…and, of course, the study of Ancient Runes, despite its long history, has only recently become the subject of serious academic interest. For many years, Ancient Runes was practiced almost entirely as a hobby, not unlike its distant cousin Divination. Any study of it was conducted on a personal level, much of it passed down by word of mouth. While there were many people who took it extremely seriously and extended our knowledge of it on their own terms—Cassandra Trewlany, the renowned Seer comes to mind, and her predecessor Andromeda Black—this knowledge was largely overlooked or even openly mocked by the magical academic community. Indeed, much like Divination and other fringe studies, Ancient Runes has a long history of being overlooked, scoffed at, and altogether underestimated.
There are several reasons for this. Ancient Runes, unlike more conventional subjects such as Charms or Herbology, is a highly theoretical field of study. Much like Potions and Transfigurations, Ancient Runes is a magical practice grounded in intuition; how well one's runes perform depends almost entirely on one's magical sensitivity. Of course, there are guidelines to follow, just as Transfigurations has incantations and Potions has recipes. But no one would pretend that a potion made by a first-year student could be comparable to that made by a true Potions Master, even if the same recipe was followed—so a runespell made by a master can never be compared to an amateur’s. The difference is not in the quality of ingredients or (for the most part) the maturity of the magic involved—it has altogether to do with the experience of making the spell or potion. This contradiction, combined with how many runespells fail for seemingly no reason at all, has created the idea that runes are a dying way of creating magic and the study of them is ultimately useless.
Ancient Runes, unlike its other intuition-based counterpoints, has not been considered a useful skill to learn ever since the runic languages became less popular, and Latin-based incantations—quicker, easier to learn, and less time-consuming to produce—became the norm for the magical community. And one can hardly overlook the despicable fact that many magical communities rejected runic magics solely because so many magical creatures use runes for their magic, claiming that runes were less ‘sophisticated’ than incantation spells. While that has slowly been proven to be incorrect, the myth persists.
It took several hundred years before runic magic gained some popularity back, and by that time much of the knowledge about the runes was lost. What we have now is piecemeal compared to what would have been considered common knowledge during the early days of Hogwarts...
—A Short History of Ancient Runes by Godfried Schwartz (1961)
Harry did his best not to fidget nervously, but from the way the Hufflepuff at the desk across from his was eyeing him, he had a strong suspicion he wasn’t managing very well.
Since his very first year at Hogwarts, he had never really been nervous for a class. Sure, he dreaded Potions and sometimes Care of Magical Creatures (depending on the creatures Hagrid had that week) or DADA (depending on if the current professor was trying to kill him or not), but he’d never really been nervous about them before. Sometimes, there were days Harry figured that everything that could possibly happen to him had happened, so there wasn’t really any point in worrying if he’d answer a question correctly or get a spell right on the first try or whatever else it was Hermione had always been so anxious about.
But the thing was, he’d never felt so woefully underprepared for a class before either. Ancient Runes had been, up until his frantic cram-sessions over the past few weeks, almost entirely unknown to him outside of Hermione’s mutterings over homework. He hadn’t been so out of his depth since his first year, when Snape had asked him about things he’d never even heard of during his very first Potions class—and that wasn’t an experience Harry was raring to repeat.
He’d studied the books he bought back to front. He’d even checked some more out from the library, something he knew would send Hermione into a dead faint if she heard about it. It helped that Runes was actually interesting, unlike Divination, and it was mostly straightforward. The problem with Runes wasn’t their difficulty but their complexity—Harry knew most of the basic symbols already, but he would need to be able to layer and combine those symbols in order to make actual runespells, and the sheer amount of depth of knowledge doing something like that required wasn’t something he could study for overnight. He knew some of the basic combinations just from the sheer amount of times he'd gone over them, but he wasn't sure what he'd do if they were doing more advanced work already in class.
Harry breathed out. It didn’t matter, he reminded himself firmly. So what if he did badly in this class or if the professor--someone Harry had never heard of before called Prewett--thought he was an idiot? After dealing with Snape for five years, Harry was old-hat with professors who continually thought the worst of him.
He glanced around the room again. He’d finished breakfast early—eating alone at a corner of the table, far away from the fifth year Slytherins and the unnervingly watchful eyes of Lucius Malfoy—so he’d been the first to arrive at the tiny Runes classroom on the third floor. While it was much smaller than other classrooms Harry had been at in Hogwarts, it was just as tidy and there was a note on the chalkboard upfront to take a seat wherever he liked, so Harry had slid into a seat in the back.
His classmates had arrived in a slow trickle over the next half-hour. Harry figured it must be a mixed class—there were already two Hufflepuffs, a Gryffindor, and several Ravenclaws occupying the seats around him. All of them had done double-takes when they’d seen him and Harry would have to be a fool not to catch their covert staring and hushed whispers. He ignored it. Sometimes he was actually thankful for the hellish time he’d had over the past few years—he was mostly immune to the staring and the whispering after dealing with it so much during his own time.
By the time it was five minutes to the hour, Harry’s stomach was cramped into an anxious knot. He played with his quill and chewed the inside of his cheek, trying to distract himself. Every time the door opened, he straightened, but so far Professor Prewett hadn’t showed.
The door opened again and Harry looked over. He froze.
Lily Evans ducked into the classroom with another Gryffindor girl, chatting with their heads close together. Behind them was Remus, pulling his scarf off his neck, snow in his hair. Remus spotted Harry in the back and offered a brief smile and a wave before sitting near the front. Harry barely noticed it. His breath shortened and he clenched his hand around his quill until the pain in his hand helped him gain some control back. He watched as Lily settled into a seat at the front of the room, drinking in her dark red braid and the glimpse of her full smile. His heart turned over.
His mother. Merlin. He’d been so focused on dealing with Slytherins breathing down his neck and meeting James that he hadn’t been able to spare any real thought for looking for her. He’d seen her, of course, but only in glimpses here and there—in the Great Hall or passing through the halls.
