"Of all the blocks you could've given me, it had to be the fifth-year block?" Hadrian grounded out through gritted teeth as he stared at the timetable that Sheda had just handed him. "And you're telling me now, when I have to teach this class in... three minutes?!"
The Runes professor waved an airy hand. "You can handle it, Green Eyes. The current material isn't even on the level of your OWL exam."
Hadrian glowered at her, brandishing the timetable. "Professor-"
"Sheda," Hadrian huffed in exasperation. "I know you can be... somewhat absentminded, but even you must know that Harry Potter and I don't get along, and that's putting it mildly. He'd never settle for letting me teach him!"
"Well are you going to spend the rest of your Hogwarts career running away from him then?" Sheda countered, rather unfairly in Hadrian's opinion.
"I don't run away from him!" Hadrian protested, crossing his arms. "I just don't go out of my way to antagonize him when I don't have to!"
"You'll be teaching him, not antagonizing him," Sheda reminded him rather pointlessly.
"To Potter, it might as well be the same thing," Hadrian argued back, only to receive a smack over the head. "Ow!"
"You're my apprentice now," Sheda said firmly. "Which means you're just going to have to suck it up. You can't always have your students like you. Batty deals with hoards of students who dislike him every day."
"'Batty'?" Hadrian repeated faintly. "You mean Professor Snape?"
"Who else?" Sheda looked honestly puzzled. Hadrian fought the urge to put his head in his hands. "Now get out there and teach. I'll be observing from my desk as usual."
Hadrian sighed in defeat and followed Sheda out of the office.
He'd started teaching two days ago, taking a fourth-year class that had, consequently, consisted of his former classmates (he had no proof but he'd eat his tie if Sheda hadn't planned that). It had been somewhat awkward at first, but Hermione had been more than eager and the other students had followed her lead once they saw firsthand that Hadrian obviously knew what he was talking about, not to mention everyone knew he had the credentials to back it up. Sheda had basically given him free run of the class, letting him teach the way he wanted to, while she stayed silent on the side.
Now though, he had a fifth-year class to contend with (leaving Sheda with the two third-year classes, the other fourth-year class, and the only sixth- and seventh-year classes). The material would be easy enough to teach (he had quickly realized that teaching a class was pretty much like tutoring except with more people); dealing with Harry Potter, not so much.
"What are you doing here?"
Hadrian almost turned around and walked right back out again. Only dedication to his new responsibilities stopped him.
So, as Sheda smiled serenely at him and took a seat, Hadrian squared his shoulders, took a firm grasp of the steely confidence he usually reserved for battlefields and commanding troops, and strode forward to stand at the front of the class. His gaze met Orion's briefly, who looked to have already guessed what was going on, and while the werewolf didn't smile, he did offer an encouraging nod.
Hadrian appreciated the gesture. Even if Harry wasn't in this class, it would be hard enough as it was. Sheda had told Hadrian that he had – accidentally – raised the bar for the Runes OWL because he had done too well. Not only would the written portion be harder, the school board had also decided to throw in a practical. The fourth-years would be okay since they still had time, but it would be killer for the fifth-years since, normally, students didn't start actively triggering runes until near the end of fifth year, mostly so that they'd be ready to begin learning it in-depth when sixth year rolled around. Now though, the basics of activating runes would be compacted into the fifth-year curriculum.
"I'm here to teach you," He started, glancing at the increasing disgust on Harry's face. "As you all probably already know, I'm Hadrian Evans, and I've taken on an apprenticeship with Professor Babbling. For the most part, I'll be taking over this class for the rest of the year-"
"What?!" Harry interrupted loudly. "I don't want to fail!"
Hadrian paused and stomped down on the first spark of irritation stirring inside him (he was an adult; he had to be mature about this) before continuing.
"I don't really care for titles like 'Professor Evans'," He carried on evenly, ignoring Harry's rapidly reddening features. "So feel free to just call me Hadrian or Evans. Since I do have classes of my own, if any of you wish to ask me questions outside of class, then I'll be in the library today, and all future Wednesdays, after lunch from one to four, and Sunday evenings from seven-thirty to nine-thirty. I've already been holding tutoring sessions for several students during those times, and I've decided to open them to all of you as well as my other class. Outside of those times, if you feel that it's an emergency, then just come find me during meals or in the corridors, though hopefully not when I'm on my way to class. Any questions?"
"What if we don't want to learn from you?" Harry instantly challenged. Two rows away, Orion's features had become stony.
Hadrian kept his expression blank. "Then either remain silent or leave."
He surveyed the rest of the class coolly. At his current physical age, with the exceptions of Orion and Harry, everyone else was older than he was. Being an elective, the class was smaller and, of course, included a mix of students from all four Houses. Including Orion and Harry, there were four Gryffindors, four Ravenclaws, two Hufflepuffs, and two Slytherins.
"Like I said," Hadrian continued, deliberately holding each student's gaze for a few seconds. "I'm here to teach you. If you don't want to learn, that's not my problem. I can't force you, nor do I want to waste time trying."
He focused on Harry again. "Unfortunately though, you're stuck with me, so either deal with it or self-study. And please raise your hand before you speak. I'd prefer not having people talk over each other.
"Anymore questions?" Hadrian glanced over the class again. A Ravenclaw – Ainsleigh Cassidy – near the front raised her hand. Progress; Hadrian was pleased. "Yes?"
"Does this mean you'll be getting us ready for our OWLs as well?" The girl asked anxiously, shooting an uncertain look over at Sheda who, for all intents and purposes, seemed immersed in a book.
"Yes," Hadrian nodded. "My goal is to have all of you ready to take the exam by the beginning of May at the latest."
A ripple of murmurs swept the class, most looking surprised and pleased.
"While I can't exactly give any hints about the OWL to any of you," Hadrian elucidated. "The rest of May will be spent reviewing for your OWL, and I will be putting together a mock exam for you to do that will help you prepare for the real thing."
More mutters sounded. Hadrian knew that mock exams weren't the norm in Hogwarts, which was something he had never understood.
A Slytherin – Cyril Zabini; Blaise's older cousin – raised his hand next, the action looking slightly stiff but willing enough. Hadrian nodded at him.
"I heard from Blaise that you've occasionally set quizzes for them during their tutoring sessions," Cyril said bluntly. "Will you be doing that for our class as well?"
Hadrian quirked a smile. "Yes I will. I'll give you a heads-up the class before, but if you keep up with your studies, the quizzes shouldn't be a proble-"
"Professor Babbling didn't set quizzes," Harry snapped. "You can't make us."
Hadrian's smile thinned. "Professor Babbling is no longer the teacher of this class; I am. And you don't have to write the quiz either; you'll simply get a zero. They'll be worth ten percent of your grade at most. And two points from Gryffindor for speaking out of turn."
Harry's face turned red again. "You can't do that!"
"You'll find that I can," Hadrian said coldly, curbing the sharpness in his voice as best he could. This was a fourteen-year-old child, not an adult who had stupidly disobeyed orders and gotten someone killed; Hadrian had to keep a lid on it. "For these two hours and ten minutes, I am as good as a professor here.
"Now then," Noting that no one else had anything more to ask, Hadrian sat down on the vacant stool placed at the front. "I've looked over what you've learned up to this point, but I don't know how well you've learned it, so we'll start by doing a bit of a review.
"Zabini," Hadrian suppressed a smile when the Slytherin almost started at being addressed so abruptly. "Say you have a Raido rune in front of you; choose one other rune to connect to the Raido, and explain why you chose it."
Cyril subtly floundered for a second before visibly pulling himself together and straightening in his seat. "Ansuz, because its element is air, like Raido, and runes sharing the same elemental affinity fit best together."
Hadrian nodded approvingly. "Good; ten points to Slytherin."
Cyril took on a distinctly smug air as he relaxed again.
"Donne," Hadrian looked next at a jumpy-looking Hufflepuff – Charlotte Donne. "You should've started on the verses for activating basic runes last week, so... for the Fehu rune; recite the verse."
Donne fumbled for a moment, looking more and more panicked as all eyes focused on her. "U- Uh... 'Wealth is- is a consolation to all men / Yet much of it must- must-'"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Harry scoff and open his mouth, but before the boy could say something undoubtedly derogatory, Hadrian flicked out a Silencing Charm at him. Verses were hard enough to memorize as it was since there were quite a few; they were required for people wanting to activate runes before they were adept enough to do it without the incantations.
No one noticed the startled expression on the Gryffindor's face when nothing came out of his mouth.
"'Yet- Yet much of it must- must each man give away'," Donne stammered after a moment of thought, cheeks flushed pink with embarrassment. "I- I can't remember the rest."
Hadrian glanced at the others. "Can anyone help her out? Frazier?"
The Ravenclaw – Something Frazier; Hadrian hadn't memorized everyone's names yet – steadily recapped, "'Wealth is a consolation to all men / Yet much of it must each man give away / If glory he desire / To gain before his god.'"
"Excellent," Hadrian smiled. "Ten points to Ravenclaw. And five points to Hufflepuff. You have most of it down, Donne. Just make sure you review them more frequently if you find yourself forgetting."
Donne nodded meekly and shifted her gaze to her clasped hands. Hadrian would have to break her of that habit.
He paused and twitched a finger, cancelling the Silencing Charm just as Harry leapt to his feet, chair skidding backwards against the stone floor.
"What the hell did you do?!" Harry snarled, and to Hadrian's clinical amusement, the idiot actually went for his wand.
