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A Different Beginning

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"Um, Mr. Hagrid?"

"It's jes Hagrid, lad."

"Um, Hagrid? Where are we going exactly? I don't think you can buy cauldrons in London."

"Sure ye can. Ye jes have to know the right place to shop!"

"And you know such a place?"

"Aye. Diagon Alley. Wizarding shopping area. It's hidden. Ye have to know where to go. In fact, here we are! The Leaky Cauldron."

Hagrid pointed proudly to the battered wooden door that held pride of place between two other shops. Harry looked at the people walking by and he could swear their eyes just jumped right over it. When he said as much to Hagrid, he beamed at him with pride.

"What'd I say? I knew ye'd be a thumping good wizard!"

Harry smiled shyly back and followed him into the pub. It was an old looking place, dimly lit, made of wood, filled with bluish-grey pipe smoke in the rafters. A cheerful fire was burning at one end. There were stairs leading upwards. Harry wondered if that was where they were headed; who knew how wizards did things? He'd been so lost in looking around in interest, he hadn't noticed the attention he and Hagrid were getting until he heard someone cry out "Bless my soul! Is it? It is! Harry Potter!"

Harry jumped and turned to face the crowd. Nothing good every came of adults screaming his name. When he looked he saw a half dozen adults all rushing at him, each of them with manic glints in their eyes, reaching for him with claw-like hands. Harry yelped in fright, ducked and threw his hands up over his head to protect himself, while dodging behind Hagrid. Having a ten-foot tall man with him had to be good for something, right?

Sadly, it wasn't as simple as that--the crowd pushed forward and tried to get to him still, and Hagrid twisted and turned trying to yank Harry out to face them. The original yells had become ugly muttering after he hid; he was getting rather irritated with Hagrid trying to shove him out there. Nothing good had ever come of being in the hands of adults that sounded like that--those sorts of mutters meant being smacked, no dinner, being locked in his cupboard for weeks at a time.

Hagrid finally gave up, around the same time he heard the bartender telling everyone to let him be. Hagrid seemed a bit irritated by the whole ordeal, to tell the truth. He started towards a door at the back of the pub, which left Harry exposed to all the irritated people in the common room. Harry scurried after him, keeping the large man between him and the rest of the people there.

"What was all that about?" he demanded once they were outside in the dead end alley behind the pub, standing amongst the trash bins.

"I'd like to know that myself. What did they want?"

"They wanted to welcome ya back ter yer world! I told ya ye was famous!"

"They didn't look very welcoming. They tried to mob me."

Hagrid huffed and indicated the wall at the back. "Diagon Alley."

Harry looked at the brick wall and back at Hagrid. "Um. It's very…nice."

"That's just the entrance! It's hidden!"

"Ah."

Hagrid poked one of the bricks with his pink umbrella. The bricks began to roll away from the center until an archway with the words "DIAGON ALLEY" overhead was revealed. Beyond it, Harry could see a long, winding alley filled with shops and strangely dressed people. Harry gasped and couldn't help the smile that broke across his face. Now, this was more like it! He finally tore his eyes away and found Hagrid grinning at him smugly.

"Welcome to Diagon Alley, Harry. Best get going. Lots ter do. Gringotts first, I think. Need ter get yer money so ye can do yer shopping."

"I have a bank account?"

"Sure you do."

"How much money do I have? Will I have enough for everything? Hey…do I have to pay for Hogwarts? How much is it?" he asked worriedly.

He had seen a few news reports about the rising costs of public schools. He knew some of them could get pretty pricey.

"Uh…well, er, I dunno, actually. I suppose ye should ask one of the goblins as works there. I wouldn't bug them any other time though. Dangerous little buggers, goblins are."

"What…you mean they'll attack me?"

"Well…no. Goblins are proud folks that's all."

"Oh."

"Here we are, Gringott's"

Harry eyed the strange little men that stood to either side of the doorway nervously, but all they did was bow slightly as they went in. They were tiny, about Harry's height, with dark clever eyes, neat little pointed beards…and very sharp teeth.

He took a good long look, but he didn't get any real sense of danger from them; he kept Hagrid's warning in mind nonetheless. He looked around the bank in interest after they got into one of the lines.

There were several goblins on high stools at the front, some waiting on customers, some weighing large jewels, some exchanging what looked to be regular money for small pouches of gold coins. The pillars and the roof overhead were cunningly carved with reliefs of goblins, and all manner of other strange creatures.

"Next!"

Hagrid stepped up to the counter and Harry scrambled to catch up to him.

"State your business."

"Harry 'ere needs ter make a withdrawal from 'is vault"

"And does Mr. Potter have his key?"

"I need a key?" Harry said worriedly.

"Oh, hang on, I got it right here"

Hagrid began pulling all manner of things from his pockets and piling them up on the counter, much to the goblin's obvious irritation. Harry eyed the goblin nervously and wondered why Hagrid hadn't been more prepared--he was the one that had warned him against annoying the creatures!

Harry cleared his throat to draw the goblin's attention in hopes of distracting him from the expanding pile of junk on his desk.

"Um, excuse me. I was wondering, um, can I find out how much money I have…Oh! And um, whether Hogwarts has already been paid for or if I need to do that? I don't mean to be a bother or anything…but um, I didn't even know I had a bank account until today or that I was a wizard or anything, so uh…kind of a lot to take in."

The goblin didn't look too impressed, so Harry just smile weakly and side-eyed Hagrid who had finally withdrawn a ring with what looked to be hundreds of little gold keys on it. He flipped through them and withdrew one.

"There ya go. That one's yours."

"That's a lot of keys. Wow. Why do you have it?"

"Perfesser Dumbledore gave it ter me o' course!"

"That's the headmaster of Hogwarts, right? Why'd he have it? It's kind of weird, isn't it? I don't know him or anything. I mean, it's probably a good thing my relatives didn't have it or they'd have robbed me blind years ago and I never would have got it back, but it's still strange."

"Bite yer tongue! Great man, Dumbledore is! I also need to get the you-know-what from vault seven hundred and thirteen" Hagrid continued, facing the goblin again.

He handed over a letter which the goblin perused for a moment, before glancing at Harry thoughtfully. "Griphook." the goblin called.

A second goblin emerged from the back.

"Take Mr. Hagrid to seven thirteen."

"Come on then, Harry"

"Not so fast. Mr. Potter will be going elsewhere."

"Uh…but I supposed ter stay with him."

"Mr. Potter will be perfectly safe. He'll be sent down to his vault after he speaks with his account manager."

"I’m supposed to go with him."

"An employee of Gringott's will be with him. Smashammer!"

A third goblin emerged from the back.

"Take Mr. Potter to Pickaxe. Next!"

Hagrid dithered unhappily, but his goblin escort was getting irritated, so he finally followed him while Harry followed the other down another hallway. Harry was led down a long hallway with doors to either side. He was led nearly to the end. Smashammer knocked at the door, opened it and gestured Harry inside, shutting the door behind him. The office was relatively small, containing only a desk, with an older goblin seated behind it. There was a single wooden chair in front of it. The walls were filled with file folders to either side, though the wall behind the goblin held a shield with a crossed battle-axe and warhammer.

"Mr. Potter, I presume? Have a seat. Chop chop. You're not the only client I have today."

"Oh, um, sorry."

"I understand you've some questions about your account?"

"Uh, yeah, a few."

The goblin nodded and tapped one of his long, thin fingers on the desk twice. One of the folders disappeared from a shelf to the right of his head and reappeared on the desk where his finger had been a moment ago. He flipped it open and scanned the papers within one after another, nodded to himself and faced Harry again.

"Alright, now that I've familiarized myself with things, what were your questions?"

"Uh…How much money do I have?"

"Altogether or in your trust vault?"

"Trust vault? I mean…there's more than one?"

The goblin sighed.

"Yes, Mr. Potter. Your trust vault was opened a few days after your birth. That seems to be a tradition in the Potter family. Your parents placed a thousand galleons into it, and then added a further nine thousand early October 1981. Between November 1st 1981 and November 1st 1982 a total of four thousand galleons in donations were deposited by well-wishers after the destruction of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, there was also a fifty-thousand galleon deposit by the ministry for the destruction of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. A year after that a bequest from a Mrs. Alice Wentworth was deposited--four hundred and twelve galleons. She also seems to have left you a small farm. Three months after that a bequest from Montrose Lardbottom was deposited-- fourteen hundred galleons. A year after that a bequest from a Madame Olivia Evergreen for seven thousand eight hundred and two galleons."

"Uh, wow. Um. How much is that in regular money?"

"Three hundred sixty eight thousand and seventy pounds sterling."

"And that's just my trust fund?"

"Yes."

"Uh…how much is in the other vault?"

"There are three. Your family vault, which has ten thousand galleons. Your mother's personal vault which holds no money, but has several trunks and boxes, contents unknown. There is also your grandmother's dower vault, which holds jewelry and several portraits."

"Wow. Uh… It's weird that my parents' account has less than mine… I guess that's from all the bequests and all…"

"From what I'm seeing here your father emptied his own accounts and his mother's dower vault in funding the Order of the Phoenix. It would be completely empty of funds but for the fact that it has been ten years and there has been some dividends from businesses deposited in that time."

Harry just gaped at the goblin in astonishment.

"All of them should be accessible with your current key. I understand you had some questions about your key's whereabouts?"

"Uh…yeah, I mean, I don't know the headmaster. I didn't know I was a wizard until this morning."

"Albus Dumbledore seems to have appointed himself your magical guardian an hour after your parent's demise. He sent instructions today that he was to receive all your financial statements and have approval over all your withdrawals, and access to your vaults."

"Uh…"

"Do you wish Mr. Dumbledore to have such access?"

"No?"

"Key please."

The goblin withdrew a stone bowl from beneath his desk, into which he dropped Harry's key when it was handed to him. He dribbled something into the bowl and waved his fingers over it. There was a flash from within the bowl. When it cleared he withdrew the key and gave it back.

"Are you aware that anyone you give your key to is then authorized to access your vaults?"

"No?"

"If someone tries to take your key it will register as being stolen should they try to make a withdrawal. If you give it to them it will not. That means they could in theory come to the bank and empty out your vaults with no one the wiser. Should such a thing come to pass you will have no recourse for the theft because you yourself authorized the withdrawal. Don't give anyone your key unless you trust them to not make free with your money and family heirlooms, and even then be wary."

"I will."

"Should you need to make a large purchase for which you haven't gold enough on you to pay for you can ask for a bill of sale and press your key to the box at the bottom. That will authorize the seller to take payment from your vault for the specified amount. It is the same procedure should you owl order."

"Owl order?"

"Most of the shops on the alley have catalogs they will give you if you ask. You can order and have items sent to you by owl, though it isn't recommended to do it too often as there is usually a surcharge for delivery."

"I see. Thanks."

"Was there anything else you wanted to know?"

"Hogwarts tuition. Has it already been paid or do I have to pay it, and how much if that's the case?"

"Tuition for all seven years was paid right after you were born."

"Oh. Good. Uh. I guess that was everything. Thanks for your help."

Pickaxe nodded and the door opened behind him. "Smashammer will take you to your vault now if you wish."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks. Uh… could I go to my mum's vault too?"

"Nine thousand eight eighty one." Pickaxe replied.

Smashammer nodded and started back towards the front of the bank. Harry scurried after him. Smashammer led Harry to an archway just behind the tellers and into a mine cart. The cart moved once both of them were inside, though they didn't go very far, just a few hundred feet or so. Smashammer hopped out and Harry climbed out after him.

"Key?"

Harry handed it over and watched in interest as the goblin inserted the key into the small hole in the center of the wall and then ran his finger down it. A seam was revealed where his finger passed and then separated into two doors which swung wide. There were a number of boxes and several large trunks inside. Harry wandered in and read the writing scrawled down the sides of the boxes in magic marker--they said things like 'grand dining room', 'study' 'guest bedroom'--there were six that said that. He peered in the one that said 'study' in curiosity and then frowned in confusion.

"Doll furniture?"

"Probably shrunk." Smashammer snorted.

"What…you mean it's real furniture, just shrunk down?"

"Most likely."

"Neat."

He checked the rest of the boxes. They were all filled with piles of shrunken furniture, rugs, tiny suits of armor, tapestries, knick-nacks and books.

"Wow. Look at all the books. Shame I don't have anywhere to keep them."

"You should take a look at the trunks. Could be one of them has bookshelves."

"You can do that?"

"You can do all sorts of things." Smashammer shrugged.

"Cool."

Taking his advice, he went to the nearest trunk. There was a ring of keys stuck to the lid, beside the coat of arms that graced the top.

"I wonder why so many keys?"

"Eh? There's a bunch?" the goblin inquired from the doorway, sounding bored.

When Harry glanced over, he was leaning back against the cart with his arms folded.

"Oh…sorry I'm taking so long."

"No worries. I get paid regardless of how many folks I take down a day. Take however long you want. You said there's a bunch of keys? Do they have numbers on the top?"

"Um, yeah, one two and three, why?"

"There's probably three compartments in it. Each key opens a different one. Use the first key, open it and that'll be the first. Close it and use the second, when you open it there should be a different compartment. And so on."

"Huh. Neat."

Harry did as instructed. He opened the trunk and found several books, a set of scales, a set of vials, a cauldron, a set of knives wrapped in a roll of leather. He picked up one of the books and read the cover. "Goshawk's standard book of spells, grade one." Wait a second…"

He dug out his school letter and flipped to the second page where it gave a list of school supplies. He flipped through the books and found most of them on his list, as were the other items held within. A couple of the books on his list were different, but this trunk was still going to save him a bit of shopping. There was also a letter addressed with his name, which he hadn't seen at first as it had fallen down beside the cauldron. With shaking hands he pulled it out and broke the seal--the same coat of arms that was on the top of the trunk.

Dear Harry,

Both of us hope we're just being paranoid, and this letter will never actually be read. Hopefully we're both there with you and we can all have a good laugh about how melodramatic we were when we were younger… But just in case the worst has happened, we didn't want you to head off to school without a few words from mum and dad.

The handwriting changed then and became loopier and a bit neater.

Your godfather is a wonderful man, but I'm sure he'll forget all sorts of things, like making sure you have plenty of clean underwear for your months at school.

Lils, relax. I'm sure Sirius has things well in hand.

Just in case he doesn't, make sure you have plenty of warm clothes. I'm sure he'll remember the winter-weight uniforms…at least he'd better. Plenty of socks, make sure you bring a dressing gown, slippers and warm pajamas. The castle gets drafty and you'll appreciate having them. Notebooks too. Don't just rely on parchment. It's terribly hard to organize your notes if you only have parchment. I learned that the hard way. Invest in a few ever-inking quills too…

Lils! Sirius went to Hogwarts too. I'm sure it'll be fine! Son, don't worry about all that. I guess what I want to tell you most is to have fun.

Study hard, you mean!

That too, but really we learned the most when we were researching things we were interested in, as opposed to just what we studied in class.

Harry, you are not to be a prankster, do you hear me?

Be a prankster if you want to

James!

Just establish yourself as a rule-abiding bookworm first. We established ourselves as troublemakers from the get-go, so no matter what happened we always got the blame---granted, we were usually responsible, but sometimes we actually weren't! I'm sure there'll be some established pranksters there already. Let them take the blame. It will make your life much easier, believe me!

Honestly! Harry, I want you to study hard, pay attention in class and get good grades. A good education is the start of a good life. The more you know, the more options you'll have in life. Don't let it go to waste!

While I agree with your mother that you should do well, don’t forget to have fun. I guarantee once you're out of school, the things you'll remember most about your Hogwarts years is not the essays you've written, but the fun times spent with your friends. Get out there, meet people, join clubs, play quidditch, play pranks, goof around and goof off. All work and no play makes Harry a dull boy! I suppose what we're trying to say is that we want you to make the most of your school years.

