The Liminal Veil is something of an oddity. Created in 1592 by Charles Percival Wentworth Yates III, its true powers remain a mystery. Yates intended for it to be a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead, desperate to avenge his murdered wife. Yates spent years constructing the Veil, to the point of obsessiveness as he became elderly, but the Veil was never stable enough to work properly. Current academic research suggests that this instability originally stemmed from a lack of access to necromantic texts and improperly applied wards—Yates, a hedgewitch with little formal education, never had the proper tools to construct the Veil safely. Indeed, with these flaws, the Veil could never function as a doorway between our world and the world of the dead. Instead, Yates created a dangerous cursed object; one that eventually took Yates life after its completion in 1603. Reports say that he was drawn to the Veil in an almost hypnotic fashion. Only days after he finished its construction, he disappeared through it and was never seen again. His students and family assumed that he had joined his wife in the afterlife.
The Veil stood for many years on the abandoned Yates estate, too dangerous to move safely. For years, there were reports of people hearing the voices in the Veil and walking through its doorway; none were ever seen again. There were talks of trying to destroy the Veil but ultimately it proved impossible; the instability of its creation would have decimated any wizard who attempted to destroy it and nonmagical means left no mark. For nearly one hundred years, it stood abandoned and unnoticed except by the most curious of academics. It wasn’t until the creation of the Department of Mysteries and the passing of the Unattended Necromatic Objectics bill in 1700 that the Veil was brought back to public attention. Under the observation of trained Unspeakables, the Veil was transported to the Ministry and it has remained in the care and study of the Department of Mysteries ever since.
Despite the extensive study done by Unspeakables—study that cost at least five researchers their lives—the Veil has yielded few of its secrets. While it is clear that it is a doorway to somewhere, it is impossible to say where. Many theories have been put forward: some argue that it functions as Yates intended and sends its victims to the land of the dead while others make a case for time travel or, put forward by one particularly reckless academic, dimensional travel. However, none of the Veil’s victims have ever returned once the Veil has captured them in its thrall and without testimony, all theories cannot be proved or disproved—and indeed, may never be proved conclusively at all…
A Brief History of Mysterious Objects (1981) by Rigellus Rutherford
“SIRIUS!” Harry yelled. “SIRIUS!”
He had reached the floor, his breath coming in searing gasps. Sirius must be just behind the curtain, he, Harry, would pull him back out…
But as he reached the ground and sprinted towards the dais, Lupin grabbed Harry around the chest, holding him back.
“There’s nothing you can do, Harry—”
“Get him, save him, he’s only just gone through!”
“—it’s too late, Harry.”
“We can still reach him—” Harry struggled hard and viciously, but Lupin would not let go…” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Harry broke free of Lupin’s grip. He felt hands scrabble at his elbows, try to catch him around the waist, but he ignored them. All he could see was the Veil. He had to go through it, he had to go after Sirius, he had to save Sirius—He ran, panting. The Veil whispered to him. He couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it didn’t matter. If Sirius had gone through that doorway, so would Harry. Nothing would stop him.
“Harry! Harry, no—!”
Harry passed through the shadowy curtain of the Veil just as Remus howled out his name. His last thought before darkness overtook him was Remus sounded as if someone had just ripped out his own heart.
It was dark.
He was alone and cold. He knew he was going somewhere but he couldn’t remember where or why it was so important. He couldn’t remember his name. He was sure he had one but it eluded him. Why was he here, in the dark and the cold? He needed to go somewhere. Somewhere important. No, not somewhere. He was looking for someone. But who? He closed his eyes and tried to force his mind to focus. Who? Who?
He couldn’t remember. Desperation rose and he opened his mouth. He would yell. He would scream—
Harry Potter opened his eyes.
It took him a long moment of staring up at the star-studded sky to remember who he was. Even longer to remember why he shouldn’t be looking at any sky right now. He surged up, but his body protested so fiercely that he heaved into the grass, gasping for breath. His vision spun but he forced himself to stay awake, stay aware. He didn’t want to pass out, not when he had no idea where he was. He’d had plenty of practice forcing his body to do what he wanted despite being dizzy or sick when he lived with the Dursleys—Aunt Petunia had never cared that he was about to faint with hunger when she demanded her rose garden be pruned.
Harry took several careful, deep breaths. The world stopped spinning and he felt less like vomiting. When he felt less like he was going to pass out he risked a look around.
He was in a clearing, a bare spot in the middle of knobbly, tall trees. A forest. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he might even be in the Forbidden Forest. He’d never seen trees like that anywhere else. But how had he gotten there? And… He looked up and breathed out, frowning as his breath fogged. It was much colder than it should be, even for a Scottish May. He didn’t know what had happened when he’d gone through the Veil but something was wrong. He needed to figure out what was going on and fast.
Standing took more effort than he’d expected, but he managed to pull himself upright without vomiting again so he counted it as a success. Looking down, he realized he was still in the clothes he’d worn in the Department of Mysteries, and he still had his wand tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Harry relaxed a little. He didn’t know where he was, but at least he wasn’t completely helpless. He drew out his wand and took comfort in its familiar warm weight.
“Point Me Hogwarts,” he muttered.
His voice was hoarse and ragged, but his wand spun as it should, pointing North. Harry stuck it back in his waistband and began his journey. Walking was almost too difficult—he staggered into trees, using them as props to hold him up when his knees felt too weak. He had to sit down several times to catch his breath. He still wasn’t sure what was wrong with him, but he felt like he’d be run over by a herd of threstals.
It was bitterly cold. Harry was grateful for the thin sweatshirt he was wearing, but soon even that wasn’t enough to keep the persistent chill at bay. He began to shiver, teeth chattering. By the time he reached the edge of the forest, the chill seemed to be set in his bones. He couldn’t feel his hands, though he rubbed them constantly as he walked.
Despite the strange weakness of his body and the worrying cold, he relaxed when he saw Hogwarts. Since he’d first arrived there as a child, despite all the dangers that plagued him during his school years, he’d always felt that nothing could truly harm him as long as he was at Hogwarts. It wasn’t like Privet Drive, where he always felt hunted and defensive, where the wrong word or action could earn him a slap around the ears or a week with only scraps for dinner. Hogwarts, even at its most and destructive, was safe. If Harry was there, everything would be okay.
The path down the Quidditch field to the castle was shorter than his trek through the forest had been, but it felt twice as long without the protection of the trees from the wind. By the time he collapsed in the inner entrance, Harry just wanted to sleep for a thousand years.
But he couldn’t. He remembered going through the Veil, the whole mess at the Ministry. Sirius, falling— Harry closed his eyes and breathed, keeping the panic at bay. He’d followed. If he was here, Sirius had to be too. He’d probably gotten here before Harry, found his way to the castle. He would have gone straight to find Dumbledore, wouldn’t he?
Harry found himself oddly reluctant to see Dumbledore. Nothing like the strange anger and violence that had seized him when he’d last looked Dumbledore in the eye, but just a general desire to avoid the man as Dumbledore had been avoiding Harry all year. But if Sirius was there, Harry to go. He had to make sure Sirius was all right.
He dragged himself to his feet. The school was quiet, the lights dimmed. It had to be late. Harry made his way through the corridors without seeing anyone—not a ghost or Peeves or even Filch. It was so quiet that Harry began to feel deeply uneasy. Had something happened? Had Voldemort attacked? His breath caught. Without meaning to, he began to speed up until he was almost running through the halls, ignoring the stitch in his side and the way his legs burned. He could collapse later, he told his body fiercely. First, he had to figure out what was going on.
The statue in front of Dumbledore’s office looked as it always did. Harry paused in front of it, catching his breath.
“Sugar Quills,” he said, which had been the password the last time he’d come up. But the statue didn’t move. “Bertie Bott’s. Lemon Drops. Fizzing Whizzbees. Chocolate Frogs.”
He tried the name of every kind of magical candy he’d ever heard then, in increasing desperation, the muggle ones. But the statue didn’t open. Frustrated, Harry hit the wall next to it hard enough to make his half-frozen hand sting.
“Damn, damn, damn,” he muttered.
Now what was he supposed to do? As far as he knew, this was the only way to get into the Headmaster’s Office. Perhaps he could go up to the Owlry and find an owl to send Dumbledore a message, let him know that Harry was here and let him up? But was Dumbledore even awake? Dismayed, Harry wondered if that was why the statue wouldn’t respond—maybe it locked down when Dumbledore went to sleep?
Harry rubbed his head. His legs were so weak and he was so cold. He needed to sit down. He picked a spot near the statue and slid to the floor, back against the wall. At least it was warmer inside Hogwarts. Pins and needles attacked his legs and hands as his body began to reach a normal temperature again. His eyes grew heavy. He needed to do something, make a plan, go to the Owlry or the Tower and find someone, anyone who could tell him what was going on. But his body wouldn’t move. His eyes were so heavy...
Harry slid to awareness fuzzily, blinking several times. His entire body throbbed and his legs had gone numb. There was someone in a bright orange robe standing in front of him. Harry’s sleepy brain took a minute to realize it was Professor Dumbledore and another to remember why that was so important. Gasping, he struggled to his feet. But his legs were still weak from all the walking last night and from sitting on them for hours and he tripped, nearly falling on his face. Dumbledore caught him around the elbows and hauled him up.
“And just who might you be, young man?” Dumbledore asked, surveying him carefully from over his half-moon glasses, a look that Harry had seen many times before. But there wasn’t any kindness or affection in his expression, only wary suspicion. Harry realized, shocked, that Dumbledore didn’t recognize him.
Had his appearance changed somehow? Why wouldn’t Dumbledore know who he was?
“Professor, it’s me,” he said, grasping Dumbledore’s arm. “Harry? Harry Potter?”
Dumbledore frowned. “Potter, you say?”
Harry opened and closed his mouth, flummoxed. And then he looked at Dumbledore more closely and his stomach dropped. Dumbledore had never looked particularly fragile, but he’d been indisputably elderly. The man in front of Harry still looked older, but there were fewer lines on his face, and his hair was more gray than white. His glasses were different too; still the same shape, but they had a pale silver rim instead of the gold Harry was so used to. Harry’s panic mounted. What on Earth—?
“Professor, you’ve known me my whole life,” he said helplessly. “I’m Harry. Please, you’ve got to tell me what happened. Is Sirius here? Did the others make it back safely?”
Dumbledore stared at him. The suspicion had been wiped from his face, but the lack of expression was almost more unnerving. It gave Dumbledore’s usually gentle face a calculating edge. It reminded Harry that Dumbledore wasn’t just his kindly headmaster, a man he thought of as almost a grandfather, but a powerful wizard and war general. He shivered, unnerved, and took a step back, taking his hands off of Dumbledore’s arms. For a moment, he and Dumbledore regarded each other: Dumbledore thoughtful, Harry disoriented.
“Why don’t we go up to my office,” Dumbledore said at last. “I have a peculiar feeling this may be best discussed in private.”
Dumbledore’s office was different too. Harry sat down in the plush chair across his desk and looked around, feeling more and more lost. Fawkes’ perch was still in its usual place, but the trinkets on Dumbledore’s shelves were completely different. There was as bookcase near the entrance that hadn’t been there the last time Harry had visited and a tea service in one corner that Harry had never seen before.
Dumbledore sat down and steepled his hands under his chin. Harry shifted uncomfortably under his long look.
“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said. “I must admit some confusion. You seem to be very well acquainted with me, but I do believe I have never seen you before in my life.”
Harry’s stomach bottomed out. How could Dumbledore not know him? What was happening?
“Sir,” he said, miserable and confused, “I’m—I don’t know what to tell you. I’m Harry. We met when I was eleven. I’ve been going to school here for five years, please, you have to know who I am. Isn’t Sirius here? Didn’t he tell you?”
“The only Sirius I know of,” Dumbledore said slowly, “is Sirius Black.” Harry’s relief was short-lived. “But as he is currently with his family for the holidays, I’m not sure why he would have told me anything.” Dumbledore adjusted his glasses. “Why don’t you explain to me how you came to be in the castle,” he said. “Perhaps we can figure out the source of the mystery together.”
Harry floundered, uncertain. He’d expected to find a Dumbledore who knew exactly what needed to be done. How was he supposed to explain everything that had led up to the events at the Ministry to a Dumbledore who didn’t seem to have any idea who Harry was?
“I was in the Department of Mysteries,” he said slowly. Dumbledore’s eyebrows shot up and Harry flushed. If this Dumbledore really didn’t know him, this story probably wasn’t going to make a good first impression. “I was there with friends, we were… looking for something important.” Did this Dumbledore know about the Prophecy? “We got caught by Death Eaters and they attacked us. Sirius came after us to help, but he—” Harry closed his eyes, seeing it again as if he was back in that room. “He fell through a—a veil. I’m not sure what it was, but he disappeared through it.” Harry saw it again, that terrible moment of Sirius falling, falling— “And I followed him.”
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. His eyebrows were still raised.
“This veil,” he said after a long moment of consideration, “did it whisper to you?”
Harry blinked. “Yes.” How had he known?
Dumbledore let out a long breath through his teeth. “The Liminal Veil,” he murmured. “Is it really possible…?” Harry frowned as he stared off into the distance. “Mr. Potter,” he said, coming back into focus, “tell me what year it is, please.”
Harry’s frown deepened. Maybe Dumbledore had somehow actually gone batty since the last time Harry had seen him?
“1996, sir. May.”
“I see. And if I were to tell you that it is in fact 1976?”
Harry laughed. “1976?”
“In two days,” Dumbledore allowed. “You see, today’s date is December 29, 1975.”
Harry waited to hear a laugh, a punchline, but all Dumbledore did was stare at him. His heart thumped against his breastbone, oddly fast. 1976? That couldn’t—
“No,” he said. “No, that can’t be—that can’t be right. I followed Sirius! We went—well, I don’t know where we went, but there’s no way this is—”
He fell silent as Dumbledore reached into his desk and pulled out a copy of the Daily Prophet, setting it down in front of Harry. The date at the top matched what he said. Harry stared down at it. The front page was a story about the Ministry deliberations on outlawing certain dark magic. He thought he recognized the woman staring out of the photograph from his trial last summer, but she was much younger. Harry sat back, oddly numb.
“The Liminal Veil is a portal, of sorts,” Dumbledore said, ignoring Harry’s mounting panic. “But it is wildly unstable. The people who go through, we’ve never been able to definitively prove where they went. Some theorized that they had gone into the past… and you seem to be living proof of that theory.”
Harry couldn’t think about that right now. He tucked away his hysteria and panic and focused on the thing that truly mattered.
“But if I’m here, surely Sirius must be too!” Harry said. “Haven’t you seen him?”
Dumbledore looked very somber. “Mr. Potter… I’m afraid to tell you that what little research done on the Liminal Veil has concluded that it may very well send one person to one place… and one person to another. If your Sirius did indeed go on before you, he may have ended up in an entirely different time or…”
Harry found it difficult to breathe. He’d managed to hold on past his confusion and fear because he’d been sure, so sure, that he’d be with Sirius soon and they could figure it out together. He didn’t want to believe what Dumbledore was saying, but he knew that if Sirius had landed in the same place Harry had, he would have come to Hogwarts too, looking for Harry just as Harry had looked for him. That he wouldn’t have rested until he made sure Harry was all right. If he wasn’t here… Harry swallowed.
“I have to find him,” he said. “Please, I have to—” A thought occurred to him and he grabbed it with both hands. “Can I go through the Veil again? It’s still in the Department of Mysteries, isn’t it?”
“That would be most inadvisable, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said. The coolness in his voice was unpleasant and unfamiliar. “You could certainly go through again, but there is even less guarantee that you will find yourself in the same place as your Sirius. And while time-travel has been a theory proposed for the Veil, many believe it leads to the land of the dead.”
Harry stood. He wanted to run out of the room, back to the forest, and pretend that he had just woken up again, that he could still find Sirius if he tried hard enough or walked far enough. But running away wouldn’t do him any good and wouldn’t make this farce he experiencing in any less real or immediate. Harry knew that intimately. Instead, he began to pace. He wished Hermione was here; she’d always been his best sounding board and he needed ideas, fast.
“If I go through,” he said after a long moment making dizzying circles in the carpet, mind furiously working, “can I end up back in my own time?”
“You may,” Dumbledore allowed. “But you also may not. The Veil is unstable, as I said. It could take you many tries to get back to your time—or you may never be able to.”
“What about using something other than the Veil?” Harry asked. “A Time-Turner?”
Dumbledore frowned. “Those are recent inventions, just created by the Department months ago,” he mused. “I suppose in your time they must become used enough to be more well-known? But no, a Time-Turner would not work—for one, the current model only sends one back in time, which I think you’ll agree isn’t much help for your predicament. But even if they were able to send one forward in time as well, they are only capable of hours of time travel, not years.” Dumbledore shook his head. “No, I’m afraid there isn’t any device capable of the kind of time-travel you need.”
Harry slammed his hand into the nearest wall. The trinkets on the nearby shelves shivered but didn’t fall. His hand throbbed.
“So I’m stuck,” he said, not looking at Dumbledore. “That’s what you’re saying. I’m trapped here.”
In 1976, years before any of his friends were even born. Tears prickled at the back of Harry’s eyes and he forced them back down. Crying wouldn’t help him. It had never helped him.
Dumbledore was silent for so long that Harry finally dared a peek. He looked uncommonly somber. Harry had really only seen that kind of gravitas on him once—when they’d learned that Voldemort had returned.
“Yes, my boy,” he said at last. “I’m afraid you are.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Eventually, Dumbledore summoned tea and breakfast for two. Harry ate half-heartedly at first but he began to scarf it down as his stomach remembered how hungry it was. Dumbledore watched in bemusement, drinking a cup of tea.
“Ah, to be young again!” he mused, sounding so like the Dumbledore Harry knew that Harry was overwhelmed with homesickness. He put his fork down. Dumbledore, noticing his sudden mood change, set his cup of tea aside as well.
“Now that our appetites are sated, I suppose it is time to discuss business,” he said. Harry stared at him apprehensively. “Nothing bad, my boy. But if you are indeed stranded here, then there are accommodations that need to be made. You have no identity in this time and no place to go. You said you were a student here? What year?”
“Fifth,” Harry said. “Well, sixth I suppose now. My fifth year just ended.”
He shivered, remembering the horrific dream during OWLs. He’d been so preoccupied with Sirius he hadn’t spared a thought for his friends. Had they made it safely out of the Department of Mysteries? If Harry had led them all in there and then abandoned them to get hurt…
“Hm,” Dumbledore said. “Second term will begin in a week, after the holidays. I would propose you join as a student. However, though you may have finished your fifth year, I would hardly want you to start your sixth mid-term… Perhaps you can join the fifth years? That would give you some time to acclimatize.”
Harry shrugged. He was finding it difficult to care, though normally he might have protested the indignity of having to re-do half a year’s worth of schoolwork as well as his OWLs. His mind was still on his friends. The Order had arrived, hadn’t they? Surely they would keep everyone safe. But Ron and Neville had been injured and Hermione had been in the thick of the duel and Ginny and Luna were both younger—
“Yes, yes, very good,” Dumbledore said, getting Harry’s attention back. “Now, as to your name and background—well, we can hardly tell the school the truth, as you might imagine. You’d be overrun. However, your appearance is too clearly a Potter’s to concoct a flimsy lie…”
Harry perked up a little, drawn out of his dark musings on his friends’ fates. “What?”
Dumbledore smiled at him. “The Potters are certainly recognizable,” he said. “Most pureblood families are. Even if you had not told me, I might have guessed. That hair!” Harry reached up to smooth at his hair self-consciously, but Dumbledore only laughed. “Anyone who looks at you is going to guess what family you’re from and we might have an easier time of it if we allow their suspicions to be correct.”
Harry frowned. "A lie, you mean?"
Dumbledore didn't seem to notice his unease. “Precisely. Reginald Potter was a bit of a cad if I remember correctly—he was involved in several scandals with married women and there were always a few rumors about him floating around. He died several years ago, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that he fathered a son—perhaps with a muggleborn woman?”
Harry couldn't place that name. “Reginald?”
“You don’t know him?” Dumbledore asked. “Well, perhaps… He was Charlus Potter’s brother.” When Harry just blinked, the name basically nothing to him, Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed. “James Potter’s uncle?”
Harry sat up so quickly he knocked the teapot off Dumbledore’s desk.
“I see,” Dumbledore said, but Harry barely heard him.
Why hadn’t he realized when Dumbledore had mentioned another Sirius Black? His parents were here! Young, whole, alive, and—Harry did some quick mental math—in the middle of their fifth year at Hogwarts. Not dating yet, according to Remus and Sirius, but alive. Harry’s heart began to thud against his breastbone in hard, irregular beats. If he stayed, he could meet them. If he stayed… could he save them? Hermione had lectured him on the dangers of time traveling, but how could he just sit by and let his parents get murdered again?
“Sir,” Harry said slowly. “I don’t want to mess everything up. But there are some things… some things I think you need to know.”
Dumbledore regarded him solemnly over his half-moon glasses. “We are diving into undiscovered territory together, Mr. Potter,” he said. “As far as I am aware—and considering the vessel that brought you here, it’s entirely possible that my own awareness is limited—there have been no other cases of long-term time travel. Knowing the future may help prevent undesirable events or may simply make things incredibly worse.”
Harry deflated. “So you don’t think I should do anything? I should just… sit by and let it all happen?”
He didn’t think he could do that, not when it was his parents on the line. Merlin, and Sirius—! He might not have been able to save his own Sirius Black, but this one was still free and happy, and if Harry could prevent him from going to Azkaban this time around…
“What I’m saying, my boy,” Dumbledore said, “is, considering the delicacy of the operation it would be prudent to proceed cautiously. Does anything you wish to prevent happen soon?”
Harry thought it over. Almost everything he wanted to stop—his parent’s death, Sirius’ imprisonment, Pettigrew’s betrayal—happened years from now. He reluctantly shook his head. Dumbledore sighed.
“In that case, my suggestion is to start small. We will introduce you as a lost Potter, reclaimed and ready to be educated at Hogwarts. You will be sorted. The people you know in the future, you may get to know them now, but I would advise against telling them about your true circumstances. Try changing small things in the past events that you know of. If that doesn’t cause any major catastrophes, perhaps we can try something bigger.”
Harry nodded, chewing the inside of his mouth. The problem was that he knew so little about this time period. Sirius had shared some stories, but all of it was vague. The most concrete thing he knew was that his father and the others had already become animagi. What else was there? He thought hard, trying to comb through what he remembered of Sirius’ stories. Finding out Remus was a werewolf, when his mum and dad started dating, a bunch of stories about the pranks they used to play—
Harry froze. The pranks.
1976. Fifth year. They had just taken their OWLs, hadn’t they? Harry shivered. In five months time, James Potter would offer a jeering crowd a free look at Snape’s underwear. Merlin. Seeing it as a memory had been bad enough. Harry didn’t know how he’d be able to endure it in person. But it was the only thing he knew would happen this year, the only possible concrete landmark he had.
Harry startled. Dumbledore surveyed him and smiled.
“Shall we get the most pressing issue out of the way, then? We can get you settled in a dormitory once you’ve been sorted.”
“I’m a Gryffindor,” Harry said, glancing automatically at the Hat in its corner.
“In your time, perhaps,” Dumbledore said. “But no student may stay at Hogwarts unless they’ve been properly sorted and as far as the Hat is aware, you never have been. So just pop it on and we’ll be on our way.”
Harry frowned, but Dumbledore was already reaching for the Hat and offering it to him. Harry picked it up and put it on his head a little gingerly. He half-expected a sword to fall out of it again.
“Ah,” the Hat said. After his failed Occlumency lessons, having the Hat’s voice in his head was even more unnerving. It was almost as if Harry could feel its presence. “How interesting! Time travel is such a wild and unstable form of magic, it’s amazing you landed even moderately close to your own time! And entirely in one piece as well! Rowena posited it could be done, but she thought it would cause too much damage to the body to ever try. Most peculiar. And your parents are here as well, aren’t they? My, my.”
Had the Hat talked this much last time? “Can you get on with it?” he asked out loud.
He thought he heard a muffled sound from Dumbledore’s direction, but the Hat’s brim was pulled too low to check.
The Hat sounded petulant now. “No need to get snippy, Mr. Potter. I so rarely get to talk to someone outside of Sortings, you know! And as dear as Albus is, even his company gets tiring after so many years. Now, let’s see…” Harry shivered at the odd sense of a mental rustling, as if his brain was full of papers being sorted through. “Ah yes. A good mind, no doubt about that. You think well on your feet, Mr. Potter - you’d do quite well in Ravenclaw! And yes, there’s a lovely bit of loyalty here… But not much patience, I’m afraid. As for the bravery—well, well! There’s little wonder you were a Gryffindor, Mr. Potter! But there’s more here… a talent for trickery, a lust to prove yourself, self-preservation in spades… Yes, I do believe I know where to put you, Mr. Potter, and this time there will be no backroom deals to get out of it!”
It took Harry a moment too long to realize what the Hat was about to say—as he was ripping it off his head, it was already shouting, “SLYTHERIN!”
Harry glared at it. “I am not!” he shouted back.
The Hat made a kind of hissing sound. “Yes you are!” it said, though its voice was quite a bit weaker than normal.
“Headmaster!” Harry said, turning to Dumbledore, who was stroking his beard, looking thoughtful. “You can’t seriously—”
“I’m afraid the Hat’s decisions are quite permanent,” Dumbledore said. “We’ve rarely had to sort an older child and never been able to re-sort a child… I must admit, it is fascinating! Did you nearly get into Slytherin during your first sorting?”
Harry scowled. “Yeah,” he muttered. “I asked it for Gryffindor instead.”
“Ah, well that might help explain it,” Dumbledore said. “The Hat does hate to be dissuaded when it feels it’s made a good choice. Ah, well! Perhaps this is fortuitous. It will make your play as a new student more likely if you are staying in an unfamiliar dorm. Now the Slytherins have dorms in—”
“—the dungeons. I know,” Harry said miserably.
Dumbledore’s eyebrows rose. “Your time at school must have been very interesting indeed,” he observed.
Harry snorted. “Professor,” he said with feeling, “you don’t know the half of it.”
Since it was the holidays, the Slytherin dorms were deserted.
“We rarely have students stay during breaks,” Dumbledore explained as he led Harry down into the bowels of Hogwarts. “In fact, this year there are only three! It will be much easier for you to adjust until the rest of the students come back in January, I think."
Harry wondered if Dumbledore was saying that to reassure Harry or himself. As they descended into the dungeons, he couldn't stop himself from gloomily wondering what Ron would think of him being sorted into Slytherin. Nothing good, that was for sure. Harry wondered if this sorting would even count if he returned to his own time. He winced. When he returned to his own time. Whatever Dumbledore thought, it had to be possible, didn't it? He'd ended up here somehow, surely he could go back somehow. Somehow.
Dumbledore stopped in front of a stretch of wall and gave the password—“Aurora Borealis”—before stepping aside to let Harry go first into what would be his new common room. Harry took a deep breath and marched forward.
The Slytherin dorms seemed much the same as the last time Harry had seen them, although admittedly his memory was mostly just an overwhelming amount of silver and green. The deep, plush couches weren’t that different from Gryffindor’s dorm. The lighting was darker and there weren’t any windows, but otherwise, the layout seemed similar. Harry looked around and wondered why he’d thought they were so drastically different from Gryffindor in second year.
“There’s quite a bit of room in the dungeons,” Dumbledore explained. “That’s part of the reason Salazar decided to put his students down here. Third years and above usually room with only one other student from their year and seventh years are allowed private dorms, permitting their grades are good.”
Harry’s eyebrows went up. He hadn’t known that. He wondered if the living situations were different in all the Houses; he’d thought everyone was like Gryffindor, living on top of each other for all seven years. He supposed he wouldn’t have minded not having to room with Seamus, though Dean and Neville were all right.
“In fact, you’re in luck; we have an uneven number of Slytherin fifth years, so there’s space for you in Mr. Snape’s dorm without having to move anyone about.”
Harry stopped walking. Dumbledore continued on without for a moment, then noticed that he was alone and turned back, brow furrowed.
“Snape?” Harry said weakly. “You want me to room with—Snape?”
Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed. “You are familiar with him from your time?” Harry nodded furiously. “Ah. Well, that is rather unfortunate. However, if I try to put you with one of the other boys, it will raise questions when Mr. Snape is currently rooming alone—to the vehement protests of his fellow Slytherins, I might add.”
“Why let Snape room by himself?” Harry asked, frowning.
Dumbledore’s mouth firmed. “His mother requested it.”
Snape’s mother? Harry remembered the dark-haired woman in Snape’s memory, cowering before his shouting father. He wondered why it was so important to her that Snape have his own room, enough that she would come ask the headmaster of Hogwarts to allow it. And he wondered why Dumbledore had allowed it. But Dumbledore’s expression said the subject was closed and Harry had enough experience trying to get answers out of Dumbledore to know better than to try.
Dumbledore shook his head and began to lead Harry up the stairs. “In any case, many of the other fifth years have been vocal in their protest of perceived favoritism and will only grow more so if I try to room you elsewhere. How well do you know Mr. Snape?”
Harry opened his mouth, closed it again. Strangely, he felt like he knew Snape too well and didn’t know him at all. He knew Snape hated him and still saved his life, he knew that Snape inexplicably spied on Voldemort and was a nasty git. He’d seen those memories, that dark-haired child sobbing in a corner, Snape’s skinny legs in the air. And yet Snape was still a stranger to him, an unknown.
“Well enough,” he said. Reluctantly, he added, “I might… slip up. We don’t really get along.”
“Think of it as a test,” Dumbledore said, as if Harry wasn’t shit at tests. “I’m afraid it’s your only option. You’re lucky, in fact - Mr. Snape almost always stays during the holiday breaks, but he elected to go home this year. You’ll have a week to prepare.”
Harry sighed. The hallways of the Slytherin dorms were made of dark stone and lit with low lanterns, their twisting paths almost like a labyrinth. Green and silver doors were unevenly placed, marked with student names near the handle. Dumbledore stopped at a door at the end of the hall marked S. Snape. Harry watched, eyebrows rising, as he waved his wand over the handle and a name was inscribed just below Snape’s: H. Potter. Guess it’s official, he thought a little gloomily as Dumbledore opened the door and led him inside.
