandmother?"

"Er—yes," said Neville nervously, "but—I don't want the Boggart to turn into her, either."

"No, no, you misunderstand me," said Professor Lupin, smiling again. "I wonder, could you tell us what sort of clothes your grandmother usually wears?"

Neville looked startled but said, "Well . . . always the same hat, a tall one, with a stuffed vulture on top. And a long dress . . . green, normally . . . and sometimes a fox-fur scarf."

"And a handbag?"

"A big red one."

"Right, then," said Professor Lupin. "Can you picture those clothes very clearly, Neville? Can you see them in your mind's eye?"

"Yes," said Neville uncertainly, plainly wondering what was coming next.

"When the Boggart bursts out of the wardrobe, Neville, and sees you, it will assume the form of Professor Snape," said Lupin calmly, while Neville gulped. "And you will raise your wand—thus—and cry 'Riddikulus'—and concentrate hard on your grandmother's clothes. If all goes well, Professor Boggart Snape will be forced into that vulture-topped hat, that green dress, that big red handbag."

There was a great shout of laughter from the class, and the wardrobe wobbled more violently. But Harriet, instead of laughing, felt a gathering wave of something . . . unpleasant. . .

"If Neville is successful, the Boggart is likely to turn his attention to each of us in turn," said Professor Lupin. "I would like all of you to take a moment to think of the thing that scares you most, and imagine how you might force it to look comical . . . "

The room went quiet. Harriet tried to push aside her confusion and weird feelings and think: What scared her most?

Her first thought was of Voldemort—a Voldemort returned to full power, a Voldemort who had made her mother scream like that, in the dark places in her mind . . . but before she could possibly think of a way to make him funny, while she was thinking of that—something quite different pushed that thought aside.

She remembered a feeling of cold so strong it drowned you, so surrounding it blinded you, and saw the streaming black cloak, ink on old parchment, and the words, The Dementor is one of the most dangerous creatures that haunts this world . . .

She shivered, looking round to distract herself. Next to her, Ron was muttering to himself, his eyes shut tight, "Take its legs off. . . "

"Everyone ready?" Professor Lupin asked, glancing round at them all.

Harriet felt a lurch of fear. She wasn't ready. How could you make a Dementor less frightening? Would it really become a Dementor, dredging up her worst memories, making her fall dead into a faint? But she didn't want to ask for more time, because everyone else was nodding and brandishing their wands.

"Neville, we're going to back away," said Professor Lupin, motioning them all to step back against the walls. "Let you have a clear field, all right? I'll call the next person forward . . . everyone back now, so Neville can have a clear shot—"

They all retreated, backing into the walls, leaving Neville alone in front of the wardrobe, looking pale and frightened. But he'd pushed up the sleeves of his robes and was holding his wand ready.

"On the count of three, Neville," said Professor Lupin, his own wand aimed at the wardrobe's door handle. "One—two—three—now!"

Sparks shot from the tip of Lupin's wand, hitting the doorknob like a small explosion of fireworks. With a clunk, the latch turned, and the wardrobe door banged open. Snape stepped out, and Harriet was really shocked—not only did it look exactly like Snape, but it looked exactly like the Snape she'd seen last summer at the Dursleys, when he'd broken open her bedroom door.

Neville was backing away, his wand held shaking out in front of him, his mouth opening and closing. Snape was bearing down on him, reaching inside his robes, the look in his eyes so menacing anyone would have quailed—was that what the Dursleys had seen, before he'd Immobilized them?

"R-r-riddikulus!" Neville squeaked.

A noise like a whip-crack shattered the tense silence. Snape stumbled: instead of his usual black robes, he was now wearing a long, lace-trimmed dress and a towering hat topped with a stuffed vulture. Harriet's stomach was filled with a hot queasiness like mortification, which was incredibly confusing.

The class let out a roar of laughter and the Boggart paused, confused. Professor Lupin shouted, "Parvati! Forward!"

Parvati walked forward, her face set. Snape rounded on her. With another whip-crack, he was gone, replaced with a mummy, one covered in bloody bandages stretched across its face, except for the remains of its rotting teeth and skin decaying around its over-wide mouth. It raised its arms, lurching toward her—she cried, "Riddikulus!"—and it tripped over its bandages, its head rolling off and tumbling across the floor, to excited screams and yells.

"Seamus!" Professor Lupin called.

A banshee—Seamus robbed her of her voice. Then Dean's Boggart turned into a severed hand and he snapped it in a mousetrap. Ron was next, transforming the Boggart into a giant spider, twice as tall as a grown man, that made Lavender shriek. Ron's roar of "RIDDIKULUS!" vanished its legs, sending it lurching wildly across the floor, scattering everyone—but Harriet stayed planted as it rolled thundering toward her, her heart hammering as she raised her wand—

"Here!" Professor Lupin darted just enough in front of her that the spider vanished with a crack, turning into a glowing silver orb that simply hung in the air, neither moving nor making any noise.

"Riddikulus," he said, almost lazily, like this was something he'd seen a hundred thousand times, and with a crack the silver ball disappeared, falling to the floor as a cockroach.

"Forward, Neville, and finish him off!" he said, and Neville charged forward, looking determined.

"Ridikulus!" he shouted, and they had a split second view of Snape in the lacy dress again before Neville cried, "Ha!" and the Boggart exploded, like the smoke left after a firework, and was gone.

"Excellent!" Professor Lupin said, as the class broke into applause. "Excellent, Neville. Well done, everyone. Let me see . . . five points to Gryffindor for every person to tackle the Boggart—ten for Neville because he did it twice—and five each to Hermione and Harriet."

"But I didn't do anything," Harriet protested, still feeling slightly shaken.

"You and Hermione answered my questions correctly at the start of class," Lupin said lightly, but again Harriet sensed he was holding something back. "Very well, everyone, an excellent lesson. Homework—kindly read the chapter on Boggarts and summarize it for me . . . to be handed in on Monday. That will be all."

Chattering excitedly, the class streamed out of the staff room. Harriet, however, felt somehow unpleasant, like a greasy hand had smeared itself over her heart. She wasn't shaken like she'd been after Trelawney's lesson, or alarmed as she'd been after Hagrid's, or even angry, the way she'd been after Snape's. Snape-in-the dress had bothered her, though, was still bothering her, and she didn't know why—nor did she know why Professor Lupin had jumped in front of the Boggart rather than let her have at it. Part of her was relieved that she hadn't had to hear her mum screaming, or fainted in front of the entire class . . . and yet, if she couldn't deal with a Dementor or a Boggart, how was she supposed to defend herself if she met one on her own?

No one else seemed to have noticed anything. They were all talking about their Boggarts and how they'd vanquished them.

"Did you see me take that banshee!"

"And the hand!"

"And Snape in that hat!"

"That was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson we've ever had, wasn't it?" Ron said excitedly.

"He seems a very good teacher," Hermione said. "I only wish I could have had a turn with that Boggart—"

"I wonder why Professor Lupin's frightened of crystal balls?" Lavender wondered to Parvati.

Maybe he met Professor Trelawney, Harriet thought.

--

"I really shouldn't have done it," Remus said, for at least the fifth time.

"Officially," Minerva said, "no, you shouldn't have." Her lips thinned. "But unofficially—speaking far, far off the record—it will do them both a bit of good. Severus to have Longbottom standing up to him, and Longbottom to learn to be less frightened of him."

Thunder rumbled outside the windows of Minerva's parlor, thrumming the glass, down which the rain streamed, glowing golden-orange in the reflected firelight. Minerva's fire was cheerful and bright, but Remus felt a weariness that it couldn't touch. It owed itself at least in part to the moon that grew fuller by the day, somewhere beyond the screen of the storm, but also to his own lapse back into adolescence: his retaliation, plus its target.

"I shouldn't have done it," he repeated. "But when Neville said he was the thing he feared most—and the way Severus belittled him as he walked out, in front of the whole class and me—"

"He's always like that," Minerva said simply. "Though he's rather worse with Longbottom than with the rest."

"And Albus doesn't step in?" Remus asked, even though he knew the answer, however hard it was to believe.

"Albus thinks the children ought to learn from certain unpleasant experiences." Her lips pressed together again. "Such as unfair teachers. I don't like it, and I certainly don't like how Severus takes it as license to run rampant in that way . . . but—oh, who can know? Albus has wisdom that I do not, but all the same, I've never approved."

"It wasn't professional of me to retaliate," Remus sighed. "And having experience with this sort of thing—particularly with Severus and this sort of thing—I'm afraid I'll have only made things worse for Neville."

"Well," said Minerva. "At the risk of sounding like Albus—the things we do often have more consequences than we can ever foresee, and it's rarely only to the good or to the bad. You never know what might come of it."

Chapter Text

And so third year was off to a rocky start.

Professor Lupin may have got a lukewarm reception at the start of term feast, but by the end of the second week of class his popularity was soaring (as long as you discounted the Slytherins in Malfoy's pack, who whispered loudly about his wardrobe whenever Lupin was within earshot). Everyone else was agreed that his Defense lessons were the best they'd ever had. He brought them interesting creatures they'd never seen before and devised ways of teaching about them that was exciting without being terrifying. Even Neville managed to smile when they were learning about Kappas, before one of them reached out of the tank and grabbed his ear.

Poor Neville—he was having an even worse term than Harriet. She might have had a mass murderer after her, but Neville had Snape.

The story about the Boggart-Snape in Mrs. Longbottom's clothes had rocketed through the school, moving even faster than Professor Lupin's popularity (and probably having something to do with it). It put Snape in a fouler mood than anyone could ever remember seeing, and he was bullying Neville worse than ever.

Harriet spent Potions classes feeling miserable, angry and confused. She was angry because Snape was tormenting Neville for something that hadn't even been his idea in the first place, not really; it had been Professor Lupin's idea. But she was also miserable for the same reason, without any idea of why she should be; and she also felt confused, because every time she thought about it—every time someone brought it up—she felt just as uncomfortable as she had when Professor Lupin had first come up with the idea. She had no idea why, or what it meant, or how to make it go away. Really no idea how to make it go away, since everyone kept talking about bloody Snape-in-a-dress, especially Ron and Seamus and Dean, and congratulating Neville (who was also looking like he wished they'd stop). Dean even drew a couple of obscene pictures.

Then, just before the start of October, Sirius Black was spotted "not too far" from Hogwarts, according to an article by Rita Skeeter, whom Harriet was really beginning to despise. She didn't know how the horrid cow did it, but while the articles always said it would be a terrible thing if Black got what he was after, they suggested that Skeeter would like nothing better than to see him to blow up Harriet in the street, like he'd done those thirteen other people, so she could write the most amazing piece on it.

Rita Skeeter's rubbish appeared only weekly in the Daily Prophet, but Harriet's classmates goggled at her every day—and three times a week she had to put up with Professor Trelawney gazing at her with tear-filled eyes that swam alarmingly behind her magnified spectacles. Harriet couldn't like her, even though most of the class was in complete awe of her. Neville was quite frightened of her now, almost as frightened as he was of Snape, and trembled constantly throughout the class. Harriet could tell because his teacup rattled in its saucer for an hour and a half, from his leg jiggling his table.

Lavender and Parvati adored Professor Trelawney. They'd taken to haunting her Tower at lunchtimes and speaking to Harriet in hushed voices, like she was on her deathbed. Harriet had never minded sharing a dorm with them before, even when they were building their Lockhart shrine, but by the end of that first fortnight she was so sick of them she wished Crookshanks would claw their ankles.

What with Ron, Seamus and Dean chortling about Snape, and Lavender and Parvati whispering about her certain death, and Neville on the verge of a nervous collapse, Harriet was pretty well isolated to her friendship with Hermione. This would have suited her just fine, except she was also having problems with Hermione, because Hermione was hiding something from her.

She was taking three extra classes, two of which were scheduled at the same time as Divinations, and one of which was at the same time as Care of Magical Creatures. Harriet had known something was fishy from the start, but when Hannah Abbot asked her, as they waited in line for the loo, how Hermione was making it to Magical Creatures since she'd never once missed an Ancient Runes class, and didn't she have Charms with the rest of the Gryffindors on Wednesday afternoons, she knew something stranger than usual was going on.

"Hermione," she said that night as they were doing homework in the library. It was a perfect opening, since Hermione had three textbooks spread out in front of her, one from Transfigurations, which Harriet was also working on, and two from classes that Hermione couldn't conceivably be attending, because they were each at the same time as the other and both at the same time as Divinations.

"Yes, Harry?" Hermione asked, not looking up from her parchment, where she was feverishly writing about Muggles and electricity. "Is it really important? Because I need to get all these done for Monday—"

Right, then; Harriet wouldn't knock around the bush. "How are you getting to your classes?" she asked bluntly.

Hermione's quill paused, but then she started writing even faster than before. "We talked about this before. I explained it then—if you didn't understand then, I don't see why now would be any different, and I really need to—"

"You didn't explain it," Harriet said. "You said you fixed it with Professor McGonagall, but you didn't say how. How can you be in three places at once? You've never missed Divinations or Care of Magical Creatures, or Ancient Runes or—"

"Honestly, Harry, I know my own schedule." Hermione splattered ink across her textbook when she jerked her quill too hard out of her ink-well. "What does it matter how I'm getting to my classes? I still—"

This was a fair question, and Harriet knew that. And yet she couldn't see why Hermione would refuse to tell her what was going on. The fact that Hermione was keeping a secret and wouldn't even admit it was a secret was hurtful. Maybe it shouldn't have been, but it was. Of all the people who kept secrets from her, she'd never have expected Hermione to be one of them.

"It matters when you're keeping something from me," she said quietly, accusingly. "I know you are. I just don't know why."

Hermione's quill faltered. Her eyes flickered up to meet Harriet's, held them for a moment, and then dropped back to her paper.

"I promised Professor McGonagall," she said in a low voice, starting to write again, but more slowly than before. "I'm not to tell anyone."

"I'm your best friend," Harriet said. "I'm not 'anyone.'"

Hermione bent further over her parchment until all Harriet could see was the crown of her head. "I promised, Harriet."

"Fine." Harriet closed up her books and stuffed them in her bag.

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked, like she was surprised.

"To the Common Room," Harriet said shortly, slinging her bag on her shoulder. "Since you're not going to talk to me."

"Harriet," Hermione said as she walked off, sounding hurt and bewildered. But Harriet didn't look round, and Hermione didn't try to stop her. The further Harriet walked, the worse she felt; but she also knew that if she went back and sat at the table she would feel just as bad.

So she kept on walking, down the corridors which were growing chillier as autumn set in, feeling more and more miserable with every step.

--

The next morning, Harriet didn't have a chance to speak (or avoid speaking) to Hermione because she had a very, very early Quidditch practice to drag herself to. Oliver Wood, spurred by their taking the Quidditch Cup at the end of last year—and taking it from Slytherin, who had won it seven years in a row—was now more desperate than ever to close his Hogwarts career with another win. The entire team was convinced that anything less than a sweeping victory would kill him.

"We can't let the Cup out of our hands," was how he greeted them on that painfully early Saturday morning, when mist rose blue and silver across the wet grass. His eyes were burning with the light of determination, or maybe madness.

"It's not in our hands," Fred said, blinking tiredly at him.

"It's in McGonagall's office," George said with his eyes shut as he pretended to fall sideways asleep onto Harriet.

"It's got our names on it," Oliver said, his eyes burning so brightly that Harriet was afraid her broom was going to catch on fire. "Our names will stay on it. This is our year!"

"Of c-c-ourse it is, Oliver," Angelina yawned.

He dragged them out onto the field and put them through drills. Harriet had been half-asleep all the way out of her bed, down the stairs, into the changing rooms and across the lawn—the cold seemed to make her sleepier, rather than waking her up—but when she kicked off the ground and the icy air streamed around her, and that feeling of flying up, up, up soared through her stomach and all through her body, she felt her tiredness stripping away, piece by piece. By the time she was up above the goal posts, high enough to have a view of the whole pitch, she was wide awake.

She looked toward the gates for Dementors. Hermione had said they'd felt them, riding the carriages up the track: a wave of cold, like sinking into a river, and dreadful things had risen over her head like black water, closing her in, so she couldn't get out.

Harriet hadn't told her about hearing her mum. She hadn't told anyone. She still didn't really know if that's who it had been, not with any proof . . . but she did know, deep inside, where the memory had come from. It was like a knowledge in the heart, beyond the reach of proof.

Sometimes at night, when the dorm was dark and silent except for the sound of Crookshanks scritching about, she saw it in her mind: Voldemort coming into the room, her mum holding her, screaming—wordless in the memory, just a scream, a sound of terror. And then a flash of green light—

Harriet jerked as a Bludger went whistling past her face. "Wake up, Runty-ette Potter!" Fred called, pelting after it. "Don't go to sleep and fall off your broom!"

Harriet was shaking, though not from the Bludger. The green light—she'd dreamt about the green light a hundred thousand times, but she'd never thought, until then, to wonder if it hadn't been a spell. . .

"Harry!" Wood bellowed from the goalposts. "Get looking for the Snitch!"

George belted another Bludger at her for fun, sending her rolling into a dive; and after that, between the twins' Bludgers and Oliver's shouting at all of them, she didn't have time to dwell on any of what kept her awake at night.

But when practice was over and all the others were headed back to the castle, she found herself lagging behind. Hermione would just be doing schoolwork, pretending nothing weird was going on. Ron had gone almost entirely over to the Boy Side, and Ginny had her own circle of friends now that she wasn't possessed by the spirit of Tom Riddle. This was the first year Harriet had realized that although she was famous, she couldn't really say she was popular, not at all.

If she hadn't been at odds with Hermione and if Ron weren't too old now to have girls for friends, she probably wouldn't have even noticed.

Maybe she'd go and see Hagrid. He could always use some cheering up these days (like Harriet wringing Malfoy's git neck).

Mindful of the ever-present threat of Sirius Black, she climbed back onto her broom and flew along, only about three feet above the ground. The mist was still so high, even past ten in the morning, that it brushed her toes.

When something moved off in the gloom, she almost fell off her broom. Jerking it up, she shot into the air, up, up, until she thought she was a safe distance from a hex, and looked down.

It was the dog—the shaggy, zombie-like one she'd seen back before term started. He was watching her, wagging his tail. He trotted out of the shadow of the trees and whined.

She let her broom drop back toward the ground, cautiously, and then, when no spells came rocketing out of the trees, she dismounted.

"Hey, boy." She put out her hand, and he licked it, wagging his tail. "You don't look much better. Nobody's feeding you?"

He whined, wagging the tail some more. She scratched behind his still-filthy ears, thinking. She could ask Hagrid for some food . . . Surely he wouldn't snitch on her looking after a stray, not when he'd hatched a dragon.

"Come on," she said, slinging her broom over her shoulder. "Let's see if Hagrid's got anything for you to eat—"

But the dog whuffed and backed away, shaking his head from side to side. Nonplussed, Harriet said, "You don't want food?"

He stared at her and chuffed once, shortly. "You don't want to see Hagrid?" she said.

He barked, and tucked head against her hip.

"I guess that's a yes." She scratched behind his ears again, though she wasn't sure if he felt it through all the layers of dirt. "I s'pose I'll have to get you something to eat another way."

He wagged his tail.

--

"How was practice?" Hermione asked timidly at lunch.

"Fine," Harriet said, only half-listening and eying the baked chicken sitting regally on a bed of parsley. It was within reach of Seamus and Ron, so it was unlikely to survive for very much longer. She reached over and pulled off both legs and wings, piling them on her plate.

"Do—do you want to study together later?" Hermione asked, even more timidly.

Harriet looked at her. For the first time she noticed dark smudges under Hermione's eyes. She looked apprehensive and unhappy, like that hurt feeling that had been on her face last night and in her voice as Harriet had walked off was still lingering there like a shadow.

Harriet felt like a total jerk, so hard and sudden it was like Fred had really hit her with his Bludger.

"Sure, maybe," she said, not because she wanted to, but because she didn't and didn't want to say so. "Or we could do something else?"

Hermione's expression fell further. "I've too much homework."

It occurred to Harriet that something strange was going on—well, something else. Hermione shouldn't look this upset about having homework. Normally she thrived on it. She invented work for herself.

"What's the matter?" Harriet asked.

Hermione's eyes darted down the table to where Ron was sitting, but then quickly away again. "Nothing," she said, staring into her shepherd's pie.

"Did Professor McGonagall tell me you couldn't tell me that, either?" Harriet asked before she could stop herself.

Hermione's eyes filled with tears, making Harriet hate herself.

"Shit," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm being an arsehole."

"Harry. When did you start talking like that?" Hermione dried her eyes.

Harriet shrugged. She didn't know when or why, just that she liked the way it sounded. "Did Ron do something?"

"He . . . oh, it's stupid." Hermione mashed her fork into her pie crust, destroying it but not eating it. "Crookshanks attacked Scabbers this morning. Ron's convinced that's the reason Scabbers is looking so ill, but it isn't. When I met him in Diagon Alley, he was going to buy rat tonic for Scabbers, because he's old, or he'd got sick in Egypt, or who knows, and athe pet store is where I bought Crookshanks, so Scabbers was ill first. And Ron thinks it's somehow my fault how Crookshanks is after Scabbers, but all cats chase rats! It's in his nature, Crookshanks doesn't know it's wrong—"

She said it all in a low, quick voice, mashing her shepherd's pie all the while, not raising her face—because she was on the verge of tears, Harriet could tell by the sound of her voice. It wasn't like Hermione to cry because she rowed with Ron. They did that all the time.

"What did he say?" Harriet asked. "I'll look up that Bat Bogey Hex Ginny's always going on about if he was being an arse—"

"Oh, he didn't say anything really, he was just so angry. . ." Hermione tried to wipe at her eyes without anyone seeing. "He's not talking to me right now. I asked him how Scabbers was doing and he said he's hiding at the bottom of his bed, shaking, and stormed off. . ."

Harriet's anger was hot and fierce, fueled by her own guilt because she had done the same thing to Hermione last night.

"Well, he's a git," she said. "All cats chase rats, like you said."

But a little voice inside her asked, if that were the case, why Scabbers had never been bothered by a cat before . . . there were plenty of cats in Gryffindor tower, on the boys' and girls' sides, and yet Harriet couldn't ever remember someone losing a familiar to any of those cats, or even having any trouble from them. . .

Hermione tried to blow her nose without anyone seeing or hearing. "Well. . . I'd better get back to studying. . . I'll see you later?"

"Yeah," Harriet said. "I think I'll go for a walk. When I'm done eating," she added as Hermione's eyes lingered on her plate piled with untouched chicken.

Hermione left the table. Ron made a very obvious show of not watching her go, but once she was gone he started mashing up his remaining potatoes, much as she'd done.

Harriet piled the chicken into her napkin and left the hall. Nobody tried to stop her.

--

"Don't make yourself sick," she warned the dog as he tore at the first chicken leg she'd tossed down to him. It was like she blinked and the meat disappeared off the bone.

He whined, snuffling at the napkin she was holding. It struck her that he was very well trained; in hindsight, she was lucky he hadn't tackled her and tried to chew her hand off.

"Don't barf it up," she said, tossing the other leg down. "I don't know how to get into the kitchens to get you any more. I bet Fred and George do though. . . "

She dwelt on this as he snarfed the next leg, and then he looked so pitiful she gave him the wings, even though she knew it would probably make him sick.

"I'll have to think of a name for you. . . How about Snuffles?" she asked as he snuffled at the bones, gnawing on them.

He glanced at her, as if to say, If that's the best you've got.

Then he was promptly sick, all over the grass. Harriet sighed.

She stayed a little longer, playing a game of tug-of-war. Aunt Petunia hated dogs; the only ones Harriet had ever been around were Aunt Marge's horrible, evil bulldogs. Harriet decided she liked dogs. Snuffles had more energy in him than she'd have expected, given how starved he looked.

"Maybe you can be my guard dog," she said. "Protect me from Sirius Black."

Snuffles gave her a long, solemn look and licked her hand.

"Nah." Harriet toyed with his ears. "Too dangerous, I bet. He'd probably blow us both up. I don't want you getting hurt."

Snuffles whined, sounding long and sad. Harriet had never thought a dog could make such a mournful sound. It was almost like heartbreak.

Chapter Text

Ron and Hermione didn't make up over the Crookshanks vs. Scabbers debacle until the day of the first Hogsmeade weekend, when they reunited to feel sorry for Harriet.

