Chapter 1: Fugitives
(Yes, I followed through on my last-minute name change haha.)
Folks, I'm freaking out. This is truly and sincerely the last fic of ever upward. And I want to truly and sincerely thank every single person who has been reading along--whether you found the series two days ago or a year ago. Because, absurdly, I have been posting for over a year. Things get absolutely wild in this book, and I hope everyone enjoys the ride.
A note on content: As in all previous books, I will put content warnings at the beginning of appropriate chapters. If you need more detail than that, drop a comment and I'll fill you in. <3
Oh yes, and as always, this fic updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Is this everyone, Tippy?”
Tippy did a quick headcount. “I thinks so. All but Orry.”
“Yous sure you’s staying?”
Tippy crossed her arms. “Snake, if I is going into hiding, what is the world thinking?”
Harry stared at her. “Uh … that you has a bounty on your head and doesn’t want to be killed by aurors?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, Snake, they is thinking I is afraid. I’s visiting the camp when I can. For now, I must remains here. There is work to be done.”
“Alright,” Harry said softly. In the tunnel behind him, fifteen liberated elves shifted uneasily, but kept quiet.
“Ready,” called Orry from down the corridor, hustling towards them in a deep green cloak, carrying a healer’s kit. “Tippy—I’s seeing you soon, my love.”
For the first time all morning Tippy’s face was something other than granite-hard. Harry turned his back to give them privacy, and after a quiet moment Orry put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go, Snake.”
With one glance back at Tippy, standing tall and strong in her high-collared black robes, Harry shut the tunnel entrance.
A flurry of elflights were lit immediately, and, with Orry at his shoulder, he silently led them away from the elf wing.
How like a year ago, evacuating elves in the middle of the morning. How unlike a year ago, when it was the ministry they were now escaping.
Reaching the entrance onto the grounds, he paused. “How many of you can turns invisible?”
About a quarter of them raised their hands.
“Alright. Hold hands and follow me. Anyone who can’t, come here.”
Eleven elves shuffled forward. Harry unclasped Áwere and carefully draped it over three of them. “You must sticks very close together,” he said. To a fourth he passed a pendant he never took off. “Keep the hair against your skin.”
Clenching his fists, he looked at the seven who were left. “The rest of you … we is just going to have to be very careful. Once we is in the forest, the ministry’s wards is gone. All we haves to do is makes it to the trees. We haves to be fast and silent. Gots it?”
“We haves it, Snake,” said Orry. “Listen up,” she called to the elves. “If one of us falls behind, none of you stops. Snake and I is handling it. Your only goal is to gets to the trees. Is I understood?”
Nods. Presumably the invisible elves nodded too.
“Alright,” Harry said. “Let’s go.”
Quickly and quietly they filed out of the castle, dropping silently from the pipes. Frost covered the ground; the lake was frozen over. Far away, Hagrid’s hut was decorated with bright green garlands. It was barely two days after Christmas.
The treeline loomed in the distance, with no visible obstacles between them. Harry began to jog towards them, the seven unguarded elves surrounding him, panting quietly from stress and exertion.
The sun was only just rising. They were late, but it was unavoidable. Could he see faint movement already in the treeline, or was that simply hopeful thinking?
“Snake,” breathed Orry, “to the east.”
He looked towards the rising sun. Figures roved over the horizon, silhouettes with strange glowing shields raised over them, accompanied by dark and shadowy forms.
“What are those?” Harry breathed. No one answered. They ran faster.
They were spotted.
The first spell bolt shot over their heads, yellow and acidic, and one of the visible elves jolted and nearly fell. Harry seized his elbow and threw him forwards, placing himself on the outside of the group. “Everyone go!” he hissed. “Go, go, go!”
The elves fled as he and Orry dropped back, putting themselves between the elves and the aurors … and whatever was accompanying them.
Spells screamed towards them, no pretense of subtlety now, and Orry seized his hand, tugging at his magic. Together they threw their hands up and raised a glimmering silvery shield. Three spells ricocheted off, and then a fourth shattered it, magic raining like glass down over their heads.
They were nearly to the Whomping Willow. Nearly there. He could see movement in the trees, he wasn’t imagining it.
The aurors and their shadowy things were converging. He and Orry raised another shield, another, another, running backwards behind the elves.
“Ah!” A short, sharp, cry—Harry whipped around—an elf had been hit in the pause between one shield and the next, and she was fighting to rise from the ground.
Harry tore his hand from Orry’s and scooped her up, spinning back around in time to see Orry’s shield fail, a spell heading right for her chest.
“Protego!” he shouted, reaching out a wandless hand. As always, the combination of a wizard spell and elf magic made the results twisty, and rather than be blocked, the spell rebounded, zooming straight back into the auror twenty yards away who had cast it. The man dropped to the ground, writhing.
An invisible fist knocked at his leg. “Give her to me!”
Harry dropped the elf into her invisible companion’s arms and seized Orry’s hand again.
They were at the Willow. The aurors now numbered four and their shadowy companions five, raising up a wave of spells to come down on them. Everything seemed to be getting darker.
“Snake?” Orry asked, holding out her hand.
“Orry,” Harry answered, and seized it.
One breath together, and two, and why was he so calm?, and as their arms swept up so did a wall of magic, absorbing the spells thrown at them and hurling them back.
Every auror went down.
Their five shadowy things did not.
And as those things crept closer, something terrible began to happen.
Orry took a great shuddering, gasping breath, hand trembling in Harry’s, and their shield evaporated. Harry tried to tug it back up—tug it up—but … but something wasn’t right.
He felt cold. He felt so cold, down to his very bones, and someone was screaming—who was screaming—it wasn’t Orry—
T R A D E
He swayed. Long, icy hands reached out to cradle his face.
A wave of magic blew past him like a spring breeze. His vision returned. A spectral phoenix, feathered and fierce and made of flaming rainbows, twisted and curled round him and Orry, driving those terrible things back, and their scream was even more terrible than the scream clawing out from his throat—
The things fled—
His sister took his hand.
He snapped back to the present, staring down at Limmy, whose eyes were glowing red and orange and green and whose wiggenwood wand was shining in her hand, somehow marshaling that spectral phoenix which whipped around them in a frenzy.
“To the trees!” she shouted. With a flick of her wand she snapped off the spell, and together the three of them sprinted the last distance to the woods.
A spectral phoenix, feathered and fierce and made of flaming rainbows
The moment they crossed the border, Harry fell to his knees, retching and shaking. Orry left him and returned in a moment. “Everyone’s here,” she said in relief. “And here, Snake, your cloak and pendant.”
He took them, standing with Limmy’s help. “What were those?” he asked in astonishment. “And what was that phoenix?”
“They is dementors,” Limmy said grimly. “Guards of Azkaban prison. They feeds on happy memories, and if they gets close enough, they sucks out your soul. And that was what Hermione and I is working on all semester, Snake. A patronus.”
“Is Hermione’s a rainbow phoenix too?” Harry asked in astonishment.
A glow of mischievous pride came to her eyes. “No. Just mine.”
“Snakeheart,” came a booming, urgent call, and Harry snapped to attention as Bane emerged from the trees, trotting up to him. His black skin looked almost grey with fright. “Dementors, we heard there are dementors on the ground—are you alright?”
“Yes,” Harry said shakily, exchanging bows with him and then accepting an awkward half-hug. “Thanks to Limmy. Are your warriors ready?”
“Yes. Where is Feverfew?”
“Orry’s here,” said Harry. “Orry, please meet Bane, mate to the leader of the Northern Stargazer Band. He and the Stargazer warriors will guide you across the forest to the site.”
Orry bowed to him, a bow which Harry had taught her. “Thank you, Mate Stargazer. We is in your debt.”
Bane shook his head. “No. You are a member of the forest nations now. When we stand together against the humans, there is no debt.”
“Limmy,” Harry asked, drawing her aside. “What is you doing now? Going back to the camp with them?”
She nodded. “I’s knowing the deep wood best, even better than Bane, I thinks. And I’s telling Sovereign Amaranth that I is returning with them. We haves a lot to do.” She hugged him tightly. “But I’s seeing you this summer.”
“I wish I had two sets of mirrors,” Harry said, squeezing her tightly. “How’s I going to survives without you bullying me all semester?”
She laughed. “You’s getting by. Draco is handling it. And Laila.” She sobered. “I is missing the babies. Please tell them.”
“Of course.” He hugged her one more time, adjusted her sparkly beret, and let her go. “Bane—Limmy Snakeheart is my sister.” Bane raised an eyebrow. “So,” he continued, “she is your family too. Please … just be careful.”
Bane ran a hand over his head gently, and then he bowed as Harry had never seen him bow to an outsider, hands to his heart. “Limmy Snakeheart,” he said. “As Snakeheart is my kin by fate, so are you. I will protect you as I would protect my own son.”
Limmy’s ears twitched, and she bowed back. “No need for that,” she said, punching Harry subtly in the thigh. “I’s thinking I does a good bit of protecting, myself.”
“I have no doubt,” said Bane. He looked to Harry again. “My son … sends his love.”
“I send mine,” said Harry. He hugged Limmy again, then Orry, then Limmy one last time. “Be safe, everyone. Please be safe.”
He watched them until they were all out of sight, disappearing silently through the snow-topped trees, almost ghostly. His heart ached briefly, and he ran his hands repetitively over his braid, soothing himself. They would be okay. With Limmy and Bane together, a combination he had never pictured, what in this forest would dare to trifle with them? Plus, there were fifteen unbound elves alongside them, with magic that would only grow stronger as they neared the deep wood.
Yes, he thought, nodding to himself. It was silly to worry about them, when there was so much more to worry about instead.
He put on his pendant and invisibility cloak, peering out of the woods to be sure those terrible dementors were gone. He still felt shaky. The aurors were picking themselves up, shouting and gesturing with wands drawn. They seemed to reach a consensus and turn towards the castle.
Doubly invisible, holding his breath, he followed.
They didn’t get farther than the entrance hall. Dumbledore stood with hands tucked into his sleeves, flanked by Severus and Minerva.
“Albus Dumbledore,” said Dawlish, the head auror that Harry had witnessed before. “An attack on aurors on Hogwarts grounds—”
“I witnessed no attack,” Dumbledore said gravely, “and I have no clue as to whom you could be attacking. And furthermore, while the Ministry’s new mandate may allow auror presence on the grounds, the additional presence of dementors constitutes a severe breach—”
Dawlish seized a scroll from his belt and whipped it open. “It constitutes nothing except new ministry policy, Dumbledore. Your continued harboring of the dangerous militant terrorist group calling itself the “liberated elves” is a breach of—“
This time Dumbledore cut him off. “There are no liberated elves at Hogwarts.”
Dawlish gaped at him. “The devil there aren’t. You have held this castle as a sanctuary for the last year—”
“Which I revoked yesterday morning after the Ministry’s declaration,” said Dumbledore, mild of tone but fiery of gaze. “Never let it be said the Hogwarts headmaster is disobedient to the minister’s whim. The only elves Hogwarts harbors are its own employees, and employed elves, by the minister’s own decree, are exempt from your purview.”
Dawlish opened and closed his mouth. “I demand to see proof!”
“Proof?” asked Minerva, speaking for the first time from Dumbledore’s shoulder. “You wish us to prove there are no terrorists lurking in Hogwarts? How shall we do so?”
“We were just attacked by elves!” roared Dawlish, spittle flying everywhere. “A fucking rainbow phoenix drove away my dementors!”
Severus, on Dumbledore’s other side, folded his arms. “You are suggesting there is another phoenix on Hogwarts grounds?”
“No—it was a patronus, Snape!”
“Dawlish,” said Dumbledore, “you know as well as I do that it is extremely rare for patronuses to take the form of a magical animal, and furthermore are never colorful. I know you know this, as I oversaw your defense exam myself.”
Dawlish drew himself up. “I demand to see every elf in the castle right now, with their employment contracts.”
Dumbledore inclined his head. “Very well. But you will have to come back in eight days’ time. You see, it is winter holiday, and my employees are on leave.”
“On leave!” Dawlish shouted. “On leave! Your employees are attacking ministry officials on Hogwarts grounds!”
“This cannot be,” said Dumbledore, “as all of my elven employees chose to holiday elsewhere, and as Hogwarts is longer harboring so-called “liberated elves.” I have no clue who “attacked” you, Dawlish, but you were the ones stalking my grounds at five in the morning two days after Christmas. With your talk of rainbow patronuses and the simple fact that dementors induce altered states of mind, I cannot help but conclude ….”
“What are you implying!”
Severus stepped forward. “He implied, Dawlish, that you are deluded. Now get off Hogwarts grounds.”
“I have leave to be here!”
“Yes, but do you have the poor sense to remain?”
With a snarl and a snap of his robes, Dawlish whirled around, shooting one more poisonous glare over his shoulder before leading his aurors, limping and dazed, from the castle.
A few beats passed, and then Dumbledore slumped, hand on his forehead. “I am too old for this.”
“Chin up,” said Minerva, slapping his back bracingly. “You wanted to go fight a dragon this holiday, Albus. I’d say this is a decent alternative.”
“Snakeheart?” hissed the basilisk, as he dragged himself into the den. “Is everyone alright?”
“Yes, somehow,” he said, curling by its head. The babies were tangled together, deeply asleep, in the center of the den. “There were these things called dementors.”
The basilisk hissed long and low and angry. “Anathema."
“What do you know about them?”
“They do not think. They do not feel. They only consume. Snakeheart, do not try them. They are nothing you can reach through word or deed. They will leave you a shell of anything resembling a being. Stay far away. ”
Harry shivered, remembering that woman screaming in his mind. “I’m so tired. Maybe I won’t go back for the spring term.”
The basilisk laughed gently. “So you say every winter and every summer, Snakeheart. I am told mammals do have the ability to discern behavioral patterns.”
“Rude,” Harry said, pulling his blanket over himself. “Very rude.”
<3 Next up: An important announcement
Chapter 2: Back to School
Absolutely thrilled by the response to Limmy's patronus, I've bee waiting ... er, 320k words now to debut it : D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry skulked out of Myrtle’s empty bathroom, pulling Áwere off and stuffing it in his bag. Myrtle’s absence could only mean one thing: the feast had already started, and he was late.
It wasn’t his fault. He would ask anyone who said so how they would respond, when begged by three precious hatchlings to read just one more story while they fell asleep on his lap.
Definitely not his fault. But that meant he had to get to the great hall right away. He began to jog, glancing outside—it was so hard to tell the time in January, the days went dark so quickly ….
Harry skidded around, to see Minerva gaping at him from an open doorway. “Er, hello, Min—uh, McGonagall.”
“Professor McGonagall,” she said. “What in Morgana’s name are you doing here?”
“I know I’m late for the feast,” Harry said, “I’m sorry—”
“Late for the feast? The train hasn’t even come into the bloody station yet!”
“Oh, well,” Harry said, desperately spinning words out of somewhere. “You see, I spent Christmas with Sirius and Remus and they dropped me in Hogsmeade and the train wasn’t there when we arrived so I assumed it had already been and gone—but when I got here I wanted to go visit Myrtle first off, even though I was supposed to go straight to the hall, so that’s why I’m here. Early.”
She stared at him. “Potter. Your father was an abominable liar. And I mean simply abominable. Once, he told me had been sneaking into the prefect’s bath to, and I quote, ‘assist with his gradual but painful transformation into a mermaid.’”
Harry giggled. “Um … okay?”
“Meaning,” McGonagall said, pressing two fingers to her temple, “you must have inherited the skill from someone else, leading me to seriously reconsider how often I took Lily Evans at her, at times severely far-fetched, word.”
She shook her head in exasperation. “Come with me, Potter.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“No. It’s not as if I can punish you for being here a few hours early—you are a castle ward, after all. But nor can I leave you to wander the castle. Hogwarts is not as safe at the moment as it used to be, Potter. The ministry has given aurors leave to enter the grounds at any time, and to enter the castle at any time that school is not in session. And that is not for another three hours, officially.”
Harry gulped, thinking of Dawlish and his dementors. “I’ll come with you.”
“Very good. I am sorting through old transfiguration notes; you may help if you wish.”
Inside the old classroom, notes were scattered around every surface; some even tacked to the walls and floating near the ceiling. “Unfortunately, finicky work is always best done manually,” said McGonagall. “If I were to use a spell to isolate a single word based on my handwriting, it would overlook anything, for example, written in script. You’re a smart lad, so I trust you to take your time—we are searching for anything that has mention of transfiguration of the body or soul.”
“Right,” Harry said, leaping and grabbing a scroll floating above his head. “Whose notes are these?”
“The past professors of transfiguration at Hogwarts. A deeply disorganized bunch. Anything promising goes here,” she pointed to a box, “and the rest, see if you can sort it by the author’s last name in these boxes, but if there is no name, just stick it in this one.”
“Alright.” Harry evaluated the paper. Onerus Walsh, Further Meditations on the Color-Size Principle. A brief evaluation revealed nothing to do with bodies or souls. He placed it in Walsh’s bin.
“Min—er, McGonagall?” he asked, after going through ten or so scrolls.
She glanced up at him. “Do I look like a school crony to you, Potter?”
He flushed. “Um. Professor McGonagall?”
“That’s better. What?”
“Well, do you ever let students help teach?”
“Occasionally,” she said, tossing a scroll in Albatross Keeley’s box. “Are you interested in student teaching, Potter?”
“No, actually. I was wondering about Myrtle.”
She blinked at him. “Myrtle?”
“Myrtle Warren? The ghost?”
“Oh—Myrtle, yes.” Her look was inscrutable.
“Binns is a ghost, and he teaches full time,” Harry said, ticking off his point on a finger. “Myrtle always wanted to be a teacher. And she was really good in Hagrid’s class. And … she needs a purpose. When I’m gone.”
“When you’re gone? You believe yourself to be her mortal anchor?”
Minerva considered these things, delicately adjusting her glasses. “How old is Miss Warren?”
“A bit young for student teaching.”
“Well, she’s never going to get any older,” Harry pointed out. “Please just give it a try, professor? She’s really smart. She’d do a good job.”
Minerva tapped a finger on her desk thoughtfully. “Very well, Potter, I shall think about ‘giving it a try.’”
“Really? Thank you!”
She held up a hand. “Don’t thank me yet.”
“Too late,” Harry grinned, and snatched another scroll from the air.
“Alright, Potter, I think it’s about time.” Minerva yawned and tossed a scroll into the “unspecified” box.
“Alright,” Harry said. “Professor, what’s Aelgen’s Paradox?”
“Something you are far too mischievous to warrant telling,” said Minerva, taking the scroll from him and throwing it into Aida Saintsal’s bin. “Off we go.”
Harry followed her down the stairs to the entrance hall, which was full of students filing towards the great hall for dinner. “Thanks, professor,” he said, spotting the gaggle of his friends. He took the bannister down, to Minerva’s half-hearted protest.
“Harry!” exclaimed Hermione, as he shoved his way into the middle of them. “You weren’t on the train or the carriages!”
“Yeah, I misjudged things,” Harry said, hugging everyone. “C’mon, I’m starving.”
They entered the great hall, but before the Gryffindors could split to their table, Harry took Hermione’s hand. She looked at him curiously. “Hermione—the thing you and Limmy worked on. It saved our lives.”
She beamed. “Oh, I’m so glad. I don’t know why, it just felt important somehow. Oh—but that means you were near dementors!”
“Shh! Don’t, er, tell anyone that?”
“Alright,” she said worriedly. “Did you eat chocolate, though, Harry? You’re supposed to eat chocolate after seeing dementors.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Harry, “but I did eat chocolate. Sirius got me kilos of it for Christmas; I’ve been having it for dinner.”
She frowned at him. “Harry, that’s incredibly bad for your teeth. What about dental hygiene?”
“I see a dentist,” he muttered. “Anyway, I won’t do it every night. I’ll run out soon.”
“Potter!” hollered Daphne from the Slytherin table. “Get over here!”
“Ugh, finally,” Daphne said, bouncing in her seat next to Draco. “Harry, did you get permission for me yet? Did you?”
“Sort of?” Harry sat down beside her, and across from Draco and Dobby, who had joined them. “Star’s mum wants to talk to your mum first. I’m to give you her address so your mum can owl.”
“Great!” Daphne said excitedly.
“Where are you going?” Draco asked, leaning forward with a frown. “Can I come?”
“Er, just to visit one of my friends,” Harry said. “And probably not, I think it’s a one-person exception, and that’s just ‘cause I’ve been badgering so much.”
Draco crossed his arms. “That’s not fair.”
Daphne rolled her eyes. “Life isn’t fair, Draco.”
“It isn’t being a good idea for you to goes anywhere right now anyway,” Dobby said, patting him on the arm. “With your father at large.”
Draco sighed. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Draco,” said Dobby, nodding towards the staff table. “You’s on.”
“Oh!” Draco rose from his seat and left them without another word.
“Where are you going!” Daphne called. There was no response. “Where’s he going?” she asked Dobby.
Dobby grinned. “You is seeing.”
At the head table, Dumbledore stood and rapped his wand on his podium for attention. “Good evening, students, good evening. Only a few announcements. I am sure you have all seen in the papers that Hogwarts is no longer a harbor for the ministry-designated “terrorist” organization known as the liberated elves—as such, all elves you see around the castle are staff or their dependents.
“Furthermore, the ministry has given aurors leave to enter the school grounds whenever they feel prudent … the grounds, and not the castle. No auror is to be admitted to the castle when school is in session. You are not required to speak to any auror who approaches you on school grounds. If you feel an auror is pressuring you into speaking or attempting to get you to reveal information, make your way into the castle and find a professor at once. Additionally …”
Dumbledore sighed, and for a brief moment his face looked unutterably weary. “Additionally, the ministry has given aurors leave to collaborate with the beings known as dementors. Dementors are prohibited from coming within one hundred feet of Hogwarts students. Even so, please take the utmost safety. The aurors are not required to give any warning of dementor presence on school grounds.
“All outdoor classes will now be taking place indoors when possible. Herbology students will assemble in the entrance hall and be escorted to class. All quidditch practices will be supervised by Madam Hooch. If not for the fact that I believe strongly in the necessity of youthful freedom, I would be imposing restrictions on even exiting the castle without adult supervision. Please, please, keep these measures in mind. If you feel unsafe, find a professor.”
There were several moments of heavy silence. Harry felt slightly sick.
Dumbledore clapped his hands together, creating a shower of green sparks. “Now! On to happier things! Mr. Draco Black would like to make an announcement to the school population!”
Murmured whispers about Draco’s name change flurried across the house tables, and then Draco was climbing nervously up to the podium. He was much too short to reach, so Dumbledore conjured a stool for him to stand on. He looked back briefly at Narcissa at the house table, and then folded his hands and addressed the hall.
“Yes, hello, everyone. Please listen carefully. I’m pleased to announce the commencement of Hogwarts School’s very first queer alliance. It’s a club for queer students, staff, and professors, and those who support them. Um. I’m the president. So’s Lovegood. We are co-presidents, that is.” Draco tugged at his earlobe, then re-settled himself. “Right. The QA is interspecies and intergenerational. Everyone is welcome. We’re going to have guests like Remus Lupin—”
There was a hiss of excited muttering from the crowd. Draco straightened up a little.
“And also a reading group. And we were going to do field trips but those have all been canceled, obviously. Anyway. We’ll meet Saturday afternoons in the ground-floor courtyard. If you have any questions, talk to me or Luna. Or Professor Flitwick, our faculty sponsor.” He cleared his throat. “Um, thank you.”
Dumbledore led the hall in a round of applause, and Draco slid back into his seat, pink-faced and grinning.
“Good job, Draco!” Daphne said. “I’ll definitely come.”
“I think it’s really cool,” said Millicent, leaning down from the table. “Nice, Draco.”
Harry gave him a thumbs up. Draco beamed.
Five of spades, eight of spades, king of hearts, king of hearts … king of spades?
Harry frowned, glancing from his cipher sheet to the deck of cards laid out in front of him on his bed. R-U-M-M-Z, they spelled. Looking through his remaining hand, he lay down a jack of clubs: ?
The response was quick to come: two of diamonds. Mirror.
Rolling his eyes, Harry picked up his mirror and whispered, “Stargazer Araeo.”
Araeo’s dark, speckled face appeared in the reflection, frowning with irritation. “It says ‘rummy’,” he said. “As in, want to play?”
“It doesn’t say rummy,” Harry argued, brandishing their cipher sheet. “It says rummz.”
Araeo rolled his foggy blue eyes. “And you couldn’t have figured it meant ‘rummy’?”
“No,” Harry snapped, before snorting with laughter. He fell back onto his pillows and held the mirror up over his head.
Araeo’s frown turned into a fond smile. “Where are you?”
“Bed.” Harry turned the mirror around to show Araeo the inside of his bed hangings. “Everyone’s asleep, I think.”
“We’re not!” shouted Blaise from the next bed over. “Because someone keeps giggling and talking to his dumb boyfriend!”
Harry dropped the mirror in surprise. “Shut—shut up, Blaise!” he yelled. “It’s only nine o’clock! He’s not my boyfriend!”
“Oh, sorry!” Blaise said. “Spiritual heart-mate, then, much better.”
Harry furiously resisted the urge to hex him. He picked up the mirror and peeked into it again, to see Araeo laughing silently.
“This is why we have the cipher,” Harry hissed, pulling his pillow half-over his head. “Is your father okay?”
Araeo nodded. “Yes. He returned this morning. He is tired but well. The el—ah, your friends, arrived safely. Our guests will join them as soon as there is the infrastructure.”
“Good,” Harry said. He stared at Araeo for a moment, still not used to seeing him through the mirror. “This was the best gift ever.”
“I am inclined to agree,” said Araeo, eyes soft. His fingertips came briefly into the reflection for a moment. “Are you ready for spring semester?”
“I suppose,” Harry sighed. “As ready as I ever am. One of these days, I’ll have had enough.”
“Ha,” called Draco. “As if.”
Furiously, Harry put down the mirror and stuck his head out of the curtains. “Could I have a moment of privacy, please, from anyone in this dorm?”
“No,” said Blaise, “because you’re in our shared bedroom. For Merlin’s sake, take it somewhere else, Potter.”
“You’re all horrid,” Harry said, sequestering himself again. He looked down at Araeo in despair. “Back to the cipher?”
“Back to the cipher,” agreed Araeo. “Talk to you tomorrow. Find a better place, Snake—ah, Harry.”
It was just bizarre to hear Araeo call him ‘Harry.’ “Yeah,” he said. “Bye, Star.”
Araeo winked at him, and his reflection vanished from the mirror. On the bed, their cards began to shuffle themselves in a showy bridge. Harry rolled his eyes, smiled, and picked up his hand.
<3 Next up: someone unexpected :)
Chapter 3: Cuthbert
Happy Sunday! : D
“Where are we now?”
“Shh. Fourth floor.”
“Shh. Told you. History.”
“History of what?”
“Shh. History of Magic.”
“What kind of magic?”
“Who are you shushing, Harry?”
Harry shrieked and nearly careened into the wall; Hermione snatched him deftly back. “Oh, honestly.”
“Honestly!” Harry shouted. “Where did you come from!”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Just down the corridor, obviously. You’re very high-strung lately, Harry.”
Harry glared at her. “What are you doing, you have transfiguration right now, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ve already—” Hermione’s eyes widened. “I mean—yes, of course, transfiguration. Right, I’ll go in a moment. I just wanted to talk to you.”
Harry subtly adjusted his scarf and tried not to giggle as Ifingr curled around his neck. “Yeah?”
“Well, it’s just, do you have a way to talk to Limmy? With everything that happened I didn’t get a chance to see her again before she had to—um, to go.” She looked downcast. “I really miss her.”
“Oh.” Harry bumped his shoulder into hers. “I miss her too, Hermione. And I’m sorry, but I don’t. Maybe—oh, maybe you could include a little secret letter for her in the paper, like Draco did for me.”
“That’s a really good—hang on, that’s a brilliant idea!” Hermione took him by the arms. “More than just—is that a snake?”
“No!” Harry furiously wound his scarf tighter about his neck. “It’s a necklace!”
Hermione raised one eyebrow.
“Okay, fine,” Harry hissed. “Come here.” He hauled her into a window alcove, peering uneasily out until the hallway was empty. “You can’t tell anyone, alright, but I’m a parselmouth.”
She put a hand to her mouth. “Like Voldemort?”
He nodded. “It’s something I was born knowing how to do. I, um, made friends with a little snake and it wanted to go to classes with me. Will you please keep it secret?”
“That’s so sweet,” Hermione cooed. She jerked his scarf to the side a bit, face melting when she saw Ifingr looped around Harry’s neck, face tucked into its coils. “Oh, look at him.”
“It,” Harry said.
She frowned. “That’s rather dehumanizing.”
“It isn’t human. Snakes don’t have gender.”
“Then why not use ‘they’?”
“‘They’ isn’t necessarily genderless, Hermione, it’s just nonbinary, don’t you remember Draco’s last lecture?” They both took a moment to breathe a deep sigh of relief at the thought of Draco having a new audience for queer education in the QA. “It’s like this, right? Snakes are more like … they’re more like stones than birds.”
She tilted her head. “Stones?”
“They’re natural, they’re—elemental. Do you understand? Snakes are, like stones are, and stars are. Especially this snake.”
“What’s so special about … it?”
“Nothing at all,” said Harry, covering Ifingr again carefully. It hadn’t said a word or moved an inch since being revealed. Pride welled up in him. “I’ve got to get to class.”
“Harry!” Hermione reached out a hand, eyes wide and dark and caring. “It’s not so bad a thing, being born different. You don’t have to hide it.”
He smiled and clasped her hand for a warm moment. “One day I won’t. But that’s not the only secret I’m hiding. Thanks, Hermione.”
“What kind of magic?”
Harry cracked open the door to Binn’s classroom just as the clock struck nine. Normally, this would not matter. Today, however, there was a voice he had never heard before speaking animatedly to the class, and Daphne and Draco turned to him as one with wide eyes from their middle row.
Hurrying to take his seat between them, he tried to understand what was happening. Who was the man at Binns’ desk? Had they gotten a new teacher?
“Ah, Potter, good of you to join us,” said the man, standing on top of his desk, hands on his hips. “I assume you were thirty seconds late because you were making the utmost of your short time as an embodied soul on this plane?”
“Um …” Harry stared at him. The man was shimmering. His hands were sinking into his hips. His grin was a little too wide. He was a ghost.
He was indeed Professor Binns.
“Well, Potter?” cried Binns, throwing an arm out to him. “Were you squeezing the juice out of your precious corporeal time like you were juicing the orange of life?!”
“Just say yes,” Draco hissed.
“Professor!” Binns cried, rising from his desk in a whirlwind of notes which scattered about the room and hit the first-row-ers in the face. “Professor! What a drab term! What a pale way to address a mentor, a counselor—nay, a guide! From now on, I will answer to nothing but ‘Cuthbert’!”
Harry looked at Daphne, her eyes huge behind her green frames. “What did you do?” she hissed.
“Why do you think this is my fault?”
“Everything’s always your fault!” she said, entirely correctly.
“Everyone!” shouted Cuthbert. “Pick up your schoolbooks! Pick them up, go on! Now rip them in half! History isn’t read about, it is experienced! From now on, we are experiencing history, just like we experience life! For a certain definition of life!”
“This book cost ten sickles!” protested Millicent.
“Here!” Cuthbert took a random armload of his jumbled notes and dumped them in front of her. “It is the intention that matters, Miss Bulstrode, in everything! And I intend to teach you pupils, you blank slates, what history truly is! Now, rip! Rip!”
Gleefully, Harry tore the cover from his five-sickle-bin history textbook, the only one he’d never bothered to replace, for he was sure it wouldn’t matter one whit.
“Yes!” shouted Vince suddenly. “Yes!” He clambered onto his desk and began tearing pages from his book, tossing them down onto Blaise’s head. “Stupid book! I’m going to do all my textbooks!”
“That’s the spirit!” howled Cuthbert. “This semester, we are going to live! In the metaphorical sense of the word only!”
“Don’t hm. Turn around.”
Myrtle turned around, pouting. “Hey, Snake—don’t look at me like that! What did I do! Oh, hello baby!”
“Is it okay to talk?” Ifingr hissed softly.
“It’s just Myrtle,” Harry said. “Sure. Thank you for asking. And you.” He pointed at Myrtle as she came over to coo over the snakeling. “He made us stand on our heads.”
“You told me to snap him out of it,” Myrtle said, glaring at him. “You told me. It was your idea.”
Harry sighed, defeated, and walked over to the sink, pouring Ifingr down into the basin.
“Hey,” Myrtle said, turning her hands solid so Ifingr could coil around them. “Snake. I know what you did.”
“What, got a massive headache from all the blood in my body rushing to my head?”
Myrtle floated cross-legged in the air. “McGonagall offered me a trial position as a teaching assistant in History of Magic and Herbology. Just in first and second year classes for now.”
“Myrtle, that’s wonderful” Harry said, grinning. “Did you accept?”
She twirled Ifingr’s tail around her fingers. “Of course I accepted. Snake … I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything!”
“Because ‘thank you’ seems like too little, for the person who woke me up, became my first friend, avenged my death, got me out of my toilet, and gave me a purpose in death.”
Harry crossed his arms. “I did, like, two of those things. And one of those is because it takes two people to be best friends. You got out of your toilet yourself, and you give yourself purpose. I’m just … facilitating.”
She squinted her eyes at him, scratching Ifingr’s head. “Facilitating.”
Harry nodded. “Facilitating.”
“Facilitating,” hissed Ifingr.
She grinned. “Yeah, alright. By the way, you have to start calling me “Professor Warren” around other students.”
He laughed bright. “I’ll never call you anything else ever again.”
“Professor Warren,” hissed Ifingr. “Can I stay with you while Snakeheart flies?”
“Oh, baby, I’m afraid not,” said Myrtle, pressing little ghost-kisses to its body. “Professor Warren has a class to help teach.”
“You can find your way home, right?” Harry asked it.
Ifingr wriggled in the bowl of the sink. “I don’t wanna! Snakeheart, take me to fly!”
“You might fall out of my robes while I’m in the air; it’s too dangerous. Plus, there are dementors out there.”
Ifingr sulked, sticking its head up the tap. “What are dementors?”
“I’m not really sure. Creatures that eat souls.”
“Do I have a soul?”
Harry considered the question, glancing at Myrtle, who just shrugged. “I don’t know. Ask the basilisk. When you get home: now go, before someone comes in.”
Ifingr huffed. “No one but Myrtle comes in here.”
“Sometimes the twins do too,” Harry said. “Now go. I love you.”
“Love you!” echoed Ifingr, and quick as a flash, disappeared into the drain.
“I adore that snake,” said Myrtle softly.
Harry scratched the back of his neck. “I wasn’t sure you would, you know. After what happened.”
“Oh, you mean after the basilisk killed me?” Myrtle asked, her neck twisting to the side, eyes going hollow. Then she grinned, and her visage settled back into normal ghostly alignment. “No worries, Snake. I’ve known for a long time that Tom was the one to blame. And really, who could resist eyes like those?”
“Er, why do you have two brooms?”
Harry grinned at Ron as he hopped off the banister, landing next to him in the entrance hall. “Sirius got me a Firebolt for Christmas.”
“A Firebolt?” Ron’s eyes bulged. “Merlin’s pants—can I touch it?”
“You can,” Harry said, passing it over. “But also, I don’t need two brooms. Do you want my Nimbus?”
Ron stared at him. His hands clenched white-knuckled over the Firebolt’s handle. To Harry’s surprise, his gaze was completely blank. “Are you joking?”
Hesitantly, Harry shook his head. “I just thought you might like a broom of your own instead of using the school brooms.”
“Do you … know how much the Nimbus costs?”
“Well yes, I bought it in the first place.” Harry shrugged. “But the Firebolt is a better seeker’s broom, and the Nimbus is a generalist, so I thought you might like it—since you’ve been practicing keeping, as well as chasing.”
Ron’s face was going very red. “I don’t want—I don’t need your charity, Harry. I can get by on the school brooms.”
Harry blinked. “Charity?”
Ron frowned deeply. “Don’t be stupid.”
That was right—Ron’s family didn’t have much money; he remembered Ron’s frequent spats with Draco in the early days of their friendship. Hurriedly, he said, “It’s not charity. I just thought you’d like it. Um, money doesn’t really … make a lot of sense to me. I don’t care about it very much.”
“Because you’re filthy rich!” Ron burst out, face bright red.
Harry scowled at him. “Because I never had any in my entire life until I found out my dead parents left me some in first year. Ron, I’d never even bought anything until I had to start looking between flagstones for coins to buy my terrible used school books with. I live in a—” He bit his lip. A cave, he’d been about to say. “Look, if you don’t want the broom, I’ll just give it to Ginny.” And held turned to go.
“What!” Ron yelped. “No way, I’m her older brother! Oh, Merlin, fine. Harry. Sorry, alright, I forgot.”
Harry turned back, smiling. “So you do want it?”
“Yes, I want it,” Ron groaned, a smile growing over his face. He swapped Harry’s Firebolt back and ran his hands over the Nimbus with stars in his eyes. “Merlin, Harry. Thank you.”
“Are you joking?” shrieked Ginny, flying down the banister to catapult into Ron’s shoulder. “Potter, you gave my dumb brother your broom? You have a Firebolt?”
Harry grinned, propping it over his shoulder. “That’s right. Ready to see what it can do?”
Ginny scowled ferociously as they headed out of the entrance hall. “You could have the fanciest broom in the world, Potter—”
“He does,” interrupted Ron.
“—but I’m still going to beat you,” she finished.
“Oh Ginevra,” Harry teased, Ginny’s face going as red as Ron’s. “It’s the flyer, not the broom.”
Ginny punched him.
It was a cold, clear January day outside, and Harry mounted his Firebolt immediately, drawing lazy circles around Ron and Ginny as they made for the pitch.
They were not, technically, supposed to be out unsupervised, but it was too beautiful a day to waste. There was not a dementor or auror in sight, only a bright blue sky and their own thick, cloudy breath. They liberated a broom for Ginny and a quaffle from the broom shed, and took to the air.
Harry had missed this. Quidditch was one thing that his other friends couldn’t join him for. The thought of Ava or Araeo on a broom was laughable, and Limmy could care less about sports.
They played catch for a while and then moved on to drilling passing sequences, and then Ron posted up in front of the goals for Ginny and Harry to fire on him. He was hoping to make keeper next year.
After he had blocked five or six shots, Ginny pulled Harry to the side. They hovered, brooms clenched between their legs, and talked strategy.
“Right,” Ginny said, throwing a glance back at a gloating Ron spinning slowly upside-down. “He’s going to be insufferable unless we start scoring.”
“What do you suggest?” Harry asked, tucking his sweaty hair behind his ear—his braid was coming undone.
“Remember that feint we practiced before winter holiday?”
“Exactly.” She raised an eyebrow. “Think you can manage it without falling off your broom?”
“Hey!” Harry said indignantly. “You were the one who gave me an extra half-spin!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ginny passed the quaffle between her hands. “Ready, Potter?”
“Bring it on, Weasley.”
They faced Ron from half-field, who straightened up and scowled at them. “Done gossiping?”
Ginny just pointed menacingly at him. She counted down softly under her breath: “Three, two, one—”
They broke away from each other, Harry high and right, Ginny low and left. At quarter-field, they fell towards each other in a steep arc, and Ginny passed him the ball—but she didn’t release it, she held on as she flew sharply backwards, and when she let go he was spinning rapidly through the air.
Ron let out a shout of surprised laughter, and Harry, growing dizzy, managed to launch the quaffle exactly where he knew Ginny would be—just under him. Ron was so focused on Harry pinwheeling through space that he missed the quaffle sailing right over his head.
“Alright,” Ron groaned, “that’s obviously cheating—” He cut off sharply.
“Ron?” Harry asked, slowly spinning to a halt. “Is everything—”
But everything was going dark and cold.
“Get to the ground!” shouted Ginny, from very far away.
Harry couldn’t even see her anymore, much less the ground. He was shivering, shivering so hard his teeth were chattering and his hands were clenching around his broomstick—
Someone was screaming. A woman was screaming. He was screaming.
T R A D E
His hands hurt, he tried to pull them away but he couldn’t—they were stuck to the trunk of the tree.
T R A D E
No, no, no—not again, not again—he yanked backwards with all his might, and his hands came free from the tree at last—
He was falling into screaming, icy blackness.
Chapter 4: Pensieve
Sorry for the cliffhanger, folks :) (Not actually; I love cliffhangers haha)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry came down hard against a familiar broad chest, Hagrid’s knees buckling under his weight. “Stars above,” Hagrid groaned. “Harry, Harry, are you awake? Say something.”
Where was he? What was happening? “What’s—”
“Oh, thank Merlin.”
“Back to the castle!” shouted Minerva, who was there too, apparently. “Weasleys, Potter, Hagrid, at once! To the headmaster! Expecto patronum!”
Hagrid rose again and began to run. Harry shook his head furiously, trying to remember what was happening. “Hagrid, what’s—? Put me down!”
Instead, Hagrid gripped him tighter.
“Harry?” Ginny gasped, from somewhere below Hagrid’s right elbow. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, where’s Ron—”
“I’m here,” Ron said, from Hagrid’s other side. “I have the brooms.”
Harry twisted until he could see behind Hagrid’s shoulder, saw Minerva’s silhouette, casting something silvery as those creatures, those dementors, hovered on the pitch—three of them, facing Minerva’s glimmering cat—
“Hagrid!” Harry shouted, struggling in his arms. “We have to help!”
“We help by getting Dumbledore,” Hagrid said grimly. “None of us can do anything against them.”
Ron and Ginny sprinted ahead and held the castle doors open, and Hagrid barreled inside, Harry in his arms. The moment they were in, Hagrid dropped Harry gently to the ground—Ron and Hermione caught him—and slammed his staff into the flagstones, roaring, “ALBUS DUMBELDORE!”
A great ripple of magic flowed through the castle. Dumbledore spun into existence in an instant, wand already drawn. “Hagrid!”
“Dementors at the pitch,” Hagrid reported. “Attacked Harry, Minerva’s there alone.”
Dumbledore’s face was a thundercloud. He seized Ron’s shoulder. “Mr. Weasley, take the others to my office. The password is ‘treacle tart.’ Do not leave until I come back. Wait for us.”
And, Hagrid at his side, they dashed back towards the pitch.
“Come on,” Ron said grimly, tugging Harry along. “Hurry.”
Harry between the two Weasleys, they made their way to Dumbledore’s office, the gargoyles silently lifting the door for them at Ron’s command.
The portraits on Dumbledore’s walls watched them silently. Not even Fawkes was here.
“Ginny,” Ron said gently. “Hey, come on, sit down. You too, Harry.”
Ginny was crying, silent shudders rocking through her body. Though he was woozy still, Harry helped Ron guide her into a chair, rubbing her shoulder. “What happened?” he murmured, as Ron forced him up again and into a chair of his own, disappearing for a moment.
“Dementors,” said Ron, coming back with a chocolate bar pilfered from somewhere. He broke it into three pieces, and Harry wasted no time shoving his in his mouth. “Don’t know where they came from, even. Just showed up, and then you were falling—Harry, what happened? Why did you fall?”
Harry shook his head. “I can’t even remember. I thought I was somewhere else.”
Ginny took a shuddering breath around her chocolate. “I felt so cold, like I’d never be warm again. Are you okay, Ron?”
Ron was very pale, his hands trembling faintly. “I’m okay,” he said. “The dementors, though, Dumbledore said they’re not supposed to attack students!”
Harry scrubbed his face with his hands. A horrible thought occurred to him: maybe this was his fault. Maybe the dementors recognized him from before. He felt cold and clammy and horrid and useless.
He stood up, pacing slowly around the room as Ron comforted Ginny. He wished Fawkes was here. He wanted the basilisk, or his aunts, or Araeo. Sniffing, he passed by Dumbledore’s shelves of trinkets, spinning softly and emitting light. He watched them mindlessly for a moment, enchanted by their slow movements.
