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Seven breakdowns

Chapter Text

“I, of course, knew immediately what was wrong,” Lockhart was saying. “It was the cauldron they were using for the brew: Iron when they should have used a copper alloy. It rendered the potion ineffective.”

“You don’t say,” answered Minerva McGonagall, moving her lips as little as possible. She couldn’t, she couldn’t. She had said to Dumbledore, gritting her teeth, that she could, that she could have that idiot as a professor at Hogwarts. But she couldn’t.

Yesterday he had been telling her, the Transfiguration professor, that he had stopped a werewolf from transforming with one simple charm. None of that was possible. Transfiguration didn’t work that way.

He was just… If only Lockhart were as good as he claimed! He would still be unbearable with the way he bragged, but he would have the talent to support it and they would just have to endure it. But he wasn’t! He wasn’t! He was a mediocre man just as he had always been a mediocre student, and here he was, talking to her as if she hadn’t given him mediocre grades every day he had spent at Hogwarts.

There was a sound. It was very hard to describe. It was short, nothing like a clatter that lasts for a long time. It wasn’t very loud either. It was a deaf and mute sound. Rather than the sound itself Minerva heard the muffling around it. It sounded, if that were possible, porous, like cutting a pumpkin or a watermelon.

“Gnaa,” said Lockhart. It was not a scream, more like a yelp. Surprise and pain and confusion all mixed together. Lockhart had been talking when the sound was produced, and he had an amazing ability to avoid being interrupted so he tried to scream and to keep talking at the same time and hence proffered that weird “gnaa.”

Lockhart blinked twice and looked down at his chest from where the handle of a knife was protruding. His beautiful bright blue robes were stained with blood.

“Oops,” said Snape in the fakest tone Minerva had ever heard, and she had heard a lot. Years and years in education, she had heard a lot of fake excuses and apologies and this was the fakest of them all.

“Aaah-haa,” Lockhart said tentatively, as if he didn’t dare screaming in case it hurt.

“My bad,” Snape said. His face made something that might be an attempt at looking contrite. The sort of expression he wore when he was handed a cup of tea with too much sugar.

Lockhart had to take himself to the infirmary because everyone else in the professors’ room was frozen in place. At some point Snape said something like, “how clumsy of me,” and, “butterfingers,” before sitting down to read the paper. There was the distinctive feeling that someone ought to say something. Tsk at Snape and remind him that we do not stab people just because they are annoying. But no one could find the strength to say anything.

After a long while, Professor Sprout said, “Tea?” and she brewed a fresh kettle and people handed her their mugs and said how many sugars and milk please and thank you. Not a word about what had happened.

Chapter Text

“What the fuck?”

“There is no need to use such language, Sirius,” Albus Dumbledore said affably. He hardly seemed shocked by Sirius Black’s foul mouth. Others were not so composed.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Sirius, please,” Molly Weasley chastised.

“No,” Sirius said, words hot and angry like the bubbles in a boiling potion. “No. I didn’t take him with me because you said that as a fugitive of the law I couldn’t offer him a good home, and I listened. I listened, Albus, and you put my godson to fight against dragons.”

“That was not Albus’ fault,” Molly said, looking down at her hands. In retrospect, it seemed pretty stupid that Harry had fought a dragon.  

“I’m just saying that I listened,” Sirius said loudly. “I am a rational man. I can listen. But I feel like I am listening too much.”

“Harry is safe with his family. With Voldemort back, it is imperative that he remains at Privet Drive,” Dumbledore said in that Dumbledore way of speaking in which he sounded like he knew so much; so, so much that he couldn’t possibly be wrong.

“There are fucking dementors theeeeere!” The words came out of Sirius’ mouth like frogs and snakes. They were dirty and ugly but he had to say them quickly before the golden charm of Dumbledore’s words took effect. Fucking dementors.

“Of course, Harry can spend some time here, with the Order.” Dumbledore was infuriatingly calm and sane and Sirius was foaming at the mouth.

xXx

“Hey, kid,” Sirius said, because even though he had said to Molly that Harry was not a child, Harry was very small. He was too small, he couldn’t possibly handle all this hippogriff shit.

As big as Grimmauld Place was, it was hard to get some privacy nowadays. Sirius had been hiding in the bathtub for half an hour now, waiting for Harry to come brush his teeth.

“Sirius,” Harry smiled faintly and looked perfectly unfazed by the fact that his godfather was standing fully-dressed in an empty bathtub. This, this was what Sirius meant. Poor kid, look at how tired he was. No energy left to be surprised.

“Quick question. You can say no, no worries, I won’t be angry, I promise I won’t mind. But I have to ask. Quick question,” he said once more, because Sirius had never handled words well when he was agitated. “Do you want to go?”

Harry looked at the loo and then back at Sirius. He was putting toothpaste on his brush.

“No, I mean. Go away? With me?”

“Go… where?”

“I don’t know. Away. It’s just… How are you Harry?”

Harry was truly his father’s son, because he was able to follow Sirius’ ramblings without missing a step.

“Cedric is dead and it was my fault. Nobody tells me anything. I am not sleeping well. I have nightmares. And Dumbledore won’t even look at me.”

That, on the other hand, was a Lily thing. She always spoke the truth bluntly like that. Sirius nodded in understanding. Harry hadn’t even mentioned that Voldemort was back when that was the first thought in people’s minds these days.

“Do you want to leave?”

“Leave?”

“Yes. Leave. We can go wherever. You won’t be able to go to Hogwarts, I think, not for a while because they are all being very stubborn, but maybe in a few years. It’s just, I have to offer. We can go, Harry. You don’t have to go back to that muggle family if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to go to school either. I mean, school is important, your parents would kill me for saying this. But there are other schools. I can get you a private tutor.”

“But… your house.”

“Oh, the Order can keep using it.” Sirius waved his hand and knocked a bottle of shampoo down. It made an inordinate amount of noise as it bounced around the bathtub. “I never liked the place.”

xXx

It couldn’t be said that they packed. “Packing” means that shirts are folded and someone counts pairs of socks estimating how many will be needed. Harry just grabbed Hedwig’s cage and his broom, his wand sticking out from one of his trousers’ pockets. He didn’t take any clothes. None of them were actually his, and they didn’t fit him well.

“I left Ron a note,” he said.

He had, very much in the Lily Evans style: I am going to live with Sirius now. You can use my things if you want. Take care, I will write when I can. Cheers!

Sirius took his wand and his purse and his leather jacket. He left a note of his own to Moony that said You know I’m right. Then he took Harry behind the house.

“I always preferred the bike,” Sirius said as he moved a tarpaulin back. “But Hagrid has it. Hasn’t returned it, the bastard. This will be more comfortable in any case.”

Harry got inside the car, an antique that had only made its way into the Black household because it looked like a murder machine. Sirius had only taken the bike with him when he was kicked out of the house because Regulus had also known how to drive and Sirius had wanted his little brother to have his own mode of leaving, even if he had little hope that he would.

Regulus had died before he could get any sense in his head and the car had remained, forgotten. It would be used in a getaway after all and that was nice. Sirius adjusted the mirrors and put on the seat belt. The car didn’t come with seat belts, Sirius conjured them up because he was sensible and concerned with Harry’s safety unlike some people.

“Let’s go.”

The engine purred as it came to life, the purr of a dragon rather than the purr of a cat. The purr of a machine that probably ate cats, if not people.

They left. Away from the fucking abusive muggles and the fucking dementors and the fucking useless wizards hiding important information from Harry. Sirius couldn’t believe he was the only one with a lick of sense in that group. “Fucking idiots,” he mumbled as he took a left turn over a bridge and the car went right into the air; and then, louder, “So. On the matter of prophecies. Pay attention, Harry, this concerns you.”

Chapter Text

“BRITISH BORDER CLOSES DOWN AS DARK LORD RISES IN POWER” said the headline.

“Such turmoil,” thought Draco to himself as he sipped his coffee. Tea was substandard here on the continent, but their coffee was good. He had adapted to it quicker than expected.

Having a nervous breakdown was the best thing that had ever happened to Draco. He had fallen to the floor sobbing because he was just a child, just a child, and he had been tasked with killing freaking Albus Dumbledore, the man who defeated Grindelwald, or perish trying. His family would pay if he refused. He had sobbed on the second floor boys’ bathroom (you had more privacy in the girls’ lavatories, but Myrtle could be a bit too much) and then, with a much clearer head after the thoughts had been washed with tears, he had thought: “I’m just a child.”

“There is no possible way he expects me to succeed.”

“He is sending me to my death, the bastard.”

“He will punish my family either way.”

(Father sort of has it coming.)

