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 The first of September had never quite meant the same thing to Petunia Dursley as it had to her sister. Lily, at least in her youth, had thought that it was one of the most magical days of the year. After all it was the day that she got to return to the world of Magic and what could possibly compare to that? Petunia thought of it as the day that she lost her sister forever. 

 

   Petunia had nothing to do! Just yesterday they had driven Dudley to Smeltings to get him settled in for the start of the new term, and to speak to the nurse about his continued diet and exercise plan, apparently the boxing instructor was very pleased with him. And this morning Vernon had departed for work very early for an important meeting. All the other housewives in the street were out and about leaving Petunia with nothing to do and no one to visit, such that when the post was pushed through the slot in the door and fell onto the mat with a soft plop she went to pick it up immediately.

 

  The last four weeks had been exceedingly strange she mused as she placed the bundle of letters on the table and put the kettle on to boil. Starting with the night that Harry bought home a nearly unconscious Dudley and a…. friend. Vernon, of course had been the same as always but both Dudley and Harry, and, even if she wouldn’t admit it, Petunia herself had been changed by the events of that night. The magical world had invaded her life, in what should have been the worst possible way, but she could only see the positive effects of it.  Dudley, had shown a curiosity that he had never displayed before, he hadn’t transferred the fear of the dementors onto Harry, but maintained a respectful wariness for magic and become oddly determined to improve his fitness. Harry’s friend Percival, had explained several aspects of magical life while still respecting the muggle way, unlike Harry’s father. Petunia felt like she understood so much more now. Looking over her old family photos with Dudley, did not hurt in the way it used to anymore.

  

  Which left Harry, the boy that she remembered, now to her shame, was too small and shy. He had neither the bright and bubbly personality of his Mother nor the arrogance of his Father. She had squashed both out of him. However, even after all the years of torment, the beatings, the starving and the confinement, the moment she had offered one hint of approval, and …it wasn’t love….companionship, camaraderie? Maybe it was the acknowledgement of mutual understanding of shared loss. Whatever it was, the minute it was offered, he had dropped all defiance and spite, opening up, accepting it, and her, with open arms. It was truly amazing. He should have resented them. She knew she would have.

  

  Finally settling down, with her cup of tea. Petunia turned to the letters and there in a scrawl she remembered from his homework was a letter from her Nephew. Sent by perfectly ordinary mail, a single stamp in the correct corner, and addressed as it should have been. She pushed the nail of a slightly shaky finger under the flap and opened it.

 

 

  Dear Aunt Petunia,

 

  I hope you don’t mind me writing to you. I just thought I’d like to maintain some form of communication while I’m away and figured this would be best. In the event that things become worse with…you know…well anyway, I’ll make arrangements for you to be taken to safety.  But don’t worry at this point everything still looks pretty normal, so I’ll try and figure something out by the end of the school year. 

 

  I wanted you to know that I really enjoyed the time we spent together this holidays, particularly cooking, and I had the thought that maybe next summer we could learn to make bread. I know you don’t like to eat too much of it, especially buns and things but we could do savoury rolls as well. What do you think?

 

  I took your advice and spoke to both a law wizard and my accountant at Gringotts. They have taken steps to stop the newspapers from printing horrible things about me, and they helped sort out the charges of underage magic as well. Though I suppose you are aware of that already as Mr McMillan had to come to speak to you. Thank you for the advice, it’s been extremely helpful. Thank you for also signing my guardianship over to Madame Picquery, she has promised that she will keep you updated and understands that normal channels of communication are the best. She’s very smart and knows a lot about the muggle world. I think you’ll like her.

 

  The accountant at Gringotts wanted me to ask, which bank you are with? Don’t worry it’s not because he’s a sticky beak or trying to get into your accounts. Apparently, Mum and Dad left instructions for a fortnightly payment to be made to whoever was looking after me, so that they weren’t out of pocket. It’s been going to some account at Lloyds. If that isn’t your account and you haven’t received it you can either, send a normal letter addressed to “Master Accountant-Potter” care of Gringotts London. Send a normal letter addressed to me care of school, or if you wait outside with a letter and say ‘I have a letter for Harry Potter’ an owl should be along to collect it within ten minutes or so. The last is the quickest means to contact me, though I understand that you might not feel comfortable with it. However, if something happens just know that you can contact me that way if you need to. 

 

  How has Dudley been? I hope he has a good time at Smeltings this year, I think I’m going to miss him. We’ll have to set up a board game tournament again, and see if we can’t beat you.

 

 Best Wishes

Your Nephew

Harry

 

  With a tumultuous surge of emotions Petunia, re-folded the letter. She wasn’t sure whether to be pleased that the boy had thanked her, wanted to spend time baking, and wanted to ensure their safety or angry that the money that they were supposed to have received had obviously been paid to someone else! Oh, how much easier life would have been in the beginning if they had been receiving some sort of assistance. They had struggled in those early years before Vernon had gotten his promotion, and admittedly had taken the stress of it out on Harry. Was it the banks fault? That just wouldn’t do! Who should she reply to? Harry to let him know? Or the bank to correct the fault? Both? Yes, both. She quickly pulled a pen and a lined note pad from the kitchen drawer.

 

 

 

  

 Meanwhile at Grimmauld place, Sirius was also writing a quick missive to Harry, while Hedwig watched on.

 

  “You’ll have to hurry, if you want to get there by the time that the train gets in. You know Harry won’t be happy if you exhaust yourself.” 

 

   Hedwig let out a defiant bark at the gentle scolding. She knew he cared for her boy, but he was a silly wizard at times. There were only two opportunities for her to deliver the message tonight, right when the students were hopping off the train (and she didn’t fancy trying to get to him in all that hullabaloo), or after the feast when they made their way to the dormitories. If she timed it right, the boy she was beginning to think of as her other wizard would be able to let her into the nest. And as the feast went for a couple of hours she had plenty of time to get there.

 

   “Alright, I suppose you know best,” the silly wizard conceded. “Here, let our boy know we’re thinking of him.”

 

  With an indignant hoot Hedwig jumped into the air and took off, the roll of parchment clasped in one claw.

 

  There was a flash of green from the fireplace and a single sheet of parchment was spat out onto the flagstones of the kitchen floor. Sirius pushed himself up from his seat at the table to retrieve it.

 

  Severus had done it! He had managed to get the spell from Madame Pince, though it had taken some bribery and Sirius now needed to reimburse Severus for two bottles of Elf-made raspberry wine. Ordering Kreacher to retrieve the wine from the cellar and deliver it to the Potions Master at Hogwarts he hurriedly made his way to the parlour and pulled out the book he had bullied Remus into purchasing for him. Glancing back at the letter he drew the wand he had been using (his Grandfather had placed several family wands in the hidden drawer in the mantlepiece in the parlour) since he had arrived at Grimmauld and etched a complicated series of runes into the leather. He had just finished casting the spell when Remus walked into the room.