And there a low shelf … oh. He’d seen that before.
It was a stone bowl of milky-white liquid, within which indistinct forms moved. Two figures, he thought, and both of them were—oddly familiar, though he could make out no distinct characteristics. He leaned closer to see.
“Harry,” Ron said, “be careful with that stuff.”
Ginny looked over. “Yeah, you don’t know—”
His nose touched the liquid and he didn’t even realize he’d gotten that close. And then he was somewhere else entirely.
Somewhere else, with a familiar figure.
“Professor Trelawney?” Harry asked. “Where are we?”
Trelawney looked blankly around them. They were in a dingy little room somewhere, curtain drawn over the window, a few bare candles lit. She looked like part of the bedspread come to life, in a faded purple robe and a huge oversized coat. Her eyes behind her round glasses were wide and unfocused.
“I don’t know,” she murmured.
“Pardon?” said another voice.
Harry whirled around, to see Dumbledore sitting there on the opposite bed, knees pulled up, arms wrapped around them. “Professor?”
“Sybil, what don’t you know?” He looked much younger, for some reason.
“I’m not talking to you,” Trelawney mumbled.
“Have you thought about my offer?” Dumbledore asked. “Of employment?”
“Professor Dumbledore, what’s going on?” Harry asked. He waved his hand in front of Dumbledore’s face, but he didn’t react. He wasn’t really there somehow. Or Harry wasn’t really there. Fear seized his heart; he waved his hand harder.
“He can’t see you,” said Trelawney.
“Pardon?” Dumbledore asked again.
Harry whirled around. Trelawney was staring, unfocused, through him. “Can you see me, Professor?”
“It’s just the Snake,” Trelawney said. “He’s watching.”
“The snake?” Dumbledore leaned forward. “Dear Sybil, do you mean Voldemort?”
Trelawney gave a high, sharp laugh. “Him, the Snake?” She turned amused eyes on Harry. “Can you imagine?”
“I’m confused,” Harry whispered.
“Sybil,” Dumbledore said. “Please, come live at Hogwarts. I cannot bear to see you like this. You need stability, safety. Perhaps then the visions will settle.”
Trelawney blinked, eyes focusing on Dumbledore. “Yes, I—I did come for that reason. To say I accept.”
“I am so happy to hear that,” said Dumbledore, honest relief in his voice. “So relieved. I don’t wish to scare you, but I have heard rumors that Voldemort seeks you—”
“He’ll not like what he finds,” said Trelawney, and her eyes began to fog over lilac. Harry moved closer, intrigued despite his incomprehension of the situation—she was about to give a prophecy.
Dumbledore could see it too. Eagerly, he leaned forward. “What won’t he like?” he asked quietly.
Trelawney’s eyes went pure lilac, staring right at Harry. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”
A chill shuddered through Harry. Trelawney came out of the prophecy with a gasp, falling forward onto her knees, breathing heavy. Dumbledore was still as stone opposite her. “Sybil,” he said gravely. “Do you remember what you just told me?”
She gave a choking laugh, the most real sound Harry had ever heard her make. “Albus Dumbledore, I remember every word I ever say. It’s everyone else who seems to forget.”
And then something fuzzed about the room, and Dumbledore and Trelawney shifted slightly, and Harry was back beside Dumbledore where he had originally appeared.
“I don’t know,” murmured Trelawney.
“Pardon? Sybil, what don’t you know?”
It was repeating. This wasn’t the present, it was something else, and Harry was trapped. Frantically, he tried to pull open the door of the room, but it wouldn’t budge. Nor could he open the curtains. Panic started to overtake him as Trelawney and Dumbledore continued their exchange—
“Oh, my boy,” said a second Dumbledore, suddenly standing right beside him as he tried to wrench the grate from the fireplace. “How long have you been here?”
Harry looked up at him in relief, and saw that he looked tired and drawn and sad, his hair messy and robe askew. “Only one go-round,” he said. “Where are we?”
“A memory,” said Dumbledore sadly. “One I hoped you would never see. Shall we exit?”
“Yes, please.” Harry took his magical hand, and then they were out of the memory, back in the office. Ginny and Ron let out twin shouts of relief, hugging him. “I’m alright,” Harry said. “Sorry, sorry!”
“You scared us to death!” Ginny shrieked.
“Merlin’s pants,” said Ron. “Do we have to have two incidents in one evening? Isn’t one enough for you?”
“Sorry,” Harry said again, feeling disoriented and cold still. He turned to Dumbledore. “Is it safe?”
Dumbledore looked graver then he’d ever seen him. “It is safe, for now. Severus is on his way.”
When had that become such a comfort?
“Professor, why did they attack us?” Ginny asked.
Dumbledore shook his head slowly. “I have no idea, Miss Weasley. But rest assured it will not happen again.”
“Why?” Ron asked.
“Because I will either see them removed from Hogwarts grounds by tomorrow, or see all students sent home. Now, let’s call your mother.”
“What!” Ginny shrieked.
“Why!” Ron demanded.
Dumbledore stared them both down. “Please take your seats, children. All of you. You have been attacked on school grounds; of course I must contact your parents. Drink your tea.”
“What tea?” Ron demanded. But there was tea on the desk when they turned to look.
Reluctantly, the three of them curled in armchairs and drank tea and ate chocolate biscuits while Dumbledore stuck his head in the fireplace. Before he was done with his firecall, Severus came stampeding into the office, looking drawn and pale—paler than usual, making him appear ghostly rather than his standard vampiric. He lay a shaking hand on Harry’s shoulder and did nothing else for a long time, but it was enough for Harry to take a deep breath and feel a tightly-coiled tension leave his spine.
“Oh, Ron! Ginny!”
“Mum!” they shouted, and they were up from their chairs and embracing a woman who had just come through the fireplace. Mrs. Weasley was a plump woman with cascading red curls, wearing a faded red dress and black boots. She clutched her children to her, pressing frantic kisses to the tops of their heads. “My babies,” she whispered, “attacked by dementors, oh Merlin, thank god you’re safe—”
“We were fine,” Ron said, muffled against her shoulder. “It’s Harry they went for.”
Mrs. Weasley raised her gaze to look at Harry. “Oh—Harry Potter!” There were tears in her eyes. “Oh, love, you look just like your parents.”
Of all the things Harry had been expecting her to say, that was not it. Something unidentifiable but profound lodged in his throat. “Um.” Severus squeezed his shoulder.
“Please sit,” Dumbledore said, conjuring chairs for Mrs. Weasley and Severus. “The aurors should arrive soon.”
Severus scowled. “You truly think their presence will invoke any manner of productivity?”
“I do,” said Dumbledore gravely. “I firecalled Kingsley Shacklebolt personally. And furthermore, the representative of the Board of Governors is also on her way.”
Mrs. Weasley brightened. “Not Cynthia Abbot?”
“Indeed. I have faith in Madam Abbot’s ability to, as it were, pull the ministry’s ear when it comes to the safety of students.”
Kingsley Shacklebolt and Madam Abbot arrived within moments of each other. If Kingsley was the eye of a hurricane, Cynthia Abbot was the whirling winds about him that leveled towns. A petite woman who was nondescript but for the decibel at which she could make herself heard, she came in shouting and didn’t stop until she left, Kingsley at her side, to convene an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors.
“Professor Dumbledore, I will be taking Ronald and Ginevra home for the evening,” Mrs. Weasley said.
“You may have the weekend,” Dumbledore said tiredly.
“No!” Ginny squeaked. “It’s the QA meeting on Sunday!”
“Back by Sunday morning, then,” Mrs. Weasley said. “All right?”
Both of them looked quite relieved to be going home. “Thank you, headmaster,” Mrs. Weasley said, gathering her children up. “And Harry, it was very good to meet you.”
Harry nodded drowsily, watched them whirl away in a sort of exhausted trance.
“Harry,” said Dumbledore, voice so utterly depleted. “We must talk about …”
“Albus,” said Severus, “the boy is asleep on his feet. Surely whatever you must speak about can be postponed.”
“Right … you are right, of course,” Dumbledore said. “Harry—sleep well.”
Severus guided him down from Dumbledore’s office. “Tea or bed, Mr. Potter?”
“Tea please,” said Harry, though he was exhausted. He was still cold down to his very bones. Severus ushered him silently to his office, gave him more chocolate and cinnamon tea and a blue throw blanket with a hole that fit squarely over his knee. He picked at the edges of it and tried to stay awake.
Harry raised his eyes to Severus’ dark, exhausted gaze. “Why do I faint? When they come near? Why do I see things?”
Severus shook his head slowly. “I can only hypothesize, Mr. Potter, that it is because you have … much darker memories, than most children. For that is what dementors do: they bring forth your worst fears and memories. I—I am sorry that this is the case.”
“I heard a woman screaming,” Harry said. “I’ve heard her before, when I was dying.”
Severus’ eyes snapped up. “Dying?”
He nodded drowsily. “Once, I had a very bad fever. I almost died. I heard her then. Is it my mother?”
Severus’ eyes were infinitely sad. “I don’t know. I hope not.”
Harry knew that it was. “I heard my mum. And I heard the thing that almost killed me.”
“The dark lord?”
Harry shook his head slowly. “No. Something very old and very strange and very deep.”
Severus nodded distantly, looking troubled.
“What do you think about prophecy, Severus?”
Severus went completely rigid, face taking on a downright chalky pallor. “Prophecy?” he repeated, through thin lips. “Why?”
Harry shrugged. “Just wondering.”
“I—” Severus shook his head. “Prophecy has never done me any favors, Mr. Potter. It has only ever caused me grief. I would advise you to stay away from it.”
Harry laughed. “Too late for that.” He sighed, staring into his teacup, and absently paraphrased one of Firenze’s teachings. “Anyway, prophecy doesn’t have intentions. It just is. It is the interpretation of prophecy that causes harm or good.”
“Very astute,” said Severus thinly, looking utterly disturbed. “Any more questions for me tonight?”
“Only one,” said Harry, closing his eyes. “Can I sleep here? I don’t think I can make it back.”
<3 Next up: past and future.
Chapter 5: Old History
The last scene in this chapter is one of the only ones in this fic I have actually agonized over doing justice. I hope it comes through <3
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies …
“Harry,” Hermione hissed. “Pay attention.”
“Harry!” Hermione nudged him in the side.
Harry blinked back to awareness in the incense-filled attic classroom, swaying slightly. “What?”
“Thank you for joining us, Peverell,” said Trelawney, uncharacteristically impatient. “Would you care to enlighten us with your response?”
Oops. He wracked his brain, trying to recall what she’d asked him, but no luck.
“Um. Sorry, Professor. Can you repeat the question?”
She sighed. “Very well. Please, Prewett, tell us why we use a crystal ball as a medium rather than, say, an upside-down spoon?”
“Yes, Professor. Crystal balls are created from substances that are magically conductive, or come from powerfully magical places in the earth. It’s not our magic that we’re using to See when we look into a crystal ball; it’s the magic inside the crystal itself. You could use an upside-down spoon, I guess, if the metal had powerful magic already.”
Trelawney blinked, smiled, and said nothing more about his lapse. “Entirely correct, Mr. Pellinor. Now, I would like everyone to focus on their crystal balls.”
He and Hermione leaned over their crystal ball. “So unfair that Ron got to go home instead of go to divination,” Hermione muttered.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? You could too if you like. Just go visit the dementors.”
She huffed at him, rolling her eyes. “Where’s your snake today?”
“They don’t like the incense.”
Harry put a hand to his head. Honestly, none of this was his fault. It was the dementors’ fault, and the memory’s fault, for stealing his whole night’s sleep and leaving him drained and exhausted and still so very cold and also confused. He ignored Hermione’s look and put his head down on the desk, staring into the crystal ball as Trelawney walked them through the best way to gaze into the clouds within. Harry and Hermione’s ball swirled opalescent. In it, Harry saw Araeo’s uncanny gaze.
He wished Araeo were here.
… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives …
There was no use denying it, he thought foggily, staring into the depths. What else would cause Dumbledore to look at him with such sadness in that memory? Who else had Voldemort marked the night he died?
Idly, Harry traced his branching scar, remembering when it had burned. So long ago, when his head had split open and he had traded away a part of himself ….
… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …
“I’m going to dim the lights,” Trelawney said, voice a susurrus of fabric, a whisper of wind. “Look deep into the crystal balls. Let your mind empty, to be filled by the penetrating magic of the crystal.”
Mocking murmurs and titters erupted. Harry tuned them out. He let his troubled throughs puff up and out like potions fumes. Trelawney moved among them, adjusting, interpreting, and he remembered her in Dumbledore’s memory. Frayed. Speaking to him.
Albus Dumbledore, I remember every word I ever say. It’s everyone else who seems to forget.
Did she remember that day? Did she remember so long ago, when she had seen bone and blood and stars?
Hermione gave an exasperated little huff and crossed her arms. Harry blinked slowly. That day, Trelawney’s eyes had been lilac like her crystal ball. Her hand a claw, digging into his shoulder. Harry wouldn’t forget. Not him. The crystal ball swirled and swirled.
T R A D E
Not again. No, no, not again—but the coldness didn’t come, only the slow lilac swirl of the clouds.
He had heard that before, hadn’t he? Where?
T R A D E—
Why wouldn’t it leave him alone—
willingly sacrificed— T R A D E— forcibly taken—
“Harry!” Someone jostled his shoulder. “Wake up!”
Harry blinked. Lilac clouds dissipated from his vision. Hermione’s face was in front of his. “Harry, you fell asleep.”
“Fell asleep!” cried Trelawney. “My dear girl, didn’t you see the crystal ball? Mr. Pucey was not asleep, he was Seeing.”
Hermione snorted. “His eyes were closed. He was snoring. The ball wasn’t doing anything.”
Trelawney crossed her arms. “Miss Granger, for the duration of this year you have been unremittingly skeptical and unwilling to open your mind to the possibilities—”
Hermione scoffed loudly and stood up, scooping her bag from the ground. “Unwilling? Unremitting? Fine, then. I’ll spare you. And his name’s Potter.” And she swept off, her bag knocking the crystal ball into Harry’s lap quite painfully.
The class erupted in murmurs, giggles, and whispers. Harry heaved the crystal ball back onto the desk, shaking his head fuzzily.
“Mr. Podmore,” said Trelawney, blinking wide eyes at him.
“Yes, Professor?” He met her gaze squarely. What would she say to him?
“Please join another group for the remainder of the lesson.”
She swept off. Harry, sighing, moved over to Draco and Daphne’s table.
The mirror shimmered for a moment, two moments, three. And then a blurry smudge of a face appeared in the frame, sideways, blinking slowly at him. “‘heart?” Araeo asked, yawning hugely.
“Sorry to wake you,” Harry said, voice the barest whisper. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Around him, the rest of his year mates were snoring. Inside his drawn bed hangings, he huddled under his acro-silk blanket, elflight hovering over his shoulder.
“One second,” Araeo murmured. He fumbled around and lit a candle, and Harry could see him clearly. His face was creased with pillow lines, his white hair mussed. Harry felt sad homesickness tugging at his stomach and put his fingertips to the mirror.
Smiling gently, Araeo placed his fingers against Harry’s reflected ones. “What’s wrong, Snakeheart?”
Harry sighed, wondering how to start. “Prophecy,” he said at last. “I heard a prophecy about me that I wasn’t supposed to hear. I’m—upset.”
“Human prophecy,” murmured Araeo. “So troublesome. I need not tell you the dangers of interpretation.”
Of course not. All the same, Trelawney’s vacant words echoed through his head.
“Tell me,” offered Araeo.
Slowly, Harry recited the prophecy. By the end of it, Araeo was sitting up straight, chewing on the end of a braid. They stared at each other in silence for a moment.
“How about that,” Araeo said, grinning. “I’m not the only one born under a prophecy anymore.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Come on, Araeo. It says I’m supposed to die.”
Araeo raised one slow eyebrow. “Does it, now?”
“Yeah, alright,” Harry sighed. “Someone could interpret that it says I’m supposed to die. Or kill Voldemort.”
“And,” Araeo raised a finger triumphantly, “have you not already done that?” His eyes twinkled.
“Oh.” Harry closed his mouth and contemplated that. “Well.”
“Yes, well.” Araeo scratched his cheek. “Neither can live while the other survives. Thus far, that has been true. Each time an aspect of Voldemort has lived, you have killed it. When you were a child. Then Quirrell. Then Riddle.” He spread his hands. “Honestly, Snakeheart. No heartkin of mine should be so quick to jump to conclusions about prophecy.”
Harry grinned. “Yeah, alright. See, I should have called you yesterday.”
Araeo grinned. “Of course you should have. You should call me every day. I’d call you, if I didn’t know it would eventually blow your cover.”
Harry sighed and pulled his blanket over his shoulders more comfortably. “Almost got killed by dementors yesterday. Again.”
Araeo went ashen. “WHAT?!”
“Shh!” Harry hissed, shoving the mirror briefly under a pillow. “Hush, Araeo!”
Araeo’s dark skin filled up half the mirror—he was gripping it in his hands. “Snakeheart, come home. Go home. Any home, but preferably mine. Don’t stay there.”
“Dumbledore took care of it,” Harry said, ignoring the fact that he very much would like to be in any of his homes as well. “The ministry called them back tonight.”
Araeo shook the mirror, making his face go in and out of focus. “Stop getting into danger!”
“Yeah, alright,” Harry agreed. “I’ll just write danger a letter and tell it we’re through.”
Araeo sighed and rolled his eyes. “I miss you.”
“Miss you too.”
They sat there in silence for a moment. Harry pressed his hand against the mirror, and Araeo matched it. Their heartbeats continued on, lonely. Harry wondered if he pushed hard enough, he could somehow reach through and take Araeo’s hand and their hearts would beat together again ….
“Tomorrow Bane and Firenze will travel to the pool to meet the mer princes,” Araeo said, drawing his hand away. “My father is beside himself.”
“In what way?” Harry asked, grinning. “Anxious? Scared? Excited?”
“All of them at once,” said Araeo, rolling his eyes. “Even though this is just an introduction.”
“It’s going to be brilliant,” Harry whispered.
“And to think, all because of two star-crossed lovers,” Araeo said, smiling. “It truly is romantic, is it not?”
And there went his mood again, descending like a frost. Harry was so tired of feeling like his emotions were an out of control broom and he was just hanging on for the ride … but Severus’s stupid book said that was normal. In any case, Araeo caught his sudden glower.
“Nothing,” Harry muttered. “I’m furious with them both still.”
“Why? Why did it mean so much to you? It happened so long ago.”
How could he explain to Araeo that to the mer, “long ago” meant as much as “yesterday evening”? That to him and Ava and his aunts, Salazar and Ifingr were as close in time as the present? That Salazar and Ifingr, once his ideal of a great love overcoming opposition, had become a troubled tragedy. That he felt like he’d personally been betrayed.
If only Araeo were here to take his hand and feel what he felt. Then Araeo could explain it to him, because he still didn’t understand fully.
“They were—they were—they were us,” Harry said helplessly. “You and me and Ava and Limmy. And then they weren’t, and they never were.”
Araeo’s mouth pulled down. “I’m sorry, Snakeheart.”
“I wish I could talk to them,” Harry sighed. “I just wish ….” He let it trail off.
“Can you?” asked Araeo inquisitively. “Don’t wizards put people in portraits?”
Harry sat up straight. Of course, what was he thinking? “Araeo, you’re a genius, I have to go. Bye.”
“Bye,” Araeo said, eyes squinting in happiness.
Body filled with midnight anticipation, Harry descended from the common room, elflight in front of him. The common room was deserted, the only noise the slow, low crackle of the smoldering fire. Though summer was approaching, the Slytherin common room was always cold.
There, above the fireplace: the ever-sleeping portrait of Salazar Slytherin. He had noted it and disregarded it once upon a time, because the painted figure never so much as blinked, let alone spoke or left the frame. It could almost have been non-magical but for the gentle rise of its shoulders.
He shoved an armchair over to the fireplace, clambered to the back of it, and hauled himself onto the thin mantle, teetering precariously on his knees for a moment. He clutched the edge of the frame and found his balance, then his seat.
His lilac elflight shone over the wan face of the sleeping founder. He had black hair pulled partially atop his head, a short black beard, and an deeply creased forehead.
Hello,” Harry said hesitantly. “Um. Are you awake?”
Salazar’s glare could have melted ice, as he slowly opened his eyes. “Why, pray tell, has a student elected to wake his esteemed predecessor … at this hour of the night?”
“Because I can’t ever leave well enough alone,” Harry said. His throat was abruptly very tight. “Are you him?”
Salazar blinked slowly, which portraits did not need to do. “Excuse me?”
Harry curled his fingers around the bottom edge of the frame. “Are you him? Are you … Sal?”
Harry flushed. “Are you Salazar Slytherin? His … ghost? His spirit? Are you him?”
“Ah.” Salazar’s head tilted. “I am not.”
Harry’s heart sank. “No?”
“No. I am a sampling. A skimming, of the man who sat for my painter. I contain the surface of his personality, but not the depth of his knowledge.”
Biting his lip, Harry met his eyes. “What about memories?”
A glimmer of intrigue flashed in Salazar’s eyes. “Some. Scatterings of memory, conviction, history. Tell me, how many times can you copy a copy before it degenerates?”
“Seven,” Harry answered promptly.
Salazar inclined his head. “Think of me as the seventh copy.”
Harry ran his hands along the gilt curls of Salazar’s frame, thinking. He could hear the fire guttering below him, the low groan of the pipes. “Then … is what everyone says true? Do you hate me?”
Salazar withdrew into the background. “Hate you? I have no clue who you are.”
Harry picked at the edge of the frame, wondering if this had been the right course of action. His stomach was starting to curdle with trepidation. “Well, my mum was a muggleborn. Do you hate her?”
Salazar’s eyes were dark and flinty. “I have never met her.”
Harry stared at him, sudden anger surging in his chest. His fingers tightened around the frame. “But that didn’t matter to you, did it?”
“No,” said Salazar, mouth tugging sideways. “It did not.”
“And does it?” Harry demanded.
“Who are you to interrogate me?” Salazar hissed suddenly, surging into the foreground again. “Some half-blood child? Who are you to think you know me, are entitled to my attention, my time?”
“I am like you,” Harry spat back in parseltongue. “Snakeheart.”
Salazar was utterly silent as he stared at him.
This was it, then. If this portrait could not even speak the snake tongue, then this was pointless. He let go of the frame and started to lower himself back to the armchair, heart thudding with disappointment and regret.
The slow sibilance of the snake tongue. He had never heard it from another human’s mouth before, even if that human was a painting.
Salazar’s hand was pressed flat to the canvas, as if he would reach out of it. “You speak my tongue?”
“Our tongue,” Harry said, meeting his gaze. He pushed himself back up.
Salazar was silent for a long moment. Then he continued in parseltongue. “I am a copy. I am not like an original portrait. I cannot grow beyond who I was, who I am. What do you want my answer to be? Salazar Slytherin is dead, and his mind cannot change. Certainly not a scant copy of his mind.”
Harry lent his head against the edge of the frame, wondering if he believed this.
“Why did you come here, kindred?” Salazar hissed.
That anger churned back up in Harry’s chest. “I’m not your kindred.”
“We are kindred in soul.”
“We aren’t!” He was clutching the frame again. “Do you even remember him? Do you even remember Ifingr?”
Salazar could have been a muggle portrait, so immobile was he. “What?” he breathed. “What did you say?”
“Ifingr re Afinim Ril,” Harry said softly. “Or is he too deep a memory?”
“How—do you know that name?” Salazar’s face was broken open, displaying absolutely nothing within.
“His many-greats niece is my cousin.”
“Cousins with a mer?”
“You remember him,” Harry exclaimed. “You do!”
“I—do,” whispered Salazar. “Of course I do.” His face crumpled from nothing, to bafflement … then to rage. “Yes, I remember that cursed name!”
“Yes, cursed! Twice, thrice cursed!” Salazar beat a fist against the canvas, teeth bared. “Get away from me, how dare you say that name to me, how dare you make me remember—”
“My cousin was right!” Harry shouted. “You’re a coward, you’re a hypocrite and a bigot, and I hate you!”
“You are no one!” Salazar shouted. “You are no one to say this to me! How dare you! Leave me alone! Don’t ever speak his name to me again—”
“Fine,” Harry whispered. “Fine, I’m leaving. I thought—I don’t know. That you would be different. That you would want to know what happened to him. But I was wrong.” He started to scrambled down from the mantle.
“Wait! Stop, boy, I command you, get back here!”
Harry scrubbed his sleeve across his eyes, glaring at the portrait. “What.”
Salazar’s expression was twisted. “You know what happened to him?”
Harry took a deep breath and lent against the wall again. He curled a hand around the frame again, fingertips just barely brushing the paint. “He told everyone you enchanted him. Even so, he was imprisoned for a decade. He spent the rest of his life devoted to his work. He never married or had children.
“When it came out he’d given you an ancestral artifact, his family was shamed. I found the comb a few years ago and returned it … but now my cousins and aunts are fighting to make things right. Between humans and mer.”
Salazar was silent for a long moment. “So what?” he spat. “When it came down to it, he betrayed me. You think I should care what his descendants are doing? I know nothing of them. I knew nothing of them. We are separate species. Nothing good can come to us by colluding with their savagery.”
“Do you really think that?” Harry asked, voice empty and distant. Why had he thought solace would come from this? “Is that what he really thought?”
No answer. Harry looked up. Salazar was staring firmly into the distance, lips pressed firmly together.
“Don’t you remember the strawberries?” Harry whispered.
“Strawberries,” said Salazar distantly. And he put his face in his hands, black hair falling over his hitching shoulders. “Why are you here?” he demanded, muffled and gasping. “Why are you here, just to torment me, just to attack me? What do you want from me?”
“I was only trying to understand,” Harry said softly, regret and shame pooling in his stomach. Why hadn’t Araeo told him this would happen? It was a fleeting thought, unfair, and gone again in an instant.
“And have you achieved it?” Salazar hissed, body trembling.
“No,” said Harry. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. You should—you should go talk to the golden snake outside the library. It’s not good to be on your own.”
For a third time, with a heart far heavier than before, he reached back down to the armchair with his foot, found the back, and slipped off the mantle.
“Boy,” said Salazar wretchedly, hopelessly. “Don’t go. Stay. Tell me more. Tell me of his descendants. Tell me of his work. Tell me why he never—why he never—”
Harry sniffed and boosted himself back up. “Maybe in a better time,” he recited softly.
“That’s what he wrote. For your story to wait for a better time.”
Chapter 6: The QA
Alright, alright, enough sadness!!! Have some fluff and hijinks and teenagerhood.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 66 ✩ 9 Jan 1994
B.O.G. OUSTS DEMENTORS; MALFOY ONLY DISSENTER
MINISTRY RAIDS THREE EMPTY SAFEHOUSES
TIPPY LOCKJAW: LEADING THE CHARGE AT LARGE
WHERE WILL GOBLIN-ELF ALLIANCE TAKE US?
by The Demiguise Collective
NEW! LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO WIGGENWAND FROM SUPERLATIVE: PLEASE ADVISE
TO HEALER FROM DREAMER: LOVE AND HOPE
TO SA-NEK FROM NOLAVA: TRIP TO SATURN?
SEND A COMMUNIQUE
WRITE AN ANONYMOUS MISSIVE FOR 1 SICKLE (FREE TO NON-HUMAN BEINGS)
NO PROFANITY OR LEWDITY
Harry burst out laughing and yanked the paper open to the second to last page.
Sa-nek: Mother X sends hugs and love. Please rescue from terrible nearly-aunt, working me to the bone. Thinking of going to Saturn for winter holiday. Count you in? Please pack for warm or cold weather; not sure of Saturnian clime. JUST US. No work, no mothers, no WORK allowed!! Aelisf!
Harry read it again and again.
“Brilliant, right?” Draco asked, shoving toast into his mouth. “Hermione’s idea. Say, will you look at my outline for this afternoon?”
“Again?” Harry asked.
“It’s the seventh revision.”
Millicent, a bit down the table, snorted. “Draco, it’ll be fine, honestly. If you ask too many people to look over your outline, no one will be surprised.”
“Then no one will be surprised when I mess it up!” Draco snapped. He scowled at them all. “I’m under a lot of pressure, in case you didn’t realize.”
Dobby chose that moment to pop in, cup of tea already in hand. He looked rather tired, and wore a comfortable-looking plush robe.
“Dobby!” Draco cried. “Read my outline please!”
“Draco,” Dobby sighed. “I is reading it for weeks now. You is doing well today, I swears it.”
Draco put his head down and groaned dramatically. “I can’t do this.”
“There, there,” Dobby said absently, patting him on the back. “I’s just coming to say good morning, I needs to work on my application.”
Draco scowled into his arm.
“What application?” Millicent asked.
Dobby smiled at her. “I’s applying to a university in Belgium that is accepting elves.”
“Belgium!” Draco groaned. “Belgium!”
Draco patted his back again. “I’s having university holidays, Draco. You summers in France anyway.”
Draco let out an angry huff of breath.
“What do you want to study, Dobby?” Harry asked eagerly.
Dobby smiled at him. “International species’ rights, naturally. It’s a new program.”
“That’s brilliant,” Harry breathed. “I didn’t know you could do that. Study that, I mean. At university? How old do you have to be to go to university? Can I go?”
Dobby chuckled. “Sometimes I forgets you don’t knows certain things. You is too young for university. You can goes after you’s graduating Hogwarts, but you haves to apply first.”
“I do knows things,” Harry snapped. “Merfolk goes to university when they is fifteen, instead of or alongside apprenticeships, in three year increments for a possible twelve levels. Is you knowing that?”
Dobby’s ears lowered guiltily. “No, I isn’t. You’s right, sorry Snake.”
“It’s alright,” Harry said, feeling guilty for snapping. Just like last night, just like the last few weeks, he couldn’t seem to settle into an equilibrium. He wanted to see Lobelia, but their next meeting wasn’t until next Sunday.
At least he could leave the castle. At least the dementors were gone. At least today was Draco’s QA meeting. At least, at least, at least.
“READY?” Draco screeched from two feet away.
“Stars, Draco,” Harry groaned, clapping his hands to his ears. “I was waiting for you to come out of the toilet.”
Draco crossed his arms. His hair was so artfully styled it looked like he’d used a freezing charm on it. “Well, I’m out now, and you’re making us late!”
“Late for being thirty minutes early?”
“Yes!” Draco grabbed his hand and hauled him down the stairs. The common room was empty but for Salazar’s portrait, who pointedly closed his eyes at Harry.
Draco stormed over to the girls’ staircase. “GREENGRASS!” he hollered. “LATE!”
“NOT!” Daphne’s voice echoed. “CALM DOWN!”
“Argh!” Draco kicked the staircase. “These stupid things are so exclusionary! The QA’s first mission is blasting them all down!”
“Draco, the QA’s not an army, it’s a club,” said Harry. “I don’t think Severus will let you destroy the staircases.”
“They uphold a false binary!” Draco raged, in the throes of anxiety. Harry supposed it was better than having a panic attack.
“That they do,” said Daphne, traipsing down the stairs with a rainbow bowtie on. “What do you think?” She tilted her head to display it. “I don’t know that I’m queer, but I want to support you, obviously. Got it in muggle London when I visited Hermione over the summer!”
Draco’s lip jutted out for a moment in a display of panicked emotion, and then he tossed his head and spun away. “Come along, come along, we’re late! Lovegood is waiting!”
“We’re so early,” sighed Daphne, hanging onto Harry’s arm.
Draco led them at top speed through the halls, up to the ground floor courtyard, Harry’s favorite area of the castle. Though it was a frigid January, the charm over the open-air garden kept it warm year-round. Foliage bloomed gently around sculptures, fountains, and benches, creating the impression of a very tame jungle.
Luna was there already, charming rainbow baubles to hang between trees. She wore bright pink robes, had no shoes on to show off her rainbow stockings, and had stuck a little rainbow flag into her bun to keep it up.
“You’re late,” she said mildly, when Draco burst in. “I’ve only had the headmaster to help.”
Sure enough, there was Dumbledore, delicately placing rainbow fairy lights on a sculpture of of a rearing unicorn with the tip of his wand. “Good evening, students,” he said mildly.
“Oh, headmaster, hello,” Draco said, reigning himself in with difficulty. “Thank you for—helping?”
Dumbledore finished draping a string of lights across the unicorn’s horn. “No trouble at all, Mr. Black. I won’t stay for the meeting today; I think you are feeling enough pressure without the headmaster evaluating. But I wanted to come and show my support nonetheless.”
“You could stay if you wanted,” Draco said, twisting his hands together. “The point of the club is it’s for everyone.”
Dumbledore smiled gently. “Perhaps I will attend next week’s meeting.” He looked around at the riot of rainbows, smiling wistfully. “I must admit, Mr. Black, this is quite something you have done. If I’d had something like this when I was your age, or perhaps just a measure of your courage, my life might have turned out very differently.”
Draco opened and closed his mouth, at a complete loss for words.
“Ah, but that is the nature of youth,” Dumbledore said mildly, stowing his wand in his sleeve. “To show the old what we are meant to emulate, not, as we often delude ourselves, the other way round.” He smiled gently at them all. “Have a very good first meeting.”
They watched him sweep away, silent.
“Draco,” Luna said, “My baubles keep coming out crimson instead of red.”
Draco snapped to anxious attention. “They can’t be crimson, Lovegood! What are you thinking!”
Daphne turned to Harry in amusement. “Hide somewhere out of the way?”
“Yes,” Harry said in relief. They found themselves a two-person bench in a corner and observed the chaos. Slowly, a few students began to filter in, congregating in groups or offering to assist an increasingly-frantic Draco. Filius, as their faculty supervisor, conjured up a table upon which he began placing drinks and snacks.
“Harry,” Daphne sighed tragically, “my mum wants to meet Star’s mum before I go over. I think I’m not going to be able to visit anytime soon. Parents are so awful.” She looked incredibly glum.
“Oh.” Harry’s heart sank. “Well—that’s alright. It’ll happen sometime.”
“But I really want to meet him!” Daphne groaned. “It’s not fair you’ve got a secret boyfriend no one gets to meet; I want to meet him!”
Harry frowned at her. “He’s not my boyfriend. Why does everyone keep saying that?”
Daphne blinked at him. “What? He’s not?”
Slowly, Harry shook his head.
“Then what is he?”
“He’s—you know what he is. My heart mate.”
Daphne goggled at him. “How is that separate from a boyfriend?”
Harry stared at her. “Um. It’s just—we’re not—” It’s just, we’re not, what? he thought.
“Sorry,” Daphne said guiltily. “I upset you.”
“I’m not upset!” Harry said loudly. Then he put his face in his hands. “Sorry.”
“Oh, forget it,” Daphne said, kicking him gently. “This is Draco’s day, anyway. No whining on Draco’s day.”
They turned to look at Draco, pacing back and forth and twisting the by-now-ragged parchment of his outline between his hands.
“Should we do something?” Harry wondered. “He looks like he’s going to faint.”
“Maybe—oh, wait. Look.”
Luna caught Draco’s arm in the middle of a spin, and said something quietly that made him hold still and listen. And then he nodded, smiled, and pushed his pink hair out of his eyes. He looked around and evaluated the students in the room—not that many, and most of them here as moral support, but some unexpected faces as well. Dobby sidled in, wearing a rainbow scarf, and gave Draco an enthusiastic wave and thumbs up.
“All right, everyone, hello!” Draco called. “Please, um, find a seat!”
The crowed murmured with excitement as they took seats on the stone benches. Harry tucked his knees up under his chin and laced his fingers together.
Draco and Luna stood in the middle and looked around at them all. “Hello,” said Luna.
“Hello,” echoed the crowd.
“Er, welcome to the first meeting of the Queer Alliance,” said Draco. “Hogwarts has never had a queer club before. We hope to—um—”
“To learn together, “ said Luna, smiling, “and have fun.”
“Right,” said Draco, twisting and twisting his outline. “So—thank you all for coming. First off—” he looked down at his outline, and then looked over at Luna. And then he shoved the outline in his pocket and clasped his hands together. “First off we should all just meet each other. Why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves?” And he took a seat next to Luna on an empty bench.
Daphne let out a quiet breath of relief. “Thank Merlin. I couldn’t survive seventeen sub-sub-sections.”
Harry grinned, and watched Draco beam with pride as Cedric Diggory thanked him for organizing the club. “I’d have sat through them.”
“Well, of course,” Daphne said. “But still.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, and raised his voice to introduce himself.
It’s just, we’re not— it’s just, we’re not—it’s just, we’re not—
Why, why couldn’t he get out of own his head anymore? And why was this so hard? What did it matter what Araeo was to him, besides heartkin? That had always been the only thing that mattered. But now he couldn’t set the thought to rest; he niggled at it like a loose tooth, and it was starting to ache.
A week later and he hadn’t settled the matter with himself. It was driving him to distraction. He’d talked to Araeo three times since and hadn’t brought up the issue; but he didn’t even know what the issue was.
And now he was late for charms, and Filius may have liked him but he didn’t like him enough to not dock points.
Harry spun around. He’d been so caught up in his thoughts he’d completely missed Percy sitting in a window seat: an unforgivable offense. “Hi, Percy!”
Percy gave him a small smile. “You alright?”
Percy pushed his glasses up his nose. “Sort of? What’s wrong?” He shifted his bag aside to make room for Harry.
Forget charms. Percy was worth a detention any day.
Harry slumped into the window seat and sighed dramatically, peeking at Percy from the corner of his eye. He looked amused, and a bit tired. “Are you alright?” Harry asked.
Percy shrugged. “Oh, yes. NEWTS, you know. Graduation. Jobs. Quite a few things to worry about these days.”
“Graduation?” Harry echoed, abruptly feeling like a hollowed-out jack-o-lantern. “Whose graduation?”
Percy narrowed his eyes at him. “Mine.”
“You can’t graduate!” Harry sat up straight, panic zinging through his chest. “Why are you graduating?”
“Well, for starters, I’ve been here seven years and have completed my Hogwarts education.”
Percy? Graduate? Percy, who had always been there? Percy, who Harry had known since he was eight? A one-way acquaintanceship, but still. First Limmy, weeks away from him, and now Percy, off to galavant in the awful wizarding world.
“You can’t graduate,” he repeated stupidly in a whisper.
“Harry.” Percy placed a hand on his arm. “Are you alright? You seem like you’re having a hard time. I heard about the dementors; do you need to see Madam Pomfrey?”
“No,” Harry said. “I’m just—everything’s changing, and I don’t want it to!”
“Ah.” Percy nodded. “That, I understand.” He smiled slightly. “Feeling out of control is the worst thing in the world, isn’t it?”
Harry nodded vigorously, and then remembered something. “Percy, you have a boyfriend!”
“Er, yes. Oliver.”
“Exactly! When did you know you—um—”
“Liked each other romantically?”
“Oh. How did you know?”
Percy looked out the window, eyes narrowed in thought. “Oh, well … I didn’t realize, actually. Oliver asked me out and I hadn’t even thought about it before. He’d liked me forever, and I agreed to give it a try.” He smiled. “And here we are. I guess I started liking him back a few weeks after that. Once I got the idea in my head it sort of took root.”
“Romance troubles, Harry?
“I don’t know!” Harry furiously twisted the strap of his bag between his hands. “I have someone who’s really important to me and everyone thinks we’re boyfriends but we aren’t, but he’s still important to me in different ways than my other friends and what if he thinks we’re boyfriends and what if he doesn’t and what if he doesn’t want to be, ever, or he does and I don’t, except I don’t know if I do, because I never thought about it but what if he’s always thought about it—”
Percy put a hand over his mouth. It shocked him so badly he shut up immediately, feeling his face grow mortifyingly red.
“Harry.” Percy drew his hand away, smiling kindly. “You’re like twelve. There’s no need to worry that hard about something like this.”
“I’m nearly fourteen!” Harry protested. “Just like you were!”
“Alright, alright, not twelve. Do you want to know what I think you should do?”
Harry nodded vigorously.
“Talk to him. Everything you’re worried about, just ask him. I know it sounds impossible and humiliating. But if he’s so important to you, can’t you talk to him about anything?”
Hesitantly, Harry nodded.
“There you go. Trust me, Harry. It’ll be alright. I know it seems like the end of the world now, but I’ve found it rarely is.”
Harry took a deep breath. “Okay. If you think I should.”
“I do." Percy looked down at his watch. "Hey, third years don’t have a free period right now. Are you skipping?”
“Bye, Percy!” Harry shouted, and hurtled off down the hall.
See you Tuesday for some long-awaited conversations <3
Chapter 7: Together
What is a fic chapter but a series of important conversations, I ask you? Enjoy : )
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Alright,” Harry said. “So, Fleethoof. What year were you painted in?”
Fleethoof crossed his clawed hooves delicately. “1503 CE.”
Daphne wrote that down. “You’re really old,” she noted. “Very well preserved.”
Fleethoof inclined his head. “Thank you.”
“I would know, too, my father’s an art conservator.”
“I didn’t know that!” Harry said.
She grinned. “Yep. Okay, what’s the next question?”
Harry evaluated the list. Cuthbert’s latest homework assignment was to interview a historical portrait. Some questions were more relevant than others. He had to admit it was a cool idea. Maybe not sucking the dregs of life for the remnants of their flavor cool, but cool enough.
“What was your painter like?”
“My painter?” Fleethoof asked. He wrinkled his nose. “Who cares about him? I thought you were interviewing me.”
Daphne dutifully scribbled down his response.
“Right, sorry,” Harry said. “What’s something you’ve found the most interesting about the passing of centuries?”
“Hmm.” Fleethoof’s tail swished lazily as he contemplated the question. “I quite enjoy seeing the styles change. Unicorns don’t wear clothes, of course, but I find them fascinating. I quite miss the lace collars.”
“Are you the oldest portrait in the castle, do you think?” Daphne asked.
“Oh, no, Miss Greengrass,” Fleethoof said. “There are those far older than I. But they are few and far between ... and there is Swiftwing to think of. He’s about as old as me.”
“Really?” Harry asked. “You’ve known each other for five hundred years?”
“More or less.”
“And you still care you’re separate species?”
"Ah." Fleethoof's gaze went suddenly sidewards. "Well Mr. Snake. It is the truth that we ... remain separate species indeed."
Fleethoof's tail flicked. "Mind your grammar, Mr. Snake."
"What's that?" Daphne asked suddenly, pointing into the background of the painting, behind the tree.
"Nothing at all," said Fleethoof primly. "Mr. Snake, do get you face away from my canvas!"
"Is that a feather?"
It was a feather, caught up in a rosebush. Harry looked up at Fleethoof and beamed. Fleethoof entirely refused to meet his eyes.
“Can you say more about your relationship with Swiftwing?” Daphne asked eagerly, quill poised. “For our homework, of course.”
Fleethoof tossed his mane. “What is there to say? We are two fairly old denizens of this castle. Both oil paintings, of course. Under Dame Antonia Creaseworthy, we were once placed next to each other in the great hall. He has a very poetic mind, if at times a tad verbose.”
“What about his eyes?” Daphne said, peeking up mischievously. “What color are they?”
“Oh, a vermillion reminiscent of the deepest part of a fire.” Fleethoof caught himself and flicked his tail. “Really, Miss Greengrass. On with your next actual question, please.”
Daphne snickered. They asked Fleethoof the rest of their questions, and then he claimed to get bored and sent them away, though Harry saw him glance expectantly behind himself a few times.
They exited the library gossiping quietly under their breaths, and only two hands coming out to steady their shoulders stopped them both from colliding with Albus Dumbledore.
“Hello, Miss Greengrass, Mr. Potter,” he said, smiling down at them. “What a happy coincidence. I was just looking to have a word with you, Harry. Do you have the time?”
“Sure,” Harry said, having expected this sooner or later.