"A Silencing Charm," Hadrian said blandly. "You were about to interrupt Donne; like I said, if you don't want to learn, that's fine. Just stay silent or leave."
He narrowed his eyes and stared unblinkingly at his counterpart. "And another two points from Gryffindor. Now what's it going to be?"
Silence reigned in the classroom for a long minute, Harry glaring balefully at Hadrian before finally sitting down again.
Hadrian turned his attention back to the rest of the class, all watching the exchange with interest. Time to drag the students back on track.
"Adair," Hadrian called, and the fifth-year Gryffindor snapped to attention. "What is the meaning of an Uruz rune, and under what circumstances would you apply it?"
Adair scrambled to come up with an answer, and Hadrian should really have words with Sheda later. From what he'd seen, the woman went at her own pace and didn't really engage her students at all.
"Uh... physical or mental strength, and health," The Gryffindor rushed out. "Um... I- don't really understand what you mean by 'circumstances'?"
As Hadrian had expected, students didn't really connect learning runes to actually applying it in real life, which would have to be remedied fast if any of them wanted to be successful in Ancient Runes. Just knowing the incantations and rune symbols wasn't enough; you had to understand them.
"Like you said, Uruz is the strength rune," Hadrian clarified. "If you had to use it in real life, where would you use it?"
The Gryffindor remained stumped, confusion clear on his face. Hadrian glanced at the others. Not even Cyril or Cassidy raised their hands this time, and from what Hadrian had gleaned from the essays that they had previously turned in for Sheda, those two were the best in the class.
"Anyone?" Hadrian's mouth twitched when Orion waved a lazy hand in the air. Orion had joined his tutoring sessions and Hadrian had actually been discussing this very concept with the werewolf mere days ago. "Orion?"
"For an injured person," Orion replied tersely. "For example, if they've lost a lot of blood, I'd use the Uruz rune to strengthen their healing rate."
"Correct," Hadrian nodded as Orion's eyes glinted with amusement. It was just odd treating the werewolf like a student when they were friends. "Take ten points. And another five to Gryffindor for a partial answer, Adair. ...Question?"
"You can do that?" Adair blurted out. "I mean, that's practically like using a basic healing spell, right?"
"Yes, which is something I hope you'll understand by the time I finish teaching you guys," Hadrian rose to his feet. "If you continue to pursue a career in Ancient Runes, you'll find that there is very little you can do with a wand that you can't do with runes. Combining them, layering them, enhancing them – all will give you different results, and can be just as powerful as casting any spell."
With that explained, Hadrian continued firing off various questions, ensuring that everyone had the chance answer once.
Harry, of course, stayed sullenly silent when Hadrian asked him for the rune verse of the Hagalaz rune. He wasn't sure if his counterpart was sulking or honestly didn't know.
"Yes, Zabini?" Hadrian glanced at the smirking Slytherin who had given Harry perhaps three seconds to respond before raising his hand.
Cyril looked positively gleeful when Harry craned his head around and glowered at him, sneering back at the Gryffindor with all the stuck-up arrogance of a Pureblood. "'Hail is the whitest of grain / Whirled from heaven's height / The wind hurls it in showers / Into water then it turns.'"
"Correct," Hadrian almost wanted to laugh at Cyril's surreptitious delight at having one-upped Harry. The Zabinis could be a vindictive lot. "Take another ten for Slytherin.
"Alright, moving on," Hadrian headed over to Sheda's desk where he had placed a stack of scrolls and quickly handed them out. Each scroll had a large runic circle inscribed on it. Sheda had asked – ordered – him to make them several days back and bring them – for her – for this lesson to hand out to the fifth-year class; needless to say, it turned out that Hadrian had been miserably duped. "These are elementary rune scrolls. In other words, you can practice sketching and activating runes with them. If you want to erase something, just tap your wand against the circle and say Finite Rune.
"I'll tell you now," Hadrian continued. "You will have both a written and practical portion for your OWL, which is why I'm starting you on practical work already. For today, let's start with Kauno, the fire rune. It's one of the easiest to summon but one of the hardest to control. Luckily, the runic circle will contain it. Now start by sketching the rune."
The students obeyed, and Hadrian floated from between the desks, making sure their sketches were accurate.
"Good," Hadrian returned to the front once even Potter had done what he'd been told, however reluctant. "Now, if you can't remember the incantation, just search it up in your books. Don't go activating it all at once. I'll come by and you can show me."
Even those who probably knew the rune verse flipped through their texts first.
"Let's see it then," Hadrian wandered over to Orion's side. "Don't mess up."
Orion snorted, placing his wand tip above the fire rune. "Encouraging, Professor."
Hadrian chuckled. The werewolf had already done this a few days ago, though he had only been able to summon a small flame back then.
"'A Torch alight is known to all alive / Brilliant and bright, / It burns most oft / Where Aethlings rest themselves within.'"
There was a lull in the room as all eyes zeroed in on Orion's scroll.
"Ha!" Harry jeered from his seat. "Great teaching, Evans!"
The air above Orion's fire rune shimmered, like a heat haze passing through, and then, with only that warning, a tunnel of fire suddenly erupted from the scroll, roaring upwards like a pillar made entirely of flames. At the same time, the runic circle activated, sending up a wall of pale blue light around the column of fire and locking it in so that it wouldn't spread.
Gasps and startled cries sounded around the room, and more than one jaw had to be scraped off the ground.
Hadrian grinned, clapping a stunned-looking Orion on the shoulder. "Great job. That was amazing."
A rare smile graced the werewolf's features as he extended his wand and cancelled the activated rune. The fire was extinguished with a whoosh, and when the light died down, only the runic circle remained inked on the scroll.
Hadrian looked up, surveying the excitement on quite a few faces. For the first time since the beginning of class, he had their undivided attention.
"Who's next?" He enquired.
Zabini's hand shot up in the air, a determined glint in his eyes. He wasn't the only one.
By the end of class, almost everyone had managed to produce a flame, though nowhere near Orion's level.
"Don't worry if you didn't get it today," Hadrian reassured. "The first time is always hardest, and Orion's actually already done it once before."
Some of the more huffy expressions eased at this information. From his seat, Orion looked close to rolling his eyes.
"You may keep the scrolls and practice outside of class," Hadrian decided, but he levelled a hard stare on all of them. "But they are not to be shared with older or younger students. Especially not with younger students. They are yours, for you to practice class work only. And if I hear so much as a whisper of any of you activating a rune on anything other than those scrolls, and for anything other than practice, rest-assured, you won't be attending this class again. Understand?"
Nods and murmurs of consent were given just as the bell rang, and Hadrian waved a hand at the door. "Alright then, no homework, except to do some review and make sure you're up to date with everything you've learned so far. Have a good day, and I'll see you around."
Harry was the first to storm out of the room, but everyone else took their time packing their bags, and a few even nodded politely at Hadrian before leaving in groups, already discussing the class in greater detail. Hadrian hoped they had enjoyed themselves.
Orion had packed up as well, but he lingered outside the door, and after Hadrian had grabbed his own bag, sat another mug of coffee in front of Sheda, and bid her farewell, joined the werewolf in the corridor.
"That was a good lesson," Orion remarked as they headed to Charms.
"Thanks; Hermione said the same thing," Hadrian stretched languidly before sighing. "To be honest though, I didn't really want to teach this class."
"Can't blame you," Orion frowned darkly. "Was it really a good idea to give Harry a scroll? He might..."
"He better not," Hadrian said flatly. "I have to treat everyone fairly though, and as much as neither of us likes the arrangement, he is one of my students now."
"Did Babbling assign you this block?" Orion looked amused again.
Hadrian rolled his eyes. "Yeah, three minutes before I came out to teach. Originally, she said that she wanted me to come in to observe. I swear she's not as clueless as she pretends to be. I suppose I should be grateful that she hasn't dumped the seventh-year class on me as well."
Orion just shook his head. "You're a good teacher, Hadrian. The class was more active today than all of the past lessons combined. I think it's actually pretty lucky for us that we got you for our OWL year. Once the seventh-year class hears, they'll probably try to worm their way into your tutoring sessions or something."
Hadrian jabbed a friendly elbow into the werewolf's ribs. "Don't exaggerate; I'll have nightmares. I have enough people with way too high expectations to deal with without seventh-years nagging me as well."
Orion shook his head again. "You're hopeless, Hadrian."
"What does that mean?" Hadrian huffed indignantly.
"Nothing," The werewolf lied glibly before breaking into a swift jog. "We'll be late for Charms."
"There's still ten minutes!" Hadrian gave chase, torn between laughing and hexing Orion. "Get back here! You can't call me hopeless and then not explain!"
"If you need me to explain it, you really are hopeless!" The werewolf tossed over his shoulder.
Hadrian scowled, and then grinned evilly and pulled out his wand.
Orion's eyes widened.
When they crashed into Flitwick's classroom out of breath, the startled professor stared in utter bemusement at the scowling Gryffindor whose hair had been turned to an eye-watering shade of pink with yellow streaks, and the laughing Hufflepuff whose hair had been spelled a hideous orange dotted with green polka dots.
"Oh my goodness, what happened to your hair?!" Lily gasped when Orion and Hadrian tumbled into her classroom.
James and Sirius looked up from some paperwork and promptly burst out laughing.
That morning at breakfast, much like she typically did several times a year, Lily had extended an invitation to both Harry and Orion to eat lunch in her classroom, just to catch up since they hadn't really talked since summer, and, as per usual, she had told them to invite a friend or two along.