"We'll bring you back loads of sweets from Honeydukes," Hermione said, squeezing her hand.

"Yeah, loads," Ron promised. He'd even abandoned Seamus and Dean to sit with Harriet and Hermione at breakfast. Although Harriet was thoroughly depressed, she knew this was a very powerful symbol of their old friendship: the mood among all three of them was quite gloomy, whereas Dean and Seamus were laughing and whooping at something Fred and George were doing that involved a cork, a string, and a basket of uncooked eggs.

"Don't worry about me," Harriet said in what she hoped was a content voice. "I'll see you at the feast."

She walked with them to the Entrance Hall, where Filch was checking off a long list the names of everyone who tried to get past him, glaring suspiciously into each face to make sure that no one was sneaking out who didn't have permission. Bundled into coats and thick scarves, Hermione and Ron filed into line while Harriet hung back where Filch (probably) couldn't accuse her of trying to sneak out.

"Aww, poor ickle Pottykins," said Pansy Parkinson, passing by on Malfoy's arm, a bright pink beret pulled down over her long, shiny hair. "Is oo staying here all by herself?"

Ears ringing with the sound of Pansy and Malfoy's laughter, Harriet waved one last goodbye to Hermione and set off alone up the marble staircase.

--

"Poor Harry," Ron said as they trudged down the Hogsmeade road between two crowds of students (some Ravenclaw fifth-years up ahead and sixth year Hufflepuffs behind). "That bloody family of hers ought to be locked up."

"They're horrid," Hermione said in a low voice, not trusting herself to say it any more loudly with that knot pressed on her chest, hot and tearful. "They ruin everything for Harriet that they can. And if it isn't them, it's—it's You-Know-Who—"

Harriet had said it herself that summer, and she was right: if it wasn't the Dursleys, it was the shadow of Voldemort. Their summer together had been truncated by the threat of Sirius Black, and now Hogsmeade . . . and she couldn't even be properly honest with Harriet because Professor McGonagall had made her promise to keep the Time-Turner a secret, from anyone—everyone. "Don't even tell Miss Potter," she had said, as if reading Hermione's mind. And although Hermione had always trusted her teachers (even when it had been proven that some of them, she shouldn't), she had felt a twinge of dissatisfaction. Didn't Professor McGonagall understand how hard it was to keep secrets from one's friends? Not simply logistically, but emotionally?

Especially Harriet, who'd had so many things kept from her. And Hermione couldn't even properly be her friend this year because she'd signed up for so many classes that she didn't have time for anything but studying.

Perhaps she should tell her about the Time-Turner. Maybe she owed Harriet that.

But . . . what if Harriet asked to do something like . . . go back and see her parents? Or try to save them? What if . . .

Ron's elbow nudged her arm. "What are you thinking about?" he asked.

"Harriet," she said automatically.

Ron nodded. They crunched on in silence, down the beaten mud track scoured with the passage of so many feet, scattered with puddles and the crushed remains of fallen leaves. It was a bleak, desolate day. The wind was biting sharp, the sky a hard and unforgiving gray. They were lucky it wasn't dumping icy rain all over them.

And yet the further Hermione walked from Hogwarts, the more excited she became. She would get to see Hogsmeade, the only wizarding village in Britain! Harriet had stayed with the Weasleys, an all-wizarding household, but Hermione had never been to a place (other than Hogwarts—and Diagon Alley, she supposed) that was all-magic before. She'd never seen the clock that told where you were, not when, or watched the dishes wash themselves, and the mirrors at Hogwarts didn't speak. She had tested Harriet's Sneakoscope, but Dervish and Banges would have a whole range of them, and Foe Glasses, Dark Detectors—

"Now you're thinking about learning things," Ron said, shaking his head. "I can tell."

Hermione smiled in spite of herself, and shoved at him with her elbow. It was . . . strange, being alone with Ron. She was sure she'd been before, but this was the first time she'd noticed. Strange but . . . good.

And even thinking that, with Harriet left alone at the castle, made Hermione feel like the greatest traitor alive.

--

Harriet climbed listlessly to Gryffindor Tower, but when she got inside, she found no one except the first and second years and a few older students who must have visited Hogsmeade so many times the novelty had worn off. Ginny was sitting with a group of her friends, laughing, and Harriet retreated quietly before any of them could see her. She knew that Ginny would wave her over, but Harriet felt awkward around Ginny's friends, who clearly felt awkward around her, and she didn't feel like sitting with a bunch of people she didn't know.

"What was the point of waking me up?" the Fat Lady said grumpily as Harriet climbed out the portrait hole and set off again.

Not wanting to do work but having left the Tower without her broom, she drifted in the general direction of the Owlery, where she could at least visit with Hedwig, who was probably there at this time of the morning.

The Owlery was built detached from the rest of the school, perhaps to reduce the effect of the smell, and was reached by an isolated walkway that stretched over a dizzying drop filled with mist far, far below. When she stepped out onto it, the wind whipped her hair back from her face, sharp and cold. She climbed the winding stairs, shivering in the chill. It was almost November, and the Dementors made it colder than usual. Some dead leaves, tossed by the wind, lay crushed and broken to either side of the wall.

As she round the last curve in the staircase, she heard a burst of laughter. Boys—young ones, maybe first or second years, it sounded like. She hesitated, not sure if she wanted to continue if someone else was in there.

"Little snakes aren't supposed to be up this high," said one boy.

Harriet frowned. Snakes? How would a snake get into the Owlery, unless an owl brought back a dead one?

Something went BANG, like a paper bag bursting, making her jump.

"Too bad, little snake," said a second boy, and he and his friend, maybe even a third or fourth of them, laughed.

"Not a very good weapon, all this paper," said a third boy. "It sort of"—there was the sound of tearing paper—"just comes to pieces."

They're talking to a Slytherin, Harriet realized. She mounted the remaining stairs and stepped into the dimness of the Owlery. It took her eyes a moment to adjust, but when they did, she saw she'd been right: three boys she didn't recognize had backed a girl with long blonde hair against the wall. She looked terrified: she was shaking all over and seemed to be having trouble breathing, and tears were pouring down her face.

Anger built in Harriet's stomach, mixing with her unhappy loneliness and rising up hot and fresh.

"What the fuck?" she said loudly, using one of Snape's words.

The boys had their backs to her when she came in, but they turned at the sound of her voice, looking surprised. Two of them immediately looked dismayed, although the third tried to play it cool.

"Just what d'you think you're doing?" she demanded.

"Oh, come off it, Potter," said the boy playing it cool, and Harriet thought he—all of them—might be in Gryffindor. "It's only a snake."

"I don't care." She stalked toward them. The girl had fallen to the floor and was wheezing jerkily, like she couldn't draw in her breath all the way, and her whole body jerked each time she tried. "You get off her!"

"Or what?" said Playing It Cool, though his friends, at least, looked like they'd have happily complied. "You'll really show me when you get bigger?" To Harriet's extreme frustration, he was taller than her. "When's that gonna be?"

"I'll show you what I did to that Basilisk right now," she growled, pulling her wand out of her pocket. But he just grinned.

"OoOooh," he said. "I'm really scared."

"Good," Harriet retorted, and punched him in the nose with the hand holding the wand.

It wasn't a hard punch, and it probably hurt her hand as much as it hurt him. He yowled, stumbling away, and blood spurted out his nose, while she grit her teeth against the desire to scream and cradle her hand.

"Morbius!" his friends yelped.

"Next time just piss off," Harriet said, shoving past them, going to the girl, who'd fallen onto her side and seemed to be having some sort of fit. Her eyes were open but she was staring at the ceiling with wide, terrified eyes, her breath coming very fast and high-pitched, her chest heaving and her hands curled into rigid claws. "What did you do to her?"

"Nothing," said one of the friends, starting to look scared. "That's just Asteria Greengrass—she's scared of everything, we were just having a laugh, that's all—"

"I'll have a laugh at you next," Harriet said furiously. "You help me get her to Madam Pomfrey or I'll tell Professor Snape what you did."

That put the fear into two of them, although Morbius just grumbled and held a handkerchief to his nose. Harriet was really worried about—Asteria? Astoria?—and ordered one of the boys to run ahead and bring Madam Pomfrey to meet them.

Madam Pomfrey found them about two floors up from the Hospital Wing with, of all things, a paper bag in her hand. "Here, Miss Greengrass," she said briskly, opening the bag and holding it over Asteria/Astoria's mouth. "Breathe into that now."

Asteria/Astoria did, at first still wheezing, and then gradually steadying as she leaned weakly against Harriet's shoulder. (She, also, was taller.)

"Miss Potter," said Madam Pomfrey, still brisk, "please find Professors McGonagall and Snape and bring them to the Hospital Wing. You three," she added to the boys, her voice going very cold, "will come with me."

The boys went ashen, even Morbius around his bloody handkerchief. But they trudged dejectedly alongside Madam Pomfrey as she swept away, her arm around Asteria/Astoria's shoulders.

Professor McGonagall was in her office, grading, when Harriet knocked. "They what?" she demanded, her eyes flashing. "Very well. Thank you, Miss Potter, I will deal with them."

She swept away, looking about as angry as last year, when Harriet and Ron had flown the car into the Whomping Willow. Feeling slightly more cheerful—if anyone deserved to have Professor McGonagall that angry with them, it was those three bullies—Harriet headed down the corridor for Snape's office.

But she hadn't gone even one floor down before she heard his voice, floating out of a half-open door.

". . . take another dose tomorrow," Snape was saying in that voice of especially strong hatred that she associated with Professor Lupin.

"Yes, of course," Lupin said, sounding quite serious. "Thank you, Severus."

Before Harriet could decide whether she should try and sneak closer to the door to find out more about this mysterious potion they'd been brewing together all summer, Snape threw open the office door and stalked out—or started to. When he saw her, he stopped so abruptly his boot soles squeaked.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Madam Pomfrey sent me to get you," she said, the close call of being caught snooping at the door making her heart thump. Behind him, Professor Lupin pulled the office door open the rest of the way and peered over Snape's shoulder.

"Asteria," Harriet said, "—or is it Astoria?—anyway, Greengrass, some boys were picking on her and she had some sort of fit. She's in the infirmary—"

Snape strode out the rest of the way into the hall and slammed the door in Professor Lupin's surprised face. He swept away without saying anything, but when Harriet followed, he didn't send her away.

When they got to the infirmary, Snape billowed inside. But the only person there was Madam Pomfrey, checking Asteria/Astoria's vitals.

"Where are they?" Snape demanded in a voice that made the hairs along the back of Harriet's neck rise.

"Professor McGonagall has taken them away to deal with. Don't make a fuss, Professor," Madam Pomfrey said sharply. "You'll only upset her more, and she's had quite enough of a fright as it is."

Asteria/Astoria was trembling, staring at her toes and still breathing into her bag. The multicolored web of spells in the air in front of her was flickering madly. The golden one for heartbeat was driving especially fast and furious.

"You rest, dear," said Madam Pomfrey, surprising Harriet, who had never heard her call anyone "dear" before. She stepped away from the bed and drew a mint-green curtain round it, blocking Asteria/Astoria off from the rest of the room.

"Has she said anything?" Snape asked Pomfrey, who shook her head.

"I haven't been able to get a response out of her," said Pomfrey. "Not even a shake or nod of the head. The boys weren't communicative either—"

"How many?" Snape asked in that bone-chilling voice.

"Three. Miss Potter, what did they do?"

Snape turned on her like he'd forgotten she was there, so suddenly that she almost jumped.

"Er—" she said, taken aback at being appealed to so suddenly, and having both of them staring at her so fixedly. "I don't know everything—I was going up to the Owlery, and I heard them pop something, it sounded like a paper bag—"

"She carries one for breathing into. That explains where it went," Madam Pomfrey added darkly to Snape, who was watching Harriet with a kind of burning ferocity. It was almost unnerving to be the focus of that much intensity. "And then, Miss Potter?"

"And—I guess she'd gone up there to mail a letter, since I heard them ripping something made of paper. That's when I realized they were—well—they'd been talking about snakes, but that was when I realized it wasn't really a snake, it was . . . "

An echo of the feeling that had gripped her during the Boggart lesson squirmed in her stomach. Snape had no visible reaction—he just kept staring at her—but Pomfrey's eyes flickered toward him.

"Anyway . . . that's when I went in and saw . . . them. I thought they'd done something to her, she was breathing funny—"

"She was hyperventilating," Madam Pomfrey said to Harriet. To Snape: "I couldn't find any evidence of spells, jinxes, or hexes."

"And then, Miss Potter?" Snape asked, still not reacting.

"Then I punched one of them in the no—" Harriet bit her tongue. But neither Snape nor Pomfrey reacted to this admission at all. It was as if their ears had chosen that exact moment to stop working.

"You didn't see them touch her or use magic in any way?" Madam Pomfrey said. Harriet shook her head. "It corresponds to my diagnosis," she told Snape. "All the same, I would like to keep her here for the time being."

"I will alert her sisters," Snape said.

For the first time, Harriet connected the name Greengrass. Was this Daphne's sister? She tried to picture Daphne Greengrass in her mind but couldn't come up with much more than a girl with long blonde hair who always stood slightly behind Pansy. She wasn't sure if they'd ever spoken in all two, starting-on-three, years.

"Will Asteria—Astoria?—be okay?" Harriet asked.

"Her name is Asteria," Madam Pomfrey said. "And yes, she will, Miss Potter. There's nothing more for you to do now. What she needs is her rest."

She said it briskly, but she laid her hand on Harriet's shoulder and didn't retract it. Harriet nodded silently. Madam Pomfrey's hand only withdrew when Harriet turned away.

She left, feeling very thoughtful.

--

Daphne ran up the stairs, as fast as she could, past torches that had been lit for dusk. She would have taken them two at a time but her legs weren't quite long enough.

"Merlin, Daff," Tracey said, jogging after her. "Would you slow down?"

Daphne didn't bother replying, because it would have slowed her down.

"She's fine now," Tracey called after her. Though taller, she wasn't running as fast. It wasn't her little sister whom her own selfishness had abandoned to tears and childish cruelty. "Professor Snape said—"

Finally gaining the top of the stairs, Daphne put on a burst of speed. She had a stitch in her side and her breath was sore in her throat—she hadn't run this much in years, not since before Hogwarts, when she and Asteria used to race down to the beach, Asteria with her longer legs always winning—but she wasn't going to slow down, she wasn't going to listen to Tracey, not this time.

She hurled all her strength into the infirmary doors, but they only groaned and swung inward softly.

Madam Pomfrey came out of her office as Daphne staggered into the room. "Miss Greengrass," she said. "Your sister's in the last bed behind the curtian."

Daphne nodded, panting too hard to say thank you. Tracey came in behind her and grabbed her by the arm before she could rush down to the beds.

"Calm down, would you?" she said in a low voice as Madam Pomfrey retreated back to her office. "It isn't your fault."

"I don't expect you—to understand," Daphne panted, pulling her arm away.

"And it's not my fault," Tracey said, her voice still low but now a touch angry. "Don't try to make me feel bad because you're too guilty to—"

"Go," Daphne said. "Leave us."

Tracey stared at her, not looking as cool and collected as usual, but warm with anger. Then she turned on her heel and stalked out, shoving at the doors like she wanted to slam them. But they only drifted as softly shut as they'd opened.

Daphne spent a few moments composing herself, trying to even out her breathing, pushing the thought of tears away. This was her fault, no matter what Tracey said, and she should feel guilty, no matter what Tracey believed. Asteria was her responsibility, and she had left her, defenseless, to go have fun, to—

She smoothed her hands down her hair, then walked down the path between the hospital beds to the last one, and ducked behind the curtain. Asteria looked up as she entered. Her drawing pencils were scattered across the bed, and on a little tray on her knee she was sketching on a piece of parchment.

"I'm fine," she said before Daphne could trust herself to speak. "Madam Pomfrey says I'm quite well."

Asteria was wearing her nightgown (which had once been their mother's, then Leto's, but skipped Daphne because Asteria had been big enough to need it by the time it was Daphne's turn), and her hair was braided over one shoulder, like she was all ready for bed.

"Yet she's keeping you in here," Daphne said, gripping her hands into fists.

"Just to be sure." For once, Asteria looked more composed than herself. "I feel really quite well. It's quiet in here."

No dorm-mates, Daphne translated.

"It's all my fault," she said.

"No it isn't," said Asteria with uncharacteristic composure. "It's the fault of those dreadful boys. Did you have fun in Hogsmeade?"

Daphne shook her head, not because she hadn't—she had, it had been the most amazing morning, just her and Tracey, away from Pansy, from everyone watching; for a morning, just two people in a crowd—but because she didn't wish to talk about it.

"I shouldn't have left you. It was selfish—"

"All third years get to go," Asteria said. "It's not selfish. If I weren't—if I didn't get so—" She looked down at her drawing, the un-Asteria-like composure unraveling. "You wouldn't have to worry about me so much."

"I'm your sister," Daphne said. "I ought to worry, whether you're well or hale. You're my responsibility, Aster. Gladly," she added, sitting on the bed.

"But I feel so—so wretched when you're kept from things because of me," Asteria said, her eyes glinting with the start of tears. "Now I've ruined your day and you won't want to go again because of me—"

"Oh, Aster," Daphne said, because she didn't know what to say. This was their problem, had always been fated to be their problem: at Hogwarts Asteria couldn't be comfortable with Daphne or without her, and Daphne couldn't make Asteria comfortable whether she was with her or without her. They both loved each other too much to be anything but horridly, miserably guilty.

"What are you drawing?" she asked, shifting up the bed to lean around and see the sketch from the right side. "Pink and yellow roses?"

"Gratitude and friendship," Asteria said shyly, playing with a green pencil.

"It's for someone?" Daphne asked, surprised.

Asteria shrugged, still shy, and colored in a leaf with expert strokes.

Daphne thought she understood. "Aster, did someone help you with the boys?"

Asteria nodded, her eyes shining with something quite different from tears—and for a moment, although she knew it was terrible and felt quite ashamed, Daphne was both jealous and hurt. It was her job to protect Asteria—and she had failed because she had left, knowing she should stay and do what she ought, because who else did Asteria have if not herself?

But Asteria had found someone else. And wasn't that her right? If her dearest sister was to abandon her, she would do well to find someone much better.

"Who, Aster?"

But Asteria just blushed and sketched in the shadow falling from the vase, as if the sun behind it lay in the east. "Not important," she mumbled. She glanced up, smiling faintly. "I'm glad you had a good day. Mine wasn't so bad, really. So don't look so sad, Daffy."

--

"There you go," said Ron. "We got as much as we could carry."

A shower of sweets in a rainbow of brilliant colors—sapphire blue and turquoise and aquamarine, butterscotch and pumpkin orange, emerald green and iridescent melon, strawberry red and amethyst purple—fell into Harriet's lap in shapes likes stars, nautiluses, spheres, and swirls. Dusk had drifted down from the highest point in the sky, all the lamps and fires were lit, and Ron and Hermione had just turned up in the common room, pink-faced from the cold and looking as though they'd had the most brilliant afternoon of their lives.

"Thanks," said Harriet, picking up a black packet sparkling with silver and red dots. Pepper Imps it read in bold red and silver letters. "What's Hogsmeade like? Where did you go?"

Everywhere, it sounded like. Deverish and Banges, the wizarding equipment shop, where they sold things like Sneakoscopes like the one Ron and Ginny had sent Harriet for her birthday; Zonko's Joke Shop, full of Dungbombs, Fanged Fisbees, and Fred and George; then into the Three Broomsticks for foaming mugs of hot Butterbeer, and—

"The post office, Harry! About two hundred owls, all sitting on shelves, all color-coded depending on how fast you want your letter to get there!"

"Honeydukes have got a new kind of fudge, they were giving out free samples, there's a bit, look—"

"We think we saw an ogre, honestly, they get all sorts at the Three Broomsticks—"

"Wish we could've brought you some Butterbeer, really warms you up—"

"What did you do?" said Hermione, switching off her excitement for a moment to switch on her anxiety. "Did you get any work done?"

"I rescued a damsel in distress," Harriet said lightly, breaking off a piece of the fudge. Ron's "a bit" was the size of a small boulder. The fudge was so light, it seemed to disappear the moment it hit her tongue, leaving behind flavors of chocolate cream and caramel.

"You already did that," Ron said. "Last summer, with Ginny. You can't recycle damsels, Harry."

"This was a whole new damsel, thanks very much."

When she'd finished telling them about the three Gryffindors and Asteria Greengrass, they sat staring at her for a few moments, their mouths slightly open. Then they looked at each other, as if they were thinking the same thing and were checking to make sure the other was, too. When they did that, Harriet felt a frission of something she didn't like at all—didn't like feeling, for too many reasons.

"So I can entertain myself, thanks," she said, pretending to be smug and lofty, and taking another heavenly light bite of fudge.

Ron was shaking his head. "Gryffindor's sword didn't fall out of the Owlery ceiling and hit you on the head again, did it? Because it bloody missed a great opportunity."

"Oh, bugger off," Harriet said, flicking a Pepper Imp at him.

"I'm serious!" he said, trying to block it and only hitting himself in the nose. "Only you would find some girl to rescue the minute we left you on your own—"

"We'd better go down," Hermione said, raising her voice slightly, "or we'll miss the start of the feast."

Harriet ran upstairs to dump her sweets in her trunk, where Crookshanks couldn't get into them, and then came back down to find Ron and Hermione clumped near the portrait hole. Ignoring the clench in her stomach at the sight of them standing with their elbows almost touching, Harriet put on a smile and they all climbed out the portrait hole and headed down the winding stairs.

The Great Hall was decorated for Hallowe'en with a countless number of candle-filled pumpkins, some leering on the tables, others grimacing in midair, the flame-light making their eye- and- teeth holes flicker as if they were blinking and breathing. Bats chittered high on the lightning-lashed ceiling, and flaming orange streamers coiled lazily through the air like water-snakes. Most everyone was already there, including the teachers, and the hall rang with noise. Harriet glanced at the Slytherin table for Asteria or the girl she thought was Daphne, but she didn't see either of them. Snape was seated at the High Table, isolated once again from the talk; he was staring into space and taking absent sips from a goblet. Harriet wondered what he was thinking about.

The food was delicious and came in courses—a range of thick soups and small game pies for starters; whole roast turkeys for the main, with sides of wild rice, potatoes, greens, and yams; and desserts so enticing that even Hermione, who'd become very choosy about how much sugar she ate, managed a second helping. The Hogwarts ghosts provided the entertainment, streaming through the walls and across the tables, the pumpkins and streamers floating out of the way to give them room. Nearly Headless Nick enjoyed school-wide success when he re-enacted the gruesome story of his own botched beheading. Even the Slytherins enjoyed it.

It was such a good feast that if Harriet didn't forget what an up-and-down day it had been, she at least was finally at peace with it. She, Ron and Hermione followed the rest of the Gryffindors back up to the tower in a sleepy, feast-induced haze, but when they got to the corridor ending in the Fat Lady, they found it crammed with babbling students.

"What's going on?" Harriet and Hermione asked Ron, who had much more hope of seeing anything.

"Can't really tell." He stretched up on his tip-toes, craning his neck. "Looks like no one's going in for some reason."

"Let me through, please," said Percy, bustling as well as he could through so many stationary people. "What's the hold-up here? You can't all have forgotten the password—excuse me, please, I'm Head Boy—"

And then a silence spread over the crowd, starting from the front and rippling toward the back in a soft, chilling wave. Harriet felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise for the second time that day, although in a much different way than before.

"Somebody get Professor Dumbledore," said Percy in a suddenly sharp voice, sounding much less like a self-important prig and much more like a grown-up. "Quick."

Hermione's fingers wrapped around Harriet's hand. People in the crowd around them were doing like Ron, standing on tip-toe to try and see the front of the crowd.

A little babble started at the back of the crowd: Professor Dumbledore had arrived and was wading into the morass of people. The Gryffindors shuffled and squeezed aside to let him through; Harriet edged into his wake as he passed, to push further to the front and see what was going on. Hermione held tight to her hand and Ron pushed after them, using his elbows.

"Oh—" Hermione gasped, her free hand grabbing Harriet's arm.

The Fat Lady's painting had been cut, as if from long slashes of a knife. Strips of canvas had torn free and littered the floor, and in some places the painting's back had been stabbed straight through.