“See you at dinner,” said Daphne, and abandoned him.
Dumbledore was gazing up at the library doors, the evening sun shining through them and tinting his pale pink robe in darker jewel shades. He closed his eyes against the glare, face relaxed for a brief moment. “Is Hogwarts not eternally beautiful?” he murmured.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, gazing at the stained-glass face of Mother Wisdom, her soft verdant eyes and gently smiling lips.
“Walk with me, my boy,” said Dumbledore.
“Alright.” They walked the corridors together, pausing to look at portraits and suits of armor. Finally, Dumbledore came to a stop by a view of the lake.
“Tell me what you’ve made of the memory in my pensieve, Harry.”
Harry sighed. He pressed a hand to the glass, wishing he could be in Deep Light right now, eating sushi with Ava. He didn’t know how to have this conversation. He didn’t know how to reconcile his secrets.
But the time for secrets was coming to an end.
“It was a memory,” he said eventually.
Harry took a deep breath. Trelawney knew I was there, he didn’t say. “Voldemort was looking for Professor Trelawney.”
“He wanted to use her prophecies to his own end.”
“So did you.”
Dumbledore gazed out the window. “Correct.”
“She spoke a prophecy …” Harry trailed off, then gathered his courage. “It was about me.”
Dumbledore sighed out, slow and sad.
“It’s like what you told me after I killed Quirrell,” Harry said. “My mother’s love, Voldemort can’t touch me because of it. She gave me a power he knows not. But … marking me as his equal?”
Dumbledore turned to him. Slowly, his gaze went to Harry’s scar.
Harry touched it gingerly. He hadn’t expected this. “My scar?”
Dumbledore looked away.
“Professor? You promised me.”
Dumbledore nodded slowly, perhaps also contemplating the weight of secrets and promises and trust. “I promised,” he said at last, heavily. “What use is obscuring from you what you already know of? My boy, I always believed Voldemort to have made a final horcrux … the night he tried to kill you.”
Harry let those words settle in his stomach, in his bones, in his heart. This, this was what he had been missing. This made it all make sense.
T R A D E
“He did,” Harry said slowly, piecing together long-ago memories that he usually kept locked up tight, because they had been the worst of times. The times the dementors dragged back. Back when the world had only been fever. “But it’s gone.”
Dumbledore’s gaze jerked back to him. “Gone? What do you mean?”
“I traded it away,” Harry said, “a long time ago.” And from his pocket he pulled his bone-white wand.
Dumbledore took a step backwards, genuine alarm on his face. “What on earth is that?”
“My wand,” Harry said simply, letting it exist there under the headmaster’s gaze, though his instincts told him to whip it away. “A long time ago, my scar burned all the time. And then I traded part of me away, and it never hurt again. I traded it away to make this.”
“Make?” Dumbledore breathed.
Harry nodded slightly. He closed his hand around the grip so Dumbledore could no longer see the basilisk scale.
“To trade part of yourself away is a very dangerous bargain to make,” said Dumbledore, after a long moment of silence.
“I make a lot of those,” said Harry. He stowed his wand again. “Do you believe me?”
Dumbledore nodded. “I do, my boy. Disbelieving you has never seemed a productive route.”
“So, I guess the only part left,” Harry said slowly, “is that either Voldemort kills me, or I kill him. And, er, I’ve already done that.”
Dumbledore blinked at him. “You mean as a child?”
“Yes. In the forbidden forest. Quirrell.”
“Oh.” Dumbledore tilted his head. “Well, I suppose you may be right, my boy. Perhaps.”
“To believe in one true future is arrogance and folly, and it will lead you to ruin,” Harry said, placing a hand over his robe, under which his Stargazer Band necklace always rested.
“How wise,” remarked Dumbledore.
“I didn’t say it. I was really wrong about a prophecy before. And it all worked out for the best. I talked to a Seer about this one and he agrees.”
Dumbledore shook his head slowly. “How is it, my boy, that you seemed to have lived so many lifetimes already? May I examine your wand?”
Harry shook his head. “Sorry.”
Dumbledore gave an easy nod. “Can you tell me about making it? Or is that a secret too?”
Harry laughed. “No, that’s from the library.”
Dumbledore blinked. “You learned how to make a wand … from the Hogwarts library?”
“Sure,” said Harry. “There’s a guide. So You Want to be a Wandsmith. That's where I learned about the triplicate theory."
“The triplicate theory? Modern wands only use two components, my boy.”
“Well, I didn’t know that!” Harry. “Anyway, it works fine and it can do wizard and elf magic.”
Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully and stepped away from the window. “I supposed you used elf magic to aid its creation?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, following him. “And I had to find all the ingredients. It took a lot of energy to put them together.”
“One day you must let me take a look at it,” Dumbledore said.
“Myrtle? Myrtle, are you here?”
No response. For once, Harry was grateful his oldest best friend was not in her toilet. He made sure the door was closed and sequestered himself in the very last stall, locking the door and perching on the toilet tank. He balanced his pack on his knees and withdrew his mirror.
“Stargazer Araeo,” he whispered.
There was a flickering moment or two during which Harry could only see himself in the mirror, and was bombarded with worries about everything from his messy braid to the slight crookedness of his front canine tooth. And then the mirror shimmered into Araeo’s starry face, and the worries dissipated like so much dandelion fluff.
“Snakeheart,” said Araeo warmly. “It’s the middle of the day; you’re lucky I’m not with uncle.”
“Hi,” Harry said, smiling even though his heart was galloping.
“Hi,” Araeo echoed, rolling his eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Oh. Well.” Harry sighed and shifted the mirror to one hand so he could rub his thestral and unicorn hair bracelet nervously against his cheek.
Araeo frowned. “Snakeheart?”
“It’s silly,” Harry said. “Or, it’s not. I don’t know.”
I know it sounds impossible and humiliating. But if he’s so important to you, can’t you talk to him about anything?
Araeo frowned and adjusted the mirror to view him more directly. “I’m getting worried.”
Harry took a deep breath. “We’re heartkin.”
Araeo’s gaze was troubled. “Yes.”
“People keep asking if you’re my boyfriend.” Harry focused on a distant point behind Araeo and made himself continue. “I keep telling them you’re not.”
“Well, that’s true,” Araeo said, tilting his head. “We’re not.”
“That’s what I thought!” said Harry in relief.
“Heartkin aren’t necessarily romantic partners,” Araeo said, smiling slightly. “I forget it’s a centaur thing sometimes.”
Harry smiled. “A centaur and basilisk thing.”
Araeo laughed. “As in most circumstances, Snakeheart, you are the exception. We don’t have to be boyfriends.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed. “Except … do you want to be?”
Araeo blinked at him. “Well, I haven’t thought about it. Um. Much, that is.”
“Me either,” Harry said hurriedly. “Until recently.”
Araeo rubbed at his nose. “I’m a bit young to have a romantic partner.”
“I think I am too! Maybe? I don’t know.” Harry groaned and squashed his cheek against his palm, resigning himself to blurting out every jumbled thought he'd had over the last week. “It’s more like … maybe I want to be eventually? I don’t know! Do you want that?”
“Can I be honest?”
Araeo looked to the side. “Well, I've sort of always hoped we might be. Eventually. I haven’t Seen it or anything like that; I just … always had the idea. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to pressure you. And because it’s not really, er … completely because of the heartkin thing.”
“Oh.” A great rush of relief buoyed him up, and he found himself blushing furiously. “Okay, good.”
Araeo cast him a tentative glance. “Good?”
“Really good,” said Harry. “Perfect, actually. Because it’s like if … if Percy were to ask me, tomorrow, to marry him—”
Araeo gave a sudden snort of surprised laughter.
“Listen!” Harry pressed. “Okay, if Percy asked me tomorrow to marry him—I’d say no, right? Because … there’s you.”
Araeo sobered, eyes going wide. “Oh?”
"Um." Harry bit his lip, then barreled forward. "Well ... yeah. Because you're—you know—you're you. No, that sounds stupid. Here, just hold my hand and get what I’m trying to say.” He pressed his hand against the glass.
Araeo chuckled and put his hand over Harry’s reflected palm. “Ah, I see now,” he said wisely. “I understand completely. You are trying to let me down easy so you can marry Percy Weasley.”
“Araeo!” Harry giggled and pulled his hand away,. “You know what I mean.”
“I do know what you mean,” agreed Araeo. “And you know, I hope, that this conversation isn't a promise or ... or a decision. We will keep talking. Keep deciding what we are, together.”
“As long as it’s together,” Harry said, and smiled.
Chapter 8: Summer
Virtual cookie to folks who guess who’s behind the special guest writers and the letter writers : ) (one of them’s a serious reach, I’d be very impressed)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 72 ✩ 20 Feb 1994
OVERSEAS PRESSURE TO EASE OFF ELVES
TIPPY LOCKJAW’S BOUNTY SURPASSES SENSE
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO SUPERLATIVE FROM WIGGENWAND: THEORY QUERY
TO STAR FROM SNAKE: RUMMZ
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 75 ✩ 13 March 1994
HOGWARTS QUEER ALLIANCE STATEMENT: SPECIES EQUITY NOW
THE QUESTION OF WANDS: WHEN?
by special guest writer Angkor
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO DREAMER FROM HEALER: BUILDING A HOME
TO PRINCE FROM CANIDAE: JUST SAY YOU’RE WELCOME!!!
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 83 ✩ 8 May1994
UNJUST! ELVES ATTENDING AT QUIDDITCH CUP MUST SHOW EMPLOYMENT IDENTIFICATION
SEVENTH EMPTY SAFE HOUSE RAID: WASTEFUL AND SHAMEFUL
by special guest writer Morph
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO TELLER FROM LINGUIST: DAI STIHÓ
TO MIRROR GHOST FROM MORPH: EMPLOYED!
Spring semester skidded by at top speed. The QA’s attendance grew and shrank around a solid core membership. Slytherin took the quidditch cup. Basilisk babies tagged along to classes, Myrtle as a teaching assistant failed to temper Cuthbert’s zest for life, and missives sped back and forth: from Harry’s fishing hook, from The Demiguise, from owls and mirrors and Hermione’s incredible otter patronus. Dumbledore could be found perusing So You Want to Be a Wandsmith over dinner.
“Harry,” said Ron breathlessly, cramming himself into the Slytherin table. “Thank goodness, I nearly forgot you can’t get letters over the summer. My parents say you can come to the quidditch cup with us!”
Harry’s mouth dropped open. “You’re joking!”
“I’m not!” Ron said gleefully. “Come on, you’ll go, right?”
“Of course,” Harry said, mind spinning. “Where is it? When?”
“July fifth, but come stay at the Burrow on the third!”
“Yes, alright!” Harry agreed. “I can’t wait!”
“You too, Draco,” Ron said, turning to him. “And Dobby if he wants. And you, Daphne. My mum’s owling yours’. Hermione’s coming too.”
“I’m already going,” Draco said.
“But come to the Burrow,” Ron offered, a bit hesitant. “If you like. We can do a sleepover.”
Draco blinked. “Oh—I suppose I’ll have to get extra Belgian chocolates while I’m in France next week, then.”
“Brilliant,” grinned Ron.
“Are you all going?” Hermione asked, shoving herself next to Ron. “I can’t wait.”
“But it’s quidditch,” Draco pointed out. “You don’t like quidditch.”
“It’s a wizarding cultural activity!” said Hermione. “Anyway, if you all are going, obviously it’ll be wonderful.” She grinned at them all.
“You’re surprisingly exuberant this evening,” Daphne noted.
“Oh, I’m just happy to be done with classes,” Hermione said.
“You’re what?” Ron gasped. “Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?”
Hermione grinned apologetically. “I bit off a bit more than I could chew this year, is all. Twelve classes … eleven would have been fine. But I shouldn’t have added the second arithmancy course.”
“Twelve classes?” Daphne demanded. “Hermione, there’s literally not enough time in the day!”
“Oh, well.” Hermione tugged on her ear. “I got special permission to use a time turner this year. To fit in all of them.”
Draco pointed at her. “That’s why you’ve been popping up all over the place! With Limmy, too!”
“She never told me,” Harry said, feeling betrayed.
Hermione grinned. “It was our secret.”
Harry scowled. He supposed Limmy was allowed to have secrets from him, but he did feel personally injured.
“Attention,” called Dumbledore from the head table. “Attention, students. Please join me in wishing one of our professors a fond goodbye. Professor Black has accepted a spellcrafting position at a French research university. We wish her the very best of luck.”
They applauded madly, though Draco looked despondent. “I knew, of course,” he said morosely. “But I’ll miss her next year.” He perked up. “At least I’m holidaying in France now!”
“You’re always holidaying in France anyway,” Ron hissed.
“Wonder who’ll they’ll get next year?” Daphne asked lightly.
“Remus Lupin could come back,” said Draco immediately. “We deserve it.”
“Oh, I’m going to miss you all!” Hermione exclaimed abruptly, squeezing Harry’s arm.
“The quidditch cup is only in a week,” Ron reasoned. “So you won’t have time to miss us.”
“I suppose,” sighed Hermione. “But you don’t know what it’s like going back to the muggle world after being here all year.”
“I’ll come visit,” Daphne assured her. “You promised to take me to the amusement park.”
“What’s that?” Draco asked immediately.
“Oh, it’s a sort of festival with rides and candy and games. Very bad for dental health.”
Harry spared an idle wish to go to the amusement park with them as well, before dismissing it. Maybe one day. But this summer, there was work to be done.
“I’m telling you, we have time,” said Severus. “Please, Albus, I am begging you to hear me.”
Harry, well-hidden under Áwere, peeked around the corner. The rest of the students were currently making their way to the carriages, but Harry had been distracted the professors.
“Severus,” said Dumbledore gravely. “I know you are convinced my suspicions are the ravings of an old, fearful man. I am asking you to trust me.”
“You are anything but a raving old man!” Severus snapped. “But Gringotts? Think of the relationship between wizards and goblins right now, Albus. Think of what they would do to you if you were caught. “
“If I was caught,” Dumbledore noted. “I wouldn’t be.”
Severus snarled. “Do you think so lowly of them, or so highly of yourself? I cannot determine which is more unpleasant.”
Dumbledore crossed his arms. “We must have the cup! It is lurking there, a virus, a powerful artifact, in the hands of—”
“In the hands of an imprisoned murderer,” said Severus, “who cannot fetch it for her master anytime soon. I am asking you to wait, Albus.”
“And I am telling you, my boy, that events will more far more quickly than you think. If we have not destroyed the cup by the time he makes his move, it will be too late!”
Severus stared him down. Harry had never seen his gaze so hard. “Bellatrix Lestrange is the only one who can access her vault, and she is rotting in Azkaban. Albus, if you make a move toward the bank, I will contact the goblins at once.”
Dumbledore’s mouth dropped open. “Severus.”
Severus shook his head viciously. “No, Albus. I am taking a stand. Your fury to see this through will ruin us just before victory. Turn your efforts to other matters this summer, and let us find a way to secure it that does not involve incurring the wrath of the goblins, especially at this point in history—are you still allied to the elves or not? Because what you are proposing will ruin Tippy Lockjaw. Is that what you want?”
Dumbledore frowned. “Of course not. But some things are more important, Severus.”
“Then I suggest you reevaluate your priorities,” Severus hissed, and he stalked away toward the entrance hall.
Heart racing, Harry dashed to catch up with him. Only once they were out of Dumbledore’s sight did he yank down the hood of his cloak. “Severus!”
Severus yelped and jumped in place, stumbling forward a little. He turned a poisonous glare on Harry. “Potter, what in Merlin’s name … are you deigning to stay with me this summer? Don’t you have a hole to be skulking in while I run myself ragged looking for you?”
“Ron invited me to the quidditch cup,” Harry said. “Can you take me to the Burrow next week? On the third?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Potter, just come to my home for the summer.”
“Yes or no?” Harry asked.
“Yes, obviously, Hogsmeade at nine o’clock. Now if you stay here any longer I will be required to detain you. I have heard several lectures on this responsibility from various dunderheaded ministry officials.”
“Thanks, Severus,” said Harry. “I’ll see what I can do about the cup in the bank.”
“What!” Severus demanded, but Harry was already pulling his hood back up. “Insolent, impudent, incorrigible child,” Severus muttered.
“BABIES!” Harry hollered. “I MISSED YOU!”
“Not babies!” wailed Ouro.
“I saw you yesterday when we went to charms, remember?” said Laila.
“I missed you too!” said Ifingr.
“Listen to my alphabet! Ay! Bee! See! Dee! EEEEEEE!”
“Effuh! Jee! Haych!”
“Okay, okay!” Harry laughed. “Get off me, or you won’t get your bacon.”
“Bacon!” They cleared off of him and let him stagger up from the hall floor, swarming his heels as the trotted over to hug the basilisk.
“Hello, Snakeheart,” it said warmly. “I am happy to have you home.”
“Me too,” he said. “I missed you so much. I probably won’t go back next semester.”
It gave a rumble of amusement. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“Alright, alright.” As bacon was snatched from his pockets faster than he could remove it, Harry told the basilsisk: “I won’t be here long because I’m going to the quidditch cup. But only for a few days. And then I’ll be in the forest, of course, but I’ll have some time before that—”
“Snakeheart,” said the basilisk, nudging him with its chin. “Do not worry. Live. Have fun. Your life is so much shorter than ours; you must live it to the fullest.”
“You sound like Cuthbert,” said Harry.
“Whoever that is sounds infinitely sensible.”
I don’t usually openly state where I diverge from canon, but this is a PSA for going forward. There are no maledictus in ever upward.
Also, I have moved the Quidditch World Cup up to the first week of July for … plot reasons ; )
Chapter 9: The Burrow
God I'm so excited to post pretty much ... every chapter in this fic going forward. Wow, do things get wild very soon.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Harry, dear, come in! Severus, won’t you stay for a cup of tea?”
“I’m afraid I have a prior engagement,” said Severus stiffly, handing Harry off to Molly Weasley.
“Well, when you come pick Harry up on the sixth, budget in a cuppa,” said Molly firmly.
He gave a noncommittal shrug and aimed a pointed stare at Harry. “The sixth. Noon.”
“Yes, I know,” Harry said. “I’m the one who told you that, you know.”
“I don’t put it past you not to run off somewhere,” said Severus. “Goodbye, brat. Thank you, Molly.”
“Lovely seeing you, Severus!”
They watched as Severus disapparated with a snap of his crisp robes. Molly shook her head. “I do hope he’s more pleasant at home, dear.”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Harry. “Mrs. Weasley, I never thanked you for the gloves first year. They were my favorites, until I grew out of them.”
“Oh!” Molly fluttered her hands around for a moment, before resting them on Harry’s shoulders. “Dear, I’m so glad. I’ll make you another pair! Do you know, I knew your mother and father?”
Harry beamed. “You did? Will you tell me about them?”
“Of course, of course, but later. You’re the last one here; why don’t you go on upstairs to Ronnie’s room?”
Harry needed no greater invitation, though he was swayed by Burrow as he walked through it. He had never been in such a wizardly home. There were moving photographs on the walls and dishes doing themselves and a clock made of spoons and all sorts of casual magic, everywhere. He got terribly distracted watching a pair of needles swiftly knit a blanket, and only came back to himself when Draco yelled in his ear: “Harry! Please tell Ronald to stop going through my things!”
Harry blinked. “Hello, Draco!”
“Yes, hello, come on.” Draco hauled him up a rickety set of stairs, off of which were several doorways. They went all the way up to the room below the attic, and the voices of his friends greeted him before the door was even open.
“Harry!” everyone shouted, as they squeezed inside. Ron’s room was tiny, but that hadn’t stopped everyone from cramming into it. Hermione and Daphne and Ginny were on the bed, Ron on a cushioned stool looking harangued, and Dobby was furiously scribbling on a parchment perched atop the chest of drawers. Draco dragged Harry in and abandoned him to clamber onto the chest as well.
“Ron, I’m to tell you to stop going through Draco’s things,” said Harry, dropping his satchel on the floor and squashing beside Daphne on the bed.
Ron groaned. “Give it up, Black, that was hours ago.”
“Don’t call me Black when I’m sitting on your drawers!”
Ron snickered. “That is where I keep them, actually.”
Hermione huffed. “Don’t be disgusting, Ronnie.”
“Everyone stop calling me Ronnie! Just because my mum does doesn’t mean everyone can!”
“Hey Ronnie,” Harry said. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Don’t you mean, ‘where’s Percy’?”
Harry scowled. “Shut up.”
“Then don’t call me Ronnie!”
“Wait, what?” Ginny demanded, sitting forward. “What do you mean about Percy?”
A wicked gleam came into Ron’s eye. Harry tore a Chudley Canons pillow off the bed and threw it as hard as he could. Ron pulled it from his face and managed to shout “Oh, you didn’t know about Harry’s massive—” before Harry hit him square in the face with a second pillow, and then Ginny cackled and joined in, and in short order Mrs. Weasley was storming up the stairs to shout about property damage.
“Hey,” Draco said, pulling a feather from his mouth. “Where’s Dobby?”
“I’s here,” came Dobby’s disembodied voice. Ginny pulled up the bedskirt to reveal him lying on his stomach under the bed, working by elflight. “Don’t mind me,” he mumbled. “Carry on.”
“Application deadlines are coming up,” Draco said knowingly. “You don’t want to play pickup quidditch, then, Dobby?”
“No, no, I’s playing,” said Dobby absently. “Just let me finish this section.”
Harry wandered downstairs for a breather and a cup of tea after a little while. He loved his friends, truly and deeply. But in his heart, he was more comfortable with a few of them at a time.
“Alright, Harry?” asked Mrs. Weasley. She was reading Witch Weekly on the couch. “Cup of tea?”
“Yes, please,” said Harry. She rose immediately and took him to the kitchen, where a pot was already brewing. They sat at the kitchen table together, Harry sipping from a chipped mug painted with messy spirals.
“Ronnie made that,” Mrs. Weasley said, smiling. “When he was around six or so. My favorite mug. I’ve repaired it every time it’s broken.”
“It’s very good,” said Harry, grinning. “I love the different shades of, er, puke brown.”
Mrs. Weasley laughed. “Dear, it is a delight to be in your presence after so long. What can I tell you about James and Lily?”
Harry pondered it, feeling very at home in the kitchen of the Burrow. It wasn’t as spotless as the Hogwarts kitchens; there were messes here and there, and art and newspapers tacked to the walls, mugs stacked by the sink and a pot of something fragrant bubbling on the stove. Harry had only been at the Burrow for two hours, and he loved it. He wondered what Araeo would think of it.
“How did you know them?” Harry asked.
Mrs. Weasley tilted her head. “Oh, I was a bit ahead of them in school, so we never really crossed paths. It was after school. We were both in—well, to be honest, dear, it’s a bit of a secret. We are in an organization together that fought against You-Know-Who, and I can’t say much more than that.”
“That’s alright,” Harry said. “Did they fight? In the organization?”
Mrs. Weasley nodded. “Oh, yes. We all fought during those times. I hope I never live through anything like that again. But Lily, she was a fantastic brewer, and she made potions for healing and disguise. Deft hand at charms, too. And James, he was a transfiguration genius, you know. Put his skills to use more times than I can count, in a thousand different ways.”
They were seated beside a large window. As Mrs. Weasley spoke, raindrops began to patter down. Mrs. Weasley sighed. “There goes your quidditch game, I’m afraid.”
“What,” Harry demanded, “like a little rain would stop us?”
Stop them it did not. Hermione and Dobby and Daphne elected to stay in, but Ron, Harry, Ginny, and Draco marched themselves out into the pouring rain, with orders from Mrs. Weasley that the second she heard a rumble of thunder, they were to come back inside immediately.
But Harry had flown in worse conditions than this. It took a dementor to knock him from his broom.
Fred and George came running out to join them, having been ensconced in secretive things in their room. They played a chaser’s game, the twins in the goals. The rain hurled down, obscuring sight and hearing.
“ILLIN BARLEY OM GATOR!” Fred shouted.
“WHAT?” Ron yelled back, squinting against the rain.
“BILL AND CHARLIE ARE COMING LATER!” George screamed.
“WHAT ABOUT PERCY?” Harry yelled.
“WHAT ABOUT PERCY?”
“FUDGE OTTER!” Ginny yelled.
“SHUT UP, POTTER!”
They played until it was impossible to see their hands around their brooms and George got accidentally whacked by the quaffle. And then they trooped back through the gale, bursting into the Burrow with a gust of rain.
“Shut the door, for Merlin’s sake!” shouted a Weasley Harry hadn’t seen in a very long time, poking his head into the hallway.
“Bill!” cried Fred and George, leaping towards him.
Skillfully, Bill erected a sparkling blue shield that stopped them in their tracks. “No one’s getting me wet,” he said sternly. “Hugs for dry siblings only.”
Harry was starting to shiver. The Burrow was warm, which meant he finally noticed how cold the rain had been.
“Oh, dear,” said Molly Weasley, bustling in with stacks of towels. “Alright, everyone, out of your wet clothes and by the fire. Honestly …”
“Thanks Mrs. Weasley!”
In short order Harry was in his pajamas by the roaring fire, cradling a cup of cocoa between his hands, surrounded by his friends and the most Weasleys you could fit into one space, which was to say: all of them.
Daphne and Hermione were playing a game of chess in the corner, Ginny and Ron were hanging off Bill’s arm, Charlie was in deep conversation with Arthur Weasley, Ron’s father, and Percy was by the fire with Harry.
“Thanks, Percy,” Harry said.
Percy looked up from his book. “Hm?”
“For what you said when I asked you for advice. I talked to him and it’s all fine.” He laughed slightly. “Actually, he was sort of worried about the same things.”
“I’m very glad, Harry.” Percy smiled at him, cheek dimpling.
“So, did you get a job?” Harry asked. “Without Tippy, I mean, I know you were planning on working for her.”
Percy nodded. “That’s true, my plans were rather disrupted, again. But I did get a position: I am on Andromeda Tonks’ campaign team.”
Harry blinked. “Campaign? For what?”
“She’s running for Minister of Magic. She actually recruited me, told me Madam Lockjaw had—had actually contacted her to make sure I would have a position out of school, since it couldn’t be with her.” Percy blinked, looking quite overwhelmed for a moment. “Very kind of her.”
“She’s a kind person,” Harry agreed, remembering the elf who had taught him to cook a rabbit and play euchre in the same afternoon. “What does it mean to run for minister?”
“Well, it means Andromeda has different ideas for the future of the wizarding world than Corneleus Fudge,” Percy explained. “Fudge, as you obviously know, has taken a hard stance against species equality, and is experiencing a lot of pushback and criticism. Andromeda has a history in politics. She is a pureblood, yet she married a muggle. Her child is … a unique quantity in herself. Her sister is Narcissa Black, who has eschewed Lucius Malfoy’s fanaticism and advocates for elf equity, not least of all with her wealth. Andromeda is running on a platform of species equity, specifically education and suffrage rights, and peaceful collaboration rather than Fudge’s militancy.”
Harry sat up straight. “Well, she’ll obviously win! That’s so much better!”
Percy tilted his head. “Well, that’s the thing, Harry. Quite a few people think like Fudge, instead of like Andromeda. But that’s where I come in! I’m doing outreach and bookkeeping for the Tonks campaign.” He grinned. “I quite like it so far. Andromeda seems to appreciate what I have to say.”
“Well, of course she does, everything you say is brilliant,” said Harry.
Percy blushed. “Well, thank you.”
“Merlin,” Ginny sighed, draping herself over Harry’s shoulders. “More cauldron bottoms?”
“Cauldron bottoms are important,” said Harry and Percy at the exact same time.
In the morning Harry was dragged awake in the pre-dawn hours, unable to believe he had to wake up so early. He pushed himself up from his bundle of blankets on Ron’s floor and had to very sternly tell himself not to blow Draco up for being so obnoxiously loud at such a terrible hour.
“Come on, come on, Mrs. Weasley said to be downstairs at five and it’s four forty-seven already!” screeched Draco.
“Merlin’s balls,” Ron groaned.
“Ronald, don’t be crude.”
“Boys!” Hermione snapped, throwing open their door. “Why on earth aren’t you up yet, we’re supposed to be downstairs in twelve minutes!”
Unable to stand it any longer, Harry pulled on a clean robe, shoved his things in his pack, and stormed from the room. Charlie was dozing on the couch, and Harry slumped next to him. Someone shoved a cup of tea into his hands and he drank it automatically, waking a bit more when Bill sat down next to him.
“Potter,” he said, looking perfectly awake. Bill had a fang earring through one ear and hair gathered in a ponytail. When he grinned, the tips of his canine teeth poked out. Harry reminded himself, very sternly, that he could barely handle his crush on one Weasley.
“Hi,” he said. “Everyone’s coming?”
“Everyone but mum. She doesn’t like quidditch very much and she likes sleeping in tents less. But she’s packing all our meals!” He laughed, shaking his head. “I heard down the grapevine that you know some interesting things about magical theory, Potter.”
Harry shrugged. “I guess. Limmy actually knows more than me.”
“I’d like to meet Limmy.”
“I’ll tell her to owl you, I suppose.” He yawned hugely. “When, you know, she won’t be murdered.”
“You’re a … cursebreaker, yeah?”
“That’s right. At Gringotts.”
A cursebreaker at Gringotts. Exhausted gears clicked together furiously in his head, grinding and grinding. He sat up straight. “Do you know Director Havelock?”
“We’ve crossed paths a few times, but the Board doesn’t have much to do with menial labor like cursebreaking.”
“I know her. I could put you in touch with her. Bill, what if I told you there’s an incredibly dangerous, dark artifact that the goblins don’t know about locked in a vault?”
Bill’s eyebrows rose—Harry noted in the back of his mind that one of them was pierced, too. “That the goblins don’t know about? Then I’d say the owner would be in serious trouble. What class of curse are we talking?”
Harry bit his lip. “I don’t know about curse classes. But bad enough that I can’t tell you right now. Something to do with Voldemort.”
Bill turned to face him fully. “Potter, are you being serious right now? Are you joking around?”
Harry frowned. “Why would I joke about something like this.”
“You can trust Potter,” put in Charlie, who hadn’t been dozing as heavily as Harry had thought. “Tonks vouches for him all the time.”
That made something warm spread over Harry’s chest, but Bill’s eyebrows just furrowed deeper. “When can you tell me details?”
“When I can meet with you and Havelock in person. I usually visit Diagon after school starts; I’ll get Severus to take me this year instead of the steward. Don’t worry, I’ll set everything up.”
“Who the hell are you?” Bill asked.
“A nuisance,” sighed Daphne, squeezing beside Harry on the couch and putting her head on his shoulder. She snatched his tea and drained the rest in one gulp. “Merlin, I’m tired.”
“All right, everyone,” said Percy, bustling into the room in a very Mrs. Weasley-ish manner. “Make sure you have your lunches, they’re on the table and labeled, and did everyone remember their pajamas and clothes for tomorrow? Toothbrushes? Where on earth are Ron and Ginny? RON! GINNY! WE ARE LEAVING IN SEVEN MINUTES!”
“Merlin, Percy,” groaned Charlie. “You could give the dragons a run for their money.”
“Dragons,” said Daphne and Harry at the very same time before scrambling over to Charlie. “Charlie!” Harry exclaimed.
“How’s Norbert?” Daphne demanded.
Charlie cracked open an eyelid. “You were in on it too?” he asked Daphne.
“Oh, we all were.”
He shut his eye again. “Figures. We call her Norberta now. Thriving. Loves meat. Tries to sit on my head.”
Harry and Daphne beamed at each other.
In short order Percy had corralled the errant members of the party into the living room, distributed lunches, sent Ron and Ginny back for their toothbrushes and Ginny back again for toothpaste, and then Mrs. Weasley was hollering from her room for them to leave already and let her sleep, for Morgana’s sake.
Arthur Weasley led them, in various states of exhaustion, on a trek over the sodden hillside. The storm had wiped the very air clear, and Harry was starting to wake up at last as they strode toward the sunrise, morning breeze in his face.
“Ah, here we are,” said Arthur, as they reached the top of a hill. “And there’s the portkey.”
Harry stared at a ratty old boot on the ground. “The what?”
“It’s an object enchanted to transport us to a pre-set location,” said Hermione. “They can take as many people as can touch the object.”
“Quite correct,” said Mr. Weasley. “Though weren’t we supposed to meet—”
“Arthur!” came a call from over the hill. “Here we come, don’t let it leave without us!”
Cedric Diggory and his father, of all people, rounded the crest just as the boot started to shimmer. Harry quickly seized one of the laces before it swept them all away.
See you soon for a secret mission ;)
Chapter 10: Subterfuge
Representation of me remembering everything that actually happened at the quidditch world cup while writing these chapters: "well, hell."
Chapter warnings: incident of police harassment
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry got whiplash, so quickly did they go from a peaceful morning hilltop to a bustling field of wizards. He was briefly dizzy as he looked down at a vast field of colorful tents, and beyond them the quidditch pitch—regulation size, but with seats to fit half the wizarding world. Above it, intermittent fireworks counted down the minutes to the match, each time showering the stadium in green or scarlet sparks.
“Oh Merlin,” Ron breathed, hopping in place. “I can’t believe we’re really here!”
“I love the quidditch cup,” said Draco. “Father took me to the one four years ago—” he broke off, but rallied when Ron nudged him supportively, “and it was brilliant.”
“Let’s go!” shouted the twins. “There’s the ticket hut!”
They led the charge, though Harry, Ron, Draco, and Ginny were in hot pursuit, the quarter mile or so from the portkey point, leaving the Diggorys far behind. The noise of the congregated audience grew louder and louder, and Harry’s excitement grew with it.
“Hold on, boys, and Ginny,” Mr. Weasley called. “I have the tickets.”
They reluctantly waited for the rest of them, and approached the little ticket hut together. “Hello,” said Mr. Weasley to the man running the stand. “Here you are—tickets for us all. There should be thirteen.”
“Thirteen,” said the man absently, taking the tickets. “Bad luck, that. Mind you, bad luck seems the worst of my worries today. Odd things going on around here, I tell you. Very odd things.”
“Oh?” asked Mr. Weasley.
“Oh, yes,” said the man, whose name tag read ‘Roberts.’ “Very odd dressers, our visitors today. Lots of campers. I do believe I saw a man carrying an owl earlier, if you can believe it, and I’m sure that’s against some sort of regulations, unless he’s part of one of those environmental schemes—and if I told you the rest, sir, you’d think I was mad.”
“Surely not,” said Mr. Weasley.
“You would,” said the man, handing their tickets back. “All’s in order, sir. Enjoy your walk.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Weasley, leading them on through.
“Was he—a muggle?” Hermione asked.
“Roberts?” said Mr. Weasley. “Yes. He and his family live on site, I believe that’s what Ludo Bagman was telling me. They’ve got them charmed for the occasion. No doubt he’ll forget all of the funny things he’s seen by the time he goes to bed tonight.”
Hermione stopped in her tracks. Harry met her horrified gaze, utterly repulsed.
“They can’t do that!” Hermione shrieked. “It’s—it’s barbaric! It’s completely uncivilized!”
Harry nodded furiously. “You can’t just go around erasing memories! Why wouldn’t they just ask them to leave?”
Mr. Weasley shrugged uneasily. “Well ... then they wouldn’t have a ticket-taker, I suppose.”
Harry stared back over his shoulder at Roberts, now taking another family’s tickets. “They can’t do that! Muggles aren’t animals!”
“Now, I’m the last person to think something like that,” said Mr. Weasley. “But look alive, children, the check point is ahead.”
“Checkpoint?” Harry asked.
“Auror checkpoint,” said Draco grimly, taking Dobby’s hand. “Didn’t you read my article?”
Harry had skimmed the article and then Ouro had accidentally (it claimed) dunked it in the stream.
Ahead of them, four aurors with their wands out were watching them approach. They wore identical red robes and black boots, and Harry didn’t know a single one of them.
“Tickets, and papers for the elf,” said the first one. Wordlessly, Mr. Weasley handed him the tickets.
Dobby stepped forward to hand the auror a sheaf of papers, and at once four wands were trained on him. His ears went flat back. “I is giving you my papers,” he said slowly, as Draco drew himself up at his side.
The auror addressed Mr. Weasley. “Tell the elf to hand its papers to you.”
“It!” Draco shouted, but then Bill stepped up and put a hand on his shoulder, effectively silencing him.
“Dobby,” Bill said grimly. “May I have your papers?”
Dobby handed them over, and Bill presented them to the auror.
The auror glanced over it, and spoke to Bill. “This says it’s employed by Narcissa Black. Where is she?”
“Madam Black is arriving later today,” Bill said, voice hard. “She has entrusted her employee with her son’s care.”
The auror glanced at Draco, who was trembling with fury. He held the papers for one, two, three sickening seconds, wherein Harry felt his wand burning in his pocket. Then, dismissive, he held the papers back out to Bill. “Enjoy the cup.”
Bill snatched them back and they proceeded quickly and furiously. The moment they were out of earshot Draco was ranting. “When my mother hears about this!” he growled. “I swear to Merlin she will burn this place to the ground, she will find that man and make him pay—”
“Draco,” Dobby said, squeezing his hand. “Don’t call more attention.”
Draco shut up. Mr. Weasley led the way, Bill following behind, as they descended in a tight, tense huddle towards the campground. But not even their stupefied horror could stop the burbling of excitement at the tents.
What tents they were. Hundreds, thousands, stretching off into the distance, a rainbow riot of colors but most green and red for Ireland and Bulgaria. Some of them had gardens and tiny lawns out front with wrought iron benches and sundials and birdbaths, and some of them had small swimming pools, some had stepping-stone lanes, glass windows in the fabric walls, and chimneys puffing out multicolored smoke, even though it was summertime.
“Ah, here we are,” said Mr. Weasley, coming to an empty lot between a three-story emerald tent and one that looked like a grass-covered hill. “Bill?”
“Right-o.” Bill took a handkerchief from his pocket, deftly unfolded it three times, and threw it into the center of the lot. It expanded into a modest blue tent with a mail slot in the tent flap and the words “Burrow on the Go” painted on the side in a childish hand.
“Let’s see,” said Mr. Weasley. “Draco, your mum will be in that lot across from us, but she’s said the girls can bunk with her and you can be with us. Everyone memorize our spot now, we’re number eleven hundred and three. Got it? Good. Now, Narcissa will be here at noon, and we’ll head to her box from there. So wherever you roam, everyone, be back at eleven hundred and three by noon. Understand?”
“Right. I give you free reign, then, and don’t tell Molly. Everyone have their allowance?”
“We didn’t get ours!” chorused Fred and George.
“Yeah, right,” scoffed Charlie, taking them both by the elbow. “Let’s go, brothers mine.”
Mr. Weasley ducked into the tent, leaving the rest of them with Bill outside. He knelt down to be face-to-face with them, looking deadly serious. “Everyone, look at me.”
Harry, Draco, Hermione, Ron, Daphne, and Ginny looked at him. Dobby stood to the side and watched.
“This isn’t Hogwarts,” said Bill. “I know you all think you’re hot shit fourth-years now. But if you fuck with the aurors today, they will kill Dobby and throw the rest of you in Azkaban where even I can’t help you. Do I make myself clear?”
Slowly, one-by-one, they nodded. Dobby cleared his throat. “I wants to say something.”
“Go on,” Bill said.
Dobby took a deep breath, looking at them all. “I’s knowing the risks of coming here today. We is making it in. Narcissa is coming soon. I just wants to have a good time.”
“Okay,” said Draco quietly. Harry said nothing at all.
“Now scram,” said Bill. “It’s six am and I don’t see a single piece of horrifically sugary or fried food in any tiny children hands, and that’s a war crime or something. Concessions are that way.”
They took off in a drove. It looked like many of the attendees had arrived the night before, and were emerging in dressing gowns with cups of tea into the morning air, to be nearly stampeded by aforementioned hot-shit fourth-years, plus Dobby. The concessions area was indeed a carnival on its own. What did it matter that it was six in the morning? Candy-makers and food-fryers and sugar-spinners were out in force, frantically stocking up for the incoming rush. The booths were run by wizards with, to Harry’s surprise, quite few elves working alongside them.
“I’m going to go berserk,” Ron said calmly.
“Race you to the fried doxy feet!” Daphne shouted, and away they went.
“Not real doxy feet,” Harry said to Hermione, as they split up, the better to devour their prey.
“I don’t think so,” said Hermione. “Pretty sure they’re sort of like pralines. Harry, look.” Her brow was drawn down in a deeply troubled manner. “We have to do something.”
“About Roberts? I know. It’s—they can’t do that,” he said helplessly.
Hermione shuddered. “Every time I think I know how much wizards hate muggles, it gets worse. This is why I never let my parents come to Diagon with me.”
Harry took her hand. “Let’s go get some sugar,” he said lightly. “Would you prefer it in solid, liquid, or gaseous form?”
Hermione giggled. “Oh, gaseous any day.”
“Harry,” Ron shouted, twenty minutes later when the concessions had been ransacked. He had chocolate smeared all across his face. “We’re going to get merch!”
“We’ll catch up!” Harry shouted, gesturing to his and Hermione’s massive chocolate sundaes.
Dobby’s ears flicked forward, and he gave Harry a look. But Dobby wasn’t Tippy, so he wasn’t the boss of Harry.
“Alright,” shouted Ron. “Do you want an Ireland or Belgium badge?”
“Ah—get me one of each!”
They sat at the rickety little picnic table picking at their sundaes and watching their friends leave. Then Harry pulled his invisibility cloak from his bag. “Ah-ha. Here, Hermione, you use Áwere. I have my pendant.”
Hermione slipped the cloak around her shoulders. “Harry, thank you. You don’t have to do this for me.”
Harry stared at her. “Of course I do. Plus, it’s not for you, it’s for Roberts.” She gave him a tremulous smile. “Come on.” He tossed his sundae in the trash, and she followed suit.
Just as he was about to turn around Chikkeritt’s pendant, a hand came down on his shoulder. “What’s this, Titchy T? After Old Man William’s talking-to?” asked Fred, possibly.
“And perfect Miss Granger as well, how shocking,” said George, maybe.
Hermione looked down, but Harry rolled his eyes. “Get off. How’d you shake Charlie?”
“It would be more productive to ask how Charlie managed to not be shaken for so long,” said Fred.
“Almost half an hour!” said George.
“Disgraceful of us.”
“Anyway, let us help.”
Hermione crossed her arms. “Help with what?”
Fred stared exaggeratedly at her. “Oh, perhaps your liberation scheme?”
“Come on, it’s awful what they’ve done to that family.”
“Plus! We have supplies.”
George opened a bag full of small bundles and boxes. “We were gonna look for an investor here—”
“—but this is a worthier cause.”
“Prank stuff?” Hermione asked.
“Not just prank stuff!”
“Practically applicable prank stuff!”
“Darkness powder! No longer accidentally pink!”
“Trick exploding wands!”
“Various marginally-malicious candies!”
“Decoys! Shield scarves!”
“All right, keep your voices down,” Harry hissed. “You’re too big for my cloak; do you have any disguises?”
“Excuse me, lad, excuse me. Lad? Lad?”
The auror glanced up. “Can I help you, sir?”
“I’ve lost my wand,” said the ancient bearded man mournfully. “Do you have a lost and found?”
The auror rolled his eyes. “You lost your wand.”
“He’s always losing things,” said the ancient woman beside the man. “Lose his own head next. Swear he had the silly thing when we passed through here.”
“You don’t have a lost and found?” asked the man. “Young people these days, what are you supposed to do when you find something, eh, just throw it back on the ground? Steal it? Youth are all thieves these days, lad, I tell you, and no doubts about it—”
“We have a lost and found,” cut in the man. “Go ask the muggle taking the tickets.”
“Thanks ever so,” creaked the ancient woman. Arm in arm, they teetered over to the shack.
Harry and Hermione followed them, perfectly invisible.