As you've seen, we set this up for your first year of school. Three compartments, which should be plenty of space for school. Put your clothing and uniforms in the top compartment and leave it unlocked once you're at school. The house elves will complain if they can't put your clothes back after they wash them. Keep everything else in the other two. They'll be secure as you have the keys. The trunk also has a shrinking function that you can activate with your wand once you have it. Just tape the crest on top and say 'big' or 'little' to make it shrink or enlarge as needed. There's a key ring in the cauldron that clips to your belt that will stretch so you can use the keys on it. Put your vault key on there as well. It has an anti-theft function. Whether taken or lost, whoever has it will feel compelled to give it back to you.

Enough of all this stuff. We should probably wrap this up. Best of luck in school. Be good, study hard, but most of all have fun. We love you, kiddo.

Best of luck, sweetheart. Hogwarts will be some of the best years of your life if you let them be. Make friends, learn a lot, get good grades. Love you. More than anything. Remember that.

Sincerely, and with all our love,

Mum and Dad

Harry wiped at his eyes as he finished the letter.

All his life, until Hagrid showed up, he'd been told his parents were a drunken layabout and a whore that cared more about partying than about him, and hadn't cared enough about him to not drink and drive. Finding out they'd been heroes, and having proof that they were good, loving parents that had worried about him and worried they wouldn't survive long enough to see him off to school and so had made arrangements to make sure he wouldn't do so without giving him advice and their loving wishes, healed a wound that had been with him as long as he could remember.

He folded the letter back up carefully and put it back in the cauldron for safe keeping. The trunk and school supplies were nice, but his parents words to him were worth more than all the gold in Gringott's. He closed the lid and put the second key in, curious if there was anything else.

There was a single book in the second compartment that when examined proved to be a handwritten notebook entitled "The Marauders Guide to Mischief". There was a note inside the cover that said only 'Carry on the legacy, my son. P.S. Don't tell your mom.'

Harry got teary eyed again and smiled so wide his cheeks hurt. He put the book back and checked the third compartment, but it was empty. He locked the trunk and took a peek at the others there, but they had old clothes and things in them. He looked around at the vault to see if there was anything he'd missed, but he didn't see anything. He grabbed the trunk and headed for the door.

"Where to next?"

"My trust vault. I still have some school shopping to do."

"Can do. Hop in."

The second vault was a lot deeper in the bank, though from the look of things there were levels deeper yet. The goblin took his key and ran his finger down the door again. This time, a big pile of gold was revealed. Harry gasped at the sight. He'd been told there was a lot of money in there, but hearing it and seeing it were two different things.

"Um…any idea how much I should take?"

Pickaxe pulled out a small bag from the cart and handed it to him.

"Few handfuls should do. If you run out you can use your key in a pinch."

"Yeah, that's right."

He shoveled a few handfuls in, then a bit more when he considered his mother's words about warm clothes, fancy quills and other things that weren't on his list. He really didn't have any warm clothes, thick socks, nice underwear, pajamas…any of it, really. He was going to have to buy a lot more than he'd been expecting, even with the stuff his parents had left for him.

"Hey, do you exchange gold for muggle money?"

"Upstairs. You want an exchange?"

"Yeah. It's probably not a bad idea to have a bit. What's the exchange rate?"

"Five pounds per galleon."

He scooped up another handful to exchange and they headed upward. Hagrid was waiting when he got back to the surface, looking antsy and ill at ease.

"Harry! Bout time. I was beginning to wonder. What's that ye got there?"

"It's a school trunk my parents left for me. It's already got some of my school supplies in it!"

"Ah, see? What'd I tell ye? A finer witch and wizard ye'd never meet. We'd best get a move on. We already been here longer'n I wuz expectin'. We'll head ter Madame Malkins first, get yer uniforms. They'll need to be made. We can pick 'em up after we get the rest of yer stuff."

"Just a second. I need to get my exchange first. Oh, nevermind." he added when Pickaxe handed him a stack of bills.

"Oi, here now, Dumbledore didn't say nothing about this…"

"I don't really see where it's his business. It's my money, and I'm going to be stuck with muggles for another month."

"I'm of half a mind ter make ye put it back. Never mind. No more funny business now."

"Okay." Harry sighed, hefting the trunk.

"Hey, could we get my wand first, so I can shrink this thing?"

"Heh. Ye'll need a bit o' learning afore ye ken be doing that!"

"It's built in. You just need to tap the crest and say 'small'."

"That so?" Hagrid looked around to see if anyone was watching them and tapped the trunk with his umbrella. "Small"

The trunk obediently shrunk down to a much more manageable size.

"There ya go. Our secret, right?"

"Sure…except I'll need it big again to put the rest of my stuff in."

"Right. Eh, I'll jes be sneaky is all. Uniforms. Let's go."

Hagrid led him to 'Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions' and rubbed at his stomach.

"Say, Harry, ye don't mind if I head off for a bit o' a pick me up, right? I don't mix well with those goblin carts."

"Oh, uh, sure, I guess."

"Good lad, Harry. I'll be back in a bit."

Harry smiled stiffly at Hagrid before he retreated, then squared his shoulders before stepping into the shop. There was a bored looking black boy on a stool with a robe being pinned into place on him on one stool in the center of the room, while a girl with dark hair was being measured on the second.

"Be right with you, deary. Feel free to look around."

"Uh, do you have a catalogue?"

"Right there next to the till, luv."

"Thanks."

Harry flipped through the catalogue and was cheered to see he could get most of his clothing needs seen to right here. That was a relief. Hopefully the shopkeeper could point him towards where he could get the rest. He should probably get some boots or something too while he was here. It snowed a lot in Scotland, he was pretty sure. It'd be nice to have warm, dry feet for once. Dudley's worn, holey old trainers didn't help much with that.

"We're ready for you dear."

Harry wandered over and climbed up on the stool.

"Hogwarts, dear?"

"Yes. I need regular and winter-weight robes. I also need a whole new wardrobe. I'm hoping you can point me towards where to find everything I can't get here."

"Sure thing deary. Two and two for uniforms alright?"

"Sounds fine."

"Colors for the rest?"

"I'm partial to jewel tones, solid colors. No flowers or stripes or anything."

The shop girl measured him and put a robe over his head and pinned it in place, before bringing out different colors and materials for him to pick for the rest of his clothing. He might have splurged just a bit--he'd never had anything new before, certainly nothing made just for him, and a lot of the fabrics were pretty and soft to the touch. He listened to the lady's suggestions and got a mix of things in colors that could be easily mixed and matched with one another.

He felt a bit odd when he realized just how many clothes he'd ordered, but consoled himself that it was still nowhere near the amount his relatives had, so he really wasn't being greedy or anything. Hagrid was looking a bit impatient by the time Harry got outside, and the ice cream cones he was holding were melting a bit.

"Took ye awhile. Here, that's yours."

"Thanks. I had to wait when I got in."

"Fair enough. Books next, I think."

"Actually, can we go in there first? I need new shoes."

"That ain't on yer list. Dumbledore said ter only get stuff that's on yer list."

"Shoes aren't listed because it's assumed you already have them. I need new ones."

"What's wrong with the ones you got?"

"They're too big, full of holes and taped together. My feet'll probably fall off if I go walking around in the snow in them."

"Dumbledore said…"

"Hagrid. I'm here to get stuff I need for school. I need shoes."

Harry did his best to keep his temper. He'd only known Dumbledore's name for two days now, and he had to say, he was already getting a bit sick of hearing it. Who did this guy think he was anyway? Aggravated now, Harry finished off the last of his ice cream and licked his fingers clean as he walked to the shoe store.

Hagrid didn't look too happy, but that was too bad. His mum had spent half the letter they'd left for him talking about warm clothes for cold weather. He was taking that seriously. He had no desire to freeze most of the school year just because some guy he'd never met was being really damned nosey in his business.

What kind of headmaster didn't want his students to have warm shoes for the snow? He splurged again and got both comfy every day shoes, and a pair of warm, waterproof boots as well. Given how much trouble Hagrid had given him over the 'unauthorized stop', he waited till he was looking away and then darted into the next shop Madame Malkin had pointed him towards so he could stock up on underwear, socks, pajamas and a dressing gown. He'd gotten a nice pair of slippers in the shoe store.

Hagrid was rather annoyed when he discovered Harry had given him the slip and gotten yet more things that weren't on his list. He growled irritably and drug him off towards the apothecary and told him sternly there'd be no more funny business or unauthorized spending on this trip. Harry nodded meekly and decided not to mention that he'd gotten catalogues from every shop he'd been to so far. He was glad the goblins had mentioned such a service existed.

Hagrid wouldn't let him buy extra books, wouldn't let him get notebooks or 'fancy' quills, or anything that wasn't directly mentioned. He had to argue to get a satchel to carry his books to and from class, and then argue some more to get 'extras' like space expanding and feather-light charms put on when the shopkeeper mentioned them.

By the time they were heading to the wand maker's, Hagrid was aggravated and ill at ease and muttering about Dumbledore, and Harry was quietly fuming.

"I didn't get anything extravagant! I mean, yeah, I was looking at the solid-gold cauldron, but I didn't try to buy it. I only got stuff I actually needed."

"Dumbledore said…"

"I don't care what Dumbledore said! I don't even know that guy! My parents left me a letter and I got the stuff they wanted me to get! Dumbledore gets no say."

"He's just looking out for ye." Hagrid said warningly.

"Not very well if being warm, dry and able to do my school work effectively is a problem." Harry growled back, before stalking towards the wand maker's.

A blonde family was exiting the wand shop as Harry approached. The boy with them looked to be his own age. He was proudly waving his brand-new wand around and bragging about all the great things he was going to do now that he was a proper wizard. The boy's mother smiled down at him indulgently. His father rolled his eyes at the boy's chatter, but even he looked more amused than angry.

Harry headed into the dimly-lit shop once they were clear and looked around in interest. It was a rather plain shop. There was a clear spot at the front for customers to stand, and a couple of old, worn chairs. Next was a tall counter that ran the width of the shop, and behind that rows and rows of shelves that went floor to ceiling and disappeared into the dim reaches of the back of the shop, each filled with thousands of oblong boxes filled with wands.

There was a electric feel in the air that passed over his skin like a tingle when he entered, as though all that potential magic was dancing about in the air just waiting to be used.

"Mr. Potter. I've been expecting you."

Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when he was suddenly addressed. He hadn't seen anyone else in the room with him.

"Mr. Ollivander, I presume?"

"Indeed. Why, I remember when your parents came in to choose their first wands, it seems like only yesterday. I say choose, but of course the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around. Your mother as I recall favored a willow and unicorn hair wand, very springy, good for charm work. Your father favored a mahogany wand with a dragon heart-string core, which was pliable and good for transfiguration. I must admit I am curious to see who you favor. Which is your wand hand?"

"My right, I suppose, though I'm somewhat ambidextrous."

"Indeed? How marvelous. Hold out your arms and hold still, yes, just like that."

A measuring tape unwound itself from behind the counter and began measuring Harry from fingertip to fingertip, head to toe, across the shoulders, around the waist…and even the space between his nostrils. Ollivander was already moving, pulling numerous boxes from the shelves.

"Let's try this one first, shall we?"

Ollivander handed him wand after wand, some he allowed him to wave around, others were snatched back the moment they touched his hand. The pile of discarded wands grew taller and taller, but oddly this seemed to make Ollivander more excited the longer it went on.

"A tricky customer, eh? I wonder…"

Ollivander peered at him searchingly for a moment and then went deeper into the store and returned bearing a dusty box.

"Eleven and a half inches, holly and phoenix feather. Give it a wave."

Harry had been growing more and more nervous the longer the search went on, and had begun to fear that perhaps he wasn't a wizard at all. All his doubts were erased the moment he touched the latest wand. It felt like a piece of him that had been missing all his life, though he hadn't realize until this moment, had slotted itself into place. The blood in his veins sung in joy. He could not have stopped the wide, joyous smile that broke across his face at the feeling.

"Give it a wave."

Harry did just that and laughed out loud at the gold and silver sparks that fountained out of the end and filled the shop like a multitude of stars.

"I believe we have found your match. It is curious that that particular wand should choose you though."

"Curious? Why is it curious?"

"The phoenix that donated the feather in that wand only ever donated two. The second is in the wand belonging to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. The very wand that gave you that scar" he explained, reaching out one long finger towards the scar in question. "If I had known what that wand was leaving here to do… But in the end it would not have mattered. You Know Who was a great wizard. He did many terrible things it is true, terrible, but great."

"How can you stand here and tell me how great the wizard that killed my parents is?"

"My apologies, Mr. Potter, I did not mean it in that way. I meant only that the decisions he made, the works he created, and the path he walked shook the world. He was great in that, for a period of time, the very fabric of the world moved around him and danced to his will. And now you, Mr. Potter, have been chosen by the brother wand to his. I think we can expect many great things of you as well, Mr. Potter."

Harry was a bit subdued and lost in thought when he returned to the alley proper to find Hagrid again. Try though he might to shake them off, Mr. Ollivander's words stayed with him. "We can expect great things of you."

Between that and his parents' exhortations to study hard and do well, for the first time in his life he felt a small stirring of ambition in his heart. All his life he had wanted nothing more than to be invisible. Yeah, it burned when his aunt and uncle went on at length about how brilliant and wonderful Dudley was, when he knew he had to actually work at keeping his grades lower than his, so he wouldn't be punished.

He had never been allowed to succeed at anything but drudgery and misery, and it had never won him praise, only a slight lessening of pain and hunger. It really occurred to him for the first time what it meant that he would be going off to Hogwarts for most of the year. He had already realized it meant he'd be away from the Dursleys, and he'd been eager to go for that reason alone--that it was a school of magic of all things was just icing on an already delicious cake. But now, he realized fully that he would be away from the Dursleys.

There would be no Dudley around to draw unwanted comparisons, no aunt and uncle watching with gimlet eyes for him to get ' uppity'. He could actually try to do well in his classes, and score to his actual abilities on tests. He could hang out in the library and read and learn to his heart's content, not because he was hiding from Dudley and his goons, but because he wanted to.

There would be no Dudley around to beat up and drive off anyone who showed an inclination to be friendly towards him. He could have actual friends, and spend time with them and have fun because he'd be away from the Dursleys.

All his life to date he'd been silently counting down the days till his eighteenth birthday because it meant he could part ways with his relatives. He hadn't been sure what would become of him then as he'd have had no money, no food and nowhere to live--but it meant freedom and that had been something to look forward to. It had just fully sunk in that he had (limited) freedom for more than half the year, nearly a decade earlier than he'd dared hope for it.

He could study hard, learn all he could and have the life of his choosing when he was done with school--and he had a safety net in the form of the money his parents' had left for him until he found his feet. Wait…hadn't Pickaxe said some old lady left him a farm? He might even have a place to live!

"There ya are, Harry. Took you a long time again." Hagrid grumbled, though mildly.

"Mr. Ollivander had trouble finding me a wand that fit. It's okay though, he eventually found one after about five hundred tries. Okay, it probably wasn't actually that many, but it sure felt like it."

"Well, as long as ye got it. Oh, here. This 'ere lovely is fer you. It's yer birthday, right? Wouldn't be right iffn I didn't get ye a birthday present."

Harry's face flushed red, and his earlier annoyance with Hagrid melted away as he was presented with a beautiful snowy owl in a golden cage.

"You didn't have to."

"I wanted to. Here ya go. She's a beaut, isn't she?"

"She's beautiful. Thank you Hagrid."

He reached through the bars on the cage to stroke lightly at her feathered breast. She nipped very gently at his finger and made a noise that sounded like 'preck' rather than the 'whoo whoo' he'd been expecting.

"I thought owls hooted."

"Some of 'em do. Snowies bark, some of the other kinds shriek."

"Huh. I didn't know that. You don't see many owls around my neighborhood. I'm usually inside or asleep while they're out."

"Well, now that we gots yer wand I guess it's time ter get ya back ter yer aunt's house."

"I still want to get my notebooks. My mum said I'd need them to take notes in for class and it'd be easier to keep them organized rather than putting everything on parchment."

"Yer list…"

"My mum gets final say. She's dead, but she took the time to write me a letter to tell me what kind of school supplies I'd need. It'd be like denying her final wishes."