 

  “It seems rather quiet without everyone here doesn’t it?”

 

  “Mmm,” Sirius didn’t take his eyes off the book, just as Severus had said there was a gauge on the side, it indicated that it would take just over two weeks to complete the spells first stage which was compiling a list of titles and authors. Then a further month to catalogue them by type.

 

  “Sirius!” Remus said sharply.

 

  “Yes,” the Black acknowledged distractedly. Would it be soon enough? He supposed there was nothing he could do about it now, and at least it would never have to be done again, as each subsequent addition would automatically be catalogued upon passing through the library doors. He sighed, well even if they found something sooner they wouldn’t be able to remove the Horcrux until the Yule holidays anyway.  He looked around and realised Remus was glaring at him. “Sorry what was it you wanted?”

 

  “I came to see if you were alright, now that the house is empty. To be honest I’m beginning to worry about you, you’ve been staring at that book for ten minutes.”

 

  “I’m fine.” Sirius waved away Remus’ concern. “The house is quieter, which is a bit of a relief to be honest. I’m rather pleased that Arthur and Molly have returned to the Burrow. Don’t worry about me, I’ve never been better.”

 

  “Good, I’m glad. I’ll be heading off soon myself.”

 

  “Where are you going?”

 

  “Dumbledore wants me to try the wolf packs again,” Remus shrugged. With a jerk the silver eyes turned to stare at him. “What? You don’t think it’s a good idea?”

 

  “I know it’s not!” Sirius snapped. “What can Dumbledore offer them? He’s a glorified teacher, not a policy maker and they know it. Has anything in the Wizarding world changed since last time? No! This might as well be a suicide mission Remus!”

 

  “No nothing has changed Sirius. But what else should I do? Sit here doing nothing while I slowly go mad?”

 

  “You think I am mad?” Sirius challenged.

 

  “I…..”

 

  “Don’t give me Dumbledore’s answer?”

 

  The werewolf took a slow breath in, “No. Honestly you seem more sane than I have ever seen you.”

 

  “I’m getting help Remus,” Sirius admitted. “I have been speaking to Harry’s healer. It’s helped a lot.”

 

  “You can’t leave the house, Sirius! What if someone finds you?” Remus’ voice squeaked in his shock.

 

  “I have it covered. There’s no risk of me being discovered,” Sirius reassured. “And Harry needs a Godfather he can rely on so it’s worth it. Speaking of Harry. Did you ever bother talking to him?”

 

  “Yeah. I did. He ….well, he hasn’t forgiven me I don’t think, but he understands now. Hopefully I can make it up to him, in time.”

 

  “Good,” Sirius sighed in relief. “I would have hated having to cut you out of my life. You’re the only friend I have left.”

 

  “You would have done that to me?” Remus asked sadly.

 

  “There’s not much I wouldn’t do to protect Harry," Sirius replied honestly. “Besides after each of us believing the other was the spy, things haven’t been quite the same have they?”

 

  “I suppose not. Well….I guess…I’d better go then…” Remus sounded disappointed.

 

  “For the record. I still want you around, and I trust you with most things. Just like you and Harry, I’m sure it will get better with time.  I’m not kicking you out of here, your room will still be waiting for you when you come back, if you decide to go off on Dumbledore’s ridiculous mission. Just do me a favour. Even if he hasn’t forgiven you fully. If Harry understands even a little of what you went through he will be getting attached to you so don’t get yourself killed.” Sirius gave Remus a wry smile, “he frowns on that sort of thing you know.”

 

  Remus walked to the door.

 

  “Wait! I just thought of something!” Sirius hurried over to the fireplace and depressed a decorative floret to reveal the hidden drawer. After a couple of seconds of rummaging around he withdrew a plain platinum bracelet. He waved his wand over it “ab oculus absconder.” Then another wave, “portus!” 

 

  He walked over and grabbed Remus’ left wrist, “Here, no-one else can see it, just you and me. If you need to escape just clasp your other hand over it and say - there’s no place like home!”

 

  A laugh burst from Remus, “Really Padfoot! There’s no place like home?!”

 

  With a cheeky grin and a wave Sirius saw him out the door.

 

  

 

 

  The carriage bounced over the un-even ground as the children inside discussed the missing half-giant and pondered where he was. It was clear if Professor Gubbly-Plank was around then he wouldn’t be arriving any time soon. They disembarked out the front of the castle. Unusually Professor McGonagall was waiting for them.

 

  “Quickly Mr Graves, I need you to come with me,” she waved him over. “You’ll need to be sorted. Rather than leave you standing there while all the little ones are done, we’ll sort you first. Though the Headmaster insisted that it be done in front of the rest of the school just like everyone else. Something about getting the full experience.”

 

  “Of course, he did,” Percival said amiably. He turned to the group, “I’ll see you after then.”

 

  He watched with a concerned frown as Hermione grabbed Harry roughly by the arm and pulled him into the hall, before turning and following the Professor. 

 

  “Now Mr Graves,” she said as she led him into the antechamber. “Just wait here, I’ll be right back with the first years.”

 

  Percival looked around at the stone walls of the room. It wasn’t all that strange that they practically shimmered with magic, after all the place had been a magical school for over a thousand years. No, it was a little more surprising that it hadn’t developed sentience as yet. Or maybe? He reached out a hand and laid it on the cool stone, getting the distinct impression of approval. Huh! He wondered who else knew.

 

 

  “Let. Go. Hermione!” Harry wrenched his arm out of her grasp. “That bloody well hurts.”

 

 She just tutted at him, “Now that you’re away from that….boy I need to talk to you about him. Harry there’s something very wrong with him,” she whispered.

 

  “Oh yeah, like what?” Harry enquired, speaking normally. 

 

  “You’ll see, when he’s sorted into Slytherin you’ll know what sort of person he is,” she said eyes turning to the table at the front of the room. “Who’s that?”

 

  “At a guess that would be the new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher,” Ron rolled his eyes when she turned to him in surprise. “What? It’s the only position free!”

 

  “She was at my trial,” Harry said to Ron in an undertone. “She’s one of Fudges lackeys. Umbridge I think her name was.”

 

  “Nice cardigan,” commented Ginny making Lavender and Pavarti who were sitting two seats further up the table giggle.

 

  The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away as a long line of scared looking first-years entered the Hall led by Professor McGonagall, with Percival at her side. She set the sorting hat upon its stool and took a step back. 

 

  The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the hat’s brim opened wide like a mouth and it began its song. The retelling of Hogwarts founding was not new, though the drifting apart of the Founders and its musing on its own existential crisis were. As was the warning. Well it was new to most of those in the hall though the ghosts confirmed that it wasn’t the first time that the Hat had spoken about such events when it felt the situation required it. Sir Nicholas was prevented from giving more details by Professor McGonagall calling the first student’s name. 

 

  “Graves, Percival.”