“Excuse me,” said the ancient man, also known as possibly-Fred, barging up to the counter and shunting aside an affronted witch trying to give her ticket. “Excuse me, beauty before age I’m afraid. Young sir, do you have a lost and found?”
Roberts blinked at him. “A lost and found? Sure we do, sure we do. What are you looking for, then?”
“Oh, this and that,” said the old woman, also known as maybe-George. “It’s not here, is it? The lost and found? It’s in your home?”
Roberts scratched his head. “The lost and found? What—what do you mean, then? Where is it?”
“The lost and found,” said Fred intently. “It’s in your home, isn’t that right?”
“The lost and found? It’s in my home, madam, shall I take you there?”
“If you would be so kind,” said George. “Hello, sir? Sir? Young lad in the uncomely red?”
The auror looked over, irritation creasing his brow. “Yes, madam?”
“This dashing young lad is taking us to the lost and found to look for my idiot husband’s wand. Be a dear and take over the tickets for a tic?”
The auror scowled. “Now, look here, that muggle has a job—”
“You’re saying I can’t have my wand?” demanded Fred. “Youth these days, even the law, you can’t ever trust them, that’s what I told my Derwint, they’ll steal your wand and then they’ll steal your soul, I said, it’s the lack of religious morality, didn’t I say—”
“Right, fine, go,” said the auror. Sighing, he stowed his wand and snatched the impatient witch’s ticket. “Don’t take too long; this isn’t my job.”
“Not long, not long,” said George. “Sir? The lost and found?”
“Right,” said Roberts dimly. “Lost and found. In my cottage. Off we go.”
They followed a stumbling Roberts across the hill, a cozy little cottage tucked on the other side of it. “Here’s my home,” mumbled Roberts. “Lost and found, what is it you’re looking for?”
“Something important,” said Fred. “Let us in?”
“Right,” said Roberts. “Something important. I could have sworn there was something important I’ve got to remember …”
“Love?” came a woman’s voice, as Roberts unlocked his front door. “Back already?”
“Mrs. Roberts?” Harry called, flipping over his pendant. “We’re here to help you.”
George shut the door. Hermione pulled down her hood. Roberts took a startled step back.
Mrs. Roberts, a thin woman with laugh lines and hair under a handkerchief, came wandering out into the hall, blinking slowly. “Help?” she asked dazedly.
“Memory charms,” said Fred. “We don’t know the counter.”
“There isn’t one,” said Hermione grimly. “Fred, George, you have anything for wakefulness in your bag?”
“Sure,” said George, rifling through. “Here we go. Untested, mind. We’re calling it ‘Sip and Zip’.”
“Lovely.” Hermione snatched the bottle from him. “Mrs. Roberts, could you take a sip of this for me? It’s medicine. It’ll make you stop feeling so foggy.”
“Medicine?” asked Mrs. Roberts faintly. “I’m not sick.”
“Don’t you feel unwell?” Hermione pressed. “Just a sip of this and you’ll feel all better.”
“Unwell … yes, I’m feeling unwell. Just a sip?”
“Just a sip.”
Mrs. Roberts raised the little lime-green vial to her lips. When she lowered it, she blinked a few time, shook her head, and then looked at them with pupils blown wide. Her teeth chattered and her hands shook—it took a few tries for her to cork the bottle. “W-w-who-are-you?” she asked, words coming rapidly. “What’s-going-on? Andrew? Where’re-my-children? Why-are-you-in-my-home?”
“Zippy,” Fred said proudly.
“Mrs. Roberts, you’re in danger,” said Hermione. “Give your husband a drink too, please. We’re going to get you away. Are your children in the house?”
“I-don’t-know!” chattered Mrs. Roberts. “I-can’t-remember! Aiden! Eliza! Are-you-there!”
“Mum?” came a slow call.
Meanwhile, Mr. Roberts took a slow sip of potion. He froze, eyes going wide, shook himself frantically from side to side like a dog, and stared around wildly. “What-on-God’s-green-earth-is-going-on?”
“You’re in danger,” Hermione repeated, as two young children sleepwalked into the room, blinking slowly. The boy, about five, clutched a stuffed rabbit. The girl, ten or so, was breathing raggedly. “Memory charms on children are illegal,” she noted coolly. “Mrs. Roberts, do you have family in the area?”
“Sister-in-London!” said Mrs. Roberts, forcing the potion into her children’s mouths.
“Out of the house,” ordered Fred. “Everyone, right now. Please, don’t return for a week at least, alright?”
“Who-are-you?” demanded Mr. Roberts. “What’s-going-on?”
“We can’t tell you much,” said Hermione. “Please, if anyone asks you what happened, just say you got a fancy to visit your sister. Don’t mention us. You might not remember, anyway.”
“Here’s a back door,” said George. “Come on and I’ll call the bus!”
“Bus?” Harry asked. He got outside just in time to see Fred fling out his wand, and a massive purple double-decker bus appeared in midair.
“Welcome to the Knight Bus!” said a pimply youth, hanging out of the door. “How can I help you—”
“Mrs. Roberts, the address?”
Dazed, Mrs. Roberts gave it. Fred and George pulled galleons out of their pockets and counted slowly, frowning.
“Here,” said Harry, shoving twenty galleons into Stan’s hands. “Keep the change if you go there first and don’t tell anyone about this. And leave right now!”
“Can do!” said Stan, saluting. “Ernie! London, stat! It’s ten galleons for us on the line!”
The bus erupted forward, vanishing with a scream.
“Well,” said Hermione. “That was anything but subtle.”
“Time to get lost,” agreed Fred. “C’mon. We can sneak back into the campsite from the other side of the woods.”
They disappeared into the trees just as the entire cohort of aurors came striding over to the house.
“Or we could just dash by the counter while there’s no one to take tickets,” George suggested.
“Run!” said Harry.
See you soon for an exciting tournament : )
Chapter 11: The Quidditch World Cup
Time for a match.
Chapter warnings: incident of terror, violence and violent language, panic attack
“Oh, this is brilliant,” said Ginny. “Professor Black, thank you so much!”
Narcissa smiled at her, impossibly elegant in a peach sundress and wide-brimmed hat. “Not a professor any more, dear. Madam Black is fine.”
But Ginny was correct. This was brilliant. The whole group was ensconced in Narcissa’s personal box to watch the match. There were cushioned seats and trays of snacks (though Harry could not possibly eat another morsel for at least ten minutes) and bubbly drinks for the adults and soda for the children. They were directly mid-pitch. The view could not be rivaled.
Harry was decked out in equal amounts of merchandise for Ireland and Bulgaria, having been unable to resist any vendor. His pockets were stuffed with souvenirs for his friends, and his stomach was stuffed with the greasiest, most delicious food he’d ever eaten.
The roar of the crowd, first overwhelming, had ceased to alarm him. They were simply loud, but that was all. He was practically an expert at navigating wizard spaces now, and it made a bubble of pride well up in his stomach.
“Andy!” Narcissa exclaimed, rising from her seat. “So glad you could make it. And Tonks, what a pleasure.”
Andromeda Black and Tonks squeezed into the box, distributing hugs everywhere. Percy leapt up like a frog to shake Andromeda’s hand and properly introduce her to the Weasleys.
“And this is Harry Potter,” he said finally, bringing her around. She was wearing an Ireland sweater with a sparkling shamrock, and muggle jeans.
Harry giggled. “We know each other, Percy. We’re cousins, I guess.”
“Cousin is as good a term as any,” said Andromeda, kissing his cheek. “Hello again, Harry.”
“I think you’ll be a great minister,” said Harry.
“Oh—why, thank you. A bit premature, though, seeing as I haven’t won yet.”
“You will,” said Harry firmly. “Percy’s on your team; how could you not?”
Percy gaped at him, blushing, and then escorted Andromeda firmly away.
“Harry,” said Tonks in astonished glee. “How bold you’ve grown, my little mirror ghost.”
Harry grinned. “Hi, Tonks. Congratulations on your job!”
“Oh, thanks.” Tonks grinned, brushing her vivid green hair behind a pointed ear. She had a smattering of green freckles across her cheeks as well. “I’m really pleased with it.”
“What are you doing?” asked Hermione curiously.
Tonks settled into a seat and unwrapped a fried pretzel. “Well, I suppose I’m sort of a bodyguard for hire. A lot of non-human folk don’t feel safe right now and just want someone to get groceries or go to meetings with them. That’s me—in disguise, obviously. It’s a free service, too, ‘cause we run on donations. I don’t make much, but at least I can live with myself.”
“That’s brilliant,” Ginny said, leaning forward over the seats. “Way better than those horrid aurors. I can’t believe I ever wanted to be one of them.”
“The aurors did ask me an odd question as I came in,” Tonks said, taking a massive bite of pretzel. “Asked if I saw a runaway muggle on the property. How do you lose a whole muggle, I asked? He turned very red and was very rude about taking my ticket.”
“That is odd,” Hermione said loudly. “I hope everything’s okay.”
Ginny snorted. “Give it up, Hermione. You two aren’t subtle.”
“No clue what you’re talking about, Ginevra,” said Harry, and Ginny’s resulting fit continued for several minutes.
“Isn’t it a shame,” came Narcissa’s voice, floating over to them. “It was going to be such a momentous collaboration.”
Harry glanced over to the see the adults all shaking their heads sadly. “What are they talking about?” he asked.
Tonks sighed, wrapping her pretzel back up in a desultory sort of way. “Oh, well, there was supposed to be something really brilliant at Hogwarts this year, but with everything that’s going on, everyone else has pulled out. On account of our government trying to kill or re-enslave all the elves, and putting dementors around kids and making space for Blood Riot and … and whatnot.”
“What was supposed to happen?” Hermione asked curiously.
“Ah, something called the Triwizard tournament.”
Ron’s jaw dropped as he leaned over the back of his chair to gawk. “No way! And they canceled it?”
“’S more like we’re being boycotted.” Tonks shrugged. “Maybe it’ll happen in a few years … but I doubt it.”
“Wasn’t the tournament originally canceled because of a death?” Hermione asked, frowning.
“Well, yes,” Tonks admitted. “But hey, look—it’s starting!”
All was forgotten in favor of the match.
And what a match. School games would forever seem paltry.
It was incredible. Harry had never seen anyone fly like the Irish and Bulgarian teams, who moved in such easy synchronicity that it was is if they were all fingers on the same hand. Chasers passed with hardly a glace and ignored oncoming blunders with ultimate trust in their beaters. Keepers swept the quaffle from goals straight across the pitch into waiting hands. And the seekers … the seekers, the seekers. Viktor Krum.
He flew like a sparrow, leading the Irish seeker in dizzying loops and dives that even Harry didn’t think he’d be able to pull off without many months of practice. It was as if he’d spent his whole life in the air.
The match ended as dusk fell, with Krum performing a spectacular maneuver and Ireland winning in points overall. Harry could hardly bring himself to let go of the railing, staring at the flyers touching down to shake hands.
“Wow,” breathed Ginny beside him. “I want to be that.” Her eyes were sparkling.
“You should definitely be that,” Harry agreed.
They stayed up til midnight in the Weasley’s tent, re-enacting the match in uproarious tones until Narcissa and Mr. Weasley put their feet down. Hermione, Ginny, Andromeda, and Tonks, for today, trooped across the way to Narcissa’s three-story tent, while the rest of them settled into bunks and sleeping bags.
“Could you believe, just around the thirty-four minute mark, when Krum did that feint behind the goal?” Ron whispered in the dark.
“It was amazing,” said Draco. “But did you see when Ryan sent the quaffle straight into Troy and Moran’s setup?”
“Beautiful,” agreed Ron.
“If you all don’t be quiet,” hissed Charlie, “I’m going to personally strangle every one of you.”
“Did you see,” Harry whispered, “Lynch hang upside-down to dodge that bludger?”
He stared at the pitch-black tent ceiling, the match replaying over and over in his mind. How utterly wonderful. He would never sleep again for dreaming of it.
He was asleep five minutes later.
He was awoken by screaming.
He jolted upright, seizing his wand and sending his elflight into the air, flaring a bright purple. “Bill! Arthur! Charlie!”
They were already scrambling up. “Stay here!” Mr. Weasley ordered. “Am I understood—Percy, keep them here!”
“Right,” said Percy blearily, lighting his wand. “What’s going on—”
But the three eldest Weasley men were already out of the tent.
“What is that?” Draco asked, standing up from his sleeping bag. “Screaming? Who’s screaming?”
They all listened carefully. Yes, it was screaming. Distant shouting, and was that—
“Laughing?” breathed Ron. “Is someone laughing?”
Someone was laughing. Many people were laughing. High and cruel and getting closer.
Bill burst back into the tent. “Everyone out! Everyone, out right now! You will take someone’s hand and not let go, so help me Merlin! Rendezvous at the muggles’ house in an hour if we haven’t found you by then! NOW!”
Harry seized Draco’s hand and pulled him from the tent. It was chaos outside—people were shouting and screaming and trampling the tents—they lost the rest of their group immediately. In distance, parading closer, were a group of figures in bright red robes—and they had their wands out—and hovering in the air in front of them, contorting with wild screams of pain were—
“Elves!” screeched Draco. “DOBBY! DOBBY!”
“Be quiet!” Harry snapped, hauling him towards the forest. “He was in the tent—do you want them to notice him?” They were swamped in the panicking heave of thousands of wizards.
Draco resisted, hauling backwards. “We have to help! I have to find him!”
Harry would normally agree. But this was a stampede. “Bill will help them! Narcissa will help them! We have to hide, Draco, don’t you know who must be here?!”
Draco’s hand went slack in Harry’s. Harry redoubled his grip and began to charge again. The crowd was in absolute mania, loud as a storm, trampling anything in its way. Harry put his shoulder down and slammed through bystanders until they had cleared the treeline. Those horrible sounds followed them: tortured screaming, and maniacal laughter.
“Inward!” Harry gasped. “Hurry!”
Hands clenched tightly together—Bill had said not to let go so Harry would not— they crashed through the woods until there was no one else around them. Then they stood still and breathed. Draco’s chest was heaving, his hands were shaking. Harry wasn’t much better. He twitched at the every rustle of wind in the leaves.
“I think—” Draco gasped, high and labored, “We’re—okay!”
They held still and quiet, quiet as they could. Harry’s ears strained for any sign of pursuit.
“Okay,” he said, relaxing. “Okay, let’s find—”
Draco flinched so hard he nearly broke Harrys’ fingers. “It’s him,” he moaned.
“Draco! Draco, dear! Come say hello to your father!”
They fled. Deeper and deeper into the woods, but it was dark and the forest was unfamiliar and they made noise, and Lucius followed them, his haunting voice eerily muffled by the trees and the night air.
“Draco,” he called, like a hunting horn warning the foxes. “Son, I only want to talk. I only want you to come back to me. Why don’t you come greet me? Don’t you love me anymore?”
They pushed on, on, on. If only they were in Harry’s forest. If only they were anywhere but here. If only, if only—
“Draco, I can hear you,” said Lucius, voice coolly amused. “What do you think you’re doing? Where do you think you’re going? Draco, if you stop running, I’ll let your little elf live.”
Draco stopped in his tracks. His face looked inhuman with terror, and he stared wide-eyed at Harry.
“He’s lying,” Harry hissed. “Dobby was in the tent with us.”
“Oh yes, we found him first,” called Lucius, coming closer. “I plan on making him pay for my lost property that night. But I’ll leave him with breath in his body if you come back to me, Draco.”
Draco made an aborted motion towards his father, and Harry seized his arms and tackled him behind a tree. Sitting on Draco’s chest, he dragged Áwere from his bag and draped it over them both. He clapped a hand over Draco’s mouth and pressed the full weight of himself onto him, interrupting Draco’s minute struggles to buck him off.
“Draco!” yelled Lucius, only meters away from them. “Draco! This is your last chance! I’ll kill that elf the moment I get back!”
Harry pressed both hands over Draco’s mouth, tucked his head down next to Draco’s, and closed his eyes. Draco was screaming under his hands, tears pouring between Harry’s fingers.
“He’s lying,” Harry whispered in Draco’s ear, the barest of breaths. “He’s lying he’s lying he’s lying he’s lying—”
“DRACO!” roared Lucius. “For every second more you delay I will take another of his limbs before I end it! This is mercy, son! I am being merciful—don’t make me regret it!”
Draco gave one more great heaving buck and then went still under Harry, utterly defeated. His body shook with silent, hysterical sobs.
“YOU DOUBLE-CROSSING DOG!” Lucius roared. “YOU COWARD, YOU DAMN BLOOD TRAITOR! YOU ARE NO SON OF MINE! SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR ELF!”
There was a crack of magic, and they were alone in the forest.
Harry scrambled off of Draco, who rolled to the side and vomited everything he’d eaten that day. He was sobbing and hyperventilating, face covered in tears and mucus. Harry wasn’t much better.
Harry took out his wand. “Agua—Aguamenti. Here, Draco.” Draco cupped his hands under it and washed out his mouth, scrubbed at his face, but he was still crying.
“Harry, Harry, he has Dobby,” he sobbed. “He’s going to kill Dobby.”
“Put your head between your knees.” Harry leaned his head on Draco’s shoulder as he did so. “Breathe. He doesn’t have—he doesn’t have Dobby. He—he was lying.”
“He does!” Draco screamed. He choked, and coughed, and resumed sobbing.
Harry had to be the bigger person. Draco wasn’t used to being in danger like he was; it was Harry’s responsibility to get them back. That’s how things worked. But his body was betraying him. His breath was coming raggedly, his head starting to spin. He drew in a breath and it didn’t fill his lungs.
He tried another breath. Another. They didn’t work. He didn’t know how breathing just couldn’t work somehow, but it wasn’t.
The world spun out of his vision, and there was only white fuzz.
Chapter 12: Safety
Chapter warning: panic attack.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Harry, Snake, Harry. That’s it. Come on now. Wake up, Snake.”
Harry cracked open his eyes. Tonks grinned weakly down at him, a young man with nondescript brown hair and an altogether forgettable face. “Hey, Snake,” he said. “No, don’t sit up. You passed out.”
“I what?” Harry croaked. All at once he remembered everything, and he sat up at once, nearly cracking Tonks’ chin with his skull. The world went dizzy and ill. “Dobby! Draco!”
Tonks gripped his hand. “Hey. Shush. We still need to be quiet, yeah?”
Harry looked around, his vision swimming. Draco was curled in the corner of—it was a tent, they were in a tent. His head was between his knees, hands clenched over his head.
“Ran into Draco levitating you,” Tonks said. “It’s only been a few minutes since you lost consciousness. You need a doctor. Do you know what happened? Draco couldn’t tell me.”
“Panic attack,” Harry said miserably, clutching Tonks’ shoulder to stay upright. He felt himself start crying again. “Tonks, Lucius found us and said he has Dobby and said if Draco didn’t come out he would kill Dobby and I had to hold Draco down and—” he choked on his tears.
“Alright,” Tonks said. “Snake, can you tell me what Lobelia says to do right now?”
“Yes!” said Harry, voice thin and high with panic. “I have to breathe but I can’t breathe! Tonks, I really can’t breathe!”
Tonks put his hand on Harry’s chest, and put Harry’s on his. “You can breathe,” he said calmly. “I can feel you breathing right now. Even if you think you aren’t breathing, your mind is lying to you. I can feel it. I want you to breathe with me. Even if it feels like it’s not working. Can you do that, Snake?”
“I don’t know!”
“I want you to try. Breathe with me, and tell me what you’re smelling right now.”
“Smelling? I’m not smelling anything!”
“Yes you are. Concentrate, close your eyes, and tell me what you’re smelling.”
Harry closed his eyes and breathed in deep through his nose. He wasn’t smelling anything. He didn’t understand why Tonks would want to know what he was smelling right now.
“Come on, aren’t snakes great at smelling? Or do you just have a plain old wizard nose?”
Harry let his mouth fall open slightly and breathed in. Smell—yes, he could smell. “Wet grass,” he whispered.
“It rained overnight. What else?”
Breathe in. “Flowers.”
“I use floral shampoo. What else?”
Breathe in. “Fried food?”
“The owner of this tent left a basket of chips. What else?”
Breathe in. Deep and steady. “Night air.”
“It’s three in the morning. What else?”
Breathe in, and in, and in. His lungs were working after all. “Um, gross stuff.”
“Draco threw up. I gave him a mint. What else?”
Harry opened his eyes, his heartbeat calming at last, Tonks’ chest rising and falling with his own. “Magic,” he said.
“Magic is all around us,” Tonks agreed. “How do you feel?”
“Better.” He slumped forward, head against Tonks’ chest as he was hugged tightly. “Thanks, Tonks.”
“Let’s go. We need to get to our rendezvous point.” Tonks got up and crouched beside Draco. “Hey, cousin? Harry’s alright. We’re going to go meet Dobby by the muggles’ house.”
Draco staggered up, taking Tonks’ hand, not looking away from the ground.
They poked their heads out of the tent. Things seemed to have calmed somewhat. Harry could no longer see those terrible laughing figures.
“We must keep quiet and move quickly,” said Tonks. “If we are intercepted, Snake and Draco, you are both to continue on while I deal with the threat.”
“Okay,” Harry said. Draco remained silent.
But they were not intercepted. They simply joined the masses still fleeing the campground and split from it to head towards the Robertses’ little hut, now empty of all Robertses.
“Thank Merlin,” said Bill, hovering in the doorway. “You’re the last ones.”
Draco’s head shot up. “Dobby?”
Draco broke ranks with them and barreled into the house, shoving Bill out of the way. Harry slumped in relief against Tonks’ arm.
“Wotcher, Bill,” said Tonks tiredly. “I’ll help get everyone back to the Burrow.”
“Thanks, Tonks. We got an emergency notice that spontaneous portkey-making is currently authorized. Dad was only waiting ’til we knew everyone was here.”
In the Roberts’ kitchen, everyone was politely not looking as Draco clung to Dobby and his mother and cried as if the world was ending.
“Harry,” said Arthur in relief. “Thank Merlin. Alright, everyone. Hands on this, er, muggle thing.”
It was a blender. Harry couldn’t even be concerned that the Robertses would have to purchase a new one. He took hold of the cord, and in a second they were right out front of the Burrow, in the quiet hills.
Mrs. Weasley came bursting out at once, clutching the nearest redhead to her. “Oh! Ron! Ginny, everyone! Are you alright! What on earth is happening?”
“There was an incident at the cup, mum,” said Bill, doing a headcount. “Blood Riot members, led by Lucius Malfoy. Had a bunch of elves captive, started a panic.”
“Molly,” said Narcissa, “thank you for watching over Draco. We are going to go home. Daphne, your mother was called in and said you are to come home with us.”
“Alright,” said Daphne quietly. She took Draco’s hand and gave Harry a weak smile.
“Oh—of course, we’ll be in touch,” said Molly, and Dobby whisked Narcissa and Draco and Daphne away.
“Us too,” said Tonks, kissing Harry on the head and taking his mother’s hand. “Work to do.”
“Bye, Andy—oh, Hermione and, oh, Harry dear—” said Molly. “Hermione, do you have one of those—those things—fellytones, to reach your parents—”
“No, Mrs. Weasley,” said Hermione. “It’s alright. I’ll just meet them in a few days like we originally planned. I don’t want them to worry.”
Mrs. Weasley looked troubled at that, but then her focus was redirected to Harry. “Harry, of course, I already sent a patronus to Severus, he’ll be here shortly. Everyone else, bed at once, right now, bed.”
There was a round of protests.
“Mum,” said Bill quietly. “No one’s sleeping after that. How about I make some tea?”
“Tea! Yes, of course—” In a tizzy, she bustled back inside.
They trooped in, the Weasleys plus Hermione and Harry. Mrs. Weasley ensconced them all on couches and armchairs with throw blankets, and Bill pressed cups of tea and chocolate biscuits into their hands.
Harry gave his biscuit to Ron. He couldn’t imagine eating right now. All he wanted to do was go home.
There was a rapping on the door. “Molly?” called Severus.
Harry leapt up, squeezing all his friends’ hands in quick succession. “Bye.”
“Bye, Harry,” they called, in depleted voices.
Severus was being given a rapid update by Mrs. Weasley. He looked Harry over as he came to the door. “Harry, are you all right?”
Harry shrugged. “I want to go home.”
“Of course. We will go to my house at once.”
“No,” Harry said. “I want to go home.”
Severus frowned at him. “Mr. Potter, surely this once—just come home with me for one night, where I know you are safe—”
“Take me home, Severus!” Harry shouted. “Or I’ll find my own way! I want to go home! I want my family!”
Severus pressed his lips together. “Very well. Home. Come here.”
Harry stared at his outstretched hand. Would Severus trick him? Apparate him away to somewhere far from Hogwarts? Maybe he would be better off making his own way back, somehow.
Severus sighed. “Harry, please. I promise.”
Harry took his hand. With a nod to Mrs. Weasley, Severus whisked them away. They arrived in Hogsmeade, buildings barely visible in the dark.
Harry pulled out his cloak. Severus put a hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Potter—just this once, let me walk you back to wherever it is you go—”
Harry knocked his hand away, flipped his pendant around, and flung on his cloak. Invisible twice-over, he ran.
“Basilisk?” he whispered through a throat ragged from sobbing.
There was a great rustling and shuffling. “Snakeheart? Why are you back so soon? Why do you smell of distress? Snakeheart, what happened?”
Harry threw off his cloak and untwisted his pendant and clutched the basilisk’s tail as it came to curl around him. “Basilisk!”
“Snakeheart, what is wrong, are you wounded, who did this to you—get in the nest, here—children, stay back, let him breathe.”
“No, no, I want them,” Harry sobbed, clutching the babies close as they swarmed over him. “Basilisk, at the quidditch cup—” Choked and terrified, he sobbed out what had happened.
The basilisk’s roar of rage shook the stones of the den. “WIZARDS!” it roared, as the babies hissed in anger in Harry’s lap. “HOW DARE THEY! HOW DARE THEY TOUCH ONE OF US! Impudent, treacherous, hot-blooded creatures—how dare they? Don’t they know who you are?”
“Of course they don’t,” Harry said, his sobs fading in the wake of the basilisk’s soothing rage. “How could they know? To them, I’m just Harry.”
The basilisk curled and coiled around the den, frantic and furious, as the babies twined themselves across him, hissing soothing nonsense sounds. Then the basilisk draped a coil across his legs and butted its face into his back, tongue flicking gently across his neck. “This is my fault,” it said.
“No!” Harry said immediately. “How would it be?”
“My obsession with secrecy, my worry, it has put you in grave danger. Those outside are ignorant to your significance. They do not understand that I will kill anyone who hurts you, a thousand times over.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you have to stay secret. What about the children?”
“The children are already deadlier than any other being in the natural world,” hissed the basilisk. “No. No, the time for secrets is ending. Your safety is my responsibility.”
“Since when!” Harry exclaimed.
The basilisk turned a skeptical yellow eye on him. “Since now. We have long said we are a nation. It is time for us to start acting like it.”
Harry woke several times in the night, shouting with fear, and each time the basilisk soothed him back to sleep. At last, he woke for good, easily. He woke to the basilisk’s muttering.
“And location … deeper … no, further … but not too far … warm but not too hot … ah, Snakeheart. Wake up and fetch your writing tools.”
“Yes, you and I are making a list.”
“Right.” Harry crawled over to the little nook where he kept his paper and chalk, and dragged them back over to the sleeping bundle of basilisk babies. “Okay.”
“Good. Write this down. Deep and warm, but comfortable for mammals. At least three days from the borders of other nations. No further than ten days from the centaur village or the elf settlement. Hostile to wizards. Absolutely concealed. At least twelve days from wizarding habitation. Easy access to the surface. Ground cover of two body-heights or more. Plentiful prey. Clean water source. Am I missing anything?”
Harry looked up from his scribbled list. “How should I know? I’ve no clue what you’re doing.”
The basilisk stared at him. “I am listing qualifications for our new home, of course.”
Harry’s head spun. “We’re moving?”
The basilisk nodded. “If we are to grow as a nation, we cannot do so under a wizard dwelling. We are only here by happenstance, after all. You shall seek out our new home.”
“Oh shall I,” Harry murmured. “Basilisk … you don’t have to do this for me. This is your home.”
“You are my home,” corrected the basilisk. “You and my children. This is just a den. And you are deeply wrong: I do have to do this for you. No objections, Snakeheart, just action. Now, what am I missing?”
Tears trembling in his eyes, but good ones this time, Harry evaluated the list. “Um. No competition for territory?”
“Put it down.”
Chapter 13: Nation-Building
So much love for the basilisk last chapter in the comments <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Hmm … Sovereign?”
“That is the fairy’s word. Too … totalitarian.”
“Boring, don’t you think? Besides, what do I rule?”
“Good point. Well. Older Basilisk? Some call you Eldest, I think.”
“… Eldest. Yes, perhaps. What of my children, then?”
Harry ate a square of chocolate and doodled a little snake on his brainstorming parchment. “Well, what are they to you?”
“They are my children.”
“Yes, but how do they share power?”
“They have no power; they are infants.”
Harry rolled upright. “See, we can’t tell people that, though. To everyone else, the babies will be like your heirs. Like Araeo.”
“Heirs implies they inherit some sort of dominion,” said the basilisk. “I have no material wealth.”
“They’ll have territory,” Harry pointed out.
“I am no monarch, and I dislike their status depending on the material. What if they wish to leave the territory? Think of something else.”
Harry frowned. “Um ….”
“I know,” said the basilisk. “Let their titles describe what they do, rather than what they have.”
Ifingr squirmed a little as it woke up. “Snakeheart, I want to be something cool.”
“Yeah, it has to be really cool,” Harry agreed. “Well, what about … Moon-Eye, for Ifingr, because of its eyes?”
“Knower,” Harry suggested. “Ifingr the Knower. The Wise. The Apperceiver.”
“Hmm … yes, I like this form …”
“Got it!” Harry lifted Ifingr up to look it in its foggy eyes. “Ifingr, the Far-Fathomer. The Fathomer for short.”
“Wicked,” hissed Ifingr.
“For Laila, Swift-Striker,” said the basilisk. “It is the quickest of them.”
“And for Ouro …” wondered Harry. “Its gaze is the strongest.”
“Bone-Burier,” said the basilisk with deep satisfaction. “Now there is just you.”
The basilisk shook its head. “No. That is too lowly. You are emissary to many. You must be held in as high regard as myself.”
Harry looked up. “What, really? I’m not, you know … a basilisk. Biologically.”
The basilisk hissed. “You are a basilisk if I say you are.”
Harry grinned. “Oh, alright. Well, you’re already Eldest. I can’t be ‘Also Eldest’.”
“If your name wasn’t ‘Snakeheart,’ that would be your title. Ah, no, I have it. You will be The Tongue of the Deeps.”
Harry snickered. “That sounds a little dirty.”
“The Voice of the Deeps.”
“Better. Actually, that sounds cool.”
“Write this down. Full title: Snakeheart, Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest.”
“That’s a really long title.”
“The longer, the better, if we’ve learned anything from the acromantulae. You shall be The Voice for short.”
“Yes, Laila the Swift-Striker?”
Laila giggled. “Your glass thing has been flashing since last night.”
“My glass thing? Oh stars, Araeo!” Harry catapulted over to his trunk and seized the mirror. The moment he held it up, Araeo’s distraught face appeared in the mirror.
“Snakeheart!” Araeo shouted. “Thank the stars, by all the prophets, Snakeheart, you’re safe—”
“Araeo, I’m sorry!” Harry wailed. “I should have called you right away—I’ve been home with the basilisks—”
“No, no!” Araeo visibly made an effort to calm down. “You’re with your family, of course, you’re safe, I knew you were safe, obviously—I tried to warn you before it happened, but you didn’t answer!”
“I forgot the mirror here,” Harry admitted. “But I’m alright. It was really bad, though. I’m staying with the basilisk until I come to the forest.”
“Good,” said Araeo. “That’s very good. Oh, Snakeheart, the moment I caught a glimpse of what would happen, I thought I would run all the way to warn you, but mother said absolutely not—”
“It’s good you didn’t,” said Harry grimly. “It wasn’t safe for centaurs. It wasn’t safe for anyone.”
“Aaa-rayyy-oh!” shouted Laila, wriggling into view, eyes shut tight. “Aaa-rayyy-oh!”
“That’s right!” said Araeo in delight. “You said my name, Laila!”
“Layy-lahh!” Laila said proudly, in English. “Learnsss!”
“Oh, yes, you do learn,” said Araeo, beaming at it. “What else can you say?”
“Can ssssay … BUGSSS!”
“Bugs!” repeated Araeo in delight.
“Snakeheart,” said the basilisk. “Ask your heartkin if he can make you a robe out of this. I suspected Salazar still kept it. Take some to the mer, as well.” It nudged something large and oddly transparent over his legs. Harry pulled it up to inspect it, and his jaw dropped.
“My shed skin,” said the basilisk proudly. “I only shed once every century or so, you know. Well, ask him!”
“Araeo, the basilisk wants to know if you can make me a robe out of its shed skin.” Harry angled the mirror towards the skin.
“Oh! Yes, I’ll try! That’s lovely, it looks like it’s shining. Yes, bring it next week.” Araeo looked at him curiously. “Any reason why?”
Harry grinned. “Oh, well, actually. I need, I suppose, official diplomatic clothes.”
Araeo stared at him. “Does that mean what I think it means?”
“That we’re coming out of hiding? Yes. Eventually. We have stages.” He tilted the mirror towards his massive stack of parchment.
“Oh, this is going to be so brilliant.”
Avalon re Aflin Fler,
Please pass the contents of this courtesy missive on to Council Member Sambation re Krilfin Flin, to be relayed as directly as possible to her majesty Queen Celadon re Alimnion. From this point forward all missives received through myself, Snakeheart, shall be understood as direct correspondence from the Eldest of the Nation of Basilisks and be regarded with due importance.
The Basilisk, heretofore referred to in diplomatic context as “The Basilisk, Eldest”, “The Eldest”, or “Eldest”, would like to make transparent the current status of its Nation. The Eldest has long preferred a position of innocuity among the non-human Nations of the Lake and Forest. This long-held stance is poised to shift, due to outrageous malefaction recently effected on members of the Nation as a result of Wizarding affairs—
Regards from the Council of the Eldest,
Snakeheart, Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest
Sorry about the last letter! The basilisk insisted. Anyway, things went very bad in the wizarding world the other day—remember the quidditch match I told you about?—and we’re coming out of hiding. You’ll probably read about it in The Demiguise, but here’s what happened—
See you soon,
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 92 ✩ 10 July 1994
TERROR AT QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP
SEVEN DETAINED BLOOD RIOT MEMBERS RELEASED; MALFOY’S HAND SUSPECTED
TORTURED ELVES SHARE STORIES
AURORS HARASS GUESTS, DON'T KEEP THE PEACE
EYEWITNESS AND MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE ANDROMEDA TONKS SPEAKS OUT!
by special guest writer Morph
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO SNAKE FROM CANIDAE: SEND US AN OWL
TO MIRROR GHOST FROM MORPH: OWL SERPENTUS FOR MERLIN'S SAKE
TO TITCH FROM TWINS: SPARE AN OWL FOR LITTLE BRO
TO S.H. FROM WIGGENWAND: OWL ME OR ELSE
“Snakeheart, perhaps you should stay just a few days longer. Until you are recovered.”
“I’m recovered! And I have things to do. We have things to do. You came up with them all, remember?”
“You are still having nightmares.”
“They’ll fade. Being with Araeo will help, you’ll see. Plus, if I don’t see Limmy soon I think she might honestly come find me, and she’s a wanted criminal.” He packed the scrolls containing near-identical copies of the basilisk’s missive into his bag. “Right. Ifingr, ready to meet the world?”
“YES!” shrieked Ifingr.
“Ifingr,” said the basilisk seriously. “Do you remember what I told you?”
Ifingr wriggled its way up Harry’s leg. “If anyone tries to hurt Snakeheart I bite and kill it as fast as I can.”
Harry sighed. “You know, I’ve survived the forest for six years on my own.”
“It’s not the forest I’m worried about. Be safe, Snakeheart. Come safely back to me, both of you.”
Harry pressed a kiss to the small scales beneath its eye. “We will.” He hefted Ifingr’s body in his arms as it coiled around his neck. Ifingr was too big now to be concealed beneath his robes. “Alright, my little diplomat. There’s just one thing we have to do first.”
“What?” Ifingr hissed.
“Off to the forest?” Myrtle asked. “Oh, and taking the baby? Hello, baby!”
“Hello, Myrtle!” hissed Ifingr happily. “My name isss Far-Fathomer now!”
“Oh? What a pretty name! And your English is so good.” Myrtle beamed at Harry. “Far-Fathomer!”
“We all have titles now,” said Harry, grinning. “Get this, I’m the Voice of the Deeps. Cool, yeah?”
“Very cool,” said Myrtle. “I want one.”
“You can be: Best Friend of the Voice of the Deeps.”
She grinned. “A title shared by many. I’ll take it. Float you to the entrance hall?”
Harry shook his head. “Library first.”
Harry draped Áwere around Ifingr, and played tag with Myrtle all the way there, as she could see through Chikkeritt's pendant. He finally skidded to a halt, panting, at the massive stained-glass doors of the library. Myrtle catapulted straight through them, then poked her head back out. “Beat you inside.”
“Unfair,” Harry gasped. “I beat you to the door.”
“I beat you inside,” Myrtle repeated smugly.
Harry opened one of the doors and slipped into the library, completely silent during the summer holiday. Even Madam Pince was gone, thank goodness. Quiet now, with Myrtle mostly transparent, they made their way to the free book room.
Only it wasn’t a free book room. It was Severus’ private reading room. Harry dug out a little package from his bag and opened the door.
Severus, reading in his armchair, looked up.
Harry froze. Myrtle ducked out of sight.
“Hello?” Severus asked, wand pointed at the doorway at once. “Who’s there?”
Harry bit his lip. Then, very carefully, he extended the little wrapped bundle from his cloak, placing it gently on the table.
“Reveal yourself!” demanded Severus. He strode towards the table and stared at the package, then did a double take.
To Severus, From Harry.
“Harry?” Severus asked. “Are you there?”
Harry said nothing. He hovered in the doorway.
“Potter, really. Just show yourself, I swear I won’t do anything you don’t wish.”
Harry stayed still. Finally, Severus sighed and stowed his wand, tearing open the package.
Destroying the Indestructible: Spells of Absolute Eradication sat there, along with a small note.
Severus let out a hard breath. “I see stolen things are returned at last.” He flicked open the note and read aloud: “Severus. Sorry for shouting at you. I was upset. Here’s this back. Don’t worry, I only ever used it twice.”
Severus flicked the note down and glared at approximately Harry’s stomach. “Lily was just like you: you could tell her nothing. She was her own final word. Twice, child, is far too many times. Don’t you have any sense of danger? The spells in this book kill.”
That’s the idea, thought Harry.
“I accept your apology,” said Severus. “I should not have pressured you. I hope you can forgive me as well.”
Harry nodded, though Severus couldn’t see it. Then he slowly, gently, closed the door.
The forest, the forest. Thank the stars for the forest. Harry threw off his cloak and spread his arms, drinking in the summer smells and sounds and tastes. He had missed it!
He set off for the centaur village, Ifingr riding proudly on his shoulders. This was different. This was good. The basilisk was doing this for him, and maybe it should have felt like too much—but instead he only felt protected and loved. His family would move mountains for him, and he for them, and that was right.
Harry and Ifingr
“What’s over there?” Ifingr hissed quietly, extending itself over his shoulder. “They smell itchy.”
“Bowtruckles,” said Harry. “Little creatures that eat bugs in wand trees. They aren’t sapient, and they bite.”
“I can bite.”
“They can’t bite like you. They’re just pests.”
“What’s that noise?”
“That’s a robin singing. It’s a sort of bird. They lay small eggs.”
“I want an egg!”
“Don’t you want to wait until we get to the village? If you eat an egg now you won’t be hungry for a while.”
“No, I want to wait. What’s up above blocking the heat?”
“That’s a cloud. It’s a big thing in the sky made of water.”
“You don’t like water?”
“No, it’s gross that it’s in the air!”
Harry laughed. “What, why?”
“Because water should come down.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“What’s that crunching ahead?”
Harry squinted ahead, and smiled hugely. “You know what that is! Can’t you smell him?”
“ARAEO!” Ifingr shrieked in English, writhing around Harry’s head in exuberance. “ARAEO ARAEO ARAEO!”
“Ready to run?” Harry asked.
Harry sprinted for Araeo, who laughed in delight and braced himself. When he was a meter away Harry leapt, twisting in midair, and Araeo caught him under the shoulders and knees, staggering but not falling.
“Oof!” Araeo laughed in delight and kissed Ifingr on the head, and then Harry. “Snakeheart! Ifingr! Shall I carry you both back to the village?”
“YESSS!” Ifingr shrieked.
“No,” laughed Harry.
“How about this.” Araeo dumped Harry back down and lifted Ifingr off his shoulders, draping it across his arms. “There we go, now everyone’s happy.” He held out his hand to Harry.
Grinning in joy and relief, Harry took it. Ba-bum, went their hearts, as their heartbeats slipped into alignment. It was like a physical weight lifted from Harry’s soul. He stared into Araeo’s foggy eyes in utter delight. “I missed you.”
“I missed you,” said Araeo. “I haven’t a sense of the specifics, but I suspect some great changes are about to occur.”
“Yep.” Harry swung their hands as they walked. Araeo had met them early; they were still several hours from the village. “Stuff and things. Official boring things.”
“Not boring!” Ifingr shrieked. “Snakeheart has a name now!”
“A title,” Harry corrected. “Snakeheart has a title now.”
“Hm. Is your title Snakeheart?”
“No, that’s my name.”
Araeo hummed. “I see. Is your title Emissary?”
“No, that’s my job.”
“I see.” Araeo stroked Ifingr’s head. “Is your title … Heartkin to the Stargazer Heir? Or perhaps Bulwark?”
“No, those are just parts of me.”
Araeo beamed at him. “Okay, I have one more guess.”
“Is your title the Voice of the Deeps?”
Harry’s jaw dropped. “You cheater! You said you didn’t know the specifics!”
Araeo laughed. “Your mistake. I always know the specifics. Don’t worry, I haven’t told mother.”
“Do you know mine, Araeo?” asked Ifingr.
“Let me see. Could it be Ifingr the Cutest?”
Ifingr giggled. “No.”
“Ifingr the Adorable? Ifingr the Precious?”
“Then I have no clue. Tell me?"
“Ifingr the Far-Fathomer!”
Araeo grinned. “What a perfect name.”
They walk to the village was a balm to the turbulent days before. It was a perfect summer day. In the village the fire was smoldering, parcels of food being slowly roasted in the coals, and the telescopes were out, for a perfect summer day would surely lead to a perfect stargazing night.
Araeo raised no objection to Harry taking Ifingr back, but not to conceal: to drape back across his shoulders for the world to see, as he had never done.
Harry took a deep breath and clasped both of Araeo’s hands, straightening up. “Heir Stargazer. I must speak to Band Leader Stargazer at once.”
Araeo nodded. “I will fetch her immediately, emissary. Please wait by our fire.”
Harry went and sat near the fire, which was burning low purple flames. Ifingr stretched out to bask, and Harry set his bag down and pulled out his scrolls and took a few deep breaths.
“You know,” he murmured to Ifingr. “Very long ago, your parent decided I would speak in its place, just because it couldn’t be bothered. Sometimes I wish I could go back and warn my past self not to fall for it.”
Ifingr giggled. “Really?”
“No.” Harry pressed a kiss to its head, spotting Araeo leading Nayla and Firenze from the bower’s main entrance. “Alright, Far-Fathomer. Remember to enunciate.”
Next up: reunions :)
Chapter 14: Visage
Yayy people are so excited about the happenings! (I am too!) Enjoy this chapter of only fluff <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Okay! Let’s see it!”