He'd had no idea how to even begin approaching her so he'd forced himself to ignore her and focus on his other problems. There was no ignoring her now, though. Harry stared at the back of her head so intently he completely missed the professor finally arriving.
“Well, well!” Harry jumped, knocking his knee against the underside of his desk. He slouched down in his seat, flushing a little as the students around him looked at him. “We all survived another year, then! Congratulations."
Harry took careful stock of Professor Prewett. He was a tall, lean man with long red hair tied back in a ponytail and freckles across his nose. Something about his face seemed weirdly familiar to Harry, though he was sure he didn’t think he’d met anyone named Prewett in the future. Surprisingly, he didn’t wear robes but a muggle outfit that actually matched and looked mostly normal. Maybe he was muggleborn?
“Welcome back from break, everyone! How was your little vacation? Mr. Holtz, you look ready to fall asleep back there.”
A Hufflepuff sitting close to Harry, his head down on his desk, raised a hand weakly. “I’m listening Prewie, I promise.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Now, I’m sure you all had wonderful, wicked times, but now we are sadly back in the world of academia which means back to boring work. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.”
Harry stared as Prewett moved around the desk, picking up a piece of chalk. Now that he thought about it, his name sounded really familiar, too. Where had he heard it before?
“Now, I don’t believe in wasting time, so let’s get started, shall we? For the last few months, we’ve been working on studying more advanced individual runes and learning their layers of meaning. We’ve also been discussing what we call the three aspects of rune casting – that is, the symbol, the word, and the meaning. I hope you all didn't let all that information fly out of your heads during break, because we will be doing review tests before the month is through." Groans echoed throughout the classroom. Prewett grinned. "Ah, music to my ears! But before that, I promised before break we’d start digging into rune combinations in the new year and that’s exactly what we’re doing today.”
Harry looked around as Prewett turned to the board. All of the other students seemed excited, whispering to each other and leaning forward in their seats.
As Prewett drew on the board, he spoke. “Runes, being an alphabet, can’t work proper magic individually. In order to activate, they need to work in tandem with other runes—the more complex the combination, the stronger the runespell.”
Prewett finished his drawing with a little flourish and turned to reveal two runes on the board. Harry squinted, cursing his bad eyesight, and relaxed a little. He knew those two, at least.
“Now, who can tell me what these runes are?”
Hands shot up. Harry didn’t bother raising his with so many people volunteering and Prewett selected a Ravenclaw sitting upfront to answer.
“That one’s Eihwaz,” she said, pointing to the one that looked like a skinny, stylized S. “It translates to yew. The other,” this one a tall M, “is Mannaz, or man.”
“Excellent! Ten points to Ravenclaw. So we’ve got these two separate runes, both with their own individual meaning, that don't work at all on their own. But when we combine them…”
Prewett took another moment to draw a more complex rune, an M with the stylized S drawn inside of it sideways.
“Then we start creating runespells. Now, the key to runespells is in combination; what it does is always going to depend on what runes were used to make it. So we know what the runes we’ve used are—does anyone want to take a stab at what this runespell might do?”
Silence. Everyone was looking hard at the board, obviously trying to think of something. Harry looked around the class, frowning a little. He thought he knew what it could be, but it made him nervous that everyone else was so confused. Maybe he was wrong? He looked at the combination again. No. He was sure that he was right. He chewed on his lip. But maybe he was wrong? He didn't want to raise his hand to answer and look like an idiot if he was wrong.
“You, new kid.” Harry straightened. Prewett looked right at him. He had dark brown eyes and a scar through his eyebrow. “You look like you have an idea.”
Harry’s stomach twisted. He really hoped he wasn’t being set up for failure here.
“Well,” he said. “Um. Yew is a strength rune, that’s one of its meanings. Stability. And Man, that’s also used about the body. The human body, I mean. Combined, I’d guess it’s a defensive spell. You put it on someone’s skin, probably their chest or even the back of the neck, and it gives you a strength boost or makes your resistance to other spells stronger."
Harry swallowed and trailed off as everyone stared at him. He flushed and began to slouch down in his chair, scolding himself for not just saying he didn’t know and avoiding this humiliation altogether, when Prewett whistled.
“Well, well,” he said and he was smiling. “Got it in one, rookie. Manihwaz is one of the most basic combination runespells and is used exactly as Mr. Potter described; depending on where it is inscribed on the body and the word spoken to activate it, it will enhance your physical strength or act as a temporary full-body shield against minor hexes. Well done. Twenty points to Slytherin.”
Harry let out a long breath, heart hammering. He couldn’t remember a time outside of Defense class—and even that had really only been during Lupin’s reign—where had been able to answer a question no one else could puzzle out. He could see why Hermione liked it so much; it felt really good.
He kept his head down for the rest of class, copying down notes on basic rune combinations and their homework to check the rest of the combinations in the first chapter and write their hypothesis on what each runespell could be. By the time class was over, Harry’s head was stuffed with information, but not in a bad way—he felt like he did after particularly good Defense classes or when he went flying; as if he had been given a key to a lock that he already knew how to open.
He carefully kept himself from staring after Lily as she left, laughing, through the door with her friend. All during class, he'd had to keep himself from just staring at her. He didn't know how he'd explain himself if she caught him at it, no matter how much he wanted to talk to her. At least with James, he had an excuse. To Lily, he was just the new Slytherin.
“Mr. Potter, hold back a minute.”
Harry slowed. Prewett didn’t seem upset. He smiled as Harry approached his desk, arms crossed over his chest as he casually leaned against the top.
“The Headmaster told me to go easy on you, kid, but it looks like I don’t have to, huh? It’s been a while since a student caught that runespell on the first try.”
“It just made sense,” Harry said uneasily. He didn't know how else to explain it.
Prewett huffed a little laugh. “Just made sense, did it? How much did you know about Runes before coming to Hogwarts, Potter?”
Harry hesitated. “My mum taught me some. And I did some extra reading over the break."
“Merlin have mercy. Well. I know we don’t know each other very well, but here’s a little secret about me, Potter; I hate squandering talent."