 

  There was a strange feeling of nervousness in watching his friend be sorted, Harry observed. The wish that the sorting hat would place Percival in the House that suited him best, warred with the desperate desire for him to be in Gryffindor. On reflection there was every chance he would be sorted into Slytherin, he was after all very ambitious and cunning. What was taking the Hat so long? Harry’s stomach swooped as the split on the brim opened.

 

  “Gryffindor.”

 

  Hermione pursed her lips and turned away when a smiling Percival, walked over and sat down between Harry and Ron.

 

 

  After the feast Albus Dumbledore stood to re-introduce Professor Grubbly-Plank and to introduce their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Delores Umbridge. Not satisfied with his words Delores herself got to her feet to make a speech.

 

  Her voice was high-pitched, breathy and little-girlish. She gave a little throat clearing cough (‘hem hem’) “Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!” She smiled, revealing very pointed teeth and Harry wondered if she had any Goblin blood. Though he did make a note not to mention it to Striknott, whom he was sure would be very offended. “And to see such happy little faces looking up at me.

 

  Harry glanced around. None of the faces he could see looked happy. On the contrary, they all looked rather taken-aback at being addressed as though they were five years old.

 

  “I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all and I’m sure we’ll be very good friends.”

 

 “I’ll be her friend as long as I don’t have to borrow that cardigan,” Parvarti whispered to Lavender, and they both lapsed into silent giggles.

 

  Professor Umbridge cleared her throat again (‘hem hem’) but when she continued, some of the breathiness had vanished from her voice. She sounded much more businesslike and now her words had a dull learned-by-heart sound to them,

 

  “The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed with careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the Wizarding community must be passed down the generations lest we lose them forever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.”

 

  At this Professor McGonagall exchanged a significant glance with Professor Sprout as Umbridge gave another little ‘hem hem’ and went on with her speech.

 

  “Every Headmaster and Headmistress of Hogwarts has bought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress’s sake should be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation…..”

 

  By this point all but the most attentive Ravenclaws, Hermione and oddly enough Percival had ceased to listen. Most of the students around the room had commenced quiet discussions of their own, not that Professor Umbridge noticed. Harry had the impression that a full-scale riot could have broken out under her nose and she would have ploughed on with her speech. Over at the Ravenclaw table Harry noticed that Luna had pulled apart her necklace and was constructing a sturdy tower out of the corks.

 

  “…pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.” She sat down wearing a triumphant smile.

 

  Dumbledore clapped and the staff slowly followed his lead. Most of the student body had been taken unawares by the end of her speech and continued talking for a minute, before turning to stare at the teachers table where Dumbledore had risen to his feet.

 

  “Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating,” he said bowing to her. “Now as I was saying Quidditch tryouts will be held…..”

 

  “Yes, it certainly was illuminating,” said Hermione in a low voice. Harry wouldn’t have paid much attention except for the shocking fact that Percival hummed in agreement.

 

  Turning to look at his friend he asked, “Why? I thought it was mostly….you know…a load of waffle.”

 

  With a condescending sigh Hermione spoke, “There was important stuff hidden in that waffle.”

 

  “Was there?” Ron said blankly.

 

  “Yes,” she said leaning across the table as if she was revealing some salacious gossip. “The Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts.”

 

  There was a great clattering and banging all around them; Dumbledore had obviously just dismissed the school because everyone was standing up ready to leave the Hall. Percival waited while Hermione pushed Ron towards the first years before speaking.

 

  Quietly and without drawing attention he said, “In some ways what Hermione said wasn’t wrong. It’s just that it was incomplete.”

 

  “What else did that woman say? She’s nearly as bad as Binns, I almost fell asleep,” Neville asked from where he had walked up to the other side of Percival.

 

  “She implied that the Ministry won’t be making any changes for Muggleborn and that the ways of Pureblood families will be upheld. She all but said that the only way for magic to passed on is via pureblood lines.” He thought for a moment “I don’t know what it is, but I feel like she’s hiding something.”

 

  “Maybe Aunt Sera or ….” Harry quickly glanced at Neville, “Ah, Snuffles could investigate.”

 

  With a laugh Percival said, “Snuffles, really? He lets you call him that?”

 

   Harry just grinned, then turned back to speak to Neville but noticed his friend moving away quietly with a blank look on his face. 

 

  “Nev!” he called. 

 

  “What?” Neville paused and allowed the other two to catch up.

 

  “Why’d you take off?”

 

  “You were talking about things that you obviously don’t want me to know about so….” he shrugged.

 

  Embarrassment flooded Harry, “Nev…it’s not that….”

 

  “Ha,” Neville gave a wry chuckle.  “Yeah it is Harry. You guys have never been bothered with me before. You’ve always had Ron and Hermione and now you have Percival as well, you don’t need me. It’s ok I understand why.”

 

  “No Neville!” Feeling like a right git, how could he not have realised that Neville had been the odd man out in the dorm, Harry reached out to grab his arm. “You’re right. I’ve not been a good friend till now, and I mean to change that. I struggled for so long trying to figure out what was going on in this place. I only found out about magic when I was eleven and it was overwhelming. Ron was my first friend, and I guess, I found it easier to stick to him, then trying to make new friends. But I’m getting better at understanding things now, Percival’s been explaining them to me. So please, don’t think I am shutting you out. It’s just that this secret, well, it’s not mine to share. We have to write some letters and I’ll ask if I can tell you.”

 

  “Really,” Neville seemed a bit stunned but the offer, but his mind jagged on one point, “No-one told you about magic!”

 

  “Not until I got my letter no.”

 

  “Which teacher bought your letter?” 

 

  “None,” Harry shrugged.

 

  “That’s not right,” Neville frowned. “It’s in the charter, all Muggleborn and raised students are to have their letters delivered by an appropriately trained teacher.”

 

  “Well, when I finally got given mine, on some little island, it was delivered by Hagrid.”

 

  “Harry, that’s just not right.”

 

  They had come to the end of the corridor and were standing before the portrait of the Fat Lady.

 

  “Erm….” Harry said blankly. 

 

  “No password, no entrance,” she said loftily.

 

  “It’s all right Harry I know it. Guess what it is? I’m actually going to be able to remember it for once,” he waved the stunted little cactus he had shown them on the train. “Mimbulus mimbletonia!”

 

  “Correct,” said the Fat Lady, and her portrait swung open towards them like a door, revealing a circular hole in the wall behind.

 

 

 

  Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan had reached the dormitory first and left the bed between Harry’s and Ron’s free for the newcomer. They ceased talking abruptly as the other three entered the room. Harry wondered whether they had been talking about him, then whether he was being paranoid.

 

  “Hi,” he said moving across to his bed, removing his trunk from his pocket and placing it on the floor before enlarging it.

 

  “Hey Harry,” said Dean, “Better than Seamus’s anyway, he was just telling me.”

 

  “Why, what happened, Seamus?” Neville asked as he placed his Mimbulus mimbletonia on his bedside cabinet. Nodding his thanks to Percival who enlarged his trunk for him.