Harry passed him the roll of shed basilisk skin as Ifingr explored Araeo’s stuffed animals.
“I’ll definitely need Myreme’s help,” he mused, brushing his fingers gently across the bumpy surface. “It’s so delicate; I don’t want to tear it.”
“It’s basilisk skin,” said Harry. He seized a corner and yanked. “It won’t tear.”
“Ooh. You know, my mother is actually very pleased.”
“Really? Why? When she saw Ifingr I thought she had actually been petrified.”
“Well, no one’s ever even thought there could be more than one basilisk! Anyone would be shocked. But she’s actually pleased. Sure, there's an unexpected new nation, but we already have friendly ties with it. I mean, it's just you."
"And me," murmured Ifingr.
Araeo smiled. "Yes, and the Cutest."
"Well, one day she'll meet the basilisk," Harry said. "I'll probably have to translate, its English isn't nearly as good as it pretends. I’m pleased your mum is happy.”
“Snakeheart,” hissed Ifingr. “I’m tired.”
“Okay, let’s make you a nest.” Harry went over to Araeo’s bed and arranged Ifingr neatly in a little blanket pile. “Sleep well, alright? You did perfect today.”
Harry smiled fondly down at it.
“Extremely lucky,” murmured Araeo. “That it’s blind.”
“Really lucky,” agreed Harry. “Really, very lucky.”
Harry turned to look at him. Araeo’s arms were spread, his bottom lip trembling. Harry flew to him at once, and he had to lean up and Araeo down, because Araeo was far outpacing him in height these days, and they closed their eyes and hugged for a long, long time.
“I knew you would make it home,” whispered Araeo. “But I was so scared.”
“Me too,” Harry admitted. “I passed out.”
“You passed out?!”
“I had a panic attack and passed out. Everything was really, really bad.”
“You have to see the doctor,” said Araeo, drawing back, eyes wide.
“The doctor? I’m not hurt.”
“You were so scared you fainted! You have to talk to the doctor!”
“What can a doctor do about it?”
“Teach you ways to control your terror, for one.”
“Oh. I already see Lobelia, you know that.”
“You cannot see her over the summer. Come, you have to see Doctor Tyrios at once.” He took Harry’s hand—ka-dum—and dragged him towards the door.
“What about Ifingr?”
“Don’t they sleep for hours? It will find you by scent if it needs you. Now come.”
Harry followed. They trekked possibly a kilometer through winding bowers, until they came to the doctor’s residence. Araeo stamped a foot outside until there was a call of “Come in!”
Tyrios was a piebald centaur with silver hair piled in a bun on his head and narrow glasses on his nose. He met them in a wide room with three huge skylights letting in the summer sun. “Araeo,” he said. “And Snakeheart. Or are you still acting in an official capacity? Is it ‘The Voice’ now?”
Harry shook his head. “I’m just Snakeheart at the moment.”
“Doctor, Snakeheart was caught up in the recent madness at the wizarding sporting event. A man came after him in the woods. He had an attack of terror so strong that he fell unconscious.”
Tyrios looked at him, eyebrows furrowed. “I am very sorry to hear that, Snakeheart. Are you here for my advice?”
Awkwardly, Harry nodded. “Araeo thought—”
Tyrios held up a hand and turned to Araeo. “Heir Araeo, you may go.”
Araeo gave a short bow, squeezed Harry’s hand, and let it fall. Bu-bum. “Find me after.”
“Alright,” Harry said, a bit lost. “Bye.”
Araeo left, and Tyrios went and got a stool from somewhere for Harry to sit on, and knelt in front of him so they were almost eye-level. “Araeo worries. It is natural for one who Sees so keenly. Do you want my advice, Snakeheart?”
“Yes,” said Harry honestly. “I can’t see my therapist when school’s not in session.”
“Because I have duties in the forest and lake.”
Tyrios nodded. “Very well. Has this happened before?”
Harry hesitated. “Just once—I didn’t pass out. Lucius Malfoy tried to make me leave with him at the bank. Then again the other day—it was Malfoy again. I’ve never fainted before, but I really couldn’t breathe.” He told the doctor everything he could remember about the two incidents.
Tyrios nodded slowly when he was finished. “There is medicine that can ease these symptoms, but you have the attacks so rarely, I do not think it would be prudent. I can teach you instead breathing and thought techniques.”
“I already do those with Lobelia,” said Harry helplessly.
Tyrios smiled at him. “The wizarding perception of the mind is quite different from our own, child. Unless Araeo has taught you, you don’t know anything like these.”
“Oh. Alright, then.”
Tyrios stood up, holding out a hand to help Harry up. “Wonderful. To the stream!”
They went to the stream. Ifingr found him halfway there, and received Tyrios’ permission to come along.
“Ahh,” said Tyrios, looking out at the stream, which was actually more of a brook. Dragonflies flitted over the surface. Tiny fish glinted under the current. It was running swiftly, but not rushing, and Tyrios waded right into the middle of it. Hurriedly, Harry took off his socks and robe and rolled up his pants and splashed in after him, Ifingr coiling its tail up around his shoulders to stay dry.
“Very well,” said Tryios, turning his face up into a sunbeam. “Those of my practice utilize a concept known as visage.”
“Visage,” said Harry.
“Or envisaging. One way we teach patients to alleviate things such as incapacitating panic is to create a somatic trigger which brings the mind out of the moment and into an embodied memory.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I love this brook,” said Tyrios. He dipped his fingers into the current, plucking a floating leaf up and then letting it continue on. “If I am paralyzed by overwhelming emotion, I press this point on my chin,” he touched just under his jaw, “and my mind takes me here. I have trained my mind to do this for me, so that I have a sort of escape. When my mind takes me to this brook I can still understand what is happening to my body—I do not lose control of myself. But my mind has been released from the paralysis.”
“That’s amazing,” said Harry. “How do you do it?”
“Many, many, many hours of standing in this stream. I do not expect you to envisage this stream. You need somewhere accessible, where you can go quite often to embed the experience. Let us use this brook as an example.” Closing his eyes Tyrios touched his thumb under his chin. “When I am utterly calm, not a worry in sight, I come to this brook. I stand in it, and I touch my somatic trigger. For as long as I am able, sometimes hours at a time, I focus only on how it feels to be in this stream. It is a sort of deep environmental mediation. I do this so often that when I am outside the stream, and I touch my chin, my mind instantly recalls every physical and mental detail of being in this stream, so strongly that it’s as if I am truly here.”
Tyrios took his finger down and looked at Harry. “I have only ever known centaurs to use this, of course. But I see know reason why you should not be able to learn it.”
“I’ll have to think of a good place,” said Harry. “Thank you, Tyrios.”
“I have a quessstion,” hissed Ifingr softly.
Tyrios looked charmed. “Yes, little one?”
“What do you do if you don’t have fingersss?”
“I want to go on another journey,” Harry murmured.
Harry sighed and pulled the blanket closer around him. He reached out in the darkness and found Araeo’s hand. Da-dum. On his other side, Ifingr was dead to the world. “What if I just skipped out on fourth year and went on another journey? Out past the elves, past Aeolian, past the crystal cave. Just … out.”
“Well, I’d go with you, of course.”
Harry turned to look at him. He was just barely visible in the moonlight, resting his cheek on his elbow, reclined against the upraised portion of his bed. “You would?”
“Well, it’s only fair. You were ready to run away with me.”
“Hm.” Harry held his hand in both of his own, tracing the lines in his palm. “I did give them fair warning, you know. The wizards. I told them I wasn’t coming back.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand,” agreed Araeo. “Once they hunt you down and skin you alive.”
“Ifingr would bite them first.”
“All of them? Surely one would slip by.”
“You’d protect me.”
“From your vengeful slighted friends? I think not.”
Harry snorted. “Some heartkin you are.”
“You’re my bulwark, not the other way around.”
Araeo smiled, amused. “Still here, Snakeheart, looking at you and talking to you. Holding your hand.”
“Remember what we talked about before?”
Harry blinked. “Oh. Well, I just wanted to make sure you haven’t changed your mind.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
“You’re allowed to change your mind.” Harry smirked. “Because, you know, I met Bill Weasley again and he’s got this eyebrow ring—”
Araeo yanked his hand away and flicked him on the forehead. “Oh, and you’re saying he's just my type, hm?"
“No!” Harry squawked. Araeo snorted. “Oh, whatever. I’m going to bed.”
“Alright, Snakeheart,” said Araeo in a very patronizing manner. Harry elbowed him, and then curled up against his flank. Araeo’s hand came down to card through his hair, strong fingers stroking down his neck.
No, he wouldn’t run away. It was enough to know that Araeo would have come with him.
“Ta-da!” Araeo danced through the room, balancing a stack of fabric in his arms. “Snakeheart! Look what Myreme and I made! Isn’t it beautiful?”
Harry put down the book on geography Firenze had given him. “Stop twirling, I can’t see it!”
Araeo stopped twirling and whipped out a length of shed basilisk skin. Except it was simply skin no longer. It was a robe, greenly opalescent, dimly shining in the evening sun. Holding his breath for some reason, Harry took off his own robe and slipped the robe of skin on.
“Oh, Snakeheart,” said Araeo.
Harry stretched his arms out to see the slim cuffs, turned in a circle to hear how the skin shifted against itself. He was an opal through filtered water. He was a snake.
“There’s more, we had plenty,” said Araeo. “Enough to adjust it as you grow.” He threw a cloak overtop the robe, settling a wide hood up over Harry’s face. He carefully fit fingerless gauntlets over his wrists, and then revealed the final pieces: two tall, paper-thin boots. Harry reached for them, but Araeo stopped him and knelt, slipping them carefully onto his feet.
Araeo stood back, arms crossed, head tilted. He made minor adjustments to the hang of the cloak, the fit of the hood. And then he simply looked. Harry let him for a moment before impatience got the better of him. “Well? Do I look silly?”
“Snakeheart,” said Araeo incredulously. “You look like a basilisk.”
Next week: journeying deeper :)
Chapter 15: Far-Fathoms
*looks at chapter count* we have ... 10 chapters left?? How???
So many requests for me to illustrate Harry's basilisk robes! Alas I don't have time, but if anyone else wants to give it a go feel free : )
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You’re crinkly,” hissed Ifingr.
“Yes. Do you like it?”
“Yes! You sound like us.”
“Well, good. I am one of you. Even when I’m not wearing your parent’s skin.”
“I know.” Ifingr drooped its head down to hang by Harry’s hip as they strode through the forest. They were nearly to the acromantula encampment, several days into their journey. Most of Harry’s new clothes were bundled in his pack, but he wore the cloak to get a feel for it. It was incredibly light, so light it almost didn’t feel like he was wearing anything, and it was completely waterproof. He liked to run his fingers along the underside, in the little dips and grooves left by scales.
“What do you think of all this, Ifingr?” Harry asked. Ifingr turned curious sightless eyes towards him, flicking its tongue out. “All this … far-fathoming, and deep voices, and eldest.”
Ifingr gave a rippling shrug. “It’s good.”
“Good? Why’s that?”
Ifingr coiled itself about Harry’s head, forming a sort of scaly turban. “It’s supposed to happen.”
Harry reached up and scratched its scales. “What’s that mean?”
Ifingr hissed. “Dreamt it.”
“You dreamt it?”
Ifingr didn’t respond further, and started breathing in a way that meant it’d fallen asleep atop Harry’s head.
“Greetings, Aragog King!” Harry called, striding into the acromantulae encampment, Ifingr hanging down from the back of his neck. Above them, the vast web sparkled with morning dew. “Greetings from the Eldest!”
There was no response. He stood there and waited, knowing that the minute shivers of the web from his voice would make their way to Aragog eventually.
And indeed, there he came, Vogir at his side, scuttling down from a treetop and descending as gracefully as dancers to peer at them from the underside of the lowest web.
“Greetings, emissary,” said Aragog in his clicking, clacking voice. “Who is the Eldest?”
“That’s the basilisk’s new title,” Harry said. “We all have them. May I introduce you to Ifingr, Far-Fathomer, child of the Eldest?”
Ifingr poked its head up and have a horridly mutilated attempt at “hello” in the acromantula language.
Aragog and Vogir stared. And stared, and stared.
Harry giggled. “Um, Aragog King? Princess?”
“What is that,” Vogir said.
“I have an official missive from the Eldest explaining things,” Harry said. “Would you like me to read it from here?”
Aragog dropped down to the forest floor and approached them tentatively. “By what manner are we not now stone?”
“The Far-Fathomer is blind,” Harry explained. “That’s why it was chosen to accompany me.”
He watched Aragog digest that there were enough basilisks to choose from. Then the spider king performed a bow which involved raising half his back legs into the air.
“He’s bowing,” Harry hissed in parseltongue. “Go on.”
Shivering a little with excitement, Ifingr bowed back from his shoulder.
“Convene with us in the web,” said Aragog. “We will converse.”
“BUGS! BUGS! BUGS!”
“What is it articulating?” Mosag asked.
“It’s excited about the bugs.” They were sequestered from a summer night shower inside Harry’s little cocoon, bugs cooking slowly on the fire. “English,” he told Ifingr. “Mosag can’t understand parseltongue.”
“BUGSSS!” Ifingr shrieked in accented English.
Mosag twitched a little in pleasure. “How eloquent. Well, Voice, you have assuredly re-woven a web today.”
“Oh, please don’t call me that when we’re in private,” Harry moaned.
“Very well, Snakeheart.”
Vogir tapped a bit at the web towards the entrance of the cocoon before coming in, shedding water. “Good evening, Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest, and Ifingr Far-Fathomer.”
“Evening,” said Ifingr shyly.
“Good evening, Princess Vogir, Second in the Web, Aragog-daughter, Mosag-daughter, Poet in the Night, Slayer of—”
Vogir clicked a laugh. “All right, all right. No titles between us. I surmise we are forthwith peers.”
“What, we weren’t?”
“Conclusively peers.” Vogir settled by the fire with only a bit of suspicion towards the flames. She sighed heavily. “I will concede, Snakeheart, I am gratified to know you are henceforth safeguarded. Far-Fathomer, you must take care to defend this one.”
“Unnecessary,” said Harry firmly, as Ifingr furiously agreed.
“Exceedingly necessary,” corrected Vogir. “I presume you will subsequently decamp for the elves?”
“Yes,” said Harry happily, as Ifingr shrieked, “LIMMY!”
Vogir slowly stroked her legs over her head, cleaning herself. “The acromantulae have extended a diplomatic claw to the fae. As have the centaurs. We have been … not so much rebuffed, as …”
“Circumvented?” Harry suggested, remembering two weeks of extraneous and superfluous meetings. “Just be patient and persistent.”
“We have resolution,” said Vogir. “On the matter of patience, however …”
“Hm,” Harry said noncommittally. Vogir snickered. “Anyway, Vogir, we’re looking for a new home out here. If you find anywhere good …”
“I will keep all of my feet on the web,” promised Vogir.
“I don’t have feet,” hissed Ifingr.
“Correct,” said Vogir. She looked to Harry. “How are you venturing to the elves?”
“Through the deep wood.”
Mosag shuddered. “How you can abide entering that country with such insouciance … even dwelling on its marchlands, most of us would not hazard it.”
Harry shrugged. “I like it there. And I have friends there. And anyway, Limmy will meet me on the border.”
“Truly, the connection of the elves to that abstruse weald is profound,” said Vogir. “It is … disconcerting.”
“I think it’s beautiful.”
“Can you taste it?”
“Yes,” said Ifingr. It mouth was open, tongue flicking rapidly. Harry took a deep, deep breath in with it.
“What does it taste like to you?”
“Endless,” said Ifingr, swaying slightly, reaching forward from Harry’s shoulder. “Stars. Dreams.”
“To me, too,” Harry murmured, and stepped into the deep woods.
Around them, the forest slipped into a summer haze. Sounds were louder here, or maybe they were softer. Things mattered both less and more. That they had entered with an intention—to find Limmy and pass through—was nothing. Here, the only thing to do was be part of the lifeway of the wood.
Harry blinked, and the sun was setting. He blinked again, and the full moon was high. Ifingr reached as high as it could off of Harry’s shoulder, wide, blank eyes staring into the sky. It swayed to a beat. Harry knew that beat.
“Hey,” Harry said, standing thoughtlessly to move with it. “How do you know this dance?”
“It’s in my dreams,” said Ifingr.
Harry blinked, and it was noon, and he was walking barefoot through a stream. Rainbows of fish rushed passed him, bumping off his calves.
Harry blinked, and it was evening, and they were sheltering in a hollow tree, listening to distant howls.
Harry blinked, and it was early, early morning, and Limmy was sitting by their fire. She looked up, and when she blinked, sparks of golden magic fell from her eyelashes.
“Limmy,” he said.
“Snake,” she said. “Finally.”
“I thought you is meeting us at the edge,” Harry said, when they had stopped hugging and hugging again and hugging for just one moment more.
“Sorry,” Limmy said. “I is getting delayed with the fae, and you knows how they is.”
Harry nodded, looking her over critically. She looked … the best he had ever seen her. She wore a light brown robe and reddish-brown boots, her wand in a holster at her side. Her eyes were luminous in the deep wood, and her face held a sort of internal peace he’d never known it possible for her to find.
“You looks good,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“You too,” she said. She tugged a bit of his snakeskin cape. “What is this?”
“Uniform, sort of,” Harry said. He yawned. With Limmy here, he was shaking off some of the deep wood’s lull. Ifingr too was stirring, more slowly. “Basilisk’s—basilisk’s coming out of hiding. We’re looking for a new home. Somewhere out here!” He grinned. “Oh, that reminds me, you have a title now.”
“I … has a title?”
Harry nodded. “Yes, the basilisk and I decided you should have one. How do you like Kindred Deep-Wielder?”
“What does it mean?”
Harry shrugged. “We’re sort of still making it up. For now it means you’re part of the basilisk’s family, I suppose.”
“How is I to argue with that? I loves it.” She grinned at him, and then scowled. “Snake. How is you constantly getting into so much trouble? When I’s reading the paper, I’s about to come finds you myself!”
Harry drooped. “It’s not my fault; you think I wants to keep being terrorized by Malfoy?”
She shook her head, ears drooping. “No. Sorry.”
“Anyway, that’s why I has Ifingr now.”
“Yesss,” hissed Ifingr, blinking slowly. “If I taste the terror human I will bite and kill it.”
“Good baby,” Limmy cooed. “You has your priorities in order.” She stood up, brushing off her hands. The fire at her feet went out in an instant. “Ready to goes?”
Harry scrambled up. “Yes!
“Where to first?”
Harry grinned. “You knows where.”
“Ifingr,” said Harry firmly. “Kerkeritt isn’t like you—he's not very strong. You have to be gentle.”
“I am gentle,” hissed Ifingr.
“What does gentle mean?”
“No squeezing. No biting.”
“Good. Can you show me on my arm what a gentle hug is?”
Ifingr looped itself around Harry’s arm and applied the slightest pressure. “Good! That’s perfect.”
Ifingr hissed in satisfaction. “I want it to be my friend.”
“If you’re nice, he will be.”
“Is we getting near?” Limmy asked. “Is this familiar?”
Harry looked around. He couldn’t be quite sure. ‘Familiar’ was an uneasy concept in the deep wood, but the stream they were walking beside was glinting with gold and silver fish ….
“Snakeheart, I taste something weird!” hissed Ifingr.
Something touched his nose. Grinning, Harry reached up and scratched Chikkeritt’s invisible fur. She became visible nose-first, little wrinkled face scrunched in happiness, one hand clutching his nose. She chittered excitedly.
“Hi Chikkeritt! Look, I brought a new friend! This is Ifingr.”
Chikkeritt looked wide-eyed at Ifingr as it carefully looped itself around her body and gave the gentlest squeeze. After a moment, she brought her hands down to scratch along its scales, giving a pleased murmur.
Limmy came bouncing up, holding a galleon-sized apple that’s skin looked like it was made of feathers. “Hello again,” she said shyly. “Does you want this?”
Chikkeritt shoved the apple into her mouth, cheek bulging out, and seized the tip of Limmy’s ear. Then she wriggled out of Ifingr’s embrace and scampered ahead, peering back expectantly.
“Let’s go!” said Harry.
Harry had never known Kerkeritt to be outside the den without his mother, but there he was dabbling his tiny hands in the stream. He was a little ball of rainbow fluff, and when he saw Harry, he squeaked and scrambled towards him. Harry knelt down and cupped him in his hands, rubbing his cheek against his soft fur.
“Kerkeritt, this is Ifingr,” he said, as Ifingr poked its head curiously over his shoulder. He felt Ifingr vibrating with excitement along his shoulders, but it was doing a good job containing itself.
Kerkeritt curiously inspected Ifingr’s snout, chattering when Ifingr’s tongue flicked across his face. Then he scampered onto Ifingr’s body, and Ifingr uncoiled from Harry and started to slither in circles, Kerkeritt chittering in amusement and clinging on.
Harry grinned. “They’re going to be best friends.”
Limmy laughed in delight, feeding Chikkeritt, perched on her shoulder, a bit of cheese. “I’s pretty sure that is how we is making friends too.”
“Snakeheart,” hissed Ifingr, in the smallest voice Harry’d ever heard from it.
“I taste something.”
Harry glanced at it, concerned. “What’s it taste like? Bad?”
Ifingr gave a rippling shrug. “Tastes like nothing.”
Ifingr shoved its head under Harry’s shirt, resting against his heart, and hissed unhappily to itself.
Harry put a hand on Limmy’s shoulder. She stopped walking and looked at him in concern as he opened his mouth to breathe in the saturated air. Ifingr could taste far better than him, of course.
“Do you taste something odd?”
She shook her head. “No. But your tree is up ahead.”
Harry blinked in surprise. “My tree?”
She nodded. “Your tree, your wand tree. It’s ahead.”
“Oh.” A tremor of unease shook through him. “Let’s go around it.”
They joined hands, and she steered them carefully around the tree. Passing outside its circumference of silence, Ifingr shivering tightly around his neck, Harry beheld the bone-white tree. The tree that had almost killed him, that had taken a horcrux from his soul in return for wand wood. It stood there, a lightning strike frozen in the air, and he felt it acknowledge him.
“What is it,” he murmured to himself, a question that had always scratched at him. What was it, this tree, this fellow denizen of the wood that made bargains like he did?
“That’s how the fae is coming here,” Limmy said.
He stared at her. “What?”
Limmy blinked at him. “Sovereign cousin told me. They is telling me when they is coming to this world, there is only that tree here. The wood is growing up around it.”
“Then it must be ancient. Wouldn’t it be bigger?”
Limmy shrugged. “I supposes it is just the size it wants to be.”
“What is it, is they knowing? Is it a doorway?”
She frowned. “No. It is ... a bargain."
"A bargain? How can a tree be a bargain?"
She shrugged. "How can anything in the deep wood be what it is?"
“It scares me,” Harry admitted.
“Good.” Limmy brought them the rest of the way around the tree, until it slipped out of sight, and finally Ifingr came back out of Harry’s shirt, though it was still subdued.
He left his worst memory behind.
“Welcome to Refuge,” said Limmy, as they neared the far edge of the forest. “What do you thinks?”
Harry stopped and looked around in confusion. “I … don’t sees it?”
It was certainly a beautiful part of the forest. The trees here had never felt human touch, but had felt plenty of fairy influence. They towered upwards, meters thick, branches forming a perfect weaving of a canopy. There were birds and insects and a few bowtruckles, but no elves.
Limmy grinned. “Brilliant, right? Come here.” He bent down, and she placed her thumb in the center of his forehead. A ripple of elf magic passed through his body, making the tips of his ears and toes tingle, and when he looked up again, he was in Refuge.
His jaw fell. “Limmy! It isn’t even being nine months!”
She laughed in delight. “Well, our cousins is helping, of course!”
“I can’t taste it,” complained Ifingr.
“Oops, sorry, baby.” She pressed her thumb to Ifingr’s forehead, and at once its mouth dropped open and it wiggled around in excitement, exclaiming at the taste of the magic.
Refuge was in the trees.
Harry laughed in delight. The canopy was so tightly woven that the elven construction were just barely visible through the branches. He heard talking and laughter and a myriad other noises, and tasted vibrant magic spilling downwards through the tree trunks. Multicolored sparks drifted down from the tangled branches, and Harry wanted to be up there right now.
“Hang on!” Limmy said, and took his hand. With a crack of apparition, they were in the canopy.
Harry’s jaw dropped. They weren’t on the canopy. They were truly in the canopy. The topmost branches of the trees had been woven into a three-dimensional landscape, sheltering the space within from above and below. Across the bumpy floor of woven branches walked elves, dozens of elves, chatting and carrying things and watching children and disappearing into small tree trunk doorways that grew smoothly back after they were admitted.
They had apparated into a small plaza, where a few benches had been grown straight from the branches. Nearby, an elf was patiently coaxing new shoots up into legs for another.
He knew that elf! “Toddy!”
Toddy spun around, clapped eyes on him, and laughed in delight. “Snake!” He ran and hugged Harry, hard, pulled back to grin at him, and then fell backwards onto the canopy-floor in shock when he saw Ifingr.
“Oh,” Harry said hurriedly. “It’s alright, it’s just a baby! It’s nice!”
“Ha,” said Toddy gingerly. “Right. Snake, you is here!”
“Snake?” someone called from across the plaza. “Not our Snake?”
Harry spun around to wave at Norry, a warm delight blooming in his chest that turned, completely unexpectedly, into tears.
Norry gaped at him. “Snake! You—has a snake!”
“Limmy, will you take it?” Harry asked desperately.
“Come here, baby,” said Limmy, draping Ifingr across herself. The snake almost covered her completely.
Harry, crying in earnest now, met Norry halfway across the plaza, kneeling down to catch him in his arms. “Norry,” he sobbed, half overwhelmed with emotion and half surprised at himself. “I’s missing you.”
“Oh, Snake.” Norry ran his hands through his hair. “Oh, Snake, I’s missing you too. I’s so glad you is safe.”
Harry was utterly losing control of himself. “Is Drippy here?”
Norry brought a hand to his mouth and whispered into it, “Drippy Whitebeam.” A little golden sparrow took flight from his hand.
“That’s a wonderful name,” said Harry, hiccuping into Norry’s shoulder. “Do you haves one?”
Norry shook his head. “I isn’t wanting one.”
“Norry,” came an exasperated voice. “What is you doing to makes Snake cry?” And then Drippy was kneeling beside them both, wrapping his arms around Harry too, and Harry was crying again.
“There, there Snake,” said Drippy. “You’s alright. We’s all alright now.”
“And when you is catching your breath,” said Norry dryly. “Maybe you is telling us what that massive snake you is carrying around is.”
“You is telling me,” said Orry stiffly, looking across the table at Harry, Limmy, and Ifingr. They had been escorted into one of the tree-trunks into a half-finished room, with a table and chairs growing from the canopy and sunlight filtering past the green leaves above. “That you is living, this entire time … with a basilisk?”
“With a basilisk under Hogwarts castle.”
“That is living there for centuries.”
“With other basilisks.”
“And you,” said Orry, pointing at Limmy. “Is knowing about this?!”
Limmy looked to the side. “Er, yes.”
“Orry?” asked Ifingr shyly.
Orry glanced halfway towards it, turned away in alarm, visibly remembered it was blind and made herself look again. “Yes, ah—Far, Far-Fathomer?”
“Your food smellsss good.”
“Stars, Ifingr,” Harry said, blushing. “That’s rude!”
“Why?” Ifingr demanded. “I’m hungry!”
Silently, Orry pulled a small cake from her pocket and passed it over. Harry sighed as Ifingr snapped it up.
“Sorry,” he told Orry. “It’s just a baby.”
“Oh,” Orry said, face unpinching a little. “A baby? I supposes that’s alright then.” She sighed deeply. “Snake … you is a diplomat? What does I call you now?”
“You calls me Snake,” Harry said firmly. “I has a title, but only for fancy occasions.”
“One more question,” said Orry faintly. “Is Tippy knowing any of this?”
“Ah, no,” Harry said, kicking his legs. “I is thinking, maybe you can tells her!”
Orry leveled him with an incredibly dry look. “Over your dead body, Snake.”
Next up: a friend comes to stay :)
Chapter 16: An Unexpected Arrival
Thank you all for the lovely comments on the last chapter! The deep wood continues to be a favorite <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There was more business in Refuge, much more. There was an audience with Sovereign Amaranth, with whom Ifingr fell in such requited love that Harry had to pry it away. There were reunions with elves and barrels of missives passed, notes from contacts and loved ones, and sheafs of letters collected in return to bring back. There were requests for advice in wand-making and diplomacy and basilisk history and culture.
There was home-hunting. He and Limmy and Ifingr struck out and ranged in a wide arc around Refuge, veering in and out of the forest and the hilly country beyond. They searched for a place underground, near water, well-concealed. They found several sites that met most but not all of the basilisk’s qualifications, and Limmy marked them with a deep pulse of her wild magic so the basilisk would be able to smell its way to them from the deep tunnels.
There were festival nights where the fae joined the elves to find common ground. There were tours of Limmy’s room and visits with her grandmother, recently retrieved from the lake, and coaxing terrified elves into petting Ifingr, and then demanding enamored elves stop feeding Ifingr sweets. There was Ifingr picking up elven English, and helping to fix what the fae broke with too much magical enthusiasm, and learning meandering fae riddles for Myrtle, and writing letters for all their friends in The Demiguise. There were evenings calling Araeo on the mirror and playing long-distance cards and writing silly songs to perform for their friends.
There were weeks of good, good times.
And then August was over.
“I is already telling the wizards, and I’s telling the basilisk, isn’t I Ifingr,” Harry said rapidly, even as he clutched Norry’s neck and then Drippy’s and then Orry’s. “I’s telling them all I’s skipping fourth year; so I’s just staying here.”
Limmy held out her hand. “Come on, Snake. You’s all empty threats. If you’s really doing it this time, they’s just coming to look for you thinking something’s wrong.”
Norry pulled him down to eye-level and put a hand on his cheek. “You makes us all so proud, Snake. Sees you soon.”
Harry took on glace at them and then at Refuge, the wonder of it all, and something easy and bright settled in his chest. “Yeah,” he said, breathing out his frantic nerves in a puff of breath. “Sees you soon. I can’t wait to see what it’s looking like when I comes back.”
Limmy held out her hand. “You’s about to be our neighbor, anyway. Come on. Aelisf.”
Harry took it firmly. “Aeflin. Ifingr, say goodbye!”
They were gone.
Three days of magically skipping through the forest later, Limmy dropped him at the edge of the forest and clutched his neck so hard he nearly choked. “You is staying safe this year or I is killing you,” she growled.
Harry clung to her and wished with all of his heart that she was coming back to the school with him. Instead of expressing it, he said, “You too. Be safe, or else I is … sending Araeo to finds you!”
“What is Araeo doing?” Limmy scoffed. “Scowling too hard at me?”
“He’ll … he’ll do something! If I asks him too!”
“Yeah, right.” She kissed him on the cheek, accepted one in return, and then stepped back to jauntily adjust her sparkly beret. “Loves you, Snake. Bring me something very, very cool this winter.”
“Loves you too. I’s bringing you only blood pops.”
She stuck her tongue out, blew one last kiss to Ifingr, and then spun showily on her heel, whipping away.
Harry and Ifingr stood on the edge of the wood. Harry breathed in, breathed out. Ifingr curled happily about his shoulders. “Ouro and Laila and my parent,” it said happily.
“That’s right,” Harry said, grinning. “Aren’t we lucky, that everywhere we go, there are more people to love?”
But there was one more stop to make first. Tucked under Áwere once more, they made their way to the edge of the lake, where they sat and waited. Harry let Ifingr down into the water to pass the time, and it flipped happily through the shallows, snapping at fish and burying itself in the sand.
“Is that an Ifingr I see?” burbled a voice.
Harry pulled down his hood and scanned the water. Ava was a few meters out and finning closer, grinning widely. “Sa-nek, not even Ifingr can make me forgive you for that horrid letter!”
“I’m sorry,” Harry moaned, dragging his hands down his face. “The basilisk made me!”
“Do you know the look Samba gave me when I passed it to her? I could have died, Snake. Died.”
Harry flopped across his rock on his belly, reaching out to take Ava’s clammy, finned hand in greeting. She splashed him in mock anger, then pressed her cold cheek to his.
“Hello Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest,” she said, eyes narrowed. “And hello Ifingr the Far-Fathomer. What business do two royal envoys such as yourselves have with this lowly diplomat’s apprentice this afternoon?”
“Oh, Ava,” Harry groaned. “It made me!”
“Fllf, fine.” She splashed him once with her tail for good measure. “Samba won’t forgive you as easily, though. Can you imagine her face when she found out her irritating human half-apprentice is apparently a titled member of a whole nation?"
“It’s all just made up,” Harry grumbled.
“Obviously, Snake, that’s how everything works. Tides, I can't wait to see the wizards' faces. Will you tell them soon?”
Harry shook his head, ruefully imagining what any of his friends' reactions would be to this news. "Not until we're settled in our new home. They'd probably just storm the den otherwise. It'll be a while, but not ages."
She nodded, flipping her tale in the water a bit. "I can't wait, still. And by the way, you only have yourself to blame now for the fact that we’ll have to go to Alimnion twice as often."
“Speaking of,” Harry said, pulling out the last of his snakeskin. “Can you ask Aunt Xara to make me a tail-wrap out of this?”
Ava’s mouth dropped open, exposing a cavern of needle-thin teeth. “Basilisk skin? That’s so fresh. Of course I will. Oh, and here, these are from my mother Loch.” She passed him a variety of parcels wrapped in seaweed.
“SUSHI!” Ifingr said, erupting from the water at once. “Snakeheart, I’m hungry!”
“You eat way more than other snakes, I’m pretty sure,” said Harry, giving it a bite of sushi. It draped itself lazily over Harry’s back to digest.
Harry sighed, propping his chin on his arms. Ava did the same. “Why so stagnant, Sa-nek? The royal life already lose its freshness?”
Harry flicked her in the forehead. “No. Only, I’m going to be moving further from the lake.”
She frowned. “That’s right. Snake, I don’t want to have to meet you at the forest pool like my stupid great-uncle!” Her eyes dulled, then glinted again. “Oh, but there must be more than one tunnel, right?”
Harry perked up. “It only makes sense!”
“I bet,” Ava said firmly, “that I can find an underground stream that goes to the other side of the forest. I mean, I found the first one.”
“We found the first one. Actually, I found the first one.”
“The first one was found,” said Ava magnanimously. “C’mon, how hard can it be?”
“So then I said, Cuthbert, I really don’t think having students tear up their textbooks is a good way to go about things, if you want less angry owls from parents, and he said, but Myrtle, how else will I get the point across? And of course then I said: how about just not having a textbook in the first place? And he said, well, but then what will the students symbolically tear apart? I swear, that ghost …”
Harry giggled, falling down from his headstand against the wall and throwing his legs back up again, heels thumping on the stone. Myrtle, meanwhile, walked in an effortless handstand across the toilet floor, her legs bending halfway behind her.
“Did you convince him?” he asked, face feeling very pressurized as all the blood rushed into it.
“Eventually he agreed I had a point,” Myrtle said, lowering her backbend so that she walked eerily upside-down on hands and feet, face twisted to face him. “So no textbooks, but we will be tearing up big sheets of paper with the words “HISTORY BOOK” on them.”
“You know, you should walk like that down the Slytherin table at dinner sometime,” Harry said. “Draco would cry.”
“Oh, definitely.” His head was starting to hurt from the floor, but he almost had the balance of it right—
Myrtle’s door opened. “Myrtle?” called a very familiar voice. “Are you there? Guess who’s back early!”
Daphne walked into the toilet. Harry fell down from his headstand and sprawled upside-down on the floor, staring at her. She stared back, frozen with her hand on the doorknob for one long second, two long seconds. Even Myrtle had done an admirable job of freezing completely over, frosty air surrounding her form.
The door swung shut.
“Harry?” Daphne asked tentatively, after a moment, like she might be seeing things. “You’re … here?”
Harry scrambled up. “You’re here!”
“My mum’s defense professor this year,” she said absently. “Oh. My. STARS.” A phrase she’d picked up from him. “You’re here! You’re at Hogwarts, you’ve been at Hogwarts, you ridiculous idiot, this whole time!” She laughed with delight and ran to hug him.
“You smell like flowers,” he said, still in shock.
“It’s a perfume my mum got me when we visited these brilliant gardens … no, stop, no distracting me! Potter!”
“Greengrass,” he echoed. He looked at Myrtle, who had melted a bit, and looked wild-eyed back at him. “Er. I need to … swear you to secrecy, I suppose?” It seemed redundant. It was Daphne.
Shrugging, she carelessly drew her wand. “Sure. On my, um, future best-friendship with Harry’s soulmate, I swear not to reveal to anyone until he tells me I can that he’s been living at Hogwarts this whole bloody time while everyone went mad looking for him!”
“That’s a bit long for a promise,” said Myrtle.
“Sorry, I’m a bit distracted! Also hullo, Myrtle, I’ve missed you! I was rather looking forward to spending time with you this weekend before the rest of the students come. But now we all can! We’re moving in, you see.” She beamed proudly.
“Your mum’s DADA professor!” Harry exclaimed belatedly.
“Yes! She got really worried after the attack at the Cup, put me in counseling for the summer—are you alright, by the way, it’s been truly awful of you not to send any letters—and contacted Dumbledore about her concerns, and Dumbledore offered her the position so she could be sure I was safe. She’s an ancient artifact consultant, you see, a genius at identifying dark magic, and a bit of a mad inventor too. Did a lot of dangerous things during the war that she can’t tell me about.”
“Fantastic,” said Harry. “This will make it so much easier for you to visit Star.”
“Right?!” Daphne exclaimed. “Just what I was thinking! This year’s going to be so brilliant.”
As Myrtle produced a ball she kept stored under the sink and they played kneazle in the middle, Harry put his mind to how best to put to use two days to run free around Hogwarts with his best human friend.
Finally, Myrtle caught the ball by sending out a shadowy tendril to winch it back to her, and sighed. “I have to go meet Professor Sprout. Can you believe I have obligations now?”
“Terrible,” agreed Daphne, kissing her on the cheek. “See you later!”
Myrtle dropped through the stone floor, and Harry put his hands on his hips. “Right. I have a list.”
“A list?” she asked blankly.
“A list of things to do!” He hustled over to his bag and yanked Àwere from its depths. “Come on!”
She giggled and ducked under his arm, pulling the cloak around them both. “Where first?”
He grinned. “Your choice. Free book room or spare laundry room?”
Next up: plans are hatched.
“So how do you do it usually?” Daphne asked eagerly.
“Well, I stow my trunk beforehand—I used to bring it with me for deniability’s sake but I’ve given that up—and then I use the cloak to sneak down to the station toilet, hide there for a while, and then when the train comes I just hop into one of the carriages!”
Daphne cackled. “Harry, you are so utterly brilliant.”
Harry grinned, through she couldn’t see it. He was once again hidden under Áwere. They waited on the front steps for their escort. Daphne had received permission to accompany the professors to the station, so she could ride to school with her friends in the carriages. Little did they know, Harry would be accompanying her.
“Seriously, I can’t believe this,” Daphne said, shaking her head. “You are devious. That’s the reason you got Slytherin, I see it now. Oops, here comes Snape.”
“Good evening, Miss Greengrass,” said Severus, walking down the stairs, followed by Filius. “Let us be off, Professor Hagrid is meeting us at the gates.”
“Right,” said Daphne, hopping up. Harry took hold of her elbow to let her know he was following, and giggled.
“Something amusing?” Severus asked.
He gave her a slow, suspicious look. “Very well. Off we go.”
Through the summer evening they proceeded, down across the grounds, blessedly, through the gates, and out to the Hogsmeade station, about a kilometer removed from Hogsmeade proper. Harry listened to the professors talk mildly about the upcoming year and played a secret game with Daphne wherein they tried to poke each other’s arms extremely subtly.
They wandered off at the station and spoke in the barest whispers while Daphne pretended to read advertisements for a new pub in Diagon and a list of safety advisories for going out. “This must be what having an invisible friend is like.”
“This must be what being an invisible friend is like.”
“This is better than sitting in a toilet, right?”
“Well, this toilet at least. I spend a lot of time in Myrtle’s one.”
“Well, yes, but that’s different.”
“What are you muttering about over there, Miss Greengrass?” Severus called.
“I’m practicing tongue twisters, professor! Hadal mish mish mish min mish mishna!”
“A proper copper coffee pot,” proclaimed Hagrid.
“Three grey geese in green fields grazing!” Flitwick added, smiling.
Severus rolled his eyes.
“Fis vish iflish filishviul rish fli,” whispered Harry.
“I thought it was a secret you spoke Mermish,” Daphne whispered back.
Harry blinked. Had it been? He needed to keep a list of which things were secrets and when and to whom. Thank the stars the basilisk had decided to come out of hiding.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell. I already knew, anyway, you mumble it to yourself sometimes. Oh, the train!”
The Hogwarts Express was slowing and groaning as it made its way to the station, pulling to a screeching halt. Daphne hopped a little in excitement, and Harry hurriedly took her arm so as not to lose her in the rush. She clambered up on a bench to see over the heads of the students.
“HERMIONE! OVER HERE! HEY, RON! DRACO! OVER HERE!”
They forged their way towards her with outraged looks. “You weren’t on the train!” Draco accused. “Hermione thought you’d been kidnapped!”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I didn’t, Daphne, he did. But why weren’t you on the train?”
“Can’t this wait?” Ron asked. “We’ll end up stuck in a carriage with someone.”
They ended up stuck in a carriage with someone anyway, because Ginny bullied her way past Ron, dragging Luna behind her.
“Where were you?” Draco demanded. “Hiding? Where’s Harry?”
“I’m here!” Harry exclaimed, whipping off Áwere as the door to the carriage closed. Ginny shrieked in surprise, Luna blinked slowly, and Draco, Ron, and Hermione leapt to shake his arms and shout at him at once.
“No word outside your ridiculous Demiguse messages!” Hermione yelled.
“Thought Snape had killed you or you killed him, I swear—” ranted Ron.
“You could have been at the bottom of the lake and we’d never have known,” said Draco, face pink with anger, “much less been kidnapped by my father!”
Harry ignored them all and squashed in between Ginny and Daphne. “Weren’t you all going to bug Daphne instead of me? She’s wasn’t on the train, remember?”
“Mean,” Daphne muttered. “Anyway, I’m not telling!” She grinned smugly. “That’s right, it’s me who has a secret this time.”
Draco’s mouth dropped open. “That’s not fair!”
They collectively rolled their eyes so hard Draco flushed and sat down with a huff.
“It’s all right, Draco,” Luna said, patting his knee. “Would you like me to tell you a secret?”
“Yes,” Draco said, after a moment.
It was not to remain a secret for long. “But that’s your mother!” Draco shouted, the moment they settled at the Slytherin table.
Harry craned his neck too. He hadn’t actually seen Aaila Greengrass over the weekend, having been generally skulking with Daphne. He finally saw her, sitting between Severus and Minerva.
Aaila Greengrass was beautiful. She had a long and pronounced nose, olive skin, narrow eyes, and thick eyebrows. She wore bright purple robes with small embroidered frogs hopping across the collar and sleeves. As Harry watched, one frog hoped up to her shoulder, and she tickled it gently.
“I need robes like that,” Harry said at once. “Daphne. I need robes like that.”
Daphne giggled. “A cousin of mine makes them; they’re really expensive.”
“I have a fortune,” Harry said. “Daphne, please.”
“Yes, alright, I’ll owl Nahid this weekend.”
“Daphne, can he do snakes. No, wait, can he do thestrals. No, no, snakes. No, dragons. Wait, wait—”
“I’ll have him owl you with his commission information,” Daphne said, “if you only stop talking.”
“Does he do shawls? I need to get one for Star. With stars on it. Or butterflies.”
“I said he’ll owl you,” Daphne said loudly. “Oh, Myrtle, thank Merlin.”