“If you want to pretend, that’s fine, but I won’t. I’ll look into getting you some more advanced materials.”
Harry bit his lip. “Professor Prewett, really—“
“None of that, kid. Call me Professor P or Prewie. Hell, some of the seventh years just call me Fabian at this point—that’s their reward for making it through seven years of school.” Prewett smiled a little. “Look, if it ends up being too much for you, that’s on me, not you, okay? All you have to do is tell me you want out and we’ll go back to easing you in nice and slow. All I’m asking is that you try.”
Harry considered him. He had enjoyed reading about Runes. And maybe if he couldn’t find an answer for his problem with traditional spells, there’d be an answer somewhere in rune magic. Maybe.
“All right,” he said. “Um, thanks, I guess?”
“Don’t thank me yet, kid. No, go on. It’s lunchtime, you’ve got to be starving.”
At lunch the next afternoon, a dignified barn owl landed next to Harry’s plate. He blinked, mouth still full of potatoes. The barn owl hooted twice and offered its leg, which had a thin scroll curled around it. Swallowing his food, Harry cautiously reached out and took it.
The scroll was sealed with a wax imprint pressed with a bounding stag. Harry frowned down at it, nonplussed. Who would be sending him letters? Not Mrs. Snape, he was sure—he wasn’t due to even send her his first letter yet. He was only drawn out of his confusion when the owl nipped his hand. Distractedly, he pushed some sausages toward it and watched as it ate and flew away. Only then did he return his attention to the letter.
Well. Only one way to find out, wasn’t there?
When he broke the seal, the letter unfurled and flattened out magically. Harry took a deep breath and read:
Headmaster Dumbledore reached out to me on your behalf. I apologize for the delay in correspondence; there are many things life prepares you for, but the sudden child of your beloved brother appearing without any warning is, strangely enough, not one of them.
I’m not sure how much the Headmaster explained or what your late mother told you, but I am your uncle, your father’s younger brother. It sounds like you’ve met my son James; he wrote us as soon as he realized who you were. He has always been eager to have a cousin, and it pleases me to know he’ll get one, regardless of how strange a path it took for you to enter our lives. I was deeply sorry to hear about your mother and I offer my strongest condolences.
My wife and I would be glad to meet you and get to know you. I long ago gave up any hope of my brother having a family. He was a lonely man and resisted any of my attempts to get him to settle down. To have a child of his appear feels nothing short of a miracle. I understand if you have some reluctance, considering our absence from your life up until now. All I’m asking is for a chance.
Next Saturday afternoon, James is planning to visit home for a time – if you are amenable, you are welcome to join him.
I hope you will consider it.
Lord Charlus Potter
Lord of the White Stag
Head of the Liberation Party
High Member of the Wizengamot
Harry read the letter three times before the meaning of it actually sunk in. He leaned back, mind whirling. Dumbledore had said he’d reached out to the Potters, but after that whole scene with James and Sirius, Harry had never expected—never hoped—
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was at the Slytherin table. Even now, out of the corner of his eye, he could see Nott watching him with a sneer, and the flash of Lucius Malfoy’s pale eyes from down the table. The only one who didn’t seem at all interested in the letter was Snape, even though he was sitting right across from Harry. Snape’s nose was, as ever, buried in a book even as he mechanically shoved food from his plate into his mouth. Harry eyed him. At least one person in Slytherin didn’t care about Harry’s personal business.
Harry forced his face into unnatural stillness and slipped the letter into the inner pocket of his robes. He couldn’t stop himself from turning to give Nott a challenging stare—not that it did much. Nott just smiled his slimy smile and offered Harry a two-fingered salute, utterly unashamed to have been caught watching him. Lucius, when Harry checked, was deep in conversation with another seventh year who looked vaguely familiar; it was impossible to tell if he had actually been looking or if Harry had imagined it.
Harry resisted the urge to rub his face as he turned back to his dinner, shoving all thoughts of the letter down until he was somewhere where he could react to it without everyone around him watching his every mood. As he scooped up another spoonful of potatoes, he thought, not for the first time, that his life definitely would have been easier if he had just been sorted into Gryffindor.
Harry had been surprised at first that the Hogwarts library was largely as he remembered it, right down to a much younger Madame Price stationed at the librarian’s counter. Sometimes he couldn’t decide if the Wizarding World’s resistance to change was good or bad for him—on one hand, it meant less stumbling around trying to figure things out, and on the other hand, it ended up making it even harder to remember that he was literally stuck in the past. At least if things had been wildly different, it would have been easier to keep the past and the future separate in his head. As it was, he still kept expecting to turn around and run into Hermione or Ron or anyone else from the future and he still woke up thinking this was all a mad dream.
Back when the students had first come back from break, Harry had found a little table at the back of the library, hidden among the shelves and claimed it for himself. At first, he hadn’t wanted anyone to see what books he was reading; now, he just liked the privacy it afforded him. Almost no one went back there and Harry could sit for several hours without seeing another person.
Which was why he was surprised when he caught sight of Snape through the stacks, sequestered at the only other table in the back, one that had always stood empty whenever Harry was there. He’d never seen Snape in the library, for all that he seemed to spend most of his time reading. Curious, Harry drifted closer. It was only as he approached that he realized Snape wasn’t alone at the table and froze.
Lily Evans was just as unnervingly real and present as she had been in their Runes class. Harry drank in the sight of her neatly pressed uniform and tight braid of red hair. So many stories about his father, but almost no one mentioned his mother, not really. He’d grown up with Aunt Petunia and Harry didn’t even know Lily’s favorite color.
And he especially hadn't known that she was friends with Snape, of all people. He looked between Snape and Lily at the table and wondered. He'd known that Snape knew his mother from that memory, but he hadn't thought they were actually close enough to study together. He wondered if that had anything to do with the way Snape treated him in the future. They must have had some kind of falling out; Harry couldn't imagine that Snape would be so nasty to his own friend's son. But with Snape, it was anyone's guess.