The room was plush and dark, furnished in green and silver. One side was clearly lived in. The bed was neatly made, but the desk was an absolute mess - parchment spread across its surface, books stacked in messy heaps and teetering stacks, inkwells and half-inked quills and crumpled papers and strange knick-knacks holding everything down. The other side was completely empty.
“We have a charity fund for orphaned students,” Dumbledore said. “You’ll need clothes and supplies. I’ll send you over to Diagon Alley with one of our students to pick them up later today, hm?”
Harry nodded, still staring at Snape’s side of the room. It was odd that seeing the way Snape lived reminded Harry that he was an actual person - and that right now, he was actually Harry’s age. Hell, depending on his birthday, Harry might be older than him!
This is so weird, Harry thought, feeling a little faint.
“Why don’t I let you get settled in,” Dumbledore said. “Please come back to my office after lunch and we'll get your things for school. The password is 'Cream Puff.'”
He patted Harry once on the shoulder, very gently, before he left. Harry sank into the empty bed - his bed, how weird was that - and took several deep breaths. Panic, which had been kept at bay thanks to Dumbledore’s comforting, almost familiar presence and leadership, threatened to overwhelm him. He was stuck in time, at least seven years before he would even be born, among people he’d known as teachers and adults. With his parents. He’d never been a good liar and now he needed to pretend to not know or care about them? How was he supposed to do that?
He wished, a little desperately, for Hermione and Ron. Neville. Ginny. Even Luna’s zaniness would be helpful right now.
He laid down on the bed and buried his face in the pillow. For a long time, he tried not to think.
Lunch was a quiet affair. There were several teachers at the high table, but none of the other students showed up, so Harry awkwardly grabbed a few rolls and high-tailed it out of the room before anyone could speak to him. The teachers all watched him with raised eyebrows but no one tried to stop him. Harry still wasn’t quite sure what his story was and he didn’t want to mess it up, so he was relieved to make his escape quietly. He nibbled on his bread as he wandered up to the Headmaster’s Office, not really registering the taste.
The gargoyle opened easily this time and Harry climbed the stairs. He hesitated outside the door, then knocked several times, waiting for Dumbledore’s admittance before he came inside.
Dumbledore was alone, sitting at his desk and reaching over a scroll which he set aside as Harry entered.
“Please take a seat, my boy,” he said. Harry sat. “Your guide will arrive in just a moment, but I thought it would be a good idea to talk before you interact with anyone else in this time. I have entered you in our records as Harrison Potter, the son of Reginald Potter and a muggleborn, whose name you may make up if you wish. Unless you have a preference, I plan to say that your mother raised you until recently, teaching you what magic she could at home.”
“Wouldn’t I have gotten a Hogwarts acceptance letter?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” Dumbledore said. “But there is a right of refusal from the legal guardians or parent.”
Harry stared. Thank Merlin Hagrid had implied that there wasn’t, otherwise the Dursleys definitely wouldn’t have let him go!
“You may want to make up some sort of reason for her,” Dumbledore said, “but the effect is that you were homeschooled for the last five years until your mother died. After her death, you became a ward of the state and they have elected to have you finish your education at Hogwarts. Does that sound all right to you?”
“What should I say she died from?” Harry asked.
“The best story is one you will remember,” Dumbledore said. “One that sounds like it could be real. Natural causes may work - perhaps she was ill and that was why she wanted to keep you home.”
Harry nodded slowly. He knew that, he thought. Once upon a time, lying had come to him as easily as breathing: surviving the Dursleys made deceit a necessary tool and Harry had practiced enough to become good at it. But when he’d come to Hogwarts, he hadn’t really needed it anymore. At least, not with his friends. He’d fallen a little out of practice.
Well. Seemed he’d get plenty of practice now.
“Are you ready?” Dumbledore asked.
Harry considered it. An absent cad for a father, a mother who died of an illness. Simple enough and Harry figured he could probably fake grief if his guide tried to ask any deeper questions. He nodded and Dumbledore waved the door open. Harry turned, trying to paste on a smile that didn’t look fake and stopped cold as he stared directly into Remus Lupin’s eyes.
Oh shit, he thought.
i have part of the next chapter written, so i should probably be able to post it sooner rather than later. comments & kudos always appreciated.
Chapter 2: i sometimes wish
harry and remus go shopping. harry makes a new friend and struggles to cope in his new time.
so this is very much a filler chapter - i wanted to get a look at harry in the aftermath of this sudden shock to his system. i wrote pretty much all of it in one punch, so sorry if it's a little messy lmao.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
…have had many debates with Salazar on the subject and, as usual, he remains unreasonably stubborn in his own opinions. He insists that traveling through time is indeed possible. And, of course, he seems to think potions will unlock those secrets: today he cited his doomed ‘de-aging’ potion as the key to successful time travel. Salazar and Godric are potentially the most narrow-focused men I have ever met; give Salazar a problem and he’ll find some way to solve it with potions, and Godric will do the same with charms.
I have pondered Salazar’s point about his ‘de-aging’ potion. It is not an entirely bad one; after all, if one can move backward in age, surely it is possible to move backward in time as well? But the logic is already flawed. For one, you are not really moving backward in ‘time’ at all; your body is changing, but you are staying in exactly the same time you were in before. So can it really be called ‘time travel’?
There are so many debates about time. Some liken it to a straight line, while others compare it to a swiftly-moving, circuitous river. But what is time, really? It cannot be so concrete, for it bends and changes. But it cannot be without strength, for it also has order and rationality. A river is not a bad analogy, I think, but it implies an ease of crossing that I do not think time has. I remember reading the account of a remarkably talented Arabian wizard who spoke at length of a quickly moving sand in the desert—it looked like regular sand until one stood upon it and found themselves sinking, sucked in so swiftly that they would be unable to move or escape within minutes. Any attempt to fight the sand simply led to a quicker capture. It seems to me that time is something like that—something that captures you, entraps you, deceptive and swiftly moving.
So to travel through it? It is not impossible, no, just as escaping from the trap of this sand is likely not impossible; a friend might be able to help pull you out in time or you might be able to save yourself somehow. But I doubt the struggle would come without enormous physical cost; your body would be wrecked by the fight. And so with time magic. One can travel, though how the method may be achieved is still beyond our knowledge. But the body will suffer, for it is not meant to travel so; there will be no way to escape without serious physical or mental damage. After all, what kind of toll can it take to be so suddenly and instantaneously in a time not your own? How can one adjust to such a new and unpredictable environment, surrounded by a world made hideously unfamiliar?
—The Journals of Rowena Ravenclaw, trans. Farrah Sharma (1902)
It had been possible when the only familiar person in this time was Dumbledore to refrain a sense of normalcy. It had even almost been possible to pretend none of this was happening; Dumbledore looked almost exactly the same, after all, so Harry could look at him and imagine he was still in his own time.
That wasn’t the case with Remus Lupin.
The Lupin Harry had known had been grey and exhausted, a man weathered by tragedy and hard living. This Remus—fresh-faced and bright-eyed, scarless, tawny-haired—might as well have been a complete stranger. Harry’s stomach dropped as vertigo hit him hard, and he wavered as he struggled to stay upright on suddenly shaky knees.
“Headmaster!” Remus said. He rushed forward and put a strong hand under Harry’s elbow, steadying him. Harry clung to that touch like a lifeline, using it to keep himself from drifting too far into the dizziness. “Is he all right?” He turned the focus of his bright eyes to Harry. “Are you all right?”
Harry licked his lips and forced himself to speak. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just a mite bit woozy, that’s all.”
Remus frowned at him. “You look ready to collapse.”
Sirius had called Remus a nag and a mother hen more than once. Harry hadn’t realized it applied to strangers as well as his best friends. Still, it warmed and steadied him that Remus cared even a little. It was a reminder that this Remus was not so dreadfully different after all from Harry’s Lupin.
“Here, sit,” Remus said, shepherding Harry to the nearest armchair. “Professor Vern said you wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes, yes,” Dumbledore said. There was some mirth in his face as he watched Remus force Harry into a seat. “Mr. Potter here is a late transfer. I was hoping you would be kind enough to be his escort to Diagon this afternoon to collect his supplies.”
“Me?” Remus asked, looking at Dumbledore with surprise. Then the rest of Dumbledore’s words seemed to catch up to him; he looked back at Harry sharply, combing over his face with new eyes. “Mr. Potter?”
“Harrison Potter,” Harry said, remembering the awkward full name at the last minute. He offered a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Remus Lupin,” Remus said, still staring. “Merlin. He definitely looks like a Potter.” He shook off his surprise with a snort, taking Harry’s hand and giving it a firm shake, a smile beginning to unfurl from the corner of his mouth. “And James claimed he didn’t have any extended family! That little—” Dumbledore coughed delicately and Remus colored, “—liar.”
Harry winced. “Well,” he said. “He didn’t know he was lying. The Potters don’t know about me, I think. I’ve never even met them.”
True enough that Harry was able to say it with a convincing amount of awkward disappointment. Remus’ eyebrows rose. He looked between Harry and Dumbledore.
“And why’s that?” he asked. “I would’ve thought James would be thrilled to have someone near his own age around at family dinners. He always complains about how dreadfully boring the holidays are with just his parents.”
Harry took a deep mental breath, careful not to let his nerves show. Time to dust off those rusty lying skills. He plastered on a look that he hoped was affronted.
“Well,” he said, “Reginald never really got around to telling the family about me.” He didn’t think he could bring himself to call this long-dead great-uncle of his ‘father,’ but at least that reluctance wouldn’t seem strange from his bastard. “He and mum weren’t exactly… married.”
It took Remus a minute to gather the full implications of that. He winced.
“Ah,” he said and didn’t seem to know how to proceed.
“Mr. Potter’s mother has recently left us,” Dumbledore cut in. “In the wake of her passing, the state has elected to have him finish his education at Hogwarts.”
Harry glanced over at him and blinked when he met Dumbledore’s even, unreadable stare. There was some odd emotion in the Headmaster’s face for just that moment of contact but it was smoothed away almost immediately by the gentle smile he turned on Remus. Harry’s stomach tightened uncertainly. He’d seen that kind of look before, during the rare moments he and Dumbledore had seen each other during his fifth year. He still didn’t know what he’d done to make Dumbledore give him the cold shoulder and it made him uneasy that this Dumbledore might be inclined to do the same thing. If he wanted to get back home, back to his friends, he needed Dumbledore’s help. And Dumbledore was the only one who knew the truth about Harry, the only one in this time Harry could talk to as himself, not this new, strange Harrison Potter persona he was constructing.
“… and I will, of course, be writing to the Potters to inform them of this unexpected development.”
That jolted Harry from his worry, turning it in a new direction. “You will?”
Dumbledore gave him another unreadable look. “Of course. They deserve the chance to know you.”
Harry had never even seen pictures of his grandparents. He had no idea what they were like. Were they the type of people who would accept an unknown bastard with open arms or would they react like the Dursleys and turn him away?
“Well, I’d be happy to bring him to Diagon, Headmaster,” Remus said. He was looking between Harry and Dumbledore with a shrewd eye and Harry hoped his face hadn’t reflected much of his inner anxiety. Hopefully Remus would just think it was about being in a new place or meeting his estranged family. “But shouldn’t one of the professors bring him?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary,” Dumbledore said. “Professor Vern is the only professor left at the castle during the holidays and I’d hate to force the old girl out—she does hate traveling. I felt Harry might be more comfortable with someone his own age, in any case.”
Remus’ eyebrows rose. “You’re a fifth year?” he asked.
Harry scowled. He’d always been one of the smallest in his year, shorter than even some of the girls. He never seemed able to put on the height or muscle that Ron or the other boys were starting develop. If he wasn’t so immediately recognizable in his own time, people probably would have constantly thought he was younger than he was actually was.
“Yeah,” he said. “I turned fifteen in July.”
He realized after he said it that he probably should have made up a new birthday. But plenty of people had birthdays in July, didn’t they? Better that it was something he remember instead of some random date he’d fumble later on. He realized that in his own time, his birthday had only been a few months away, whereas here it was half a year—when would he actually be considered sixteen? Trying to think it through made his head spin. Time travel was complicated.
“—have a list,” Dumbledore was saying as Harry tuned back in. “His textbooks are the priority, of course, and some new uniforms.”
“Have you been Sorted already?” Remus asked. “James would be thrilled to have a cousin in his house!”
Harry winced. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud. After a long look his way, Dumbledore offered Remus a smile.
“Mr. Potter was sorted into Slytherin this morning,” he said.
Dead silence. Harry’s stomach dropped as something shifted in Remus’s expression. Harry wouldn’t call it disgust, but everything warm and friendly in Remus’s face closed off, leaving a polite, icy distance.
“I see,” Remus said. “James will certainly be… surprised. I don’t think a Potter’s been sorted into Slytherin for years.”
Harry wanted to defend himself, but it wasn’t like he could tell Remus that he’d been a Gryffindor first, that he’d always be a Gryffindor no matter what the Hat said or what tie he wore in this strange time. Maybe the Potters really would not want to see him, with him mucking up their years of traditional sorting and being a bastard all in one. Harry tried to think about how Lucius Malfoy would have reacted if Draco had been sorted in Hufflepuff and winced. But surely his grandparents weren’t like that? He’d always thought they must be more open-minded than the other purebloods since his dad had married a muggleborn. But maybe not.
A chance to meet his family and he was already messing it up. Harry really was no good at this time travel business.
“Change can be a good thing,” Dumbledore said. “I’m sure young James will adjust. Now, you two had better be off!” He handed Harry a small pouch that clinked with coins. “Your allotted funds, Mr. Potter. You are free to have dinner in Diagon, but please be sure to be back at Hogwarts promptly by 8:00.” Dumbledore winked. “That’s my bedtime, you see.”
Remus smiled. “We’ll be back before then, Headmaster.”
Harry stood, putting the pouch in his pocket. He felt much steadier on his feet than he had been before, grounded by the long conversation. He hoped Diagon Alley hadn’t changed too much in twenty years; he didn’t think he’d be able to stand the embarrassment of fainting in front of so many people.
Remus led him to Dumbledore’s fireplace and took some Floo powder from a little pot on the sill.
As Harry grabbed some, Dumbledore said, “And boys?” They turned to face him. Dumbledore regarded them solemnly. “Be careful.”
To Harry’s relief, not much had changed in Diagon Alley in twenty years.
They had Flooed in to the Leaky Cauldron and made their way to the Alley largely ignored by a much younger Tom and the scattered customers at their tables. When Remus had tapped the stones, Harry had braced himself for a shock but the Alley was just as colorful and busy as he remembered. In the liminal space between Christmas and New Years, when so many students were on break and adults were taking a holiday, the street was packed with people rushing to and fro.
Harry stuck close to Remus as they made their way through the traffic. Much like Hogwarts, Diagon Alley was comforting to him—he’d had some of his first really good memories there and it felt safe. Even the crush of people, normally something that made Harry skittish and claustrophobic, couldn’t diminish that.
Remus led him down most of the street until they came to a storefront filled with clothes in the windows. Harry didn’t realize until they ducked inside and came face-to-face with an unimpressed stocky man with a length of measuring tape around his neck that this wasn’t Madame Malkin’s. This store was smaller and more crowded than Madame Malkin’s had been, bursting with robes in every color and style. Harry’s mouth twitched when he caught sight of a frilly robe that reminded him of Ron’s dress robes in fourth year.
The memory twisted: Ron covered in brains, thrashing as he suffocated—Hermione gasp as she was hit with a purple spell—Ginny’s pale face—Neville’s terrified eyes as he begged Harry to not give in—Luna’s struggling—
Harry came back to himself with a gasp. His skin felt two sizes too small for his body, shivering with goosebumps. He forced himself to focus on an innocuous green robe near the back of the room as he tried to steady his breathing. The others were fine, he told himself. Hadn’t Dumbledore come? Those Death Eaters might have bested him and his friends, but they weren’t any match for the likes of Dumbledore. He would save them, they would be fine—
Harry whipped around so quickly Remus jumped, frowning at him. Harry cursed himself. He’d completely forgotten where he was, who he was with. Remus was already looking at him suspiciously. Harry forced a smile.
“Sorry,” he said. “And you can just call me Harry, if you like. Always thought Harrison was a bit stuffy.”
The suspicion didn’t leave Remus’s eyes, but he relaxed a little. “Mr. Barnes wants to measure you,” he said.
“Just step up there, laddie,” Barnes said. His thick Scottish accent reminded Harry of McGonagall and he relaxed a little, stepping up on the little platform Barnes indicated. The measuring tape began to zip around him, taking all sorts of measurements. “You’re a bit old for a first year, aren’t you?”
“Transfer,” Harry said, trying to ignore the tickle as the measuring tape took in the length of his neck. “I was home-schooled until this year.”
“Oh? Old mum finally willing to part with you, then?” The man chortled. “I know my own mum hated to see me go, had to practically beg her when my letter came around. But after that first year, she could hardly wait to be rid of me! Had all this time to herself with me off at school, you know.” He tipped Harry a knowing wink. “I’m sure your mum will come around, laddie.”
Harry looked between him and Remus, at a loss of how to tell the man that his mother was dead. Remus looked uncertain as well and shrugged at Harry. Your choice, he seemed to say and Harry appreciated that Remus was letting him decide how much to tell this stranger.
In the end, he didn’t see any harm in letting this friendly old man believe what he wanted. Harry had become so used to having every private detail about his life scrutinized by strangers, having his every move and every part of his history be known before he even had a chance to learn someone’s name. The novelty of being able to lie about his history without anyone knowing enough to call him on it was actually a little invigorating.
“I’m sure she will, sir,” he said and the old man chuckled.
“Mums worry, that’s their right,” he said. Harry’s heart ached. He wouldn’t know; the closest he’d ever come to having a mother was Molly Weasley, and she’d always had her own brood to worry about first. “Send her a lot of letters and she’ll be all right. Now then, what house, laddie?”
“Slytherin,” Harry said.
The old man’s smile drooped a little. “Ah. I see. Green and silver ties, then?”
Was this going to happen every time Harry told someone what house he was in? He glanced at Remus, but Remus was studying a nearby display with an intensity that told Harry how little he wanted to be involved. Harry sighed.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
Barnes didn’t make any more affable small talk after that, working quickly and quietly to get Harry outfitted with four plain school uniforms, ties and patches included. After it was bagged up, Harry realized that those were now his only clothes in the world. He never thought he’d miss Dudley’s old cast-offs, ill-fitting and worn as they were, but at least it had been something he could put in his trunk and call his. Harry’d always had precious few things of his own, all of them gifts; now, starting over with nothing more than his wand and the clothes on his back, he was startled by how much he missed those things. He’d never thought of himself as particularly attached to stuff, but he would have traded anything to have his broom or his invisibility cloak or his photo album—
Harry took the bag Barnes offered him and paid the fifteen galleons without a word. Barnes offered him a brusque smile and told him to come back again soon.
“Let’s go get your textbooks next, yeah?” Remus asked.
He’d been quiet for most of the fitting, but Harry had noticed him watching at several points. Harry wasn’t sure what to say to Remus either. He’d had something of an easy rapport with the older Lupin, soothed by his calm, kind demeanor and obvious patient authority, but this new, younger Remus was someone too entirely different for Harry to fall back into that same comraderie. And Harry couldn’t stop remembering Remus’s change in attitude when he found out Harry was a Slytherin.
“Sounds good,” he said.
The streets were a little less packed when they went back outside and Harry was relieved to see that Flourish and Blotts was still the major bookseller in Diagon, even though their logo had changed quite a bit since his day. The store was definitely smaller as they stepped inside, but most of the organization was still the same. Harry relaxed a little. Flourish and Blotts had always been more Hermione’s place than his—he and Ron had always preferred Fortescue’s or Quality Quidditch Supplies—but it was nice to be somewhere that was pretty much like he remembered it.
“The Headmaster didn’t say what supplementary courses you were taking,” Remus said, squinting down at Harry’s list of textbooks.
Harry blinked. He’d entirely forgotten that Dumbledore wouldn’t have any idea of Harry’s schedule back in his own time, or any idea what courses Harry had chosen. He almost opened his mouth to say Care of Magical Creatures and Divination, then hesitated. He’d chosen those courses mostly because Ron had and because he’d wanted to support Hagrid. But Hagrid wasn’t a teacher now—though he was still groundsman and Harry made a mental note to go see him—and Divination had been a dreadful bore. He wasn’t sure when Trelawny had started teaching but he doubted it would be improved with a different teacher anyway.
What had the other electives been? Hermione had been taking Arithmancy and Muggle Studies and he was sure he’d heard something about Ancient Runes…
He hoped he wouldn’t be in this time long enough to really care about what subjects he was taking, but while he was stuck here, wouldn’t it make sense to take classes that might actually help him understand how to get home? He wasn’t sure what would be involved to get him back to his own time, but he doubted magical creatures or making up terrible deaths for himself would factor into it.
“Arithmancy and Ancient Runes,” he said before he could change his mind.
Remus blinked. “Oh!” he said, a little warmer. “I have those classes too, that’ll make it easier. The robes were less than we expected, so you can pick out a few extra books as well, if you’d like. I think the Headmaster also added some for you to get a pet, so let me know if you want to take a look before we get dinner.”
Harry’s heart dropped. Hedwig! Who would take care of her? He hoped she would go to the Weasleys—they needed a good owl. Or maybe Hermione, though he wasn’t sure how Hedwig and Crookshanks would get along.
“Here’s your list,” Remus said, handing it over after making a few quick additions with a quill from his pocket. “I’ve got a couple of books I want to pick up too, so let’s meet up back by the registers, okay?”
Harry nodded, glancing down. The books were all surprisingly familiar—there was the Standard Book of Spells that Harry remembered from his own fifth year list and Intermediate Potions Making, A Thoroughly Historical Study of Charms, and A Study of Transfigurations. These editions were all older than the ones he remembered, but undoubtedly the same books. The only books that really looked different were a few he assumed were for DADA (with titles like Unlocking the Secrets of Dueling: A Beginner’s Guide and Even More Dangerous Magical Creatures) and the ones Remus had added at the bottom for Runes and Arithmancy. Well, Harry thought as he surveyed the list. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about school as much as he’d thought he would.
He hustled to the back shelves, picking up his textbooks as he passed them. Rifling through them revealed them as familiar as he’d thought—aside from some design choices and some additional material, the books were basically the same as the ones he’d studied twenty years in the future. Harry wondered why Hogwarts had never updated their textbook choices. Even if the books were fundamentally solid, shouldn’t they stop using books that had been written well before any of their students had been born? But, Harry remembered, this was the wizarding world, where people still used quills instead of pens. Change wasn’t really their forte.
The only books that looked really intimidating were the ones for Runes and Arithmancy. Harry regretted his choice a little as he took in the Arithmancy textbook; he’d forgotten that he hadn’t taken a maths class since he was in elementary school as he flipped through several pages of complicated equations. He was relieved Remus had told him he could pick out extra books—he saw a little volume called Arithmancy for Beginners and snagged it as well, hoping it would help him understand the subject more. He picked up a beginner’s guide for Runes as well.
He hesitated, glancing up front, but Remus still hadn’t finished with his own shopping yet. Harry glanced around and then hurried into the theoretical magic section. He’d never ventured into it before—he couldn’t even really remember if Flourish and Blotts had had it in the future—but he figured if he wanted to find any books on time travel, that would be the place. He scanned the titles and his heart jumped as he caught sight of a little section titled Inter-dimensional and time travel. It was just a corner, barely ten books. Harry scanned the titles.
In Search of the Edge of Time; The Dimensional Time-travel Toolkit; A Geography of Time; Travels in Four Directions; The Physics of the Impossible… Harry frowned. None of them seemed that helpful or easy to understand. He wondered if anyone had written anything about the Veil, which still seemed like the best way for Harry to get home. It was already a doorway; he just needed to find a way to make it more stable, didn’t he? Dumbledore had known about the Veil—surely someone was researching it? Maybe there were some books on it somewhere—
Harry hurried back to the front of the store, smiling as he met Remus at the counter.
“I told you, it’s just Harry,” he said, setting his books down. “Ready to go?”
Remus had several books as well, most of them huge. Harry remembered Sirius teasing Remus about being such a bookworm he should’ve gone into Ravenclaw and swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat.
“Harry, right,” Remus said. The cashier gave them both a bright smile as she rang up the books. “Did you find everything okay?”
“Oh, sure,” Harry said. He hated this awkward, wary distance between the two of them; that Remus looked ready to let silence fall again with that one bit of small talk out of the way. He affected a casual, sheepish smile. “It’s a bit intimidating, to be honest.”
Remus raised his eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Well, school was never really that big of a thing before,” Harry said. He had no idea how home-schooling worked, but he doubted Remus did either, so he just made it up. “Mum was never really that strict of a teacher, so we let a lot of things slide. Not sure I’ll be up to the challenge of all that.” He gestured to the pile of books steadily being put into bags.
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” Remus said. “Most professors are very understanding.”
“Most?” Harry asked, eyebrows rising.
Remus grimaced. “Well. Professor Vern is a little…”
“What does she teach?” Harry racked his brains, trying to remember if there’d ever been a Professor Vern in any of Sirius’ stories.
“Defense,” Remus said. Ah. That might explain why Harry had never heard of her—even in his parents’ time, DADA professors only lasted a year. “She has… high standards, you might say.”
Harry had had plenty of teachers with high standards before. He wondered if Vern was more like McGonagall or Snape. As long as she wasn’t another Umbridge, Harry could probably deal with her. But then he remembered that Harrison Potter had never had any professors before and he adopted a worried look.
“Just have to study those Defense books extra hard, then,” he said. Good thing he was good at Defense—more so after all year working with the DA.
Remus regarded him. “If you’re really having trouble,” he said, “I’d be happy to help. I tutor some of the younger students when I have time after classes.”
Harry blinked, then smiled wide. Remus wasn’t really that different after all, was he?
“That’d be a great help, thanks!” he said. At Remus’s surprised look, he tried to reign in his enthusiasm. “If you, uh. If you have the time, I mean.”
Remus smiled at him again, much warmer than he had before. “Of course. You’re James’s cousin after all—you’re practically family.”
Harry forced himself not to wince. He’d gotten used to the way Remus and Sirius had always told him how much he was like James, how much they seemed to see him in Harry—had even treasured it, in a way, as a link to the father he couldn’t remember. But it would still take some getting used to being seen in relation to James at Hogwarts—it was definitely going to be odd to always be thought of as James Potter’s cousin instead of his own person. Harry wondered if that was how Ron had felt all those years at Hogwarts where everyone saw his brothers or even Harry first.
“Sure,” he said.
After all, he wanted to get to know his parents—wanted desperately to meet them, see them alive and well and happy. Might as well get a foot in the door with Remus, especially since he was already starting out as a bastard and a Slytherin.
“Any thought to a pet?” Remus asked as the cashier handed them their books and they handed over their money. “There’s enough left for one.”
Harry almost shook his head. Nothing could replace Hedwig. But then again… He considered. He had no idea how long he’d be stuck here and any companion had to be better than nothing.
“Why not,” he said.
They made their way across the street. Remus started leading Harry toward what looked like an owl shop—not Eeylops Owl Emporium, but there were a bunch of birds in the window—but Harry shook his head. Even if he did want a companion, he definitely didn’t want to get an owl. It would feel too much like he was replacing Hedwig. Besides, who did he even have to write to in this time?
Remus looked confused, but nodded and led Harry instead to the nearby Magical Menagerie, where Harry was pretty sure Hermione had gotten Crookshanks. It was a chaotic, noisy place, full of a bunch of different animal noises. Cages and containers housed all kinds of animals.
Unlike the bookstore, Remus stuck by him this time. “What were you thinking?”
“I dunno,” Harry said. He’d never had to pick out a pet before. “Let’s look around a little, I guess.”
The woman up front was talking to a harried pair of wizards with a snub-faced dog on a leash, so Harry and Remus walked around undisturbed. Harry ran his eyes over frogs, salamanders, hamsters, ferrets, and even one or two lizards. None of them appealed. He hesitated over the snake tank, eyeing the smooth coiled lumps in the dark recesses, but he turned away. As nice as it would be to be able to talk to something that could talk back, Harry couldn’t help remembering Nagini. It felt too—dark, too evil, to talk to snakes. It made him too much like Voldemort.
At the end of the room was a door marked CATS. Harry shrugged and pushed it open—only to be immediately bowled over.
Remus closed the door behind them and watched in amusement as about two dozen cats tried to climb all over Harry. He tried to push them down but they only got more determined and came right back, their claws pricking his jeans and shirt as they scampered up him. All of them were meowing loudly.
“All right, all right, enough,” Remus said and, shockingly, the cats immediately backed off, some going so far as to race to the opposite end of the room, hissing and spitting. Harry, suddenly set free, stared at Remus. Remus shrugged. “Cats don’t really like me,” he admitted.
Harry frowned before it dawned on him that cats probably could sense the werewolf in Remus. Lupin had told Harry once that he had something of an affinity even with nonmagical animals, especially wolves and dogs. He hadn’t realized it almost meant there were animals that would react to the threat they could sense in Remus or that he could control it enough to send so many scampering.
“Well,” Harry said, trying to dust off the cat hair that had covered his clothes. “Let’s take a look then.”
Most of the cats were cute enough. Harry had never really thought of himself as a cat person, though he had never disliked Crookshanks as much as Ron did. He’d never really been an animal person at all, really, aside from Hedwig. He bent down and touched a finger to one of the smaller cats, smiling as it meowed and pressed its cold nose to his palm.
He noticed movement in one of the back corners of the room and blinked as a cat came slinking toward him. It was entirely black and so slim it was almost concerning. Something had left its right ear cut in half and its eyes, to Harry’s surprise, were a deep green that could have mirrored his. He watched, staying silent and still, as the cat approached him, long whiskers quivering.
The cat got to Harry’s bent knee. Harry didn’t move. Hermione had told him once that cats liked to be ignored when they were nervous and if he ever met a new cat he should just pretend it wasn’t there until it came to him. But Harry didn’t turn his gaze away from this cat, holding its eyes. The cat’s whiskers twitched once, twice.
Then, neat as anything, it hopped directly into Harry’s lap and climbed up his arm, settling on his shoulder too quickly for Harry to react until it was settled. He blinked, turning his head. He couldn’t see the cat that well, but he caught a glimpse of its keen green eyes and he could feel the rumble of a purr through his shirt. What?
Remus was laughing. When Harry looked over, Remus grinned down at him.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a cat, Harry,” he said.