“I’ve remembered another,” said Myrtle, rising slowly from the middle of the table. “Eleven benevolent elephants.”
“Good one,” Daphne said.
“Attention, students, attention!” Dumbledore beamed out at them all from behind his podium, a trail of glittering green sparks falling from his magical hand. Attention gathered, he went on to introduce Aaila Greengrass, note the absence of aurors from the school ground this year, announce the tentative scheduling of a limited number of Hogsmeade weekends, and welcome the first years.
“And one more announcement,” he said, twinkling down at them all. “One I am especially pleased to be able to make. It has been a troubling time for us all, these past several years—for the wizarding world, the elven world, and for Hogwarts, which has been quite the locus of contention. Myself and my fellow professors thought you all could use a bit of festive cheer after exams. I am pleased to announce that Hogwarts will be hosting a Yule Ball on December third. Your heads of houses will have more information for you.” He smiled, led them in an excited round of applause, and sat.
“Can you believe it?” Daphne raved. “I’m so excited, I love dances!”
“Daphne!” exclaimed Millicent from down the table. “Daphne, we should go dress shopping together!”
“Yes!” Daphne squealed. “Let’s invite Hermione—”
But Hermione had already made herself a space at the Slytherin table, eyes shining. “Can you believe it? Oh, what am I going to wear?”
The great hall was buzzing as if this was the most exciting thing to ever happen in Hogwarts history, and perhaps it was.
“Hermione, come dress shopping with us next Hogsmeade weekend,” begged Daphne. “Please, please, please.”
“Alright,” Hermione said, sort of shyly. “I’ve never been to a dance before.”
Draco looked up from reading his class notes, incredulous. “What, never?”
“They’re not very common in the muggle world, I suppose,” said Hermione. “That, or I just … don’t go to them.”
“My family threw the most brilliant Christmas balls,” Draco said. “The manor has a massive ballroom, and—” He hesitated, looking a bit lost, but then rallied. “—And we hired someone to cast lights so it looked like you were in a magical wood somewhere, and there was delicious food.” He sighed.
“I remember those,” said Millicent. “They were brilliant.”
“We should have one in France,” Draco said determinedly. “Then you all have an excuse to visit me.”
“Hermione,” said Daphne. “Who do you think you’ll go with?”
Hermione’s eyes went wide. “Go with?” she asked shrilly.
“As a date!” Daphne beamed. “Millicent, what about you?”
“I’ve an idea,” Millicent said, blushing. “I’m not telling yet.”
“Draco?” Harry asked. “Are you going to ask anyone?”
The tips of Draco’s ears went red. “Yes, of course,” he said. “It would be embarrassing to go to a ball without a date.”
“Really?” Hermione said, voice small.
“No!” Daphne said. She shoved Draco. “Draco, don’t be an ass. It’s fine to go alone.”
“I’ll probably go alone,” Harry said supportively.
“Oh, Harry, you don’t have to go alone!” Daphne said, making Hermione snort. “You can take someone as friends! It is too bad, though, that Star can’t go.”
It was too bad. There was nothing Harry would like more than for Araeo to go to the Yule Ball with him. It would be so much fun—like the party before Araeo’s Searching, but with all of his wizard friends, and Harry could wear the gown Araeo had sewn—and—and they could dance—
Longing overtook him, and something very Slytherin-like settled in his stomach. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “It is too bad, isn’t it.”
It was a real sign of maturity, Harry thought, that after the welcoming feast he went straight back to Slytherin dorm to sleep—or rather, to eat himself sick on sweets with his returned friends—instead of being shuffled up to Dumbledore’s office so they could all play varying amounts of dumb. He supposed that after their horcrux talk, Dumbledore had finally deemed him fit to keep his own, and all others’, secrets. It had taken long enough.
Not that he didn’t appreciate it. He did. Having earned Dumbledore’s trust, and Dumbledore having earned his in turn, meant a great deal to him.
The first week of school passed by quickly. They were doing star charts in divination, which Harry tried to get Araeo to help him with, only for the answers to be returned unmarked for him to complete with wizard information, not centaur. Harry thought this was speciesist. Araeo thought she had a point.
Laila came with him to Herbology and made disgusted noises at the bubotuber pus. Ouro tagged along to transfiguration and didn’t understand why you would want a pincushion instead of a hedgehog even when Harry tried to explain. The babies were too big to conceal around his neck now, so they stayed curled in his bag, which distended rather obviously, but no one had asked yet.
And in Defense Against the Dark Arts ….
Harry knocked quickly on the door. “Professor Greengrass?”
Harry slid into Aaila Greengrass’ office, to see her clinging to the top of one of her incredibly tall bookshelves, swinging slowly by one hand, one foot balanced tiptoe on a lower shelf, while she reached for something above her.
“Potter!” she exclaimed. “Just in time! Quick, push that cushion over here! Left my wand on my desk, and don’t trust myself to bounce if I hit the ground!”
Hurriedly, Harry shoved a massive pink pouf underneath her. With a ‘hup!’, Aaila Greengrass launched herself from the shelf, snatched whatever it was she’d been straining towards, and fell ten meters down, landing neatly on the pouf with her prize cradled to her chest.
“Ha!” She fixed her bun, which was half-collapsed, and proudly opened her hands. A small golden egg lay there, the nearly-transparent shell showing something sparkling within.
“What is it?” Harry asked eagerly. “Why didn’t you just summon it?”
“Can’t summon a wish egg!” she exclaimed, standing up and striding over to her tall worktable, littered in tools and bits of things. She put the egg carelessly down on top of a spool of wire. “No magic on a wish egg, Potter, ever! Might ruin the wish.”
“What’s a wish egg?”
She picked the egg up again and spun it on her fingertip, snatching it when it almost fell. “No clue yet. Found it in an attic full of dark artifacts someone hired me to clear out. They didn’t want anything to do with it, so I kept it.”
“Why call it a wish egg?”
She winked at him. “Because, Potter, when I woke up that morning I wished something unexpected would happen to me! And it did.” She beamed at the little egg. “One day I’ll figure out what on earth this thing is.”
She put the egg down and picked up a silver oak leaf. From beneath her robes she pulled a necklace hung with little glass lenses of different colors. Flipping through them deftly, she aligned two pink and green lenses and held them to one eye, squinting the other closed and looking through the lenses at a leaf, scratching lightly at the silver with a fingernail. “As I thought,” she said. “Silver all the way through. Potter, hold this.”
Harry held out his hands. Aaila Greengrass dropped the leaf into them. He stood there and held it.
“Well?” Aaila Greengrass asked. “Anything?”
“I don’t know, you’re the one my daughter says uses strange magics. Anything strange about this leaf?”
“Oh! Um.” Gingerly, Harry opened his mouth and drew in a breath, tasting the magic. The overwhelmingly magical scent of Aaila Greengrass’ office, crammed with more magical curios than all of the rest of Hogwarts combined, briefly overwhelmed him before he could narrow in on the leaf. “Well,” he said hesitantly. “It doesn’t taste odd to me. Just … like a leaf.”
“Like a leaf!” Aaila Greengrass proclaimed. “Not like silver!”
“Oh! No, it doesn’t taste like silver at all.”
Aaila Greengrass snatched the leaf from his hand and leaned towards him, twirling the leaf between their noses. “And isn’t that interesting, Potter, that a silver leaf should not seem, beyond visual inspection, at all like silver!”
Harry grinned. “Yes!”
Aaila Greengrass placed the leaf back on the table and paced in a circle while she thought. Then she whirled back to him. “That’s right, I’m a professor—what did you need, Potter?”
Harry had needed nothing beyond wanting to spend time with Daphne’s wonderful mother, who he liked very much. “Uh … homework question,” he said off the top of his head. “Counter curses … do all of them need eye contact?”
“Not at all!” she exclaimed. Hurrying to a blackboard, she erased what was on it with a sweep of wandless magic. “Make us some tea, Potter, and I’ll explain. Unless you have somewhere to be?”
“Nowhere to be,” Harry said happily. “Can we have some of the nougat?”
“As much as you want,” said Aaila Greengrass distractedly, sketching out an intensely complicated diagram.
"Potter!" she exclaimed. "Just in time!"
“My parents said no.”
“They said first of all, if I were to visit Hogwarts there would have to be a lot of diplomacy first, because it couldn’t be a secret. And they said second of all, they don’t trust my safety in the wizarding world because of all the speciesist terrorism. And then said that in the third place, a dance is an insufficient reason for far too much risk. And then they said that fourthly, we can just have a dance here if I want to go to one so bad. And then they said that on the fifth hand, they were surprised I had to even ask them considering the depth of my Sight.”
Araeo’s bottom lip stuck petulantly out. “So I can’t go to the Yule Ball with you.”
Harry sighed, tilting the mirror slightly. “It’s not fair.”
“It’s really not fair!” Araeo said. “It’s just a dance! I should be able to go, they don’t control me!”
“And anyway, they were wrong.”
Araeo bit his lip. “About the depth of my Sight. Because, er, I did See myself at the Yule Ball with you.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “You think they’ll change their minds?”
Araeo’s eyebrows drew determinedly together. “No, Snakeheart, I don’t. And I don’t think I care very much at all.”
A smile spread across Harry’s face. “Brilliant.”
Arabic tongue twister: These apricots are not from our apricots.
Mermish tongue twister: In the bubbly wave the glass fish swam.
PSA:I will not be posting on Sunday, as I won't have access to wifi! I think this is officially the first time in ever upward history that I won't have posted on schedule. I'd say those are pretty good stats.
Question:Tossing around the idea of doing an ask me anything over on the discord sometime, where I hang out for a while and answer questions, etc. about the series. Would there be interest in that?
Chapter 18: Cursebreaker
So much excitement for teenage shenanigans in the comments!!! I assure you, you shall not be disappointed :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 101 ✩ 11 September 1994
TIPPY LOCKJAW EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: “WE WILL NOT REST!”
GOBLINS JOIN ELVES IN FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT OF WANDS
BLOOD RIOT (SUSPICIOUSLY) QUIET AFTER CUP CATASTROPHE
JUSTICE BEFORE SPORT: INTL QUIDDITCH LEAGUE BOYCOTTS BRITAIN
by The Demiguise Collective
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO HEALER FROM DREAMER: HOME SOON
TO STEWARD FROM GAZER: FORTUITOUS TIDINGS
Harry nearly tore the paper in half. It was lucky few people were there for breakfast this early, because no force on earth could stop him yanking the mirror from his bag and whisper-shouting: “Stargazer Araeo!”
No response for a long moment. Then, a view of dark skin and white hair and a stuffed owl. “Mph?” Araeo mumbled. “‘Mergency?”
“YES!” Harry shrieked, as quietly as he could. For lack of anything more effective, he slid the mirror halfway under the table and hunched over it.
“Lying,” mumbled Araeo. “Would’ve Seen it.”
“Would you have Seen this?” Harry crammed the paper against the mirror, furiously reciting: “To Steward from Gazer! Fortuitous tidings! The stars foretell distant happiness! Let it be hastened!”
Araeo’s foggy eyes were suddenly very, very close. “Oh my stars. Wait—” he fumbled around and came up with his own copy of The Demiguise, reading it in astonishment. “Stars and moon.”
Harry shrieked quietly into the mirror. “It’s happening!”
“It’s happening,” said Araeo blankly. And then he blinked rapidly. “Oh, er, bye Snakeheart!” And the mirror shut off.
Harry spun around, cramming the mirror and paper into his bag. “Hi, Severus! Ready for Diagon? Let’s go, we don’t want to be late.”
“Baffling as it is that you requested I accompany you today, we do have an hour and a half until your teatime.”
“Yes, just enough time to go to Fortescue’s and the sweet shop and the chocolatier.”
“It is before eight,” said Severus frigidly.
“Severus, I need ice cream.”
“You need a dentist.”
“I have a dentist.”
Without further conversation, Severus swept away, and Harry scrambled to follow. Dumbledore was in his office for once, and he looked up curiously when they entered.
“Ah, Harry,” said Dumbledore, “My boy, here—I know you were already going to the bank today, but I happened to take the liberty of withdrawing your stipend last week so Professor Snape need not do it today.”
“Thank you, Headmaster,” Harry said, taking the pouch Dumbledore passed him. It was a leather purse stamped with a phoenix design. “This is pretty.”
“Consider it a late birthday present,” said Dumbledore, smiling broadly.
“Oh! Er, that’s right. Thank you.”
“You are quite welcome, my boy. Will you both sit a moment, if it’s no trouble?”
Severus inclined his head, sitting slowly in an armchair. Harry sat as well, looking around for Fawkes. He found him perched on the open windowsill in juvenile form, head tilted in the breeze. Fawkes gave him a long, slow blink, and Harry smiled back.
“Harry, I wanted to speak to you about the Quidditch Cup,” Dumbledore said.
Dumbledore rested his hands in front of him, magical construct over living flesh. “What happened to you and Draco that night was a very serious, traumatizing incident. Your guardian, legally, is Professor Snape, but I know that you have other caretakers. I wonder if there is some way for me to assure them that I take your safety to be my highest priority while you are at school.”
Harry blinked. “You want to talk to my … family?”
“Or send them a letter,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “Whatever ways they go about it, they do send you to Hogwarts. It is always a priority to speak directly to the parents of students involved in a dangerous incident at school, and you have been through any number of them. I want to assure your guardians that I am vigilant regarding student safety, no matter how it might seem to the contrary.”
Harry wondered in what way any of his ‘guardians’ ‘sent him to Hogwarts.’ But he was also touched by Dumbledore’s concern.
He chewed gently on his unicorn-and-thestral hair bracelet as he thought. The basilisk wasn’t an option, obviously. He could send a letter to his aunts, he supposed, so long as the communication was one-way. They were sort of his guardians, in a loose sense of the word—though they didn’t give one whit about Harry’s wizarding education.
“You can write a letter,” he said decisively. “I’ll deliver it. Don’t expect a response, though.”
“What you said to Professor Dumbledore. To whom will you take his letter?”
“My aunts,” Harry said, craning his neck at the broom display.
“I see. And was it so beyond you to provide him names with which to address it?”
“Yes,” said Harry decisively. Harry took Severus’ elbow, hauling him towards the just-open chocolatier’s. “Now come on, just this one—I promised Griphook.”
“I am sure you did,” said Severus.
Diagon Alley was much changed from the last, grim visit Harry had taken there, where there had been dark mutterings and cruel posters and Lucius Malfoy. Oh, the mutters were still there—they crawled like ants up Harry’s spine. And the posters were there, and graffiti—it was just that in equal number to these grim tidings were signs declaring new elf sections to clothes stores, and notices proclaiming that elves would be hired at every other shop or so, and counter-graffiti over the horrid Blood Riot slogans cheering the victory of equal rights.
And there was definitely no Lucius Malfoy in the bank when they walked in, Harry sticking closely to Severus’ side. This early, the bank itself had just opened, and perhaps the opposite of Lucius Malfoy sat waiting for them on a bench: Bill Weasley, red hair pulled back into a ponytail, wand in a leather holster, fang dangling from an earring.
“Harry,” said Bill warmly, “good to see you. And Professor Snape.” He grinned, and stuck out his hand. “Remember me?”
“Ah, yes,” said Severus. “The least trouble-making Weasley. By a slim margin. You were … expecting Mr. Potter?”
“Er.” Bill blinked at him, and then at Harry. “Well, I was expecting you both.”
“Surprise,” Harry said, as Severus turned baleful eyes on him. “We have a meeting with Director Havelock.”
Severus’ mouth fell open.
Ignoring him completely, Harry trotted away towards a teller. Griphook’s long ears went forward when he saw him, and he came hurrying out from his desk to clasp arms with Harry. “Hi, Griphook!” Harry said in Gobbledegook.
“Hello, young man,” said Griphook. “I’m certain I used to be the same height as you.”
Harry grinned and stretched up on his tiptoes. “I’m growing.”
“Well, better stop now, or else you’ll hurt my feelings”
“You speak Gobbledegook?” Bill asked, in the same language.
“A little,” Harry said. “I’m learning.”
Griphook switched back to English and shook Bill and Severus’ hands. “Welcome, welcome. I’ll be happy to guide you to Director Havelock’s office.”
“You are too kind,” said Severus, thin-lipped, glaring at Harry.
Harry widened his eyes. What was Severus so upset about? Harry had said he’d do something.
Griphook, idly running Harry through a few conjugations, led them into the depths of the bank. Harry had only ever been to Griphook’s office, and once a small study where he had recovered from a panic attack. In this instance, Griphook shepherded them down a long hall inset with squiggling lines of obsidian that reminded Harry comfortingly of snakes, towards a gleaming copper-colored lift. Griphook pressed a button and the doors opened.
“Brilliant,” Harry said, hopping inside. The lift had an orange-tinted glass ceiling: Harry could see all the way up along the shaft, which was lit by glowing stones, he thought. The shaft was also brilliantly decorated, those sources of light throwing illumination onto ripples of mosaic turquoise and emerald.
“Harry, please press the button for floor ten,” Griphook asked in Gobbledegook. Harry struggled for a moment to remember what the word for ‘press’ meant, and Griphook waited patiently. When he’d finally puzzled it out, he moved quickly to the panel in the middle, set with a series of barely-raised buttons with Gobbledegook numbers.
Well, he’d memorized the numbers right off. He hit the button for floor ten, Griphook flashing him a quick smile that revealed the gems set into his teeth, and the lift plummeted.
Severus gave a single, tightly-controlled gasp. Bill laughed, and Severus glared at him.
“Floor ten,” said Bill in admiration. “I’ve never been so far down before.”
“Not many humans have,” Griphook agreed. “But the deeper we go, the more security measures are in place. And Director Havelock has decided this is to be an extremely private conversation.”
“Is it the bank the whole way down?” Harry asked, staring up into the shaft, watching their falling marked by flashes of light. “The vaults?”
“No,” said Griphook. “Where we are going it is. But if you take the roads, you will come to goblin towns, where most of us live and work.”
Goblin towns. Goblin towns. Underground goblin towns. “Griphook,” Harry asked in his best Gobbledegook. “Please, may I visit?”
Griphook smiled, canines flashing. “One day, perhaps. Not today. Maybe once your speaking improves.”
Harry resolved to spend the remainder of his time at Hogwarts glued to Filius’ side.
The lift juddered to a halt at floor five, and the door slid open to reveal one of the very lowest levels of the bank offices. It was not as closed-in a space as the upper offices were. Griphook’s office was a small room in a tight corridor, but this was practically a second atrium. There was a small cafe at one end serving delicious-smelling things, and in the middle was a little copse of trees, growing strong and healthy despite a lack of natural light. A goblin woman sat on a bench in the small park, sipping a drink with one hand and scribbling something on a chalk tablet with the other.
“Chalk,” Harry said victoriously. “Severus, see?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Use all the chalk you like, outside of classes.”
“This way,” said Griphook, leading them towards a grand doorway in the side of the atrium. The door was beautifully decorated in a sunset design made of amber. Griphook knocked sharply on the door, and then, at the call from within, opened it.
Director Havelock’s office was lit by a number of lanterns across the walls that blazed with harsh white light. There was a blue rug on the stone floor, short bookshelves and filing cabinets along the walls, and a few small paintings. Havelock herself was seated at a small round desk, long ears pricked towards them while she scribbled hastily on a tablet. Finally, she looked up at them, and smiled.
He had never met Director Havelock before, not really. She had dark grey skin and bright orange eyes. Her ears were pierced with sapphire studs, four on each, and when she extended her hand for him to shake, he saw she also had piercings in the web between thumb and forefinger, a style he’d only ever seen among the merfolk.
“Harry Potter,” she said pleasantly, coming around her desk to greet him. She spoke in Gobbledegook. “Good day.”
“Good day,” he said. “Thank you for meeting us, Director Havelock.”
She grinned and switched to English. “Well, how about that. Sheerslope sends her hellos.” She moved on. “Severus Snape. And William Weasley. Griphook, thank you for escorting them. You may return to your post; I will send a missive for you to escort them back up.”
Griphook inclined his head. “As you wish, Director.”
Griphook left, and Havelock crossed to a small shelf, flicking a few switches on a bubbling machine. “Tea?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just pulled out four tall, rectangular cups and poured already-steeped tea into them. Harry took his happily—he liked goblin teas.
“Right,” Havelock said, settling behind her desk. She gestured for them to take the three wizard-sized chairs in front of it. “What an unconventional meeting, my fellows. Forgive me for not standing on ceremony, but there’s nothing ceremonial, or even officious, about this. Consider it … what’s the English phrase? Under the books.”
Bill inclined his head. “It’s an honor, Director Havelock. But I have to confess: I’ve no idea why I’m here.”
“Nor I,” said Havelock, smiling. “I suspect only one of us does, the one who called this meeting. Or, should I say, entreated my wife to entreat me to call this meeting. I certainly hope it will be worth it.” She raised an eyebrow at Harry.
Harry sat up a bit straighter. “Yes, Director. Bellatrix Lestrange has one of Voldemort’s horcruxes in her vault.”
Harry could have heard a pin drop, so loudly did silence ring in the office of Director Havelock.
Harry kicked his legs on the bench under the grove. He had been ejected from Director Havelock’s office once matters had taken a turn away from legality. He was, in the end, as Director Havelock said with an amused glance, only fourteen.
So he had gone to the cafe and asked the surprised barista in his best Gobbledegook for a random drink, and now he was sipping it under this grove. It was incredibly spicy but also somehow marshmallow-y without being sweet, and he was enjoying it immensely.
He idly watched the slow pass of goblins through the atrium. They went to the cafe, to the lift, through more office doors. Some of them went through a door labeled ‘exit’ in Gobbledegook.
Harry wanted to go through that door very badly. Every second longer he spent on this bench was a mark of utmost self-control.
Sighing, wishing he had brought his mirror or playing cards, he wondered how much longer the others were going to be ensconced in the office. Bored, he watched the ‘exit’ door crack open. A figure in a wide hood slipped through, making their way towards the lift. One ear poked out of the hood before the figure covered it—it was not a goblin ear.
The figure froze and turned towards him. A bubbly laugh escaped from under the hood. “Snake, why is you everywhere?”
Harry abandoned his spicy marshmallow drink and catapulted across the atrium, sweeping Tippy up in his arms. “It is you!”
Tippy grinned, eyes sparkling as he set her down. Under her billowing cape, he caught a glimpse of the gleaming silver grip of something inside a holster. "Tippy!" he whispered excitedly. "Is you a having a w- a you-know-what? Is Ragnok making it?"
She put a finger to her lips. “Shh, Snake, shh. Isn’t you seeing this hood? No questions. I has to leave; I’s just coming from a meeting down below.”
“Is you okay? Where is you staying? No, don’t tell me that. Is you safe? Being careful? I’s visiting Refuge a few weeks ago!”
“I’s very safe and careful,” Tippy said, tugging affectionately on his braid. “I’s planning on visiting Refuge soon too. But for now I has to stay here. There is work to be done. And Snake, I isn’t able to linger. I’s meeting an escort in the lobby.”
Harry beamed. “I bets I knows the escort.”
“I bets you do too. You knows everyone, it seems. Come here, Snake.”
He bent down, and was hugged within an inch of his life. “You isn’t seeing me,” she whispered.
Grinning, he watched her slip into the lift, and then returned to finish his drink.
“You’re a terrifying kid, Harry, it was good to see you.” Bill gave Harry a hug. “Glad to see you’re well. I was really worried after the cup, we all were. Mum especially.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, “to make you worry.”
Bill patted his shoulder. “Just glad you’re alright.”
“Tell Percy I said hi.”
Bill grinned. “Will do. Goodbye, Professor.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Weasley.”
Severus sighed heavily as they walked back out into Diagon, now bustling with the midmorning rush. They’d been inside Gringotts for a long, long time. “Potter,” he said.
Severus looked at him. “Thank you.”
Harry grinned, surprised. “You’re welcome. I told you I’d do something.”
“It seems I should learn to take you at your word. What shopping do you have before our … appointment?”
“Lunch date,” Harry corrected.
“I have to go to the broom shop, the sweet shop, and Fortescue’s.”
“Might you also need some new robes and school books in addition to your sugar?” Severus hedged, sending a pointed look at the hems of his current robes, which were above his ankles.
Robes were purchased. Books were purchased. Sweets were purchased. Ice cream was not purchased, but was at least postponed until after lunch.
As they headed back to the Leaky Cauldron for their appointment, a woman in shining silver robes came up to them with a stack of pamphlets. “Symposium on wand rights two nights from now!” she said, shoving them into their hands. “Free to attend!”
“Thanks!” Harry said enthusiastically, opening the pamphlet as Severus steered him away. INTERSPECIES WAND SYMPOSIUM, read the pamphlet. Featuring representatives from the Committee for Wand Use, the author of the recent bestseller Wands Choose the Wielder, Not the Wizard, and chairperson of the Coalition for Interspecies Magic Deregulation.
“I want to go,” Harry said.
Harry sighed and stowed the pamphlet. It was unlikely, unless a professor was willing to take him. One day, he would understand how to navigate the wizarding world on his own. He suspected a floo connection might be the first step ... something to figure out for the new den. Maybe Hermione would know.
Their lunch dates were waiting at the leaky cauldron. “Harry!” called Remus Lupin, waving from a booth beside Sirius. “Severus!”
Harry beamed and rushed towards them, giving Sirius and then Remus fierce hugs. “Hello!”
“Hello, Harry,” said Remus, running a hand through his hair.
“Heya, Snake,” said Sirius, giving him a smacking kiss on the forehead. “Have you had a growth spurt since I last saw you?”
“Yes,” Harry said, sliding into the booth across from them. Tight-lipped, Severus perched near the very edge of the bench.
“Severus,” said Remus, in a warm but tightly-controlled voice. “How are you?”
Severus stared over his shoulder. “Exhausted of this one’s social maneuverings.”
“Oh?” Remus turned to Harry, smiling in amusement. He wore his usual black leather jacket studded with patches and badges, his pink hair, shaved on one side, artfully tousled. One one hand he wore a series of half-moon rings.
“How’s the mirror working for you, Snake?” Sirius asked, ignoring Severus.
“Oh, it’s brilliant,” Harry said. “Seriously, Sirius, it’s the best thing we’ve ever had.”
Sirius beamed at him. He was looking well, too. Still draped in three different knit scarves, plus knit fingerless gloves and knit jumper, but he was significantly less sallow than before. He thought Severus could probably take some tips.
"Excellent," Sirius declared. "I can't think of a better way to honor Prongs' and my legacy."
Up next: a long-awaited field trip
Chapter 19: Field Trip
Ok so I'm going to be hopping on the discord to do an ask me anything on Tuesday, March 30 at 6:00 pm eastern if you're in the US, 18:00 if you're elsewhere. It will be spoiler free!! I'll post a reminder on Tuesday.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
October bloomed crisp and frost-bitten, heralding a colder winter than Harry thought he’d lived through. From October second, a hat and scarf became necessary when stepping outside the castle doors, and the Slytherins spent as much time outside Slytherin dorm as possible, even with the fires roaring. There was ice on the ground in the early morning, and when the sun started disappearing early in earnest, even the astronomy classes met instead in the ground floor courtyard.
But the early winter would not stop them.
“Nothing’s going to stop me,” said Daphne, skipping up the stairs towards the entrance hall. “Not Snape, not mum, and definitely not a little cold.”
“I don’t think your mum is going to try to stop you,” Harry said. “Seeing as she’s coming too.”
“I’m just making the point. Did you know Astoria refused to come? Said I was trying to steal her time with her friends.” Daphne rolled her eyes and finished tying the tassels of her knit hat under her chin, looking slightly silly with her hat pushing her hair flat, but her large cat-eye glasses poking out. “So, are you finally going to tell me what the big deal is?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “I’m sure Nayla already told your mum. Star is a centaur.”
Daphne stared at him for a long, long moment. “What?”
“Star is a centaur,” Harry said, grinning. “We’re going to visit the centaur village in the forest.”
Daphne’s face went through a series of emotions, one rapidly exchanged for another. She settled, at last, on a high-pitched shriek like a tea kettle as they emerged into the entrance hall. “STAR IS—!”
Harry shoved Áwere into her face before she could shout it to the whole castle. “Hush!”
She tore the cloak away, beaming madly, looking quite like her mother. “Are you joking!”
“That’s so—that’s so—incredible!”
“My daughter is lively this morning,” said Aaila Greengrass, leaning against the wall and observing them. She was dressed in thick red robes with small sparrows flying around them, and wore a deep golden stocking cap with soft yellow stars. She was carrying a large pack with many pockets, held a massive notebook under her arm, and a telescope in the other. “Are you two kids ready to make history?”
“I’m technically not making history,” Harry said, smiling. “And also, this is a secret.”
“Secret history is the best history to make,” Aaila assured him. “Now let us away, my loves, before someone asks where we’re off to. I’ve only told the headmaster we’re taking a field trip, he doesn’t know the details. Mr. Potter, lead the way! Into the vast unknown!”
Harry charged out the door and into the incredibly cold air, Daphne right behind him, gasping as the wind hit her face, blowing the tassels of her hat around. She stared off into the great green expanse that was the forest, hands on her hips, breathing hard with excitement. “We’re really going in there?” she asked him quietly.
She took a deep, cold breath in through her nose, and grinned wider than he’d ever seen her. “Incredible.” She took his hand. “Come on.”
Aaila trailing them, they charged down the steps and across the lawn, breaking the chain so they could race, each pulling ahead of the other in turns, all the way to Hagrid’s hut. Daphne got there a split second earlier and pounded on Hagrid’s door, gasping with exertion.
Hagrid cracked it open, blue traveling coat already on, staff in hand, warm cap down around his ears. Fang bounced around his feet in excitement and licked Daphne’s gloved hands. “Right, you all. Wait, where’s your mum, Daphne?”
Daphne pointed back to where Aaila Greengrass had stopped in the middle of the grounds to point her spyglass at the lake.
“MUM!” wailed Daphne. “COME ON!”
“Mhm,” came her mother’s distant answer on the wind.
Hagrid chuckled and sat on his stoop to wait.
“Hagrid, are you really taking us to see the centaurs?” Daphne asked.
“I am. Do you remember what you learned about them in me class?”
“Yes, I promise!”
“Well, I s’pose you’re about to learn more about ‘em than I could ever teach you.”
“I’m putting a lot of pieces together here, Harry,” Daphne told him, pushing her glasses up. “A lot of pieces.”
“That’s fine,” Harry said, grinning. “Piece away.”
Aaila finally reached them, and greeted Hagrid distractedly, and then, Daphne practically hopping with excitement, Hagrid led them into the forest.
“It’s a few hours’ walk,” Hagrid said. “But it’s an easy one, don’ worry.”
“I’m not worried!” Daphne said. She looked around at the forest in true astonishment, and for a moment Harry was seeing it for the very first time again. Though they had just crossed through, to a stranger it must have looked as though they could have been in the middle of the forest. The canopy thickened right away, and the trees were so old, and birds flitted from branch to branch, uncaring of the human company passing below. Harry hooked his arm through hers and they trailed between Hagrid striding ahead and Aaila lagging behind, furiously scribbling in her massive notebook with an ink-stained hand.
“One time,” Harry said quietly, “I got lost, and didn’t realize how close I was to the castle. I tried to climb that tree right there, but I was too short, so I ended up sleeping in a hollow tree over there—and then in the morning I felt so silly, because the castle had honestly been just beyond me.”
Daphne stared at the places he pointed out, eyes wide. “Harry—you don’t live alone, do you? Have you been all alone?”
Harry shook his head. “No, definitely not. I have Araeo—that’s Star’s real name, by the way—I have Araeo and his family, and I have actual family under the lake, three mer aunts and some cousins, and then I have my closest family, who still have to be a secret, but you’ll meet them one day if you like.”
Daphne clutched him close. “Of course I’d like. Why are you telling me all this? I thought everything about your family was secret. Aren’t you afraid of what will happen?“
“Not anymore,” Harry said. “I used to be when things were more uncertain. But now, all my secrets are coming out. You’re my best human friend. I suppose I just wanted you to know first.”
Daphne squeezed his arm, blinking rapidly. “You’re my best human friend. I’m glad you didn’t grow up alone.”
“Me, too. Oh, and there’s one more thing I suppose you should know.”
“No one here calls me Harry. When I’m not at school, my name is Snakeheart.”
“Snakeheart,” she said tentatively. “Is there a reason for that?”
Harry nodded. “I’m a parselmouth. Snakeheart is what snakes call parselmouths. I started using it as my name when I first came here.”
“Snakeheart,” she repeated again. “You know, I’ve a third cousin four times removed or something who’s a parselmouth, back in Iraq.”
“You do! Can I meet them?”
“Yeah, sure, come on a family holiday sometime. I suppose I owe you one now.”
“Brilliant. Oh—look over there, see that boulder? That’s where I hid once when this feral kneazle was after me.”
“We’re gettin’ close,” said Hagrid, as the noon sun shone down. “Any las’ questions?”
“Yes,” Daphne said, who’d had no shortage of questions for the last several hours. “What if I do something wrong?”
“I don’t think you should worry too much about that,” said Firenze, just visible as he walked towards them. “If Snakeheart here vouches for you, you should probably just focus on having a good time.”
Daphne squeaked in surprise and grabbed Harry’s hand.
“Advisor Stargazer,” said Hagrid, bowing.
Firenze turned to Daphne’s mother and bowed as well. Aaila Greengrass unceremoniously shoved her book under her arm so she could return it, then reached out for a handshake which Firenze, delighted, returned. “Mrs. Greengrass, I presume.”
“Call me Aaila,” she said, grinning broadly. “I’ve been corresponding with your sister so often I feel I already know you, Advisor Stargazer. This is my daughter, Daphne.”
“Call me Firenze,” he said smoothly. He turned to Daphne. “It is very good to meet you at last, Daphne.”
Daphne looked incandescent with joy. “You too! I mean, I didn’t know about you until a few hours ago, but still!”
Firenze smiled, looking gently at Harry. “Snakeheart keeps his promises. And long ago, he promised to reveal us to no one without permission.”
“And he got permission for me?”
“Indeed. Come, Araeo was nearly frothing at the mouth that my sister wouldn’t let him out of lessons early to meet you himself.”
Until now, Harry had been mostly focused on Daphne’s enjoyment. But Firenze said Araeo’s name, and he finally realized he was going to see Araeo in the middle of the semester, when he usually could not see him at all between summer and winter holidays, and his heart leapt.
The walk to the village went quick now that Aaila Greengrass had a centaur to talk rapidly to while scribbling in her book, and after a moment Hagrid joined them, slipping easily into conversation with the pair. Harry trotted ahead, pulling Daphne, eager to arrive.
“This is the village of the Northern Stargazer Band!” he said at last, as they broke through the trees and came into the wide-open space of the village center, where the canopy parted for the stars at night and a fire blazed all day long. And today, it seemed, they were preparing for a night of gazing, for Harry spotted Bane, Nayla, and Araeo immediately, erecting a tall telescoping construction while Kireris directed. There were other centaurs in the clearing, and they idly bowed to Harry before stopping and staring abjectly at Daphne.
“Araeo!” Harry shouted, unable to help himself.
Araeo’s head shot up. “Snakeheart!” Without further ceremony he dropped his leg of the contraption, making Bane snort with irritation, and cantered across the clearing. Harry leapt, and Araeo spun him around, laughing.
Then he was set down quickly and Araeo turned to Daphne, who didn’t seem to quite know how to take all of him in. “Daphne Greengrass,” said Araeo, eyes squinting in happiness. He put a hand to his chin and heart and bowed, and she copied him. “I feel that we are friends already.”
“You too,” Daphne said dazedly, “except I’ve always called you Star! Hello!” She beamed, face suffused with joy. “I’m so happy to meet you!”
And then Nayla and Bane made their way over and Aaila Greengrass and Hagrid and Firenze finally entered the clearing as well, and more formal introductions were made and nothing was said of the basilisk, thank goodness, and then they were through with all that and Araeo had them both by the hands and was tugging them along to his room.
Harry sighed happily, feeling his heart beating in time with Araeo’s, and feeling a peculiar joy that came with two parts of his life converging at last.
“Okay,” Daphne said eagerly, “you can teach me threes but you seriously have to play pasur. I bet my mum’ll play too. Ooh, Araeo, do you ever braid your tail? It that rude to ask?”
“Why would it be rude?” Araeo asked. “It’s just my tail. I braid it sometimes. Alright, now after the blue, do you want purple or green?”
“Uh …” Daphne tilted her head slightly in Araeo’s mirror. “Hey, Snakeheart, what do you think?”
Harry looked up from Araeo’s bed, where he was drawing. “Green.”
“Purple,” Daphne said, sticking her tongue out at Harry.
Nodding, Araeo carefully sorted out a series of purple glass beads. He was doing Daphne’s hair with a cascading waterfall of beads, beginning with pink at the top. “What is your home like?” he asked. “Snakeheart’s the only human I’ve met, and he doesn’t really count.”
“Home is nice! We have a house in Essex, it’s me and mum and my dad and my sister Astoria and also my jaddati, my grandmum I mean, and our four cats.”
“You have four cats! How old are they!”
“Well, Moon is ancient, like thirteen, and Paw is about six, and so is Whisker, and then the youngest is Marvin, who’s three.”
“I wish I could have a cat,” said Araeo mournfully. “Mother says they’ll just run away and get eaten by something.”
“She’s probably right,” Harry put in, adding a bit of purple to his drawing of a dragon. Araeo had marvelous crayons that were almost paint-like in their pigment.
“You could have a kneazle!” Daphne suggested. “Kneazles don’t get eaten, they do the eating.”
“I could have a kneazle,” echoed Araeo thoughtfully. Another moment of silence passed, in which Araeo finished slipping the purple beads onto her hair, and then he gave it a final once over and smiled at her in the mirror. “There. What do you think?”
Daphne turned her head this way and that, beaming. “It’s beautiful!”
“Brilliant,” Harry said. “Can we go eat now?”
Araeo took his hand again as they made their way into the evening—ba-dum went their hearts. The afternoon and passed by in a flurry of easy activity. They got along as well as Harry had ever hoped. It sort of was almost like they already knew each other, through Harry’s stories. They’d played cards and drawn and explored the bower and gone to the stream, and now they would finally have dinner, after waiting years for Araeo to do Daphne’s hair.
In the clearing, the village had gathered for the night, for there was to be a meteor shower. The Stargazer Band was familiar now, after so many years—it was, after all, made up of only about thirty centaurs, a fledgling band. He introduced Daphne to Tyrios, to Naesene, to Eidala. Araeo pulled them hot puffed pastries filled with meat and cheese from a portable oven erected over the fire, and they juggled them from hand to hand and sipped warm cider.
Aaila Greengrass was in deep conversation over cups of mulled wine with Nayla. They watched them curiously for a moment. It seemed that Nayla was explaining the mechanisms of a telescope. Aaila was sitting unceremoniously on the ground, writing furiously in her book.
“Mum’s in love,” giggled Daphne. “She adores people who know a lot. You’ll never get her to leave.”
“My mother needs friends,” said Araeo, “so perhaps she’d better just stay.” They grinned at each other.
On the other side of the fire, Firenze and Hagrid were talking quietly. The bright blue flames of the fire cast shadows over them as Hagrid offered Firenze a piece of sugar-spiced bread, which he took carefully.
“Araeo,” hissed Harry.
“Snakeheart,” agreed Araeo. He turned to Daphne, smiling madly. “See that?”
Daphne tilted her head, beads glittering in the firelight. “See what?”
“They’re in love,” said Harry dreamily.
“They just don’t know it,” said Araeo.
“No, I think they do know it, they’re just not saying.”
They glanced over again. Firenze and Hagrid were staring right at them, eyes narrowed.
“Damn,” said Araeo. “Let’s go, er, see father.”
They skittered away, Daphne giggling slightly. “Actually, I do see it,” she said. “Everyone knows sharing food is romantic, anyway.”
“It is?” Harry asked. “But we share food all the time.”
“I mean it can be romantic. You stealing my chocolate frogs isn’t the same as gently offering a—a—an apple to your love!”
“An apple?” Harry said doubtfully.
“Or whatever! Trust me.”
Harry trusted her. Moreover, he remembered the sharing of strawberries between a merman and a wizard, and was convinced at once.
“Hello, father,” said Araeo, as they escaped into Bane’s company—something Harry rarely had cause to do. “How are you this fine night?”
Bane looked askance at him. “What have you done now?”
Bane looked dubious.
“Really nothing,” Harry said. “Tell him, Daphne.”
“Definitely nothing, Mate Bane,” she said at once.
Bane glanced over their heads. “Hassling the steward again, I see.”
“Hassling!” Harry exclaimed.
Bane fixed him with one black eye. “Yes, child, hassling. That which you are known for.”
“When have I ever hassled,” Harry said, taking Araeo’s hand sulkily (ka-bum). “I don’t hassle, I—I expedite.”
Bane laughed, a deep laugh as he rarely gave, making Nayla look up in pleased surprise from her telescope. “Expedite,” he said, cheeks twitching as he tried to contain a smile. “I suppose that’s one word for it. Go expedite my mate and Mrs. Greengrass; I must see to the food.”
“Making Bane laugh,” said Nayla, as they approached. “Should I be worried?”
“No,” said Daphne at once, going to her mother’s side and hugging her stocking-capped head. “Mum, I want to teach them pasur, will you play?”
“Hm?” Aaila Greengrass looked up from her scribblings. Her aquiline nose was ink-stained. “Cards? Not enough light, habibti, and the shower’s nearly here. Perhaps with breakfast?”
“Alright,” said Daphne.
“The shower will start momentarily,” said Nayla. “We’ll bank the fire. I’ll be watching here with Aaila.”
“We’re just going to watch from the clearing,” Araeo said. “I don’t want Daphne to miss any of it trying to use a band telescope for the first time.”
“Go on, then.”
Araeo led them to a patch of ground where he unfurled a blanket he’d draped over his back. “Come on,” he said eagerly, settling down on the edge of the blanket. “This meteor shower only happens every eleven years. Centaurs call them the Tears of Endede. Many Seers use them to focus their visions into clarity they rarely achieve alone.”
“They focus prophecy?” Daphne asked.
“Sort of. Celestial movements affect the flux of all magic. Prophecy is just one sort of magic, in the end.”
“Magic … changes? With the stars?”
“Mhm. Mother knows more about it.”
Harry settled against Araeo’s side, curling into his flank and looking up at the sky. Daphne lay on her back next to him, staring upwards into the night. Truly, there was nothing like viewing the sky from the centaurs’ clearing. It was as if they were inside the bowl of the forest, and beyond the rim was only space. Galaxies moved in their vast tapestry, the moon was bright in its first quarter, the closest stars told stories in dozens of languages, if you only knew how to read them.
Araeo’s hand, the one that was not holding Harry’s, gently touched his ear, brushing back through his hair.
Harry looked from the celestial sky to the night sky of Araeo’s face, which was soft and warm and open. Harry was aware of Araeo’s steady breath, of his steady gaze, of his steady hands. Their heartbeats thrummed.
“I think it’s starting!” Daphne gasped.
Harry tilted his head upwards. Araeo’s hand fell to clasp Harry’s, and they gazed at the sky.
At first he could see nothing beyond the normal etherial glimmer of the stars. And then—there, just the flash of a fish in a stream. Brief and slippery. But then another, and another—and he had to adjust how his eyes were focusing, so that he was not trying to pick them all out but simply letting them pass him by, a school of fish following each other through the river of the night.
Daphne made small astonished noises, and in Harry and Araeo’s tangled hands, their hearts beat to the rhythm of the celestial event. Harry spared only one glance from the sight, a brief moment to see Araeo’s face. His foggy eyes were so bright, face almost rapturous, caught in the movements of space and time. Harry rested his cheek back against Araeo’s flank, looked up at the meteors, and let himself float beside him.