Also per usual, Harry had turned her down, citing something about being too old to eat with his parents at school. On the other hand, while Orion had always turned her down as well, normally preferring to stay silent and cold at Harry's side, he had accepted this time, especially since Sirius and Remus were here as well.
Lily had been absolutely thrilled when Orion had asked if he could bring Hadrian along.
Now here they were, straight out of their last morning class, and both looking like they had come out on the losing side of a paint war.
"What in the name of Merlin-?" Remus appeared from the private kitchen in Lily's quarters, two trays of food in his arms. His gaze shifted from Orion to Hadrian and then back again, looking thoroughly bewildered.
"Were you two pranked?" Lily asked with a stern frown at her husband and his best friend.
"In a manner of speaking," Orion grouched, dropping his bag in a chair as Hadrian left his in another.
"I got him first!" Hadrian crowed. Orion, in the process of digging something out from his bag, retrieved a crumpled piece of parchment and chucked it at the Hufflepuff's head, something Lily had never thought Orion would do even a few weeks ago.
Hadrian just snickered, catching the projectile with ease and throwing it back. "Don't sulk; pink suits yo-"
Lily couldn't help smiling when Orion fired off a spell at Hadrian only for the Hufflepuff to deflect it and return one of his own.
"Alright, as much fun as you boys are having, no duelling in my classroom," Lily cut in somewhat regretfully. "It's time for lunch anyway."
Obediently, both boys subsided and tucked away their wands with twin sheepish looks thrown in.
"Hello, Professor Potter, Mr. Potter, Sirius, Remus," Hadrian greeted. "Thanks for letting me tag along for lunch."
Lily beamed at him. "Don't mention it, and do call me Lily outside of class."
"And it's James," Her husband interjected. "You can't call those idiots by their first names and call me 'Mr. Potter'."
Lily rolled her eyes when Sirius threw his quill at James, who ducked out of the way with a bark of laughter.
"What really happened though?" Remus strode forward, placing the trays on a cleared-off table before moving over to Orion.
"Hadrian got me with a Colour Change Charm," Orion growled, looking a little embarrassed when Remus pulled him into a hug but returning it anyway. "I got him back, and then he added yellow streaks, so I added green polka dots. And then Hadrian did something so that I can't get rid of it."
Hadrian plopped down into an empty seat, dragging Orion into the one beside him. "Oh don't be so grumpy. You called me hopeless!"
"You are hopeless!" Orion threw his hands in the air. "Did you see the other students today? They actually had fun, instead of just sitting there looking confused or falling asleep."
"What are you talking about?" Sirius grabbed the seat beside Remus, who was already sitting on Orion's other side, and Lily pulled up a chair beside Hadrian, with James filling in the last spot.
"Runes, Dad," Orion answered, already more talkative than Lily had ever seen him. "I have a new professor."
"A new..." Sirius' eyes widened as he turned to Hadrian. "Oh, that's right; you've taken a Runes apprenticeship."
"Trust me, I didn't exactly have a choice," Hadrian grumbled good-naturedly, and Lily had to bite back a laugh when she remembered Bathsheda's rather gung-ho methods of strong-arming Hadrian into becoming her apprentice.
"So you're teaching then?" James was eyeing Hadrian thoughtfully now. "How's that going?"
"Alright," Hadrian shrugged. "Sheda gave me a fourth-year block and the fifth-year block. Stupid school board decided to up the OWL standards though, so the fifth-years will have to work extra hard."
"That's your fault," Orion pointed out as Lily prodded both boys to start eating. "Nobody told you to get a triple O mark on both exams. I didn't even know you could get a triple O."
"I just did my best!" Hadrian insisted, though another grin flitted at the corners of his mouth. "What'd you get in the placement exam anyway? You have to take one of those to skip a year, right?"
Orion nodded, swallowing a mouthful of steak before speaking. "I got an E. I don't think anybody's gotten an O in any Runes exam ever, at least not since Babbling's been teaching here. She's not exactly going to be winning any Teacher of the Year Award anytime soon."
"Hm," Hadrian waved his burger in the air. "Well just so you know, I'm going to be very disappointed if any of my students get below Exceeds Expectations. And you'll be getting an Outstanding of course."
"Of course," Orion shot back dryly. "I'm glad you have so much faith in me."
Hadrian smirked back. "No pressure, 'Rion."
Lily listened to the two boys bantering even as her gaze drifted across the table to Sirius and Remus. Neither of them was eating much, opting to watch Orion with fascinated eyes.
Lily couldn't blame them. Frankly, she couldn't remember the last time Orion had been this happy and open, and wasn't that just sad? There was still a touch of reservation in the young werewolf's demeanour but he was far more relaxed and talkative than before. Orion had already said more in the past ten minutes than he usually did in two months.
A thrum of wistful longing ran through her as she looked at the two boys again, specifically at Hadrian. That could've been Harry; it should've been Harry. Her son and Orion were supposed to have grown up as close as brothers, best friends at Hogwarts just like James and Sirius had been, though hopefully not as bully-prone.
She couldn't blame Orion for finally pulling away from Harry though, and she certainly couldn't blame Hadrian, who had turned Orion's life around and upside-down when he had entered it. Heck, Hadrian had turned quite a number of people's lives upside-down since he had come to Hogwarts.
"Oh, Father," Orion twisted around and pulled out a scroll from his bag. "I wanted to show you something. Hadrian taught me a few days ago, and he handed these out in class today."
"Is that a runes scroll?" Lily enquired, leaning forward as Orion pushed his food away and spread it out on the table.
"Yeah," Hadrian shifted over to give Orion some elbowroom. "I made them last night. I figured, what with the practical that they're going to have to do, these would come in handy for practice. They're only good for elementary runes though. Anything stronger would destroy it."
Half a minute later, Lily almost had a heart attack when fire swirled up from inside the runic circle.
"Is that safe?" She couldn't help asking as Orion cancelled the rune.
"Of course it is," Sirius said bracingly, grinning from ear to ear. "That was bloody awesome, Orion!"
"Language," Remus automatically reprimanded but he was looking impressed as well. "That really was amazing. Was that your third time activating a rune? Fourth?"
"Third," Orion was smiling again but gestured at Hadrian. "Hadrian's a good teacher."
Hadrian coughed, looking faintly embarrassed. "I just told you how to do it."
"You taught me how to do it," Orion corrected, and then pushed the scroll over to Hadrian. "Your turn."
Hadrian scratched at one cheek. "Eh? Why?"
"Oh, we'd like to see it from an expert as well," James encouraged, and Lily nodded her agreement. Both Sirius and Remus looked expectantly at the Hufflepuff, and Hadrian caved with a short sigh.
Lily watched in astonishment as Hadrian simply ran a finger inside the runic circle, and, unlike Orion who had had to draw it, traced out the fire rune with his magic. The entire thing blazed to life, but unlike the single pillar of fire that Orion had conjured, flames swirled up from it in degrees instead, shaping itself into the fire version of a wolf in mid-leap.
"That's incredible," Lily breathed as the wolf's front paws touched the scroll again and proceeded to gambol playfully inside the circle.
"I can't do much more than that with only Kauno and a containment rune around it," Hadrian said as if what he was already doing wasn't downright extraordinary.
"How are you making it move like that?" Orion interjected, staring intently at the flames.
"I'm manipulating it with my magic," Hadrian slipped seamlessly into teacher mode. "Because I made the rune out of my magic alone, it's connected directly to me. Runes that are drawn out with ink can be very, very powerful, but they'll still never be as strong as a rune created directly with magic. It takes loads of practice though, and if you don't have the proper control for it, it could end up doing a lot of damage. Worst case scenario, the rune, because it's already active and only your control over magic is keeping it from doing anything you don't want it to, could suck you dry if you lose that control, literally leeching all the magic out of you and killing you."
Lily blanched as the others winced.
"Orion, don't you dare try it without proper training," Remus was quick to get in.
Orion nodded somewhat distractedly, still staring at the wolf. "Of course, Father. Hadrian, will I be able to do that by seventh year?"
"Rune Manipulation isn't NEWT requirement if that's what you're asking," Hadrian said, dissolving the flames in a shower of sparks with a tap of his finger. "It's not even in the school curriculum, as far as I know. But I can teach you on the side if you want. Not now, but when you've gotten to the stage where you can at least activate a rune without the incantation, I could start teaching you then."
A gleam entered Orion's eyes, and Lily had the feeling that the Gryffindor would be taking this as a personal challenge.
"Hadrian," James spoke up again suddenly. "If you're teaching Orion's class, then my son must be one of your students as well, right?"
Lily could feel a headache coming on when Orion's expression closed off in the blink of an eye and Hadrian's expression became slightly strained.
"Um, yes," The Hufflepuff confirmed somewhat stiffly. "He... did well activating his rune today."
No comment on his behaviour. Lily mentally applauded the boy for his diplomacy.
"If he's disrespectful in class, I could have a word with him," Lily offered, blinking when Hadrian shook his head.
"I can handle him; don't worry," The fourth-year assured with an odd smile. "He's my student now, and he wouldn't respect me any more than he does now if he thought I'd run to his parents to complain."
"Well if you're sure..." Lily conceded, studying the Hufflepuff. The boy was always so mature about things, older than his fourteen years. She'd seen the dynamics amongst his group of friends as well; even the older students like Cedric Diggory and Victor Krum deferred to him. Not blatantly of course, and Hadrian never took advantage of it, but the others always listened when Hadrian spoke.