The cat didn’t relinquish its place on Harry’s shoulder until they got to the Leaky Cauldron. As they sat down for dinner, it leaped nimbly down and curled up in Harry’s lap, tucking its head under its tail and going promptly to sleep. Harry stared down at it—well, her, according to the harried sales clerk at the Menagerie—and wondered if all cats were like that or if Harry just always seemed to meet unusual animals.
“How do you feel about lamb’s stew?” Remus asked, looking at the menu.
Harry shrugged. During his brief stay in his third year, he’d liked the food at the Leaky Cauldron. Not that he’d ever been that picky about food. Harry had learned young you had to take what you could get. Remus offered him a smile and flagged down Tom the bartender, giving him their orders. As he left, Remus settled more firmly into his seat and turned the full force of his attention on Harry. Harry straightened. He’d been expecting something like an interrogation for their entire outing and he’d started to hope that maybe Remus would spare him his curiosity. Seemed not.
“So, Harry,” Remus said. “How do you like Hogwarts so far?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s a nice castle,” he said, hoping his nonchalance seemed genuine. “I’m probably going to get lost, though.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t get an acceptance letter before this.”
“I did,” Harry said. Remus’ eyebrows went up. “Mum said no.”
Harry shrugged. He put a hand on the cat, taking comfort from her warm, solid body.
“She never told me,” he said. “I guess it probably had something to do with, uh… Well, with Reginald. I think she didn’t want me to have to deal with all of—that.” He shrugged again, more sheepish. “I dunno. I didn’t really want to be the Potter bastard either.”
“I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened.”
Harry wasn’t so sure. He’d seen how his relatives treated bastards before; Mrs. Rollin’s daughter had gotten pregnant while she was still in school and Aunt Petunia had nothing but nasty things to say about her child and how some people were too trashy to wait until marriage. Harry didn’t know what had happened to Mrs. Rollin’s daughter or her child, but he knew that whispers had followed the girl around for months. Would the wizarding world really be any different?
“Mum didn’t want to take any chances,” Harry said. “And she wasn’t really well. I think she wanted to have me at home to help out.”
Remus softened. “That’s admirable. I’m so sorry for your loss, by the way.”
Harry knew he needed to look grief-stricken. He cast about for something, anything, to make the appropriate expression. He’d never known his own parents, but he could remember their screams of horror thanks to the Dementors. He thought about that and then about Sirius falling and about the older Remus Lupin’s anguished howl as Harry disappeared after him until tears began to prick at the corner of his eyes.
“It’s fine,” Harry said and his voice was rough. “I knew it was coming.”
Which was more than could be said for the real deaths he’d experienced in his life. He’d never been prepared to lose anyone—not Cedric, not Sirius, not the friends whose lives had been in the balance when he’d gone through the Veil. Harry closed his eyes. They were okay, he repeated to himself. They had to be okay.
“Let’s talk about something else,” Remus said, his voice gentle. Harry opened his eyes again to find Remus regarding him sympathetically. “What do you think you’ll do with the rest of the holiday?”
Harry accepted the subject change gratefully, chatting about holiday plans and Remus’ excitement about seeing his friends again. They carefully steered around any other topics around Harry’s post or even his connection to James through the rest of their meal.
The cat did not like Floo travel.
She came yowling out of the fire, escaping Harry’s grasp to hide under Dumbledore’s desk. Dumbledore stared, in the process of adjusting something on his many shelves. He looked from his desk to Harry with raised eyebrows.
“I see you decided to purchase a pet, Mr. Potter,” he said.
“A cat, sir,” Harry said, nursing a wicked claw mark on his index finger. He had more scratches on his wrist; it had taken forever to get the damn thing near enough to the Floo to travel through. “I’m regretting it a little now.”
Dumbledore laughed. “I’m sure the poor thing will settle in a little while,” he said. “I trust there was no trouble, Mr. Lupin?”
“No, sir,” Remus said, handing the remains of the bag of coins to Dumbledore. “Harry’s all set for the year, including the books for his electives.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Dumbledore said. “Mr. Lupin, you may retire to the Gryffindor Common Room if you wish. I have something to discuss with Mr. Potter.” When Remus hesitated, looking between them, Dumbledore smiled at him. “Thank you very much for your help.”
“Yeah, thanks, Remus,” Harry added. “Really. And I’ll let you know if I need any tutoring.”
Remus still seemed puzzled but he smiled at Harry. “Be sure you do,” he said. “Good luck.”
He left with a nod to Dumbledore. Once he was gone, Dumbledore turned to Harry and some of the amiability slid off his face. Harry startled. He hadn’t realized that Dumbledore had been affecting that kind grandfatherly look and he wondered if his own Dumbledore was able to do that so naturally or so often. This Dumbledore didn’t look—cold, per se, but there was a strict formality to his features that Harry had rarely seen in his own time. Harry straightened.
“How did it go?”
Harry shrugged, uncomfortable under Dumbledore’s stare. “Fine, I think,” he said. “Remus asked some questions when we had dinner, but I didn’t have any trouble answering them.”
Dumbledore hummed. “I see,” he said and Harry wondered why that answer didn’t seem to satisfy him. “And these elective courses Mr. Lupin mentioned?”
“I’m taking Arithmancy and Ancient Runes,” Harry said. “I, uh—well, I didn’t take them before, but I thought they might help?” There really was something funny in Dumbledore’s face, Harry thought. He didn’t know what it was though. “Is something wrong, sir?”
And just like that, the little off-ness about Dumbledore’s face was gone, leaving only the warm grandfatherly smile that Harry knew so well. Still, knowing that it was affected made Harry less comforted by it now. Instead of relaxing, he wanted to know what it was hiding.
“No, no, of course not,” Dumbledore said. “I’m pleased you got along well with Mr. Lupin. Perhaps he can help you get oriented during the break.”
Harry didn’t know how much more hanging out with this weird young Remus he could take, but he guessed it would help prepare him to see younger, different versions of basically every adult he’d ever known in a few days. Harry winced. And he was going to be roommates with a younger Snape. Merlin, that was going to be a nightmare.
“I should probably go, Headmaster,” Harry said. “Unless there’s something else you want to talk to me about?” He perked up. “Did you find anything about—?”
“No, nothing yet,” Dumbledore said. “But it’s only been a day.”
“I did want to ask if there’s anything I can do to help? I tried looking at some books in Flourish and Blotts, but there wasn’t anything really useful there—”
“I can manage on my own, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said. There was some kind of clip to his voice but he smiled as he said it. Harry smiled back a little uneasily. “Not to worry, I have access to more theoretical texts than Flourish and Blotts puts on their shelves.”
Harry could believe that—he knew Hermione had raved about how extensive Hogwarts’ library was and that wasn’t counting Dumbledore’s own collection, which had to be pretty wide too—but he still couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling. It was like when he’d known Dumbledore was avoiding him and not just too busy to talk; there was something off here. But Harry knew he wouldn’t get whatever it was from Dumbledore.
“Sure, Headmaster,” Harry said with his own friendly smile. “I should get some sleep, I guess.”
Well. If Dumbledore wouldn’t tell him, Harry would just have to figure it out on his own. He might not have Hermione and Ron in this time, but Harry could still find out something.
“Of course,” Dumbledore said. “Don’t forget your new friend, though.”
Harry had almost forgotten about the cat. He frowned but just as Dumbledore said that, a black streak came out from under his desk and leaped nimbly on Harry, clawing up his shirt to sit on his shoulder. The cat didn’t seem panicked anymore and just started washing a paw as if she hadn’t scratched Harry half to death ten minutes ago. Harry rolled his eyes.
“Goodnight, Headmaster,” he said.
Dumbledore smiled at him again. “Goodnight, Mr. Potter.”
The Slytherin dorms seemed particularly spooky as Harry returned. There weren’t windows, so it wasn’t like it was obvious it was night, but Harry couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that someone was watching him.
“And who are you?”
Harry yelped and the cat, keeping her place on Harry’s shoulder, hissed. He could feel the brush of her tail against his neck as he whirled around, coming face to face with the Bloody Baron. The Baron stared at him with his eerie eyes. The chains wrapped around his neck and chest clanked softly.
“Oh,” he said, relaxing a little. The Baron was frightening and a little weird, but Harry didn’t think he was dangerous. Or, at least, not any more dangerous than anything else in Hogwarts. Then he remembered he wasn’t supposed to know who the Baron was. “Who are you?”
Harry didn’t think he’d ever spoken directly to the Baron before. As a child, he’d been too nervous to even go near him and when he was older, he almost never thought about the ghosts at Hogwarts. The Baron stared at him for a long moment, then swept into an incredibly formal bow.
“Baron Walter Godfrey, at your service,” he said. “You must be the new student everyone’s muttering about.”
Harry blinked. “Muttering about?” he asked. “Wait, everyone?”
“All the ghosts,” the Baron said. “And the house elves are interested in you as well, of course.” He eyed Harry carefully. “You’re a Potter, all right. But what in Merlin’s name are you doing in my house?”
“The Hat put me here,” Harry said.
“Potters have been in Gryffindor for hundreds of years,” the Baron told him as if Harry needed any reason to feel worse about his sorting. “There’s been a couple in Ravenclaw, one or two in Hufflepuff, but never Slytherin.” The Baron surveyed Harry for another long moment then, to Harry’s surprise, began to laugh. It was a quiet, whispery sound. “Oh, poor Thaddeus must be rolling his grave. He swore his line would always be Gryffindor people.”
“Thaddeus?” Harry asked, curious.
“Thaddeus Potter,” the Baron said. “Your ancestor. We went to school together.”
Harry stared. He’d never known that! “You did?”
“Oh, yes. You remind me of him—that damn hair.” Harry’s hands went automatically to his hair. Could something like that really go back so far? Harry remembered how alike Lucius and Draco Malfoy looked and wondered if this was another magical family thing. “Well. We’ll see how you do, young Potter. I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
But the Baron had already disappeared. Harry stared at where he’d been, disoriented. A warning nip to his ear brought him back to reality and he turned to give the cat a glare. She didn’t notice, washing a paw. Harry sighed and turned to trudge up the stairs to his room.
When he got back to his own time, he’d have to ask the Baron about his ancestor. He wondered what this Thaddeus Potter had been like, if he really would roll over in his grave because Harry dared to be the first Potter sorted into Slytherin. But if Thaddeus was watching, then he’d know Harry was a Gryffindor first—and that would make up for it, wouldn’t it?
He dumped his books and new robes on his bed and sat down, taking off his shoes. The cat jumped down and set to examining every inch of the room, whiskers twitching. Harry had stripped down to his underwear when she was finally done, returning to his bed and staring up at him with her odd green eyes. Harry regarded her. The sales associate had told him she was still pretty young, barely a year old, and she’d given the shop a lot of trouble because she kept biting customers who came too close. Harry still wasn’t sure why she’d decided to come with him or if he was imagining the odd intelligence in her eyes.
“You need a name,” he told her. The cat rolled her shoulders, completely unconcerned. “I’ll think of something, promise.”
The cat leaped up next to him and sniffed down the length of his bed before settling firmly on his pillow, tucking her head under paws and going to sleep. Harry smiled a little at that and the prospect of sleep seemed a little less daunting with something warm and alive nearby. He laid down and pulled the covers up to his chin. He waved his wand to put out the lamp and closed his eyes as darkness rolled over the room.
A voice, drawling from the darkness: “Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me…”
Lucius Malfoy’s vicious smile.“About both of you, Potter, about both of you… haven’t you ever wondered why the Dark Lord tried to kill you as a baby?”
A baby’s head now sat grotesquely on top of the thick, muscled neck of the Death Eater as he struggled to get up again…
“RON?” Harry yelled, turning quickly from the monstrous transformation taking place before them. “GINNY? LUNA?”
But the Death Eater Hermione had just struck dumb made a sudden slashing movement with his wand; a streak of what looked like purple flame passed right across Hermione’s chest. She gave a tiny “Oh!” as though of surprise and crumpled on to the floor, where she lay motionless…
Neville gave a howl of pain and recoiled, clutching his mouth and nose…
Dolohov grinned. With his free hand, he pointed from the prophecy still clutched in Harry’s hand, to himself, then at Hermione. Though he could no longer speak, his meaning could not have been clearer. Give me the prophecy, or you get the same as her…
A whine of panic inside his head was preventing him thinking properly: he had one hand on Hermione’s shoulder, which was still warm, yet did not dare look at her properly. Don’t let her be dead, don’t let her be dead, it’s my fault if she’s dead…
But the thin ribbons were spinning around Ron’s chest now; he tugged and tore at them as the brain was pulled tight against him like an octopus’s body…
“Bellatrix raised her wand. “Crucio!”
Neville screamed, his legs drawn up to his chest so that the Death Eater holding him was momentarily holding him off the ground. The Death Eater dropped him and he fell to the floor, twitching and screaming in agony…
“Harry, round up the others and GO!”
Harry turned to look where Neville was staring. Directly above them, framed in the doorway from the Brain Room, stood Albus Dumbledore, his wand aloft, his face white and furious. Harry felt a kind of electric charge surge through every particle of his body—they were saved…
It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall: his body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backwards through the ragged veil hanging from the arch…
“SIRIUS!” Harry yelled. “SIRIUS!”
He had reached the floor, his breath coming in searing gasps. Sirius must be just behind the curtain, he, Harry, would pull him back out…
But as he reached the ground and sprinted towards the dais, Lupin grabbed Harry around the chest, holding him back.
“There’s nothing you can do, Harry—”
Alone, alone and cold and confused and it hurt to breathe, he couldn’t breathe—
Harry woke screaming.
Covered in sweat, he scrambled out of his bed, tripping over his blanket and landing on his knees on the floor. His arms trembled. For several long moments all he could do was pant in the darkness, trying to calm his racing heart. He could still hear his friends crying out as, one by one, they were hurt, hear the spells whizzing over his head, see Hermione’s panicked face, Neville’s stubborn rage, Ginny’s defiance… Harry rubbed hard at his eyes, willing himself to stop trembling. They were fine. Hadn’t Dumbledore shown up? Hadn’t the tide been turning by the time Sirius—Harry’s breath caught around the edge of a sob. By the time Sirius—
Harry curled in on himself and let the cry loose. It was too big to hold in, too harsh and jagged to be anything close to actual tears. Sirius wasn’t here, not really. No one he knew was here. For the first time in years, Harry was all alone again, all by himself after years, years, of finding people who cared about him, who loved him, and now he’d lost it all. Gone in an instant.
Would he ever see them again? Would he ever get a chance to listen to Hermione lecture him about completing homework or play Quidditch with Ron or share a joke with Ginny or listen to one of Luna’s zany stories or see Neville blow something up in Potions? His breath began to shorten. Would he ever see Remus’ kind smile again? Eat Molly Weasley’s cooking and think this might be how it felt to have a mother? Ever hear Dumbledore call him my boy and mean it?
Harry startled badly as something touched his arm. A warm weight settled in his lap and he looked down. The cat was too black to see in the darkness, but he could see her faint outline as she stood on his lap, the gleam of her eyes as she looked up at him.
The shock of her warm, breathing body brought Harry back from the edge of his encroaching panic. He tentatively settled a hand on her furry back and she began to purr. Harry focused on that sound and his own breathing for several long minutes, mindlessly petting her back and tail.
When he felt a little less like he was going to spiral out of control, Harry reached back to the bed and groped around for his wand. When he found it, he flicked on the light, grimacing as it burned his eyes. The cat made an inquisitive meow. She was standing up on Harry’s legs still, her tail up, flicking a little at the tip. When she noticed Harry was looking she reached up with a paw and batted hard at his nose. Harry blinked. The cat gave him a satisfied look and bounded off of his lap, jumping back on the bed.
Harry rubbed his nose. In the light, out of the claws of the nightmarish memories, it was easier to think. He had to keep his head on straight. If he gave up already, he’d never find his way back home to his friends. He was a Gryffindor, wasn’t he? He needed to be brave. He would find his way back to his own time. He had to. It didn’t matter how long it took, he’d make his way back to them. And until then, he’d deal with the strangeness and the loneliness as best he could.
Standing took longer than Harry thought it would—his knees were strangely shaky. He managed to heave himself back into bed and the cat made some kind of chirping noise, settled back in her place on Harry’s pillow. Harry relaxed a little and reached out to pat her back. He felt the drag of her rough tongue on his forehead and he smiled.
Well. He wasn’t entirely alone, anyway.
The week leading up to the students' return was quiet.
The morning after his arrival, Harry woke up and had two glorious seconds where he thought he was back in his own bed in Gryffindor Tower in 1996—and then he caught sight of the green and silver and he remembered all the horrible events of the last few days. He knew he should get up and eat breakfast and talk to Dumbledore and try to figure out something about time travel on his own, but his body refused to move. He stayed in bed, staring at his ceiling for hours. The cat kept him company, snoozing comfortably by his head and then padding up and down his stomach.
He wouldn’t have left the room for himself, but the cat began to meow sometime in the afternoon and he realized he’d never fed her. He got up, his bones creaking so much he felt like an eighty-year-old man and shuffled out to the kitchens. The house elves had been surprised by his appearance, but happy to give him a sandwich and some mushed cat food. The cat had scarfed it down and the rest of Harry’s sandwich when he couldn’t finish it. Exhausted by that simple task, he’d gone back to bed and fallen back into blissful sleep.
The nightmares didn’t stop. He woke screaming again, the moment of Sirius falling still playing in his head. It took him hours to fall back asleep that time, even with the cat’s heavy, warm weight on his chest. When Harry woke the second morning after his arrival and still opened his eyes to green and silver, he took several deep, long breaths and forced himself to get up.
From that morning on, he ate breakfast in the Great Hall. He caught glimpses of the other students staying—Remus had waved a few times and he’d ignored the wide-eyed curiosity from the younger Hufflepuff students—and exchanged cautious nods with an elderly woman with short, wild white hair and a stern mouth who had to be Professor Vern. After every breakfast, he went up to Dumbldore’s office and asked for updates. Dumbledore didn’t usually have any. He would smile at Harry and offer some kind of reassurance and tell him he was still researching, that it was a delicate subject, that it would take time.
So Harry tried to find things to do to fill his time. He walked through Hogwarts, soothing himself with its familiarity, the cat keeping him company. He looked through his textbooks, started the beginner’s textbooks he’d picked up for Arithmancy and Runes, taking notes that would have made Hermione proud. He made toys for the cat, who liked things that she could jump after and pounce on. He tried to think of names to give her. He wrote long letters to his friends in his head, telling them how sorry he was that he’d ever led them into the Ministry in the first place, that he had left them behind, that he had made them worry. He tried not to think about their fate. He spent time in the library, looking over newspapers, trying to familiarize himself with this new time. He went up to the Astronomy Tower and watched falling snow.
The nightmares came every night.
New Years passed without much fanfare. Harry sat in the Great Hall for dinner, the long house tables abandoned for one single table that housed the four students staying, Dumbledore, and Vern. Harry squirmed under Vern’s hawkish gaze and wondered how much Dumbledore had told her about him. But she didn’t bother talking to him, so Harry focused on his food and made it back to his own bed before midnight. He’d set up a Tempus spell and let out a long breath when he heard the alarm go off that signaled midnight.
“1976,” he said and had to bury his face in the cat’s fur to keep his calm.
Then, too quickly to be believed, the students were returning.
the parts of harry's nightmare are all pulled directly from order of the phoenix. i reread that chapter to remember exactly what happened right before harry goes through & i'd forgotten how fucked up it is. the titles harry sees in the bookshop are all actual titles of books about time travel.
i really thought about having harry have a snake, but even tho i know fandom likes to have that happen, it doesn't seem likely harry would be allowed to have an animal that's not on the acceptable animal list. besides, i also really don't think this harry is comfortable enough with his parseltongue - esp after that arthur weasley incident - to really WANT a snake. so we get a cute cat instead.
we don't ever get the baron's name in canon as far as i remember. and i obviously have my own headcanons for the potter family - who, yes, we will be seeing relatively soon.
next chapter we'll finally see snape - because, spoiler alert, we'll be getting snape pov. the students return, snape finds out he has a roommate, and things start to get real interesting. thank you so much for your kind words on this weird story so far and comments and kudos are always, always appreciated!!
Chapter 3: a great and sudden change
Everyone wants a chunk out of the new kid but Severus is the one stuck as his roommate. Even Dostoevsky doesn't have a quote for this.
thanks for all the kudos & comments! just a warning for some discussion of severus's abuse at the very beginning of this chapter.
edit: went back and cleaned up some of the footnotes, fixed some glaring spelling errors, added some notes to the end notes. that'll teach me to post before editing thoroughly lmao.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dear Mr. Potter,
I do believe this is the first letter I have ever sent you that does not have anything to do with whatever nefarious mischief young James has been caught engaging in! No, your son has been remarkably well-behaved since that unfortunate incident earlier this year and I do hope he had a happy holiday with you and your wife over the winter break.
No, I’m afraid another reason to contact you, Mr. Potter. You see, a young man has been recently brought to my attention by the Ministry of Magic. He was brought under their auspicious care after the unfortunate death of his mother a month ago. She had been home-schooling him since he was old enough to hold a wand and, in the absence of her training, this young man has been sent to Hogwarts to complete his education.
You might be asking yourself what this young man’s life has to do with you. In short, everything. For, you see, this young man’s name is Mr. Harrison Potter and he is your nephew.
I am sure you were more than familiar with your brother’s less than illustrious behavior before his death. It seems that his behavior extended to Mr. Potter’s mother, a young muggleborn witch. I am not sure if he ever knew that she fathered his son or if she ever contacted him. Mr. Potter believes she did not, so it is possible that your brother’s negligence stems simply from ignorance. However, the boy has come to Hogwarts just a week ago. He was sorted into Slytherin, which was quite the surprise all around, as you might expect.
The Ministry was content to keep your family in the dark considering Mr. Potter’s unfortunate background. However, I felt it was my duty to inform you of him. I do not believe young Harrison has any intention of contacting you himself or asking anything of you. His school needs are covered by our charity fund and the boy himself seems to simply want space to grieve for his mother in peace. If you wish to visit the boy or speak to him, I would be happy to arrange a meeting on your behalf.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Order of Merlin (First Class)
Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards
Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.
Severus had never once come back to Hogwarts without injuries.
At this point in his life, he was done being surprised or ruffled by it—he simply treated the wounds as best he could by Muggle methods and waited for the cover of Hogwarts to get the necessary potions to heal them completely. Before Hogwarts, he’d rarely been free from pain—it had been almost miraculous, the first time he had woken up without a bruise or scrape during his first year. How free it is, you have no idea how free—/ The peacefulness is so big it dazes you. 1 Despite every danger Hogwarts held, Severus would have fought to stay there for that feeling alone.
This time it was a heavy bruise on his side. His father, drunk and belligerent the entire time Severus had been home, had taken offense to Severus reading a book on Christmas Day—he’d torn it out of Severus’s hand and knocked him hard to the floor, kicking him back down when he tried to get up until he could barely breathe. Severus had learned very early in his life that it was easier to stay still and let his father work out his rage; without his wand, he was no match for Tobias Snape, who outweighed him by several stone.
The bruises he could handle. He’d spent the better part of his life handling them. But Tobias had also thrown Severus’s book into the rubbish and he had taken it out before Severus could safely retrieve the precious volume, a crinkled edition of The Brothers Karamazov. Severus had read it to keep his own jagged feelings at bay. I exist! I see the sun, and if I don’t see the sun, I know it’s there. And there’s a whole life in that, in knowing that the sun is there. 2 Severus had added the book to the very long list of things he intended to see his father pay for and spent the rest of the holiday in his room, out of sight.
Severus didn’t normally come home during Christmas. His father always drank more during the holidays and spent a lot of time yelling: at Severus for being a weak, pansy-assed faggot and at his mother for tainting strong Snape blood with her freakishness. Severus dealt with that enough over the summer—unless he had no other choice, he didn’t go home during the school year. But if I break, I must break myself alone. 3 But his mother had sent him a letter in early December asking him to come. His mother rarely asked anyone for anything and Severus had worried that his father’s treatment of her had worsened in some way without Severus there to draw the majority of his ire. He’d agreed to leave the relative safety of Hogwarts solely to make sure she was all right.
He didn’t regret it, but he had spent most of his holiday break wondering why his mother had been so urgent about him visiting. She usually understood his need to escape their home and had never once asked him to return during the year. But she’d seemed her usual self during his visit—battered yet fierce, a free human being with an independent will4—and his father’s treatment of her, while always disgusting and deplorable, hadn’t become more extreme since last summer. It didn’t occur to him until his last day home that his mother might have been worried about him staying at Hogwarts after the incident at the beginning of the last term.
Severus forced himself not to snarl. He was alone in his carriage, as always, but he hated to breed bad habits that might crop up when he was around other people. He couldn’t think about that horrific night for very long without wanting to punch something—preferably the faces of a few specific Gryffindors. But he had to wonder if the incident hadn’t created some anxiety in his normally reserved mother, making her uncharacteristically want to reach out to him.
Perhaps she had just wanted to see him. When trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us.5 A novel concept.
As the carriages rounded the corner and Hogwarts came into view, Severus relaxed. Every time he came back to Hogwarts after spending time at that house, he always felt a little like he was leaving something dark and vicious behind, dropping the pieces himself that were vicious and wary. Hogwarts had its own dangers, but it also had its pockets of safety as well. Severus was able to leave the vicious nastiness of his home life behind him, if only for a time. I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions. The feeling never lasted, especially after this year’s disastrous beginning—his safety at Hogwarts was always an illusion and sooner or later, the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.6 But Severus would take that moment of peace and safety and stretch it for as long as he could. He’d taught himself that long before he ever held a wand.
The carriages always stopped at the Great Hall’s entrance. The train came late enough that dinner was always served immediately upon arrival. Students poured into the castle in chattering, laughing droves as they found their friends and caught up after the long break. No one caught Severus’s elbow or smiled at him or asked him about his winter break but Severus had become so accustomed to it that he hardly noticed, his mind on one of the potions books he’d left behind during break that he’d wanted to read around Christmas. It had some fascinating articles about the potential use for moonstones that Severus wanted to double-check…
He was just outside of the Great Hall when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He startled, whirling, hand already diving for his wand in his pocket, but he relaxed as he met Lily’s laughing green eyes. Like Hogwarts, Lily carried her own sense of safety. Severus braced himself.
“Sev!” Lily said, grabbing him in a quick, affectionate half-hug around the neck. Behind Lily, her usual gaggle of friends lingered, waiting for her with various expressions of distaste and dislike. Severus patted Lily’s back awkwardly—all these years and he’d never quite gotten used to her hugs—and gave her friends a long, cold stare over her shoulder. A few of them wrinkled their noses. “How were your holidays? Thank you so much for the book! Petunia was an absolute wretch the entire week, I needed the entertainment.”
“Thank you for the scarf,” Severus said as they pulled apart. He didn’t smile at her, not with so many people around and watching, but he allowed his face to soften. “It didn’t really keep me warm, but—”
Lily huffed. “Wanker!” she said with a grin and a friendly slap on Severus’s shoulder. “I knitted that scarf with my own two hands!”
“Well,” Severus said, pretending contemplation, “that explains all the snarls.”
Lily laughed, utterly unbothered by any of Severus’s teasing. Severus had often wished he could be the same—he always hid it when Lily’s barbs, friendly as they were, hit too close to home.
“But really though, how was your holiday?” Lily’s eyes raked over him and Severus tensed as her friendliness softened to concern. “Everything go okay?”
“Fine.” Severus shrugged, maintaining his nonchalance. He knew what Lily was really asking. “Normal.”
Lily frowned. “Your mum’s okay?”
Severus did his best not to sound bitter, but he didn’t succeed. “The best she can be.”
Lily sighed. “I wish you would talk to me more about this,” she said, a long-recurring argument between them. “I’m your friend, aren’t I? I can listen.”
Severus would sooner stab himself in the eye than tell Lily the dirty details of his home life. My troubles are mine and I am the only man alive who can sustain them. My load of woe is incommunicable to all but me.7 Lily didn’t need to hear about his drunk father or his mother’s suffering or Severus’s bruises. Lily was… my sympathy–my better self–my good angel.8 He wouldn’t touch her with the dirtiness of his life.
“It’s not worth discussing,” Severus told her, as he always did.
Lily looked ready to argue with him, eyes flaring, but one her friends sighed loudly and obnoxiously. Severus glanced over and found Bones frowning at them. Her eyes narrowed as Severus met her gaze.
“Lily!” she called, still staring at Severus. “Come on! We need to find our seats!”
Lily rolled her eyes and offered Severus a conspiratorial wink, the kind he hoarded as a reminder that she really was his friend and wouldn’t abandon him just because those ninnies she hung out with hated him.
“I’d better go before their sprain something,” Lily said. “But let’s meet up tomorrow, okay? The usual spot?”
“Yes,” Severus said.
He kept his eyes on her bright hair as she turned and rushed away with her chattering friends. He always felt a little lighter after speaking to her and it was easier to face the cool distaste of his own house with the memory of her friendly smile still lingering. Severus sat with the gaggle of Slytherin fifth years as he always did and, as always, he was largely ignored by all of them aside from a sneer from Nott. Severus sat with them because it was less humiliating than joining the younger years and they allowed it because he’d single-handedly kept them from failing potions for the past five years. But they always were sure to let him know how little they actually wanted him around.
It took nearly twenty minutes before the Great Hall was full. Severus used that time to finish off the book he’d been reading on the train, a treatise on ethical animal transfiguration McGonagall had assigned him over the break. He’d read it on the train home as well and written several feet of notes but he’d wanted to take another crack at it before his class with McGonagall on Tuesday. It was an interesting, if dry, read and it absorbed his attention thoroughly enough that he didn’t realize that Dumbledore had stood for his traditional speech until he’d already begun to speak.
“—a thoroughly diverting holidays!” Dumbledore was saying as Severus looked up from his book. Several students—all, Severus noted with disgust, Gryffindors—cheered. Dumbledore chuckled. “Alas, you have returned to the stolidity and boredom of the classroom! Just a few gentle reminders as we resettle into our routine for the new year. The Forbidden Forest, as ever, is strictly off-limits unless given express permission by a professor. Professor Flitwick has asked me to remind members of the Dueling Club that there will not be a meeting this week and Professor Sinistra has issued a warning that Astronomy classes may be canceled tomorrow night due to the potential for severe snowstorms.”