 

  Seamus didn’t answer immediately, he was making rather a meal of ensuring his poster of the Kenmare Kestrels, Quidditch team was quite straight. Then he said, with his back still turned to Harry, “Me mam didn’t want me to come back.”

 

  “What?” said Harry, pausing in the act of pulling off his robes.

 

  “She didn’t want me to come back to Hogwarts.”

 

  Seamus turned away from his poster and pulled his own pyjamas out of his trunk, still not looking at Harry. 

 

  “But - why?” said Harry, with a sneaking suspicion, of why his pyromaniac roommate, might be acting as shiftily as he was. The general Wizarding populous were sheep after all.

 

  Seamus didn’t answer until he had finished buttoning his pyjamas.

 

  “Well,” he said in a measured voice. “I suppose…because of you.”

 

  “Ah, I see,” Harry didn’t quite manage to hide all of the hurt in his voice. “I suppose she’s been reading the Daily Prophet then. They weren’t very complimentary, and I had noticed that they hadn’t printed a retraction yet after they were issued with the cease and desist order.”

 

  “The what?” Dean asked. 

 

  “They were printing so many lies about me that a Law firm has taken my case on, and they are being charged with slander amongst other things. If they don’t print a retraction and apology within the next thirty days they will be required to pay a ten thousand galleon fine,” Harry said, quietly.

 

  “Oh! Look…just…tell us…what did happen that night when…you know, when….with Cedric Diggory and all?” 

 

  Seamus sounded nervous and excited at the same time. Dean, who had been bending over his trunk trying to retrieve a slipper, went oddly still and Harry knew he was listening hard. Harry was sick of it, sick of being the person who was stared at and talked about all the time. It made him furious that they all felt like they had the right to know every little thing that he went through.

 

  “What are you….” he began angrily, until the warmth of Percival’s hand seeped through the cloth on his shoulder.

 

  “Gentlemen, you already know the relevant details. However, you should be satisfied knowing that Harry’s memories of the events were taken by the auror department, in evidence of his case against the Daily Prophet. Amelia Bones deemed it sufficient to uphold the case,” he glanced at them sternly, it had been a while since he had bought out parade ground Percival.

 

  “Besides,” Neville’s voice spoke up from beside them. “That’s a bit crass really, asking Harry to recall witnessing someone’s death!”

 

  Both boys had the good manners to blush and turn away again, though Seamus did mutter something under his breath that sounded a bit like ‘reckon Dumbledore’s still a nutter’.

 

  “Seamus,” Harry spoke calmly. “Believe whatever you want, it won’t change the truth. And you are probably right about Dumbledore.” The other boy disappeared behind his bed hangings. Dean sighed and went to bed shortly after.

 

  Harry looked over at the teens who still stood at his side, “Thanks guys.”

 

  Percival squeezed his shoulder and they all finished getting ready for bed.

 

 

    “Look at today,” groaned Ron as they sat around the table eating breakfast the next morning.  “History of Magic, double Potions, Divination and double Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

 

  “I see what you mean,” Harry nodded, “though you are on your own in Divination.”

 

  “What! No, mate you can’t leave me,” Ron begged. “Who else am I going to make up predictions with?”

 

  Ignoring the tut from Hermione, who was sitting primly on Ron’s other side, Harry said, “Sorry but Perce is going to tutor me in Runes and Arithmancy during those times. You’ll have to bug Neville.”

 

  “Nah, I dropped it as well, waste of time. Gran arranged for me to be tutored in Runes.”

 

  The boys continued to ignore Hermione’s disapproving clucks.

 

  “Did you see the sign on the notice board this morning? Looking at this schedule I kinda wish Fred and George’d hurry up and get those Skiving Snackboxes sorted…”

 

  “Do mine ears deceive me?” said Fred arriving with George and squeezing onto the bench opposite Harry, pushing Hermione up closer to Ginny. “A Hogwarts prefect surely wouldn’t wish to skive off lessons? And on the first day no less?”

 

  “Look at what we’ve got today,” said Ron grumpily, shoving his timetable under Fred’s nose. “That’s the worst Monday I’ve ever seen.”

 

  “Fair point, little bro,” said Fred, scanning the column. “You can have a bit of Nosebleed Nougat cheap, if you like.”

 

  “Why’s it cheap?” asked Ron, previous experience making him more than a little suspicious.

 

  “Because you’ll keep bleeding till you shrivel up, we haven’t got an antidote as yet,” said George, helping himself to a kipper.

 

  “Cheers,” said Ron moodily, pocketing his timetable, “but I think I’ll take lessons.” He caught a movement from Hermione out of his eye and spoke quickly before she was able to. “And about your call for testers.”

 

  “Yeah, what of it?” Fred challenged defensively, sitting back folding his arms across his chest.

 

 “Look I know you test everything on yourselves first, so the risk is limited, however I think you need to add a few more precautions.”

 

  “Like what?” Fred frowned.

 

  “Like not testing more than two or three products a day on one person and they need to be spaced out to prevent interactions between them. The testers shouldn’t be first or second year, you know they won’t be reliable in telling you about side effects, like headache and nausea. And you need to provide the testers with a description of what you actually expect the product to do and a list of what could go wrong. Finally, you need to check all testers for allergies.”

 

  “There are times where we need to test the interactions between different products, Ron,” George said.

 

  “In that case, you need to let them know what to look out for, and that it is a specific test to see if the products would be ok to be taken together.”

 

  The twins exchanged a glance that went on for several moments, before agreeing with a nod, “Right you are Ron. We’ll take them on board they all seem like sensible precautions.”

 

  “And If you don’t abide by them, I’ll inform Mum,” Ron said sternly.

 

  Two pairs of betrayed blue eyes turned on him, “Why would you do that! Ron….” they stood in a huff and moved up the table to sit with Angelina Johnson.

 

  “Ronald,” a piercing voice cut through Harry’s congratulations at reigning the twins in. “How can you condone them advertising for testers in the common room! It’s completely un-ethical.”

 

  “Yeah, and I just negotiated with the twins so that it will be much more regulated. Look most of the products they are testing have already been tried on the twins and myself. So one, they work and two there were no…..un-intended side effects. What they now need to know is if that holds true for a wider target group. If they do it in a controlled fashion, the testers are aware of the things that might go wrong and are compensated appropriately then this isn’t a bad place to conduct those tests. Should all else fail, Madame Pomphrey is on hand to fix up any mistakes. To be quite honest, if we just went and yelled at them all that would happen is that they would move it out of sight and keep doing it anyway. So at least this way there is some sort of guideline.”