Dumbledore took one quick look at it and then turned away. If he saw Harriet, Hermione and Ron standing so close by him, he gave no sign: he looked through the crowd at the teachers who had just come up to it: McGonagall, Lupin and Snape. As if through some homing signal, Snape's eyes fixed immediately on Harriet, glittering like moonlight on the lake on a clear black night. Was it her imagination, or did he look paler, stranger, than usual?

"We need to find her," Dumbledore said to them immediately. "Professor McGonagall, please go to Mr. Filch at once and tell him to search every painting in the castle for the Fat Lady."

"You'll be lucky!" an unpleasant voice cackled.

Peeves the poltergeist hung bobbing over the heads of the crowd, looking delighted, as he always did, at the sight of wreckage and worry.

"What do you mean, Peeves?" Dumbledore said calmly, gazing at him steadily, and Peeves's grin faded a little. He didn't dare taunt Dumbledore the way he did everyone else; instead, he pasted on an oily voice that was almost as bad.

"Ashamed, your Headship, sir. Doesn't want to be seen. She's a horribly mess. Saw her running through the landscape up on the fourth floor, ir, dodging between the trees. Crying something dreadful," he said happily. "Poor thing," he added, convincing no one.

"Did she say who did it?" Dumbledore asked quietly.

"Oh, yes, Professorhead," said Peeves with the air of someone cradling a large bombshell. "He got very angry when she wouldn't let him in, you see." He flipped over and grinned at Dumbledore from between his own legs. "Nasty temper he's got, that Sirius Black."

--

Severus had to force himself, with all the willpower he possessed, not to grab the girl in the hall or to react at all, even when Dumbledore said, "Stay, Severus," as Minerva started herding the Gryffindors away and Lupin was sent to find the Fat Lady.

Dumbledore looked at him once all the children and the others were gone, with something like concern in his face. That was when Severus realized he was breathing very quick and shallow, his whole body vibrating with tension so harsh his muscles were already beginning to ache.

"I need you to think clearly, Severus," Dumbledore said in a calm, measured voice, as if he were speaking to someone standing on the edge of a tall building.

"I am thinking very, very clearly, Headmaster," Severus whispered, and it was the absolute truth. His mind felt as bright and clear as glass, filled with a light almost blindingly white, and yet dark on the edges, a deep blackness one couldn't quite see except on the periphery.

Dumbledore stared at him a moment, almost as if startled, and then a firmness of purpose came over him, a strength that would brook no opposition. "Our task is to find where Sirius Black went, Severus, and if he is still in the castle. That, and nothing more. Do you understand me?"

Severus looked at him. Now his breathing was long and drawn out, like he was preparing to jump off a very long drop into very deep water far below, so far it couldn't be seen, so far it might not even be there.

"Promise me that you will do no more than search for Black, Severus," Dumbledore said, his tone now commanding.

"I promise, Headmaster," Severus said after a long moment. He even meant it.

Because in his mind, anything he did until he found Black counted as part of that search.

He turned and strode away. He was sure to meet Lupin at some point, and when he did, he and the werewolf were going to have, perhaps not a long, but a very fruitful talk.

--

"How did he get in?" everyone seemed to be asking as they streamed through the corridors. "How?"

One of many ways, perhaps, Remus's conscience thought. The one-eyed witch, the Whomping Willow, even the cellar at Honeydukes—if he's cunning enough to escape Azkaban, he's cunning enough to break into the sweetshop without anyone being any the wiser...

Remus had gone to Filch's office back in the summer, looking for the Map; but it was gone, someone had taken it. No one in the school could have done it or they would surely have turned it in, considering. . .

Or not, said Conscience coldly. Look at you.

He closed his eyes, thankful the hallway was dark around him. The far-off echo of children's voices washed through his ears like the sound of the ocean.

He opened his eyes and started climbing again.

Snape found him as he was hunting for the Fat Lady.

The man moved as silent as a cat's shadow. In one moment Remus was scanning the many paintings on the walls for the landscape that Peeves had mentioned, and in another the shadows on the periphery had warped into Snape, moving so fast and viciously Remus almost hexed him out of reflex. But then he registered who it was, and in that moment's stupidity (as it turned out), he stayed the hex.

Snape grabbed him by the throat and shoved him into the wall, trying to choke off his airway. Remus elbowed him in the stomach, hard; Snape grunted but didn't fold, as Remus might have expected; instead he countered with a blow to Remus's temple that knocked him sprawling against a bust of an old headmaster.

Remus swiped his wand at Snape's abdomen, sending out a shower of golden sparks; Snape repelled it with a non-verbal shield and leapt away, moving like a cat. Panting, Remus hauled himself upright against the bust, his wand held in a defensive position across his chest. Snape was also panting, but in a way that seemed almost manic; his eyes were strangely wide, his face rigid with an emotion that made Remus's skin prickle all over with warning.

"I knew it," Snape whispered, his voice hoarse and whiplash sharp, his eyes glittering in a way that made the wolf part of Remus's brain raise its hackles with a long, drawn-out growl that only he could hear. "You're helping him. You let him in, told him when the feast would be, when the corridors would be empty—if he'd got into Gryffindor tower he'd only have found a lot of barely trained children when they returned—"

He took small steps forward with every word, his wand clenched so tightly in his hand it was shaking, his whole body shaking, with tension, Remus assumed, like it was taking all of Snape's willpower not to slice his head off his shoulders. His eyes never wavered from Remus's face, and that bright, mad glitter never left his eyes.

"Sirius Black got into the school without any help from me," Remus said in a low voice, while his conscience whispered Liar liar liar—

"Liar," Snape hissed piercingly from between his teeth, as if he could read Remus's mind. "If you were any real use to us, you'd have told us how to catch him. Don't think I don't know how things were between you— don't think I'm as stupidly trusting as Albus—"

Don't react, Remus willed himself, as something inside him, something left alone and denied for so long, twisted and tore, but not cleanly, don't react—

"I have not had any contact with Sirius Black since before James and Lily died," Remus said, keeping his voice low so that he could control it.

Emotion flashed in Snape's face like a lightning strike. Remus hadn't been expecting that, not at all, and he blocked the resulting spell just in time, squinting his eyes against the actinic flash of spell-light. But Snape didn't seem to have noticed; it was almost as if his control had slipped and he hadn't even seen, like someone not realizing they've lapsed into an old habit.

Snape was almost within arm's reach, now. Remus didn't want him coming any closer. The moon was filling and the wolf was pushing against the inside of his skin, and all his instincts were screaming at him to— "Severus, please stay back—"

"Leglimens," Snape hissed, lunging that last step into Remus's personal space.

The mind-reading spell, Remus thought; he'd heard of it but had no idea how to block it, and Snape was going to see the truth about Sirius, the real truth, each and all of them, and a part of Remus wanted to fall to his knees with relief because if Snape tore the secret out of him it would at least be out, it would be over—

But nothing happened.

Remus blinked. Snape leaned in closer, looking feral and bewildered, and then he swore in the way he'd been especially known for at school, and raised his wand as if he was going to jab it into Remus's throat.

"Severus," Remus said hoarsely, "the moon is full in five days."

Snape froze, his breathing fast and audible, and then his eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth again. Remus rotated his wand in his palm, waiting. . .

And then, from down the corridor, he heard the wheezing breath and shuffle-thump gait of Argus Filch.

Snape heard it too. Cursing again, he drew back, and with one last scorching, half-mad look of pure hatred, he slipped away.

Filch came hobbling into the corridor, muttering, his jowls quivering. Remus tried to find a smile somewhere inside him, but he couldn't. Snape's mind-reading spell might have failed, but he had still taken something out of Remus, bared it to the light, and it would take him more than a few moments to find it again.

But he'd find it, eventually. He always had.

There was nothing else to be done.

--

Severus slipped into the Great Hall, somewhere between three and four in the morning, with nothing to report but defeat.

The ceiling was dark with black clouds, but a few hundred candles dusted the room with light far above the sleeping bags spread across the floor. Dumbledore would want his report, but Severus didn't look for him first, or for any of his fellow teachers.

He stepped through the rows of sleeping bags, searching for the girl.

He found her lying next to Granger, the pair of them at least appearing to sleep. But when Dumbledore's voice called softly from nearby, "Severus," he saw the girl's eyelid flicker.

Before he could turn and walk away from her so she wouldn't be able to eavesdrop on the conversation—which, if awake, she would certainly do—Dumbledore had joined him.

"Anything?" he asked.

"No," said Severus. Nothing, nothing, where is he, where has he gone "Astronomy Tower, dungeons, Owlery, Gryffindor—anywhere he could conceivably have got in a short period of time, and many places he couldn't have—all searched and found empty." Empty gone where did he go

"Very well," Dumbledore murmured. "I didn't expect him to linger."

The officious Weasley was prowling through the rows of sleeping bags, telling people off for talking. Dumbledore stared in his general direction, though he did not appear to be really watching him.

"Have you any theories as to how he got in?" Severus asked in a low voice. He was really saying, What is your explanation this time?

"Several," Dumbledore said, still staring vaguely toward Percy Weasley. "Each as unlikely as the last."

Severus knew that Dumbledore wouldn't hear him out—they'd had this conversation before the start of term, after all, and it would surely go the same way now as it had then—but he didn't fucking care, he'd say it anyway. "It seems impossible to believe he could have got in without help."

Dumbledore looked sharply at him, immediately understanding and knowing what he was going to say. Severus held his gaze, unflinching.

"The concern I expressed when you appointed—"

"I do not believe a single person in this school would have helped Black to enter it," Dumbledore said in a tone so final that Severus knew it was as useless as he'd always thought, as it had been the first time they'd argued over it. . .

"You're placing your faith in a man who never stopped his friends in any endeavor they wished to undertake, and you think, now that so much is at stake, he will suddenly stand up for what he believes in?"

"Remus has had a difficult life, Severus, full of discrimination and prejudice; he wishes so very much to be liked that it has in the past, it is true, compromised his judgment. But that does not mean that he has gone over to the Dark, that he wishes Harriet dead . . ."

And how will you feel, Severus thought as Dumbledore walked away, and the girl twitched in her pseudo-sleep, when your precious faith in the wrong person, once again . . .

But he couldn't bear to think it, even in the jagged depths of his own mind.

Chapter Text

After Sirius Black's attack on the Fat Lady, Harriet found it increasingly difficult to get food to Snuffles. Professor Snape had restarted last year's routine of snarling at her if he caught her wandering alone, and he just didn't seem like the type of person to approve of feeding stray dogs. He'd probably think the dog was Sirius Black in disguise or something. Professor McGonagall had also asked Madam Hooch to oversee Harriet's Quidditch lessons, since the team was now practicing well into the evening, which was deepening as November settled down around the castle like an angry dragon. With too many people watching her and the short afternoons eaten up with classes and Quidditch, Harriet couldn't sneak away.

She thought about writing to Hagrid to leave out some food, but Snuffles had seemed so alarmed by the idea that she didn't. Then she felt extemely silly for not doing something sensible because a dog didn't want her to do it.

Harriet had a great many things to preoccupy her—about sixteen things too many—but with the first Quidditch match of the season on the horizon, it took first importance, if only because Oliver was making it so. Then, just a couple of days before the match, a furious, anguished Wood delivered some very unwelcome news:

"We're not playing Slytherin," he said furiously. "Flint's just been to see me. We're playing Hufflepuff instead."

"Why?" the team asked.

"Flint's excuse is that his Seeker's arm's still injured," Wood said, burning with righteous fire. "They just don't want to play in this weather—think it'll damage their chances."

"Malfoy's faking it," Harriet said angrily, picturing his smug git face. "There's nothing wrong with his arm."

"I know that," Wood said bitterly, "but we can't prove it. But it causes us a major problem, which I suppose Slytherin has guessed, too. We've been basing all our practices on countering Slytherin moves, and now we'll be playing Hufflepuff, and their style is entirely different. Their captain, Cedric Diggory—"

Angelina, Katie and Alicia all giggled. Then they looked at Harriet expectantly, and when she blinked at them, nudged her.

"You know," Alicia said. "The Seeker—the really handsome one."

"Really handsome—and tall," said Katie.

"Strong and silent," Angelina said, and they all giggled again. Harriet giggled too that time, not because she knew who they were talking about, but because the expression on Oliver's face—all the boys' really—was quite funny.

"He's only silent because he's too thick to string two words together," Fred said impatiently.

"Oooh," Harriet said. "Somebody sounds a teeeensy bit jealous." That made Angelina, Katie and Alicia giggle harder, all nudging each other and Harriet. Fred stared at them with a jaw slack from outrage.

The day before the match, the winds rose to howling point and the rain thrashed against the castle's walls and windows. It was so dark inside the castle that extra torches had to be lit, and everyone shuffled to classes in their cloaks. Mrs. Weasley had sent Harriet a pair of knitted green legwarmers that she pulled on over her stockings.

The Slytherin team were very smug, Malfoy most of all.

"Ah, if only my arm was a bit better!" he sighed as the windows rattled and whistled. Pansy Parkinson hung on his good arm and smirked across the hall at Harriet.

Ginny knew who Cedric Diggory was, and Katie had been right: he was very tall. The top of Harriet's head wouldn't even have come up to his chest if she stood next to him. In fair conditions, she'd have had the advantage of being smaller and speedier, but in wind that was blowing branches off the trees in the forest, she'd probably be hurtled into the Quidditch stands, while Diggory flew blithely around in the lashing rain.

And Oliver kept grabbing her between classes and heaping tips on her. The third time it happened, he talked for so long that Harriet realized she was ten minutes late for Defense Against the Dark Arts. She pelted off without a word of goodbye, Oliver shouting after her, "Diggory's got a very fast swerve, Harriet, so you might want to try looping him—"

She skidded to a halt outside the classroom, winded, and wrenched the door open. "Sorry, Professor Lupin, I—"

But it wasn't Professor Lupin who spun round to face her. It was Snape.

"So glad you decided to join us at last, Miss Potter." His face had that pale, strange look to it again and his eyes were glittering. "Sit," he snarled, jabbing his wand at a desk right up front in the room, which had been left empty. (In fact, the closest desk that had been taken was in the third row back. Clearly no one had wanted to sit near the teacher's desk if it had Snape in it.)

With his teeth bared slightly like that, Harriet didn't dare argue or even ask where Professor Lupin was. She hurried to the desk as silently as she could and sat down, feeling quite isolated and defenseless.

"As I was saying." Snape paused to give Harriet a glare so ferocious that she froze in the middle of pulling out her parchment and quills. "When Miss Potter finally decided to arrive—Professor Lupin has not left any record of what you have covered so far—"

"Please, sir, we've done Boggarts, Red Caps, Kappas and Grindylows," said Hermione quickly, "and we're just about to start—"

"Be quiet," Snape said in a voice so close to a snarl that Hermione cut off like a tape player whose cord had been pulled. "I did not ask for information, I was merely commenting on Professor Lupin's lack of organization."

"He's the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we've ever had," said Dean Thomas boldly, and the rest of the class murmured agreement. Menace flashed in Snape's face. Harriet tried to hide behind her book without being too obvious about it.

"You are easily satisfied. Lupin is hardly over-taxing you. I would expect first-years to be able to deal with Red Caps and Grindylows. Today we shall discuss—"

He grabbed Harriet's textbook right out of her hand, making her jump, and slammed it open on the desk. He ran one long finger down the table of contents, and then slammed to the back of the book, which he must know they hadn't covered.

"Werewolves," he said, eyes glittering now more menacingly than ever.

"But, sir," Hermione said, like she couldn't restrain herself, and Harriet closed her eyes, "we're not supposed to do werewolves yet, we're due to start Hinkypunks—"

"Miss Granger," said Snape in that voice that made Harriet's skin prickle, "I was under the impression that I was taking this lesson, not you. And I am telling you all to turn to page three hundred and ninety four." His glare cut a swathe across the room. "All of you! Now!"

Harriet didn't dare turn around and look at the rest of the class, but she could hear sullen muttering. Snape jerked her book back around and shoved it at her; it was already open to the right page. She stared down at the inky woodcut of a half-man, half-beast thing that didn't look much like a wolf at all. Its eyes were wild, its snout pulled back in a snarl, its open teeth dripping saliva. It looked, in fact, like a crazed monster.

Wizards sure liked their gruesome drawings.

"Which of you can tell me how to distinguish between the werewolf and the true wolf?" Snape demanded. Normally he would have prowled through the rows of desks, unnerving everyone, but this time he stuck right by Harriet's, practically vibrating with ferocious tension.

A vauge suspicion formed in her mind like smoke. Had he thought she was late to class because Sirius Black had jumped out from behind a suit of armor and slain her in the corridor?

Harriet glanced up at his face, which was deathly pale. His deep-set eyes were all shadow, and the lines on his face seemed harder. A smell, familiar but one she couldn't immediately name, hung around him . . . was it . . . cigarette smoke?

She boggled. Thinking of Snape smoking was like thinking of him fancying her mum (or anybody, really); it was realizing he had some other life that one of them knew about, some grown-up life.

"Are you telling me," he was saying, looking out over the class, not at Harriet, "that Professor Lupin hasn't even taught you the basic distinction between—"

"We told you," said Parvati. "We haven't got as far as werewolves yet, we're still on—"

"Silence," Snape snarled, so viciously a new, thicker kind of quiet fell across the room. "I never thought I'd meet a third year class who wouldn't even recognize a werewolf when they saw one—"

I'd recognize this, Harriet thought, staring at the woodcut. If that's not artistic license.

"Please, sir," said Hermione, and Harriet almost groaned. "The werewolf differs from the true wolf in several small ways. The snout of the werewolf—"

"That's the third time you've spoken out of turn, Miss Granger," Snape said in a voice that promised imminent suffering. "Five points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all."

Harriet glared up at him. A furious reply built in her throat—but then Ron burst out, "You asked a question and she knows the answer! Why ask if you don't want to be told?"

Harriet dropped her face in her hands. Snape finally left her desk-side, advancing on Ron so slowly and quietly you almost couldn't hear him moving.

"Detention, Weasley," he said in a soft, very dangerous voice. "And if I ever hear you criticize the way I teach a class again, you will be very. Sorry. Indeed."

Nobody dared make a sound for the rest of the lesson. They all made notes on werewolves out of the textbook while Snape twitched around in front of Harriet's desk. That was the only thing she could call it: he paced tightly back and forth, never going many feet to either side of her desk before turning back, with an almost rattled air.

When the bell rang for class, he held them back to snarl, "You will each write an essay, to be handed in to me, on the ways you recognize and kill werewolves. I want two rolls of parchment on the subject, and I want them by Monday morning. Weasley, stay behind, we need to arrange your detention."

Hermione caught up with Harriet at her desk and they left the room together, lagging behind the rest of the class, who'd trooped on ahead to rant about Snape.

"He was in a really foul mood today, wasn't he?" Hermione said. However she'd reacted when Snape called her an insufferable know-it-all, Harriet couldn't tell now; she looked more or less normal, if pale and tired. But she always looked like that these days.

Harriet started to say, "I think he's worried that—" But then Ron caught up with them in a towering fury and she broke off.

"Do you know what that son of a bitch is making me do?" he demanded.

"Ron!" said Hermione reprovingly.

"He's making me clean out all the bedpans in the hospital—without magic!" His fists were clenched and he was shaking with anger. "Why couldn't Black have hid out in Snape's office, huh? He could've finished the bastard off for us!"

--

When dawn struggled up from the horizon on Saturday morning, so much rain was falling that it was impossible to see anything beyond the windows. Severus hadn't interfered with Flint's decision to postpone the match—in fact, he'd approved it—but he found himself wishing that Gryffindor weren't such fucking martyrs. It figured that Hufflepuff had been the team to fill in the gap; the Ravenclaws, like his Slytherins, had better sense.

"I wonder how they'll even see anything in all this?" he heard Lupin saying to Minerva as they opened the front doors. The wind snatched it out of their grip and tried to slam it shut. Sprout lost her hat from the same gust of wind that knocked Flitwick clean off his feet.

"Hope they don't freeze to death," Sprout said, dredging both her hat and Flitwick out of an icy puddle.

So did Severus. The temperature outside would be below freezing with the wind-chill. If the girl contracted hypothermia, he would murder Oliver Wood.

If it weren't for keeping an eye on her, he would have stayed in his dungeon, which was, in relation to the miserable, icy, wailing storm, as dry and warm as the southern coast of France. But most of his Slytherins were heading outside, driven so hard by House-rivalry that they would cheer for Gryffindor's defeat even in conditions as shitty as these

He passed Daphne Greengrass, who was wearing a hood against the rain and pleading with her younger sister: ". . . stay inside, Aster? It's freezing and raining and it's Quidditch. . ."

"Please don't come if you don't want to," Asteria Greengrass said, struggling with a large umbrella. "I only have a strange fancy to go and see—I've never been to a Quidditch game before, you know. . ."

"They're terribly boring, Aster . . and I doubt we'll see a thing in all this wretched, freezing rain. . ."

Asteria Greengrass was likely going to observe her new heroine. Since Lily's daughter had pummeled a boy in the face for tormenting her, Asteria had . . . well, she hadn't changed. She was still timid enough to make Longbottom look as bold as a dragon-slayer in comparison. She still stared at Severus in white-faced fright if he stood within ten feet of her cauldron, and on Thursday Minerva had set her back quite a bit by asking a question of her desk partner which Asteria had thought was directed at her. Madam Pomfrey had advised the both of them to "be less scary."

Perhaps the staff ought to leave Asteria's well-being to Harriet Potter. If she could defeat Voldemort three times and slay his giant pet snake, the next insurmountable feat to tackle was surely the great timidity of Asteria Greengrass.

He'd found himself dwelling on it, ever since it had happened. He'd found himself thinking, Lily stood against Gryffindors for a Slytherin, and then, For a friend. And once you weren't her friend any longer, she never stood against them again.

He'd tried to think of some instance when Lily had protected, or even attempted to protect, a Slytherin who wasn't himself. He couldn't recall any. It hadn't mattered to him; he'd probably have been more put out if she had because he'd wanted her to care for only himself. It still didn't matter that she hadn't. But her daughter had. What was Asteria Greengrass to her? The girl hadn't even known who she was.

He had never really thought of her as being like Lily before. The eyes were the same, of course, at least in shape and color, if seldom ever in expression; but there, for him, had the similarity ended. This was the first instance where he could say that she had done something that made her appear to be Lily's daughter in more than name. . . and yet, at the same time, the action had been quite different. Asteria Greengrass was not the girl's friend. Lily might have done the same thing in the same situation, or she might not have.

He would never know.

And here went Asteria Greengrass and himself, through the icy wind and rain, to watch the girl fly circles around the Quidditch pitch.

Even with water-repelling charms, he was soaked straight through getting to the teacher's stands, and the only thing he could see clearly was his breath misting the air in front of him. The stands rang from the drumming rain and possibly the students' shouting, but the rain caused such a din it was impossible to make out any individual noises.

Lee Jordan was there, dripping, ready to commentate, and Minerva skidded across the wet stands to the seat beside him. Severus sat closer to the front than he usually did, ignoring the back-spray from the storm, trying to make out the girl on the sodden pitch down below. Some blurry shapes in crimson and yellow were barely visible, but he wasn't the only one having trouble seeing. "Are they going yet?" Jordan asked Minerva, and then he said into his microphone, "And they're off! I think . . . Gryffindor, I think it's Gryffindor, takes the Quaffle—"

One of the crimson figures detatched from the rest, struggling upward through the rain to a point overlooking the pitch from on high. He kept his eyes on it as the match wore on.

--

Lightning forked the air, cracking so hard and near the sound was deafening. Harriet flinched in shock and her broom dropped a few feet. The wind buffeted her to the left, and she slipped a bit on her broom, her numb hands sliding on the wet handle.

"Harry!" yelled Wood in an anguished voice. "Harry, behind you!"

Whipping round, she saw Diggory streaking across the pitch toward the opposite end. Harriet didn't think; she wheeled her Nimbus a hundred and eighty degrees and shot off after him, lying flat on her broom. Rain lashed at her face and the wind tried to hurtle her off course.

"Come on!" she begged, flinching at the whipping rain but pushing the broom forward. "Faster!"