Dumbledore cast a look to the side and Severus followed it until he saw a student standing near the head table. If Dumbledore hadn’t looked, Severus probably wouldn’t have noticed him—a slight, slouched figure, he was easy to overlook. Severus was on the opposite end of the head table so it was difficult to see; he just got the impression of a head of dark hair and bright eyes before Dumbledore drew his attention back again.
“Finally, we are welcoming a new student to our midst as we begin this new year.” Whispers began to spread. “Joining our fifth year Slytherins is a late transfer.” Dumbledore beamed at them and swept his arm to the side. “I am pleased to introduce Mr. Harrison Potter!”
Silence. Severus’s stomach swooped, sickening vertigo. Involuntarily, he looked to the Gryffindor at a visibly dumbfounded James Potter. Everyone else was looking at him too and the collective surprise of the entire school at a mysterious Potter being sorted into Slytherin popped as everyone began to talk at once, sending the Great Hall into an uproar. Severus leaned back in his seat, his heart beginning to return to its regular rhythm, keeping his face carefully blank. Most Slytherins were intimately aware of Severus’s… troubles with James Potter and he knew many of them would be watching his reaction to this unexpected news, searching for any signs of weakness. Severus wouldn’t show it to them even if his hand was beginning to go numb under the table from how tightly he was clenching it into a fist.
Merlin, how was he supposed to cope with a Potter in his house? Despite everything, being a Slytherin was something of a respite—at least James Potter wasn’t always around the way he would have been if Severus had been, Merlin forbid, a Gryffindor. And now that that respite had been snatched from him. Severus wretched his mind away from the idea. He would deal with this. He just hadn’t expected the tulips to disintegrate his bubble of safety so quickly.
Dumbledore waited until the noise had died down a little to speak again. “Mr. Potter has been home-schooled until this year. I trust you all will show him the generosity and cooperation Hogwarts students are so well-known for.”
Looks were exchanged at the Slytherin table, but none of them were gauche enough to roll their eyes. They watched in complete silence as Dumbledore nodded to their newest acquisition, signaling him to sit down. Despite himself, Severus leaned forward as the new boy began to walk toward the Slytherin table. He wanted to get a look at this new, unexpected enemy.
It was difficult to get a good look over the heads of everyone else, but Harrison Potter walked down most of the table before picking a place to sit among some nervous second years, only a few seats away from the fifth years. Severus eyed him, surprised. He was shorter than most of the other Slytherin boys and slender enough that his robes seemed to swallow him. His shock of black hair and angular face were pure Potter so it took Severus a minute to catch the brilliant green of his eyes, so like Lily’s that he glanced back at the Gryffindor table again. When he looked back, Potter had already bent to his food. Severus’s eyes narrowed, some of his disquiet and anxiety disappearing under his curiosity.
Home-schooled, Dumbledore had said. Yet, even though every student in Hogwarts was watching him right now—several of them even standing to try and get a better look—Potter barely seemed to notice their collective attention. His only acknowledgment of it was the tightness in his shoulders and a forced nonchalance as he began to make work on his mashed potatoes. Odd. How could a student so sheltered be so calm under the weight of all those eyes?
Eventually, when Potter didn’t do anything more interesting than put too much salt on his chicken, attention drifted away from him. He was still being discussed if Severus knew anything about the Hogwarts gossip mill, but people weren’t staring anymore. Severus still was, so he noticed as Potter’s shoulders dropped a little as the direct attention left him, how his appetite became more genuine.
Severus returned to his own meal, mind whirring. A Potter in Slytherin was beyond unprecedented. The Potters were an old family, nearly on par with the Malfoys and the Blacks; those families almost always went into the same house. Sirius Black had caused a minor uproar when he was sorted into Gryffindor, after all. And… Severus glanced at his new housemate’s bent head. A Potter appearing out of the woodwork after years of home-schooling stank of a scandal. If he had been sorted into any other house, the scandal might have been ignored but in Slytherin the combination of his family name and his potentially checkered past would put him right at the bottom of the pecking order. If this Potter had come to Hogwarts expecting the same kind of treatment his relative got, he was going to be sorely disappointed.
Severus was proved right before the end of the meal. Nott elbowed a couple of second-years out of the way so that he could take the seat next to Potter and leaned heavily into his space, grinning at him.
“Welcome to Slytherin, Potter,” he said. “I’m Walter Nott.”
Potter glanced at him. He had no control over his face at all, Severus noticed with disdain. It was clear he was suspicious of Nott, frowning at him with a little crinkle between his brow.
“Nice to meet you,” Potter said slowly.
Nott’s grin widened. “So you’re a Potter, huh?” he asked. “Any relation to…?” Nott inclined his head to the Gryffindor table.
Severus mentally rolled his eyes. Nott knew he was related, of course, but Nott delighted in dragging things out for as long as possible. He knew as well as Severus did that there was something off about this Potter’s sudden appearance—there was a reason he’d decided to approach the new student during dinner, after all—but instead of getting the information he needed efficiently, he was going to use his favorite tool: faux-ignorance. Nothing delighted Nott more than making his victims say embarrassing things themselves out of frustration at Nott’s refusal to understand hints.
Potter, though, didn’t seem to recognize Nott’s tactic. He was too busy looking at the Gryffindor table, something complicated and wistful in his eyes. How had he even been sorted into Slytherin? Everything he felt was plain in his face. He was going to be eaten alive.
“Yeah,” Potter said. “My cousin.”
“Cousin!” Nott said. “Wow. You’re the same age and everything, huh? Must have been nice to have that, growing up. All my cousins are babies, family parties are always a complete bore.”
Potter dragged his gaze away from the Gryffindor table and looked at Nott. For a long moment, he just stared and Severus realized, to his surprise, that he couldn’t actually read Potter’s emotions as clearly as he had been able to before.
“I wouldn’t know,” Potter said at last, with enough bite to it that Nott’s friendly facade cracked a little, eyes widening. “Pretty sure he never knew about me.” Severus blinked. What was he—? “Nobody likes to talk about the family bastard, you know?”
Nobody gasped or pointed, but Severus could feel the ripple of shock that went through their part of the Slytherin table. He bit the inside of his cheek as he marveled at Potter’s sheer stupidity. He would never have been able to conceal this, of course, but he could have at least kept it secret until the end of dinner. Bastards were almost as taboo as squibs among purebloods; if one was unlucky enough to have one in the family, no one talked about it.
Nott withdrew from Potter now that he’d gotten the information he’d wanted. His smile was wide and cruel. He knew, just as he’d known all those years ago when he’d exposed Severus’s dirty blood, that he’d drawn a target on Potter’s back. No Slytherin would talk to him now or befriend him. Nott couldn’t have stranded him more thoroughly if they’d set him off in a rowboat without oars. What was worse was that Potter didn’t even seem to realize he’d given Nott the paint he’d needed to draw the target; he was still watching Nott with a defiant tilt to his mouth as if daring Nott to say something. Nott could, of course, and every Slytherin there wouldn’t say a word; but Nott was smart enough to know when he’d beaten someone.
Severus wanted to be glad about Potter’s hurried fall from grace—at last, a Potter getting what was coming to him!—but a little worm of sympathy persisted. He knew what it was like to be dismissed and scorned for nothing more than misfortunate of who your parents were. It was a lesson he’d learned long before ever coming to Hogwarts. Potter or no, Severus despised seeing it happen to someone else.
“Well,” Nott said. “I’m sure you’ll have a ball of a time in Slytherin, Potter.” His laughing eyes said exactly how likely that was going to happen. Potter blinked, disconcerted. He’d doubtless expected more of a frontal attack, but that wasn’t Nott’s style. “I’ll leave you to your dinner.”
Nott withdrew. He was practically beaming as he rejoined their group at dinner and he exchanged a friendly shoulder bump with Parkinson. Potter, who had watched his retreat with a furrow between his brows, met Severus’s eyes as he turned away. Severus froze under their scrutiny. They were really an extraordinary shade of green, just as bright and vivid as Lily’s. He’d never met someone with eyes like that other than her.
Something trembled in Potter’s expression for just a moment but then Potter was turning away, back to his food. Severus frowned at his bent head, more out of sorts than he liked to admit. But, he reminded himself as he bent back to his food, Potter wasn’t his concern. As long as he didn’t follow his cousin’s example, Severus would be content to simply ignore him as he ignored everyone else in his year and that was all there was to it.
The Slytherin common room was crowded when Severus wandered in. He’d tried to put the matter of their new student to the back of his mind during dinner, preoccupying himself with his dinner and his book as he waited for Potter’s little band of merry men to finally piss off back to their quarters. It had proved surprisingly difficult; Severus found his mind drifting back to him as he descended into the dungeons.
Severus was one of the last Slytherins to arrive. Several heads went up as he entered. Severus froze under the collective attention but most of the students looked away again immediately, muttering. Severus looked around and realized that almost all of Slytherin was gathered. Unusual. Slytherins weren’t, by and large, group people like Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs; the common room was accepted as largely seventh-year territory and the younger years usually did their studying and socializing in their own rooms. Severus frowned.
It wasn’t until the room went silent that Severus realized someone else had stepped through the entrance behind him. He turned and met the green eyes of their newest housemate directly.
Up close, Potter was annoying good-looking. He had the same clear, dark skin and smooth jaw that his cousin did, though his features were less square and more angular. When he met Severus’s gaze, he jumped. His eyes—that bright and almost unnerving shade of green—widened. Severus had the odd feeling that Potter knew him somehow. He narrowed his eyes. Had he been in contact with his cousin somehow? But Potter had seemed assured that James Potter wouldn’t know anything about him. So how did Potter recognize him? Severus knew that Lupin had stayed behind this break, as he usually did. Perhaps he’d said something? Severus braced himself for some kind of comment, prepared to snap back immediately. He already let one Potter run roughshod over him, he wasn’t about to roll over for another one.
But after an uncertain look, Potter just sidled around him without a word. Severus was oddly discomforted and he turned to watch Potter’s retreat with a frown. Was he just waiting for a surprise attack later?
Potter was ignoring all the Slytherins watching him the same way he’d ignored the students in the Great Hall, making a beeline for the stairs that led to the dorms. Severus could have told him it was futile; sure enough, before Potter got even halfway across, someone stepped in his way. Severus’s eyebrows rose. He’d expected someone to take control of Potter’s interrogation, but he hadn’t thought it would be Lucius Malfoy.
Malfoy was the king of the seventh years and, as such, the undisputed leader of Slytherin. He’d always largely ignored Severus, which Severus recognized as its own kind of mercy. But if he was the one taking control of needling answers from the new kid, the seventh years must be very interested in Potter. They hadn’t been that much further down the table than Severus from Nott and Potter’s little talk and even if they hadn’t heard it directly, one of their younger year lackeys would have told them. What possible interest could a pureblood like Malfoy have in the Potter bastard?
Severus’s curiosity was too strong. He stayed to watch.
“Hello there,” Malfoy said, extending a hand.
Potter stared at it. He looked like he had when he’d run into Severus—wan and wide-eyed, clearly spooked. Severus wondered if James Potter or Remus Lupin had told him about Malfoy too or if he’d heard his own rumors. Lucius Malfoy’s reputation wasn’t contained to Hogwarts.
When Potter didn’t take Malfoy’s hand, a titter went through the room. Malfoy waited for a beat and withdrew his hand, managing to convey with the gesture his condescension toward Potter’s rudeness. Potter wasn’t completely blind; he noticed the undercurrent and bristled.
“Lucius Malfoy,” Malfoy said, adopting a gleaming smile. “I just wanted to welcome you to Slytherin personally.”
Something shifted in Potter with Malfoy’s smile. He stopped looking so much like a mouse caught in a cat’s claws and some of the color returned to his face. He adopted an empty, affable smile that he had to know Malfoy saw through. Malfoy showed no reaction to the sudden shift in Potter’s face outside of a slight tick of his eyebrow.
“Harrison Potter,” he said. “Thanks for the… welcome.”
Malfoy’s smile widened. “Of course,” he said. “We want nothing more than to make you feel welcome. Transferring so late in your schooling must be nerve-wracking.”
Potter’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s not that bad,” he said.
“Oh?” Malfoy asked. “Well, family must make it easier of course. It’s a shame you weren’t sorted in the same house.”
Severus wondered if Potter heard all the barbs under those words. It had taken Severus months to get used to Slytherin double-talk, to understand that there were always traps laid under even the most sympathetic words. To anyone not reading between the lines, Malfoy sounded truly sorry for Potter’s misfortune. To the other Slytherins, the message was clear: you don’t belong here.
But that wasn’t all there was, Severus thought. Malfoy must have noticed, as Severus had, that Potter was almost deaf to that kind of double-speak. He wouldn’t recognize Malfoy’s subtle insult and it wasn’t like Malfoy to insult someone who wouldn’t notice it. Severus’s eyes narrowed. Why would Malfoy want to make Potter feel safe or comfortable with him? Surely he had no use for a Potter bastard?
“I’m sure I’ll manage,” Potter said. So he hadn’t missed the insult entirely. He stared up at Malfoy. “No need to worry.”
Severus bit the inside of his cheek. Idiot. No one challenged Malfoy, not even the other seventh years. Was Potter suicidal? Or had his years being home-schooled dulled his survival instincts?
“Of course, of course,” Malfoy said, backing off smoothly. His eyes gleamed. “If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be happy to help, Harrison.”
Potter’s eyes narrowed. “I might take you up on that, Lucius.”
No one was gauche enough to gasp but there was a whisper of sound at Potter’s audacity. Malfoy wasn’t ruffled at all—if anything, the gleam in his eyes deepened. Potter was definitely suicidal, Severus thought. Or perhaps he shared James Potter’s arrogance and thought nothing of the consequences his little defiance would have.
But it wasn’t Severus’s problem if the new boy wanted to get himself harassed.
He watched as Malfoy retreated to his inner circle, accepting the seat next to Bellatrix Black as he due. He was still intensely curious about Malfoy’s game. He’d never seen Malfoy take an interest in anyone so far below his status before. His curiosity itched at him the same way it did when he had a difficult potion to prepare or a thorny transfigurations problem. But he ignored it. Nothing good would come from getting tangled up in Malfoy’s affairs or this new Potter’s. Severus planned to spend this year just like he’d spent the last one: ignoring and largely being ignored by his house.
They all turned as Slughorn bustled through the entrance, beaming. Severus sneered but it went largely unnoticed as Slughorn bustled up to Potter, throwing a friendly arm over his shoulder. He didn’t think Slughorn noticed the cool look Malfoy gave him from his seat—despite cultivating a relationship with the man, Severus didn’t think Malfoy thought better of Slughorn than Severus did.
“I see you’ve been getting to know our newest member!” Slughorn boomed. “I expect you all to make Mr. Potter feel most welcome. He’s sure to be overwhelmed after so long at home. Aren’t you, my boy?”
Potter was staring at Slughorn like he had three heads. Severus suppressed a little snort, amused despite himself. You speak an infinite deal of nothing.9 But he'd better get used to Slughorn’s inappropriate friendliness. A Potter was sure to be invited to his Slug Club, Slytherin bastard or no. Severus turned, determined to spend the rest of the night forgetting that Potter even existed.
“Oh, Mr. Snape! Mr. Snape!”
Severus paused. Slughorn was coming toward him with Potter in tow. Severus’s stomach sank. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.
“Mr. Snape, may I introduce you to your new roommate?” Slughorn said, depositing Potter in front of him.
For a moment, they stared at each other. Potter looked oddly stricken again by Severus. Severus wondered with irritation exactly what stories his relative had been filling his head with as he turned to Slughorn. This had to be a mistake. It had to be a mistake.
“I do not have a roommate,” Severus said with cold formality.
Slughorn chuckled. “I know it will be difficult to give up your privacy, m’boy, but I’m sure you’ll adjust!”
Severus’s stomach tightened into a hard knot. No. Fuck no.
“—has assured me Mr. Potter will be rooming with you.” Slughorn’s congeniality was beginning to turn stern even as he continued to beam at the both of them. “He moved Mr. Potter in several days ago, in fact.”
Severus curled his hands into tight fists to help ground him through the sudden overwhelming wash of panic. His eyes went out of focus as he tried to keep his heart rate steady. Had Potter already been living in Severus’s room? What had he done to it? How much had he snooped, how much of Severus’s things had he already gone through? What had he taken or destroyed or—?
“—leave you two to get acquainted.”
Severus barely acknowledged Slughorn’s departure. He focused on Potter, still wan and tight-mouthed, who hadn’t yet said a word. He realized that the entire Slytherin house was watching them over Potter’s shoulder, some more obvious than others. He caught sight of Nott’s smug face and his fingernails broke the skin of his palm. His year-mates had been insufferable about his rooming situation.
This must be like a belated Christmas gift for them.
“Come,” Severus said in his softest voice.
Potter seemed to recognize Severus’s fury; strangely, some of the skittishness drained from him and his chin went up, eyes hardening. But he followed Severus without complaint up the stairs, down the hall. Severus stopped at the door that had once just been his and stared for a long moment at the embossed plaque that now had a H. Potter under S. Snape. Not even a year. Dumbledore couldn’t even keep his word for year. Severus let out a hissed breath. Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.10
He couldn’t attack Potter and he couldn’t risk throwing a tantrum where someone could still potentially hear them. No, all he could do was seethe and throw the dorm door open so hard it banged into the wall. Useless but it at least allowed some of that bottled rage out so he wasn’t overflowing with it.
He wanted to go immediately to the hiding spots he’d kept in the room automatically, born out of years of paranoia and his room being searched whenever he went out for long periods of time. He’d roomed with Nott last year and he’d had a nasty habit of going through Severus’s things and trashing them if Severus gave him any opportunity to do so. But he’d have to wait until Potter went out or went to sleep. On the surface, everything looked undisturbed, even his desk. Severus’s eye twitched as he saw a neat stack of books perched on a newly installed desk next to his, a sheaf of parchment pinned underneath them.
Severus jumped and looked down. A sleek black cat stared up at him. Its eyes were as green as Potter’s, distinctly unimpressed. Severus felt a vein his forehead begin to throb.
“And what,” he said in his softest voice, “is that?”
He turned. Potter had been watching him silently from the door, arms crossed over his chest. Under Severus’s attention, he flushed.
“A cat,” he said.
Severus’s eye twitched.
“And what exactly is it doing here?”
Potter’s eyes flashed. “Well,” he said, so sarcastically that Severus gritted his teeth, “it happens to be my cat, y’see.”
Severus had never used the option to get a pet. He’d never had much of a soft spot for animals that couldn’t be used as potions ingredients and anything he brought home with him over the summer would have probably ended up dead anyway. He couldn’t even imagine his father’s response to an owl or frog in his house.
He glanced back down. The cat didn’t do anything sickeningly cute like purr or meow back up at him or cock its head. It simply stared directly at Severus, eyes narrowed and focused. Cats look down on us.11 Severus felt disturbingly evaluated.
“She doesn’t have a name yet,” Potter said, sounding less confrontational but still defensive. “She won’t be a bother.”
The cat finally looked away from Severus, meowing at Potter. She took a running leap at him and climbed his robes until she could perch on his shoulder. Potter didn’t react at all, even when the cat began to wash his ear.
Severus badly wanted to hit something. He took several deep breaths and forcefully shoved down his fury and disappointment. He would deal with them later. Right now, he had a roommate to keep in line. He wouldn’t deal with another Nott who tried to run roughshod all over him. He had to set boundaries, put this new Potter in his place. If this Potter was anything like his cousin, Severus doubted it would work but he’d be damned if he didn’t at least try.
“I have rules,” he said, keeping his voice even.
Potter blinked, then frowned. His arms were still crossed over his chest. He looked ridiculous with the cat clinging to his shoulder.
“Rules?” he asked.
“We are, unfortunately, roommates. If we are to coexist, I have rules,” Severus repeated, holding onto his patience with both hands. “First, if you touch anything of mine without my permission, I will make you regret it.”
Potter snorted. “I wouldn’t want to touch anything of yours anyway, Snape,” he said. “But deal.”
Severus waited to hear the same condition repeated back to him, but Potter continued to look at him expectantly. Severus’ eyes narrowed. Did Potter expect Severus to hold to his own standards without agreeing explicitly? How had he been sorted into Slytherin?
“No one else is allowed inside,” he said. “Not any little friends you might make or your cousin.”
“My—?” Potter seemed nonplussed and then his eyebrows rose. “You mean James?”
Severus snarled. “Yes. He cannot come here.”
The very thought of James Potter in his room was enough to make his breath shorten. This might not be the fortress it had been for him for the first half of the year anymore, but he wouldn’t let it be breached any more than it already had. He fortified himself. He wouldn’t allow it happen.
Potter shook his head. “Can’t invite him in anyway,” he said, so amicably that Severus began to seethe. “He’d get eaten alive if I tried.”
“Do you agree or not?” Severus asked through gritted teeth.
“You really don’t ever invite friends to your room?”
That wasn’t what Severus had expected him to ask. Thrown for a loop, he answered honestly.
“I don’t have any friends to invite.”
Potter frowned. “What?” he asked, sounding genuinely startled. Merlin. “Really?”
Severus wasn’t about to tell him about Lily. He got enough grief on that score from the other Potter.
“Potter,” Severus said with as much patience as he could muster. “I realize you were raised among barn animals, but here in the civilized world there is a hierarchy and I, as it happens, am at the bottom of it. Do you understand?”
“No,” Potter said frankly. “What does that have to do with having friends?”
“It means,” Severus said, “that anyone associating with me will also go to the bottom and that is something my fellow Slytherins are desperate to escape.”
Potter was silent for a long moment. “They’d really avoid you because of that?” he asked with a strange voice.
Severus frowned at him. “Of course,” he said. He’d made his own bitter peace with it years ago, abandoned his infantile hope that someone, anyone would be brave enough or selfless enough or like him enough to try despite that. He had Lily and that was enough most days.
Potter was silent for a long time. Severus wondered what Dumbledore and the rest had told him about Hogwarts—had he expected some sort of kumbaya sing-along where everyone in the house held hands and loved each other simply because the Sorting Hat had dictated they live together? Perhaps some houses were like that—Hufflepuff came to mind—but Slytherin wasn’t. The strong and the powerful were the leaders. The weak and the outcasts, like Severus, were left to fend for themselves. Severus was just grateful that being ignored meant he was not also attacked by his housemates; outside of his own year, they were largely content to just leave him alone, unlike some Gryffindors Severus could name. But Potter didn’t need to know all of that.
My load of woe is incommunicable to all but me. 12
“All right,” Potter said at last. “No one else allowed inside. Got any more rules?”
“What I do is my business, what you do is yours,” Severus said. “We may be housemates and, Merlin help me, roommates, but we are not anything else to each other. Anything I do is of no interest to you, understand?”
Potter snorted. “It’s not as if you do anything interesting, Snape.”
“Keep it that way,” Severus said. He would have to keep a close eye on Potter in the next few weeks. Potter might not find anything he did that interesting, but if he went running to tell his cousin… Severus had no idea how close they were but just because Potter said they’d never spoken didn’t mean it was true. Unbelievable as it was, Potter was a Slytherin.
Severus blinked. “What?” he snapped.
“Don’t touch your things, don’t let other people in, don’t pay attention to what you do,” Potter recited, ticking off the rules on his fingers. “That’s everything?”
Severus nodded. Potter considered him for a long moment. For someone who had been, up to that point, disturbingly open, he was surprisingly difficult to read. There was something ticking away behind those green eyes, but Severus would be damned if he could figure out what it was.
“All right,” Potter said. He stuck out a hand. “Deal.”
Severus looked from Potter’s hand to his face. What in Merlin’s name…? But Potter didn’t lower his hand or look away. He stared straight at Severus, direct and fearless. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.13 Severus had no idea what to do with that. Gingerly, he reached out and took Potter’s hand, giving it a quick, hard shake. Potter had a warm, callused palm. Severus dropped it as quickly as he was able.
“Excellent,” he said.
“Good,” Potter said. He reached up and picked the cat off his shoulder, setting it down on his bed. “I’m going to go take a shower, Snape.”
He marched out. Severus stared at the closing door then at the cat, who twitched its whiskers at him and rolled over, apparently going to sleep. Severus let out a long, even breath and shook himself. He could worry about Potter’s strange behavior later—he might as well put Potter’s absence to good use and check to make sure none of his things had been disturbed.
And if a part of his mind was circling around Potter’s bright eyes and strange ticks and direct gaze while he rooted out his secret things, there was no one but the cat around to notice.
next chapter will back to harry's pov with some cameos from illusive family members. also some of you might be going: "uh but lucius graduated by the time severus was a fifth year???" and you'd be right!! there's a reason lucius & other slytherins who should already be gone are there and it'll come up sooner or later.
1"tulips" (sylvia plath)
2the brothers karamazov (fyoder dostoevsky)
3"murder in the cathedral" (ts eliot)
4jane eyre (charlotte bronte)
5attributed to washington irving
6"tulips" (sylvia plath)
7oedipus rex (sophocles)
8jane eyre (charlotte bronte)
9merchant of venice (william shakespeare)
10frankenstein (mary wollstonecraft shelley)
11attributed to winston churchill
12oedipus rex (sophocles)
13frankenstein (mary wollstonecraft shelley)
Chapter 4: disorientation
Time travel is confusing. Harry struggles to adapt.
sorry this chapter took forever. i was struggling with some general writer's block and the last few months have been really busy for me at work, so i also just haven't had the time or energy to write. i'm hoping the next chapter will be up a lot faster since i have parts of it written already.
also re: criticism since there was some discussion about that in the comments of the last chapter. i don't mind hearing your thoughts if you didn't like something, but i'm writing this story on my own time mostly for my own amusement. it's fine if you don't like something, but i'm not going to change the story or my writing style to suit any individual reader's tastes. i'm not trying to be mean but i honestly am not interested in being told i need to change my writing style to make it 'work' for a reader. i'm writing this for me and i'm writing it as i like bc it's fanfic and it's fun.
this isn't a callout!!! i just want people to be aware of my feelings on this, that's all. i have really appreciated the feedback and the response on this story and i do appreciate all of your comments and kudos a lot.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The funny thing was, Harry thought as he trudged down to breakfast, he’d thought he was prepared. He’d spent the week leading up to the students coming back mentally bracing himself for his new housemates, going over his story so many times that Harrison Potter had actually started to feel like a real person instead of a mask Harry was being forced to wear. He’d figured when he’d gone to dinner last night that he was as ready as he could ever be and felt prepared, if not confident.
Which all got shot to shit immediately, of course.
As Harry slipped into the Great Hall—mostly empty at this time of day—he was still trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong. He’d known Slytherins in his own time. He’d had pretty intimate dealings with them between Malfoy and the various attacks by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But these Slytherins weren’t anything like the ones he’d known back in his own time. He thought about Lucius Malfoy’s cool smile and glittering eyes and shivered. No, Draco wasn’t anything like his father. It made Harry feel a little ridiculous for ever considering him a nemesis. What had Draco Malfoy ever even done to him? Spread a few rumors, made a few nasty buttons?
Lucius Malfoy wouldn’t stop at buttons.
Harry hadn’t been able to get a good handle on his own year-mates either. Nott was a slippery one, all smiles and a kind of commiserating compassion that made Harry instinctively wary. The way he’d immediately gone for Harry’s secrets last night had been unnerving. The others had been content to sit back and allow Nott’s interrogation and Harry hadn’t gotten a good impression beyond a mess of faces. He would have to pay more attention, he thought as he began to butter his toast. Harry doubted Voldemort would recruit fifth years but it was clear in the papers that the First War had already begun. There were shady reports of mysterious deaths, a rise in a lot of laws about muggleborns and magical creatures… No one had called the Death Eaters by name yet but Harry figured it was only a matter of time. He couldn’t remember when the First War had started in earnest but he gave it a year at best. Maybe less.
Which meant some of the students around him would soon be his enemies. Harry wasn’t the Boy-Who-Lived in this time but if someone figured out that he wasn’t actually Harrison Potter, a harmless half-blood transfer… Harry didn’t want to think about what Voldemort would do to get details about the future. Harry would need to be vigilant, keep his guard up at all times.
He sighed as he put ketchup on his eggs. It sounded exhausting. Harry had thought he’d gone through the ringer before when everyone in school thought he was a murderer or a madman or just an attention-seeking liar, but this was worse. At least before Harry had had his friends standing by him, people who believed him and loved him. Now it was just him. Harry wasn’t even sure he could trust Dumbledore and that alone made him feel even more isolated. How was he supposed to stay safe and find his way home when he had no allies to turn to in this strange time? Harry hadn’t been so alone since he was living with the Dursleys and every day was a battle.
Harry glanced up, mouth full of egg and toast, as someone else sat down and stiffened when Snape met his gaze with a sneer. Harry ducked his head back down and swallowed his food, containing his instinctive urge to sneer back. Snape was going to be the hardest part. He’d always hated Snape but Harry knew he was smart and suspicious. Harry had plenty of experience working around inquisitive teachers who were too interested in his business, but Snape had always been the most difficult one to talk around or distract that Harry had ever had, even with all of his practice. Snape saw too much, kept too close an eye. Harry had both hated and been thankful for Snape’s continuing delusion that Harry was an attention-seeking spoiled brat; it meant that even with those eagle eyes, Snape never really saw the truth.
Harry’s connection to James probably already had Snape wary. Harry would have to be doubly careful with Snape. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem—it wasn’t like Harry wanted to be around the greasy git—except they were bloody roommates. Harry would have to watch himself in his own room as well as out in the halls of Hogwarts. It sounded exhausting.
Harry glanced at the Gryffindor table, still largely empty. Would he have had as many problems if he’d been properly sorted? He couldn’t imagine what his dad was thinking about all of this. Would he have embraced Harry as a long-lost cousin if he’d been in Gryffindor? Or would Harry have been even more disoriented and isolated being among people who should love him but couldn’t tell him from a stranger?
Harry jumped. Professor Slughorn raised his eyebrows, a jovial smile on his face. Harry didn’t trust it for one minute. Slughorn reminded him of Lockhart even if there were far fewer requests for photos or uncomfortably intimate hugs. Something in Slughorn’s eyes was greedy as if Harry was something to be collected. Harry offered back a cautious, tight-lipped smile, reminding himself that Harrison Potter had no reason to distrust a teacher. No teacher had ever tried to kill Harrison Potter before.