 

 

 

  Forewarned about Professor Binns before they did their school shopping Percival had suggested that they pool their resources and purchase a high-quality auto-dictation quill, like the one used in the Wizengamot, while they were in Diagon Alley. He had set it up on the outside edge of his desk as they organised themselves at the start of class. Instead of listening to Binns and trying to stay awake through his soporific monotone, he cast a silencing ward around himself and Harry so they could work on Arithmancy which Harry was struggling with.  They had offered Ron the opportunity to join them but, he had looked over their text books and decided that he wasn’t all that keen, though he’d join on the days that they studied Runes. In the meantime, he could use the extra time to sleep.

 

  Throughout the lesson Hermione shot filthy looks at them out of the corner of her eye.

 

  “How would it be,” she asked them coldly, as they left the classroom for break (Binns drifting away through the blackboard), if I refused to lend you my notes this year?”

 

  Her eyes narrowed as she saw, Harry’s lips twitch upwards slightly. She must honestly think that they couldn’t survive without her.

 

  “You don’t think I’d do it, do you! You don’t even try to listen to him, do you?” she continued scolding.

 

  “We do try,” said Ron. “We just haven’t got your brains or your memory or your concentration - you’re just cleverer than we are - is it nice to rub it in?”

 

  “Oh, don’t give me that rubbish,” said Hermione, looking slightly mollified, having not picked up Ron’s sarcasm.

 

 

  “You know,” said Harry glancing through the notes. “I think if there was a reasonable teacher, this actually might be interesting.”

 

  The boys sat side by side in a secluded alcove in the courtyard, each holding their own copy of the notes. Unable to tolerate Hermione anymore they had let her and Ron wander ahead and had ducked out of sight as the pair had turned a corner. Harry knew he would have to find a way to make it up to Ron later. Maybe they could give him a copy of their notes, so he wouldn’t need to ask for Hermione’s.

 

  “Hello Harry!” a voice startled Harry from his work.

 

  It was Cho Chang and most unusually she was not surrounded by a giggling group of girls.

 

  “Hi,” said Harry, looking up briefly.  

 

  “You got the stuff off, then?” Cho asked awkwardly.

 

  “Yeah,” said Harry, giving her an embarrassed sort of smile. It hadn’t been his finest moment. 

 

  It was odd, if she had come and talked to him the previous year he would have been nervous and excited, but now….so much had changed. Sure, she was an attractive girl but…those butterflies in his stomach just weren’t there anymore. The crush had long since passed. What do you say to the girl you once had a crush on?

   

  “So, did you…er…have a good summer?” he could just about feel Percival shaking his head beside him, and he wished he could have taken the words back. After all Cedric had been Cho’s boyfriend and his death must have cast a terrible pall over her holidays.

 

  Unsurprisingly something in her face seemed to pull taut, but she said, “Oh it was all right, you know….”

 

  “Um, well, we’d best go…..we’ve got Potions,” Harry hurriedly pulled Percival to his feet and scurried away towards the dungeons.

 

  Once they had cleared the courtyard, Percival pulled back on Harry’s hand, practically dragging the smaller boy into an empty classroom. 

 

  “What was that all about, Harry?” Percival asked in a flat tone that Harry didn’t like very much.

 

  “That’s Cho….. we saw her on the train, remember? She…ah…she’s the Ravenclaw seeker.”

 

  “And you just randomly have conversations with members of the opposition Quiddtich team?” he raised an eyebrow.

 

  “Well, no….I don’t know why she’s started talking to me actually, we’ve never spoken much before, apart from that once when I asked her to the Yule Ball last year, she said no.” Harry frowned. “Heck if we don’t hurry will be late for Potions.”

 

  

  As it turned out they just managed to slip into the classroom and slide into their seats before Snape arrived.

 

  “Settle down,” said Snape coldly, shutting the door behind him.

 

    Snape commenced the lesson with a warning about the up-coming OWLs. Glaring at everyone in the room that he presumed would not do well. Harry suppressed a snort, as he wondered how much of it was an act. Sure, the Potions Master would never be the soft and cuddly type, but he wasn’t as hard or mean as he made himself out to be.

 

  Black eyes fell upon Harry and his lip curled. Harry decided he had best help Snape keep up the act and glared back.  They were tasked with brewing the Draught of Peace, and Snape could hardly have set them a more difficult, fiddly potion.  Harry, took deep steadying breaths and reassured himself that Percival had told him he was improving. The tips and explanations they had found in the two books from the Black library were invaluable.

 

  Briefly Harry caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and was glad that he and Percival had cast the warding spell over their cauldrons, as he saw something leafy ricochet off it and onto the floor. 

 

 

  “A light silver vapour should now be rising from your potion,” called Snape with ten minutes left to go.

 

  Harry, who was sweating profusely, looked around. His own cauldron was issuing copious amounts of silver, nearly grey vapour, while Percival’s had a light mist rising from it.  Harry was happy, it was not perfect, but was much better than he had expected. Ron’s cauldron was spitting green sparks, as was Neville’s. Snape paused in his circuit of the room just in front of the table Harry was sharing with Percival. He looked down his nose and the only sign that he had noticed the improvement in Harry’s work was a raised eyebrow. Taking a step forward he slipped on something on the floor, all the Gryffindors froze as they watched him slowly bend down and pick it up.

 

  “Potter!” he spat, as he lifted the object to eye level.  “What is this?”

 

  The Slytherins at the front of the class all looked up eagerly; they loved hearing Snape taunt Harry.

 

  “Ah, looks to be a fern frond Sir,” Harry guessed.

 

  “And what is it doing on the floor?”

 

  “I couldn’t say, Sir. Though perhaps you might like to ask Nott as he’s the one who tried to throw it into my cauldron.”

 

  “Indeed,” Snape turned his eyes on his own students for a second.  

 

  Nott, merely raised his hands palm forward and said innocently, “Sir, you know I would never risk interfering with someone’s cauldron in such a fashion.”

 

  “I should hope…”

 

  “Liar,” said Percival flatly.  “You are the only one with the correct trajectory for an object to have bounced off, the cauldron ward, onto the floor, all other angles would have landed the ingredient on the table. Besides I saw you! You still have a sprig of frostbite fern on your desk, and it is most definitely not required in this potion, as it would react negatively with the moonstone.” He raised his eyes to meet Snape’s.

 

  “Five points off each, for back chat, and you can both attend detention with me this evening for lying,” Snape snapped. He turned sharply to the front of the classroom. “Those of you who have managed to read the instructions, fill one flagon with a sample of your potion, label it clearly with your name and bring it to my desk for testing,” said Snape. “Homework: twelve inches of parchment on the properties of moonstone and its uses in potion making, to be handed in on Thursday.”

 

   Harry sighed as he decanted his potion, pitying Seamus who was trying to chip a section of his potion off his cauldron where it looked like it had hardened into rock. At least the detention hadn’t cost Gryffindor too many points. He shouldered his bag and he and Percival headed to the library.