Hagrid blanched and nodded decisively.

"Right. I suppose Dumbledore can't rightly complain about a few notebooks."

"We have to pick up my uniforms before we leave too."

"Right, right. Almost forgot. Thanks fer reminding me."

After collecting the last of his school supplies, they finally left the alley. It was getting dark--they'd been gone the whole day, near enough. Hagrid allowed them to stop for a hamburger on their way back to the Dursleys once he realized Harry was probably hungry--which he was. He'd not eaten the whole day.

"Hey, Hagrid? How do I get to Hogwarts? I don't know where it is, and if it's way up in Scotland, I'm pretty sure uncle Vernon won't drive me."

"Blimey! I nearly forgot! That'd of been a fine pickle! Ye take a train. Hogwarts Express. Leaves from King's Cross station. September 1st." he explained.

He dug around in his pocket and withdrew a plain envelope which he handed over with a flourish. Harry pulled the ticket free and looked it over.

"Hogwart's Express. Platform 9 3/4. 11 am, September 1st." he read out. "Wait…Platform 9 3/4? Is there such a place? Oh! Is it hidden like Diagon Alley is? How do I find it? Do I have to poke a brick like you did? Which one and how will I know if it's the right one? Is it hard to find?"

Hagrid finger-combed his beard and looked slightly sheepish.

"Gosh. Nearly forgot ter tell ya how ta find the ruddy platform! I seem ter be making a mess o' things today, eh? It's not hard ter find. Jes find th' pillar between platforms nine and ten. It looks solid, but it ain't for wizard folks. Close yer eyes if ye needs to, but you can just walk right inter th' pillar and go on through. Easy peasy."

"Walk into the pillar, huh? Yeah…easy peasy. I hope you're right about that. I'm gonna be irate if I smash myself into a wall."

They both had a good laugh at the mental image.

All too soon, it was time to go back to the Dursleys. Harry was beyond relieved to find the door still unlocked. He wouldn't have put it past them to lock him out; heaven knows it wouldn't have been the first time. His aunt, uncle and cousin were watching tv when he came inside. They all turned to look at him.

"I'm back." Harry offered nervously.

None of them said anything, though Dudley hunched down and covered his butt before scurrying into the next room. Hagrid had given him a pig tail, and as far as he knew it was still there. He had laughed at the time, but he knew it would cause his aunt and uncle no end of trouble. Maybe he should look at his school books and see if he could figure out how to fix it. He had a month till school started.

His aunt and uncle went back to their show and ignored him, still without having said a word--they didn't even comment on the owl he'd brought home with him! He crept upstairs to Dudley's second bedroom--his room now-- and quietly shut the door. He twisted the lock in the door handle--he wanted to go through his new stuff and didn't think his relatives would appreciate seeing cauldrons and magic books strewn across the room. He set his owl's cage on the desk by the window.

"You want to get out for a bit, girl? I imagine you're a bit cooped in there."

He opened the window and then carefully pulled the owl from her cage. Her talons were sharp against his wrist and arm, even though he could tell she was being careful. He stroked lightly at her feathers again and carried her to the window, wincing just a bit as she pushed off into the night. He watched for a bit as she flew away and hoped he hadn't just made a terrible mistake in letting her go-- Hagrid had said owls were really smart, and she could deliver mail and stuff. She certainly seemed to understand him when he talked. He was even pretty sure she'd answered back a few times. He would just have to trust that she would come back.

He took the water dish from her cage and filled it in the bathroom before putting it back, relocked his door and pulled his shrunken trunk free from his pocket, enlarged it and settled himself on the floor in front of it. Once it was all emptied out, he grinned and rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment at just how much stuff he'd bought, though in his own defense, he'd had to buy a lot of stuff he was probably expected to already have--like shoes, warm clothes and underwear.

Keeping his parents' instructions in mind, he carefully folded and packed the first compartment with just his clothing. The second compartment received his school books, quills, ink bottles, rolls of parchment, notebooks, eraser, the stationary set he'd splurged on--it was embossed with his initials, which made him grin when he saw it again. It was the only real extravagance he'd allowed himself; he didn't have anyone to write to, so fancy stationary was a bit of a waste, really. He also carefully packed the seal he'd found in the trunk. It was just a large fancy 'P', and had its own little wooden box that held it and some sealing wax.

The final compartment received his cauldron, scales, dragon hide gloves, potions ingredients, knives, crystal vials, telescope, etc. He also put his new shoes in there. He didn't dare wear them where the Dursleys could see. At last, all that was left out was the 'Marauder's book' his father had left for him, and a book his mother had left for him along with his school books. The note inside the cover said it was tips and tricks that would help him get a good start with magic, and would help him out in school. It was all stuff she said she wished she'd known when she started--useful stuff, as opposed to the pranks she assumed 'Sirius' would have shown him if they didn't make it.

Harry slapped himself in the forehead.

"I'm so stupid! I meant to ask Hagrid if he knew who he was! Augh!"

Oh well, it would just have to wait till he saw him again, he supposed. In the meantime, he had some reading to do. He pushed the trunk into the corner and settled himself on his bed on his stomach and started reading.

My Dearest Harry,

As I'm writing this, you're asleep in your crib across the room. You're smiling, so hopefully you're having pleasant dreams.

I hope this will all end up being unneeded, but as the days pass I feel more and more that my time on this earth is coming to a close. Perhaps we've some seer blood amongst our ancestors, or perhaps it is simply the worries of a young mother who has seen too much since she left the safety of Hogwarts. I hope it is the second, I fear it is the first.

Either way, I wanted to leave a little something to help you along once it is time for you to head off to school, your first step towards becoming the fine wizard I know you will one day be. If the worst comes to pass and your father and I are not there to raise you, you will be raised by your godfather, who like your father is from a long line of wizards and grew up around magic.

I can only hope that even growing up around it that you will find the same joy and wonder in discovering magic that I did. I have always thought it a shame how much the wizard born take the tremendous gifts that we are born with for granted.

As you probably know, I'm what is known as a muggle born witch. My parents, and my sister Petunia, who you've probably never met, were as unmagical as could be. For some reason, I was born with the ability to wield magic. I was lucky in that I didn't have to wait until I received my Hogwart's letter to learn of the existence of magic as most muggle born do.

There was a boy in my village who told me I was a witch when I was seven. I was quite offended at first, as in the muggle world at least, no one means anything good if they call you a witch! His name was Severus Snape. He told me all he knew, though as only his mother was a witch and we all lived in a muggle area, he could only tell me so much.

He was my best friend for many years, though in time we grew apart. We were sorted into different houses once we arrived at Hogwarts. I went to Gryffindor, where I met your father and your godfather, and Severus went to Slytherin.

One would think that in having such a head start I was leagues ahead when we finally arrived at school, but sadly that was not the case. The truth is both the wizard born and muggle born start off at much the same level, the only real advantage the wizard born have is that they have grown up around magic and have a better idea of what is possible. The flip side of that is that they take it for granted, whereas the muggle born are filled with wonder and curiosity upon first learning about it.

In that at least I think we muggle born are the lucky ones.

Magic has been part of my life for a good many years now and I've seen both the wonders and the horrors that it can bring forth, and I still find myself filled with awe even all these years later. I can only hope that you too can find that wonder, my son, even if you've grown up around it long enough to find it commonplace.

You may wonder at this book I've put together for you. I will explain it simply as a helpful guide to little tricks that will make your life, and school work, easier. I can only wish I had such a guide when I started school. Alas, I had to pick it all up in bits and pieces along the way. Luckily for you, my darling son, your mother is a kind and thoughtful person who took the trouble to compile it all here for you so that your own start will be much smoother.

I've no doubt you know all sorts of prank spells, if your godfather has anything to say about it. Sadly, while being able to make someone fart on command might be great for a laugh in the common room when you're eleven, such things aren't very useful otherwise. The things I've gathered here for you will be, and they're things I doubt somehow that he'll think to teach you.

Luckily for you, little man, your mother is watching out for you!

You will be ahead in one thing I had difficulty with at least. You probably grew up writing with a quill. I most assuredly did not, and there is a definite learning curve involved. It was a good thing I thought to try out my quills before I got to school and then practiced before heading out once I saw what a mess I made! Ink everywhere, my writing slanted across the page, and I snapped one before even getting to the castle because I pressed too hard.

You're probably laughing at me, as you've likely used one long enough you don't remember how difficult it is at first! Even so I included a way to make your quills unbreakable, and to repair them if they snap, and also to clean up ink splotches, and to make lines to guide your writing that will fade away before you hand in your paper, as they were all things I myself found useful. The teachers take off points for sloppy writing and messes, so they're all things worth knowing, even if you yourself aren't in need of such crutches.

Best of luck to you, my darling son, as you take your first steps towards becoming a wizard! All my love to you forever.

Your loving mother,

Lilian Rose Potter nee Evans

October 17, 1981

Harry finished the letter that took up the first two pages of the book and blinked tears from his eyes. He felt a chill in his bones as his eyes fell on the date. Just two weeks before she and his father had died facing Voldemort, and she had known her end was coming. Even knowing that, she had still taken the time to look out for him as best she could when she was no longer there.

He re-read the letter a second time and mused on how different things had turned out from what she seemed to expect. He didn't grow up around magic, he didn't even have the slight head start she herself had. He re-read the section about the difficulty with quills and decided he'd best follow her example and practice while he had time. He certainly hadn't grown up writing with quills either, so he would take her warning to heart.

More curious than ever about what sort of things she thought he needed to know, he eagerly started on the text. He read until late into the night, fell asleep and then picked it up again in the morning. She didn't just leave spells and instructions. The whole thing was peppered with small anecdotes and comments about her own school days. It was easy to pretend, for just a little while, that she was there with him, telling him these things herself.

There was a lot of useful stuff there too. Apparently you could pack your whole trunk in a second by pointing your wand at it and visualizing everything folding itself up and packing itself. There was a charm to polish shoes, one to freshen breath and neaten hair, to take wrinkles out of clothing. There were spells to help find references you needed in the library, to generate a bibliography, to edit essays, fix mistakes, check your spelling, tidy up wrinkles and splotches of ink.

Each spell had an animated wand illustrating the movements, the incantation (with pronunciation guide) and tips to making it happen, along with advice for if things went badly and he needed to start again. "Don't worry, darling. Everything included here, and 90% of what you'll be learning the first few years can be undone with a nice, forceful 'finite incantatum' and then you can start over. Before you ask, there are ways to make enchantments permanent, but you'll not be learning any of that for a good many years yet. Build firm foundations before you try getting fancy."

He re-read the sentence a second time and then realized this might have been just what he needed to fix Dudley. There was no love lost between him and his relatives, but it was still something he should try to fix before they had to go look for a surgeon that didn't ask too many questions. He could hear the Dursleys up and moving around. Chances are he'd be called to help make breakfast soon in any case. Might as well get on that and broach the subject of removing the tail while he was thinking about it.

Chapter Text

"Here you are, King's Cross Station. " Uncle Vernon grunted. "Where do you have to go?"

Harry side-eyed him and wondered why he was being so nice.

"Platform Nine and three-quarters."

"No such place! HA! Good luck getting anywhere!"

The Dursleys laughed and climbed back in the car, leaving Harry stranded there alone. Or so they thought. Thanking his lucky stars that he'd found out how to find the platform before being dumped off by his 'loving' relatives, he sneered at the Dursleys' retreating car and headed deeper into the station. He really couldn't win with those people. He'd gotten rid of Dudley's stinking pig tail and the still acted like this; maybe he shouldn't have bothered.

He found the pillar between station nine and ten with no trouble, and even spotted a witch and her daughter slipping into the hidden doorway. To his amazement, no one around them seemed to notice anything odd going on. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and strode towards the barrier. His eyes closed in spite of his effort to keep them open, though he opened them wide once he took several steps and didn't run into the wall. He grinned in delight at the platform he found himself on. There was a bright red steam engine parked beside it, and the whole of it was filled with witches and wizards.

The noise was incredible--everyone was trying to say their goodbyes, hand out last minute advice, greet friends and get on the train. Everywhere he looked there was color and movement, cats, owls and toads, people in robes and cloaks, and the whole overlaid with the clouds of steam wafting from the train. It was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen.
He felt a bit wistful as he watched all the families saying their tearful goodbyes. There was none of that for him.
It would be nice if he had an adult he could count on, but it just didn't seem to be in the cards for him.

He'd written several letters over the past month (once he'd practiced writing with a quill). He'd gotten more use out of his fancy stationary than he'd ever dare guess. He'd found the names of some of his parents' friends in the stuff they'd left him-- Severus Snape, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew. He'd also found the full name of his godfather, the man that was supposed to raise him if his parents' couldn't--Sirius Black. He hadn't bothered writing to him, as he could only assume the man must have died sometime between when his parents' had written their letters and when he'd been dumped with his aunt.

He'd written to Severus Snape first. Hedwig had been gone a few days after taking it to him, so he must live pretty far away. She hadn't brought back a reply even though he'd told her to wait and see if there was one. He'd never gotten an answer from him later either. Disappointed, but undaunted--his mum did say they'd grown apart; maybe he just didn't want to be bothered--he'd tried Peter Pettigrew next. Hedwig had taken that one as well, but had returned without a reply again. He'd never heard from him either.

Finally he'd tried once more with Remus Lupin. Hedwig had tried--she took the letter and flew in circles for a bit before returning. Either the man was dead, or he was hidden in some way; he didn't know which. He'd finally given up on finding any of his parents' friends. He'd sent his last letter off with Hedwig yesterday. It was just a hello to Hagrid so Hedwig would have a reason to head to Hogwarts. He'd told her to just stay once the note was delivered, he'd be there himself soon enough; no sense in her being cooped up in her cage for the whole long train ride.
He cast one last wistful look at the happy families all around and headed on to the train. He might as well find a compartment.

"Mind if I sit here?"

"Huh? Oh, no, go ahead. Plenty of room." the black boy said cheerfully.

"Thanks."

There were three kids already inside. The tallish black boy who'd answered him, a dark haired boy who looked like he was probably part of the gentry--he had that look about him, and a little girl with bushy brown hair and very large front teeth.

"First year as well?" gentry boy asked.

"Yeah. All of you?"

"Yes. Forgive my manners! Justin Finch-Fletchley at your service, and my associates, Dean Thomas and Hermione Granger."

"You all know each other already?"

"We met on our school shopping trip. We're all muggle-born." Dean answered. All three then eyed him warily as though waiting for him to say something about that.

"You all went together?"

"Yes. Professor McGonagall took us." the little girl, Hermione sniffed.

"I wonder why I didn't get to go with all of you."

"Oh? You're muggle born as well?" Justin asked in interest.

"Not exactly. My mum was. My dad was wizard born. They're both dead though and I was raised by my muggle aunt and uncle. I didn't know anything about magic till I finally got my letter."

"Professor McGonagall took you?" Dean wondered.

"No. Hagrid. He's the gamekeeper."

Justin wrinkled his nose, Hermione stuck hers in the air. "The game keeper? You didn't even merit a teacher?"

"Apparently not."

"You never did tell us your name." Hermione demanded. He wasn't sure if she was actually as snotty as she sounded, or if her voice just made her come across that way.

"Oh, sorry. Harry Potter."

"HARRY POTTER? Are you really? I've read all about you, of course. You're in Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the 20th Century."

"Am I?" Harry replied uncomfortably. "I'll have to see if I can track them down."

"You haven't read them? I'd have read everything I could if it was me."

"I didn't exactly have a chance. Hagrid made a fuss about me trying to get anything that wasn't on the school list. Anyway, it isn't like I even knew there was anything to find. I didn't know I was a wizard till Hagrid showed up in the middle of the night and broke down the door. Could have done without that, especially after all that business with the letters. My relatives are still mad about all of it."

"What business with the letters? And what was he doing showing up in the middle of the night? You're having us on, I see." Justin said with a grin as though sharing the joke.

"No. That's what happened."