“Bit jumpy, eh?” Slughorn asked in a conspiratorial tone. “Did you sleep all right?”
How would Harrison Potter react? Harry shrugged, trying to look chagrined and small. “Bit strange to sleep anywhere but home,” he said as sheepishly as he could manage.
It worked. Slughorn laughed, clapping Harry on the back. “You’ll get used to it, my boy! Now, here you go, your schedule! Bit full, it is, so if you have any trouble don’t hesitate to come knocking on my door!”
Harry took the schedule and glanced down, eyebrows rising. It was full but not more than his fifth-year schedule before had been. To someone who’d only worked at home it must be intimidating, Harry thought, so he tried to react accordingly.
“Of course, Professor,” he said.
Slughorn smiled at him. “I’m sure you’ll settle in just fine.” He glanced down the table. Harry followed his look to Snape who was ignoring his breakfast in favor of a thick book. “Everything all right with Mr. Snape?”
Harry stammered. “He’s—we’re fine.”
Slughorn frowned. “Genius, that one,” he said, sounding oddly disgruntled about it. “But anti-social as they come. If you have any trouble with him, come to me and we’ll get it all sorted out. I’ve had to break up more than one fight Mr. Snape was involved in.”
Harry stared at him. He couldn’t imagine Snape fighting. Attacking someone with his words, sure, but a brawl? Even in Dueling Club, Snape had seemed cooly detached from the whole proceedings, barely doing the minimum to get Lockhart disarmed. And against the Marauders he’d… Harry winced. He’d been disarmed so totally and quickly that there hadn’t been a chance for him to fight back at all. But hadn’t Remus said Snape attacked his dad all the time?
“I’ll be sure to do that, sir,” Harry said.
Slughorn beamed at him again. “A credit to your good name, Mr. Potter,” he said. Harry didn’t like the way he’d stressed good name or his greedy eyes. “Impeccable manners! I look forward to seeing what you can do with a cauldron.”
Harry barely withheld a snort. Slughorn wouldn’t be looking forward to it that long. Slughorn waddled away and Harry snuck another glance at Snape. It was odd to think of Potions without Snape there, looming over him and insulting every last thing Harry did. Snape was a mean-spirited, spiteful man, but Harry had grown used to him during his time at Hogwarts. In this land of the unfamiliar and disorienting, even Snape’s insults would have been a little comforting. A return to normalcy.
“You read a lot,” Harry said before he could stop himself.
It took a long moment before Snape’s head rose, so slowly that Harry thought he couldn’t believe Harry would dare to address him. He sneered.
“I find that reading helps stimulate the intellect,” he said. “Sadly, I doubt you have enough to bother.”
He stuck his nose back in his book. Harry eyed his bent head and went back to his eggs. Still, he couldn’t deny that he felt a little better; that was no Professor Snape, but being snapped at in that voice with those eyes glaring at him was familiar enough that he almost felt more at home.
Harry was startled to find himself almost bored by school for the first time in his life. Hogwarts had never been difficult for him outside of Potions—he’d always been mediocre at school, able to keep his grades up but never excelling at Hermione’s level. He didn’t mind that so much even if he’d begun to wish he could have better grades so that his pipe dream of being an Auror could feel a little more attainable. But he was stunned to find that he had no trouble with the Cheering Charms Flitwick had them practice during their Charms class that morning or the pop quiz on different kinds of Bubble Charms he’d administered during the second leg of the double class. Harry had never once been so calm during a quiz. As he stood to file out, half-listening to the chattering students around him, he wondered if that was how Hermione always felt in class; confident, collected, knowledgeable. Harry still wasn’t particularly happy about having to re-do half of his year—or the reason that he had to re-do it—but he had to admit it was nice to not worry so much in the classroom.
Harry stiffened and felt the back of his neck heat as several students looked over, Nott among them. Nott offered Harry a cheery wave and a smile that bordered on a smirk. Harry bit the inside of his cheek hard and turned to face Professor Flitwick.
“Yes, sir?” he asked.
Flitwick was just as cheerful as Harry remembered, though his hair was much blonder now. He grinned up at Harry.
“Stay for a moment, would you please? I’ll write you a note for Professor Slughorn.”
Harry’s stomach twisted into anxious, writhing knots. What had he done? He nodded without really realizing he was doing it. Flitwick waited until all of the students had filed out of the classroom before he reached over and patted Harry’s arm.
“No need to look so concerned, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said, sounding amused. “I just wanted to congratulate you on a job well done!”
Harry blinked. “A—what?”
“I’ve been at Hogwarts a long time,” Flitwick said. “Longer than most other than Minnie and Albus, I expect.” Harry blinked again. Minnie? He couldn’t mean McGonagall, could he? “We’ve seen a few transfers during my time, but none of them have adjusted so well so quickly. Why, your Charms work is quite advanced! Was your mother adept at Charms?”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno,” he said. “I guess?”
Flitwick beamed. “Well, she certainly taught you well, young man! Now I just wanted to let you know that you are more than welcome to come knocking at my door any time. It’s quite a leap, coming to Hogwarts after so long being taught at home and I’d quite understand if you feel burdened by the coursework.”
Harry was taken aback. He didn’t think he’d ever really spoken with Flitwick one-on-one like this. He knew Flitwick to be funny and kind, a patient teacher who didn’t mind a bit of fun in class, but Harry hadn’t expected the kind of compassion Flitwick was showing to him now, a virtual stranger. His throat tightened.
“I’ll be sure to do that, Professor,” Harry said.
Flitwick patted his arm again. “Well then! We’d better get you going before Horace wonders what I’ve done to you.”
Harry watched, a little astonished, as Flitwick’s quill whipped out of his pocket, hurried over to his desk and scribbled out a note. Sometimes magic really amazed him. The note glided over to Harry and he grabbed it out of the air. Flitwick let him go with a smile and a wink and Harry was still smiling a little to himself as he began to the descent to the dungeons.
The path to the Potions classroom was familiar enough—Snape hadn’t changed it when he’d become a teacher. Harry was wondering if his newfound academic confidence might actually extend to Potions when he heard a clamor down the hall. He paused, brow furrowing, instincts suddenly on high. His wand was in his hand as he crept forward, peering around an old suit of armor.
His stomach dropped so suddenly he felt like he was experiencing vertigo.
“—reading such nasty, nasty stuff.”
“Probably gets off on it. You do, don’t you, Snivvy?”
He watched, dazed, as his father and Sirius paged through a book, ignoring the bound and struggling Snape they’d dumped on the floor. Harry wasn’t sure what was wrapped around him—it didn’t look like rope—but it kept his arms and legs pinned and provided a gag that kept his mouth firmly shut. Snape’s eyes were dark, furious pits as he glared up at Sirius and James.
“Look at this,” Sirius said, holding the book like it was something moldy and disgusting. “A person can only be held under Cruciatus for five minutes before they begin to experience nerve damage.” He glanced down at Snape with a sneer of disgust. “Studying up before you practice, Snivvy?”
“No, I think you’ve got it right, Padfoot,” James said. “He seems like he’d get off on this kind of nasty stuff. Bet he doesn’t let Evans see him reading these kinds of books.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “You’ve really got to get over her, mate,” he said.
“I’m not into her,” James said, so petulantly that Harry winced. “I just don’t see why she’s all hot and heavy for a greasy faggot like Snivellous here, that’s all. I know you’re not packing anything down there—” he gestured and leered a little, “—so what’s your secret, Snivvy?” He leered again, more deeply. “Love potions?”
Snape struggled against his bonds. Harry’s hands were curled into such tight fists that he knew there would be deep indents in his palms from his fingernails. There was a distant, low buzzing in his ears as if the hall was full of bees. But he couldn’t move. He could barely breathe as Sirius knelt in front of Snape and dangled the book in front of his nose.
“I think we’ll be taking this from you, Snivellous,” he said. “It’s an act of common decency, isn’t it? Keeping this kind of indecent material out of your dirty hands.” There was something wild and dark behind his eyes, something that got Harry’s back up. He recognized that look. He’d seen it in Piers’s face, in Dudley’s, in Uncle Vernon’s. Harry knew before he did it that Sirius was going to lash out with a kick that made Snape fold in on himself. Harry’s wince was so strong he knocked into the wall.
James sighed. “What is it with you and muggle fighting?” he said, exasperated but not scolding. “We’ve got wands, don’t we?”
“It’s not as satisfying,” Sirius said, grinning down toothily at the still wheezing Snape. “I like to really see him feel it, you know? Want to give a try, Prongs?”
James sniffed. Harry was startled to hear him sound so much like Draco Malfoy. Hadn’t Malfoy also turned his nose up at muggle fighting?
“No thanks,” he said. “I don’t want to touch him any more than I have to. That grease might rub off on me.”
“Better get to Potions,” Sirius said. “Old Sluggy gets ever so aggrieved when we’re late.” He kicked Snape again and Harry heard a strangled grunt through the gag. Harry’s breathing was getting faster and it was getting more and more difficult to keep standing there. He wanted to run. “Too bad Snivellous here won’t make it. Sluggy will make him clean cauldrons for days.”
They sauntered down the hall. Harry pressed back behind the suit of armor, waiting until their footsteps disappeared before he could summon the nerve to step out. Snape was struggling against his bonds but he stilled when he saw Harry. Harry was pretty sure if he hadn’t had the gag in place, he’d be spitting something truly nasty—Snape was almost much, much worse when he felt humiliated, Harry knew that from experience. Of course, in the past Harry had never felt like Snape’s humiliation was justified, just the result of being too prideful and arrogant. This time… Harry gulped as he knelt down next to Snape.
The bonds weren’t rope but some kind of hemp. Harry frowned at them. He couldn’t see any kind of tie and if these were magical bonds, he was reluctant to cast something that would make it worse. Not for the first time, he missed Hermione. She was so encyclopedic that he could have just consulted her on if it was okay to use a Finite Incantatum or not. Snape was attempting to mouth something behind his gag, but considering the fury in his dark eyes, Harry doubted it was instructions on how to free him.
Harry cast around for something sharp so he could cut the bonds the old-fashioned way, but Hogwarts had always been very well-kept; there wasn’t a hint of debris. But the cleanliness gave him an idea. He snapped his fingers and Snape flinched.
“Can I please get a house elf?” Harry murmured, not sure if it would work. He’d never tried to call a House Elf that wasn’t Dobby before.
There was a moment when Harry resigned himself to having to go find a window to smash or something and then a soft pop. The house elf bowed low, a neat little skirt and pressed blouse making it look more professional and tidy than any house-elf Harry had seen before.
“Squeaky, at your service, Master Potter,” she said. “What is the problem?”
“My housemate is in a spot of trouble,” Harry said, gesturing to Snape. Squeaky’s eyebrows rose. “I was wondering if you would help me get him out of… whatever those are?”
Squeaky considered him. “You’re asking?” she asked. Harry blinked at her tone.
“Yeah,” he said, nonplussed. “If you can’t do it, could you point me in the direction of something sharp so I can cut him out myself?”
“Asking again,” she murmured. Harry didn’t know what was so odd about that; the Hogwarts house elves were hardly like Dobby, who’d belonged to vile people who never once said anything to him that wasn’t an order or a taunt. Surely they were treated fairly here? “I can release him, Master Potter.”
“Oh,” Harry said, relieved. “Thank you so much.”
He really hadn’t looked forward to searching the castle for something to cut Snape’s bonds with. Squeaky considered him again then turned to Snape and snapped her fingers. The bonds disintegrated into ash, which Harry had never seen before. He had never really thought about house-elf magic, though he benefited from it as much in this time as he had in his own. He only had a moment to spare for his curiosity, though, as the moment Snape was free he had Harry pinned to the wall, snarling in his face. For someone so pale and skinny, Snape was surprisingly strong.
Snape gnashed his teeth in Harry’s face, wild-eyed. “You insolent little—”
Snape was dragged back by some invisible force and Harry slumped down. Squeaky looked between them sternly.
“There will be no fighting,” she said.
“We won’t,” Harry managed, still trying to catch his breath.
Snape simply glared, mouth tight. But he made no move to hurt Harry again and Squeaky released whatever hold she had on him. She offered him a nod and a deeper bow for Harry.
“Thank you again,” Harry managed before she disappeared with another look and a snap of her fingers. Harry turned to Snape, irritation winning out over his shaky shock. “Any reason you decided to attack me for helping you?”
“I don’t need your help,” Snape hissed.
Harry frowned. “You wouldn’t have gotten out of those ropes by yourself.”
Snape marched forward and Harry flinched back, but Snape only poked him hard in the chest, using the inches he had to tower over Harry. Harry was reminded a little of potions classes, where Snape also had used his height to intimidate. Only it was a little different now that Snape was his age and Harry had just seen him struggling and beaten. It seemed a lot less like a sick power play and more like a defense mechanism.
Harry could remember, with sometimes startling clarity, the anger he’d felt when he lived with the Dursleys. Every day, he had been mocked or hurt and sometimes he’d become so angry that it had been almost too much for his body to handle, like a cup being overfilled. He’d needed to let it out somewhere. So he’d talk back to Vernon even when he knew it would get him the back of Vernon’s hand or he’d lash out at Dudley even though he knew Dudley would make him miserable for it.
Snape wasn’t quite the same, but it was close enough that Harry could recognize it. He knew that fury in Snape’s eyes.
“Leave me alone,” Snape said. “Keep your pity and your grand heroics to yourself.”
He whirled and bent for his bookbag, slinging it over his shoulder. His back as tense. Harry considered calling out after him, saying something, but he had no idea what to say. He wasn’t Snape’s friend. They barely knew each other. Snape had dealt with the Marauders—surely he didn’t need Harry to intervene, shove his nose in Snape’s business. Harry had always been angry when another kid would try to protect him from Dudley, back in those early years when there were still kids who hadn’t been scared stiff of Dudley yet.
But Harry couldn’t help but feel… Not responsible. But something close, something that made his stomach tighten when he thought about the ropes that had tied Snape down, the way Sirius had so nonchalantly hit him, the way they’d just taken Snape’s stuff. He didn’t want that to happen to anyone, not even Snape. No one deserved that.
Harry took a deep breath. He was going to be late for Potions but he couldn’t really bring it in himself to be sorry about it.
Harry was late to Potions, but Slughorn waved off a punishment, laughingly saying that Harry would learn to navigate Hogwarts eventually. Harry had never been given a reprieve in a Potions class before and kept expecting Slughorn to turn around and take house points.
He ignored the pointed looks and whispering. They had the class with the Gryffindors and Harry could feel James Potter staring. Before what he’d seen, he would have been aching to stare back, to drink in as much of that familiar-unfamiliar face as he could, but right now even thinking about James made him feel almost ill.
The only open seat was, to Harry’s horror, next to Snape. Snape spared him a truly vicious look, but even he knew better to protest. Harry slipped into his seat with a sense of impending doom. This was going to be a terrible Potions class, he knew it.
Slughorn had been lecturing when Harry slipped in—he picked off where he left off as the class settled. Slughorn liked to talk more than Snape, who had usually given them a rapid-fire explanation and then waved the recipe on the board. Harry appreciated Slughorn’s more thorough approach but Slughorn kept getting distracted in the midst of his own lecture, going off on rambling tangents that had little to do with the potion at hand. By the time he’d finished talking, they had a little under half the hour to finish their potion.
“You can find the recipe on page 214!” Slughorn called out as students began to stand up to get their ingredients and cauldrons prepared. “Pay special attention to the number of stirs!”
Harry heard Snape grumble under his breath and was unsurprised when Snape didn’t stand like the rest of their classmates. Snape gave Harry a look.
“How is your potions ability.”
Harry flinched back. Snape was intimidating when he shouted, but he was at his most dangerous when he got quiet. That demand had been little more than a whisper and Snape’s eyes were deadly. Snape had looked and sounded a little like that in the future when Harry had seen that horrific memory. Despite himself, Harry felt a stab of sympathy for both Snapes; he’d hated anyone pitying him too, he’d just been less vicious about it. Snape, who Harry had always thought despised weakness, must have been writhing in humiliation that Harry had seen him so low, even when Harry was nothing more than a troublesome new student to him and not the son of his nemesis.
“Terrible,” Harry admitted quietly.
Snape snorted. “Typical,” he said.
Harry rolled his eyes. “I can handle the ingredients,” he said. “Just tell me what to chop and grind and you can do all the finicky parts.”
Snape gave him a deeply distrustful look but they didn’t have time to argue about it; if they didn’t start their potion soon, they wouldn’t have time to finish it.
Harry recognized the Blood-Replenishing Potion from his own fifth year. He’d struggled with it because of the precise timing the ingredients had to be dropped in and the confusing switches in stirring order. Harry frowned down at the neat set of instructions in their Potions textbook. He was sure the newt’s eyes had to be crushed, not dropped in whole. And the beetle wings were supposed to be ground into a fine powder, not chopped. Had the recipe changed in twenty years?
He wondered about saying something to Snape, but he figured that since he’d admitted how bad he was at Potions, Snape probably wouldn’t listen to him anyway. He started with the ingredients as Snape set up the water to boil, fussing over the flame until it was steady. When he turned back to Harry, his eyes roved over the gathered ingredients and narrowed.
“Don’t slice the beetle wings,” he said. “Get out your pestle and grind them.”
Harry blinked, disconcerted. “But the instructions—”
“Are moronic. Crushed wings make the potion more potent. The newt eyes also need to be crushed in order to lessen the side-effect of nausea.”
Harry stared. “How do you know that?”
Snape sniffed. “Newt eyes help ease stomach pain, but only if they’re crushed,” he said as he reached out and plucked the chopped Betony. “Beetle wings lose potency when chopped, especially when mixed with ingredients like ginger root or betony. They should be crushed instead in order to affect the potion thoroughly.”
Snape had never been half so informative in his actual classes. Harry had known Snape was a potions master, but he’d largely thought it was a title he just had because he taught potions at Hogwarts. It was disconcerting to realize Snape did actually know his subject as well as McGonagall or Flitwick knew theirs. Harry glanced back down at the recipe. It was odd that the differences he remembered were the ones Snape was talking about.
“Potter!” Snape snapped. “Get working on that Hellebore!”
Harry jumped and hurried to work, putting the matter to the back of his mind. It was surprisingly easy to work with Snape—he was kind of like Hermione, a take-charge control freak whose orders just had to follow. Without a looming professor or Slytherins out to mess up his potion, Harry was almost relaxed in potions class for the first time since he was a first year.
Their potion turned the requisite blood red five minutes before the bell was supposed to ring. They were the first ones done, Harry noted with pleasure. Even with Hermione, that didn’t always happen; Draco Malfoy was many things, but he was actually pretty good at potions and he tended to be the first one done. Snape leaned back, surveying the potion carefully. He didn’t smile, but he looked a little less angry than he had before, Harry thought.
Slughorn came tromping over to their table, jovial smile already in place.
“All done, boys?” he asked, leaning over their table. “My, my! What a lovely color!” He stuck a finger in and beamed. “Perfect thickness as well. Very nicely done, Mr. Potter!”
Harry stiffened. What? “Professor—” he stammered.
Slughorn tipped him a wink. “There’s no need to be modest, Mr. Potter!” he chortled. “Your uncle is one of the leading potioneers on the market right now, after all! It must run in the blood.”
Harry look desperately at Snape, but he was stone-faced. What in Merlin’s name was happening?
“Full marks, of course,” Slughorn said. “I look forward to more remarkable work in the future, Mr. Potter!”
He swept away without even a word of praise for Snape. Harry stared after him, feeling like he’d been slapped. He’d never thought he’d dislike getting praise in potions, but he’d always imagined the praise would come for work he’d actually done. Harry and Ron had both ridden on Hermione’s coat tails once or twice in a group project—Hermione seized control so thoroughly it was sometimes impossible not to—but the professors had never once mistaken who to give their praise for the successful projects. Harry had never once taken credit for Hermione’s hard work and genius.
He looked at Snape, deeply uncomfortable. But Snape only sneered back.
“I’ll speak to him after class,” Harry said. “He can’t seriously think…”
“As a lowly half-blood with no connections to speak of, my potions ability can only be mediocre at best,” Snape said. “Of course should I actually make anything of myself, Slughorn will swear until he’s blue in the face that he mentored and nurtured me.” He seemed darkly amused by the thought.
“You can’t be okay with that! He didn’t even say anything to you and you did all the work!”
Snape flicked Harry a dismissive look. “He’s a flatulent whale riding on the coat tails of people greater than him. What do I care what he thinks of me?”
Harry stared at him as he scooped up some of their potion in a bottle to be tested for official grading, then vanished the rest. He couldn’t understand it. Hermione would have been in tears if a professor hadn’t acknowledged her hard work, especially if someone else had gotten the credit for it. And Snape had never seemed particularly happy about being overlooked in the future.
“Don’t blow up your tiny brain trying to figure it out, Potter,” Snape sneered.
“You honestly don’t think it’s unfair?”
Snape gave him a sardonic look. “Nothing’s fair, Potter.”
That was bullshit, but the bell rang before Harry could say so and Snape was out of his seat and out of the classroom before Harry could stop him. Harry gathered his own materials more slowly, mind still whirring. That cynicism was pure Snape—hadn’t he told Harry how unfair life was before?—but Harry still couldn’t reconcile Snape’s ease with his lack of recognition.
Harry jumped so hard he knocked his knee against the table. His heart in his throat, he looked up and froze as he came face to face with his father.
Merlin, they really did look as alike as everyone said. James had a wider face and glasses that fit and his hair was clipped short, but Harry could have easily been a twin instead of a son. Or a cousin, as James thought he was. Harry winced and ran a hand through his hair.
“Hi,” he said.
James offered him a wry smile. “This is wicked awkward, isn’t it?”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Harry agreed.
“I figured we should talk,” James said. “Cousin to cousin or something. I dunno, I’ve never had a cousin before.”
Harry winced, trying not to think of Dudley.
“That sounds fine,” he said. He couldn’t quite forget James’s disdain in the corridor. “Um. When…?”
“How about tomorrow?” James asked. “Lunch? We can try to figure out… things.”
That sounded stilted and ominous. Harry realized Sirius was standing behind James’s shoulder with a distinctly unhappy look on his face. When he noticed Harry looking, he sneered and Harry’s heart sank.
“Sure,” Harry said. “That sounds fine.”
“Great!” James ruffled his own hair and offered Harry another smile. “See you then, cuz.”
Sirius began complaining even as James pulled him out of the classroom. Harry only caught a Slytherin before they were gone. Harry sighed and finished picking up the rest of his materials. It was only his second class of the day and he was already exhausted.
Time traveling was terrible.
Dinner was a trickier affair than Harry had ever before.
He’d decided the moment he met them yesterday that he didn’t want anything to do with the Slytherin fifth years. But as he went to take a seat with some nervous-looking second years, Nott shouted his name and patted the open seat next to him with a challenging smile. Harry had always been weak to challenges. Gritting his teeth, he’d changed course and taken a seat next to Nott, trying to ignore the way the other boy jostled into his space.
“Good first day, Potter?” Nott asked. “Heard you impressed old Sluggy in Potions.”
Harry glanced at Snape, but his nose was buried in a book. He was only eating absent-mindedly, in a way that reminded Harry of Hermione.
“I didn’t do much,” Harry said, choosing his words with care. He didn’t trust Nott or his easy smiles. “Slughorn seems to think I’ll be some kind of prodigy because of my uncle.”
“Ah,” Nott said. “Sleekeazy, right. Sluggy must be salivating over getting to add you to his collection.”
“His what?” Harry asked, appalled.
Nott grinned. “Nobody told you? He’s got this club. If you’ve got the right family or enough talent, you get to go and make nice for an hour, make some connections. Nothing our Sluggy likes more than his connections.” He sounded fond, but Harry knew better than to trust it. “A Slytherin Potter is his wet dream come true. Especially if you’re good at potions.”
“I’m not,” Harry said. “I was partnered with Snape. He did all the work.”
Maybe if he told enough people, Slughorn wouldn’t do that uncomfortable praise anymore. But Nott just rolled his eyes and gave Snape a disdainful look.
“Of course he did,” Nott said. “Nothing makes that mudblood cream his pants like potions.”
Harry flinched before he could stop himself. Nott turned a wicked grin on him.
“Oh?” he asked. “Are you one of those sensitive Light wizards, Potter? Don’t like the sound of the big, bad M-word?”
“It’s a terrible name to call someone,” Harry said.
He didn’t have the history with it that Ron or Hermione did—he hadn’t grown up knowing it was a slur and it couldn’t really be hurled at him the way it was at Hermione. But he trusted Ron’s judgment and he’d heard it slung around by enough Death Eaters—or Death Eaters in training like Draco Malfoy—that it disgusted him. Nott guffawed. He reached out and pinched Harry’s cheek hard. Harry shoved his hand away, scowling.
“Such naivete!” Nott crowed. “But I guess you mudbloods have to have some kind of solidarity, huh?”
“I’m a half-blood,” Harry said.
“Muggle blood poisons everything,” Nott said and there was less joviality in his voice. Harry stiffened. “You can’t be half and half, Potter. You’re either mudblood or you’re not. Old Snape knows that, don’t you?”
Harry looked over and realized Snape had lifted his head from his book at some point. His mouth was a thin line.
“Of course,” he said in a low, slick voice.
“I mean, just look at him,” Nott said. He sounded cheerful again. “Prince blood, pure as they come, but you add muggle shit to it and you get our Snape. Ugly and weak. Isn’t that right, Snape? Can’t even fend off a few witless Gryffindors.”
Snape’s eyes flashed but he didn’t begin tearing Nott to shreds like Harry half-expected. He just inclined his head, turning back to his book in silence. It was disconcerting—no, not just disconcerting, it was wrong. Why didn’t Snape fight back? Words had always been his weapon of choice but he still just let Nott say those things about him. Harry glanced around but none of the other fifth years were even paying attention.
“Oh, they all know Snape’s worthless,” Nott said, noticing Harry’s distraction. “Only good for potions, really. Even mudbloods have to have a talent, I suppose.”
Harry opened his mouth. He had no idea what he was going to say, but he was interrupted before he could so much as get a word out; someone tapped him on the shoulder. He whirled and the Hufflepuff standing behind him flinched back, eyes wide.
“Professor Dumbledore wants to see you, Potter,” she said. “Right away.”
Harry frowned. “Did he say why?”
“Something about a family matter. Better hurry.”
Harry stood. He had no idea what could be so urgent that Dumbledore had to call him out in the middle of dinner, but he was a little relieved he didn’t have to sit there and listen to the poison Nott was spewing. Nott waved cheerfully as Harry hurried away. Snape still hadn’t looked up from his book.
Dumbledore was already sitting at his desk when Harry arrived.
“Sir?” Harry asked. “Is something wrong?” Hope gripped him. “Did you find—?”
“I’m sorry to report no changes, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said. “I have found some promising books but they are rare enough that it will take some time to procure them. No, I’m afraid I have summoned you on quite another matter. It concerns Mr. Snape.”
Harry frowned. “Is this about what my—cousin and Sirius Black did to him?”
Dumbledore blinked. “You already know, then?”
“About how they attacked him in the corridor? Yeah, I saw it.”
“Attacked him—? No, I’m sorry, that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“It’s not? Then what—”
Dumbledore’s door slammed open. Harry jumped, hand going to his wand. A woman stood in the doorframe. She barely came to Harry’s shoulder and wore ragged robes that had seen better days, but she had fierce, dark eyes and such sharp features that Harry almost thought he could cut himself by looking at her. She seemed oddly familiar. She gave Harry a long, searching look, heavy brow furrowing. She had a bruise under her right eye that was beginning to fade.
“So this is him, then,” she said and speared Dumbledore with a look. “My son nearly dies and you break your word to room him with another Potter?”
Clarity hit Harry like a slap in the face. No wonder he hadn’t recognized her right away—the last time he’d seen this woman, she’d been a weeping mess in Snape’s memory. She couldn’t have looked more different right now, eagle-eyed and straight-backed, glaring at the both of them.
“Harry Potter, may I introduce Eileen Snape,” Dumbledore said wearily. “Mr. Snape’s mother.”
it's my personal headcanon that slughorn and snape didn't get on. i don't necessarily think it's bc snape is a half-blood, but more because snape isn't really interested in being pleasant or likable to people like slughorn. sharp readers will also recognize the reason harry's memory of the potions recipe doesn't match the textbook version.
i debated for a long time how nasty i wanted to make sirius and james. i don't think they're always that nasty to snape, but i do think they'll do it whenever they can get away with it. after all, they don't seem to hesitate to string him up in swm; that makes me think they've done it before.
re: nott; he's a hardline purebood extremist and his ideas about half-bloods are not the norm even among death eaters. (i imagine half-bloods aren't preferred, but i also think that most purebloods probably see them as preferable to muggleborns.) his views are part of the reason snape has problems with his own year. and there are reasons snape doesn't fight back against nott.
next chapter will be another harry pov. eileen wants answers and she's ready to fight for them. kudos and comments always appreciated!
Chapter 5: i should go now quietly
Harry has a variety of conversations. Some are more taxing than others.
first of all, sorry for the HUGE gap between updates. between work and my own struggle with writer's block, writing this story became a chore and i decided i needed to have some space from it for a while before coming back. i actually wanted to post this last month but then i changed my mind for how some of this chapter was going to go, so it took a little longer than expected.
i've managed to breathe some life into my motivation for this story, so i'm hoping to go back to more regular updates. sorry again. also thank you to everyone who kept commenting and reading this story even during this hiatus - it meant a lot to me and it really encouraged me to come back to this again.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As promised, a first edition of A Treatise on Time, a copy of the translated Ravenclaw diaries, and the only real copy I could find of Yates’s notes on the Liminal Veil. The Yates notes especially were difficult to procure, so I’m sure you won’t mind me raising the price another 100 galleons? Once payment has been processed, the books will be dropped off at the agreed upon location. Should you have further need of my services, never hesitate to reach out.
The thing was, Harry had brooded for months on the details he’d found in Snape’s mind during their Occlumency lessons; the little snippets he’d seen of Order meetings that Snape inevitably snapped at him for glimpsing, the pieces of arguments and talks with Dumbledore that Harry had never been able to quite make out, and, most especially of all, the awful Pensieve memory he’d seen. But he had to admit that until that very moment he’d almost forgotten about Snape’s parents. He could remember a fleeting sympathy for the dark-haired woman of Snape’s memories, who he’d only ever seen cowering in a corner being screamed at. Now, watching as the woman herself marched into Dumbledore’s office, he was having trouble remembering why he’d thought her so pitiful.