 

 

 

  Surprisingly the rest of the day passed without incident.  Though Defence Against the Dark Arts hadn’t been great. Harry had only resisted responding to Umbridge’s vitriol by recalling Amelia Bones’ statement the now was not the right time for the Ministry to admit that Tom Riddle had indeed returned, and Percival judiciously placing a hand on his thigh, in the middle of her diatribe. The warmth bleeding through the leg of his pants, made all thoughts in Harry’s mind freeze.  It was a wonder he didn’t gasp out loud. The circles being rubbed into his pants leg distracted Harry enough that he barely even noticed the passage of time and was surprised when the bell rang, signalling the end of classes.

 

  “Mate, I was sure you were going to have a go at Umbridge!” Ron said as they walked up the corridor towards the Great Hall. “Don’t you want the truth known?” Neville was nodding in agreement beside him.

 

  “Here,” Percival gripped both boys by the shoulders and pulled them into a classroom. He quickly froze the portraits. 

 

  “Ron, you’re a great strategist, right?”

 

  Ron cocked his head in confusion.

 

  “It’s like chess right, you’re good at planning several moves in advance. So, what do you think would happen right now if Madame Bones, announced that her department was chasing down Tom Riddle and his Death Eaters?”

 

  “People would panic and the Death Eaters…….They’d go to ground, create alibis……Yeah I get it.”

 

  “Exactly, so I already know that the Ministry isn’t saying anything. One reason is Madame Bones is making plans. The other is the Fudge is an idiot. I’m not going to change either of those things by arguing with the pink toad. And honestly, we’ve just got to get through the next ten months then the curse will take affect and she’ll be gone. Meanwhile I’m sure the twins will be only too happy to play.” They shared a wicked grin.

 

 

  

  “Right,” Harry said as he stared at the sink in front of him. “I can do this.”

 

  “Come on Potter, we haven’t got all night,” their dour Professor chided. Somehow it lacked its usual level of derision. “I have put a monitoring spell on my classroom, however we will never return to it in time should someone seek me out there. There were enough protests at you having detention on the first day that we might expect visitors.”

 

  “Just tell them we were looking for ingredients in the Forbidden Forest, Sir,” Harry said, without looking away from the image of a snake that had been scratched on the side of one of the copper taps, trying to visualise a live snake.

 

  “And what pray-tell do I tell them, about the distinct lack of ingredients?” Snape raised an eyebrow.

 

  “Just tell them we didn’t find any, the flowers finished blooming early this year, I’m pretty sure it’s due to the heat.” Snape was positively stunned, how on earth did Potter know that, it was a conclusion he himself had come to upon noticing the increased prices of ingredients over the summer.  “Alternately you can show them the snake skin that you’re about to find, though that might raise questions of its own. Open,” it came out as a hiss.

 

  The tap glowed with a brilliant white light and began to spin. Next second, the sink began to move. The sink, in fact, sank, right out of sight, leaving a large pipe exposed, a pipe wide enough for a man to slide into.

 

  “By the Gods, I would never have believed it,” Snape muttered. “What are you doing?” he snapped suddenly as Harry prepared to slide his legs into the pipe.

 

  “Um, well you see this is the entrance…”

 

  “You expect me to believe that the great Salazar Slytherin, sat on his backside and slid into his chambers?” 

 

  “With all due respect sir, he lived a thousand years ago, I doubt any of us know what he would or wouldn’t have done. And as I’m pretty sure that plumbing hadn’t been invented yet, I’m guessing the entrance didn’t look like this back then.”

 

  “Have you tried asking for stairs?”

 

  “Asking for stairs? You think it’s that simple,” Harry cocked his head to the side.

 

  “Why would it not be? After all, you just said open and it did, surely stairs would have the same affect.”

 

  “Ah, the problem Sir, is that snakes don’t actually have a word for stairs, which makes that request rather impossible. Good idea though.”

 

  “We could try asking Hogwarts,” Percival suggested.

 

  “Hogwarts is a building you dunderhead!”

 

  “After a thousand years of absorbing excess magic, Hogwarts is a sentient building Professor,” Percival said respectfully, by which point Harry already had his hand on the wall and his eyes closed. With a great grinding of stone, the opening squared off and a set of steps could be seen descending into the dark.

 

  “Mind your heads, you’re both taller than I am,” Harry said as he led the way.

 

  The descent took a lot longer than the first time he had entered the chamber and Harry was just beginning to wonder if maybe Hogwarts had a sense of humour and was taking them somewhere else when he stepped off the last stair into a damp stone tunnel, that had featured in many of his nightmares.  

 

  “Lumos,” three wands were raised at the same time illuminating the space as with a crash the opening far above them shut, blocking out the little light it had provided.

 

  The myriad of dead animal bones still lay across the floor, all sharp points and cracking noises when stepped upon.

 

  “Just round this corner Professor, should be a shed skin,” Harry swung his wand light across the first evidence that these tunnels had housed that large beast.  

 

  “It’s twenty feet long at least!” Snape, knelt next to it.  “If the way this is preserved is any indication, the cadaver should be in good condition Potter. This area is quite damp, yet, I can see no spores or mould, nor is it showing any signs of decay.”

 

  “Did you want to take this with you now Sir?”

 

  Snape looked longingly at the skin, then shook his head, “No, let’s press on, shall we?”

 

  “Here’s where the others stopped,” Harry indicated the rock fall in front of them, we were only second year and Ron had a busted wand, so we didn’t know what to do.”

 

  “Reparo!” Snape roared, all of the blocks flew up to slot into their original place like a giant jigsaw puzzle and the tunnel opened up before them.

 

  “Thanks Professor.”

 

  They walked on, finally coming to a solid wall on which two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes were set with great, glinting emeralds. Harry swallowed, this was it.

 

  “Open,” he hissed again.

 

  The serpents parted as the wall cracked open, the halves slid smoothly out of sight. They were standing at the end of a huge chamber. Everything was just as Harry remembered it.

 

  “Perhaps we should have bought a rooster!”

 

  “Really Potter, why a rooster?”

 

  “Well according to Newt Scamander, the cry of the rooster is fatal to a basilisk. I’d hate to think about there being a second one in here.”

 

  “Well if there is I guess, you’ll just have to call Fawkes and hope for the best again!” Snape sneered, if Harry didn’t know better he would have thought that his professor was nervous.

 

  “I’d really rather not!”

 

  They walked further into the room and as the sconces around the room lit they could finally see the beast, head flat on the floor close to the bust of Slytherin and the tail curled in a great loop. Halfway up its body a white fang stood out in stark relief to where the floor was stained black, and Harry shuddered, at the memory.

 

  Snape was completely absorbed in the beast, muttering to himself, and sending a measuring tape that he had conjured from the tip of his wand around it, jotting down the results every time it drifted back to him. As he carefully pressed open the jaw to examine its teeth Harry turned away and walked over to the statue.  

 

  “That’s some snake there,” Percival spoke quietly from beside him.

 

  “I always wondered what made her follow him you know. I wanted to try and talk to her, but…..I think she may have been mad anyway.”

 

  “Did you ever,” Percival pointed ahead of them to the arch made by Slytherin’s mouth.