He told them the whole story--having the first letter that showed up in the mail taken from him, then the two that appeared the next day, then they were in the groceries, then there were thousands pouring down the fireplace, then they were chased across the country till they ended up in a leaky shack on a rock in the middle of a storm.

"That's crazy." Hermione said flatly. "None of that happened. I'm sure no one from Hogwarts would ever be so unprofessional. They certainly wouldn't give your cousin a pig tail. That's against the law. You should do some research before you trying telling such tall tales."

"That's what happened. I'm telling the truth."

The other two just looked uncomfortable and shrugged in apology. He could see they didn't believe him either.

"I'm not a liar." Harry growled "and I refuse to stay with someone who accuses me of being one, especially as you don't know the first thing about me. And before you say it, I don't care how many books you've read. From what I was told, I was the only survivor in the house that night. No one asked me what happened, and as I was baby I couldn't have told them even if they did…the fact remains that no one asked. Here's a word of advice, Miss Granger. Try to develop some damned tact."

Hermione gasped indignantly and stuck her nose in the air as Harry stormed out.
He peeked his head in a few more compartments and finally found another that had just one other boy inside. He looked nervous and was clutching a toad. Not exactly oozing cool, but hopefully he'd be better company than that last lot was.

"Hi. Mind if I sit here?"

"Um, no. I mean, go ahead. I'm Neville. Neville Longbottom. This is Trevor. Hi. You a first year too? I mean, of course you are. You don't have your colors yet. Don't mind me. Apparently I talk a lot when I'm nervous."

"Harry Potter. Nice to meet you." Harry replied wryly. He seemed to have just met someone as nervous as he was. The guy really needed to learn to keep it to himself though. When you gave too much of yourself away, people tended to use it against you.

"No need to be nervous. We're all in the same boat."

"We're on a train."

"Sorry. Muggle expression. It just means we're all in the same situation."

"Oh. Yeah. I guess."

Neville patted his toad on the head and set him on the seat beside him. "I'm just worried I'll screw up and have to be sent home. For a long time my family thought I was a squib."

"What's that then?"

"It means you come from a magical family, but you don't have magic yourself. My uncle Augie tried for years to scare the magic out of me."

"Sounds counterproductive."

"Huh? Oh, no, I mean he wanted to scare me into showing magic. He used to jump out at me. He threw me in Blackpool once. I nearly drowned before he thought to pull me out."

"What did your mum and dad do?"

"Oh, um, they're not around."

"You're an orphan, huh? Same as me."

"I live with my gran."

"He do anything else? Why didn't your gran do something?"

"He held me out of a window once. Aunt Enid offered him a meringue and he let go."

Harry gasped in horror. "How high up were you?"

"Third storey. I really thought I was going to die. I bounced though. I bounced down the whole driveway. Gran was so happy she was crying."

"Hopefully she was crying because she thought you were about to die."

Neville's little shrug said he didn't share that belief.

"Uncle Augie gave me Trevor here for having magic. Even with the bouncing, I was still really relieved I actually got a letter. I'm just worried I'll be the worst in school."

"We're all starting at the same point, but if you go in with an attitude like that you probably will be. Part of it is believing that it will work. Once I got that in my head I was able to make everything I tried work."

"You already know how to do magic?"

"Just a few things."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"Well...oh! I know. I can show you how to make Trevor there a different color."

"You know a spell to color toads?"

"Well you can use it on anything, not just toads. I just thought it'd be a good starting point. It won't hurt him. Watch. Colovaria."

Trevor turned bright yellow, with lime green warts. Neville laughed in relief when Trevor just continued to sit there placidly, apparently unharmed by the color change.

"Now you try. Picture the color you want, point your wand and gesture like this and make it happen. Try to change the seat."

Neville bit his lip nervously then pointed his wand.

"Colovaria!"

His shoulders slumped in dismay. "Maybe I am a squib."

"Stop that. Look there. It's pink. You just need to be more forceful and believe it. Again!"

"Colovaria!"

"Come on, Neville. You can do this. Make it happen!"

"COLOVARIA!"

The seat he was sitting on turned lurid pink. Neville was so astonished he nearly fell off it.

"It still took me a couple of tries."

"So? It was the same for me. I've just had practice. Now that you know it works it should be a lot easier. Do my seat."

"Colovaria!" Harry's seat turned bright blue. "Colovaria!" the walls turned grey. "Colovaria!" the door turned white.

"I did it! I actually did it!"

"Of course you did. You're a wizard."

Harry's simple statement had a profound effect on Neville. He almost seemed to settle more comfortably in his skin.

"I'm a wizard." he repeated.

"Fred, George, for goodness sakes! Behave yourselves this year. I'd better not hear that you've stepped a foot out of line!"
"Mother! You wound us!"
"We are the very..."
"...heart and soul of..."
"...discretion and good behavior!"
"I'd better not hear any more crazy stunts, like sending a toilet seat through the mail…"
"We've never done that before!"
"Thanks for the idea though, mother!"
"Hear that, Gin-Gin?"
" We'll send you your very own Hogwarts toilet seat!"
"Don't you dare!"

Harry peered out the window and spotted a large group of redheads. The grinning twins looked like pranksters--sounded like it too. Good to know. His dad did say to find someone to blame stuff on. The mother of the group was looking around distractedly, though she put off her search when the twins said they were about to get on the train.

She hugged them both, gave them a few more warnings and sent them on their way. Another boy who looked to be his and Neville's age was grabbed next. His mother began scrubbing at the large smudge of dirt on his nose and then fussed over him till he got embarrassed and shoved her off. A tall teenage boy was next. He looked rather pompous and kept polishing the 'P' pin on his chest and then looking around to see if anyone was looking at him.

"Mother? Who do you keep looking for?"
"Harry Potter. He doesn't know how to get on the train. Dumbledore asked me to keep an eye out for him. He hasn't any family, you know. Poor dear. Oh, I do hope he didn't get lost. There was no sign of him anywhere, but we couldn't really wait any longer if you were all to get on the train."
"Harry Potter? Where is he? Can I go see him mum? Pleaaaase?"
"Ginny! Enough of that. Honestly!"
"I'm sure someone else helped him through mother. I really need to get going. I wouldn't want to be late for the prefect's meeting!"

The mom smiled at him proudly and said her goodbyes, as did the sad looking little girl that stayed with her.

"Muuuummm! It's not fair! Can't I go too?"
"Not till next year, Ginny, you know that!"

Harry's eyes narrowed at the conversation and he wondered why Dumbledore had tried to sic this lady and her kids on him. And another thing--if he'd expected Hagrid to forget to tell him how to find his way onto the train, why the heck hadn't he been taken shopping with the others by one of the teachers?

The train whistle sounded and they began to move. He spotted the little red-headed girl chasing alongside the train, crying and waving. Neville leaned out nearby and waved to an old lady with a weird hat with a vulture on it that was probably the grandmum he'd mentioned who had cried when he'd been dropped out a window. It was sort of sobering. He'd had a crap life with the Dursleys, but to the best of his knowledge they'd never tried to actually kill him.

He taught Neville the 'finite incantatum' and had him help clean up their compartment. They passed the trip in idle talk until they received a visitor. To Harry's dismay, it was the same little girl from earlier.
She threw open the door and strode in like she owned the place, then scowled when she spotted Harry and sniffed disdainfully at him, before turning her attention to Neville.

"I'm trying to find out what house everyone thinks they're going to be in. It's been very difficult walking up and down the halls. Everyone is being very childish."

"What a surprise, considering we're all children" Harry muttered.

Hermione ignored him. "I'm hoping for Gryffindor myself. It sounds to be the best house by far. Dumbledore was a Gryffindor, you know. If I can't get that, I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad."

"I'll probably be in Hufflepuff. My family is all Gryffindors. They'll probably kill me if I don't get in." Neville commented gloomily.

"You'll be a Gryffindor of course."

"Are you asking me or telling me?" Harry grumbled.

"Everyone knows both your parents were Gryffindors, and then of course you killed You-Know-Who. Where else would you be?" Hermione sniffed.

"Not in Gryffindor if you're there." Harry muttered.

"You're very rude!"

"Me?! You go barging in places and being bossy, not to mention going around and calling people liars. If anyone is rude it's you!"

"How dare you! I'm going to tell!"

"Good luck getting in to Gryffindor. Last I checked it was supposed to be the house of the brave, not the obnoxious know it alls!"

Hermione's hair bushed out with the force of her fury and she stomped out and made a big show of slamming the door on her way out.
Neville jumped in his seat and then flinched at the fury on Harry's face.

"Um...nice girl?"

Harry's scoff showed what he thought of that.

"Hey, where's Trevor?"

"He must have gotten out when that rude girl was here."

"Oh no!"

"It's alright. I know a spell to find lost things. I'll teach you."

"Oh. Okay. That's a relief."

 

"Trevor!"

"He got pretty far, huh? How'd he get in the bathroom though? The door was shut. Heck, I didn't even know there was a door there. What is it with wizards and hiding everything?"

"Um, I think it's because of the statue of secrecy."

"I can understand hiding places, but bathrooms? That's just cruel."

Hermione was still out wandering around. She sniffed and stuck her nose in the air when she passed him. Unluckily for her, the jokester twins from earlier came out of a nearby compartment soon after and Harry saw an opportunity.
The twins, as he'd hoped they would, started laughing and joking when Hermione's hair and clothes turned all different colors. He himself had grabbed Neville and started hightailing it back towards their compartment as soon as he was finished.
Neville glared at him reproachfully when he realized what he'd done.

"She deserved it. It's not like it hurt her any."

"She's crying."

"She's a spoiled brat. And she called me a liar. I was telling the truth and she had no call saying otherwise, or convincing those other two jerks of it. I don't lie."

Neville let it drop, but he could tell he still wasn't happy. He just didn't understand. He was finally away from the Dursleys, about to go off to a school to learn magic, and that girl was acting like aunt Petunia, turning people against him before he had a chance to meet anyone or make any friends, and ruining it for him. Now even Neville was siding with her against him. He'd thought they'd started to become friends.
At this rate it was going to be like Privet Drive all over again.

 

"We're slowing down. We should probably put our uniforms on."

Harry cupped the window and peered out into the darkness and saw they were indeed pulling near a station. He pulled out his trunk and enlarged it and threw one of his regular uniforms on over his clothing--his ratty Dursley hand me-downs. He hadn't dared wear any of his new stuff where they might see. It was all getting buried in the bottom of his trunk tonight.

"Hogsmeade station. Please exit to your right. Leave your belongings on the train. They'll be taken up separately."

Harry checked to make sure he had his keys on his belt and exited after Neville.

The platform was all confusion outside. Most of the students seemed to be headed towards the horse-drawn carriages lined up nearby. He and Neville started to follow them, but then they heard a voice calling "Firs' years! Firs' years over here!"

"Oh, it's Hagrid. I guess we go over here."

"Wow. He's big. You know him?"

"Yeah. That's who the school sent to help me with my school shopping. He's the game keeper."

"Hi Hagrid."

"All righ', Harry? Let me see, that looks like everyone. All righ' follow me. Careful now, it's a bit slippery."

The first years stumbled after him. It was dark enough it was a bit hard to see, and it was indeed rather slippery. He led them to the edge of a massive loch that stretched off into the darkness. There were a few dozen tiny coracles waiting by the shore.

"No more'n four to a boat. Careful now. No goofing around. All righ'? Forward!"

The boats began to move forward in a group, following Hagrid who was standing in the last remaining boat--he was probably too large to sit in it.
Neville and he found themselves facing two girls, a blonde and an redhead who smiled nervously and began whispering quietly with one another. He spotted Hermione, Dean, Justin and one of the redheads from earlier in another boat.

Much to his disappointment someone had undone his color charms. She was nattering on about something or other; the redheaded kid looked like he was slowly losing his mind. Dean grinned and gave him a commiserating look, though Justin seemed to be doing his best to look interested; even his eyes seemed to be glazing over, and he found himself wondering how she could just keep talking without taking a breath. The redhead finally snapped and growled something at her and they spent the rest of the ride bickering. Now Dean and Justin looked like they were slowly losing their minds. Served them right for listening to her.

"When we go 'round the bend there you'll get your first look at Hogwarts!"

"OOOOOHHHHHH!"

Hogwarts was beautiful. The castle was huge, with seven massive towers climbing up into the sky. The whole thing was lit up and it looked magical. It was the strangest thing really, but he felt warmth, like a ghostly hug. If it didn't sound so crazy, he'd swear Hogwarts was welcoming him. All his worries and doubts vanished like mist. He knew one thing absolutely. He was where he belonged. He was finally home.

 

The boats docked inside a cave at the base of the mountain the castle sat upon, and then they climbed what felt like hundreds of slippery, slimy stairs till they reached the castle itself. Hagrid led them to a large wooden door and banged three times on it. The sound could be heard echoing through the castle 'boom' 'boom' 'boom'. When the door opened a strict looking witch with her hair back in a severe bun was revealed. She was wearing a pointed witch's hat and was dressed in emerald green robes. She looked like someone you didn't want to mess with.

"The first years, perfesser McGonagall."

"Thank you, Hagrid. I'll take it from here."

Harry gaped at his first look inside Hogwarts. The entryway by itself could probably fit the Dursleys whole house and still have room! There were staircases that led up into the dizzying heights above that all were moving on their own. The walls were covered in portraits that moved and spoke like people! They waved or curtseyed or doffed their caps when they saw the kids looking at them. McGonagall gave them a moment to look around and then led them into a side room. It was plain stone, without decoration of any sort, though they could hear the roar of many voices on the other side of the door.

"Welcome to Hogwarts. In a few moments you will be sorted into your houses. Each of the four houses has a long, proud history. While you are here your houses will be like your family. Answering questions in class and good behavior will win your house points, breaking the rules will lose house points. At the end of the year they will be tallied and your house will have a chance to win the house cup. I will return for all of you in a few moments. You should take this time to smarten up before you're called upon."

She gave several of the kids in the crowd--including Neville and the redheaded kid--a gimlet stare that said she wasn't impressed with the state of them. When she exited out the door for a moment they could all see the massive hall beyond filled with long tables and hundreds of people, many of whom were craning their necks to get a look at all of them.

Harry took McGonagall's words to heart and did a quick spell to remove any wrinkles and one to neaten up his hair and to clean his glasses. Neville was wrestling with his cloak pin, which he'd somehow fastened up beneath his ear, while the redheaded kid was trying to remove the dirt from his nose that his mother had no luck with earlier.

"Any idea how they sort you?" he asked. Nothing his parents had left gave any clues.

"No idea."Neville admitted.

"My brothers said you have to wrestle a troll." the redhead said. He looked like he was going to be sick.

Hermione was reciting spells beneath her breath and fretting about which she'd need. Everyone seemed to be working themselves up into a tizzy, and then someone screamed. The whole room jumped and then more people started screaming. Harry spun in place to see what had happened, his heart pounding, only to gape at the four ghosts that were floating through the room, deep in conversation.

"I say we forgive and forget. Give Peeves another chance."

"We've given him plenty of chances."

"I hate to say it, but I agree with the Baron."

"Ah, my dear lady!"

"Oh! What's this? First years? Is it that time already? I always lose track."

"I hope to see you all in Hufflepuff. That's my old house."

Professor McGonagall came back and told them all to form up into two lines.

"Looks like that's our cue. Good luck, everyone."

It was rather nerve-wracking, marching down the great hall with so many eyes on them. It was a strange place, it looked like the open sky overhead, though there were hundreds of candles hovering just below, illuminating the place.

"The illusion on the great hall ceiling is one of the wonders of Hogwarts. It was done by Rowena Ravenclaw. No one knows how she did it. It says so in Hogwarts: A history." Hermione was telling everyone from further up the line in her snotty voice.

Harry rolled his eyes. He'd read that book too; it was one of the ones his parents had left for him, he didn't see any reason to brag about it. That girl was such a know it all. He was a bit surprised, to be honest. Usually kids like that got beat up till they stopped. That's what always happened in his school; Dudley and his gang hated know-it-alls as much if not more than they hated Harry.