Harry must have made some kind of sound because Lily’s head shot up from her book and startled green eyes rested on him. Harry swallowed. Everyone always just said that he had Lily's eyes; he did, of course, an almost perfect match. But looking into her face, he could see more than just the one similarity. She had Harry’s thin nose and slightly thinner upper lip and pointy chin. Harry remembered weeks trying to match his face to the images he saw in the Mirror of Erised, desperate to find any small connection—how had he missed how much he shared with his mother?
“Oh!” Lily relaxed a little. “You're the new Potter, aren't you? I'm Lily Evans. We had Runes together yesterday, do you remember? And Defense this morning. Are you here to study, too?”
Snape’s head whipped up. Cold fury overtook his face and, strangely enough, his icy eyes and pinched mouth helped Harry regain his equilibrium. If there was one thing Harry could deal with with his eyes closed, it was Snape’s anger.
“Potter.” Snape always made his name sound like a curse. “I had no idea you even knew how to use a library. You are aware that you need to be able to read in order to check out a book, aren’t you?”
Lily turned on Snape with a furrowed brow. “Severus—“
Harry could have told her not to bother. He had long since moved past anger at Snape always assuming he was a total moron. Mostly it was annoying and sometimes it was useful—Snape had never expected Harry to do half of the stuff he got away with in the future because he didn’t think Harry was smart enough to pull it off.
Besides. After dealing with the adult version’s barbs for so long, the younger Snape’s insults were nothing.
“I’ve got homework just like you do, Snape,” he said.
Lily looked between them, chewing on her bottom lip. Harry did that when he was thinking, too. Could something like that even be genetic or was it some kind of coincidence?
“Would you like to join us, Potter?” she asked. Snape whipped around to stare at her and even Harry felt like he was trying to figure out what the hell Lily was thinking. Surely she could see that Snape hated his guts. Lily smiled at them both. “We’re working on our Defense homework. Professor Vern seemed impressed with you in class, maybe you could give us a few pointers.”
Harry had been relieved that Vern had only asked him one question in class and it had been a relatively easy one about Shield Charms. A stern, intimidating figure, Vern reminded Harry of Professor McGonagall or even Snape himself—he’d had no interest in getting on her bad side.
“What makes you say that?” he asked. He hadn’t thought Vern even remembered him past his answer, let alone was impressed by him.
“She’s got high standards. Intimidatingly high. If you don’t meet them, she usually lets you know that in no uncertain terms. But she only nodded when you answered in class and she didn’t even have any notes about your practical demo afterward.” Lily leaned forward conspiratorially. “She always has notes, you know? Once she told me that my wand angle was off by a centimeter.” She leaned back, considering Harry. “But with you she didn’t say a word! Didn’t you notice?”
Snape snorted. “Potter barely notices that his head is attached to his body. Anything else is much too advanced.”
Lily looked like she wanted to defend Harry, but he hardly needed defending from Snape’s barbs. Harry had learned a long time ago that with Snape it really was true that the only way to fight fire was with fire.
“You know, it’s funny, but I did notice she had some notes for you, Snape,” he said in his sweetest voice. “Lack of follow-through and a weak form, wasn’t it?”
To be honest, the only reason he’d noticed that was because Snape had been doing his demo a few feet away and Harry had thought it strange that anyone would accuse him of a weak follow-through. His only real knowledge of Snape’s defense skills was the Dueling Club in his second year and even Harry had to admit that he’d been pretty good.
Snape’s face flushed. “Surely such a genius as yourself surely has no need to study with us lowly peons, then.”
“Oh, hush, Severus.” Harry blinked at Lily and looked at Snape, half expecting him to lash out. But Snape only scowled down at the table, flush deepening. “Potter, sit down. I want to pick your brain about Shield Charms.”
Harry sat, mostly because he could tell Snape really didn’t want him to. It was difficult to look directly at Lily, so he looked at the spread of books on the table instead. He pulled their Defense textbook closer. It was open to the chapter they were studying that week on shielding, with several key points underlined in—
“Is that pen?” Harry asked.
In his surprise, he actually looked at Lily and managed to catch her self-conscious grimace. She reached under the piles of paper and books and pulled out a biro. Harry stared at it. He’d never seen any witch or wizard use muggle writing tools at Hogwarts, not even Hermione.
“It took me ages to get used to quills,” Lily said. She didn’t sound too defensive, but there was a strange undertone to her voice, as if she was waiting for an attack. “And they get ink everywhere when I try to annotate. I’d use a highlighter but then I think everyone in Hogwarts might drop dead of shock.”
Harry smiled a little. “We wouldn’t want that,” he said. “I wonder why no one’s invented a magical highlighter. Seems like it’d be dead useful.”
Lily stared at him. “Oh!” she said, in a very different tone of voice. “That would be useful, wouldn’t it? You could charm it to change color on-demand or to never run out of ink…”
“Now you’ve done it.” When Harry looked over, Snape’s eyes were fixed on Lily. Harry blinked. He’d never seen Snape looking anything approaching fond, but there was no mistaking the softness in his eyes. “She’ll drive herself crazy trying to figure out the charms to get that to work.”
Lily was muttering to herself and she’d pulled the nearest piece of paper closer, scribbling something down with her pen. Harry had gotten used to writing with quills for the most part, but he had to admit he did miss pens.
“Um,” he said when it didn’t look like Lily was going to resurface any time soon. “Should I go?”
“Yes,” Snape said.
Lily’s head snapped up. “No! Wait, hold on, sorry, it’s just when you said that it was like I could see exactly what I wanted to make and I didn’t want to lose it before it went away—“ She scribbled one last thing and then set the paper aside. “Sorry. I really did mean to ask you about Shield Charms.”
“Okay,” Harry said. “I don’t know what I can explain that Professor Vern didn’t, though.”
“It’s those problem sets Professor Vern assigned,” Lily said. She reached and pulled out the sheaf of parchment every student in class had gotten that morning. “Some of them were pretty simple, but number nine’s been giving me a hard time. Even Severus doesn’t know and he’s usually better at Defense than I am.”
“My weak form notwithstanding.”