It was so, so cold . . . the further she flew, faster through the rain, the colder it seemed to get . . . and the wind was so loud that it was making a strange, hollow silence fall across the stadium, and it was getting darker, as the lightning rippled across the sky. . .

And then, as if from somewhere far away and growing slowly closer, she heard the screaming start: first a thread, then a swell, and finally. . .

She took her eyes off the Snitch, off of Diggory, and finally saw the Dementors.

Streaming through the air, blacker than the stormy sky, their rotting cloaks rippling out behind them—moving oddly, not like birds or bats, not like swimming watersnakes, not like anything she'd ever seen—trailing over the Quidditch stands, around the goal post rings, from far above, from below they came. . .

And as they flew closer, the screaming voice was turning into words.

"Not Harriet, please not Harriet—"

"Stand aside, you silly girl, stand aside now—"

"Take me, kill me instead—"

Everything was going black. Harriet was so cold, so terrified, she couldn't move, couldn't think.

"Not Harriet! Please, have mercy, have mercy—"

Then that scream again, the one she knew so well already, and this time a high, cold laugh, a flash of green light, and

Blackness.

--

"Lucky the ground was so soft."

"I thought she was dead for sure."

"She didn't even break her glasses. . ."

Severus's eyes were shut but he could hear the children whispering. They didn't know he was there, concealed behind one of the dark dividers that partitioned the beds off from each other. Later, he could reflect on how it made him feel like a pedophiliac stalker, but at present he was having trouble controlling his breathing. He needed to keep it quiet, so they wouldn't hear him.

The sight of her slipping off her broom, boneless, and plummeting through the air—

The children all gasped. "Harry!" said one of the Weasley twins, sounding like a person who'd had a very bad fright and was struggling to act normal. "How're you feeling?"

The girl didn't answer right away. When she did, her voice was hoarse and tremulous. "What h-happened?"

"You fell off," said a Weasley twin—the same one or a different one; they couldn't be told apart, even when Severus gave a shit. "Must've been—what—fifty feet?"

"We thought you'd died," said Spinnet, her voice shaking.

Someone squeaked—probably Granger.

The girl was silent again. There was some shuffling from the others, like they didn't know what to say.

"What happened . . . with the match?" the girl asked slowly, sounding, to Severus's ears at least, as if she were asking because she ought to, more than because she cared. But when no one said anything, she said, with much more real feeling, "We didn't lose?"

"Diggory got the Snitch," said A Weasley Twin. "Just after you fell. He didn't realize what had happened. . ."

The Twin went on blathering, but Severus tuned him out. The sight of the Dementors streaming through the rain, of the girl slipping off her broom, of Dumbledore running onto the field to slow her descent, of the girl landing softly in the grass, utterly motionless—it all played in a loop in his mind, a constant stream of cold horror, like the rain was pounding through him.

Madam Pomfrey rustled past his hiding place and began shooing out the children. When she passed on the way back to her office, she glanced at him, but said nothing, and pulled the door to her office half shut.

"Are you okay?" Granger asked the girl in a quaking voice. They seemed to be the only two left in the ward.

"I'm okay." She didn't remotely sound like she was.

Granger was silent a moment. "They're horrible things, Dementors," she half-whispered. "I looked them up, you know, at the start of term—they make you remember the worst things of your life."

The girl didn't reply. Severus wouldn't have either. Granger sounded like she had guessed which memory would be bad enough to reduce her friend to unconsciousness.

"This isn't the first time you . . . it isn't the first time this has happened to you. Is it?" Granger asked after a long silence.

Still the girl didn't reply. But whatever she'd done, or not done, it was confirmation enough for Granger.

"Oh, Harry," she said thickly.

They stayed in silence, all three of them, while rain poured down the windows outside.

--

Madam Pomfrey insisted on keeping Harriet in the hospital for the rest of the weekend. Harriet didn't argue or complain. In fact, she didn't do much of anything. She felt like all her emotions had been scooped out.

Hagrid visited and brought a bouquet of earwiggy yellow flowers that closed their buds at night but opened gradually throughout the day, exposing bright white and orange cores, and someone sent Harriet a hand-made card with a beautiful drawing of pink and yellow roses on it. Please get well soon, it said, in gorgeous calligraphy. There was no signature anywhere on it.

Hermione only left the Hospital wing when Madam Pomfrey shooed her out at curfew, and she was there waiting whenever Madam Pomfrey went to unlock the doors in the morning. She even took off from doing her homework to play Travel Scrabble with Harriet, and Ron set aside his growing boy-ness to stay with them. He didn't even suggest they play chess. Instead, he brought Harriet a broom catalogue, which he'd already read so many times he was able to tell her specs on any broom she was interested in, and even a few she wasn't.

Harriet's Nimbus had been smashed to pieces by the Whomping Willow. She supposed she was upset about this, but she didn't know where, in all the things distressing her, to find room for it. She kept the pieces by her bed, even though they were just rubbish now. She wouldn't let Madam Pomfrey throw them out.

The nights were the worst. Alone in the dark, she lay awake for hours, replaying the sound of her mother's voice, the last words she'd ever spoken, in her head on an infinite loop. They were the only words she could ever remember hearing her mother say: begging for Harriet's life in exchange for her own.

She wondered if the Patronus could find old, joyful memories, so deep inside you they couldn't be remembered without the help of magic. If Dementors and Patronus were the dark and bright mirrors of the soul, shouldn't it be possible? If her mother had loved her so much to die for her, shouldn't there be, in some long-ago memory, an inprint of that?

But that's also what that memory was, the one the Dementors brought out of her, wasn't it? It was the last thing her mum had done for love of her. Like the scar on her forehead and the protection in her skin, it was a dark reflection of something indescribable. Just like it said in the book . . . When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you will find you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

At night, it all became too much. She'd cry, pressing her pillow over her face in case Madam Pomfrey heard, wishing there was someone who knew what it was like to miss someone so much much you knew it would never go away, even though it had already been there for so long, because it was a part of you and always would be.

--

By Monday morning, she'd made up her mind. She grabbed her things and left the hospital wing, marching down to the Entrance Hall. But instead of veering right into the Great Hall for breakfast, she strode across the foyer to the dungeon staircase.

Snape's office door was shut but there was a light under it. She knocked three times, hard, and then stood there, staring grimly at the wood-grain.

"Yes, what?" his voice called from inside.

She pushed the door open. He was sitting at his desk, marking, and didn't look up.

"Make it quick, whatever it is," he said curtly.

Fine, then, she would. "I need to learn the Patronus Charm."

He did look up then, jerking his quill so that ink splattered through the air. He stared at her as though he'd thought she was off in Nepal. She thought he looked even more exhausted than the last time she'd seen him, on Friday. His hair was so greasy it had a wet sheen to it, and his face looked twice as pale, which she wouldn't have thought possible if she hadn't seen for herself.

"I could have died," she said when he only continued to stare, not saying anything. "Falling off my broom, I mean. I need to be able to defend myself."

"And why are you telling me this?" he asked. She wasn't sure he'd blinked since she walked into the room.

She didn't actually know why, but she wasn't going to tell him that. She was even going to pretend I don't know hadn't even crossed her mind. "You already know I'm trying to learn it. I don't want to have to explain to someone else. Besides, who else would I ask?"

He laid down his quill slowly, staring at it, now. Then he rubbed his fingers over his eyes. Harriet waited, her heart thumping.

"Do you imagine I'll be able to tell you anything that I haven't already?" he asked eventually. "You know what you need to do. The task is to do it."

"You can tell me more about the blocking stuff," Harriet said. "Blocking certain kinds of thoughts, I mean."

"I really don't think I can." Now that he'd looked away from her, he didn't seem to want to look back.

There was no other choice. She'd have to use her secret weapon.

"Please?" she said.

Snape's eyes fixed on her again, as suddenly as the strike of a snake. He stared at her for another long moment, as if time, not himself, had frozen.

"As you wish," he said when that long, long moment finally passed back into real time. "Next Hogsmeade weekend—that Saturday. I have too much to do before then."

Heart full, Harriet only nodded. She wasn't sure if she felt happy or apprehensive or a hundred things; she only knew she felt very much of something.

As she turned to go, she stopped and forced past that knot of emotion: "Thank you." Then she dashed out before he replied. But as she shut the door behind her, she glanced back, and saw him sitting perfectly still, staring at nothing at all.

Chapter Text

With the promise of Patronus lessons spurring her on, Harriet was able to get back to work on everything else. The next Hogsmeade visit was on the very last weekend of term, and although everyone else was excited for the day out and the chance for Christmas shopping, Harriet was hoping that soon she might never have to hear her mother's dying words ever again, except in the darkness of her own heart.

She didn't talk to anyone else about the Patronus. The only person she would have told was Hermione, and it was difficult to talk to Hermione at all these days with all the books and parchments trying to bury her alive. Harriet had long since given up hope of learning how she was making it to her classes; Hermione was being too careful to conceal it, even as she stressed and fretted black circles under her eyes. She was taking three more classes than everyone else and still managed to be the only person to finish Snape's werewolf essay, before Professor Lupin returned to class and told them they didn't have to do it.

But Harriet didn't want to share the Patronus, not even with Hermione. She wasn't sure why, but the Patronus felt like a very private thing. She wondered, sometimes, as she pored over the pages she'd copied from the books, whether Snape hadn't really not-answered her about the Patronus because he didn't want to talk to her about it.

On the morning of the last Hogsmeade weekend, Harriet woke up to a world covered in snow. For once the rain had stopped, the mist had pulled back, and left everything a glittering, opaline white beneath a pearly-gray sky. Hermione and Ron pulled on extra jumpers, their cloaks and scarves and hats, and crushed a path through the snow from the front doors to the road, while Harriet climbed back to the Tower to read over her Patronus material one more time.

But on the third floor:

"Psst! Harry!"

Looking round, she saw two identical freckled faces peering at her from behind a half-closed door, and two identical hands waving her over. Nonplussed, she let them drag her into the room with a lot of furtive glances up and down the hall, and shut the door with a great show of conspiracy.

"Shouldn't you be blowing things up in Zonko's?" she asked. "From what I hear."

"All in good time, Harriet, my lass," said George.

"Thought we'd give you a bit of festive cheer before we went," said Fred, reaching into his jacket. Harriet eyed him warily, but he only pulled out a piece of blank parchment.

"Early Christmas present," he said, and laid it on an empty desk with a flourish.

Harriet looked curiously at the parchment as best she could without getting any closer. It really did seem to be completely blank.

"What's that supposed to be?" she asked.

"This, dear Harriet, is the key to our success," George said with a fond look at the thing.

"It's a wrench, giving it to you," said Fred, "but we decided last night, your need's greater than ours."

"What do I need with a bit of old parchment?" Harriet asked.

"A bit of old parchment!" Fred grimaced like Harriet had dealt him a mortal offense. "Explain, George."

"Well . . . when we were in our first year, Harriet—young, carefree and innocent—"

Harriet snorted at the idea that Fred and George were ever innocent.

"Well, more innocent than we are now, anyway—we got into a spot of trouble with Filch. He hauled us into the office and started threatening us with all the usual—"

"—detention—"

"—disembowelment—"

"—flaying of limbs—"

"—and we couldn't help noticing a drawer in one of his filing cabinets marked Confiscated and Highly Dangerous."

"Gosh, what did you do?" Harriet said, unsure whether she most wanted to grin or roll her eyes.

"What any self-respecting trouble-maker would have done," said George seriously.

"We dropped a dungbomb, whipped open the drawer, and grabbed this." Fred waved his hand at the bit of blank parchment.

"We don't reckon Filch ever found out how to work it," George said, "though he must've guessed what it was, or why else would he have confiscated it?"

"But you figured it out," Harriet guessed. "Naturally."

"Naturally," Fred said with a modesty so thick it couldn't have been faker, and he and George smirked identical smirks. "This little beauty's taught us more than all the teachers in the school."

Harriet folded her arms, raising her eyebrow. She'd finally got the trick of raising only one. "Go on, then," she said. "Impress a girl."

"She may be a titchy one," Fred said to George, "but what she lacks in inches, she makes up for with her demands."

George grinned at Harriet. Touching his wand to the parchment, he said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

A drop of ink welled up beneath the wand's tip and then started to spread outward, like a spill; but instead of running any-which-way, the inky lines crisscrossed, fanned out, intertwined, and as they darted to every corner of the parchment, a few spun together as words:

Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs

Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers

are Proud to Present

THE MARAUDER'S MAP

It was a map—a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds, right to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. There was the Owlery, Gryffindor Tower, even Hagrid's hut and the Whomping Willow . . . and through the inky corridors and in the sketched-in classrooms were tiny ink dots, labeled "Professor Dumbledore" (pacing in his study), "Mrs Norris" (prowling the second floor), and "Peeves" (wrecking the trophy room). As Harriet finally moved closer to the map to see, she noticed, set into the walls, passages she'd never known existed, and many of them seemed to lead—

"Right into Hogsmeade," said Fred, tracing one of them with his finger. "Now, Filch knows about these four, but we're sure we're the only ones who know about these. We don't reckon anyone's used this one, especially since the Whomping Willow's planted right over the entrance. But this one here, it leads right into the cellar of Honeydukes, we've used it loads of times. And as you might've noticed, the entrance is right outside this room."

"Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs," sighed George. "We owe them so much."

"Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of rule-breakers," said Fred.

"Right." George pushed the map reverently across the desk at Harriet. "Don't forget to wipe it after you've used it, or anyone can read it."

"Just tap it again and say 'mischief managed,'" said Fred, "and it'll go blank." Then he smiled. "So, young Harriet," he said, suddenly sounding and looking almost exactly like Percy, "mind you behave yourself."

They left, smirking and winking.

Harriet stared at the map, tracing her fingers down the passages and across the dots. Hagrid was in his hut. Professor Lupin was walking round the grounds. Snape . . . wasn't anywhere on it.

She searched all over the map . . . and then she noticed something missing.

Except for the Potions classroom and Snape's office, the dungeons weren't on here. Then she remembered, from Hogwarts: a History: Salazar Slytherin had made the dungeons unmappable. If Snape was anywhere else in the dungeon, he'd be literally off the map.

And then, as she was watching Professor Sprout puttering in the greenhouse, a thought came to her. . .

She looked on the parchment for a dot labeled Sirius Black.

He wasn't anywhere that she could see. But if he were in the dungeons, or even in the forest, maybe—or off the map into Hogsmeade—she would be able to see him. . .

Unless he came back to Hogwarts.

She shivered.

It would have pleased Hermione very much to know that the next thing to occur to Harriet was that a teacher would surely like to see this. In fact, Snape would probably wring her neck for not thinking of it first thing.

But Fred and George gave it to me so I could go to Hogsmeade. They'd be upset if the first thing I did was hand it over to . . . to Snape.

They should have handed it over to an adult, said the brisk, Hermione-like voice of her common sense. The night Sirius Black attacked the Fat Lady. You should go turn it over right now.

She knew she really should.

But she thought Hogsmeade with an aching longing, and of the really very generous thing Fred and George had done, giving her this wonderful map. If she gave it to a teacher, she'd certainly never get it back. Fred and George might actually be angry.

Maybe . . . maybe she'd enjoy it . . . just for a little while. She'd been unhappy enough lately. It would be nice to have something. . .

She chewed her lip, thinking, battling with guilt and reluctance.

"Kitchens?" she whispered at it.

A little dot named Harriet Potter appeared right where she was standing, and then a path of tiny footprints, leading from that very room, back down the stairs, along to the Entrance Hall, and down the marble stairs. . .

She followed it, marveling, eating up her own footsteps. They stopped in front of a wall, and a little bubble popped up that read: Tickle the pear.

Harriet looked up, right at a giant still-life of a bowl of fruit. The pear was at least as big as she was. Reaching out, she cautiously tickled its side with her fingertip. It squirmed, giggling—like a pear might possibly giggle, at least—and the whole portrait groaned quietly and unlatched, swinging ponderously out.

Awed, Harriet whispered, "Mischief managed," and stuffed the map into her cardigan. She edged around the portrait and slipped through the gap as it started to swing shut again.

The kitchen was the size of a cavern, with rough-hewn walls and a high ceiling, warm and bright. The smell of food was so thick she could taste it on the air, which shimmered from the haze of so many cooking fires. And moving round the fires, their outlines flickering from the steam, were more house-elves than she'd ever seen in her life.

While she stood, amazed, several of them closest the door noticed her. Instead of looking shocked or displeased, they immediately dipped into low bows. One of them stepped forward, reminding her of a butler, and said in a high, squeaky voice, "How may Miss be served?"

"I. . . I wanted some food," Harriet stammered. A ripple was crossing the whole cavernous kitchen as the elves noticed her and all began to bow. "I—didn't mean to interrupt—"

"Whatever Miss wish—" said the elf, or started to say, but a squeal of "HARRIET POTTER!" cut him—her?—off.

"Oof!" Harriet grunted as something barreled into her waist and latched on. "Dobby?"

"Miss Harriet Potter, miss!" Dobby's eyes were leaking tears of joy. "Dobby has wished for this day!"

"I've missed you, too," she said, grinning. "Since you're not trying to kill me anymore. Are these your new clothes?"

He was wearing a child's football shorts, a lurid orange-and-green patterned tie over his bare chest, an all-black sock and another with yellow and purple polka dots, and tea cozy for a hat. The whole effect was pretty stunning.

The other elves were looking extremely disapproving, though Harriet didn't know why, and at the mention of "clothes" they all averted their eyes.

"What brings Miss Harriet Potter to the kitchens?" Dobby asked, vibrating with happiness and oblivious to the others.

Harriet looked around at the other elves, their dozens of simmering and steaming cauldrons, the knives chopping vegetables by magic, the bottles sprinkling herbs in midair.

"Well," she said, lowering her voice and bending down (at least she was taller than house-elves), "it's sort of a secret. . . You can keep a secret, right, Dobby?"

--

She struggled out the front doors and into the snow carrying the basket in one hand and the map in the other, searching for a Sirius Black dot. None appeared. Several times she almost dumped the food in the snow, and when a gust of snow-laden wind ripped the map out of her hand, she said, "Oh, f—"

It blew into the trees. She lurched after it, but then stopped on the edge of the forest, because inside the shadows something had moved, eyes glinting—

"Snuffles!" Her heart somersaulted with relief. He shambled forward, his shaggy, matted coat dusted with snow, the map gripped in his mouth. "Good boy," she said, taking it from him and stuffing it in her pocket before she could lose it again. "Good, good boy . . . you hungry?"

He scarfed down the roast beef Dobby had packed. She wondered what he ate during the times she couldn't feed him. Rats? Squirrels? Whatever it was, he didn't seem to be getting enough of them; when she patted his flank, she could feel his ribs.

Checking her watch, she saw it was almost her lunchtime. Snape had told her to meet him right after. "I'll leave you the basket, Snuffles," she said. "But I've got to—yow!"

She jumped as a load of slushy snow landed on her head and dumped itself down the back of her neck. Wiping it furiously off, she looked up and got another load of snow right in the face. "Crookshanks!" she said angrily.

His yellow eyes glinted at her from the pink branch overhead, and he lashed his tufted tail with the same air that Malfoy might have sniggered.

Snuffles growled, a long, low, drawn-out sound. Crookshanks did not hiss or puff his tail; instead he casually washed his face, climbed up the tree, and disappeared into the branches overhead, leaving the rest of the snow where it was.

"You're tough stuff," she said to Snuffles. "That cat's the terror of Gryffindor Tower. All right—I've got to go." She scratched him once more behind the ears; he whined. "Enjoy your lunch."

She plowed away, back along the path she'd trudged through the snow. So much had fallen in the night, and she was, as Fred said—again—still so small that even without the basket it was hard going. The drifts on the path buried her up to her waist. She took out her frustration on the snow, kicking and pummeling it. Hermione said she was probably so undersized from being kept in a cupboard and not fed properly, that she'd grow eventually, but Harriet had been getting decent meals for a while now and still nothing was happening. She hadn't started—you know—it (although, as Hermione pointed out, this was a good thing until she grew upward some more), nothing was getting any bigger, and the other girls kept filling out like an artist sketching Greek goddesses.

Life could be so unfair. It probably wouldn't make her any less of a target for Dark wizards if she was taller and had real breasts and straight hair, but it'd still be nice to have those things.

"Harriet?"

She looked up, squinting in the snow dusting down from the clouds. Professor Lupin, wrapped in a tatty cloak that would've looked too threadbare in springtime, was wading through the snow to her right. He smiled.

"I thought that was you," he said. "I couldn't quite be sure under all the layers. How are you doing?"

Mrs. Weasley had also sent her a bobble hat and earmuffs, and she'd wrapped the lower half of her face in her Gryffindor scarf. She pulled it down to say, "'S'cold."

He smiled a little more widely. "Is it my imagination, or is it almost lunchtime?"

"Yeah. That's where I'm going."

"That's a relief," he said. "I was starting to see roast chickens everywhere. I was getting worried I'd come down with some hallucinatory disorder."

He walked in front of her up the path (or where she guessed the path was), carving a trench that made her going much easier. But it reminded her. . .

"Professor Lupin?" She pulled down her scarf again. "Why didn't you let me fight the Boggart?"

He turned to look at her with surprise. Snow flecked his hair, which the wind blew across his eyes. "I would have thought that was obvious, Harriet."

Harriet blinked, equally surprised. She'd expected him to deny it. "Why?"

"Well," he said slowly, "I assumed that if the Boggart faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort."

Harriet stared—not only because this was the last thing she'd expected, but because Lupin had actually said Voldemort's name out loud.

"Clearly I was wrong," Lupin said, still looking at her curiously. "But I didn't think it was a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the staff room. I imagined that people would panic."

"I did think of Voldemort first," Harriet admitted. "But then—then I thought of . . . of the Dementors."

"I see." Lupin sounded thoughtful. "Well . . . I'm impressed." He smiled down at her. "That suggests that what you fear most of all is—well, fear. Very wise, Harriet."

Harriet didn't know what to say to that, but as they reached the front doors to the Entrance Hall, she didn't have to. Professor Lupin dried the snow off their knees (or, in Harriet's case, from her waist down) with a spell like a hairdryer that left the air steaming around them as they headed into the Great Hall.

She sat by herself at the Gryffindor table, mulling over what Professor Lupin had said, and over the map (in her head—she didn't want anyone to see it just yet). Maybe if she talked to Fred and George and they all agreed to hand it in. . .

Snape wasn't at the High Table, even though it was past noon. Pushing her plates away (they cleaned themselves and vanished), she walked to the staircase that led to the dungeons and down several steps before pulling out the map and checking it.

Severus Snape said a tiny dot in his office.

Harriet headed toward it.

--

"What in the name of fuck was I thinking?" Severus demanded of Lily's photograph. But she just gave him a chiding look for his language and brushed her hair back from her face.

"Patronus lessons," he said, for the fiftieth time since he'd agreed. "Jesus Christ."

He knew it was unreasonable to feel this. . . this panicked. If the girl asked to see his Patronus—which she probably would, the nosy little runt—he could simply refuse her. He was good at refusing people what they wanted.

But what if he couldn't refuse her? A nasty suspicion had formed inside him, had been forming for some time, that he was developing a weakness where she was concerned. When Lily had been alive—when she had still been speaking to him—all it had taken was a scolding from her to tie him into a miserable knot; he'd have done whatever she wanted just so she'd stop being angry with him. Anyone else's displeasure (except his mother's, because she'd terrified him), all their reasoned or impassioned pleas, had crashed ineffectually against the battlements of his indifference. Even Lucius's occasional ire had made him more angry than anything else. And since he was sixteen, there had been no more Lily to bar him from doing and saying whatever he wished.

Until now.

Goddamn it.

He'd first become aware of it during her first Potions class of the year. Abusing Longbottom's stupidity—he'd always done it, and it had always riled the Gryffindors, presumably the girl among them, though from his habit of ignoring her he had no real idea. But that day, he'd looked away from sniping at Granger (the aggravating little show-off) and seen the girl glaring at him, not simply in anger but with an edge of I expected better of you, and he'd . . . faltered.

He'd let Longbottom off the hook with a vague threat (though unable to restrain his swamping irritation with Granger), and when the girl had left in an obvious dudgeon he had felt—anxious. It had made him irate, and he'd skipped lunch to skulk in the staffroom, trying to read his book and failing miserably, his mind choosing to dwell masochistically on the girl's angry, disappointed face and his own perverse sense of injury. Why should he care if anyone's spawn was upset, period, let alone with himself, for being as he always was?