His mother, who loved him more than her own life, had made Snape promise with an unbreakable vow that he would help Draco. She had done whatever she could to help her son. However, more than having Snape lend a hand, what had really helped Draco was Narcissa’s insistence that he should take language lessons. (And music lessons, but those didn’t help as much.)

After Draco realised that he was damned either way, he had put his pretty little Slytherin mind to it and found an alternative. “Either way” is never good enough for Slytherins. That is very reductionist. Just two ways, come on. There was another solution.

Maybe Draco had been a bit dramatic, but so what? Many people fantasised about it. He had faked his death and fled to the continent where his knowledge of French and German made it easy to blend in. He had dyed his hair dark and he was wearing glasses. Turned out he needed them, he had no idea how he had done so well in Quidditch. He supposed he also looked a bit like Potter now, if Potter were to suddenly acquire a fashion sense and better posture and a pompadour.

“Terrible business,” Draco muttered to himself as he turned the page of the newspaper. The headlines spoke about the gruesome death of a fugitive Death Eater who was murdered. It all sounded awfully stressful.

Chapter Text

The most embarrassing part of the whole affair was that it took Draco Malfoy snapping his head around during DADA class and loudly asking, “Where is Longbottom in any case?” for people to realise that it had been days since anyone had seen Neville. Days. 

To be fair, Neville had recently engaged in a surprising and very disappointing streak of absenteeism. He had even skipped his detention. It was understandable that people, adults, would overlook the fact that he hadn’t been seen in almost a week.

Still, the fact that it was the bully who raised the alarm didn’t look good.

It had started very simply with Neville failing a basic switching spell during Transfigurations and McGonagall assigning him extra homework. He had stayed behind to write it down and apologise. Neville spent a lot of time apologising. For dropping something, for bumping into someone, for not being able to perform simple transfiguration switches by fourth year, for breathing too loud in Potions class.

For not being like his father.

Neville had apologised to professor McGonagall for failing as a student. As he was packing his things he had dropped his inkwell and he had to stop and clean the mess and then he got his robe tangled on the chair… By the time Neville got out of the classroom he was already late for the next one.

Potions.

If it were Charms, it would have been all right. DADA, too, because professor Moody seemed very unconcerned with school rules although Neville still had a long list of reasons why he didn’t enjoy the class. It was a pity because he had liked it so much the previous year! He had even begun to think that maybe he could turn out like his parents after all. With professor Lupin teaching the class Neville was much confident in his spellwork.

He was ten minutes late now. Snape would give him detention and, worst of all, he would say something. It didn’t matter what, but it would be cutting and humiliating and Neville would be so flustered and embarrassed that he would mess up the first steps of the potion and even if Hermione helped, Snape would say something and…

Twelve minutes now and he was still on the third floor. By the time he got to the dungeons Neville would be twenty minutes late. He would not have time to brew the potion even if he did everything right on the first try. He might as well not go.

The problem with absenteeism is that eventually you have to show up to class and the longer you are away the bigger the punishment will be. The problem with absenteeism is that it feels so good! Such an instant relief! You don’t go to class and your stomach stops hurting.

Neville stopped going to Potions class. Professor Snape marked him absent and gave him detention and professor McGonagall had a very stern talk with him, but it still felt good, so he didn’t go. And he didn’t go that Friday evening either, when he was supposed to serve his detention. McGonagall had been very severe when she talked to him after dinner, she had used lots of words with capital letters like Disappointment and Consequences, but Neville was used to words like those, so they barely had any effect. The fifty points lost and the knowledge that next Friday he would have to serve double detention affected him more, but those were still easier to take than a double Potions class with Slytherin.

It was all Harry’s fault. He was the one who said, “Yeah, no, I understand.” So it wasn’t as if Neville were the only one thinking it. When Hermione gasped and started her typical tirade about how important education was and rules and what not, Harry added:

“But Snape is horrible. He is horrible to me, but he is far worse to Neville. I don’t see anything wrong with him not going. What is he going to learn? He just suffers!”

You couldn’t really argue against that. It was so true that Hermione closed her mouth.

It wasn’t as if Neville was missing much. He was not a good wizard, practically a squib. School was wasted on him. He said as much later that night when they were all in their beds and the idea of double detention next week was sitting heavily on Neville’s chest. The words burned his tongue but uttering them was a relief, as if they had been sitting in his lungs all day and didn’t let him breath.  

“You are not a squib!” Ron protested hotly. Ron was nice.

“And even if you were, you would still be a hundred times better than Snape,” added Harry. Harry was amazing. Neville was a bit in love with him.

Still, the idea of being a squib attracted Neville just as much as it had once terrified him. If he were a squib he would be a disappointment, but he already was one now and the pressure to be as good as his father would disappear. He wouldn’t have to be at Hogwarts. He would miss Harry and Ron and Dean and Seamus, but he wouldn’t have to go to class. His stomach wouldn’t hurt constantly. Nothing would stop him from breathing. It would be so sweet.

Neville didn’t say exactly that, but he said something similar. It was easy to speak when their dormitory was dark and they were all in their beds not looking at each other. He said that he wouldn’t mind being a squib because he wouldn’t have to go to Hogwarts, not that I don’t like you guys, but –

“You don’t have to go to Hogwarts in any case,” said Seamus. “It is not compulsory, you know.”

“It is not?” asked Ron, very surprised. This was not common knowledge in the Burrow, for obvious reasons. Dean and Harry were sitting up in their beds. This was very interesting.

“No,” Seamus confirmed. “It is encouraged and recommended, but you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Plenty of Irish kids don’t come and study from home or in parish schools instead. Mum said I should come because they ask for NEWTs in Ministry jobs.”

“But, if you were to have a pub or something…” offered Ron, who would like to run his own pub. He didn’t know that was his dream because he was too occupied carving a spot for himself in the light, a spot between his talented siblings and friends, but a pub is what he wanted. One with a pun in the name.

“Other than the Ministry, nobody cares where you learned magic,” Seamus finished with the confidence that only teenagers have in their own knowledge.

This sparked an interesting conversation that went well into the night and tipped into the next morning. The conclusion reached was that if Neville wasn’t happy at Hogwarts; if, in fact, he was miserable, he should just go.

Hermione opposed the idea, of course, but Ginny was there too (how and when had the girls come to their room? They didn’t know.) so they cancelled each other out. Besides, the boys had set their hearts on it and there was no going back.

This sort of thing wouldn’t have happened if Percy Weasley had been there. He was clearly the one to blame because he had graduated Hogwarts and wasn’t a Prefect any more. The new Prefects just didn’t have his acute sense for developing trouble. They let the twins get away with lots of chaos.

Harry offered, actually demanded, to bank Neville’s adventure. Ron came up with a safe destination for Neville to go to. Dean, who had a flourishing business as a forger, said he would get him some papers. Dean worked mostly with detention slips to hand over if caught wandering the corridors after hours, plus some letters from parents who never received McGonagall’s missive about their child’s misbehaviour. (The Patil sisters were frequent customers. So were Fred and George. It must be something about twins.) Seamus made a distraction big enough that during the next few hours it was impossible to have everyone accounted for. The twins took Neville to Hogsmeade through one of the secret tunnels and gave him the rest of that ageing potion they had used to fool the age line around the fire chalice. Neville boarded the Hogsmeade train to London looking like a pleasant middle-aged man.

He left, and nobody noticed until five days later when his bully asked after him. It was honestly embarrassing.

All the Gryffindor boys adamantly denied any knowledge of Neville’s long absence. Professor Moody looked like he might start turning people into ferrets again. He didn’t, but the whole year was put in detention when McGonagall asked about Neville and Ron said, “Who?”

They all agreed it was worth it.

By then Neville was far away from Hogwarts, farther than anyone would suspect. He had arrived at the dragon reserve in Romania two days before. Charlie Weasley was concerned because he suspected there was going to be some sort of trouble, an angry letter from his mother at the very least. The rest of the wizard zoologists thought it was hilarious. Neville had showed up with a letter from Ron begging Charlie to take Neville in, please and thank you, and a letter from Harry Potter himself, the freaking Boy Who Lived, saying he would pay for all of Neville’s expenses and here was a five hundred galleon advance. Neville explained that he was practically a squib but he was willing to work hard. He immediately disproved the first point when a red cap jumped onto his head and Neville successfully stunned him. He said it didn’t count; that was a spell Professor Lupin had taught them and it was virtually impossible not to learn in his classes.

Since the dragon reserve was in a constant state of budget cuts and Neville came with his own scholarship and then some, the director shrugged her shoulders and only asked that any problems be solved without having to involve her. Neville was handed a fire-proof cloak and Charlie made a space for him in his room. When you work with huge, fire-breathing, spiked animals you learn to make decisions swiftly and stick to them.