Harry looked at Snape from the corner of his eye, a little curious. That had sounded more like a self-deprecating joke than anything else, but Harry didn’t think Snape even knew how to make jokes, no matter how bitter. Especially not about his own short-comings.
“You and a partner are caught in a magical duel,” Lily read off from the parchment. Oh, Harry remembered this one. He frowned. He’d thought it had been pretty easy, though. ”Your partner gets separated from you and ends up several meters away, losing their wand in the process. They are relying on you for protection. You attempt to use Protego but find that it fails. Why does it fail and what is the best Shield Charm to use in this situation?”
Lily sighed and set the parchment down. “I have no idea why Protego would fail or why another spell would be better. Any suggestions?”
Harry looked at her, but she seemed serious. How could she not know?
“Uh,” he said. “There’s a range limit on Protego.”
Both Lily and Snape looked at him. Harry rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable with their scrutiny and looked down at the book instead.
“It’s a short-distance shield charm,” he told the book. “That’s what makes it such an effective personal shield. But if the partner is several meters away, Protego would be much weaker – it’d probably fall apart after one spell. For longer distances, it needs to be Proculcingo. That spell’s made to be cast on objects that are far away. It’s not as strong as Protego, but it will hold up much longer until you can get closer to your partner.”
He finally looked up to make sure they were following. They were still staring at him. He flushed.
“What?” he asked. “You asked for my help.”
Lily shook her head. “Sorry. It’s just—Well—“ She smiled. “You explained it so clearly, that’s all! And how do you know about the radius limit for Protego? I’m sure we didn’t cover it in class.”
Harry was lucky that he knew about that, really. They’d spent a whole month on Shield Charms, at Hermione’s insistence, and practiced extensively with Protego and Proculcingo. until every DA member had been able to cast them in their sleep. They’d also done a lot of fun tests on the ranges for both spells.
“Oh, I just read it somewhere,” he said. “Does the problem make sense now?”
Lily was already scribbling down the answer but Snape was watching Harry. Harry lifted his chin and met Snape’s eyes directly.
“You’re remarkably well-studied for a home-schooled student,” Snape observed. Harry did not trust that soft, silky voice one bit. “Especially considering your mother was Muggleborn.”
Before Harry could say anything, Lily’s head shot up. “And what is that supposed to mean, Severus Snape?” she demanded. “Why would a Muggleborn be lacking as a teacher in any way?”
Harry watched, astonished, as Snape wavered under Lily’s hard stare. He’d never seen anyone get to Snape like that before, not even Dumbledore.
“You’re right, of course,” Snape said, inclining his head. “My apologies, Potter.”
“It’s fine,” Harry said, nonplussed.
Lily was relaxed and sunny again, any trace of anger completely gone from her face. She turned back to Harry.
“Maybe we could have a study group together, Potter! I’m pretty good with Charms and Severus is great with Potions… With you, we’d be set for our Defense grades. What do you think? Is there anything you need help studying?”
Harry sighed. “I’m fine at Charms,” he said. “Potions, on the other hand—“
Snape scoffed. “Yes, that’s a fair assessment.”
Harry glared at him then watched, annoyance fading into bemusement, as Lily turned to Snape and they proceeded to have a silent conversation with just their expressions. Harry had been able to do something similar with Hermione and Ron; he’d always been able to tell that Hermione was particularly annoyed by the way her eyebrows scrunched or whether Ron was joking or serious by the tilt of his mouth. It was weird seeing it in action from the outside, though.
“Fine,” Snape bit out at Lily, apropos of nothing. “Have it your way. Potter, we would be pleased if you deigned to share your so-called expertise with us. In exchange, I will do my best to make you less abysmal at Potions.”
Even a few days ago, Harry might have said no—Snape was too clever and Harry was shit at pretending. Being around him more than he already was was asking for a disaster. But Harry had made a promise to Mrs. Snape and… Harry glanced at Lily from the corner of his eye. Would he have a better excuse to get to know his mother than this?
“All right,” he said.
Lily punched the air, grinning. “Excellent! We meet every Friday afternoon around four o’clock. Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the Defense problem sets, shall we? Number thirteen was also a little tricky—“
Harry walked them through the rest of the Defense homework without any further trouble or any real quibbling from Snape. Harry didn’t relax, though. Even though Snape’s face was blank and unaffected during the rest of the hour they spent studying, Harry knew there was a storm brewing there.
Lily left first, enthusiastically thanking Harry for his help and making him promise to show up again next Friday. She was so bright, Harry thought as he watched her leave. No one had told her that she was so smart or that she stubbornly kept using Muggle writing utensils or that she was good at Charms. Why hadn’t they? Harry would have killed to know those little details. Even now, he was hoarding everything he was learning. When he got back to his own time, he would carry all of that knowledge with him.
Harry shook his head and bent to collect his book bag from the ground. As he straightened, he met the end of Snape’s wand. Harry froze.
“You will not tell anyone in Slytherin that I study with Lily Evans or I will make your life not worth living,” Snape hissed through gritted teeth. “Do you understand, Potter, or do I need to use smaller words?”
Harry didn’t understand, but it wasn’t because Snape was being unclear.
“I won’t tell anyone,” he said. Snape’s wand didn’t lower. “C’mon, Snape. You know you’re the only Slytherin who even talks to me.”
“Lucius Malfoy talks to you.”
Harry made a face. “I’d rather he didn’t. And the last thing I would ever do is say anything to him.”
Snape eyed him. “You’d get on his good side.”
“I don’t want to be on his good side. Listen, I know we hate each other, but I’d never tell Malfoy anything.”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. Harry stared back, letting his honesty show on his face. He really would never tell Malfoy anything about Snape. Snape may be a bastard, but at least he was a bastard Harry knew. Malfoy, unknown and dangerous, was another beast altogether.
“Very well. I believe you.” Harry relaxed a little but Snape still hadn’t lowered his wand. “But that means you cannot tell your precious cousin either.”
