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C'est La Vie

Chapter Text

 

Harry Potter woke up with a scream stuck in his throat and his wand already in his hand.

It was, unfortunately, nothing new.

With a muffled groan, he fell back onto his bed, relaxing his grip on his wand and scrubbing a hand over his sweaty face. He didn't try to fall back into his usual half-doze again; that bloody battlefield was all he ever saw whenever he tried to get some shut-eye.

Sighing, he kicked off the tangle of blankets at his feet and got up, squinting against the bleak sunlight streaming through the window. He had forgotten to pull the curtains last night. Glancing outside, his mouth twisted in distaste and he reached out to pull shut the drapes anyway.

Damn reporters. They had been parked outside his house, as close to the wards as physically possible, ever since he had become the Man-Who-Conquered-the-Dark-Lord. Those hyphenated names were getting longer and less imaginative every time he turned around.

Even worse, the headlines on the various British papers were getting more and more ridiculous with each passing day. It had started with a crapload of praise and recognition and sycophantic worship. Harry had detested it all and had moved back into his godfather's house at the first opportunity, immediately after he had seen to the start of Hogwarts being rebuilt. Grimmauld Place was gloomy and dusty now that even Kreacher was dead and Harry couldn't be bothered to hire another house-elf or clean everything himself, but it also had some of the best wards in the country and nobody could put a foot onto the property without his say-so.

And then the media had started commenting on the things he bought when he had no choice but to make a trip to Diagon Alley for food and money. The crowds made him uneasy and the entourage of reporters following him had tried his patience more than once. But the people around him always brightened when they saw him out and about, war-weary eyes lighting up whenever Harry passed by, as if he was giving them hope just by being there. So, while nothing in the world would be able to drag him out of Grimmauld Place more than once every week or so, Harry did his best to smile and stop to chat when people approached him.

And in between his shopping trips, for lack of anything better to write about, the media had moved on to his wardrobe. So what if he wore Muggle clothing? Jeans, a shirt, and a practical coat were certainly easier to move around and hide weapons in than flapping robes with wide loose sleeves when you were trying to ward off Blasting Hexes, dodge Killing Curses, keep your allies safe, and kill as many enemies as possible all at the same time.

Stifling a yawn, Harry padded downstairs in nothing but his pyjama bottoms, his hair sticking up every which way. Pigwidgeon was already waiting for him in the kitchen, the only mail-carrier allowed past his wards. The ball of feathers had simply appeared one month after the war had ended when Harry had been exiting the newly-repaired Gringotts and hadn't left since, no matter how many times Harry tried to shoo it back to what remained of the Weasley family. Only Percy and Ginny were still alive though, and the former had submerged himself in the restructuring of the Ministry at Kingsley's side while the latter... well, anything that could've been started between them had long since faded and, last he had checked, Ginny had been applying for a position on a Quidditch team.

Picking up the bundle of letters Pig had brought in, Harry poured some water for the owl before taking a seat at the dinner table. The once-hyper bird had calmed down quite a bit and only hooted and zoomed once around Harry's head in thanks before settling down in front of his water dish.

The letters were of the usual sort. A distant we're-here-for-you-hope-you're-still-alive note from Ginny with a stiffly polite but genuinely concerned this-includes-me-too postscript from Percy at the end, a nagging but distracted get-out-of-your-house-it's-not-healthy-for-you missive from Hermione who, thankfully, had survived the war even if she had been in a coma for six months and had only woken up shortly before the final battle and, luckily, in no shape to take part. It hadn't been pretty when Harry had been tasked with breaking the news of Ron's death to her but she was finally moving on with her life again and Kingsley hadn't wasted any time in hiring her as his assistant and Head of Wizarding Britain Restoration. That department had been made up on the spot since the witch had refused the title of undersecretary. It reminded everyone too much of The Toad.

The third letter was from Kingsley himself, once again offering him the Head Auror position. The man just couldn't seem to leave Harry alone. The fact that Harry had led several armies into battle and had come out successful more often than not for five of the six years they had waged open war against Voldemort probably didn't help his case.

But Harry had no desire to fight anymore. To be honest, he had no desire to do much of anything anymore.

The fourth and final letter was placed in a gold-dusted creamy envelope with no address on it whatsoever. Only a select few could send him mail (or he'd be flooded with fan-mail) but Harry hadn't survived to see his twenty-second birthday by being careless.

He spent the next ten minutes casting every Detection Charm he could think of, as well as weaving several curse-breaking runes into the envelope that would make it burst into flames should anything dangerous be identified. The letter remained intact. Harry was just a tiny bit disappointed.

Suspicion still tingled at the back of his mind, and while his instincts and magic had hauled him out of trouble more times than he could count, Harry chose to ignore both for now and tore open the letter.

"Is this a joke?" He murmured, arching an eyebrow at the card he had pulled from the envelope. It depicted a joker perched on the railing of a bridge while holding a clock. The clock face showed both hands pointed at twelve, and judging by the night sky in the background, it was midnight.

With a scoff, he got to his feet again and tossed the card and envelope into the trash before tucking the other letters into the messy pile on the counter with their predecessors.

The joke hadn't been much of one.

 


 

"Okay, this is getting old fast."

The increasingly-familiar envelope was back on his dinner table, as it had been every single morning since the thing had arrived a week ago. It didn't matter whether Harry threw it away or tossed it outside or had Pigwidgeon fly off with it and drop it somewhere unknown – it always came back. He had even made a tick mark at the corner of the envelope just to see if it was the same letter. Imagine his surprise when said mark stared back clear as day against the parchment the very next morning.

"Either this is somehow more important than I think," He muttered crossly as he picked up the letter once more. "Or someone out there has no life and really wants me to kill them."

He eyed the smiling joker for a long moment before tossing it back onto the table. He had no time for this. Halloween was tomorrow and he had to stock up on the essentials – primarily, alcohol. There was just no way he was going to get through the anniversary of his parents' death, the anniversary of Neville's death, and the anniversary of the end of the war without an astronomical amount of firewhiskey.

Even the reporters had had the decency to clear off his lawn, no doubt heading home to spend the day getting ready for tomorrow. Some would make plans to visit the cemeteries, others would stay inside and have their own quiet celebrations, and still others would be like Harry, cooped up in a room with nothing but alcohol for company.

He knew for a fact that Hermione would be spending Halloween with Ginny and Percy at least, and they would visit the graves of their families and friends together. Harry preferred going by himself. He had buried many of them personally, including half the Weasley clan when Hermione had been in a coma, Ginny had been too busy crying, and Percy hadn't been mentally capable of doing it alone.

He would have to make a trip back to Godric's Hollow as well. He had had a tombstone made for Sirius even though there was no body, and Remus, Tonks, Andromeda and Ted, and little Teddy – the child of whose parents and grandparents he had promised he would protect but had ultimately failed in the end – were all buried there as well. Harry liked to think that they would appreciate being placed together.

Shrugging on his coat and stepping into his shoes, Harry paused to check his appearance in the hall mirror to make sure he didn't look too tired or too jaded before heading for the door. No need to scare whatever children he would undoubtedly come across today, and he'd have more than enough time to drink himself into a ghastly state over the next few days.

 


 

It soon turned out that the long few days Harry had buckled himself down for wouldn't be happening anytime soon, at least not in the way he had been expecting.

It was nearing midnight and the fire had died down to a few glowing logs of wood.

As he was prone to do when he had long periods of time to kill on his hands – which happened quite often now that the war had ended – Harry went over all the battles he had fought in, the ones he had won and the ones he had lost. Faces of his dead allies, his dead friends, his dead family, flashed through his mind in no particular order and the faces of the various witches and wizards who had killed them were never far behind.

He consoled the mix of rage and agony weighing heavily in his chest with the fact that he had tracked down and killed most of those Death Eaters if they hadn't been taken out on the battlefield, and the rest were cooling their heels in Azkaban.

Six years ago, he would never have thought himself capable of murder. Now, well, he still disliked killing but he couldn't help regretting not blowing Bellatrix's head off before she had gotten Sirius, and he most certainly did not regret cutting through the swathes of Death Eaters to protect his people.

Perhaps it was best Albus Dumbledore had died one year into the war. Voldemort would probably have taken over half of Europe by now if the old man was still leading, and he'd look at Harry with that patronizing twinkly-eyed expression while spouting about love and keeping Harry locked up in that thrice-damned Dursley household and preventing him from actually learning anything at all useful.

Harry snorted into his drink. The headmaster would be vastly disappointed with the way his precious golden boy puppet had turned out. Harry couldn't bring himself to care.

Five minutes to Halloween. The muffled howl of autumn wind swept by outside. Harry took another gulp of firewhiskey, neither enjoying nor disliking the scorching

Sometimes, he wondered what his life would have been like if he had simply packed a bag and left the country. Would Voldemort be ruling Britain at this very moment? Would the damn prophecy even matter if it wasn't fulfilled? After all, it had been a combined effort of him and his friends that had destroyed Voldemort's horcruxes. Without them, Harry would never have been able to off the Dark Lord. Looking back at it now, it didn't even really have to be him to mete out the final blow.

Three minutes to the thirty-first. He absently wondered how his surviving friends were doing.

In the end though, he wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he had run away. He had never been one to take the easy way out and leaving his friends behind to face a psychopathic madman with apocalyptic tendencies and delusions of greatness just didn't sit well with him.

One minute to twelve. Then he could really start getting drunk and no one – namely Hermione – could accuse him of giving in to depression since half the continent was doing the same thing.

But now that the war was over, maybe Harry really could leave. Just... head to wherever he wanted. He was not going to take up a post in the Ministry of Magic no matter what Kingsley tried to do, and Minerva wouldn't be knocking down his door with employment contracts for another year or so since Hogwarts was still being rebuilt though she had already subtly hinted that the DADA position would be waiting for him.

Other than that, Harry really had no actual direction in life anymore. Struggling against evil wizards and trying not to get killed was mostly what he had known since he was eleven years old. Throw in fifteen years – five of which were mostly spent in a deathtrap of a school that was, ironically enough, far better than being at 'home' – of dodging Vernon's meaty fists, doing backbreaking chores, and running from Dudley's bullying and he might as well extend the whole survival and problem with authority thing back to nearly the beginning of his life. Not exactly the best influence when attempting to choose an honest normal career path.

Twenty seconds to midnight. A few sparks popped in the fireplace, inordinately loud in the silence of the house.

Looking back, Harry could remember the exact moment that the fallacy of ever having a peaceful life had started leaving him. Frankly, it had been a long time coming but the minute Cedric Diggory's death and Voldemort's return had truly sunk in, Harry had known that peace was not – could not be – for him. Sirius' death the following year had only driven that point home.

Sometimes, still, he wished he had been a little smarter, grabbed Cedric and seized the bloody Triwizard Cup to take them back the second they had landed in that graveyard. He wished he had been a little faster and hexed Bellatrix to kingdom come before she had struck Sirius and pushed him into the Veil. He wished he had been just a little stronger and stopped the numerous casualties during the six-year-long war.

Sometimes, he wished he could go back and do better.

Five seconds to midnight. He was already three-quarters in to his fourth bottle of firewhiskey and was barely slightly buzzed. He wondered if he could get his hands on anything stronger.

However, other times, most of the time now, Harry just wished he could get a break. Leave everyone's expectations behind. Leave his own farce of a life behind. Leave Hermione's haunted eyes and Ginny and Percy's defeated postures and rows upon rows of hand-dug graves behind.

Start over.

Somewhere below him, the grandfather clock chimed, strident and reverberating as the sounds echoed throughout the house.

"That can be arranged."

Even partially inebriated, Harry was up and on his feet, wand in one hand, knife palmed in the other, and his magic at the ready in the blink of an eye, the bottle of alcohol on the floor and a wordless, wandless Shield Charm already hanging in the air around him.

The same seemingly disembodied female voice laughed, chime-like and amused. "Over here, little one."

Mentally twitching at the nickname, Harry swung to the left where the voice had come from and almost did a double-take when he found that blasted joker card floating in the air. Except for the fact that the clock said joker was holding looked like it had been flipped open, like an inside-out pocket-watch, and instead of the far wall staring back at him through the card, a swirl of gold light shone from the hole instead.

Figuring, like he had so many years ago when a house-elf had popped into his room, that 'What are you?' might be more than a little rude (he was a killer, no denying that, but that didn't mean he didn't know his manners), he settled on, "Who are you?" instead. With a faint hint of threat underlining it. He wasn't that polite.

"Stand down, young one," The voice was still very much amused. "I will not harm you."

"I'll be the judge of that," Harry retorted loftily and didn't ease his battle stance. Call him paranoid, but he'd rather be prepared than caught off-guard. "Now who are you?"

Another melodious laugh that sent a shiver down his spine. "You may refer to me as Fate. And no, this is not a joke."

Which had been exactly what Harry had been speculating, and he immediately narrowed his eyes. Granted, he'd never had mystical entities pop into his living room in the form of a card before, and a joker at that, but he had been Muggle-raised, unlike Ron, and wasn't taken in by facts and logic, unlike Hermione, so he had long accepted the fact that just about anything was possible in the Wizarding world.

"Get out of my head," He demanded instead, tucking his knife away but keeping his wand out. "And if you really are Fate, then I feel I should probably warn you that I've never been very partial to the whole preordained future in the first place. Whatever you're here for, I don't want any part in it."

"So very defensive," Fate mused placidly, ignoring his first request entirely. "Yet you fulfilled my prophecy with little protest."

Harry's jaw tightened before he put his wand away and dropped back into his armchair, fully intending to ignore the disembodied being. Unfortunately, the card only circled around to hover several feet in front of him instead.

"It had to be done either way," Harry snapped. "If not by me then someone else. The prophecy was fulfilled by a large number of us. It took all of us to destroy the horcruxes and hold back the Death Eaters at the same time. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to off the bloody bastard."

"Indeed," Fate agreed easily, making Harry frown in suspicion. "Nevertheless, my prophecy has brought you much grief over the span of your life. Thus, in exchange, I am willing to offer compensation."

Harry snorted derisively. "Compensation? That's hilarious. Since when did Fate herself come all the way down here to offer compensation for carrying out a prophecy?"

Fate ignored his skeptical rhetoric completely. "You wish to start over. It is within my power to give you a way to do so. To leave this place and its sorrows and live a peaceful life."

Harry heaved a sigh. "I'm someone who follows the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is too good to be true. So thanks, but no thanks."

The gold light blazed brighter, flaring as if Harry had finally managed to annoy the entity. He inwardly cheered.

"And what will you accomplish by staying here?" Fate challenged. "You humans, drinking your lives away at the first sign of tragedy."

Harry's temper snarled in his gut but he had never been one to explode in anger at the first given occasion and it had only gotten better over his years in command so his tone of voice was measured and even when he spoke again.

"Maybe to you, six years of war isn't much in the greater scheme of the universe or whatever," Harry said flatly. "But we're the ones who have lost more than we've ever thought we would lose. I'll thank you to keep your opinion to yourself."

Fate's voice was cooler this time. "Nevertheless, you have nothing to gain by staying here. I could give you the chance to start over, as you wished mere minutes ago. Send you to a world where you are no longer the Boy-Who-Lived. A world where you will simply be whoever you wish to be."

Harry threw his hands up. "And do what, exactly? Whether I stay here or go there doesn't change the fact that I have no desire to do much of anything."

"You will go to school once more."

Harry held back a sneer. "I don't want to become a professor."

"As a student, youngling."

Harry blinked. "I'm twenty-two."

Fate definitely sounded more irritated now. "Obviously, I will reduce you to a suitable age. Do keep up."

Harry rolled his eyes and reached for the abandoned alcohol on the ground. It disappeared just as his fingers brushed the bottle. He grimaced in aggravation but straightened up again without complaint. "I refuse to be turned back to an eleven-year-old."

"Then a homeschooled student of fourteen," Fate proposed, a little too quickly in Harry's opinion, but that might be his slightly intoxicated state and paranoia talking. "Recently orphaned due to a raid. All transfers and paperwork you humans are so fond of will be dealt with."

"Orphaned? Raid?" Harry arched an eyebrow. "So Voldemort is still alive and waging war? And you expect me to have a peaceful life?"

"What would it matter?" Fate pressed. "You will no longer be a symbol to the Light. You could have nothing to do with the battles, attend school as you once wished to, without the chaotic death-defying adventures you had here."

Harry frowned darkly, a part of him not quite believing the fact that he was actually thinking it over. "...You said I would be fourteen. Would that put me back in my fourth year? During the Triwizard Tournament? But I'm not the Boy-Who-Lived. Then-"

"Neville Longbottom is the Boy-Who-Lived," Fate interjected smoothly before proceeding to answer all the other questions Harry had lined up, much to his displeasure. "Your parents are still alive. Sirius Black never went to Azkaban. Peter Pettigrew still escaped. And Cedric Diggory... well, I suppose that depends on how well Neville Longbottom handles the situation."

Harry swallowed, feeling a mix of longing and nausea. Cedric could be- And Neville was- And his parents were-

"What about me?" Harry ventured, bordering tentative in a way that made him scowl. "Where am I?"

"Oh that version of you is very much alive," There was a note of something in her voice that Harry couldn't quite decipher. "Also a fourth year, so you will evidently need another name."

"I didn't even say I was going," Harry shot back tersely. He clasped his hands together. Damn, he wanted another drink.

"But you are considering it," Fate said smugly.

Harry glared at the card (Why was it a card anyway? And a joker at that?). "I can't just up and leave. I have friends here."

"Friends you no longer interact with?" Fate taunted slyly. "When was the last time you replied to one of their letters?"

Harry glowered. Apparently, Fate was a stalker. "You know, all this time you're trying to persuade me to go to this other dimension, you haven't told me why. And don't feed me bullshit about compensation. I wasn't born yesterday."

The light burned even brighter. "It is compensation," Fate insisted tersely. "Horcruxes are against the laws of Death. You helped restore the balance. And... You allowed Death to retain his freedom in this world when no one else would have allowed it, found a way when no one else would have even tried."

Harry stilled, one finger tapping against the armrest. He hadn't known he had done any such thing; just that he had no wish to be Master of Death. So, shortly after the final battle and after tossing it numerous times only to have it return to him, he had used the Elder Wand to destroy the Resurrection Stone, and then snapped the Elder Wand and stowed it away in the Room of Requirements. The loss of the Stone meant that no one could gather all three items ever again, and even if the Elder Wand could never truly be destroyed, one artifact gone meant that there could be no Master of Death.

"Balance restored as it must be, Death freed as he should be," The golden light softened and, for the first time since this bizarre situation began, Harry sensed an air of genuine honesty coming from the entity. "We are indisputably indebted to you, Harry Potter. Thus, I offer you a new life. Do with it what you wish, but it is yours. There are no strings attached, no trap waiting to ensnare you, no ultimatum forced upon you, no conditions you must one day meet. A gift, freely given."

Harry closed his eyes. "Too good to be true," He muttered. There had to be a catch somewhere but it was clear that Fate wasn't going to divulge it anytime soon. She wasn't lying outright – everything she had said had the ring of truth to it – but she wasn't telling the whole truth either, and a half-truth was still a whole-lie.

Frankly, Fate would have made a good Slytherin.

Back to the matter at hand though. If – if – he went, what did he have to lose? He couldn't remember the last time he had really sat down and talked to Hermione after the war. He had brushed off Ginny and Percy's letters with short, disinterested responses, and that was only when he could be bothered to reply. He had no desire to join the Ministry, no matter how much he liked and respected Kingsley, and he had no intention of becoming a Hogwarts professor either, at least not anytime soon, even if one of his favourite professors came around to ask again.

The others were moving on with their lives anyway, while Harry was... stuck. All three of them had jobs, and while Harry had more than enough money to live out the rest of his life without ever needing to raise another finger, he had nothing to do either, nothing he wanted to do, and no longer anything he had to do. War veterans only had jobs when war was being waged.

And he'd actually be able to meet his parents. Well, not his parents, per se, and he might not even be able to properly meet them, but he would be able to see them laugh and interact with each other, and really, that was more than Harry had ever hoped to have when it came to his mother and father. Sirius wouldn't have that far-too-thin gauntness to his features either, or that haunted, bitter burden of guilt that Harry sometimes caught in his godfather's eyes. Except for a traitorous friend, this Sirius hadn't lost anything.

And maybe, with Neville handling matters instead of Harry running around and botching things up because no one would bloody tell him anything, maybe that future would turn out far better than the one Harry currently lived in. If he had to, he could even nudge Neville in the right direction; subtly tip him off without letting anyone know he was doing so.

It really wouldn't be that bad.

"Excellent,"

Harry almost jumped when the delighted voice cut through his thoughts.

"Then let's not waste any time," Fate continued. "As I have said, I will handle the transition. Your belongings will be waiting for you. Oh, but I'm afraid the Invisibility Cloak must stay behind. The Harry Potter in that world already has one and poor Death has enough trouble keeping track of all his possessions in every parallel world."

Harry gaped a bit as he began pushing himself out of his chair. "What?! Wait! I didn't agree to anything! I was just thinking-"

He was cut off as the gold light suddenly flooded the room, blinding him as it wrapped around his being in a warm cocoon. Just before the gold faded to a serene black, Harry swore he saw a tall ethereal figure standing in front of him, an almost fond smile on features he couldn't quite make out.

"What you do from now on is for you to decide, Harry Potter. Use this opportunity wisely. And good luck, young hero."

Just before darkness dragged him under, Harry made a mental note to run in the opposite direction if Fate ever came calling again. The entity was utterly too used to getting her way.

 

Chapter Text

 

Harry woke with a jolt, and for a moment, he had absolutely no idea where he was and how he had gotten there.

Muffled voices made him reach for his wand, but froze when he finally registered what he had opened his eyes to.

He was staring out the far window of a train compartment and straight into a crowded bustling throng of children and parents, all struggling with trunks and animal cages, bickering and chatting and overall making a lot of noise as they pushed their way forwards.

What the bloody hell was going on?

His first thought was that Voldemort had devised some sort of magical illusion to drive him crazy, but that didn't make sense. Granted, being stuck amidst Platform 9¾ during rush hour would definitely make him uneasy because he wouldn't be able to fight very well if it came to that, but it was hardly designed to truly endanger him.

He stilled his rampant thoughts, took a few deep breaths, and thought back to the last thing he remembered.

That's right; he was drinking firewhiskey in Grimmauld Place and dreading Halloween and...

And fate had come a-calling.

Harry sat bolt upright, twisting his head to squint at his faint reflection in the nearest window. Weary green eyes stared back at him – he had gotten rid of his glasses and fixed his eyesight ages ago – and his familiar messy hair fell about his face in a feathery mess. He was still in his usual Muggle attire, but he had Hogwarts robes thrown on top now. None of that changed the fact that he was currently quite a few years younger. Even more mind-boggling was the fact that the lightning bolt scar that had given him so much grief for so many years was gone.

Hastily yanking down his collar, he noted that his scars were gone as well. He rolled up one sleeve and found the scar he had gained when he had faced the Basilisk in his second year, and, pulling up his shirt, he found a few more faint marks detailing his run-ins with Dudley and Vernon, but that was it. Any injuries he had received after the age of fourteen had disappeared.

Stifling a groan, he sank back into his seat, slightly stunned as his gaze fell on the trunk at his feet. Instinctively, he waved a hand over it to make sure nothing would attack him if he opened it, and then cautiously unlocked it and flipped the lid up.

Several sets of his favoured Muggle clothing were folded neatly at the bottom. An extra set of robes sat beside them with a large money pouch on top of that. Opening it, he found it filled with an assortment of galleons, sickles, and knuts, as well as a gold vault key.

Digging through his Muggle clothing, he also found his collection of knives, varying in length and just as sharp and polished as Harry had always kept them.

More poking around soon uncovered four hidden compartments, one holding the necessary books and school supplies, another with all of his medical and defence notebooks that he had written up whenever he had had a spare moment, including battle tactics he, Ron, and Neville had come up with during late nights huddled in a tent around a weak fire.

The third held his more personal belongings, one of which was a thick, dog-eared album that held dozens upon dozens of photographs of his friends. He ignored that. He hadn't looked through it since Hermione had insisted he keep it when he had attempted to give it to her when she was still in the hospital. Other knickknacks also included the wooden flute Hagrid had given him all those years ago, the very last green jumper Molly had ever made him, which had been when he had turned seventeen, though it was currently too big for him even if he could wear it in the first place.

His Firebolt was also there, shrunken and stored neatly beside everything else, and finally, wrapped in a plain cloth sat the pieces of the mirror Sirius had given him, something he had never been able to let go in a fit of sentimentality.

The final compartment only held one thing – the joker card he had received in his mail from Fate.

He scowled down at it. "Don't think I'll forgive you just because you've set everything up here. I never even said I wanted to come here, you madwoman."

The joker honestly looked like it was laughing at him. The clock it was holding was closed again, with its hands pointed firmly at midnight.

He settled back into his seat, releasing a long breath. This was surreal.

Absently, he reached for his wand again even as he drew two knives from the trunk and tucked them away into his clothes. It made him feel safer.

His wand was still the same as ever, not his holly and phoenix feather one but the second wand he had gotten from Ollivander after his first had been swallowed by fiendfyre. Made of ebony with a basilisk fang and a griffin claw as its core, Harry didn't think any wand would ever fit him so well.

He glanced down at his trunk again before shutting it and spelling it with every protective charm he could think of. It wouldn't do for some nosy idiot to get into his belongings. A Featherweight Charm soon saw the trunk stowed away in the rack above.

With a resigned sigh, he silently hoped Hermione wouldn't freak out too badly and Ginny and Percy would be able to coax her into moving on. To be fair, he hadn't really gotten a say in being plucked from his own dimension and thrown into this one.

...A dimension where there was another Harry Potter, who would look like him, and even if he didn't, people might still connect the fact that Harry looked like James and Lily.

...How did he ever think this was even remotely a good idea?

He glanced into the window again. Well, he had no glasses, so that was a bonus. He was small, and both Sirius and Remus had told him that his father was broader than he was and even his mother was taller when they were in school, all while piling food in front of him like it was going out of style. It stood to reason that a teenage boy raised by good parents would also have a healthier body, so this other Harry Potter would almost certainly be bigger even if they were the same age.

Fate had been... kind enough to keep his hair in the same style as his twenty-two-year-old self as well. When he had been fourteen, his hair had always looked like he had tumbled from bed and then placed a Stasis Charm on it to make it stay that way. Now, while still tousled, the locks had been tamed somewhat and didn't defy gravity as much as they used to.

Well, if anyone asked, he'd just have to deny the connection. Besides, he'd read somewhere, a Muggle study, that someone could have almost the same face as around eight other people in the world. And truthfully, this was the least of his problems.

Much more important was the fact that he had no idea what his name was supposed to be. Fate had said he would need a new one and that she had also taken care of all the paperwork so to speak, so the staff must know who he was but Harry himself didn't.

Wonderful.

He heaved another sigh and eyed the emptying platform outside. The Hogwarts Express' horn blared and Harry tried not to tense. He didn't like loud noise.

Muted footsteps approached and Harry started praying that they wouldn't pick his compartment. The sound of a door sliding open – thankfully not his – and then closing again after a few seconds made him relax minutely, but it wasn't long before three sets of footsteps set him on edge again. Unfortunately for him, it was his door that opened this time.

"Ouch, Ron! That's my foot!"

"Sorry, sorry. Here, you go first."

"It's empty in here- oh, uh, hi."

Harry had felt his insides freeze the moment Hermione and Ron's voices had reached his ears. He had almost expected to see himself as the third but, perhaps not so surprisingly, it was Neville who spoke last.

Harry still remembered, barely, the shy, clumsy boy he had known for most of his Hogwarts tenure. Neville had usually kept his head down and stammered his way through questions and practical work. The only area he had shone in had been Herbology, and even then he had been mostly quiet.

This Neville stood straighter and looked Harry in the eye in a way that reminded him of the Neville he was more familiar with, the unwaveringly loyal brother who had followed him onto the battlefield time and time again without hesitation. However, the unmistakable lightning bolt mark on Neville's forehead sent a quiet thrum of empathy through him.

There were other differences too of course – less muscle and presence, but it was mostly the lack of haunted shadows brought on by the anguish of loss lurking in his eyes and the missing weight of lost lives on his shoulders that brought home the fact that this was not his Neville.

Idly, Harry wondered how long it would be until this boy attained both.

Behind Neville, Hermione still had slightly large front teeth and her brown hair was still bushy with curls. They wouldn't start smoothing out until sometime next year.

A step behind her, Ron was as freckled and gangly as ever, the tallest of the group even at fourteen. Neither had the grim darkness his Ron and Hermione had gained through experience and harsh reality.

"Er, do you mind if we join you?" Neville spoke at last when the surprised silence started becoming awkward.

Harry surveyed all three faces as he managed a tiny smile and shook his head, gesturing at the empty seats in the car. Neville returned his smile as all three straggled inside, dragging their trunks behind them.

Harry watched as Hermione grimaced, trying to juggle both Crookshanks' cage and her trunk at the same time. After a moment's thought, he rose to his feet and held his hands out for the trunk.

"Need some help?" He queried, striving for a friendly tone and shoving down the ache in his chest when innocent brown eyes blinked back at him.

Hermione blew a stray curl out of her face before flashing him a sheepish smile. "Yes, please. I think I packed too much."

"Hermione, you always pack too much," Ron called over as he helped Neville heft his trunk into the rack above before both boys turned to handle Ron's. There was no Pigwidgeon anywhere in sight, or Trevor for that matter. "I swear three-quarters of it contains books, and half of that you don't even need."

Hermione just huffed without any real heat as she released Crookshanks and Harry dragged her trunk inside and hauled it up into the rack, absently casting a Featherweight Charm on it as well to help him. The half-Kneazle leapt up onto a seat of his own and turned calculating yellow eyes on Harry for a few seconds before seemingly deeming him a non-threat and settled down for a nap.

"Of course I need the books, Ron," She was saying. "I already left behind quite a few I wanted to bring along but the library has them so I decided I could leave them behind."

As the familiar banter washed over him, Harry reminded himself sternly that these were not the same people he knew and he had to be careful in how he interacted with them. He could befriend them but he couldn't forget who they were and who he was.

"So who are you anyway?" Ron asked with his usual tactless bluntness that earned an exasperated look from Neville and a reproachful look from Hermione. Harry had to hide a wistful smile.

"What Ron means to say is that we've never seen you around but you look about our age," Hermione quickly cut in with an apologetic but expectant look. "I'm Hermione Granger by the way. That's Ron Weasley, and Neville Longbottom."

If the resigned expression on Neville's face was anything to go by, Harry was clearly expected to start going starry-eyed at the famous Boy-Who-Lived. Harry had to hold back a snort.

"I'm new to Hogwarts," Harry said instead, rapidly trying to come up with a name. Well, Fate seemed to know everything he did throughout the course of his life. If the woman-immortal-entity had any sense, she'd somehow tweak his name into the Hogwarts roster and whatever else he said here into the 'paperwork' Dumbledore would have looked through.

"Hadrian," He decided at last. "Hadrian Evans."

Not the most imaginative name in the history of mankind but it would do. He didn't want the teachers calling out his surname or the other students his first name only for him not to recognize it and ignore them entirely.

"I was homeschooled before," He continued, trying to stay vague even as he covered all his bases. "But I decided to go to Hogwarts starting this year. I'll be starting fourth year. What about you?"

Neville directed a small grin in his direction. "We're all fourth-years too, and in Gryffindor."

"I've heard about that," Harry-turned-Hadrian nodded. "Gryffindor is the House of the Brave, right?"

Ron drew himself up and nodded proudly while Hermione rolled her eyes and Neville chuckled.

"More like reckless," Neville corrected. "Then there's Ravenclaw, where most of the students who like knowledge and are really smart are sorted. Hermione was almost one. She's a genius."

Hermione blushed faintly and carried on where Neville left off to hide her embarrassment. "There's also Hufflepuff, where the loyal and hardworking go. Some people think that the less talented students all go there but that's not true at all so don't listen to anyone who says it."

Hadrian nodded. He knew as much, a far cry from the summer before his first year when all he had was Draco's opinion.

"And then there's Slytherin," Ron finished, wrinkling his nose. "That's where all the evil witches and wizards go."

Hadrian tilted his head, feigning confusion. Ron had always been a prejudiced git when he was a kid. "You're sorted when you first arrive at Hogwarts, right? So how can an eleven-year-old automatically be evil? Isn't it the experiences you go through that will shape who you'll become one day? Good or evil – that depends entirely on the choices they make in life, doesn't it?"

Ron was gaping at him while Hermione looked pleasantly surprised. Neville was staring at him thoughtfully, as if this hadn't really occurred to him before.

"Well you'll see," Ron maintained stubbornly, recovering after a few shocked seconds. "Slimy Slytherins; they never have anything better to do except pick fights with us Gryffindors."

"Oh don't listen to him," Hermione scowled in admonishment at the redhead before turning back to Hadrian. "Slytherin is the House that the ambitious and cunning go to but a lot of Dark wizards have come from there, which is why they have such a bad reputation. A lot of them are really mean, but now that I think about it, I suppose that doesn't mean the whole House is the same."

Hadrian smiled and nodded again. He hoped that would get them thinking. Neville at least looked to be mulling over his words with serious consideration.

A knock at the door revealed the trolley witch pushing the Honeydukes Express. Neville, Ron, and Hermione all bought a small pile of sweets but Hadrian politely turned the lady down. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten candy, and the only chocolate he had consumed in the past seven years had been for medical purposes.

"At least have a Frog," Neville insisted, pressing one into his hand. Hadrian was inexplicably reminded of his first year at Hogwarts when he had done the same thing for Neville after that Leg-Locker prank Draco had pulled. "Too little sweets can be bad for you too, you know."

Hadrian's mouth twitched upwards in the face of Neville's good-natured grin and he accepted with a quiet thanks. He ended up nibbling on an Ice Mice as well after he had polished off the Chocolate Frog and handed the Ptolemy card he had managed to get over to Ron. The redhead almost drooled over it and couldn't seem to stop babbling his appreciation for five minutes straight. The redhead insisted on handing over five of his own cards in exchange, including a Paracelsus that made Ron look a bit mournful to let go of but announced that it was only fair.

Hadrian remained mostly quiet for the rest of the journey, listening to his fellow passengers' light conversation and answering a question now and then.

Hours later, with Ron and Hermione dozing in the seats across from him and Neville flipping quietly through a Herbology textbook, under the dim glow of rising moonlight, Hadrian caught sight of the first place he had ever called home looming ahead.

Hogwarts, in all her regal glory, stood proud and strong against the night sky.

Hadrian stared intently at it and inwardly shuddered. It had been so easy for Voldemort and his Death Eaters to bring that castle down. They had done it in only a little over two years.

 


 

"We'll see you up at the castle then!" Neville waved while Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement.

Hadrian inclined his head in return before settling gracefully into one of the boats. He offered a soothing smile and a soft hello at the three first years – two boys and a girl – that got in as well, giving him a mildly confused look but also far too nervous to think much of it. All three seemed to loosen up a bit at his greeting though and even smiled back timidly.

Probably the boldest of the three, the dark-haired boy on the left across from him asked, "You look older than us. Are you just big for your age?"

Hadrian chuckled. "No, I'm a fourth year, but I've been homeschooled up until now."

This earned him wide-eyed looks but Hagrid's familiar gruff voice resounded in the air and the first-years were soon too busy oohing and aahing at the passing scenery to talk. It was a clear night as well so no one had to worry too much about drowning.

As expected once they were inside, most of the kids hurried close behind Minerva, who looked as stern-faced as Hadrian remembered her to be, but he knew her well enough now to pick out the well-hidden compassion in her eyes as she led them into a small, empty chamber off the entrance hall and gave her usual introductory speech.

"Hadrian Evans?" The woman had been scanning the group and had easily picked out the only fourteen-year-old amongst them. Hadrian spared a moment to grudgingly acknowledge Fate's hand in slotting him so easily into this world.

"Yes, ma'am," He replied promptly as Minerva drew him aside.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," She told him, her tone brisk but holding a note of warmth. "You will be sorted after the first-years so there is no need to worry when your name isn't called during their Sorting. You will start class with the rest of your year-mates but do not hesitate to come see me or your Head of House if you find yourself not quite at the same level. Understand?"

"Yes, Professor," Hadrian nodded. "Thank you."

The woman nodded in return and ushered him back to the rest of the group before leaving the chamber.

There were a few screams and gasps when the ghosts drifted by and Hadrian could finally confirm the fact that the silvery figures really did plan this every year. The Bloody Baron glided by, giving everyone a morbid stare that successfully made most of them shy away. If that didn't, the blood on his robes certainly did.

Hadrian only watched them with mild interest. Helena was a no-show. He supposed the Grey Lady wouldn't want to participate in something like this, though why the Baron had decided to appear this year was a mystery. Hadrian couldn't remember him being part of the group in his first year, though, to be fair, Hadrian had missed three years' worth of Sortings after that and he was more preoccupied with The Toad and Voldemort's return in his fifth year to pay much attention to anything else. The ghost could have joined in any of those years and Hadrian wouldn't be any the wiser.

Minerva soon returned, instructing them to form a line, and Hadrian made sure he was last as they were led back across the hall and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.

Hadrian felt his throat tighten as he stepped inside. It was like reliving a memory because the Great Hall hadn't been fully repaired yet the last time he had been at Hogwarts. Hadrian looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. It didn't take a very far stretch of his imagination to compare said bewitched ceiling to the night skies he had slept under during the war.

Ignoring the curious gazes mostly aimed at him, no doubt wondering who he was and why he was standing with the first-years, Hadrian returned the waves Neville, Ron, and Hermione sent his way, mouth quirking in amusement when all three students were immediately bombarded with whispered questions.

The Sorting Hat's song this year was the same as the one Hadrian had heard in his first fourth year. As the Sorting started, he scanned the Gryffindor table and almost instantly found his counterpart. Untidy black hair like his and green eyes behind glasses, that was where the similarities ended. Hadrian had certainly never had such a superior smirk on his face, and it was just plain odd to see Seamus and Dean on either side of him instead of a redhead and a brunette. A boy with black hair, striking blue eyes, and a cool expression sat on Dean's other side while Cormac McLaggen sat on Seamus' right. Quite a few other students seemed to be trying to sit as close to the group as possible.

This Harry Potter definitely didn't want for attention. In fact, the boy seemed to bask in it if the arrogance on his face was anything to go by. Hadrian didn't need Legilimency to sense the adoration amongst the students surrounding him.

Frankly, it was a revolting display. How in the name of Merlin had his counterpart turned out like this? The boy had good parents, a healthy godfather, a surrogate uncle, and no lack of friends. Had James and Lily been spoiling him? Was this what Hadrian would have become if his parents hadn't been killed?

God, he hoped not.

With an inward grimace when Harry sneered at a shy first-year sorted into Gryffindor a moment ago and sending the poor girl scooting off to the other end of the table, Hadrian turned his attention to the teachers instead.

There was Not-Moody, scowling at everyone and drinking from his flask. The man wasn't late this time but Hadrian was adept enough by now to know that this was the only difference. He could sense the Dark magic radiating faintly from the Dark Mark if he concentrated his own magic on the man.

Crouch Junior automatically sent Hadrian's gaze skittering over to the Hufflepuff table. It took about a heartbeat and a half to find Cedric, tall and broad-shouldered, and currently clapping enthusiastically as a boy was sent to Hufflepuff.

Hadrian looked away again. Cedric Diggory was his first failure. He didn't want to be placed smack in the middle of all the drama again but, come hell or high water, the sixth-year would not die this time around. This was the one thing Hadrian had to make sure of.

Concentrating on the teachers again, he spotted Filius, Pomona, Poppy, Sinistra, Hooch, Vector, Babbling, and even Trelawney had deigned to come down from her tower.

Hadrian made a mental note to find a way to skewer Fate if the entity had somehow placed him in Divination.

Hagrid was at the end of the table and Pince sat beside him. Dumbledore sat dead center per usual – Hadrian made sure not to look at the man. If the Headmaster tried Legilimency on him, he might just snap.

At the other end was Severus Snape in all his glowering splendour. Hadrian had to suppress a grin at the thought of just how many detentions and loss of points the man was going to dish out within the first week alone.

He turned to look at the woman sitting beside Severus and had to make an effort not to do a double-take. Charity Burbage was nowhere in sight so this woman with bright green eyes and long red hair must be the Muggle Studies professor.

Lily Evans Potter was the Muggle Studies professor.

Hadrian's thoughts whirled in his head. His mother had wanted to become a teacher? Well, from what Hadrian knew of her, she did seem to fit the role.

Did she go by Professor Evans or Professor Potter? Potter, most likely, since Neville, Hermione, nor Ron had commented on his last name.

Would she catch on to the physical similarities between Hadrian and her own son? They were night and day in terms of personality so maybe not, and Hadrian – hopefully – hadn't signed up for Muggle Studies.

He peered back at the woman again. As much as he had always wanted to get to know her, it would be better to keep his distance. This Lily would never be his mother and he would never be her son; he would be content with simply knowing she was alive and happy in this world.

Although she certainly didn't look all that happy at the moment. A frown of disapproval creased her brow and Hadrian followed her line of sight to Harry sitting at the Gryffindor table and, judging by the furious glare on Hermione's face, Ron's rapidly reddening features, and Neville's tightened jaw, was most likely insulting the trio in some way or another.

Huh. So not so spoiled then.

Hadrian had no more time to think on it though as the last student scurried off to the Ravenclaw table. Stepping forward, he watched Dumbledore rise to his feet, directing a welcoming grandfatherly smile at him.

Hadrian mentally twitched and didn't smile back, busying himself with moving over to Minerva's side instead.

"I am delighted to welcome the arrival of a new student who will be joining the rest of the fourth-years at Hogwarts," Dumbledore stated, beaming as if this was something to be joyously celebrated. "Homeschooled up until now, I hope you will all do your utmost to make Hadrian Evans feel welcome."

Hadrian stifled a sigh as he sat down on the stool. He didn't need to look to know that the Slytherins were already sneering disdainfully. There really was no reason to make such an announcement, except perhaps to tell the school that Hadrian was simply transferring in.

Minerva stepped forward and dropped the Sorting Hat onto his head, and then Hadrian couldn't spare another thought for anything else as Alistair swam into his mind and abruptly found himself in the middle of a bloody battlefield.

'My apologies,' Hadrian offered quietly as he tried to separate the desolate pandemonium from the Hat. Not even the highest level of Occlumency could stop the Sorting Hat from seeing into a person's mind.

It took a moment for Alistair to respond. 'None needed, Mr. Potter, or I suppose it is Mr. Evans now. Both are true in the end.'

The Hat paused as they both watched the deathly green of a Killing Curse soar by and Hadrian sensed a wave of sympathetic sorrow from the presence. 'For a mind to become so ravaged... you have suffered greatly, Mr. Evans.'

Hadrian mentally shrugged. 'Others have suffered too. I just didn't handle it as well. Besides, it's not all bad. Not even Voldemort wanted to take a peek into my mind after the war started.'

And it was true. Severus never could get him to learn Occlumency properly, even after their relationship had smoothed over into a grudging sort of mutual respect.

In the end however, it turned out that Hadrian didn't have to. Dropping into his mind was practically the equivalent of dropping into the middle of a war unprepared. It was forever an ongoing battle in Hadrian's mind, a bloody field in which hexes and curses flew, explosions went off, and faceless bodies piled up. Even Voldemort had had the good sense to stay away after trying to possess Hadrian the first couple times.

'It isn't healthy,' Alistair remarked rather pointlessly.

Hadrian shrugged again. 'It hasn't killed me yet, and a mind trying to attack an intruder is better than the mental walls I barely managed to create.'

Alistair sighed but didn't push, gently probing at his other memories instead. 'You've had a hard life; it's no wonder you feel so tired at such a young age. Hmm... Sent here by Fate? How intriguing. Perhaps a new world will do you some good.'

'You won't tell Dumbledore?' Hadrian couldn't help asking.

'Certainly not!' The Hat replied indignantly. 'A Sorting is private. Not even the Headmaster is allowed such knowledge.'

Some of the tension that had been building up in Hadrian dissipated.

'Now then,' Alistair continued. 'I see you were a Gryffindor in the other world. Hmm, suitable, you'd fit in well there, even now, and you've already made a few friends, though it seems you also harbour quite a bit of dislike towards your counterpart.'

The Hat sounded amused but almost pleased. Apparently, Alistair hadn't particularly liked Harry during the boy's Sorting either.

'However, you also have a cunning and resourcefulness in you that has served to save the lives of the witches and wizards you led into battle many times over,' Alistair observed, and then rebuffed him when Hadrian immediately tried to protest. 'Do not deny it. Many people died, but that is war. You did the best you could, and your best, while not enough at times, was already more than anyone should've asked of you – more than you should've had to give.'

Hadrian was too taken aback to respond. No one had ever said something like that to him.

'You do not lack intelligence either,' The Hat carried on blithely. 'Far from it, and at twenty-two, I very much doubt much of the schoolwork will be difficult for you to grasp. And at your very core... hmm... yes... well, which House would you like to be in?'

Hadrian mentally blinked, startled. 'You're asking me?'

'Well yes, most kids at least have a preference, even Muggleborns. Even you had a criteria when you went through your first Sorting. I believe you told my counterpart 'Not Slytherin', was it? Yet I can no longer sense any predilection towards any House from you. You could go anywhere, really. You're well-rounded; I won't be picky if you have a partiality.'

Hadrian shifted in his seat. Merlin, his Sorting had to be the longest in history. He could dimly hear the other students murmuring impatiently. It was lucky he couldn't care less about other people's opinions anymore.

'I don't really have a preference,' He finally thought back wearily. 'Just get this over with. I promise I won't complain wherever you put me.'

'...Tired,' The Hat repeated sadly. 'Well, Salazar Slytherin himself would approve of your cunning, but you have no particular ambition at the moment, with the exception of protecting Mr. Diggory. That young man is very lucky to have you as his shield.'

Hadrian didn't bother replying. He couldn't disagree more.

'Courage you have aplenty,' Alistair persisted. 'But rowdy Gryffindors won't give you much rest, even when there isn't anything going on, and I suspect you would like some peace and quiet. A brilliant mind you have but you would be brilliant in any House. Ravenclaw would suit your nature to a degree but your only thirst for knowledge is when lives are at stake. Perhaps then...'

Alistair sounded very thoughtful now. There really was only one House left and Hadrian actually found himself somewhat surprised at the Hat's assessment.

'You have a core of pure loyalty, Mr. Evans,' The Hat said at last, and there was more than a little respect and admiration in his voice. 'To your friends, to those you consider family, to your allies, and even to those you once considered enemies. Once you have taken them under your wing, you would never betray them. And nothing can stand in your way when you wish to do something, no matter how difficult the task. Integrity you have in spades and patience you have learned – I can see only one House for you now.'

'Send me along then,' Hadrian thought back dryly. 'But I should warn you – I'm a trouble magnet; my Housemates might riot.'

'I'm sure you'll fit in just fine,' Alistair sent back cheerfully. 'It was a pleasure talking to you, Mr. Evans. I wish you the best of luck in-

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

Hadrian rose fluidly to his feet and swept the Hat off, handing it back to a slightly impatient Minerva. His mental clock told him that seven minutes had already crawled by.

Containing a sigh, he headed over to the clapping table, eyes flickering along the benches to find an open space. To his relief, there was one at the end. He didn't think he'd be able to stand being boxed in on both sides if he had had to sit between other people.

The rest of the evening was similar to every other starting feast Hadrian had ever had. He polished off a salad and managed to down a treacle tart and a glass of pumpkin juice but couldn't help wishing for some firewhiskey and simple food rations. It was rather ironic; seven years ago, just looking at food rations had made him wish for the Dursleys' meals.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder and Hadrian craned his head around to find Cedric standing behind him, smiling at him amicably.

"Hi, I'm Cedric Diggory," The boy stuck out a hand. "Sixth year, prefect. Mind if I sit with you?"

Even as Hadrian accepted the handshake, his first thought was, 'Yes, I do mind. I got you killed. You should stay as far away from me as physically possible.'

Instead of saying as much out loud, Hadrian found himself shifting over to make room for the taller teen.

"Hadrian Evans," His voice thankfully came out steady. "I don't mind."

'What the hell am I doing?' Hadrian thought despondently as Cedric grabbed two treacle tarts. 'I didn't come here to make friends, especially with other versions of dead people. What exactly did I come here for anyway? Oh right, I didn't have a choice. Fate's a bitch when she wants her way.'

"Here, I saw you eating one earlier," Cedric pressed one of the tarts into his hands. "You know, you can have as many as you want."

Hadrian nodded somewhat stiffly and bit into the treat. He'd never been one for excessive conversations. He could come up with spur-of-the-moment inspirational speeches when times called for them but he had always preferred staying quiet as opposed to being a chatterbox. Cedric seemed perfectly content to eat in silence beside him though, occasionally fielding questions or comments when other Hufflepuffs leaned forward to talk to him.

"So you were homeschooled before?" Cedric finally breached the silence between them. He didn't seem perturbed when Hadrian only nodded again. "Well, I guess coming to Hogwarts at fourteen instead can be a bit hard to adjust to but you'll make a lot of friends in no time."

Hadrian shrugged, polishing off his dessert. "It doesn't really matter to me either way."

Cedric eyed him thoughtfully for a second before breaking out into a smile that held an edge of genial mockery. "No need to be shy, Evans. You're in Hufflepuff now. Us badgers are a friendly lot."

It took a lot of effort not to snort in disbelief. Human were humans, and most of the time, humans jumped to the worst conclusions, followed the loudest rumour like sheep followed their shepherd, and all too often, fingers were pointed and someone would be singled out and shunned.

"Not shy, Diggory," He muttered instead. "No need to take pity on the new boy."

Cedric didn't take any offense, only smiling once more. "Don't worry; I'm not. But I am a prefect and one of my jobs is to make sure everyone gets settled in alright."

He paused to pick out four boys along the Hufflepuff table. "You'll be sharing a dorm room with those four – Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernie Macmillan, Wayne Hopkins, and Zacharias Smith. You can ask them for help if you need it, or you can come to me. My door's always open."

Hadrian made an affirmative sound at the back of his throat as he scanned the four boys. Justin and Ernie had fought readily beside him during the war. He didn't know Hopkins very well and Smith irritated him just by being in his line of sight. One of the things Hadrian despised was disloyalty and Smith was exactly that in almost every sense of the word. He supposed it was a miracle that the boy hadn't been the one to betray the DA in their fifth year.

"Hey Cedric! C'mere and take a look at this!"

They both looked up at the call coming from a small knot of students down the table. Hadrian wasted no time jumping on this opportunity, especially when Cedric looked ready to refuse.

"It's okay," He interjected, swinging off the bench. "I'm going over to the Gryffindor table to say hi. I know some people from there."

Cedric blinked. "Oh, well alright then. Talk to you later, Hadrian."

Hadrian nodded before hurrying off towards the Gryffindor table, making a beeline towards Neville, Ron, and Hermione. He was aware of quite a few pairs of eyes suddenly focusing on him. It was uncommon for someone from one House to be seen heading to the table of another.

Hermione caught sight of him first and Hadrian had to smile when she welcomed him with a warm smile. "Hadrian! Congratulations on getting into Hufflepuff! Ron, scoot over and make room."

Ron, half a pudding in his mouth, obediently shifted to the left, managing a garbled hello in Hadrian's direction. Hadrian smiled back tolerantly. He had long since gotten used to the redhead's eating habits.

"You're liking the food here?" Neville enquired as Hadrian dropped into the empty spot between Hermione and Neville. He didn't mind being surrounded so much when they were the few he trusted explicitly, even if they weren't exactly his few.

"It's pretty good," Hadrian allowed. "Are meals always this extravagant?"

"Oh no," Hermione brightened as always when she was able to share some of her knowledge. "Only the starting feast, end-of-year feast, and the banquets during specific holidays are this big. Halloween's one, and Christmas is another."

"But the food's good year-round," Ron, having finished his pudding, contributed with a grin. "There's just more to choose from at feasts, not that that's a bad thing."

Hermione rolled her eyes and elbowed the redhead lightly in the ribs. "Ron's stomach is a black hole. He eats just about anything."

Hadrian chuckled as Ron protested loudly and the two dissolved into an argument.

"They're always like that," Neville supplied helpfully. "You learn to tune them out eventually."

Hadrian hummed noncommittally. He had first-hand experience dealing with Ron and Hermione.

He glanced along the Gryffindor table instead and decided to start getting integrated at Hogwarts. He motioned to his counterpart. "Who's that?"