She glanced absently at the windows when they rattled. The weather had taken a turn for the worse ever since December had rolled around, and violent gusts of wind had been swiftly followed by sleet and snow.
"Well, we should get going," Hadrian announced, gulping down a glass of water. "Lunch is almost over. Hey 'Rion, you've got Transfiguration next, right?"
Orion nodded, rising to his feet and packing his scroll away. "I'll be done by two-thirty. You'll be in the library?"
"Mm-hm," Hadrian slung his bag over one shoulder. "Tutoring. I wonder how many people are going to show up."
"With your luck? Everyone," Orion snorted, earning a scowl from Hadrian. "See you later, Dad, Father."
Both boys waved and headed out the door, leaving Lily smiling despite Harry having been brought up earlier.
"I wonder if Hadrian could come over to our place for a few days over Christmas," Sirius mused unexpectedly. "Does anyone know if his parents are Muggles?"
"I'm not sure," Lily shook her head. "But there's the Yule Ball to consider, Sirius, and all four of us will have to be there as chaperones."
"Oh yeah," Sirius grinned somewhat roguishly. "I wonder who Orion's date will be. Maybe that little blonde that's taken to hanging out with them? She's what, third-year?"
"Miss Lovegood, and yes," Lily nodded, but frowned severely at him as well as her own husband. "And don't you dare try to play matchmaker. It's not as if it's a requirement to have a date, or even go at all, save for the champions."
"Oh, spoil our fun, why don't you," Sirius griped, slumping back in his seat. "What about Hadrian then? Hermione maybe?"
"They look like they're just friends," Remus put in. "What do you think, James? ...James?"
Lily had already been shooting concerned glances at her husband. James had been a bit on the quiet side even during lunch. "James, are you alright?"
James blinked, and quickly flashed a smile. "Sorry, I've just been thinking."
"About what?" Sirius prodded. "And should we be worried?"
James rolled his eyes at him. "I've just been wondering whether it would do Harry any good if Hadrian spent some time with us. I mean, Hadrian's been a good influence on Orion-"
"Hadrian is Orion's friend," Sirius pointed out, and there was a defensive, frosty edge in his voice that made Lily tense up. The air between them immediately thickened.
"I'm not saying he isn't," James said carefully. "But-"
"James," Remus interjected, quiet and unyielding all at once, amber eyes flaring with a trace of wolf. "Please don't go pushing them together. Things are bad enough between Orion and Harry; if Hadrian spends time with your son, Orion would insist on being there as well, and they won't be able to get through one sentence without an insult being thrown in. It would be unfair to Hadrian as well; imagine being stuck between too people who don't get along at all. Besides, you've seen how Hadrian is with his friends; he'd take Orion's side any day, and that'll just make Harry angry."
James deflated. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Sorry, I just thought..."
"Yeah," Sirius made a face, looking gloomy now. "We get it."
Lily released the breath she hadn't known she had been holding and tried not to let her own private disappointment show. In her opinion, if they could only force Harry to stay moderately civil in Hadrian's company for even just a few days, things would change. But she had no right to ask that of Hadrian, and really, what was the world coming to when Harry's own godfather wanted Orion's friends to stay away from her son?
She sighed wearily and pushed the thought out of her mind. They were things to think about another time; she had class to get ready for.
Fleur began to relax again when Gabrielle squealed with glee once more as Hadrian sketched a loop-de-loop in the air on his broom, one arm wrapped firmly around her sister's waist.
She'd been worried at first when Gabrielle had shyly approached Hadrian and asked if he could take her up for a ride, but she'd hesitantly agreed in the face of Gabrielle's pleading eyes and Hadrian's steadfast promise to keep her safe.
Ever since the First Task, Fleur had been surprised to find that she was enjoying her stay here at Hogwarts, more than she had expected and certainly more than her years in Beauxbatons. She was only a quarter-Veela, which made her an outcast from the handful of full-blooded Veela in her school as well as the normal students, especially when boys of all years flocked around her. She had learned to hide behind an icy exterior over time, warding off both jealousy and lust from the people around her, and she hadn't really anticipated anything else from British wizards.
Yet even on the very first evening here, Fleur had taken notice of the teenage wizard who spoke fluent French with only the smallest of accents, younger and shorter than her but courteous in a way most males weren't in her presence and utterly unaffected by her allure.
From then on, much to her ire at first, her gaze would unconsciously seek him out during meal times when all the students were gathered in the Great Hall. He was almost always there, always the center of attention amongst his group of friends even when he wasn't talking and there were other conversations going on around him. When he spoke, people listened, and Fleur secretly envied that; the only times people – bar her family – listened to her were when they were a drooling mess under her Veela allure and trying to get her attention or when they were jealous of her achievements and trying to find something that would mar her reputation. Either way, she had sneered and brushed them all off, sometimes even using her heritage's ability to embarrass them.
She couldn't exactly do that to the emerald-eyed boy if he wasn't even affected.
So Fleur had settled for watching as the two Hogwarts champions had resolved their differences, had watched as the Bulgarian champion, Viktor Krum, had befriended them, had watched as they laughed and bantered and chatted like they were old friends, and had thoroughly resented the fact that she wanted desperately to be part of that.
Madame Maxime, when she had announced the Triwizard Tournament, had said that it would be an opportunity to strengthen relations between the three schools and the students (the Headmistress had looked sardonically amused when she had said this), as well as earn eternal glory (which was a load of Hippogriff dung in Fleur's opinion; she couldn't even remember the Tournament's last winning champions – so much for eternal glory). Fleur had been chosen and expected to compete though, and going through 'extremely dangerous tasks' might help prove to some students that she hadn't gotten her excellent grades through her looks alone.
A tiny part of Fleur had also hoped that there might be some wizards or witches outside of France who wouldn't eye her like she was a piece of meat or turn their nose up the moment they clapped eyes on her, but while there was no rule set that all Beauxbatons students had to stay in the carriages outside of class or before curfew, no one had had the confidence to venture out of that safety zone and into unknown territory. Fleur had been no different, and getting up and asking to join a group of already tight-knit friends took courage she didn't have, not to mention she would be made a laughingstock and shame her school if she was turned away.
She had thought that she had ruined her chances of making friends with what looked to be one of the few wizards in the country who was immune to her allure when she had toyed with the redhead and the Boy-Who-Lived (how was she supposed to know that they were friends?), but to her everlasting shock, the same teen who had piqued her interest – Hadrian Evans, the genius Hufflepuff transfer student, people called him – had come knocking on her door early one morning, a ready warning of the First Task for her and even a kind word for Gabrielle, who was usually overlooked since she was still so young.
And then, after the First Task (it hadn't really surprised her when she had earned the lowest score), Hadrian had approached her again and had invited her, as well as Gabrielle, along for lunch. He had even teased her a little, charming not in the creepy trying-to-get-in-her-skirts way but friendly as if Fleur's haughty demeanour didn't bother him.
She'd agreed in the end, especially after seeing how taken Gabrielle was with Hadrian, and it had rapidly become one of the best decisions she had ever made.
The Muggleborn girl in the group – Hermione, who was on the bossy side, one of the 'Golden Trio', and had been short with Fleur at the beginning before eventually thawing – had kept the more susceptible boys in line (Fleur could reel in her allure but it was impossible to shut it off completely).
To Fleur's delight, save for a few times at the beginning, all of Hadrian's male friends seemed to be able to build up an immunity to her ability. Some, namely Cedric and Viktor, could shake it off for good after taking a few seconds to adjust.
The young werewolf, Orion, was naturally impervious, and Fleur had quickly realized that the teen was blunt and brusque towards everyone except Hadrian so she had taken no offense when he had merely nodded curtly at her during their introductions, and hadn't minded when he'd ended up trading barely a handful of words with her since the beginning of their acquaintance.
Then there was Luna, a 'head in the clouds' type who reminded Fleur a little of her own sister and was just plain adorable. Luna was the youngest, and (as Fleur had been told after seeing the way a few older girls had given the blonde a wide berth, especially when Hadrian was in the vicinity) had once had a problem with bullies until said bullies had been persuaded to leave her alone. Fleur had also detected the way everyone else, even Hermione who couldn't seem to go a day without bickering with Luna about some of the fantastical creatures that the girl often talked about, always kept an extra protective eye on the little blonde. Fleur had immediately taken to doing the same. How anyone could bully the tiny slip of a girl was beyond her.
Fleur had even been introduced to the three Slytherins that Hadrian ate dinner with once a week. She had been greeted courteously by Nott and Zabini but she'd taken an instant dislike to Malfoy, who had been unaffected by her allure after a blink or two (and might actually have a touch of Veela blood running through his veins himself if Fleur was honest), but she'd heard of the Malfoys and their blood purity beliefs, and couldn't for the life of her understand why Hadrian had gone out of his way to befriend him. Clearly, the blond ponce had been grudgingly polite to her only for Hadrian's sake, which was already leagues better than Fleur had expected. She hadn't thought any Malfoy would be able to look at anything other than an ideal Pureblood without a sneer, yet the Slytherin had seemed resigned to Orion and Hermione's presences, and hadn't even alluded to any insults when he had been forced to share a few words with Fleur.
Still, Fleur hadn't liked him, but he was Hadrian's friend, so, like Malfoy, she had endeavoured to keep a civil tongue around him.
And now, only two weeks after Fleur had been officially invited into Hadrian's band of friends, she was lounging on the large picnic blanket charmed to stay heated and above the layer of snow covering the grounds. A few seals had been slapped into the air around them to keep the area warm, courtesy of Hadrian (who was, as Fleur had discovered, amazing with Runes and was also teaching classes already). It was probably the last sunny day they would get before the weather worsened again so they had all agreed to move outside for some fresh air.