There was a dais at the front of the room with another long table on it, running the width of the room and facing the long tables running the length. A group of adults he assumed were the teachers sat up there facing the room. In the center was a man with a long white beard, seated on a golden throne. Harry took a quick look and catalogued as many details as he could before quickly turning his eyes elsewhere. He had a major grudge building against the man; he knew better than to give him a chance to know it.

They were made to line up facing the crowd in the hall, while Professor McGonagall went to a room off to the side and returned carrying a battered old hat and a small three-legged stool. Harry eyed the hat askance; it was so dirty aunt Petunia wouldn't have allowed it in the house.
It was a great surprise when the brim split and it began to sing.
"Oh, you might not think I'm pretty…"
It sang about the four houses and their attributes and introduced itself as the Sorting Hat. It had once belonged to Godric Gryffindor, to hear the hat tell it.

"When I call your name, come up and put on the hat."

"You mean we just have to try on a ratty old hat? I'm gonna kill Fred and George! They told me you had to wrestle a troll!" the red-headed boy shouted.

The redheaded twins, Fred and George apparently, nearly fell out of their chairs laughing. Professor McGonagall shot the other boy a warning look and then began reading from a long scroll.

"Abbot, Hannah!"

The blonde girl from the boat sat down and put on the hat.

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

The table just ahead, filled with folks in yellow and black, burst into applause. Hannah put the hat back and ran to join them.

"Bones, Susan."

The redhead from their boat joined her friend in Hufflepuff. Both of them seemed quite relieved that they were together. The fellow Justin he met on the train also ended up in Hufflepuff. He crossed the house of badgers off his list of places he was willing to end up. Just as well. Hagrid said they were a bunch of duffers.

One after another they were called. Sometimes the hat took a while to decide, sometimes it happened very quickly. Before he knew it, it was Hermione's turn. Her sorting took a while--she appeared to be arguing with the hat. He amused himself in thinking it tried to tell her there was no know-it-all house and she had to go home-- but alas, after a minute or two she was sent to Gryffindor. She looked rather smug about it.

He sighed and crossed Gryffindor off as well. He'd probably kill that girl if he had to live with her, especially if she was going to keep turning people against him. Damn her anyway. Gryffindor was his parents' house. He had kind of expected to go there. Well, he supposed he'd just have to see. It wasn't like it was up to him. It was up to the talking hat.
Damn but that sounded weird even in his head.

Neville went to Gryffindor like he wanted. He was so excited he ran off with the hat still on his head and had to bring it back amid much laughter from the students.
The blonde kid from the wand shop, Draco Malfoy, became a Slytherin. Harry was pretty sure the hat didn't even touch his head before deciding. On it went. A pretty set of twins, Patil, Padma went to Ravenclaw and Patil, Parvati to Gryffindor. Sally-Anne Perks joined the ranks of Hufflepuff and then it was time for...

"Potter, Harry"

The crowd erupted like a bunch of hissing kettles the moment his name was called.

"Did she say Harry Potter?"

"Do you think he remembers that night?"

"Do you see THE SCAR?"

Harry gave the crowd a dirty look and seated himself on the stool. The hat dropped over his eyes, blocking his view of the crowd, which was fine by him. He nearly jumped out of his seat when a voice sounded directly in his head.

"Let's see what we have here. Plenty of courage, a willingness to work hard, a fine mind, plenty of cunning. You would do well in any of the houses. Have you a preference?"

"Not Gryffindor."

"Why not? You would do very well there."

"I have my reasons. Not Hufflepuff either."

"Not Gryffindor or Hufflepuff. That still leaves two. You could try Slytherin on for size. You would do well there. You have a thirst to prove yourself. Slytherin would help you with that and lead you to greatness."

"How about Ravenclaw? What would that do?"

"The eagles will feed your mind, and allow you prove yourself worthy of being called a great wizard. Ah, I'm sensing a decision here. Very well, let it be…"

"RAVENCLAW!"

Harry pulled off the hat and set it on the stool amid a moment of stunned silence. As he walked towards the blue table the students there erupted in cheers, the loudest yet. The Gryffindor table sat in stunned, betrayed disbelief as Harry sat down among the eagles with his back to them and was welcomed to his new home.

Professor McGonagall looked fairly unhappy herself, though the only real sign was how thin her lips were as she continued on to the next student. A tiny wizard up at the table looked positively giddy. He didn't bother looking behind him to see Dumbledore's reaction. For better or for worse he was a Ravenclaw now. He liked to think his parents wouldn't be too upset. They did tell him to study hard and get a good education. In fact, his father had ordered him to establish himself as a bookworm, hadn't he?

Conscience appeased he sat as patiently as he could through the rest of the sorting. The black kid from earlier, Dean Thomas, joined Hermione and Neville in Gryffindor, which just settled things in his mind that he made the right choice. The redheaded kid from earlier "Weasley, Ron" apparently, was now up. After a long wait the hat shouted "RAVENCLAW!". He looked shaky and not at all certain of things when he stumbled to the blue table, and there was a howl of disbelief coming from Gryffindor. Harry turned to look over his shoulder as the redhead sunk into his seat and saw the boy's brothers all looking completely flabbergasted. The last kid left, "Zabini, Blaise", who he'd seen being measured for uniforms at Madame Malkin's, joined the Slytherin table.

When the clapping died down Albus Dumbledore rose and held his arms wide like he was blessing the masses.

"It has been a long night already and I know everyone is hungry. I have only a few words to say. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Dig in!"

Harry eyed Dumbledore askance and then nearly jumped out of his seat when he realized the long tables were now overflowing with food.

"Oh! Those must be the names of house elves!" Harry said with the sound of someone newly enlightened. "Here I thought he was just mad!"

"Most likely. I wouldn't doubt a lot of people won't realize and probably will think him quite mad. He's been in the public eye a long time. You'd think he'd know better." Padma Patil commented.

"There's house elves here?" Ron said through a mouthful of food. Harry and Padma both grimaced at him.

"Chew with your mouth closed, please. Swallow before speaking." Padma said scathingly. "Basic manners. Learn them."

"Please." Harry added. He was slightly appalled, really. He knew he'd have been beaten black and blue had he ever done that at the table.

Ron flushed pink, but he ate with manners from that point onward, so he obviously knew how to behave he just hadn't bothered. Harry had wondered. His mum had seemed rather strict, which he supposed she had to be with so many children.

"I just realized. Both your siblings are in Gryffindor. Are you upset about that?"

"Yes."

"No."

Padma raised an eyebrow at Ron for his answer and turned to Harry. "We're quite close, though honestly we expected we might end up different places. I'll just have to see her after class and on weekends is all. It will be an adjustment, but I'm sure it will be fine."

"You don't understand." Ron sighed. "Percy is a bossy know it all that's always on my case, and Fred and George prank me all the time. I mean, yeah, they're my family and all, but honestly I think this being in a different house bit might be a good thing, really. I'm sure I'll appreciate them all more if I can get away from them once in a while."

Padma and Harry both agreed that was probably fair.

The first years all introduced themselves to one another. There was Terry Boot, Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein on top of Ron and Harry for the boys. The girls were Padma, Su Li, Morag MacDougal, Mandy Brocklehurst and Lisa Turpin. Himself, Morag and Mandy and Anthony were all half-bloods, the rest were purebloods. The only muggle born in their year had all gone to Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.
Harry was the only one who hadn't known about magic before getting his Hogwarts letter.

"How is that even possible? I mean, you're Harry Potter!" Lisa said in shock.

"I grew up with my mum's sister and her family. They're all muggles."

"But if it was her sister, she must have known about magic!"

"She did, but I didn't know that until after Hagrid showed up. She started ranting about how my mum was a freak and so they knew I probably was as well. My uncle said they'd decided to 'stamp the magic out' when they took me in."

"That's horrible!" Morag muttered.

Harry shrugged and changed the subject. "So, what classes do we have? Does anyone know?"

"There's a whole bunch. Charms. Our head of house professor Flitwick is the charms professor." Padma replied.

"Transfiguration. I'm looking forward to that one. I believe that one's taught by McGonagall. She's head of Gryffindor." Terry offered next.

"I'm for Herbology myself." Morag MacDougal said cheerfully. "I been reading ahead about all the weird plants out there. I can't wait."

"That's Sprout. She's Hufflepuff." Su offered.

"Then there's DADA. That's professor Quirrel. He's the guy in the turban. I heard he used to teach muggle studies." Michael offered, tilting his head towards the professor in question.

"He doesn't really look like he can defend himself, let alone teach us to." Ron commented.

"History. That's supposed to be taught by a ghost. My dad said there's a copy of the history lectures for all seven years in the Ravenclaw library. He's supposed to be pretty boring. He said you're allowed to make copies, but you can't take them from the tower because too many people need them. He suggested doing homework or reading a book or something if you can't stay awake while listening to him."Mandy laughed.

"Good to know." Ron said cheerfully. "Wait…won't it take a long time for everyone to copy all the notes?"

"There's a spell for that" the rest of them answered in unison. They all started laughing, though Ron suddenly looked like he was second guessing his placement in Ravenclaw.

"Potions is taught by professor Snape" Anthony continued.

"Did you say Snape?" Harry asked in interest.

"Yes. Severus Snape. He's supposed to be the youngest potions master ever. He's pretty brilliant apparently. He's head of Slytherin house. He's supposed to be pretty tough, though he mostly leaves Ravenclaw alone. It's Gryffindor he hates." Anthony nodded.

"He hates Gryffindor house?"

"Yeah. They're loud and always messing around in class. I'm sure he has his reasons. He's the dark haired one there at the end." Michael replied.

Harry turned to glance at him and found him watching him already. Severus Snape; his mother, the Gryffindor's, best friend. Perhaps it was just as well he'd never written back. It sounded like there might be a lot more to the story than 'they grew apart'. He sure hoped it wouldn't make things awkward in class.

His eyes slid away to land on professor Quirrel, who was seated beside him and a bolt of fire seemed to race through the scar on his head. He clapped a hand to it as his whole head seemed to throb in time with it.

"Alright there, Harry?" Ron asked.

"Yeah. Just a headache. It's past my bedtime, I think."

"I know what you mean. I'm getting sleepy myself." Ron nodded, grabbing a couple of chicken legs just before everything vanished.

The tables cleared and Dumbledore stood again.

"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! Now that we've all been fed and watered I have a few announcements. The Forbidden Forest is, as the name implies, forbidden. Our caretaker, Mr. Filch has added fourteen new things to the list of banned items. If you would like to see the full list you can find it outside his office. I must also tell you that the third floor corridor is off limits, and all students should avoid it unless you want to die a truly horrible death."

"I take it back. He is mad. Who makes an announcement like that in a school?" Harry huffed uneasily.

"Now, before we all retire for the night, I think we should all sing the school song. Pick a tune you like and sign along."

The staff all looked less than pleased as he waved his wand and made a banner with the words to the school song, which began to scroll across the front of the room.
Harry winced at the god-awful cacophony that erupted as everyone began singing to a different tune. The last two left standing were the Weasley twins who were singing to a slow funeral march. Dumbledore waited until they had finished and wiped a tear from his eye.

"Ah, music! A magic greater than any we teach here at Hogwarts."

Harry shook his head as he rose to follow the prefect towards what would be his home for the next seven years. "You know, I had wondered if Hogwarts had a music program. After that, I dearly hope not."

"Tell me about it." Terry Boot agreed with a shudder.

"What the heck was all that about the horrible death? Does anyone know? Is that a normal announcement for school?" Harry wondered.

"I'm afraid not" the prefect, Penny Clearwater replied. "Whatever it is, he didn't bother telling the prefects about it. It is a good question though. If there's structural damage or something, why on earth wasn't it taken care of over the summer?"

"I think we'd all like to know that." Lisa muttered.

Penny led them up to the fifth floor and down a long hallway. At the end was a doorway with steps leading up to it, that bore a bronze eagle door knocker.
"Ravenclaw is a bit different than the other houses. Most of them have a password, or a hidden doorway. Here, you have to answer a riddle."

"Oh man. I suck at riddles." Ron muttered quietly.

Penny smiled at him and shook her head. "Before you worry yourself too much about it, you should know that we've all had the occasional one we couldn't answer right away. Do research until you can. It also helps to always travel with a group, because chances are someone will be able to answer even if most of you are stumped. Gather around now and be quiet."

"Greetings young eagles. Imagine you are in a boat on the sea, far from shore. You are being attacked by a great white shark. How do you stop this?"

"Killing curse? What? It's legal as long as it's not human!" Anthony protested when everyone stared at him.

"Cutting curse should be enough. Unforgivables are overkill if you ask me." Morag scoffed.

"How big is this shark?" Su wondered.

"How big is the boat?" Terry demanded.

"Conjure some fish. It would probably leave you alone then." Padma mused.

"Stop imagining." Harry answered over the babble of the rest.

"Well reasoned. Welcome to Ravenclaw house."

"But…which one was the right answer?" Lisa fretted.

Penny just laughed and led them inside.

"Huh. Pretty nice. Lot of books. I really went and landed myself in nerd central, didn't I?" Ron muttered.

"If you're here, that means you're one too." Harry teased.

"Don't remind me."

"Alright everyone. To your left you'll see a statue of our Founder, Rowena Ravenclaw. Behind her, through the archway, is the entrance to the dorms. Girls to the left, boys to the right. This here is the common room. As you can see there is a library. Everything in it stays in the tower. Ravenclaws only. As you can see there are sections. Closest to the entrance on the left is stuff useful for first years. Each section goes up a year. The stuff closest to the entrance on the right is seventh year material. You're free to look at any of it, but word or warning: chances are you won't understand it without getting a solid handle on the basics first. Magic can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. As you can see, on the left here there are couches and chairs, window seats… we have a great view of the surrounding mountains up here. The right side has study tables. There's a silencing ward up between the two halves. Feel free to get loud, talk, play games or whatever while in the common area. If you're in the study side, while you don't have to be completely silent, you are expected to keep your voice down and be respectful of people trying to study. Each of you will have a desk in your dorms, so you aren't required to study down here. Truth is that area is mostly used by the OWL and NEWT students. It's right by the library sections for those years. You can use that area, but be considerate as there may be others that need it more. Breakfast starts at seven in the great hall and ends at eight. You'll get your schedules in the morning at breakfast. On the wall there next to the statue is the notice board. Activities and clubs will be listed there, special events, house meetings and such, so be sure to check it every day. You will learn very quickly that Ravenclaw house is usually in high demand as tutors. You are only allowed to tutor others in classes that you maintain a solid 'O' in. Um…I think that's everything. Oh! Tomorrow night at curfew our head of house, Professor Flitwick will be here to meet with all of you. It's fairly informal, he just likes to have the chance to meet all the new eagles before he has you in class, so I can already tell you none of you have charms tomorrow. That's all for now. Get some sleep."

They were all so tired by that point they stumbled upstairs till they found the door marked 1st and hurried inside. Each took a moment to appreciate the comfy-looking four poster beds and their blue velvet curtains, the slightly battered desk and chair at each, then stumbled towards whichever bed had their trunk at its foot. Harry changed into his pajamas, crawled into bed and was fast asleep in record time. At one point during the night he dreamed that professor Quirrel's turban was trying to eat him and told him he belonged in Slytherin because it was his destiny, but then it changed into the tiara worn by the statue downstairs. The Grey Lady, the Ravenclaw house ghost appeared then and told him quite seriously "I hid it in a tree. It didn't make you smarter."

Harry rolled over and the dream turned in to one of flying over the countryside. He didn't remember either come morning.

Chapter Text

"Man. It's too damned early." Ron yawned.

"Almost seven, and it's a long walk downstairs." Harry replied. "You need to get a move on, or I'm going to leave without you. The rest of the guys already left. Be thankful I decided to make sure you were awake before leaving as well."

"What? Already? Damn it. House of nerds, and they're all early risers to boot! Ugh!"

Ron finally got himself together and stumbled after Harry still yawning. Just a short distance from Ravenclaw tower, they ran into some other first years.