And then Lupin came trooping in with the pack of Gryffindors, the girl naturally among them, and by that time he'd worked himself into such a state of wounded resentment that he'd delivered that Parthian shot toward Longbottom and Granger. The girl's double-walled glare should have been satisfaction of a job well done, but instead he'd only felt worse.

Wretched brat.

After Lupin, the two-faced little shit, had pulled his stunt with the Boggart, Severus had returned to tormenting Longbottom with less restraint than he normally observed. He could feel the misery and unhappiness rolling off the girl in waves, but he'd kept on: to spite her, to spite himself, his own discomfort, because he shouldn't care.

He shouldn't.

"Please," she'd said. Please.

I could have died

In his office that morning she had looked like she was barely recovering from an illness. There had been so many Dementors on the field. Had she heard . . . more?

He lay awake at night, wondering what she'd heard.

So he'd agreed.

What were more lies and torments, after everything?

--

Harriet found herself staring at Snape's wood-grain like she was trying to memorize it. And staring. And staring. And. . .

"This is stupid," she muttered to herself. "Just knock."

It had interesting curly-cue patterns set into double panels. . . that one looked like a seahorse. . .

Taking a deep breath, she raised her hand, and jumped when the door swung open of its own accord. Then she danced backward when Snape came walking out and almost tripped over her.

He ground to an abrupt halt, just like he had when he'd strode out of Professor Lupin's office on Hallowe'en. For a moment he stared down at her, almost blankly. Then he said:

"You're late" in no very welcoming voice—pure Snape.

"Erm." Harriet wasn't going to tell him she'd been on time, but had stood there for at least five minutes without knocking. "I'm sorry."

"If my time is of so little importance to you," he continued coldly, "I fail to see why I should give it up."

"I'm really sorry," Harriet said, her heart sinking. He was going to tell her to go away, wasn't he?

He glowered at her through narrowed eyes, and then he said, "Well? Don't just stand there," and stalked away from the door, back inside his office.

Harriet edged in after him and very carefully shut the door. She was reminded of her detention last year, the one she'd got for flying into the Whomping Willow, when she'd felt like she was shutting the door on light and life. Snape's office was just as creepy as she remembered, with those eerie, floating jars, only at least now a fire was lit in the hearth. A weak, feeble fire, it was true . . . and it really didn't do much to make the place more cheerful. . . in fact, it did even less.

"Well?" Snape said. "I have no idea what you want me to teach you, so you will have to tell me what you're looking for."

Harriet had prepared for this. In fact, she'd guessed this was how he would be. Just like in the summer, when his weird blandness had unnerved her and his return to sarcastic sniping had calmed her, she felt herself becoming less nervous. Snape was supposed to be scary and forbidding, in his creepy office with the light from the fire cutting the planes of his face into light and shadow.

"I've been practicing," she said. Taking out her wand, she pictured Ron, Hermione and herself playing Exploding Snap in the infirmary that weekend, and forced out of her mind the memory of why she'd been there. She was going to do this—she was going to show Snape she could, and she wasn't going to let those Dementors get to her ever again, she wasn't going to let Voldemort—

Focus, focus, concentrate—

"Expecto Patronum," she said fiercely, rather louder than she'd meant to, thinking hard about Hermione's face as she'd laughed when Ron had thought he'd got a Royal Straight Flush but mistook the Joker for the Jack—

—and when Ron had said Oh bugger, an expression had come over Hermione's face that Harriet had never seen before, certainly not while she was looking at Ron, and Harriet had felt a deep pang of—

Then she noticed that a slight, silver mist had risen from her wand, and she gasped in surprise—

But just like that, it was gone. She'd lost it.

She dropped her wand, feeling dejected.

The sound of Snape's voice made her jump. She'd nearly forgotten he was there.

"At your age," he said, like he was straining to say this, "even a Patronus that indistinct is . . . an achievement."

She looked up at him. He had his arms crossed over his chest and was glaring at her, as if daring her to say, Thank you, that's a very nice thing to say. Well, for Snape it was. For Snape it was practically a glowing compliment.

"But I'm trying really hard," she said. "I should be able to get it."

He looked at her a moment in silence. Then he said, in a voice she had difficulty interpreting (though it certainly didn't sound nice), "It does not have so much to do with ability—although that is certainly part of it. State of mind is also a factor. Certain cases have found that confidence affects their casting. You are allowing doubt to hinder you."

Harriet blinked. "You mean I have to believe I can do it?"

"You are letting too many negative emotions interfere with your recall of perfect happiness. This charm takes mental and magical discipline, and that is not learned overnight."

Harriet felt even more cast down than before, if that was possible. "Then what am I supposed to do?"

"Keep trying," Snape said flatly.

"But you're saying I can't do it."

"I am saying that you have not yet figured out how," he said impatiently, like she was failing to follow the directions spelled out cleanly on the board. "If you stop wallowing in your self-pity and failure, you might accomplish something."

Anger and hurt flared in Harriet's chest like a firework. You wouldn't say that if it was your mum you had to hear dying, over and over, until you passed out—

And then she remembered, as clear and bright as crystal, what Aunt Petunia had said. If it was true, if he had been—if he knew—he wouldn't say that, he would have to understand—

"Were you friends with my mum?" she asked.

Snape went so white she saw it, even in the dimness of his office.

"What did you say?" he asked in a voice so sharp and dangerous that several of her organs tried to collapse. It was like a whip cracking over her head and it made her legs actually feel like jelly. Neville probably would have fainted outright.

"Were you friends with my mum?" she repeated, willing her voice not to shake. She was glad the light in his office was so poor; then he might not see her wand-hand trembling.

"Where did you hear that?" His voice wasn't as loud as it had been, but it was no less dangerous. His eyes had a funny light in them. Her heart was going as fast as a rabbit's.

"Aunt Petunia told me. She knew who you were. She said you grew up in the same neighborhood."

Snape stared at her. She felt for some reason as if he was staring at her from very far away.

Long moments tangled in the air, not passing. Everything was completely silent, except for the faint crackle of the fire as it settled. Snape looked. . .

Harriet had no idea what to do. This was somehow her fault. If she'd been using her wand, she would have thought she'd Stunned him or something. He wasn't moving, and she wasn't even sure he was really present, not mentally. There was something hollow behind his eyes, like the part that was Snape been removed.

Why would asking about her mum have done this?

"I. . ." she said eventually, when Snape continued like a stone. "I'll . . . I'll just—go. . ."

When he didn't reply or even move, not so much as a blink, she turned and walked to his door on trembly legs. As she slipped out, she peeked over her shoulder. He'd turned his back to her and was looking down into the fire (she guessed; she couldn't see).

She shut the door behind her and walked slowly down the dark corridor and up the stairs, above ground, wondering why she felt almost as hollow as she had the first time she'd passed by the Dementors.

--

Some time in the night, the sound of breaking glass finally stopped. Shards lay across the floor, gibbous moonlight refracting off their edges. All across the floor, to all four walls.

He'd broken even the glass in her picture frame.

Then he'd repaired it, and spent the night with it cradled in his hands.

Chapter Text

Ron and all the Weasleys had gone home to spend Christmas at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley had sent Harriet a very kind note saying they looked forward to having her to stay again in the summer, when Sirius Black would surely be back in prison. Harriet wasn't surprised she hadn't been allowed to go; if it was too dangerous for her to stay with the Grangers or go to Hogsmeade, the Burrow was right out, too.

In fact, she and Hermione were the only ones in the whole of Gryffindor Tower who had stayed behind. Professor McGonagall had actually come into the common room the night everyone left and been very brisk about telling them to call her if there was any trouble. She'd spent half an hour making spells that checked all over the tower, glittering up and down the staircases and on all the windows.

Even though it was the holiday, Hermione did not look any less stressed. She stared into space a lot, and at Harriet, and at her books without turning the pages, and seemed to be having trouble sleeping.

"I know I said I'd drop it," said Harriet on the second day of this even-stranger-than-usual behavior, "but this stuff with your classes—it's not dangerous, right?"

Hermione stared blankly at her.

"I know, Professor McGonagall okayed it," Harriet said. "But you don't look well."

"I'm all right," Hermione said quietly. "I just . . . have a lot to think about."

"Can I help?"

Hermione shook her head, her eyes strangely bright, like she wanted to cry. Harriet had no idea what to do.

"Want to build snowmen?" she offered feebly.

They did go outside and build snowmen, and made angels in the snow. It was bloody freezing. But Hermione laughed, and Harriet's heart lightened.

Harriet woke up on Christmas morning to Crookshanks' purring and kneading her back and a heap of presents lumped at the foot of the bed.

"Happy Christmas!" Hermione said, piling onto the bed next to her, shiveirng. "Can I please get in under your blanket? It's freezing in here, even with the fire. . . "

"That's because we live in a bloody tower," Harriet said, throwing the blankets over her.

Piled under blankets, they ripped into their gifts. Mrs. Weasley had sent Harriet a holly-green jumper; Ginny, a Fifi LaFolle novel (Magic at Midnight); Hermione's parents, an extremely fine leather-bound set of the Lord of the Rings books; and someone, an unsigned card with a painting of holly boughs on front. On the inside it read, in vaguely familiar handwriting, Merry Christmas, Harriet. PS. Write to the goblins of Gringott's Bank and ask them to send you the safety deposit box from the Potter vault.

"Lots of things could be in a safety deposit box," Hermione said when Hermione showed her the card. "Important documents, small valuables like jewelry and things—but what would Professor Lupin know about it?"

"Professor Lupin?" Harriet repeated in surprise.

"That's his handwriting. It looks a bit different printed smaller, but I'm quite certain it's his. I wonder why he didn't sign it?"

Harriet tucked the card into its envelope and put it carefully in her nightstand drawer for clarifying later. She could ask him at the Christmas feast what he meant about the safety deposit box—and why he hadn't signed his name. . .

"That one's from me," Hermione said when Harriet picked up a small but surprisingly heavy box that fit in her palm.

"Too small to be a book," Harriet said seriously; Hermione threw a ball of wrapping paper at her, laughing.

Harriet peeled the gold wrapping paper off a . . . red velvet box. Curiously, she prised it open and saw two gold necklaces, each with a pendant, each pendant half of a heart.

At first Harriet didn't realize what they were. Then, she did.

"We—we might be too old, I know," Hermione said, her voice gone high the way it did when she was nervous. "I mean, I considered—that we might be. Or that they're, I don't know, silly—they're silly, aren't they? It's, it's a Muggle thing, you know, I'm sure you know, I couldn't find them anywhere at Hogsmeade so I had Mum send them, but if you don't like them, I can return them—"

Harriet threw her arms around her. Hermione abruptly stopped talking.

"I love them," Harriet said, still hugging her.

Hermione squeezed back. When Harriet finally pulled away, Hermione looked happy and relieved (though still pale and tired).

"I was so afraid it was going to be stupid," she said.

"How could it be stupid? Here." Harriet pulled the necklaces out of the box and untangled the chains from each other (Crookshanks batted at the pendants as they spun in midair). "Put mine on me, then—quit it, Crookshanks, go on—then I'll do yours."

Harriet had never actually owned a necklace before. Aunt Petunia had certainly never bought her jewelry, and no one had ever given her any before this.

"You've got one present left," Hermione said, lifting up a large, shapeless package wrapped in plain packing paper and tied with twine.

They pulled open the paper and gasped as a magnificent, gleaming broomstick rolled free and onto the bed.

"I didn't know you'd ordered another—" Hermione said.

"I didn't," Harriet said, her voice shaking slightly from astonishment. "And certainly not that one. That's—that's a Firebolt."

Hermione looked blank.

"A Firebolt," Harriet said. "You must've heard the boys banging on about it—international standard broom, best on the market, so expensive its price is on bloody request?"

Hermione's mouth fell open.

"See if there's a card," Harriet said urgently, pawing through the remaining paper (Crookshanks copied her). Hermione scrabbled through the bits she'd torn off, but they found nothing, not even a mysterious card.

"I wonder if anyone else gets as many mysterious Christmas presents as me," Harriet said. She meant it as a joke, but Hermione was staring fixedly at the broom. Harriet would have expected this behavior of Ron—this was a Firebolt—but Hermione had once said that she didn't care if it sounded too Muggle or not, brooms were meant for sweeping floors, not for flying around on.

"Who would have spent this much money on you and not told you who they were?" Hermione asked slowly.

"I've got no idea. . ."

Harriet reached out for it in awe, but Hermione grabbed her hands as quickly as if she'd been about to touch an open fire.

"What?" Harriet asked, taken aback.

"Don't touch it!" Hermione said shrilly. "And whatever you do, don't ride it!"

"What?"

"Don't you see? You break your broom and a complete stranger sends you an astronomically expensive replacement, anonymously?"

"I know, that's what's—"

"Harriet, I think that broom was sent to you by Sirius Black!"

Harriet stared at her. Hermione stared back, eyes wide but determined, and she was gripping Harriet's hands so hard it hurt. Hermione's own hands were shaking, so Harriet's were trembling in her grip.

"Okay," Harriet said slowly. "It's okay. I won't touch it. Okay?"

"Promise me," Hermione said, voice shaking. "And you won't fly it."

"I promise," Harriet said.

Hermione stared at her a moment longer, and then she let go of Harriet's hands and started wringing her own. She jumped up from the bed and started pacing, while Crookshanks sniffed up and down the broom.

"I know it sounds mad," Hermione said, still pacing and hand-wringing. "I know—there's the question of how he could get the money—but it would be a perfect way to get to you, to hurt you without risking himself, and he's already tried to already, he's near Hogwarts, we know he is, so he could easily have found out about your broom—

"We have to tell someone," Hermione said, spinning round suddenly to face her. "Professor McGonagall. Let's go and get her right now—"

Her eyes were bright and her cheeks red, and her lips were pressed together in that way that meant she was barely controlling her emotions. Harriet wasn't convinced the broom had come from Sirius Black, but Hermione was. There was no talking her out of that.

"Okay," said Harriet. "Let's get dressed and find Professor McGonagall. Okay? It'll be fine."

--

"This is it, then?" Professor McGonagall picked up the broom and turned it over in her hands, studying it. At least Harriet could now be sure that it wouldn't have blown up in her face; not even Professor McGonagall's eyebrows were singed.

"And you received no note?" she asked, looking at Harriet over the top of her square spectacles. "No message of any kind?"

"No, ma'am."

"Hmm." She gave the broom a stern look, like she could tell it was trying to hide something. "You were quite right to bring it to my attention. It will need to be tested for jinxes. I'm no expert, but Professor Flitwick and Madam Hooch can certainly strip it down—"

Harriet winced at the thought of a broom like that being stripped down. She decided it was good that Ron had gone home for the holidays; if he'd been here to hear this, he might have had a fit.

"Do you really think Sirius Black sent it, ma'am?" she asked, in part so Professor McGonagall would stop talking about broom-stripping.

"I cannot say, Miss Potter, but it does look suspicious. You may have it back if we are sure it's jinx-free."

She took the Firebolt with her when she left.

Harriet felt . . . odd. She didn't know what to think. It seemed impossible that Sirius Black would have gone to the trouble and expense of sending her a jinxed broom when he could simply have sent her a box that blew up in her face. But both Hermione and Professor McGonagall, who was certainly very clever, thought he might have been behind it. . .

It was disturbing to think they might be right.

"Are you mad at me?" Hermione asked in a tiny voice.

Harriet blinked at her. "No."

Hermione bit her lip.

"Of course not," Harriet said. "Why would I be mad at you for not wanting me to be killed?"

"Your Nimbus . . . I know how much it meant to you. . . And even I could tell that was a really good broom."

Harriet shrugged. She didn't feel much of anything, except a sort of numbness at the thought of someone trying to murder her on Christmas.

"That really put a damper on Christmas, didn't it," Hermione said a few moments later, not even trying to smile.

The sofa next to Harriet dipped as Crookshanks jumped up on it. He stepped imperiously into her lap and settled down with his feet tucked up under his body. Harriet blinked.

Pet him, Hermione mouthed, stroking her hand through the air. Cautiously, Harriet laid her hand on Crookshanks's fluffy head and scratched behind his ears. He purred, as if saying, That will do for starters.

Hermione smiled.

--

They dressed up a little for lunch, in honor of Christmas. Harriet wore a green velvet top that the Dr. Grangers had given her for her birthday and tried to get her hair to behave. It had inched down to touch her shoulders, so there was more of it than she was used to. Hermione's theory was that if Harriet grew out her hair, the extra weight would help tame it, but to Harriet it seemed that the more hair she grew, the wilder it got.

In the Great Hall, they found a set-up much like last year's: the House tables had been moved against the walls, and one long table, lined with mismatched, flashy arm-chairs and set with crystal plates, stood in the center of the room for everyone. Professor Dumbledore presided at one end, his magnificent crimson robes trimmed with ermine, so that he resembled a slim Father Christmas.

The Heads of House were also there, wearing slightly more festive robes than usual, and even Filch had switched his musty robes for a mouldy-looking tailcoat. It was like Christmas dinner with the Mad Hatter.

Snape, of course, looked the same as ever. Harriet wondered if he had any clothes that weren't black.

But something was missing . . . no; someone: Where was Professor Lupin? Harriet had wanted to ask him about the card, but he wasn't here. There wasn't even a chair for him: only enough seats to sit her and Hermione.

"Merry Christmas!" Professor Dumbledore greeted them, beaming. "As there are so few of us, it seemed foolish to use the House tables. . . sit down, sit down!"

The only other students were Asteria Greengrass, her sister Daphne, and another first-year boy whom Harriet didn't know. He looked at Hermione and Harriet in pure terror, but Daphne did not seem to think them worth acknowledging, and although Asteria's face went deeply scarlet, she didn't look at Harriet or Hermione either.

"Crackers!" Dumbledore said happily, offering one end of a large silver one to Snape, who only gave it a look as cold and dirty as slushy mud. Chuckling, Dumbledore then appealed to Professor Sprout, who gave her end such an enthusiastic tug that she knocked her plate onto Professor Flitwick's lap.

With a startling BANG the cracker split and a large, pointed witch's hat, topped with a stuffed vulture, thudded to the table. Snape stared at it, and then his face went even harder than usual. Professor McGonagall coughed and took a drink out of her goblet. Harriet got the impression she was trying not to laugh, and wondered, for the millionth time, why everyone thought the Boggart-thing was funny but her. And Snape, obviously.

She hadn't spoken to him since leaving his office that day she'd asked about her mum. She hadn't had the nerve. He hadn't once looked at her since then, and he didn't today, either. She might as well not have existed. She'd kicked herself over and over for bolloxing up her chance at learning the Patronus, since she was quite sure he wasn't going to teach her after that disastrous lesson. "Please" surely wouldn't work twice, not after she'd said . . . whatever she'd said that had upset him.

No, that was wrong: she knew what had upset him; she just didn't know why.

Sometimes she felt the answer lurking there in her mind, like a shadow that stretched behind her at midday. If she turned to try and look at it, it would disappear. She couldn't get at it properly: just like when Aunt Petunia had told her about Snape and her mum (and been right, it seemed), and she'd felt an idea forming in her, and the next morning it had become clear.

So, she'd wait for it to clear up again.

(She just wished it would hurry up. She really wanted to figure out what was going on.)

"Tuck in!" Dumbledore advised the table, beaming around at them all.

As Harriet was serving herself and Hermione roast potatoes, she heard the doors to the Great Hall opening. She looked up, hoping it was Lupin—but it was only Professor Trelawney, wearing a long, green sequined dress that made her look more than ever like a human-sized dragonfly.

"Sybill, this is a pleasant surprise!" said Dumbledore, standing up for her and tucking his beard against his chest so it wouldn't trail into his gravy.

"I have been crystal-gazing, Headmaster," said Trelawney in a voice even mistier than usual, "and to my astonishment, I saw myself abandoning my solitary luncheon and joining you. Who am I to refuse the promptings of fate? At once I hastened from my tower, and I do beg you to forgive my lateness. . ."

Harriet was afraid that if she looked at Hermione, she'd burst out laughing. Instead she looked at Snape, who was wearing an expression of open disgust. Unfortunately, this struck her as extremely funny and she wound up snorting quite loudly from trying not to laugh. Daphne Greengrass gave her a mildly scandalized look.

"Let me draw you up a chair," said Dumbledore. Harriet could have sworn he winked at her. His eyes were certainly twinkling.

He drew a chair in mid-air with his wand, and a wing-backed armchair with purple brocade dropped into an open space between Snape and McGonagall. (Harriet remembered what he'd said to her last year about missing Transfigurations; had all the chairs had come from him? It would explain all the flashy fabrics.)

Professor Trelawney took her seat with a misty smile, appearing oblivious to the way Professor McGonagall's lips thinned and Snape actually moved his elbow off the arm of his chair, like he was afraid her shawls would touch him. Harriet wondered if this told how bad Professor Trelawney really was at fortune-telling.

"Tripe, Sibyll?" Professor McGonagall asked her, poking a spoon into a large tureen.

Professor Trelawney ignored her. "But where is dear Professor Lupin?" she asked, looking up and down the table.

Harriet had the mean thought that finally, Professor Trelawney had said something useful.

"I'm afraid the poor fellow is ill again," said Dumbledore. "A shame, too, that it must happen on Christmas Day. . ."

"But surely you already knew that, Sibyll?" asked Professor McGonagall.

"Certainly I knew, Minerva," said Professor Trelawney coldly. "But one does not parade the fact that one is All-Knowing. I frequently pretend that I do not possess the Inner-Eye, so as not to discomfit those whose Sight is not as far-reaching."

"That explains a great deal," said Professor McGonagall.

"If you must know, Minerva, I fear that Professor Lupin may not be with us for much longer," said Professor Trelawney, her nostrils flaring slightly. "He seems aware, himself, that his time is short. He positively fled when I offered to crystal-gaze for him—"

"I can't imagine why."

"I believe," said Professor Dumbledore in a cheerful but slightly raised voice, putting an end to Professor Trelawney and McGonagall's conversation, "that Professor Lupin is in no immediate danger. Severus, you brewed his potion for him?"

Snape grunted. Harriet wondered if he was in such a bad mood because of her, and then felt silly. That had been days ago. Besides, he was always in a bad mood.

"Then he should be up and about in no time," said Dumbledore, cheerfully still, as if Snape weren't being terribly rude. "Asteria, have you had any of these chipolatas? They're excellent."

Asteria Greengrass went first red and then white at being spoken to, and trembled so much as she took the sausages that the pan rattled loud enough for Harriet to hear it down the table.

The rest of dinner was almost dull, really. The teachers (except Snape) kept to themselves, chatting. The first-year boy concentrated on his dinner, and Daphne spoke in a low voice only to her sister. Hermione must have been dwelling on Sirius Black's broom bomb; she kept looking at Professor McGonagall and answering Harriet at random.

During one of these lulls, Harriet heard someone saying: ". . . dog, in the forest."

Her heart jumped. Daphne Greengrass was speaking to Snape.

". . . Asteria and I were out earlier, near the greenhouses, and we saw it—a great, ugly, filthy dog, very large, and I thought perhaps it might be dangerous, or diseased. . ."

Shut up, shut up, Harriet willed her, because Snape was looking sharp-eyed and suspicious as he listened.

"Hagrid keeps a dog, you know," said Professor Sprout. "Could've been Fang."

"I did not think it was Professor Hagrid's dog, ma'am," said Daphne politely. Asteria kept her head down, staring into her rice pudding. "It did not appear to be a boarhound."

"Does anyone recall seeing a dog?" asked Professor Dumbledore, looking up and down the table.

Asteria did not answer; the other first-year boy shook his head, his mouth full of trifle; Hermione said, "No, sir," and Harriet, trying her hardest to look innocent and honest, echoed her.

Except Snape was looking down the table, his black eyes fixed right on her. Her heart bumped twice in one beat.

"Well, we can certainly look into it," Dumbledore said, smiling.

"I'll do it," Snape said immediately. He finally looked away from Harriet, but this didn't make her feel any less anxious.

"That's quite generous of you, Severus, thank you," Dumbledore said. "Ah . . . now?" he asked when Snape stood from the table.

"Before it gets dark," Snape said, and stalked off, robes billowing.