In the morning they played pasur with Nayla and Aaila Greengrass, eating a breakfast of roasted eggs and mild grassy centaur tea, and Daphne asked so many questions about centaur astronomy that she had actually seized Aaila’s book to write notes in. Aaila looked like she’d been given the best birthday present of her life.
“And you’re saying—you’re saying the movements of the planets around each other influence how magic works here?” Daphne asked.
Nayla nodded. “That is what I’m saying. It is why centaurs take advantage of certain celestial events for prophecy. Our astronomers have long predicted the waxing and waning of the magical aurora.”
“But—but—that means it has to influence all magic, right? Not just prophecy!”
“In the end, there is only one magic,” said Nayla. “So, naturally.”
“But wizards don’t do magic according to the stars! Mum, do we?”
“Some do,” said Aaila. “It’s a very rare thing, though. Most think of magic as a static pool, with little fluctuation. Only those with an interest in magical astronomy, or certain branches of magical theory, take note of the influence of celestial movements on wizarding magic.”
Daphne’s eyes were sparkling. “I have to learn all of this! Will they teach us at Hogwarts? In astronomy class?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Aaila. “It’s a bit advanced.” But she looked absolutely thrilled as she said it. “Perhaps, if there were someone to whom you could apprentice during the summers ….” She glanced, shamelessly, sideways at Nayla.
Daphne’s gaze turned beseeching. “Band Leader, please—”
Nayla laughed, holding up her hands. “Now, now, I’m no astronomer. But before you leave I will introduce you to Astronomer Thellaia, and perhaps the three of you may correspond.”
Nayla laughed. “Well, I do not see a reason to deny you. You are, after all, the first humans to be permitted into the Northern Stargazer Band’s village … ever.”
“What about Har—I mean, Snakeheart?”
Nayla glanced over at him. He pretended to be looking at his hand of cards. “Snakeheart doesn’t quite count.”
Daphne sighed. “I wonder how many times I’m going to hear that.”
<3 <3 <3
Next up: Further shenanigans
Chapter 20: Complications
Oh boy, folks. Oh boy. Every chapter after this one is pretty much just a sequence of the most exciting events. If you listen closely you can hear me trying to contain my excitement for the next chapter.
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 109 ✩ 6 November 1994
MINSITRY BENDS TO DOMESTIC AND INTL PRESSURE: DEPT OF INTERSPECIES DIPLOMACY FORMED
by The Demiguise Collective
TIPPY LOCKJAW GIVEN HARBOR IN GOBLINTOWN:IMPLICATIONS FOR GOBLIN-MINISTRY RELATIONS
WAND RIGHTS FORUM FORUM MAKES WAVES
MADAM MALKIN DEBUTS ELF-SIZE CLOAK LINE
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO PRINCE FROM CANIDAE: STOP IGNORING US
TO SUPERLATIVE FROM WIGGENWAND: ANIMAGI ...
TO DRAGONTAMER FROM MORPH: HOLIDAY VISIT?
“Harry,” said Lobelia Aster. “Good to see you. It’s cold for a walk around the lake today, but I’ll go if you like.”
Harry shook his head. He was chilled just being in the entrance hall. “No, let’s go to, er, the library. I have a study room.”
“A study room!” Lobelia smiled as they began to climb the stairs, her heeled purple boots clicking on the stone. “They didn’t have those when I was at Hogwarts.”
“Well, it’s not really mine,” said Harry. “But I’m allowed to use it, sort of.”
They chatted as they made their way to the library, then went quiet under Madam Pince’s piercing stare, and Harry showed her the way to the free book room, opening the unlocked door and ushering her inside.
She looked around curiously, at the armchairs and table piled with books. “This isn’t a study room.”
“No.” Harry sorted briefly through the books on the table, sighing as he found the one obviously meant for him. Health and Safety for Queer Youths. There was a chocolate bar beside it. He showed it grimly to Lobelia. “It’s Severus’ room, but he knows I use it.”
She put a hand to her mouth and giggled. “Oh, dear.”
Harry tossed the book back on the table, unable to look at it any more. “He won’t stop.”
“Oh, but is it really so bad?” Lobelia asked, taking a seat in an armchair and drawing her knees up under her.
Harry snuggled into the other one, drawing a soft purple throw blanket around himself and taking out a bit of string to fiddle with—Daphne had taught him to make simple designs by looping string around your fingers in different patterns, and he’d taken to doing it as he talked. “It’s embarrassing,” he said.
“It shows he cares about you,” she pointed out. “And that he respects your boundaries. Leaving things for you to find, instead of forcing interaction.”
“He forces plenty of interaction,” Harry grumbled.
“Does he? Aside from your incident after the cup?”
Harry thought about it for a moment. “Well, no. Not actually.”
She nodded. “Consider what other avenues you’ve given him to care for you.”
Harry had to admit he hadn’t given Severus many. “I don’t know why he needs to care for me, though,” he said, managing to make a broomstick with his string. “He’s my school guardian or whatever, but that doesn’t really mean anything.”
“I suppose it must to him,” she pointed out. “But he may also feel a more personal responsibility, having been close with your mother. But in the end, if you truly want him to stop looking out for you, then you must make it clear.”
Harry sighed and unraveled his broom, stringing the yarn back around his knuckles. “I guess I don’t, not really. It’s just strange. Remus and Sirius look out for me, but they don’t act like they’re in charge of me.”
“Remus and Sirius were also quite independent as young people, from what you’ve told me.”
Harry smiled. “That’s one word for it.”
Lobelia flicked a thumb through the pages of her little notebook. “How are we doing with our twice a month sessions, Harry? Do you feel that they’re enough, or is there too much time in between?”
Harry shook his head. “No, it’s been good so far, I think.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I’m very proud of you, you know.”
Harry looked up in surprise. She was smiling gently at him. “You are?”
“Oh, yes. We’ve seen each other for three years now, and I’ve watched you grow a tremendous amount. Even if, in time, we see each other more often again, or less often—wherever life takes us—you’re growing into a wonderful, astute young man, and I’m pleased to know you.”
“Oh.” Harry felt himself blushing. “Er, thank you. I’m pleased to know you too.”
She smiled. “Thank you very much, Harry. Now, what’s on the agenda for the rest of our session?”
“Star,” said Harry immediately.
“Imagine my surprise.”
Harry stuck his tongue out at her.
This is your aunt Cassipa, but your aunt Loch is floating over my shoulder. Avalon gave us the ... puzzling... letter from Albus Dumbledore, which you translated. Obviously, we are unconcerned with your wizard schooling. Yet we do understand the sentiment behind it. We have written a response, suggesting that your headmaster address further assurances of your safety to you, the concerned party. This a more prudent current for all concerned. Please transcribe it into English.
P.S.: Snake, this is Ava! Utterly hilarious watching mothers try to make sense of Dumbledore's letter. See you in December for you-know-what ;)
“Right, everyone, positions! Men—excuse me, Mr. Black, leaders—hand on your follower’s shoulder blade, and followers—hand on your partner’s elbow—palm to palm—and—one, two, three—good!—one, two, three—excellent!—one, two, three—keep going, now!”
Harry stared hard at his feet, counting under his breath while Flitwick counted aloud. He kept knocking heads with Daphne as she tried to stare at her feet at the same time. He’d never danced like this before. He knew a few formal centaur dances, which he did poorly on account of his number of legs, and some of the cooler mer dance moves that Ava’s cousins had taught them, and of course he knew his full moon dance and had hopped around to the basilisk’s instruments any number of times … but the waltz … he stumbled again and despaired.
“Right, everyone, brilliant job! Switch up partners, I want leaders and followers to switch too!”
Minerva and Flitwick supervised as they changed partners, in differing states of embarrassment and frustration.
“Harry,” called Draco, “partner with me, I know what you’re doing wrong.”
“Then please tell me, because I’m doing the steps exactly as he’s saying!” Harry said. Daphne joined Ron, and Draco dragged him into place and put his hand on Harry’s shoulder blade, posture perfect like he’d been doing this all his life, which of course he had.
Draco blew a lock of pink hair out of his eye. “You have to stop staring at your feet. Look, just look at me instead of them, lift when you feel me lift, and follow along.”
Harry felt very dubious about not looking at his feet, but he’d try anything if he would stop tripping so much. His head throbbed from bashing into Daphne’s chin.
Minerva moved among them, correcting posture and positioning, and then counted them off again. “One, two, three, one, two, three!”
“One, two, three, eyes on me,” said Draco. “That’s what father would say when he taught me.”
Harry was so thrown by the mention of Lucius Malfoy that he forgot all about his feet, and as a result performed a perfect box step. He laughed incredulously.
“Yeah?” he said carefully, as Draco danced them smoothly across the room, gathering resentful looks from Daphne and Ron, who had now tripped thrice.
“Mhm.” Draco hesitated. “When I talk about him, does it upset you?”
“What? Why would it?”
“Well, he’s hurt you.”
“He’s hurt you worse. It only bothers me when it causes you more pain.”
Draco nodded slowly. “Mum’s having me see a therapist and he said I shouldn’t try to—to not talk about him. Lucius. My father. Because keeping him inside makes the fear worse.”
“That makes sense,” Harry said, smiling at him. “You can talk about him to me if you like, Draco, I don’t mind.”
Draco’s ears went pink to match his hair. “Thanks, Harry. You’re a good friend.”
“Luna told me the QA’s planning something with the ball?”
“Oh! Yes, we’re going to have a special meet-up beforehand, sort of like a pre-dance, in the courtyard. For anyone who doesn't feel comfortable dancing with who they like at the actual ball, and to give people a bit of bravery to go to the ball all together afterwards, you see. If we all arrive at once, it's less scary, right?"
“That’s really beautiful,” Harry said.
Draco grinned. “You’ll be there?”
“Oh, um.” Draco’s face fell, and Harry lowered his voice. Nothing took Draco out of a foul mood more than shared secrets. “Actually,” he whispered, “I’m bringing a date. And, er, I’ve got to go … get him … before the ball.”
Draco’s eyes shone. “A secret date?” he hissed. “Tell me who!”
“Can’t,” Harry hummed. “Sorry.”
Harry winked, and the song they were dancing to ended. Harry realized they had made four complete circuits around the room without tripping.
“Very good, Mr. Black, Mr. Potter!” said Filius. “Why don’t you split up and teach someone who’s struggling what you know?”
Before Harry could look around for a partner, Hermione stomped up to him and seized his hand. She looked very frazzled; her eyes were slightly red.
“Hermione?” he asked, as Minerva put on a new song. He tried to lead and they tripped immediately. Frowning, he remembered what Draco had done—eyes on me. “Don’t look at your feet,” he told Hermione. “Look at me.”
“How am I supposed to move them right if I can’t see where they’re going?” Hermione grit out, but she reluctantly focused on Harry’s left ear instead. She was so tense his fingers were going numb.
“Why do you think something’s wrong?!”
“Er.” He wriggled his fingers. “Maybe because I can’t feel my hand.”
She loosened up a bit. “Sorry, Harry. It’s just Ron.”
“What? What about Ron?”
Her face grew stormy, and as she focused on something else, they stopped stumbling. “He—he—!” She took a deep breath in through her nose. “Seamus asked him if he was going to ask me to the ball and he laughed! And so I said, you know, I thought it was funny too, because there’s no way in a million years I’d ever go with him, and he got mad at me!” There were furious tears in her eyes. “And then just now he wouldn’t even dance with me!”
“That’s awful!” Harry exclaimed. “I’m really sorry, Hermione. I’d say you could go with me, only I’ve got a date.”
“I didn’t want to go with him in the first place anyways! He’s horrid! I’m going to ask—I’ll ask—” she thought furiously. “I’m asking Fred.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “Er, are you sure that’s—”
She glared at him. He knew that glare. “Don’t tell him.”
“I won’t,” Harry said uneasily.
They switched partners. Ron stormed over to Harry and put both his hands in the wrong places. Harry adjusted them, tripped over Ron’s feet twice as they both tried to lead, and then mentally braced himself.
“Hermione thinks going to the ball with me is the most ridiculous thing in the world, apparently!” Ron hissed, as he stomped them around the room.
“Lighten your feet, would you?” Harry asked. “What happened?”
“Seamus asked me if I was going to ask her to the ball while she was right there, and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to answer, and then all of the sudden she was saying she’d never go to the ball with me, and then today she tried to dance with me after all that!” His face was tomato red.
“You laughed,” Harry said.
“When you didn’t know what to do with Seamus, you laughed. She thought you were laughing at her.”
“Well—” Ron’s mouth dropped open. “Well she should know better than to think I’d do that on purpose!”
Harry skulked. Harry didn’t skulk much these days, but today … today he skulked, just for the fun of it.
He skulked, hidden under Áwere, with his pendant on, out of the castle. He skulked, grateful it hadn’t snowed enough to leave footprints, off of Hogwarts grounds.
He skulked all the way to Hogsmeade, and past Hogsmeade, to where there was a little abandoned cave that was more like a den.
Carefully, Harry unflipped his pendant and took off his hood. “Hello?”
A large black dog came snuffling out of the den, panting and wagging its tail.
“Oh! Hello!” Harry scratched it under the chin. He didn’t see many dogs around the castle. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen my godfather around, have you?”
The dog wriggled back from him, sat on its hind legs, and morphed into Sirius Black.
Harry stared at him, jaw hanging open.
“Snake!” said Sirius happily. “You’ve Prongs’ cloak! Look at you, just a floating head, sneaking out of Hogwarts. He would be so proud.”
“Did you like Snuffles? That’s what Prongs called me.”
“Sirius … you’re a dog?”
Sirius barked out a laugh, a phrase which had taken on a whole new meaning. “No, Snake, I’m an animagus! Like … like Pete—like the rat, you know. And like your dad! He was a stag. We did it to keep Remus company during full moons, isn’t it brilliant? Don’t tell anyone, obviously, it’s dead secret.”
“Alright,” Harry said faintly, wondering how fast he could learn to turn into a snake.
“Anyway, wicked of you to actually sneak out, I didn’t think you’d do it.”
“What?” Harry was offended. “Why not? Stupid school rules can’t stop me.”
“Attaboy. I just wanted to see you in person to give you your gift.”
Harry groaned. “Not another gift, Sirius! You just sent me that new cloak!”
“Well, think of this as one of your early Christmas presents, then, since you said you can’t come this year.” He pouted.
Harry grinned. “Sorry. I’ve got something really important over the holidays. Maybe I can visit this summer?”
Sirius beamed. “Snake, you can visit in the middle of the night on a Wednesday on the run from aurors and it’d make my day. Of course you can visit over the summer. But here, here—your gift.”
He passed Harry a large white box. Harry opened it, pulling out layers of tissue paper, to reveal a pair of silver boots. They were incredibly fine—just above ankle-height, with a small heel, the leather patterned with subtle shining scales. “They’re really nice,” said Harry, eyes wide. “Bit of an odd gift, though.”
Sirius grinned. “They’re for the ball, Snake. They’re not just nice boots—they are, though, they’re dragon hide and they grow with your feet and the soles never wear—they’re magic boots.”
“Like Cinderella’s slippers? Are you my fairy godmother?”
Sirius winked at him. “Oh, absolutely. Please never address me as anything else, and especially not to Snape. Anyway, anyway—they’re charmed! They’re flying shoes!”
“Well, levitating. Floating, more like. Floating shoes. I just remembered, you wrote me once that Star is so much taller than you, yeah?”
Harry blinked rapidly. “Yeah, he is.”
“I figured maybe you could use some magic floating boots at your dance, then. To make things a little more special.”
“But … you don’t even know if he’s coming. He’s actually not allowed to, anyway.”
Sirius laughed. “Pull the other one, Snake. I know he’s going. You’ve got too much marauder in you for it to be otherwise. Oh, hey, now, don’t cry.”
But he was crying, and he didn’t know why, just like he didn’t know why he felt half his emotions these days, but Severus’ stupid books said that was normal and Lobelia and the basilisk said to let himself cry, so he did, clutching his wonderful boots and hugging Sirius tightly. “These are brilliant,” he mumbled. “You’ll love Star when you meet him. It wasn’t even my idea for him to come, it was his.”
“He sounds perfect,” Sirius said, placing a smacking kiss on the top of his head. “Now off with you, before either of us are suspected.”
“I’ll have someone take a picture,” Harry said. “These are going to match my dress perfectly.”
Sirius had never looked more delighted.
Harry didn’t have it in him to skulk back to Hogwarts, so he simply walked, doubly invisible and clutching his box of shoes close, wondering why this gift overwhelmed him so much. Perhaps because Sirius seemed to understand him in some intrinsic way, understood Araeo and Harry, understood Limmy and Harry, understood Harry and the world. It took his words briefly away.
The sky was darkening as he returned, and he almost missed the shadows of three figures by the lake.
He turned at once towards them, managing a passable skulk for the occasion. He dodged behind trees and bushes even though he didn’t need to, for the fun of it.
At the lakeside, under a large and gnarled Scots Pine, clustered Dumbledore, Severus, and Minerva.
Harry crouched by the shore and watched, the lap of waves against the sand soft and soothing.
“Albus?” Minerva asked softly.
Wordlessly and wandlessly, Dumbledore gestured to the ground between two roots, and a deep hole dug itself, earth displaced to the side.
“Let’s not make this too heartfelt,” Severus said, sounding subdued. “He was, after all, who he was.”
“He was,” Dumbledore agreed, “but they were not.” He sighed, and from his pocket withdrew a crumpled twist of metal. “Tom Riddle Senior,” he said, and dropped the piece of metal into the hole.
Severus opened his hands to reveal a mutilated locket. “Colin Reid.” The locket clinked as it fell into the hole.
Minerva took a twisted crown from her pocket and tossed it in. “Yllka Shehu.”
Dumbledore revealed something incredibly familiar to Harry: a ragged, venom-burned diary. It thumped into the hole with the other objects, and the name he spoke made Harry’s breath catch. “Myrtle Warren.”
And then Severus produced what made Harry’s heart beat with heady victory: a mangled cup. He dropped it atop the diary, saying “Hepzibah Smith.”
The professors stared into the hole for a long, long moment, and then Minerva drew her wand and directed a gout of fire so hot it twisted with all the colors of the rainbow into the hole, searing what was inside into, in all probability, an unrecognizable lump. Severus filled the hole back in, and Dumbledore drew his wand and delicately encouraged the hibernating grass to wake up for a moment and cover the disturbed earth. When they finished, it was as if nothing had happened at all.
They turned to walk back towards the castle, huddled close with cold and camaraderie, and Harry heard Severus’ murmur drift back on the winter wind: “Is that it?”
“Beyond what remains in his body, whatever form it is in.”
“Then may we never find it,” said Minerva.
It started to snow.
Chapter 21: The Yule Ball
This chapter was nicknamed “Top 0-Braincell Pubescent Idiots Plan.”
It's also the reason the entire last two books of this series exist! Literally. One day I was sitting in an airport trying to figure out if there would still be a Yule Ball in the future for Araeo to attend. The answer, of course, was yes - after 100,000 more words of plot :D
**I'll be doing an ask me anything on the discord server tonight! 6pm Eastern (in the US). Here's the link to the server: https://discord.gg/89vsJS2FHp
“What do you mean it’s out?” Draco shrieked. “Greengrass! Did you use all of my Sleekeazy’s? I need that!”
“Calm down, Draco!” Daphne called. “Ginny’s bringing more, right?”
“That’s in ten minutes!” Draco said, face turning redder and redder. “What am I supposed to do until then? I’ll be ten minutes late to being fifteen minutes early to the QA’s pre-dance!”
“No you won’t, my gallant escort,” said Ginny, kicking open the door in a needlessly dramatic fashion, carrying a garment bag cross her shoulder and a pot of Sleekeazy’s in her hand. Myrtle, atop a stall, giggled. “Because I am ten minutes early! Please, save your applause!”
“Miracles do happen,” muttered Draco, snatching the hair cream from her.
“Harry! What do you think?” Ginny gave a slow spin, displaying her new haircut. She’d cropped it shorter than Ron’s, and it made her face appear squarer.
“Love it,” said Harry.
Myrtle’s toilet had become a temporary gender-free dressing room. Draco and Daphne had collectively pitched such voluble fits about being unable to help each other dress for the ball that Myrtle had offered her toilet’s services out of self-defense.
“Everyone ready?” Daphne called from inside a stall.
“Ooh, yes!” Hermione said.
Daphne glided out of the toilet stall, one arm in the air, showing off her dress robes, requisitioned from her seamster cousin. They were pale purple, tight in the sleeves and flared at the skirt, with a high collar, narrow waist, and embroidered silver celestial icons drifting slowly across the fabric. A smiling stylized sun drifted downwards towards a melancholic moon. Seven-pointed stars chased each other in slow-motion over her skirts.
“Oh, you look incredible!” Hermione said, who had also gotten her hair done for the occasion, transformed from her normal wild cloud into a towering crown of braids, with blue ribbon woven through them to match the periwinkle of her dress, the diaphanous layers of which subtly floated.
“Alright, everyone turn around!” demanded Draco. “I refuse to change in a toilet stall. Weasley, not you, obviously, come here and help with my zip.”
They obligingly turned their backs, and Harry thought it was high time he dressed as well. “Myrtle?” he called, carrying his things over to a corner.
Myrtle was there was once. “Hi, Snake. Want some help?”
“Aren’t you going to dress up?”
She hung briefly upside-down. “Not much to do—I can’t change my clothes, you know that.”
“Well, you could always make yourself … a little spookier. George would love it.”
She contemplated it, and then grinned. Her teeth lengthened into points, and her hair began to float, staticky, about her head. “How’s this?”
“Right, now you. Here, give me the bag.”
“Thanks. I don’t actually think I can put it on myself.”
“Best put on your boots first.”
Grinning, Harry pulled on his boots over his best socks. They fit like a charm: the first time he’d put them on, they’d adjusted to fit, and almost felt like wearing a second skin, but for the small heel. He clicked them together giddily, excitement and nerves building in his stomach.
“Right,” he said, carefully unwrapping the gown Araeo had made him last winter, and had adjusted slightly since. It clinked slightly as he unfolded it, the many glass discs bumping together. Carefully, he undid the twenty or so minuscule glass buttons on the back.
“Careful, careful,” Myrtle said, as they pooled the skirts on the ground for him to step into. “Don’t step on the glass, watch your boots.”
He shrugged the dress up over his shoulders and held the collar closed as Myrtle swiftly did up the buttons. “There’s ties to loosen it,” she said. “Is it too tight to dance in?”
Harry took an experimental deep breath. “No.”
He looked down at himself. There were two whispering layers of fabric, the underskirt the green of the forest at night, the top layer slightly lighter. The wide sleeves fell open around his elbows, and across the entire body, and at the sleeve hems, were small glass discs that caught the evening light coming from the skylight and spun shadows across his body. His silver boots were just visible.
“Oh, Harry,” said Hermione, voice slightly shocked. She had frozen in the act of applying a subtle lip gloss to stare at him in the mirror.
Unexpectedly self-conscious, he spread his arms a bit. “Too much?”
“You look beautiful.”
“Please don’t tell me Potter’s going to upstage us,” Draco called, from behind their still-turned backs. “Ginny and I are supposed to be the biggest queer statements here.”
“Looks like it, Draco,” said Daphne, teasing. “At least he’s not going to the pre-dance.”
“You may all behold us!” declared Ginny.
They all turned round again. Ginny and Draco had struck a pose in the middle of the floor, Ginny dramatically dipping Draco to the floor. Ginny wore a set of silver men’s dress robes and heeled black boots, and Draco was in a sparkling pink cocktail dress that matched his hair exactly, and silver tights that matched Ginny’s robes.
They applauded dutifully, Daphne letting out a low whistle.
“Uh oh,” Ginny said, her grip on Draco trembling. “Someone help, I’m gonna drop him!”
They were hauled back into place. “Ha!” Draco said. “Take that, heteronormativity! Oh, Harry, I really do loathe you.” But his eyes were incredibly soft as he said it. “Come on, you can’t pick up your mystery date with your hair like that.”
Harry shrugged. “I’ve tried to do things with it before, it never works.”
“That’s you. This is me. Now come here.” Armed with his pot of Sleekeazy’s, Draco performed some heretofore undiscovered magic that made Harry’s unruly hair soften into waves that tumbled across his shoulders.
With ten minutes to go, they started to frantically accessorize. Hermione donned a silver charm bracelet. Draco had charm-on earrings. Myrtle helped Ginny with her cufflinks, and Daphne magicked her glasses the precise color of her dress and slipped on golden hoop earrings shaped like the sun.
Harry untucked his Stargazer Band necklace, slid on a bracelet of green lake glass pearls, and finally unwrapped a glass ear cuff engraved with a crescent moon that he usually kept tucked in the most secret pocket of his pack.
Last of all, he took his basilisk skin cloak and settled it carefully over his shoulders. It was a cold walk to the forest.
“I’m meeting, um, Ron, in the entrance hall,” said Daphne, glancing awkwardly at Hermione.
Hermione waved a hand. “I told you I’m not upset, Daphne, I know it’s just as friends. Anyway, Myrtle and I are meeting Fred and George by the library. I’ll see you at the pre-dance.”
“I’ll see you all at the ball,” Harry promised.
Ginny offered Draco her arm, and he took it with a curtsey. “Potter, go get your, er, person. I forgive you for upstaging me.”
“You’d better,” warned Daphne, as she, Hermione, and Myrtle departed. “Because you have no idea.”
“Someone help, I’m gonna drop him!”
Chikkeritt’s pendant flipped and cloak tight about his shoulders, Harry made his way through the slowly drifting snow towards the forest. The moon was nearly full, and the grounds were bright and lovely. There was a profound stillness to the nighttime that he breathed in, trying to calm his jittering nerves.
They were going to be in so much trouble.
He slipped carefully into the woods, walking a few yards before arriving at the triple-forked tree they had agreed to meet at. Araeo wasn’t there yet, so Harry took the time to listen to the winter night sounds of the cold forest, and wish, with a dull sort of ache, that Limmy was here with him. Limmy would have loved this. They could have gone shopping at Madam Malkin’s new line, and Sirius would have bought her magic boots as well, there was no doubt in his mind, and she would have gone with Hermione as a statement just as surely as Draco was going with Ginny. It would have been incredible.
Another time. There would be more dances. There would be, someday soon, a world in which Limmy could attend a dance with him as a liberated elf.
“Snakeheart? Are you there? If you are, you’re still invisible.”
“Oh.” Harry unflipped his pendant, and pulled back his hood, and saw Araeo stepping carefully into a beam of moonlight. “Oh,” he said again, the air leaving his lungs.
In the moonlight, Araeo’s white hair flowed over his shoulders, braids pulling it away from his temples, glittering all over with glass beads in the same shades of green as Harry’s gown. His hair was the drift of new leaves in the spring sunshine. He’d applied a gentle shining makeup to his lips, the bridge of his nose, under his eyes, making the foggy depths of them deeper and brighter. He wore a tunic of sheer silvery acro-silk, covered in painstakingly-embroidered white and blue vines. Across his back was draped an white lace blanket, chiming slightly with glass discs.
“Good evening,” said Araeo softly, staring at Harry.
“Good evening,” Harry echoed. “You—you—you’re wearing a shirt.” He flushed immediately, unable to believe what he’d just said.
Araeo snorted loudly. “Your observational skills are unparalleled. Yes, I thought that a school of wizards might take exception to what they perceive as nudity.”
“I meant to say,” Harry said, grinning, “that you look beautiful.”
Araeo smiled and held out his hand. “I know. So do you. Where did you get such a lovely gown?”
“Oh, someone I know made it for me,” said Harry. He took Araeo’s hand, and their heartbeats fell together, already racing. He was gratified to know that Araeo’s heart was in a similar state.
"Where did you get such a lovely gown?"
Araeo started walking towards the edge of the trees. “I estimate, and by estimate I mean I See, that we have about fifteen minutes until my parents realize I’m gone, another ten until they contact the steward, and ten after that until the steward finds us.”
“Right,” Harry said. “We’d better make the most out of our thirty-five minutes, then.”
“We will,” said Araeo, with a Seer’s certainty.
As they drew closer and closer to the school, their hearts galloped and leapt. This was the most idiotic thing Harry had ever knowingly done, and he had once gone to Alimnion on a dare. Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to care. All of his long-term concerns seemed frighteningly far-off in comparison to the short-term necessity of dancing with Araeo at the Yule Ball.
Bane would strangle him. Nayla would kick him out of Band lands for eternity. Queen Celadon would probably ban him from the lake on account of un-mer-like stupidity, and he would never be able to face Dumbledore again.
But he would dance with Araeo at the ball.
“Worth it,” said Araeo, as if he had any doubts.
They entered the entrance hall. No one was in it, because everyone was in the great hall, where lively music was playing and voices were laughing and shouting and from which delicious smells were floating.
“Hey, Snakeheart,” said Araeo, pulling him to a halt in the middle of the hall.
Harry looked up at him. “Hm?”
Araeo smiled. “Thank you.”
Harry grinned so hard his cheeks hurt. “Anytime.”
They went in.
For a moment no one noticed anything, and they took in the transformed great hall. The space seemed somehow more massive without the house tables. Above them, the twilight sky shone, the moonbeams streaming through the ceiling. Where the professors normally sat played a live band, performing something instrumental and upbeat. The entirety of the Hogwarts student body swarmed the floor—first through seventh years were crowded by the food tables along the walls, dancing together in the middle of the floor, seated and talking at candlelit tables in front of the band. Low-drifting lights in soft yellow and golds floated around the room, and above them, a bit brighter, were floating candles, and the walls were hung with gold and white and green fabric and pine boughs and the sconces burned with more golden candles. False snow drifted from the very top of the ceiling, disappearing before it could reach the dancers’ heads.
“Oh,” breathed Araeo. “This is lovely.”
By some miracle they had not yet been noticed. Harry spotted Daphne and Ron laughing by one of the buffet tables, and carefully tugged Araeo’s hand. “There’s Daphne. Just act like nothing’s unusual.”
“Oh, yes,” Araeo said, as they walked between students who stopped and stared, one after another, as they passed. “Nothing unusual at all about this.”
Whispers were breaking out. Daphne caught their breeze and looked up, delight overtaking her face when she spotted them. “Araeo!”
“Hi, Daphne,” said Araeo. “I love your dress.”
“Thanks! Your tunic is brilliant. This is Ron. Ron, Araeo.”
“Er,” said Ron, staring up at Araeo. “Um. Hello.”
“Hi,” said Araeo, eyes scrunching up in amusement. He ferociously ignored the balloon of silence that was rapidly expanding from them.
“How was the pre-dance?” Harry asked, as the student body gaped at them.
“Oh, marvelous,” said Daphne. “Draco’s at his most smug, I think. Look, there they are.”
Harry and Araeo turned. Draco and Ginny were gleefully and expertly dancing in the middle of the floor, with lots of twirls and dips that made Harry ill to think about doing. The floor was clearing quickly as dancers stopped in the middle of their dance to gawp at Araeo.
“I think they practiced on their own,” Daphne said.
“Looks like it,” agreed Harry.
“Excuse me, children,” said Dumbledore, who had come up behind them and made them all, except Araeo, jump. Harry had never seen that expression on Dumbledore’s face, and didn’t really know how to identify it.
“Hello, headmaster,” he said. “I like your robes.”
Dumbledore was wearing fuchsia robes with matching flowers braided into his hair and beard. “Thank you, Harry,” he said mildly. “And you, my boy,” he said to Araeo, “must be none other than Heir Stargazer, if I am not mistaken.” He put his hands to his chin and heart and bowed.
Araeo released Harry’s hand. Ka-bum, fell their hearts. Harry was bereft. Araeo bowed back. “Hello, Headmaster Dumbledore,” he said, only the swish of his tail betraying any unease.
“Hello,” said Dumbledore in bemusement. “Now, you are very welcome at Hogwarts castle, of course. But your visit is unexpected. I received no missive from Leader Stargazer regarding band presence tonight.”
“Right,” said Araeo, one back foot stamping nervously. “Ah. I am … not here as an official envoy. I just wanted to … I was invited, that is, to the ball. By my heartkin.”
Dumbledore’s perfectly blank gaze slipped to Harry, and then to his Stargazer pendant, and then back to Harry’s face, just staring. Harry gave a little wave. “I did invite him,” he said helpfully. “Please, headmaster, can’t we just have one dance before you kick us out?”
Dumbledore looked to Araeo again. “Heir Stargazer, are there about to be warriors breaking down my doors?”
Araeo shook his head. “Just an uncle. And he won’t break anything down, I promise.”
Slowly, Dumbledore took a deep breath, and let it out just as slowly. “Then, Heir Stargazer, be welcome at Hogwarts, for as long as there is peace between us. I don’t see how I, of all people, could stand in the way of young love.” The twinkle had returned to his eye. He bowed again and swept away.
“Ha!” Harry laughed, a nervous, relieved bleat. Araeo took his hand again at once, their hearts jumping.
“Twenty minutes,” he said. “Shall we dance?”
With Dumbledore’s approval, some normalcy had reinstated itself, and dancing had started up again. Except, of course, for Draco, who stomped his way over to them and pointed, wordlessly, at Araeo, and then at Harry.
Harry grinned. “This is Araeo. He’s my heartkin.”
“I can see that!” Draco said. “I can see that!” He looked at Araeo again, and blushed beet-red from his neck up. “Whatever, go dance! I shall yell at you later!”
“I hope we can be friends,” called Araeo, as Harry pulled him onwards.
A space cleared for them in the floor, and the band began to play a waltz.
“I have a surprise,” said Harry.
He stomped the heel of his left boot on the floor three times, and he began to hover, coming to a stop when he was level with Araeo. It didn’t feel like floating at all—it felt like the floor had simply shifted upwards just for him.
Araeo grinned in delight. “Well, hello. I also have a surprise.”
Araeo put one hand on Harry’s shoulder blade and started to move them, slowly but surely, in an unmistakable box step. “Surprise,” he said, grinning. “The steward taught me and helped me figure out how to do it with four legs.”
Harry laughed in absolute delight as he was waltzed through the air. Then the delight slowed, and turned syrupy and sweet in his stomach. The candlelit night was soft and warm, and in their clasped hands their heartbeat thrummed with the waltz, and Araeo’s foggy blue eyes had never once left his face.
“So,” Harry said softly, as they twirled in their own universe, “it turns out, Percy did ask me to marry him. He wanted a December wedding and lots of kids.”
Araeo’s eyes glittered. “Is that so?”
“Mhm. But I turned him down. Said, ‘sorry, but I’ve got a date to the Yule Ball I really can’t miss.’”
“What a sacrifice,” said Araeo. “The depth of your regard for me is astonishing.”
“It is, though.”
“My regard for you. It is deep. I know you said, we keep deciding together.”
Araeo nodded. “As long as it’s together. We do what feels right.”
Harry squeezed his hand. “You feel right.”
Araeo grinned at him. “You feel right, too.”
After the waltz there was a fast song, and Harry’s friends barged their way into the center of the floor with them. Once introductions had been made, his friends accepted Araeo’s centaur-ness with ease, and devoted themselves to dancing. Draco and Ginny performed elaborate spins, while Daphne and Ron fumbled their box step over and over, snorting and giggling. Hermione and Fred passed them by several times looking incredibly smug, and George made Myrtle laugh so hard she forgot to have legs.
Luna wandered in with Blaise at some point, and they performed a tricky maneuver after which Ginny was stumbling, tomato-red, as Luna led her in a bizarre dance, and Draco was furiously avoiding Blaise’s eyes as he was spun.
Twenty minutes later, Hagrid and Firenze stormed in.
“Oops,” Araeo murmured, scooting so that Harry was between him and the door. “Shall we run?”
Harry laughed. “If you want.”
“No,” sighed Araeo. “Always best to face one’s fate.”
Slowly, they dragged themselves from the dance floor. By the time they made it to Hagrid and Firenze, Dumbledore had been and gone, casting them an unreadable look, one eyebrow raised.
“Heir Araeo,” said Firenze, his arms crossed. “And Emissary Snakeheart.”
“Uh oh,” murmured Araeo.
“Do you understand,” said Firenze, “that you have very nearly caused a severe diplomatic incident between two nations? Do you understand that you are each, yes each, representatives of multiple nations by virtue of your kinship? Do you comprehend the far-reaching impacts of what I can only call uncharacteristic idiocy?”
“Yes, uncle,” Araeo said. “We understand.”
“Do you?! I do not think that you do! Do you know that I had to talk my sister down, and shout my brother-in-law down, from coming here themselves?”
“Yes, uncle, I do,” said Araeo.
“Do you know that should the wizarding ministry find out about this, the consequences will be … will be … entirely unpredictable?”
“No, uncle,” said Araeo, setting his jaw. “Because I can predict them, and it’s going to be fine.”
“Oh, is it! Is this your keen judgment, nephew, which you sought? Sneaking to a wizarding party in a display of sheer stupidity for—for fun?”
Araeo’s eyes were sparking, but Hagrid put a hand on Firenze’s shoulder. “Advisor Stargazer. I think he understands.”
Firenze took a deep breath, eyes flicking around the room. Harry had never seen him so upset before, and realized Firenze was very scared indeed. “We are leaving,” said Firenze.
“Or,” said Araeo.
Araeo cast a beseeching look at Hagrid. “We’re already here, aren’t we, Steward Hagrid? Myself and my uncle as escort. Headmaster Dumbledore has given us leave, hasn’t he? What’s the rest of the ball if the damage has already been done?”
Hagrid visibly suppressed a smile. “He has a point, Advisor Stargazer.”
“Steward Hagrid, if you call me that one more time—”
“Firenze,” said Hagrid, and Firenze blinked in surprise, mouth falling open. “What’s the harm, really?”
“Just say it’s my fault,” Harry said. “Say we gave you the run around, you couldn’t find us for a long time …”
“Please, uncle?” Araeo asked, eyes wide. “Please, I just want to dance with Snakeheart.”
Firenze sighed, looking around the room. “Nayla will slaughter me.”
“She won’t,” said Araeo promptly. “She will ground me for three weeks but relent after two, be grumpy with you for half a day and then forget about it when you tell her—er, something—and by next month it’ll be in the past.”
“You See far too specifically,” said Firenze. But the battle was lost, Harry could tell by how his shoulders were relaxing. “Fine. Fine, my incorrigible nephew. Go and dance.”
“Yes!” Araeo crowed.
“Thanks, Firenze!” Harry shouted, as he was pulled back into the crowd.
His friends welcomed them back with shouts of victory, and they switched up partners like their lives depended on it. Everyone wanted a turn with Araeo, and Harry’s floating shoes were a hit. The music alternated between slow and fast. At nine p.m. the first and second years were sent to bed, and the floor cleared a bit.
The professors, too, began to enjoy the party, some even making their way to the dance floor. Harry saw Firenze speaking with Filius, Sinistra, and Hagrid. Most often with Hagrid. Dumbledore coaxed every single staff member to the dance floor for at least once song, and Harry had to do a triple-take when he saw Minerva dragging Severus onto the floor. Peering over Araeo’s shoulder, he laughed in delight as it turned out Severus was quite a good dancer: he even forgot himself and smiled a few times.
As the clock struck eleven, Harry felt his legs start to give way. His friends were by the food, or else slow dancing—Ron and Hermione were refusing to look at each other even as they danced quietly through a moonbeam coming in from the ceiling.
“Punch?” he asked Araeo giddily. They made their way to the punch table and took cups out to the courtyard, where Harry sat on a bench to catch his breath and Araeo looked at the stars.
From behind a wall of bushes came a voice. “Steward Hagrid …”
Like lightning, Harry sat up straight and met Araeo’s eyes. Harry stamped his boots and floated, silent, to peer through a bush.
On the other side of the hedge stood Hagrid and Firenze, Hagrid’s hands in his coat pockets, Firenze’s arms crossed.
“Steward Hagrid,” Firenze said again.
“If I’m callin’ you Firenze,” said Hagrid, “you’d better do me the same courtesy, Advisor.”
Firenze looked at him. “Rubeus.”
Hagrid smiled. “Yes, Firenze?”
“Thank you for convincing me to stay. You were right. My nephew needed this.”
Hagrid nodded gently. “Young folk can only take so many rules before they break ‘em. It’s instinct.”
“Did you break many rules when you were young?”
Hagrid laughed. “A good few. I wish I could break as many now.” He paused, head tilted to listen to the music filtering out. “What do you think of wizardin’ music?”
Firenze hummed. “I like it. It’s very different from our own.”
“And wizardin’ dances?”
Firenze picked up his feet. “I have too many legs.”
“Surely not,” laughed Hagrid. “I taught Araeo a waltz well enough.”
“Ah,” Firenze said. “So you are a conspirator in this, I see.”
Hagrid shrugged. “What can I say. He’s very convincin’, that lad. So, would you like to learn?”
Firenze looked at him. “Learn?”
Hagrid cleared his throat and took his hands from his pockets and held them out. “The waltz.”
Firenze was silent for a long moment. Then he smiled, a smile like the crescent moon, and placed his hand in Hagrid’s. “Why not.”
“Right, then,” Hagrid said. “First thing you do, is make sure no-one’s spyin’ from the bushes.”
Araeo breathed in very loudly, and Harry, giggling, tugged him away.
They ran through the courtyard, losing themselves in a topiary maze, coming to a stop when they finally reached the center, where a fountain was completely iced over. Snow was falling again.
“Araeo,” Harry said, just to say his name. He was the night sky, gazing down at him.
He thought of something to say. He opened his mouth to say it, but Araeo’s eyes were glittering just a little too cannily. “You know what I’m going to say,” he accused.
“Yes,” said Araeo. “I want you to say it anyway.”
“Alright.” Harry felt their heartbeats thrumming away between their palms. When had Araeo taken his other hand? “I adore you.”
Araeo’s eyes squinted up in happiness. “And I you. Now go on, I’ve been waiting for this since I Saw it when you called me in the mirror about the ball.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but didn’t mean it. “Yeah, alright,” he said, and leaned up to kiss him.
Chapter 22: The Meeting of the Waters and the Wood
Thanks to everyone who dropped in to the AMA on Tuesday, you all are wonderful and it was really fun : )
IMPORTANT NEWS: @Abyranss has once more created the most beautiful thing I've ever seen; fanart of Harry and Araeo at the ball!!! Please go look at it and give them all the love:
There's two chapters and an epilogue left. Happy reading!
“Alright, Ifingr. Are you ready?”
“Ready,” said Ifingr.
Harry looked to the basilisk. “Sure you don’t want to come, Eldest?”
The basilisk gave a hissing chuckle. “I think, Snakeheart, that my presence would ruin this night.”
“No it wouldn’t!” Harry protested. “Okay, it might … bring the mood down. But if you want to come, you should come.”
“I want to come,” hissed Ouro. “Why can’t I come but Ifingr can?”
“You know why, baby,” Harry said, kissing it on the head. “Ifingr is blind. It won’t accidentally hurt anyone.”
The basilisk nudged Ouro back into the den, where Laila was sleeping. “Go on. Once day you will go too, when I am sure you can control your gaze.”
“I’ll bring you back something delicious,” Harry promised. Smiling, he hugged the basilisk. “Alright. Off go the Far-Fathomer and the Voice of the Deeps, to be very official.”
“Snakeheart,” said the basilisk. “This is very important. You have done something monumental.”
“Me and Ava,” said Harry.
“Does that lessen your own significance? Take pride, Snakeheart. By human terms, you are so young to have done such great things. You make me proud.”
Harry felt a great warmth in his chest. “Thank you.”
“Thank you. Now, be safe. Ifingr, remember your charge.”
“Bite to kill,” hissed Ifingr.
“Incorrect!” said Harry loudly. “Right, off we go!”
Concealed under Áwere, they made their way out of the castle, emerging into the freezing evening air. It had not truly snowed in several days, but the darkening air seemed tense with the expectation of a storm still some days away. There was a sharpness to it. Across the ground they trod, until they were under tree cover. Then Harry set Ifingr gently down and removed Áwere, stowing it in his pack, and took the snake up again.