Harry threw up hands. “Merlin! I know. Didn’t we make that stupid blood pact or whatever?” Snape’s face twitched. “I’m not going to go around spreading rumors. I hate that kind of thing, okay? So can you put that down, please? Price will have a fit if she thinks we’re dueling in the library.”
Snape’s brow furrowed but he finally lowered his wand. Harry didn’t know what he thought he was going to do—they would been able to figure out he’d attacked Harry pretty quickly and then he’d be in a world of trouble. But Snape must have thought it was necessary to threaten Harry into silence for some reason.
“Why does it even matter if anyone knows you study with Lily?” he asked, unable to rein in his curiosity. “You’re friends, right?”
Snape’s look said Harry was possibly the stupidest person alive. Harry scowled back at him.
“Don’t be naïve, Potter. My standing in Slytherin is shaky enough with my own dubious blood—if anyone finds out I willingly associate with a Muggleborn, especially one as outspokenly Light as Lily, I can say goodbye to any standing I once had.”
“You’d hide being friends with her to keep your standing?”
Harry knew his own disgust was clear, but he couldn’t hide it. He wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that Snape was putting his reputation ahead of his friend, but it was still disappointing, for some reason.
“Never mind. You clearly are too simple to understand—“
“I’m trying to understand, Snape! You and Lily, you’re obviously close. You’d really hide her like some dirty secret just so you can save face in front of the Slytherins?”
Snape’s mouth tightened into a furious white line. When he spoke again, it was in the deadly whisper that he always used when he really, truly furious in Harry’s time.
“This is not about saving face, Potter. This is about survival.”
Snape breathed in and out once, slowly and deliberately. His voice was less whispery when he spoke again, but there was a deadly evenness to it.
“I am a half-blood, Potter. Not only that, but my mother had the nerve to run off with a Muggle and give me his Muggle name. To many Slytherins, I am little better than a mudblood myself.” Snape said the slur indifferently, but Harry couldn’t stop himself from flinching. “Do you suppose my time among the upper echelon of pureblood society has been pleasant? My very existence is an offense. My first year, I endured more than one "prank" that could have killed me and none of our housemates would have mourned if they had. The only reason I am still standing here, relatively unscathed, is the reputation I have built for myself, brick by brick. I give them no further reason to despise me. My standing is not just some silly social game. It is a shield.”
Snape took a deep breath. Harry had only been able to stand and listen, mouth agape, as he’d spoken. His stomach roiled with horror.
“That can’t be true,” he said. He knew Slytherins weren’t necessarily as close to each other as Gryffindors, but—
Snape’s flat, unimpressed stare was unnerving.
“Give it time, Potter. Right now, they’re trying to figure you out, see where the pieces lay. Once they do, they’ll come after you the same way they came after me. Then you can decide if I’m telling the truth or not.”
“But—I mean, not everyone—“
“There are some Slytherins who care less,” Snape acknowledged. “But they will not interfere with those who care more for precisely the same reason I would not—they have no interest in risking their own standing for someone like me or someone like you.”
He shouldered his bag. For a long moment, he held Harry’s gaze. His eyes were so dark Harry could see his own tiny, mutated reflection in them.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to help us, Potter. We have no allies, no one to step in when the tides turn against us. The sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.”
He turned and marched away. Harry could only watch, heart hammering in his throat.
“Did you get the letter?”
Harry paused. He’d been on his way to dinner, later than usual after several hours trying to order his mind enough to get started on his Runes homework. He'd spent more of it staring at his books without reading anything, mind still on Snape's words, but he'd gotten some things done eventually.
In any case, it had been a much quieter walk down than usual and when he turned to look at James, the hall was empty except for them and—
Harry swallowed hard.
He’d heard so many stories about the Marauders that seeing them all lined up in front of him was almost surreal. Like he was suddenly standing in a photograph that he’d seen dozens of times. There was the grinning and confident James Potter, there was rebellious Sirius Black, looking so much younger and less haunted, there was the studious, wry Remus Lupin with his unscarred face and there was—
Harry breathed hard through his nose. You are Harrison Potter, he reminded himself forcefully, struggling to keep the fury from showing on his face. Harrison Potter has no reason to hate Peter Pettigrew.
“Yeah,” he said when he felt like he could speak without screaming. His voice still sounded off, a little choked, but he didn’t think James noticed. “I got it. Your parents really want to meet me?”
James grinned. “Of course! I told them you’re an all right sort, even if you are a Slytherin. And my mother’s been dying for someone else to spoil. Not to mention with you around, there’ll be someone to weather all of my dad’s talk about joining the family business.” James snorted. “As if I even care about potions. No, with you around, that’s more attention off of me and I’m all for it. And so are they, by the way. They’d love for you to be part of the family.”
He was surprised that James seemed so easy-going about it. After the way he'd talked to Sirius about it, Harry had gotten the impression that meeting his parents was the last thing James wanted Harry to do. Still, his anger at Pettigrew got swept under the sudden swell of incredulous happiness. No one had ever really wanted Harry to join their family except, maybe, the Weasleys, and Harry had never been able to shake the feeling that he was infringing, especially after what had happened to Mr. Weasley. He ran a hand through his hair, stomach turning over and chest tightening.
“Oh,” he finally said. “Uh. Well.” He sounded like a crazy person. Just say something normal, he told himself as James began to frown at him, brown crinkled. “I’ll write them back today. I’d—I’d love to meet them.”
Harry barely knew how to label the combination of fear and longing welling up in him. Years with only the Dursleys for family and now he had his parents, even if they didn’t know who he really was, and his grandparents on top of it? It was an excess of riches. Harry almost didn’t want to think about it too closely in case he messed something up and it was all taken away from him. If he got back to his own time—When he got back to his own time, he would be happy to see his friends, but he couldn’t lie and say he wouldn’t miss getting this.
Harry wondered if his Evans grandparents were still alive; he’d never known them and he’d gotten the impression they’d died before he’d even been born. Petunia would be alive, obviously. A much younger Petunia. Merlin, she'd only be a few years older than him now.