All the flyers in the group – Hadrian and Cedric on one team, Viktor and Ronald on the other – had taken to the air for a quick game of makeshift Quidditch with only a transfigured Quaffle between them, but one didn't need to be a Quidditch fan to see that all four were experts on a broom.
Fleur had been highly amused at Gabrielle's enthusiastic cheers for Hadrian's team – really just Hadrian in particular – and her sister was now visibly exhilarated at being taken up for a flight despite the chilly weather.
Fleur blinked and glanced to her right. Viktor and Ronald were playing a game of chess – the latter had already trounced the former three times but the Bulgarian didn't seem to want to give up – but Neville, previously watching the game, was now looking past her shoulder with a slight frown.
"Are those your friends? They're looking over this way."
Friends? The only friends she had were all right here.
Fleur craned her head around, a look of disdain already plastered on her face by the time she caught sight of the five girls gathered several dozen feet away, all gesturing at her and whispering amongst themselves.
"No, zey are not friends," Fleur hissed contemptuously. Those five were her age – they'd entered Beauxbatons in the same year – but they had never even been civil acquaintances. They had tried making her life miserable ever since they'd been children, without much success. If there was one thing Fleur excelled at, it was taking any slurs directed at her and returning them tenfold.
They clearly had nothing nice to say now either, sneering at her as one before vacating the area, noses in the air as they trooped back towards the carriages in the distance.
Fleur mentally swore at them – it wasn't very refined to swear out loud – and turned back again. She felt her mood darken just thinking about them.
She released a startled yelp when something cold dropped on her head, and her eyes snapped upwards as snow slithered off her hair in clumps.
Gabrielle met her gaze, uncontrollable giggles muffled behind her hands as Hadrian smiled impishly down at her, green eyes blinking innocently back.
"Whoops," He offered, grinning almost madly as he swooped languidly in a tight circle above her. "Gabrielle meant to drop the snow beside you. Her aim was a bit off."
That only set Fleur's sister off even harder, her giggles blossoming into musical laughter as she waved cheekily down at Fleur. "Je suis désolé, Fleur!"
An unbidden smile tugged at Fleur's lips, the brief encounter with her schoolmates already forgotten as she shook the remaining snow from her hair before clambering to her feet and scooping some of the white powder up, packing it into a ball.
"You zink zis is funny, Gabrielle?" Fleur enquired as sternly as she could. "Attacking your older sister like so; I shall 'ave my revenge!"
She launched her snowball up, and while she hadn't expected it to hit, and it didn't what with Hadrian dodging the projectile easily, but she hadn't imagined it would curve back down to earth and smack right into Cedric's face.
Fleur clapped a hand to her mouth, torn between instinctive laughter and horror.
Cedric, who had been flipping through the Christmas edition of an owl-order catalogue, reeled back in shock, spluttering indignantly as he wiped the slush from his face.
"What the-!" The champion glanced from Fleur to Gabrielle and Hadrian in the air to everyone else trying to stifle their laughter, and then clapped his reading material shut with deliberate motions. A wicked smirk spread across his face. "Miss Delacour, I believe you've just started a war."
In the next second, Fleur had to dive out of the way as Cedric pelted a snowball at her, only for it to hit Hermione instead, the brunette shrieking in surprise when the snow unfortunately slid down her collar, and then it was all-out war as everyone abandoned their activities and joined in.
Fleur found herself laughing helplessly as she swerved around the flying projectiles, ankle-deep in snow and launching her own as the air filled with shouts and mirth. Lines were drawn – Fleur, Gabrielle, Hadrian, Orion (the stoic werewolf had to have a conjured bucketful of snow dumped on him before his eye had twitched and he had promptly leapt after a hysterically cackling Cedric), and Viktor on one side with everyone else on the other – and by the time the impromptu battle had ended, Fleur was gasping for breath, shivering from head to toe, and cheeks, ears, and nose freezing cold, but she couldn't remember the last time she had had so much fun.
"Ugh, I'm soaked to the bone," Ronald grumbled, grimacing as he peeled off the soggy scarf around his neck. "Hey Nev, do you think Dobby would be willing to bring us some hot chocolate?"
Fleur glanced up briefly from struggling with her wet coat. From what she understood, Hermione had a problem with house-elves as 'slaves', thought apparently, it had gotten better from before. Fleur's own household had two house-elves but they were both well-treated.
"How about we all go get a change of clothes and then meet up outside the kitchens?" Hadrian suggested, absently waving his wand over Gabrielle and banishing most of the melted snow seeping through her clothes.
Fleur hid a smile at the sheer adoration shining on her sister's face. Oh dear; if that wasn't the start of a crush, she didn't know what was.
"Let's do that," Neville was agreeing. "Outside the kitchens in, say, half an hour? Fleur, Gabrielle, will you be okay finding your way down there again?"
"Oui, we should be alright," Fleur nodded, already tracing the path in her mind though she did wish that the Hogwarts corridors didn't all look the same and that the staircases would stop moving.
"I vill accompany you," Viktor volunteered. "Shall ve meet up on the castle's front steps?"
Fleur readily consented, and she and Gabrielle both waved a temporary farewell before setting off for the Beauxbatons carriages.
"Zat was fun, Fleur!" Gabrielle babbled excitedly, her English already better after two weeks of listening to mostly English. "I weesh I could go to... l'école here!"
"Oh?" Fleur quirked a teasing smile at her sister. "I don't think you want zat for ze education 'ere zough. More for... 'Adrian per'aps?"
Pink bloomed on Gabrielle's cheeks, and Fleur laughed outright when she pouted. "Fleur! You can't tell 'im!"
Fleur had the feeling that Hadrian already knew but she nodded anyway, swallowing her amusement. "Very well; I will not tell."
"Promise?" Gabrielle held up her pinky.
Fleur chuckled and linked her own pinky with her sister's. "Oui, I promise."
They reached the carriages, and Fleur's mirth faded when their Headmistress stepped outside, a shawl wrapped over her robes.
Gabrielle squeaked and hastily straightened beside Fleur as they both dipped their heads respectfully.
"Bonjour, Madame Maxime," Fleur greeted as the woman surveyed them in a puzzlingly contemplative manner.
The Headmistress nodded cordially in return before a small smile graced her features. "Do get changed, Fleur, Gabrielle. You do not want to catch a cold right before ze 'olidays."
And with that said, Maxime swept off towards the castle, leaving Fleur and Gabrielle blinking after her.
"I theenk she saw us, Fleur," Gabrielle discerned timidly.
Fleur slipped an arm around her sister's shoulders and ushered her inside. "She does not seem to mind so it is alright. Now go take a shower; you don't want to be late, do you?"
Fleur certainly didn't, and neither did Gabrielle if her sister scampering off to their shared quarters was as fast as possible was anything to go by.
"Hey, Loony, where are your little friends?"
Luna almost jumped, but she quickly turned around instead, her hand tightening around the strap of her bag. She had been on her way up to the Room of Requirement to meet up with everyone, but as luck would have it, some of her old bullies had managed to catch her just when one of the corridors she was walking through was empty.
It was Cho and Marietta again. Their hair had returned to normal, which had probably also boosted their confidence.
"Please leave me alone," Luna told them, stomping down on the waver that threatened to creep into her voice.
"And why should we?" Cho sneered, tossing her hair. "It's your fault people have been laughing at us."
Luna wasn't quite sure why that would be enough for them to resume their bullying.
"You're not very smart," She told them before she could censure her words. "Hadrian warned you not to bully me."
If anything, that just made both girls angrier.
"That little bastard dared to threaten us," Marietta shrilled. "He thinks he can scare us away?"
"Not a chance," Cho agreed confidently and took a step forward.
Get your wand out! Luna shouted at herself and quickly drew her wand. She had had enough of being picked on all the time without doing anything.
Cho and Marietta laughed, both reaching for their wands too.
"What are you going to do, Loony?" Cho taunted. "Nobody here to protect you now. You seemed to think the prank on us was funny, so let's see how you like... oh, let's say choking on feathers, shall we?"
Luna was just quick enough to raise a shield to deflect the spell that Cho shot at her, and then scrambled out of the way of the one Marietta fired at her, but the second spell from Cho hit her on the shoulder, and suddenly, Luna couldn't breath as she began coughing and sputtering, white feathers clogging her throat and falling from her mouth.
"What do you zink you are doing?!" An accented voice, harsh with fury, reached Luna's ears, and then gentle hands were holding her by the shoulders before the feathers suddenly disappeared and she found that she could breathe again.
Gulping for air, Luna looked up dazedly and found Fleur crouched in front of her with Gabrielle hovering anxiously at her side. Her gaze slid over to where Cho and Marietta were and found Cedric practically towering over them, red-faced with anger.
"-not what it looks like, Cedric!" Cho was denying frantically. "She attacked us-"
"Luna wouldn't do something like that!" Cedric barked, making both fifth-year Ravenclaws flinch. "Clear off, and don't bother her again, or you'll have me to answer to!"
When Cho made to appeal to the Hufflepuff once more, Cedric's glare sharpened. "Now, Cho."
Defeated, the two girls scurried away, and Luna suddenly found another champion hovering in front of her, a worried frown etched in his brow.
"Are you alright, Luna?" Fleur enquired, a flick of her wand banishing the feathers littering the ground.