He barely felt the cold. Normal snakeskin was thin and fragile: the basilisk’s shed skin was very thick, and the layers of his robes insulated him well from the cold. He moved with a soft susurrus of noise, Ifingr silent and contemplative around his shoulders. “Ifingr,” Harry murmured. “You know I love you more than anything, right? You and your siblings.”
“I know,” said Ifingr, head resting over Harry’s heart.
“Just making sure,” Harry said.
The air was soft and still as they made their way to the thestral clearing.
Serpentus, as always, found him first. Harry kissed him across his muzzle, laughing as Serpentus nipped at his hair and sniffed curiously at Ifingr, seemingly unbothered. The thestral nudged him eagerly until Harry, laughing, clambered onto his back.
“Hold tight, baby,” he murmured to Ifingr. “We’re going to fly.”
“Fly!” said Ifingr, coiling tight around his neck. “Snakeheart, let’s fly!”
They broke the canopy in one massive leap, Serpentus’ batlike wings snapping outwards. Harry gave one elated whoop—he couldn’t help himself. How could he be expected to help himself? He plastered his chest against Serpentus’ muscled neck and sucked in a deep pull of clear, cold air, getting clearer and colder—in five, ten seconds they were so high in the sky it was snowing, almost.
“Go down, go down,” Harry laughed, slipping freezing fingers through Serpentus’ mane. “Ifingr is cold-blooded.”
Serpentus obligingly swooped lower, and performed lazy spirals in the air. Harry tilted his head to watch the stars and moon zoom dizzily by. Below them, the forest was a blanket of dark blues and greens. “Ifingr, it’s beautiful,” he said. “Like a weaving.”
“I know,” said Ifingr, mouth open and tongue flicking through the air. “I can taste it.”
At last Serpentus brought them down to the clearing, when Harry was well windswept, cheeks burning and fingers numb. The rest of the thestrals clustered round him in greeting. He greeted Filius and Tonks and little Sybil, who had not been little for many years. They snapped up the bits of rabbit bones he’d brought them and whickered at Ifingr, who squealed in delight.
But he couldn’t linger to clean hooves this time. For tonight, there were not only thestrals in the forest clearing.
He pushed his way through the thestrals, laughing as they pushed him back, and emerged from the herd to see that he was the last to arrive to the party.
The forest pool, that miracle of waterways, was crowded within and without. Around the banks his families, both near and removed, mixed among each other. Tippy spoke eagerly to Nayla as Orry and Drippy stood at her side. Aragog lurked at the water’s edge, in deep conversation with Queen Celadon and Prince Vaitarna. Samba was perched on a stone covered with acro-silk, listening intently to Mosag converse with Bane.
And Araeo and Limmy knelt at the water’s edge, laughing with Ava.
His arrival was not unnoticed. Queen Celadon saw him first, but when Araeo followed her gaze, his expression was not surprised. Harry felt himself smiling so hard he thought his face would fall apart, but it was either that or give into the sudden burning in his throat that he didn’t understand.
His feet carried him to Limmy’s side to crush her in a hug, Ifingr looping around her neck until she laughed and shoved them off. “I is just speaking to Avalon,” said Limmy, eyes glittering. “She is telling me the most wonderful stories about you.”
Harry groaned, but it was fake, of course it was fake. He knelt to press his cheek to Ava’s, and groped for Araeo’s hand until their heartbeats fell into sync, ba-dum.
What had he ever wanted more than this?
“Snakeheart, Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest,” said Queen Celadon from across the pond. With her single hand she stroked the scars across her cheek thoughtfully.
Harry rose and bowed, and said in Mermish, though it was atrocious to hear above the ground, “Greetings, my queen.”
“My queen indeed,” said Celadon, in English. “What webs you weave, Voice. Don’t strain yourself: I have elected to speak the common tongue for this night, to spare my own eardrums as much as anything. Make your companion known to me.”
Harry tapped Ifingr, and it obligingly stretched out in front of him, mimicking a bow. “Queen Celadon re Alimnion, be known to Ifingr Far-Fathomer, child of the basilisk.”
“Greetings, Far-Fathomer,” said Celadon. “I am pleased to know you at last.”
“Pleasssed to know you alssso,” said Ifingr, barely lisping the English.
“And have you met my sister, Limmy Snakeheart,” Harry said, grinning as she elbowed him, “also called Kindred Deep-Wielder?”
“I have not,” said Queen Celadon, bowing to Limmy, who marshaled herself and bowed back. “How strange and sprawling a realm is the Eldest’s.” With another infinitely blank gaze, she turned back to Aragog.
“She might not kill you tonight,” said Ava, snickering. “Snake, Snake, Araeo’s going to show me aliens!”
Araeo grinned. “Avalon is mis-representing my words. I am going to tell her what centaur scholars think about the possibility of life beyond the earth.”
Ava rolled her eyes. “Same thing.”
“Ava is going teach me Mermish,” Limmy said excitedly. “And show me Alimnion.”
“What! How come you can just go to Alimnion right away?”
Limmy shrugged. “I’s just skilled like that.”
Soon enough, as the evening tipped towards dusk and a host of stars unfurled to make their faces glow ethereally, the assembled leaders and diplomats and heirs and snakes found themselves quietly arrayed about the pond.
Queen Celadon spoke first, her form strikingly pale in the moonlight. “I need tell no one here that this night will go down in the history of Alimnion as world-changing. For so many years, the mer kingdom has been sequestered from the beings of the upper land, stymied by the encompassing wizarding territory. And yet, after so many long years, I speak now face-to-face with the leaders of my sister nations. I welcome you all to the inaugural Meeting of the Waters and the Wood.” She looked to Nayla, to Aragog, and then to Tippy.
Nayla nodded, standing gracefully to extend a hand across the pool. “Queen Celadon, though our village is young in this land compared to the terms of the merfolk and the acromantulae, nonetheless I have felt the mer’s absence. Know that we welcome you, beyond matters of state, with open hearts. Tonight is not a night of treaties or formal negotiations. It is a night to begin to remember that which has been forgotten.” She settled back down beside Bane, who looked at her warmly.
Aragog clicked forward from where he was slightly in the trees, huge bulk towering over the party. “When intercommunication recommenced between the acromantulae and the mer seven years ago, my people were blithesome. Once, our populi were estimable confederates, above the land and below the water. To discern your aspect anew, Queen Celadon, is a delectation I never conceived to adumbrate.”
“Tippy Lockjaw,” Nayla said, and Tippy’s ears flicked back and then forward again, where she was observing quietly, cross-legged on the ground next to Drippy, with Orry’s hand in hers. “And Drippy Whitebeam, and Orry Feverfew. Do not fear to speak here. We all know who you are and what you have done. You are worthy company.”
Tippy smiled and stood. She wore robes that must have come from the fae, for they seemed to be made of many thousands of beetle wings, glinting black under the moon. The tips of her fingers dripped bright green magic. “Good evening,” she said, and Harry had to put a hand to his heart, because it was Tippy, the elf to whom a lost child had sworn an unknown but heartfelt promise, the elf who had taught him euchre and to cook a rabbit and had kept him fed, and she was speaking with queens and kings and was a peer among them.
“Good evening,” said Tippy, and her eyes rested on him for a soft moment. “We is so … joyous … to be here. I is never dreaming I is being here, instead of my descendants, so far is liberation always seeming. But here I is. Here we is.” She took a deep breath. “The elves of Refuge is young indeed among the peoples of the forest and lake. We has no resources. We has no wealth. We lives on the goodwill of our cousins.” She spread her hands. “But one day, I assures you. Refuge is thriving. Elfkind is thriving. And we is repaying your grace.”
Celadon nodded gracefully. “Tippy Lockjaw—elven council—no repayment is needed and none shall ever be expected, not when it comes at cost to the wizards. In fact, Alimnion’s part was enacted in repayment of a favor.” She looked straight at Harry, where he was tucked between his friends, Ifingr drowsing on his shoulder. “Snakeheart re Aflin Fler, Voice of the Deeps, Kindred of the Eldest, Emissary. Rise.”
Blinking, Harry passed Ifingr to Limmy, and stood.
Queen Celadon’s eyes were golden and glowing as she looked at him for a long moment. “I do not claim to know Snakeheart’s esteem in the other nations,” she said, projecting for all to hear. “But his contributions to Alimnion cannot be understated. He brought back an avenue of trade long closed, returning a precious material to mer craftspeople. He connected Alimnion with our sister city of Aeolian, whose existence we were entirely ignorant of. And he, with his cousin, diplomatic apprentice Avalon re Aflin Fler, discovered this very pool after investigating ancient documents and extrapolating its continued existence.
“Snakeheart is the first basilisk the mer have known in many hundreds of years. And he is an exceptional representative of his species. Alimnion is honored to count him among our populace.” And she opened her mouth and reached long fingers into that needle-filled cavern, and retrieved from it a shining white pearl, which she gave to Ava, who gave it to Harry.
Harry’s mouth fell open.
“A token, Snakeheart, of the friendship between our nations,” said Queen Celadon. Ava’s hand shook as she put it in his palm.
Harry clutched the pearl in his fist and bowed. “My queen, I didn’t—do any of that for a favor. I did it for Ava and my aunts, and Salazar and Ifingr, and because it was … it was there to do, and I was there to do it.”
Celadon nodded. “And that is why you have received this token. And know, Snakeheart, that I have decreed your aunt’s legacy shame null. There is no disgrace in the history that has led to this moment.”
Harry’s eyes burned.
“Snakeheart,” said Aragog. Harry turned to him, blinking through watery eyes at his massive and scarred body. “Seven years ago we trammeled you and proscribed your cessation. And even with the utmost breath of your body, you implored us to apprehend the truth. You resolved fifty years of enmity between our nations, and restored statecraft we thought extinct. You partook in our festivities and endeavored as no no-spider has to apprehend our lexicon. You are an honorable, exemplary emissary of our species. We thank you, Snakeheart, for all you have done for us.”
“Thank you, Aragog King,” Harry managed to say, the hoarse syllables of the acromantulae language almost painful. He said it again in English for the others’ benefit.
“Snakeheart,” said Nayla. She smiled. “My turn.”
Harry faced her, hearing Araeo’s embarrassed huff from beside him. “Leader Nayla.”
Nayla’s eyes were bright. She held Bane's hand, who looked at him with humor.
“When my mate told me a child had flown into the forest on thestral-back, insisting he was going to live with a snake in the castle, for once in my life I did not know what the future would hold. I did not know that, in time, you would be the bulwark of our heart.” She smiled at Araeo, who beamed back. “I did not know how you would swim the river of the future with kindness and strength and love. How hard and shocking it was, and frightening, for my vision to be so limited. But … and I find it hard to be formal at the moment, Snakeheart, when a week past you enabled my son in sneaking out to a dance …”
Harry laughed, and so did the assembled nations.
“But know this,” Nayla said, her eyes soft. “And know that I speak for my mate as well." Here Bane inclined his head. "You are a credit to your people, Snakeheart, and that means you are a credit to us all.”
Harry sniffed, trying hold back tears. Araeo reached over and patted his elbow. “T-thank you, Leader Nayla,” he said, furiously blinking his burning eyes.
“Snake!” called Tippy. “My turn! And I isn’t using your titles, because you is once trying to convince me you is a fairy.”
Harry giggled and started to cry, unable to stop himself.
“Snake,” Tippy said again. “What is I supposed to say to you here? What words can I say that encompasses what you is doing for elfkind?”
Harry shook his head desperately, but Tippy put up a hand. “Stop, Snake. No use protesting; I’s going to tries. You, with Limmy Snakeheart, is discovering secrets of magic that is being long-buried. You is breaking the Hogwarts foundation stone. You is ensuring the safety of elves after the night of unbinding—securing us harbor with all the nations gathered here—at your own personal risk. You is approaching the fae for a home we is never considering. You is aiding the escape of the liberated elves from dementors. You is connecting me to unexpected allies.
“Snake, I is not saying you is doing it all yourself—no, that is elfkind’s victory, elfkinds’ legacy—but Snake, you is saving so many lives. You is making a promise seven years ago, and you is never, ever breaking it. You, Snake, is a hero.”
“Limmy is doing all those things with me!” Harry burst out, furiously wiping tears from his cheeks. Limmy punched him on the leg.
“Limmy is having her turn to be thanked,” said Tippy. “This night is for you.”
“I—I—” Harry took a deep breath and looked at them all, at Queen Celadon and Samba and Aragog and Mosag and Tippy and Orry and Drippy and Nayla and Bane, these people whose regard he suddenly couldn’t comprehend. “Listen, please! This—this is my home. The forest and the lake, the castle and the lands beyond. And you all are my home too. I did all of those things because it had to be done, and I was happy to do it—for you, for me, for us all.
“I will spend the rest of my life doing this work. As Snake, as Snakeheart, as the Voice of the Deeps, as a basilisk, as a wizard, as emissary, as Harry. However I can, wherever I can, whoever I am.”
He had no more words. He shut his mouth and took Araeo’s hand.
“To Snakeheart!” cried Tippy, throwing rainbow sparks into the air.
“To Snakeheart!” cheered the crowd. “To Snakeheart!”
Ava splashed him with her tail. Limmy flicked harmless yellow sparks at his face. Araeo pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, making Ava and Limmy both shriek in astonished glee.
“To Snakeheart,” hissed Ifingr, half-asleep in Limmy’s lap. “To my family.”
Chapter 23: Legacy
<3 <3 <3
THE PREMIER INTER-BEING NEWS SOURCE
EDITION 117 ✩ 1 January 1995
Breaking News Special Edition: Ministry Bends; Liberated Elves Terrorists No Longer
In an extremely precedented decision at the cusp of the new year, amid increasing domestic and international pressure and boycott, the Fudge Administration declares defeat. So-called “liberated elves,” as of Jan 1, are no longer classified as domestic terrorists. Auror raids are halted immediately.
The Collective urges elves to remain cautious …
Cornelius Fudge announces his intention to resign …
Gringotts BOG endorses Candidate Tonks …
Blood Riot quiet all holiday …
LETTERS FROM FAR AFIELD:
TO SNAKE FROM WIGGENWAND: NO LONGER A FUGITIVE
TO STEWARD FROM GAZER: DANCE LESSONS
TO SNAKE♡ FROM STAR: UNGROUNDED AS FOREESEEN
TO PIONEER FROM INVENTOR: DOUBLE DATE?
“Yes!” Daphne screeched. “YES! YES!”
“I know!” Harry shouted. “The elves aren’t being hunted anymore!”
“What? Not that! I’m doing a trial course of study with Stargazer Thellaia this summer!”
“Daphne, that’s amazing!” Harry’s mind spun with all the things they could do, if Daphne was in the forest.
“Excuse me,” Draco said testily. “That’s all well and good, but what about our journalism? Hermione and Luna and I were up ’til one in the morning!”
“It’s a wonderful paper, Draco,” Harry said soothingly. His heart was indeed full to bursting. This was wonderful. Tippy could come out of hiding. Limmy could come out of hiding. Things were looking up.
“Hello, all,” said Hermione breathlessly, dropping onto the Slytherin bench. “Brilliant news, isn’t it?”
“Hermione, guess what—” Daphne broke off, mouth falling open. “Merlin’s beard, ‘Mione!”
Hermione grinned shyly. She wore a black skirt and deep purple sweater, hair wrapped up in a matching scarf. She even, Harry thought, had lip gloss on. “Er, I’m going on a date,” she said. “For our Hogsmeade day. With Ron.”
Daphne shrieked and lunged across the table to seize her hands. “Brilliant!”
Draco scoffed. “You can do better.”
Hermione scowled. “Oh, yes? With whom, you?”
Draco went bright pink. “Not me!”
“Then keep your commentary to yourself.”
“Fine,” muttered Draco, sticking his face back in the paper.
It was the first Sunday back at school, and, coincidentally, a Hogsmeade weekend. Harry had passed the rest of the holiday blissfully, time split as usual between Deep Light, the centaur village, the acromantulae, and the basilisks. This time, for some reason, coming back to school wasn’t so hard.
“Er, hi, Hermione.” It was Ron, looking smart in dress robes Harry had never seen him wear before. “Ready to go?”
“Hi, Ron.” Hermione looked to the ground, looked back up, looked down and up again, and then stood and took Ron’s hand. “By, all, see you there!” And she towed him, red as a tomato, from the room.
“Have you ever seen anything so disgusting,” asked Ginny, joining them as they began to pack up their own things to head to the village. She was wearing Fred’s knitted “F” sweater.
“No,” said Draco promptly, taking her arm. “How could Ronald get a date before me?”
“You had a date to the ball!”
“You don’t count, Ginevra,” Draco sighed dramatically. “Unless you’re counting me as your first date.”
Harry grinned at Daphne. “Congratulations again. It’s going to be brilliant having you here this summer.”
“I hadn’t even thought of that!” Daphne exclaimed, tearing her gaze from her letter. “Oh, I’m so excited!” She did a little dance on the spot.
“Let’s go!” Draco called back. “We’re being left!”
“By who?” Daphne asked. “You and Ginny?”
“By whom,” said Draco. “And yes. We’re meeting Remus Lupin and my cousins, remember?”
“Yes, we remember,” groaned Daphne. “You haven’t stopped talking about it, have you?”
Draco blushed to the tips of his ears and refused to look at them.
It was a frigid January day, and Harry tugged his favorite purple hat close around his ears. He was glad he’d elected not to bring Laila, though it had begged—it was simply too cold for a baby snake. They waved at Hagrid, sitting on his stoop with a cup of tea.
“Hagrid!” Harry shouted. “I had the most brilliant thought! We’re sort of going to be relatives, maybe, eventually!”
“How d’you reckon?” Hagrid called back.
“Well, on account of your 'dance lessons' with Fir—”
“Not another word, Potter!”
Harry snorted, letting Daphne tug him along. “They’re the ones writing open letters about it in the paper.”
“Let the youth have their fun,” Daphne said wisely. “Hey—who’s at the gate?”
Harry squinted down to the gate, where Minerva was counting heads. There was someone beside her. Someone very short. Someone in a sparkly beret. “LIMMY!” Harry shouted. Breaking arms with Daphne, he sprinted.
Limmy shrieked with laughter and apparated right into his arms. “Surprise! I’s a free elf now, according to the ministry! So I figures I can comes to Hogsmeade with you.”
Minerva smiled at them as Harry carried her on his back the rest of the way through the gate. “Have fun. Half the faculty will be patrolling the village for safety, so don’t stray beyond the town itself, please. In an emergency, send up red sparks.”
“Thanks, professor,” said Harry.
“Hey,” Daphne said in surprise, stealing Limmy’s hat and trying it on. “You called her ‘professor’.”
“Finally remembered,” Harry said victoriously. "Limmy, Sirius is going to go mad that he didn't know you were coming—he won't have brought you any presents! Well, besides the ones he brings me to send to you."
"Oh, no," Limmy said insincerely. "I supposes he is having to makes up for it with a trip to Honeydukes."
Harry grinned into the wind. It was a clear cold day and Harry was full of joy. Limmy was here. His friends were here. Everyone was safe and happy.
“Come on, slowpokes,” demanded Draco, dodging as Ginny tried to step on his foot. “We won’t be in time for the fresh cocoa at The Three Broomsticks.”
“Oh, fresh cocoa,” Limmy said, and kneed his sides. “Hurry up, Snake!”
“Aye aye,” he said, laughing, and began to run, quickly overtaking Draco and Ginny, now in a shoving contest.
“Snake!” shrieked Limmy, her voice taking on an alarmed tinge. “Slow down—slow—”
There was a crack of displaced magic. A figure heavy with ugly magic appeared on the path in front of them.
Harry reared back, the stench of dark magic, unmistakably dark magic, flooding across his tongue. Limmy was on his back and it made him unsteady—he staggered once, caught himself, and by then Lucius Malfoy was far, far too close.
“Impedimenta!” screamed Draco, and Lucius stumbled back a step, two steps. Draco charged forward, magic surging from him, Ginny at his elbow. “Reducto! Bombarda!” Lucius deflected them with casual, sloppy slashes of his wand. Red sparks showered over their head as Daphne screamed for Minerva.
Lucius was laughing, and Draco was screaming, screaming and writhing on the ground, and in his ear Limmy was yelling in rage and exploding with red sparks of magic. She clung to him, their magic melding into each other as it always had so easily, and Harry launched them towards Lucius Malfoy, shouting: “Abolefacio—”
Before he could finish the curse, Lucius snapped towards him with a wild, feral grin, cast a sickly orange spell that slowed Harry down to slow-motion, seized his wrist, and turned on his heel.
They vanished from Hogsmeade, the snarling, sobbing faces of his friends the last things he saw.
The appeared in a graveyard, weeds and vines growing up over crumbling headstones. Disoriented, Harry stumbled and fell to his knees, Lucius’ fingernails digging into his wrist so hard they drew blood.
Limmy leapt from his shoulders towards Lucius’ face, screaming with rage, and Lucius smacked her away with a hand, smoothly drawing his wand from his belt and casting something wordless at her even as she arced towards the ground. She landed hard, heavy, and still on top of a grave.
“Limmy!” Harry shrieked, on his knees before Lucius Malfoy, squirming like a snake, his mind starting to betray him and retreat towards that terrified place, just like last time. He was in Malfoy’s grip and his mind was going blank, blank, blank, a white and fuzzy snowfield of terror.
“You,” hissed Lucius, seizing him by the hair and dragging him across hibernating grass. “You, Potter, you cost me everything, everything—my son, my wife, my heritage, my legacy, you, you, you, and now you will pay for it—you will repay me as I swore you would—”
Harry’s wand was seized from his holster and thrown to the ground. Lucius shoved him against a headstone and whipped off spells to bind him there. He was helpless in an instant —why hadn’t he taken Laila when it begged—Limmy was unmoving on the ground—Draco’s face as he screamed—
Lucius waved his wand and an enormous steaming cauldron appeared on the ground below Harry. It reeked of the foulest magic he could remember tasting, and, worse, it was horrifically familiar. It was the taste of ash under his hands, the taste of a long-hated curse, the taste of a specter. Riddle.
“You,” Lucius Malfoy said, pressing a hand against Harry’s throat, so tight he couldn’t even gasp—his heart was going so fast, surely Araeo must know—something was wrong—but even he didn’t know where he was—
“You will repay me,” Lucius said, releasing him. “By bringing back the one person who can cleanse this world before it is lost.”
He struck down at the ground with his wand, and the earth split open to reveal bones.
He spoke prophecy.
“Bone of the father, unknowingly given. You will renew your son.”
He gestured again with his wand, and bones from the open grave leapt into the cauldron. He drew a sliver knife from his belt, and, without even a flinch, sliced his own hand off into the cauldron. Harry wretched in horror as he coolly sealed the wound with his wand.
“Flesh of the servant, willingly sacrificed. You will revive your master.”
When Lucius turned to Harry, eyes bloodshot and foggy with pain but showing not an inch of it anywhere else, Harry knew that he was about to die. But Lucius took his silver knife and drew it down the side of Harry’s cheek, not across his throat. Blood flowed, and he screamed, and Lucius transfigured the knife into a chalice and held it under the wound.
“Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken,” Lucius said, as he poured it into the cauldron, leaving the open cut to bleed, burning in the freezing air, “you will resurrect your foe.”
The thing in the cauldron writhed and keened and cried—the cries of a child, of a baby—and steadily grew into such mutated and horrific noises that Harry’s gorge rose, and in his mind he retreated to a small cave of horrible things and watched from afar.
The cauldron bubbled and sparked and spat vile magic, and whatever wriggling thing was in it started to grow. It took the form of a book, a ring, a locket, a cup, a crown, a child. And then a man. A naked man inhuman in his assembly, bald and knobby and wrongly-put-together, breathing uneasily, trembling in the cauldron. Around his neck was draped a massive snake, laconic as if asleep or dead.
“My lord,” said Lucius, and fell to his knees before Tom Riddle.
Chapter 24: Wandlore
I'm not crying, you're crying (I am most definitely crying)
Wordlessly, Lucius rose and conjured robes over Riddle’s body, and the man drew them about himself. He stood, trembling violently, and stepped from the cauldron. He stumbled, and Lucius caught him and helped him out. Once he was standing, he shoved Lucius away so hard he fell to the ground. Lucius did not rise again. He put his head to the frosted grass and lay prostrate as Riddle turned his back on him.
Riddle swayed there, alien and eldritch, and surveyed the graveyard. His red, malevolent gaze disregarded Lucius, took in the cauldron and open grave, stopped for a moment on Limmy’s crumpled form, and finally, finally, strayed to Harry.
They looked at each other for a long, long moment. Riddle, huddled and trembling and barefoot. Harry, from a deep, white-fuzz cave.
“Harry Potter,” breathed Riddle, a rasping noise as if it hurt to speak. He walked forward. One step. Two. The snake around his neck might have been dead, so still was it. Riddle stepped into the grave of his father and out of it again, with no more aplomb than walking over a sandcastle at the beach. Harry gagged as he came closer, sick rising in his throat, and thrashed as Riddle reached out and pushed his hair back, thin fingers dragging across his scar.
The pain was so severe that it yanked Harry out of his safe static-white cave and back onto the headstone. He screamed so hard his throat bled, as Riddle stood there caressing his scar, watching him thrash.
Finally, he lowered his hand, looking at it in amazement. “Finally,” he said. “That mudblood’s curse is overcome.”
“I’ll kill you!” shrieked Harry through his shredded throat, “don’t speak about my mother, you—” He was lost to screams again, as Riddle placed his palm gently against his forehead.
“And what is this?” Riddle asked, moving away, past Lucius’ prostrate form, towards Limmy. “An elf? Lucius, why is this thing here?”
“My Lord,” whispered Lucius, “it was with the boy.”
“His servant,” Riddle snorted. “How ridiculous. Half-bloods themselves are made to serve.”
“Yes, my lord, I agree—”
“Quiet,” said Riddle lazily, and Lucius pressed his mouth into the grass.
Was this what he wanted? Harry thought, in a dazed and dreaming part of his mind. Was this subservience to a lord what Lucius had imagined would come of this day?
Riddle’s gaze fell on Harry’s fallen wand. He picked it up, turning it carefully between his fingers. Then he pointed it at Harry and cast. Harry didn’t know what he cast. Some spell with no discernible effect.
He cast again, a small frown on his face. “Rare that a wand refuses to obey me,” he said. He cast a look at Harry. “Release him, Malfoy. I will duel him and take his wand by force.”
“Lord,” said Lucius. He rose to his knees and no further. He cut Harry’s bonds and Harry dropped into Riddle’s father’s grave, on all fours amid the bones, staring at them in horror.
His wand landed in front of him. “Rise, Potter, and duel me,” said Riddle, a laugh in his voice.
Harry stared at his wand.
“Come on, Potter,” Riddle hissed. “Scared? Pathetic little mudblood-begotten maggot.”
Harry stared at his wand. With trembling fingers, he picked it up. Useless as it was. His mind was blank with fear. He had no magic against a dark lord.
That was right. There was something he was supposed to do when this fear took him. Shaking, he pressed his to thumb the spot right behind his left ear.
He was not in the graveyard anymore.
He was curled in the basilisk’s coils.
It was humming softly as it lulled the children to sleep. He could feel it breathing all around him. It glowed a soft light in the den, its magic soothing. He was the safest he had ever been in his life.
In the graveyard, he came back to himself. Pressing his thumb behind his ear to keep the paralyzing fear at bay, to keep his family with him, gripping his useless wand, he stepped from the grave.
He dodged a curse immediately, a yellow thing that blistered the ground beneath his feet. He dodged another, and another, Riddle shrieking with laughter.
“You’re light on your feet!” he wheezed, stumbling from side to side as he cast again and again. Riddle was in pitiful form, but Harry still stood no chance. It was all he could do to dance away from Riddle’s spells, and it was hideously obvious Riddle was only toying with him. The spells hit the dirt at his feet one after another. He was being taunted, strings pulled like a puppet, and all he could do was react.
“Poor child,” crooned Riddle, sending a bolt of red light so close to his ear it singed his hair, “poor orphan boy, all alone in this world—such a sad thing to grow up without parents, I should know, I’m sorry I had to do it—but you must know, I tried my hardest to kill you that night too—”
“He’s not alone!”
In slow motion, Harry saw Limmy rise from where she had been thrown. There was blood running down her ear and over the side of her face, but her eyes were blazing, teeth bared in a snarl, wand clenched in her fist.
Riddle laughed, high and derisive, as he turned to her. His wand arced down towards her just as Limmy thrust hers forward, and their magic erupted as one. Riddle’s sickly green curse slipped towards Limmy with lazy expectation, Limmy’s jet of rainbow light rushing to meet it with a rage as strong as fire—
And their spells—connected.
Harry watched, astonished, as the beams of their spells met and held, rainbow against poisonous green, clashing in midair. Riddle let out a noise of confusion as their magic tangled, and Limmy looked at Harry in terror as something began to happen.
They were—they were rising up, Limmy’s arm outstretched, locked, and Riddle hissing as he yanked his wand fruitlessly—they hovered in the air, meters above the ground, held in magical rictus. Limmy thrust her free hand out to steady herself against nothing; Riddle looked wildly around in alarm.
“My lord!” called Lucius, rising from the ground.
“Stay back!” Riddle screamed. “Stay back!”
Harry gaped in astonishment, scrambling towards Limmy as their wands vibrated in the air, tethering Limmy and Riddle together.
“Snake!” Limmy screeched. “Snake!”
Small—things were coming out of Riddle’s wand. Pearls. Bubbling down his wand and pulsing out along the lines of magic, and where they reached the bright point where the magics met, they blossomed. Harry jumped, absurdly, uselessly, up towards Limmy, falling back to his hands and knees to stare at the blooming magic.
A woman was emerging from the pearls. She was very young, and so familiar. Though she was sapped of color, silvery-white, Harry knew her hair must have once been a fiery red. “Limmy,” she said softly, stretching out her hand. “Hello, dear.”
“Hello?” Limmy squeaked, eyes spilling uncontrollable tears of blue magic. “Who is you?”
“I am your brother’s mother.” And she looked down at him, on the ground far below. “Hello, Harry.”
Another pearl was blooming. Riddle screeched at Lucius to stay back, stay back, as James Potter unfurled by Lily’s side.
“Hello, son,” he said. “Hello, Limmy. Thank you for looking after our boy.”
Limmy’s tears, falling from meters above, were burning the grass around him. “What does we do? Can you helps us?”
They nodded. Lily took James’ hand. “We can help. Harry, do you have your wand?”
Trembling, Harry pushed himself to his feet and raised it to show her.
“A long, long time ago, Tom Riddle took something,” Lily said, his own eyes staring at him, colorless but familiar. “He took it without giving anything in return.”
“It’s time for him to pay what’s due,” said James.
“Come take your sister’s hand, love.”
“She’s too far,” Harry said, tears streaming down his face. “Mum, I can’t reach.”
“Yes you can.” Lily knelt and held out her hand. “Come here, Harry. Snake. Snakeheart. Come here, my love.”
She was so far away, but Harry reached anyways. Somehow, his hand met her spectral fingers. She pulled him into the air. She pulled him into her arms and placed a kiss on his forehead, and James placed one next to it.
“Harry,” she said into his ear. “Harry, you are the most wonderful boy in the world.”
“You are so loved,” James said. “You are loved by everyone around you, Harry.”
“You make us proud.”
“Anything, everything you do makes us proud.”
“We love you so much.”
They each put a hand on his shoulder and turned him towards Limmy, watching, shedding magic from her eyes, her ears, her fingers, her hand clenched white around her wand. “Snake?”
His parents pushed him forward. He stumbled to her side and took her hand.
Her magic met his magic in the tangle of their fingers, the confluence of two familiar rivers. Through his heart, through the air, through their skin, their magic melted together.
Harry’s hand snapped up of its own accord, wand producing a beam of magic that streamed towards Riddle. They were a triangle of magics: Riddle and Limmy, and Limmy and Harry, and Harry and Riddle.
Tom Riddle screamed.
The flow of magic was unlike anything Harry had ever felt. A great force, a great voice, was moving through the three of them, something ancient, something deep, and something angry.
T R A D E
The magic whipped and warped around him. He realized what was happening just as it happened. “Limmy, it’s taking us! Limmy—find me!”
She looked at him and her eyes were phoenix gold. “I’s finding you, Snake! Aelisf!”
And Limmy’s hand slipped from his as Harry and Riddle were flung away from the graveyard.
The magic had brought them to the deep wood.
Harry knew it the moment he breathed in, and the heavy press of subsuming magic filled his lungs, trickling drowsy belonging into his veins. The press of the deep wood was all around him—but held at bay, for now, by the silence.
Riddle stood stock-still, wand still outstretched, arm trembling. His snake was still draped across his shoulders, unmoving. His breath was the ragged gasp of a drowning man, sickly and weak. He staggered once, shook his head like he was trying to fling water out of his ears, shook it again.
“Where is the noise?” he rasped. It came out muted and fuzzy-sounding.
Harry moved an inch, and Riddle’s gaze snapped to him—and then it locked on the thing behind him.
It was almost hard to decide what was more dangerous to put his back to: Riddle, or the bone-white tree.
It loomed there above him, blooming in an artificial spring, though the wood was iced over beyond the border of silence. White petals drifted through the silent air. The tree was still and tall and ancient, alien, angry.
“No,” whispered Riddle. “No, no. Not this, not this again. How? How am I here? You!” He pointed his wand at Harry. “You! Demon! What are you! What have you done!” It all came out in a wavering underwater voice.
T R A D E
Harry felt the demand, the command, the plea, ripple through the air. It was so physical he flinched. But Riddle was ranting, raving, saliva flying from his cracked and lipless mouth.
“Can’t you hear it?” Harry asked.
Riddle stared at him. “Hear what? You’re mad, boy, demon—”
T R A D E
“You can’t hear it?”
“HEAR WHAT?” Riddle roared.
Harry held up his wand. “The tree offered you its wand wood. Like me.”
Riddle sneered. “We are nothing alike, worm. I took my wand wood from this cursed tree.”
“There was a price. You didn’t pay it.”
“There was no price! I took this wood! I made my wand! I enacted my dominion over this place!”
Harry’s shook his head, disbelieving. “You have no dominion here. No one has dominion in the deep wood. The deep wood belongs to itself.”
“You know nothing,” Riddle spat. “You are an ignorant fool of a child, not a demon. And I will cut you down.”
But when he slashed his wand at Harry, nothing happened.
He cast again, and again, and again.
“What?” he hissed. “What is this?”
“You took without giving,” Harry said, and it wasn’t him speaking, it was the wood, the tree, the magic. He was just an emissary. “It’s time to pay what you owe.”
Riddle readied his wand to cast again, and then he stumbled forward. His forehead wrinkled with confusion, and he stumbled forward again. And again. He tripped all the way to the bone-white tree.
He put a hand on it to steady himself.
“Goodbye, Tom,” Harry said softly.
Jerky and puppet-like, Riddle sagged to his knees, leaning against the colorless trunk. His other hand came up beside the first, palm fusing to the trunk even as he tried to struggle. As his face came to rest against the bark, he began to scream. He screamed even as his lips sealed to the trunk, even as his body began to jerk, that snake flopping limply across his shoulders. He screamed and screamed and screamed as if the pain was the only thing he had ever known.
Harry watched as the tree extracted its price.
Soul for soul. Horcrux for wandwood. Long ago, Harry had had one to spare. Tom Riddle no longer did.
The screaming stopped.
The shell of Riddle fell away from the tree, and his wand lay dormant on the ground. Trembling all over, Harry picked it up and snapped it, and lay the pieces atop Riddle’s body.
He really was dead. All that foul magic had cleared from the air.
The tree was silent. The deep wood would take care of Riddle, and it was time for Harry to leave.
The faintest hiss came from near the tree roots. Harry spun and dropped to his knees beside Riddle’s body. The dead snake he had worn across his shoulders, it was moving. It was blinking open two bright red eyes. “Hello?” it said.
“Hello,” Harry hissed. “Who are you?”
“Me?” The snake blinked at him, tongue flicking out. “It … called me Nagini.”
“Nagini? Is that your name?”
The snake curled in sluggish alarm. “Snakes don’t have names.”
“I won’t call you a name.”
Harry stared at it. Opened his mouth, breathed in. It tasted like snake. “Are you Riddle’s?” he asked.
“Like a joke?”
“No, this snakeheart who was holding you.”
The snake trembled. “It took me away from home. Made me bite and kill.”
“He’s dead. You won’t kill anyone now?”
The snake thought for a moment. “No.”
“Okay,” Harry said. “Okay. Snake, where would you like to go? You can stay here, or you can go underwater. You can live with the centaurs, the spiders, the basilisks, the elves, or with me. Whatever you want.”
The snake slithered out of Riddle’s robes and across his knees, seeking warmth. “I only want a nice soft den in the dirt,” it hissed.
“Oh,” Harry said, blinking hard. “I actually know one of those. With an old, old friend. I think you’ll be happy there.”
“Are you sure?” Harry whispered. “If I go, you’ll have to trust the babies to speak for you.”
The basilisk glared. “My mastery of English is exemplary.”
“Right now, say my name in English.”
The tip of its tail twitched guiltily. “I do not care to. Besides, between the three of them I am sure they will manage to be ... somewhat comprehensible …” It trailed off, then laughed. “You are delaying, Snakeheart. I know your tactics. Go before they wake up and you loose your resolve. We will manage diplomacy without you. And when you return, the home will be ready for you.”
He threw his arms around its nose. “I’ll miss you!”
“Why are you acting as if you are not gone for months every summer?”
Harry pulled back, meeting its gaze. “I guess I don’t want to miss anything the babies do.”
“They will be hatchlings for your lifetime, Snakeheart. I advise you: escape in the brief moments that you can.”
Laughing, Harry picked up his pack. “All right, all right. I’ll see you soon.”
“Safe journeys, Voice of the Deeps.”
“Ugh!” Turning his back dramatically, he marched out of the den.
Dumbledore was waiting on the front steps.
“Ah, Harry.” The headmaster smiled at him. “Off for the summer?”
“Yes,” Harry said, grinning. “Goodbye, headmaster.”
“Have a safe journey, my boy. Can I expect you at the start of next term?”
“Yes,” Harry said definitively. “If I’m being honest, you can probably expect me before that.”
Dumbledore beamed. “Honesty! What a novel concept.”
Harry shrugged, grinning. “Sorry, headmaster. I’ve had to keep a lot of people’s secrets. Hopefully I’m almost done with it, but you never know.”
Dumbledore nodded. “Secret-keeping is a tricky business. I won’t pry, my boy. I’ll leave that to you.”
Harry nodded firmly. “Right. I’m just off to say goodbye to my cousin.”
“Tell young Avalon I said hello.”
“I’ll tell her.”
She was already waiting at the water’s edge, staring dreamily into the distance.
“Ava?” he asked, laughing. “You there?”
“Hi, Sa-nek,” she said, grinning.
“You’re very happy,” he said suspiciously.
“Oh, well … you know. People who keep secrets from their cousins don’t get to hear secrets from their cousins.”
“Which secrets did I keep!”
She stared pointedly at him. “Araeo? And you kissing him?”
“What—I didn’t keep that a secret, I just didn’t tell you! Ava, do you have a kissing secret?” He dropped to his knees. “You have to tell me!”
She grinned. “Alright, fine, only because I’m going to explode if I don’t. There’s sort of … this apprentice … I see them sometimes when I’m going to the palace with Samba …”
“What’s their name.”
“… Amirtha. But they go by Mirth. Don’t tell my mothers.”
“Why? Will they be mad?”
“Mad? They’ll never leave me or Mirth alone!”
“Why haven’t I met them?” Harry demanded.
“Fllf, maybe because you haven’t been home for ages? It only happened a few weeks ago.”
“Anyway, I never met Araeo for six years.”
“Those were extenuating circumstances!”
“Yeah, whatever.” She eyed his pack. “Is it there? Can I meet it?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s really shy and kind of hurt.”
“Oh, okay. Bet Ifingr’s fuming it couldn’t come along.”
“You have no idea. But Surry’s a bit far, even for the Far-Fathomer. The basilisk had to hold it by the tail in the end so it wouldn’t chase me. I still don’t really trust it won’t catch up half-way.”
Ava giggled. “Alright, suppose you’d best be off. If you don’t bring me something utterly tide-turning back, I’ll drown you.”
“And if you don’t find a waterway out to the new den before I’m back, I’ll drown you.”
She scoffed. "If there’s not one, I’ll make one.”
They hugged and kissed and Harry set off for the forest, spying Dumbledore watching from the stairs. He waved, and Dumbledore waved back, just a glint of a silvery hand in the distance.
It was an easy trek to the thestral pond, the new unofficial meeting place for his friends. Ava hadn’t met them there only because she was expected in Alimnion for a meeting.
Only Araeo had arrived, speaking softly to Serpentus. When Harry made his way through the trees he turned, hand already outstretched. Ba-dum, went their hearts, and then the beat sped up as Araeo tugged him close and kissed him.
“Hi,” Harry said, staring into his foggy eyes. “Are you ready?”
“Oh, yes,” said Araeo eagerly. Across his back were packs of supplies. “I’m so excited; I can’t believe mother agreed.”
“Limmy’s not here yet?”
Araeo shook his head. “She was saying goodbye to Draco at the train station.”
“Oh.” That was rather sweet. Draco and Limmy had formed a close bond upon both making it back to Hogwarts, traumatized by Lucius Malfoy once more. In Limmy’s case, this had been slightly ameliorated by having beaten Lucius half to death with wand and fists. The only reason Malfoy was still alive in Azkaban was because Dumbledore and Tippy had located her in time to pull her off and save her from a manslaughter charge.
It had been Limmy, Draco, and Daphne who had gone against strict orders and forged their way into the woods, found the thestrals, and flown to the edge of the deep wood in time to spot Harry hopping back over the stream, snake across his shoulders and tether to reality whittled to a thread.
Araeo sighed and wrapped Harry in his arms. “Thank the stars you’re safe, Snakeheart. I can’t believe I didn’t See any of that at all.”
“But you did,” Harry said. “Or, we did. Part of it.”
Araeo shook his head. “You know how I See. Specifics. Details. Not half-dreamt rituals. That was all you, I believe.”
“Please don’t tells me I’s going to be a third wheel this entire trip,” drawled Limmy, crossing into the clearing. “I swears I is staying here instead.” She smiled at them, tired and drawn but happy. The tip of her right ear had been severed, and there was a long, healed scar under one eye. Nowadays, when she was angry, it weeped blue magic. She was rather fond of it.
“You is definitely not going to be,” Harry said, grinning and hugging her, feeling their magic spark together in welcome.
“Right,” she said. “Everything ready?”
“Food and supplies,” Araeo said, patting his bags. “Check.”
“Practically unlimited magical potential,” Limmy said, snapping a bloom of rainbow sparks into the air. “Check.”
“Snake, check,” said Harry, peeking into his pack, where the snake stared up at him with hopeful trepidation. “Hello,” he hissed. “Ready to go to your new home?”
“You promise?” hissed the snake. “It is warm? Dark? With lots of meat?”
“Promise,” Harry said. “I never break my promises. It will be a perfect fit.”
“Let’s go!” said Araeo eagerly. “Into the wild unknown!”
“Aelisf!” Limmy cried. “Araeo, does you know what that means? It means—”
“Ever upward,” Harry said triumphantly. He took Araeo’s and Limmy’s hands, and they began to walk.
The experience of sharing this fic has been a dream come true. I never imagined ever upward would be anything more than a seed of a story in my head. It turned into one of the things I’m proudest of having created in my life. Thank you to every single person who has read, commented, drawn fanart, made memes, chatted on the discord, or simply loved it from afar—whether you've followed it since the prologue or started reading two days ago. The fact that other people out there love this wild story as deeply as I do is something that has impacted me profoundly. Thank you so, so much <3