Eileen Snape filled the room with a presence that reminded Harry painfully of her son. She sank into the extra armchair with the rigidly straight-backed posture Harry had only ever seen purebloods used and put her handbag—ratty and dusty, mended several times over—in her lap. She regarded Dumbledore with a raised chin and pursed lips. She was no beauty, that was clear—her features were too harsh and hawkish, all sharp angles—but she radiated an intensity that made it difficult to look away from her. Harry could sort of understand why Snape’s father would have gone after her.
“Well, Dumbledore? I’m assuming you have some kind of explanation.”
Dumbledore’s eyebrows lowered. “Eileen, if you could—”
“Mrs. Snape, if you please. I am not a student any longer and neither am I your friend or confidant. You will address me properly.”
Merlin. Harry could almost see Snape sitting there with her insisting Harry call him ‘sir.’ The apple really hadn’t fallen far from the tree, had it?
“Mrs. Snape, then. I understand your frustration, but there’s no reason we can’t have a reasonable discussion like adults, hm?
Mrs. Snape’s eyebrows flew up. “A reasonable discussion?” she asked. “Dumbledore, you’re lucky I’m here and not in the offices of the Daily Prophet. I don’t want a reasonable discussion, I wanted a damned explanation and I won’t leave until I get it.”
Dumbledore’s frown deepened and he glanced at Harry. “First, I must insist we allow Mr. Potter to leave. I invited him here at your insistence, but it’s highly unorthodox to involve a student directly, especially one who isn’t related—”
“Don’t spin your bullshit with me, Dumbledore,” Mrs. Snape said. Harry couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping. He’d never heard anyone talk to Dumbledore like that, not even Fudge or Lucius Malfoy. Snape’s mum had balls of pure steel. Or the girl equivalent anyway, Harry thought, belatedly remembering Hermione’s lecture on misogynistic language. “You gave me your word not four months ago that my boy would be protected, safe. And now here I find out that you’ve broken that promise without so much as a by-your-leave? The boys stays. I want to get a good look at the person who can get the great Albus Dumbledore to go back on his word.”
Harry wished that he could disappear or leave or do anything to get out of this intense and awkward situation. He’d never been very comfortable with people around him arguing, not when they really meant it. Even when Hermione and Ron really got into it, he’d always been a little anxious and he’d spent years getting used to their bickering. The thing was, he never knew what to do, what he should say, and there was a small part of him that always cringed back, half expecting all that anger to turn on him.
He knew it was stupid. Half of the time the arguments had nothing to do with him in the first place. But that had never stopped the Dursleys from lashing out at him, had it?
Harry stiffened as Mrs. Snape turned on him. He almost felt like he was back in Potions class during his own time, being judged and found wanting by his hateful professor. But then, even at his cruelest, Snape had never scrutinized him so closely. Snape had always firmly believed he knew exactly what and who Harry was.
“And yet I find just a boy,” Mrs. Snape said after several long moments. Her mouth curled down. “Ordinary aside from the Potter blood. But then the rumors say he’s a bastard.”
She barely looked at Dumbledore, even though Harry flinched at his hard tone. “Tell me, Mr. Potter—do you have any particular skills? Anything worth mentioning?”
Harry’s only real skills were Quidditch and nearly getting himself killed. He doubted either one would appease Mrs. Snape.
“No,” he said. Her eyebrows rose. “Ma’am,” he added, to be safe.
Mrs. Snape turned back to Dumbledore with a full-on sneer that was so familiar Harry almost felt nostalgic. Snape the younger couldn’t quite sneer like that yet. Crazy that he’d apparently learned it from his mum. Harry wished he could tell Ron and tried to ignore the ache in his chest when he remembered that he might never be able to tell Ron.
“An ordinary boy by all accounts, even his own,” she said. “A bastard and a Potter to boot. Yes, you owe me an explanation, Dumbledore. Right now.”
“Mrs. Snape,” Dumbledore said. Harry had heard Dumbledore remain calm and cheerful even in the face of Fudge at his most maddening, but either Mrs. Snape was better at getting under his skin or Dumbledore had used the extra years to practice his patience because his voice was strained and his eyebrows were thunderous. “As I told you in my letter, this situation was extraordinary. I have not gone back on my promise to look after Mr. Snape’s safety—indeed, allowing Mr. Potter to room with him has only upheld my promise.”
That was what this was all about? Harry remembered Dumbledore had said Snape had his own room thanks to his mother, but he’d never imagined she would march down here to cause a fuss simply because Snape got a roommate. Was Snape secretly spoiled like Draco Malfoy? Harry had never gotten the impression that Snape’s parents had been well-off or that Snape himself was particularly influential, so how was it that Mrs. Snape could march in and demand things of Dumbledore, who had always seemed to take great delight in treating every student and family equally?
And what did they both mean, Snape’s safety? Was he in danger? Harry remembered Nott’s snide comments and his father’s attack and bit the inside of his cheek.
Until that moment, Harry had been awkwardly hoping to be sent away, uncomfortable to be caught in the middle of the scene. Now he hoped they wouldn’t—his curiosity was overwhelming him, and he doubted he’d get any answers at all if he was sent back to his dinner. He tried to make himself as unobtrusive as possible and stayed quiet as Dumbledore and Mrs. Snape talked.
“You really think you can weasel your way out of this?” Mrs. Snape’s hands tightened on her handbag, making the handle creak. “You gave me your word, Dumbledore. It’s not bad enough you broke it for an unclaimed bastard, but you put my boy in with another Potter! Hasn’t his blasted relative done enough damage to my son already? What were you thinking?”
“How much has your son told you of his dormitory life this year, Mrs. Snape?”
“What does that have to do—”
“I was no Slytherin, but I can grasp House politics as well as any professor,” Dumbledore said. “Your son’s privacy may be secured, but only at the expense of his classmates’ resentment. Having his own room has not done him any favors with his House. It has not helped him as much as you hoped it would at the beginning of the year.”
“I don’t see how it hasn’t. Rooming with any of them never did him any favors either.” Mrs. Snape shook her head, mouth pursed. “He never breathes a word of it to me, but I’m far from stupid, Dumbledore. He’d come home with his books torn or missing, his clothes ruined. They tormented him as much as those Gryffindor boys and he couldn’t escape them either, not when he was living with them. Having his own room kept him safe from all of them and their damned meddling. If I couldn’t protect him from your Gryffindors—”
Harry stiffened when Dumbledore’s eyes flickered to him. Was he going to be thrown out now?
“What?” She seemed to read something in Dumbledore’s face for her own expression shifted to something crafty and sly—a smirk and twinkling eyes that, when they turned on Harry, made him feel like a trapped mouse in the eyesight of a prowling cat. “Oh, my. Have you not told our dear Mr. Potter the whole sordid tale? How uncouth of you, Dumbledore.”
“I have tried to preserve Mr. Snape’s privacy,” Dumbledore said. “And I will remind you that you are under oath to respect the privacy of the others involved as well, per your own agreement.”
“That agreement became null when you changed our terms without informing me, as you well know, Dumbledore,” she said. “What’s to stop me from going to the Daily Prophet and telling them the entire tale? I bet I could get plenty of Galleons for it.”
For a long moment, Mrs. Snape and Dumbledore stared at each other. Their wands weren’t out, but Harry still felt like he was in the middle of a duel, so equally balanced that it was impossible to tell who would come out the winner. He held his breath.
“I would hope a mother who loves her son as fiercely as you do, Mrs. Snape,” Dumbledore finally said, in a much quieter voice, “would hesitate to ruin his life out of spite. You know what such an article would do to him.”
The tension eased a little. Harry breathed again, shoulders slumping.
“Just as I know what those boys do to him,” Mrs. Snape said. “They deserve punishment.”
“They are, as you say, boys,” Dumbledore said. “You would ruin them for this?”
“For what they did to my son I would kill them.”
Harry flinched. Mrs. Snape hadn’t raised her voice, but the icy fury was so clear that the words almost seemed to cut.
Harry didn’t realize he’d said the words until both Mrs. Snape and Dumbledore turned to look at him. They both looked a little surprised to see him still there as if they’d forgotten him in their argument. Harry wondered if he’d bollocksed it up and he’d be sent away without answers. He tried to sit up straight and look like someone that could be trusted with secrets. Hermione had told him once that if he widened his eyes and softened his face, he could get away with anything he wanted. Ron had laughed and said all Harry really had to do was show off his scar, but Hermione hadn’t been amused.
“Mr. Potter—” Dumbledore started.
Mrs. Snape cut him off. “Why shouldn’t he know, Dumbledore?”
“It’s not your place to reveal the secrets of students that are not your son,” Dumbledore said in a firm voice.
“They relinquished the rights to those secrets when my son was almost murdered.”
“Not all of those young men are equally to blame for those unfortunate events, Mrs. Snape.”
“Would you still be insisting on that if my son had actually been killed, Dumbledore? Or would you have still been telling me that they didn’t really mean it at his funeral, too?”
“The Shrieking Shack,” Harry said.
He regretted it instantly. Dumbledore and Mrs. Snape both looked at him with sharp eyes. Dumbledore, at least, had an inkling of why Harry might know about that incident—Mrs. Snape, on the other hand, looked highly suspicious. Harry struggled to regain his composure, but his head was still swimming with shock. He’d only heard of the incident second-hand, never with any real details aside from his father’s last-minute rescue. For some reason, he’d always assumed it had happened later at Hogwarts when everyone was older. He remembered, a little queasily, his own terror when he’d faced Lupin as a werewolf. Snape had barely been two years older and he’d been alone.
“How did you hear of that, Mr. Potter?” Mrs. Snape asked in the same soft, dangerous voice her son would use whenever he was truly angry.
Harry did some fast thinking. “I was curious about why Snape roomed alone before. Nott shared some rumors.”
Mrs. Snape speared a furious look at Dumbledore. “I thought the point of our little arrangement was that everyone would keep their mouths closed? Are those boys of yours spreading their story across the school, Dumbledore?”
Dumbledore was still looking at Harry. “No,” he said. “I’m certain they would stay quiet, for Mr. Lupin’s sake if not for their own.”
Harry had the presence of mind to pretend confusion at that part. Even if he’d heard about Snape nearly being killed, no one would know that Lupin was a werewolf.
“Lupin?” he asked. “What does Remus have to do with it?”
“That isn’t your concern, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said.
“Tell him, Dumbledore,” Mrs. Snape said. “He should know what his newfound cousin is capable of.”
“It is not my secret to tell. Nor is it yours.”
“It sounds like someone’s been telling the secrets anyway. You assured me it would be kept quiet, Dumbledore. I agreed to that—that farce of a punishment solely because of your promises. Now I find that not only have rumors spread, but you’ve gone and taken away my son’s privacy. Next you’ll be telling me that those boys are harassing Severus again.”
“I can assure you that they are not,” Dumbledore said. “All of the professors have been warned to keep a close eye on the situation.”
Harry stared, but Dumbledore seemed to truly believe what he was saying.
“You’re joking,” he said.
Dumbledore frowned at him. “I would never joke about a student’s safety, Mr. Potter.”
“And why would you believe he is making a joke, Mr. Potter?” Mrs. Snape asked in the soft, silky voice that Harry knew meant danger.
Harry thought that he probably should keep his mouth shut. The last thing he needed to do was ostracize his father even more by narking on him and Harry had never felt comfortable telling professors about the stuff students got up to. He’d never been able to shake the fear that they’d be badly punished and besides, what problem was it of his if some student decided to break the rules? But he kept remembering Snape’s vulnerable fury and the sound of Sirius’s boot when it had connected with Snape’s side. That wasn’t something to keep quiet about.
“If you really think James and S—Black are staying away from Snape, you’re barmy,” he said, making the decision.
And then, in painstaking detail, he outlined the scene he’d witnessed that afternoon. Dumbledore’s eyebrows kept lowering with every new detail, but it was Mrs. Snape Harry was a little wary of by the time he finished. Her expression never changed, but Harry would have had to be a complete idiot to miss the cold fury radiating off of her. When Harry finally finished talking, leaving out the part about how Snape had lunged at him the moment he’d been freed, she stood. Dumbledore stood as well, looking alarmed.
“Don’t.” Mrs. Snape’s features were wan, her eyes like deep pits. Harry was reminded both of Snape as an adult and, oddly enough, Molly Weasley. “I knew it was foolish to think Albus Dumbledore would do anything for the half-blood son of a dark witch. I should have trusted my instincts.”
She whirled on her heel and marched for the door. “Remus Lupin has done nothing to your son,” Dumbledore called out. He didn’t sound desperate, only weary. “I cannot allow you to ruin his life for the mistakes of others.”
That stopped Mrs. Snape in her tracks. “Mistakes?” she whispered without turning. “You heard the boy’s story. You heard what that—that filthy Black boy tried to do to him.”
“And I’ve heard stories of your son’s retaliation,” Dumbledore said more severely. “There was a time during their fourth year that James Potter and Sirius Black spent just as much time in the Hospital Wing as your son did.”
Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. He reminded himself that he didn’t know anything about the situation, that everything he knew was secondhand or glimpsed in moments. But it was difficult to shake the desire to argue. He couldn’t help remembering the way he’d always fought back against Dudley too, back in primary school. He’d even managed to get in a hit or two. But Dudley had been bigger than him and he’d had friends. Harry would never have called those even odds and he hesitated to call Snape against two other wizards even either, especially after what he’d seen that morning.
Sure, Snape might have put his father and Sirius in the Hospital Wing too. But had he attacked them without warning, as they had him? Or had he been defending himself? Was it the same thing no matter what had caused it? Harry’s head swam with questions, but he thought he’d probably said enough for the evening and Dumbledore didn’t seem to be in a debating mood.
Besides, Mrs. Snape had no hesitations.
“So he deserved what he got,” Mrs. Snape was saying. She’d turned back to Dumbledore. “You keep telling me that they’re only boys, as if that justifies attempted murder—well, Severus is a boy, too.”
“Which is why he’s never suffered more than detention for these brawls with Mr. Potter and Mr. Black,” Dumbledore said. “Please, Mrs. Snape. Spreading this story and ruining their lives… That is not the way to deal with the situation. It won’t help your son. Indeed, I fear it will only make his life harder.”
“Harder than it already is? On the defense on all fronts, attacked in the hallways?” Mrs. Snape snorted. “At this point, I’ll settle for making their lives worse, Dumbledore. It’s the least they can pay for the damage they’re wreaking that no one other than some bastard boy seems to be doing anything about.”
Dumbledore cast a weather eye Harry’s direction. “Perhaps we can come to another agreement, then,” he said. There was nothing grandfatherly about the shrewdness in his eyes. Harry shrank from it, discomforted. “Something more equitable than the last.”
“Agreements again? You’ve shown how well you keep them with your last one, Dumbledore. I won’t be fooled twice.”
“Listen to what I have to say. If you find it untenable, well. There’s little I can do to stop you, I suppose.”
Mrs. Snape, wary as an alley cat, seemed on the verge of just marching out. She glanced at Harry and her brow furrowed before she sighed deeply and went back to her chair.
“You may speak,” she said. “I will not commit to anything.”
Dumbledore steepled his hands under his chin. “Removing Mr. Potter from his rooms is inadvisable. Both Mr. Potter and Mr. Snape benefit as neither are interested in antagonizing each other.” Dumbledore glanced at Harry and for the first time, his eyes twinkled just a little. “Outside of very normal schoolboy antagonization, I suppose. What I propose, then, is Mr. Potter’s involvement in the separation between the Gryffindors and Mr. Snape. Since Mr. Potter and Mr. Black have clearly found ways to outmaneuver the staff, a student keeping an eye on the situation will be helpful. Especially one with Mr. Potter’s access. No other Slytherin in fifth year would be so agreeable to coming forward, I assure you.”
Mrs. Snape’s nose wrinkled. “You want me to trust this boy, a bastard I just met today, with the safety of my son?”
Harry frowned at her. “I did tell you about the attack today,” he said.
“That just makes you honest, not trustworthy,” Mrs. Snape said.
Harry blinked. Weren’t they the same thing? Mrs. Snape seemed to notice his confusion and turned to face him fully, frowning herself now.
“Merlin, boy,” she said. “However did you get sorted into Slytherin in the first place? Severus must have no idea what to do with you.” She eyed him and sighed. “The truth has no inherent moral decency, Potter. Just like a lie can be used for good, the truth can be used for ill. Honesty does not always equal trustworthiness, just as deceit does not always equal untrustworthiness. You won’t last two seconds in Slytherin if you don’t learn that.”
Harry wanted to argue with her, but he caught sight of Dumbledore and thought, for an uncomfortable moment, of how much Dumbledore had lied to him or misdirected him and how Harry still trusted him. And then he thought of Hagrid, who Harry loved but could never trust with anything because he couldn’t lie to save his life.
“If you are worried about Mr. Potter’s character, I will vouch for him,” Dumbledore said. Harry wondered if he was only imagining the odd note in his voice. “Since his arrival, I have been impressed with his fortitude and candor."
“Your word means little to me,” Mrs. Snape said without looking away from Harry. Her brow was pinched, her mouth tilted down. For a long moment, she merely stared at him. “Well. You’ve known my son for only a few days, Mr. Potter. If I’m to trust you with his welfare, tell me. Why do you even care?”
The thing was, Harry didn’t. Snape was no one to him, really, just another disconcertingly young version of a man he’d hated in his future. Snape’s problems shouldn’t matter to Harry at all, not when he needed to find a way back home. And Snape, even if he wasn’t quite the intimidating professor of Harry’s future, wasn’t exactly pleasant to be around. He was still as prickly and temperamental as he’d been as an adult and Harry doubted they would ever become anything more than wary roommates.
But. Snape didn’t know and neither did Mrs. Snape, but Harry’s father was the one causing these problems and Harry’s godfather was helping. Harry wasn’t them, wasn’t responsible for them, but they were his family, weren’t they? And if they were the ones hurting Snape, didn’t Harry have some kind of responsibility to help?
Harry’s head swam. He wished, again, for Hermione who always seemed to have some kind of magical ability to smooth out the confusing swirl of emotions that built up in Harry’s head with a few pointed questions.
“It’s not fair,” Harry said at last. Mrs. Snape’s eyebrows twitched up. “That’s all. I’m not—It’s not like Snape and I are friends or anything. He told me I shouldn’t care about anything he does and that we’re supposed to just ignore each other because of the whole hierarchy or whatever.” For the first time, Mrs. Snape’s mouth twitched up, as if she might have smiled. “But what I saw… wasn’t fair. I didn’t like it. So if you want me to help, I will.”
Mrs. Snape stared at him. “Wherever did you find this one, Dumbledore?” she asked.
“Oh, I didn’t find him at all, my dear.”
Mrs. Snape snorted. “I am not your dear.” It didn’t have half the vitriol she’d had before. She stood. Harry stood with her. “Very well. I will give you one month, Mr. Potter. You will send me weekly reports directly and I expect them to omit nothing. If my son comes to harm under your care, I will go to the Daily Prophet and tell them everything. Are we understood?”
“I am speaking to Mr. Potter,” Mrs. Snape said without looking at Dumbledore. “Our former agreement is null and void, Dumbledore. I don’t trust your deals. But this boy, I’ll give him a chance. Just one.” She looked down her nose at Harry. “Do we have an accord?”
Harry shrugged. “Sure. I guess.”
“You guess.” Mrs. Snape sighed. “The lengths I go to. Well. I will expect your first letter at the end of this week, then.”
Harry watched as she marched to the door. She paused in the doorway and turned back. Her dark eyes glittered.
“I don’t suppose I have to warn you of the consequences of lying to me, Mr. Potter?”
“No,” Harry said, glad that his voice sounded stronger than he felt. “No, I don’t think so, Mrs. Snape.”
“Excellent. Good night, Mr. Potter, Dumbledore.”
She swept out of the room. For a long moment, there was only silence. Then Dumbledore sighed, a heavy sound in the quiet, and Harry collapsed back into the chair like all of his strings had suddenly been cut.
“Sir?” he asked weakly. “What…”
Dumbledore rubbed his nose. Harry had rarely seen him look so worn-out. “Eileen Snape is something of a force of nature,” he said. He looked at Harry keenly. “You are aware of the events that happened earlier this year?”
“At the Shrieking Shack? Yeah. You told me a bit about it in the future, when I wanted to know why Snape hated me so much. And Professor Lupin told me a little more.”
Dumbledore hummed. “Professor!” he murmured and Harry remembered that he wasn’t supposed to reveal details of the future. He winced, but Dumbledore didn’t seem bothered. “Well, after those… events unfolded, Mrs. Snape was determined that those involved should be expelled, including Mr. Lupin. Of course, the other boys’ parents were hardly agreeable to that and eventually, we came to an agreement. No one would be expelled, no stories would be printed, but Mr. Snape would be given his own private quarters a year early and Mr. Black and Mr. Potter would no longer be permitted to be alone with him.”
Harry had never really thought about the punishment his dad and Sirius would have gone through after the Shrieking Shack, but if he had he might have thought about suspension, at the very least.
“They… didn’t even get detention?” he asked.
“We were all wary of drawing too much attention,” Dumbledore said. “If you know of the events, you must know of Mr. Lupin’s condition. If it were to become public knowledge, he would be forced to leave Hogwarts.”
Harry didn’t want Remus to leave Hogwarts, especially for something as stupid as him being a werewolf. But it still rankled to think that his dad and Sirius had just… Well. Done what Harry had done for a lot of his Hogwarts career, he guessed. Gotten away with something other people would have probably been expelled for. No wonder Snape hated his rule-breaking.
“That was the beginning of the school year, in early September,” Dumbledore said. “When I moved Mr. Snape into private quarters, it didn’t take long for antagonism toward him to spread among his year mates. I worried over the situation for some time before your arrival—it was really quite lucky for me when you were Sorted into Slytherin.”
Harry didn’t snort, but he wanted to. Lucky for Dumbledore, maybe. Less so for Harry.
“So I have to spy on Snape for his mum,” he said. “That’s just bloody weird.”
“You’re welcome to use one of the school owls,” Dumbledore said. “I would encourage you to keep Mrs. Snape’s bargain. She’s a woman of her word.”
Harry stood. “I’ll do it,” he said. “I don’t want Remus to get kicked out and Snape… well. It really is unfair.”
Dumbledore inclined his head. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like a copy of your letters as well.”
Harry stared at him, but Dumbledore just blinked, looking as innocent and grandfatherly as he ever had. There wouldn’t be any harm, right? It wasn’t like Harry was going to send anything really confidential to Mrs. Snape, nothing he couldn’t tell Dumbledore too.
“Sure,” he said. “I’d better go see if I can still get something for dinner. Good night, Headmaster.”
“Good night.” Harry turned. Dumbledore called out before he started down the stairs. “Oh, and Harry?” Harry looked over his shoulder. Dumbledore smiled at him. “Thank you.”
Harry hadn’t realized how late his meeting had run until he entered the Great Hall to find it dark and empty. He checked one of the clocks and startled when he realized it was nearly ten o’clock already. Had he really been in the Headmaster’s Office for so long?
Thankfully, he knew about the kitchens. He made his way to the portrait, tickled the pear, and nearly jumped out of his skin when half a dozen huge eyes turned on him the moment he entered the door.
The house elves stared at him. Harry tried to smile, but he was pretty sure he just grimaced.
“Sorry, but I missed dinner? I was wondering if there was anything I could grab to eat before going to bed? Even a sandwich would… be okay…” God, they really were just staring, weren’t they? Had house elves always been so unnerving or had Harry just become so used to Dobby’s exuberance that anything else seemed uncanny?
But then the moment broke and suddenly all the house elves were bustling around the kitchen again as if they hadn’t just had a collective staring contest with Harry. If anything, that was almost weirder. Harry was about to just turn around and make a run for it, grumbling stomach or not, when a tiny hand tugged on his. He startled, but the house elf who was trying to get his attention looked perfectly normal. And familiar.
“Squeaky?” he asked.
“Master Harry Potter is remembering,” she said, tugging him to a low round table amidst the stoves. “Master Harry Potter is a good wizard, hm?”
“I don’t think—”
“You should be sitting down,” she said. “Sit, sit, sit. Squeaky will get you a sandwich.”
She disappeared among the hubbub. There were more house elves moving around than Harry had thought, all of them weaving around each other expertly. They were carrying dishes and tableware and Harry realized with a guilty start that, of course, the house elves were the ones who cleaned the dishes as well as making the food.
Then, inevitably, all he could think about was Hermione and her barmy pins and hats and sharing looks with Ron whenever she would try to get someone interested in SPEW and Dobby, who probably had more hats and tea cozies than he knew what to do with now, and he might never see any of them ever again—
“Master Harry Potter?”
Harry did his best to breathe, but where before it was something he could manage without thinking, now it took all of his effort and concentration. Each breath was an almost inhuman effort and his chest was burning, but he couldn’t stop thinking about his friends. He would have given his right to have any of them with him right now—hell, he would have given his right arm for even Malfoy right now, just so he could feel a little less pitiful and alone.
“Master Harry Potter!”
Harry shivered as a small hand tapped him hard on the cheek. The surprise made him suck in a deep breath—suddenly, it became easy again, though Harry’s body was still shaky and weak. He did his best to focus on each breath, to make them all deep and full and tried to stomp on the embarrassment that was threatening to flood him. Merlin. Breaking down in front of a bunch of house elves like a child wasn’t any way to deal with things, was it? This wasn’t like when he was four and he’d lost Aunt Petunia in the supermarket. He couldn’t afford to—to be so pitiful. He had to buck up.
“Thanks,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Master Harry Potter need not be sorry,” Squeaky said. She had two wrapped sandwiches in one hand. “Master Harry Potter ought to take better care of himself.”
Harry managed a laugh. For a house elf, she sounded almost exactly like Molly Weasley when she said that. “I’ll try,” he said. “Are those for me?”
“Master Harry Potter should eat his meals,” Squeaky said, handing them over. “Bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Eat it all.”
Harry smiled at her, bemused. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be delicious.”
He hadn’t realized that all the other house elves were listening in until he heard the surprised squeaks that rose. He looked around, but all the elves were already looking away. Most of them seemed flustered, their ears quivering.
“Master Harry Potter is being kind,” Squeaky noted. “He was being kind this morning, too. Being kind gets him into trouble, probably.”
“Most of the time.” Harry stood. His body still felt achy and weak, but he could ignore it. “I’ll take these back to the dorms.”
“Master Harry Potter knows where to find us if he is hungry again,” Squeaky said.
Harry could feel the eyes on his back as he turned to leave and he shivered as he closed the kitchen door behind him. He made his way to the dungeons, absently trying to remember if any of the house elves he’d encountered over the years had ever been a little… uncanny. Dobby had been unusual, sure, but that had been zaniness more than anything else. He was still pondering it when he got to the Slytherin dorms and entered to find Lucius Malfoy sitting in the common room alone.
Harry nearly froze. House elves could apparently be a little spooky when they wanted to be, but Lucius Malfoy was another thing altogether. Harry had never been very frightened of him when he was younger—he was an intimidating man, but Harry had always had Dumbledore’s protection. Besides, it was a little strange to be afraid of someone who you’d once tricked into handling your dirty socks and setting a house elf free.
But this younger Lucius Malfoy was a stranger to Harry and one he didn’t trust. He’d been nothing but friendly to Harry so far, unlike that Nott character, but Harry didn’t trust his easy smile or cool eyes. Lucius, like Draco, was a snake—Lucius was just much better about hiding it behind pleasantries than his son ever had been.
“Harry,” Lucius said, standing. “We were beginning to worry about you.”
Harry looked pointedly around the empty common room. “We?” he asked.
Lucius smiled. “Well, me, especially,” he said. “You left dinner so quickly you didn’t even finish your meal.”
Ah. “I had a summons from the Headmaster,” Harry said. What would be important enough for Dumbledore to call him up during dinner? “Some Ministry stuff about my mum’s property. It took a while to sign everything.”
He didn’t know if Lucius believed him or not. Lucius, like most of the Slytherins Harry had met, was extremely capable of hiding his true feelings behind a placid mask. Harry hated that.
“I see,” Lucius said. “I was concerned that it was something rather more dire than that.”
“You might want to work on that imagination,” Harry said. “Sounds like it gets you into loads of trouble.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say it was my imagination. The Headmaster has an unfortunate habit of pulling us Slytherins into his office to offer unsolicited advice. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if he did so with our newest member.”
Harry felt his brow crinkle and hurriedly smoothed it out. Why would Dumbledore talk to Slytherins one-on-one? Dumbledore hadn’t had a habit of speaking to individual students unless they were in the worst kind of trouble during Harry’s time. Why would he…
Oh. Harry’s stomach tightened and he knew from the slight uptick to Lucius’s mouth that he realized Harry had caught on.
Voldemort might not be at large yet, but clearly he’d already begun recruiting. And Dumbledore knew about it—he must be pulling Slytherins to try and talk them out of joining the Death Eaters. Or doing a round-about way of it anyway; Harry doubted Dumbledore just flat out told them that the Death Eaters were terrorist scum and anyone who joined them was a bigot and an idiot. But even if Dumbledore was doing it more subtly, word must have gotten out that he was trying to convert any interested Slytherins. And Harry was a half-blood and he had admitted to being a bastard and his family were all Light wizards, so it would stand to reason that Dumbledore would think he had a good chance at getting Harry to turn against Voldemort no matter that what his house was.
Harry’s head spun. He really had no use for this kind of backstabbing drama.
“The Headmaster didn’t offer any advice,” he said as firmly as he could manage. “We barely even talked except about the paperwork I needed to fill out.”
“Yes, for your mother’s property,” Lucius said. “Where was that again?”
Fuck. A country, he needed a country. He almost said France, before remembering at the last minute that a) he didn’t speak any French and b) Hermione had told him that the Malfoys were once a French family. Damn.
“Wales,” Harry said and almost wanted to bite his tongue for it.
Lucius’s eyebrow went up. “Wales,” he said. “How interesting that you don’t have an accent.”
“My mum was English. Lived in England until I was around 11, then we moved down to Wales after my grandmother passed.” Merlin, Harry was truly spinning things out of his ass. He hoped he remembered the details later so he could repeat them again; right now his head felt like it was full of cotton fluff and he was talking almost entirely on autopilot, deeply alarmed by the way Lucius was looking at him.