Luna nodded dumbly, letting the Veela help her off the floor. "H- How did you know I was here?"
"We didn't," Cedric looked apologetic. "Fleur and Gabrielle were going to join us today, and I just had Herbology, so Hadrian asked me to accompany them just in case they got lost in the castle. We were on our way up when we heard the commotion."
His eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry for Cho. If I had known-"
Luna hastily shook her head. "She still would've done something. Hadrian already talked to her and her friends, and she and Marietta still tried to pick on me today."
Something calculating entered Cedric's expression. "Hadrian talked to her? No wonder he makes a face whenever I talk about Cho. Well, I think it's only fair if I tell him about today as well."
And Hadrian would – pardon her language – tear Cho a new one, Luna realized, and couldn't bring herself to feel sorry.
"But you are alright?" Fleur interrupted her thoughts. "Would you like to see your school healer?"
Luna shook her head again. "I'm fine, thank you."
Fleur smiled at her, startlingly kind on the face of someone Luna had only seen act cold and haughty towards even her own schoolmates.
"Let's go join the others," Cedric suggested, ushering them towards a nearby staircase.
Luna felt herself relax as they continued up to the seventh floor, and she couldn't help smiling when Fleur's arm remained securely wrapped around her shoulders as Gabrielle chattered away in a mix of English and French.
It was nice to know that she had people to depend on now, and that the others didn't seem to be friends with her just because she was Hadrian's friend as well.
When they reached the Room of Requirement and Cedric stormed inside with the news, Luna was promptly fussed over some more by Neville and Hadrian, the former being knowledgeable in basic healing spells while the latter was pulled over by Cedric into a corner.
Luna wasn't all that surprised when, on the very next day at breakfast, Cho and Marietta both sprouted chicken wings, a wattle, and a comb. The screams were ear-piercing and mixed with squawks, and Luna glanced to the side just in time to see the fist-bump that Hadrian and Cedric exchanged.
"Who are you asking to the Yule Ball?"
Hadrian only half-listened to the conversation around him as he marked the homework that his fourth-year Runes class had turned in last week. Hermione had been looking jittery ever since Hadrian had taken the stack of essays out but she was fair enough not to peek.
"I wish I didn't have to go," Neville was saying glumly. "Has... Has anyone here asked anybody yet?"
There were vague murmurs in the negative all around, though judging by the speculative glances, most of them would probably pair up with each other just to solve the hassle of finding a date with someone outside their group.
Hadrian returned to his work, tuning them out for the most part once more. To be honest, Christmas wasn't all that enjoyable for him anymore either.
Back in his old world, Voldemort had always seemed to enjoy taking the more significant dates and doling out death and destruction during those times. Halloween, New Year's, Easter, end of the school year (when there had still been a school), Harry's birthday; Christmas was no different.
Teddy had died on Christmas Eve, along with Andy.
He shook the memories away. Now was not the time.
"Hadrian, what about you?"
Hadrian dragged himself away from his trip down memory lane and glanced up at Cedric. "What about me what? Sorry, I didn't hear you."
Probably putting it down to Hadrian concentrating on his marking, Cedric repeated with a teasing glint in his eyes, "Who are you taking to the Yule Ball?"
"I'm not going, actually," Hadrian told them, scratching down an E on the last essay – Hermione's – before capping his pen.
"Wait, what?" Cedric wasn't the only one who did a double-take. "Why not?"
Hadrian shrugged, busying himself with tidying up the papers. "Well, one, I don't like balls or other formal parties."
True enough; he had attended one Ministry function after the war only because Kingsley had begged (the man had nearly gotten down on his knees because the public had literally been knocking down the Ministry's doors and crying for a glimpse of their Saviour so Hadrian had agreed just to save both of them the embarrassment and strife), and even that had been one too many. All those people fawning over him for surviving a war in which two-thirds of the British population hadn't had made him want to throw up. He wasn't all that popular here, but his experiences with this sort of thing had soured him to the idea of formal galas in general. It wasn't as if his first Yule Ball had been a smashing success either.
"Two, I barely know how to dance," Hadrian continued. "I'd rather not purposefully embarrass myself or the girl I dance with if I miss a step."
He wouldn't have known how to dance at all the first time around if Hermione hadn't given him a few pointers, and Parvati had been more than a little fed-up with him.
"And three," He turned to face them fully as he tucked the last of his essays away. "It's my Christmas; I'd like to do what I want with it, and that doesn't include standing in dress robes at a ball that I have less than zero interest in. Truth be told, I don't even have dress robes, and yes, I know I can transfigure some but I'm not going to."
Cedric closed his mouth again, having been in the process of suggesting exactly that.
"But what are you going to do then?" Ron blurted out, looking confused. "Almost everybody fourth-year and up are going to be there. If they're not, then they'll have gone home along with the younger students who aren't invited since there won't be the usual Christmas banquet that they can attend."
Hadrian arched an eyebrow. "I'm leaving too, of course."
He'd thought about it, and he'd figured that leaving the dilemma of where exactly he was going to live come summer for later wasn't a very logical option, so he had decided to use the winter holidays to take the Hogwarts Express back to London and see where to go from there. Fate had said that his cover story was that his parents had been killed in a raid, which Hadrian guessed would mean that their house had been destroyed as well (he hadn't found any house keys in his trunk, and Death Eaters were hardly going to leave the house perfectly intact when they came knocking).
He had a bank vault though, so Hadrian could spend the holidays house-hunting, and he'd be all set when summer came about.
"But why?" Ron still looked mystified. "It's the Yule Ball! This is your only chance to attend it! You can't be missing your parents that much- ouch!"
Hadrian was torn between amused and appreciative when Neville smashed an elbow into Ron's ribs to shut him up. The former suddenly looked a bit anxious as he glanced at Hadrian.
"That was about as subtle as a train wreck, Nev," Hadrian said mildly.
Neville reddened. "Sorry. It was kind of a reflex."
Ron stared between them, nursing his side. "What did I say?"
Oh great. Even if Neville hadn't attempted to stop Ron, Hadrian still would've had to explain that no, it wasn't because he missed his parents. Well, he did miss his parents, had missed them all his life, but that wasn't the reason right now.
Hadrian hadn't really planned on telling them about his dead family. He hadn't planned on not telling them either; it wasn't as if it was a big secret or anything so he simply hadn't thought about it. He'd already told Neville, and the four Heads of House and the Headmaster knew. He was actually surprised that Severus hadn't mentioned it to Lily, who probably would've told James, Sirius, and Remus, who would've passed it on to Orion.
However, judging by the intent look that the werewolf was directing at him at the moment, Orion had no idea.
"Hm, how should I put this...?" Hadrian ran an idle hand through his hair – no longer orange, though that had been an entertaining few days – before summoning a placid smile, hoping to soften the blow. Ron really did need to learn some tact, for his own sake if not for everyone else's.
"Neville was just looking out for me," Hadrian explained lightly. "I don't have parents anymore; they were killed in a raid. I'm an orphan."
Ron's mouth dropped open. Hermione clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide with horror. Cedric turned white, and Viktor went unnaturally still. Luna's typical dreamy expression had coloured with sorrow. Fleur and Gabrielle both looked dismayed, the latter seeming on the brink of tears (Hadrian was touched, though maybe he shouldn't have said something like that with an eight-year-old in the room, especially when they had all taken to teaching that eight-year-old more English).
And Orion's expression darkened, his emotions fluctuating so wildly for a moment that Hadrian had no problem picking up what the werewolf was thinking.
Ah. It seemed that Orion had connected Hadrian's parents' murderers to Hadrian's experience with the Imperius.
Well, actually, the werewolf wasn't that far off the mark, come to think of it. Hadrian's parents' murderer had placed him under the Imperius, and several dozen times at that.
"You idiot!" Hermione suddenly rounded on Ron, whacking him upside the head with her schoolbag. "That's why he's not homeschooled anymore! You have absolutely no tact! Apologize!"
"It's alright, Hermione, really," Hadrian quirked another smile, rueful and tinged with enough humour to make it believable. "How was he supposed to know? Ron's not a mind-reader. Don't worry about it; it was bound to come out sooner or later. I mean it's not like I meant to keep it a secret or anything. Neville found out a while ago."
"Blimey Hadrian, I am sorry," Ron apologized anyway, looking shamefaced. "I'm always sticking my foot in my mouth."
Hadrian waved a hand. "Like I said, it's fine; you didn't know. It was a valid question."
"Wait," Cedric croaked out, a distressed frown marring his features. "You- A while back, you mentioned a brother. The one who taught you Runes."
Hadrian managed a lopsided smile at that. He hadn't expected Cedric to remember. "He's not blood-related-" Actually, he might be; being a Pureblood, Bill's probably my something-cousin-several-times-removed. "-but he's dead too."
A painful hush settled over them as Cedric cringed, looking like he wanted to slap himself for bringing that up. Luckily, Hermione, never one to stand long periods of tension-filled quiet for long, ventured tentatively, "Will you be spending holidays with extended family then? Are they Muggles? Would they accept owl post? We could all owl you-"
"Hermione, breathe," Hadrian cut her off, and this time, the smile came more easily as the Muggleborn took a deep breath. "Owls... might not be a good idea for at least a few days. I'll be out a lot..."
He trailed off hesitantly, and then figured he might as well tell them part of the truth to satisfy their curiosity. "I don't have any extended family, Hermione. I'm an emancipated minor now."
No need to tell them that he didn't have a house to live in. They were taking the no family bit bad enough.