Neville peered around him before his expression darkened. "Oh, that's Potter, Harry Potter. He's really popular but... well, he's not the nicest bloke around. His mother's the Muggle Studies professor – up there."

"So you don't like him," Hadrian summarized, sparing a fleeting look up at Lily before turning back to Neville.

Neville made a face before sighing. "No, I can't say I do. He picks on the younger kids and insults anyone he doesn't like. Thinks the universe revolves around him. Don't know why he's such a prick. His mother's alright – Professor Potter is always kind and patient with all the students."

Neville seemed to be warming up to the subject because he proceeded to introduce the other students surrounding Harry. "Those two are Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas. They're not as bad but they follow Potter's lead and wands have been drawn more than once, especially since Ron and I share a dorm with them. It's been three years though; we've gotten used to spelling our curtains shut at night, more or less."

Hadrian had to hide a frown. Seamus could be a biased arse – there was no denying that fact – but the teen could stand with the bravest of Gryffindors any day if he had incentive. Dean was calmer than his best friend, more laidback – Hadrian had never had any problems with the boy. But if those two sided with Harry in this world, he didn't think they could end up friends.

"And then there's Cormac McLaggen on Seamus' right," Neville continued. "A year above us. He's even worse than Potter, and before I got to know him, I didn't think that was possible."

"That bad?" Hadrian remarked sardonically, though he knew better than most what kind of personality McLaggen had. Hadrian had gotten into more than one shouting match with the boy during the war when the idiot charged ahead and refused to follow orders. Even Severus had admitted – reluctantly – that he'd take Hadrian on as a student any day if it meant not having to deal with McLaggen. Coming from his father and godfather's archenemy, that was really saying something.

"Who's the black-haired bloke?" Hadrian questioned. There was something about the boy that seemed rather familiar, something in the way he carried himself – with a sort of quiet dignity offset only by a guarded frigidity – that stirred Hadrian's memories.

"Oh, that's Orion Black. His parents are friends of Potter's. One of his dads is actually Potter's godfa... Hadrian? Are you alright?"

Giving himself a mental slap and trying not to look as shocked as he felt, he echoed faintly, "Orion Black? One of his dads?"

"Yeah," Neville nodded, still looking a little concerned at Hadrian's momentary lapse. "Black's blood adopted. He lost his parents when he was a child and Sirius Black and Remus Lupin took him in."

So that was why the teen – Orion – looked so familiar. Those blue eyes were Sirius', and while shorter, the hair colour was unmistakable. Orion's bearing leaned more towards Remus though, and there was a telling weariness in his eyes that reminded Hadrian of...

"His life story is common knowledge?" Hadrian asked sharply, a niggling suspicion coming to the forefront of his mind.

"Well, it's technically not supposed to be," Neville admitted, looking discomfited now. "But James Potter and Sirius Black are pretty well-known as two of the best Aurors in the Ministry and they're famous in their own right so the media likes to talk about them a lot. Our year group knows as well since- well-"

Neville ducked his head and his voice lowered to an almost-whisper. "Orion's a werewolf."

Hadrian grunted, his hunch confirmed. In looks, Orion reminded him of Sirius but it had been Remus Hadrian had first thought of subconsciously.

"You... don't have a problem with it?" Neville sounded surprised. Hadrian was highly miffed.

"No, do you?" Hadrian challenged, arching an eyebrow.

Neville hastily shook his head, sputtering, "Of course not! But a lot of people do and Dumbledore felt it was... fair to tell us and the older kids about it. Werewolves aren't widely accepted. I mean it's getting better – Remus Lupin is a known werewolf and he's not completely shunned or anything, though that might have something to do with his bond with Sirius Black – but it's still fairly bad. Potter and Black grew up together though so I guess they're friends."

"Hm," Hadrian tilted his head onto one hand and said nothing more. He thought of Teddy Remus Lupin who would never be born in this world. He thought of Nymphadora Tonks, who would either remain single or find love with someone else.

Parallel worlds were funny things. Hadrian wasn't sure if he was sad or not at this disparity. Teddy had been his godson after all, though Hadrian hadn't been much of a godfather. And he had genuinely liked Tonks – the woman was funny and kind-hearted, clumsy as all hell but intelligent, fierce in battle but like an older sister to Hadrian for quite a number of years.

Sirius and Remus had always been close though, and Hadrian supposed that without the twelve years in Azkaban, the two would be far more likely to get together if they swung that way, which, apparently, they did.

"I better head back," Hadrian announced when dirty cutlery started disappearing. "See you three in the morning?"

The Golden Trio, as Hadrian was fast beginning to see them, all murmured agreements and chorused goodnight before Hadrian headed back to his own table, slipping back into his seat just as the tables cleared and Dumbledore stood up once again.

Trying to tune out both the speech and song – they grated on his ears – Hadrian surveyed the Great Hall once more, picking out other people he knew. Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini, Daphne and Astoria Greengrass, and Theodore Nott from the Slytherin table. All looked to be about the same in terms of surface personalities. Then there was Luna from the Ravenclaw table, her radish earrings sending a rush of affection through Hadrian, along with Padma Patil, Terry Boot, Sue Li, Anthony Goldstein, and several others who had joined the rebellion against Voldemort.

Every single one of them were all so ridiculously young.

He thought maybe the full impact of what Fate had done was finally setting in because he stumbled after the rest of the Hufflepuffs in a sort of half-daze, barely hearing Cedric's explanation on how to get into their dormitories before they trekked into the Hufflepuff common room.

'This is really happening,' Hadrian thought absently after a round of polite introductions with his dorm mates and checking that his trunk was still in perfect order.

An hour later, Hadrian was the only one still awake in the room but it was nothing new. He never needed much sleep anymore, and he had to wait for the others to fall asleep before casting the necessary Silencing Charms and Protective Spells on his curtains and around his bed. It wouldn't do to scare everyone half to death if and when Hadrian woke up screaming.

His breath came out in a whoosh as he settled himself by a window with some of his textbooks. He found Numerology and Grammatica and New Theory of Numerology in the stack, as well as Advanced Rune Translation, Ancient Runes Made Easy, Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms, Rune Dictionary, and Spellman's Syllabary. At least Fate had the good sense to put him in classes he hadn't taken before. If he had to sit through tea leaves and crystal balls again, he wouldn't hesitate to pull a Hermione.

With the long night ahead, he might as well take the time to review, though fourth-year material shouldn't be hard at all. Perhaps he could aim for a specific score in each class – it would certainly make things a bit more difficult. He wanted a normal life but not a boring one.

Hadrian really should have known that normal just wasn't possible when it came to him.

 

Chapter Text

 

The next morning, after two hours of fitful sleep, Hadrian had set off for a run around the Black Lake at four-thirty am. After the war had ended, even Percy, who had always spent more time indoors keeping their battle plans and number of squads and injured persons in order, had made an effort to stay fit. It was an ingrained habit to stay prepared and in good shape, ready to fight or run at a moment's notice.

Curfew at Hogwarts was technically eleven at night and extended until five the next morning but Oliver had kicked them all out of bed at three-thirty for Quidditch practice before so Hadrian didn't think a morning jog could get him into too much trouble even if he was seen. Which he wouldn't be because nobody else – alive – was up at this ungodly hour.

By the time he got back, an hour and a half later, his dorm mates were still fast asleep and looked to be staying that way for at least another hour or so. Endeavouring to make as little noise as possible (not hard seeing as he was used to doing as much, not to mention Ernie could out-snore Ron), Hadrian quickly took a shower before packing his bag for the day, double-checking that his weapons were all where they were supposed to be. Hogwarts could be as safe as walking into an army of Inferi without so much as a box of matches and a lighter.

Hadrian didn't particularly like the Hufflepuff common room. While relaxing in its own right, it was also mostly underground, and even with the windows providing sunlight, he still felt as if he was being trapped in a cave if he stayed for too long. The windows in the common room were only enchanted to supply sunshine twenty-four/seven after all.

So it was only six-thirty by the time he reached the Great Hall, and with nothing else to do, he settled down at the Hufflepuff table. There was literally no one else in the hall; not even a ghost could be seen lurking about.

Peering around to make sure Dumbledore wasn't going to materialize from a Disillusionment Charm with his damned twinkly eyes, Hadrian pulled out his wand and flicked it in the air, feeling his shoulders ease as the soothing tones of Mozart washed over him. Pulling out Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms, he began making notes in the margins. While Bill had given him a crash course in Ancient Runes during the war, cramming anything the older man had been able to think of into Hadrian's brain after Hadrian had shown to be quite adept at curse-breaking, it didn't change the fact that he had never taken Ancient Runes at Hogwarts before, or Arithmancy for that matter, though he had always been good at math. He was fairly certain he would be able to keep up but he'd rather be prepared than not.

 


 

Severus Snape was not a morning person. Actually, he wasn't much of a noon person, an afternoon person, or an evening person either, but...

"Thanks for getting up so early for me, Sev," Lily beamed at him from his left and Severus had to fight the urge to release a long-suffering sigh.

He had managed to get over most of the crush he had once had on his first friend but the fact remained that Lily Evans – now Potter, Merlin damn that arrogant prick even if said prick had matured somewhat over the years and they were even on speaking terms now so long as they didn't stay in each other's company for more than twenty minutes – was still his best friend which meant dragging himself out of bed at bloody four in the morning several times a year to help Lily prepare for her classes. The woman always liked to come up with creative ways to get her newest batch of dunderheads interested in Muggle inventions so they wouldn't get bored.

Personally, Severus thought Lily should simply fail them all if they got too bored to pay attention in class, but the one time he had suggested as much, the woman had scolded him for half an hour straight, and in front of Potter Sr. no less, who had snickered on the side while Severus had gotten chewed out.

"It's no problem," He grumbled half-heartedly as they made their way to the kitchens for some early breakfast. "Just make sure you don't go overboard again."

"I do not go overboard!" Lily protested, but a smile tilted her lips.

Severus arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Really. Have you conveniently forgotten last year in which you prepared an extravagant demonstration every single month, one of those including bringing in an actual motorcycle that short-circuited the moment you tried to turn it on and ended up blowing up half the classroom?"

"At least the kids weren't bored," Lily defended, ignoring Severus' mutter of "yes, because they were too busy running away". "I'll go back to doing a demo every two or three months this time though, especially with the upcoming tourna- Is that... Mozart?"

Severus had indeed heard what sounded like an entire orchestra coming from somewhere above them, muffled but still relatively clear.

"It's coming from the Great Hall," Lily voiced as they both stared up at the ceiling.

"Indeed," Severus agreed, listening to the multiple violins playing simultanously.

"We should go investigate!" Lily suggested enthusiastically, heading for the nearest staircase.

"It's probably Albus with another outrageous scheme," Severus sighed but followed dutifully behind the curious redhead.

"I can tell it's Mozart but I don't know what it's called," Lily remarked as they approached the Great Hall.

"Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," Severus answered immediately. "Fourth movement."

Lily didn't look all that surprised at his knowledge but Severus had always had a penchant for classical music. That and a cup of tea – or a glass of wine, depending on how bad they were – was about the only thing that could keep him from hunting down his students and throttling them after reading their abysmal essays.

"Oh," Lily pulled up at the entrance of the hall, eyes widening in pleasant surprise.

Severus shot the woman a searching glance before coming to a stop beside her and took a look inside.

It was that new Hufflepuff fourth-year. The boy was sitting at his House table, straight-backed and focused on all the books and papers scattered in front of him. But there was no doubt that the melody had been conjured by him. Severus could almost see the music dancing around the boy – Evans, same surname as Lily – as a thrum of magic swirled in the air.

"Homeschooled, huh?" Lily tilted her head, looking a bit wistful. "I don't think I saw him on my class rosters, and only Filius will be able to see him in Charms."

Severus automatically sneered. "Just because he can conjure music does not mean he is adept at Charms."

Lily looked exasperated. "Do you have to think the worst of everyone before you even meet them, Severus?"

"Yes," Severus replied promptly. "If my expectations are as low as they can possibly be, I won't be tempted to commit homicide when they inevitably turn in appalling reports and potions."

Lily rolled her eyes but didn't push the issue. The two of them had argued over this many times already.

"Let's go say hello," She said instead, and completely ignored Severus' dismayed expression.

Their footsteps were clearly audible but Severus saw no stiffening of shoulders or any other reaction. The boy was either not easily surprised or had exceptional senses and had already known they were there before they had even stepped inside the Great Hall. Either way, Evans glanced up when they reached him, shoving what looked to be an Ancient Runes text away before rising to his feet.

"Good morning," Lily greeted warmly. "Mr. Evans, was it?"

Evans offered a polite but placid smile as he nodded. "Good morning, Professor Potter, Professor Snape."

Even as he spoke, the music around them dropped to a near-murmur, barely perceptible to the human ear. Severus just managed to catch the simultaneous twitch of a finger against Evans' thigh. So the boy knew wandless magic, did he?

He noticed Lily giving him a pointed look and suppressed the urge to scowl as he nodded stiffly in greeting. A glint of amusement brightened shadowed green eyes as Evans nodded back at him and, behind the spark of annoyance at being thought of as funny and not intimidating, Severus was suddenly struck by the familiarity of the colour. They were similar to Lily's eyes.

No, not similar, Severus realized as Lily began some banal conversation with the boy. They were exactly the same shade, except Evans' gaze seemed more guarded, more wary of the world. Severus recalled Albus giving the Heads of Houses and Poppy an overview on Evans' background – the boy had recently lost his parents in one of those infrequent raids still being carried out by the small pockets of rogue Death Eaters who hadn't been caught and placed in Azkaban but hadn't paid their way back into society either – the truly crazed and fanatical witches and wizards who were 'doing the Dark Lord's bidding' until said Dark Lord returned. Bellatrix would've been amongst them if she hadn't been caught.

Still, that didn't change the fact that Hadrian Evans had Lily's eyes, though to be fair, Lily couldn't be the only person in the world with green eyes. Her son – and it was only because he was Lily's son that Severus didn't completely eviscerate him every Potions class; it helped that Lily never automatically took Potter Jr's side whenever the brat complained – had the same green eyes as well.

Come to think of it, Harry Potter and Hadrian Evans also had the same hair colour as the former's father.

Severus gave himself a mental shake and dismissed the thought. Same black hair and green eyes but Potter was certainly bigger than Evans, not to mention he had seen Evans' interaction with the so-called Golden Trio last night. They were night and day in terms of personalities. What did it matter if they looked somewhat alike?

"So you're taking Ancient Runes as one of your electives?" Lily was asking.

Evans nodded, glancing back at the books and papers. "Yes, that and Arithmancy."

"Good choices," Lily approved. "Were you homeschooled in either subject?"

An odd look flickered across Evans' face but it soon smoothed over into a lopsided smile. "Somewhat. Both subjects come naturally to me though and I probably didn't cover all the things in the books."

"The classes will be good for you then," Lily decided. "They can be difficult for some students but also fascinating if you're actually interested in runes. I've never taken Ancient Runes myself though. Never had the time, so I only know the basics."

Evans practically lit up as he reached back to grab the nearest book. "You should try it for some light reading, Professor. The basics aren't as enjoyable since it's mostly memorization but once you get to a higher level, you can start creating multiple layouts and linking the runes together with magic. Oh, but a single rune can hold a lot of power as well. For example, 'Eihwaz' is a purely defensive rune. I usually call it a 'standstill' since it's one that represents patience and calmness. Place enough magic into it and..."

Severus watched with steadily rising eyebrows as Evans lectured on, one hand waving in the air to emphasize his point. And Lily was listening, honestly listening, because-

Because the boy knew what he was talking about. It was in the way his sentences never ended in a questioning upward lilt, and in the obvious passion in his words. Severus himself only knew enough to get by, preferring Potions and Defence when he had been at school. But he found himself craning his head to one side for a better look when Evans grabbed a few sheets of paper and pointed at the intricate hand-drawn rune circle sketched meticulously on the parchment.

Merlin, he had a feeling that Bathsheda would be jumping for joy by the end of the week.

He glanced up from the outline when Evans abruptly trailed off and caught the sheepish expression surfacing on the boy's face.

"Sorry," He apologized, and Severus could almost see the invisible mask sliding back onto his features, shuttering his sudden excitement with expert efficiency. "I didn't mean to go on like that."

"Well you certainly can't stop now," Lily scolded indignantly as she circled around and took a seat at the table. "Come on, what were you saying about locking 'Sowilo' and 'Hagalaz' together?"

Evans wavered uncertainly, staring at Lily in puzzling bewilderment. Severus stifled a scoff and sat down across from Lily, sneering at the even more baffled look Evans was now aiming at him.

"Proceed, Mr. Evans," Severus drawled. "Or are you planning to stand there gawking like some love-struck imbecile until breakfast begins?"

"Severus, be nice," Lily ordered in reflex but she looked quite happy that he had chosen to sit down as well. As if he had a choice. Lily would be short with him for the rest of the day if he had stalked off, and... Well, he could secretly admit that he'd like to finish listening to Evans' stance on the locking concept between two runes. Not that he'd ever say as much out loud.

Slowly, almost cautiously, Evans sat down as well, pushing his notes to the center of the table. But there was no hesitance when he launched into another explanation, drawing examples for them and keeping them thoroughly captivated as they debated rune theory together.

It was only later, nearly an hour after he and Lily had made their way to the Great Hall and hadn't noticed the time until a house-elf had popped in and enquired anxiously whether the two professors would be eating with the students today – which had sent Severus and Lily dashing off to prepare some last-minute details for their respective classes and Evans swiftly stuffing everything back into his bag – that Severus finally understood what had been niggling at the back of his mind ever since Evans had started a discussion with them.

The intelligent reasoning and hand gestures thrown in for emphasis, nowhere near as irritating as Granger's maddening hand-waving and time-consuming spiel in class, was faintly reminiscent of a younger Lily doing the same thing in the library as she explained charms or deliberated over potions with him.

Severus thought he might just be going mad. And the school term hadn't even started yet.

 


 

Lily glanced distractedly down at the Hufflepuff table more than once at the green-eyed boy sitting at the very end of the table and seemingly doing his utmost to ignore Cedric Diggory's attempt at conversation. She had to give the prefect props for persistency. Hadrian – she couldn't seem to think of him by a surname they shared; it just sounded weird – was doing a marvelous job at shutting down conversation before it even began.

On her left, Severus was doing the same she was, except in a far more subtle way, but his gaze was contemplative instead of concerned.

Oh, she had noticed a few similarities between herself and the boy – green eyes and a penchant to go on about something she loved – and she knew Severus had noticed as well. But she had no relatives save Petunia and Hadrian looked nothing like her sister or her sister's husband – thank the lord – so she dismissed any connection out of her mind. She had noticed the somewhat tousled black hair as well but it was much neater than James or Harry's hair in comparison and no one on James' side of the family had green eyes, including all the extended family most people had to use a family tree and a magnifying glass to track down.

But even after only an hour in his presence, Lily had grown rather fond of Hadrian. The boy genuinely liked ancient runes and she hoped Bathsheda would be able to find something to challenge him. Hadrian would probably be bored with most of the fourth-year material, which was still mostly basic work.

A large group of Gryffindors straggled in and Lily automatically picked out her son, waving a cheerful good morning to him when she found him. Her smile faltered when Harry ignored her but didn't let it bother her. It was probably uncool for sons to wave back at their mothers in front of their friends.

She turned to find Orion next and was pleased when the Black heir nodded cordially back at her. Orion was always so polite – no doubt Remus' influence – if somewhat distant. She knew both Sirius and Remus had hoped that Orion would become a little more open at Hogwarts but, if anything, the boy had only closed himself off even more ever since he had entered school.

It didn't help that her own son – her own son! – was prejudiced against werewolves. Where she and James had gone wrong with him there, she had no idea. Harry managed to keep his dislike at bay around Remus and Orion when they were at home, only avoiding them as much as possible, but she knew, with a sense of dread, that while part of the reason why most of the school shunned Orion as well had something to do with Albus being a complete idiot and telling the upper-years, it was also because Harry had most likely encouraged the fear and loathing of werewolves amongst his peers.

She supposed she should consider herself lucky that Sirius and Remus still attempted to remain friendly with Harry, and Orion still stuck with her son, though the latter might be due more to the fact that Orion literally had no one else and not out of any sense of loyalty. Harry was at least familiar to him; the rest of the school was not.

Just thinking about it made her feel tired. Where had they gone wrong?

She eyed the way Harry narrowed an angry glare over at Neville Longbottom who had just walked in with his two friends. Perhaps she shouldn't have introduced her son to the 'Boy-Who-Lived' at such a young age?

She blinked in surprise when the Golden Trio broke off from the other Gryffindors and made a beeline for the Hufflepuff table. Even Ronald Weasley, notorious for having a never-ending appetite, trotted over to greet Hadrian.

She caught a rare smile from Hadrian when Neville clapped him on the shoulder and Miss Granger started pointing up at the teachers, probably introducing each one to him. Hadrian was polite enough not to tell her that he already knew them all, or at least most of them. Lily had mentioned a few professors when they had been talking and the boy had kept up without difficulty.

With a rueful sigh, Lily went back to her breakfast as Severus rose with a stack of schedules and headed for the Slytherin table to pass them out. It was almost time for class. She could think about the teenage drama in the school later.

 


 

Hadrian had Herbology with the Gryffindors first. He had never done poorly in the subject but he didn't have Neville's magical touch either, so when Pomona told them to pair up, Hadrian was rather glad Neville didn't waste any time dragging him over to a workbench while Ron and Hermione took the one beside them.

"Not a fan of Herbology?" Neville grinned over at him as Hadrian tried to collect pus from the bubotuber in his hands and keep a bland I'm-totally-enjoying-this smile plastered on his face at the same time. Judging by Neville's attempt to muffle his snickers, he was failing dismally.

"Most of the time, I don't mind it," Hadrian made a face and handed the plant over to his partner. "I've planted plenty of flowers before, everything from roses to azaleas to rhododendrons, but this is a bit-"

Only years of honed instincts allowed Hadrian to duck out of the way just in time when Ron accidentally squeezed too hard and the pus shot sideways towards their work table. Instinctively, his hand shot out and yanked Neville down with him just before the liquid could land on them.

"Ron!" Hermione yelped. "Oh Merlin, I'm so sorry! Are you two alright?"

"Sorry, mate," Ron echoed guiltily, hastily crouching down beside Neville and shooting a worried look over at Hadrian. "Did you get hit?"

"Nah, Hadrian's fast," Neville still looked a little off-balance at having been pulled down so quickly. "Let's just get this cleaned up before Professor Sprout comes over here."

Hadrian agreed, peering over the workbenches at Pomona bustling around at the far end of the greenhouse.

The rest of Herbology passed without further incident. Pomona – he really should get back into the habit of calling her Professor Sprout – swept by and observed Hadrian's handling of the bubotuber before praising him for his skill around plants and awarding him and Neville twenty points apiece for finishing early. Neville, of course, receives a glowing endorsement from her.

Hadrian half-wished he could tell the woman that he was really twenty-two and not knowing how to handle plants learned in fourth year was just plain shameful.

Wrapping up early also left Hadrian some time to think though. His discussion with this world's Lily – and Severus, would miracles never cease – hadn't been what he had been expecting so soon after coming to Hogwarts. He hadn't thought he'd be interacting much with Lily, if at all, but he hadn't expected anyone important to be up and had refrained from putting up a Muffliato around him. By the time he had sensed the two professors, it had been too late, and it wasn't as if he could tell them to go away. And he had been curious to see what Lily Evans Potter was like, and when she had looked genuinely interested in what he had been saying, Hadrian hadn't been able to help himself.

He shook himself out of his thoughts when Pomona dismissed them and leaned down to grab his bag. He had Arithmancy next and that was on the seventh floor.

"Hey Weasley! Can't even handle a plant? How do you even dress yourself in the morning? Or I suppose you'd have mummy Longbottom help you button up your shirt."

For a second, Hadrian almost thought it was Draco taunting them, back when the part-time prat was still a full-time prat, but when he turned around, he found his almost mirror image standing there, a superior smirk on his face with Seamus, Dean, and Orion around him.

Glancing to his right, Hadrian found Ron's face rapidly reddening while Neville had clenched his fists. Hermione was standing between them, tugging uneasily on both their sleeves.

"Let's not cause trouble, okay?" She hissed. "Come on! Potter can't do anything; Professor Sprout is right there. Don't let him get to you."

Neville nodded curtly and began turning away but, in true Malfoy style, Harry called after them mockingly, "Or I suppose Granger would have to take over. Longbottom wouldn't have any experience in the mother department."

Hadrian clapped an iron hold around Neville's wrist as the boy's face turned white and his hand plunged into his robes for his wand. Hermione was doing the same, though her lips were pursed and she was glaring pure hatred at Harry.

"Hadrian, let go!" Neville forced out through gritted teeth.

"He's just trying to provoke you and get you in trouble," Hadrian murmured evenly. "It's your first day back to school and he's really not worth scrubbing out toilets for Filch or something. Take a deep breath and calm down."

Neville twitched but grudgingly did as he was told after a few seconds. Ron followed suit and some of the red faded from his ears, though he was still glowering murder at Harry.

"Why don't you scram, 'Puff?" Harry snapped, noticeably displeased when neither Neville nor Ron rose to his bait. "Don't you have any friends to hang out with?"

Hadrian turned an exaggeratedly pointed look on the Golden Trio before looking back at Harry. "Unless you have selective blindness, I'm fairly certain I do."

Harry narrowed his eyes and took a threatening step forward. "Hang around Golden Boy and his bad luck will rub off on you, Evans. Your parents might go the same way his did."

Hadrian frowned. For a second, Harry sounded like... Malfoy. Malfoy, not Draco, like one of those purebloods sneering down on Muggleborns except Frank and Alice had both been purebloods and Hadrian had never said what type of blood his parents had.

He tilted his head and cheated with a bit of surface Legilimency, not looking any further than the emotions his counterpart was all but radiating.

...Oh. Harry Potter was jealous? Of Neville? Or of... the Boy-Who-Lived?

Hadrian had to bite back a bark of humourless laughter. Idiot. His counterpart was an absolute moron. The boy was simply taking whatever he could – mistakes, blunders, lack of parents – to put down Neville because he was jealous of the title.

Honestly, it was like prat-Ron mixed with prat-Draco all over again.

"I'm not too worried about that," Hadrian said out loud, keeping his voice light. It was true after all. His parents were dead and gone. "But you shouldn't talk about family like that. It's disrespectful."

Harry scoffed, retorting cruelly, "Who cares? Longbottom's parents are dead. They're not going to care what I say about them."

Hadrian could all but feel Neville vibrating with pent-up fury beside him as a hush descended over the smatter of students watching their altercation.

"Yes, they're dead," Hadrian agreed quietly in the ensuing stilted silence. "Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom must have loved their son very much to die for him. For you to belittle them so carelessly – have you no shame?"

Harry opened his mouth to snap a rejoinder but stopped when he caught sight of the students watching them. They were no longer just watching. Many were nodding their heads in agreement and frowning at the popular Gryffindor, especially the handfuls of Hufflepuffs lingering outside the greenhouse. Behind him, Seamus and Dean shifted nervously while Orion remained impassively silent. The latter was staring at Hadrian with an unreadable expression.

Satisfied that he had shut his counterpart up for now, Hadrian nudged a shocked-looking Neville. "Let's go. Break's almost over and I have Arithmancy. That's on the seventh floor. I'll have to run if I want a shower first."

Apparently a bit dazed at the turn of events and the lack of wands crossing, Hadrian managed to usher the Golden Trio away before Harry could say something that would really get him punched.

At the entrance to the school, Hadrian cleared his throat. "Right, so, I guess that was a bit presumptuous of me-"

"Thanks, Hadrian," Neville cut him off, shooting a grateful look in Hadrian's direction.

Hadrian blinked before shrugging back. "I didn't say anything but the truth."

"Yes, but no one's ever really stepped in like that," Hermione interjected, looking almost teary-eyed as she glanced briefly at Neville.

"Yeah, most people just stand there," Ron huffed. "Too bad I couldn't get off one spell. I've got that Bat-Bogey hex Ginny taught me. It's her specialty. Oh, Ginny's my younger sister, a year below."

Hadrian nodded in understanding before casting a Tempus. "Alright, I really do have to run."

"We have Care of Magical Creatures," Neville said, still staring at Hadrian rather intently. "See you at lunch?"

Hadrian nodded and waved before heading down the nearest corridor, ducking into the closest shortcut he could find as Hogwarts shifted around him to shorten the distance. The castle had always been soft on him.

 


 

Both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes in the afternoon had been easy enough to put Hadrian to sleep. The homework assigned – some worksheets in a package Vector handed out for the former and an essay on linking at least two runes together and the outcome's properties for the latter – were both due next Monday. Hadrian was already halfway through the entire package and it wasn't even dinnertime yet.

The one upside about Ancient Runes was that he shared it with Hermione, who had been enthusiastically lecturing him about all the things she had learned. Once upon a time, it would've annoyed him. Now he just listened indulgently as she listed off all the singular runes. The brunette really was exceptionally brilliant.

"Hadrian!"

Hadrian sighed. "Hi, Cedric."

He had absolutely no idea why the sixth-year seemed to have taken on Befriending Hadrian Evans as his new pet project. The prefect had talked to him at breakfast, talked to him at lunch, and was now seating himself at the Hufflepuff table beside Hadrian as if there was nowhere else he would rather be. Unfortunately, Hermione had skipped off to the library as soon as class had ended while Hadrian had told her he would start on his Arithmancy homework and would meet her in the Great Hall.

"How was your first day of classes?" Cedric enquired.

"Boring," Hadrian deadpanned. He finished the thirtieth page and shuffled the thirty-first on top.

"Are you doing your homework already?" The prefect peered down at his Arithmancy homework.

"Yes," Hadrian answered shortly. His gaze slid to the side. "You know, Cedric, I appreciate you trying to... see that I'm settled in, but I'm pretty sure I've done that. I'm good at adapting, I've got friends, and my classes are pretty easy to keep up with thus far. You don't have to stick around all the time. I'm sure you've got other things to do."

Anyone else would've looked hurt or at least embarrassed or disappointed even though Hadrian had tried to phrase it as nicely as possible. Cedric just gave him a look of utter bemusement.

"Well, we're friends, aren't we?" The sixth-year pointed out.

Hadrian resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "We've known each other for less than two days."

Cedric looked indignant. "What does that have to do with anything? You've known those three Gryffs for less than two days and they're not even in the same House."

Hadrian heaved another sigh and put down his quill. He wasn't going to get anymore work done until this – whatever this was – was resolved.

"Why exactly do you want to hang around a fourth-year?" Hadrian asked, fully facing the physically older teen at last. "You've got plenty of friends to chat with or play Quidditch with or study with, and you've even got admirers ready to ask 'how high' if you tell them to jump."

Cedric's gaze narrowed thoughtfully. "Yeah, well, that's the whole point." He shook his head wryly. "The first-year Hufflepuffs already look pretty awed of me, and even the Slytherins don't have much of a problem with me. Everyone in our House has somehow put me on a pedestal and I have no idea how I got there.

"But you," The prefect grinned, unexpected and bright. "You just got here of course, but you're the only person in Hufflepuff who doesn't seem to want anything to do with me at all, and I don't even know why. You're interesting."

Hadrian twitched. "Typically, people are insulted when someone doesn't want to have anything to do with them for no particular reason."

Cedric waved a dismissive hand. "Being insulted isn't much fun, is it? Besides, I'm a badger, and badgers like to badger."

A startled laugh slipped out and Hadrian was quick to cover it with a cough. "That was awful."

Cedric arched a knowing eyebrow. "Absolutely dreadful, but you laughed. Now tell me what you're working on and why in the name of Merlin you're already finished half the package. I remember doing that. It took me until December to finish the whole thing. At this rate, you'll be done the course by the end of the month."

Hadrian shrugged uncomfortably. "It's easy. I was hoping maybe I could ask Vector to move me up a year or something."

Cedric reached out and plucked a few of the finished worksheets from the pile.

"A year's not going to do you any good," He remarked, flipping through the work. "Bloody hell, you've written down three different ways to do each problem. You could tutor me. Where did you learn all this?"

Hadrian faltered for a heartbeat, thinking of Bill and long nights pouring over textbooks and scrolls and learning everything the eldest Weasley could teach him.

"My brother taught me," He said, surreptitiously averting his eyes by flicking pointlessly through Numerology and Grammatica.

"Yeah? He must be brilliant," Cedric commented absently.

"He is," Hadrian agreed, and something in his voice must have sounded off because Cedric glanced up with a concerned frown. Hadrian blinked back innocently before setting out to pack everything away. He could hear the escalating voices and footsteps signalling the dinner rush.

He almost slumped in relief when he caught sight of Neville, Hermione, and Ron heading his way, the redhead of the group making gagging motions between re-enacting a very good rendition of Trelawney. Ron glanced up, caught Hadrian watching, and mimed peering into a cup of tea before fainting.

Hadrian snorted and exchanged a grin with the redhead.

"You treat them like old friends," Cedric observed as he handed back the worksheets. Hadrian stiffened.

"Not that that's a bad thing," Cedric added, getting to his feet as a gaggle of girls veered off and began making their way towards the prefect. Said prefect gently pressed a fist against Hadrian's bicep in an imitation of a punch. "See you around, Evans. Make sure you go see Vector about skipping a few years."

Hadrian watched Cedric go, greeting the girls with an amicable smile as they surrounded him.

He had never known Cedric Diggory in his world. They had shared several words over the course of Hadrian's first fourth year but that was it. It had never really occurred to him that Cedric, popular as he was and always surrounded by friends and admirers, might not have liked all the attention.

Rather stupid of him, really. Hadrian knew better than anyone how frustrating it was to be at the center of attention, good or bad, all the time.

 


 

The next morning saw Hadrian up before dawn once again, running several laps around the lake once again, but avoiding the Great Hall this time just in case his mother was up and about again. A part of him wanted to get to know the woman even more – she was Lily Potter of this world but still another version of his mum – but he didn't want to get too close. Even thinking about Harry being loved by James and Lily sent a spark of resentment through his heart.

History of Magic was a complete bore. It was even worse than basic Arithmancy – at least he liked Arithmancy. There was also the fact that Binns could – and probably did – talk himself to death, not to mention Houses didn't share History of Magic so Hadrian didn't even have the Golden Trio to talk to.

A free block brought him to the library for the first time that year and he quickly settled down at a table to start his Ancient Runes homework. The criteria was fairly simple but even the easiest of assignments could be fun to do in this class since Hadrian was free to link as many runes as he wanted together so long as he could prove that the end result worked.

He was halfway through a runic pentagon when tension shifted the atmosphere and his hand instinctively reached for his wand. Several feet away, a group of fifth-year Gryffindors were sitting at a table but they were no longer doing their work or even whispering amongst themselves. Instead, all their attention was focused on the student who had just entered the library.

One look at their hostile expressions told Hadrian everything he had to know without even glancing at the newcomer. Orion stood admirably against the animosity though, looking straight ahead with cold blue eyes and a tight jaw.

"Libraries aren't for werewolves, Black," One of the fifth-years spat out.

Hadrian glanced around. Madame Pince must have stepped into the back where the old archives were. It was the only time she didn't mysteriously pop out and put an end to any dispute in her library.

Orion pretended not to hear, heading over to a table as far away as possible from the Gryffindors, which also placed him one table over from Hadrian. The boy's sense of smell would have picked up Hadrian's scent by now, and even if it hadn't, there was no way Orion hadn't seen him or recognized him, yet the other fourth-year had yet to look over at him.

"Hey, we're talking to you, werewolf!" Another fifth-year barked, seemingly taking courage when Orion failed to retaliate. "Get your stinkin' hide outta here before you piss on the furniture or something!"

The Gryffindors guffawed.

Orion didn't react.

Hadrian was horrified.

He had defended Remus more than once when allies joining Hadrian's cause during the war had criticized his surrogate uncle – they had rapidly learned to fear the wrath of one Harry-Potter-now-Hadrian Evans – but they had never been this openly offensive. Then again, the aforementioned allies had all been adults with a modicum of tact and lacking the cruelty some children so thoughtlessly wielded. The criticism still held spite, as all prejudice did, but it never contained the heartless malice kids – especially teenagers – threw out, simply because most kids didn't know the extent of the damage they dealt until it was too late. At least most adults knew when to draw the line, even if they hated 'Dark' creatures with all their hearts, if only because they could see the backlash that could harm themselves.

"Excuse me," Hadrian cut in when a third Gryffindor opened his mouth to say something. "If you wish to talk amongst yourselves, please leave. I cannot concentrate with the five of you spewing worthless drivel and generally wasting the air in this room."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Orion still, hands motionless inside his bag. Hadrian spared half a second to wonder whether or not the boy would be offended – mistaking Hadrian's intent for pity when it was really only natural for Hadrian to defend people being wronged, doubly so when the person in question was Sirius and Remus' son – and then decided he didn't care one way or the other.

Nobody should ever have to stand alone against the world. It was cripplingly lonely – Hadrian could vouch for that.

"Do you know what that thing is?!" The first Gryffindor who had spoken snapped incredulously, jabbing a finger in Orion's direction. "It's a werewolf!"

Hadrian fought hard against his rising temper. He was a lot calmer nowadays but he had never managed to reign in his anger completely when it came to defending Remus, and now that extended to Orion as well.

"And this is a book," Hadrian drawled, coldly patronizing as he tapped his quill against said book. "And this is my homework. I would highly appreciate it if you would pipe down long enough for me to finish it."

The Gryffindors all rose to their feet, clustering together as some of their hostility redirected itself towards Hadrian. Hadrian mentally sneered. Did they think they could intimidate him into submission?

"You're that transfer student, aren't you?" The first Gryffindor, seemingly the leader, crossed his arms and gave Hadrian a haughty look. "We'll let that slide since you're new and obviously don't know how things work around here. As it is, I'll give you a crash course. Dark creatures are to be avoided, unless you're in Slytherin." The boy took a step forward and idly drew his wand, no doubt trying to scare Hadrian. "Small students should keep their heads down if they don't want to get hurt. Younger students should respect the older students-"

"I'm not that small," Hadrian interrupted, thoroughly annoyed. It was the second time this idiot had implied that he was undersized. Yes, he was a bit shorter than average but it wasn't as if he was the shortest fourth-year in the school or something.

The Gryffindors all glared and the leader bit out, "Are you listening, Evans?!"

"'Younger students should respect the older students'," Hadrian parroted before narrowing his eyes and letting the warmth seep from them. The Gryffindors paled. "I respect those who deserve respect. In case I wasn't clear enough to get through your thick skull, allow me to clarify: that doesn't include you."

The leader flushed red, seething as he raised his wand. Orion stiffened from his table, also going for his wand, and Hadrian hid a smile. Not so cold after all.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Hadrian advised mildly even as he pretended to shuffle through some parchment while making sure a defensive rune ended up at the top of the pile. He could cast Shield Charms wandlessly now but most of those could be seen. A defensive rune couldn't be and he thought it would be rather funny to see his attacker's expression when...

"You little bastard!" The leader snarled and shouted, "Densaugeo!"

Light shot out from his wand and at the same time, Hadrian tapped a finger against the rune, sending a trickle of his magic into it to activate it. The beam of light hit the air in front of Hadrian and instantly disappeared, sucked into the rune and locked in place, ready to spit it back out at Hadrian's command.

The Gryffindors gaped in an unsightly manner at him. On the other hand, Orion was staring between Hadrian and the rune underneath his hand. Apparently, he alone had caught what Hadrian had done.

"What- What the hell did you do?!" The leader hissed.

"Nothing," Hadrian denied before tilting his head to the left. "But did you know? Any spell fired in the Hogwarts library immediately sets off a silent alarm, automatically warning a certain librarian."

Rapid footsteps heading in their direction made all five fifth-years blanch but the leader was too slow to hide his wand before the Library Dragon rounded the corner of a bookshelf and zeroed in on them.

"Duelling in the library!" She shrieked, brandishing a feather duster as she stalked towards the cowering Gryffindors. "Out! I will not have spells flying around my books! OUT!"

The fifth-years couldn't leave fast enough, barely pausing to grab their bags before fleeing the library.

Hadrian smiled innocently when the woman rounded on him, eyeing him suspiciously. Her gaze drifted over to Orion and softened imperceptibly before looking back at Hadrian.

"You concentrate on your own work, you hear?" Pince warned. "I won't have any rule-breaking in here. Studying only."

Hadrian's smile widened. "Yes, ma'am."

Pince huffed a bit before turning on her heel and heading back the way she had come.

Hadrian watched her go, smile fading before glancing down at the rune. Simple runes like these were one-use only, and unless the spell was discharged, it would remain there until the rune's strength waned and the entire thing exploded.

With a short sigh, he placed the side of his hand at the edge of the rune and gathered his magic into it. Slowly, magic almost crackling in the air around him, he ran a hand over the rune, watching with a sense of satisfaction as the rune peeled off and dissipated without a trace.

He really did love working with runes. Along with Defence, it was something he could be proud of doing, something he had worked hard at and had become accomplished in.

A rustle of parchment made his head jerk up. He had almost forgotten that he wasn't alone.

Orion had tugged out his books and papers but he hadn't looked away from Hadrian. That odd, indiscernible expression that Hadrian had seen during his faceoff with Harry was back again.

In a sudden bout of playful impulsiveness, Hadrian offered a cheerful smile in the boy's direction and waved a greeting before finally returning to his work. He swore he saw Orion's mouth drop open ever-so-slightly.

Orion didn't say anything back, but Hadrian wasn't expecting him to. One act of kindness wasn't going to erase fourteen years of mistrust and fear. But Orion didn't move away to a farther table now that the Gryffindors were gone, and when lunch came around and they both packed up and headed for the door, Hadrian first with Orion bringing up the rear, the two of them only parted when they reached the Entrance Hall to go to their respective dorms before lunch.

 


 

Potions with the Gryffindors was scheduled after lunch, and if Hadrian thought Severus might go a little easier on him because he was both Hufflepuff and the student who had actually managed to interest the Potions Master with something outside of class, he was dead wrong.

If anything, it was the exact opposite. Severus Snape was pulling no punches. If his wide-eyed Housemates were anything to go by though, this wasn't a regular occurrence. Severus could make Hufflepuffs cry, but apparently, he didn't usually go out of his way to do so.

"Mr. Evans, transfer student you may be, but I will not tolerate any slacking in this class," Severus glowered down at him. "If you cannot keep up, do not waste my time. Inform me of your incompetency and I will send you back to a third-year class."

"Yes, sir," Hadrian answered agreeably while Ron and Neville gave the Potions Master the evil eye. Across the room, Harry, Dean, and Seamus were smirking widely.

Severus ignored them both, looming over Hadrian in bat-like form. "Very well, a short review for you then. Quickly – powdered root of asphodel added to an infusion of wormwood; what would I get?"

Hadrian almost laughed. That was the very first question his world's Severus had asked him back in first year.

"The Draught of Living Death, sir," He replied. They both ignored Hermione's mutter of "fifth-year potion".

"And what would I use to reverse the effects of the Draught?" Severus challenged.

"The Wiggenweld Potion, sir," Hadrian answered smoothly.

The Potions Master's dark gaze narrowed. "Its colour? And the difference?"

A trick question. "Magenta when the last ingredient is unicorn horn. Purple when the last ingredient is wolfsbane. The latter is only made for werewolves."

Something flickered across Severus' face. "Name one potion that includes powdered unicorn horn, what it does, its characteristics and side-effects, and both the final ingredient and the circumstances surrounding it."

Hadrian could hear Hermione pulling out parchment. "Draught of Peace, which relieves anxiety and agitation. It emits a light silver vapour and should be a turquoise blue when completed. The side-effect, if too much of the ingredients are added, puts the drinker into a deep sleep. The final ingredient is syrup of hellebore, and before it is added, the temperature of the flames must be lowered and the potion allowed to simmer for seven minutes."

That same emotion again. Hadrian was fairly certain it was approval. "What is Golpalott's Third Law?"

"The antidote for a blended poison will be equal to more than the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components," Hadrian recited. He couldn't forget that one. No matter what world, Severus Snape demanded perfection, and when his world's Severus had taken up the task of teaching Hadrian during the war, they had almost come to blows several times over Hadrian's mistakes.

Severus seemed to recede drawing back a bit as if Hadrian had already passed some sort of test. "Last question – describe Veritaserum."

Fifth year. Umbridge. Interrogation. Severus had let it slip when confronting The Toad that year.

Veritaserum was actually the last potion taught in seventh year and it wasn't even included in the NEWTs, but it also happened to be one of the potions Hadrian could probably brew in his sleep.

"Used for interrogation, it forces a person to speak truthfully," Hadrian said quietly. "Its brewing time is one lunar phase. It is clear, colourless, and odourless, almost indistinguishable from water. Three drops is all it takes for the serum to work."

A long silence followed. Save for the scratching of Hermione's quill against parchment, the entire class seemed to be holding its breath.

"We will start with poison antidotes this year," Severus voiced at last, turning away without acknowledgement.

A few students looked indignant on Hadrian's behalf but Hadrian knew the Potions Master well enough to understand the lack of insults directed his way. From now on, Severus would accept nothing but the best, and coming from Severus Snape, that was the highest praise one could get.

"Where did you learn about the law and the Veritaserum?" Hermione whispered when Severus was standing at the other end of the classroom and sneering down at Harry and his friends. "And your description of the Draught of Peace was so detailed! Even I only read an overview of it a few weeks ago."

Hadrian managed a half-smile as he adjusted the fire temperature under his cauldron. "Read it here and there. And I had a tutor once. He was a perfectionist and wouldn't let me get away with forgetting anything or skipping any steps. He made me learn all the laws first before teaching me the most important potions, even if they weren't necessarily the easiest to brew."

"So you've actually brewed Veritaserum before?" Hermione pressed, looking impressed and envious at the same time.

Severus thankfully swooped back over before he could confirm it and the brunette could needle him into teaching her. Maybe he should've gone with 'I don't know' on the last question, but he had gotten so used to answering Severus whenever the man fired questions at him that just the mere thought of falling short of his expectations made Hadrian wince.

He was quick to cram everything back into his bag and speed out of the dungeons when class ended with only a fleeting goodbye to the Golden Trio so he could duck away from Hurricane Hermione. He didn't even notice Severus' assessing gaze on his retreating back as he escaped.

 


 

"The boy is competent in Potions," Was the first thing Severus said when Lily opened her mouth to ask. He knew she had wanted to quiz him about Hadrian Evans ever since she realized he would be teaching the boy today. "He answered my questions with sufficient detail and brewed a flawless Wound-Cleaning Potion in class."

Lily did a double-take. "Wound-Cleaning? That's a medical potion and one not touched on until sixth year. You had your entire class brew a sixth-year potion?"

Severus scoffed. "Of course not. A class of dunderheads brewing something far beyond their reach all in one room? Enough explosions happen when they brew something simple. I told them I would assign them different potions to brew. Most of them prepared Pepperup, and a select few made Murtlap Essence. Evans was the only one to brew a Wound-Cleaning Potion."

Lily relaxed somewhat and brightened. "And he succeeded?"

Severus' lip curled. "Quite, and he spent most of that time simultaneously holding a conversation with Granger while making sure Longbottom and Weasley's potions didn't melt their cauldrons. As a result, both of them turned in borderline adequate potions today. I am uncertain whether I should keep them together or separate them."

Lily chuckled at the distaste painted on his face. "What happened to Hadrian's potion then? Did you keep it?"

"No," Severus said, carrying on when Lily looked confused. "I gave it to Poppy. She asked me why I suddenly 'wanted to be nice' today."

Lily laughed, and Severus rolled his eyes. "She mistook the potion for something you made? High praise indeed."

Severus nodded, taking a sip of water as his gaze wandered over to the Hufflepuff table again and wondered why the boy wasn't a Ravenclaw, or even a Gryffindor. Gryffindors at least lacked enough common sense to look him in the eye when he insulted them.

Unlike Albus, Severus didn't fling his Legilimency around at every given opportunity. He didn't have too many qualms about digging into other people's minds but he did draw the line at invading privacy when it wasn't absolutely necessary. The few times he had used it on Longbottom had mostly been in the boy's first and second year when the fool was running around with two other eleven-year-olds and poking their noses into danger.

It didn't help that Albus had encouraged them. Setting traps that first-years could get past to stop the Dark Lord? Severus had nearly yanked his hair out when, after the whole Philosopher's Stone fiasco had passed and he had gone to the third-floor corridor to take down his trap, he had found the riddle he had originally come up with gone and a pathetically easy one in its stead. It didn't take a genius to realize what had happened. Clever Granger might be but Severus hadn't played Slytherin spy for nothing, and Albus knew that.

Despite having once been a Death Eater, Severus didn't consider himself a particularly violent man, but he had come very close to punching Albus in the face that day when the man had twinkled at him and said it was for the Greater Good. Nothing, not even Potter Jr. at his worst, could irritate him as much as those two words.

So when Evans had met his gaze and answered all his questions without hesitation, Severus had refrained from entering the boy's mind. Thinking back, there had been something in those eerie green eyes that had made him wary as well. He wondered if Evans knew Occlumency.

"Poppy is interested in him," Severus said aloud, glancing down the table at the nurse who was currently chatting with Minerva. "Wanted to know if Evans wants to go into the medical field."

Lily hummed thoughtfully. "I think he might be a bit too taken with Ancient Runes though."

Severus said nothing. He wondered if anyone would notice if he started assigning Evans more difficult potions to see just how adept the boy was.

 


 

For Hadrian, the week passed without much more than an occasional run-in with Harry and his gang. He hadn't even bumped into Draco yet, which was strange because he and the Draco in his world had butted heads every other day back in Hogwarts. School had just started though so there were many more chances to meet the counterparts of the people he knew.

Charms on Wednesday and Transfiguration on Thursday both earned him points for Hufflepuff and delight from both Filius and Minerva at his skill in their respective subjects. He had never shone in Transfiguration like he was told his father had nor was he especially talented in Charms like his mother had been, but he supposed it certainly looked that way from other people's point of views.

Defence was... well, Hadrian spent most of the time keeping his head down and trying very hard not to kill Not-Moody right then and there. The bastard ranted on about Unforgivables and Hadrian wondered vindictively if he could get away with Avada Kedavra-ing Crouch Jr. to kingdom come as he watched Neville slowly turning whiter and whiter.

The moment class ended, Hadrian had hauled Neville away, leaving Hermione to deal with Ron rambling on about the curses in a slightly awed voice.

"Drink," Hadrian ordered the moment he found an empty classroom and locked the door behind them. "It's a Calming Draught. Drink it, and then take a deep breath."

Ashen-faced and shaking, Neville obeyed, gulping down the potion without a grimace and then taking a deep breath. Hadrian thought it was rather good foresight on his part when he had brought the potion along from his emergency stash in his trunk. He had found it shrunken down underneath his clothes only yesterday.

"Are you going to be alright?" He asked once Neville's breathing had steadied and colour began returning to his face. "Or do you want to go to the Hospital Wing?"

"I'll be fine," Neville mumbled and then cleared his throat. "I didn't mean to- I mean- I was thinking about- about my parents."

Hadrian didn't say anything. There wasn't really much one could say to make the situation better in cases like these.

Instead, he sat down next to Neville, who had slid down onto the floor with his back against the wall, and pressed his shoulder firmly against the other teen's.

Five minutes ticked by, then ten, before Neville finally raised his head and looked over at Hadrian.

"Thanks," He said somewhat thickly. "Not- Not just for the potion, but for what you said on Monday." He shifted, looking embarrassed. "I've only known you for less than a week but you just- you... understand? I don't know if that makes sense-"

"My parents died too," Hadrian offered, and Neville's eyes widened with dawning realization. "In a raid. Died protecting me. I know the feeling."

They stayed silent for several moments longer, listening to the hallways empty outside the classroom as students headed to the Great Hall for dinner.

Neville was good enough not to ask and Hadrian didn't press him for detail either as they later made their way to dinner as well in a companionable silence, the Defence lesson, if not gone, then at least no longer as fresh or painful.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Please, for the love of Merlin, Hermione, stop handing out those SPEW badges!"

Hadrian froze, a piece of chicken that Cedric had piled onto his plate along with a hell of a lot of other food – the prefect seemed to have stepped into the role of Hadrian's mother or something after he had seen how little Hadrian ate at meals – halfway to his mouth.

Ah, SPEW. He had forgotten. Fourth year was when Hermione's house-elf campaign had started.