“Beautiful country, Wales,” Lucius said. “Where did you live?”
“What business is that of yours?” Harry asked.
Lucius held up his hands. His smile deepened and Harry had the unnerving feeling that he’d just made some kind of misstep. Damn.
“None, of course. Just making conversation. Well, now that your mysterious disappearance has been settled, I feel like I can sleep easily.”
Harry shifted from foot to foot. “Well, thanks,” he said. “For waiting up for me, I guess.”
“No trouble at all. I had thought to have one of the house elves bring up some food since you didn’t finish your dinner, but it seems you solved that problem on your own?”
Harry looked down at the sandwiches in his hands. He supposed he could explain knowing where the kitchens were by his week at Hogwarts basically alone, but he didn’t like revealing that to Lucius. He plastered on a smile.
“The Headmaster sent them down with me,” he said. “Nice, wasn’t it?”
Lucius’s jaw twitched just a little. “Very kind,” he said. “Good night, Harry.”
Harry really hated the way Lucius said his first name. “Good night, Lucius.”
From the flicker of a hard look Lucius sent him, Harry had the feeling was mutual.
He watched Lucius climb the stairs, then sat to eat his sandwiches. He was sure they were excellent—he’d never really had bad food made by house elves—but he barely tasted them, too caught up in his thoughts. Lucius seemed to think that Dumbledore wanted to keep Harry out of Voldemort’s way, though why Lucius thought Voldemort would be at all interested in Harry was a mystery in itself. The real question was—could Harry even say something like how he’d rather die than work with Voldemort and still wake up breathing the next day?
Harry scrubbed at his face. The clock said it was after eleven now and he’d had a long, frustrating day. He put aside all thoughts of Mrs. Snape and Dumbledore and Lucius and went upstairs to get some much-needed sleep.
With so much else on his mind, Harry had almost forgotten his promise to have lunch with James the next day. It wasn’t until he was making his way to the Slytherin table in the Great Hall after a long, boring morning of History of Magic when someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned to find James smiling cautiously at him that it came back to him. Harry carefully didn’t swear out loud. Yesterday, he’d wanted nothing more than to finally have a chance at a real conversation with his father. Now, it felt almost too overwhelming to bear thinking about.
“Come on,” James said. “If we talk in here, everyone will know what we were saying in about two seconds.” Sure enough, there were already heads craning around to take a second look at the two estranged Potter cousins having a chat. Harry scowled at them. “Let’s go outside. Sirius is getting us a picnic basket.”
He took Harry by the elbow and led him out of the Great Hall doors. Harry could hear the whispers following in their wake, but he staunchly ignored them. James led them out of the entrance and onto the school grounds toward the Great Lake. They didn’t speak until they both settled on the ground near a small grove of trees.
“So,” James said, leaning against one of the trees. “This is kind of awkward, isn’t it?”
Harry grimaced. “Yeah. I guess.”
They stared at each other. Harry had spent so many evenings during his first year tracing his father’s face in the Mirror, trying to see all the little things that he and Harry shared—the slope of their foreheads and the exact way their noses flared and the weight and curl of their hair. Having it all in person, up close, was utterly mad.
James ran a hand through his hair. “I suppose I’ll start,” he said. “You’re really Uncle Reggie’s son?”
Uncle Reggie? “Reginald Potter, yeah,” Harry said. “Never met him myself.”
“I mean, you look the part, really,” James said. “It’s just hard for me to believe Uncle Reggie had a kid and no one knew about it.”
“My mum didn’t want anything from him,” Harry said. This imaginary mum who apparently had Welsh family deserved to have some spunk too, he thought. “She didn’t even tell me about him until I turned eleven. But all she told me was his name. I didn’t even really know he had a family until after she died.”
“Ah. How’d she…”
“Cancer,” Harry said.
James was silent for a long moment. “What was her name?”
Oh, no. Harry wracked his brain for several agonizing seconds, turning his face up in a grimace and hoping James thought it was just painful for him to say out loud. He’d always been so terrible at coming up with names.
“Branwen,” he said, remembering an old queen he’d read about in a book. “Branwen Dunn.”
James hummed. “That’s not a pureblood name.”
“She was muggle-born.”
Silence stretched between them. Harry tried not to fidget, but it was difficult. When he was younger, back when he thought his parents might actually still be alive, he’d imagined talking with his dad about a million different things. He’d thought that his dad would listen to him the way Uncle Vernon never did and ask him questions and care. They’d have long talks and things in common and Harry would finally have someone who really heard everything he said, who cared about him outside of if he was doing his chores or not.
Even after he’d learned his parents really were dead, he’d dreamed about what it would be like to talk to them. He’d finally had faces to put to their names and, after his third year, snatches of their voice. He could almost imagine telling his dad about becoming a Seeker or what Malfoy got up to that week or the funny thing Ron said in Potions class. There were nights that Harry had wanted that to be real so badly he’d ached deep in his stomach.
But now, with James Potter actually in front of him, Harry found himself faltering. He’d always imagined his dad as an adult, the man who’d died to keep him and his mum safe. What was he supposed to find in common with this teenaged James? Where could he even begin?
“So how did—”
They glanced at each other.
“I just wanted—”
Another long stare. James snickered and then began to laugh, throwing his head back. Harry laughed too, relieved that the awkwardness had eased a little.
“Sorry,” James said, wiping his eyes. “It’s just, this really is so strange, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure I asked for a cousin as a Yule present once when I was little and now here you are!”
“As a Yule present?”
“The holidays are dull when it’s just you and your parents,” Jamaes said. “Sirius hates his cousins, but at least he had someone to hang out with during the hols. Even Remus has a few.”
“Well, I don’t think I’ll be invited to any family get-togethers,” Harry said.
James’s expression flickered with some odd emotion. “Maybe not,” he said. “But we can still hang out at school, can’t we?”
“Can we? I mean, I’m—” Harry gestured at his green tie, the snake on his robe.
James grimaced. “Yeah. How’d that even happen, anyway? You seem too nice to be a snake.”
“The Sorting Hat was determined,” Harry said. “I don’t know, maybe it’s gone daft in its old age.”
James laughed. “I wouldn’t be surprised. Told me I’d do well in Hufflepuff, can you believe that? And poor Peter might’ve been with you in Slytherin. That Hat has no sense.”
Peter. Harry struggled to contain the rage that name never failed to invoke. He’d forgotten that Pettigrew would be hanging around too. Merlin, what was he supposed to do if he ever met that bastard? Smile and pretend Pettigrew hadn’t betrayed and murdered his friends?
Better to deal with it when it came to that.
“Oh, here’s Sirius!”
Harry turned his head. Sirius stalked toward them, face thunderous. Harry couldn’t help staring. In some ways, the differences between this younger Sirius and the one Harry had know were almost as big as the ones between Remus and Lupin. The Sirius Harry had known had been gaunt and wan, twitchy, a shadow of his former self. This one was self-possessed and a little flamboyant, with wild, thick hair and painted nails. It was so odd to see Sirius like this and it made Harry’s heart twinge at the thought of his Sirius, who had lost all of this vitality and never been able to really get it back before he went—wherever he went in the Veil.
“Prongs!” Sirius shouted as soon as he was within speaking distance. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
James and Harry both scrambled to their feet. James frowned at Sirius. Harry did his best not to just stare as Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. Merlin. He almost wanted to reach out and grab him, just to make sure he was actually real.
“What are you doing?” James asked. “I asked you to grab us something from the kitchens, but you’re empty-handed! I’ll starve to death now and you’ll have to have that on your conscience for the rest of your life, you know!”
“Something to eat! I’m not going to get you any bloody sandwiches to share with him!”
Harry blinked as Sirius flung a finger in his direction, disconcerted after just drinking him in to be so suddenly addressed. “Me?” he asked.
“Yes, you” Sirius snapped at him, then turned back. “James, we talked about this! I thought you agreed you were going to cancel this whole little idiotic affair!”
James rolled his eyes. “I didn’t agree to anything, Padfoot, I just nodded and smiled as you worked yourself into some kind of tizzy. Harry here’s my cousin, you know! I want to get to know him.”
Sirius made a face. “He’s a Slytherin. You can’t trust a single one of them. Besides, how do you even know he’s actually your cousin?” He gave Harry a long, suspicious look. “I don’t trust him.”
Harry didn’t stagger back out of sheer bloodymindedness. Harrison Potter wouldn’t care about Sirius’s opinion of him. That wouldn’t affect him at all or feel like a punch to the stomach. Harry had to be Harrison, had to hold on to how he would react, otherwise he might actually collapse. But Merlin did it hurt to have Sirius look at him like that, like Harry was a snake waiting to pounce.
“Sirius!” James gave Harry an apologetic look. “Sorry about him, he’s a bit paranoid when it comes to all things Slytherin.”
“Don’t call me paranoid,” Sirius said. “We don’t know anything about him at all and you’re ready to welcome him into the family! Did you even ask him how old he is? You know your father—”
Harry stiffened. Until that moment, James had sounded like any other kid embarrassed by their friend—now, he sounded stern, almost adult. Sirius closed his mouth, but he still glared at Harry for all he was worth. James watched Sirius for a long moment, then turned to Harry with a softer expression.
“Sorry again,” he said. “We’ll have to work on getting used to each other, I think. Sirius isn’t so bad once you prove yourself.”
Harry couldn’t speak. He didn’t really know what Sirius was going on about, but it hardly mattered, did it? What mattered is that even if James was willing to spend time with him and get to know him, Sirius didn’t trust him at all. Harry’s entire body was going numb. He suddenly very much wanted to go back to his room and sleep until Dumbledore found some way for him to go back to his own time.
His own time where Sirius was missing or gone.
“I have to go,” Harry said.
He marched off, ignoring the way James called his name or Sirius’s hard stare as he passed by. He locked away his thoughts for the entire walk back to the Slytherin dorms and kept them firmly down as he climbed into bed and pulled the covers over his head. The cat jumped on his chest and meowed at him. Harry ignored her and ignored the odd smell of sulfur coming from Snape’s side of the room and ignored his thoughts until he finally surrendered to sleep.
“Wake up, you fool.”
Harry’s body felt heavy and slow. It took several moments to blink open his eyes and he winced back from the bright light of the room. His mouth was dry and rank and he had a headache building behind one of his eyes. For a long moment, he had no clue where he was.
Snape leaned over his bed, features etched in sharp relief against the light. Harry jumped and then scolded himself for jumping. Hogwarts, he was in Hogwarts. In 1976, in the dorm room he shared with the professor he’d hated for most of his childhood. Right.
“You lost the House 20 points today, Potter,” Snape said, leaning back.
Snape sneered. Harry almost told him it wasn’t as impressive as his mum’s, but bit his tongue at the last minute. Snape wasn’t supposed to know that Harry had met his mum.
“Professor Sprout was displeased about your unexcused absence. She told me to inform you that you also have detention with her on Saturday evening.”
Harry groaned. “Oh, God. Herbology.”
“Yes. With the Ravenclaws. You were conspicuously absent.”
“I didn’t mean—I fell asleep at lunch!”
“Perhaps you should have done what is traditional at lunch--that is, eating--instead of wasting your time napping."
“I did. But I just—” Harry shut his mouth quickly.
Snape eyed him and smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. “If you mean to try and hide your rendezvous with your hideous cousin, you needn’t bother. It was the talk of the school, especially when you disappeared afterward. Why do you think I came to fetch you? Dinner is soon and you had better come down or all the Hufflepuffs will be convinced Potter did away with you somehow.”
“Did away with me?” Harry asked, nonplussed. “Why would he do that?”
Snape snorted. Then, when Harry continued to look at him in utter confusion, his expression cleared into complete disbelief.
“If you don’t know already, then you are clearly daft,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” Snape drew away and Harry darted after him, grabbing his sleeve. Snape frowned heavily at him, but Harry ignored it like he had ignored so much of Snape’s disapproval in his life. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not your nursemaid or your teacher, Potter,” Snape snapped, ripping his sleeve out of Harry’s grasp. “If you really want to know, figure it out yourself. Now hurry up. Dinner starts in thirty minutes and if I have to listen to one more person speculate about your supposed demise, I might just kill you myself.”
Harry scrambled out of bed. He ducked into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth and by the time he was done, Snape had already left. Harry frowned at his empty room. What on Earth was Snape going on about, anyway? Why would anyone think James would want to do away with him somehow?
And why, Harry wondered as he made his way out of the dungeons for the Great Hall, did Snape bother to come and check in on Harry when he’d made it so clear that they were to keep out of each other’s business entirely?
re: the shrieking shack. while we know that the shrieking shack happened during fifth year before the owls incident, we never really get a specific date. i've put it in early september. we also never really got any real explanation for what happened in the aftermath; this is my take on it.
my personal headcanon has always been that sirius was much more anti-slytherin than james. as for eileen - we have not seen the last of her by a long shot. i had a lot of fun writing her with dumbledore, tbh. sorry there's so little snape in this chapter, but he'll crop up more next chapter.
i just want to say again, thank you for the response to this story! it really does help to see that some people are enjoying it. kudos and comments are always appreciated. i promise the next update won't take months - hopefully i'll be able to have the next chapter up within a couple of weeks.
Chapter 6: what a mess i leave
Harry discovers that a lot of what he thought he knew about his parents isn't the reality. Also, there's an attempt at academia.
hello all. i know it's been roughly two years since i updated this, but i'm back! unfortunately i got hit with a pretty severe case of writer's block and then with covid i had a ton of personal life stuff that took precedence over fandom and writing. this chapter has been outlined for literal months but it was only recently i got to actually sit down and type it out.
i've still had comments and kudos over this long hiatus and i can't say how much i appreciate the continued support.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
…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.
proculcingo - very bad latin a la jk rowling, combing far away + protect. the runes listed are actual names for runes, the combination of runespells is mine. i'm pretty sure fabian prewett was never a professor at hogwarts, but i liked the idea of him as a runes professor.
part of what i wanted to take a look at is how the dream harry's had of his parents for his entire life might not line up with the reality of them as people. he's held this idealized version of them in his head for so long that i think it would be difficult for him to really understand that they can make mistakes or be prejudiced or be unlikable.
for pettigrew, i waffled a lot about how to portray him because i've read a lot of interesting meta about his position in the marauders. but ultimately i find it more tragic if he IS an integral and loved member of the group, so that's the route i ended up going.
finally, i don't intend to make harry overpowered or suddenly an amazing genius! i realized as i edited this chapter it might come off that way. for runes, i thought it would be fun to give harry another avenue in school where he excels since, honestly, there aren't many in canon and since he never tried runes there, how would he even know if he's any good at it? and for defense, well, that's harry's area of expertise! and with all the studying he's done for the da plus being an extra few months ahead of everyone, not to mention his own natural talent, it makes sense to me that he'd shine there too. but i promise i won't start making him a potions prodigy or anything like that. :)
next chapter we get another snape pov! and harry's first report to eileen. once again, thank you for your support and encouragement over the unexpected hiatus!!!
Chapter 7: a lantern down a dark lane
Severus has been so used to surviving alone, he has no idea what to do with someone who wants to help him. Or, Harry makes a choice.
what's this??? two updates in the same month???? i can't believe it either, y'all.
snape's pov is very quote-heavy, just as a warning since people seemed surprised by that last time he had a chapter. all quotes are listed in footnotes! (i did try to keep them reasonable to what snape might actually have been reading, but there's a few in here that probably stretch the suspension of disbelief on that just a little.)
thanks for the comments on the last chapter - it was a blast to read all the encouragement.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dear Hello Good morning
I'm not really sure how to begin or what you think is important enough to report on. I'll try my best, I guess.
So far, I haven't seen
my James Potter or Black with Snape. I walked with him to Potions this morning but they didn't even look at him, let alone talk to him. Or anything else. It might be because I was with him? He did well in Potions, by the way. Not that Slughorn noticed. Do you think there's anything I could say to get him to understand that I'm not the one making good potions? He doesn't seem to hear me when I try to tell him it's Snape doing all the work and Snape isn't doing anything about it. Why does everyone overlook I don't understand why Slughorn won't give Snape his due.
I did see Nott and his cronies talking to Snape after Potions, but by the time I got close enough they were done already. Nott's
an asshole a twat a bully and he's honestly the worst of the lot to Snape. I don't know how to get him to stop, though - he just keeps smiling that gross smile of his and doesn't listen to a word I say. I haven't seen them pull any pranks or anything like that, though.
Did you know that Snape almost died when he first started Hogwarts? Why didn't you do
I don't really know what to do for him. He says no one helps him and that he understands why, but I don't understand why. It's horrible. They talk to him like he's trash and nobody steps in - not even me. Why didn't I step in? I would have, normally. I mean, I hate that kind of thing. Brings back too many memories. But I froze. I don't know why I froze, but I did. I don't know what's going to happen if I see it again
how can I live with myself if I don't do anything again
Shit. I'm sorry. Snape's fine, no one's done anything to him this week. I'll send you another letter Friday. Sorry.
Severus watched from the corner of his eye as Potter scowled at himself in the mirror, smoothing down the front of his robes. It was the first time he'd ever seen Potter even look at himself in the mirror, let alone obsess about his appearance. He'd been sighing and fussing for at least ten minutes. It was mildly amusing in a way, but Severus was steadily growing tired of it.
When Potter sighed again, tugging forlornly on the mess he called hair, Severus snapped his book closed.
"Surely you have better things to be doing with your time than playing at being a spoiled princess, Potter."
Potter flinched. Severus withheld a sigh with the greatest self-control. Ever since their confrontation in the library last week, Potter seemed to be hesitant around him in a way that he hadn't been before. Not afraid - Severus had come to the conclusion that the Slytherin Potter was just as stupidly courageous as his Gryffindor cousin - but nervous. As if Severus would spill more unpleasant truths and take even more of the wool away from Potter's eyes. Severus couldn't quite regret doing so with Potter, even if it had clearly made him uncomfortable. If an offense comes out of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed. 1
"I'm not doing that," Potter muttered.
"Are you certain? I can think of no other reason to stare at yourself in the mirror and sigh the day away."
Potter flushed. It was as annoyingly attractive as everything else he did.
"Sorry. I, um." He shuffled his feet, shoulders hunching. "I'm supposed to see my. Well, my aunt and uncle this weekend? But I don't... I'm not..."
Severus raised his eyebrows. He was more than a little surprised to hear that the Potter clan was choosing to embrace their new, unexpected member. Perhaps they already knew he was little threat or perhaps they wanted to test the waters first by pretending to be friendly. That was the Slytherin way, of course. And while the Potters were staunch Gryffindors, Severus was well aware that the Potter patriarch was a lauded politician. No one got that far up in the Ministry without learning to lie and lie well. Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.2 Even Gryffindors couldn't escape that influence.
But Potter was strangely clueless to the potential of deceit. He had a Muggleborn mother, of course - perhaps she had no idea that her son would pose any challenge to the Potter line of inheritance. Severus was well aware that things proceeded very differently in the Muggle world. He'd considered cluing Potter in to the fact that the warm bosom of his family might not be so welcoming after all, but he wasn't Potter's nanny. He'd find out soon enough if his relatives were playing him.
"Nothing illustrious to wear?" he sneered.
Potter's flush deepened. "I want to make a good first impression," he muttered to the floor.
Severus took in his scruffy hair and hand-me-down robes, the scuffed sneakers. He looked as poor as Severus himself did. Doubtless, his dear family would balk just a bit at that even if they managed to swallow his heritage. The Potters were old money, after all. They had to present a certain image.
"Unless you have the galleons for actual dress robes, there's little you can do to meet their standards," he told Potter.
Potter drooped further. Something shuttered in his face.
"Yeah," he admitted quietly. "I kind of got the impression they had, um. High standards."
Severus almost snorted. That was a gentle way of putting it. Severus had known plenty of people who'd looked down their nose at him for his ragged clothes or unwashed hair or the rundown he lived in. None of them had ever made him feel his poverty like James Potter and his little band of misfits.
"Yes," he said dryly. "That is certainly true."
Potter darted a look at him. "Do you think—Uh."
Severus waited but Potter didn't continue. He sighed.
"Do you think I should even go?"
Severus blinked. Potter had said it forcefully, almost shouting. From the way his flush was extending to his ears, Severus had the impression the volume was the result of the difficulty it'd taken to ask the question out loud.
"Why should my opinion matter?" he asked, curious.
Potter shrugged. "I dunno. You know them better than I do, I guess."
"I've never met them."
Potter finally looked him in the eye, mouth quirking a little at the corner. The dry expression suited him.
"Yeah, well neither have I. You at least have an idea of what they're like. I'm flying blind."
Severus frowned at him. "They're your family, Potter," he said. "If you want to go make nice with them, I'm not going to stop you."
Potter considered that. "I just—" He swallowed several times and picked at the edge of his sleeve. Then, with a sigh, he turned to his bed. "Sorry. I guess I'm nervous."
Severus watched as he settled back on the bed. The ridiculous cat jumped up to him immediately, settling into his lap with a smug look at Severus. Potter ran an absent hand down its back, chewing on his lip.
Severus turned back to his book, but his mind was too occupied to take in what he was reading. Potter was like that, he was finding out. A constant riddle. We are all, each of us, riddles, when unknown one to the other.3 And yet, the more Severus came to know Potter, the less he felt like he understood. It was infuriating from someone who seemed to be an open book.
Potter was quiet and careful and strangely withdrawn. He was prone to moodiness. And yet, he was also strangely cheerful. Fiery when provoked and strangely unafraid to share his opinion with the worst possible people to hear it. A constant contradiction in every way.
Severus had been determined to ignore him as much as possible. He was finding it difficult to do so - the puzzle of Potter's strange behavior was more interesting than he'd thought possible. It didn't help that Potter was always around; in their room, in class, in the Great Hall, at the library. Severus felt like he couldn't turn around without seeing him these days.
It had its perks. Potter's cousin obviously didn't want to scare him away - he hadn't done more than glare at Severus all week. Nott was more distracted as well, though he'd taken the time to remind Severus of his place only a few days ago. But it still tugged on Severus's nerves to have Potter around him all the time. He already knew too much and it had only been a few weeks.
Severus turned the page in his book and turned it back again, scowling. He hadn't read a single word. He glanced at Potter, still unmoving on the bed, and sighed.
"For Merlin's sake," he muttered under his breath. "Potter. Potter!"
Potter sat upright, frowning at Severus with a little crinkle between his eyebrows.
"If you really feel the need to be unnecessarily moody and dramatic, I advise you to take your presence elsewhere."
Potter's mouth dropped open. Finally, an unattractive look for him.
"Excuse me!" he said, obviously highly offended. "I'm not being unnecessarily moody and dramatic!"
"You are meeting estranged relatives, not going to war. There is no reason to sigh and brood for hours on end."
"It's been ten minutes!"
No, Potter had been quieter than normal for several days now. Severus didn't know that it was all due to this supposed visit, but he wasn't sure what else he could blame it on. Potter seemed to be adjusting fine in every other aspect and Severus doubted his own speech had had such an impact.
"Regardless, you are being an annoyance. Rather than brood, it would be better if you used your time more productively."
Potter snorted. "Oh, yeah?"
Severus heard the sarcasm and chose to ignore it. "Your pile of homework is getting no smaller," he said, nodding at the tidy pile on the desk. Potter, for all his slovenly appearance, was surprisingly neat about some things. "I suggest you focus on that instead of your family melodrama."
Potter stared at him. Severus stared back, frowning, but to his surprise, Potter didn't yell or sneer. He smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners.
"You know, you remind me a little bit of a friend of mine," he said. "She always thought doing your homework could solve all your problems, too."
Severus sniffed. "Well. At least you associated with some people who had some sense."
Potter laughed a little. "Yeah. She's the smartest person I've ever met."
The smile faded from his face. Severus didn't groan, but it was a close call. James Potter was annoyingly cheerful and confident. Severus had always found that rather irritating but this Potter's strange melancholy was almost worse.
"You know what, you're probably right, Snape. I'm going to head to the library. Get started on my Transfigurations essay."
Potter was up and out of the room before Severus could say another word. Severus frowned at the closed door and looked back at Potter's desk. His Transfigurations textbook was near the top of the stack, clearly untouched. He had a feeling Potter had not fled to the library to do homework.
A meow. Severus looked down at the cat, which cocked its head. He sneered at it and returned to his book.
Potter was not his concern, he reminded himself fiercely. Even so, it was a long time before he could focus enough to absorb what he was reading.
Severus lived a life of anonymity, for the most part.
It hadn't always been so. He had only told Potter the truth; his first few years in Slytherin had been merciless on all sides. Most of those low on the food chain in Slytherin - the non-Purebloods, the ones with scandalous family or personal histories, those who had made such huge gaffes that could not be ignored - kept it to themselves as long as humanly possible. Severus had not had that option, of course. His name marked him better than any brand and many of the older years had heard rumors about his mother's history. From day one, he had been ostracized; mocked, belittled, and attacked.
But the longer Severus spent proving himself, the less the older years took an interest in him. He kept his head down, didn't speak out against their prejudices, agreed with them on the surface, excelled where he could to prove he was indispensable, and they finally, finally looked away from him. It had been a relief, sometime during his third year, to realize he no longer had to worry about anyone above the fifth year giving him the time of day, let alone tripping him in halls or casting hexes on him for fun. After that, his troubles in Slytherin had narrowed down to his own year - and that, Severus felt he could handle.
So opening his door to find Lucius Malfoy waiting on the other side was quite a nasty shock.
"Malfoy," he said, hoping the sudden spike of fear didn't show in his face. "What a pleasant surprise."
"Severus," Lucius said. "It has been some time. How are your independent Potions studies coming along?"
Lucius had been one of the few who had backed away from the bullying early. Severus knew it was not due to kindness. He'd simply seen before anyone else that Severus would prove himself capable and had reacted accordingly. Severus was largely unsurprised to find that he knew of Severus's interest in potions or that he was pursuing his own experiments; it discomforted him, nonetheless.
"As well as can be expected," he said.
"I imagine it must be harder to proceed," Lucius said, "with your new roommate."
He smiled around the word roommate, but it wasn't kind. One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.4
Severus didn't tense because he knew that would give something away. But some things clicked into place with that innocuous statement. Lucius had shown an inordinate and uncharacteristic interest in Potter from the start. Severus wasn't sure why. Potter was indisputably a muggle-raised halfblood. Aside from his name and his obvious talent in Defense, he had little to recommend him, especially to a shark the size of Lucius.
"He has proved to be an irritant," Severus said. Not a lie but unrevealing. Lucius's smile deepened. "He should be back later. He's studying at the moment."
"I see." Lucius leaned against the doorway, somehow making even that plebian move elegant. Severus almost wanted to take notes. "I'm surprised, Severus. You've railed so bitterly against your roommates in the past, I half-expected you to go marching to the Headmaster about him within the fortnight."
Severus had to tread carefully. Potter had not exactly been circumspect in his own feelings about the attitudes towards muggles and muggleborns - his reaction to Nott alone had been telling to many of their housemates. It didn't help that he'd apparently had a secret meeting with Dumbledore last week or a letter from the Potter patriarch. Severus resented knowing all of this about Potter, but he kept an ear to the ground out of long habit - Severus had little to no interest in the gossip of his fellow teenagers, but the knowledge had proved to be useful more than once, so he collected every banal piece of it. If Lucius suspected that Severus might harbor any of Potter's ideals, things could get much nastier for him in Slytherin.
"As annoying as he is, it would be doubly so to deal with the Headmaster's antics," Severus said. "I can deal with him."
"Is that so?" Lucius tapped his finger with his chin. "I've been a little concerned about him. You know how much I like to make all of our new Slytherins feel welcome."
Severus did, unfortunately. "Yes."
"But he seems quite determined to keep to himself. In fact, I would say that the only Slytherin he speaks to on a regular basis is... well. You, Severus."
Potter had said much the same thing. Severus didn't think it really counted when their conversations, such as they were, seemed to either fall into threats or banal small talk. He kept the scowl from his face. He did not want to be thought of as Potter's bosom companion. It was bad enough they were roommates.
"We do live together," he said. "That requires a certain level of conversation. Other than that, I would not say I know him any better than anyone else."
"Oh, how unfortunate." Lucius' eyes gleamed. "You see, I'd like to help him acclimate. I was hoping you'd have some tips to help me get to know him better. I'd be quite pleased to get some advice. More than you can imagine."
Lucius wanted information. For what purpose, Severus had no idea, though he would eat his own robes if he had any actual interest in integrating Potter into Slytherin. No, Lucius wanted details and he thought Severus could provide them - and it was very clear that he would be happy to bestow his favor should Severus do so.
For a moment, Severus was tempted. Lucius was still the leader of Slytherin for several more months - if Severus could gain him as an ally, his worries in Slytherin would be largely over for this year, and potentially even next year if Lucius's successor retained his network. Giving Lucius what he wanted was always much easier than trying to deny it to him, in any case.
Severus almost opened his mouth. He didn't know much about Potter other than what he had observed for himself, but there was plenty to go on. His insecurity about his family, the mood swings, the odd amount of time he spent in the library, the meetings with Dumbledore. Even the strange discrepancies Severus had noticed might be helpful.
But. Severus remembered Potter's direct, fearless gaze in the library. I’m not going to go around spreading rumors. His face had been wrinkled with genuine disgust, mouth stern. I hate that kind of thing, okay? And, as far as Severus could tell, Potter had spoken the truth; there had been no mention of Lily or their friendship among the Slytherins. Potter had kept his secrets for no reason that Severus could fathom. Their agreement was not binding; Potter could break it at any time. He had to know what that kind of information could do for him, how it would, at the very least, pull him out of the focus of all of the sharks circling him. And yet.
Potter was an honest fool. Severus had made no promises of his own. He had no obligation to keep Potter's secrets, to shield him from the interests of the sharks in Slytherin.
"There is not much to tell," he found himself telling Lucius Malfoy with his heart hammering against his ribs. "He keeps to himself. I do not believe he trusts me."
Lucius' easy smile disappeared. "You've lived with him for weeks and you've learned nothing of substance? I'm disappointed to hear that, Severus. Very disappointed."
Sweat broke out along Severus's back. He was careful to keep his expression neutral. He'd thrown himself on this path, but he wasn't going to make it any more dangerous than it had to be.
"He is a Slytherin, no matter what his name is," he said. "He's more careful than he appears."
Lucius considered that. "I do believe there is more to him than meets the eye," he finally agreed.
"Perhaps, over time..."