“Brilliant!’ Harry forced himself to focus on James’s excited grin. “You’ll love them.”
“Prongs,” Sirius broke in. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m not Sirius, you are.”
Harry grinned a little. How many times had he heard Lupin make the same joke? Sirius, on the other hand, rolled his eyes and groaned.
“That stopped being funny our first year,” he said. “And you know what I mean! Your family's actually doing a meet-and-greet? He's basically a stranger! Not to mention a Slytherin!"
Sirius turned a dark look on Harry. Harry shrunk away from it, shoulders hunching. Merlin, it hurt to have Sirius look at him like that. It was no easier after experiencing it a few times already.
“Well, I can overlook that,” James said, a grin softening the barb a little. “C’mon, Padfoot. We've talked about this." They exchanged glances and some of Sirius' anger seemed to slide away. "He’s family. You know better than anyone what that means.”
Harry frowned. He figured that James meant Sirius' own bad relationship with his family, but there was something odd in the way he'd emphasized the words.
“He says he’s family. He could be an imposter!"
“You have two eyes just like the rest of us, Sirius,” Remus cut in. “If he’s not a Potter, I’m a Malfoy.”
“Urgh. Don’t even joke about something like that.” Sirius grimaced. He looked Harry up and down with a critical eye until Harry began to squirm under the scrutiny. “The hair could be fake,” he said, but even Harry could tell it was half-hearted.
“You think I want my hair to look like this?” Harry asked incredulously.
Someone snickered. Harry tensed when he realized it was Pettigrew, grinning up at Sirius with a teasing light in his pale eyes. Harry clenched his teeth. If he attacked a person they thought was their friend, he’d never speak to his father again, he reminded himself. He had to keep it together and, more importantly, not show how much Pettigrew’s sheer presence made him seethe.
“He’s got a point, Padfoot. Who’d choose to have a birds nest on their head instead of hair?”
“Excuse you!” James piped up indignantly. “Some people find that kind of thing sexy, Wormtail!”
James reached out and grabbed Pettigrew by the shoulders, getting him a headlock. Pettigrew was laughing, though, a surprisingly deep cackle. He almost wanted to smile in response, even knowing who the sound was coming from.
“Someone can’t handle the truth!”
“You’re just jealous, Wormtail! Say it! Say ‘James Potter’s hair is dead sexy.’’
“My mother taught me not to lie, Prongsy—Ow!”
James’s grin was vindictive as gave Peter a vicious noogie. “Say it and I’ll stop, Wormtail.”
“Anything anyone says under torture can’t be trusted anyway—“
“Ow! Oh all right, you big baby! James Potter’s hair is dead sexy! Are you happy now?”
James released him. Pettigrew gingerly patted his head, wincing, as James tapped him gently on the cheek with the palm of his hand.
“Oh, Petey,” he crooned. “I’m sorry to say this, but it’d never work out between us, darling. I’m way out of your league—Hey!”
Pettigrew ignored James’s indignant squawk as he stepped on his foot and turned to Harry instead. Harry didn’t know what his face was doing, but Pettigrew’s nose wrinkled a little.
“You all right there?” he asked.
Harry was not all right. He’d known for two years exactly who Peter Pettigrew was—a lying, traitorous scumbag who had sold out his parents for power. Lupin and Sirius had told him Pettigrew had once been their friend, of course, but Harry had never properly imagined what that had entailed. Whenever he had thought about Pettigrew in the Marauders’ school days, he’d somehow always imagined him being the skulking, creeping coward he was in Harry’s time. Nothing like this confident boy who wrestled and laughed and ribbed his friends.
“I’m fine,” he said. It was difficult to look into Pettigrew’s eyes as he spoke, so he kept his gaze over his shoulder, where James was getting dramatically comforted by a visibly amused Sirius. “Just, uh. Tired. Homework, you know.”
“Oh, sure,” Pettigrew said. He even sounded sympathetic. What the hell. “Well, this is a stupid argument anyway. He’s definitely a Potter. Didn’t you hear about what he said to Nott his first day?”
“What?” Sirius perked up, scowling at Harry again. “You’re friends with that asshole?”
Harry grimaced. “Absolutely not.”
“He told Nott to his face that he was—you know.”
“A bastard,” Harry corrected.
All four of them winced as one. Harry blinked. He still hadn’t quite come to terms with how taboo his supposed birth heritage was.
“That,” Pettigrew said. “You really think anyone other than a Potter would be that stupidly honest?”
Harry exchanged a look with James, who looked just as surprised that they’d begun speaking together. James began laughing and Harry managed to eke out a smile.
“All right, fine,” Sirius said, but there was a hint of a smile on his face too. It was a relief to see it. “There are some similarities.”
James threw his arm around Harry’s shoulder. “There, you see! The Padfoot Seal of Approval. You’ll be one of us in no time.”
"Five is a good number," Remus chimed in. He was smiling, too. "But I don't think I want to be outnumbered by Potters."
"What's that supposed to mean, Moony! We're a charming bunch, we are! Isn't that right, Harry?"
"If you say so," Harry said, smiling.
It was a relief to not be faced with outright disdain from them. Harry relaxed a little, hope beginning to unfurl in his chest. If they decided he was trustworthy, he might actually get to know his father, might never have to face black looks and hatred from the only adult he'd ever loved in the future.
"Betrayed by my own flesh and blood!"
"You know this is on probation," Sirius cut in. "The other Gryffindors are going to think we're crazy if we keep a Slytherin around." He tilted his head toward Harry. He wasn't as hateful as he'd been before, but there was a definite coolness in his face still. Harry comforted himself with the thought that at least he'd gained some ground. "No offense, I guess."
“Not sure my housemates would like it that much either,” Harry admitted, thinking of Nott’s unsubtle attention and Malfoy’s hidden glances. Not to mention… “Snape especially.”
The effect was instantaneous and unmistakable; all four of their faces darkened, especially Sirius’. James’ arm dropped from Harry’s shoulder. Harry's heart sank. He had been trying to not think about the nasty scene he'd witnessed or what he'd heard about them from Snape's mother. He wanted to get to know his father while he could. But looking into their cold faces, it was impossible to forget about it. Harry swallowed around a lump in his throat.