 

  “No. After I rescued Ginny I was too worried about getting back to Ron.”

 

  With a glance behind Percival said, “No wonder she thinks you’re her knight in shining armour.” He bumped shoulders with his friend.

 

  “I don’t know. I think if she thought about it she’d realise she’s strong enough to do the rescuing herself. Do you want to….” 

 

  “What exactly, do you think you are doing Mr Potter?” a stern voice interrupted.

 

  “Ah, um I thought we might as well go and see if there is anything else through here, Sir,” Harry shrugged.

 

  “Your thoughts Mr Graves?”

 

  “Well, Sir. Looking at the dampness around us, either the area has flooded, or it is beneath the lake and the wards keeping it dry are in the process of failing.  Either way there is a risk of potential cave-in, or inhalation of some type of spore that has been incubating in there for the last Merlin knows how many years.  It would be best to have an adult accompany us and to investigate the wards first.”

 

  “Yes, and unfortunately that will not be happening tonight as curfew is just about upon us. Let us return to the stairs, I will attempt to request Hogwarts provide us with egress into my office. We will need to have another discussion, when I have had a chance to review what I have assessed of the body. You understand that there will need to be more detentions to cover our activities.”

 

  “Of course Sir. Sir?”

 

  “Yes Potter.”

 

  “Are you going to be able to manage it all by yourself? It actually seems even larger than I remembered it being.”

 

  “It is indeed a large beast. With careful preparation I will manage though it will take some time.”

 

  “Sir I have a House Elf, who, well, he doesn’t really have much to do. He’s a bit odd, but would he be helpful?”

 

  Harry just about ran into the back of Professor Snape who had stopped abruptly and whipped around.  “Of course, you have a House Elf!”

 

  “I didn’t mean to, Sir. I didn’t realise. You see he said he wanted to be free, and so when I found out that Mr Malfoy was abusing him…I well, I set him free. Last year I found out he was working here, at the castle, but I didn’t realise that he had actually chosen me as his new master, so when he asked, of course I couldn’t say no. Well, not after seeing Winky. She’s got a problem with butter beer, apparently it’s from her depression, because she was freed by Mr Crouch. Anyway I said yes but now I don’t really know what to do with him and….”

 

  “Stop your blabbering Potter. Yes, his assistance would be helpful as long as he can follow orders.”

 

  “Dobby!” Pop. “Um, Dobby, this is Professor Snape, Professor Snape this is Dobby.”

 

  “Professor Snakey sir,” Dobby nodded.

 

  “Um, Dobby. Professor Snape has a big job he needs assistance with. I won’t make you do it if you don’t want to, it might be a bit gross really, and possibly really smelly, but if you would….”

 

  “Get to the point Potter.”

 

  “Uh….right, the Professor would like some assistance breaking down the dead basilisk, in the chamber back there. Would you like to help?”

 

  “Dobby cans help Professor Snakey.”

 

  “Great. Thanks Dobby, you’ll need to listen carefully to what he tells you to do, some of it might be a bit tricky or dangerous.”

 

  Dobby nodded and disappeared with a crack.

 

  It turned out that Hogwarts could make the stairs lead directly to Snape’s office, so after a much shorter climb they emerged and Snape saw the boys out the door, with instructions that if anyone asked, they had been dissecting flobberworms.

 

  Closing the door behind them Snape had the urge to scream.  The bloody beast was eight feet in diameter and nearly ninety feet in the length! Potter had been, and still was, the shortest in his year. He would have been lucky if he had reached four feet by the age of twelve, and he’d been even scrawnier then Severus himself had been at the same age.  Why were the Gods testing him so?! He glanced at the table and saw the two bottles of wine that hadn’t been there when he had left. Two steps later he stepped into the floo.

 

  “Mutt, you had better be there!”

 

 

  

  “Listen Harry, you can’t just drop one of your subjects. You need to be taking at least two electives all the way through to OWLs. It says so in Hogwarts a History.”

 

  “That’s nice Hermione,” Harry said as inoffensively as possible. He had hoped that when they returned to school, she would get distracted by her schoolwork and not bother him so much, unfortunately it appeared he was wrong. “How about you check what it says in the Hogwarts Charter. Because Hogwarts a History is exactly that, a documentation of the History of Hogwarts and not an actual list of the rules in place for the school.”

 

  “Don’t be ridiculous Harry. Now come and see Professor McGonagall with me, and we’ll get you back in to Divination,” she turned as she saw Neville walk in sit at the table and sleepily pull a cup and a tea pot towards himself. “You’ll be next Neville!” she said sternly as she grabbed Harry’s arm and yanked it. Neville blinked at her slowly, before mouthing to Seamus ‘what did I do?’.

 

  “Leave. Me. Alone. Hermione!” Harry said raising his voice a little, trying to twist his arm out of her vice like grip. “I don’t have to see the Professor, I sent her a letter explaining it over the summer.”

 

  “Look Harry, I understand that you’re trying to be all independent or something but….”

 

  “No. Hermione.” Harry snapped a bit louder. “Just let me eat my breakfast!”

 

  “Harry!” Hermione said, seemingly making a decision. “I don’t know what that boy has done to you, but you are coming straight to the Hospital wing with me, so that Madame Pomphrey can remove whatever spell that disgusting boy has put on you. Clearly, he has confunded you or something. Maybe he used the imperius curse, to make you believe you can do all this stuff by yourself. But you just can’t Harry! He’s evil.”

 

  “First of all, Hermione, he’s fifteen it would be next to impossible for him to cast the imperius. Second I can throw off the imperius curse. Lastly, how dare you! You don’t know Percival at all, he has far more integrity than you.”

 

  “Oh Harry, grow up! He’s using you Harry…”

 

  “Enough. Hermione!” Harry shouted.

 

  “What is going on here pray- tell?” the silken tones of Professor Snape washed over them. Hermione automatically blushed and dropped her eyes to the floor. Harry turned glaring green eyes on the Professor for just a heartbeat before realising who it was.

 

  “Just a difference of opinion Professor,” he ground out.

 

  “Really? Try again. Miss Granger….”

 

  “Well you see Professor, both Harry and Neville have dropped divination to self-study Runes, however Hogwarts a History clearly states that students must continue at least two electives all the way through to OWLS, so I was encouraging him to see Professor McGonagall and correct…”

 

  “That is enough, Miss Granger. While Mr Potter is correct in that he can drop a subject as long as he self-studies another I do not believe he has the necessary qualities to be able to tutor himself. I will address the issue with his Head of House. And Mr Potter five points from Gryffindor and detention with me this evening for yelling at another student."