Harriet watched him go. She tried to calm her nerves by telling herself that Snuffles hid from almost everyone.

But it made her wonder. . . What had he been doing that the Greengrass girls saw him?

--

The air was so cold it was like a knife in Severus's lungs. The world was glimmering monochrome: glistening white snow covered the grounds; the sky was gray as iron; the tops of the Forbidden Forest black. Everything was silent, the birds all flown south; nothing but the sound of his breath and the snow crunching beneath his boots.

At the edge of the forest, Miss Greengrass had said. A great, filthy black dog. . .

He didn't know why it made him suspicious. He was naturally suspicious, of course. A stray, on Hogwarts grounds—no one had thought anything of it.

But the girl had already known. He was certain of that. He was very good at telling when people were lying, and could generally sense what type of lie it was: outright lie, omission, concealment, misdirection. . . The girl lied quite easily, but wasn't any good at it. He could always tell when she was being less than truthful.

She'd been lying at dinner. She knew about the dog. She'd been trying not to look anxious.

If the dog had something to do with Sirius Black—which had been his first thought—then it didn't make sense that the girl would also have something to do with it. She was still alive, after all, and quite well, stuffing away Christmas goose and potatoes and mince pies like she was storing for winter. Then she'd looked them straight in the eye and lied.

She was getting bolder. Already asking questions he didn't want to even occur to her, let alone hear from her.

Were you friends with my mum

Where did you hear

Aunt Petunia told me

And wasn't he likely to know that wasn't all Petunia had probably told her. . .

His most guarded secret, kept hidden for so long, locked up tight. Oh, a lot of people had known he'd had a thing for Lily—the boys in Slytherin that Mudblood shrew you fancy—Lily's friends you're such a creep, Snivellus, no girl in her right mind'd want anything to do with you—Potter's sycophants Evans could have anyone, she could have James, he's worth a hundred of you—but no one had really known what it truly was. Only Lupin would probably even remember that much, as close as he'd been to Potter and to Lily.

Lupin hadn't once mentioned it, not even through some oblique dig. He didn't talk about the past at all, in fact. He acted like he and Severus had a past, but pretended they'd been genial, if distant, acquaintances.

Severus had no idea why. Sucking up to Dumbledore? Playing games? When Will I Bring It Up and Really Make It Hurt?

Severus mistrusted Lupin on every level. He had no idea who the werewolf was. And he didn't only mean the wolf part; he meant the person, Lupin himself. Lupin was admittedly intelligent and level-headed; someone was definitely home—but who?

Even without Leglimency, Severus could usually get a read on someone. Leglimency was, in fact, his reluctant weapon held in reserve; there were too many things in a person's mind that one didn't want to encounter, the chief of those being what they really thought of you. But no matter what method Severus resorted to, Lupin was like a one-way mirror. He simply reflected everyone around him. It was as if the real Lupin was buried somewhere so deep inside that you never saw him.

In a place as deep inside, so deep he could almost ignore that it was there, Severus was unnerved by that. It made him uneasy how little he knew about Lupin; how little it seemed he could know. He was certain that Lupin was shielding Black somehow, but it was only an instinct; and while he trusted his own instincts implicitly, he had not found a shred of proof, in Lupin's face or voice or actions—or anywhere.

He should have been able to. He always had, before.

Whether a man or a wolf, Lupin discomfited him. He was dangerous. Unpredictable.

God willing, Trelawney would be right: Lupin's time would be short. Soon, he would be gone.

If he hurt the girl, even by so much as an omission, Severus would send him on his way.

Night was falling. The wind was fierce and cold. He lit his wand and stepped into the shadow of the trees, alone.

--

Being at Hogwarts with so many people gone reminded Harriet of being there in the summer, when she and Snape were the only ones there. But now it was winter, and the silence seemed deep and cold and dark. The clouds outside had parted enough to show the moon, whose shafts of slanting silver light glinted on the diamond window panes.

Hermione's voice was speaking off to one side, quietly over the sound of the fire:

"Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon. . .

"Are you worried about Sirius Black?"

Harriet looked round. Hermione had Harriet's new copy of The Hobbit open on her lap. Like in the summer, before Sirius Black had escaped, they'd returned to reading out loud from books, though now they were reading now by the fire at Hogwarts instead of by flashlight in Hermione's Muggle bedroom in London.

"I don't know," Harriet said, half-honestly. I'm worried about my dog, actually.

It wasn't just that Snape might find him and do something nameless and horrible; it was also very cold outside, and he looked so hungry all the time. If only she had some way of. . .

Dobby.

She sat for a moment, stunned, and then almost jumped up from the couch in excitement. Dobby—how could she have forgotten Dobby? How could it have took her this bloody long to think of it?

"Sorry," she said to a silent, staring Hermione, fumbling the tartan throw off her lap. "Loo—"

She did run to the bathroom, but only so she could whisper tenatively, wondering if it would work:

"Dobby?"

For a moment, nothing happened. Then with a crack Dobby appeared there in the bathroom, wearing his tea cozy hat and mismatched socks, with a lurid orange tie done up neatly over a doll's frilly blouse.

"Miss Harriet Potter!" he cried ecstatically, clutching something to his chest.

"Shh!" Harriet watched the door anxiously, but Hermione did not appear to see what was going on.

Dobby grabbed the ends of his bat-like ears and pulled them down, pressing them over his mouth, and accidentally dropped his package.

"Sorry," Harriet whispered. "I don't want anyone to know I've called you, okay?"

Dobby pulled back his ears a little to whisper, "A secret, Harriet Potter?"

"A very important secret," Harriet said firmly.

"Harriet Potter may trust Dobby with anything," he whispered, his eyes enormous and shining.

"I need you to look out for someone for me. Well, I say someone, but really he's a dog."

Dobby nodded vigorously to show he was listening.

"He's living in the Forbidden Forest. Remember that day I came to the kitchens and asked you to get me some food? . . ."

"Dobby will help, Harriet Potter," Dobby vowed when she'd finished explaining what she wanted him to do. "Dobby will find Harriet Potter's Snuffles and make sure that he is safe and well, forever!"

"Thanks, Dobby. You're a lifesaver." In Snuffles' case, he might well be. At least, as long as he diligently followed her instructions of food and blankets and didn't try to add any special Dobby touches like he'd done for her. "Oh—you dropped something." She pointed at the package lying at his feet.

"How could Dobby have forgotten!" he cried, and then stuffed his ears in his mouth when Harriet shushed him again. "It is a present for Miss Harriet Potter," he whispered in a muffled voice.

"Thank you," she said, surprised but quite touched. "That's really sweet of you. Erm." She wracked her brains. "I—have a present for you, too, but it's, it's upstairs. Wait here."

She left Dobby quivering with happiness and ran to her dorm. Throwing open her trunk, she rooted for something she could give to him, and found a pair of socks that weren't too girly, and which she never wore because they were a terrible mustard color. She threw some discarded wrapping paper around them and dashed back downstairs.

"Merry Christmas," she said as Dobby accepted the package with awed gratitude.

"Harriet Potter!" Dobby choked as he unwrapped the world's ugliest socks. They looked even worse in the bathroom light than they had in the dorm, but Dobby clutched them to him as if they were spun from gold. "Socks is Dobby's most favoritest clothing! Thank you, Harriet Potter, thank you!"

Harriet opened the present from Dobby which turned out to be—socks. She laughed. One was green with a pattern of broomsticks on it, and the other was red with a pattern of Snitches.

"Dobby is knitting them himself, miss," Dobby said, looking anxious.

"They're lovely," Harriet said, grinning as she pictured Lavender's and Parvati's faces. Hell, even Hermione's. She pulled off her slippers and plain white socks and put on Dobby's odd socks. His eyes leaked tears of happiness, and when he bowed, he bowed so low his nose touched the ground.

Then he disappeared with a crack.

When Harriet returned to the common room, she found Hermione sitting and staring at the couch in complete silence, The Hobbit closed and set to one side. Crookshanks was lounging next to her, his yellow eyes half-closed, lashing his tail. His fur was tipped with snow, as if he'd only just come inside.

"Sorry," Harriet said. "Didn't mean for that to take so long. We can get back to . . . what is it?"

When Hermione looked up at her, Harriet was startled to see tears making her eyes glisten.

"I'm sorry," she said in a low, thick voice. "I've been thinking how to tell you. I knew I had to, but I . . . I didn't want to. I'm so sorry."

Harriet's heartbeat picked up. She was bewildered, but the look on Hermione's face was making her hands feel cold. "Is this about how you're getting to your classes?"

"What?" Hermione blinked. At least she wasn't crying outright. That would have made this that much more serious. "No, it's. . ."

She closed her eyes and pressed her heels against them.

"Last Hogsmeade weekend," she said in a muffled voice. "Ron and I stopped in at the Three Broomsticks. . ."

Harriet sat down on the couch, more confused than ever. "Okay," she said when Hermione's voice stalled. "The Three Broomsticks."

Hermione nodded without taking her hands down from her eyes. "Professor Flitwick, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid came into the pub," she said, her voice still muffled by her arms. "The Minister was with them. Madam Rosmerta sat down with them. . ."

Harriet listened with increasing confusion. What did this have to do with anything?

"They were talking about Sirius Black," Hermione whispered. "Who he was. W-what he—what he did."

"He was Voldemort's supporter," Harriet said, slowly because she knew this, and Hermione knew it, but she didn't understand why Hermione was acting this way. "And he murdered thirteen people with one curse. Now he wants to kill me."

Hermione finally dropped her hands and looked at her, face grim and set. Something cold seeped into Harriet's chest, like Dementor-mist.

"Not . . . not just that." She took a deep breath and reached for Harriet's hands, wrapping her cold fingers around them. "He . . . Harriet, he was the one who led Voldemort to your parents."

Harriet stared at her. She felt the room distort slowly around her, bending the shadows up the walls.

"What?" she whispered. Or maybe she didn't. Maybe her lips only moved, and the sound of her voice was only the wind rattling the windows, the fire hissing. Was she tilting? No; she could feel Hermione's hands. They hadn't moved.

"He was their friend." Hermione's voice wavered, but her eyes did not leave Harriet's face. "He w-was your dad's best friend. Your parents knew Y-you-Know-Who was after them, because one of Dumbledore's spies tipped them off, and they went into hiding. Sirius Black was the only person who knew where they were, and he t-told You-Know-Who—"

Harriet felt like a great weight was slowly pressing on her chest, suffocating her.

"—he tried to take you from Hagrid, after he found you at the house, after—but when Hagrid wouldn't give you to him, he left . . . Your dad's other friend, Peter Pettigrew, confronted him, but Sirius Black cursed him—Pettigrew was one of the thirteen people Sirius Black k-killed on the street that day. . ."

Hermione was crying openly now. Harriet felt as if everything inside her—blood, bones, organs, everything—had been removed and absolutely nothing was left; nothing was even moving in to replace it.

"I'm s-so sor-ry," Hermione said, hiccuping. "I didn't—know how—to—tell you. It's so horrible—"

He was their friend?

He was their friend.

And nobody told me. . .

"They never told me."

Hermione looked stricken. Harriet said it more loudly.

"They never told me." She was breathing hard, so hard her breath was hitching painfully. "They never told me. Not one person. All this time."

"Harriet," Hermione said fearfully.

"They didn't tell me he's the REASON THEY'RE DEAD."

Hermione's eyes were huge. "Harriet—" she whispered, anguished.

"Do you know what I hear when the Dementors get close to me? I hear my mum begging Voldemort not to kill me, telling him to kill her instead—"

Hermione was staring up at her, looking terrified. Harriet realized she'd gotten to her feet but didn't remember doing it.

"Do you have any idea what it's like to hear that? No, you don't, because your mum's alive, her friend never set her up to be murdered. How could they not have told me? I have a right to know who killed them—"

"I know," Hermione whispered, still crying, but silently now. "I kn-know, Harriet, I'm so sorry—"

Harriet's head felt like it was stuffed with wool, the world around her like it was made of cotton. She whirled and ran up the stairs to the dorm for the second time, throwing open her trunk and dragging things out, dumping it all on the floor if it wasn't what she was looking for. When she found it, she hurtled back down the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Hermione stood beside the fire, her hands clutched together, looking frightened. When Harriet thrust the photo album at her, she looked bewildered.

"Which one is he?" Harriet asked, breathing hard and fast. "Which one did they say he was?"

Hands shaking, Hermione took the album and started paging through it, biting her lip, her eyes flicking from side to side. She went past page after page.

Then she stopped. Her eyelids flickered.

"This one," she whispered, and turned the album around.

It was the picture of Harriet's mum and dad at their wedding. Her parents were beaming up at her, their arms around each other . . .

"The Minister said that Sirius Black was best man at their wedding," Hermione said quietly, trembling.

A handsome man with dark hair that fell casually into his eyes was standing there with her dad, laughing, maybe at something someone had said, maybe because her parents were so happy. If no one had told her

(they hadn't)

Harriet would never have guessed that this laughing young man was the same person as the dead-looking man in the WANTED posters. It was like they were two completely different people.

Hermione carefully slid the photograph out of its slot and flipped it over. Her face changed subtly, and she turned it round and held it out Harriet.

James & Lily wed. Aug 1979 SB, J & L.

SB.

Sirius Black.

--

It was darker than ever. Hermione had gone to bed, but Harriet couldn't sleep. She kept seeing Sirius Black's handsome, laughing face and hearing her mother's voice, pleading.

Take me, kill me instead—

Sirius Black laughed and laughed. His laugh changed to Voldemort's, and there was a flash of green—

Her mum screamed—

She sat up, kicked off her blankets and pushed past her hangings. As quietly as she could, she searched through her dresser for the Marauder's Map. But she must have put it somewhere else, because it wasn't there.

Well, then. She'd just have to find him on her own.

She pulled her Invisibility Cloak out of her trunk, slung it on over her shoulders, and left the room.

Chapter Text

Severus returned to the castle well after midnight, so cold he couldn't feel his hands or feet, even with warming charms. The snow had soaked him from the knees down, and ice had settled on his shoulders, his chest. He was going to have to check himself for frostbite when he returned to his quarters.

No Black. He hadn't even found the dog, whatever it really was. He wasn't surprised, but the futility ached worse than the cold.

Spells on the dungeons doused the torches at night, so the corridors lay in pitch darkness. He'd lived in the dungeons since he was eleven years old; he didn't need light to know his way. He knew even the gouges in the floor through the soles of his boots.

But when he turned into the hall where his quarters lay, he saw a faint light emanating from some unseen source: a dim glow, shimmering on the ground, drifting up and down the hall—several feet forward, several feed back. He stood still, a good ten paces away, trying to determine what it could be. . .

Perhaps. . . a person underneath an invisibility cloak.

It had just better fucking NOT BE—

His hand shaking, he Summoned the cloak wordlessly. If he was wrong, nothing would happen. If he was right—

Nothing did happen. Nor did his suspicions vanish.

"Homenum revelio," he whispered.

At the same time the spell lit a glow in mid-air in the vague shape of a human body in front of his door, the girl pulled the cloak off herself, her face lit by the glow of her wand.

Something tenuous but intangible inside him snapped.

He stalked toward her, letting the tide of his fury flow into his voice.

"Miss Potter," he snarled, "if you do not have a VERY GOOD explanation—"

She stared up at him as he bore down on her, her face lit silver-blue by the light of her wand. But she did not seem the least bit cowed—she looked angry, in fact, and determined—and before he could do more than notice and begin to wonder what the fuck she thought she was doing, she said:

"Why didn't you tell me Sirius Black was the one who told Voldemort where to find my parents?"

Her voice wasn't petulant; it wasn't even the voice of a child. It was forceful, wounded, and so unexpected that he was wrong-footed—that naive yet not-innocent voice, the grief in her small face. Lumos bled all the color out of the world, so her eyes had no hue; they weren't the eyes of anyone he knew, anyone he'd expected.

"Nobody told me," she went on when he didn't speak. Her anger was gaining ground over other emotions. "Nobody. I had a right to know! Everyone said Voldemort killed them, but it wasn't just him, it was Sirius Black, too—"

Not just Sirius Black, his mind whispered, cruel and unfeeling. You, too, Severus Snape.

"—he's coming after me because he wants to finish me off, isn't he? I'm right, aren't I? How could no one have told me?"

The accusation in her face and voice was as palpable as a slap to the face. How could you not have told me? she was asking.

When did you become so important? asked a sly, cynical voice inside his heart.

He found his real voice. It was hoarse, and the edge was cruel. "This is your reason for traipsing around in the dark, alone—discovering a mass murderer has more reason to kill you than you'd thought?"

Her face flashed with something between fury and hurt, and she thrust something up at him. For a mad second he thought it was her wand, that she meant to hex him—

It was a photograph.

When he saw who it was and what it was of, he recoiled, actually knocking it away with his wand, an instinctual gesture to get it the fuck away—

"He was my dad's friend." Her voice was shaking—from anger? Tears? "My dad's best friend. If you were friends with my mum, you'd have known that!"

Not for the reason you think, girl.

"Everyone keeps things from me," she went on, her jaw rigid. "They keep everything from me. It's not fair!"

"That is the cry of a child," he said crushingly.

"I'm not a child!" she all but shouted. "You know what I hear when Dementors get close to me?"

No— he thought, panic stabbing through him. Don't—

"I hear Voldemort murdering my mum—because of him." She thrust the photograph forward again. Severus couldn't stand to look at it, he couldn't not look; but Lily's glowing face was too hard to see clearly in the wand-light and the dark, jerking around in her daughter's hand. "And now he's hunting me down, he slashed the Fat Lady to pieces to find me, and nobody's telling me the truth!"

She was breathing hard, like she'd run the length of the castle. The Lumos shone in her eyes, off her glasses, in multiple points of light.

The only sound in the hall was the angry rasp of her breath.

"Does it help you, then?" he asked. The cruelty in his voice felt brittle in his mouth, sounded distant in his ears. "Knowing the truth?"

She stared.

"No," she said, which wasn't the reply he'd been expecting. "But I'd rather know, all the same."

Gryffindors, he thought. But he felt only hollow, emptied out.

"You'd rather know whom to hate?" he asked. "Whom to blame for your unhappiness?"

She stared up at him. Then, with a sobering seriousness, she said, "I do hate him. He killed my parents."

"Yes," Severus said at length. "He did."

And so did I.

The girl seemed to deflate. She lowered her arm and, with it, the hand holding that loathsome photograph. In that moment, she looked both extremely young and more sorrowful than should have been possible at her age.

"How could he have done that?" she half-whispered. "If he was supposed to be their friend. . ."

And that, he thought, was the difference between childhood and adulthood: not knowing that people could betray the ones they'd loved, and knowing that they did, without knowing why.

"That is a question that nobody can answer besides Black himself."

She looked up at him. For a few moments, she was silent. And then, quite inevitably, the question came again.

"Were you friends with my mum?"

He thought about not answering. That silence would be answer enough at this point, but that wasn't the reason he said:

"I was."

The girl's eyes widened, like she'd never expected him to admit to it. Then a hungry, yearning, lonely shadow passed across her face, one that echoed inside him with a haunting familiarity. It was like the first time he'd seen her up close, and he'd thought Potter and Lily at the sight of her face and eyes and hair.

Only this time, he was seeing himself.

"Get back to your tower, Miss Potter." He threw her cloak back at her, too roughly; she caught it, but it knocked her glasses askew. "Put that on. Tomorrow, we'll have a discussion about the reckless idiocy of traipsing around, alone, with a mass murderer after you."

"I was under the Cloak," she said as she pulled it back on, disappearing from his sight, except for that faint glow of her wand shining on the floor.

"And as you know now that Black knew your father, you should deduce that he'd be able to find someone who was wearing it. Didn't you wonder how I knew you were there?"

She didn't reply.

"Put your wand out." He lit his own. "And don't dare to go wandering off on your own."

He climbed through the castle, hoping the girl had the sense to fucking do as he said. In the blackness and the freezing cold, he felt like he was walking into a fathoms-deep lake, upside-down. The light of his Lumos fluttered against the dark, barely touching it.

The portrait that used to be the Fat Lady was now an idiotic knight, and he his fat pony were snoring fit to wake the dead. The knight's visor kept fluttering half open when he breathed out and clanking shut when he inhaled.

"The password's 'scurvy cur,'" the girl's disembodied voice said, close by his side.

"I don't need it." He jabbed the portrait with his wand, wishing the knight weren't wearing armor so he could have struck him somewhere fleshy and tender. "Wake up, you fatuous cretin."

The knight snorted awake, his visor clanking shut. "Who goes there!" he shouted, trying to push it open but only succeeding in twisting his helmet around and trapping himself inside. The pony blinked sleepily at them.

"Scurvy cur," the girl said.

The knight's reply was muffled as he tried to pull his helmet on straight; the portrait was already swinging open.

"He's mental," the girl's voice sighed, drifting toward the portrait hole. She seemed to pause for a moment—he could have sworn he heard the faint intake of her breath, as if she was on the verge of speaking. But then the portrait swung shut, without a word.

Fucking bloody fool reckless idiot child. He ought to have wrung her neck. But his rage felt far away, for once. Exhaustion was creeping over him like a fog.

"Stand thy ground and fight!" the knight called after Severus as he stalked away, back down the stairs to the dungeons.

--

The moon set before dawn, taking the wolf's body with it. It tore out of Remus, snapping bones and sinews, ripping his skin and resewing it, everything changing shape, even his mind.

Once it was done, he lay on the rug beside the fire, trying to find his breath. Eyes open or shut, it didn't matter, he saw nothing. The room was cold, for no one had come to light the fire in the night. Not knowing how the sedated wolf would react to house-elves, he'd forbidden it.

The door did not open. No one came in to hand him a blanket and help him to bed. He'd forbidden that, too.

He dragged himself to the armchair and pulled down the blanket. Everything was a haze of agony. He got the blanket on the floor and rolled into it, slumping beside the unlit fire; slipping into the half-conscious fugue that permeated his mind after the change had reverted.

The Buddhists said time was a river, didn't they? Not a line . . . and other people said you couldn't cross the same river twice. . . but you could cross the bridge as many times as you wished. . .

"Get some sleep, you moony git," he could hear Sirius saying. "'Cause when you're hungry, I'm not bringing your lazy arse breakfast in bed."

It was morning, a summer morning. The smell of cooking bacon awoke him, and the bedroom was full of light. He ached everywhere, but the bacon called. . .

The kitchen was crowded with friends long-dead. He knew they were gone, just as he knew this was a memory, found again in a dream. . .

Full moons had meant loneliness, in his childhood. Then they had meant belonging.

Now, they meant loss, as vast and deep as oceans.

"Dearest Prongs, do stop being a suffocating ponce," said Sirius. "Just write Moony some love poetry if you can't keep your hands to yourself. Wormtail, stop fucking moving the bloody marmalade around, would you?"

"I'm just trying to set it where Moony can reach it. Salt, Moony? Milk, sugar?"

"No, Peter, you don't need to, really—James, you can sit down, Lily needs your help much more than I do."

"I'm fine, Remus." Lily's belly was so big she had to sit sideways at the table to reach anything on it. "You are acting like a jumping bean, James. Please sit down. The baby's turning enough somersaults for the both of you."

Sirius stole Remus's bacon and dipped it in the marmalade as Remus tried to scoop some onto his toast.

"How can you be so heartless?" Lily demanded, and pushed all her bacon onto Remus's plate.

When the memory dimmed and slipped back into the river of time, it left Remus aching at heart as much as he did in body.

He woke up fully some time later, ravenous. That was typical. Using the furniture, he dragged himself over to the table where he ate his meals (always, no matter what) and heaved himself into the chair. His bloody-minded determination to eat upright, Sirius had called it. "Even if your head was hanging by a fucking thread like Sir Nick's, you'd sit at the table."

He had to clear his throat several times and cough so hard his body shook before he could croak, "Breakfast."

After eating (several whole steaks, half a dozen fried eggs, half a ham, and a dozen slices of bacon) he felt better. Less like death warmed over. He was able to heave himself to his feet and grope across the furniture to his bedroom, where he crawled beneath the covers and gave in to his body's fervent desire for more sleep on something more comfortable than a freezing stone floor.

"You don't need to sit up waiting for me, Padfoot, I'm fine—"

"You can call it 'fine,' Moony, if you want. Maybe for werewolves, that is fine. But it makes me feel like shit. At least let me have the honor of sitting up all night, worrying my arse off."