He heaved a sigh and lowered the chicken again. Honestly, he wasn't hungry. A sharp elbow in his ribs and a stern look from Cedric made him jab his fork into the chicken a little harder than necessary. He was unrepentantly glad when the Golden Trio pulled up behind him and Hermione rebuked the redhead vehemently enough to drag Cedric's attention away from Hadrian.

"I will not stop! And it's not SPEW, it's S.P.E.W.! House-elves should be free to do as they wish! House-elves having to obey every order a witch or wizard dishes out – it's slavery, that's what it is!"

"She's been like that all weekend," Neville sighed as he sat down on Hadrian's Cedric-free side. The prefect and the three Gryffindors had formed a polite sort of friendship through Hadrian over the past week of school. "Where have you been? We didn't see you yesterday or Saturday and we couldn't talk much this morning."

"Ancient Runes homework," Hadrian said vaguely. Truthfully, he had been in the Room of Requirement getting some much-needed peace and quiet. He hadn't expected to have four different people surrounding him day in and day out only a week into the year. "Due today."

"Hmm, lucky you," Even Neville looked mildly disgruntled. Hermione had always been very passionate about her ideals.

"Hadrian!"

Hadrian hid a wince and cautiously twisted around to face the brunette. "Yes, Hermione?"

He drew back a little when a badge was thrust into his face and pleading but determined brown eyes caught his gaze.

"It's wrong that house-elves are forced to obey people!" She said stoutly. "They work in the castle, cooking for us and doing our laundry, all without pay! It's why I formed the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. You agree, don't you? And Cedric, you'll support S.P.E.W. too, right?"

For the first time since Hadrian had really met Cedric, the prefect looked slightly intimidated even as he shot a nervous glance at Hadrian.

"Er..." Cedric coughed to stall for time, fiddling with his tie. "I'd like to but-"

"Great!" Hermione somehow forced a badge into Cedric's startled hands before whipping out another and holding it expectantly in front of Hadrian.

Hadrian eyed the badge before reaching out and gently closing Hermione's fingers over it. The crestfallen look on her face made him feel a bit like scum but he forged on resolutely.

"Hermione, did the house-elves say they don't want to work here?" Hadrian prompted.

Hermione bit her lip. "Well, no, but they don't know what it's like to be free! They'll be happy once they are!"

Hadrian deliberated this for a moment before enquiring, "Are they not happy right now?"

Hermione opened her mouth and then closed it again, fumbling for words. "They could be happier!" She insisted.

"How do you know?" Hadrian challenged relentlessly. "Did you ask?"

"Well-! They just don't know any better!"

"They're house-elves, Hermione," Hadrian reminded. "Not children. They can think for themselves."

A faint blush crept onto the brunette's features as she tried to pull away. "If you don't want to join-"

"I didn't say that," Hadrian kept a firm grip on her wrist so she couldn't storm off in a huff. "What you're trying to do is admirable but shouldn't you take the house-elves' opinions into account as well? I won't deny that some house-elves are mistreated, but that doesn't mean all of them are. If human children were being mistreated, you'd have them removed and put into a better home, yes?"

Hermione's brow creased in confusion as she slowly nodded. "Yes, of course."

"But that doesn't mean all children are mistreated by their families," Hadrian continued. "Would it be fair if someone started campaigning to have all children removed from their parents?"

Hermione blanched, looking slightly appalled. "That's different!"

Hadrian shrugged and finally released her. "It's the same concept. As far as I can see, the house-elves here are perfectly happy working in the castle. Cooking, cleaning – it's what they like to do. We humans are a lazy lot; we don't like doing laundry or cooking meals after a long day, but house-elves are different. They like working in the kitchens and helping us out as much as Ron likes playing chess or you like reading or Neville likes tending plants or Cedric here likes playing Quidditch. Removing them from an environment they enjoy being in is hardly going to help."

Hermione stared at him before glancing down almost forlornly at the badge in her hand.

"I still think they could be happier free," Hermione persisted in a tiny voice, her stubbornness shining through.

A step behind her, Ron opened his mouth to no doubt shut her down with his usual tactless candour, but Neville hastily kicked him surreptitiously in the shin to shut him up.

Hadrian allowed a small smile as he offered, "How about this then? You hold off on your S.P.E.W. campaign and we can do some proper research on whether or not house-elves should be freed."

Hermione perked up. "Research?"

Hadrian nodded. "Yeah, we can look through some more books in the library and head down to the kitchens to interview some of the house-elves as well. That way, we'll know for sure if they should be completely freed."

Hermione beamed at him. Hadrian mentally congratulated himself.

"'We'?" Hermione recalled craftily.

Hadrian's smile bordered on a smirk as he glanced over at the other boys who had been silent so far. "Count me in, and I'm sure Nev and Ron would be delighted to help."

"Me too," Cedric interjected, taking the opportunity to pass his badge back to Hermione. "I'll be glad to help."

Neville looked far happier about this and even Ron nodded grudgingly as he sat down on the opposite side of the Hufflepuff table.

Hermione smiled widely and Hadrian tilted his head at the empty seat beside Ron. "Now come on, you should eat something. Didn't you skip out on breakfast this morning?"

"And dinner last night," Ron grumbled, already starting on a turkey pie as Hermione settled down beside him. "Skipping two meals and breakfast before that. You're mad."

Hermione scowled at the redhead. "House-elves made this food!"

"And they went to all the trouble of preparing it," Hadrian mused slyly. "It'd be a shame to let it all go to waste."

Hermione's lips quivered in reluctant amusement before she reached out and dragged over a salad. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing, Hadrian Evans."

Hadrian just grinned impishly at her before forking his chicken again. Cedric probably wasn't going to let him leave the table until he finished everything on his plate.

"I don't know anyone who can talk her down like you did," Neville murmured in a low voice so Hermione wouldn't overhear as she chatted with Ron.

Hadrian hummed noncommittally. He hadn't been able to either, once upon a time, but no one knew Ron, Hermione, and even Neville better than he did nowadays, and that included their parallel selves.

"You're good at debate," Cedric remarked thoughtfully. "You'd probably make a terrifying lawyer."

Hadrian scoffed. "Please, I don't have the patience to sit in a courtroom all day. I'd go insane."

"An action kind of guy then?" Cedric grinned.

Hadrian thought of all the battles he had led, all the deaths on his shoulders, all the blood on his hands.

"Yeah," He smiled blandly and concentrated on his food. "Something like that."

{3}

"Green Eyes, stay behind please."

Hadrian paused in the doorway and looked back at Babbling. He made a shooing motion with one hand to Hermione who had stopped a few paces ahead. "I'll meet up with you guys at dinner."

Hermione nodded and departed as Hadrian moved back into the classroom and approached the professor standing at her desk and staring distractedly at some papers on her desk.

Bathsheda Babbling, as Hadrian had learned, had an absentminded air about her that reminded him of Luna and a penchant for never calling anyone by their actual name. Whether this was because she honestly couldn't remember or because she found it entertaining, nobody knew. Hadrian was Green Eyes, while Hermione was Curly, something she found extremely irritating. She hadn't been particularly pleased either when Ron had pointed out that it could be worse and she could've been called Bushy instead.

Small and thin with dark brown hair, she seemed about Severus and Lily's age and taught with an affable and serene demeanour. She had a tendency to forget about her class though, sometimes carrying off on a tangent and muttering to herself about one concept or another.

Most of the kids, especially Hermione, wished she would stop because she often jumped from idea to idea, too quickly for them to follow. Hadrian wished she would do it more often. Her digressions were always more interesting than what she taught.

"Professor?" He prompted when it looked like she had forgotten he was there. "You wanted to see me?"

Babbling blinked and then looked up, blue eyes pinning him in place. She certainly didn't look absentminded now.

"What is this?" She asked as she tossed whatever she had been looking at in front of him.

Hadrian frowned. "My homework, ma'am."

"This is not what I assigned," Babbling countered.

An edge of unexpected anxiety twisted Hadrian's stomach but his voice remained level. "We were supposed to link at least two runes together. You did not specify that we were to link only two runes together."

Babbling continued staring unblinkingly at him. "Miss Granger linked three."

Hadrian wasn't sure what this non sequitur had to do with anything so he settled for nodding. A heartbeat later, he found a piece of chalk extended towards him.

"Write out the entire procedure," The professor instructed, gesturing at the board. "Don't bother with the properties, just write out how you got the pentagon."

Hadrian could see that dinner was probably going to be nonexistent for him tonight. "All of it?"

Babbling's eyes glinted. "All of it."

Hadrian stifled a sigh before placing his bag down and moving to the board.

Two hours and five chalkboards' worth of research and data and formulae later, Hadrian straightened up and stepped away from the sketch of the runic pentagon that was his end product.

Turning around, he found Babbling standing a few feet behind him, gaze flickering through all the steps at a rapid pace, over and over again. Hadrian didn't know whether she was trying to look for a mistake or was simply that interested. A runic pentagon, while complicated, wasn't the most difficult thing he could come up with. A runic triskaidecagon – now that was impressive. He had only ever done it once, with five months' time and Bill's help, and the end result had still only had a seventy-two percent chance of success. It had taken thirteen wizards and witches to maintain it and had been a miracle they had managed to pull it off in the end.

"You did this in a week?" Babbling voiced at last. There was no disbelief on her face, just a sort of contemplative scrutiny. Hadrian had no idea what to make of it.

"Yes," He said for lack of anything better to say. "...Is there a problem?"

"Most definitely," Babbling declared at once. Hadrian stiffened and turned back to the board. Had he made a mistake? On a runic pentagon? Bill must be rolling in his grave.

"Don't bother coming to class next week," Babbling continued, and Hadrian wheeled around again, stunned. His professor was already heading back to her desk.

"What?" Hadrian straightened, glancing repeatedly back at the board and trying to figure out what he had done wrong. "Look, if you give me half an hour – fifteen minutes even – I'll find whatever I did wrong and correct it, but please don't kick me out! I love Ancient Runes; I really want to continue this class-"

Babbling frowned at him, picking up his report once more. "The pentagon's perfect; there's nothing wrong with it. But I won't allow you to continue attending my classes."

Hadrian stared at her in bewilderment. So there wasn't anything wrong with his work? Then why the hell was he being ejected from the class?

He tried again. "But-"

"No buts," Babbling shook her head, rummaging around in her drawer before pulling out a piece of parchment and picking up a quill. "I don't want to see you sitting with the other students ever again."

Annoyance began creeping in, overlapping his earlier apprehension.

"You can't just kick me out without reason," He said, the steely note he usually hid when he wasn't commanding troops sliding effortlessly back into his voice. He saw Babbling pause. "At the very least, please explain what I have done wrong. Professor."

Babbling slowly looked up. Hadrian didn't know why she was so visibly surprised. Any student would want to know why they were being dismissed, wouldn't they?

"Wrong?" Babbling echoed, tucking a strand of hair behind one ear as she stepped away from her desk towards him. "You did nothing wrong, Green Eyes. But you can't possibly tell me you want to continue sitting in class listening to me explain singular runes and concepts so basic you could probably recite them in your sleep. Well you could, but you certainly can't convince me of the same. You created a runic pentagon in a week. Students don't even touch on chained runes until seventh year, only paired runes and trinities and maybe quadriviums if they can handle it, but you managed something beyond that in the first week of your fourth. Before you arrived, Miss Granger was one of my best students, and from what I've managed to glean from her assignment so far, her third rune needs strengthening. There's still room for improvement."

She took another step forward, waving his assignment in the air. "You though, from what you've just shown me, I guarantee you could sit the Runes OWL tomorrow and pass with flying colours. You can sit the NEWT right after and pass that too. There is no point for you to remain in any of my classes."

Hadrian couldn't help it – his mouth dropped open. Babbling just tilted her head with an air of puzzlement as if she truly couldn't understand why he was so staggered.

"W- Wait," Hadrian spluttered. "So I'm not in trouble? I haven't done anything wrong? I'm just... above the seventh years in terms of skill and that's why you won't let me back in?"

Babbling squinted at him. "That is what I've been telling you since the beginning, Green Eyes. Did you hit your head recently? Perhaps you should head to the Hospital Wing after we are done here."

Hadrian twitched, and then sighed and ran a hand over his face. He would've thought she was mocking him if he hadn't heard the genuine note of concern in her voice. Apparently, his Ancient Runes professor – soon to be ex-professor – was simply socially inept. If she had said as much from the beginning instead of dropping easily misconstrued hints, he wouldn't have gotten the wrong impression. Then again, she seemed pretty oblivious to the fact that she hadn't explained properly at all.

"No, ma'am," Hadrian smiled wryly at her. "I'm fine, thank you. About the class – I would still like to at least sit my OWLs and NEWTs with the other students. I suppose I could self-study in the meantime but-"

"No, no, no," Babbling interrupted once more, shaking her head as she motioned at the parchment on her desk. "Green Eyes, are you quite sure you didn't hit your head? I told you – you could sit your Runes OWL tomorrow and your NEWT right after. As that isn't quite possible since an examiner can't be arranged in time and Whitebeard always has to do a lot of hemming and hawing and grandstanding to show how benevolent he is before granting permission when it isn't one of his precious Gryffindors in question, it probably won't be for at least a few weeks yet, though I still want you to come in perhaps a few hours a week to discuss more advanced theories with me. We'll have to make sure you know the material covered in the exams as well..."

As Babbling rambled on to herself and returned to her desk, Hadrian wondered if she even realized she had just insulted Albus Dumbledore, or if she was just very straightforward.

Either way, Hadrian thought Babbling might just have become one of his favourite teachers.

 


 

"Hadrian, we missed you last night," Hermione called out as soon as Hadrian came into view. Their newest addition – she wondered if people might start calling them the Golden Quartet soon (if they did, she'd have to hex them; it was a god-awful name for any group unrelated to something straight out of an orchestra) – looked, as always, as alert as any other time of the day. Hadrian never seemed to come to breakfast with bed hair or bleary eyes, though he always forewent his tie. She didn't think she had ever seen him wear it. The teachers never complained though, so Hermione let it go. She still wore her tie but both Neville and Ron had unfortunately noticed Hadrian's bad habit and lack of reprimand he got for it and had wasted no time making their ties vanish as well.

"Professor Babbling held me back to discuss my assignment," Hadrian said as he sat down at the Gryffindor table with them. If it wasn't for the Hufflepuff crest on his robes, Hermione would've forgotten that he wasn't actually a Gryffindor. Occasionally, in the past, she had thought that if someone ever tried to butt into their trio, it would make things awkward, but Hadrian simply fit into their group as if he had always been there.

Neville absently pushed two muffins in Hadrian's direction as he enquired, "Already? Didn't you just hand it in yesterday?"

"She started marking them halfway through class," Hermione interjected as she nibbled on a piece of toast. "We usually have a study period in the last half hour so she does the marking in the meantime."

Ron shot a sympathetic look at Hadrian. "She held you back for your first assignment? Harsh."

Hermione peered curiously at the Hufflepuff when an odd look stole over his face. "Hadrian? Did she give you a bad mark? If you want, I could look over the next essay for you before we hand it in."

Hadrian swallowed a mouthful of food before offering a rueful half-smile. "Actually, she didn't hold me back because there was something wrong with my assignment. She... well, here, take a look."

He rifled through his bag and pulled out a roll of parchment, passing it over to Hermione who quickly unrolled it. Nothing wrong with the assignment? Then why...?

Her eyes grew wider and wider as she read the essay. She was only dimly aware of Neville and Ron leaning over the table and trying to make sense of the runes upside-down.

"This is- How did you- What-!" She stammered helplessly, speechless with shock. A runic pentagon? She didn't even know how to go about starting one of those! The trinity rune she had created had given her enough trouble and she knew it hadn't been perfect when she had handed it in!

"Ancient Runes is my specialty," Hadrian shrugged as if he hadn't done something absolutely insane.

"I have no idea what this is about but I'm guessing it's really good?" Ron queried, munching on some cereal.

"Really good?!" Hermione shrieked, shooting to her feet and unwittingly attracting attention from at least a quarter of the Great Hall as she shook the assignment in their faces, trying to get them to understand. "This isn't really good, Ronald! This is- This is- unbelievable!"

There was a short silence for several heartbeats as conversation along the entire Gryffindor table and half the Hufflepuff's died down and even Potter looked over with an irritated frown. They were also sitting fairly close to the head table where the teachers sat so a number of the professors had glanced over too. An unbidden blush rose in her cheeks.

And then Hadrian was standing as well, reaching over to pluck the essay from her grip with a faintly bemused grin. "Thank you, I think, but it really isn't that big a deal. You'll be able to do it too in a few years."

"Yes, in a few years!" Hermione burst out, amazed and admittedly a bit jealous. She knew Hadrian was smart – she had seen as much in Potions and Charms, which they shared, and while not as good as Neville in Herbology (who was?), he was still adept enough to earn Sprout's approval – but she had had no idea that he literally excelled in Ancient Runes.

"You'll catch up in no time if you want to, Hermione," Hadrian said with a certainty Hermione didn't share. "Now, I have to go get ready for History-"

"Oh no you don't, Evans!" Hermione grabbed his arm before the teen could go anywhere. "You already skipped out on me for Potions! I'm not letting you go anywhere until you agree to tutor me in Ancient Runes!"

Hadrian made a face. "Hermione, I'm not the best choice-"

"You're the best in the school," She said confidently, and she was sure it was true. She had needled a few Gryffindor seventh-years taking Ancient Runes into letting her take a look at their work, and while they had been working on pentagonal and hexagonal runes, they certainly hadn't been as complicated as Hadrian's.

Hadrian glanced around, shooting a baleful look at Neville and Ron who were watching them with vastly amused grins and providing no help to the Hufflepuff whatsoever. She would have to thank them later.

Hadrian heaved a sigh and turned back. "After me, you're the best in our class. By January, you'll probably be as good as most fifth years. What more do you want?"

Hermione huffed. She would've crossed her arms had she not been convinced that Hadrian would run off as soon as she released him. "It's not the same! Please, Hadrian? I'll work hard! I'll learn whatever you're willing to teach me!"

"It's a good idea, Green Eyes," A voice interrupted, and they both turned to find Babbling leaning forward from her seat at the head table, fly-away brown hair even more messy than usual, as it typically was in the mornings.

Hermione had noticed the fact that Hadrian was never particularly comfortable when he sat between people, and Cedric almost always made sure Hadrian sat on the outside when they gathered at the Hufflepuff table, so she had pointed it out to Neville and Ron and they had made an effort to grab one of the ends of the Gryffindor table during meals whenever Hadrian joined them. This morning, they were clustered on the end closest to the staff.

"Professor!" Hadrian hissed, looking slightly panicked. "I've never tutored anyone in my life!"

"There's a first for everything," Babbling nodded to herself. "It'll be good experience for you, don't you agree?"

"I bloody well do no-"

"He agrees," Babbling cut him off, beaming at Hermione. "I expect you to turn in even better work from now on, Curly."

Hermione nodded vigorously, quite satisfied with the turn of events. Babbling normally got on her nerves since she was just so... ditzy, but if it took her special brand of browbeating to bully Hadrian into tutoring Hermione, so be it.

Hadrian was staring from Babbling to Hermione and then to the surrounding eyes as if looking for help, a dumbfounded expression painting his features. And then he threw up his hands, shaking Hermione off as he slung his bag over one shoulder and shot her a disapproving scowl.

"Women," He muttered, and marched out of the hall, completely ignoring the stares he was getting.

Hermione grinned to herself and finally sat back down. Hadrian wasn't the sort to take things lying down if he really didn't want to do something, but he hadn't said no this time.

 


 

"Severus? You have Mr. Evans on Tuesdays, don't you? What do you think of him?"

Severus stirred at last from his glowering distaste at sitting through the staff meeting. Albus always insisted weekly staff meetings so that all the professors could vent their pent-up aggravation on how obtuse the newest batch of dunderheads were, how much more brainless the returning simpletons had gotten, and which students – namely Potter and Longbottom – should be picked out and kept an eye on for their outstanding stupidity.

Though Albus hadn't phrased it like that exactly. The Headmaster had expressed it more along the lines of how the students were adjusting to classes, if the first-years were homesick, if the Potter spawn had done anything dubiously entertaining lately, and if the Boy-Who-Lived had run headlong into any death-defying ventures yet.

Same thing.

But unlike the last three years, this meeting wasn't completely filled with talk of the two students Severus was perfectly content to not discuss ever again.

This time, almost everyone had something to say about one Hadrian Evans.

Minerva and Filius had praised the boy's work in their respective class, insisting that he was even more talented than Granger. Severus had recalled the small display of wandless magic with the music last week. Granted, it hadn't been much and a select few coming through Hogwarts every seven years had always had the ability to perform little bits of wandless magic if their core was large enough, but Transfiguration and Charms always came somewhat easier for those who knew it.

Binns hadn't even remembered who Evans was – nothing new there – while Moody had waved a dismissive hand and growled something about not having started practical work yet. Which reminded Severus that he and Minerva, in an astounding turn of events, had rallied together and were still trying to talk the senile old man out of allowing the ex-Auror to perform an Unforgivable on the students.

They weren't having much luck.

Evans didn't take Divination – thank the lord the boy had good sense – so Trelawney couldn't issue her usual caveats of death. Sinistra hadn't noticed anything in particular during Astronomy but it was still early yet.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, Septima had proclaimed Evans to be a genius in Arithmancy. The boy had finished the entire package she had handed out in a week even though it was supposed to stretch to December, and after testing him on more advanced material, she had given him permission to drop Arithmancy and attend Advanced Arithmancy Studies instead, placing him with a number of sixth- and seventh-years.

Albus had frowned subtly at this and Severus had had to hold back a sneer. Evans was an unknown and wasn't in the Headmaster's sphere of influence, and Severus knew firsthand just how much the old man liked to be in control of every asset he could get his hands on. Albus vehemently opposed the Dark Lord, but sometimes, when Severus allowed himself to think about it, he wondered if maybe the Headmaster was simply starting to become the lesser of two evils.

Pomona had beamed proudly at the commendation for a student in her house before adding her own piece. Evans was skilled in Herbology. He didn't shine as much as some Hufflepuffs and especially Longbottom, but he was definitely above average. The woman had also commented on the boy's friendship with the Golden Trio as well as sixth-year prefect Cedric Diggory, though she did wish he would make some other friends in his own House too.

She had finished by bringing up an altercation that Severus had inwardly perked up at. A quarrel between Potter and Evans had taken place outside one of her greenhouses, and while she had been ready to intervene if the argument dissolved into a brawl, she had stayed out of it in the end. Apparently, Evans had stopped Longbottom from hexing Potter, won the other students over with several critical remarks, and brought Potter down a few pegs.

Anyone who wouldn't stand for Potter Jr.'s arrogant condescension was a godsend in Severus' opinion.

And now it was Severus' turn.

"The boy is adequate in Potions," He allowed curtly, weighing the pros and cons of telling Albus of the Wound-Cleaning Potion last week and the Blood-Replenishing Potion today, the latter as flawless as the former had been. "He will have no trouble keeping up."

A stilted silence followed as everyone simply gaped at him. Even Albus had raised his eyebrows. Lily only smiled quietly beside him.

"No complaints? That was tantamount to raucous applause for you, Severus," The Headmaster voiced mildly, though there was a calculating gleam in his eyes behind his usual twinkle.

Severus sneered. "Hardly. I am only divulging my observations of Mr. Evans. He, at least, will not blunder around my classroom blowing up cauldrons and wasting ingredients, which is more than I can say for most of this school."

His sneer grew more pronounced when what sounded like a collective sigh of relief was released.

His eyes slid over to Poppy who had yet to speak up about the two potions he had given her so far. The nurse was a terrifying mother hen when it came to her patients and a kind, good-natured woman to her colleagues and friends. However, because she was so mild-mannered, most people didn't truly realize that she was in fact one of the best healers in the Wizarding world, and she would have to have a sharp mind to achieve that position.

Poppy met his gaze evenly and said nothing.

There were some, especially in the Order, who followed Albus blindly, but Severus wasn't one of them. He had made that mistake once with the Dark Lord – he wasn't in any hurry to do so again. Lily was also smart enough not to let Albus lead her around without good reason, and while Potter, Black, and Lupin could be infinitely dense, they valued their family and friends more than anything and would die before letting Albus do anything to harm them, directly or indirectly.

Thankfully, Minerva, Filius, Poppy, and possibly Pomona were all smart enough to think for themselves as well. They had all seen just how ruthless Albus could be during the last war, what he was willing to sacrifice for his Greater Good. They all worked with him because he was honestly trying to protect those opposing the Dark Lord, but they remained cautious of his methods even now.

"Bathsheda? What do you think? I seem to recall an issue this morning regarding Mr. Evans tutoring Miss Granger."

Severus had always thought Bathseda Babbling to be a rather odd witch. A certified prodigy in Ancient Runes but definitely strange. Four years below him back in Hogwarts and a Ravenclaw, the woman was one of those people who simply didn't click with the rest of society, though he supposed he wasn't one to talk.

At the moment, Bathsheda was shuffling through some papers but looked up when Albus prompted her.

"Hmm?" She blinked, brow furrowing in concentration before her expression cleared. "Oh, with Green Eyes?"

Lily muffled a chuckle and a murmur of amusement rippled through the staffroom.

Albus' eyes twinkled from behind his half-moon spectacles. "Yes, Green Eyes."

Bathsheda's head bobbed enthusiastically as her fingers fiddled with the parchment in front of her. "It'll be good for him. Which reminds me, I need you to sign this."

She drew out a few sheets of paper and levitated it over to the headmaster. Severus arched an eyebrow when blatant surprise flashed briefly over Albus' face.

"Bathsheda," Albus glanced back at the brunette. "Perhaps you should reconsider. It has only been-"

"No!" Bathsheda rose to her feet, hands cracking against the table as she leaned forward. Her expression was suddenly fierce and focused. "No dawdling, Whitebeard! I say he can, and I'm rather good at assessing Ancient Runes!"

"But my dear," Albus started gently. "Asking a fourth-year transfer student to take both his Ancient Runes OWL and NEWT places too much pressure on him, no matter how much talent he has for the subject. He won't be able to handle it."

Severus' eyebrows shot up. Bathsheda wanted Evans to take his Ancient Runes exams now?

"I have proof!" Bathsheda declared, unrolling a scroll and tapping it with her wand. Instantly, a mass of rune symbols, formulae, and explanations sprang in the air, floating in front of them for all to see.

Severus didn't specialize in Ancient Runes but he knew enough to understand what he was looking at after examining the work for a long five minutes.

He wasn't often impressed but it had happened, mostly when Lily was concerned. However, this was one of those times.

All around the room, the other professors were leaning in, studying the rune scripture with great intensity. Lily, Filius, Septima, and Minerva had even pulled out a quill and parchment and were writing it down.

"Mr. Evans created this?" Albus enquired gravely at last.

Bathsheda nodded, and Severus thought this was the first time he had ever seen the witch look proud.

"I've taught seventh-years who couldn't make something like this by the time graduation rolls around, and he drew it out for me in two hours yesterday, created it in only a week's time. The seventh-year material will put him to sleep. I want him as my apprentice," She concluded adamantly. "And he can't be that until he passes his Runes OWL and NEWT."

A wave of surprised murmurs swept the room. Bathsheda had never taken on an apprentice before, not even when graduates returned to ask for an apprenticeship with her. It wasn't unheard of for a student still attending Hogwarts to be apprenticed to a professor – Minerva had taken a few over the years and Filius had taken a handful in his time – but they were usually seventh-years, maybe the rare sixth-year who had a lot of potential. Those students had all taken their OWLs already before they asked for an apprenticeship, and teachers would only agree once they had taken the necessary NEWT and received a satisfactory mark.

Albus sighed, once again peering down at the forms that would bypass ministerial education procedures and declare Evans a special case.

"I think you should sign it, Albus," Lily spoke up, garnering the room's attention. "Hadrian is obviously not being challenged enough. He wouldn't be even if we moved him up to the seventh-year course. An apprenticeship sounds like a good idea, and Bathsheda is willing to take him on."

Albus looked curious. "'Hadrian'? I did not realize you were on speaking terms with Mr. Evans."

Lily smiled guilelessly. "Apparently, he wakes up fairly early and I bumped into him one morning last week. We had a bit of a chat. He even brought up his interest in Ancient Runes. Besides, I personally think it sounds a bit odd for me to call anyone Mr. Evans."

Albus nodded, satisfied, and didn't ask for any detail. Severus thought, with a touch of wistfulness, that Lily would've done well in Slytherin. She hadn't lied, only misdirected. The best lie was, after all, the truth.

"Bathsheda, are you certain you can handle an apprentice?" Albus enquired next.

Bathsheda looked indignant. "Of course! How hard can it be? He gets me coffee in the morning, I teach him what I know, he helps me with my classes and marking, and I... well, teach him everything I know. Easy."

Severus inwardly grimaced. He suddenly felt a bit sorry for Evans. Did the boy even know Bathsheda wanted to apprentice him?

Albus looked faintly exasperated. "Perhaps I should speak to Mr. Evans first. I do have some knowledge of runes. I could ask him a few questions to see if he is capable of taking his exams early."

"He's not under your jurisdiction when it comes to an Ancient Runes apprenticeship!" Bathsheda objected sullenly. Her expression became thoroughly dejected. "He's my first apprentice. I want to do this myself, including preparing him for the required exams."

Albus sighed again, but this time, it was much more resigned. Bathsheda easily picked up on it and instantly brightened. Severus idly wondered if she didn't have a bit of Slytherin in her too. It probably helped that Bathsheda had never asked for anything during her tenure as a Hogwarts professor. The woman had always kept to herself and never interacted with even the Headmaster if she could help it.

"Very well," Albus capitulated, conjuring a quill and scribbling his signature on the first page before flipping to the next and signing again. "Do give him at least a month to prepare for his OWL and NEWT though. The earliest exam date I will allow is October."

"October first then," Bathsheda agreed as she whisked the forms back and cancelled the charm holding Evans' assignment in the air. Apparently, she could be gracious in victory.

"I'll start preparing a review package for him," She announced cheerfully and dashed out of the room.

"...I believe that is the first time I have ever seen her so excited," Minerva commented in her wake.

"Indeed," Albus agreed, steepling his fingers. "Well, let's end the meeting here. Do keep an eye on Mr. Evans though. A gifted student mustn't be left to his own devices if he gets too bored."

The genial smile on his face pulled several chuckles from the professors as they rose to take their leave but Severus only scowled as he followed Lily out the door.

Evans was lucky he had befriended the Boy-Who-Lived and was a Hufflepuff to boot. Who knew how much worse Albus' opinion of the boy would be if Evans had landed in Slytherin and refused any friendship with Longbottom?

 


 

Hadrian grumbled to himself behind a Silencing Charm as he laid in his bed that night, five days after he had been forced into becoming a tutor.

Stupid Hermione.

Stupid Babbling.

Stupid sheeple who wouldn't lift a finger to help unless they were kicked into action.

He had never tutored anyone in his life, and not only had Babbling strong-armed him into doing exactly that on Tuesday, the woman had also hunted him down a few hours after dinner a few days ago, announcing that he would be taking his Runes OWL and NEWT on October first.

When he had asked why he had to take both back-to-back in one day, the professor had been vague enough to make him instantly suspicious, but she had danced away before he could interrogate her further, and Hadrian was left with the unhappy news of having to write two exams in one month's time.

In all honesty, he hadn't expected Babbling to get permission so soon, if at all. He had expected Dumbledore to turn her down. In his world, Dumbledore hadn't let him do much of anything except play house sitter and hero whenever the Headmaster wanted him to.

But maybe that made all the difference. In his world, he had been Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, but in this world, he was just Hadrian Evans, a very intelligent Hufflepuff with not much of a background to speak of. Dumbledore would probably be interested in Hadrian joining his cause if and when Voldemort returned, especially once he proved his proficiency in Defence, but besides that, he was just another student.

Hadrian spent another moment savouring that. Just another student. No expectations, no watching out for Dumbledore's manipulations every step of the way. It was a nice feeling.

He smiled a little as he rolled onto his side. He had never had a professor take as much interest in him as Babbling did. Sure, he was twenty-two, but even when he had first started, Bill had told him he was brilliant at runes, that it was a pity he hadn't taken the subject when he had still been in school. Besides his team when it came to flying and Remus when it came to Defence, both of which he had either inherited from his father or had had no choice but to learn, no one had ever told him he was brilliant at anything, all on his own merit. He had been guiltily happy when Remus had revealed that neither James nor Lily had been particularly good when it came to dealing with runes.

He hadn't told his friends about his upcoming exams yet. He didn't want to make a big deal out of it, though thus far, the news had remained unspoken mostly because there hadn't been an opportunity for him to tell anyone, and no one had asked anyway.

Well, he'd get around to it eventually.

He rolled onto his back again before sitting up completely. He wasn't going to get much sleep tonight either. Maybe a cup of hot chocolate from the kitchens? Some night-time wandering without his Invisibility Cloak would keep his stealth polished enough.

Two minutes later, he was sneaking out of the Hufflepuff Basement, keeping to the shadows as he headed in the general direction of the Hogwarts kitchen.

One tickled pear later, he was stepping into the cozy warmth of an enormous, high-ceilinged room, mounds of glittering brass pots and pans heaped around the stone walls, just as he remembered.

"Is young master hungry?" A voice squeaked. "Filly can bring yous anything!"

Hadrian turned towards the voice, automatically stooping down so they were at relatively the same eye-level. He had had enough experience with house-elves to tell that this one was female and younger than most of the house-elves Hadrian had interacted with before.

"Not hungry, Filly, but I would like some hot chocolate please," Hadrian requested.

The house-elf gave him a wide smile and popped away, returning in under twenty seconds with a steaming mug of his requested beverage. A smile and a word of thanks soon saw him ushered over to a chair by the fireplace, the crackle of dancing flames soothing him as he enjoyed his drink. Around him, house-elves came and went, cleaning dirty cutlery or preparing food for tomorrow's meals.

In his world, he had, for some reason, never ventured to the kitchens for a late-night snack. He wondered if the Hogwarts house-elves treated all students so nicely, or only the ones who said thank you. His mouth twitched in amusement when he tried to picture Draco thanking a house-elf. Or drinking hot chocolate for that matter.

"Greeny is Neville Longbottom's friend!" A very familiar voice chirped from his right. Hadrian turned and found himself staring straight at a dead elf's parallel self.

He tried to smile. "Hello. You know Neville?"

Dobby nodded, ears flapping wildly. "Of course! Neville Longbottom is a great wizard! He freed Dobby! He has a big heart!"

Hadrian really did manage to smile this time. "I think so too."

Dobby beamed.

"So you must know Hermione and Ron as well, right?" Hadrian queried, taking a gulp of chocolate.

Dobby nodded again, proudly. "Wheezy and Grangy are friends to Dobby as well. Dobby wishes theys would come to visit soon."

In the span of a heartbeat, Dobby's expression became stricken and he looked ready to fling himself headfirst into the nearest hard surface. "Dobby shouldn't speak of the great Neville Longbottom likes he has free time! A great wizard has much mores to do than visit Dobby!"

Instinctively, Hadrian shot out a hand and firmly pulled Dobby back before he could take more than a step away. "There's no need for that, Dobby. You're all friends, right? It's only natural for you to want to see them."

He paused, cautiously letting go before leaning back again when Dobby didn't move. He recalled his first fourth year. Did Neville even know Dobby was already working here? He didn't think he had found out until the end of November. And house-elves always tended to know where certain humans were while they remained out of sight.

"Dobby, does Neville know you work in the kitchens?" Hadrian enquired.

Dobby's eyes widened. "Neville Longbottom doesn't! Dobby forgets to tell him!"

Hadrian chuckled. "Well, I'm sure he'll be glad to see you. Why don't you pay him a visit tomorrow morning, before he comes down for breakfast? Ron and Hermione will be there as well."

He stopped, thinking of his own counterpart. Harry wouldn't dislike house-elves if he was friends with a werewolf, right?

"Dobby will do that!" Dobby grinned toothily at him. "Dobby thanks Greeny for the help!"

Hadrian smiled again before polishing off his chocolate, handing it to Dobby when the house-elf held out his hands expectantly. "Thank you. Well, I better get going. See you later, okay?"

The house-elf saw him to the door and waved goodnight, looking even more cheerful than he had when Hadrian had first seen him.

 


 

Orion was lounging in a shadowy corner of the school, hauled out of bed once again to play watchdog for Harry and his two friends while they set up their latest prank, when he picked up a familiar-foreign scent of another student heading up the corridor.

He stiffened, instinctively drawing further back. As a werewolf, he had a heightened sense of sight, sound, and smell, and Harry was perfectly content to take advantage of that despite his aversion to werewolves. Thus, he was usually on lookout duty whenever Harry snuck out under James' cloak with Dean and Seamus.

If he sensed a teacher coming, he was supposed to warn Harry so they would be able to escape in time. If he sensed another student though, he was supposed to report it back to Harry, and said hapless student would most likely find himself on the receiving end of a prank.

It was most definitely a student coming up the hall. But this student...

Orion wavered. He had always followed Harry's lead, simply because it was the easiest thing to do. Harry was familiar, even if they never could get through a conversation these days without at least one cruel barb directed at Orion thrown in. But he was used to ignoring Harry, and it was better to stick with what he was used to than face the hatred and disgust of the entire school at once. No one would want to be near a werewolf – Harry had assured him of that; had made sure of that.

Except...

Orion was far from stupid, no matter what Harry said, although he supposed it was debatable at times whenever Harry pulled something monumentally idiotic and the werewolf excuse just didn't seem worth it.

But the point was, Orion was intelligent enough to notice when things started to change.

He had come back to Hogwarts for his fourth year, expecting another ten months of keeping his head down, listening to Harry, and bringing home good enough marks to make his father smile. Remus always took it personally when he went home without any improvement in his social life, never blaming Orion but looking pained all the same. On the other hand, his dad was more hotheaded, prone to ranting bitterly about Harry to Remus in the privacy of their home whenever they thought Orion couldn't hear, but at least Sirius didn't agonize as much over his condition.

But even Orion's first two weeks at Hogwarts hadn't gone as planned. Gryffindors shared Herbology, Potions on Tuesdays, Charms, and Defence with Hufflepuffs. He'd have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to notice how smart that new Hufflepuff fourth-year was, and Orion couldn't help keeping an eye on the transfer student ever since. When Granger had shouted for the world to hear about Hadrian Evans' 'unbelievable' Ancient Runes assignment, Orion had felt a pang of inexplicable disappointment that they didn't share that subject as well. He, along with Harry, was advanced enough to skip a year and was currently attending a fifth-year Runes class instead.

He hadn't understood the feeling at the time and still didn't now. It wasn't as if they had even spoken a single word to each other or acknowledged each other since Evans had arrived. Well, Evans had greeted him with that odd smile and wave back in the library last week, but that was it. They didn't even sit all that close together during class. Evans hung out with Longbottom and his group and they generally stayed as far away as possible from Harry.

But Evans hadn't taken any crap from Harry when the teen had taunted Longbottom about his parents – had sniped back without a hint of fear of retribution. And he had defended Orion in the library, against five Gryffindors who were all bigger and heavier-set than Evans. But the small teen hadn't needed help in the end. Just when Orion had been scrambling for his wand (And since when did that happen? When had he ever tried to help someone besides his usual obligation to Harry, and for someone he didn't even know?), the leader of that little group – Orion had never bothered learning his name – had fired off a spell, only for Evans to capture that spell in a rune he had activated with a mere tap of his finger.

Orion couldn't do that, and he had been one of the top students last year in fourth-year Runes.

He still wasn't quite sure if Evans had a problem with werewolves though. Some people had pretended to want to be his friend – back in first year when he hadn't learned just how harsh real life was– and then betrayed him later on, either collaborating with Harry to do so or simply doing it to entertain themselves.

None of his musings changed the fact that Hadrian Evans was coming up the hall right this moment. Orion had to give him credit – he couldn't hear the other teen at all. It had only been Evans' scent that had given him away.

Which was another thing he couldn't understand. Evans smelled like Harry, but at the same time, they smelled vastly different. Orion didn't know how to describe it. If he had never laid eyes on either of them and only picked up their scent, he would've labelled them brothers, but... not. They certainly shared a few physical attributes, but he knew James and Lily had no other children. Siblings usually had a very similar smell, and while Evans and Harry had that, Orion also picked up something else he couldn't quite put his finger on that set them apart.

He gave himself a mental shake and glanced over his shoulder down another corridor where Harry and Idiots One and Two were booby-trapping the entrance to the Great Hall. They had somehow found out that Evans was typically the first to arrive in the hall, especially on Sundays when most of the school decided to sleep in, so they had picked tomorrow to avenge their bruised egos.

Cautiously, Orion tugged out a piece of parchment from his robes and murmured the correct password. The map instantly blossomed into existence.

His dad and father had argued long and hard with James about the Marauder's Map while Orion had hidden in a closet and eavesdropped (he had had nothing better to do that day and the Marauders usually tried to keep their disagreements away from the children so it had been interesting to listen to).

Back when Uncle James had still smiled tolerantly at his son's occasional spite against Remus and Orion instead of sighing in disgusted defeat or turning red with apoplectic rage as he typically did nowadays, the man had wanted the map to be shared between Harry and Orion. Both of them already knew about the cloak since Harry couldn't help bragging about it to Sirius when James had given it to him at the age of nine, but the map hadn't been brought up until two months before they had entered Hogwarts.

Sirius and Remus had been adamant about this point – if Harry got the cloak, then Orion would get the map. Potter heirloom it may be, but the cloak had always been a Marauder item, as was the map. The two should be split evenly.

James had relented in the end and an eager Sirius had pressed the map into Orion's hands at the train station on September first when the Potters' backs were turned. Remus had told him to use it well and not get into too much trouble, but his father had smiled when he had said it.

To this day, Orion still kept the map a secret, and he could say in all honesty that he didn't regret it one bit.

Three dots by the Great Hall showed Harry, Dean, and Seamus, while an approaching dot showed Evans coming his way. Orion hesitated for a moment longer, and then ensured that the three pranksters weren't about to come back anytime soon before folding up the map and tucking it away again. His feet remained glued to the ground.

Five seconds later, Evans finally came into sight, not in his school robes but in Muggle jeans and a white shirt with a brown coat thrown on top. Orion had planned to simply stay hidden while Evans walked past, but just as the other teen drew level with him, the light footfalls Orion could barely hear even now came to an abrupt stop and sharp green eyes darted over to where he was hiding, zeroing in on him with frightening accuracy.

Was that even normal?

"Who's there?" Evans' voice was low and flat and cold, similar to the tone he always used against Harry, and Orion found himself instinctively straightening to attention and wanting to step out to assure the other teen that he wasn't a threat.

He slapped this perplexing notion down but, after a second's consideration and eyeing the way Evans' right hand seemed to be going for his coat pocket, he stepped out anyway.

Evans' gaze narrowed dangerously for a quarter of a second longer before recognition dawned on his face and he relaxed completely. Something in Orion's chest tightened at the reaction even as his mind rebelled against it.

"Oh, it's you," Evans smiled, open and friendly and not at all fearful or revolted. "I thought it might've been Potter."

If Orion had done what he was supposed to, it would've been Harry. As it was, he said nothing. He wasn't used to saying much in the first place.

Evans only studied him intently for a long moment, the silence between them becoming more uncomfortable by the second. And then he stuck out his hand.

"We haven't properly met yet," Evans said. "I'm Hadrian Evans."

Orion stared at the outstretched hand and thought back to the few friendships he had tried to start once upon a time. None of them had lasted longer than a month. Evans would be no different.

Then he thought back to the library and the clear dislike between Evans and Harry and the way Evans was watching him now, unguarded and seemingly honest. Orion couldn't pick up any deceit coming from the smaller teen, and he had become quite adept at spotting lies after all these years.

He glanced back up at Evans and steeled himself. He was in Gryffindor for a reason after all.

"Orion Black," He said tersely, clasping the hand firmly and stomping down on any apprehension creeping up on him. Almost defiantly and most definitely recklessly, he tacked on, "I'm a werewolf."

He knew Evans already knew this fact but he still fully expected the teen to pull away or sneer at him or even run.

Evans did none of the above. He simply shook Orion's hand firmly and smiled, a genuine expression that Orion had never seen from anyone outside of his family.

"Don't care," Evans countered candidly. "Nice to meet you."

Orion was very careful to keep his features blank as he withdrew his hand almost clumsily. This could still be a trick.

"So are you out for a midnight stroll too?" Evans cocked his head, peering at him curiously.

Orion shrugged. Not really, but what could he say? That Harry was levitating dungbombs above the Great Hall entrance for the purpose of embarrassing Evans?

An awkward silence ensued as Orion wracked his brain for something to say. Merlin, he was out of practice.

"Well, you don't have to tell me," Evans conceded easily after a few seconds. "I was up for some hot chocolate. Stuff's supposed to facilitate sleep and all."

Orion frowned a little. "...You have trouble sleeping?"

Evans rocked back on his heels. "Hmm? Ah, well, a bit. I don't need a lot of sleep. You?"

Orion couldn't help scowling a little at the reminder of why he was out here. "No trouble."

Evans arched an eyebrow and his gaze narrowed again as he looked around. "So you don't want to be out here? Potter's around then? No offense, I know he's your friend and all, but I'd rather not bump into him again. We just had another fight yesterday."

The words were out in the open before Orion could process them, cold and biting. "We're not friends."

Another long silence. Evans was studying him with that strange intensity again. Part of Orion felt like squirming.

"Okay," Evans said with easy acceptance. "Not friends then."

Orion frowned at him. Evans was the weirdest bloke he had ever met. "You're not even going to ask why?"

Evans shrugged nonchalantly. "I can take a good guess. Although... say a house-elf suddenly popped into your dorm room to say hello to Nev. What would happen?"

Orion was right. Evans really was weird. "...Another round of insults I suppose. Harry... doesn't like Dark creatures, but he's alright with house-elves. He'd probably dislike the house-elf if it's there for Longbottom though. ...Why?"

Evans sighed ruefully. "There's a house-elf working at Hogwarts who's friends with Neville, Ron, and Hermione. I told him he could go visit in the morning."

Orion could imagine his morning ruined by Harry hollering slurs once more. Then again, it was nothing new. Most of his mornings started with an altercation of some kind.

He stiffened when his ears picked up the sound of snickers and footsteps, and either Evans had read his body language or he had heard as well because the smaller teen did the same.

"I should go," Evans said, adjusting the collar of his coat. "Three against one isn't fair. For them."

Evans flashed a teasing grin and an unbidden snort slipped out before Orion could stop it.

"Evans," He called after the fourth-year before the teen could run off. "...Stay away from the Great Hall tomorrow morning."

Surprise flickered across Evans' features before the Hufflepuff smiled again. "Yeah? I'll remember, thanks. See you around, Orion."

By the time Harry and his Henchmen joined him, Orion was once again stationed at his designated lookout position.

"No one came by?" Harry questioned disinterestedly with barely a glance in Orion's direction.

"No one came by," Orion confirmed coolly, falling into step behind the three Gryffindors.

 


 

Sunday came and went. Hadrian listened to Neville and Ron's recount of their morning wakeup call in the form of one enthusiastic house-elf, as well as the ensuing fallout. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and Neville had managed to shoo Dobby back to work before things came to a head.

He also saw a murderous-looking Severus storm his way back to the dungeons after being hit by one of nine dungbombs he hadn't been quick enough to dodge or banish, and Hadrian had a feeling that Potions would be torture for Harry on Tuesday.

The afternoon was spent scouring the library and kitchens with the Golden Trio and Cedric in search of an answer to Hermione's house-elf campaign, and the evening saw Hadrian beginning his first ever tutoring session with Hermione as his student. Unfortunately for him, Cedric saw this as a great opportunity to keep them company, along with all his Ancient Runes homework, and Hadrian ended up tutoring both of them before the night was up.

He spent most of the rest of that night cursing Babbling out.

Monday came with a new schedule from Pomona, who beamed fondly at him and told him to keep up the good work.

Hadrian still had Ancient Runes on Monday afternoons but Babbling had told him to review for his upcoming exams during class instead. Hermione had been inquisitive about the package he received but thought, in the end, that Hadrian was simply moving on to something harder. Hadrian didn't correct her; while he loved her like a sister, he didn't want the brunette hounding him about studying for his exams all hours of the day.

His morning study block on Tuesday was now spent in Babbling's classroom as well, discussing theory and advanced runes with her. It was amazing how knowledgeable Babbling could be when she wasn't teaching class. The woman was a researcher at heart; not quite at professor level.

Wednesday was by far the most interesting though. Hadrian finally bumped into one Draco Malfoy.

 


 

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Ron snapped, already in a foul mood from that morning's Harry Potter mishap in Charms.

Hadrian almost felt nostalgic when blond, poncy prat Draco curled his lip into a sneer. "Honestly, Weasel, nothing from you. Contrary to what you must think, the world does not revolve around you."

This only made Ron glare harder, his ears turning red. "Then get the hell out and stop bothering us!"

Ron was taller than even Blaise and Theo standing behind Draco but the blond somehow still managed to look down his nose at the redhead.

"It's the library, Weasley," Draco scoffed. "You don't own it, not that you ever could. Your family would probably have to sell their house to afford even a bookshelf in here."

Neville had a mix of exasperation and irritation on his face. "Just ignore them, Ron. Malfoy, there are other tables. What are you doing here?"

Indeed, all three Slytherins were each standing behind an empty chair at their table, but before Draco could shoot off another affront, Blaise leaned forward and elbowed the blond in his ribs.

"Draco, I didn't come here to listen to you flirt or whatever it is you're attempting to do with Weasley."

Draco pinked and Ron turned beet-red, both rounding furiously on the smirking Slytherin.

Hadrian smothered his snickers and cut in before another argument could break out. "Did you need something then?"

In the blink of an eye, Hadrian found himself on the receiving end of three pairs of eyes. Beside him, Cedric shifted closer in an almost protective manner.

"Word has it that the new fourth-year 'Puff excels in Ancient Runes," Blaise started.

Hadrian had an inkling as to where this was going. "I might know him. Would you like me to pass on a message?"

Blaise raised an eyebrow but his expression remained serious. "Funny. You are Hadrian Evans, yes?"

Hadrian sighed. "Yes, what of it?"

"You're also tutoring Granger and Diggory?"

Hadrian made a face. "Not by choice."

"And I hear Granger's most recent essay got an E?"

"Yes, though she worked hard for it. I don't do any of the work for her."

Blaise nodded, not seeming to care beyond the fact that he had the right person. The Slytherin dug into his bag and dropped a thick Runes text in front Hadrian. "I don't understand half the things Babbling says. She never stays on topic. I want you to tutor me."

"Same," Theo piped up for the first time. "Uh, please."

Draco grimaced as much as his pureblood upbringing would allow. "We would... appreciate it. We'll even pay you if you want."

Hadrian twitched. This was not normal. This was very, very abnormal. Slytherins asking for help? Draco asking for help? He knew Blaise and Theo were more neutral in terms of where they stood, neither pro-Light nor pro-Dark but they usually kept to themselves. And where were Crabbe and Goyle anyway?

"No way!" Ron exploded, looking thoroughly pissed. "Why would Hadrian want to help a bunch of Slytherins?!"

Draco eyed him haughtily. "That's his decision, isn't it? Rest assured, Weasley, if I ever ask you to tutor me, I give you permission to admit me to the St. Mungos mental ward as I will have undoubtedly gone insane."

Ron spluttered wordlessly and Hadrian hastily interjected again. "Look, I've got nothing against Slytherins-"

Ron shot him a wounded look that he expertly ignored.

"-but I'm only tutoring Hermione because Babbling forced it on me, and Cedric... well, he just won't go away."

Hermione sniffed. Cedric grinned unrepentantly.

Blaise nodded in understanding, and Hadrian felt about half a heartbeat of relief before the teen spoke again. "So would you like us to go through Babbling or simply 'not go away'?"

Hadrian felt like he had stepped into the twilight zone. Since when did Slytherins do... this? He was used to verbal spats and the occasional duel – which, oddly enough, had all been with Harry and his minions so far – not whatever this was. Sure, Draco and Ron mixed as well as oil and water, but that extra edge that had built over the school years back in his own world between these two was missing. Ron still detested Slytherins and it seemed Draco still had a problem with 'blood traitors', or at least the Weasleys in general, but the... hatred was absent.

And Hadrian really, really didn't want to waste an opportunity like this. A war was coming – Voldemort would return – and wouldn't it just be easier for everyone involved if Draco and Lucius didn't need the loss of Narcissa at the hands of a madman to push them into opposing the Dark Lord?