 

  

 

  This time there were four of them in the chamber. Dobby was proving to be an enormous help to Snape. For a start he had cleaned up all the dead bones, sorting them into boxes of individual species, (who knew that animal bones could be used in potions) and removed the slime from the walls. He was also able to seal the chambers wards, point out where the holes in the original wards had formed, and dry out the area. Snape had said he thought that this section had been warded by Slytherin himself, separately to the rest of the castle, so when the Founder had died they had slowly started to deteriorate, rather than being renewed by the extra magic in the castle. He would need to investigate to find a way to link them to the rest of the wards later. Dobby’s solution would work for now.

 

  Snape had requested a fifteen percent cut of the sale of the Basilisk, which Harry had agreed to.

 

    Harry turned to look at the Professor, who had been showing him precisely where to make the incision to remove one of the Basilisks giant rib bones, “Why are you doing this? The price doesn’t seem enough.”

 

  “What do you know about Basilisk parts Potter?”

 

  Harry shrugged, “Not much. There hasn’t been any available for years.  The skin is resistant to spells, so makes good boots and armour. The poison is toxic and,” here he remembered what Healer Addison had said, “it has no half-life, or rather its half-life is infinity.”

 

  “Every part of the Beast is a class B non-tradeable material. As such the only means of acquiring any is from a newly deceased animal which it is prohibited to breed.”

 

  “Wasn’t it a bit pointless to negotiate a percentage, if we can’t sell it then?”

 

  “It could be a percentage of the materials Potter.”

 

  “What am I going to go with eighty-five percent of a dead basilisk?!”

 

  “You mentioned boots…” Snape’s lips twisted upwards slightly, as Harry snorted.

 

  “That’s an awful lot of boots, Sir.”

 

  “Yes well. For an additional fee I might know someone who can assist us in selling what we don’t want on the black market. There is still a demand for the parts by Potion Masters across the globe.”

 

  Glancing sideways, Harry said, “I might pay an additional fee, but that would depend….Were you intending to use Mundungus?”

 

  Snape glared his nose at Harry, for a long moment before turning back to make the next incision.

 

  “Well that’s good then.”

 

 

 

  “Neville,” Harry grabbed his friend by the shoulder and prevented him from leaving the dorm with the other boys.”

 

  “We’ll be late Harry!” the round-faced boy protested.

 

  “It won’t take a minute. So I got onto Snuffles last night, and he said that if you studied Occlumency then I can tell you, otherwise it will all be out in two weeks and I can tell you then.”

 

  “What? How did you…?”

 

  A grinning Harry was holding up an ornate mirror.

 

  “Oh! Um…. Gran didn’t teach me,” Neville shrugged despondently. “So….”

 

  Harry frowned, “Damn we were sure that as The Longbottom you would know. Hey, do you want to learn with me? Percival’s been teaching me.”

 

  “I don’t know Harry, I don’t think I’d be any good.”

 

  “Neville,” Harry tilted his face so that he could look his friend in the eye. “Your Gran wears a hat with a stuffed vulture on it. Even I can tell she doesn’t know anything about fashion, so there’s every chance that she doesn’t know enough about you for this.  Percival said you had a huge reservoir of magic, and even if you didn’t this isn’t about power.”

 

  “You really think I can?”

 

  “Yep, it’s helping me, I really think it can help you too.”

 

  “W-well, I suppose there’s no harm trying.”

 

  “That’s the attitude, Nev. Now we had better get to breakfast before Ron eats it all!”

 

 

 

   “For the Gods sake Hermione, if I have told you once I have told you a thousand times. My homework is up to date!”  Harry spat.

 

  The fuzzy haired girl had been waiting for him in the common room and had followed him to breakfast again, nagging him all the way down the staircases until just as they reached the Great Hall the boy had snapped.

 

  “But Harry. I know you’re struggling, there’s no way you can be completing it to any sort of reasonable standard without my help. You might think you’ve done a good job, but I just know that you haven’t. At least let me check it for you!” she wheedled.

 

  “No!” Harry flopped down in his seat and pulled a random book from his bag and slammed it up in front of his face, so he didn’t have to look at her. Why did Perce have to get sick today?  In the six weeks he had known the other boy he hadn’t been ill at all, but today he had woken looking shaky and pale, Harry had helped him to the hospital wing before returning to the dorms to dress.

 

  “What on earth! Is that the Arithmancy text book? Why are you reading that? Put it down and talk to me Harry it’s not like you can understand it anyway!”

 

  “Go. Away. Hermione!”

 

  “Harry, this behaviour has to stop…”

 

  “Shut Up Hermione!” Harry finally yelled over the top of the book.

 

  “Detention, Mr Potter!” Snape said from behind them.

 

  Harry dropped his head onto the table with a thud.

 

 

 

   “You and Miss Granger, don’t seem to be getting along,” the Potions Master commented as he dropped the heart string of the Basilisk into the glass jar that Harry was holding. Percival hadn’t been given a detention tonight so was spending the evening helping Neville with his Occlumency.

 

  “Noticed, that did you?” Harry said drily.

 

  “I don’t think anyone hasn’t noticed.”

 

  “Haven’t been keeping it a secret. Has she always been this bossy do you think or is it getting worse?”

 

  “She has always been bossy, Potter. Though she does seem to be taking it to extremes at the moment. Seal that up with the wax Dobby. Get a fresh Jar for the valves next Potter, if you grab the biggest one they should all fit.”

 

  Harry searched through the box of supplies and pulled out a jar. 

 

  “Yes, that’s the one,” Snape nodded, as he cast a preservation charm over the jar that Dobby had just sealed.

 

  “How long do you think it will take to harvest and preserve it all?”

 

  The older man looked at the remains of the beast, “It should be quicker going once we have finished with the internal organs. Maybe a month in total.”

 

  “I’m kind of enjoying this, you know,” Harry said thoughtfully. “It seems potions isn’t so bad after all.”

 

  “You have improved.” There was that odd lip twitch again. Harry wondered whether it was Snape’s smile or if he was just having a minor stroke at having to admit that a Potter wasn’t that bad at something.

 

  “Yeah, Percival found a couple of texts in the Black Library, on how to prepare ingredients and the basic guidelines for brewing. It helped me understand it much better.”

 

  “If you had read the ones on the list in first year, I am sure they would have been adequate.”

 

  Harry looked at him oddly, “Um Drafts and Potions was the only Potions text book on the list Sir.”

 

  “What of Ingredient preparation 101 and brewing for the beginner?”

 

  Harry shook his head, “I actually found my first-year letter and book list when I was re-packing my trunk this year. I can show you if you want.” 

 

  Obsidian eyes stared at him for a moment, “That won’t be necessary. It explains so much,” he sighed. “I will give you the details, as I am sure that the ones you have are out of date.”

 

  “I expect so,” Harry stated with a wry smile. “They were written in 1898 and 1901.”

 

  “In that case your performance in class is nothing short of miraculous. It’s just about curfew. There is a box by the stairs, it has your potions in it, make sure you pick it up on the way out.”

 

  “Thank you, Sir, and don’t stay up to late, we don’t need you to be grumpy in the morning,” Harry grinned as he rushed towards the stairs.