As Charlie had feared there was a Big Fuss although they only got the echoes of it on the reserve. His younger siblings, except Percy, were all in detention until the end of time. Bill might be in detention, too, even though he was an independent adult man; apparently he had laughed a lot when he heard about it and congratulated Ron on his spirit. Gryffindor had lost all of its house points, all of them. Hogwarts was a barely controlled pandemonium and parents were demanding an explanation. Oh, and Harry said he wasn’t participating in the Triwizard Tournament anymore because he hadn’t put his name in to begin with and now they were thinking of cancelling the whole thing and starting again next year with better participation controls.  

Also, Augusta Longbottom was travelling to Romania to bring Neville back by his ear.

And here came Hermione Granger, recently nicknamed by Dean Thomas as on/off girl because of how radically she had switched sides. Hermione was strongly set against skipping classes, she was responsible and rule-abiding. So rule abiding, in fact, that she was the one to research, discover and inform all interested parties that Augusta Longbottom was not Neville’s legal guardian after all. Sure, she had filled the role, but she had never filed the papers. An understandable omission considering Augusta’s grief at the time, but the fact was that she could not make Neville come back any more than Severus Snape could.

Perhaps not that surprisingly, Alice Longbottom had decided for whatever reason that in case of emergency or death she did not want her mother-in-law to raise her beloved Neville. And, for whatever reason, Frank had obliged her. The Longbottoms had left written affidavits that Neville’s guardianship should go to Marlene McKinnon. Sadly, Marlene had died during the war but this didn’t mean that the guardianship would automatically fall to Augusta because there were also godparents to take into account and old rules and even older magic. The matter was very complicated and at one point it looked like Sirius Black might be Neville’s guardian, as well as Narcissa Malfoy. It was a mess.

(Incidentally, it meant that Harry refused to go back to the Dursleys that summer or ever again, even after Dumbledore explained in very reasonable terms about the magical protection Harry would get from being there. He was not going. Harry was going to Sirius’ and the Burrow. He was also thinking about applying to a summer course in the dragon reserve.)

Neville stayed. He didn’t exactly lose fat, but he got some nice muscles from all the physical activity. His blond hair turned blonder and his skin tanned. His spellwork improved a lot. His stomach never hurt. The fresh mountain air did wonders for his constitution.

A year and half later a frightened Draco Malfoy arrived at the reserve. He didn’t have money or a recommendation letter, just his wand, his poise and a terrible burn on his forearm, so bad and ugly that no magical mark of any type could ever set on the damaged flesh. He did a decent job at hiding his fear and embarrassment. Mostly, because he was pissed that the idea of leaving hadn’t occurred to him first and Neville had beat him to it. His name was Draco, after all; he should have gone to a dragon reserve years ago.

Charlie Weasley threw him a fire-proof coat and immediately signed on to a seven-week research trip deep in the mountains. He did not want to be there when the letters arrived.

In any case:

Draco didn’t become a Death Eater.

Frank and Alice Longbottom were avenged. Their torturers were burnt to a charcoal. Not to a crisp, no, past that and right into something similar to coal, a different organic element all together. You know how potent dragon fire is.

Chapter Text

Sometimes we do something thinking that it will make things better and maybe it does, but it also creates a much bigger problem. Sometimes we try to fix something and we only make it worse.

Voldemort had just brushed a finger over Harry’s cheek, gloating that he could now touch him without burning. He had used Harry’s blood as the blood of the enemy in his rebirth ritual and he could now cross the love protection Lily had put over Harry, the barrier that made the avada kedavra rebound.

He was so pleased! In a minute he would call his followers and he would attempt to duel and kill Harry and Harry would fight back, fight for his life, and Harry would escape. In a minute. But right now, right now Voldemort was saying that he had overcome that protection, that he could touch Harry.

There is magic in words, in speaking. As soon as Voldemort uttered those words something deep underground stirred and began to move.

She was mostly bones. It had been almost fourteen years. She was mostly bones with a bit of dry skin and hair. She was also love. A love that was scalding hot and big, big, big, and desperate. The part that wasn’t mostly bones or love was anger. There might have been some magic there too, I suppose.

It took Lily Potter two hours to dig her way up from her grave. She didn’t have a wand, or shoes (they were back in the coffin) and she only had part of an old black party dress that she had never liked much. She had to kneel in the dirt and dig back down so she could get her shoes, black with a small heel, because she wasn’t about to go around barefoot. There was going to be quite a lot of walking, she just knew, and she had been born lower middle class so Lily had a deeply ingrained sense of looking respectable.

She didn’t have a wand, but she had a pair of mostly intact shoes and a worn dress and nothing else really. The ring that had been on her finger had slipped and fallen back into the coffin while she dug her shoes out. Her finger was thinner now, made of bone.

She walked. It took her five days to get to Surrey and then to Little Whinging. She had never been there, but she knew just where to go. One of the advantages of being dead, or having been dead, was that you knew a lot of things, like where to go once you got out of your grave, where to find the reason that had pulled you out.

She rang the doorbell of number four, Privet Drive. It was around breakfast time.

It has to be said that Harry was remarkably calm and unfazed even before he realised who exactly was the skeletal figure standing by the door. Petunia, on the other hand, screamed and fell to the floor and sobbed and screamed some more and threw a horse figurine in Lily’s direction. Dudley pissed himself and disappeared upstairs. Vernon fainted, regained consciousness, pissed himself, prayed, had to sit on the floor because he was about to faint again, and pushed Petunia in front of him.

“Your own sister, Petunia,” was all Lily said, the words clearly intelligible despite the absence of lips and tongue. “Your nephew.”

The small cabinet under the stairs caught on fire. It would be nice to say that it was magic that set off the fire even though Lily didn’t have a wand with her, but it was not magic. It was a bottle of cooking oil and a can of hairspray and a bottle of nail polish remover that Lily threw in there, followed by a match.

For someone who didn’t have much of a face, just some parchment-like skin over her bones, Lily looked incredibly tender and vulnerable when she looked at Harry and extended her hand.

She still smelled of the ground she had been buried in. Her smile was the grin of a skull and her once fiery red hair was brittle, muted and dirty. She looked like a monster. But this was Harry, who was brave and kind and desperate for affection. He took his mother’s hand and left with her, dragging his school trunk behind, Hedwig’s cage under his arm. He didn’t hesitate.  

As soon as the Gringotts goblins confirmed Lily’s identity, they gave her access to her account. She and Harry had lunch in Diagon Alley and then they went looking for houses. She rented the third place she saw, a sunny flat near a park.

She couldn’t talk much. It was unbelievable that she could talk at all since she had no vocal cords or lips or tongue, but she still managed to communicate with Harry. Harry was warm and fed and clothed, and he knew that he was loved. He was loved very much and that was all that mattered.

Eventually Dumbledore and the Order came to them. It was quite funny, from an outside perspective. Dumbledore had ordered a communication lockdown due to some concern over legilimentia vulnerability so it had taken them a while to realise that Harry wasn’t at Privet Drive and the Dursleys’ explanations about Harry’s whereabouts weren’t very good. It was all very awkward. For a while they thought that Death herself had come to pick up Harry.

That wasn’t all. That was just the funny part.

Sirius cried, he cried very hard and they were all worried about him, but once the tears had dried he was better than before, saner in a way. He had probably needed a good cry after Azkaban. Remus cried too, of course, but nobody thought that he was going to die from it.

When she saw Snape, Lily said, “I am not happy with you,” which wasn’t damning or a curse or anything but still shook the man to the core. She wasn’t impressed with Dumbledore, either, but she didn’t say so and Dumbledore was able to let out a breath.

Molly made a very unfortunate comment about how Harry should be taken care of by someone warm and made of flesh and blood. It was all with good intentions, very good, but Lily didn’t like it. The whole room went cold, their breaths steaming and frost forming over the glass. It stayed like that for a week. Molly’s concern was reasonable, but unnecessary. Lily took excellent care of Harry.

Lily met Luna Lovegood six months later, when she went to the station to get Harry during the Christmas break. She whispered something just for Luna’s ears and Luna nodded and smiled and said that she knew.

Then there was the time when Lily met Hermione Granger’s parents. Mr and Mrs Granger didn’t have an opinion on skeletal versus flesh-and-blood parenting so that helped the relationship. They congratulated Lily on the state of her teeth which were clearly visible since Lily was missing skin on her face. Mrs. Granger noticed that Lily still had her wisdom teeth in her jaw and it made for a very intense and melancholic mood. Lily had died before her wisdom teeth erupted. Lily had died just a few years older than Hermione was and Mrs Granger had to hug her, tears in her eyes, not minding at all that Lily was mostly bones and didn’t have eyes of her own.

To be fair, most people didn’t notice the empty sockets in her skull. Sometimes there was a green light in there and that was enough to tell her expression.