Remus had insisted on certain things. No watching him transform. Ever. Not as a dog or as a man.

"All right, no Peeping Padfoot. Cheers."

Sirius could drop the blanket on him and help him to bed, but he wouldn't ask if Remus was all right or if there was anything he could get him. He'd help him to bed and leave him. He could prepare some food for when Remus awoke, hungry—in fact, it would be appreciated—but he was not to bring it to Remus, and he was certainly not to feed him.

"Well, obviously, Moony. We're not Lily and Prongs. The day I feed you breakfast in bed is the day I go straight and marry Lucius Malfoy."

Remus had never known whether Sirius was relieved for the ground rules or if he'd hated them. Once the rules were laid, they'd never spoken about them. Sirius had followed them more religiously than any of his professors would have imagined him capable of. As far as Remus knew, Sirius had never even discussed them with James. Lily, Prongs, and Wormtail had gone on wondering how Sirius could pick on Remus when he was clearly so ill and barely able to defend himself.

It had been a fiction, but a necessary one—for Remus, at least, to let someone in to that part of his life. Transforming into Animagi, that had been different. It was the symbol of their acceptance and determination. When he was a wolf, he was strong, if mad. As a man. . .

He'd never said I need to be able to take care of it on my own. He wouldn't admit even that much.

But in the end, he'd been righter than he ever could have guessed; for he'd lost them all, one by one.

--

Harriet's mind had been so full when she lay down after meeting Snape that she hadn't had any thought of sleeping. Thoughts had roiled through her head like those time-lapse videos of clouds over vast fields or mountains. Sirius Black had been her parents' friend—he'd stood with her dad, laughing, at their wedding—he'd betrayed them to Voldemort—Snape had been her mum's friend—he'd admitted it—he hadn't wanted to—he'd kept it from her, like he'd kept the secret of Sirius Black—

She was dreaming she was at her parents' wedding. Sirius Black was there, standing with her dad, who looked so happy. Her mum was talking to Snape, who was wearing black like always, hard-faced and angry. All the voices were on mute; she couldn't hear what anyone was saying, though her mum kept wringing her hands and pacing like Hermione, sunlight shining through her veil.

Then Snape looked at Harriet, straight at her, his gaze black and fierce, and she woke up with her heart beating hard.

A chink of daylight showed past a gap in her hangings. Her eyes felt heavy and tired, but it couldn't be that early if the sun was already up.

She lay for a long time without getting up. In the light of morning, it seemed mad to have confronted Snape like that last night. She couldn't believe she'd done it. The memory seemed fake, and yet, with a hollow kind of horror, she knew it wasn't. She really had marched down there, in the middle of the night, and shouted at him, thrown a picture of her parents in his face, and accused him of lying to her. She'd said—loads of other things—she wasn't sure exactly what; it was all a jumble—just a memory of his voice, low and jagged and angry, and his face white and black in the wand-light, his eyes glittering and hollow.

Mortification burned and twisted in her stomach. She was surprised she hadn't got a hundred detentions and one million points taken from Gryffindor. Maybe he'd been as insane as she was, last night.

Tomorrow, we'll have a discussion about the reckless idiocy of traipsing around, alone, with a mass murderer after you.

Shit, she thought numbly. He'd said that, hadn't he? Oh, yes, he had.

Groaning, she pulled her pillow over her face.

--

Last night, Severus had threatened the girl with retribution for her recklessness; but in daylight, he realized he didn't want to see her. At all. What had possessed him to admit the truth (well, a sliver of it) about her mother?

Fuck.

Maybe the full moon promulgated a degree of lunacy in anyone who was exposed to it for too long.

Could his threat of last night make her avoid him? He would certainly do his best to avoid her.

He'd been right about her. Brazen, prying little brat.

Fuck.

How had she found out about Black, anyway?

His first thought had been Lupin; but Lupin had been too ill to leave his rooms all day and a wolf all last night; he wasn't in any (snort) shape to expose tense, emotional secrets of the past. And Rita Skeeter hadn't had the meat for an article lately. Anyway, she'd moved on to profiling a successful politician and his wife who'd been caught cheating on each other with the same man.

Perhaps the girl had discovered Black through the photograph she'd brought with her last night? But she'd have had to find an old picture of Sirius Black, besides that one . . . it would have required research . . . But she had undertaken research, of her own volition, to learn about Dementors and the Patronus.

She could have simply been snooping. She was good at that.

It didn't matter, really, how she'd found out. What mattered was that she had, and he'd put himself in the mortifying position of admitting something she would surely want to know more about. She'd pop round pestering him with questions, prying into all his most precious and most hated secrets, like a Niffler in a gold mine. They even had similar hair.

Perhaps, he thought masochistically, he ought to tell her the truth about the prophecy. Then she could move straight on to loathing him and would leave him alone. The truth could stay buried.

"I hate you," she would say, that look of blazing anger and grief in her small, thin face.

His heart recoiled as if dealt a physical blow. For a moment, he sat stunned. The distress that thought caused him was. . . astonishing.

"Fuck," he said aloud.

--

Harriet got dressed eventually, pulling on her Weasley jumper and her Dobby socks for comfort. Then she sat on the edge of her bed and fiddled with her Hermione necklace.

Hermione wasn't in the room. She must be studying or something. Crookshanks was gone, too.

Harriet was hungry, but she didn't want to run into Snape before she'd decided how to act.

Well. . . there was always the Map. She could use it to see where he was and avoid him until she'd got a plan.

She opened the drawer of her dresser again and rooted around. Maybe she'd missed it last night, trying to be quiet in the dark.

It wasn't there.

She checked her trunk. Nothing. Her pockets—nothing. Her bedding: empty.

Starting to panic, she started pulling out her school books and flipping through them. Still nothing. Her notes—papers—all her dresser drawers, the rubbish she hadn't cleaned out—

No map.

Oh no, she thought. Fuck!

She ransacked her memories, trying to remember where she'd last had it. She knew she'd stuffed it in her pockets after Snuffles had brought it back, because she'd used it to meet Snape. Had she dropped it in his office?

The thought was so horrifying that she almost couldn't think it. But she forced herself to track back through time. The last time she'd definitely had the Map. . . she'd been. . .

"Harriet, what are you doing?" asked Hermione's voice.

At the sound of it, Harriet's heart suffered its—fourth? fifth—nasty shock of the morning. She turned around. Hermione was holding Crookshanks and staring at the books Harriet had strewn across the floor, the loose leaves of parchment, her clothes thrown everywhere.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"I've lost something." Harriet dropping the sheets she'd pulled clean off her bed, cursing the fact that there was no way to do that casually. "Is there a spell to find things you've lost?"

"There's a Summoning Charm, but it's not on the curriculum until next year." Hermione stepped carefully over Harriet's mess, setting down Crookshanks when he squirmed. "What is it? I'll help you look—"

"It's—nothing," Harriet said, looking away so she wouldn't have to lie to Hermione's face.

"It's clearly not nothing if you've done all this because you lost it." Hermione swept her hand in a wide arc to encompass all of Harriet's destruction.

"I—" Harriet thought frantically. "I've lost my necklace. The one you gave me."

Hermione stared blankly at her. Then she said, "It's round your neck."

Harriet groped at her neck, finding the chain. "Shit," she said. She tried to look extremely embarrassed. It wasn't that hard, since she didn't enjoy lying to Hermione. She ought to have just handed the fucking Map in. She'd known she ought.

What if she'd left it lying around and Sirius Black found it?

Shit shit fuck—

"Are you hungry?" Hermione asked kindly. Harriet felt like a slug.

"Not really," she said. That was the truth, at least; in the last few minutes, her hunger had evaporated.

"Well. . . we should try to eat some toast or something, at least. Coming?"

They left Crookshanks sniffing over the mess Harriet had made and headed down to the Great Hall.

What did I do with it? she thought frantically. Please please please don't let Sirius Black find it. . .

--

It was dusk again before Remus was able to get out of bed for anything except visiting the loo. And even so, the first thing he did was take a long bath. He almost fell asleep during, as it was.

The Wolfsbane Potion kept him sane during transformations, and for that reason alone he would use it for as long as he could. Once the change took him, the experience was similar to the way James and Sirius and Peter had described their Animagus transformations: everything diluted but still there; thoughts not words but feelings, instincts, desires. But the stag, the dog, the rat had never taken over their minds. Now, Remus could finally say the same about the wolf.

But the Wolfsbane had other effects that he knew would preclude its being a permanent solution among werewolves (aside from the astronomical price and access to a competent brewer). For one thing, when the wolf didn't subsume his consciousness, he was forced to remain aware throughout the entire change, which was more painful than prolonged Cruciatus. For another, he was more exhausted the day after the full moon, and took longer to recover. He'd have to mention it to Snape.

After the bath, he was starving again, so he dragged himself to his table to order enough food for three full-grown men on a binge. In the past, eating helped him heal faster, but it didn't seem to work when he was on the Wolfsbane.

Well, Snape had said the potion was technically a poison.

After he'd banished the plates back to the kitchens, he Summoned the pile of letters and things that had heaped up while he'd been out of it. The day of the change, he was always too restless to answer mail. The day after, he was both so determined to resume a normal routine and so bored out of his mind that he'd welcome even the stupidest message, even if it was a note from Mundungus Fletcher hitting him up for some cash so he could back a Fwooper in a race against a Puffskein. "It's a sure thing, mate, only cost you a galleon. . . though while you're at it, I got a prime business opportunity to run by you. . . what do you say to 'elping me and this bloke start a ferret farm?"

Today his pile was full Christmas wishes from Dumbledore and Minerva and the rest of the staff, and a little pile of packages from the same. And. . . a blank piece of parchment?

He went absolutely still, his hand held over it, about to pick it up.

Most people would've laughed to suppose that a blank piece of parchment could be familiar. But this one was. He'd once known every nick in its edges, every faint stain and fingermark. It had picked up quite a few new ones, but he only whispered It can't be because how could it be?

His hand shaking—not, now, from the change—he touched his wand to the parchment and whispered hoarsely, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Ink blossomed from his wand tip, rushing, leaping, skipping to each corner of the parchment. Letters formed in the middle of the page, bearing their names in that ridiculous, beloved legend (Oh, we knew how you styled yourselves), and then fading away, leaving just the map itself.

He was certain he looked at it for a long time, though he couldn't have counted the minutes on any clock. He felt like he lived a thousand minutes in one. He traced his fingers over and over the inky outline of the castle, the names flitting back and forth (Harriet Potter and Hermione Granger eating in the Great Hall; Albus Dumbledore pacing in his study). It was as if he'd stumbled over some piece of someone he'd loved and lost, which he thought was long gone, too.

That's exactly what it was.

The demands of the present returned slowly, in pieces. When they did, he lowered the map to his lap and whispered the most obvious question, the one begging all the answers:

"Who?"

But . . . he knew, didn't he?

Chapter Text

Harriet didn't see Snape for the rest of the holiday—almost. For several days he stopped showing up for meals, and she didn't quite have the nerve to go near his office. She began to worry he was ill. Why would they not see him otherwise? He certainly wouldn't be avoiding her. He ought to have come to claim his million points and half-a-million detentions by now.

In the days where he never appeared, Harriet had time to dredge out of her memory more of the details of their conversation. She had shouted and made angry demands, and he'd mostly answered her with more questions, in a cruel, biting voice.

He'd never told her why he'd never said anything about Sirius Black. The only concrete answer she'd got from him had been about her mum.

Were you friends with my mum?

I was

He was sick as a dog for your mother. Did he tell you that you were precious to him? You're nothing but a copy of his spoilt princess.

In the moon-tinted darkness of her four-poster, she had wondered: Would Snape's strange behavior about—well, pretty much everything to do with her—make sense if he'd been in love with her mum?

Harriet didn't know. She didn't know enough about love even to guess.

Within a couple of days of Christmas, Professor Lupin, at least, returned to meals, looking a great deal worse for the wear, but ready to chat with the other teachers.

Harriet hadn't forgotten about the card he'd sent her. More secrets; more questions. She sat at Gryffindor table, which had been restored to its place on the floor along with the others, and watched Professor Lupin. She waited for him to say something about the card, but he never did more than smile and nod at her.

So, the day before the holidays were due to be over, Harriet got up from her solitary breakfast (since Boxing Day, Hermione had been going half-sies on her masochistic studying schedule) and marched up to the High Table.

"Hello, Harriet," Professor Lupin said, smiling. "Did you have a good Christmas?"

"I got some good presents," she settled for saying, since she wasn't sure she'd call it a wholly good Christmas, all things considered. Professor McGonagall still had her possibly-curse-laden Firebolt. "Thank you for your card. What's in the Gringott's safety deposit box?"

For a split second, Professor Lupin look startled. Then he brought his smile back. "A few odds and ends I thought you might not have been told about. I take it you haven't written to them yet?"

She shook her head. "How come you know what's in it?"

Now she got the impression that Professor Lupin was wishing she would stop asking him questions. But all he said was, "I knew your parents a little, is all. I thought Hagrid mentioned taking you to Gringott's, but I didn't think he'd have known about the safety deposit box. It's kept in a different part of the bank than the money vaults."

Harriet had not been prepared for this answer. "You knew my parents?"

Professor Lupin blinked at the sharpness in her voice. "Yes—"

"You never said."

He paused. "Many people knew your parents," he said slowly, and she knew he was lying.

"Well enough to know about the stuff they keep at the bank?"

Another pause, slightly longer this time. "We were friends at Hogwarts. It was a long time ago—"

"Yeah. Right. You know, I wish, for once, people would tell me things, instead of just what suits them," she said angrily, and stalked off.

"Harriet," said Professor Lupin; she heard the sound of his chair scraping. She stopped, but not because he'd called after her.

Snape was standing in the half-open door, like he'd been about to walk in, then decided to just turn and go, and finally changed his mind. He appeared to have been watching Harriet and Professor Lupin, but was wearing a peculiar expression, like he was trying not to smile.

But when he saw Harriet looking at him, the expression vanished. His glare flared like an open furnace, and he jerked out of sight, banging the door shut.

Harriet stood with her mouth hanging open.

Even for a grown-up, Snape was weird.

"Harriet." Professor Lupin sounded hesitant. She turned back toward him. His face was wary.

"I'm sorry I've upset you," he said.

"Why didn't you tell me you knew my parents?" She ignored the persistent question knocking against her ribs like a heartbeat: Why didn't Snape tell me he knew my mum?

Professor Lupin didn't answer straightaway. His eyelids flickered, like he was trying not to look away.

"Let's. . . not discuss this here. All right? Will you come to my office?"

Harriet would have gone to the heart of the Forbidden Forest to get to the bottom of all this bloody secrecy. Impatiently she followed Professor Lupin out of the Great Hall, trying not to step on his heels. Finally, I'll find out—

Only they walked straight into Snape. She did step on Professor Lupin's heels when he stopped to avoid running into Snape.

"Severus," Professor Lupin said, "good morning—"

"Miss Potter." Snape looked straight through Professor Lupin, like he wasn't even there. "You are late for your detention."

"What?" Harriet blurted.

"The one—of many—you incurred for being out of bed after curfew." A nasty sneer curled around Snape's mouth, and his eyes glittered eerily. "And, being as I had to come and fetch you myself, you've just earned another."

"You didn't tell me about any detentions," Harriet protested, her face feeling hot with anger and embarrassment. "How can I be late—"

"I suppose you should have come and asked." He finally looked at Professor Lupin—glared at him, of course, with bone-curdling hatred. "Get on, Lupin. Miss Potter, with me."

"I thought it was standard procedure to inform students of their punishment beforehand?" Professor Lupin said quietly.

If looks could have killed, Professor Lupin would have been a scorch mark on the wall.

"Miss Potter," Snape snarled. "With me."

Harriet opened her mouth, but caught Professor Lupin giving her the tiniest of head shakes. Of course, he wouldn't mind they'd been stopped. He clearly didn't want to tell her anything, anyway.

She glared at him as she followed Snape, but his brief look of confusion and—hurt?—strangely did not make her feel any better.

She trudged after Snape into the dungeons. She expected him to head to his classroom, but instead he strode past it, down the twisting corridors to his private lab, the one where he and Professor Lupin had been making that mysterious potion all summer. The room was cold, everything put neatly away.

"What am I doing?" she asked, seeing nothing terribly disgusting sitting out for her to take care of.

"You will sit here"—Snape pointed his wand at a three-legged stool, which skidded across the floor to a corner of the room—"facing the wall, and contemplate the stupidity of your actions."

Harriet spluttered, face catching on fire.

"Sit," Snape barked.

Harriet knew there was nothing she could say to keep her from sitting on the stool. The most she could hope for was something that would make Snape angrier and put him in a worse mood, but she couldn't think of a single thing to say. So she turned on her heel and walked over to the stool, which he'd wedged so far into the corner her knees almost didn't fit, and tried her fiercest to pretend he didn't exist.

It was hard when she was so incredibly bored within five minutes. And Snape kept rustling around behind her. She could hear his knife thwocking on the table top. Was he making that potion for Professor Lupin?

She tried to sneak a look without him seeing.

"That's another hour you've earned for not following directions," he said without looking up.

"An hour?" Harriet said indignantly.

"That's two for speaking," he said, and chopped a thick wooden root clean in half with one strike.

Well—that was just—fine! If that's what he wanted, she'd never speak to him as long as she lived.

--

"Of course she'd figure it out," Remus said to Ermentrude, his potted plant. "Or if she didn't, Hermione Granger would have," he added wryly.

He didn't know why he'd written to her about the safety deposit box. In retrospect, he should have figured that she might think it was a trap from Sirius Black. That didn't seem to have occurred to her, but the question of how he would know about the box had. He'd have preferred it hadn't. Questions about Lily and James would lead to questions about why he had never mentioned it, perhaps even to questions about Sirius, and she would be understandably hurt, if not extremely angry, to find out that Sirius Black was her godfather and no one had ever told her.

The safety deposit box was all jewelry: Lily's jewelry; Potter heirlooms. Lily had seldom worn those—only once that Remus could remember, to a charity ball when she and James had only been engaged, before the War made such things inappropriate. But she'd been grateful for the excuse to forgo them; James's mother had had old-fashioned taste, and had restored the jewels to a replica of their original sixteenth century setting. They were rubies, too, which Lily felt clashed with her hair.

Had felt.

So she'd bought her own jewelry, and put it all away into storage when she and James went into hiding, along with the pieces she'd inherited that weren't claimed by Petunia when their mother died. He didn't remember all that was in there, but it had seemed a much better Christmas present for Harriet than anything else he could possibly give her, or that she could want from him.

Perhaps telling her about her parents would have been a more valuable gift than jewelry?

And perhaps you sent her the card because you knew that and didn't want to admit it.

He scrubbed his hand over his face.

"Talk to me," he muttered, tapping his wand against the surface of their Map. Their handwriting blossomed on the parchment, one line after another.

Mr. Padfoot bids Moping Moony a good day, and inquires on the long face, which, scarcely possible though it may be, is not an improvement over the old one.

Mr. Wormtail advises caution, or it will surely stick that way.

Mr. Prongs wonders how Mr. Wormtail can be so pathetic as to think that's a good insult.

Mr. Moony thinks it might be an improvement after all if his face should stick some other way than it's always been.

Mr. Padfoot would advise Mr. Moony not to talk down to himself, the old misery-guts.

Smiling, if sadly, Remus murmured, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The Map sketched itself on the blank parchment, the dots drifting. Heart clenching, he looked for any dot labeled Sirius Black, but there was none.

Nor did he see any dots for Harriet Potter or Severus Snape.

For a moment, his heart stood still. Then he remembered the dungeons were unmappable, aside from that first corridor where the Potions classroom and professor's office lay, and he breathed out.

But. . . why would Severus have taken Harriet deep inside the dungeons?

He drummed his fingers on the desk, staring out the snow-encrusted window. Then he tapped the map with a brief, "Mischief managed," folded it up and put it in his pocket, and left his rooms.

--

Snape's wall was extremely, amazingly, fundamentally, mind-bogglingly boring. It made Binns' class look like a party.

Harriet had no idea how long she'd been sitting on that stool, crammed into the corner, but she was ready to bash her brains out just so she'd have something to do.

"Very well," said Snape's wintry voice. "That will do for now. You may get to lunch, once you've told me what you learned."

Harriet paused in her dash to the door. The retort welled up in her like water someone had just chucked a bag of stones into.

"You've got five hundred and seventy six stones in that wall over there."

Snape's stare fixed on her and bored in. His face was hard like each one of those stones. Her heart and stomach tried to squirm into each other's places.

"Come back after lunch," Snape said coldly. "Don't make me come and find you."

Harriet turned and left without another word, and made sure to shut the door very politely behind her on the way out. She hoped he felt it.

"There you are." Hermione looked intensely relieved. "I've been looking for ages and weren't able to find—what happened?" she asked, taking in the expression on Harriet's face.

"I was in detention with Snape." Harriet jerked a dish of creamed corn toward her and slapped a spoonful onto her plate. Hermione jumped as some of the corn went splattering across the table.

"Detention?" she repeated, horrified. "What for?"

Harriet knew Hermione would keep asking until she found out. "That night you told me about Sirius Black, I—went for a walk. Well, I couldn't sleep, could I?" she said defensively when Hermione's eyes flashed with alarm and disapproval. "What would you have done?"

"I wouldn't have gone out into the castle, alone, at night, without telling anyone!" Hermione said, as if she really couldn't believe Harriet had done it. "Harriet, you know that Sirius Black knows how to get in! If Professor Snape found you, then Black could have, too—"

Harriet was in no bloody mood to be lectured. "I was wearing the Cloak, all right?"

"And if Sirius Black knew your dad, he'd know about the Cloak, too!" It didn't make Harriet feel any better to reflect that this was exactly what Snape had said. "That was very careless, Harriet! Professor Snape was right to be upset—"

"Oh, was he?" Harriet snapped. "And you are, too? I suppose you know exactly what it's like, finding out what someone like Black did to your parents—you and Snape both—"

"Harriet, of course I don't know what it's like." Hermione's eyes were bright with tears. "And I'm sorry, I am, but—I didn't tell you about him so you could play right into his hands! Don't you see that's what he'd want? What would you have done if you'd run into him that night?"

"Hexed his murdering traitor's face off." Harriet shoved her plate away and stood.

"Where are you going?" Hermione asked fearfully.

"Finish my detention with Snape."

"But your lunch—"

"Funny, I'm not hungry anymore."

She stalked off, not looking back. Professor Lupin wasn't at the staff table, but she almost didn't care. Right now, she just couldn't deal with someone else lying to her or trying to tell her how to handle the only truths she did know.

--

Sometimes, Severus was grateful that his enforced role as a double-agent had led to his developing a certain kind of mental agility. Without it, he might never have been able to carry on doing one thing that required such steadiness and concentration while being so enraged he could've blasted the ceiling down on his own head.

He'd never have survived teaching without it, certainly.

The mechanism also forced him to ride out his fury until it had dissipated to a point where he wasn't in (so much) danger of committing manslaughter. If it hadn't been for needing to get on with his work, he might have strangled Lily's daughter where she sat. Or stood. Or smarted off.

Insufferable little. . .

The detention had been spur of the moment. He'd seen her about to walk off with (untrustworthy, collaborating-with-a-mass-murderer) Lupin and, in a fit of alarm, had put a stop to it. Unfortunately, this meant keeping a resentful and rebellious thirteen-year-old girl near himself after deliberately putting her in a bad mood.

The spawn of Lily and Potter could thank Narcissa that she hadn't been throttled.

Since childhood, Narcissa had suffered a chronic complaint that worsened in the cold months. It could easily be kept in check with potions, and she had long insisted that Severus' were superior to anyone's. Although he would have, for various reasons, provided them for a pittance, Narcissa always paid him a tidy sum (in addition to providing remuneration for the ingredients). He used it to sweeten his traveling fund.

He'd never had the opportunity for travel—not the lengthy, considered, and unencumbered sort he longed for—and he probably never would; but by God he'd have the funds for it, if one day he was ever allowed.

He was brooding on his indenture, dreaming of faraway mountains, and monitoring Narcissa's potion when he heard the unmistakable sound of a lost owl flapping in the hall. Usually such owls were for him, though they occasionally got lost.