"Neville?...and whoever you are."

"Claudius Runcorn."

"Seamus Finnegan."

"We met before. What do you mean, whoever you are?" Dean grumbled.

"Kevin Entwhistle."

"Oh, Harry! Hi! Do you know how to get downstairs? The staircase moved and we tried to find another way, but we got lost. Where are we?" Neville said in relief.

"Fifth floor. This way."

"Stairs are back. Let's hope they stay put for a bit. I'm hungry." Dean noted.

"You and me both. Say, how are you liking Gryffindor so far?" Ron asked.

"We all fell asleep pretty quick, so I don’t know yet." Neville shrugged.

"Everything's red and gold. It's pretty cool." Seamus answered before frowning at the two Ravenclaws. "Hey, what's the deal, you two? You both were supposed to be Gryffindors! Everyone says so!"

"Obviously not, or we would have been."

"Too bad for you, I guess. I guess you just didn't make the cut." Runcorn shrugged.

"Sure we did. For Ravenclaw."

"Bookworms and nerds. Everyone knows Gryffindor's the best house." Seamus said cheerfully.

"There's three other houses I'm sure would disagree."

"Nerds, duffers and slimy snakes. Who cares what they think?" Entwhistle laughed.

The Gryffindor boys laughed and split off towards their table. Neville smiled apologetically and followed after them.

"Bunch of jerks. Pfft. Look at that girl Granger. That book's as big as she is. What's she think she is, a Ravenclaw?" Ron scowled at the back of Hermione's head.

"Obviously not. Only one person at our table is reading, and he's reading a comic book."

Ron looked down the table in surprise and realized he was right. One kid was reading a comic book, two were playing chess, another group had transfigured jelly beans into monkeys and sent them down the table to steal the platter of bacon, which was out of their reach. Further down a jaded looking group was sipping coffee and discussing nihilism, and at the end of the table a couple who looked like they were seventh years were making moon eyes at each other and feeding each other across the table. The rest were eating.

"Huh. Maybe this place won't be so bad after all…even if they are all loony morning people." Ron said, considerably cheered.

"I'm not a morning person" Michael Corner objected "but my mom told me if I overslept again she'd send me howlers every week till I stopped."

"That's diabolical." Ron commiserated.

"That's my mother for you."

"I'm not a morning person either. I only slept a couple of hours and then I was wide awake. I've been reading in the library since two am" Anthony Goldstein objected.

Everyone turned to look at Terry, who just shrugged. "I am a morning person. Sue me."

"How about you, Harry?" Michael asked.

"I don't think I'm a morning person, but I was never allowed to sleep in, so I tend to wake up early whether I like it or not." He shrugged.

"That sucks."

"Hey, did any of you read the latest McCrumby?" Terry asked.

"What's that then?"Harry asked in interest.

"It's a book series about a crime solving vigilante."

"Ah. No I haven't read it."

The rest of them shook their heads as well.

"Damn. I was hoping someone had it. The last book just came out and I wanna know what happened to the ship captain."

"Eh, ask around. I'm sure someone has it." Ron replied absently as he filled his plate.

"Good morning, gentlemen! Here you go. It looks like I'll be seeing you in class tomorrow. I look forward to it!" a cheery voice announced.

"Ooh! Schedules! Give it here, professor." Anthony spoke up, looking excited.

"Boot, Corner, Goldstein, Potter, Weasley. There you are. Could one of you be so kind as to see the young ladies get theirs as well when they come down?"

"I will, professor."

"Ah, thank you, Mr. Corner."

"Where are the girls anyway?" Harry wondered.

"Probably primping. 'S what girls do, right?" Ron replied.

"Maybe they got lost?" Anthony offered.

"Might of got stranded like those Gryffindorks did." Michael snorted.

Ron looked torn. He was still so used to it being all Gryffindor all the time in his family, he still found himself automatically wanting to defend Gryffindor's honor; he was smart enough to realize it probably wouldn't win him a lot of love in his actual house.

"Oh, wait, there's some of them now." Terry noted.

Padma, Lisa and Su approached, all of them looking rather ruffled.

"Ladies. What's with all of you?" Harry asked.

"And where's Morag and Mandy?" Michael wondered.

"Ugh. Don't even get me started on those two!" Su huffed.

"It's like world war three up there." Padma agreed.

"What happened?" Harry asked.

"Mandy's cat threw up in Morag's shoe. They've been fighting all morning." Lisa replied.

"It didn't throw up, it was just a hairball." Padma objected.

"Either way." Lisa shrugged, wrinkling her nose.

"Why didn't she charm it so that wouldn't happen?" Anthony wondered.

"She was supposed to. She said she forgot. We already told her if it happens again, the cat is out. I don't want to have to worry I'm going to step in something nasty every morning." Su shuddered.

There was the sound of many wings, and suddenly the air was filled with owls.

"Morning mail delivery. Good. I forgot my dragon-hide gloves." Michael said in relief.

"I hope my witch weekly is here." Padma said at the same time.

Harry smiled when he spotted Hedwig. She didn't have any mail, she'd just come to visit.

"Damn, nothing for me. I hope I don't need them today." Michael sighed.

Harry was rather surprised when a second owl landed in front of him. He removed the package from its leg and offered it some of his bacon. Hedwig squawked indignantly and glared at the other owl until it went away.

"Relax, Hedwig, you're still my favorite."

The letter he'd gotten was on thick, creamy parchment with an embossed coat of arms at the top. He peered at the bottom to see who was writing to him.

"Huh, I wonder if he's related to Sirius Black? Maybe he knew he was my godfather and wanted to say hi?"

He read through the letter and found himself more confused than he was before he read it.

"Something wrong?" Michael asked.

"Not wrong, exactly, just strange. This guy is thanking me for 'the great service I performed for his family' Then he goes on to say he wishes his cousin Pollux had lived a bit longer because then his passing might have been less bitter. I never met this guy. I have no idea what he's talking about."

"Who's it from?" Ron wondered.

"Arcturus Black."

Harry frowned when the whole group looked at him like he was insane.

"Uh, Harry? You cleared his grandson's name and got him out of prison." Michael reminded him.

"No I didn't."

"Sirius Black? Ring a bell?" Michael added.

"Sirius? Wait…he's alive? Where's he…prison? He was in prison? Why was he in prison?"

"For betraying your parents and killing a dozen people." Lisa said slowly as though he was mentally deficient.

"How could you not know? You're the one that wrote that letter and broke the whole case open! It was in all the papers." Terry said in confusion.

"I live with muggles. I don't get the papers. Assume I have no idea what happened and explain it to me."

Everyone looked at Ron, who hunched down in his seat and looked uneasy.

"We were at breakfast and your owl came in and dropped a letter in front of my pet rat. He freaked and tried to run for it. My mum caught him and looked at the letter and saw it was addressed to Peter Pettigrew, someone she knew was supposed to be dead. She called the aurors. She made all of us go upstairs but we snuck back to the top of the stairs. The aurors checked my rat and said he was an animagus. That means a person that can turn into an animal. They took him and the letter and went back to the ministry, so I don't know what all happened after."

"Sure you do. It was in the paper, right?" Lisa said.

"Yeah. They took him in for questioning. He's supposed to be dead, but instead he's alive and well and pretending to be someone's pet? Pretty weird. He admitted he was the secret keeper when your parents went into hiding. He said he didn't tell the secret, that You-Know-Who had strange powers and just knew. If he had come forward back then and told what he knew, he might have gotten some sympathy…maybe. He didn't come forward though. He hid, and when Sirius Black found him he accused him of being the secret keeper, blew up the street, cut off his finger, turned into a rat and fled into the hole he blew in the street. His spell hit a gas line and there was a big explosion. A dozen people died. He left Sirius Black to take the blame for everything. He was in Azkaban for ten years." Padma explained.

"How long has he been out?"

"Not long. A week, two weeks, maybe?" Terry replied uncertainly.

"He never wrote to me or anything. I never tried writing to him. He was supposed to raise me, but he wasn't, so I assumed he was dead."

"He might not be in any condition to. Everyone was actually surprised he was still alive after all this time." Anthony said sympathetically.

"Why? What happened to him?"

"Dementors. They're the guards of the prison. They eat your happy thoughts. If they get a hold of you they eat your soul." Su offered.

"My godfather doesn't have a soul?" Harry squeaked in horror.

"No, no, he wasn't sentenced to the kiss. But even if they don't do that they have a terrible effect on the people they're near. Azkaban is supposed to be hell on earth." Michael was quick to reassure him.

"Only time will tell if he ever recovers. He might not be quite sane. I'm sure the hospital will do what they can to help him." Anthony offered.

Harry subsided into horrified silence and glanced down at the letter in his hands.

"Any idea who Pollux and Arcturus are?"

"They're Sirius Black's grandparents. Pollux Black, his mother's father, died at the beginning of summer, just a few weeks before Sirius' name was cleared. They mentioned him in the article about Sirius. The whole family, really, they were kind of infamous." Michael replied.

"Yeah, Sirius was in prison for killing a dozen people with one curse and betraying your family. His cousins went to prison for torturing the Longbottoms." Terry nodded.

"As in Neville Longbottom?"

"Yeah. Tortured into insanity. They've been in the long term care ward ever since. Sirius had a brother that disappeared during the war, he's assumed to be dead. Their dad died the same year. Their mom only lived a few years after Sirius' went to prison. The only member of the Black family, the younger generation, still in good standing is Narcissa Malfoy. Her sister Bellatrix was the torturer. They had another sister but she was disowned. She has a daughter that just started Auror school. They used to be a big family, and then they started dropping like flies during the war--dead or in prison. Pollux Black died thinking his family name would likely die with him. Arcturus at least got that much, though they don't expect him to last much longer." Su agreed.

"I think the only other one left is Cassiopeia Black, but she's old, never married or had kids." Lisa said.

"Wow. I had no idea."

"If you want to know more you should probably hit the library later and take a look through the newspaper archives." Padma noted.

"I might just do that."

Morag and Mandy showed up towards the end of breakfast and hurriedly ate a quick egg sandwich each while pointedly ignoring one another.

"What's going on here?"Morag asked.

"Never mind." Su replied.

"You wouldn't believe it." Padma added.

"Breakfast is just about over." Ron grumbled.

"I guess we'd best go get our books and stuff." Terry said.

"What's our first class?" Mandy asked.

"Transfiguration with professor McGonagall." Su replied.

They all lucked out. After gathering their books for the day back at the dorms, they found the prefect from the night before, Penny Clearwater, who was nice enough to take them to their first class so they wouldn't get lost. They were the first to arrive. They settled quietly in their seats and got their books out. The teacher didn't seem to be there, but there was a very intelligent looking cat sitting on her desk at the front of the room. It even looked like it was wearing glasses because of how the fur around its eyes was colored. The kids all exchanged a glance; they had just been talking about an animagus at breakfast. Transfiguration was supposed to be McGonagall's specialty; surely if anyone could turn into a cat their teacher could. The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs arrived soon after, and then the Gryffindors started trickling in. Padma's twin, Parvati, brightened when she saw her sister had saved seats next to her. She drug another Gryff, a blonde girl he thought was named Heather or something, along with her. The three of them were soon giggling together quietly. Neville waved when he came in. He ended up sitting up front with Hermione, who seemed to be all but vibrating in impatience to learn. Seamus, Dean and the remaining girls found seats. The last two Gryffindor boys made it inside just as the bell was ringing.

"Teacher's not here yet. Lucky."

The cat leapt off the desk and turned into the teacher.

"I wouldn't count on that, Mr. Runcorn. In the future I expect you to be here in a timely manner. Find your seats." The rest of them clapped politely as the two boys scrambled to find seats. They didn't seem at all pleased that the only ones left were right up front near Hermione and Neville.

"You are here to learn the art of transfiguration. Transfiguration is some of the most complex and difficult magic you will study at Hogwarts. I do not allow any shenanigans in my classroom. If you goof around you will be asked to leave and not allowed to return. Are we clear?"

Harry had been right. She wasn't one to cross.

McGonagall then proceeded to demonstrate some of what could be done with transfiguration, turning her desk into a pig and back.
"Of course all that is far too difficult for any of you to accomplish at this stage of your schooling. We will be starting much simpler, but first though, you need to understand the theory…"
They ended up taking reams of notes for the bulk of the class period. All the little charms his mother had left for him in her book took very little effort once he had them down; transfiguration was apparently a whole different kettle of fish… although, if he was understanding right, the pages and pages of notes he'd just taken boiled down to 'picture it and make it happen', just in a much more technical way.
They didn't get a chance to even pull out their wands till the last fifteen minutes of class. They were all given a matchstick and told to turn it into a needle.

"What's even the point of this?" Ron whispered as he flailed his wand over the matchstick. "If I want a needle I'll just ask my mum."

"That's not the point, we're learning to change things of the same size from one material to another. Once we learn how, we should in theory be able to do it to anything."

"Oh. Well…that would be right useful, I suppose."

"Yeah."

"Nothing's working!" Ron hissed in frustration.

"Are you picturing what you want to happen?"

"You have to do that? I thought you just pointed and 'poof'."

"Your wand is a piece of wood. You have to tell it what you're trying to do."

"Oh. I guess that makes sense. Picture it, huh?"

"No talking."

"Sorry professor." the boys chorused.

The teacher moved on, they hunkered down and got to work. They only had a few minutes of class left.
Harry managed to get his to turn silver-ish. Ron's was definitely a bit pointier. Up front, McGongall was smiling at Hermione Granger and gave her five points for Gryffindor. They both craned their necks and then turned to each other and scowled. Hers was no better than theirs was! They both had something to prove now--they were Ravenclaws. They were supposed to be the 'smart kids'. They bent over their matchsticks with a will and told it and their wands that it was damn well going to be a needle, or else!

They succeeded in getting them each silver-ish and sort of pointy just as the bell was ringing, and both were left feeling like they'd just run a small marathon.

"Read the first four chapters of your text book and write me twelve inches on it by next class meeting. Dismissed."

McGonagall flicked her wand and all the matchsticks gathered themselves up and landed in a pile on her desk. Ron scowled and shoved his books into his bag angrily.
"We both did it and didn't get a lick of points, 'cause she was too busy fawning over bush-head." he grumbled. Harry just shrugged. He was used to being overlooked in class, though he had to admit it stung a bit when he was actually trying to get good grades.

"Next time. Come on. We've another class to get to."

"What's next?"

"History."

"I wonder if he's really as boring as they say?"

"Probably. Makes you wonder why they bother keeping him on though. Maybe I'll see if I can get the transfiguration homework done."

"You want to do homework?" Ron spluttered.

"If it means getting it out of the way so I can look around the castle when classes are over, yeah. Anyway, I already read the first two chapters, so I don't have much more to read. Might as well."

"That's a good point, actually."

"I'll just get the notes from Binns' lecture tonight when we get back to the tower, that's all."

Professor Binns had been at Hogwarts as long as anyone could remember. Rumor had it that he'd fallen asleep in his chair one day between classes, and then died in his sleep. When the class bell rang, he'd just stood up as a ghost and continued teaching. Some said he'd bored himself to death. There might be some truth to that considering half the class was asleep after listening to five minutes of his droning monotone--including Ron. Harry nudged him awake and tapped his transfiguration book meaningfully. He wanted a chance to explore, and it would be more fun with company. It was a struggle for both of them to stay focused with Binns droning on in the background, but they persevered--though Ron did keep nodding off.

Harry finished his essay and packed it away. There was still a bit of time left, so he dug out his history of magic book and started reading it. He hadn't taken a look at the lecture notes yet, so he didn't know how good they were. It would probably help if he had some context to understand them.
More than half the class jumped awake when the bell rang. Even Hermione Granger had fallen asleep in spite of her best efforts not to. She looked rather upset with herself as she packed up.

"Finally! Lunch!" Ron cheered.

Harry was rather surprised to discover he was actually rather hungry. He was so used to missing meals, he normally didn't register hunger the way normal people did.