"Can't you find anyone else?" He asked weakly, a token protest since he already knew he was going to give in.

"Who? Potter?" Draco sneered. "You must be joking. He probably bribed his way into fifth-year Ancient Runes, and he's even worse than Scarhead, Weasel, and the mud- Muggleborn put together."

The Golden Trio all glared at the slip and Cedric frowned in stern disapproval. Hadrian let it go. The fact that Draco had even tried was far better than the boy he had known during school who flung that word around like it was going out of style.

"Alright, on three conditions, and no, not money," He added when all three Slytherins started drawing out their money pouch. "One, I'm tutoring Cedric and Hermione, so no name-calling between the lot of you."

They all knew he was talking more about the latter than the former. Cedric was a pureblood after all.

Blaise and Theo shrugged.

"I have no problem with Muggleborns," Theo supplied helpfully.

Draco clicked his tongue in annoyance but nodded grudgingly in agreement, glaring at Hermione when she smiled smugly at him.

"Second, I only tutor on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays after lunch for three hours. Don't bother me outside of that time."

Another dutiful round of nods.

"And lastly," Hadrian knew his grin bordered on evil, and everyone around him drew back warily.

"I want to eat dinner at the Slytherin table with you at least once a week."

 


 

"What the bloody hell are you all doing here?" Draco asked through gritted teeth.

All things considered, he had good reason for his aggravation. After all, he had agreed – reluctantly – to allow Evans to sit with them at dinner. Why, then, were there three extra Gryffindors – including a Weasley no less! – squished between Blaise and Theo while Evans and that sixth-year 'Puff were squeezed in beside him?

"There's no way we're going to let Hadrian sit here with a group of snakes by himself," Weasley said flatly through a mouthful of pudding.

Draco had to look away. How could any civilized person have such appalling table manners? Oh wait – he had his answer. Weasley wasn't civilized.

"I think it's fine," Blaise said, passing Evans a plate of lasagne. "Here, Evans. You can't seriously make me believe you're just going to drink a bowl of tomato soup for dinner."

Draco heaved a mental sigh. There went their House politics, not that Blaise had ever cared for it. Or Theo for that matter. Really, it was only him who had to keep up appearances. He had spent all afternoon spreading the word that Evans was only sitting at the Slytherin table because it was part of an arrangement Draco had made. All Slytherins respected deals and bargains.

It still didn't explain the fact that the Golden Trio was sitting at the Slytherin table. Diggory he could stand; at least the prefect was a Hufflepuff and therefore neutral.

Draco did a subtle sweep of the Great Hall. Conversation was somewhat muted today. Most of the Slytherins were silent, their expression ranging from understated incredulity to understated resentment. Even his godfather was looking at him as if he had grown another head. And a third eye. And maybe a few extra limbs.

Draco inwardly sighed again. Why did the only student who was both good enough to be a tutor and was willing to tutor Slytherins just have to be the most unconventional of the lot? But his mother had nearly scolded his ear off when he had barely scraped a passing grade in last year's Runes class. Babbling really should be fired but even his father had grudgingly admitted that the woman was one of the best in her field – she just wasn't cut out for teaching, which was the entire point.

A nudge against his shoulder brought him back to the present. He glanced suspiciously over at the fourth-year sitting beside him.

"Cheer up, Draco," Evans said, and Draco automatically sneered at him. He hadn't given the other teen consent to use his first name. They weren't friends. "It's only once a week."

Draco sniffed and proceeded to ignore the extra additions as much as possible. He had better get a top grade in Ancient Runes by the end of this year, or Merlin help him, he'd strangle Evans for putting him through this.

 

Chapter Text

 

Hadrian watched for another week – during which he, Neville, Ron, and Cedric had gotten together to throw a mini birthday party for Hermione on the nineteenth, which also, incidentally, coincided with the full moon, so Hadrian had spent part of that day half-wishing he could keep Orion company in one of his Animagus forms – since his impromptu night-time encounter with Orion before making his move.

He didn't know how he had missed it before, but now that he was looking for it, it was pretty hard to miss.

Orion followed Harry around, just like Dean and Seamus, and sometimes McLaggen, but he wasn't part of the group. There was always an invisible space between the werewolf and the rest. Harry did nothing to stop the cutting acerbity other students had towards Orion either. In fact, his counterpart encouraged it.

And Orion never talked. Occasionally, Harry would tell him to do something and the Black heir would do it, features blank as a brick wall. Hadrian couldn't see any of Sirius' impulsive but formidable fire or Remus' passive but dangerous ferocity in the teen at all.

But Orion was Sirius and Remus' kid, even if he was blood adopted – there was no way that cold indifference was all there was to him. Hadrian had seen some spark in the teen in the one conversation they had had so far.

So, if Orion was hiding, then Hadrian would simply have to find him and drag him out. Call him nosy, but the teen couldn't stay like that for the rest of his life.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Evans?"

Hadrian smiled carelessly at his fuming counterpart as he settled down beside a frozen Orion at the Gryffindor table. One good thing about Orion being feared was that no one was willing to sit within two feet of the teen's left while Dean sat on Orion's right, leaving plenty of space for Hadrian and allowing him to relax a little since he wasn't surrounded on both sides.

"Eating, Potter," Hadrian replied as he reached for a salad. It was the most he could manage at noon when his friends weren't nagging him. "It's lunchtime."

Dead silence descended at an incredible rate. Out of the corner of his eye, Hadrian saw the Golden Trio watching him from one end of the table with very confused, open-mouthed disbelief.

Across the hall, some of the students from the other Houses had fallen quiet as well. It had become common knowledge that Hadrian, apparently, always incited mayhem during meals. At the Hufflepuff table, Cedric had completely stopped listening to something a few jocks were saying and had half-risen out of his seat. Over by the Slytherin table, Blaise and Theo were craning their heads as much as they could while pretending not to and Draco was determinedly pretending Hadrian didn't exist outside of their arranged tutoring sessions. Hadrian was sure he would eventually grow on the blond though.

"Salad's good," He remarked when the Gryffindor table remained extraordinarily chatter-free. Even some of the teachers had looked over – this was an unprecedented occurrence.

"Go. Away. Evans." Harry finally managed to bite out, hands slowly curling into fists.

Hadrian tilted his head, feigning puzzlement. "Why? There's a free spot here."

Beside him, Orion drew in a shaky breath, the faintest of helpless bewilderment marring his features.

"You're not welcome here!" Harry snarled, mindless of their audience. Hadrian caught a glimpse of Lily staring down at them with wide, hopeful eyes.

"Seat doesn't have your name on it," Hadrian countered mildly. "And if it did, I'd report you for vandalism."

Twin snorts came from somewhere to his left and Hadrian spotted two redheads and identical broad, fascinated grins. He hadn't seen much of the Weasley twins since school had started and seeing them alive and together – instead of one broken and the other buried six feet under – produced an ache in his chest. He ignored it.

Harry's face was beginning to turn red. Hadrian watched with a detached sort of interest. Did his features really twist like that when he lost his temper? Thank Merlin he didn't get angry often.

"Go sit with your groupies!" Harry snapped. "I can't stand you!"

Hadrian nodded placidly. "Feeling's mutual, mate."

"Then why are you here?!"

Hadrian frowned before sliding his gaze over to the teen beside him. Orion was staring unblinkingly at the far end of the hall. "I thought that'd be obvious. I'm eating lunch with Orion."

Harry stared at him with visible incredulity before a sneer twisted his mouth. "Yeah? You feeling sorry for the resident dog?"

"No," Hadrian denied without missing a beat. "I feel like eating lunch with Orion."

Harry scoffed, his attention flickering over to Orion. "Orion, get rid of him."

And there it was. A choice. Hadrian had made it easier to some extent by not asking outright if Orion wanted to join him for lunch with the Golden Trio, but it was a choice the Black heir would nevertheless have to make.

All eyes were now glued on Orion, whose grip on his fork was so strong the metal had bent.

"Orion." Harry's voice carried a note of warning. Hadrian had to swallow his desire to punch his counterpart in the face.

Orion stiffened even further, his blue gaze finally darting over to Hadrian. His face had paled a shade.

Hadrian stared back evenly. Orion was a Black – Sirius would have taught him Occlumency and Legilimency at the first opportunity, so Hadrian bypassed his own mental defences as much as possible and pushed a silent message to the top of his thoughts, hoping the other teen would sense his sincerity.

Come with me and I swear to you I will never betray you.

Orion jolted, paling even further.

"Orion!" Harry barked. "You don't honestly think he just happens to want to eat with you, do you?"

Orion's gaze dropped. "Leave."

Hadrian's mouth tilted down, wondering if he should push.

Orion cleared his throat and looked up again, blue eyes icy. "Leave, Evans. Seat's taken."

Hadrian studied him for a moment longer before sighing and getting to his feet, taking his salad with him as he ambled back to where the Golden Trio was sitting and disregarding all the stares and whispers around him.

Pushing now wouldn't be good. Oh well; he hadn't expected Orion to immediately jump ship the moment Hadrian asked him to. Conversing with Hadrian when Harry wasn't around was one thing; breaking away from someone Orion had stuck around for so many years was another. Hadrian didn't want to force the Black heir into anything.

"What was that about?" Hermione whispered, looking discomfited with all the eyes glued on them.

Hadrian shrugged, starting on his salad again. "Opportunity."

 


 

But Hadrian was nothing if not persistent. Parts of him had changed drastically over the years but his tenacity had always stayed the same. He could out-stubborn Hermione if he was given enough incentive and that was saying something. Once he set out to do something, nothing short of the apocalypse – and even then it was a toss-up – would be able to stop him.

So, that night at dinner, Hadrian made his way back to the two feet of empty space along the bench and sat down again, only for Orion to refuse his company once more.

Hadrian left, but he returned the next morning at breakfast, and then again for lunch, and then again for dinner. And so it went. Besides his promised dinner at the Slytherin table two days later, Hadrian would sit down beside Orion, exchange insults with Harry for a few minutes before his counterpart ordered Orion to get rid of him as if it was some sort of test for the werewolf, and then Hadrian would leave.

Meal after meal, Hadrian doggedly returned, and, after a few days, it had gotten to the point where most people had stopped watching the spectacle, thinking the outcome inevitable.

But slowly, gradually, with painstaking care, Hadrian could tell he was getting through to Orion. The teen still chased him away each meal, but the frigidity in his demeanour was thawing little by little.

It was only a matter of time.

 


 

"I don't mind waiting, Professor. It'll give me more time to study."

"You don't need to study, Green Eyes. These Ministry morons can't even set up an exam on time. I wonder what would happen if someone attacked them. They'd probably be overthrown in a day."

Hadrian sighed, unfolding the note once more. A Ministry owl had dropped off a letter for Babbling this morning, informing the teacher that the exam papers couldn't be written up in time for October first, four days from now, so Hadrian would have to write them on the twenty-third instead.

"It's just been pushed back a couple weeks," Hadrian soothed, feeling like he was dealing with a child as Babbling pouted unhappily. "It's even still in October. Besides, I'm the one writing them and I don't have a problem with it. You shouldn't either."

Babbling looked highly disgruntled but only harrumphed and tossed him a stack of essays and a quill. "Help me with the marking, Green Eyes! And get me some coffee."

Hadrian heaved another sigh but did as he was told. For some reason, Babbling had taken to giving him three classes' worth of homework to grade, refusing to give him a proper reason why. She had even wrangled him into bringing her a cup of coffee lately every time he came for their one-on-one discussions. Hadrian figured she was just lazy. Multiple times, he had been tempted to ask just how she had survived as a professor before he came along. Back in his world, Babbling had been one of many killed when Voldemort had seized the castle so Hadrian had never gotten to know her.

He had grown grudgingly fond of her over the course of a month though, and even just the thought of Voldemort laying a finger on her caused a surge of protectiveness to rear its head.

"Coffee, Green Eyes!"

Although he couldn't deny the urge to bang his head against the nearest wall when she got like this.

"It's on its way!" He yelled back, thoroughly exasperated. Honestly, it was like babysitting a kid.

 


 

"Dagaz and Ingwaz do not go together!"

"What would you know, Granger? You're no more advanced in Runes than I am!"

"Ingwaz is a god symbol, Malfoy! Hadrian said god symbols only link with other god symbols!"

"No, he said that was true for the most basic rune connection. I'm doing something more complicated!"

Cedric listened to the latest dispute with half an ear, tuning both participants out to the best of his ability. He glanced to his right and saw Hadrian hovering between Zabini and Nott, explaining something in their homework with admirable concentration considering the increasingly loud argument Hermione and Malfoy were making.

It had only been a few weeks since these tutoring sessions had started but Cedric already understood the subject a lot better. A few of his friends had noticed as much and he knew they were thinking of approaching Hadrian for lessons as well. He hoped the fourth-year wouldn't mind gaining a few more students.

His gaze strayed to the four runes currently floating in the air at four different points around their table. Hadrian had drawn them up when the three Slytherins had first joined, having had the foresight to prepare for the lack of quiet a library required and had received permission from the librarian to put up privacy wards.

Madame Pince usually didn't like any form of magic being performed in her library but Cedric had the feeling that she was simply too impressed to say no once Hadrian had shown her what he wanted to do. Cedric had managed to nag Hadrian into teaching him these particular runes, which included a one-way Silencing Charm and a Shield Charm that would absorb most spells should they need to practice casting something from within the wards.

He had soon found out that learning it was easier said than done, and he was still trying to work out the centre of the quadrivium rune two weeks after Hadrian had agreed to teach him. He was close though, and he was quite pleased when Hadrian had commented on how quickly Cedric was picking it up. Apparently, most people took at least a month to learn how to set these particular wards up.

"Cedric? How's the trinity coming along?"

Cedric started. That was another thing. Hadrian had a funny habit of never making a sound when he approached. Come to think of it, Snape had that same tendency. Both of them could sneak up on you and make you feel guilty for not staying on task.

"I'm almost finished," Cedric tapped one corner of it. "Is that part right?"

Hadrian made a thoughtful sound at the back of his throat as he gave the rune a quick once-over. "Looks perfect. Watch the downward stroke when you-"

"You don't even know how, you bloody prat! You just made that up! You should change it!"

"-sketch Kenaz though. Keep it within the boundaries you've set-"

"Did I ask for your opinion, mudblood?!"

"-or you'll end up with a faulty rune," Hadrian finished calmly, and Cedric only had time to nod before Hadrian's hand came down on the table with a loud crack.

Across the table, Zabini and Nott jumped. Cedric was mildly surprised that the table hadn't split. Hermione and Malfoy both shut their mouths so quickly there was an audible click.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cedric caught Madame Pince watching them with raised eyebrows. He couldn't blame her. She didn't know what was being said, but anyone with half a brain could get the general gist just by looking, not to mention... well, thus far, no matter how many times Hermione and Malfoy had squabbled, Hadrian had never reacted beyond telling them to be quiet.

And at the moment, there was just something in the teen's suddenly eerie green eyes that said that it would be a very, very bad idea to cross him.

"I've had enough," Hadrian said, voice reminding Cedric of the sharp edge of a fine steel blade. "I'd like to think I've been fairly tolerant of your... differences, but I can't teach with the two of you tearing into each other every five minutes. My first condition was no name-calling. I think you're both old enough to understand what that means, correct?"

Hermione nodded meekly, a pink flush rising in her cheeks. Malfoy's jaw tightened and he nodded curtly. This didn't stop either of them from glaring daggers at each other.

"Draco," Hadrian narrowed his eyes at the blond, who looked like he wanted to flinch away from the hard stare he was getting but was too proud to do so. "Whether she's a pureblood, a halfblood, or a Muggleborn doesn't change the fact that she's rather good at Runes and was only trying to help. There's no need to bring up her blood heritage every time she tells you something, especially when she's right."

Draco looked to be grinding his teeth as his pale features flushed and he stared moodily at his books.

"And Hermione," Hadrian's gaze was relentlessly firm, and Cedric felt a spark of sympathy for Hermione when the brunette winced and shrank back a little. "Even if you are correct, there's no need to throw that into Malfoy's face. If you wish to prove a point, then do so without shoving it down his throat. He's not going to learn anything like that."

Hadrian finally paused to run a weary hand through his hair. "The two of you need to learn how to listen to each other. I understand that you don't necessarily want to get along, but you both wanted me to tutor you so I'm telling you: you need to get along, or this isn't going to work. Draco, don't reject everything Hermione says, and Hermione, you need to take into account Draco's opinions as well. I'm serious about this. I'm your tutor, not a saint. I refuse to play mediator all the time. I don't care if you disagree sometimes, but this is getting ridiculous, so you have two options: you can stop, or you can leave."

Hermione looked horrified and Draco fiddled sullenly with his quill. Even with all their clashes, both had benefited a lot from Hadrian's lessons and neither was willing to give that up.

Hadrian stared at them for a minute longer before the intensity ebbed and the dark admonition faded from his eyes.

"Okay then," Hadrian continued brusquely as if nothing had happened. "Draco, yes, Ingwaz can link with Dagaz but you're not quite capable of creating something like that just yet. For now, maybe you can try switching Dagaz with Tiwaz."

Draco huffed, shoulders easing now that Hadrian was no longer glowering death at them, and set about fixing his assignment. He also seemed somewhat indignant at being told off, and by someone his age no less, but didn't complain. Hermione stayed subdued as well, tentatively prodding Hadrian into explaining a different concept she had come across in her books.

Zabini and Nott returned to their homework, both looking faintly impressed, and the glimmer of respect they had both had for Hadrian ever since the lessons had begun climbed a few notches higher. Slytherins all knew how to appreciate a verbal smack-down.

Cedric watched it all and concluded one thing: never piss off Hadrian Evans. The fourth-year had only been mildly fed up with Hermione and Malfoy today. He'd hate to see what would happen to someone on the receiving end of Hadrian's full wrath.

 


 

Thursday noon saw Hadrian once again making a beeline towards Orion. The Golden Trio, now quite used to Hadrian's whims, all shot him long-suffering looks but bagged the end of the Gryffindor table and waited for Hadrian to finish up his mealtime ritual. Cedric was already making his way over, and while a few of the Hufflepuff sixth-years still looked a bit put out by this, most had gotten used to Cedric frequenting with Hadrian and, by extension, the Boy-Who-Lived and his friends.

However, there was one difference today. When Hadrian reached the werewolf he was trying to befriend, he found Orion stiff-backed and unmoving with Dean and Seamus on either side of him. Neither of the latter two looked particularly comfortable about this arrangement but, judging by Harry's smirk from the other side of the table, neither of them had had much of a choice in the matter.

"What do you want, Evans?" Harry drawled tauntingly. This new turn of events had half the Gryffindor table looking over at them for their midday entertainment and Ron and Neville looking ready to leap to Hadrian's aid if he needed it.

Hadrian couldn't quite make up his mind on whether his counterpart was desperate not to give an inch to Hadrian or was simply petty. Harry didn't even like Orion.

Hadrian leaned in and grabbed a fresh apple from a bowl before flopping with semi-grace onto the floor behind Orion.

Dean and Seamus' jaws dropped. Cedric, whom Hadrian could just see from his location, was frowning – most likely displeased that Hadrian was reduced to sitting on the floor.

And while Orion may have been adept in the art of aristocratic composure, even he couldn't seem to help whipping his head around when he heard Hadrian sit down.

Hadrian tilted his head back and caught a glimpse of raw emotion on Orion's face. The teen looked stunned. Shocked. And maybe just a little frightened, as if he hadn't a clue in hell how to handle this situation.

Hadrian inwardly smiled. Perhaps a bit cruel of him to yank and shove and drag Orion out into the open like this but he wasn't going to back down. Allowing Harry to keep him down like his counterpart was always doing was not healthy, mentally or emotionally.

"So you'd settle for the floor, Evans?" Harry snapped, pushing himself to his feet as he loomed over the table to stare down at Hadrian. "You've got all the pride of a dog."

Around them, conversation stalled. Cedric had one hand in his pocket, his mouth set in a thin line. Hadrian was grateful that the prefect was staying back when he had perfect rights to march over and hand out detentions. Neville and Ron had risen as well, looking furious on Hadrian's behalf.

Hadrian bit into his apple, chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed before enquiring, "You know the best thing about dogs, Potter?"

His counterpart snorted. "Well, they're good for licking floors, I suppose."

A handful of the Gryffindors sitting nearest Harry sniggered mockingly.

Hadrian shook his head. "Dogs are loyal. Canines in general usually are. Once you gain their loyalty, they'll stick with you come hell or high water. But I suppose you wouldn't know anything about that."

He thought, distractedly, of Sirius, who had endured twelve years in Azkaban for James and Lily, who had clawed his way out of all the crushing darkness that the Dementors had thrown him into just so he could break out to protect Hadrian when he had found out Peter wasn't dead yet, who had accepted Remus' ashamed apology for not believing in him with open arms and a smile.

And he thought of Remus, who had struggled with his grief over Hadrian's parents' death and his shame of being a werewolf and his guilt over Sirius' incarceration and, later, death, but who had fought until the bitter end for his wife and his child and Hadrian himself.

He was jerked back to the present when Harry, looking truly at the end of his tether (Hadrian supposed he couldn't blame him since he had kept coming back for the past fourteen days straight, minus two dinners with the Slytherins), shouted, "Stop spouting bullshit and get lost, Evans! No one wants you around!"

One hand shot out and flung a, thankfully, unused spoon in Hadrian's direction. Hadrian, having spent six years, perhaps ten depending on how you looked at it, dodging a lot of things both faster and more dangerous than an eating utensil, had time to evade it, banish it, catch it, blow it up, shatter it – the list went on.

However, it turned out he didn't actually have to do any of those things because a hand shot out almost simultaneously and caught the spoon before it went anywhere near Hadrian.

"Orion, what are you doing?!" Harry spat out, incensed.

Orion had half-stood and was currently twirling the tableware between his fingers, a pensive expression on his face.

Even the other tables had shut up by now. All the upper years knew about Hogwarts' resident werewolf and none of them had ever seen Orion do anything Harry didn't tell him to do.

The entire hall saw the fourth-year close his eyes and heave a sigh, but only those closest heard Orion's yielding mumble of, "What a time to go stark raving mad."

And then he tossed the spoon back onto the table with a loud clatter, heedless of Harry's harsh glare. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Orion turned to the head table first.

Hadrian followed his line of sight and found Lily staring back. There was regret in her expression, mingled with a sort of wistful sorrow, but there was no mistaking the firm encouragement in her eyes.

Orion turned back, grabbed his bag and his plate of sandwiches he hadn't yet started on, before stepping over the bench and away from the table.

"Orion! What do you think you're doing?!" Harry demanded once more.

Orion shifted, blue gaze meeting Hadrian's green, and the hesitant trust Hadrian found there humbled him.

Then the Black heir looked back, straight at Harry, features cool and composed.

"Eating, Potter," Orion said, his voice steady. "It's lunchtime."

And with that said, the fourth-year dropped down beside Hadrian and set his plate and bag on the ground.

Hadrian could admit to a little surprise at hearing his own words again, especially when Orion glanced up and offered the faintest of smiles. The shadow of warm gratitude in his gaze reminded Hadrian of Remus but the tiniest gleam of mischievous humour was all Sirius.

And then Hadrian was grinning, proud and pleased and triumphant, and the happiest he had been since coming to this world, because this was something he had set out to do here and he had succeeded.

"Orion-" Harry started, looking enraged.

"Forty points from Gryffindor for attempting assault on another student," Lily interrupted sternly.

Harry wheeled around. "But Mom!"

Lily frowned even more. Beside her, Severus looked like the summer holidays had come early.

"No buts," Lily reprimanded. "And detention tomorrow evening. With Filch."

Harry had enough sense not to argue, and for the first time, he finally noticed all the attention he was getting. Normally, this suited him just fine, but Hadrian knew that his counterpart was used to basking in favourable attention. This was far from it. After all, the popular Gryffindor had just lost a battle to the oddball Hufflepuff.

Without another word, Harry snatched up his bag and stalked from the hall, Dean and Seamus hurrying after him along with a gaggle of sycophantic admirers.

Conversation was slow to start, especially when another schoolbag thumped onto the floor on Hadrian's other side and Cedric promptly sat down beside him, dumping an armful of plates heaped with food in front of them.

"I'm Cedric Diggory," The prefect introduced cheerily, holding out a hand. "We've never talked. Nice to properly meet you."

Orion eyed the sixth-year warily, only shaking the proffered hand after Hadrian nudged him.

And then the Golden Trio was there, jostling for space in their spontaneous indoor picnic.

"Shove over and make room, Diggory," Ron instructed as he winced from an elbow Hermione had accidentally planted in his ribs.

"Well," Hermione said briskly as she arranged her robes and skirt. "There are worse places to eat than the floor, though next time, Hadrian, do remember to bring a blanket."

Neville ended up between Hermione and Orion, and Hadrian beamed when Neville offered his hand as well, quietly introducing himself and his two friends before spreading out the food that the Gryffindors had brought with them.

Soon, Ron and Hermione had started another round of good-natured bantering and Neville was discussing Herbology with Cedric.

"You're going to be fine with us," Hadrian murmured on the side as he and Orion remained quiet, only observing the other four. The Black heir looked a little dazed as he glanced sidelong at Hadrian.

"We're going to be lifelong friends, you'll see," Hadrian smiled and passed the teen a treacle tart.

His smile widened when he heard Orion mutter, probably not meant for Hadrian's ears, "Keep that up and I might just be inclined to believe you, you crazy 'Puff."

 


 

"I don't suppose Slytherins do indoor picnics, do they?" Theo enquired. Draco was scandalized when he heard the note of disappointment in his friend's voice.

"Theo!" He hissed, glancing around to make sure no one had heard. "We are not going to sit on floors, especially not with a Muggleborn, a blood traitor, the bloody Boy-Who-Lived, and a werewolf!"

"I noticed you don't say mudblood anymore," Blaise interposed with this wholly unhelpful non sequitur.

"And get my head bitten off by Evans?" Draco grumbled. "it's not worth the earful."

"Evans can't hear you from all the way over there," Theo pointed out uncooperatively.

Draco growled. "I'm getting in practice. Not. Another word," He tacked on when Blaise opened his mouth.

The tallest of the three of them closed his mouth again and shrugged elegantly, not quite concealing a smirk.

Draco stamped down the urge to roll his eyes in public and casually shifted his body so that he could catch another glimpse of Evans and his band of merry misfits.

Why was the Hufflepuff even doing this? Embarrassing himself – although to be fair, Evans never seemed at all embarrassed no matter what he did – in front of the entire school day after day for two weeks straight, and then throwing his pride out the window and sitting on the floor like a stray mutt, all to befriend one student, and a werewolf to boot.

Draco would never do it. He'd never be able to live it down.

But Evans just didn't seem to care. He hung out with Slytherins despite Weasley and pretty much the rest of the school population's obvious disapproval, he had Diggory wrapped around his finger and he didn't even realize it (most younger students didn't even interact on a personal level with the older students), he had wormed his way into the Golden Trio and was now practically joined at the hip with them when the entire school knew how close-knit those three were, and now he had added Hogwarts' blackest sheep to his list of friends, cutting any remaining hold Potter had previously had on Black.

And it was barely October.

Draco inwardly grimaced. He had a funny suspicion that Evans was one of those ridiculously brilliant but utterly insane few who could probably take over the world twice over if he set his mind to it and not even have to drag anyone along for the ride because they'd all jump on the magic carpet with him.

He thought of Evans' insistence on using his first name and always striking up a light conversation with him during their dinners and never being biased when he and Granger got into yet another disagreement over something or other. And he wondered if Evans had his name down somewhere on his To-Convert list.

Draco shuddered.

"Draky, did you catch a cold?" Pansy cooed from his left. "You shivered."

Draco managed a tight-lipped smile in her direction. "No, Pansy. Just thinking."

He tuned her out and looked back at Blaise and Theo. At least Blaise was hiding it well, scanning the hall with offhand impassivity. Theo was eyeing Evans' group a little too frequently.

Draco kicked him under the table.

Theo winced furtively and threw a scowl at him but dropped his gaze onto his food.

Draco did the same. They were Slytherins. They had an image to uphold.

 


 

"I could kiss that boy," Lily said happily, wondering if she could bully Severus into awarding Hadrian some points for her in the guise of doing well in Potions. Probably not.

"Well I wouldn't go that far," Severus drawled. "Though the mutt and the wolf will be happy. Unfortunately."

Lily rolled her eyes but didn't comment. "I just wish I could thank him. Two weeks straight of enduring my son's insults. And then sitting on the floor of all places! But he's somehow managed to get all his friends to do the same."

Severus scoffed. "Mr. Evans is perfectly capable of holding his own against Potter Jr.. And the boy's charismatic enough to convince his friends to follow him without being asked."

Lily's mouth quirked up into a smile. "Yes, I saw. He managed to get a Weasley of all people to sit at the Slytherin table. Your godson was delighted."

Severus snorted. "He was no such thing. He was clearly horror-struck, and no wonder. Draco's had to do damage control within the House."

Lily sighed and shook her head. "You Slytherins – politics even at home."

"Of course," Severus replied loftily.

"Still," She continued on a brighter note. "Mr. Zabini and Mr. Nott seem fairly pleased."

"Zabini and Nott are neutral," Severus explained. "They have greater freedom, especially Zabini. Nott's father is..."

He trailed off but Lily nodded in understanding. Cyril Nott had been and, according to several unofficial sources, still was a staunch supporter of Voldemort. On the other hand, the Zabinis, along with the Greengrasses, were firmly neutral families.

"I hear Hadrian is tutoring all three of them now," She said, changing the subject. "Along with Miss Granger and Mr. Diggory."

"Quite," Severus nodded, and there was a rare spark of approval in his eyes. "A good decision on their part. Their marks in Ancient Runes have improved."

"I'm surprised Draco agreed," Lily remarked. "What with Miss Granger attending the sessions as well."

Something contemplative entered Severus' expression but he only said, "A condition Mr. Evans no doubt set out for Draco, one which he was willing to agree to. Narcissa was most displeased with his grade in Runes last year."

Lily hummed. She had only met Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy at a few social gatherings she had attended with James and she knew that Lucius, at least, had been a Death Eater, even if no one could or was willing to prove it. She and Severus were friends though, so she had met Draco a few times outside of school. She knew the boy didn't like her because of her background but he hid it well enough. According to Severus, Lily was the only Muggleborn Draco was willing to be polite to, if only because she was his godfather's best friend.

Now, it seemed, that that one had become two.

Unless Hadrian was also a Muggleborn, which would be irony at its best, if only because she didn't think anyone had asked him yet, not even the Slytherins. However, the most he could be was halfblood because purebloods didn't carry a last name like Evans.

She wondered why no one had thought to ask. Not a single Slytherin had approached Hadrian about it, even when he sat at the Slytherin table. Lily herself hadn't thought much of it, partly because it didn't matter to her, but also because Hadrian just seemed to... fit into all categories, if that made any sense. Maybe it had something to do with the boy drifting from House to House despite being in Hufflepuff and the way he hung out with purebloods, halfbloods, and Muggleborns every day – Hadrian simply felt all-encompassing.

Lily gave herself a mental shake. Now she was just being silly.

She looked over at the six students sprawled on the ground, chatting and laughing and eating. Orion only watched, but she could see Hadrian talking to him every few minutes, dragging answers from the teen with determined ease.

She still felt a pang of distress at the split between Harry and Orion, but if she was honest, it had been a long time coming. As much as she hated to admit it, Orion deserved far better than her son, and it seemed he would get exactly that from Hadrian.

 


 

Severus idly swirled the contents of his goblet as he watched his godson. Draco was subtle but not subtle enough. He knew the boy was watching the amalgam of different-Housed students on the floor across the hall.

He smirked sardonically to himself. Lucius would be scandalized.

His gaze cut across the room to focus on Evans again. In his opinion, the deceptively harmless Hufflepuff was doing a lot more than simply making friends outside of his House. He had no proof, not even something to satisfy himself with; it was more an instinctual leap of intuition than anything else.

Hadrian Evans was starting a revolution.

Well, alright, maybe revolution was too strong a word, but the teen was certainly out to change something. The youngest Weasley boy's hatred for all things Slytherin had eased up ever-so-slightly, so slight that Albus wouldn't notice or would simply dismiss it, and Severus' own godson had reeled in his prejudice towards Muggleborns, even if it was only to continue getting tutoring from Evans. Once upon a time, Draco would have flat-out refused any interaction with Granger, no matter what he could get in return.

He wasn't sure how Black fit into everything or if at all and Diggory seemed to have decided for himself to follow Evans around, but Severus could see the change happening.

He didn't think even Albus had noticed. Maybe even Evans wasn't completely aware of it.

True, the innate kindness in the Hufflepuff was genuine, but Severus could sense something more, an edge of pure cunning in a few of the boy's actions that had no business being anywhere other than in Slytherin and was absolute sacrilege for it to be placed in Hufflepuff of all places.

Severus didn't understand the hows or the whys but he had learned to trust his instincts long ago. Evans was charismatic, dangerously so, and he was trying to extend his influence into Slytherin House – that much Severus was absolutely certain of.

The only truly important question that remained now was: should Severus stop him?

 


 

"What are you doing?" Orion asked carefully.

Neither Longbottom nor Weasley looked up as they began alternately pushing and pulling his four-poster across the room.

"What does it look like?" Weasley grunted, red-faced from exertion.

Orion considered this question. "Re-enacting a dismal attempt at bed theft?"

Weasley made a face at him while Longbottom snickered in spite of himself.

"Black, you're as weird as Hadrian," The redhead decided.

Orion shrugged, sitting down on top of his trunk. "You've tried it before."

This made all of them pause, remembering third year and their rather depressing stab at vanishing each other's beds just to spite each other. Because the Vanishing Spell hadn't worked, they had ended up trying to shove the other side's beds out the window instead.

"Oh yeah, we did," Longbottom recalled, before shooting him an apologetic look. "Sorry, mate."

"To be fair," Weasley added. "You tried to do the same to us. Not that it worked. Think Nev managed to vanish half of Potter's broomstick though."

Longbottom grinned. "Never could prove it was me."

Orion stifled a smirk and asked instead, "So what are you doing?"

Even Longbottom gave him an are-you-stupid look for that. Orion found that it caused an odd lack of resentment on his part when it wasn't Harry giving him that same expression.

"We divided this place on the first night of the first week of the first month of our first year here," Longbottom gestured at the black line inked across the room, separating the dorm into two parts.

As absurd as it sounded, mini-wars had been waged over that line. One toe over was enough grounds for retaliation. Longbottom and Weasley had fought long and hard to keep half the room for themselves since it had been technically two against four for the first three years they had shared this room and Harry had always claimed that that was enough reason for his side to have more space. Needless to say, it hadn't been a unanimous agreement.

"What do you think is going to happen," Weasley continued pointedly. "When Potter gets back and your stuff is still on their side? He'd probably build a bonfire out of it. And then try to set fire to our side. I'm surprised he hasn't done it already but I suppose he was too pissed to think of it."

Orion couldn't deny that but, "You don't have to. I can take care of myself."

Weasley snorted. "And what? Go down tomorrow and tell Hadrian you're stuck in the Hospital Wing because Nev and I weren't looking out for you? No thanks. Hermione says Hadrian's scary when he's irritated, and if Hermione says that, then I don't want to be his bearer of bad news."

"We look after our own," Neville interjected with a slight smile. "And like it or not, you're one of us now. So come on, this is your bed and it's heavy."

Five seconds later, Orion found himself shoving at the bed along with his... he had no idea what they were. He didn't want to go as far as calling them friends – at the moment, only Hadrian could fall into that category – but they weren't enemies anymore either.

"You know," Weasley panted. "I never did understand why these beds couldn't be levitated. I mean, we tried, but magic doesn't seem to work on them."

"And they're bloody heavy," Longbottom agreed, glancing over at Orion. "Even with your help."

Orion made an indistinct sound at the back of his throat. He was certainly stronger than normal people but it didn't change the fact that these four-posters were weighed a ludicrous amount.

"You know what? That's it," Longbottom gasped as another three minutes ticked by with little progress. "I apologize in advance. Ron, go keep a lookout for Hermione."

It took a second for Weasley to understand but the redhead brightened immediately after, bounding over to the door. "She's not coming!"

Orion blinked in puzzlement, which swiftly disappeared when Longbottom called out, "Dobby!"

Five minutes, several suspicious looks in Orion's direction courtesy of a house-elf, and a chorus of thank-yous later, Orion's belongings were all safely over the line and parked neatly a few feet away from Longbottom's bed.

"There," Longbottom surveyed the rearrangement with an air of satisfaction before nodding to himself. "Done. Now, just so you know, Ron snores like a dragon with a cold."

"Oi!"

"You may not have heard 'cause of the Silencing Charm between the two sides," Longbottom carried on blithely. "He never spells his curtains because he's convinced he doesn't, so just charm yours if he gets too loud. It's what I do."

Weasley rolled his eyes but didn't refute it, slumping back with boneless limbs onto his bed.

Orion glanced between his two new roommates – because this dorm might as well have two rooms in it what with the divide – and cleared his throat. "I... usually stay in the Hospital Wing the day before and the day after the full moon as well, so I won't be here for around three days each month."

Weasley waved an acknowledging hand in the air from where he was lying but didn't otherwise react. Longbottom arched a bemused eyebrow at him. "We've noticed. It has been three years."

Orion shifted awkwardly and nodded before heading over to his own bed. He knew that, but he figured it was only right to give them fair warning of the circumstances surrounding his condition.

"Hey, Orion?"

Orion straightened and turned back to face Longbottom. The fourth-year looked a bit self-conscious now.

"Look, I know it didn't seem like it at all," Longbottom started, and Weasley slowly sat up, looking slightly ill at ease himself. "But we don't have any problems with you being a werewolf. We had a problem with you being on Potter's side, but other than that, well..."

He trailed off, shrugging and wincing a little in embarrassment. Orion stayed quiet. He sensed that the teen wasn't quite finished saying his piece yet.

"We should have said something sooner," Longbottom finally admitted. "About the way he treated you. I mean, Ron and I both saw it-"

Weasley nodded, grimacing.

"-and Hermione too, but we never said anything or did anything. It took Hadrian coming along and knocking Potter down a few pegs before we even really talked to you. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is- well, I'm sorry."

"Me too," Weasley threw in, looking highly discomfited.

Orion stared at them. To be honest, he hadn't really expected anyone to speak up on his behalf. Hadrian was an anomaly. Eccentric and unconventional and never doing what was expected of him.

"It's fine," He muttered, busying himself with undoing his tie.

"It's not fine!" An irritated voice from the doorway announced. They all turned to find Granger standing there, hands on her hips.

The brunette gave him a stern once-over. "It's not fine. Set your standards higher. Hadrian was entirely right to tell Potter to stuff it and drag you away from him. We should've done the same. But we'll make it up to you from now on. Least we can do."

Orion seriously wished Hadrian was here because he had no idea what to say to this. He finally settled for nodding, and, apparently seeing the thorough embarrassment all three males were having trouble hiding, Granger mercifully dropped the subject.

Dear Merlin, how could his dad stand being so emotional all the time? A few minutes was too much for Orion.

 


 

As the days slipped by and the British air gained a chilly bite, Hadrian had more to worry about than a few upcoming exams.

First was the most obvious – the Triwizard Tournament would begin soon and the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang delegations would arrive on October thirtieth, ringing in the beginning of another dangerous year for Neville.

Second was related to the first – Hadrian still hadn't decided what to do about Crouch and Mad-Eye. Even with his experience, Crouch was not so careless as to leave his trunk unprotected and it would be that much harder for Hadrian to find and free his mentor's parallel counterpart. And as callous as it sounded, the option of leaving Mad-Eye where he was until the end of the year could not be dismissed. Hadrian had been a general once; he knew how battle plans worked.

Third was much nicer to think about – Orion's furry little problem. Now that Hadrian had managed to burrow his way through the Black heir's armour, he could bring up the idea of keeping Orion company on full moon nights. Hadrian hadn't told anyone about his two Animagus forms and, for now, he would keep his magical form to himself, but his non-magical form could be divulged to the werewolf. He hoped Orion would appreciate it.

Fourth, and last, was far more personal; he had barely allowed himself to think about it – October thirty-first was coming up fast. Before Fate had whisked him away to this world, Hadrian had just been about to get as roaring drunk as physically possible. However, he was a student now, and even if he begged, he rather doubted the house-elves would just cough up a few bottles of firewhiskey, at least not without informing the Headmaster.

Halloween no longer signified just the anniversary of his parents' death, which was bad enough as it was. The end of the war, Neville's death, and countless others gone all rolled into one to make the thirty-first a colossally desolate depression of a day.

Even worse, Hadrian would be pretty out of it in the week preceding Halloween and he couldn't simply hide under his covers since he had classes to attend. The very worst thing was probably the fact that the Triwizard Champions would be drawn on the thirty-first and Hadrian still couldn't decide whether or not he wanted to attend.

Technically, there was no rule that said one had to be there for the occasion, but that was only because nobody wanted to miss it anyway. Hadrian had already been through it once; he didn't need to see it through again, but both Neville and Cedric, along with Victor and Fleur, the former's counterpart having become a good friend to Hadrian and the latter's an older sibling along with Bill.

The logical, sensible decision was to go.

Hadrian huffed a breath and snapped his book shut with more strength than necessary. Best not think about it until he had to. His life had always gone better when he made decisions on the go.

 


 

"Well look who it is, Gred!"

"Why, it's that odd duck 'Puff, Forge!"

Hadrian turned sharply in midair where he had been drifting along on his Firebolt and found his vision swarmed by two redheads.

"Fancy meeting you here!" The twins chorused, so reminiscent of the Fred and George Hadrian had known that he could only stare at them for a few seconds.

"Speechless with awe, Fred," Fred said, hovering on the left.

"Must've heard of our reputation already, George," George said from the right.

When Hadrian had temporarily snuck away from his friends to get some freedom in the skies, he hadn't expected to bump into anyone. After all, there was no Quidditch this year so no one would be out practicing. Hadrian had been lost in his own thoughts but he would've noticed them if they had come onto the pitch first, so they had probably spotted him from the Gryffindor Tower and directly flown out a window to join him.

Still, he stared, words momentarily lost to him. Here were Hogwarts' finest Beaters, two of her best pranksters, unmarred by loss and death and very much alive.

"Hello," He managed, forcing his mind away from his world's dead twins so he could focus on the pair in front of him. "You're Fred and George Weasley, right? Ron told me about you."

"Ah yes," Fred circled around Hadrian and reflex prompted Hadrian to back up a little to keep both of them in his line of sight. "You're friends with Ickle Ronniekins. He's told us about you too."

Hadrian tried to relax, aiming for a charming smile to hide how unnerved he was at their sudden appearance. He had spotted Neville, Ron, Hermione, and countless others before they had really approached him and Hadrian had been able to center himself. It didn't help that there were less than three weeks to Halloween. The closer that day came, the more his memories attacked him.

"Only good things, I hope," Hadrian offered lightly.

George grinned slyly. "Maybe, maybe not. Either way, we thought we'd come see for ourselves. The fourth-year duck who spends more time with Gryffindors than his own House."

"I spend time with Slytherins too," Hadrian reminded them mildly.

"Good point," Fred acknowledged, swerving right in a wide circle. "And you managed to drag our Slytherin-hating brother along as well. A Weasley in a nest of snakes, and with Malfoy no less – now that's something we never thought we'd live to see."

Hadrian tilted his broomstick up and climbed several feet. The twins instantly followed.

"What exactly are you here for?" Hadrian just managed to keep the impatience out of his voice. He had come out here to be alone. While he was very fond of the Weasley twins, these twins weren't the ones he knew, and they certainly didn't know him, which would explain why they were eyeing him with shrewd fascination and none of the brotherly affection he was used to.

"What, we can't-" Fred started.

"-simply drop by-" George chimed in.

"-and say hello?" Fred finished seamlessly.

Hadrian tilted his head. "Of course you can. But you can't really expect me to believe that's all you're here for?"

The twins exchanged a glance.

"An odd duck like you-" George began this time.

"Hadrian," Hadrian cut in. "My name is Hadrian Evans."

Fred shrugged. "Same difference. You're still odd. A touch mad even."

"Barmy," George agreed. "Getting all chummy with Malfoy and his two underlings-"

"They're friends," Hadrian interrupted again, struggling against their combined force. He had seen Fred and George team up and talk people under the table but he himself had never been on the receiving end. Thinking back, these two had been nice to him from the moment they had offered to help him with his trunk back in his first year on Platform 9¾.

"Draco, Blaise, and Theo are friends," Hadrian clarified when the twins fell silent. "More importantly, they're also my friends and you're nearing the point where you'll be insulting them without cause. So, may I ask, gentlemen, where this is going?"

They both sent him rather patronizing smiles.

"Patience, young badger," Fred reproached. "We're getting there."

"Indeed," George nodded. "You're rubbing shoulders with a bunch of Slytherins and you've finally managed to pull a werewolf into your ever-expanding circle."

Hadrian inwardly frowned.

"A werewolf," Fred emphasized, and Hadrian snapped.

"You have a problem with werewolves?" Hadrian enquired coldly.

Somehow, he felt as if this was exactly what the twins had wanted him to say, though he didn't know why.

"And if we did?" George countered, eyes suddenly calculating in a way that reminded Hadrian of a George without a Fred, the remaining twin who had refused to jump ship and abandon a certain joke shop, no matter how much Molly and Ginny had screamed, the man who had wiped out three squads of Death Eaters before willingly joining his brother in the afterlife.

Hadrian felt like throwing up – probably not a good idea, being in the air and all.

The smile on his face felt hollow and brittle but he smiled at them anyway with all the frigidity he could muster, savagely gratified when he saw both redheads falter, just a bit.

"Then I am obligated to warn you to stay away from Orion," He said, a perfect picture of geniality. "He's my friend now. I won't stand by and let anyone hurt him, and that includes Ron's older brothers. Should you bully Orion in any way, I'm afraid the consequences will be highly unpleasant."

A long silence ensued.

And then both twins snorted with laughter, teetering precariously on their brooms.

Hadrian really did frown this time.

"You're alright, Evans," Fred decided, and their grins were suddenly much more familiar, friendly and open.

"Love the way you threaten people, by the way," George complimented cheerfully. "'I'm afraid the consequences will be highly unpleasant'. Very nice; very polite. We approve."

Hadrian was officially lost. "I beg your pardon?"

"You see, Ducky," George said, swinging an arm around Hadrian's shoulders and ignoring the way he cringed at the nickname. "Our dear brother Ronald doesn't usually take to someone so well, especially with their ongoing feud against Potter. What is it now, six years?"

"Going on seven," Fred confirmed, floating on Hadrian's other side. "Talk about long-term commitment."

"Seven?" Hadrian parroted. Didn't they all meet at Hogwarts?

"Hmm? Oh yeah," George nodded. "Us Weasleys have known the Longbottoms and Potters for a long while now. Our parents and relatives are all friends or were allies during the last war and no one ever fell out of touch. 'Course, it's not like we have big happy get-togethers all the time but we do know each other since we run in the same circles."

"Ron, Neville, Potter, and Black all met when they were around eight," Fred revealed. "They were cute little beasties back then."

"Yeah," George snickered, finally pulling away to loop under Hadrian before returning to his side. "'Specially when Ron nailed Potter in the head with his corned beef sandwich. It turned into an all-out food fight."

"They hated each other on sight," Fred concluded with strange relish. "Potter and Black against Neville and Ron. Then they all trotted off to Hogwarts and Potter's side gained Thomas and Finnigan while Neville's side got the lovely Hermione. Just their luck they all got placed in the same room. If the boys' and girls' dorms weren't separated, I'd bet our lifesavings that Hermione would've been stuck in there as well."

"It's a miracle they haven't killed each other," George mused, before his gaze sharpened and Hadrian, already reeling from all the information he was getting, was pinned with twin looks of fascination once more, softer than before but no less intense.

"And then you came along and changed the balance in less than two months," Fred observed. "It's always been the Golden Trio against the Potter Brigade but even Ron let you in without a fuss, and he can be a jealous prat on a good day. And then you snagged Black and cut him away from Potter. Ickle Harrykins was hopping mad. Still is."

It was truly bizarre to hear that revolting nickname that his world's twins had once teased him with spoken with such flippant mockery.

"So we just had to see for ourselves," George explained. "What kind of person you are and such."

"And you decided I'm alright after I promised retribution," Hadrian deadpanned incredulously.

The twins shrugged in unison.

"Meh," Fred waved a hand. "You did a bit more than that, Ducky."

"Very protective you are," George remarked. "Of Black, I mean. At first, we thought maybe you were working for Potter on the side or something because people generally side with him, but it looks like you'd sooner punch him than help him. That twat can't go a day without insulting Black."

"A day, brother mine?" Fred shook his head mournfully. "No, no, you're far too generous. He can't even go three hours!"

"So you don't have a problem with werewolves then?" Hadrian was relieved that this hadn't changed. There had been a moment earlier when he had dreaded butting heads with the twins over something so inane.

"'Course not," George assured. "One of our role models is a werewolf."

"And the other two are his husband and his best friend," Fred expanded, mischief lighting up his features. "Ever heard of the Marauders?"

Hadrian had, of course, but he shook his head all the same and was swiftly given a crash course on the 'greatest mischief-makers of all time'. He noticed that they made no mention of Peter Pettigrew.

Twenty minutes later, Fred and George, still waxing poetic about James, Sirius, and Remus, were interrupted by a shout down below.

"Oi!" Ron hollered up at them. "What are you two doing bothering Hadrian? I told you to leave him alone with your bloody pranking!"

"And there's another thing," Fred shook his head, looking mystified. "He usually only tells us to leave Neville and Hermione alone."

"We'd never prank them anyway," George said, a touch mournful. "Neville's too nice and Hermione's just not worth the lectures we'll get for it."

Hadrian chuckled, almost fully relaxed around the two redheads now. "We should get back down."

The twins rounded on him, eyeing him and his broomstick with gleeful interest.

"One last thing then, Ducky," Fred compromised.

"You can't possibly own a Firebolt just for show," George tutted.

"Show us what you got," They challenged.

Hadrian quirked an eyebrow at them before leaning over to glance at the ground. They were about ninety feet above the ground. It wasn't the highest he had ever dived from but he didn't want to give anyone a heart-attack.

Hadrian flashed a grin to match the twins'. "See you on the ground then."

And without another word, he pointed his broom downwards, tucked his body in tight, and dropped.

Wind whistled in his ears as urged the Firebolt on, flattening his body against the handle as he streaked towards the ground below. He heard a distant, alarmed yelp that sounded like Ron but didn't slow down.

Fifty... forty... thirty... twenty... ten... five... one foot from the ground and pull-

A wild laugh tore itself free from his throat as his faithful broom obeyed, almost humming under his hands in response to his joy as it straightened out and glided parallel to the ground, allowing Hadrian's toes to brush the grass.

"Bloody hell!"

Hadrian looked up and found a pale-faced Ron racing towards him, Fred and George coming in quickly from above.

"Bloody hell, mate!" Ron repeated as he skidded to a stop in front of Hadrian. "I thought you were going to go splat! You're completely insane!"

"That wasn't quite what we had in mind," George interjected as he swung off his broom. Fred did the same beside him. Their freckles stood out on their faces.

Ron rounded on them and began shouting, ears red and visibly irate as he tore into his brothers for 'endangering Hadrian'.

Hadrian was utterly dumbstruck. The twins had said that Ron could be jealous, but this Ron, while still hotheaded and biased against Slytherins, was nowhere near as bad as his world's Ron could get when he had still been a kid. Then again, this Ron had befriended Neville early and didn't seem to feel like he was being overshadowed by his brothers. A tiny discrepancy like that – could it really make such a large difference?

"Alright, alright, we're sorry!" Fred raised his hands in a placating manner. "But come on, you have to admit, he'd make a brilliant Seeker."

Ron rolled his eyes and huffed but glanced over his shoulder with a speculative gleam in his eyes. "You like Quidditch, Hadrian?"

Hadrian shrugged. "I like it well enough. I like flying most; Quidditch is a way to do that."

"Good enough," Ron nodded, looking regretful. "You'll be joining the Hufflepuff team next year then?"

Hadrian blinked. "Maybe, why? Are you on the Gryffindor team?"

The twins shared an amused look as Ron twitched.

"He didn't tell you?" Fred queried.

"Oliver – our last captain – graduated last year," George told him. "And neither he nor McGonagall could decide who was better so they made Angelina Johnson and Icle Ronniekins here co-captains."