Opening the door with a wordless spell, he Summoned it; scattering feathers, it shot into the room and tumbled onto one of the empty tables.

"For me?" he said, detaching the letter. The owl was too stunned to acknowledge him.

It was for him. He split the wax seal as the owl tottered to its feet and fled the room as fast as it could.

He never looked at salutations first; always the signature. This letter was from Mrs. Jacob Greengrass.

(Jacob Greengrass was all but estranged from his family, living on the Continent with a string of heinous mistresses, and still his wife very correctly signed her letters with his name.)

She was writing to inform Severus of the withdrawal of her daughter Leto from Hogwarts. Leto was to be married as soon as possible, and wouldn't be returning to finish her seventh year.

"As you are Head of Slytherin, I feel it quite natural to place my trust in you, and beg that you intercede with the Headmaster on behalf of our family in the matter of my daughter's withdrawal."

This was typical of Slytherin mothers in her situation. Severus had, in fact, informed Dumbledore twenty-seven times over the years that such-and-such a female student wasn't coming back to school because she was getting married. Slytherin parents instinctively mistrusted non-Slytherin Headmasters. Since there had only ever been one Slytherin Headmaster, it was something of a House tradition.

It wasn't a surprise that Leto Greengrass should have become Girl Number Twenty-eight, but Severus couldn't stop a flash of Minerva-like disgust. He knew it was pure-blood tradition, not just among the conservative Slytherins, but he'd never liked how so many of his female students' ambitions pinned on making a good marriage.

(He blamed his Muggle upbringing. Even pure-blood Non boys didn't think anything of it.)

But an ambitious marriage was too apt to turn out badly for the girls. For non-former Death Eaters with life debts yet to pay, switching careers was easy, but magical marriages were ultimately binding. When the ministers said, "You are now bonded for life," they weren't speaking metaphorically: the marriage spell was unbreakable by anything but death. It was one reason pure-bloods didn't consider half-blood marriages to be genuine; true marriage binding required two wands, and Muggles didn't have those. To all proper society, Severus and all half-bloods could be legally considered bastards. Any laws that honored them beyond that were hardly more than gentlemen's agreements. It was one of many little injustices that had put him at such odds with his own society and made the Dark Lord's prospective future look so attractive.

Mrs. Jacob Greengrass was like Severus, a half-blood of Slytherin, careful to cover the tracks of her Muggle heritage. She'd married into a pure-blood line as unbroken as they ever got; but her first sights had been set on Lucius. Everyone's had, in those days. Narcissa, subtle, ruthless and cunning, had beaten them all; consigning some to scandal, grinding others to dust, racking up enemies and dismissing them all as unimportant. Narcissa had always been untouchable. He couldn't recall exactly when the one-day Mrs-Jacob-Greengrass had fallen out of the running—or even what her name had been—but now she had four daughters to tread the same path as herself.

He hoped Leto had at least managed to snag someone wealthy, if she had to throw herself away. In the circumstances, there couldn't possibly be anything more than affection without substance. He hoped, for her sake, that it would solidify into something real one day. . . however unlikely it was.

Daphne Greengrass was surely headed the same way. Though sensible and level-headed, she'd never done more than the barest minimum as a student; like most Slytherin girls, she was more preoccupied with her social upkeep. Perhaps he ought to recommend her to Narcissa. If Daphne had set her mind on a marriage of convenience, she might as well try to be one of the richest women in England.

But Asteria. . . perhaps he could do something there. Make a push. Towards something other than marriage to a pampered prince.

He wouldn't do it himself. He never meddled directly in his students' affairs unless he thought they'd die otherwise (which had nearly happened more times than he was comfortable with). He was such a miserable arbiter of his own happiness that he knew he had no discernment towards anyone else's. But he also knew how you could be so blinded to your own ambition that you forgot anything else existed or would ever be possible. You could think the world would allow you only one recourse by which to better yourself, finding out too late that there might have been others.

As he finished Narcissa's potion, which glimmered a pearly gray, luminescent in the dim light, he laid the groundwork for his plan. Simpler plans were better ones. They allowed more room to adapt.

When the girl returned, sulking and scuffing her feet, he'd prepared what he needed.

In truth, he was almost surprised to see her, and very nearly on time. But something. . . something was. . .

"Is that snow on your shoes?" he asked, deceptively soft.

She went quite still, eyes flying to his face. For the first time he wondered whether her Patronus would be a doe, too, should she ever manage to produce one.

"I went out to the courtyard," she said, after a hesitation that was just a little too long. Her tone was almost correctly casual.

He narrowed his eyes, staring her down. She looked boldly back.

"Get back to your corner," he said.

She got back to it with an air of dignity.

He finished Narcissa's potion and bottled it in the crystal decanters that were actually necessary for its transport; it was so delicate that it would react with any other material. The bottles were spelled unbreakable, and he added another layer of enchantment that would prevent anyone but Narcissa from opening them. It was his standard practice, even with clients who weren't friends that had nearly been victims of fatal poisoning in the past.

By the time he'd cleaned his workspace and packed everything away, he judged the girl was frustrated enough to be receptive to his proposal.

"That will do for today. Conditionally," he added as she jumped up from the stool, and then let the word dangle.

She looked at him, half wary and half defiant. "Conditions?"

"You have a further eleven detentions to serve," he said with obviously deceptive mildness; she heard it, and looked alarmed. "However, I would. . . entertain the possibility of curtailing them were you to accept my counteroffer."

"Okay," she said immediately.

"You haven't even heard what the offer is," he said, irritated for more reason than one.

"It can't be worse than staring at the wall," she said.

"How do you know I wouldn't make it so, to prove you wrong?"

She opened her mouth and then shut it, eying him as if trying to determine if he was being serious or not.

"Is it shorter, at least?" she asked.

He knew that his answering smile was not anywhere near nice. "You've already accepted."

She glowered impressively. He'd take that for starters.

"Strain your memory," he said, "back to Hallowe'en. You will recall Asteria Greengrass."

Emotions had flitted across her face as he spoke—indignation, exasperation, wariness, clarity—ending in confusion. He found himself unable to remember if either Potter or Lily had been this easy to read, or if her face was unusually expressive.

It was probably nothing more than his increased capacity for deciphering facial ticks.

"Well?" he said impatiently. "Do you?"

"Yeah, sure," she said, still bewildered. "Hard to forget that. What about her?"

"Miss Greengrass is not adjusting well to boarding school life. The recent loss of her eldest sister is doubtless going to make it even more diffi—"

"Daphne died?" the girl blurted, going white. "When?"

He rallied after a split second's surprise. "No one died, and not Daphne; the eldest sister, Leto. She's withdrawing from school due to an impending marriage."

The girl had relaxed with relief; now she wrinkled her nose. "Why is that a bad thing?"

"Because," he said impatiently, "Leto was, besides Daphne, one of only two people whom Asteria would talk to. She will also pine for her sister and become even more withdrawn. You will attempt to curtail this self-destructively insular behavior."

"Me?" Now the girl was more bewildered than ever, and was beginning to look alarmed again. "What can I do?"

"I leave that for you to determine."

Panic, now. That was interesting. "But—but I don't even know her. What will happen if I can't help?"

"That is for me to determine. You have already accepted the assignment, Miss Potter."

Panic turned to troubled anxiety. "I'm not good at—with people—Hermione would be better at this than me—or one of the Slytherin girls—"

"I have given you the task," he said in a tone that, with a non-Gryffindor, would have forestalled any argument. "You will undertake it or go back to your corner."

Her expression said she'd actually forgotten about that part of the bargain, but it swiftly shifted to mulish determination. "I'll take the corner," she said. "I'm not—not qualified to help—"

"You saved her from childish brutality once," he said, coldly, to repress a pang that was almost something complimentary in memory of it. "This is no different."

She blinked. When she looked at him then, he found himself quite unable to tell what she was thinking.

"All right," she said. "I'll do it."

"Yes," he said, sneering. "I will contact you with further details. Get away, now."

She went, looking thoughtful. He waited until she was well down the hall before dousing the lights and following her out.

--

Once he was sure they were gone, Remus lifted his Disillusionment. If he were caught, it would be too hard to pass off "I just got lost in the dungeons" while under a concealing spell.

He'd learned just enough to ponder, but not enough to come to any conclusion.

He left, feeling very thoughtful.

Chapter Text

Snape did not get back to Harriet before the holidays ended, but she wasn't daft enough to think—this time—that he'd forget. He was going to make her sorry she'd gone wandering at nighttime.

Honestly, this conditional task he'd come up with didn't sound so terrible as it did impossible. How was she supposed to help Asteria Greengrass fit into Hogwarts if her sisters couldn't? They would surely know her a great deal better than Harriet. Did Snape imagine Harriet was much more popular than she actually was, enough to provide Asteria with a ton of friends?

"Perhaps he thinks that if she can learn to connect with someone outside her own family, it will make it easier for her to form other friendships," Hermione said, a bit breathlessly. "Thanks, Harriet, you can set them down—"

Harriet shoved her stack of books onto Madam Pince's desk and rotated her now-free shoulders. Hermione was checking out six books on Arithmancy, four for Muggle Studies, and eight on Ancient Runes. Eighteen bloody books. Her hair was almost as wild as Harriet's these days, and her eyes, instead of brightening from lack of homework, were only getting darker with circles from all the extra studying she'd put in. Soon she'd look like a raccoon.

Madam Pince glared at them both and began her exhaustive process of checking each book over for nicks and spoils, sniffing repeatedly as she went. They were going to be there a long time.

"But why me?" Harriet asked in a library-voice, turning back to Hermione. "Snape doesn't even like me."

"Perhaps he thinks Asteria will like you," Hermione said. "And that's more important, isn't it?"

Harriet brooded on this possibility. Well, even if it didn't make much sense, she was going to do it anyway. Snape would make sure she did.

"You saved her from childish brutality once before," Snape had said. But Harriet would have felt much more comfortable punching someone in the nose than doing. . . this.

Everyone was due back at the castle that evening, so even though the holidays were technically over, she and Hermione (and Daphne, Asteria, and the other boy) still had the castle to themselves. Hermione, predictably, had plans to study.

They dragged her books through the castle in three separate bags.

"We need pack horses," Harriet huffed as they climbed the stairs. Wingardium Leviosa only worked for brief levitation. She didn't want to imagine what Madam Pince would do to them if they accidentally levitated the books off the stairs and dropped them several hundred feet.

"You know," Hermione panted as they staggered onto the floor where the entrance to Gryffindor Tower lay. "Don't tell Ron, please, he'd only laugh—but I really am thinking of giving up Muggle Studies. Not because it's too much work," she added quickly. "But it's. . . it's insulting."

"How?" Harriet asked in surprise.

"It's so. . . so patronizing and, and twee. Wizards have the, the stupidest view of Muggles, even if they aren't being cruel. Professor Burbage is very nice, of course, but the books we have to read! They act as if all the scientific and intellectual advancements of the past three hundred years are simply the Muggles' quaint way of compensating for being deficient in magic!"

"Oddsbodikins," Harriet told Sir Cadogan, who was dancing back and forth on his green, clearly wanting to challenge them to a fight but too chivalrous to interrupt two ladies while they were talking. Looking disappointed (his visor clanked down over his face when he dropped his head), he had no choice but to let the portrait open.

"'What Muggles toil to achieve with coal and oil and electricity are not necessary for the wizard, for whom fire, light, and movement are accomplished with a slight movement of his wand; and the arts, philosophies and theologies that Muggles craft in their spare time, to fill the terrible emptiness in their souls, the wizard may experience by casting the spark of the lightest spell.'" Hermione said it like she was quoting, and her eyes were blazing. "And all the books are like that! Poor little Muggles, stuck without magic in their quaint, dull little ways. . . "

She must have been storing this up for quite a while. Harriet let her rant on, making noises in places that sounded like good ones, but she was mostly thinking about her stomach hurting: a low-level but continued ache that had started up some time in the library. She'd thought it would go away if she ignored it, but the more she ignored it, the sharper the pains started to twinge, layered over the dull ache that was already there.

". . . completely ignoring how Muggles have contributed to the world, while wizards just sit around and—and play Quidditch—oh, I don't mean that, but when was the last time Professor Binns mentioned a conference of wizards that didn't have something to do with keeping down goblins and werewolves and giants and, and Muggles? Harriet, are you all right?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno." Harriet grimaced, rubbing her stomach. "I think the bacon was off at breakfast or something. My stomach hurts."

Hermione's righteous anger morphed into worry. "Do you want to go to Madam Pomfrey?"

As Harriet was shaking her head, an angry pain, sharper than all the rest, pulsed like it was gripping the lower half of her body. "Maybe. Okay, yeah."

Madam Pomfrey was not in the infirmary. Everything was dark, and the doors were locked.

"She must not have got back yet from her holiday," Hermione said worriedly. "Maybe Professor McGonagall will have something you can take. . ."

Professor McGonagall was working at her desk when Hermione knocked on her office door.

"If you are coming to inquire about your broom, Miss Potter," she said, looking over her square spectacles at them, "Professor Flitwick thinks it may be carrying a Hurling Jinx."

"Harriet thinks she ate something bad at breakfast," Hermione said quickly.

"My stomach hurts," Harriet said uncomfortably when Professor McGonagall looked sharply at her.

"In all the years I've been here, Miss Potter, when there's a case of food-poisoning at Hogwarts, one of the students has been responsible. Since none of the five who remained seem likely culprits, it's probably something else." She stood. "Come with me. I'll let you into the infirmary."

They trekked back through the halls to the hospital wing. Harriet knew it was evidence of how much Hermione was worried about her that she'd sacrificed studying her eighteen new books (well, maybe not the four Muggle Studies ones) to go on this pointless walk-about.

Professor McGonagall unlocked the infirmary doors and swept along to Madam Pomfrey's massive cabinet of medicinal potions. It was big enough that the whole Gryffindor Quidditch team could have climbed inside it and not knocked elbows. On its many shelves, hundreds of bottles gleamed in the light, cobalt blue and emerald green and opal white, shimmering black and mucky brown. Professor McGonagall reached for a ruby red one, which made Hermione say, "Oh!" in a tone of sudden comprehension. It did look familiar. . . Harriet thought she'd seen Hermione take it bef. . .

"Oh." Harriet went bright red, like the potion.

"This might do the trick." Professor McGonagall handed it down to her, briskly business-like. "I believe the bathroom is open. I know Madam Pomfrey keeps the. . . other articles in there." That slight hesitation was the only lapse in her matter-of-fact manner.

Face flaming, Harriet fled to the infirmary bathroom and locked herself in.

It was. . . that.

So.

Relief and satisfaction warred with worry. It was really uncomfortable. She knew Hermione hated getting it, but seeing Hermione grimace and drink that red potion and splutter was a lot different than having to do it herself. The stuff smelled like vinegar. And now she'd be having it for the rest of her life.

Until menopause, at least, said her Hermione-like part.

"Cheers," Harriet muttered. Pinching her nose, she knocked the potion back.

It tasted like fermented vinegar. Coughing, she filled a cup of water from the sink and chugged it. "Pleh. PLEH."

Once everything was. . . taken care of, she skulked out of the safety of the bathroom. Professor McGonagall and Hermione had been talking, but they left it off and turned to face her.

"It was that," Harriet said before either of them could ask, blushing again.

Professor McGonagall looked sympathetic, really. "A burden we all must endure, Miss Potter. Well!" She was brisk again. "You know where the potions are. Madam Pomfrey allows female students up to five doses per cycle on a standard basis, but if you need more, you can discuss it with her."

She walked with them back to the Tower. Hermione was talking with her, something about Transfigurations, but Harriet was concentrating on herself. Although the pain in her lower body was gone, she thought she kept seeing spots whenever she tried to focus on anything. She tried to blink the spots away, but they wouldn't go.

Once they were back in the common room, Hermione marched toward her books, looking like someone about to roll back her sleeves and get down to brass tacks. Harriet had offered to look up page numbers in the index for her, but when she opened the first book, she realized she couldn't read. The spots made the words disappear when she tried to focus on them.

"Harriet?" asked Hermione.

"I. . . can't see." Harriet tried to squash her panic. Maybe it was just a period thing. "Does this happen to you?"

"You can't see?" Hermione asked in alarm.

"I can see," Harriet said quickly, "I just—I'm getting spots. I can't read. Wait, this can't happen to you or you'd never be able to study—"

"Do you have a headache?" Hermione asked.

"My head feels funny, but. . ."

"Lie down on the couch," Hermione instructed. "I'm going to get Professor McGonagall."

She dashed away, the portrait opening and shutting. Harriet decided Hermione was right, as usual: lying down seemed like a good idea. She took off her glasses and curled up next to the fire. A moment later, a soft, furry weight landed on the cushions and settled against her stomach.

"Hi, Crookshanks." She scratched his chin. He yawned massively, showing all his teeth.

Hermione came back. Harriet squinted at her, but without her glasses all she could make out was a vague, Hermione-like shape with a mass of hair. It was like one of those paintings that made images with huge streaks and whorls of paint.

"Miss Potter?" said Professor McGonagall's voice. "How do you manage to get into trouble drinking a simple potion?"

"Natural talent, Professor," Harriet said as Professor McGonagall touched her forehead.

"Miss Granger said you were seeing spots. Does your head ache? Any sensitivity to light?"

"No. . ."

"Fatigue? Numbness?"

Harriet considered. "I feel tired and—not good. What is it?"

"The menstrual analgesic provokes a migraine in a small percentage of witches," Professor McGonagall said. "About three percent, I believe. It's possible the migraine is concurrent, but you're awfully young to get them, even as part of your cycle. Have you ever experienced migraines before?"

"No, but. . . Aunt Petunia gets them," she said reluctantly.

Professor McGonagall hmm'd. Harriet could imagine her pressing her lips together in one unbending line.

"Lie down in your dorm, at least. I'll return shortly. I need to see Professor Snape about which potions for migraine can be mixed with this potion."

The horror at Professor McGonagall telling Snape that she needed a potion for this crashed over Harriet like a wave at the beach that had knocked her down (although she had never actually been to the beach). "I'll take the migraine. It's not so bad."

"Miss Potter, Professor Snape is a Head of House," Professor McGonagall said briskly. "I can assure you, he's dealt with. . . this sort of matter before with his female students. And as Madam Pomfrey has been delayed, he has the best knowledge of medicinal potions in the castle at present. Get up to bed and I'll be with you shortly."

She left. Harriet's head churned—with the migraine, which was starting to hurt, like someone was putting a huge pressure not on her skull but directly on her brain; with the image of Snape handing out potions for, for it; with the knowledge that he'd know she was on it.

"It shouldn't be embarrassing, you know," Hermione was saying. "It's a perfectly natural condition. For goodness' sake, it happens to fifty percent of the human race every month! It's really quite insulting that we're made to feel like there's something the matter with us whenever our periods come and we mustn't talk about it, or be embarrassed if we do—"

"Can we please talk about this later?" Harriet said, wincing. "My head's really starting to hurt. . ."

Hermione ushered her upstairs, tucked her into bed and drew the hangings around her four-poster. Harriet felt very tired now but her head was hurting too much for her to fall asleep. She shut her eyes.

Be careful what you wished for—honestly. This part of growing up sucked.

And it probably meant she was going to be short forever.

--

Severus frequently found himself at a profound loss in dealing with Asteria Greengrass. Was this how being Longbottom's Head of House would have been? (For himself. If Minerva had any problems, she didn't discuss them where he could hear.) Although he'd had his share of anxious first-year students, his House favoritism had always soothed them—to a certain extent. They didn't shake and squeak like Longbottom, but they understood the importance of deferring to him in exchange for his continued protection.

Asteria was the only student he'd ever had who still blanched and trembled and refused to look at him when he so much as stood within ten feet of her. Talking to her was an absolute disaster. He'd considered relocating her to Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw as an experiment, but was afraid the shock of being removed from her sisters would kill her.

He wasn't entirely exaggerating, either.

Since the rest of the school hadn't yet returned, he met with the remaining Greengrass girls in the Slytherin common room. In defiance of every tactic he'd perfected to intimidate his students—even the Slytherins—he also sat down, in an armchair, so the sisters could take the adjacent couch and Daphne could sit in the middle, letting Asteria believe she was shielded. Although she was tall for her age, she did have a knack for appearing smaller than she was, and had perfected the trick of vanishing into the background. Most people likely forgot she was there. Having mastered that habit himself, Severus didn't, and it was clear that Daphne didn't, either, but they both pretended Asteria wasn't there. Severus had learned that Asteria was much more comfortable being ignored entirely.

She was a very strange child.

"I hope you had a good holiday, Professor," Daphne said, calmly polite. He'd never seen her manners lapse, even from constant exposure to Pansy Parkinson, who in her own way could have challenged Harriet Potter in a contest to vex the Pope.

"Thank you, Miss Greengrass." That wasn't a real answer, but he tried to avoid giving real answers whenever possible. In the same noncommittal spirit, he said, "I believe congratulations are in order for your family."

For a moment, Asteria's invisible shield rippled, but Daphne's composure did not. If anything, she seemed truly pleased. Being a practical girl with her hopes aimed in the same direction, she probably did welcome her sister's prospected marriage.

But Asteria, in that flash of a moment, was clearly not happy with Leto's leaving. Severus was satisfied.

"Thank you, Professor," said Daphne. "We're all very pleased."

He did not ask if they'd be attending the wedding. He'd received no word to arrange their temporary withdrawal, and since Leto was being removed from school to expedite her marriage, the wedding would be taking place shortly (if it hadn't already). If the expense of transporting two sisters had been too much for the bride, the groom might have offered; but either he hadn't or had been voted down. Either way, to Severus' mind it was an ill beginning.

"I am aware that the event must be a trial for you all," he said. "Your sister to be removed from her home, and the remaining two to lose her."

Asteria's invisibility rippled again. Even Daphne's eyelids flickered that time.

"You, Miss Greengrass, have a number of allies who can support you." Slytherins rarely used the term "friends"; they considered it too juvenile and frail as an association. "Your sister, however, is more delicately placed."

Daphne's eyes darted toward Asteria, who was staring fixedly at the ground, her face and posture telegraphing the exertion it was costing her not to jump up and flee.

"I have assigned Harriet Potter to work with her," Severus said coolly.

Daphne's eyes flew back to him, widening, while an expression came over her face that said she thought he was mad. Asteria, however, went a deep shade of scarlet.

"Harriet Potter?" Daphne repeated. "I—" She was clearly struggling with the propriety of arguing. "Sir—forgive me—but I hardly think that a good idea. . ."

"Miss Potter has already assisted your sister once."

Daphne blinked. "When? I. . ." Then the light of understanding passed over her face. She turned to Asteria, who was trying more than ever to hide in plain sight. "She was the one, then?" Daphne said, as if a lingering question had just been answered.

Severus was distracted by a brief warmth flaring in the pocket against his ribs. While Daphne and Asteria conversed through tense, silent looks, he pulled out the small notebook he and the other Heads used for minor emergencies.

Minerva's handwriting said: 'Need to know what potions are compatible with Feminine Comfort that may have provoked migraine.'

"I will leave you to discuss it," Severus said to the Greengrass sisters. "However, I must inform you that the meetings are a requirement and your sister must attend them without you. I will contact you with the details of the first meeting."

Daphne looked stunned; Asteria frozen, almost paralytic. He left them like that, feeling like he'd just thrown a kitten out in the snow. But it was necessary; he knew it was necessary. If he allowed Daphne to accompany Asteria, she would let Daphne take care of everything and they would get nowhere, none of them. The teachers believed the same as her sister: with infinite kindness, Asteria would eventually settle into boarding school life, form friendships and grow into a capable young woman. But Severus knew that people rarely worked that way; for most, it took either a shock or a deep desire to alter them in the slightest. Asteria appeared to have no desire to change. If left to her own devices, she would remain withdrawn and isolated, and Daphne would willingly shoulder the burden of carrying her alone. Slytherins could be neurotic in their assumption of duty.

Escaping the common room, he entered into the next awkward fray of the day involving teenaged girls. If Minerva was asking, the sufferer was either Granger or Harriet Potter.

He spelled onto the page: 'You had better wait for the dose to pass through her system before you give her anything else.'

'If there's another option, Severus,' Minerva wrote back immediately, 'I would take it rather than force the poor girl to suffer a migraine.'

'Pain potions—which Feminine Comfort is, in large part—contain ingredi