The news of Lily’s return got out, even though the Ministry tried to deny it just as much as they were denying that Voldemort had returned. They said that Harry was crazy and couldn’t see the truth and that the skeletal woman accompanying him was a doll. They said and said but still, when the word got out, Peter Pettigrew went ahead and killed himself which was probably the smartest thing he could do. Although James was waiting for him in the afterlife. He and Lily were a team and they wanted to cover both worlds to increase Harry’s protection.

Peter wasn’t the only one giving credit to the rumours. Narcissa Malfoy grabbed her son’s hand and disappeared without trace. They reappeared twelve years later in Argentina. He was working in advanced Arithmancy and she gave English lessons and had nothing to do with England and the evil wizards that lived there.

Voldemort still tried to kill Harry.

Voldemort had always hated Harry. He feared him, too, because Harry had been his downfall. Harry had refused to die too many times. But, in the end, it came down to him, the man who had ripped his soul apart to achieve immortality, and her, the dead woman who had returned. Fear was too small a word to express what Voldemort felt when he saw Lily standing once again between him and her son.

Perhaps if he had tried to knock her over with something, a bat or a lever, he would at least have slowed her down. But rather than using such prosaic means, Voldemort tried to stop Lily with magic. He cursed her with the avada kedavra and found that she was already dead and the curse did nothing, absolutely nothing. Then he tried to freeze her and set her on fire and vanish her bones or transform them into something else.

But she was dead. Magic had no effect on her.

She didn’t have a wand. She had the shoes she had bought for herself and a nice green dress that Harry had given her on Mother’s Day.

And she had her hands. Hands of bone and a little bit of skin.

It wasn’t nice to watch.

She took him apart, piece by piece. He wished he hadn’t created his horcruxes because his death was very, very long. Lily had to reduce him to nothing so that the horcruxes and the pieces of soul meant nothing too. Destroy him until not a cell remained, until every atom had been broken.

Lily killed Voldemort that day. Afterwards, she lay on the floor to rest and didn’t move anymore. She was dead.

They took her body back to her grave. She was buried in the green dress, which she preferred to the black one. Everybody knew so by now.

Harry did well. He had the knowledge of love and Sirius and Remus were there to guide him. He did well. Plus, he was descended from the Peverell brother who greeted Death like an old friend. Harry could mourn in a healthy way. He missed his mother but he was able to say goodbye and relish the time he had had with her.

He went to visit her grave after he married Luna, to give her the news personally. They also visited Pandora’s grave, Luna’s mother. They returned when Luna got pregnant. Luna was dressed in white and blue and Harry could barely stand how much he loved her as they told the news to the gravestones. It didn’t have to mean anything. Just a little ritual for the two orphans. Telling good news to the gravestones.

They tried not to read too much into the little symbols, but they also found happiness and serenity in them. Some flowers sprouting from a gravestone. A bird singing just as Luna murmured the news to the graves. That kind of thing.

Chapter Text

I – Adults fumbling

 

“I am afraid that Harry Potter is not at the muggle house where I left him,” said Albus Dumbledore in a sombre tone to the collected members of the Order of the Phoenix and faculty from Hogwarts.

It was very quick. Very, very quick, but over half of them glanced at Minerva before averting their eyes and looking at the ceiling, the desk, their hands or Dumbledore. Only Severus Snape kept his penetrating gaze on Minerva, but that was hardly out of the ordinary.

"Well, I'll be" said Pomona Sprout. Pomona Sprout was kind and sweet and very gentle and also, they were now seeing, able to give Snape a run for his money on sarcastic delivery. Snape kept his face perfectly blank, which had its own merit.

Harry Potter wasn’t in the muggle house. He hadn’t been there in years. In fact he had only spent one week there. One week and Minerva, who still couldn’t forget the things she had seen during the day she spent watching the family, had said, “Oh, to hell with it”.

She had put on her shoes and she had gone to Little Whinging and number four Privet Drive. She had gone there fully expecting to fight for the wee Potter but the muggle woman had handed him over without complain, probably the only time in her life that Petunia Evans, now Dursley, did something decent.

Harry had been living with Minerva ever since. He called her Min or Mama, depending on the occasion, and they lived in the cottage in Hogsmeade that Minerva had shared with her late husband Elphinstone.

Minerva had kept it secret from everyone. At least at first. Technically it was still a secret, which explained why Dumbledore was now summoning them to tell them that Harry was missing. Only practically everyone in that meeting knew where Harry was. Even Snape did. It made you wonder that Snape hadn’t said anything to Dumbledore. He had probably dropped some hints, though. Nudged Dumbledore to check on Harry’s muggle family.

Milphela Urquart, Elphinstone’s cousin and only surviving relative, loaned Minerva a house elf to help her look after Harry while she was teaching. Harry had freed the elf the very first day when he insisted on putting a hat on the elf’s head, since Harry was also wearing one (red and woolly with a big pompom on top). The elf had been choked up with tears and more so when Harry noticed and offered him Padfu to cheer him up.

Padfu was Harry’s recently acquired teddy bear. It had lost its nose before they got home and now it looked more like a strange mixture of bear and dog. Harry slept with it and ate with it and loved him like only children can love a toy. He had offered it to Morty, which was the elf’s name, and the elf had stayed. Morty had kept the hat but returned the bear when Harry was put to bed.

Minerva had only needed Morty for about two months because on Christmas break there was knock on her door and she opened it to find a hopeful Rubeus Hagrid accompanied by a bemused Remus Lupin. They were each holding a wrapped package.

Everybody thought that Hagrid was a Gryffindor, that he had been a Gryffindor until his shameful expulsion from the school. Even Minerva thought so. Hagrid was big, hairy and strong and looked remarkably like a blown up version of that statue of Godric Gryffindor in one of the inner cloisters at Hogwarts. But the fact was that, no matter what everyone wanted to believe, Rubeus Hagrid was a Slytherin. A Slytherin who had been equally worried about leaving Harry with his muggle family and had maybe gone to check on him only to find that he was gone.

He had brought Lupin with him because Lupin had the sweetest manners and Hagrid wasn’t sure of his welcome. The wrapped packages contained some pastries and a toy wand that Minerva had no intention of ever letting Harry use again after that day. It was an eye hazard.

Harry was quite happy to climb over Hagrid and slide down his legs and generally use him as his own personal playground so there was little question about Hagrid continuing to visit . Harry shrieked with laugher as Hagrid caught him and put him upside down; he loved sitting on Hagrid’s shoulder, one little arm grabbing Hagrid’s head for support and looking at the world from that vantage point.

But, from time to time, Harry would climb down off Hagrid and cross Minerva’s little sitting room and stand in front of Remus Lupin and stare at him with a slight frown, trying to remember a time he was too young to recall. Padfu had been involved in the recollection attempt.

Minerva had hugged Lupin as he cried in her kitchen and maybe she had cried a little bit too. She gained a strong and steadfast ally that day because she knew that Lupin would do absolutely anything to protect Harry, anything to be able to see him grow. Hagrid too, but no one had ever questioned Hagrid’s loyalty.

Fortunately, Lupin didn’t have to do anything drastic or dramatic to show his unconditional love for Harry, merely be an occasional baby-sitter when Hagrid and Minerva were busy working at Hogwarts.

It was a secret and the three of them worked very hard to keep it. Minerva still didn’t know how it had leaked, only that during the next few months more and more people knocked at her door.

Madame Hooch had come on her own carrying a toy broomstick that Minerva had to confiscate immediately. Filius and Pomona arrived together. Then Sinistra the weekend after that. They all came to Minerva’s door and asked whether or not she was going to invite them in and peered around her for a glimpse of The Secret Boy Who Lived. Filius made the spoons dance and Harry decided he was his favourite person until Pomona opened a jar of her special honey and spread it on sliced croissants and Harry decided he loved her just as much. He was a bit intimidated by Sinistra and equally fascinated by the star pattern on her robes. Madame Hooch, like Hagrid, was firmly in the human playground category.

When Minerva was busy teaching, managing Gryffindor’s house and being the deputy headmistress, they helped. Minerva taught Harry the numbers and the letters, but he read his first words with Filius and learned all the colours and shapes with Pomona. Madame Hooch swore on her heart that she would not, but she still started him on a kid’s broom as soon as Minerva turned her back on them.

And now, a year and half later, when Harry was almost three, Dumbledore had summoned them to inform them that Harry Potter had disappeared from the muggle house.

Minerva explained and it was extremely awkward. More so because Snape, sitting to Dumbledore’s left, kept a perfectly blank expression for the whole duration of the debacle, even when it became obvious that Snape had known for months. He was one of the last teachers to learn about it, but he had still known since at least Harry’s second birthday. Dumbledore turned to him and demanded to know why he hadn’t said anything and Snape remained imperturbable. His gaze went past Dumbledore, through him, as if Dumbledore weren’t there. He didn’t even offer a proper answer. He just shrugged.