Hadrian couldn't help it; his mouth dropped open. "Seriously?"

Ron rubbed the back of his neck, flushing a little. "I was the reserve Keeper for the team but my game plans were good so I was sort of part-time coach as well. Now that Oliver's gone, I'll be taking over the Keeper position and handling the team training while Angelina – she's a Chaser – handles the technical stuff – booking the field, scheduling the practices, overseeing the tryouts; that sort of thing. Of course, we come up with the formations together and we can both recommend people for tryouts, but we split the duties."

Fred smirked, clapping a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Youngest captain in fifty-two years. Mum couldn't decide whether she should be proud or worried."

"Co-captain," Ron corrected, turning even redder as he glanced back at Hadrian.

Hadrian took another second to digest this before breaking out into a wide, impressed grin. "That's brilliant, Ron! I had no idea! You should've told me earlier!"

Ron beamed at him, still a bit red-faced but noticeably pleased at Hadrian's genuine sentiment. "It never came up. You'll bag the Seeker position if you try out though, which is a serious problem for us. You're better than Diggory – he's the Hufflepuff Seeker at the moment but I always thought he was more suited for Chaser – and you're a hundred times better than Potter. Oliver couldn't keep him off the team the last three years because, unfortunately, he was the best we had and he did play a decent game when he wasn't shooting his mouth off, but with you... well, we'll just have to hope someone will step forward who can give you a run for your money."

Better than Harry – that was paradoxically laughable. Hadrian didn't say anything though, only nodding as the three Weasley brothers proceeded to fill him in on the different people in each House's team.

And under the afternoon sun, autumn wind already battling the warmth of the fading sunlight, Hadrian temporarily forgot the dreaded date looming ahead.

 


 

Orion glanced up wearily from the book he had been reading when the door to the Hospital Wing cracked open and a mop of black hair peeked in. For a frozen second, he thought it was Harry come to taunt him about his condition again.

And then Hadrian stepped in, still looking very cautious as he eased the door shut behind him and scurried across the room to Orion's side, footsteps as silent as the grave.

Orion arched an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you be asleep?"

Hadrian clambered onto the end of his bed. "I thought I told you – I have trouble sleeping. I don't sleep more than three hours a night at most."

Orion mentally slapped his forehead. He had forgotten.

Truth be told, he was still getting used to being surrounded by people who actually gave a damn about him. His parents and James and Lily didn't count.

Over the last two weeks, Orion had still woken up most mornings convinced he had dreamed the entire Great Hall incident. But then he'd draw back his bed curtains and find Longbottom already up and tending to the plants on his bedside table and Weasley still snoring away.

And he'd be on their side of the room, not Harry's.

And then they'd all go down for breakfast, and Orion could admit that he had never looked forward to meals as much as he did now, because all he had to do was step into the Great Hall, and instead of having to avoid the disgusted, fearful looks, he'd be almost instantly accosted by Hadrian, Diggory usually somewhere close behind with a cheery good morning.

A part of him though was still waiting for the day Hadrian got tired of Orion and all the frowns he was getting for associating with a werewolf.

A finger poked him on the forehead and he jerked back, startled. Hadrian was frowning at him.

"You're doing that thing again," The teen said. "Stop it."

Orion raised his eyebrows. "What thing?"

Hadrian pointed at his forehead. "Being all frowny. You're only like that when you're thinking."

Orion snorted. "My apologies for thinking then. We can't all be empty-headed like you."

The banter between them had gotten easier as well. During the first few days of their friendship, Orion had monitored every word he said, if he said anything at all. He didn't want to accidentally offend Hadrian. And then, eventually, he'd figured out that Hadrian only got offended on behalf of his friends, and the other fourth-year had even tried to tease Orion into snapping back a retort several times.

Hadrian smiled now but it soon became something more serious. "I don't mean it like that and you know it. I told you – we're going to be lifelong friends. Stop worrying."

Orion sighed in exasperation. Hadrian always sounded so damn certain of things he simply couldn't be certain of.

"It's the full moon tomorrow."

Orion blinked at this sudden and very obvious about-face. "I'm quite aware of that."

Hadrian nodded, unnaturally somber. He glanced around before leaning forward, voice dropping in volume. "Can I join you?"

Orion flinched. "No!" He burst out, and then quickly checked Pomfrey's door to make sure she hadn't been alerted.

"No!" He repeated at a near-whisper this time. "Are you mad? I know you don't care about me being a werewolf and I do take the Wolfsbane Potion but no human should remain beside a werewolf during the full moon."

Well, his dad and Uncle James did but they were both Animagi-

"What if I could change into something else to keep you company?" Hadrian persisted, and Orion stilled.

It was several seconds before he found his voice. "...W- What do you mean?"

Hadrian sat back and grinned, bright and mischievous, and then, abruptly, his form melted and Orion found himself staring, dumbfounded, at a sleek black fox with intelligent green eyes and a white-tipped tail wrapped around its paws.

He literally could not find any words for an entire minute. It was only when Hadrian changed back, looking slightly concerned, that he managed to kick-start his brain again.

"You're an Animagus!" He breathed in disbelief. "You- You're a bloody fourth-year! Why don't you make any sense?"

Hadrian looked taken aback for a second before the teen snickered. "Not much in the world makes sense, 'Rion. It's better to just go with the flow. So? Can I?"

"I-" He stared helplessly at the Hufflepuff, the first friend he'd ever had and an evident madman who was currently offering to keep his werewolf form company.

He knew that being an Animagus would make it much safer – he remembered as much when Sirius stayed with them in his dog form – and telling Hadrian to at least tell Pomfrey first would get the fourth-year in a heap of trouble, not to mention he had a feeling that Hadrian didn't want to be placed on the Animagus Registry anyway. Orion honestly had no qualms about breaking that law – he had grown up with Sirius for a parent.

Still, he hesitated for a few moments longer. Sirius and Remus had come every full moon for the first two years of school, and then only the day after the full moon during the course of his third year because Orion had felt that he couldn't depend on his parents forever and he might as well get used to transforming alone.

This year, Orion had insisted that it wasn't necessary for them to come at all, and the disappointment on both their faces had nearly made him take it back, but he wanted to be able to depend fully on himself. After all, his parents weren't going to be with him forever – he would one day be completely alone.

Or so he had thought. His fourth year so far hadn't exactly gone as planned.

He glanced back at Hadrian who was still waiting patiently for his answer, hands folded calmly in his lap and a steely glint in his eyes, and Orion knew that the Hufflepuff was fully content to sit there all night to get the answer he wanted.

"Are you sure?" He said at last, hating how pathetically eager his voice sounded.

Hadrian merely smiled though, satisfied accomplishment edging the expression. "Of course. I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't."

 


 

"Oh, by the way," Hadrian spoke as his pseudo-students began packing up, their Wednesday tutoring session finished for the day. "We're going to have to cancel the lesson on the coming Sunday. I'll be busy."

Draco frowned indignantly. "Backing out of our deal already, Evans? It's not even November yet!"

"I'm sure there's a good reason," Cedric said reproachfully to the blond before casting Hadrian an expectant look.

Hadrian shifted uncomfortably, glancing nervously at Hermione. He really should have told her sooner, but the longer he had held it off, the less important it had seemed.

"Well," He hedged. "I won't even be in school for most of Sunday."

"Why?" Theo prompted when he paused.

Hadrian sighed. "I'll be at the Ministry that day taking my Runes OWL and NEWT."

Silence.

Hadrian busied himself with stacking his notes back in order.

"OWL and NEWT?" Hermione was the first to speak, sounding like she was about to faint. "As in the exams OWL and NEWT?"

Hadrian nodded shortly, glancing around the table. The three Slytherins looked as stunned as they could possibly look. Cedric's mouth was hanging open.

"You're joking," Hermione said weakly. Hadrian shook his head. "You're not joking."

Hadrian shrugged, rifling through his bag and withdrawing the letter informing him of the time and date of his two exams. "I'm afraid not. My OWL is from... two-thirty in the afternoon to five, and then I get a half-hour break. After that, I write my NEWT from five-thirty to nine, so I'll be back around nine, nine-ten at the latest."

He blinked when Blaise reached across the table and plucked the letter out of his hands. Draco and Theo automatically leaned in on either side of him.

"He's serious," Theo muttered, glancing between the letter and Hadrian. "October twenty-third, two-thirty in the afternoon until nine at night – mate, I hate to tell you this, but you're going to collapse."

Hadrian huffed a laugh. "I get half an hour in the middle."

"As opposed to two and a half hours for your OWL and three and a half hours for your NEWT," Blaise deadpanned. "Yes, I can see the logic in that."

Draco looked slightly nauseated. "Three and a half hours just to write one NEWT exam? Diggory, my condolences."

Cedric, who would be writing his Charms NEWT this year and everything else next year, cringed. "Wonderful, I'm going to have nightmares."

Any further remarks were drowned out when Hermione sprang to her feet, looking wildly panicked. It was lucky Hadrian had taken to putting up privacy wards or Pince would've kicked them all out in a heartbeat.

"But- But Sunday's four days away! And you've been spending all this time tutoring us! Oh my god, are you ready for them?! Have you studied enough?! You should've said something! And I forced you to tutor me! Oh no, you're going to fail because of me! Two exams-"

"Shut up, Granger!" Draco barked, rolling his eyes. "If Evans is taking the exams, then he's ready. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? If he fails, he can just retake it with the rest of us next year."

Hermione looked ready to burst out in another tirade at the mention of failing so Hadrian hastily interjected, "Hermione, it's fine. I'm ready; more than ready. In fact, Babbling originally wanted me to take them on the first of October but the Ministry couldn't get it set up in time. I've studied for both exams and Babbling's given me review packages and discussed all the topics that might come up. I was ready ages ago."

Hermione stared at him for a long second before releasing her breath in a whoosh and she collapsed back into her seat. "Why didn't you say anything? When did this even happen?"

Hadrian ran an absent hand through his hair. "Mm, it didn't really seem that important. I mean, it never came up."

Cedric dangled a textbook in front of him. "In case it hasn't occurred to you yet, you've been tutoring us in Ancient Runes."

Hadrian grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, well, they're just exams. And Babbling signed me up for them that day we handed in our first assignment. You know, when she held me back after class."

"That was weeks ago!" Hermione sounded torn between accusatory and horrified.

"Barely six weeks!" Hadrian protested feebly.

The looks he received for that were appropriately unimpressed.

Hadrian rolled his eyes and sighed. "Whatever, it doesn't really matter. Now, lesson's over, so scram. I'll see you at dinner or next Wednesday."

Draco looked miffed at being told to scram but he rose with the other Slytherins and nodded a curt farewell to Hadrian before sweeping out the library.

"Good luck, Evans," Theo called back, and Blaise echoed the sentiment.

Hadrian smiled to himself. Would wonders never cease.

He looked around and found Hermione and Cedric still staring at him. Wincing, he cast a tempus and prompted, "Don't you have class to get to?"

That stirred them both into action but Hermione still looked half-worried, half-annoyed, while Cedric just looked thoughtful.

Hadrian sighed again and leaned back in his chair after they too had hightailed off to class. He absently flicked a hand and deactivated the wards, collecting the four runes and sealing them into parchment again.

Tonight was the full moon – he would go to bed per usual before sneaking out and joining Orion in the Shrieking Shack. The Gryffindor had told him that Pomfrey had originally allowed him to use a spare office for his transformation since he could simply curl up and sleep but that he would tell her that he wanted to use the Shack instead.

His mind drifted to the Wolfsbane Potion. In this world, it was still the one Damocles had invented. Later, when Hadrian had been eighteen, Severus, with, Hadrian was proud to admit, some help on his part when it had come to writing up the quantitative formula, had managed to improve it so that the end result would allow the werewolf to both keep their mind and make the transformation painless. It was basically equivalent to becoming an Animagus, except one could only change during a full moon. The improved Wolfsbane Potion had mainly been created so that the handful of werewolves who had been on their side during the war could fight with them on the battlefield during a full moon night, wreaking havoc on their enemy ranks.

Unfortunately, his world's Severus was dead and this world's Severus, if the man would once again create it (and if he did, it wouldn't be for the same reason because, while he did want to stay out of the thick of it, Hadrian also had no intention of letting the war get so out of hand again, even if that meant taking off and hunting down the horcruxes himself), wouldn't do so for at least another four years.

Fortunately, Hadrian had the entire formula and procedure written out in one of his notebooks and locked away in his trunk.

The only problem now was that he would have to find a way to slip it to Severus without causing the man to set out on a hunt for the procurer. He could send it anonymously, by owl, but Severus Snape was nothing if not tenacious when faced with a mystery.

Well, one step at a time.

 


 

That night was spent in the Shrieking Shack with Hadrian in his fox form, playfully darting in and out between Orion's legs as the werewolf growled back and snapped at the air around him in jest. There were no actual human words exchanged but, as Hadrian had learned, animals could communicate easily enough without them.

Hadrian also found out that Orion was only about twice his size as a werewolf. Remus had practically towered over him back in his world.

Dawn came that much faster, and while the transformation back to human made Hadrian wince, the tired but vivid smile on Orion's face made him grin right back as he helped the Gryffindor to the Hospital Wing and stayed with him until he dropped off three minutes after his head hit the pillow.

Hadrian managed to slip back into the Hufflepuff Basement an hour before his dorm mates even began stirring but there was no time for his morning run that day. He supposed taking one day off each month from his training regimen wouldn't hurt.

He had gone down to breakfast shortly thereafter and met with the sheepish faces of the Golden Trio. It didn't take long to figure out the reason.

Hermione had, of course, told Neville and Ron about Hadrian's upcoming exams, and someone must have heard them talking because the news had spread across the school like wildfire. Everyone knew Hadrian would be writing his Runes OWL and NEWT on Sunday.

Hadrian only assured them that he didn't care before digging into his breakfast. It didn't really matter to him – people would've found out sooner or later.

The exams were nowhere near worrying enough to take Hadrian's mind off the end of October though, and now that the full moon had passed for the month, there wasn't much else to occupy him as his thoughts drifted more and more towards that tragic date.

Because something bad always, always happened on Halloween. Whether that would simply be Neville's name being drawn from the Triwizard Cup or something else entirely remained to be seen.

 

Chapter Text

 

The OWL exam was ridiculously easy.

At exactly two o'clock pm on October twenty-third, Babbling had accompanied Hadrian to the Headmaster's office where he had, for the first time since coming to this world, met Albus Dumbledore in person.

The old man's robes had been just as migraine-inducing as he remembered them to be.

Hadrian had kept the entire conversation on a politely friendly note. Just the thought of Dumbeldore's twinkly eyes and grandfatherly facade made him want to tear out his hair on a good day but he had learned the value of never unnecessarily alienating people, especially when those people could potentially give him a lot of damage and grief in return.

So he had remained cordial, thanking the Headmaster for giving him the opportunity to take his Runes exams early and never keeping eye-contact for too long. Luckily, Dumbledore hadn't tried Legilimency on him, merely offering him a lemon drop – which he refused – before wishing him good luck and ushering them to his floo, which would take them to the Ministry.

However, Hadrian hadn't missed the calculating gleam in the old man's eyes. He supposed Dumbledore would be curious about him after all the things he had pulled since the year had started.

That thought had soon been put on hold once he and Babbling had arrived at the Ministry. They had been greeted by Griselda Marchbanks, one of the people who had overseen some of his OWLs the first time around.

They had then been led to a large room with two desks, two chairs, and not much else. Babbling had been told to wait outside before Hadrian had been pointed to a desk and given a paper exam.

"There's no practical for the OWL," Marchbanks had told him, observing him carefully as if she had still been trying to wrap her head around the fact that Hadrian would be writing both exams in one day at the age of fourteen. "You have two and a half hours."

The OWL was straightforward and mostly very dull. There was nothing but singular runes in it, asking for their meaning and, with a few, their properties when conjoined, and even then, there were never more than two connected.

Obviously, he didn't need the full two and a half hours, but, to his pleasant surprise, there was a list of ten bonus questions on the back, and he happily went about doing all of them.

These questions were still relatively easy but certainly more interesting. Half of them asked for actual sketches of certain rune circles, and Hadrian complied with confident proficiency.

It was four-thirty when he finally looked up, having finished the bonus questions half an hour ago and had been killing time by looking over his answers again. Six times.

He found Marchbanks sitting at her desk, watching him. The woman raised both her eyebrows. "Too hard?"

Hadrian shook his head, getting to his feet. "No, ma'am. I'm done."

Marchbanks rose and reached over to take his paper, giving it a cursory scan before doing a double-take when she reached the back page.

"...Remarkable," She murmured to herself, squinting through her spectacles. "This rune- And this sketch- Flawlessly drawn..."

Marchbanks managed to pull her eyes away from his test paper and pinned him with a hawk-like stare. "Mr. Evans, I do believe you will be setting quite a record."

Hadrian smiled somewhat bashfully and thanked her courteously. He was soon waved off and told to come back at five-thirty for his NEWT. The last thing Hadrian saw before he closed the door behind him was Marchbanks muttering to herself as she rifled through his exam.

Babbling was nowhere in sight. Hadrian hadn't expected her to stay in one spot – the woman was flighty like that; she was probably off exploring or something – so Hadrian made his way to a public refectory and got himself some water and a salad, taking a seat near a window. There were quite a few people scattered across the room, all taking a break from work to grab some food. A few gave him odd looks but Hadrian ignored them, concentrating on his own meal instead.

The sun was already setting outside, and judging by the gathering storm clouds, it looked like it would rain tonight.

The steadily darkening weather inevitably dragged his thoughts back to the overcast skies that could be found more often than not when they had been battling Death Eaters. And Halloween was always gloomy.

Halloween. That was next week.

An achingly familiar but unexpectedly tentative voice broke him out of his despondent reverie. "Harry? Shouldn't you be at school?"

Hadrian started and his elbow smashed into his bottle of water, knocking it over and splashing the liquid across the table. He yelped and scooted back, rising to his feet as he avoided the water.

And then he spun around and looked up, straight into the face of a startled Remus Lupin.

Except for a few grey hairs and a slightly exhausted cast to his features, this Remus was far healthier-looking than his world's Remus.

Still, for a moment, Hadrian couldn't breathe. He felt like someone had hit him over the head with a hammer and a hand was squeezing his heart.

Again though, it was Remus who dragged him back from a mental breakdown.

"I'm so sorry," The werewolf was saying, looking embarrassed now, and Hadrian shoved the memory of his surrogate uncle to the back of his mind. He had to concentrate. He had already been taken off-guard. He couldn't zone out when the counterpart of one of the most important people in his life was standing right in front of him.

"I thought you were someone else," Remus continued, a puzzled look entering his apologetic expression. Belatedly, Hadrian wondered if his scent was similar to Harry's. It would explain why Remus had mistaken him for his counterpart from behind. It hadn't occurred to him before though since Orion had never brought it up. Then again, neither of them would want Hadrian compared to Harry in any capacity.

"Moony? Who are you talking to?"

Oh bugger. Oh bloody buggering fuck.

Hadrian swallowed hard and braced himself before turning to follow Remus' line of sight to two people coming their way.

Sirius Black, far-too-thin features and haunted eyes nowhere in sight.

And James Potter, very, very alive.

This was undoubtedly his worst day since his arrival in this world. And Fate wasn't even around for Hadrian to curse at. Or just curse. He wasn't picky.

"I mistook him for Harry," Remus admitted when they drew alongside them, and Hadrian was instantly pinned with two curious stares.

"Huh, he does look like Harry," Sirius remarked, peering at him unabashedly.

Hadrian wasn't sure but he thought he might've heard the slightest nuance of resentment in Sirius' voice. It made his stomach twist rather painfully.

Remus elbowed him. "Don't be rude, Sirius."

James shuffled forward a step, a friendly smile on his face. The expression almost overwhelmed Hadrian. He had seen his father up close before, courtesy of the Resurrection Stone, but James hadn't been truly alive then. This man was... heartbreakingly real.

"Hi there," James greeted. "You look a little like my son so I guess Remus here mistook you for him."

"Sorry about that," Remus apologized again.

Get a grip, Hadrian told himself firmly. You're too old for dramatic freak-outs.

Hadrian swallowed once more and finally managed a small smile back. "It's alright. I guess I do look a bit like Potter."

All three adults blinked, exchanging glances.

"Ah, you know Harry then?" James enquired.

Hadrian nodded. "We're year mates, but I just entered Hogwarts this year. I was homeschooled before."

Understanding dawned on his audience's faces before Remus stepped forward again, his gaze darting between Hadrian and the spilt water. Hadrian instinctively shied away from him, still more than a little affected by his dead surrogate uncle's lookalike being so close, and then instantly regretted it when Remus hastily backed away again like he had been burned.

Before either Sirius or James' expressions could do more than cool a few degrees, Hadrian was already trying to fix his mistake, babbling a mile a minute as his hands fluttered anxiously in front of him, "No, no, you just startled me! I don't have a problem with werewolves, honest! I just don't like being surrounded and you moved before I was ready and I really didn't mean to do that, that was stupid, I really don't-!"

He broke off when he ran out of air, and also because Sirius and James had relaxed again and Remus was smiling ever-so-slightly.

"I'm- I'm really sorry," He finished lamely. Merlin, he was a gibbering mess. Not to mention he had probably made a terrible first impression on Orion's parents and his counterpart's father.

Sirius snickered, a familiar grin surfacing on his face. "Well, that's alright, both of you are sorry now so that makes you even. Let's get this water cleaned up, yeah?"

"Oh, it's okay," Hadrian waved a hand and muttered a quick Evanesco, vanishing the water and bottle in the blink of an eye. He turned back and found three astounded stares looking back at him.

Bugger. Were Vanishing Spells taught in fourth year or fifth year?

"Uh..." He sighed. This was not how he pictured meeting his family's counterparts. Actually, to be honest, he hadn't really pictured meeting them at all.

"Fourth year, did you say?" Remus queried lightly. "You're pretty skilled."

Hadrian flushed a little. This wasn't his Remus and a Vanishing Spell at twenty-two was nothing to boast about but he still felt a spark of pride at the compliment.

"Thank you," He said, his nerves calming down at last. There was nothing to get flustered about. They were people, same as Ron and Neville and everyone else he had met so far.

"So what are you doing here anyway? Actually, for that matter, who are you?" Sirius asked, pulling up a chair with his usual brash affability. Remus shot him a stern look but relented when Hadrian only smiled and made room for them. The four were soon clustered around the table, jostling for elbowroom.

"Hadrian," Hadrian said, the name rolling easily off his tongue now. "Hadrian Evans."

All three perked up.

"Evans?" James echoed, and Hadrian had to work to maintain eye-contact. "No relation to Lily Evans, I suppose?"

Hadrian shook his head. "Who is she?"

James grinned, and it was startling to see on a face so like his own but not. "She's my beautiful wife. I'm James Potter. You should know her – Lily Potter. She teaches Muggle Studies at Hogwarts."

"Oh! Professor Potter," Hadrian nodded, an unbidden smile surfacing on his face. His counterpart's mother had sought him out twice more in the mornings after the first time to chat with him about Runes. "We talk about Runes sometimes."

"I don't remember Lily taking Runes," Remus remarked in confusion.

"She knows enough to understand what I talk about," Hadrian assured. "I take Runes, and I wake up early and do my work in the Great Hall, so, sometimes, she joins me when she has time. It's what I'm here for actually. My Runes exams."

His audience's reactions were not unlike those of his friends.

"Wait, wait, wait," Sirius spluttered. "You're here to take your Runes OWL?"

Hadrian nodded. "Yes, and my NEWT. I just finished my OWL half an hour ago. I'll be starting my NEWT at five-thirty."

Sirius was wide-eyed. So were Remus and James.

"You must be really good," Sirius muttered, shaking his head. "Kids these days – leaping ahead and leaving us old men in the dust."

Remus rolled his eyes as James squawked indignantly that he was not old, thank you very much.

Hadrian bit back a wistful smile.

"How'd you know Remus's a werewolf anyway?" Sirius suddenly asked when their impromptu banter trailed off.

Remus stiffened, looking uncomfortable, but Hadrian just smiled softly, looking between him and Sirius. It wasn't the whole reason but it was certainly part of it.

"Sirius Black and Remus Lupin," Hadrian identified mildly. "'Rion's told me about you. And he looks a lot like you."

There was a very shocked silence after this before Remus abruptly leaned forward, expression torn between cautious mistrust and hesitant hope. Hadrian really wanted to punch his counterpart.

"You're... friends with Orion?" Remus asked shakily. Beside him, Sirius had straightened to his full height, gaze intent on Hadrian's face.

Hadrian nodded, grinning and trying to ignore the pang in his chest. "Yup. Took me a month and a half to get him to start eating with us. He's stubborn like that. But I'm more stubborn."

"Who's 'us'?" Sirius half-demanded.

"Me and Cedric," Hadrian listed off. "And Neville, Ron, and Hermione. Also Draco, Blaise, and Theo once a week at dinner."

All three stared at him in disbelief. Perhaps he shouldn't have mentioned the Slytherins? Didn't Orion tell his parents this stuff? Or did teenagers not do that? Hadrian wouldn't know.

"That's impossible," Sirius was the one who broke the silence, expression closing off. "You toying with my son?"

Hadrian stiffened even as Remus shot him a sharp look.

"I don't toy with people," Hadrian retorted flatly, bristling. This was one of the few things he would never stand for. He absolutely despised betrayal of any kind. "Orion's my friend."

"He's also a werewolf," Sirius challenged. Remus flinched. Oddly enough, so did James.

"So what?" Hadrian snapped back, eyes narrowing dangerously and momentarily forgetting that this Sirius didn't know him, only that his godfather was treating him like Hadrian would stoop to something so low. "Like I care! It took me forever to drag him away from that arrogant toerag Potter! 'Rion's my friend now, and I take care of my friends. I'll hex anyone stupid enough to talk shite about him six ways to Sunday!"

Too late, Hadrian realized three things: one, he had gotten a bit... passionate with his rant; two, he had forgotten that this wasn't his Sirius and the poor man was only looking out for his son; and three, he had just outright insulted Harry Potter to the boy's father.

Brilliant.

Hadrian coughed, shifting awkwardly, and then raised his head and looked defiantly at James. He wasn't sorry. "He is, you know. I shouldn't have said it in front of you but I won't take it back."

He stopped when James huffed a laugh. There was no condemnation in his eyes, just a sort of sad acceptance mixed with wry humour.

"You sure you're not related to Lily?" The man enquired rhetorically. For some reason, this even drew a snort from Sirius and Remus. Hadrian was mystified. What had he said?

Speaking of Sirius and Remus – the former was watching him with a thoughtful sort of fascination while the latter just looked dazed. Neither seemed at all hostile anymore.

"How'd you manage that then?" Sirius asked, a tiny note of apology in his voice. Hadrian accepted it wordlessly. "Orion's pretty antisocial, and he doesn't get along with most of the people you named."

Hadrian shrugged, fiddling with his plastic fork. "Nev and Ron are fine with him. They told me they moved his bed to 'their' side of the dorm or something."

Eyebrows shot up all around.

"You changed the balance?" James sounded a bit stunned.

Hadrian blinked. What balance? The whole 'Harry against Neville' thing? Even the adults knew about it? And took it seriously enough to call it that?

"Those boys have been fighting for a long time," Remus clarified, picking up Hadrian's bewilderment. "Not physically – well, not most of the time anyway – but we haven't had much luck stopping them."

Hadrian said nothing. He wasn't familiar enough with the inner workings of the feuding teenagers to comment.

"You're good friends then?" Remus asked now, almost eagerly. "Orion can be somewhat awkward around people but don't let that bother you."

"It doesn't," Hadrian assured. "And he's fine with us. Just a bit reserved, is all."

He paused, and then smirked slyly. "There was this one time about a week ago. Ron accidentally turned 'Rion's hair red when he was practicing the Colour Change Charm in class, so Orion pretended to mess up too and turned him into a blond. Ron went around looking like the Weasley version of Draco for three days. It was hard to tell who was more horrified – Ron or Draco."

Sirius barked out a laugh and Remus beamed as if Orion had been made Head Boy. James chuckled beside them, head propped in one hand. They pressed him for more stories, and it didn't take long for Hadrian to realize that Orion didn't tell his parents much at all in his letters home, if he sent any in the first place, most likely a bad habit borne from his years spent in Harry's shadow, keeping his head down and doing nothing noteworthy.

Hadrian had just launched into a retelling of a Potions class where he and Orion had been paired together by Severus when a familiar voice cut in from across the canteen.

"Green Eyes!"

Hadrian jerked up at the holler. "Professor?"

Babbling marched over, scowling at the three men as she reached over and yanked him to his feet. "What are you doing sitting around socializing? Did they do anything weird to you? Do I have to hex them?"

Hadrian blanched. "What? No! Of course not! These two are Orion's parents and-"

"I don't care who they are," Babbling announced, still glaring at the increasingly bewildered Marauders. "It's five-twenty-seven, Green Eyes. You would've missed your exam if I hadn't come looking for you and it's their fault!"

Hadrian blinked and then hastily cast a Tempus.

"Merlin's pants," He muttered, quickly levitating his trash into the nearest disposal unit. "I'm sorry, I have to go."

"It's alright," Remus reassured, standing up as well. "We've kept you too long. Good luck on your NEWT."

Sirius and James echoed the sentiment and Hadrian only had time to flash a fleeting smile before Babbling was dragging him away. Just before he turned a corner, he heard Remus mumble in confusion, "'Green Eyes'?"

All things considered, that first meeting could've gone a lot worse.

 


 

"Your boy's finally getting a break," James remarked several minutes after the boy – Hadrian Evans – had left.

The air between them tensed. James sighed. "Sorry."

Sirius cracked a sardonic smile. "Not your fault, Prongs."

"Yeah it is, and we all know it," James snapped before he could stop himself. "We all know I should've been harder on Harry when he was younger. I should've listened to Lily when she told me not to tell Harry about that Boy-Who-Lived rubbish. The jealousy's gone to his head and I put it there."

He paused, glancing at Remus. "And I should never have left those rogue werewolf files on my desk."

There was a miserable silence.

"He can still change," Remus persisted half-heartedly, sounding nowhere near as convinced as he had been even just four years ago.

James only shook his head. It would take a miracle.

"Hadrian seems like a nice boy," He said instead, steering the conversation to something safer.

"Yes," Remus nodded, brightening in a way James hadn't seen for a very long time. "I wonder what House he's in. Maybe a Hufflepuff? He seems very loyal."

"I say Gryffindor," Sirius declared. James didn't think he had seen his best friend so happy in a long while either. Then again, Orion had never really had any friends for the two to talk about. "Standing up to me and Prongs like that. We can be very scary, you know."

"Ravenclaw," James said, just for the heck of it. "He's taking his Runes NEWT right now."

"Nah, too outgoing," Sirius decided, before making a face. "Sounds like he's friends with Narcissa's brat though. ...Slytherin?"

"A Slytherin like that?" James snorted. "Snivellous would've gone mad in the first week of school."

Sirius smirked. "Pity."

Remus rolled his eyes. "Knock it off, you two. Severus is a friend now."

"In the loosest sense of the word," Sirius corrected. "And only for Lily's sake or I wouldn't bother."

As they continued discussing Orion's newfound friend, James kept quiet for once and mulled over his own thoughts on the boy.

Orion had stuck to Harry for years, no matter what his son had said or done. For Hadrian to change that, split them apart in less than two months, was... a miracle.

James stood up and crossed the room to get some food.

A miracle. He could do with one himself.

 


 

At eight-forty-five, Hadrian staggered out of the Headmaster's floo, Babbling a second behind him, spent a few minutes exchanging banal conversation with Dumbledore, before finally slipping away, ready for some rest after a long day.

The NEWT hadn't been particularly difficult. Certainly harder than the OWL but well within his range of knowledge.

But while the paper test had been simple, the practical had been far more interesting.

Marchbanks had set up the basic skeleton of a runic hexagon – apparently, Babbling had secretly passed on his first assignment and Marchbanks had decided to up the difficulty level of the practical – and Hadrian had been instructed to complete it to the best of his ability. Hadrian hadn't wasted any time rising to the occasion, but it had been fun.

He had been grinning ear-to-ear by the time he finished inscribing the last rune in place and fusing it with his magic, and, at his command, when the entire thing had lit up and raised some of the strongest wards Hadrian had been able to create within the given time limit, the accomplished satisfaction that always accompanied a successful ward creation had glowed in his chest. Marchbanks had looked thoroughly flummoxed and equally impressed by the time he had finished.

Still, it had been an extremely long day and even he was hungry by now, enough to wolf down a plate of pasta before hopefully getting some shuteye. He headed for the kitchens; the Great Hall would be empty by now.

He didn't expect the colourful delegation waiting for him in front of the kitchen entrance.

"Well," He eyed the group dryly. Most of them were bickering with each other. "To what do I owe the pleasure of coming back to this?"

"Hadrian!" Hermione hurtled forward, shaking him frantically. "Well? How were the exams? Did you pass? Did you fail? Did you do okay?"

"Let him breathe, Hermione," Neville chuckled as everyone else began stepping forward.

Hadrian couldn't help the fond smile tugging up his lips. "I did fine. The NEWT was fairly easy. The OWL even more so."

"I told you, Granger," Draco cut in, sounding haughty and smug at the same time. "There was no need for you to keep wringing your hands like Evans wasn't even going to come out alive."

Hermione blatantly ignored him. "What's 'easy' for you? You said you did fine. Is that... an Acceptable for you?"

She looked positively appalled by this notion.

Hadrian snorted with laughter. "No, Hermione. I did 'fine' as in: most likely an Outstanding. For both."

Hermione all but sagged in relief and Hadrian grinned at her. She sniffed at his expression. "I was worried."

"I can see that," Hadrian teased before his gaze drifted over the assembled students again. He paused on the three Slytherins on the side, and while he wanted to say something humorous about their presence, he knew it would do more bad than good. It was enough that they were here.

"We were just passing by," Blaise said glibly as if reading Hadrian's mind. "And then Draco got into an argument with Granger so we had to stay."

Hadrian quirked a smile as Draco protested indignantly. "Of course."

"Alright, let's get you something to eat first," Cedric interjected, moving forward to sling an arm around Hadrian's shoulders. "Honestly, why they would expect you to write six hours' worth of exams with only a short break in between is beyond me."

The Slytherins, of course, wanted no part in their late dinner, especially since they would be sitting in the kitchens, and they quickly disappeared after a curt goodnight to Hadrian.

The Golden Trio and Cedric went ahead to ask the house-elves for some food so Hadrian took this opportunity to fall back beside Orion.

"Guess who I met today," Hadrian prompted.

Orion arched an eyebrow that had no problem conveying his exasperation. "I wouldn't know. Who?"

Hadrian pouted a little. Orion was no fun. "Your parents! And Potter's dad."

Orion started, eyes widening. "What? Really? Even my father?"

"Both of them," Hadrian nodded. "Although I don't know what he was doing at the Ministry."

Orion waved a dismissive hand. "Father sometimes goes up and meets Dad and Uncle James for a meal or two." He stopped, gaining a pensive expression. "...What did you talk about?"

"Oh, I just told them I was your friend," Hadrian revealed. "And then I was given the third degree by Si- Mr. Black. Mr. Lupin didn't look particularly pleased either."

Orion grimaced. "I'm sorry. They can be very overprotective."

"It's okay," Hadrian assured cheerily. "I think they were fine with me by the end. I told them about you changing Ron's hair colour. They looked... very happy."

Orion sighed. "Yeah, they probably would be. I don't usually... well, this year's been rather... different."

"I should hope so," Hadrian huffed. "Anyway, your parents are nice. Mr. Lupin thought I was Potter at first though."

Orion glanced sidelong at him. "Yeah, that's..."

He trailed off and Hadrian didn't push. It was best to just leave that issue aside.

"You can call them by name, you know," Orion said instead. "I don't think they'd mind."

Hadrian shrugged and said nothing. There had been several times today that he had forgotten that none of them – not James, not Sirius, not Remus – were his family, and yet he had chattered on happily with them as if he had known them for years. Well, he sort of did, but he had to keep his distance from now on. It wouldn't do to get too close, to love them too much.

"I should write to them," Orion mused. "Tell them- Tell them about school and..."

Hadrian watched as the werewolf frowned, looking progressively more uncertain.

"Have you ever written to them before?" He asked gently.

"I did in first year," Orion said almost defensively before deflating again. "And a couple times in second, but not after that. I mean, I didn't have anything to write about, so there was no point, right?"

Hadrian hummed thoughtfully before bumping his shoulder against Orion's. "That's okay – you can start again now. I only talked to them for a bit and even I could tell that they love you very much. I'm sure they'd be delighted to hear about anything you want to tell them about."

Orion didn't smile – he didn't much, not when there were other people besides Hadrian around – but his blue eyes did warm and Hadrian considered that a win.

 


 

"Hello, Ducky!"

"Not interested." Hadrian instantly shut down at the embarrassing greeting, not looking up from the Transfiguration essay he was writing.

Fred and George slid into the seats opposite him, devilish grins already painted on their faces.

"Now, now, Ducky," Fred began with a smirk.

"You haven't even heard-" George continued.

"-what we want yet," Fred finished.

Hadrian heaved a sigh and glanced up sharply at them. "I don't need to hear it. You've been trying to get me to taste-test your damn products for the last two weeks. Call it a shot in the dark but I think I can take a pretty good guess as to why you're here."

The twins exchanged a glance.

"Someone's a bit prickly today," George observed.

Hadrian returned to his essay. Of course he was prickly. Halloween was next Monday, he had gotten absolutely no sleep over the past two nights, and he probably wouldn't be getting anymore sleep until that damn date was past. And he didn't even have firewhiskey to help him through.

Life was as unfair as it could possibly get.

"We're not here about our products today," Fred said after a long minute of quill-scratching on Hadrian's part.

"Yeah," George agreed. "Ron told us you skipped Herbology yesterday."

"So you've come to make sure I go to class?" Hadrian enquired acerbically. "What are you, my probation officers?"

Simultaneous lifting of their eyebrows. Hadrian just managed to hold back a sneer.

"And then you disappeared for the rest of the day," Fred continued blithely.

"Didn't even show up at meals," George reminded as if Hadrian wasn't perfectly aware of his own daily schedule.

"Icle Ronniekins got worried-"

"-especially when you didn't talk to them much this morning at breakfast either-"

"-so they sent us to see what's wrong."

Hadrian dropped his quill and glared at them. "That makes absolutely no sense."

"'Course it does," Fred contradicted.

"No one can ignore us, see," George explained.

"I'm not ignoring them," Hadrian said tersely.

"But there is something wrong," Fred countered shrewdly.

"I'll be fine in a week," Hadrian dismissed.

"What's wrong with this week?" George persevered.

Hadrian's jaw was rigidly set. "It's just not a good week for me. I'll go to Potions. There shouldn't be any problems then, right?"

The twins didn't call him back as he packed up and left the library.

 


 

"Mr. Evans, watch the smoke!"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Silverweed should be shredded, not crushed, Mr. Evans!"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"It's been six minutes, Mr. Evans! Add the lacewing flies!"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

Severus fought the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. What the bloody hell was going on today? He had been hovering over his best student longer than he had swooped around Potter and his cronies for the past hour and a half, making sure the potion he had assigned the boy wouldn't blow up.

It wasn't even the hardest potion Evans had done since the beginning of the semester but every time Severus had turned his back, the boy would-

"Mr. Evans, either concentrate and stir that three times, not four, or get out of my classroom!"

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

Severus stifled an irritated sigh as he stalked back to his desk, only to round on Potter when he snickered.

"I hardly think you are in any position to laugh, Potter," He spat out scathingly, watching with vindictive satisfaction when the boy paled, though the automatic glare remained in place. "Your potion is substandard at best. Instead of focusing on others, perhaps you could at least attempt to use what little intellect you have to complete your assignment. Of course, that's assuming you are in possession of something besides air between your ears in the first place. And twenty points from Gryffindor!"

Potter spluttered. "For what?!"

Severus smirked at him. "For not staying on task."

Even after three years, the boy still hadn't learned. "But-!"

"Another twenty points," Severus drawled. "For talking back to a teacher."

At least the brat had enough sense not to threaten to 'tell his mum' about this, which was more than Severus could say for Potter's first two years at Hogwarts. But Lily had long since stopped listening to her son's complaints about him, and Severus had taken gleeful advantage of this.

With a last dark smirk thrown in for effect, he swept past the red-faced Gryffindor.

Severus: 998; Potter: 0.

And docking points from Gryffindor always made him feel better.

Evans was absolutely useless today though, a far cry from his usually flawless brewing skills. He had heard from Pomona that the boy hadn't even attended Herbology yesterday so he supposed he should feel honoured that the fourth-year had deigned to come to his class. Then again, at the rate Evans was going, that might be less a blessing and more a curse.

Severus glanced back at the Hufflepuff. Black – no longer trailing after Potter like a lost puppy, thank Merlin; it had passed nauseating years ago – was lingering at Evans' elbow, looking about as concerned as Severus had ever seen him. The Golden Trio was on the boy's other side, two out of three of them mucking up their potions since they didn't have Evans babysitting them today.

By the time class ended, Severus had had to berate Evans another five times, taking thirty points from Hufflepuff in total.

"Mr. Evans, stay behind," He said shortly, pinning the rest of the students with a murderous glower to hurry them out the door. Most of them fled. Four did not.

"Class is over," Severus shot them all a condescending look, glaring at the Golden Trio and Black. "I don't want to have to deal with any of you personified rocks more than I already have to."

Longbottom and Weasley immediately straightened with righteous acrimony. Granger looked ready to launch a protest that Severus had neither patience nor desire to listen to while Black only watched on, eyes guarded. The boy's parents had probably filled his head with nonsense about the greasy git.

"It's fine, you guys go ahead," Evans spoke up, gesturing at the door.

"Fine," The boy repeated emphatically, and, obediently, the four Gryffindors trekked out of the class.

Severus sneered. A nasty voice at the back of his mind wondered if Black was simply trading one master for another. It was an ugly thought.

"Mr. Evans," He began as soon as the door swung shut. He made sure his voice was layered with sarcasm. "Would you be so kind as to explain why your proficiency in Potions has suddenly dropped to an atrociously unacceptable level?"

Evans grimaced, running a hand through his hair in a frustrated motion. For a split second, Severus thought he was looking at James Potter whenever the man became aggravated. And then he blinked and the image was gone. He gave himself a mental shake and waited impatiently for an answer.

"I have no excuse, Professor," The boy said evenly, looking him straight in the eye. "I was distracted. It won't happen next class."

Severus' lip curled disdainfully. "I should think not. You were as bad as Potter, Longbottom, and Weasley combined today and I didn't believe that to be possible."

He paused, studying the fourth-year. In the few months he had known the boy, Evans had always been impeccably dressed and alert. Where other students might have bags under their eyes from late nights – no doubt up to no good – or food down their robes – Weasley came to mind – or even rumpled clothing from rushing to class – definitely Potter – Evans had never had so much as a hair out of place. Or as not out of place as his semi-bird's-nest could be.

Today though, Evans looked tired. Exhausted even. The boy was certainly paler than usual, and Severus had personally seen Diggory trying to force food down Evans' throat at breakfast and lunch today.

Evans looked like he wanted to fidget but he remained unnaturally still, watching Severus with blank green eyes. Severus was tempted to use Legilimency but held back. His instincts told him it would be a bad idea.

He drew in a deep breath. Merlin, he couldn't believe he was about to do this, but Evans was his best student, and while he was suspicious of some of the boy's actions, it didn't change the fact that Severus was just a little more... tolerant of this particular teen than anyone else in this entire school.

So,

"Is there anything in particular that is preventing you from performing at your optimal skill level, Mr. Evans?" He enquired stiffly. The words felt foreign on his tongue even as he tried not to sound like he cared (which he didn't).

If Evans hadn't already been looking at him, Severus was sure the boy would've done a double-take.

"No, sir," The fourth-year shifted, managing a slightly unsteady but genuine – if a little bemused – smile. "This week just isn't... a good week for me."

Severus frowned. No, it wasn't a good week for a number of people, Longbottom being one, but the boy had never been particularly bothered by Halloween since he couldn't remember the death of his parents anyway. Augusta Longbottom was another matter however. It was a bad week for Severus too – Lily had almost been killed all those years ago, though he, Potter, Black, and Lupin had all managed to fight off Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan in the end before anyone got too badly injured.

The rest of the world, of course, would be celebrating the day, so why would Evans be upset...?

"My family, sir," Evans offered another smile, this one hollow and distant. "They died on the thirty-first."

Oh.

The world did like its irony, didn't it? What were the odds that Evans' parents had been killed on Halloween as well? And the fourth-year obviously remembered their deaths. Severus didn't know the details but, judging by the expression on Evans' face, it was quite possible that the boy had witnessed the murders himself.

"My condolences," Severus extended after a long moment. He said nothing else. There wasn't really anything one could say to that – he had firsthand experience with loss.

Another crooked smile. "Thanks, professor. I'm sorry for being so out of it today. I'll do better next week."

Severus nodded brusquely. Good, it seemed Evans wasn't the type to want pity for his past demons. The boy had just earned another point in his book.

He considered, briefly, asking Evans about his ulterior motives in his interactions with the Slytherins but decided against it. Severus was a quintessential Slytherin at heart; he knew not to reveal his hand until exactly the right moment.

"See that you do," He said instead. "Dismissed."

Evans bobbed his head in farewell before slipping out of the classroom, silent as a ghost.

Severus sighed and leaned back against his desk once the boy was gone. He should probably keep this to himself. If their places were switched, he wouldn't want Evans spreading something so private around either.

As it was, he didn't even understand why Evans had told him of all people in the first place.

 


 

Orion glanced up from the Charms text he was reading for the twelfth time in the last two hours.

Hadrian was still there.

'There' meant the very edge of the Astronomy tower. The Hufflepuff was at least, thankfully, sitting down, though, to make things worse, it was also raining buckets at the moment.

Orion wasn't sure what was going on. He knew enough to realize that Hadrian was upset about something but it wasn't because of something he or any of the Hufflepuff's other friends had done.

Unfortunately, out of all of them, only Longbottom seemed to have a clue as to why, but the Gryffindor hadn't said a word about his suspicions.

He glanced up again before stowing his book away and casting an Impervius on himself. Nimbly, he leapt up onto the edge of the tower and sat down beside Hadrian, expertly spelling his friend dry before flicking another Impervius over him.

Hadrian hadn't so much as batted an eye through it all. Orion had assumed correctly when he had guessed that the Hufflepuff had known he had been watching from the doorway.

"I'm sorry," Hadrian said at last, and Orion frowned. He couldn't see what the other fourth-year had to be sorry about. "I haven't been very good company the last few days."

Orion shrugged. He wasn't good company any day.

"Everyone has bad days," Orion said instead. "I don't mind. ...I do mind that you're sitting on the edge of the highest tower at Hogwarts."

"So are you," Hadrian pointed out with a semblance of his typical smile in place.

"I'm a werewolf," Orion countered. "I have faster reflexes."

Hadrian merely tilted his head in a half-shrug. "That's debatable."

He didn't say anything else, but Orion was suddenly reminded of the Hufflepuff's classic fluid grace whenever he moved. The way his footsteps never made any sound. And the way he always seemed to know when someone was approaching him.

Hadrian certainly had better instincts than any other human his age that Orion knew of.

"Suppose we should get back inside," Hadrian continued. "I don't want you getting sick."

Orion couldn't help rolling his eyes. "I'm not the one who sat out here for the past two hours."

This time, the smile he received was a bit more genuine. Still, maybe he'd include a request for advice – he'd definitely ask his father; his dad would suggest pranking or something idiotic like that – in his letter home later. He really was flying blind when it came to cheering people up.

 


 

"Sirius, it's Ares!"

Sirius almost cracked his head against the table as he scrambled out from under it, having been in the process of picking up a fork he had dropped. "What?! Ares? As in Orion's owl?"

"No, as in the war god," Remus shot back with distracted sarcasm. Sirius huffed. His lover was getting more and more Snape-like in terms of humour every day. "Of course I mean Orion's owl!"

A black-feathered Great Horned Owl swooped in through the window Remus had all but ripped open in his haste, looking very pleased with itself as it stuck out the leg with the letter attached. Sirius couldn't blame it. He didn't think his son had sent any letters since the middle of his second year.

Remus quickly untied the letter and passed it over to Sirius before setting about to get some water and food for the bird.

Sirius hurriedly opened the envelope, more than eager and secretly a bit worried to see what Orion had written to them about. A rare impatient look from Moony spurred him on and he cleared his throat and read:

Dear Dad and Father,

This letter may come as a surprise to you since I realize that I haven't written in a long while, but I hope it is well-received.

Sirius paused, making a face. "Merlin, Moony, you should've let me teach him how to write. Clearly, he's too polite."

Remus gave him a long-suffering look. "He's just out of practice. Read, Sirius."

Sirius snickered before obliging.

School has been progressing well. My grades in each class remain adequately above average.

Sirius couldn't help it. He mock-gagged. "What have you been teaching him, Rem? 'Adequately above average'? What does the kid think he's doing, writing a letter to Fudge for a job interview?"

Remus glared at him and Sirius promptly found the letter plucked from his hands. "Oi!"

"Since you can't seem to manage," Remus said loftily. "I'll read it."

Unexpectedly, only a few weeks ago, I have also made a friend. Hadrian tells me he has already met you both so I will not have to introduce you. However, seeing as he is my friend, please refrain from hassling him in the future.

Remus paused and Sirius exchanged a slightly guilty look with him. He hadn't meant to accuse Hadrian of toying with Orion right off the bat, but after so many years of Harry – and Merlin, even after almost one and a half decades, it was still hard to reconcile himself with the fact that the boy was supposed to be his godson – they had gotten used to thinking the worst of anyone approaching their son.

School overall has been far more enjoyable recently, largely due to Hadrian (don't repeat that in front of him). Longbottom and Weasley have also insisted on changing our dorm around and we have moved my bed and belongings to their side. Granger is surprisingly less annoying than I had originally thought, though she still gets on my nerves from time to time with her incessant chatter.

As you might or might not already know, Hadrian has a tutoring group every Wednesday and Sunday, and besides Granger, he has also agreed to tutor Cedric Diggory from Hufflepuff, along with Malfoy, Zabini, and Nott from Slytherin. Malfoy is pompously irritating on a good day but Zabini and Nott can hold a conversation without getting sidetracked about their father or money or hair or Granger, etc.

Remus paused to smile fondly at the letter while Sirius snorted with laughter. Hadrian hadn't told them about being a tutor. Then again, the boy hadn't told them much about himself at all – he had mainly talked about Orion.

Now that I have made acquaintances of my own however, I believe I should also give you fair warning: I will no longer have anything to do with Harry Potter. I will remain civil with him when our families get together for a meal or a social event but that is where it ends. If you feel it necessary, please pass on my apologies to Uncle James. Aunt Lily has already given her acceptance and perhaps approval.

Sirius couldn't decide whether to feel proud, relieved, or troubled. Truth be told, part of him had wanted to tear Orion away from Harry for a long time, but another part of him had been convinced that Harry would eventually change, not to mention that Orion hadn't seemed to want to leave Harry's side anyway. But their son was now breaking away on his own, taking a step out of the walls he had built around himself, and that was enough to make Sirius happy.

"That's fine, I suppose," Remus spoke up, an odd half-smile on his features. "He's got his own friends now."

On a last note, Hadrian has been acting... strangely recently. Directly after the day he took his Runes exams, he stopped showing up for most of his classes and meals. Diggory has had to nag him all throughout mealtimes to ensure he gets something in his stomach. He has also seemed increasingly depressed as each day passes. He assured me that he will be fine again quite soon but, just the other day, I found him sitting on top of the Astronomy Tower-

"What?!" Sirius yelped, only to be shushed as Remus hurriedly read on.

-and he remained at the edge in the rain for over two hours. Some advice would be much appreciated, though this request is specifically directed at Father, as Dad will probably not be of much help in this case.

"Hey!" Sirius sulked, though a spike of worry had been growing in his stomach ever since the word 'depressed'. "That's not true!"

Remus rolled his eyes. "And what would you suggest, Padfoot?"

Sirius shrugged. "Well, Orion could always prank the boy and-"

"Exactly," Remus interrupted with a sigh.

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Orion

There was a long silence after Remus finished. Sirius couldn't, for the life of him, wipe the goofy grin off his face. It had been a long, long time since Orion had written them from school, and even before that, most of his notes had been around two sentences long, short and brief and lacking in anything truly substantial.