"You'll be alone for Christmas then," Hermione frowned worriedly. "Wouldn't it be better just to stay at the castle?"
Hadrian raised an eyebrow again. "Don't want to go to the dance, remember?"
"But it could be fun if all of us went!" Hermione protested. "Dates aren't even required except for the champions so you don't have to find a girl to take to the Ball if you don't want to."
"Are you questioning my ability to find a date?" Hadrian snickered when Hermione stammered a denial. "I'm joking, Hermione. I'm sure some poor girl will take pity on me were I to ask but-"
"Are you blind?" Cedric cut in dubiously. "Have you seen yourself in a mirror, Evans? Trust me, you're not too shabby in the looks department, and I've heard several girls in our Common Room arguing over who would ask you to the Ball."
Hadrian pulled up, not quite able to hide his surprise for a moment. Girls wanting to go out with him when he had been the Boy-Who-Lived was one thing; girls wanting to go out with him when he was just another student was... unexpected. "Oh. Well. They'll be disappointed; I like to at least be on speaking terms with the girl if I do take them to the Ball.
"Which won't happen anyway," He added when Hermione opened her mouth again. "Come on, guys, you'll have a good time whether or not I'm there. Who do you want to go with anyway?"
Hermione's mouth clicked shut and she blushed. "I- I haven't thought about it."
One corner of Hadrian's mouth tipped up but he decided to cut her some slack and turned to the others instead. "What about you, Neville? Ron? Anyone in mind?"
Both boys cleared their throats, Ron mumbling with evident embarrassment, "Gryffindor's backup Seeker – Lia Grey; she's already asked me and I kinda agreed."
Hadrian was very careful not to let his astonishment show. He supposed it wasn't all that astounding since, in this world, Ron was one of the Gryffindor Quidditch team's captains. Although...
"Who's Lia Grey?" Hadrian wracked his mind and came up blank.
"Oh, you probably wouldn't know her," Ron began to relax again when no one jumped in with mocking laughter. "Rosalia Grey, but she doesn't like using her full name so everybody just calls her Lia. She's in our year, and a pretty decent Seeker. She can actually keep up with Potter on a good day, but she fumbles sometimes which is the only reason Potter has the regular spot. We obviously don't hang out on a daily basis but she's pretty tight-knit with the team even though she's only backup. Her older sister, Emily, works with dragons on the same reserve that my brother Charlie works in. You'll probably meet both of them, actually. I hear anyone who had a hand in the Tournament so far is invited to the Ball."
Hadrian nodded. He couldn't recall a girl by that name in his year, or any of Charlie's dragonologist friends, so it must be one of those parallel dimension differences.
On the other hand, Neville glanced nervously around the room, gaze lingering on Luna. Hadrian wasn't the only one who noticed.
Luna, having been in the process of braiding Gabrielle's hair to cheer the little girl up after Hadrian's revelation, peered closely at Neville for a long moment before smiling brightly at him. "Would you like to go to the Ball together, Neville?"
Neville flushed bright red but the Gryffindor quickly fumbled for a reply. "Y- Yeah, if you don't have any other plans, that'd be- I'd like that."
Luna nodded somberly. "Good, because I'd like that too. I don't have a dress though so I guess I'll have to transfigure some of my normal robes."
"Zat is out of ze question," Fleur looked positively indignant, though a delighted look had surfaced on her features. "I 'ave brought several dresses with me. You shall pick one, and I shall resize it for you. A girl must always go to a ball in style."
Hadrian hid a smile at the wide-eyed look Luna took on. The Ravenclaw still wasn't all that used to having people to depend on, especially when they freely offered their assistance.
"What about you, Cedric?" Hadrian asked next as Luna ducked her head, not quite able to conceal the slightly wobbly smile on her face. "I know for a fact that there are girls getting into catfights over you."
Cedric cringed. "Don't remind me; that's just creepy. I don't know yet; I was originally going to ask- well, she's not an option anymore. I'll have to think of someone else."
Hadrian only nodded as a few of the others exchanged confused glances. Cedric had been furious when he had told Hadrian about Luna's encounter with Cho and Marietta. He had known about the bullying but he hadn't known that Cho and her friends were a part of it. The sixth-year had been angry at Cho for actually being mean enough to pick on a girl two years younger, angry at himself for even considering asking someone like that to be his girlfriend, and even a little angry at Hadrian for keeping it from him.
Hadrian had apologized of course. He hadn't really thought about it like that, especially since Cedric had taken Cho to the Ball the first time around.
"Viktor?" Cedric had turned to the Bulgarian Seeker. "Who are you taking?"
Hadrian propped his head in one hand as Viktor cocked his head in consideration before rising to his feet and striding right over to a blushing Hermione.
Ron seemed to be choking on air.
"Vill you do me the honour of accompanying me to the Yule Ball, Hermione?" Viktor enquired formally.
Hermione looked torn between blushing to death and fainting. "I- Sure, Viktor. Sounds like fun. Um, are you sure though? About- About going with me, I mean."
"Of course," Viktor offered one of his rare smiles that managed to look good-naturedly arrogant. "I vould not haff asked if I am not sure."
"Hey, wait a minute-" Ron tried to interrupt.
The keyword being 'tried'.
"Oh don't you dare, Ronald Weasley!" Hermione snapped, hands on her hips as she rounded on the redhead. "Might I remind you that you know Viktor? Would you rather I go out with someone you don't know? Pull the overprotective card and I'll punch you!"
Very wisely, Ron shut up, though he couldn't seem to help tacking on with a sullen glower in Viktor's direction, "You better not do anything she doesn't want."
Viktor inclined his head, completely serious, and Hadrian watched with no little amusement as the blush on Hermione's face darkened again.
"Well I'm fine with it," Neville placated when the brunette tossed an assessing glance his way to distract herself from the exchange. "Orion? Any girls flocking around you?"
Orion's mouth twisted into a sardonic mockery of a smile. "You really have to ask, Longbottom?"
Neville winced. "Ah, sorry."
The werewolf snorted derisively but there was less bitterness in the sound than there might've been even just a few weeks ago. "If Hadrian's not going, I'm not going either. I won't have a date, and I have better things to do than watch my dad spike all the drinks or something."
Hadrian smothered a snicker. Yeah, that sounded like something Sirius would do.
"Why don't you two just go together?" Luna suggested whimsically, frowning in concentration as she tied the end of Gabrielle's braid.
Hadrian raised his eyebrows. Orion stiffened in surprise, eyes darting to Luna and then to Hadrian.
"As friends," Luna tagged on serenely.
"I'm leaving Hogwarts for the holidays, Luna, remember?" Hadrian reminded her offhandedly. And not that he had anything against Orion – quite the opposite – but he'd never thought about dating a guy before.
Actually, come to think of it, what with a full-blown war breaking out when he'd been fifteen, dating in general hadn't been very high on his list of things to do. 'Survive to see his twentieth birthday' ranked higher than getting a girlfriend (or a boyfriend for that matter). The little crush he had had on Cho had been gone as quickly as it had come, thank Merlin, and it was something he practiced at forgetting.
And by the time the war had been over, Hadrian had become somewhat of a recluse, especially with complete strangers throwing themselves at him every time he did something as simple as shopping; finding a lover had been the last thing on his mind.
"What about you, Fleur?" Hadrian glanced curiously at the Veela, ignoring the slightly awkward atmosphere that had descended on the room.
Fleur wrinkled her nose a little. "I will, of course, 'ave no trouble acquiring a date, but I would prefer going with someone I know."
She paused and looked first at Hadrian and then at Orion. "Are neizzer of you going? I would not mind going to ze Ball with eizzer of you."
Orion shrugged, already retreating behind his aloof mask.
"Why don't you and Cedric go together?" Hadrian proposed, directing attention away from the werewolf.
Cedric and Fleur both glanced at each other.
"Can champions go together?" Cedric scratched his head. "McGonagall told each of us to find a date."
"She didn't say you couldn't," Hadrian pointed out just as the bell signalling the end of the lunch hour rang. He stood up and slung his bag over one shoulder. "Just saying. I don't think there's a rule against it."
Five minutes later, as Hadrian obligingly slowed his pace to allow Hermione to scurry on ahead to Runes before he got there. The brunette seemed to be of the mind that Hadrian would dock points if he got to the classroom before her.
"You're really not going?" Hadrian enquired idly.
Walking beside him, Orion scoffed loudly. "And who exactly would I go with? No one will be going alone, even if you can."
"Hm, fair enough," Hadrian acquiesced. "Though it's a bit unfair for you. You can't go home for the holidays anyway since your parents are chaperoning, aren't they?"
Orion nodded an affirmative. "But I'll be able to go home afterwards. Any parents who are doubling as chaperones are allowed to floo home for the holidays, so I'll be going with them."
The werewolf paused, and then continued with forced nonchalance. "You could stay until after the Ball, and then you can come to my place for the holidays. It'd be better than going back to an empty house, right?"
He stopped again, as if uncertain as to whether or not Hadrian might take offense to his words.
Hadrian just sighed, a faint smile flickering across his face. "Being alone's not all bad, Orion."
"Yes it is," Orion muttered under his breath.
Hadrian glanced sidelong at him. Orion added defensively, "The others will be after your case as well now that we know you don't... have family."
Hadrian heaved a sigh and halted, Orion pulling to a stop two steps in front of him. He studied the Gryffindor for a long moment before weighing his options.
Orion wasn't kidding; Hadrian knew that the others, Cedric and Hermione being at the top of the list, would most likely try to convince him to stay, and that was just... troublesome.