Two or three years later Minerva asked Snape about it and he simply said that Harry was well cared for with her. Well, he still called him “the Potter spawn,” but then he looked at Minerva with those dark eyes of his and simply said that she was doing good, it was a good act and Lily would be grateful. That was all the explanation, really.

But that would be two or three years later. For now Harry was two years old, almost three, and he considered Minerva’s house his home. The damage had been done, as Dumbledore put it, although many people disagreed with the term because Harry did not look damaged at all and did Dumbledore know that he could do magic already? The boy was very talented. Filius was inordinately proud.

There was the risk of some stray Death Eater finding and attacking Harry now that he was growing up in the wizarding world. Dumbledore said he wasn’t sure that Voldemort was gone for good and Minerva’s rash and thoughtless decision had apparently robbed Harry of some powerful protection. Only Harry was currently napping in Hagrid’s hut during the emergency meeting and, frankly, unless Harry was devoured by some of the monsters Hagrid surrounded himself with, it seemed he would be fine. What was some magical protection when you had the best professors of the land teaching you how to properly hold a wand at age two and eight months?

Dumbledore would have also liked for Harry to grow up in anonymity, away from the attention of the wizarding world, which was a fair concern. However, no one, not even he, could actually say in all seriousness that Harry might grow up spoiled. Minerva had docked five points from Gryffindor because William Weasley had sneezed insolently. Harry would be fine.

He would be fine.

 

 

II – Children playing

 

Children had to play with other children their own age. Minerva wasn’t sure why it must be so, but one could only read the same story two hundred times before the idea of having the child play with other children began to appeal.

When Lupin baby-sat Harry he sometimes took him to a garden in Hogsmeade, but there weren’t that many children to play with and they were all older than Harry. That was the problem, it had always been the problem: there weren’t that many wizarding children at any given time and less so now after the war. Many young brilliant people had died, many had thought better about conceiving while in the middle of a war and some had –

There weren’t many children Harry’s age, was the point. Fortunately, since Minerva wasn’t the only one with that problem she was informed that the default place to meet other wizarding children was the fountain square in Diagon Alley, the one where the ice-cream parlour sat. She was informed by the least likely person to know it, Severus Snape, and he said it without prompting. Just, “I often see kids his age hollering there.”

Snape avoided all direct mentions of Harry and had never ever said his name; but when Harry first caught a cold last winter, Snape insisted on brewing the peppermint potion himself, adapting the dose for a three-year-old child. Minerva wondered who had talked to Snape about Harry, so he would know that Minerva was looking to find Harry some friends, until she realised that it had probably been Hagrid. He was the blabber-mouth and the Slytherin. Really, it was a wonder that Dumbledore hadn’t discovered it sooner.

That Saturday morning Minerva took Harry to Diagon Alley.

xXx

“Mama, this is my friend,” announced Harry. He was holding the hand of a tall little boy with a bright mop of red hair. Minerva couldn’t for the life of her remember which Weasley he was supposed to be, but Harry informed her quickly.

“Ron.”

No idea of who Ron was, other than the Weasley who was around Harry’s age. He and Harry played for two hours until it was past lunch time. Molly had been planning on leaving far earlier, Merlin knew she was busy enough at the house with all those children, but it was nice for Ron to have a little friend. His brothers couldn’t always control their strength or their magic around him, poor dear.  

From then on, Minerva and Molly had an informal standing date every Saturday morning. Minerva appreciated it; it couldn’t be easy for Molly and it was an unnecessary expenditure of floo powder. But Molly made good use of the time, either sitting in silence and enjoying the ability to spend an hour in peace or asking Minerva if she would mind looking after Ron for a bit while she went to do a small errand that always was at least an hour long.

Minerva didn’t mind. She didn’t understand the mechanics of Harry’s and Ron’s games, but she knew that she liked watching them. She could spend hours watching them play. It did good things to her heart.

xXx

“Mama, this is my friend,” announced Harry. He was holding Ron’s hand with his right. On his left was another boy, pale and delicate looking, with the blond hair of an angel. Minerva knew immediately who the pale boy was, but she refused to believe it. Molly Weasley was standing a few steps away with an equally disbelieving expression.

“I’m Draco,” the boy said. A boy with the face of an angel looking at Minerva innocently. A little boy who had no idea he was the son of a demon. “It’s oh so very nice to meet you,” he added, words coming slowly as he repeated a phrase he had heard adults say.

Then Harry pulled his friends with him and they returned to playing, running off before anyone could tell them that they were not supposed to like each other, let alone play together. Minerva looked around the square and soon enough found the figure of Narcissa Malfoy dressed in Slytherin green. She was doing a pretty good job of hiding her confusion. 

It should have been a one-day thing and nothing else. The boys had played together and then they had each gone home to their families. It would be extremely likely and very easy for them not to meet again for a long time, perhaps until they boarded the train to Hogwarts. It should have been a one-day thing. Children forgot their friends as easily as they got them.

Except they kept in contact. They were four and they kept in contact because one of them (no one was sure who was responsible) figured out that they could get the floo powder jar if they climbed a chair, or concentrated a lot to do some levitating magic, or flew themselves to the top shelf to get it. Then they could throw a handful of the green powder to the chimney and drop a letter (Helo Draco and Hari luk and For Ron:) or a drawing (Draco on top of a dragon, Harry on a broomstick) or a toy (just who let a child play with a silver cauldron?) and tell the address of their friend.

Minerva was sorry to miss the Weasley-Malfoy reunion in which Arthur Weasley returned a valuable pendant that Draco had chucked into the fireplace so Ron could see it. There was also some sort of sock-trading system that confused the adults immensely. Lupin was the one to first make sense of it and explain. Apparently, the boys had taken their shoes and socks and traded around so everyone would be wearing a sock belonging to another friend.

Yes, well, they were four.

It became a common image, Narcissa or Lucius Malfoy tersely handing over a package with children’s socks, washed and pressed; Molly ruffling around in her bag because she was sure she had one here, it was red, no idea who it belonged to, is it yours dear? And even Minerva herself, handing back socks wrapped in silk paper and adding Harry’s initials to all of his clothes.

xXx

“Mama, this is my friend,” announced Harry. He stopped because he had Three Friends now and only Two Hands. After just a second to think and only a bit of fumbling he put Draco’s hand on the left pocket of his trousers and grabbed the hand of the other boy. A child with blondish hair that would probably turn brown with age. He had a soft face with a perplexed, slightly anxious expression.

Minerva had no idea who this child was, but a loud voice soon informed her and every other person in the square.

Neville!!”

“My friend Neville,” Harry said. Neville looked very awkward standing there, awaiting examination from Harry’s Mama.

Neville Longbottom!

Neville flinched at the call of Augusta Longbottom. Minerva might not have recognised him but she had no trouble recognising her. Terrible woman. Minerva was very sorry for what had happened to her son, of course, but nevertheless she didn’t like her. She was domineering and inflexible and annoyingly similar to Minerva, although her Transfiguration work wasn’t as good, of course.

Augusta called again and Neville flinched. The poor boy seemed to do that a lot. And then, then he grabbed Draco’s free hand. He seemed vaguely aware that holding hands was important and led to friendship.

Minerva completely understood Augusta’s reaction because they had all gone through something similar when Harry decided that he was friends with Draco and therefore so was Ron. That moment of panic and the instinctual pull in the core to forbid it. The same instinct that pushed them to say “no” now. The son of the Death Eater and the boy orphaned by Death Eaters, playing together, holding hands. It was wrong; they all felt it was wrong. They shouldn’t touch. They shouldn’t be together.

But that was the instinct, the initial reaction. By now most of them had seen them play together, Harry and Ron and Draco. They had heard the laughter. They had seen them as they were, innocent boys playing together, innocent, innocent.

Augusta hadn’t. Augusta didn’t know. She only saw her grandson standing next to the son of the enemy. Draco’s  aunt had tortured Neville’s mother to the point of insanity.

Augusta cried and screamed for Neville to come to her that instant. Neville was not to play with them. Now or ever.

It pained Minerva to say that it was obviously Harry the one who moved first but it also filled her with an odd pride. Harry saw that Neville was holding Draco’s hand so he clutched his and Ron’s hand tighter and said “run!”

They were four years old, maybe five. They should not have moved as quickly as they did. Their legs were very short. Nevertheless they ran surprisingly fast and what was worse, they hid somewhere. It took them two hours, two hours, to find them on the rooftop of Florean Fortescue’s ice-cream parlour. They could only have climbed up there with magic, but it was unclear who had performed the feat or if it was a group effort.