"I'm glad they met," Remus said after several minutes ticked by. Sirius glanced up, catching the fervent gratitude on his lover's face. "I'm so glad they met."

Sirius thought of Orion growing up, closing himself off from the world more and more as each year passed. It had given him and Remus no small amount of alarm as they watched their boy retreat into himself, and matters were only complicated further by the fact that at least half the blame laid squarely on another child that they should have been able to love like their own.

And then this boy had come along – Hadrian Evans with eyes like Lily's and possessing the same intolerance for bullying that the red-haired woman did. The kid even had the gall to call Harry an arrogant toerag in front of James!

And once they had gotten past the whole misunderstanding about Hadrian toying with Orion, the teen had regaled them with stories of all the things that had happened over the last two months, revealing bits and pieces of their son finally coming out of his shell that Sirius and Remus would never have known otherwise.

"Well, I suppose we should write back," Remus said at last, smoothing out the letter again with gentle hands. "I'll tell Orion to stick around Hadrian as much as he can without being overbearing. Hadrian seems to be the type to know his own mind. If the boy says he'll be fine soon, we should take him at his word, at least for now."

"I'll be seeing them both next week anyway," Sirius declared. "A bunch of Aurors are being sent up to Hogwarts to oversee the tournament. James and I are going, and..."

He trailed off dramatically and grinned at Remus' arched eyebrow. "I got permission from Albus – he pulled a few strings – for you to stay up there as well, as part of the security detail, so wrap things up here and pack your bags, Moony! We're going back to school!"

Remus beamed at him in surprised delight and Sirius smirked back as he went in search of parchment and ink. As if he was going to leave Remus behind for months on end.

 


 

It was Defence on Thursday again and Hadrian was pissed. Why? Because the Death-Eater-in-Disguise was currently casting the Imperius on various students in the class like it was going out of style.

To be honest, Hadrian had expected this for a while now. Back in his first fourth year, he was sure Crouch had done this practical several weeks ago – not so near Halloween – but either he had remembered wrong or this world was simply different. Either way, it didn't change the fact that it was still happening.

Neville looked a bit pale but the teen seemed to take some comfort from Hadrian, whom he kept glancing over at as if trying to reassure himself. Hadrian wasn't sure why; he hadn't exactly been particularly good company the past few days, but if it helped Neville get through this class, then Hadrian would stick it out instead of marching out the door or cursing Crouch like his instincts wanted him to.

Now that he was no longer nervous about being hit by the Imperius though, it was interesting to see how others took it. People like Lavender or Seamus did exactly as they were told immediately. His counterpart struggled for a long moment – eight seconds; Hadrian counted – before also capitulating.

Ron and Hermione resisted for several seconds each before the former started skipping around the classroom and the latter executed a number of pirouettes through the air.

Orion, gaze narrowed in animosity, stood his ground for ten seconds before finally relenting and performing a slightly jerky cartwheel. The werewolf had gritted his teeth and stalked back to Hadrian's side once Not-Moody had released him, silently seething with outrage. Hadrian couldn't blame him. He was feeling fairly livid as well and Crouch hadn't even started on him yet.

Then it was Neville's turn, and after one last anxious look in Hadrian's direction, he stepped forward and allowed the Unforgiveable to wash over him.

Hadrian half-expected Neville to partially shake it off like he had done the first time, but, while the Gryffindor did last longer than anyone else for a grand total of thirteen seconds, in the end, the fourth-year jumped onto a desk in accordance to Crouch's orders.

Only Hadrian saw the glimmer of satisfaction in the Death Eater's eyes.

"Evans, you're last!" Crouch barked, motioning him forward.

Hadrian shifted, making to step towards the front, only to pause when he felt Orion's hand wrap around his wrist. The meaning in the werewolf's burning gaze was clear – if Hadrian asked it of him, the Gryffindor would be willing to cause some sort of scene so that he could slip away.

Hadrian quirked a smile and gave a minute shake of his head. Ever since the week had started and his memories had overpowered him and left him dazed and lost, Orion had gotten far more protective, shadowing him if not outright sticking to his side.

Hadrian appreciated it but it really wasn't necessary here. He had lost count of the number of Imperiuses people had tried to place on him. Come to think of it, he had lost count of the number of Unforgiveables people had tried to cast on him. Obviously, most of the AKs had missed, but he had experienced more than his fair share of the former two.

"Imperio!" Not-Moody shouted, and the curse trickled past Hadrian like water. Past him, not over him. If anyone could safely say that they were immune to the Imperius, it was Hadrian.

"Somersault three times through the air," Crouch instructed.

Okay, for all his training, even Hadrian couldn't do that voluntarily and without magic. Crouch would probably notice if he tried to use magic to aid him. He had considered pretending to be under the effects but that plan was certainly scuppered.

So, a little fear then.

"Somersault three times through the air," Crouch reiterated, louder this time.

Hadrian blinked at him, posture relaxed and unperturbed.

Whispers rushed through the class as Crouch tried a third time, sounding just a bit panicked. When there was no reaction, the Death Eater did the next best thing.

"There you go!" Not-Moody barked, waving a hand at Hadrian even while the man tried to hide how unnerved he was. "Evans knows what he's doing! It's all about your will! The strength of your mind! CONSTANT VIGILANCE! They'll have a hard time controlling you, boy!"

By the time class let out several minutes later, most of his year mates were shooting him speculative looks that ranged from awed to resentful. Hadrian ignored them all. He had no wish to pander to other people's egos.

"Wow, Hadrian," While it made Hadrian slightly uncomfortable, the admiration in Neville's gaze was still a lot better than the mother-hen concern that all his friends had been giving him recently. "You must have a really strong mind to throw off the Imperius."

Hadrian shrugged, adjusting the strap of his bag. "You did pretty well yourselves. Most of the class just did as they were told without resisting."

"You didn't even seem affected," Hermione grumbled as she tried to stop twirling every fifth step.

Hadrian just smiled bracingly at them and swept ahead, telling them that he wanted to drop his bag off back in his dorm before heading to dinner.

But when he exited the Hufflepuff Basement several minutes later, Orion was already leaning against the far wall outside, arms crossed, piercing gaze thoughtful.

"Orion?" Hadrian raised a questioning eyebrow at the werewolf.

Orion cocked his head in a considering manner. His words were deliberate when he spoke. "Who placed you under the Imperius before today?"

Hadrian froze, not expecting something as direct or perceptive as this observation. "...What makes you think that today wasn't my first time?"

It was Orion's turn to arch an eyebrow, skeptical down to the tilt of his mouth. "No one can stand against a curse like that and not even flinch on their first try, even if they were a natural. You didn't even get that hazy look everyone else did after being Imperioed. Besides, you already knew the outcome before Moody even opened his mouth. You didn't look surprised at all, just expectant. The Imperius doesn't work on you, and the only way you would know that is if you've experienced it before."

Orion paused, a look of disgusted contempt mingled with cold rage surfacing on his suddenly feral-like features, none of it directed at Hadrian. "Experienced it before, and enough times to be able to throw it off like it was nothing."

Hadrian listened to the teen's deduction with a heavy heart. Honestly, Orion was far too observant for his own good.

"Does it matter?" Hadrian said at last, moving forward in the general direction of the Great Hall. Orion fell into step beside him. "They won't be doing it again."

One of the things Hadrian liked most about his werewolf friend was that Orion always knew when to back off and not push. He respected privacy and was never hurt when Hadrian made clear that he didn't want to talk about something.

Still, there was an almost vicious gleam in the Gryffindor's eyes, as if the werewolf part of Orion was trying to figure out who he had to hunt down and kill.

Hadrian knew there was probably something wrong with him when all he felt about his friend's murderous inclination was a wave of appreciative affection.

 


 

"Alright, that's it," Cedric glowered at the younger teen beside him. "You can't not eat – I know this may come as something of a shock to you but humans need food, and the last time I checked, you're human, Evans!"

Hadrian threw him a moody scowl of his own, which only served to convince Cedric even further that there was something wrong. The smaller Hufflepuff would normally snipe something witty in return whenever Cedric pestered him about his eating habits.

"Are you entering the Tournament?" Hadrian abruptly enquired, so out-of-the-blue that Cedric was rendered momentarily speechless.

"What does that have to do with you eating?" Cedric demanded. "Don't try to change the subject!"

Hadrian heaved a harassed sigh – as if Cedric was the one being ridiculous! – before reaching over for some mashed potatoes. "There, I'll eat. Now, will you be entering or not?"

Cedric didn't know what to make of this non sequitur but Hadrian was eating – grudgingly – and honestly seemed quite serious about hearing the answer, not to mention it was the most focused Cedric had seen him this week, so he responded without additional fuss.

"Yeah, I was thinking about it," Cedric nodded. "I mean, trust me when I say that both my parents are pretty much expecting me to enter, and everyone else in Hufflepuff wants me to. 'Cept you, apparently, but that's nothing new. Why?"

Hadrian didn't reply right away, pouring a scant amount of gravy onto his mashed potatoes before scooping up a spoonful and popping it into his mouth.

"Be very careful, Cedric," The fourth-year finally said after swallowing. Cedric stiffened under the younger boy's solemn green gaze. "The Tournament's no joke – you could get killed."

Cedric suppressed a shiver.

"It's why there's an age limit, right?" He tried to keep his voice light. "I'm sure they'll keep the tasks at a level where we can handle it. After all, it's not like the Triwiz Tournaments from centuries back."

Cedric thought he wouldn't feel quite as much dread if Hadrian had agreed with him or even continued arguing with him. It would definitely be better than no answer at all. As it was, Hadrian only turned back to his food without comment, a frown creasing his brow.

"You could not enter," Hadrian suggested, but there was a resigned note in his voice as if he already knew Cedric wouldn't go along with this.

Cedric shook his head. "I do want to do this. Not just because of my parents' expectations either. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Hadrian hummed noncommittally, poking lackadaisically at his dinner.

Cedric studied him avidly. He had never seen Hadrian quite like this before. "You're... really worried, aren't you?"

Hadrian shot him a swift, unreadable look before glancing away again.

"I... don't like it," He revealed carefully, voice heavy with a storm of emotions that Cedric couldn't begin to decipher. Sorrow, maybe. Grief. And anger, amongst others. "When people I care about are in danger and I can't do anything about it."

There was a story there, Cedric mused somberly. Perhaps several stories.

"I promise I'll be careful," He said out loud, temporarily resting a hand on a thin shoulder. "And I've got you to help me prepare and all, right? I may not be in your classes but even I've heard how good you are in all of them."

"We share Arithmancy now," Hadrian reminded him, and while the worry was still there, it had lessened somewhat, at least for now.

"Besides that," Cedric amended. Hadrian had joined the Advanced Arithmancy classes several weeks ago. "I can hardly calculate my way through the tasks, yeah?"

This managed to draw a slight smile from Hadrian, but it was more than Cedric had been able to do for the past three days so he'd take what he could.

And he'd make sure to be extra careful in the upcoming tournament. If Hadrian, who could levitate things with a flick of his wrist and put up wards with a two-minute-drawn rune and a tap of his finger, was worried, Cedric wasn't going to take any chances.

 


 

"Evans,"

Hadrian glanced up from the book he was reading in bed, trying to distract himself as much as possible. He had only drawn his curtains halfway so his roommates seemed to have taken this as permission to gather at the foot of his four-poster, books in hand and resolute expressions on their faces.

Hadrian could already feel a migraine coming on.

"May I help you?" He asked politely. So far, he hadn't talked much with his fellow Housemates, Cedric notwithstanding. He was always the first one up in the mornings and he spent most of his time with the Golden Trio and Orion, so besides the occasional nod and goodnight, there wasn't much communication between them.

"Yes, actually," Smith jumped right in but Justin planted an elbow in his side before taking over.

"We heard you tutor a bunch of students twice a week," Justin started, looking a little nervous. "In Ancient Runes?"

Hadrian nodded slowly. "Yes, though I don't think any of you take Runes."

"We don't," Ernie confirmed, sounding slightly defensive. "We do take Arithmancy though, and Care. But that's not what we're here about."

"We were wondering, after today's lesson," Hopkins continued. "How good you were at Defence."

Hadrian had to suppress a thin smile. "I'm quite good."

Smith already looked annoyed but Hadrian was speaking the truth. There were very, very few people who could best him in a duel.

"So there's a way to throw off the Imperius then?" Justin asked earnestly. "Like you did today?"

Yes, Hadrian thought sardonically. Fight a war and make sure you're Enemy Number One – I guarantee you'll be immune by the end of it.

"There's no textbook way to do it," Hadrian said, glancing at the books they were holding. "Moody was right about the strength of mind thing. When you get the Imperius placed on you, it's a fight between your will and your enemy's will. For example: your enemy wants you to jump off a cliff. You have to not want to jump off that cliff, no matter what. You can't just not want to die because most people don't want that anyway. You have to be specific about it, fight it."

Seeing their confused expressions, Hadrian asked, "When Moody cast the curse on you today, what did you feel?"

He had sat up now and his four dorm mates had drifted closer, glancing at each other before Ernie volunteered, "I felt relaxed, like I was happy and content, and a voice was telling me to hop on one foot, and I was perfectly happy to do that."

There were murmurs of agreement from the other three.

Hadrian nodded. "That's what you should fight – that happy feeling. If you feel content to do anything anyone tells you to do, you're not going to question that. It's all about how much you want to break free of it."

"That's it?" Smith demanded. "That's your advice? I rather doubt that's going to be very helpful."

Hopkins looked a little discomfited while Ernie and Justin both frowned at him. Hadrian didn't let it bother him.

"All spells and counter-spells are like that," Hadrian expanded. "It's all about how much you want it. Intent. Especially the Unforgiveables. Say I shot the Killing Curse at Macmillan."

Ernie paled but Hadrian carried on heedlessly. "But I have no intention of killing him, no desire to even cause him harm, so I could shoot Avada Kedavras at Macmillan right now until I'm blue in the face and the most it would do is tickle."

He had a rapt audience. Even Smith had shut up and was leaning forward.

"In contrast," Hadrian continued. "The Severing Charm was taught back in... what, your second year? And most of the time, all we can do with it is cut paper or cloth or shatter glass. If you fired it at someone, you'd probably give them a small- to medium-sized gash, non-fatal. But if someone was out to hurt one of my friends, if they injured my friends, I would naturally hold a grudge against that someone, perhaps even a full-on vendetta against them, maybe hate them to the point of wanting to kill them, and I could, at that point, take a simple Diffindo and literally cut them clean in half."

Wide, wide eyes stared back at him. Hadrian wasted no time to drive his point home.

"It's the same concept in reverse. If I want it enough, and I did, back in class, because I can't stand people controlling me, I could shake off the Imperius, simply because my intent to stay free was stronger than Moody's intent to make me do somersaults through the air."

A long silence ensued. Hadrian waited for a few seconds before adding, "Of course, like everything, there are loopholes. A burst of uncontrolled magic and a badly aimed Diffindo could do quite a bit more damage than you actually want. Or pitch someone like Voldemort-"

Everyone flinched.

"-against a child and no matter how much said child doesn't want to be controlled, Voldemort-"

His audience flinched again.

"-would still probably win in the end because his magic is simply far stronger."

The silence seemed hushed this time.

"...You said his name," Hopkins pointed out, looking both impressed and a little terrified.

Hadrian waved a dismissive hand. "I'm one of those whackos who don't mind saying a nine-letter word. Ignore me."

"Bit hard to do that now," Justin muttered, looking a little uneasy. "You're not going to try to convert the rest of us, are you? Potter does that sometimes. Says we're all cowards if You-Know-Who's brought up in conversation and people can't say his name. Just because his father's an Auror and taught him to say it."

Hadrian knew that the fear of saying it had stemmed from Voldemort tabooing it in the last war. If people said his name, they usually ended up dead afterwards. Hadrian hadn't known that once upon a time, but after experiencing it for himself, he could understand it now.

"Nope, you can call him whatever you want," Hadrian said almost cheerfully. "Just so long as you let me call him whatever I want."

They all grimaced but Justin shrugged. "Fair enough."

"So basically," Ernie surmised succinctly with a shadow of a grin. "If you find yourself about to be Imperiused, be glad that it's not You-Know-Who on the other end."

Hadrian grinned back somewhat dryly. "Basically, though if it really was Voldemort,-"

Winces all around.

"-being Imperiused would probably be the least of your problems."

This drew a laugh from most of them. Even Smith's mouth twitched in reluctant amusement.

None of them realized that Hadrian hadn't meant it as a joke at all.

"Don't suppose we could practice it outside of class," Justin grumbled a touch wistfully. "I really want to be able to at least put up a fight."

Hadrian hesitated and then suggested, "Try learning Occlumency. It strengthens your mind. You can't depend on that alone but it certainly helps."

Everyone perked up with interest at that.

"Think I've seen that somewhere in the library before," Justin said contemplatively. "That's the art of shielding your mind, right?"

Hadrian nodded. "Yeah, and Legilimency is the opposite."

"Can you do either?" Smith queried.

Hadrian spent a moment, on reflex, trying to find the other teen's underhand motives for asking – mocking him, trying to out him for practicing it on them – and it came as a shock when he realized it was just a question. Smith was only curious.

"I'm pants at Occlumency," Hadrian revealed after a stunned heartbeat. "But I'm a natural Legilimens."

Smith grunted and everyone else looked appropriately amazed. They meandered back to their own beds now that the conversation/lecture had ended but Ernie ducked his head around Hadrian's curtains one more time, looking embarrassed but determined.

"Now I'm not saying I need tutoring or anything," Ernie started. "But... well, you're in Hufflepuff and all and you're always hanging around those Gryffindors... which is fine!"

The last bit was hastily tacked on even though Hadrian hadn't reacted negatively or anything.

"But," Ernie continued, and now Justin and Hopkins were hovering close by again, with Smith lingering in the background. "Well... you know you're welcome to spend some time with us too. We're not just Hufflepuffs like Cedric or anything, right? We're your roommates, and it feels a bit weird not to see you at all except during classes and meals, so-"

"Ernie, for the love of Merlin, get to the point," Smith interrupted.

"We'd like it if you joined us in the library to study once in a while or eat lunch with us at the Hufflepuff table," Hopkins blurted out when Ernie turned to huff at Smith. "Not for tutoring, mind you, but just a study session between... friends, yeah?"

Hadrian had to remind himself not to gape – it was unseemly and would probably embarrass all of them.

His roommates had wanted to spend time with him? He had certainly seen them occasionally glancing over at him when he sat at the Gryffindor table but he had thought they had simply disliked the fact that he wasn't sitting at his House table.

"If they're free, at least Hermione and Orion might want to join us," He cautioned. "And they'll all want to come during meals."

"Bring 'em along," Justin said freely. "We've got nothing against them."

Smith looked almost like he wanted to complain but he seemed to think twice about it and ended up staying silent. Ernie also looked somewhat apprehensive at the mention of Orion but nodded all the same.

Hopkins shrugged. "I've got no problems with either of them, though I hear Granger can get... overenthusiastic about her studies."

Hadrian smiled, hiding the edge of darkness that surfaced when he remembered what would be happening come Monday when that damn Goblet was fired up. "Okay then. I'll come find you at the library or meet you after class sometime."

This seemed to satisfy the four of them and they disappeared from sight once more, getting ready for bed.

Hadrian absently twitched a finger and closed his curtains the rest of the way before closing his book and leaning back to look at the ceiling.

Soon. Everything would start again soon.

 


 

TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

THE DELEGATIONS FROM BEAUXBATONS AND DURMSTRANG WILL BE ARRIVING AT 6 O'CLOCK ON SUNDAY THE 30TH OF OCTOBER

STUDENTS WILL ASSEMBLE IN FRONT OF THE CASTLE TO GREET OUR GUESTS BEFORE THE WELCOMING FEAST

 


 

"Weasley, straighten your hat!" Professor McGonagall snapped at Ron, who quickly did as he was told. Beside him, Neville ran a hand through his hair and straightened his tie, something he hadn't worn in close to two months. He didn't want to be called out.

"Mr. Evans," McGonagall said next, pausing in front of Hadrian who was standing in line with his fellow Housemates several feet away. Miracle of miracles – the other fourth-year was also decked out in his black-and-yellow-striped tie today. "I think I need not remind you to sit with your own House today at the Welcoming Feast? You may move about as you please once the feast has started, but not before."

Hadrian nodded distractedly, and Neville didn't miss the flash of concern that flickered across his Head of House's face before she moved away.

On Neville's right, Orion shifted in an almost antsy manner as if he was itching to step out of line and station himself beside Hadrian instead. Neville had found out that Orion was surprisingly protective of Hadrian, almost as much as Hadrian was of the werewolf.

It made him just a little jealous sometimes. Neville had met Hadrian first – heck, he had been the first out of the Golden Trio to lay eyes on the Hufflepuff – but there was a certain camaraderie between Orion and Hadrian that neither Neville nor anyone else had with the latter. Maybe it was because Hadrian had actually put in a hell of a lot of time and effort to pull Orion to his side.

He shook himself out of his thoughts as they trekked outside, admiring the incoming Beauxbatons and Durmstrang parties for the next few minutes instead.

Beauxbatons was comprised of fair-skinned teenagers, all of them wrapped up in shawls and scarves and shivering from the cold. Neville felt for them; they really should have brought warmer clothing.

Durmstrang on the other hand had a darker air about them, and Neville remembered Gran telling him that Durmstrang specialized in the Dark Arts. Neville almost jumped when Ron yanked him forward and hissed that Victor Krum was part of the delegation.

When they all moved back into the newly-decorated Great Hall, the Beauxbatons students seated themselves at the Ravenclaw table but it came as no big surprise when, much to Ron's dismay, the Durmstrang students took spots at the Slytherin table.

What did come as a surprise was when Malfoy, in that subtle Slytherin way the blond had raised almost to an art form, glanced automatically over to the Hufflepuff table as if he was waiting for Hadrian to join them. Indeed, Zabini and Nott seemed to be doing the exact same thing and there was even an empty spot next to Malfoy, one that was quickly occupied by said blond when all three Slytherins swiftly remembered that, though it was a 'Slytherin Dinner Day', Hadrian would probably be required to sit with his own House for this feast, at least for the beginning.

To Neville, it was a truly bizarre spectacle.

 


 

By the time the welcoming speech and the introductions of all the Hogwarts staff, the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang Heads, Bagman, Crouch Sr., and the security detail - Hadrian certainly didn't remember them being present in his world, and it was just his luck that three of the twelve included James, Sirius, and Remus – sent to oversee the Tournament, Hadrian was ready to just go hide in the Room of Requirement and wait out Halloween.

He had finally remembered the aforementioned room could be used to get his hands on some alcohol but.

But he was a student now. He couldn't just go and get drunk because of past memories that his head was too fucked up to repress, and, no doubt, Orion would smell the alcohol on him anyway, even if he charmed the smell away and took a shower. Werewolves were troublesome like that.

Besides, he had been a war general. He should be better than this.

Hadrian almost leapt out of his skin when a hand dropped onto his shoulder but he relaxed again when he looked up and found Orion blinking down at him.

"You alright?" Orion murmured.

"Fine," Hadrian ran a hand over his face. "Bit tired. I need a distraction."

Orion just nodded and tugged him to his feet. "Feast's started. Come meet my parents."

Oh, right. Orion's parents were here. Hadn't he been thinking about them only a few minutes ago?

"Hadrian!" Sirius beamed at him as soon as they approached as if the man was genuinely happy to see him. "Good to see you again! I hope you don't mind me saying, but you look terrible."

Remus shot his lover – and wasn't that still a bit strange – a warning look before stepping forward. His expression wasn't as open as Sirius' but it was just as warm.

Hadrian felt a bit like hurling.

"Hello Hadrian," Remus greeted, the concern furrowing his brow clear as day. "Orion's told us you haven't been feeling well lately."

Hadrian plastered a smile on his face and tried to force some of his usual charm into it. "I'll be alright in a few days. I've just been a bit under the weather."

"Literally," Orion muttered from beside him.

Hadrian involuntarily managed an authentic smile this time. "No one told you to stay up there with me."

Orion shot him the look this deserved. "You were on top of the Astronomy Tower and sitting on the edge like a suicidal moron. What would that have made me if I had left, idiot?"

Hadrian snorted. Orion would have never insulted him like this even a week ago. It was rather refreshing.

He glanced up when he realized with a jolt that both Sirius and Remus were watching them with a thrilled sort of fascination.

"You two get along well, it seems," Remus smiled, visibly pleased.

Orion cleared his throat and glanced away, looking self-conscious. Hadrian eyed him for a second before swallowing an evil grin.

"Aww," He cooed, and Orion's head snapped back. "Is 'Rion embarrassed? How cu- ow!"

Orion had whacked him over the head in retaliation. "Funny, Hadrian. Hilarious."

Hadrian quirked a teasing smile in his direction. "I certainly thought so. You're blushing by the way."

This earned him a disgruntled scowl and laughter from Orion's parents.

"We'll let you go eat," Remus interjected. "We just wanted to say hello."

Hadrian really did manage a smile in their direction this time. "It was nice meeting you again, Mr. Lupin, Mr. Black."

Sirius recoiled, looking horrified, and even Remus looked mildly put out.

"Don't ever call us that again," Sirius scolded. "It makes us feel old. I'm Sirius, and this is Remus. You can even call us Padfoot and Moony, alright? But the story behind Padfoot is a secret you just might find out one day."

Hadrian instinctively turned and shared a conspiratorial look with Orion before they both smirked, much to Sirius and Remus' confusion.

"Orion, did you tell..." Sirius trailed off when his son shook his head. "Then what is it? Why'd you look like that?"

Orion's smirk only widened and he shrugged nonchalantly before nudging Hadrian. "Let's go. We're sitting with the Slytherins today, right? Weasley will be happy. That is if he can tear himself away from that Veela."

Hadrian chuckled as they both waved goodbye to Orion's parents, Sirius unmistakably sulking. His darker memories settled down at the back of his mind for now. He just needed to stay distracted. He'd be fine.

"Weasley's making a fool of himself," Orion grumbled as they made their way back to the Gryffindor table.

"It's her allure – she's playing with him," Hadrian said, watching his surrogate older sister's counterpart seduce the youngest Weasley son. Even Neville was partially affected. "Have pity. You're a werewolf – it doesn't affect you."

"Well then thank Merlin I'm a werewolf," Orion said, and then blinked, obviously startled. "...I never thought I'd ever say that."

Hadrian smiled. Orion had never truly understood why Hadrian didn't care about his condition, and he still didn't. "One day, you won't care at all. And then I'll be able to say I told you so."

Orion slanted a speculative look at him but didn't comment further. "Please don't tell me you're going to turn into a drooling mess."

"Nope," Hadrian had spent enough time around Fleur and her family to not let Veela allure influence him. "I'm immune."

Before Orion could do more than raise his eyebrows, Hadrian stepped up behind Ron and offered a cordial smile in Fleur's direction, brushing off the allure that immediately tried to cling to him when the French girl met his gaze.

"Mademoiselle, vous êtes une invitée à Hogwarts," Hadrian said smoothly with only a slight accent. French had been a necessity when he had had to communicate with French Aurors during skirmishes in France, and Fleur and Hermione had taught him as much as they could when they had had time. He had picked up most swear words on the battlefield though. "Mais j'ai peur que vous ne soyez impolie*."

Fleur's eyes widened in surprise and her allure abruptly dissipated as a faint blush rose in her cheeks. She glanced around, most likely noting all the befuddled faces of those within earshot before shooting Hadrian a half-annoyed, half-pensive look and flouncing back to the Ravenclaw table.

Hermione reached over and slapped Ron and Neville over the heads before glancing up at Hadrian. "I didn't know you spoke French."

Hadrian shrugged. Of all the surrounding students, only Hermione and probably Orion, judging by his even expression, could understand the language. "It never came up. I just didn't want to embarrass her."

"She'd deserve it," Hermione muttered crossly as Neville shook his head a little and Ron blinked rapidly after Fleur.

"It's really not their fault," Hadrian reminded her.

"You're not affected," Hermione pointed out tartly.

"Yes, well, we all know I'm an abnormality," Hadrian joked.

Both Hermione and Orion glanced sharply at him.

"You are not," Hermione said reproachfully. "Don't say such things."

Hadrian threw his hands in the air. He had really only just been joking. He hadn't believed he was abnormal since... well, for a long time now. "Alright, alright, now Orion and I are going over to the Slytherin table. Who's coming?"

Ron's head snapped up so fast Hadrian was surprised he didn't get whiplash. "I am! Thank Merlin you've got an in, Hadrian."

Hermione rolled her eyes as they all got up. "For heaven's sake, Ron, he's only a Quidditch player."

"Only a Quidditch player? Are you crazy? He's one of the best Seekers in the world! Although-" The redhead pulled up short, glancing speculatively at Hadrian. "You might be able to give him a run for your money. That dive you pulled was an almost exact replica of the Wronski Feint, but you started even higher than Krum."

Hadrian shrugged evasively, eyes finding Cedric. The prefect looked to be busy with a gaggle of admirers and wouldn't be able to extract himself anytime soon. "I wouldn't know about that."

"Again, Evans?" Hadrian automatically smirked at Draco's long-suffering tone. He wasn't sure if the blond was still in denial but he knew that the Slytherin was only going through this routine to keep up appearances now.

"It's Sunday," Hadrian reminded him even as Draco scooted over to make room for him. He sat down beside the blond and Orion swung into the seat next to Hadrian while the Golden Trio wormed their way between Blaise and Theo.

Draco scoffed and threw a dirty look at Ron. "The only reason he's there is because he can't stop drooling over Krum here."

There was an awkward silence, during which Ron's ears turned red since Victor was literally sitting on Draco's other side. The scowling Bulgarian had the decency to pretend not to hear as he concentrated on his dinner.

"Ron's a Quidditch captain," Hadrian spoke up mildly to fill the void. "It's only natural he'd be interested in a national player. You certainly are, Draco."

Ron shot him a grateful look while Draco glared at them both. Victor glanced up searchingly at Hadrian.

Hadrian leaned forward a little and extended a hand. "Hadrian Evans – welcome to Hogwarts."

The Bulgarian didn't smile – Hadrian wasn't expecting him to – but the scowl did ebb ever-so-slightly as the Durmstrang student clasped his hand. "Victor Krum. You haff good food at Hogwarts."

Hadrian grinned a little. "Yes we do. Even the everyday meals are pretty good."

Victor only inclined his head in acknowledgement before his gaze flickered over the other newcomers, cocking a silent eyebrow when he looked back at Hadrian.

Hadrian had long since learned that Victor didn't like speaking all the time but that didn't necessarily mean he was stupid. He could communicate just fine if people actually looked.

So, "This is Orion Black," Hadrian introduced, tilting his head at Orion who nodded curtly and didn't say anything at all. "That's Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley, and Neville Longbottom."

Victor nodded stoically at all of them. Neville and Hermione both voiced a quiet hello while Ron, still somewhat mortified, only mumbled it under his breath.

The rest of dinner was spent on idle if subdued chitchat, and even Ron loosened up enough to ask Victor a few questions about how national teams were run, much to Draco's ire.

"Vill you be entering the Tournament?" Victor enquired, and Hadrian blinked when he realized that the Bulgarian was looking at him.

Hadrian smiled in puzzlement. "Oh no, I'm just a fourth-year."

Victor's head angled slightly in minute surprise.

Hadrian glanced briefly down at himself. "Do I not look like a fourth-year? Everyone says I'm short for my age."

Victor shrugged, settling back in his seat. "I vould not haff been surprised if you said you vere older."

Which translated to: no, apparently, Victor had thought he was a few years older than his physical age. Sometimes, even Hadrian forgot how perceptive Victor could be. The Seeker had probably disregarded what he looked like and had simply been observing Hadrian's mannerisms all throughout dinner instead.

"Well, I'm just fourteen," Hadrian indicated the others. "And so are they, mostly. Hermione and Blaise are fifteen. If you're looking for Hogwarts candidates..."

He jabbed a finger over his shoulder and Victor followed it to the Hufflepuff table. "The one surrounded by people. Cedric Diggory, sixth-year."

"Careful, Evans," Blaise looked amused. "Your House pride is showing."

Hadrian shrugged. "Well, I am in Hufflepuff. Besides, most of the school thinks he has the best chance."

"True," Neville nodded, and Ron shot them both a scandalized look.

"We're supposed to be cheering on Angelina!" Ron reminded them.

"Who is Angelina?" Victor queried.

Hadrian scanned the hall. "Uh, over there. The girl with the braided hair sitting beside those two redheads. Angelina Johnson, co-captain alongside Ron of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. A Chaser. She turned seventeen last week."

"What about Beauxbatons?" Hermione cut in, peering over at the Ravenclaw table. "Does anyone here know anybody from that school?"

"Durmstrang has exchange program vith Beauxbatons," Victor divulged. "Ve are fairly close for two magic schools. Most likely, the blonde at the end of that table, Fleur Delacour, vill be the Beauxbatons champion."

"That's the Veela," Ron and Neville chorused at the same time.

"Quarter-Veela," Orion corrected, having remained mostly silent up until now. When everyone looked at him, he shrugged. "I can just tell."

"You are a verevolf," Victor observed, and Orion instantly stiffened.

If Hadrian hadn't known Victor had no problems with werewolves, he would've bristled protectively.

"There are a number of verevolves at Durmstrang," Victor continued casually, though his gaze had sharpened. "None have come vith our delegation but three to four verevolves graduate every two to three years from our school."

Hadrian felt Orion calm down again and ticked an eyebrow at Victor in thanks. Victor tilted his goblet half an inch forward in response, largely unnoticed by everyone else.

When dinner winded down to a close and the Goblet of Fire was brought out, Hadrian turned away and fiddled with his freed tie instead. As soon as they were dismissed, Hadrian rose, still not looking anywhere near the cup.

He paused when Karkaroff bustled over to the Slytherin table. He hadn't known the Durmstrang Headmaster for long before the man had gone on the run and been hunted down and killed for his efforts, but Hadrian had never liked him, less because Karkaroff had been a Death Eater and more because the man had betrayed a hell of a lot of people to save his own skin. He couldn't complain about the Death Eaters currently locked up in Azkaban now because of Karkaroff but it was the principle of the matter. Plus, the man was just vile.

"Back to the ship, then," Karkaroff was saying. "Viktor, how are you feeling? Did you eat enough? Should I send for some mulled wine from the kitchens?"

Victor's scowl, which had eased over the course of the feast, was firmly attached to his face again. The Bulgarian shook his head tersely as he pulled his furs back on. For a fraction of a second, Hadrian thought he saw the Seeker's gaze slide over to them in plain embarrassment.

And then it was gone and Karkaroff was ushering them towards the door. Not wanting a hold-up like last time, Hadrian distracted Neville to hold him back for a few seconds as the Durmstrang party trooped out.

Victor did look back this time, nodding goodnight at Hadrian. Hadrian grinned and waved back.

Several minutes later, Hadrian was making his own way to the door. At the threshold, he paused and looked back.

The blue-white flames danced ominously in the Goblet, casting shadows against the far wall.

Hadrian shuddered and hurried away.

 


 

October thirty-first passed like a dream.

Hadrian avoided the Great Hall like the plague. He only went to Herbology because he had already skipped once, and since he had no other class on Mondays, he disappeared directly after Herbology and locked himself in the Room of Requirement for the rest of the day.

Several times, he wanted to call up a bottle of firewhiskey, but he gritted his teeth and reminded himself of his situation.

It hadn't been a conscious decision, not really, but Hadrian found his feet carrying himself to the Great Hall that night, found his body sitting down beside Cedric, who looked like he would've dragged Hadrian off to the Hospital Wing if Dumbledore wasn't talking.

Hadrian said nothing, eyes glued on his hands as the Goblet of Fire spat out the Triwizard Champions.

"The champion for Durmstrang," Dumbledore's voice rang out. "Will be Viktor Krum."

Applause. None of them knew.

"The champion for Beauxbatons," Dumbledore continued. "Is Fleur Delacour!"

More applause. None of them could see.

"The Hogwarts champion," Dumbledore called out, loud and clear and damning. "Is Cedric Diggory!"

The uproar from his table was too great. Every single Hufflepuff had jumped to his or her feet, screaming and stamping. Hadrian couldn't even bring himself to smile as Cedric made his way past them, grinning broadly, and headed towards the chamber behind the teachers' table.

"Excellent!" Dumbledore called happily, as the last tumult died down. "Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champion every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real-"

Dumbledore abruptly fell silent when the blue-white fire in the Goblet turned red again.

Hadrian closed his eyes.

"Neville Longbottom."

And so it begins.

 

Chapter Text

 

"That bloody Longbottom, stealing all the glory from Cedric!"

"Who does that Longbottom think he is? Cedric's the Hogwarts Champion!"

Hadrian closed his book as students began streaming into the Great Hall for breakfast. He'd get nothing done now.

"Hey," Cedric dropped into the seat next to him, looking slightly haggard from a late night but still happy. "You weren't at the House party last night."

Hadrian shrugged. "I don't like crowds, especially all in one room. Besides, it wasn't all a party yesterday. I could hear the insults from my dorm."

Cedric's grin faltered. "Oh, yeah, about that..."

Hadrian stiffened, glancing sharply at the prefect. "What?"

Cedric cleared his throat. "I asked Longbottom how he put his name in and he told me he didn't put it in."

"Because he didn't," Hadrian's voice dropped a degree.

Cedric shifted uncomfortably. "You, er, believe him?"

Hadrian stilled, gaze sliding across the hall to the hall's entrance where Neville was just entering. His heart lifted when he saw Hermione grasping Neville's arm in a death grip while Ron snapped and snarled at anyone who so much as looked at them wrong. Considering the fact that this included most of the school's population, the redhead was pretty damn busy.

Why couldn't his Ron have been like that at this age?

People gave Orion, who was walking on Hermione's other side, a fairly wide berth, so the four of them could walk mostly unhindered by students from other Houses.

"Hadrian?"

Hadrian's attention switched back to Cedric. He couldn't quite hide the frigidity that had settled in his chest.

Cedric flinched, recoiling as he took in Hadrian's expression. "Ah... I've- disappointed you."

He sounded surprised and stricken at the same time.

Hadrian dropped his gaze and picked up his bag. He supposed he could understand how Cedric felt about having an almost complete stranger stealing his glory, which was why he had never held it against the prefect back in his first fourth year when Hadrian hadn't been able to convince the sixth-year at first of his innocence in the entire matter. But this Cedric knew Neville. True, they weren't very close – Cedric still mostly hung out with them because of Hadrian – but shouldn't he know?

"Whatever gave you that idea?" He said flatly before turning on his heel.

"Hadrian-"

Hadrian ignored the call and stormed towards the head of the Gryffindor table where Neville and Harry seemed to be having a standoff. Like a shadow, Orion materialized on his right, falling into step beside him.

"We woke up like that," Orion reported without preamble. Hadrian's eyes narrowed on a small cut above the werewolf's left eye. He slowed the Gryffindor to a halt, pulled out his wand, and quickly healed the gash.

Orion, who took most things in without batting an eye, nodded his thanks before they moved on.

"Most of our House was ecstatic," Orion continued. "Harry wasn't too happy. Fired an Anteoculatia at Longbottom. I managed to block it but that kicked off a duel that didn't stop until McGonagall came up. We've all got detention for the next three days."

"Bloody brilliant," Hadrian growled as they reached the faceoff. McGonagall had just caught sight of them, along with Lily, James, Sirius, and Remus who had all just entered the hall. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students trooping in as well.

Wonderful, they were just in time for the early morning entertainment.

"-want some fame for yourself so desperately that you're willing to steal it from someone else, Longbottom?" His counterpart's voice rang stridently throughout the Great Hall.

"Of course he doesn't, Potter!" Ron spat back, red-faced and furious. "What are you, deaf? He already said he didn't put his name in the cup!"

Harry sneered. "Just because he says so doesn't mean it's true. Most of the school isn't as stupidly naive as you."

"Most of the school's population are nothing but sheep who can't see what's right in front of them, Potter," Hadrian cut in bluntly before Ron could pull out his wand and get into even more trouble.

Harry glowered at him. "What the hell do you want, Evans? Longbottom stole your House's bid for fame and you're still standing up for him?"

Most of Hufflepuff was looking over, either expecting him to turn on Neville or staring at him with betrayed resentment.

Hadrian pulled a Snape and sneered condescendingly at his counterpart as he planted himself beside a half-nervous, half-infuriated Neville.

"Do you even listen to half the shite that comes out of your mouth, Potter?" Hadrian barked. "Fame? For Merlin's sake, this is Neville Longbottom, the Boy-Who-Lived you're talking about! You can't get more famous than him! If Neville wants his face on the front page of a newspaper, he doesn't have to go through dangerous tasks to get it! All he has to do is step outside and smile! What possible reason could he have for putting his name in the cup?"

Harry's glare couldn't get any stronger but it was a sixth-year Hufflepuff who fired off a challenge.

"He could use the Tournament to get the prize money!" The sixth-year yelled, and a chorus of discontented agreement supported him.

Hadrian rounded on the boy. "The House of Longbottom is an Ancient and Noble House, you moronic brain-dead fool! It's the fourth richest family in the entirety of Europe! Even if Neville wants to be the richest, an extra thousand Galleons is hardly going to make a difference!"

The sixth-year fell silent, flushing with humiliation and anger, but Hadrian wasn't finished yet.

"You're all accusing him of entering his name in the Tournament," Hadrian spat out. "Has it never occurred to you that to do so, Neville would have to be able to both trick an ancient magical artefact and get past the protections that Professor Dumbledore placed on it? The Tournament is dangerous – it's not a very far stretch to realize that an Age Line wouldn't be the only security measure around the Goblet. Are you accusing Neville of somehow getting strong enough overnight to overpower our Headmaster?"

Silence reigned loudly in the hall as Hadrian glared them all into submission. There, they couldn't say anything against that. He didn't particularly like the man in question but Dumbledore's reputation did prove useful once in a while.

And then Neville stepped up beside him. The tension that had wired his entire body since his name had been drawn was gone now and he stood straight-backed and tall as he arched an eyebrow at the crowd in a good rendition of Draco.

"I'm flattered you all think so highly of me," He drawled sarcastically, and Hadrian's mouth twitched. Ron snorted behind them and Hermione sounded like she was hiding a laugh when she coughed. A ripple of snickers ran down the Gryffindor table.

"He could've bribed an older student to put it in!" Another Hufflepuff, also a sixth-year, shouted defiantly. Apparently, this one was fairly stupid too because, as one, with the exception of the small group standing around a fuming Harry, the Gryffindor table drew together, bristling indignantly. Hadrian didn't even have to do anything.

"As if we would!" Angelina was the first to snap back. "I wanted to get chosen for the Tournament. Why in the world would I put a younger student's name in the cup and ruin my chances?"

"And by saying that one of us older students was bribed," Alicia said loudly, arms crossed. "You're telling us that we have so little morals and pride that we'd stoop to being paid off by someone else – is that it?"

Almost every single sixth- and seventh-year Gryffindor was glaring scornfully at the now-cowering Hufflepuff. It didn't matter if there were some in Gryffindor who would take a bribe – no one wanted that spoken out loud.

"And my family may be rich but my Gran is still the Longbottom Regent at the moment and she monitors my allowance like a hawk," Neville supplied helpfully, looking like he was highly enjoying his new start to the day. "I never have more than a couple Galleons to spend. Hardly a good bribe."

Everyone knew of the Boy-Who-Lived's grandmother of course, and most grimaced at the thought of the woman's reputation. Indeed, nobody would want to get on Augusta Longbottom's bad side with an underhanded trick like bribery, and no one would know that better than her own grandson.

The entire hall remained silent even as Neville nodded to himself, looking immensely satisfied, and turned to Hadrian.

"It's sunny outside today," He announced amicably.

Hadrian cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Yup," Neville reached forward and grabbed a basket of bread. "We haven't had a picnic in a while, not to mention it'll start snowing soon."

Hadrian swiftly caught on and shared amused looks with Orion, Ron, and Hermione.

"Well then, we can't waste the sunlight," Hermione announced and transfigured a napkin into a picnic blanket while Ron started gathering food with Neville, a broad grin on his face.

"We'll join you," Fred ambled over, George at his side and Lee Jordan close behind.

"Us too," Angelina declared as she motioned at herself, Alicia, and Katie. "Can't let you younger kids have too much fun or you'll fall in the lake or something."

As more and more Gryffindors chimed in, Hadrian smiled quietly and stepped back to let the other students surround the Golden Trio.

It was odd. This hadn't been what Hadrian had been planning to do. He had simply wanted to put his counterpart in his place, maybe get the other Houses to back off a little. He hadn't expected the entire Gryffindor House to rally behind Neville.

His smile dimmed a little. What exactly had he done wrong to not get the same support when three-quarters of the school had alienated him? Well, he supposed there hadn't been... well, him. There had been no Harry Potter from an alternate universe come to stand up for him.

He gave himself a mental shake. That was okay. He had toughed it out in the end. Heck, he had had two prior years of practice.

"Is this a habit of yours?" Orion enquired from beside him. Hadrian frowned in confusion.

"Protecting people when they're..." The werewolf trailed off before clarifying simply, "Protecting people."

Hadrian smiled again. "You could say that, yeah. I'm told I've got a bit of a people-saving thing. It can get annoying."

Orion eyed him for a long moment with unreadable eyes.

"I'm glad you came to Hogwarts," He said at last, and then hurriedly turned away to help Hermione with some plates before Hadrian could reply.

Hadrian blinked after the Black heir before glancing down to fiddle with the strap of his bag. For a day that Hadrian had expected to be fairly crappy, it was actually turning out pretty well.

The Gryffindors were all surging for the Entrance Hall now, streaming past the speechless Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students as well as the astonished teachers. There were no rules that said one couldn't eat outside, and the house-elves could do cleanup just as easily as long as they were on school property.

"Hadrian, c'mon!" Neville hollered as he ducked out of the throng of lions and bounded back to Hadrian's side. "What are you doing? You're eating with us; let's go."

Orion was waiting by the door, exchanging a few words with his parents who couldn't possibly look prouder as they scanned the departing students. As if sensing his gaze, Orion glanced back with a questioning look.

Hadrian nodded and followed Neville, reaching over to grab a few plates off Orion as he passed.

"Good morning, Sirius, Remus," He greeted.

Sirius beamed while Remus smiled fondly at him.

"I can see why you're a Hufflepuff," The latter told him.

"But an honorary Gryff," Sirius added with a grin. "It takes guts to stand up to your own House like that."

He snickered when Hadrian flushed faintly in embarrassment before looking over his head. "Morning, Neville. How're you holding up?"

Neville nodded politely. "Just fine, Sirius."

"Good," Sirius patted Orion's shoulder and pushed him forward. "Get going then. You've got a picnic to get to."

Hadrian said nothing about the slightly stilted exchange as they bid the two men goodbye and headed outside. It would probably take time for certain adults to get used to Neville and Orion being friends now.

 


 

The first time Luna saw him, she thought: tempest.

Because that was what Hadrian Evans was, whirling into Hogwarts and stirring the air and causing change to everything he touched. A part of her even thought he might be a wind spirit, but they rarely took human form, so she wasn't sure.

Luna didn't know how no one else could see how different he was though. She supposed it was the same reason they couldn't see Nargles and Wrackspurts – some people just didn't want to see.

She hadn't known what to make of him at first – she had never seen anything like him, so willing to go against all the unspoken rules and silent assumptions in the school.

She had watched him though, between scolding the Nargles for hiding her homework and shoes, and she'd seen him as he quietly took the Golden Trio under his wing, even if they didn't know it. The Gryffindors went about their own lives and they never seemed to notice what Luna did: the Hufflepuff fourth-year changing them, changing their views, slowly but surely.

There was also the newly-named Hogwarts Champion who looked after Hadrian Evans but didn't notice that it was really the other way around.

And after all of them, Luna had watched as the boy, the tempest, had weaved his way into Slytherin and befriended three of them. Even the other suspicious snakes had grudgingly stopped grumbling whenever Hadrian Evans had sat at their table.

But it was only when the moon-boy had turned away from his first pack – the pack was never really nice anyway – and willingly joined another, stationing himself firmly behind the tempest, that Luna could look at Hadrian Evans and wish – just a little – that the boy might come to Ravenclaw soon, and maybe he'd be someone who would be willing to see what Luna could see.

 


 

Things didn't instantly become rainbows and sunshine, especially within Hadrian's House. He had, after all, insulted one Hufflepuff – an older student no less – and turned all of Gryffindor against the rest. Indirectly.

So, at the end of the day, when Hadrian returned to the Hufflepuff Basement – after numerous pensive concerns from his friends about it – he was on high alert, ready to defend himself if some of the more spell-happy students decided to take out their sanctimonious aggravations on him.

There was definitely a faint edge of resentment as he crossed the Common Room, mostly from the older students as they eyed him sullenly. But no one tried to hex him or jinx him or even approach him in an attempt to pick a fight.

He didn't see Cedric as he crossed the room, so the prefect had probably already retired for the night since he didn't have patrol duty today.

Hadrian ignored the accusing eyes all focused on him and made his way through one of the tunnels to get to his room. It was like first year after that dragon debacle all over again.

When he reached his dorm, he found Smith hovering near his trunk, back facing the doorway.

Hadrian's lips thinned. "Smith, get away from my trunk."

His roommate jumped and spun around, a mix of surprise and guilt on his face. "I wasn't going to do anything to your stuff."

Hadrian arched a skeptical eyebrow as he hung his bag on a hook near his bed. "No?"

"No!" Smith shot back angrily and tossed him something. Hadrian caught it easily and found himself staring down at his History of Magic textbook. Had he...

"You forgot it in class after lending it to Hannah," Smith said loftily. "I thought I'd return it, though if I had known you were going to be an ungrateful arse about it-"

"Sorry," Hadrian interrupted, and he was. He wasn't one to jump to conclusions but trying to vandalize his belongings was just the type of thing his world's Smith would've done given half the opportunity. "I should've checked with you first. I apologize. Thank you for getting it back to me."

Smith looked somewhat startled by both his apology and admission but the irritation faded and the boy shrugged, mollified, before returning to his own bed.

"Where are the others?" Hadrian glanced around the room as he shrugged off his robes.

"Wayne's in the shower," Smith nodded at the closed bathroom door. "Takes twice as long as a girl in there, honestly. Ernie and Justin are... having a little chat with Diggory."

Hadrian crouched down, frowning distractedly as he undid the charms on his trunk with a wave of his hand. "'Chat'? I didn't know they were friends."

Smith sighed. "It's not a friendly chat, if you get my drift."

Hadrian's eyes widened in alarm. "Why? Did Cedric do something to them? He isn't the type to upset anyone on purpose."

Smith rolled his eyes. "For such a smart bloke, you can be absurdly thick. We were at breakfast this morning, you know. We heard you and Diggory talking. Our glorified champion doesn't believe Longbottom's innocent."

Hadrian straightened, looking incredulously at his roommate. "And you do?"

Smith scoffed. "If there's one thing I can count on, it's that Augusta Longbottom's word is law in our family, at least until Longbottom comes of age and his inheritance comes with a backbone. If that dragon of a woman ever finds out that her grandson had bribed someone, she'd murder him. Figuratively. I think."

Hadrian was more than a little lost. "Wait, wait, our family? You and Neville are related?"

Smith gave him a look that clearly questioned his intelligence. "My father, Gabriel Smith, is Alice Longbottom née Smith's first cousin. That makes me and Longbottom second cousins. Understand?"

Hadrian had a hard time not gaping. Neville had never said anything about this. "But you call him-"

"We're not close, obviously," Smith interjected testily, and Hadrian was sure there was a story behind it. "And I really couldn't care less if Longbottom really was stupid enough to put his name in the cup, but the point of the matter is that he didn't. I'm not a sheep, Evans."

Hadrian raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement and stayed silent for a few seconds to process this. "So wait; why are Ernie and Justin..."

He trailed off, motioning in the general direction of the door.

Smith snorted, leaning back on his bed. "Well I wasn't listening but they were saying something about you being our roommate and everything and needing to defend your friends even if we didn't really know them, so they went to give Diggory a piece of their minds. Personally, I think you can defend yourself just fine so you'll excuse me if I'm not rushing around on Your Highness' behalf."

Even Hadrian had to quirk a smile at this. Smith was surprisingly... easier to get along with now that they were in the same House. Or maybe this world's Zacharias Smith was a little different from his world's.

"Wayne would've gone too," Smith added offhandedly. "But he's not the confrontational type so he just put dungbombs in most of the sixth-years' beds, especially that idiot from this morning who didn't know how rich the Longbottoms were. There are three under his four-poster ready to go off."