“Well.” James sounded mostly casual, but there was an edge underneath that bright cheeriness that made Harry tense. “Don’t know why anyone would care about greasy old Snivellus’ opinion.”
“He’s my roommate,” Harry said uneasily. Merlin, they really were different when it came to Snape, weren’t they? It was night and day. “Can’t really avoid him.”
“You should try.” James was smiling, but it wasn’t the lighthearted look he’d been wearing before. “Snape’s a leech. He’s the last person our kind should be spending time with.”
Harry saw Remus and Pettigrew exchange an indecipherable look behind James' back. Sirius crossed his arms over his chest, chin raised up and mouth tight.
“Our kind?” Harry asked, looking between them all with growing unease and confusion. “You mean... the Potters?” He had no idea what else James could mean. Snape was a wizard just like everyone else, wasn't he?
James straightened, puffing his chest out. Harry's stomach sank even before he started talking.
“We’re one of the Thirteen Families,” James said with grave importance. “I can trace my bloodline back to Merlin himself and so can you. But Snape? He’s a Prince.” For a moment, all Harry could hear was the way Draco Malfoy had used to sneer out Weasley. He bit the inside of his cheek. “No titles, no money, not even a single family member in the Ministry, let alone with a Wizengamont seat. They’re barely fit to be in the same room as us, let alone going to the same school." James shook his head. "Hogwarts is supposed to be reserved for the best of the best, not just anyone with a wand and a bit of magic. And yet, here old Snivellus is, embarrassing himself in those old hand-me-downs, dripping with grease, no proper manners at all, barely better than a street urchin. Not to mention that smell. Can’t believe you’ve survived rooming with him as long as you have.”
Harry waited for the punchline. For the smile that turned everything into a joke. He wanted James to say something about being ironic. But it never came. James looked directly into Harry's eyes, totally calm, not a trace of a laugh or even a smile around his eyes.
James meant it, every word. Harry's stomach clenched. The whole speech had been surreal from start to finish. Harry expected that kind of ridiculous prejudice from the Dursleys or from Draco Malfoy and his Slytherin cronies. But hearing it come from his own father with such conviction unmoored him. Harry knew that James didn't care about bloody purity, marrying Lily and joining the Order as he did. Harry had thought, for some reason, that meant—He didn’t know now. That James wasn’t prejudiced at all? That he was more open-minded and accepting? Even after that awful memory of Snape’s, Harry had thought James’ attitude had to have come from somewhere legitimate. Harry’s father couldn’t be like one of the bigots who called Hermione a mudblood or ragged on Ron for being poor. He couldn’t be.
And yet, there he was, saying things that would have made Draco Malfoy proud. Things that could have come, word for word, from Uncle Vernon's mouth.
Harry was going to be sick.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He forced himself to swallow the bile rising in his throat and hoped he didn’t’ sound too odd. Remus frowned at him, but James nodded, content to accept that as Harry’s full agreement.
“Excellent. You may be—well. That. But you’ve got Potter blood and that means something. Besides, you’ll have a better time with us, anyway. We're way more fun than old Snivellus and I’ve got loads of stories. Hey do you want to hear about the time Sirius set his own robes on fire?”
“What? I need someone to tell who hasn’t heard it before—“
They all seemed to relax as James and Sirius got into a bickering match. Harry looked between their smiling faces and swallowed down the bile in his throat.
“Actually.” Harry carefully took a step back. He needed to be anywhere that wasn’t there right now. “I, uh. Have some more homework I’d better finish up.”
James’ nose wrinkled. “Oh. You’re one of those kinds of people, huh? You and Remus will get on famously. He’s always trying to make us study more.”
Harry shrugged. “Don’t want to fall behind.” He was grateful it came out sounding mostly normal. He was getting better and better at lying. “I’ll see you.”
“Next Saturday!” James said. “You’re coming, right?”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I’ll come.”
He turned and hurried away before James could say anything else. He’d skip dinner. He had never felt less hungry in his life.
Harry sprawled out on his bed, staring at the green canopy. On his chest was the cat, still unnamed, purring away and kneading her little black paws into Harry’s chest. He stroked her soft ears and focused on his breathing.
If someone had told him before all of this that there was a way to visit the past, to actually meet his parents, he would have done it in a heartbeat. For most of his life, all he’d wanted was to know them, really know them, to have more than just whispers and stories and the shadow of them every time he looked in the mirror. Now, actually experiencing it, he wasn’t sure that it was actually a good thing. Meeting them had been nothing like he'd expected.
He had never considered that he might not get along with his parents. He knew other kids didn’t—Ron always seemed to be arguing with his mother and Dean always complained about his father—but he hadn’t been able to imagine that whenever he thought about what it might be like if his parents had never died. He'd always thought they'd get along perfectly; that they'd be able to understand Harry where every other adult in his life hadn't been able to. It had never once occurred to him that he might disagree with them about something or that he might not even like them.
But now... Harry shifted, ignoring the cat's upset meow. His father's words echoed in his head and made his stomach squirm with discomfort. The whole scene a few days ago with Snape. Merlin, even Snape's old memory, which hadn't even happened in this time yet. All of it was adding up to a picture that Harry found uncomfortable and even a little horrifying. How was he supposed to feel about having a father who would say those things and do those things?
Harry didn't want to dislike his father, not after spending his whole life longing to know him. But maybe that came with the knowing, he considered. They weren’t just shadows in a mirror anymore. Of course they made mistakes. Of course they weren’t perfect.
Harry should have known that. He knew he should have. He’d seen that memory in Snape’s Pensieve, he knew that his father had made mistakes. Bad ones, even. But, for some reason, it just hadn't really sunk in until now what that meant.
He turned over on his other side. The cat clambered up his shoulder and curled up along his neck, rasping her tongue briefly over his cheek. Harry closed his eyes.
He didn’t sleep for a long time.