They were scolded and some of them spanked on their bottoms and they all cried exuberantly. Harry said not to punish Neville, please, and Draco attempted to sweet talk Augusta. (Minerva had to bite down a smile. Aurora Sinistra, who had just walked by, had a sudden coughing fit and had to go stand behind a tree.) Ron made up a story about some bad kids stealing cookies and dropping fireworks to distract the adult’s attention.

What was worse, or, probably, better, definitely better, was that by then they had all exchanged socks and shoes. Neville had been declared A Friend. The bond couldn’t be broken.

 

III- Everybody screaming

 

They should have reacted at the first screams but this was a birthday party for a seven-year-old boy so they had been hearing blood-curdling screams pretty much all day, as well as the occasional explosion.

(Fred and George had been searched thrice. First by Molly before they left the Burrow and then at their arrival at Hogsmeade and again at Minerva’s house. Nothing of relevance had been found and yet they were the main suspects.)

Most of the adults had retreated inside with some excuse or another about getting more napkins or helping prepare the lemonade. Hagrid stayed with the kids because Hagrid was a certified gentle giant. However, Hagrid didn’t count as adult supervision because there were many of them and only one of him and they were supposed to wait to eat the cake until everybody had arrived, but Hagrid would give it to them now if the children asked. A responsible adult was needed and Lupin, who had arrived just twenty minutes ago, volunteered to stay outside. Snape was outside, too, looking immensely uncomfortable and like he hated every second of it, hence why his status as adult supervision was doubtful at best.

The thing was that Snape didn’t look that much more comfortable inside with the adults. In fact, he looked like he hated the whole idea of being there and interacting with people. But there he was and he had even brought a present.

(He was so weird.)

Hagrid and Lupin and Snape, and a bunch of children of differing ages but none older than ten, all in the same backyard.

When the screams began it took everybody a good fifteen or twenty seconds to realise that there was a different quality to them, something violent and visceral and profoundly hurt. In that moment they collectively remembered how much Lupin and Snape hated each other and everybody began to move towards the garden door. They didn’t get very far, however, because the kids were already coming inside screaming and crying. Mister Lupin had killed someone. Ron was dead. No, Ron was there with his face red and crying his heart out because someone was dead. It had been Mister Snape, not Mister Lupin. But it really had been Mister Lupin and Scabbers was dead. Scabbers was Ron’s pet, except it was actually Percy’s pet but Percy let Ron borrow it and anyway Percy wasn’t here but now Ron would get in trouble and it would be so unfair because it wasn’t his fault! It was Mister Lupin who killed Scabbers. Scabbers was a man, by the way. Mister Snape had killed a man. Hagrid said to go inside. Please, don’t let anyone hurt Hagrid.

All this was screamed in a broken unison while the adults could still hear something close to an animal howl coming from the garden.

The adults hurried outside to investigate while the children stayed inside with Narcissa Malfoy who had never run anywhere in her life. Nobody understood what they were seeing in the garden, other than that Ginny had stayed behind to watch whatever was going on. (“I’m not going inside! You never let me watch anything!”)

It looked like an old painting, an allegory of something. The big hairy giant standing in the middle of the scene, one huge hand closing over the head of a kneeling figure. Next to them stood Lupin, wand out and a terrible expression in his face. The kind of expression that reminded you that nice Mr. Lupin hid an actual murderous wolf inside. Hagrid’s left arm held Severus Snape, thrashing like a madman with his feet in the air.

They tried to made sense of it but it was all extremely confusing and it didn’t help that they kept talking at the same time or, in Snape’s case, threatening horrible dismemberment that really wasn’t appropriate for children’s ears. Fortunately, Albus arrived not five minutes later and together with Minerva was able to put some sort of order to it.

What seemed to have happened was that the children were playing the always popular game of climbing Hagrid and swinging from his arms while Snape stood in the shadows and gave occasional admonishments to be careful. Then Lupin had arrived and been immediately incorporated into the game. The difference being that while Lupin knew all of Harry’s friends he had never seen the Weasley’s pet. Scabbers had always made sure to stay with Percy if there was any chance of coming across Lupin.

By all accounts Lupin had suddenly lost all colour but had remained calm as he asked Ron to let him have a closer look. This had alarmed Snape who made a callous comment about Lupin not eating the children’s pet and waiting for the cake, but he had stepped forward nevertheless to look at the rat too.

Scabbers had bitten Ron’s hands to escape from his grasp which started the chain of chaos. Ron had cried, Neville had cried out of empathy, Scabbers had tried to get away and the twins had quickly grabbed him, dropping a bag of firecrackers in the process. Since the rat had bitten their baby brother, the twins had brought it back to Lupin hanging by its tail.

Lupin had said a very bad word. This was important because he was very well liked by the children and there was a difference of opinion. Some thought that if nice Mister Lupin said bad words it meant they were allowed to say them too. Others believed that if the fact nice Mister Lupin said bad words was revealed they wouldn’t be allowed to play with him anymore and therefore the fact should be silenced. The discussion had developed mostly in the form of elbowing and pushing.

Also, Lupin had cast something on Scabbers forcing him to transform into a human, but this was obviously less relevant. The human tried to run away just as the rat had and quickly found himself in the clutches of Hagrid.

It is not everyday that a child’s pet turns out to be a human person, hitherto presumed dead, so Hagrid was a bit in shock and his grasp wasn’t very tight. Peter was able to turn back into a rat and jump out of his hands.

Snape had figured out pretty much everything by then, despite not knowing about the Marauders’ illicit animagi transformations. He hit Scabbers with a stunning curse and Lupin had forced him once again to transform back to human. By then Snape had reached the table where they had the snacks and the cake. In a mad fury from all the grief he hadn’t really processed, Snape had grabbed Peter’s right arm with one hand, the cake knife with the other, and nailed the first to the table with the second. Just in case Peter decided to flee again.

Then Snape had lifted Peter’s left sleeve, realised the betrayal couldn’t have been a moment of weakness if Peter had the Dark Lord’s mark, and immediately began to choke him with his own two hands. Lupin also wanted to kill Peter, but first he wanted to get a confession because his one remaining friend in the world was in Azkaban.

Which explained why Hagrid had had to physically lift Snape away from Peter and also why his hand was closing over Peter’s head like a vice lest he try to escape again even with his wounded hand (still firmly affixed to the table). It was around then or a bit earlier that he had sent the children inside. Hagrid might be lenient with the cake, but he was still one of the best, most responsible adults around, despite previous considerations to the contrary.

The kids were confused and upset because the adults were confused and upset and many of them were crying and there was quite a lot of foul language flying around and they had overheard someone say that they couldn’t possibly serve the cake now.

(Blood had splattered over it, but all the children heard was that there would be no cake.)

Professor Flitwick came to the rescue and with a broken voice charmed the forks and spoons so they would execute a dance that immediately got the children’s attention, though it didn’t completely dispel suspicions. Narcissa said that, given the commotion, each child got to say two bad words. She made them stand in a circle and say their words in turn, and by the fourth time someone said “fart” they were all laughing.

xXx

It was kind of a mediocre birthday. They couldn’t run hollering in the fields around the Burrow and there was no broom race like there was on Ron’s birthday. There weren’t any fireworks (other than the ones brought by the twins) or ice-cream or a chocolate palace like there was at Draco’s. (Draco had the best and most beautiful birthdays, full of light and glitter and music.)

It was mediocre, much like Neville’s. Still, Neville said that he would have preferred if someone tried to kill someone else during his birthday, rather than having Great Uncle Algie ask all the children whether they could do any magic yet and say loudly that Neville couldn’t.

(It was a lie, they had all seen Neville do magic. He just couldn’t do it with adults watching.)

The birthday cake was indeed ruined, and they had to make do with some pastries that Dumbledore procured. Dumbledore also promised that Ron would get another pet and yes, Percy too, so Ron shouldn’t worry. Harry opened his gifts, the star being a small potion-making kit from Snape that supposedly was child safe – but thirty minutes later all the kids, and Hagrid, were sporting bright green polka-dots on their skin. Also in a moment when Hagrid wasn’t looking they all exchanged socks. Ginny, Neville and Draco also traded shirts.

A week later Harry met a man who, they told him, was his godfather. He gave Harry an actual broomstick, not a kiddie one, which was brilliant for the five minutes Harry got to have it before Minerva confiscated it. The man could turn into a dog and there was some debate as to whether or not he was supposed to be Ron’s new pet. The dog man said he didn’t mind but in the end both Percy and Ron got owls, which was also nice since they could now keep in contact without the hassle of the floo.

xXx

 

IV – A better path

Voldemort never returned during Harry’s lifetime. There was no one to help him, no loyal follower to bring him his wand, no weak-willed and ambitious professor to let him in, no one to listen to the whispers of the snake. He got pretty close to being back in power some sixty or seventy years after Harry’s death, but he was squished quickly by a Weasley-Malfoy descendant.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The thing about Lucius one had to understand was that he was a psychopath.