"Man, I am so glad I'm in Ravenclaw after that! Can you imagine those poor chumps that have to actually try and stay awake listening to that?"

 

"Yeah, tell me about it!"

"Oh well, at least it let us get transfiguration out of the way." Mandy shrugged.

"Yeah."

"I'm only half done. I kept nodding off." Ron grumbled.

"Yeah, same here. Oh well, it's still half done. That's still something." Michael agreed.

"You should put a color charm on your robes." Morag commented, suddenly. Ron, realizing everyone was looking at him, hunkered down and his ears went red. Ron's robes were obvious hand-me-downs, and had been washed so often they were now a middling grey, rather than the deep black everyone else's were.

"You wouldn't be able to tell then. See?" she added, holding out her arm. Ron's defensive hunch unraveled in confusion when he realized what she was implying.

"She's right. There's nothing wrong with them beyond them being a bit faded. If you charm them to be black again you won't even be able to tell. I know the color charm, but I don't know how to make it permanent." Harry agreed.

"I don't even know the charm. My mum did these." Morag sighed.

"Oh well, if it fades you can just re-cast it, right?" Terry shrugged.

"How do you know color charms if you grew up with muggles?" Su wondered.

"My parents left me a school trunk and some stuff in my vault. My mum wrote a book with some helpful charms to get me started, and my dad left a book of pranks. I practiced everything I could."

"And you didn't get in trouble? Even though you were with muggles?" Su said in surprise.

"The trace doesn't kick in till after you've finished a year of school. They figure you can't do enough to actually warrant being watched before then." Anthony explained.

"The trace?"

"Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. We're not allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, though in practice it really only effects the kids with muggle parents. They can't tell who's doing magic if there are adult witches and wizards nearby, so they just assume it's the adult and leave it be. They figure even if it is the kids, if anything goes wrong the parents can fix it, whereas muggles couldn't." Anthony continued.

"So after this year I can't use magic anymore outside of school?"

"Nope. Sorry."Michael said apologetically.

"That sucks!"

"You were saying though? Your parents left you stuff?" Padma asked.

"Huh? Yeah. I actually got the color charm from my dad. Turning people different colors and making them fart was apparently a favorite prank of theirs when they were first years."

"EWWW!" the girls scoffed, the boys all laughed though.

It didn't take Ron long to learn the charm. He knew his faded robes made him stand out, and not in a good way, so he was plenty motivated to learn. He tried not to think too hard about the fact that his mum could have just as easily charmed them as Morag's mum had and saved him the embarrassment. The bell rang and they all groaned, gathering up their things to head off to their next class. Harry noted Ron seemed to walk a little taller, and didn't seem quite so self-conscious now.

"DADA next. I'm looking forward to that one. I wonder what we'll learn? Hexes? Shields?" Michael said cheerfully.

"I guess we'll see. I wonder what kind of teacher he'll be. He used to teach muggle studies, and he's been off on sabbatical, so we'll be his first DADA classes." Lisa explained.

"I hope he knows his stuff." Michael sighed.

"I still say he looks like he couldn't defend himself, let alone teach us to." Ron scoffed.

"W-w-welcome c-c-class to defense against t-t-the dark a-a-arts."

Harry stifled a sigh and did his best to take notes. Professor Quirrel had a terrible stutter, which strangely, seemed to hit every letter of the alphabet. He was an odd one. He said he'd gotten his turban from saving an Arab prince from a vampire, but when Seamus Finnegan asked for details he got flustered and changed the subject. He supposedly did all sorts of amazing things during his year on sabbatical, but it was hard to believe it when he seemed afraid of his own shadow. They did learn a charm to make the end of their wand light up, so that was something, he guessed, but it was still a rather depressing note to end the first full day of classes on.

"This sucks." Harry grumbled as they all headed back to the dorms to drop off their books and change. "Three classes, and two of them look like they'll be mostly self-study."

"Yeah. I've heard there's supposed to be a curse on the DADA position. No teacher has lasted longer than a year for the past forty years or so. They have a hard time getting good teachers for it, and even when they manage to they're never around for long." Ron nodded.

"Alright, that explains Quirrel, I guess. What's the deal with Binns?"

"I heard it's because of the Has-Beens Union" Ron said uncertainly.

"Has-beens?"

"Ghost union. He's the only gainfully employed ghost in all of Britain. They'll have a fit if he gets fired, and no one wants to get haunted." Ron explained.

"That's easy enough to fix. Get a human teacher and have them bring in ghosts from each time period to talk about what life was like. Call them 'special guest lecturers' or something, and then they can brag that there's a dozen gainfully employed ghosts in Britain, not just one."

"Actually, that's not a bad idea. Maybe I'll write to my parents and see if they can get on the board of governors to see it done." Lisa interjected.

"Maybe I'll ask around and see who has parents on the board. If they suggest it too maybe it'll actually happen. It won't help this year, but it would still be something." Padma agreed.

"Oh, hey, before I forget, I'd best find Binns' lectures." Terry remembered.

"Yeah, don't want to forget that." Michael nodded.

It took some searching, but they finally found a ragged stack of parchment bound with twine on the lowest shelf of the first years' library stacks.

"Geez. These are practically falling apart." Morag huffed.

"Are they in order?" Su asked.

"Dang, I didn't even think to check. Good call."

Each of the sections was dated, so they were able to put them in order, and happily, the lectures for the whole year did indeed seem to be there.
Harry dug out the notebook he'd set aside for history, performed the copying spell on the whole stack and then firmly tapped the cover of his notebook. A quick flip through the pages showed them all to be filled. He double-checked the last page of the notes and found it the same as the last page of his notebook.

"Done. Who's next?"

"You just did the whole stack!" Terry exclaimed.

"Yeah, and? It's a spell to copy stuff. It doesn't say 'only two pages' or 'only five'. Why would I bother doing them one at a time when I can do them all at once? That'd just be a waste of time."

"Show me how to do that." Ron demanded.

"Alright, but you should probably practice first. It took me a couple of tries to get it."

While Harry ran Ron through his paces, the rest of them took turns copying the notes. They were a bit chagrined to discover they could indeed just grab the whole stack; they likely would have done each lecture individually had Harry not just done the lot. They had all scattered to their dorms by the time Ron was ready to do the spell himself.

"There! Got it!" he cheered. He looked at the stack of lecture notes the others had left behind for them and sighed worriedly. "That's a lot of stuff. I'll prolly use up all my parchment on that!"

"Don't you have any notebooks?"

"No just parchment."

"I have extras if you want one."

"I don't need charity."

"Don't be stupid. I have a whole box of the things. It was cheaper to buy them in bulk, and I figured they wouldn't go to waste. I have enough for each class, and a few left over. You're going to want those notes come test time."

Ron flushed and dithered unhappily, but in the end practicality won out over pride, though it looked like it had been a painful struggle. "I'd appreciate it, thanks."

Harry dug out the box of extra notebooks from the bottom compartment of his trunk and just gave Ron the lot. There were five altogether. Two had dark grey covers, two were a weird mustard yellow, and the last was white. Ron grimaced at the yellow ones and did a color charm to turn them orange, which to Harry's mind wasn't much better, but Ron seemed to like it.
While Ron was copying the history lectures, Harry began perusing the rest of the shelves to see what was there.

"What are you looking for?" Ron wondered.

"Just looking…though it would be nice if they had the first year DADA lectures too. That stutter is going to drive me 'round the bend, I just know it."

Ron joined him in looking, but he was soon distracted by a book on the history of quidditch. Harry found a book on wizarding world children's stories and started reading those. He'd missed out on stuff like that while growing up with aunt Petunia. Heck, he'd missed out on most of the muggle children's stories too. Stuff like that was only for normal kids, not 'freaks'.
Ron finished flipping through the quidditch book, and swapped it out for one on chess. Harry finished the children's stories and switched it for one on wizard holiday traditions, and then he began reading another on magical theory whose title seemed to jump out at him, while Ron began perusing one called 'Muggles De-Mystified". They both got so lost in their reading they nearly jumped out of their skin when the dinner bell rang.

"Damn. I wanted to look around the castle after classes."

"I was planning to take it easy." He brandished the book he'd been reading rather sheepishly before putting it back on the shelf. "Instead I end up reading for a couple of hours. Weird. The only reading I've ever really done before was comic books when I was lucky enough to get them." Ron agreed.

"I know what you mean. It's not something I ever did a lot of either, usually. My aunt and uncle aren't big readers, and really, they think it's sort of suspicious, somebody wanting to. The only time I ever really did much was when I was hiding in the library from my cousin Dudley. My aunt and uncle aren't big readers, but I think he's outright allergic to books." Harry laughed.

"Why were you hiding from him?"

"Huh? Oh. Uh, well… he and his gang used to beat me up."

"You got them back though, right?"

"No. There was four of them and only one of me. Plus, if I fought back Dudley would tell my aunt and uncle and I'd get in trouble for it."

"Sounds like my sister. If she hexes any of us and we get mad, we're the ones that get in trouble. How is that fair, I ask you?"

"It isn't."

"Yeah. Ginny's the only girl. Only girl for seven generations, in fact. She's 'special'. She gets away with stuff the rest of us couldn't dream of. There's seven of us altogether. Bill's the oldest. He was head boy, and now he's a curse breaker for Gringott's in Egypt. He's really cool. Charlie was on the quidditch team, and he was good enough he could have gone professional. He wanted to work with dragons though. He's off now on a dragon reserve in Romania. Percy's a prat, but he's smart and gets good grades and now he's a prefect. The twins can be jerks, but everyone thinks they're really funny and they're popular and everyone loves their pranks. Then there's me. No matter what I do it doesn't matter, because all the rest of them did it first."

"You're the first Ravenclaw." Harry reminded him. "And when it gets right down to it someone else already did most things, so very few people break new ground even if they don't have a slew of older brothers like you do. Instead of worrying about that you should concentrate on finding your own strengths and the stuff you like to do and working on those. Besides, just from being in a different house, everything you do from here on out will be sort of new, right? If you become a prefect, you'll be the Ravenclaw prefect. Some of your brothers might already have done it, but only for Gryffindor. Same if you get on the quidditch team."

"Hey, that's right, isn't it?" Ron cheered up considerably, but then just as abruptly he was gloomy again. "Damn. Ginny's probably going to end up here next year, which just sort of ruins it."

"What do you mean? Why would she?"

"'Cause of you. Once she heard you ended up in Ravenclaw I'm sure she started making plans."

"Why would it matter where I was?"

"She's totally obsessed with you. She thinks you're going to get married someday."

"I'm eleven, I'm really not thinking about that. Frankly, the fact that she is is a mark against her so far as I'm concerned." Harry muttered. The whole being famous thing continued to take him by surprise, and thus far he couldn't say he particularly cared for it. While they waited for the stairs to come back he gave the matter of Ron's sister some thought.

"I know, if she brings it up, you can tell her real casual like that I got a letter from my parents' in my vault and they told me I'd best get into Gryffindor or else…but if for some reason I couldn't cut it, I had to promise to marry a Gryffindor girl, so their grandkids would be suitably brave and heroic."

"Hah! That just might work. I'll do it."

"Wait till she brings it up or she'll just think you're making it up."

"We are though, right?"

"Yeah, but we don't want her to know that!"

The Ravenclaw table in the great hall was once again overflowing with delicious food in large quantities. This was his fourth meal at Hogwarts and he still wanted to boggle at all the food. He felt a certain trepidation about returning to the Dursleys at year's end. It had been hard enough dealing with short rations and never-ending hunger when that was all he'd known. It was going to be nearly impossible to deal with after being able to eat his fill three meals a day for most of the year. Maybe he should look into ways to get around that while he was here. Expect the best, plan for the worst, right?

If he could just find some way to keep whatever food he stowed away fresh for a few weeks, he could hide it in his trunk and they'd be none the wiser. It would have to be stuff like fruit and sandwiches, unless he could figure a way to heat food up as well which didn't involve using his wand. Until he'd been told he couldn't use it over the summer, he'd been counting on his wand being a deterrent to his relatives. His aunt likely already knew he wouldn't be allowed to do anything, so that was out. Damn it. Stupid laws. Stupid muggles.

 

Harry had intended to go exploring after dinner, before curfew kicked in, but instead he found himself once more ensconced in the common room, reading. He finished the introduction to magical theory book he'd started earlier and spotted another that looked interesting when he put it back. Ron had gone back for the book on chess he'd been reading earlier and had laid himself out on the floor by the fire with his chess set. It looked like he was trying out some new moves. Harry didn't play, so he wasn't sure. It was rather a surprise when the bell for curfew rang; he hadn't realized a couple of hours had passed already. Professor Flitwick came in not long after and called all the first years together in a corner of the common room.

"Well, hello my young eagles. Hopefully your prefect warned you we'd be meeting like this tonight, if not, no worries. I do this every year with the new first years as I like to have some idea who's in my house. I believe I know most of your names already, but even so, let's go around the circle and introduce ourselves. I'll even start. I'm professor Filius Flitwick, charms master and former duelling champion."

"Were you really, professor?" Mandy said in interest.

"Oh, indeed, indeed! It was quite a few years ago, but true nonetheless. Now, the rest of you give your names and tell us something about yourself. For example, if you've some idea of the field you'd like to go into, or what classes you're looking forward to. Don't be shy, now. Let's start with you."

"Uh, Ron Weasley. I don't know what I want to do, except that it's probably not curse breaker 'cause Bill, my brother, said the classes he needed were all really hard. Not dragon tamer either. My brother Charlie does that and he's got burns all over to hear him tell it. Don't know what he was thinking, running off to live with a bunch of fire-breathing dragons, but he loves it."

"Padma Patil. My sister and I would like to open our own fashion boutique after we graduate. We hope to have our own line of clothing and cosmetics."

"Very nice. Next."

"Terry Boot. Uh, I was looking forward to transfiguration, but I couldn't get my match to do anything."

"Don't lose heart, Mr. Boot, you've only had one class. It takes most young witches and wizards a few tries to get the knack of transfiguration. I'm sure you'll do splendidly."

"Anthony Goldstein. I'd like to be a healer. I'm looking forward to potions and herbology."

"Lisa Turpin. I don't know what I'd like to do. I'm looking forward to charms."

"You've good taste!"

"Michael Corner. I don't know what I want to do. My mum wants me to be an auror, but I don't know if that's what I want."

"Mandy Brocklehurst. I'd like to be a lawyer like my dad, and eventually be on the Wizengamot."

"If you're aiming for the Wizengamot, you'll need a NEWT in history. Fair warning. Any of you that have Wizengamot seats in the family should keep that in mind." Harry blinked when the professor looked right at him. Did that mean he had a Wizengamot seat? What was the Wizengamot?

"Morag MacDougal. I like magical plants and creatures. My family runs a potions supply business that I'll take over some day."

"Su Li. I'd like to be an Unspeakable."

"And last but not least."

"Harry Potter. I have no idea what I want to do. I didn't know I was a wizard till Hagrid brought my letter, so I'm not really sure what all is out there. Healer I can figure, lawyer I know. I've no idea what the Wizengamot is or what Unspeakables do, except it sounds unpleasant. Maybe in a few years I can tell you better. I was most looking forward to charms and potions. Those were my mum's favorite classes and she made them sound really interesting."

"Your mother…?"

"Her and my dad left me a letter, and they each made me a book with tips and some basic charms and stuff in it to help me out when I started school."

"Your parents were lovely people, in fact your mother was a protégé of mine. I'm glad you have a piece of them to hold on to…though I'll admit I'm surprised they planned that far ahead. They were quite young when they died. Too young."

"They knew they were going to. Die, I mean. They said they hoped they were just being melodramatic, but they both had a feeling. They didn't want me to head off to school without being a part of it somehow."

"Well." Flitwick said sadly. After a moment's silence he perked up again and looked around at all of them. "Do any of the rest of you not know what the Wizengamot is or what Unspeakables are? Speak up."

Ron raised his hand, as did Morag, Terry and Lisa.