But he didn't like dances, and he did have to find a house sooner or later. Would he even have time if he waited until summer? He wasn't in the habit of leaving over Easter, especially with OWLs coming up only a little over a month after that and he would be busy wrapping up the course and beginning preparations for OWL review.
He didn't like the idea of Orion holing up in the Gryffindor tower or something either. It would upset Sirius and Remus, not to mention that Harry might try something stupid and dangerous, taking the opportunity to hex Orion just because Hadrian wasn't around and everyone else was at the Yule Ball.
It wouldn't be too bad if he left house-hunting for the summer. He could always rent a room at the Leaky Cauldron for a week or two, see what the goblins could dig up in terms of properties, and go from there. The whole process really shouldn't take all that long.
And with all his friends at the Yule Ball, the whole thing couldn't be that dreadful, could it?
"I'm not taking a date," Hadrian said at last, making his way down the corridor again. "And you should ask your parents before you invite me over."
Orion smiled, just an edge of triumph tingeing his expression.
"He's an orphan?"
"You didn't know?"
"Of course not! The Headmaster and the four Heads of House handle family background information."
Remus sighed as Sirius relayed what Orion had told them to Lily and James. Not everything though; he didn't reveal their son's theories of Hadrian being put under the Imperius.
In a way, Remus found it hard to believe that someone like Hadrian, who smiled perhaps not frequently but enough to portray a relatively happy young teenager, and was always surrounded by friends, could have suffered a tragedy like that. A dead mother, a dead father, even a dead brother figure, and most likely tortured by Death Eaters, yet Hadrian had never shown any of that trauma.
Well that wasn't quite true. There had been that week in October when Hadrian had looked truly awful, and hadn't the boy mentioned something about not liking being surrounded when Remus had first met him? That definitely wasn't normal teenager behaviour.
Of course, Remus and Sirius had both readily agreed when Orion had asked them if they could take Hadrian home with them for the holidays after the Ball. Hadrian was uncommonly mature for his age, as well as a legal emancipated minor, but if the boy (who had cracked Orion's defences and given him friends and steadfast loyalty) wanted a place to stay, well, they'd clear out one of their house's guest bedrooms and label it Hadrian's Room if that was what it took. Sirius had been all for adopting the kid but Remus had voiced his concerns over seemingly taking Hadrian's natural independence away from him. The Hufflepuff probably wouldn't like that.
Remus sighed again and took a gulp of the coffee he had made a few minutes ago, casting a measured eye over Lily and James, the former looking pale and the latter taking on that weary expression that always surfaced when Death Eaters came into the picture.
Merlin knew Remus would give his life for them, but that didn't mean he didn't nurse a small grudge towards them for the way they had raised Harry. He tried to ignore that part of him most of the time, but it still reared its head on occasion, especially when Orion came home at the end of each year, always more withdrawn and emotionally closed off than the last time Remus had seen him. It made Sirius rant and rave, storming up and down the length of their house. It just broke Remus' heart.
So Hadrian Evans had been a godsend, but he'd only come to Hogwarts because he no longer had a family to home-school him. Remus hated the tiny, tiny spark of gratitude in his heart that was thankful for it – not necessarily Hadrian losing his family, but the fact that it had given the boy a reason to come to Hogwarts and meet Orion.
Remus sighed a third time as he drained the last of his coffee. He, along with Sirius and Orion, would do their best to make Hadrian feel welcome in their home. The boy had made Orion happier in the last few months than any of them had been able to in the past decade. Treating Hadrian like family was the very least they could do.
"You can owl me over the holidays if you have any questions or if you want me to check over your essay thesis," Hadrian said as the class came to a close and his fifth-year students began packing up. "After the break, we'll be stepping up the practical side of this course so make sure you practice activating different Runes, and only on the scrolls I gave you. Don't go setting your house on fire or your parents will be after my head."
A wave of laughter washed over the room as Hadrian grinned and waved a hand. "Alright then, see you after the break, or before that if you're going to the Ball. Have a happy Christmas!"
"See you later, Evans" and "Merry Christmas, Professor" were sent back as the students piled out the door.
Hadrian huffed a little at the epithet. Most of his students were willing to call him by his surname but a few of the cheekier ones had taken to calling him 'Professor', tone playful but not disrespectful so Hadrian had let it be.
His good humour faded as his gaze lingered on the empty seat on the far left. Today was the third time that Harry had skipped class. Then again, Hadrian had said that the teen could leave if he didn't want to learn from Hadrian.
Ah well, a problem for another day. For now, he just wanted to wrap up the rest of the week and then concentrate on enjoying the next few weeks of free time.
Hadrian had no idea why he had agreed to one last tutoring session just for his original students, especially seeing as the holidays had already started, the school was half-empty, guests had begun arriving (unlike Hadrian's first Yule Ball, families were also invited, oddly enough), and teachers and Aurors alike were running around preparing for the Ball, but in an astounding turn of events, Hermione and Draco had agreed with each other on an extra session so Hadrian had complied with an exasperated shake of his head.
"-when conjoined, so if you had an Ihwaz rune and a Kauno rune, what would you make with them and how would you draw it out?"
The blond twirled his quill between two fingers in thought. "A shield. Made of fire. Combining Ihwaz and Kauno would be easy because they each have a fire element in its core, not to mention that they have opposite polarities so they would attract. The structure would be..."
The Slytherin trailed off, grabbed a scrap piece of parchment, and meticulously drafted out the paired rune.
"Like that," Draco said when he finished, and Hadrian peered down at it, needing only a cursory scan to recognize the fact that the entire thing couldn't be more perfect if he had drawn it himself.
"Excellent," Hadrian stifled a chuckle when Draco's Pureblood facade cracked and an honest-to-god smile glowed on his face. "No mistakes. You learn fast, Draco. At this rate, you'll be done even the new fourth-year material by the end of March."
Draco looked very close to cackling, except that it would probably be considered unseemly. Instead, he settled for tossing a superior look over at Hermione, who scowled back fiercely.
Like that's any better, Hadrian mentally rolled his eyes at their utter childishness. Still, it was better than the two of them being at each other's throats so he left them to it. This was a far cry from the barbed insults and traded sneers at the beginning of these lessons.
"Blaise, Theo, how are you doing?" Hadrian moved over to the other Slytherins.
"We don't understand this bit," Theo pointed at one component of the tesseract rune that the two fourth-years had started on. "We've traced what we've got so far with magic but it won't go any further."
Honestly, even by Hadrian's standards, a tesseract rune in fourth-year was on the ambitious side, but then again, they were Slytherins, enough said.
"You made a mistake here," Hadrian tapped at one segment of the incomplete rune. "You've made it more complicated than it needs to be. Tying fundamental runes with matching elements together is all well and good but tying too many will overload a layered rune. The layers must be equal in power or it'll explode when you activate the whole thing. You've run into some trouble here because you've knotted far too many earth runes. Try taking out Berkanan and Ehwaz, and then rework the base from there."
Both Theo and Blaise nodded, brows scrunched together as the former reached for fresh parchment and the latter doggedly copied the correct parts of the tesseract rune onto it.
If nothing else, they got points for sheer tenacity.
Hadrian straightened and scanned his other students. Orion was scribbling away, looking halfway done already with the essay Hadrian had assigned for the holidays only a week ago. Cedric was also writing, though he was working on one of the worksheets Hadrian had given him. The prefect had not been pleased when he had realized that, with the recent syllabus change, most fifth-years would be at least a third of the way into the sixth-year curriculum by the end of the year. Hadrian didn't teach the sixth-year class but that hadn't stopped Cedric from asking (pestering) him into teaching some of the new sixth-year material.
Hadrian paused that thought, his intuition kicking in and setting alarm bells off in his head. He had to fight down the instinct to reach for his wand and the blade tucked in his clothes even as his head twisted towards the open doorway of the library. Being the holidays, nobody in their right mind would be here; even Madame Pince was out doing something for the Ball, so Hadrian hadn't bothered setting up his usual wards.
And call him paranoid but the instincts he had literally honed on the battlefield wouldn't just go away after six years of fighting.
He cocked his head, picking up the faint shuffling footsteps of someone shifting guiltily just out of sight. His shoulders relaxed.
"I had no idea you liked Ancient Runes so much that you had to eavesdrop on my lessons, Ron," Hadrian called out cheerfully.
There was a moment's hush in which Hadrian's students all looked up with varying expressions of surprise, though Orion seemed to have already noticed if his disinterested half-glance was anything to go by.
And then Ron rounded into the library, sheepish and confused at the same time. "How'd you know it was me?"
Hadrian shrugged. "I recognized your footsteps. You shouldn't have moved."
"Recognized my-" Ron shook his head. "Nevermind; you're just weird, Hadrian. Anyway..."
Hadrian's smile faltered when a second set of footsteps sounded and a second redhead, long-haired and taller than Ron, appeared in the doorway.
"This is my oldest brother, Bill," Ron introduced obliviously. "I've told him about you in some of my letters, and since he was coming to the Yule Ball, I brought him down here to take a look at one of your tutoring sessions. I hope you don't mind."
Bill Weasley stepped forward, smiling amicably as he extended a hand towards Hadrian. "Hi, sorry for interrupting. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. Ron's told me quite a bit about you in his letters. I study Runes as well so I was curious when he mentioned your skill in the field."
Hadrian snapped out of his daze and shook the hand of his very own once-upon-a-time-and-dimension's Runes teacher.
Well, the universe did like its irony.