There is a scale to psychopathy, so perhaps it would be better to say that Lucius Abraxas Malfoy was sitting comfortably in the middle of that scale. Not every psychopath spends their time kidnapping women and murdering them in gruesome but thematically consistent ways; in fact those are the minority, sitting in an awkward pile at the topmost end of the scale. On the other end of psychopathy is that ex who called your job to tell them horrible things about you, together with that elementary school teacher, you know the one.

Most psychopaths have a skewed view of the world that helps them thrive in it. A certainty that they are the most important being in the universe and that following rules, any kind of rules, is a choice to be weighed against the benefit of not following them. They are ruthless and cruel, and in certain situations they are very effective and just what you need.

Lucius wasn’t completely devoid of empathy. He understood that others had feelings, too, he just wasn’t very concerned by them – unless the person in question was someone special like the wonderful witch whose smile was like the flap of the wings of a butterfly. She was special to him and he cared about anything that concerned her.

Lucius wanted to have at least seven children. Seven was a powerful magical number and the same number of kids the Weasleys had. He would do much better than the Weasleys, though, who were pureblooded and talented (even if it pained him to admit it) but had no idea what to do with it. Lucius wasn’t pureblooded, not that anyone would dare say that aloud, but he was very talented and he knew what to do with it. He would have seven beautiful silver children and they would marry well and work well and take over Hogwarts and the Ministry and every powerful house in Britain. Lucius would be the father of all of them, the first of his dynasty, the king of wizarding Britain.

Except that Narcissa’s first pregnancy had been difficult and ended in a miscarriage three months before the delivery date. The next one was twin girls that faded before the five month mark.

Lucius would have hated her, hated the woman who wouldn’t give him what he craved, except for how he could see that it pained her, too, and erased the butterfly smile from her lips. He thought that maybe someone had put a curse on her or slipped a potion in her tea. Merlin knew that any of the usual guests at their house were dying inside from envy and jealousy. Lucius wouldn’t put it past any of them to try to rob him of his happiness and success.

They kept her third pregnancy a secret, didn’t say a word to a living soul. When Narcissa began to show, her usually chiseled cheekbones turning soft and round and her breasts filling, Lucius took her to the family home in Devon. She spent the last three months there with only the company of the sea and the cliffs and two house elves who would be put to the coals by Lucius if anything happened to her.

She delivered the most beautiful baby boy that had ever graced the Earth. She gave Lucius an angel and almost died in exchange.

Lucius had wanted seven children to carry his name and his legacy. The firstborn would have been called Augustus and the seventh Maximus. He only had one child and they named him after a constellation following the tradition of his wife’s family. That should tell you something about how much Lucius appreciated Narcissa. He didn’t insist on trying for another child, either, even when that might have killed Narcissa and thus free Lucius to find a better, more fertile wife.

As much as he was able to love, Lucius loved Draco. He was the beginning and the end of Lucius.

They did everything. The potion of the purest water for newborn children, the ritual of the scissors to protect against wounds, the naming ceremony, the telling of the bees, the godfathering. Everything, including a reading of his future. First the lines of his perfect little hand and later, when he was a few months old and able to grab things, the ritual selection of an object.

Draco had bypassed the baby wand and the quill and the miniature broom and grabbed with surprising strength the colourful shawl the fortune teller had wrapped around her head. She had mumbled that Draco would be very rich while she tried to get her hair back in place and Draco examined the sequins and tiny mirrors sewn into the shawl.

Of course Draco would be very rich, his father was there to make sure of it. Anyone could see that. The fortune teller either didn’t know Draco’s future or didn’t want to say.

When Draco was one year old and the Dark Lord was at the height of his power, Lucius took his family to a small town somewhere in the mountains of Czechoslovakia to get a reading from the fortune teller dwelling there. Lucius would have preferred to have the woman brought to him but she refused to leave her mountains. For once, Lucius wasn’t angry when his wish wasn’t immediately met and granted. Fortunes told by those eager to please could lead to your doom faster than ignorance of the future.

She didn’t read Draco’s perfect little hand and she didn’t put any objects in front of him. She asked about the other fortune tellers and, at their raised eyebrows, she said that people didn’t travel all the way there unless they already had a reading that they didn’t like.

They told her about it and the woman nodded and confirmed Lucius’ notion that the previous fortune teller was cowardly and stupid.

“He makes his own future,” she said, and then elaborated a little bit. Draco wouldn’t be constrained. He could be pushed down a certain way but in the end he would still make his own path.

Lucius hadn’t dragged his family all this way while in the middle of a war serving a short-tempered master just to hear that his boy was stubborn. Draco refused to eat if his food wasn’t distributed on the plate in a certain way. They already knew about the strength of his personality.

Lucius got a bag of gold and put it in front of the fortune teller.

She filled a cup of white wine and gave it to Lucius and then a second one of red wine for Narcissa. They each drank and then handed the cups back. The fortune teller emptied both cups into a metal basin, and then, when the wine had mixed together into something that wasn’t exactly pink, she told them to take Draco and submerge his face fully in it.

Draco cried magnificently and kept crying while his mother dried his face and washed the wine stains from him. He stopped when he caught sight of a trinket and his attention was diverted to the pretty colours.

Meanwhile the fortune teller had been staring at the basin. She had dipped a long, thin silver rod and she moved it clock-wise oh so very slowly. Lucius didn’t see anything other than pink water so he stared at her face for anything telling. It might not be as good as a crystal ball, but a face could tell you a lot about what the present and future entailed.

The woman sighed and lifted the rod from the water, depositing it gently on a cloth to the right of the basin.

Then she pushed the money back to Lucius.

She didn’t want to tell. Whatever she had seen, she didn’t want to tell. Lucius had come seeking someone who wouldn’t lie to him and he had found her, but he wasn’t satisfied. He told Narcissa to take Draco and go outside for a little stroll. Later Lucius would find them picking flowers, tiny little things of the purest white.

Lucius knew how to make people cooperate. He didn’t even have to torture them half of the time. The fortune teller hadn’t told them Draco’s future because she wanted to spare them. She only spoke out of spite when Lucius applied the right kind of pressure. She spoke to hurt Lucius back and to get him to leave. Her words hot like a curse.

Draco was a certain way and he would always be like that and no power, be it magic or steel, tears or blood, would make him change. He had in him a strength like the yearning of a magnet, durable and constant and desperate to get to the place that felt right.

This shouldn’t be a problem except for how the world, the wizards and even Lucius, would try to push Draco away from his marked path. Draco would find steel and magic and tears and blood in his life, he would find curses and venom and treason and everything that is wrong. 

He would fight all of it with a bravery that made Lucius fear that his son would go to Gryffindor. (You didn’t thrive in Gryffindor. Slytherin was where you learned the useful skills and the art of diplomacy.) Draco would fight and fight and face everything and refuse to change, refuse to turn into someone else. He would fight and he would be hurt, he would be in pain. There would be so many tears and so much blood.

He would die a few months after he turned twenty-one. The fortune teller had showed Lucius as much: A young man who looked older than he really was, with dry skin and sunken eyes. He had blood on his eyes and on his lips, a few droplets falling from his nose. He would die in a piss-stunk alley right where he had bought Merlin knew what. The sleeping potions didn’t have any effect anymore and neither did the mood-boosters, potions or charms. Draco would take something else, something dangerous and illegal because it was the only thing that could bring him a little peace, the only thing that took the pain away these days.

And he would die.

They didn’t talk much about it because that kind of talk was dangerous, but Lucius knew that Narcissa had many doubts about the war. Narcissa had a magnificent eye for that kind of thing. She knew exactly the allegiance of everyone she encountered which, according to her, made life boringly predictable. Sometimes she knew someone’s allegiance even when that person didn’t know it. She had told Lucius, for example, that both Snape and Pettigrew were bound to James Potter more than they would ever be to the Dark Lord.

She said that not many people were loyal to the cause, starting with the Dark Lord himself who didn’t give a fig about half the things he said about bringing the wizarding world to a new order.

Lucius wanted every advantage he could get for his son. On the trip back to Britain they prepared for the remote possibility of a change in the war. The war that the Dark Lord had been steadily winning, the war that was just months away from being over. The Ministry was about to cave in under the pressure and then it would be just Dumbledore. Not even Dumbledore’s followers. They were picking them off one by one and soon the old fart would find himself alone. He was already desperate, sending children to the fight, the Potters, the McKinnon sisters, the Longbottoms.