"What?!" Hadrian yelped.

Smith nodded, looking disdainful. "I know. How unimaginative can he get? He should've at least thrown in some Frog Spawn Soap-"

"That's not what I meant!" Hadrian stared in bewilderment at the equally perplexed-looking Smith. "Have you people gone mad? Why are you even doing this?"

Smith looked singularly unimpressed. "I take back the smart comment. You're just thick, period."

And with that said, the teen rolled onto his other side, flipped open a book, and proceeded to ignore Hadrian.

Hadrian twitched. Damn Smith. The Hufflepuff was less irritating, certainly, but he still got on Hadrian's nerves.

He heaved a sigh and weighed the pros and cons of going to save Cedric from his roommates. Then again, Ernie and Justin weren't exactly hard to handle. The prefect would be fine. And Hadrian would have to drop a word of thanks to his other roommates. This certainly wasn't something he had ever expected.

The dungbombs Hadrian would leave alone. It wasn't like they would hurt anyone.

 


 

It was breakfast again and, early as it was, only about half the Hufflepuff table was filled. Still, most of them were clustered as far away as possible, as if trying to make it clear to the rest of the world that Hadrian was a traitor and wasn't welcome in their House.

Hadrian wanted to laugh.

The Golden Trio and Orion hadn't come down yet – for all that the werewolf possessed heightened senses and could wake at a moment's notice, the Black heir also liked his sleep – and the Slytherins, for some reason, always tried to come down exactly five minutes before breakfast officially started, so no one was at their table right now.

He scanned the hall. A smatter of Gryffindors, all looking to be half-asleep. Neither the Beauxbatons nor the Durmstrang students were here yet. Ravenclaw...

Ah.

As if sensing his attention on her, the small blonde sitting at one corner of the Ravenclaw table looked up, blinking owlishly back at him. She didn't smile or wave or acknowledge him in any way, only staring back with that dreamy, mildly curious serenity that Hadrian had always associated with Luna Lovegood.

Hadrian smiled and grabbed his bag. He had seen Luna a handful of times since the term had started but he had never found much of an excuse to talk to her, and cracking Orion's defences had kept him occupied for a good month and a half.

At times, Hadrian had thought that Luna was watching him as well, but he had never caught her at it so he had dismissed it.

Now though, Luna was definitely watching him, and the direct approach suited Hadrian just fine.

"Hi," He said as he dropped into the open seat beside Luna. "Hope you don't mind if I join you."

Luna tilted her head a little. "Hello. I don't mind."

Hadrian stuck out a hand. "You've probably already heard, but I'm Hadrian. What's your name?'

Luna inspected his hand before taking it into hers. She didn't shake it, turning his palm up instead. Hadrian didn't mind – he was used to her caprices.

"I'm Luna," The blonde said, still observing his hand intently. "Are you a wind spirit?"

Hadrian didn't so much as blink, taking the non sequitur in stride. "I don't think so, no."

"Oh," Luna looked a bit disappointed as she released his hand, before brightening again. "Maybe you just forgot. When wind spirits take human form, they're especially susceptible to Wrackspurts and their memories get a bit fuzzy as a result. They should come back sooner or later though."

Hadrian smiled fondly at the girl. "I'll take your word for it. If I start remembering things I've forgotten, I'll come tell you."

Luna looked delighted. "Would you? That would be great! My daddy says wind spirits usually keep to themselves, but when they do walk amongst us, it means great change is coming."

Hadrian studied the blonde carefully. While he was sure that some of the creatures Luna spoke of were purely fantastical, there were other times when the things she said rang of prophecy. "Good or bad change?"

Silvery grey eyes seemed to deepen. "That depends."

"On what?" Hadrian prompted.

Luna smiled. "On the wind spirit, of course."

She said no more, turning back to the Butterbeer cork necklace in front of her.

Hadrian frowned at the frayed ends. "Luna? Did someone snap that necklace?"

"Hmm?" Luna fingered the string. "Oh, I left it on my bedside table one night. The Nargles must've accidentally broken it when they tried to take it. They're very mischievous thieves, you know."

Hadrian eyed her downcast gaze. Luna already knew, but she preferred not to talk about it. His eyes drifted to the Great Hall entrance when noisy chatter swelled, signalling the approaching students.

"Hey Luna?" Hadrian nodded at the gaggle of Ravenclaws that had just entered. "Do the Nargles look anything like them?"

Luna glanced over her shoulder before turning back to Hadrian, giving him an uncharacteristically sharp searching look. Hadrian stared back calmly.

"Mm," Luna finally nodded. "A bit like the three on the right, yes."

Hadrian reached forward and sent a spark of magic into the broken ends of the string, fixing it in a heartbeat before closing Luna's hands over it. The blonde couldn't quite hide her surprise.

Without pausing, Hadrian glanced back at the throng of Ravenclaws – specifically at the three giggling teens on the far right.

Cho Chang. Marietta Edgecombe. Rebecca Kinley.

Concentrating his magic, he flicked three rapid, silent Colour Change Charms at the girls, turning their hair a garish bright orange. Upon another second's thought, he made the tresses puff up into, in his opinion, beautifully-done afros.

Beside him, Luna's mouth dropped open. It took the victims exactly two and a half seconds to realize that their hair had been tampered with.

Shrieks filled the air as laughter burst out around them.

Hadrian swept to his feet and held out a hand to Luna. "Come on, Luna. Eat with me and my friends today. We can admire their new hairstyles just as well from the Gryffindor table."

Luna released a half-laugh before clapping a hand over her mouth, looking surprised. Hadrian grinned and reached out to clasp her other hand.

"You can laugh, you know," Hadrian pulled her gently onto her feet, scooping up her book bag as well as she grabbed her necklace and allowed him to lead her away.

"You didn't have to do that," Luna whispered instead as Hadrian tugged her up beside him.

Hadrian cocked his head and tightened his grip on her hand as he drew to an abrupt stop.

"I've decided I'm going to be your friend, Luna," Hadrian announced, ignoring the way her eyes widened. "I take care of my friends. Always."

He considered the slightly tremulous smile he received in response as a victory.

 


 

Neville, Ron, and Hermione all seemed a bit confused as to why Luna was suddenly hanging out with them now but, after Draco, Blaise, Theo, and Orion, they more or less accepted her into the group without complaint. Orion couldn't care less, though he did twitch every time Luna referred to him as the moon-boy.

Of course, it didn't take long for an argument to kick off between Hermione and Luna about the creatures Luna saw, but so long as it didn't dissolve into a catfight, Hadrian figured that he'd leave them to it. They would eventually become good friends.

Other than that – and the occasional need to bash Ron over the head whenever the redhead accidentally called their new addition Loony – Luna seemed to slip seamlessly into their everyday lives. Their group was already quirky as it was, just not in the same ways.

There was still the unresolved issue of him and Cedric not talking at the moment, but that problem was soon solved when, two days after Hadrian had brushed him off, the prefect shrugged off his friends in the middle of lunch, snapping harshly at them when their offended mutters of Neville reached the other tables' ears, before marching straight over to the Gryffindor table.

"Neville, I'm sorry," The sixth-year was loud enough for half the Hufflepuff House to hear. Neville looked gobsmacked. "I should've believed you even if you hadn't said anything. I was an idiot; I'm sorry."

Neville spluttered for a moment before dredging up the right words. Hadrian knew that the Gryffindor had never been one to hold a grudge. Unless it was Voldemort or Bellatrix. Or Umbridge.

"It's fine, don't worry about it," Neville assured before shifting over a little. "D'you wanna sit with us?"

Cedric wavered and every eye in their group slid over to Hadrian. Hadrian glanced up, arching an eyebrow. Really, all he had wanted was for Cedric to apologize to Neville, and the prefect had done exactly that. If Cedric had tried apologizing to Hadrian, Hadrian would've hexed him. "Well, what are you waiting for? A written invitation?"

Cedric grinned, his expression tinged with relief as he plopped down into the open seat.

"Hi, I'm Cedric," The prefect introduced amiably to Luna, who was sitting next to Hadrian across the table. "You're one of us now? Well, I'm sure Hermione's glad she isn't the only girl around anymore."

Hermione muttered something unintelligible and huffed at her food but didn't say anything to contradict this.

Luna just smiled vaguely at Cedric. "I'm Luna. Did you know that Hadrian could be a wind spirit?"

Cedric shot him a bemused look, which Hadrian returned with a 'roll with it' expression. The prefect still seemed somewhat puzzled but turned back to Luna as she continued to tell him about wind spirits.

Satisfied, Hadrian gave the hall a cursory skim, mouth twitching when he noticed Cho, Marietta, and Rebecca hunched at the end of the Ravenclaw table with hats that couldn't quite hide their afros crammed on their heads. They were eating as fast as they could, most likely wanting to leave as quickly as possible. The afros wouldn't go away until the end of the week.

"Your work, Ducky?" Fred and George came up behind him and if Hadrian hadn't recognized their voices, he might've hexed them.

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," He said instead, tone of voice bland.

"Oh, we'd know that proud, satisfied look of a successful prankster anywhere," George smirked.

"You've outdone yourself, Hadrian," Fred said appreciatively.

Hadrian snorted. "I'm glad I have your approval, Fred."

"I'm not Fred," Fred objected automatically. "I'm George."

"And I'm Fred," George interjected.

Hadrian didn't crane his head around to give them the utterly unconvinced look this deserved. "Nope, left one's Fred, right one's George. You can't trick me with the twin game."

There was a moment of pensive silence.

"How about now?" The twins chimed.

Hadrian did look up this time. It seemed they had traded spots a couple times. "Left one's still Fred, right one's still George."

He turned away and passed Ron the pepper when the redhead prompted him for it.

"And now?" The twins demanded.

Hadrian sighed, giving the two a perfunctory once-over. "Right one's Fred, left one's George. How many times are you two going to do this?"

The twins didn't switch again, staring unblinkingly down at him instead. Hadrian raised a questioning eyebrow at them. Honestly, one would think he had done something impossible. Bill could tell them apart, as could, surprisingly, Percy. It took Ron a few minutes but the youngest Weasley son could usually tell the two from each other six times out of ten after some deliberation.

"Our own mother can't tell us apart," Fred said after a long minute.

"Neither can our dad," George added.

"How can you?" They chorused.

"It's really not that hard," Hadrian insisted. Heck, he had been able to do it since he had first met them. He had never understood why others couldn't.

"But how?" George pressed. "You didn't even turn around the first time."

Hadrian frowned at them. "Fred's voice is deeper than yours, just a little. I can usually tell by that. Besides, you're alike, not exactly the same. Fred feels like Fred and you feel like you. I can just tell."

"You can just-" Fred huffed a laugh, looking mildly exasperated.

"Keep the voice thing a secret then," George requested. "Wouldn't want the whole world knowing."

Hadrian shrugged noncommittally before nodding in agreement.

"Good man," George clapped him on the shoulder before they both turned towards the head table. Hadrian followed their line of sight to where Ludo Bagman was just getting up from his seat and heading for the door.

"Now, if you'll excuse us," Fred's expression settled into something more determined.

George's features set into something similar. "We have business to take care of."

And with that said, both twins made a beeline for Bagman. Hadrian snickered when the perpetually bright smile on the man's face faltered. Served him right.

 


 

"I don't know how you can still hang around Longbottom, Diggory," Draco remarked snidely. "He's an enemy now."

"We're friends," Diggory corrected absently.

"And Neville didn't put his name in the cup," Granger added hotly.

"Did I say he did, Granger?" Draco retorted. "Honestly, Longbottom's so mediocre that it's laughable anyone would believe he could best an ancient artefact."

"Neville is not mediocre!"

Blaise paid them no mind as he listened to Hadrian's explanation of the tesseract rune he and Theo had decided to have a go at for their end-of-year project in Runes. It was ridiculously complicated, which was why they were starting now. Draco had decided to work alone, as he usually did, though the blond was certainly not going to start until at least January.

Even more ridiculous though was the fact that Blaise was sure that Evans could sit down right now and draw up said tesseract in a few hours, maybe a few days. The Hufflepuff just wasn't normal.

"Take each section and layer outwards," Evans was saying. "I'll check it over to make sure you're on the right track each time you finish one side."

"So basically, we need to build it from the inside to the outside," Theo said.

Evans nodded. "There's an order to building multilayered runes. You can't build anything inside if you've already boxed the outer layers- Draco, could you please, for the love of Merlin, Morgana, and Mordred, stop picking on Hermione? Sooner or later, I'm going to start thinking you have a crush on her."

Theo snickered as Draco pinked and turned a death glare on Evans. Hermione looked mildly horrified.

Blaise leaned back with a smirk of his own. Tutoring lessons these days always had at least one scolding session courtesy of Evans. The fourth-year was a bit like a mother-hen that way, though he supposed someone had to keep Draco and Granger in line. Those two mixed like fire and water.

"Shut up, Evans," Draco sulked. "I don't know why I put up with you."

"For my charming personality of course," Hadrian said cheekily. Blaise's smirk widened. "I did say I'd grow on you."

Draco snorted in a very un-pureblood-like manner. "Definitely not. At most, I'm just here to pick your brain."

As always, Evans took no offence. He did look a bit curious though.

"You're not going to turn on Neville?" The Hufflepuff enquired. Blaise caught a rather odd inflection in his voice that he couldn't decipher. "Out him for a fame-seeker?"

Draco scoffed. "I'm a lot of things, Evans – rich, good-looking, clever to a fault, cunning, and pureblood, to name a humble few (Blaise had to stifle a laugh at Granger's sarcastic mutter of "Merlin forbid you ever stop being humble") – but I'm certainly not a sheep. I am a Malfoy – we follow our own opinions. Longbottom wouldn't have the guts to put his name in the cup. He's too much of a goody-two-shoes."

Granger looked torn between staying silent and protesting. In the end, she settled on bristling in her seat.

Evans laughed, though Blaise wasn't sure what to make of the pleasant surprise on his face.

Neither did Draco, it seemed. "What?" The blond asked indignantly.

"Nothing," Hadrian grinned at him, friendly and almost-impressed. "Just... nothing really surprises me much nowadays, so when it happens, it makes me happy."

Draco looked as flummoxed as a Malfoy could. "You are so weird, Evans," The Slytherin finally decided.

Blaise said nothing during this exchange, turning his attention back to his homework when Evans began lecturing again.

Blaise could exchange banter with the best of them, but often, he had found that the best way to learn about a person was to observe them.

 


 

"Excuse me, ladies," Hadrian smiled placidly as the three girls – still sporting afros – spun around to face him.

"What do you want?" Cho demanded, just a little shrilly. No doubt, many people had stopped them already to crack a joke about their hair.

Hadrian let his gaze slide idly from afro to afro before settling on Cho again. All three flushed and looked about ready to march off.

"I hear you're familiar with one Luna Lovegood," He started mildly.

Marietta scowled petulantly at him. "Yes, what of it? If you're looking for Loony, we don't know where she is."

"Luna's with her friends," Hadrian emphasized smoothly, still leaning against the wall, arms crossed.

Rebecca sniffed. "You're that Hufflepuff fourth-year, aren't you? The one who's always causing scenes, and you're being all friendly with Loony now."

"That would be me," Hadrian agreed. "Luna's a very nice girl. I'm here to ask you to stop bullying her."

Marietta and Rebecca laughed. Cho smiled patronizingly at him. "Who says we're bullying her? Just because Loony says so?"

Hadrian smiled thinly at her. "Come now, Miss Chang," His voice took on a condescending note even as she bristled irritably at being talked down to by a younger student. "We all know you do. Not just you, of course, but it's mainly the three of you."

He paused, expression dropping ten degrees, causing the girls to stiffen and draw back. "I'm asking nicely. Please leave her alone from now on. That includes all her belongings as well."

"We're not going to listen to some fourth-year!" Cho snapped. "Just go back where you came from! I don't know why Cedric would put up with you!"

Ah, that's right. Cedric had taken Cho to the Yule Ball, hadn't he? And Hadrian himself had once had a crush on this girl. What had he been thinking?

"Fine," Hadrian nodded coolly at her hair. "I do hope you like it. I very much doubt it'll go away anytime soon."

A heartbeat.

"You're the one who did this to us!" Marietta screeched, hands flying to her head. "Change us back!"

Hadrian sneered. He had disliked this girl even more than Smith back in his world. "I don't believe I ever said I gave you those afros, though I don't know why you'd want to get rid of them. It's certainly an improvement on you, Edgecombe."

Marietta flushed bright red and her hand plunged into her robes for her wand. Hadrian was far quicker, flicking out a partial binding spell to freeze her hand.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Hadrian advised without any real concern. "It's not beneficial towards your continued health."

All three girls were looking more than a little freaked now, and Hadrian supposed he should start cutting back a little. He had talked Death Eaters into weeping messes by pulling his war general routine. These three were just teenagers after all.

He released Marietta and asked one more time, voice still conversational. "So, do I have your word that you'll leave Luna alone from now on?"

All three Ravenclaws nodded frantically, eyes guarded as they shuffled away from him.

Hadrian smiled again, quite cheerfully. "Great. I have it on good authority that your hair will return to normal by Sunday. Good day to you."

And with that, he ambled away, pausing only when he rounded a corner. His gaze skated over to the Gryffindor commandeering a piece of the wall, back against the stone.

"What are you, my bodyguard?" Hadrian enquired lightly as Orion pushed off the wall and joined him.

The werewolf grunted. "The thing about having my condition is that it's very easy to scare people with it. I was on standby, just in case."

Hadrian chuckled. "Oh, I think I scared them plenty myself. Bit not good in the ethical sense. You don't mind?"

Orion snorted. "Why would I care about those three at all? Lovegood's odd, but that doesn't mean she deserves to be harassed."

"Hmm," Hadrian nodded. "Glad you think so. Wasn't talking about that though."

Orion gave him a fleeting sidelong glance. "Use every necessary means in your arsenal when you attack. I firmly believe in that philosophy. Besides, you only threatened them with a little show of wandless magic and permanent afros. They should thank you."

Hadrian released a startled laugh. "Yes, I suppose they should."

Orion smiled faintly at him with not a single shadow of accusation. Hadrian wondered if the werewolf would remain half as accepting if and when the other teen realized just how ruthless Hadrian could be.

 


 

"Hadrian, what was your Runes OWL like?"

Hadrian glanced at Ernie as he and his four roommates did their homework on their respective beds. "Pretty easy."

"He means for the rest of us lowly mortals," Smith drawled, scribbling something down. "If we were to take an OWL, how hard would we find it?"

"Right now? Fairly hard," Hadrian mused. "OWLs like History and Arithmancy are paper exams so you wouldn't have to worry about a practical there. Most, like Charms and Transfiguration, require a small display of your skills along with a written test. Defence is purely practical though, and you can get extra points for producing a Patronus."

Even Smith had put down his quill by now.

"How do you know this stuff?" Justin looked a bit anxious. "Do the teachers tell us? Did Babbling tell you?"

"They give you a general outline right before you take your OWLs next year," Hadrian said vaguely.

"And how do you know that bit about the Patronus?" Hopkins piped up. "We don't learn that in school. I hear most adults can't produce one."

"I heard it from someone," Hadrian said, and then tried to redirect the flow of conversation. "Anyway, you get extra marks even if you can produce wisps, but a corporeal Patronus will really boost your grade."

"Can you do it?" Smith challenged. "A corporeal Patronus I mean."

Hadrian hesitated before nodding slowly, mind flickering over his three Patronuses. That particular charm had, after he had learned it, always been his specialty. It had helped a great deal during the war.

"Show us then!" Ernie insisted eagerly.

Hadrian's mouth twitched. "I don't like it widely known. It's not exactly common for a fourteen-year-old to be able to cast a Patronus."

"It won't leave this room," Justin swore. Hopkins and Ernie nodded earnestly while Smith inclined his head in acquiescence.

Well, Hadrian supposed it wouldn't hurt. Even if it did get out, he had technically been able to do it since he was thirteen. He just wouldn't show his roommates his stag Patronus, which would leave a more lasting impression no doubt – a stag was rare and would ring alarm bells should certain people hear about it. And he should probably use a wand to do it.

Hadrian drew up a memory of his current friends, happily chatting with one another in the Great Hall at the Slytherin table of all places, and then pointed his wand at the center of his room. "Expecto Patronum."

Silvery mist formed at the tip of his wand before a large dog bounded out, scampering the length of the dorm and making Justin yelp and draw his legs up when it rushed past him in a swirl of radiant starlight. It circled the room, looking for danger, before trotting back to Hadrian and butting questioningly at his hand with its nose.

"No danger here," Hadrian murmured under his breath, resting his hand on the dog's silver head. "Just showing you off, Padfoot."

The Patronus pressed against his knee for a second longer before finally dissolving into the air.

The silence that ensued was hushed and awed. Hadrian let them have their moment, glancing down at his Transfiguration essay and adding a few words near the end.

"That was amazing," Ernie said, and there was nothing but sincerity in his voice. Hadrian smiled, a spark of pride glowing in his chest.

"Can you teach us that?" Hopkins asked tentatively. "I mean, I'm pants at Defence and Charms – I admit it. I'm much better at Transfiguration. It'll be hard enough passing my Defence OWL so bonus marks can't hurt."

He paused, and then looked slightly crestfallen. "Though I suppose I wouldn't be able to do it if I'm bad at the other stuff-"

"All a Patronus takes is will and a happy memory," Hadrian interrupted. "Of course, you'll also need practice, but the first step is to think of a really happy memory in your life, hold it in your mind, and then cast. Nobody really knows what their Patronus is before they produce it, and they can change."

"Really?" Justin leaned forward. "I've never heard of that."

"Yes," Hadrian nodded, automatically moving into lecture mode. "A Patronus usually symbolizes someone whom you trust to protect you, so it can change depending on your circumstances."

"So you'll teach us?" Ernie looked excited. "Imagine that – us fourth-years knowing how to cast a Patronus!"

Hadrian considered it for a moment, thought of The Toad and Neville and the Defence Association someone might or might not start, before shaking his head. Ernie's face fell, and there was more than a little disappointment in everyone's face. Smith scowled.

"Not right now," Hadrian said adamantly. "Look, I'll make you a deal. If you still want to learn by the time next year swings around, I'll teach you."

"Not in time for the OWLs!" Smith grumbled, trying to look annoyed but not like he cared either way.

A smirk curled at Hadrian's lips. "Oh, trust me, if you're willing to learn, I can teach you how to produce a Patronus with plenty of time to spare."

"Fine then," Ernie agreed briskly. "Fifth year. We'll hold you to that, Hadrian."

Hadrian smiled and nodded before they all went back to their work.

If The Great Toad barged her way into the school again, it would be their decision whether they would be willing to break the rules or not.

 


 

It was an early Saturday morning, early enough that the chilly layer of fog had yet to disperse.

Hadrian had gone for his jog as usual, but after a hot shower and finding himself with nothing to do, having finished all his homework already, he had grabbed his broomstick and gone out for a flight around the school. He had a feeling he'd probably get a detention if any professors spotted him in the air in such cold weather so early in the morning. Still, there was no actual rule against it.

So, hanging languidly upside-down and drifting comfortably through the soft tendrils of mist as he enjoyed the natural silence around him, his ears had no trouble picking up the faint flapping of a cloak against the wind, signalling the approach of another flyer.

Righting himself, Hadrian wheeled in midair, hand instinctively going to his waist as he searched out the newcomer. He relaxed the moment he recognized who it was on the advancing Firebolt.

"Morning, Victor," Hadrian greeted, swooping closer to join the Bulgarian. They hadn't talked since the Welcoming Feast.

Victor inclined his head, dark eyes assessing Hadrian with near-blatant interest. "Good morning, Hadrian. You haff good instincts."

The Bulgarian nodded at where Hadrian's hand had been hovering and Hadrian shot him a sheepish look. "Sorry about that. I'm usually the only one awake and outside this early in the morning."

Victor shook his head. "It is the mark of a good duelist. There is nothing to be apologizing for."

Hadrian cleared his throat in embarrassment before not-so-subtly redirecting the conversation. "Thank you. So, what are you doing up at seven in the morning anyway?"

Victor's expression would've been wry if the Bulgarian was prone to open displays of emotions. "Morning is the only time Headmaster Karkaroff is not hovering over my shoulder."

Hadrian snickered, lazily sketching a loop-de-loop in the air. "Can't you just tell him to back off?"

The champion shrugged. "He does not know this meaning."

Hadrian grinned. "Lucky you."

"Indeed," Victor agreed sardonically. His gaze followed Hadrian as he curved backwards in a tight circle. "You are a good flyer as vell."

"So people tell me," Hadrian stopped on Victor's left. "I got it from my dad; I've been able to fly since I first got on a broom."

He paused, and then nodded at Victor's broom. "Not bad yourself though – national player and all."

Victor dismissed this with a shake of his head. "Sometimes, it is more trouble than it is vorth."

Hadrian could relate. "Is it hard to handle a career and school at the same time?"

"At times," Victor admitted. "I am often needing to go to practice and vould haff to skip class. It is not particularly good for my social life either, as my mother often says."

Hadrian grinned. "Well, you can always make friends here. Karkaroff can't do anything about that, especially since everyone gathers in the Great Hall for meals."

Victor inclined his head in acknowledgement. "You haff not eaten at the... Slytherin table since Sunday though."

"Hm," Hadrian made a face. "You know our school's divided into four Houses and everything? Well, Slytherin's a bit of an outcast with the other Houses-"

"Because they are leaning tovards the Dark Arts," Victor interjected.

Hadrian nodded. "Yeah, so Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw generally don't get along with them. I'm the exception, not the norm, plus – Slytherin's really high-strung about who they interact with. I made a deal with Draco several weeks back – tutoring in exchange for eating dinner with him and Blaise and Theo once a week. Anymore and the other Slytherins probably think I'll contaminate them or something."

Victor arched an eyebrow. "That is a rather... odd arrangement."

Hadrian shrugged. "Haven't you heard the rumours? Apparently, I'm the oddest kid in school. But it's no fun being just like everyone else. I don't even like being like everyone else."

"Yes," An actual smile actually tilted the Bulgarian's mouth for a split second. "I believe you vere calling somevone a 'moronic brain-dead fool'?"

Hadrian snorted. "The idiot deserved it. Older students all turning on Nev like that. He's only fourteen."

Victor nodded in a thoughtful manner. "You vill be supporting him? Or Diggory? You are friends vith both, I am thinking."

Hadrian nodded. "Yeah, and who says I'm only supporting one? I don't care about the Tournament. I just want them both to come out alive."

Victor studied him with an avid gaze. "You are taking this tournament very seriously."

Hadrian shrugged and flipped upside-down again, legs crossed over his broom. He didn't bother answering this time.

"Wanna race?" He asked instead.

Victor's eyebrows shot up at this deviation but let it go without a word. "I do not mind. Vhere to vhere?"

Hadrian motioned for the Bulgarian to follow him. They were soon circling one end of the Quidditch stadium where three of the hooped goal posts were.

"Once around the school," Hadrian declared as they both pulled to a stop just behind the posts. "First one back here wins."

A rare, competitive smirk answered him and Victor's usually reserved, stoic manner lifted into something livelier. "Agreed. Ve shall see if you can best a national player."

Hadrian grinned back. "You're on. On the count of three: one... two... three!"

Both of them took off like a bullet across the grounds, head-to-head already without either of them gaining the lead on the other.

Wind whistled in Hadrian's ears as he flattened himself on his broom and urged his Firebolt on. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Viktor doing the same, each of them trying to gain the upper hand.

However, lighter in body weight, Hadrian soon pulled ahead by a few feet, though his Bulgarian opponent stayed doggedly on his tail, never letting up for a moment. They rounded the Ravenclaw Tower at near-top speed, cutting it so close that Hadrian actually felt the stone of the castle brush his arm.

Viktor managed to catch up and even pull ahead, and for a few seconds, Hadrian was the one chasing the Bulgarian's tail, but they were soon drawing even again when they rounded the Astronomy Tower, once again taking the turn as sharply as physically possible.

Both of them streaked past windows and classrooms with nary a glance, gazes focused and narrowed on the Gryffindor Tower up ahead. The Quidditch pitch was just beyond.

Hadrian tucked himself in even further, moulding himself to his broom and jetting forward just as Viktor slowed an infinitesimal amount to take the corner. As he had done numerous times before when flying had been a necessity during the war and his speed had been all the weapon he had to separate him from death, Hadrian didn't slow down this time, taking the corner without cutting his speed even a little.

Instead, he rolled.

A fraction of a second before he rounded the tower, Hadrian flipped sideways and allowed his momentum to naturally drag him to the left and adjust his direction accordingly. As he spun upright again in a three-sixty midflight rotation and flashed past Victor in less time than it took for a heart to pump out a beat, Hadrian just managed to catch a look of stunned surprise on the Bulgarian's face.

An exhilarated laugh burst from his throat as he sped towards the makeshift finish line, the sound snatched away by the wind even as he blasted past the goal posts and wheeled around the pitch for a victory lap.

He turned just in time to see Victor shoot past the hoops himself, only a mere second and a half behind Hadrian.

Still high on adrenaline, Hadrian plummeted down to where Viktor had slowed with another cackle, zigzagging around the Bulgarian as they both caught their breath.

"How did you do that?" Viktor demanded the moment Hadrian came within earshot. The Bulgarian looked torn between uncharacteristic astonishment and uncharacteristic envy. "Vhy are you not playing professional Quidditch?"

He paused, and then added almost like an afterthought, "Are you crazy? Nobody vould've tried something like that at the speed you vere going!"

Hadrian bit his lip to try to smother the most likely mad grin on his face. "I love flying. I can do anything in the air. It's instinct for me."

Viktor shook his head, still looking partially astounded. "Vhy do you not play? Professionally. Any team in the vorld vould be falling over themselves trying to recruit you."

Hadrian finally managed to fight his grin down to a smile. "It's not Quidditch I love; it's flying. Quidditch is just a way for me to do that. I like the sport well enough but I don't love it."

Viktor's features took on a wistful edge. "Pity. I vould've liked to play against you in a proper match."

Hadrian hummed thoughtfully. "Well, I don't know about national level but a proper match between students might not be too hard."

Viktor looked all ears.

"We do have a lot of Quidditch players at Hogwarts," Hadrian tilted his head at his school. "Because of the Tournament, the inter-House matches have been cancelled this year, but I'm sure quite a few people would still want to play if someone arranged a few games."

"And you can do this?" Viktor enquired.

"Well, not me personally," Hadrian corrected. "But Cedric's captain of the Hufflepuff team and Ron is one of the two captains of the Gryffindor team. I'm fairly certain Draco's on the Slytherin team as well so I could ask them to arrange it. They're all Quidditch nuts at heart. It might take a while though."

"I do not care if I haff to vait until the end of the year," Viktor proclaimed. "Are you on your House team?"

Hadrian frowned in puzzlement before recalling the fact that the Bulgarian wouldn't know that he had only just transferred into Hogwarts this year. "No, I'm not, mostly because I just started Hogwarts in September. I was homeschooled before."

Realization dawned on Viktor's face. "That is vhy you act nothing like the other students?"

Hadrian snorted. "Well, I don't know about that. I act like me – that's all."

Viktor still looked a little bemused, but before he could say anything else, a shout came from below.

"HADRIAN EVANS, GET DOWN HERE!"

"Ah," Hadrian glanced down and spotted a tiny delegation approaching with a fuming Minerva McGonagall in the lead. "Oh dear."

Behind her, Pomona, Karkaroff, James, and Sirius were hurrying after her. The formation was a bizarre sight to behold, if only because Hadrian had never expected to see such an odd mix of people together.

"I vill explain," Viktor muttered quietly to him as they descended and both of them caught sight of an irate Durmstrang Headmaster. "Karkaroff is prone to blaming anyvone and everyvone who seems to pose a potential danger to my health. Just stay quiet – I vill keep you out of trouble."

They landed, and before Hadrian could do more than register Viktor's words, the older student had stepped in front of him, facing a severely riled up Karkaroff.

"Headmaster," Viktor said before Karkaroff, whose eyes were already glowering at Hadrian, could get a word in edgewise. "I vos the one to suggest a race. Hadrian has done nothing wrong. I vished to keep up vith my training and Hadrian vos good enough to assist me."

Karkaroff gaped at Viktor for a moment, much to Hadrian's amusement. He couldn't care less if Karkaroff yelled at him for 'endangering Viktor' and he normally wouldn't let someone lie for him, but Viktor clearly wanted to, and who was Hadrian to make waves in the Bulgarian's plan?

"Are- Are you sure, Viktor?" Karkaroff recovered, slanting a suspicious look in Hadrian's direction. "He could be trying to injure you so your chances in the Triwizard Tournament would decrease."

"Mr. Evans would do no such thing!" Pomona leapt in, visibly annoyed. "They were simply flying, Professor Karkaroff."

"She is right," Viktor confirmed. "It vos simply a friendly competition."

Karkaroff sneered at Pomona but reluctantly backed down when Viktor corroborated her words. He stared past his student at Hadrian and glared at him before turning away abruptly. "Come, Viktor. You cannot start off your day without a shower after a practice like that."

Much to the Headmaster's ire, Viktor stalled, turning back to Hadrian.

"I vill see you at breakfast?" The Bulgarian, though impassive again once more, conveyed his question with a ticked eyebrow.

Hadrian smiled. "Yeah, you can come sit with us today. Ron will be thrilled."

A flicker of humour darted across the Bulgarian's face as he nodded once before setting off after a highly vexed Karkaroff.

"Making friends outside of school now, Mr. Evans?" Pomona spoke up as soon as they were out of earshot.

Hadrian turned back to see two widely grinning Marauders, a white-faced Minerva, and an exasperatedly fond, albeit also somewhat pale, Pomona all looking at him.

"Building interschool relationships, Professor," Hadrian replied glibly.

"And you couldn't have done that under safer circumstances?" Minerva was frowning down at him as furiously as she had in Hadrian's first year, except now he could pick up the appreciation in her eyes as well. "That roll around the Gryffindor Tower was downright reckless! You could've killed yourself! It was extremely irresponsible! Entirely unsafe! It was-"

"-utterly brilliant!" Sirius cut in, bounding forward and spinning Hadrian around. "Perfect build, great broom – I've never seen anyone fly like that before! You're even better than Prongsy over here!"

"Sirius Black!" Minerva looked ready to breathe fire. "Don't encourage him!"

"Oh come on, Minnie!" Hadrian stifled a sigh as his counterpart's father decided to tug him around as well. "You have to admit – that was exceptional flying. I couldn't have done it. You can't possibly punish him for something like that."

Pomona also had her two Knuts to add. "He's not hurt, Minerva. You're fine, aren't you, dear?"

Hadrian bit back a snicker as a niggling suspicion dawned at the back of his mind. "Yes, Professor. And I've done that move before. It wasn't something I did on a whim today."

"Exactly," His Head of House turned a sly imploring look on an increasingly long-suffering Deputy Headmistress. "See, Minerva?"

Minerva shot her a dry look. "You just want him on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team next year."

Pomona beamed at her. "Just imagine – the Quidditch Cup in my office for at least the next three years. Certainly next year, with both Mr. Evans and Mr. Diggory on the team."

Minerva couldn't seem to decide whether she wanted to puff up indignantly at this insinuation or sigh in resignation. She chose the latter before turning a stern look on Hadrian, who was currently contemplating whether or not he should pull away from the arm Sirius had draped over his shoulders.

"Mr. Evans, while I admit you fly quite well-"

"Understatement," Sirius muttered in a dramatically horrified stage-whisper.

"-I must ask you to refrain from pulling such stunts in the future," Minerva continued, resolutely ignoring Sirius' dramatics. "You nearly gave me a heart attack when you and Mr. Krum flew past my classroom!"

Hadrian tried to look contrite, but judging by Minerva's rather unimpressed expression, he had failed. "Sorry, Professor. I won't do it again."

Unless I have to, he added silently.

Minerva eyed him apprehensively but relented after a long second. "Very well, off you go. I suppose you'd want a shower first before meeting your friends in the Great Hall?"

Hadrian nodded, ducked away from Sirius and waved a quick goodbye to the rest before making his way back to the castle. Well, his morning certainly could've been worse.

 


 

"Hadrian! It's a Ministry owl!"

Hadrian's head jerked up from where he, Orion (who was really just listening with an indulgent sort of amusement), Ron, Viktor, and Cedric had been having an in-depth discussion about Quidditch. Across the table, Neville was listening to something Luna was explaining in great detail. Hadrian had caught the words 'Moon Frogs' and 'Blibbering Humdingers'.

Viktor and Cedric had, surprisingly, hit it off rather well. They had been polite and had shaken hands when the Bulgarian had joined them. The entire Durmstrang party had looked taken aback when Viktor had bypassed the Slytherin table and made a beeline for the Gryffindor table instead. Karkaroff had looked about ready to have a coronary but there wasn't much he could do about it.

At Hermione's alert though, the entire group, and quite a few people along the Gryffindor table, all looked up as well.

The owl swooped down to where Hadrian was sitting, landing gracefully on an empty patch of table and holding out the leg that an official-looking envelope was attached to.

Hadrian quickly untied the letter and fed the owl a bit of bacon, ignoring the many eyes focused on him. He knew he had done well on his exams – exactly how well was still up for debate, but he was sure he had at least achieved an O on the OWL and at least an E on the NEWT. At the moment, his schoolmates were certainly more interested in his marks than he was. Hermione was all but vibrating in her seat.

Hadrian glanced down at the creamy envelope. Maybe opening it in private would be better...

"Well? What are you waiting for, Green Eyes?" Babbling suddenly called down. The woman was actually on her feet and rocking forward impatiently. "Come on, open it. I've been waiting for this for weeks!"

Hadrian sighed. He still had no idea why Babbling was more excited about his marks than he himself was. With another glance at the hopeful and or intrigued looks on his friends' faces, he tore open the envelope and pulled out its contents.

Under special circumstances fully approved of by Minister of Magic Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Head of Wizarding Examinations Authority Griselda Marchbanks, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, and Student Nominator Professor Bathsheda Babbling, the following exam(s) have been formally processed and graded for the recommended student.

Ordinary Wizarding Level Results

Pass Grades:

Outstanding (O)

Exceeds Expectations (E)

Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:

Poor (P)

Dreadful (D)

Troll (T)

Hadrian Evans has achieved:

Ancient Runes: OOO*

Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test Results

Pass Grades:

Outstanding (O)

Exceeds Expectations (E)

Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:

Poor (P)

Dreadful (D)

Troll (T)

Hadrian Evans has achieved:

Ancient Runes: OOO*

*The awarding of the mark OOO indicates that the recipient currently holds the record for highest mark in that examination area, as well as the necessary authorization to enter an apprenticeship in said area should the recipient wish to apply.

...

Well.

Wasn't that a shock?

"H- Hadrian?"

Hadrian glanced up, features blank. Frankly, Hermione looked terrified.

Orion, sitting on Hadrian's right, tilted his head a little to get a better look at the results. His reaction was an arched eyebrow. "Not bad."

Hadrian grinned. No fanfare, no disconcerting awe. Just what he wanted.

"'Not bad'?" Hermione echoed, eyes wide. "D- Did you get an Acceptable?"

"I will never forgive you if you got anything below an Outstanding, Green Eyes," Babbling declared.

Hadrian snorted, absently passing the letter to Hermione who snatched it up like a lifeline. "Good to know, Professor."

Anything else was cut off by Hermione tackling him in a hug. "Merlin's pants! You shattered the records for both exams, Hadrian! You hold the highest scores in the Runes exams! That's-! That's-! That's incredible!"

Whispers and murmurs swept the hall as Cedric wrangled the letter out of the brunette's hand to take a look himself. Hadrian paid them no mind as he returned to his breakfast. Or tried to.

Babbling clapped her hands, looking about as delighted as a child with a new toy. "I get my apprentice!"

Hadrian froze, fork halfway to his mouth. "What?"

"Oh, didn't I mention it?" The Runes professor sat back down, smiling sweetly much to the amusement of Pomona on her left. "You'll be taking an apprenticeship with me, Green Eyes. We'll legalize everything in the next few days."

Had Hadrian been anywhere but in the middle of the Great Hall, he would've banged his head against the nearest wall. At the very least, it might've put him out of his misery.

Didn't he get any say in these matters anymore?

 


 

Friday, November twelfth saw Hadrian storming away from Babbling – or Sheda now as the woman had insisted – and trying very hard not to take out his frustration on the first person unlucky enough to cross his path. They had argued for well over an hour about the apprenticeship – with Sheda winning in the end.

It wasn't that Hadrian was completely opposed to an apprenticeship – he wasn't. But he was swiftly beginning to find the Runes professor's meddling to be nothing short of aggravating. The woman should've told him weeks ago, even before his exams, though they both knew why she hadn't so much as mentioned it. Hadrian would've most likely tried to protest.

Protest because he had the damn Tournament to worry about, Cedric and Neville's – and heck, even Viktor and Fleur's – lives to worry about, Voldemort's return to worry about, Crouch Jr. to worry about, and that didn't even include all the crap he would have to deal with next year, courtesy of the Ministry Toad!

It took a semi-shouting match with Sheda for Hadrian to release enough of his displeasure and remember that he didn't actually have to do any of that stuff. He could snap his wand and move to Timbuktu for that matter.

But, of course, he had friends here, people he wanted to protect. And... well, if Hadrian had led a normal life and could say he was passionate about learning something, it would most likely have been Ancient Runes.

Sheda had gotten points for not shouting back or even seeming disturbed when Hadrian had lost his temper. She had, however, promised him that she would run things by him from now on, which placated him just a bit. Hadrian had still been annoyed at the end but he had agreed and that was that. The apprenticeship would be finalized over the weekend in the shape of a tattoo of his choosing, magically infused with a little of his soon-to-be mentor's – even now, he refused to give anyone the title of master over him – magic, and vice-versa. The tattoos would, if they so chose, fade at the end of the apprenticeship.

"Hadrian?"

Hadrian paused, mid-step. Only the familiarity of that voice stopped him from snapping at the person. "Hello, Luna. What can I do for you?"

The blonde skipped out from around a corner to join him, peering up at him with wide grey eyes. "Why do you have to do anything for me at all? You've already done plenty."

Hadrian sighed. He hadn't meant for her to take that literally. "Nevermind, Luna. Have you finished classes for the day?"

The Ravenclaw nodded serenely before slipping her hand into his. Hadrian allowed the rather childish habit – Luna had taken to sticking to his side as much as possible ever since Hadrian had quickly and efficiently hauled her into his life.

"Did you know," Luna started as they made their way down a corridor. "The Nargle infestation in my dorm has disappeared."

"Has it?" Hadrian smiled faintly and Luna smiled back knowingly.

She didn't say anything else on the subject, only tucking a strand of hair behind one ear before musing out loud, "Neville is at the Wand Weighing Ceremony."

Hadrian blinked. "Ah, that's today, isn't it?"

He recalled Ollivander and Rita Skeeter – well, maybe Neville would be able to handle the reporter better than Hadrian had.

 


 

"I never said any of this!" Neville exploded at breakfast.

Hadrian said nothing as he gave the Prophet a cursory scan while Orion ignored most of it in favour of taking casual stabs at a tiny portrait of Skeeter placed at the bottom of the exposé with a toothpick. The article painted Neville as a tragic hero who cried himself to sleep over his late parents and had supposedly entered the Tournament due to the trauma of his past.

The Hufflepuff table, while no longer outright insulting Neville after that first day and the fact that Cedric made a point to sit with their group as much as possible now, were still casting some rather resentful scowls in their direction. Over at the Ravenclaw table, the Beauxbatons students were murmuring amongst themselves as they poured over the newspaper.

Much closer to home, Cedric and Viktor looked to be trying very hard not to snicker at Neville's expense while Ron and Hermione looked dangerously close to hunting down Rita Skeeter and making her pay. Luna only hummed to herself as she read her copy of the Quibbler.

"Well, I can say one thing," Cedric remarked with feeling. "I'm glad it wasn't me she dragged into that broom closet."

"Cedric!" Neville was apparently in no mood to take a joke and Cedric hastily raised his hands in a conciliating gesture.

"In Durmstrang," Viktor commented. "Ve vould never allow reporters like this voman onto school grounds."

"Well good for Karkaroff!" Neville retorted moodily. "Maybe he can give Dumbledore a few pointers."

Viktor gave him a brief, ironic smile. "Hell vould freeze over three times before Karkaroff vould be lifting a finger to help anyone. No, reporters are warded from our school – it is law in Bulgaria."

Hadrian knew this was mainly because Viktor's father was the Minister of Magic in Bulgaria – something Viktor's entire family strove to keep a secret for their own safety – but no one here knew that so he stayed quiet.

Breakfast was pretty much ruined though since Neville was too disgusted to eat and everyone else obliged by keeping conversation to a minimum.

"Does it really bother you?" Hadrian said as breakfast wound down to a close. Skeeter's article was laughable at best – it wouldn't have bothered him anymore even if the thing was about him – but Neville was clearly upset.

Neville nodded glumly. "Gran's already raising hell with Dumbledore and me because I somehow landed myself in the Tournament. When she sees this – she probably already has – she'll kill Skeeter for printing it and kill me for giving her ideas."

"Hmm," Hadrian eyed the paper thoughtfully. He caught a glimpse of Orion's gaze cutting sharply over at him even as he looked back at Neville. "Leave it to me then."

His friends all turned to stare at him. Hadrian smiled back nonchalantly.

"You're not going to do anything... illegal, are you?" Hermione asked warily.

"Of course not," Hadrian assured, getting his feet. He paused, and then shrugged. "Well, maybe. But don't worry about it. I'll take care of her for you, Nev."

Swinging his bag over his shoulder, Hadrian waved and headed for the doors. Blackmail was technically illegal, but he had done a lot worse than blackmailing someone in his lifetime.

Besides, he didn't even like Rita Skeeter. Served the woman right.

 

Chapter Text

 

The first Hogsmeade trip took place on the last Saturday before the first task, a week after the disastrous Daily Prophet article, three days after another full moon, and two days after Pomona had sought him out and reminded him that he was free to go to the village since he was emancipated and would not need a permission form from any guardians – and wasn't that a surprise; it seemed that the back-story Fate had set up for him really was foolproof. Hadrian had pretended that this wasn't news to him (and the thought of where on earth he was going to stay over the hols had been pushed to the back of his mind for another time), and then didn't bother when his Head of House had proceeded to hand him another schedule – this one with a few blocks specifically labelled: Teaching Block. He would start the week after the first task. Really, Hadrian didn't even want to think about it.

The apprenticeship had been finalized last weekend, and there was now a tattoo inked into his left shoulder blade. Sheda had gotten a simple rune design for hers but Hadrian had chosen a Latin phrase that would swirl like a black snake over his skin, the letters always scrambled and meshed together unless Hadrian willed it otherwise.

In Arduis Fidelis. Loyalty in adversity.

It was a somewhat common axiom but he had always stuck to those words his entire life. Hermione had been the one to bring it up during the war, mentioning it in passing during a tense lull in one of the many battles.

A Muggle phrase, she had said with a wry twist of her mouth but a fond look in her eyes as she had bandaged a nasty gash on Hadrian's arm, one he had gotten when he had leapt in front of the brunette to block an oncoming Cutting Curse that would've killed her. Heck, it would've killed him if he hadn't managed to put up a partial Shield Charm in time. Suitable for idiots like you.

True to her nature, Sheda hadn't even lifted an eyebrow when the woman had seen it while adding her magic to create the bond. Hadrian had been glad. If he was going to get a tattoo, then he wanted something fitting.

At the moment though, Hadrian was heading into the village with four Gryffindors, one Ravenclaw, one Hufflepuff, and a Durmstrang student, making for a very odd-looking ensemble.

"I haff never been to Hogsmeade," Viktor commented as he peered at all the shops and stores built around them.

"Then let's visit everywhere," Ron said enthusiastically, finally having stopped looking at Viktor as if the Bulgarian was the poster boy for all things Quidditch. "I want to make a trip to Honeydukes myself."

Hadrian said nothing as his friends chatted with each other. He hated crowds, tried to avoid them as much as possible, but when he had agreed to come to the village with the others, he had forgotten to take into account the fact that he had three Triwizard champions with him, one of them being the Boy-Who-Lived and another a professional Quidditch player. Skeeter's article had even outed both Hermione and Luna as the Boy-Who-Lived's girlfriends, and the Boy-Who-Lived as a two-timer.

Which equalled to an astronomical number of people pointing and whispering and trying to get close enough for an autograph.

"You really dislike crowds, don't you Hadrian?" Hermione was looking over at him, or, more specifically, eyeing the scowl on his face that he couldn't quite hide.

Hadrian grimaced and drew his coat around himself more tightly. He was probably the only one dressed like a Muggle in the middle of a Wizarding district but if he was going to be surrounded on all sides, then he was at least going to be prepared for any fights that might break out, unlikely as that may be. It helped that Orion had stationed himself firmly on his right, successfully warding off most people who tried to run them over in an attempt to get closer to the three champions in their midst.

"I'm not a big fan of them, no," Hadrian confirmed, scanning the crowds. His gaze searched for a familiar reporter he had been looking forward to having a little... chat with for a week now. If he remembered correctly, the woman should be here somewhere.

"Could be worse," Neville offered, though he was frowning quite a bit as well as people glanced between him and the Daily Prophets in their hands. "Could get a lot worse than being stared at."

"Yeah," Hadrian agreed, pointing ahead. "And it just did."

This stopped all of them, and then they were all veering off to the side and hiding their faces as Rita Skeeter and her photographer friend emerged from the Three Broomsticks pub. Talking in low voices, they passed right by their group without looking at them.

"She's gone," Luna informed them, having been hiding behind her copy of the Quibbler as the two had passed by.

"She's staying in the village," Cedric observed as he straightened his robes from where he had been crouching behind a potted plant. "I bet she's coming to watch the first task."

The atmosphere suddenly became subdued as Hermione and Ron exchanged a helpless look. None of them really knew what to expect for the upcoming task.

"I'm sure it'll be fine," Hadrian said evenly as he kept a sharp eye on Skeeter's retreating back. "We can all help the three of you practice spells to prepare."

"We'd have to find a place first," Cedric pointed out, his expression brightening at Hadrian's words as if he hadn't truly realized that he wouldn't have to go at this Tournament alone. Likewise, Neville looked greatly relieved and even Viktor's scowl had lightened somewhat.

Hadrian arched an eyebrow at them. Honestly, were they really that thick? When he had been in the Tournament, even he had gotten help from Hermione.

"I know a place," Hadrian said instead. "When we get back, I'll show you. It's perfect for practicing spells and meeting up without anyone the wiser."

The entire group looked intrigued now but Hadrian had no time to expand on it. Skeeter was almost out of sight. "Now, I know you want to take a look around the village so I'll meet you back here at the Three Broomsticks in about half an hour, alright?"

"What?" Hermione blinked at him in confusion. "Where are you going?"

Hadrian only smiled as he pulled up the collar of his coat. "I did promise Neville that I'd take care of a certain issue for him."

And before any of them could do more than gape at him, Hadrian slipped away, melting easily into the throng of shoppers.

 


 

"I'm going after him," Orion announced abruptly. Honestly, Hadrian was always so damn independent, though, to be fair, so was Orion, but at least Orion was a werewolf and people usually didn't want to push a werewolf around (unless they were Harry bloody Potter or his goons and had no life, as Hadrian had once put it). What if something happened? He could certainly throw that despicably reporter a hell of a lot farther than he trusted her to stay on the straight and narrow when someone confronted her about her articles.

Granger was wringing her hands nervously. "Oh, maybe we should all go? He didn't necessarily say that he wasn't going to do something illegal."

"I'm sure Hadrian can take care of one reporter," Weasley objected, but there was a note of uncertainty in his voice.

"I'll take care of anything that might come up," Orion cut in before they could convince themselves that they needed to go as well. Hadrian obviously wanted some privacy; Orion would be enough.

Without so much as a by-your-leave (he wasn't much good at those), he turned and headed off after Hadrian, quickly losing himself in the crowd and only stalling in an alley long enough to make sure the others weren't following him.

It took him twenty minutes to catch up with Hadrian – the Hufflepuff was ridiculously good at losing a tail – but Orion finally caught a glimpse of blonde hair and green leather and hastily slipped into the nearby shadows of an alcove. His eyes widened when he saw Hadrian appear from a back alley and flick out a wandless Notice-Me-Not Charm. If he hadn't already been looking specifically at them, he would've lost sight of them as everyone else had.