Severus waited, trying not to appear as if he was holding his breath. Lucius picked up the unspoken suggestion. He eyed Severus thoughtfully, all pretense at friendliness gone.
"Yes," he said. Severus' relief dizzied him. He sternly kept himself upright. "Very well. I trust you will keep me appraised, Severus."
Severus inclined his head. Lucius eyed him for another moment, then smiled. He nodded and walked away without another word.
Severus closed the door and waited for another moment before collapsing onto his bed, putting his head in his hands and forcing himself to breathe in and out steadily. Moron, he told himself fiercely. A perfect opportunity to raise up his social standing and what did he do? Let it pass him by. And he'd managed to put off Lucius for the moment, but what was he going to say next time Lucius came calling for information?
He raised his head and glared at Potter's empty bed. The cat slept on the pillow; as if feeling Severus' look, it yawned and looked back at him with sleepy green eyes. He sneered at it. Damn Potter, he thought savagely. Damn him, damn him, damn him.
He stood and collected his books, angrily stuffing them into his bookbag. He needed to be elsewhere; he did not trust what he might say when Potter returned.
Severus normally kept a close eye when he was in the halls; so many run-ins with those so-called Marauders had made him wary of walking them on his own. But he was trying to find his damned essay in his bookbag; he was certain he'd put it in there the night before, tucked safely between the pages of his Charms textbook, but it was now nowhere to be seen. He rifled through the rest of his books, swearing under his breath, when he felt a jerk on the back of his robe.
He managed to catch himself on his knee, but it didn't matter. Another tug and he went sprawling to the ground, bag falling next to him and spilling half of its contents to the floor. Severus swore again, struggling to try and get his wand out of his pocket. By the time he drew it and got back to his feet, James Potter and his cronies were already armed and ready.
Severus tensed as he took stock. All four of them were crowding the hall in front of him. It would be impossible to escape that way - he could try sprinting down the other way, but experience had taught him that would only encourage them to try binding him or using that damned Levicorpus again. And Black had his bookbag dangling from one hand, leaking papers and textbooks onto the floor. He needed those.
Severus had also learned that showing his fear always made things worse. He gathered his bravado and sneered, ignoring the way his wand hand began to shake.
"Can I help you?"
All of their wands were out. Severus didn't relish feeling like a trapped animal.
"Snivellus," Black drawled. "Fancy meeting you here." He shook Severus's bag and then took a deliberate step forward, stamping on the pile of papers and books on the floor. "Whoops. So sorry. Wasn't anything important there, was there?"
"Of course not," Potter said before Severus could speak. "It's Snivellus's bag. Probably only some more Dark Arts books, huh, Snivvy?"
Severus gritted his teeth. "I'm not surprised you can't read, Potter, but surely the rest of you can." He looked pointedly down at the easily legible title of their Charms textbook. "I didn't realize Professor Flitwick was teaching Dark Arts now. My mistake."
Potter scowled. "You're pretty stupid for someone who thinks so highly of yourself, Snape. Four of us, one of you, and you're insulting me? Doesn't seem like the best idea."
If there was one thing Slytherin was good for, it had been allowing Severus plenty of experience keeping a cool mask under pressure.
"I don't know," he said. "Four idiots are still idiots. I don't think you'll be much of a challenge."
Even Lupin looked irritated by that. Good. Severus may be their punching bag, at the very least he could get under their skin. It soothed his pride a little bit.
"You really think so?" Potter twirled his wand in a lazy, arrogant fashion, smirking. "That sounds like a challenge to me, doesn't it, boys?"
"I'll say," Pettigrew chimed in. "Maybe we should show him what we're made of."
"It'd be good practice," Black added. "Not that Snivellus is ever much of a challenge."
Lupin was the only one to remain quiet. He never had much to say to Severus these days - not since September. But his silence wouldn't stop him from joining in. Severus knew that from experience.
Severus braced himself. He had never been a particularly good dueler; he tended to overthink his spells, preoccupied with the desire to find the perfect spell for the occasion. More than one of their Defense professors had told him he needed to trust his instincts more. Having four people instead of one only made things worse - he was forced to defend from all angles, an impossibility that meant these little spats always ended in the same, inevitable way.
That didn't mean Severus didn't try, of course. And, at the very least, it gave him some very practical ways to practice anything they were learning in Defense.
Severus's feet began to dance against his will. He cursed and canceled it out, but not before Black hit him with a bogey hex that made his face contort painfully. Potter came back in with a pox hex and Pettigrew with his ever-present transfigurations charms. Severus felt his ears begin to grow and gritted his teeth.
For several tense minutes, all he could do was his best to defend and dodge; his Protego was not strong enough to stand up against such an onslaught. The longer the duel went, the nastier the hexes became. Severus dodged a flamebright curse, a freezing hex, another pox that he knew would stinging, horrific welts—
Magic, smooth and foreign, slid over him. Severus waited for the pain, but the magic formed a pale blue bubble around his body, pulsing and warm. A shield.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Severus let out a breath as Potter - his Potter, the Slytherin one - marched up to them, wand grasped tightly in one fist. He didn't stop until he was standing between Severus and the Marauders. Severus stared at his shoulders, taken aback. The shield had to be his, of course. Proculcingo, the one he'd just explained last week. It was more powerful than Severus had expected.
"Harrison!" Gryffindor Potter sounded delighted. "Excellent timing. Do you want to join us? Snivellus isn't much of a fight, but it's good practice."
Potter's hand flexed around his wand. "There are four of you and one of him." His voice was low and strangled, as if he were speaking through gritted teeth. "I don't think that's much of a fair fight."
His cousin laughed. "It's just a bit of fun," he said. "We had a free hour. No homework or essays. Snivvy's always good for helping with boredom. That's really all he's good for."
Severus clenched his jaw against the hot rush of shame that threatened to overwhelm him. A beast can never be as cruel as a human being, so artistically, so picturesquely cruel.5 James Potter didn't know anything about him; he was a repugnant toad and his opinion meant nothing. Severus had repeated that to himself so many times it had become a mantra, but it never seemed to help. The words still burrowed under his skin. He'd heard them so many times that it was difficult to face himself in the mirror without thinking about how worthless he really was.
He waited for Potter to join them. Surely he would. Severus knew how desperate he was to gain the approval of his family; nothing would endear him to James like joining in a round of attacking Severus. It wasn't like they were friends or that Potter owed him anything - Severus probably wouldn't even hold it against him. After all, wouldn't he do just about anything to save face in front of his peers? Potter would just be earning his Slytherin badge, really.
But Potter didn't turn around with a jeer or point his wand at Severus. He stayed right where he was; between Severus and the Marauders. His warm shield did not leave Severus' body.
"This is wrong." Severus stared at Potter's straight back. He was shorter than Severus, slimmer. He didn't look intimidating. But there was something about the way he held himself that made him almost formidable. What in Merlin's name was he doing? "What you're doing to him, it's wrong."
"Wrong?" Gryffindor Potter frowned. "Come on, don't be like that. It's just Snape, Harry. I know you've only been here a few weeks, but I told you about him, right? He's scum. What's it matter if we show him where he belongs?"
"He's not scum." Potter's voice was tight and harsh. "He's not fucking—beneath you because he's poor, James. Merlin. You don't get the right to attack him just because you don't like him or whatever and if no one else is going to stop you, then I will."
Severus let out a shaky breath, staring at Potter's scruffy hair and straight shoulders. He's not scum. You don't get the right to attack him. Had anyone ever said that on his behalf before? Had anyone ever stepped in between him and a beating before? With the heart beating quickly in fear and ecstasy. And a hope, a hope, a hope.6 Severus' vision swam, his knees weakening. What was he doing? No one stood up for Severus. No one stepped in to help him. That was the way it was, the way it had always been.
"Think about what you're doing here." Black sounded soft, almost persuasive. "Throwing in your lot with someone like Snivellus? You're not going to win any friends with your Slytherin cronies - they hate him more than we do. And you'll definitely lose your probation as one of us."
Potter had been offered a spot in their little gang, had he? Severus hadn't known that. Surely now he would—
"If this is the kind of shit you and your friends get up to, I'd rather not have any part of it, thanks."
"No, James. This is horrible."
"You're going to regret this," Black said. He didn't sound threatening, only resigned. "You think Snivvy's going to have your back like we would? He'll turn tail and run the minute you get in trouble or sell you out to the highest bidder. That's what his kind does."
Potter was silent for a long moment. Severus' breathing sped up and he clenched his wand. If Potter abandoned him, he would be ready, though five against one would hardly be better odds for him. He knew all about protecting himself. He could do it. He would do it.
"The only thing I regret," Potter said, "is that it took me this long to say something. I should have before, but I guess—I guess I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't want to believe it, so I stood by and did nothing. I regret that."
Severus let out a long exhale. Potter finally turned to look at him. It was a mistake to turn his back on the Marauders, especially since he'd - for some ridiculous, unexplainable reason - decided to make them his enemies. Severus blinked, taken aback by the look on his face. Over the past few weeks, Potter had been so—dreamy, almost as if his mind was constantly elsewhere. Severus felt, for the first time, that Potter was actually focusing on the here and now. The strength of it was surprisingly formidable. A solidness that can’t be attacked.7
"Are you okay?" he asked, all the previous tension completely gone. He scanned Severus from head to toe. "They didn't hurt you?"
Severus couldn't name the strange, clogged thing caught in his throat. You show, in the middle of savage things, the gentleness of your heart, that is so full of pain and light.8 Potter's face was too much to take in right now - he had to look away, down at his trembling hands. He swallowed several times to answer and even then it still came out garbled.
"I'm fine. But. Potter—"
"Don't you start too." Potter's smile was gentle but he had a lion's gaze still; fierce, direct, powerful. Severus felt caught in it. "I should have done this before. I'm not stopping now."
Potter waited until Severus inclined his head before turning back to the Marauders. All of them were staring at him like he'd grown several heads. Pettigrew's mouth hung open and Lupin's eyebrows reached his hairline. Severus couldn't really take proper amusement in their shock, but he tucked the memory of their faces away to appreciate later.
"Well?" Potter asked. He sounded careless, almost casual. "How does this usually go, then?"
The Marauders were uncertain. They all exchanged speaking looks. Severus wondered if any of their victims had ever faced their torment with such nonchalance before. They didn't seem to know what to do with it.
"What, James?" Potter bit out the name with a snap and his cousin flinched. "You wanted a bit of fun, right? A break from the boredom? Well, here I am. I promise I can put up more of a fight than Snape - you're not going to be bored with me." Potter twirled his wand through his fingers, a showy display that seemed uncharacteristic. Potter had never really seemed arrogant about his spellcasting proficiency before. "Come on."
More exchanged looks. Lupin was the most obviously reluctant while Black scowled, clearly ready to continue the fight. Severus tensed. He hadn't been sure that they would actually attack a member of Potter's family, but it was clear they weren't going to let that stop them now.
"Fine," Gryffindor Potter said at last. His voice was flat and unhappy. "If you really want it to be like that—fine." He raised his wand. "Levicorpus."
Severus didn't even need to raise his wand. Potter blocked immediately, sending the spell spinning down the hall. When he didn't send anything back, the Marauders seemed confused and there was a brief pause. Then Black sent another hex, teeth bared, and Potter deflected that too.
It was like watching a dance. Potter didn't retaliate, didn't send any spells back, but none of their spells touched him or Severus. He defended only, casting shields and blocks. The shield around Severus didn't waver.
The longer he blocked without attacking, the angrier the Marauders became - or, at least, Black became. Lupin and Pettigrew were both clearly half-hearted, casting looks at each other and only sending weak, easily dodged spells. Gryffindor Potter was focused but more disappointed than angry. Black, on the other hand--
"Fight back," he shouted as Potter deflected yet another hex.
"I thought this is what you wanted," Potter snapped. "Someone who can't fight back. Isn't that how you get your kicks?"
"Harry, that's not—"
But Black attacked as Gryffindor Potter spoke and the second of distraction was enough to actually land a hit. Potter went to one knee as a stinging hex erupted along his arm, tearing the fabric of his robe and leaving welts on the skin. Potter didn't make a sound as it hit, even though Severus knew it wasn't a pleasant sensation. He bowed his head, clenching his hand around his wand. Severus' stomach coiled with tension and, without thinking, he stepped forward, raising his wand and ignoring the way it trembled.
"Now I just might die of shock," Black said. "Cowardly Snivvy Snape stepping up for someone? Finally grow a pair?"
Severus didn't know what the fuck he was doing. The smart thing would have been to run the moment Potter decided to intervene. He could have been far and away within seconds and even if it meant leaving his textbooks and homework behind, at least he would have been safe. But the thought of running and leaving Potter alone wasn't something he could stand right now. It was almost repugnant.
"Get to your feet," he told Potter. "They're not going to give us a breather for long."
Potter grimaced. He stood with a little grunt and let his welted arm hang to the side.
"I don't want to attack them," he muttered to Severus, raising his wand with his other hand.
"I suppose you have a reason for that other than sentiment?"
Potter's wry smile was a little bitter. "Yeah."
"You really don't stay down, do you?" Black sounded annoyed, not impressed.
"I've been told it's a Potter thing."
Gryffindor Potter's face creased with pain from a blow well struck. Severus almost applauded.
"Harry, you really don't have to—"
"I do have to," Potter said. "I'm hoping one day you'll understand why."
"Why?" Black said with a humorless laugh. "It's because you're as slimy as the rest of the Slytherins, that's why. I should've known better than to think you could be one of us. Bombarda!"
Potter shielded again, letting out a tiny breath as he jostled his hurt arm. Black raised his wand again with a snarl when they all heard it - the sound of hurried footsteps down the hall. The Marauders exchanged panicked looks, trying to shove wands away, but it was already too late. Professor Vern was already coming around the corner, her face thunderous.
"What in Merlin's name is going on here!" she snapped.
Silence. Then Gryffindor Potter smiled his charming smile and Severus' heart sank.
"Just a little misunderstanding, Professor. Snape here thought we were trying to take his bag."
Vern looked down at the essays covered in boot prints and the scattered books. She looked back at Potter.
"Is that so?"
"I was just trying to put a book that was falling out back in his bag, Professor!" Black said piously. "Snape here went crazy. Attacked us."
Vern turned her fierce stare on Severus. "Mr. Snape? Is that true?"
Severus had been down this road too many times. Vern was not the worst of the professors, but she tended to believe whatever stories students spun up for her out of a firm belief that students told professors the truth.
Severus kept his mouth shut. Potter, on the other hand—
"That is not what happened."
Severus could see the warning in Black and Potter's faces clearly - they would be angrier about this than they had been about the interference. Dueling with them and siding with Severus was one thing, but narking on them to a professor...
But Potter didn't look like he cared. He stepped forward, mouth firm.
"Professor, they were attacking him when I showed up and why I tried to stop them, they attacked me." Potter held up his arm. The welts were still red and angry looking. "See?"
Severus understood why Potter hadn't wanted to throw any spells back now. He eyed Potter's back, reluctantly impressed. That was an inspired bit of manipulation and one he hadn't thought Potter capable of. Lucius was right; Potter had hidden depths.
Vern's face grew stormy as she turned back to the Marauders. "All of you with me," she said. "The Headmaster will sort out this mess."
Severus' heart dropped to his toes. Oh no.
Dumbledore did not look happy when they all filed in. He examined all of them over the rim of his glasses before he turned his attention to Vern.
"What seems to be the problem, Professor?"
Severus listened with half an ear as Vern explained that she'd heard noises and what she found when she went to investigate. There was an almost painful tightness in his chest; he had to focus on every single breath, inhaling and exhaling with exaggerated slowness to try and ease the pain. My mind was empty—or it was as though my mind had become one enormous, anesthetized wound.9 He could feel the sweat against the back of his neck, on his forehead.
The last time he'd been here had been in the aftermath of that awful night in September. Severus still barely remembered that whole affair - the shouting between his mother and the other parents, the way Dumbledore had calmed them all down. Everything had been out of focus and for several days afterward, Severus had watched his body go through the motions from a distance, carefully removed from everything he was doing.
Being back in here was making him flushed and anxious, his body readied for fight or flight. He could feel his mind wanting to slip away. Sometimes I feel like I'm not solid. I'm hollow. There's nothing behind my eyes. I'm a negative of a person. All I want is blackness, blackness and silence.10
He forced himself to focus through the oncoming haze. He could not afford to let his mind drift, not right now.
"I see," Dumbledore said once Vern finished speaking. "Harry. You claim that they were fighting when you arrived?"
Potter stepped forward. He seemed strangely at ease in the office - even the Marauders were shifting and uncomfortable, glancing between themselves and sweating like Severus was. Potter, on the other hand, was cool and composed, shoulders relaxed.
"Yes, sir," he said. He was even looking directly into Dumbledore's face instead of keeping his eyes averted. Strange. "They were attacking Snape."
"Did Mr. Snape also have his wand out?"
Dumbledore pursed his lips. "Are you absolutely certain that Mr. Snape did not provoke the attack?"
Severus' face burned. It was bad enough that Dumbledore even asked - but to ask Potter, as if Severus himself couldn't be trusted to answer truthfully, was much worse. He gritted his teeth. Why should he be surprised? This was Dumbledore. He had never cared for anyone who wasn't in the Gryffindor house.
Potter looked tense at last. "No, I guess I can't be 'certain,'" he said. Severus' stomach swooped. "But it doesn't matter if he did. There were four of them, sir. It wasn't a fair fight."
Dumbledore digested that. His face was unreadable as ever. He turned his attention to the Marauders.
"Can you explain yourselves?"
The Marauders fell over each other to try and explain - they hadn't been doing anything wrong, they were just playing around, they'd tried to fix Severus' bag and he overreacted, they weren't really attacking him... and on and on it went. Severus resisted the urge to rub his forehead. He could feel the headache building there.
A gentle touch to his shoulder. The formidable focus from before was gone from Potter's face, but he was still more present than normal. His mouth was soft, eyes gentle as he inspected Severus closely.
"You okay?" he whispered.
Severus didn't know what to do with that kind of honest concern. I am powerless toward your tenderness.11 He shrugged off Potter's hand.
"Fine," he snapped.
Potter didn't even have the decency to look annoyed. He just shrugged and turned his attention back to the conversation at hand.
"Very well." Dumbledore raised a hand to prevent any more babble. "I am very disappointed, boys. You assured me earlier this year that these kinds of altercations would stop."
"That said. Considering Professor Vern did not actually see any dueling taking place, I am willing to let everyone go with a warning."
Bitterness made Severus' stomach churn. He bit the inside of his cheek hard and stared at Dumbledore's desk. Of course. What else would they get other than a slap on the wrist? Evil men could be destroyed, but nothing could be done with good men who were deluded.12 This was why he'd never bothered trying to tell the professors what was going on. If the Headmaster wasn't going to step in after they'd nearly killed him, why would he step in for a little roughing up?
"You've got to be kidding me."
All eyes went to Potter. He was too busy glaring at Dumbledore.
"They attacked him! You're seriously just going to let them go with a warning, after—" Potter swallowed, darted a look at Severus, then turned back. "After September? Sir?"
Severus stared. How in Merlin's name did Potter know about September? There had been rumors, of course - all the Slytherins knew that Severus had suddenly had his own room and most of the students were aware that parents had been called in. But Severus had never talked and the Marauders had kept their mouths shut. No one knew any details - except, apparently, Potter. How? And what, exactly, did he know?
"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore said with a clear warning. "I appreciate your dedication to your housemate, but you are not a professor or even a prefect. You have no say in how I choose to punish my students."
"No, I'm not a prefect - he is!" Potter threw an accusing finger at Lupin, who jumped and stared at him with huge, bewildered eyes. "But he didn't stop anything from happening, he was attacking Snape, too. Professor Vern didn't even believe me until I showed her my arm. And now you're saying, what, you'll give them a little slap on the wrist? A warning? That's bullshit, sir!"
"It is! All you're doing is letting them know they can get away with it. And you were seriously somehow surprised when I came to tell you that they were bullying Snape - well, why wouldn't they, when they know you're just going to let them go with a warning?"
The air was getting strangely heavy. Severus frowned, trying to focus on that and ignore the warmth in his chest from Potter's honest anger in his defense. No one had ever been angry on his behalf before, not even Lily. And Potter was doing it against the Headmaster on top of everything. It was—too much. Severus had to think about the odd charge in the air instead, like the feeling before a lightning storm. What was that?
Dumbledore shouted just as several of the baubles on his shelves exploded. Severus ducked, heart hammering, but there was already a shield around them, protecting them from the debris. Professor Vern only lowered it after it was clear nothing else was going to break, her cool-eyed gaze fixed on Potter.
"Uncontrolled wandless magic, Mr. Potter," she said. "Impressive at your age."
Potter had color high in his cheeks and his eyes were much brighter than usual. He breathed hard and fast, as if he'd just gotten done with a run and his hair, already messy, stood on end. He looked—ferocious. Otherwordly. Let no one think of me that I am humble or weak or passive; let them understand I am of a different kind: dangerous to my enemies, loyal to my friends. To such a life glory belongs.13
"Mr. Potter." Dumbledore sounded more stern than Severus had ever heard him. "I understand your emotions are running high. But that hardly excuses this kind of destruction."
Potter scowled at him, bright eyes narrowed in a fierce glare. For a moment, Severus thought he would continue to yell. Then he glanced back at the destroyed valuables and sighed, the fight going out of him a little. His ferocity dimmed and he looked more like his usual self.
"Sorry," Potter muttered. "I didn't mean to do that. But—"
"No buts, Mr. Potter." Dumbledore turned to the Marauders. "You are free to go. But I will be keeping a much closer eye on you in the future - I suggest you keep that in mind. I'm sure none of you wish to have your parents called in for the second time this year, hm?"
There were a lot of muttered agreements and apologies. With several dark looks at Potter and Severus, the Marauders filed out. Dumbledore turned back to Potter and Severus.
"Mr. Snape, I apologize for this unpleasant business. You are free to leave as well. I need a word with Mr. Potter."
Severus almost protested. But he wasn't like Potter - he wasn't about to yell in the face of the Headmaster. Instead, he looked down at Potter's wounded arm.
"He still needs to see a healer," he said, though he directed the words to Dumbledore's desk. "Sir."
He turned without waiting for an answer and hurried out of the room.
Potter returned much later; it was already dark outside. Severus had stayed sequestered in his room, not leaving even for dinner and ignoring the growl of his stomach. He tried to do homework, but it was impossible to focus. He tried to read and the words never managed to make it to his brain.
When the door opened, all of the anxiety coiling in his stomach tightened. He sat up straight and watched as Potter came into the room, shoulders sloped and rubbing at his eye. He stopped dead when he saw Severus.
"Oh," he said. "I thought you'd be at dinner."
"I was not hungry."
"Good for you," Potter muttered. His stomach made a low growl. "I was going to run to the kitchens." He considered Severus cautiously. "Do you want to come with?"
Severus hadn't been aware that Potter knew where the kitchens were. He himself hadn't learned that until at least his third year. It seemed Potter was aware of many secrets in the castle.
"Yes," Severus said.
He wasn't interested in food right now, but he was hardly going to let Potter run away without interrogating him about the whole--thing this afternoon. Not after waiting and waiting.
The walk to the kitchens was silent. Potter didn't chatter on like he normally did and Severus didn't want to speak where others might overhear them. By the time they filed in through the portrait, Potter's stomach was making steady noises and even Severus managed some interest when the smell of whatever was cooking hit his nose.
A house-elf stepped forward to greet them. "Master Harry," it said. "You is back already?"
"I missed dinner," Potter said. He spoke to it directly and without any condescension. "Any chance we could get some sandwiches or something, please?"
The house-elf eyed him. "You is not causing more trouble?" it asked, clearly suspicious.
Potter smiled. "Only a little bit," he admitted.
Severus snorted. "More than a little bit," he told the house-elf when it looked at him.
The elf narrowed its eyes. "Master Harry," it said reproachfully. "You said—"
"Okay, okay." Potter smiled, eyes crinkling, as he held up his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry. It wasn't really my fault, anyway."
"You didn't have to step in," Severus said.
Potter looked at him, amusement fading away to leave something hard and tired underneath.
"Yeah I did," he said.
The house-elf looked between them. "Squeaky is getting sandwiches," it said decisively. "Sit, sit!"
They sat at the low tables near the entrance. Other house-elves bustled by them, giving them curious looks but not talking to them. Potter rubbed his eyes again, a pained grimace on his brow. Headache, most likely. Severus had taken a draught of pain-reliever as soon as he'd gotten back to their rooms.
"What did the Headmaster say?" he asked.
Potter sighed. "He wasn't happy with me," he said. "Apparently I wasn't 'expressing my frustration in a productive way' and 'destruction is never the answer' and all that. I've got detention on Friday afternoon with Vern."
Severus' frowned. It didn't sit right at all that Potter was the only one to walk out of the whole confrontation with detention.
"What about your arm?" he demanded.
Potter shrugged. "That's why I took so long," he said. "I went to see Madame Baxter after I was done talking to Dumbledore. She got me all healed up."
Severus chewed on the inside of his cheek. Just more proof of Dumbledore's house bias, he thought with aggravation. Even a Potter, with their light name and good blood, had their word tainted by association with Slytherins.
"You shouldn't have interfered," he said finally.
Potter cut him a look. "Oh, really? Because you were doing so great by yourself."
Anger was easier than gratitude. Misery made me a fiend.14 So Severus sneered, crossing his arms over his chest.
"This may come as a surprise to you, but I survived just fine for years before you showed up, Potter. I can take care of myself."
"I know you can, Snape. That's not why—"
"I didn't need you butting your nose into my business, interfering in my affairs—"
"—I helped, I just couldn't stand by and—"
"—making things worse for me! Potter and his little buddies are going to be furious about this—"
"—watch them hurt you!"
Severus stopped mid-sentence at Potter's shout. Potter looked away from him, focusing on the house-elf activity. When he spoke again, his voice was much quieter.
"I couldn't just let them hurt you, Snape. It wasn't right."
Severus gritted his teeth against the insistent warm feeling rising his chest. He didn't want to feel anything good about a goddamned Potter. He tried to cling to his anger.
"I don't need a knight in shining armor," he snapped. "Is that why you did it? You wanted someone to bow down and kiss your feet in gratitude?"
Potter snorted. "If I wanted that, you'd be the last person I'd save, Snape," he said.
Severus scowled. "Then why—"
"Because I couldn't stand to watch it." Potter shook his head, exhaustion clear in his downturned mouth and crinkled forehead. "What did you expect me to do? Stand by and just let them attack you?"
"In my experience, that's what one does."
"Yeah." Potter sighed. "Well. Mine, too."
Severus could read the implications in that too clearly. He wondered why had attacked Potter and why. It was strange to think that anyone had looked at him and seen a target. Potter was—nice and good-looking and clearly powerful. It didn't make sense that anyone would single him out and harass him the way it made sense that they'd do it to Severus.
But he wasn't lying. That tired bitterness was too familiar to Severus, too intimate. He knew how that felt. His skin prickled with awareness. When you stand before me and see me, what do you know about the pain inside me and what do I know about yours?15
"You . . . ."
Potter looked at him. Severus wasn't sure what face he was making, but Potter seemed to read the correct question in his expression. He seemed to shrink in on himself. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, ruffling up his hair. It should have just reminded Severus of his cousin, but on Potter the gesture was different.
"When I was younger," he said, looking at his knees, "there was this—kid. He used to make my life a living nightmare. He and his friends, they'd chase me and beat me up whenever they caught me. He told everyone I was crazy and weird so that no one—" Potter bit his lip.
"You had no allies," Severus surmised. "He kept them away from you?"
Potter let out several long breaths. "It was crappy," he said without confirming Severus' suspicions. Severus could find his own answer from that. "No one ever believed me."
He stared at his knees for another long moment. Severus studied his bent head. This was an offering, he realized. Potter had seen him abjectly vulnerable on more than one occasion - at the mercy of his tormentors, alone and harassed. He was offering up some of his own weaknesses to even out the balance.
A contradiction. For all that he seemed like a terrible one, Potter was turning out to be Slytherin in more ways than one.
"It's wrong, what they were doing," Potter finished in a low, hard voice. "I'm only sorry that I didn't do anything before."
No one had ever thought to step in before. No one had considered Severus worth the risk of what it would mean to get on the bad side of his tormentors. No one had seen what was happening and decided it was unfair to Severus. Not until this one ragged boy, sitting close enough that Severus could feel the warmth of his body, chewing on a ragged fingernail, his stomach still audible. Not what anyone would imagine as a stalwart protector and yet.
The warm feeling couldn't be ignored now. It flushed through his entire body. Severus was sure he was blushing, but he couldn't stop it from happening. He stared at his hands, twisting restlessly in his lap, and gritted his teeth through it. Excess of being wells up in my heart.16 It was almost too much to handle.
Potter stood up for him. Potter had decided that helping him was worth the risk - and it was a bigger risk for him than most people, considering it was his own estranged cousin he was defending Severus against. Potter had spoken up for him in Dumbledore's office, too. For the first time, someone had helped him.
What was Severus supposed to do with that?
the confrontation between the marauders and harry + severus is one of the primary scenes i sketched out when i decided to write this fic. harry's waffling about what to do about the marauders' bullying felt natural to me because the people he needs to stand up to are all these adults he loves and trusts in the future - not to mention he's still trying to deal with the disorientation of being displaced from everyone he loves. but it was never going to be something he could continue doing. harry's too righteous - and i think being able to fulfill that basic protective tenant of his personality will help him finally gain some of his footing in the past.
lucius is fun to write. he's so machiavellian and sinister. his interest in harry will become clearer.
a few people guessed that the intrigue with the potters had to do with inheritance. we'll get a clearer idea of the blowback from harry's fight with james, as well as what their feelings are on this unexpected relative in the next chapter.
anyway. thank you guys for the kudos & comments! hopefully i can keep up the momentum and get the next chapter up soon.
1thomas hardy, tess of the d'urbervilles
2george orwell, "politics and the english language"
3mary shelley, the fortunes of perkin warbeck a romance
4william shakespeare, hamlet
5fyodor dostoyevsky, the brothers karamazov
6czesław miłosz, provinces
7sylvia plath's journals
8federico garcía lorca
9james baldwin, giovanni's room
12arthur c. clarke, childhood's end
14 mary wollstonecraft shelley,frankenstein
16rainer maria rilke, the ninth elegy