But Narcissa had said, “eh, I don’t know,” and pursed her lips so Lucius prepared for that unknown; and not even six months later the Dark Lord was gone and the Malfoys avoided going to Azkaban.

By the time Draco was three Lucius had a very good idea of what lay on Draco’s path. Draco was different from the other boys. He was fragile and delicate. Not just physically, although Draco had the thinnest wrists Lucius had ever seen, like the stem of a flower. Draco was delicate and subtle and terribly attuned to the harmony of the world. Like the painter who falls in love with the seven o’clock sky or the poet who says that “whisper” will never be the same as “susurrus”. It is a curse that allows you to see beauty at the cost of the hate of the world. People hate the person with poetry in their eyes.

But people will follow the person with a certain light in their eyes. They had followed Voldemort and his eyes shone red sometimes. They could follow Lucius’ son instead of hindering his path.

By the time Draco was five Lucius was certain. Draco wasn’t just sensitive and discriminating. He was of a feminine inclination, so to speak, a friend of Apollo, a cup-boy.

And that, put simply, could not be tolerated.

It was easy and straightforward, really. A pureblooded wizard had to marry an equally pureblooded witch and produce many pureblooded children. It was a responsibility and a duty. You couldn’t marry a halfblood and have half-breed children; partnering with a muggle was unthinkable. But this didn’t mean that just because you didn’t mix with a muggle you were all right. No. Only by marrying and forming a family a man could be assured of his status. Remaining single was a rejection of his duties. Partnering with someone of the same sex… well, that was a rejection topped with an insult. It was a waste of two good pureblooded wizards or witches and it could not be.

It was not as if it were easy for the rest of them. Everybody had to make sacrifices in order to perform their duties. There was always a halfblood with a pretty face that awoke a spark in the chest (or more often somewhere lower); or one preferred a different pureblooded witch, but she was betrothed to another. The invert and the deviant perhaps had to make a bigger sacrifice, but that was hardly a crying matter when everybody was sacrificing something.

Except that in Draco’s case it would be a crying matter. He would never be able to conceal his nature and he would refuse to make that sacrifice. He would be punished for it by everyone. He would be told that he was despicable, that he had no place in the world, that everything in him was wrong.

There would be many tears.

He would die at twenty-one.

Unless Lucius changed the whole world so his beautiful son wouldn’t be hurt by it, Draco would suffer and he would die.

While Draco was at home Lucius could protect him from the world. It was different when Draco turned eleven and went to Hogwarts. It was the beginning of Draco’s death, his first cruel contact with the world that would kill him.

Only there was a boy, you see. A boy like a shield, an agent of chaos. Lucius had no trouble believing that the little Potter was destined to become the next Dark Lord because he was very small (smaller than Draco, even) and he had already changed wizarding society. The little Potter talked to muggleborns and non-humans and proper purebloods and treated all of them the same.  The little Potter didn’t know what pureblood society thought it could and couldn’t be. He didn’t care, either.

The changes Voldemort had brought were fading slowly. Here was the little Potter having centaurs helping him. Centaurs. The ones who hated all humans. They were helping him.

And Draco was his friend. Well, they said they were enemies, called each other nemesis even, but that was just silly boy talk. Lucius knew about enemies, had methodically destroyed many of them. Those kids were friends and had a lot of fun being Quidditch rivals.

As the years passed Lucius had to modify a bit his opinion. The little Potter was undoubtedly destined for something great and he was still an agent of chaos, but perhaps rather than a dark lord he would be a polka-dot one. Potter would not be Voldemort or Grindelwald, but he wouldn’t be the clear-cut paladin of Dumbledore either. He was more complex than that.

He still didn’t care about the norms of proper pureblood society.

Also, hearing the two boys speak, Lucius was reasonably sure that they would not be friends forever. One day they would be something more, something closer. Let’s see if anyone dared to insult Draco then.

Even now Potter’s influence made itself known. Draco would turn fifteen in a bit over a month and he was perfectly happy. His biggest worry was the OWL exams next year. He was well liked and he had friends. If people had noticed his inclinations, no one had commented.

(Although Lucius knew that the little Weasley Boy and some of his brothers had fought Marcus Flint a few months ago. But he couldn’t be sure if insulting Draco had triggered it.)

 

 

 

Here was Lucius. Lucius Malfoy the psychopath, standing in a cemetery before the man everybody thought they would never see again. The man with eyes that shone red.

Coming back from the dead was certainly an accomplishment. Lucius was quickly evaluating all his options, calculating and assessing each strength and weakness. Voldemort was an adult wizard, a powerful magic user, master of many unknown techniques, a legilimens, and he had come back from the dead. The little Potter was a child with charisma and very poor eyesight and Lucius had seen him eat an ice-cream and get it on his ears and the back of his head.

It was pretty clear.

The Dark Lord was dark, and the little Potter was polka-dots and stripes and tie-dye shirts and only one of them had room for people like Draco in the world.

Plus, Voldemort was making a show of how he was going to duel and kill Potter and you didn’t have to be Narcissa to see that the man wasn’t feeling as confident in his own powers as he pretended to be. Returning from death was good. Fighting a boy of fourteen years of age was not a particularly impressive achievement, even if said boy had previously shown an unusual resistance to killing curses and was currently staring at you with more defiance than fear.

Lucius lifted his right hand.

Usually, Lucius spoke as if he had a tennis ball in his throat and minimal lip movement. This was the right way to underline the class difference. Now, however, he spoke almost like a foreigner during a language lesson, opening his mouth and letting the air flow to form the a and stressing the k sound, making it sound like the snap of a bone. A-va-da Ked-a-vra.

Voldemort dropped to the ground. That was enough for Lucius. He didn’t check if he was really dead or not. He supposed he might not be, not fully, given his recent medical history, but Lucius really didn’t care. That was a problem for the future and for other people. Surely Dumbledore could interest himself in that matter. For now, Lucius was only concerned with stepping inside the circle of Death Eaters and laying his hand on the back of the little Potter’s neck. The human equivalent of those cats that carried their kittens around by the scruff of their neck.

Lucius was very quick, but not so quick that someone couldn’t have attempted to stop him. Of course, the truly loyal Death Eaters had all run to their fallen master and were busy with many exams to check his current living state. The remaining two-thirds stood there doing nothing, looking at Lucius with their mouths open or waiting to see how things developed.

It would have been more dramatic if Lucius had disapparated with the little Potter just as a curse cast by Dolohov reached their location, but the truth was that he wasn’t even looking at them when they left the place.

xXx

Lucius’ eyeroll was magnificent. The little Potter stared at him, rightly impressed by his superlative put-upon expression. Lucius felt a spark of pride that this amazed the boy when the kidnapping, cutting, bleeding, gross state of the Dark Lord previous to his rebirth and rebirth ritual had barely shocked him.

No entry,” said one of the iron gargoyles standing on top of the gate.

Security,” said another.  

Really. Even after Lucius explained that Harry belonged inside and it was only because of Dumbledore’s dreadful excuse for security that he was out, the gates to Hogwarts’ grounds remained closed. There would be no entering or exiting until after the last trial was done and the award ceremony had finished.

“But professor Dumbledore is not – ” the little Potter said, because perhaps Lucius had used less than generous terms for Hogwarts’ director.

“A complete fart head? Sure he is. Now stand back, pumpkin,” Lucius said over him as he prepared to make the gates open. His hand was still on the back of the boy’s neck and it remained there the whole night through the multiple meetings and disputes and retellings of the evening. It was only at four in the morning, when the boy’s godfather arrived, that Lucius released his grip and conceded the honour to Sirius. Unlike everyone else, Sirius was adequately murderous and Lucius felt comfortable relenting.

It was a very complicated night. Fudge was particularly obtrusive and refused to send any wizards to the cemetery or have Dumbledore send someone to investigate. Dumbledore sent the wizards to the cemetery anyway. Some Death Eaters went looking for Lucius at Malfoy Manor. Barty Crouch, Junior attacked the little Potter and everybody frowned when Lucius killed him on the spot. Something about interrogating him and what not, Lucius wasn’t very concerned with the details. The little Potter was alive and therefore so was Draco, who had a very healthy blush on his cheeks.  

The second wizarding war was fought and won in a weekend. Lucius emerged from it as the victorious hero. Not Dumbledore and certainly not the Ministry but he, him, Lucius, the hero of the hour. The one who fought Voldemort and alerted the others. The one who stopped Barty Crouch, Junior. The one who brought the little Potter back.

A hero. Draco was now the son of a war hero. Lucius saw the little Potter walk over to Draco and exchange some words, both boys avoiding the other’s gaze but remaining in place and seeing the conversation through. Now to find some excuse to invite the little Potter to spend the summer at the manor and Draco would be set.