He raised his eyebrows when Hadrian literally stunned the woman before shoving her into the alley behind him. It was lucky that the photographer was no longer with her. Then again, Hadrian had probably been waiting for the man to leave before whisking Skeeter away.

He drew closer, casually, and ducked into the alley as well, melting against the side of a building. Hadrian must have put up a Silencing Charm too because Orion couldn't hear anything, not even the whoosh of a spell when a blue light shot from Hadrian's wand and hit Skeeter square in the chest.

And then the woman shrunk. Smaller and smaller until the woman was no longer a woman and Orion was staring at a beetle instead.

Had Hadrian transfigured Skeeter into a beetle? But Human Transfiguration wasn't taught until sixth year.

Orion mentally shook his head. Of course Hadrian would know it. Hadrian seemed to know everything.

Hadrian bent down and scooped up the beetle with a jar before turning back to the entrance of the alley. Orion tried to shrink back even further – he could've hit himself; he should've cast a Notice-Me-Not Charm of his own – but to no avail. Green eyes suddenly sharpened and sought him out in the shadows, zeroing in on him much like that very first time they had met in the middle of the night.

Then again, Orion didn't actually have any particular reason to hide. Still, as he stepped forward, he couldn't quite hide a sheepish look when Hadrian raised an eyebrow at him.

Orion shrugged, striving for nonchalance as he nodded at the jar now tucked away in Hadrian's coat pocket. "Don't tell me your plan is to lock her up until all this blows over."

Hadrian snorted and gestured for him to follow. Orion fell into step beside him with an absurd burst of relief. He couldn't help it – it happened less and less these days but a part of him was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the day when Hadrian tired of him and left.

Orion huffed. Now he sounded like an idiot.

"Of course not," Hadrian was saying as they strolled across the street. He paused at a corner and slanted an assessing glance at Orion. "Are you sure you want to come with me?"

Orion straightened, recalling the time Hadrian had threatened those three Ravenclaws into submission with amused indifference and knowing that whatever Hadrian was going to do now with Skeeter was most likely going to be a lot worse than a few permanent afros. It probably said something about Orion's character when he could quite honestly admit that he didn't care. His parents would probably throw a fit. At least his father might. Sirius could go either way. He was a Black after all, no matter what House he had ended up in during his tenure at Hogwarts. "Of course."

Hadrian cocked his head contemplatively before shrugging and moving on again. With longer strides, Orion had no trouble keeping up. He didn't bother asking 'where are we going' or 'what are you going to do' – useless questions really. He'd know both in a matter of minutes.

They were heading to the Shrieking Shack, Orion realized soon enough. But...

"There aren't any actual doors or windows that can open, Hadrian," Orion cautioned. "The only entrance is from the Whomping Willow."

"Yes," Hadrian agreed before reaching out and snagging Orion's arm. "But I'm not entering the good old-fashioned way."

And with a near-silent pop, Orion felt his body being squeezed through a tube before reappearing inside the Shack.

"No wards to prevent Apparition," Hadrian murmured as he landed without so much as a stumble while Orion had to stagger sideways to regain his balance. "How careless."

"Ever since the Wolfsbane was discovered, the Shack wasn't really needed so Dumbledore took down the wards," Orion explained as he loosened his scarf. He paused. "Isn't Apparition illegal without a license?"

"It's only illegal if you're caught," Hadrian countered as he pulled out the jar containing the beetle and dumped the insect out. "So, if you're ever going to do something against the law, don't get caught."

Orion couldn't quite hide the snicker that slipped out. That sounded exactly like something his dad would say.

"So the Human Transfiguration is for...?" Orion eyed the beetle with distaste.

"Human Transfiguration?" Hadrian looked surprised. "Oh no, I didn't transfigure anyone. I just forced her into her Animagus form."

Orion stared at the other teen before looking back at the beetle. "She's- You're joking."

Hadrian smirked. "I assure you – I am not."

With a flick of his wand and another streak of blue light, an unconscious Rita Skeeter was suddenly slumped on the mouldy cot on the ground.

"Rita Skeeter," Hadrian tucked his wand away. "An unregistered Animagus. Now that she's been caught – an illegal Animagus."

Orion just blinked and then shook his head. "A beetle. Well, I suppose it's a useful form if nothing else."

"Hmm, yes," Hadrian mused. "A beetle is a bit... unattractive. Anyway, let's get started."

"Be careful," Orion warned, stepping up beside the Hufflepuff and stooping down to confiscate the woman's wand first. "If she ever finds out you're an unregistered Animagus as well, you won't be the only one doing the blackmailing."

Hadrian looked increasingly amused even as his eyes became a little colder and a little more ruthless. "I prefer aggressive negotiation, actually, not blackmailing. And don't worry. I'm a very careful person."

 


 

"Rennervate."

Hadrian watched with a clinical sort of interest as Skeeter stirred and jerked upright, looking a bit wild-eyed as she tried to figure out where she was. Her gaze landed on him.

"You!" She shrilled, hands scrambling for her wand only to catch sight of it in Orion's hands. "How dare you?! This is kidnapping! Abduction! Do you know who I am?! I'll have you sued! Expelled! Placed in Azkaban!"

A warning growl came from behind Hadrian and the woman quailed, eyes bulging as she took another look at Orion.

"Funny you should mention Azkaban," Hadrian drawled, not minding the protective bodyguard routine that Orion had somehow adopted ever since they had become friends. "Ms. Illegal Animagus."

Skeeter paled several shades, drawing back when Hadrian glided forward a few steps. "Y- You- You- I don't know what you're talking about!"

Hadrian scoffed disdainfully, and with a flick of his wand, he had forced the woman into her Animagus form again. Another flick turned her back, white and shaking as she tried to scramble back even further.

"Jogged your memory then?" Hadrian enquired pleasantly.

Skeeter's head bobbed frantically. "Wh- What do you want?"

Hadrian's smile widened as he slowly circled around the reporter. "Oh good, straight to the point. But since you seem to be suffering under some memory difficulties, allow me to remind you of a few key points. You recall the article you had printed only a week ago?"

Skeeter seemed to have regained some of her bearings because she was at least trying to make an effort to pull herself back together. "Wh- What of it? I interviewed the Boy-Who-Lived the day before, and then printed an article on it. I did nothing wrong!"

"Hmm, yes, but there are certain people who don't quite agree," Hadrian purred as he prowled closer. "The Boy-Who-Lived for one. The two girls you dragged in and humiliated for another. And not a single mention of Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts Champion. Not a very decent reporter, are you?"

A dull red rose in Skeeter's cheeks. "What does the public care for some Hufflepuff boy when they can have the Boy-Who-Lived? The Daily Prophet exists to sell itself, and it can't do that if what it prints doesn't interest its readers!"

"Yes, well, I was under the impression that it was the reporter's job to write the truth and still make it interesting," Hadrian said. "But what do I know – I'm only a student. Either way, that's not the point."

He stopped dead in front of Skeeter and surged forward to crouch in front of the woman. The reporter yelped and almost fell off the cot as she scuttled back.

"The point," Hadrian said with deliberation. "Is that I would like you to stop writing your little stories about Neville and all of his friends. In fact, it would be wonderful if you stopped writing them altogether, about anyone."

Any fear on Skeeter's part was temporarily abated as she screeched, "And how do you expect me to make a living, you idiotic brat?! I'm a reporter! I am responsible for reporting-"

"Then by all means," Hadrian swept an arm to the side even as he smiled mockingly at the blonde. "Report. But you do it without that Quick-Quotes Quill of yours and you report only the truth. Make it sound interesting if you must – I would never ask you to print something bland and dry – but stick to the truth, and nothing but the truth."

Skeeter probably would've attacked him if she had had her wand. "Nobody would want to read that! I'd be fired within a month!"

Hadrian sneered as he rose to his feet. "Hardly my problem. If your talent as a reporter only exists to the extent of a charmed quill, then you deserve to be fired. Do we have a deal?"

Skeeter seethed, fingers curling into claws before uncurling again. A suddenly crafty look surfaced on her features. "And if I don't agree, you'll report me to the authorities?"

Hadrian smiled chillingly. "Yes."

Skeeter sneered back. "But you abducted me, little boy. Whether or not you'll let me go, it doesn't change the fact that you kidnapped a prominent reporter of the Daily Prophet. We'll both go down if you turn me in."

Orion emitted another near-silent snarl but Hadrian's smile only widened again even as his expression cooled another ten degrees. "Perhaps. Abduction is a crime after all. But I'm only fourteen, a Hogwarts Hufflepuff student, and a friend to the Boy-Who-Lived as well as a national Quidditch player. I hold the highest marks in both the Runes OWL and NEWT and am known as an exceedingly intelligent and rule-abiding student to all my professors, even the ever-hard-to-please Severus Snape.

"On the other hand," He continued as Skeeter stared at him with a mesmerized sort of resentment. "You, Rita Skeeter, are widely if not officially known as an extremely interfering reporter who is willing to do anything for a good story, including sensationalizing certain details or outright inventing lies. Spying on people in your Animagus form is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the biographies you've written would, I expect, trace back to interviewees whose memories have mysteriously been altered. If the Ministry was to search your house, they would also no doubt find a large quantity of Veritaserum."

Hadrian chuckled softly without humour as Skeeter's mouth dropped open. Any colour she had regained had drained from her features and the fear from before had come back with a vengeance.

"The Ministry monitors the usage of Veritaserum very closely," He said silkily. "They don't like it when other people play with their interrogation toys without permission. And Obliviating people left and right for your own personal gain is right up there with an illegal Animagus felony. I'm fourteen years old, a child in the eyes of the law, a model student, and a harmless Hufflepuff to boot. An abduction allegation from a woman whose list of crimes is enough to shut her away in Azkaban for the rest of her life won't even be a postscript in court. And..."

Hadrian wiped the frigidity from his features and plastered on a wide-eyed innocent look. "I'm a very good actor, Ms. Skeeter."

Skeeter's expression was a mix between horror and terror. "Y- You're a child! How do you- How do you even know all that- all those things-!"

Hadrian finally straightened to his full height, eyeing the defeat in the reporter's frame. "Let's just say I'm very thorough. Stop using your Quick-Quotes Quill, respect your interviewees' wish for privacy, and stick with writing the truth. Do we have an accord, Ms. Skeeter?"

Skeeter's shoulders slumped.

 


 

Orion was very quiet as he watched Hadrian methodically stun the woman again before toting her back to the alley and leaving her sitting groggily on the ground.

"We still have five minutes before meeting up with the others," Hadrian said as he glanced idly up at the sky. "Are you alright?"

Orion glanced at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Hadrian's mouth twisted almost derisively. "Oh come on, you must have some opinion about what I just did. Let me have it."

Orion frowned and stopped in his tracks. Hadrian halted a step ahead, eyebrows raised.

"Why do you keep doing that?" Orion demanded tersely.

Hadrian tilted his head. "Doing what?"

Orion waved a hand. "That. You keep asking me what I think and warning me every time you pull something most people wouldn't approve of. You did it right after you threatened those three Ravenclaws and now you're doing it again, like you're- like you're expecting me to leave or something the moment you think I think you've pushed it too far."

Hadrian stared at him for a moment, eyes drilling into his.

"Whatever you may think of me, Orion," The Hufflepuff finally said, gaze steady. "I am not a good person. I may have been, once, but not anymore. Once upon a time, blackmailing someone and very likely destroying their career was something I wouldn't have even contemplated. There is nothing I won't do to protect the people I care about. If I had to raze Hogsmeade to the ground along with all its residents in it to protect my friends and family, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

"People," Hadrian blinked and finally glanced away. "People usually don't like that sort of thing."

Orion couldn't help it – he snorted. Hadrian's eyes snapped back to him.

"You think I'm not like that too?" He asked, crossing his arms as he heaved a sigh. "Hadrian, I'm a werewolf."

A middle-aged woman passing by gasped. Orion only spared her a withering glare that sent her scurrying away before turning back to Hadrian.

"To most werewolves, there is nothing more important to them than pack," He explained bluntly. "You are my pack, as are my parents. I'd even go so far as to say those idiots I now hang out with are pack as well. But the point is, there is nothing more important to me than my pack. If someone tried to attack you, I'd tear them apart before they could lay a finger on you. The only difference between you and me is the fact that I don't have the patience or skill to blackmail an enemy like you do."

Orion paused, feeling mildly pleased with himself at the blatant surprise on Hadrian's face. It wasn't often that the other teen was taken off-guard.

"I- I thought pack was for close friends and family," Hadrian said almost tentatively.

Orion arched an eyebrow even as a flicker of worry tightened around his heart. "We're not close friends?"

Hadrian hastily shook his head and Orion felt his apprehension ease. "Of course we are! Or at least I consider you to be but I thought you-"

"You thought wrong," Orion interrupted with the faintest of smiles. He was beginning to think that Hadrian, for all his outward confidence in everything he did, wasn't much better than Orion himself when it came to emotions and the like.

Hadrian stared at him for another long minute before the Hufflepuff cleared his throat and turned away. Orion silently snickered at the flash of embarrassment on the other teen's face.

"We're late," Hadrian said briskly as he nudged Orion forward again. "Let's go, before they get it into their heads to come after us."

Orion huffed in amusement at the blatant change of subject but said nothing more as he fell into step beside Hadrian.

 


 

"But what did you do?" Hermione was still demanding even as they piled back onto the Hogwarts Express that evening. "I doubt she'd stop if you asked her 'nicely' as you put it."

Hadrian shrugged. "Okay, then I asked her not so nicely."

Cedric and Ron snorted with laughter, only to assume solemn expressions fit for the side of a friend's sickbed when Hermione glowered at them.

Hermione rolled her eyes before turning back to Hadrian. "'Not so nicely'? What does that mean?"

Hadrian sighed gustily. "Does it matter? She won't be bothering anyone again."

"But why?" Hermione persisted. "Are you going to get into trouble for it?"

Hadrian shook his head. "No. She won't be telling anyone anything of our little meeting."

"An Unbreakable Vow, perhaps?" Viktor spoke up, looking thoughtful.

Hadrian shook his head again. "Nothing that serious. She gave me her word though, and in some ways, that is binding enough."

The rest of the trip was spent deflecting Hermione's curiosity and assuring Neville that Hadrian wouldn't get in trouble for whatever he had done.

His mind, however, was already on other things. The three champions around him would find out what the first task was sooner or later, and Hadrian would be showing them the Room of Requirement tomorrow.

 


 

"Vot is going on, Headmaster?" Viktor enquired stiffly as he stepped into Karkaroff's makeshift office. The man had called him in shortly before he was about to go to bed.

"Ah, Viktor," The Headmaster waved him in grandly. "I have good news. Close the door behind you."

Viktor stifled a sigh towards the man's dramatics and did as he was told before coming to stand in front of Karkaroff's desk, hands clasped behind his back.

"Well then, I shall get straight to the point," Karkaroff leaned forward conspiratorially. "I have discovered the requirements of the First Task."

Inwardly, Viktor perks up. Outwardly, he arches an eyebrow. "I vos under the impression that champions are allowed no help from teachers."

"Yes, yes, of course," Karkaroff waved a dismissive hand. "But a little hint won't hurt. It's dragons, Viktor. The first task is dragons. You must get past them."

Viktor stilled. Dragons? Seriously? Dragons? Were the judges crazy? None of them had training in dealing with such dangerous creatures, not to mention one of the champions was a fourteen-year-old boy! Dragon handlers weren't allowed near the creatures until they were finished the first two years of training. This was ridiculous!

Karkaroff only smiled paternally – really, an insult to Viktor's real father – at him as if getting past dragons was equivalent to a walk in the park. "No need to thank me, my boy. I shall leave you to get a good night's rest."

Viktor nodded curtly and disappeared out the door. He stalked down one corridor of the ship towards the dorms. He couldn't wait to meet up with his friends – and wasn't that strange to even think about – he was fairly certain none of them knew of the task yet, and it would only be reasonable to tell them too.

 


 

"Dragons?! Are they crazy?!"

Cedric paced up and down the length of the room – the Room of Requirement apparently; how the hell had Hadrian found this place in a matter of months while Cedric hadn't even heard a whisper of it in the nearly-five-and-a-half years he had attended Hogwarts? – as he attempted to figure out how on earth he was going to get past a dragon.

He was relieved he wasn't the only one worried - it would've been embarrassing if he was, but even Viktor looked grimmer than usual. Neville didn't look like he could get any paler and even those who weren't participating in the Tournament looked troubled.

Except Hadrian of course, but that was a given. Hadrian never acted the way anyone expected him to.

Although Cedric would've secretly appreciated it if Hadrian at least pretended to look a bit more concerned about their wellbeing. The younger Hufflepuff was currently writing something down in a Muggle notebook. It sort of looked like a lesson plan.

Beside him, Orion was the only other person in the room who didn't look even remotely alarmed. Cedric had actually seen the slight frown that had marred the werewolf's brow a second before Orion had glanced over at Hadrian and seen the absolute calm his friend had displayed. Immediately afterwards, the Gryffindor had settled down once more as if an unruffled Hadrian automatically meant that everything would be okay.

On second thought, Cedric wondered if that might be true.

"Hadrian?" He prompted, feeling a bit foolish.

Hadrian glanced up at him, an eyebrow arching in question.

"Do you have any suggestions?" Cedric was quite glad he wasn't the only one who turned to look at Hadrian now.

Hadrian lowered his notebook and scanned the room as if to check that everyone had finished their mini panic attack. Cedric huffed.

"Play to your strengths," Hadrian finally said, putting aside his pen. The younger 'Puff never used quills when he wasn't doing his homework. "What are you good at? Don't think about the dragons – just think of what you like to do, what you excel at."

There was a long silence as all three champions wracked their brains for an answer. Cedric inwardly brooded. Damn, it was a pathetically hard thing to do.

"Herbology," Neville was the first to volunteer, but the teen looked gloomy. "I'm alright at Charms as well. Not that that's any help against a dragon. I'm gonna die."

Hadrian snorted with a distinct lack of sympathy that made Cedric want to sulk. "That's encouraging. How do you expect to complete the task at all if you're already in that state of mind?"

"Well how can you be so calm about this?" Hermione looked upset, fingers tangled together to stave off anxiety. "I mean, it's a dragon. Ron's brother Charlie works with dragons – he's got huge burns on his arms, and he's trained!"

Hadrian shrugged easily. "Well if it was me facing off against a dragon, first of all, I'd try not to approach the entire ordeal thinking 'I'm gonna die'. It doesn't tend to do much for your chances."

Cedric caught a sardonically amused smirk surfacing on Viktor's face. Of the three of them, it was the Bulgarian Seeker who, while visibly uneasy if his more-dour-than-usual expression was anything to go by, was also probably the most level-headed. However, to be fair, Viktor had had an entire night to let everything sink in.

"Okay," Hermione scowled. "So how's Neville going to get past a dragon with Herbology?"

"Well I'm sure I wouldn't know," Hadrian said blithely. "I'm not the Herbology genius here."

Neville's hopeful look rapidly deflated. Hadrian sighed.

"Come on, Neville, think," The Hufflepuff leaned forward intently. "Herbology's your forte. What can stop a dragon cold?"

"I don't know! Nothing!" Neville burst out in frustration. "Most plants are naturally weak to flames, and dragons practically reinvented fire! There's the- the Flamma Vines that thrive in hot places and grow better if you keep them near heat, but they're mainly for decoration purposes. They're not even edible or have any healing properties at all! And- and the Devil's Snare can trap even a troll if you lock both up in a cellar or something but that's hardly going to help in broad daylight and against something that breathes fire-"

Everyone looked around at Neville when the Gryffindor abruptly stopped, mouth still half open as something important seemed to hit him with all the force of a Bludger.

Absently, Cedric snuck a glance at Hadrian and saw his underclassman settle back into his seat with a flicker of a satisfied smile passing over his features.

"Mate, did you think of something?" Ron prodded.

"Huh?" Neville blinked, looking a little dazed.

"You were saying something about Devil's Snare?" The redhead reminded before muttering, "After first year, I never want to see another one of those again."

Cedric shared a confused look with Viktor. Luna only tilted her head and stared at the Golden Trio with knowing eyes while Orion couldn't seem to care less. Sometimes, Cedric wondered if the only thing the werewolf cared about was Hadrian.

"Devil's Snare," Neville said softly, and Cedric redirected his attention to the Herbology genius. He was fairly certain that the Gryffindor could probably best him when it came to that subject. "It likes the dark and damp but is susceptible to fire."

"And?" Hermione pressed. "I don't think it's going to help much in the First Task. The dragon will turn it to ash before you can blink, and with the way the weather is going, it looks like it's going to be sunny on Thursday. Not to mention there's still the problem of actually acquiring it, or anything else for that matter. You're only allowed your wand."

Neville shook his head. "No, I'm not going to use Devil's Snare. But what about Angel's Allure?"

Cedric frowned. He thought he might've heard it or read it somewhere before but he had no idea what it was. Even Hermione looked puzzled though.

"Angel's Allure," Neville repeated, and a gleam of excited determination appeared in his eyes. "It's the opposite of Devil's Snare. It thrives under the sun and fire only makes it stronger, especially enchanted fire! Fiendfyre is best for its continued health, but a dragon's fire – now that would really make it grow!"

"What is that?" Hermione was rifling through her bag now, looking for parchment. "I've never heard of something like that before."

"You wouldn't have – it's not taught until end of seventh year," Neville explained. "Not to mention it's pretty rare in Britain – most of Europe, really – but I've been helping Professor Sprout with some extracurricular stuff and she's just had an Angel's Allure imported in from Egypt for some sort of self-study project she's doing. Merlin, I just saw it the other day! She probably wouldn't give it up under normal circumstances but this is a life-or-death emergency, not to mention she does like me. Between keeping the plant and keeping me alive, I think she'll choose the latter."

Ron had brightened completely. "That's great! You've got it in the bag then! Just chuck Angel's Allure at the dragon and you'll be home free!"

"Wait, wait, wait," Hermione interrupted. "How exactly are you going to get it there? You're only allowed your wand, remember?"

All of them stewed for a moment. Cedric had to stomp down hard on the flash of envy that Neville now had a, if not complete, then at least a potentially feasible plan.

"That part is easy," Viktor spoke up. "You are adept at Charms, I am recalling. So summon it."

The simple solution floated in the air, slapping them all in the face. Cedric stole another glance at Hadrian. The teen had returned to his lesson plan but there was a very real smile playing on his lips.

"And we just learned Summoning Charms last week," Hermione spoke up, sounding a bit stunned. "Neville, I think you can actually pull this off."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Neville told her rather dryly, but he grinned with no small measure of relief as he turned to Hadrian. "Thanks, mate. I wouldn't have thought of that without you."

Hadrian quirked a slight smile in Neville's direction. "You're the one who thought of it, not me. I just told you to think. You already had the answer."

Neville just grinned at him, the sort of wide, stupid grin that people wore when an impossible situation became possible.

Cedric really wished he could look like that too.

He mentally gave himself a firm shake. He was a sixth-year. Hadrian had already told them to play to their strengths, and if a fourteen-year-old could think of something, then Cedric certainly could as well.

Alright, so. What was he good at?

The first thing that came to mind was Charms because he was already a year above in that subject, and Flitwick had always sung him praises. He would have no trouble pulling off a Summoning Charm.

And... he was a Seeker. Couldn't he get past a dragon... in the air?

Involuntarily, his gaze cut across the room to meet Viktor's dark eyes, who had also turned to look at him, and they both said at the same time, "Quidditch."

There was a moment of bemused silence. Cedric glanced a third time over at Hadrian. The younger badger's eyes were glittering as he looked between them.

He had already known, Cedric realized with a sense of mystification and a not-quite-frightened-but-close shiver down his spine. It was eerie how the prodigal fourth-year sometimes seemed to just know things, realize a thought before it could even form in your mind. Hadrian had known all along that, with the right push, both he and Viktor would think of utilizing Quidditch. It had simply been a matter of who would think of it first.

"I vill think of something else," Viktor relented graciously, and Cedric immediately refused. He knew the Bulgarian was only giving up the idea because Cedric was younger. The professional Seeker was already seventeen, due to graduate at the end of the year, making him the oldest amongst them, even with Fleur – who, as Viktor had told them privately when he had given them a general overview of the Veela's background, was also a seventh-year but quite a few months younger – included.

Still, that was only a year apart. For all that Viktor was a legal adult, it was just a number. One did not automatically switch to some higher mentality the moment the clock struck twelve on their seventeenth birthday.

"No way!" Cedric protested instantly. "We both thought of it. Does it matter if we both use the same idea?"

Viktor shrugged noncommittally. "Vhichever vone of us goes after the other vill most likely lose points for unoriginality."

"Then you should use a broom," Cedric said stoutly. "You're the better flyer. You have a better chance of bypassing the dragon. It could go both ways, you know. If I flew up there and couldn't avoid whatever the dragon threw at me, I'd be toast before I hit the ground. Literally."

It was odd, Cedric mused. He had wanted to win the Tournament, and he still did, but the desire had calmed – eased – and he was more concerned about making sure his friends passed the first task relatively safely as well than obtain the highest points. Even after only a few weeks, he could honestly say that he liked hanging out with this group of misfits. He still had his own friends, sure, but he had never really talked about anything personal with them, not in the five-or-less years they had all known each other. The friends he had made ever since Hadrian had appeared in his life were bizarre at best and arguably insane at worst but Cedric had never felt more at home.

Because none of these people expected him to be anything other than himself.

"I could blind the dragon instead," Viktor was saying, obviously ignoring Cedric's objection. "Using the Conjunctivitis Curse."

"The dragon probably won't like that much," Luna interjected with her usual dreamy tone of voice. "You'll interrupt its dance."

As always, it took Cedric a moment to translate Luna-speech into normal-speech. He was getting better at it though – Viktor still seemed to be trying to figure out why a dragon would be dancing in the first place. "Ah, right. You mean it'll probably stumble around a lot?"

"Crushing either Viktor or whatever it is that you're supposed to reach after getting past the dragon," Ron concluded with his usual candour. "Or both."

Viktor now looked mildly disgruntled. "Vell, I suppose I could somehow bind it vith..."

He trailed off uncertainly, but before Cedric could offer the broom idea back to the Bulgarian again, the sound of Hadrian's notebook snapping shut made them both turn to him.

Hadrian smiled at them, an edge of confidence in his expression that inexplicably loosened the anxious knots in Cedric's stomach.

"Shall we head to the library?" The black-haired teen rose to his feet. "A crash course in advanced Runes might just be what you need."

Sometimes, the knowing look in Hadrian's glittering darkened green eyes sent a not-quite-frightened-but-close chill down Cedric's spine.

'Not-quite' because it was always offset with the knowledge that Hadrian – no matter if it was befriending the school's outcasts or turning his entire House against himself or 'taking care of' a nasty reporter – always, always acted on their behalf.

 


 

Two and a half days.

That was how long they had all been working on preparing for the first task since Viktor had revealed the task to them on Sunday (which had initially been a surprise, but then Hadrian realized that Hagrid was a friend to the Marauders, not the Longbottoms, and since Harry and Neville most definitely didn't get along, Hagrid wouldn't really have much of a reason for passing the information to Neville).

Nevertheless, Hadrian was pleasantly surprised when Viktor had voluntarily come to them with the information at the first opportunity, and all of them, even Hermione, had skived off Monday and Tuesday classes – except for those who had Potions on Tuesday afternoon; none of them were that suicidal – to practice.

Everyone pitched in.

Neville had gone to beg the use of the Angel's Allure off Pomona at the first opportunity, and the woman, horrified after managing to wrangle the reason out of her favourite student but, fortunately, didn't ask how he knew, had agreed at once.

After that, Hermione and Luna, who was quite proficient in Charms and had picked up the Summoning Charm after watching Hermione once, helped Neville practice it.

Ron, in turn, had rallied his entire Quidditch team while Cedric, who had finally relented once Viktor had turned a flatly adamant stare on him, had approached his, and a dozen students on broomsticks could be seen at the crack of dawn and every other spare minute they had, practicing evasion tactics for the past two days. Hadrian had also lent his Firebolt to Cedric for the first task so that the prefect wouldn't have to use a Nimbus 2000. Any edge was a good thing at this point.

Hadrian, of course, currently had the very important job of hammering the necessary Runes into both Viktor and Cedric before the task on Thursday. It was quite lucky that Viktor already knew his basic Runes from the courses he had taken in Durmstrang so the Bulgarian had no trouble keeping up with Cedric as Hadrian outlined the sketch of a trinity rune synchronized inside a quadrivium shield array, the simplest one he could think of that would also protect a person from something like dragon fire. This particular one actually hadn't been taught to him by Bill. Instead, it had been Charlie who had shown him when dragons had been brought into the war.

He would've tried to teach Neville as well but the Gryffindor didn't take Ancient Runes in the first place and there was no way even Hadrian could shove several years' worth of knowledge into the teen in a few days, so Orion, in a rare moment of generosity, had decided to look up and teach the Gryffindor the Protego Duo, which was the most powerful version of the Shield Charm, just in case Neville couldn't avoid all the flames that the dragon would undoubtedly be breathing.

Their sudden vitriol hadn't been missed by the majority of the teachers, and Pomona or even Dumbledore had probably let it slip to the rest of the staff, because, at eight-thirty in the evening on Sunday, when the library was due to close and Hadrian was still tutoring Viktor and Cedric, Madame Pince had unexpectedly taken pity on them and threatened them with disembowelment if anything in the library was out of place in the morning before handing Hadrian the keys and leaving them to their studies. Minerva had even come by earlier to give them permission to stay out after curfew, a suspicious quiver in her voice as she looked at Neville and Cedric and even Viktor before beaming rather proudly at the rest of them.

Hadrian was very grateful for this because while his two pseudo-students were competent in their own right, they were still learning runes far above their level. He was quite impressed with the dogged resolve in which they both slogged through the details and essentials Hadrian was pushing on them, insisting on continuing until Hadrian had to put his foot down at two in the morning and sent both of them off to bed, confiscating their notes just so they couldn't stay up and study them instead.

Hadrian himself didn't go to bed at that time since he didn't particularly need much sleep anyway. Instead, he stayed up into the early hours of dawn trying to adjust the array and dumb it down as much as possible while still leaving it capable of stopping magical flames.

One thing Hadrian could say for certain though – most of the champions were definitely more prepared than when he had been in the Tournament himself.

Which still left him one thing to do.

 


 

It was actually Monday morning when Hadrian set off across the mist-damp grounds towards the Beauxbatons coaches. They had discussed it – or rather, Hadrian had brought it up – and Neville looked mildly terrified at even the thought of approaching the Veela, while Cedric had also looked reluctant, having seen firsthand what had happened to some poor Hogwarts Gryff who had goggled a bit too much for Fleur's liking and had had a fireball thrown at him for his efforts. Viktor had said that he didn't actually know Fleur personally, only having seen her a few times, and that he was sure Maxime had already told her what the first task entailed anyway, so Hadrian had been voted as spokesperson in the end since it had been his idea anyway.

Knocking quietly on the carriage at the far left, he waited patiently for an answer and blinked in surprise when a familiar eight-year-old answered instead of Fleur.

Ah well, Fleur had always liked her sleep while Gabrielle was the early-riser.

"Bonjour," Hadrian smiled at the bleary-eyed girl blinking owlishly down at him. "Je m'appelle Hadrian Evans. Désolé de vous déranger si tôt. Fleur Delacour est ici? C'est apropos du Tournoi."

Some of the bleariness cleared and Gabrielle even brightened a little, most likely because Hadrian spoke French.

"Oui," Gabrielle smiled shyly at him, the door still obscuring most of her nightgown-clad form. "Un moment s'il vous plait."

The girl disappeared, door clicking shut behind her, but Hadrian only had to wait five minutes before it opened again and a haughty Fleur appeared, a cloak wrapped around herself and not a hair out of place. Gabrielle stood behind her, peeking out around her sister.

"Oui?" The blonde enquired crisply, recognition narrowing her eyes when she spotted Hadrian. "What do you want at a time like zis?"

Hadrian offered a polite smile, glad that Fleur had chosen to speak English. He was moderately fluent in French but he still disliked long conversations in the foreign language. "My apologies. I'll get right to the point. Do you know what the first task is?"

Fleur's eyes widened before narrowing even further. Her arms cross in front of her and she stared suspiciously at him. "...If I say non?"

Hadrian smiled inwardly. Ah, so she did. "Then I would tell you that the first task is dragons. You must get past one."

Gabrielle looked a bit confused, not having understood most of what had been exchanged, but seconds ticked by and Fleur remained silent. Hadrian shrugged a bit when he received no acknowledgement and nodded a farewell. "Well then, see you around, I suppose."

He turned and had only taken a step away when Fleur called him back, voice sharp. "Why are you telling me zis? You are an 'Ogwarts student, non? Eet eez foolish to warn ze opponent, and you are friends with both 'Ogwarts champions."

Hadrian stalled, half-turning back. "Well I'm friends with Viktor too, not to mention it's only fair. And we all agreed to tell you. I was just the one voted to come talk to you."

For the first time since Hadrian had seen her in this world, Fleur's features softened from the proud coolness she always affected. She still didn't look particularly friendly but she wasn't hostile anymore either.

"As a matter of fact," She said a bit stiffly. "I do know what ze first task eez. But, zank-you for coming to inform me. Eet eez... appreciated."

Hadrian grinned, friendly and unmistakably startling to Fleur since the blonde started a little at his expression.

"No problem," Hadrian assured, before waving at Gabrielle. "À plus tard."

Gabrielle smiled back at him, looking pleased at having not been forgotten, and waved back. "À toute à l'heure."

Hadrian glanced back at Fleur who was watching his interaction with her sister with speculative eyes. "Have a good day, Miss Delacour. Good luck in the first task."

Fleur nodded warily at him in acknowledgement and Hadrian set off back to the castle without interruption this time. He'd offer his help but he knew it wouldn't be accepted. This was the best he would get for now but he thought maybe there would be a chance to befriend Fleur this time as well. The Veela hadn't even tried her allure on him.

 


 

It was ten at night on Tuesday when all of them piled out of the library to shovel down some food in the corridor outside. Pince had softened, but she hadn't softened that much.

"I still can't get the timing right!" Cedric fumed, munching on a slice of chicken pie while going over the runes again. His array differed from Viktor's in that there was an extra gravity rune tied into it, which would keep the dragon on the ground. "And there's only one bloody day left!"

"One day is a lot of time," Hadrian said calmly. "You'll get it."

Viktor grunted, drawing the array over and over again on a blank piece of parchment. While Cedric had the sketching down to an art form and needed to work on activating each rune at the right time instead, the Bulgarian was the exact opposite, having trouble drawing all the required runes and joining them properly with his magic, not to mention he also had the added difficulty of learning a binding rune as well, one that would restrict the dragon's movements. Luckily, that one was quite a bit easier to get the hang of.

"And if not, there's always the Shield Charm," Neville supplied distractedly as he concentrated on summoning odds and ends towards himself.

"Won't be enough for them," Orion cut in bluntly. "Your plant will absorb most of the dragon fire. They'll get the full blast of it and a Protego Duo isn't strong enough to withstand it."

"Thanks, Orion. Just what I wanted to hear," Cedric grumbled. Hadrian was beginning to realize that the more stressed out Cedric got, the more sarcastic he became.

Orion nodded back stoically, a sardonic smirk playing on his lips. "You're welcome."

Cedric shot him an annoyed look before returning to his notes. He would've been practicing setting up the ward with his wand if Hadrian hadn't said no. It would only drain his magic.

They stayed like that for another ten minutes before trekking back in for another study session. At midnight, Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Luna, who were all mostly there just to keep them company and not because they could actually contribute anything, headed off to bed. At one in the morning, Orion, who had stubbornly insisted on staying for as long as Hadrian and had taken to spending his nights in a library chair transfigured into a couch, fell asleep on said couch with a book over his face.

And finally, at two in the morning, Hadrian ordered his students back to their respective rooms.

"You're not going to remember anything if you stay up like this," He said firmly. "Tomorrow, you're both going to bed at eleven. Now out. And Diggory, what do you think I am – blind? Give me those notes."

Cedric reluctantly handed over the rolls of parchment he had been trying to smuggle out. Hadrian had to roll his eyes when he realized that Viktor's notes were mixed in as well. The Bulgarian in question scowled at him as the two vacated the library for the night. For two students supposedly older than him, they could both act like a pair of ten-year-olds.

With a sigh, Hadrian leaned back and threw an arm over his eyes. The library really was rather peaceful at night. Even with Madame Pince swooping around during the day, there was always a constant stream of whispers and crinkling parchment.

"Still up?" A sleepy murmur came from the couch.

Hadrian tilted his head back and quirked a wry smile at the werewolf. "Done for now. You can head back to an actual bed if you want."

"What about you?" Orion asked as Hadrian had guessed he would.

Hadrian slanted a glance in the nearest window's direction. "I think I'll go for a walk. I haven't been outside for more than a few minutes in the past three days."

"I'll come with you," Orion said instantly, already stretching languidly as he shook the last of the sleep from his head. His tone of voice brooked no argument so Hadrian acquiesced with a resigned sigh.

Five minutes later, they were strolling across the Hogwarts grounds towards the lake, a sense of peaceful silence cloaking them.

Out of the corner of his eye, Hadrian observed his friend walking on his right. The werewolf's gaze literally scanned their surroundings continuously, as if he expected something or someone to jump out and attack them at anytime. It was something Hadrian had noticed over the course of the past several weeks and he had slowly deduced that for someone who was either avoided at all costs or approached only to be bullied for at least ten months of every year for the past five years, never mind all the years before that spent in Harry's company, Orion's watchful temperament was probably second nature.

And now that protective vigilance had extended to cover Hadrian as well – watching the Gryffindor now, Hadrian almost felt as if he was back on the battlefield with Draco striding along beside him, always on the lookout even as they argued over battle plans and directed the men and women under Hadrian's command. The Slytherin, after defecting, had made a shockingly good second-in-command.

Part of Hadrian wanted to point out that he was perfectly capable of protecting himself, especially against schoolchildren whom he could, if so inclined, kill before they could even think about pulling out their wands in retaliation.

Then again though...

He glanced at Orion once more and said nothing in the end. It seemed to be an ingrained habit and it wasn't like it would hurt for the werewolf to remain alert at all times. Better protection for the Gryffindor if nothing else.

 


 

"You're going to do fine," Hadrian said as soothingly as he could.

"Maybe I should do it one more time," Cedric said restlessly. Viktor nodded in agreement.

Hadrian sighed. Cedric and Viktor had finally managed to produce their respective arrays, and both had done it twice, flawlessly, before Hadrian had obdurately told them that they weren't allowed to do it a third time. The trouble with the quadrivium ward as well as the gravitas rune was that they had to be drawn up and activated within minutes of using them or their strength would begin waning, especially for a sixteen- and seventeen-year-old, and against a dragon, the runes couldn't afford to fail.

"You're going to be fine," He repeated. "Try to get a good night's rest, and don't think of anything else until tomorrow. You've prepared for this to the best of your ability. You're ready."

Beside him, Hermione and Ron nodded in agreement and Luna reached across the table to pat all three champions on the head in an encouraging gesture. They'd all gotten so used to her odd idiosyncrasies that none of them so much as blink.

It took half an hour to finally shove them off to bed but Neville lingered in the doorway, waving the others off. Ron and Hermione seemed to understand because they hurried off at once, giving not-so-subtle supporting looks in Neville's direction. Orion automatically glanced over at Hadrian and Hadrian automatically nodded for the werewolf to go on ahead before he could catch himself.

He grimaced inwardly as Orion set off for the Gryffindor tower. God, this... whatever-this-was was probably not healthy.

"What is it, Neville?" He said when everyone else had cleared off.

The Gryffindor coughed and shifted uneasily before blurting out in low tones, "This is going to sound kind of weird, but I think there's something, err... off, about- well, Professor Moody."

Hadrian's eyebrows rose and he absently casted a Silencing Charm around them. "Moody?"

Evidently seeing that Hadrian wasn't going to dismiss his claim right off the bat for stress or paranoia, Neville hurried on. "It's just- In all the years I've been here, the DADA professor has always been- well- as dramatic as it sounds, they're always out to either kill me or endanger me in some way."

Hadrian waited patiently for him to continue, and Neville looked positively amazed that Hadrian wasn't having him committed yet.

"I mean," Something relaxed in the Gryffindor's features as he explained in even lower hushed tones despite the Silencing Charm. "Last year was practically the only good year since Professor Lupin was teaching, but Potter threw a huge tantrum about it at the end and Dumbledore had to... err, Lupin resigned."

Neville paused to make a face. "I was surprised he lasted that long in the first place. Anyway, then there was second year with Lockhart. He was a god-awful teacher – seriously worse than even Quirrell from first year, and believe me, that's saying something. The ponce didn't even know how to disarm someone properly."

He stopped again, looking nervous. "This is where it gets... weird. See, there was this... enchanted diary that held- well, it held- Voldemort's memory. From when he was sixteen."

Hadrian remained silent. A part of him – the war general part who hated it when people wouldn't just get to the bloody point already because it could mean lives goddamnit – was starting to get exasperated but he quelled it and nodded encouragingly.

Neville just stared at him for a moment, blatantly floored. "You... believe me?"

Hadrian arched an eyebrow. "What reason would you have to lie? Go on."

Neville relaxed again. "I- Mr. Malfoy slipped the diary in with Ginny's – Ron's sister, remember? – books and she began writing in it all year. I'm not exactly clear on all the technical stuff but the gist of it is that every time she wrote in it, a bit of her soul or life energy would drain into the diary, which made Riddle- uh, that's Voldemort's real name; Tom Marvolo Riddle – stronger. Anyway, to make a long story short, Riddle grew strong enough to release a basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets into the school. People started getting petrified, so Ron, Hermione, and I began... investigating.

"It's a thing," Neville tacked on hastily even though Hadrian really reacted. "A thing we do. Investigate. We're a curious lot. Anyway, we found out it was a basilisk – that took a while – and then went and interrogated Ginny a bit. It was really more like Ron started yelling at her for being stupid and then Hermione slapped him and kicked him out of Gryffindor tower before having a girl-chat with Ginny for about an hour. After that, they came back out and Ginny told us that she had dumped the thing in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. We went to go get it and then Riddle sucked us into a memory of the groundskeeper unleashing the basilisk fifty years ago. So then we went to ask Hagrid about it but he got arrested before he could really tell us anything – just to 'follow the spiders'. Worse advice we've ever taken but I suppose it was necessary. Met some Acromantulas who told us it wasn't Hagrid, escaped just in time with a flying car that Ron and I had flown to school in back in September, and returned to the bathroom where Hermione and Ginny were safeguarding the diary, only to find that Ginny had collapsed because Riddle was still leaching off of her even when she wasn't writing in the diary. We bumped into Lockhart and asked for his help. The bastard tried to Obliviate us but the wand he used backfired and wiped his memory instead. Then Riddle appeared in the bathroom and Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, appeared with the Sorting Hat, which gave me the Sword of Gryffindor when I put it on, and I stabbed the diary."

A long, drawn-out silence descended on them. As far as summaries went, Hadrian thought it wasn't bad, though the fact that he already knew most of the events that had happened probably helped.

"Um," Neville scratched his head, looking sheepish. "Did you get all of that?"

Hadrian smiled dryly. If it had been anyone else not in the know, it would've taken a much longer explanation. Neville was probably not a Parselmouth either, since it sounded like they had never gone down to the Chamber itself. The basilisk was probably still lurking in there now that there was no one to command it to attack. Which also meant that Hadrian might have one more thing on his to-do list. "I got the general idea, yes. What happened to Ginny?"

"She's being homeschooled now," Neville looked a bit glum. "Her first year here was pretty traumatizing, not to mention her magical core was depleted pretty badly and she needed a lot of rest so she couldn't start her second year right away anyway."

Hadrian's eyebrows rose. So this world's Ginny had left school entirely? No wonder he hadn't seen her around. He wondered if it would do any good to pay her a visit or something. "What about first year? Just give me the basic facts. I think I'll understand."

"Err, right, well," Neville sighed. "The Philosopher's Stone – grants immortality and a lot of gold – was hidden inside the school for protection. Quirrell had Voldemort riding around on the back of his head and they plotted to steal it. Ron, Hermione, and I stopped him. The end."

Hadrian nodded approvingly. That was much better, and it was basically what he had done in his own world. "Alright, I understand. Now what does this have to do with Moody?"

Neville was gawking at him. "That's it? No questions? Just – 'I understand'? Most people would be flipping out."

Hadrian scoffed. "Since when have I been most people?"

Neville blinked. "Good point. Actually, that's probably why I'm telling you this in the first place. Okay then. Well, you could say I've developed a certain suspicion – perfectly normal really – for every year's DADA professor. Last year was the best. The other two years couldn't even compare. This year – a few days ago, Monday, Moody... he came to me and started hinting about dragons. If I hadn't already known what the first task was, I wouldn't have realized what he was going on about as soon as I did. And then when I told him I already knew, he asked if I had any plans for getting past it. And he hinted at Herbology. Even went so far as to mention that I needed something like Devil's Snare."

Hadrian tilted his head as Neville shrugged apprehensively. "Normally, I'd be grateful for the help but it's not like I even know Moody, right? And, not to sound cynical or anything, but I've learned that most people don't really help unless they get something in return. Not everybody, of course, just some, and Moody was really out of the blue. Anyway, I got suspicious so I went to Professor Sprout and dropped a few casual questions about it, like why she chose Angel's Allure for her project, and she told me that Moody brought it up during a lunch break in the staffroom when she had been asking around for any good ideas from the other professors. Moody even went and got her in touch with the person who was willing to send her the plant."

Neville stared at him anxiously. "I know this is really, really strange, but I always have this feeling that you... get this sort of thing, so I just wanted your opinion. Ron and Hermione thinks there could be something suspicious about it but they also think Moody is a good teacher and that maybe he's just helping me out after all. What- What do you think?"

I think Not-Moody really needs to die, Hadrian thought savagely, but he was careful not to let this murderous notion surface on his face.

"I think you should keep an eye on him," He said instead with steadfast decisiveness. "This is the first time he's done something like this?"

Neville nodded. "Yeah. We've never really had much interaction besides during class."

"Well, once is happenstance," Hadrian quoted lightly, remembering the James Bond movie his world's Dean had once brought in during a downtime in the war. They had all squished into a tent and set up a television for movie night. Draco had spent the entire evening snarking about the impossibilities that the actors were pulling off without magic. "Twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action. Just keep an eye on him, Nev. Don't take his advice at face-value. Trust your instincts. And you can always come talk to me about it if it happens again, okay?"

Neville looked relieved. "Yeah, thanks, Hadrian, I'll do that. It's just- you know, I'm the... the Boy-Who-Lived, and it's ridiculous how many times my life or my friends have been threatened."

Hadrian shrugged and clapped the Gryffindor on the shoulder. "Comes with the package, mate. Now then, you should go to bed. Honestly, I shouldn't have to nag at you guys to sleep."

Neville snickered but waved goodnight before hightailing off back to his dorm.

Hadrian watched him go before packing up his own things and heading back to the Hufflepuff Basement for some well-deserved sleep of his own. He hadn't even stepped foot in his room except for showers in the past few days.

Crouch Jr. would have to be taken care of before the year was out. Luckily, it seemed that Neville wasn't as gullible as Hadrian had once been. So long as the Gryffindor kept his guard up around the polyjuiced Death Eater, Hadrian wouldn't have to do anything drastic.

 


 

It was somewhat disorienting to be the one in the audience instead of on the makeshift stage for once, and Hadrian almost felt a sense of vertigo as he sat down with his friends and watched the first dragon being brought in.

Still, he sat in silent contemplation as the others clapped politely for Fleur, and then cheered for Viktor, Cedric, and Neville in succession.

All four champions completed the task more or less to Hadrian's expectations. Fleur used the same method as his world's Fleur, while Viktor and Cedric both managed to draw out the proper arrays with flawless accuracy, just in time to fend off their respective dragons and wowing quite a few of the spectators.

Neville also pulled off his turn with spectacular form, summoning the Angel's Allure from the direction of the greenhouses before hurling it at the dragon and then ducking for cover while the plant did its job. Pomona and Minerva both beamed from the stands as Neville reached the golden egg in the shortest length of time.

They all dashed down to the tents to congratulate all three male champions but Hadrian loitered behind for a moment when he caught sight of Fleur. The blonde looked almost lonely as she shrugged on her cloak – would've looked lonely if the stuck-up mask she had practically perfected to an art wasn't firmly fixed in place. She had no friends coming to greet her, though Hadrian spotted her sister trotting over, and her schoolmates were all looking over and still clapping politely.

"We're going to celebrate," Neville said as he came up behind Hadrian. A nudge against his shoulder made him glance back. The Gryffindor nodded awkwardly at the Veela. "None of us would mind if she came along, but she'd probably have a better chance of agreeing if you asked."

Hadrian blinked, and then smiled. "Just tell Ron that he's not allowed to drool. You too, Nev."

He scooted off with a grin, leaving Neville spluttering wordlessly behind him.

"-tait super, Fleur!" Gabrielle was saying as he approached. Hadrian caught a flash of a rare smile before Fleur caught sight of him and instantly pinned him with a narrow-eyed stare.

"Bonjour!" He greeted amicably, making sure to include Gabrielle as well, who drew back a bit but smiled at him anyway. "Congratulations, Miss Delacour. The Morphius Charm was a nice touch."

Fleur eyed him for a second longer before clearly deciding that he was being sincere. She nodded back stiffly. "Zank-you. Zough your... friends did far better."

Hadrian waved a hand. "The rest of us pitched in to help. All of us skived off classes for the past three days. If it wasn't for such a good cause and McGonagall going easy on us, we'd all be sitting in detention right now."

Fleur's mouth twitched a little, not quite a smile but close enough. Hadrian grinned back. "So, we're going to go raid the kitchens for food. You two want to come along?"

Fleur exchanged a glance with Gabrielle, who seemed to know enough English to get the gist of 'kitchens', 'food', and 'come along'.

"Again, I'm just the spokesperson," Hadrian added, jabbing a finger over his shoulder to where his friends were waiting expectantly. Hermione and Luna seemed to have gotten into an argument again. "We've all agreed."

Fleur hesitated and Hadrian quickly pushed his advantage. "Come on, it'll be fun. And if you keep your allure to yourself, Hermione will keep the boys in line. They're harmless, really, but sometimes, it's like they've never seen a girl before."

Fleur sniffed, but there was no real offense in her posture. "You yourself were not affected, Meester Evans."

"I'm just weird like that," Hadrian told her cheerfully. "Perhaps you should've used it in the task though. Can you imagine an enamoured dragon?"

Hadrian just caught the stifled laugh that Fleur didn't quite manage to hide before she suppressed it. "Zat would be 'orrible."

"But it made you laugh," Hadrian pointed out with a smirk.

Fleur drew herself up in mock-indignation. "Do not flatter yourself, Meester Evans."

Hadrian chuckled. "I would never presume to do anything of the sort. And call me Hadrian. Mister Evans is what my professors call me."

Fleur arched an eyebrow. "Zen I must inseest you call me Fleur. And zis is Gabrielle, my younger sister."

Hadrian smiled warmly at the smaller blonde. "Enchanté, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle bobbed her head in return, cheeks dimpling as her smile widened.

"So, how 'bout it?" Hadrian half-turned away, still looking at the Delacour sisters expectantly. "It's free food, and who wants to turn that down?"

Another flicker of amusement flashed across Fleur's face and Gabrielle tugged tentatively at her sister's hand.

"Oh very well," Fleur huffed, pretending to look put-upon. "Zough zere better be French food as well. You British do not know how to eat."

Hadrian snorted. "Don't let Ron hear you say that. He thinks exactly the opposite."

As he led the way back to the group, Hermione already jabbing a sharp elbow into Ron's side as a forewarning that made the redhead grimace and snap something back, Hadrian took a step back as Viktor nodded a stoic hello and Cedric and Neville stepped forward to greet the two newcomers.

He looked around at each face there, caught a glimpse of three certain Slytherins lingering in the background who might or might not join them later, and he wondered exactly when it was that he managed to amass such a large amount of people around him.

The hairs at the nape of his neck prickled and he made sure to keep his frame relaxed as he casually shifted to look behind him.

For a shadow of a heartbeat, his gaze cut clean across the grounds to where the panel of judges were still sitting.

And for that single pulse of time, his eyes met the twinkling blue of a certain headmaster.

Albus Dumbledore always was too controlling for his own good.

 

Chapter Text

 

"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."

"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.

"Well..."

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.

"Hey, Fleur."

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?"

"Ron!"

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.