"That's right. Remember children, there is no shame in not knowing something, so long as you always turn it in to an opportunity to learn something new! You've only just started your history classes so it wouldn't have been mentioned yet. The modern Wizengamot is actually an outgrowth of the old warlock's council that used to be in place before the rise of the ministry, so it hasn't actually been around for all that long, historically speaking. Now, Miss Brocklehurst, as you are aiming to be on the Wizengamot, how about you tell us what you know about it?"

"Well… the Wizengamot serves as the lawmaking and judiciary body of the Ministry. They ratify new laws that are up for review and oversee trials, though normally the full Wizengamot isn't required for those, unless it's a capital case. For example, the full Wizengamot oversaw the death eater trials in the 1980s…"

After leading them through a quick history lesson and a rundown of what the Unspeakables were, they got an impromptu charms lesson as well when the color charm on Ron's robes abruptly faded and he muttered 'oh, bugger!' in the middle of a discussion about the elective classes offered by Hogwarts, even though they didn't get to take them till they were third years.

Professor Flitwick had explained that, for some reason, they didn't offer career counseling until fifth year when they'd all be taking their Ordinary Wizarding Levels (OWLs), and that more than once he'd had a student express an interest in some field or other, only to discover they'd not taken the right electives to pursue it. They had gotten points for helping out a friend, and a well-cast color charm. He had Ron bring the rest of his robes down and had cast permanent color charms on all of them for him, as he explained it was quite beyond their power and skill level just yet.

"Well, our meeting has run a bit longer than I had planned on, though I'm not complaining. It is getting about time for young eagles to be getting to bed though. You've another full day of classes tomorrow, and the day starts early, which really is a pity as usually about 80% of Ravenclaws are night owls. Ah well…"

"Which of you is a morning person?" Michael asked the girls. Morag raised her hand, and realized she was the only one of the girls that did so.

"You and Terry are the oddballs then."

"Huh, exactly 80%. I wonder why that is?" Su wondered.

The discovery led to a whole new discussion, which some of the older students joined in on. Professor Flitwick ended up staying until lights out, even though he hadn't planned to. None of the rest of the students seemed surprised, so it was probably a fairly regular occurrence.

 

"Why does the day always start so early?" Ron wondered as they were getting dressed the next morning. Harry just snorted and finished up the letter he was writing.

"Who're you writing to anyway? Your aunt and uncle?"

"Them? Why would I write to them? I'm well shut of them for the next nine months, and we're all happy with that arrangement. No, I'm writing back to Arcturus Black. It's only polite. I know how annoyed I was that no one answered the letters I wrote…of course I didn't realize it was because they were supposed to be dead and pretending to be a rat, but my point still stands. I'm hoping he can give me some idea of how my godfather is doing since I still haven't heard from him."

"Oh. Yeah, I can see how that would be weighing on you. They didn't really say much about his condition in the papers, just that he had a private room and they would do everything wizardly possible to help him recover." Michael said sympathetically.

Harry noticed Ron was fiddling with the end of his wand and looking rather glum.

"What's with you?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing…just my stupid wand. It used to be Charlie's. He got a new one when he graduated Hogwarts. The unicorn hair is poking out." he held it up to show him. "I'm the youngest boy, so everything I get is used. I got Bill's old robes, Charlie's old wand, and Percy's old rat…and that I don't even have anymore because he was actually an animagus."

"There's no shame in that. Everything I've ever gotten my whole life was Dudley's first. He's a head taller than me and three times as wide. At least your clothes fit."

"What're you talking about? All your stuff's brand new."

"What I'm wearing now, yeah. My parent's left me some money to do my school shopping, and my mum said to make sure I had warm clothes 'cause it got cold. I made a point to do that since I didn't have anything that would suit. I had to fight tooth and nail to do it to. Hagrid kept insisting I was only allowed to get what was on the list." Harry scowled, remembering.

"If you had a choice, would you get a new wand or a new pet?"

"I'm not getting either, so what's the point?"

"Just curious."

"A new wand. After the whole Pettigrew thing I'm in no hurry to have another animal around."

Harry just nodded. Looked like he knew what to get at least one person for Christmas. He'd have to write to Ollivander and see if he sold gift certificates.

"Say, where's Anthony?" Terry wondered.

"Probably got up in the middle of the night to read again." Michael replied.

Sure enough they found Anthony asleep in a chair with an open book on his lap. Michael shook him awake and the rest headed down to breakfast.

 

Harry was pretty sure Charms was going to be his favorite class. Professor Flitwick was fun, and his class was too. They started off with a short lecture and went right into movement charms, which were apparently a fundamental skill that they'd need and use their whole lives. Put that way, they all feared another heavy class with lots of theory, diagrams and note taking. Instead, they were given pineapples and told to make them dance.

There were some mishaps: Neville's went shooting off his desk when he tried to make it move. Seamus Finnegan's started smoking. A couple of the Slytherin kids didn't seem to be able to make theirs do anything, while another was having the opposite problem, much like Neville and Seamus. Hermione Granger, the ever-annoying, got hers dancing right off, much to the frustration of Ravenclaw house.

Happily, they all got it before the period ended and won extra points for their house by making their pineapples do a synchronized dance routine, which utterly delighted Flitwick. They collectively won twenty points to Granger's five for getting it first. Her face was like a thundercloud when she left class; she apparently didn't take competition well.

She seemed determine to make up the points in Herbology, though it almost backfired on her. Her hand snapped up and started waving around every time professor Sprout so much as opened her mouth. She finally told her rather firmly to give someone else a chance and refused to call on her for the rest of the lesson. Granger was undaunted, they saw her demanding to know if there was extra credit to be had as they were all leaving at the end of class.

"Wow. That girl seriously needs to relax." Lisa muttered as they were leaving. The rest of them could only agree.

Harry spotted professor McGonagall in the entryway as they were all headed into lunch. He waved the rest of them to go ahead and approached her.

"Um, excuse me, professor?"

"Yes, Mr. Potter? Can I help you with something?"

"Yes, actually. I was wondering if you could see clear to giving me whatever pamphlets you gave the muggle born when you took them on their shopping trip. Hagrid didn't give me any of them."
"You're not muggle born though, Mr. Potter."

"Might as well be for all I know of the Wizarding world, professor."

"But your aunt…"

"Hates magic, hates wizards, hates me. I never knew why till Hagrid showed up. She never mentioned magic. She and my uncle told me my parents died in a car crash while drunk driving. Hagrid had to tell me how my parents actually died. I had no idea of any of it until he showed up and she started ranting about how my mum was a freak and she knew I was one as well. I am very lucky my parents had the foresight to make arrangements for my schooling, or I wouldn't be here now. They were quite adamant that I wasn't to go to Hogwarts. Apparently they promised to 'stomp the magic out' when they took me in. Obviously, with an attitude like that they weren't going to be forthcoming about anything they might know about the magical world. So, if you please professor, I would very much like to get whatever introduction the other kids did."

He seemed to have rendered her speechless. She pulled herself together after but a moment and nodded stiffly. "If you come to my office after dinner, Mr. Potter, I shall be sure that you get them."
"Thank you, professor."

 

"There ya are, Harry. What was that about?" Ron asked.

"I asked if I could get the pamphlets that normally get handed out to the muggle born students."

"You're not muggle born though."

"I might as well be for all I know of the wizarding world. I just wanted to make sure I at least start out on the same foot as the rest that just learned of it."

"If you have questions about anything, feel free to ask the rest of us too, though I can't promise we'll always know the answers." Su Li offered.

"Thanks. I will."

"What kind of stuff is in the pamphlets anyway?" Terry wondered.

"I don't know, which is why I want them."

 

"Well, that's another day of classes done. Ready to head back to the tower?" Ron asked.

"Actually, I think I'm going to go to the library first." Harry had the strangest feeling he'd end up in the tower reading till dinner and then again till curfew if he went back to Ravenclaw first. He half wondered if there was a spell on the library there; he and Ron weren't the only ones of their year that had done just that, though it wasn't all of them. Padma had gone off to hang out with her sister and Lavender (not Heather) Brown from Gryffindor, Morag had been off with a second year friend of hers, Terry and Michael had played exploding snap. The rest of them read books.

"What for?"

"Newspaper archive. Plus to just look around. I haven't been there yet. Oh, and we can find a few references for our herbology homework while we're there so we'll have them for when we do our homework in history tomorrow."

"Oh, okay."

"We'll come with you. None of us has been there yet." Terry offered.

To none of their surprise, Hermione Granger was in the library when they arrived. She was seated and surrounded by piles of books on all sides. She was manically writing out an essay that was already three feet long and looked to be getting longer by the minute. Neville was at the other end of the table, but he seemed to be reading. There was what looked to be a completed (12 inch) essay on the table beside him.

"Wasn't the herbology assignment for twelve inches?" Anthony said worriedly as he watched Hermione's antics.

"Yes." the rest chorused.

"No talking!" the librarian hissed as they passed.

The entrance to the newspaper archive was in a back corner; you'd never know it was there even if you were right in the area. The librarian actually had to show them where it was.

"I thought you knew about this place already." Ron asked.

"My mum mentioned it once. She said to make friends with the librarian because there was all sorts of useful stuff in this place that I'd miss out on otherwise. I guess this is what she was talking about."

"Yeah, I wonder what else is hidden around here." Terry agreed.

The newspapers were piled in large, dust covered file cabinets. Worse, the newspapers seemed to be out of order.

"Man, we'll never find anything in here."Michael griped, sneezing a bit.

"Wrong. My mum left me a spell for just this situation."

"She did? Wow. Your mum was awesome." Terry enthused.

"Yeah. Lucky bastard. My mum's still around, and she never taught me any magic. I never even got a chance to experiment with her wand like the twins and Ginny did." Ron grumbled.

"Well, you can learn a spell from my mum, how's that?"

He showed them how to do it, and then performed it himself. The boys all jumped when several file cabinets opened and a dozen or so papers popped up away from the rest.

"That's a great spell, mate." Michael said, impressed.

They gathered up the papers and spread them out on the table. Harry showed them a second spell that searched for information in just one book or location, so they could find the text that had gotten a hit from the first spell.

"Sirius' birth announcement."

"Wow. That spell really did find all references, didn't it?" Terry noted.

"Looks like. Let's see what else we've got."

"Let me try this time." Anthony offered.

"New sortings at Hogwarts. A list gets published each year. He's there in Gryffindor. There's your dad, and Pettigrew. What a creep." Ron grumbled.

"Remus Lupin is the last." Michael added.

"I think he's dead. I tried writing to him after I didn't hear from Pettigrew. Hedwig took the letter, flew in circles and brought it back."

"She probably wouldn't have taken the letter if he was dead. He's under heavy wards somewhere or he's unplottable. Either way she'd know he was out there, but she wouldn't be able to find him." Anthony disagreed.

"Oh. That's good to know. It means my godfather has at least one friend still alive."

They ended up staying back there till dinner time, trying different key words just to see what sort of things came up. As a result, there was a rather large tower of papers strewn across the table when they were done.

"Oh man. This is gonna take forever to put back." Terry sighed.

"Maybe not. Let me try something. PACK!"

For a moment it seemed like the spell wouldn't do anything, but then all the file drawers flew open and the papers began shooting out. The boys yelped in fright and dove beneath the table to escape. Harry shot a panicked 'muffliato' at the entranceway. He had no doubt in his mind that they would probably get kicked out if the librarian came back to investigate all the racket. Just as suddenly as it had all begun, the papers began shooting back into the file cabinets, and the drawers shut with a clang one after another. When the last paper had returned to its cabinet, the silence was deafening.
The boys carefully crept out from under the table, eyeing the cabinets warily, but they showed no signs of acting up any further. Anthony went and opened the cabinet he'd first checked when they came in and flipped through the papers curiously.

"Huh."

"What?"

"They're in order. Nice job."

"Um, thanks?"

The rest of them started laughing, and Ron shoved him playfully in the shoulder. "You don't do things by halves, do you Harry?"

Madame Pince, the librarian came in while they were still laughing and looked at them all suspiciously until they left; Harry hadn't been quick enough with the 'muffliato' it seemed.
She followed them to the front, probably wanting to make sure they left. Anthony was too curious to let her gimlet stare daunt him.

"Excuse me, Madame Pince, I don't suppose you have a directory, or a map, that tells what all resources the Hogwarts library holds, do you?"

"Why would we have something like that? If you want something, you ask me."

"I see. Well then, Madame, could you tell us what resources are available?"

"It's dinner time. Library's closed."

They were hustled out the door without further ado.

"Friendly." Michael grumbled sarcastically.

"This is an outrage. She can't hide the library's resources from us! I'm going to complain to Flitwick." Terry howled.

"Why don't you just ask him what's available and how to find it so we don't have to talk to her again."Ron suggested.

"I might do just that!"

"Geez. What an old sourpuss. The less time spent in there the better." Michael agreed.

"It's the school library. By creating such an unwelcoming atmosphere, she's hampering our education!" Anthony growled.

"It's an outrage, I tell you! An outrage!" Terry agreed.

"We should complain right now!" Michael nodded.

With that, Anthony, Terry and Michael marched off, bristling with indignation. Ron and Harry left them to it. They didn't all need to complain, after all. They spotted them at the front of the great hall, gesticulating wildly to a bemused Flitwick. The rest of the staff seemed to be rolling their eyes and muttering 'Ravenclaws' under their breath. That they seemed more amused than angry didn't lessen the sting of having their house dissed by the staff.

The girls were already at the table when they sat down and asked what was going on. Ron told them the story. They got sidetracked from being outraged because they wanted to learn the spells they'd used. Any remaining outrage was mollified when the three boys returned and assured them there was a map with a list of library resources in the first year stacks in the tower.

"That's good to know. I'm not surprised she hustled you out. Parvati and I tried to hang out there yesterday and she kept hovering and glaring at us. We were being quiet. She's a menace!" Padma noted as she stabbed unhappily at her mashed potatoes.

"I can teach you a spell to put up that will muffle your voices so she won't hear you."

"You know something like that?"

"Yeah, another one from my mum's book. Professor Snape actually created the spell while he was in school."

"Wow, really?"

"That's what she said."

"Huh. He really is brilliant, isn't he? Making his own spells in school, potions master right out of it!" Anthony said, impressed.

Snape seemed a bit confused when the Ravenclaw first years suddenly all turned to look at him; he didn't recognize the admiring glances for what they were, as he wasn't used to such things being turned on him.
Ron snatched a couple of chicken legs moments before remaining food disappeared from the tables.

"You have a real sense for when the table's going to be cleared." Harry said, bemused. This wasn't the first time he'd seen him do that.

"I come from a big family. You have to be quick if you want to eat your fill. We're we headed?"

"Professor McGonagall's office, then back to the library so we can get our herbology homework out of the way tomorrow."

"Yeah, alright. That'll probably take till curfew, won't it? I wanted a chance to look around some. The twins always bragged that they found a whole bunch of secret passages the first week they were at school. They won't tell me where any of them are though."

"That's mean. Well, if we hurry maybe we'll have time to do at least a little exploring."

"That looks like McGonagall's office there."

"Well, well, well, what have we here?"

"Why it looks like a couple of eagle chicks wandered into the lion's den!"

"You're a good distance from your eyrie, little 'claws."

"You should watch where you wander. You might get eaten."

Harry and Ron came to a stop as they were suddenly bracketed by two grinning, identical redheads.

"Bugger off, we're busy."

"Oh ho! Hear that, brother mine? They're busy!"

"Eager to get off to the library, are we?"

"Yes. But first I'm supposed to meet professor McGonagall."

The twins let Harry slip by, but they kept hold of Ron. He could hear them tormenting him as he continued down the hall.

"Ron, Ronnie, Ronniekins!"

"You never call, you never write…"

"In case you haven't noticed, we're in the same ruddy building. Why would I bother?"

"How cruel. That's a fine way to act."

"Where'd you get the new duds? You haven't been robbing anyone have you?"

"They're mine. They've got a color charm on them. A real one, not like that made up thing you taught me. Turns out I’m actually good at magic when I've got real spells to use."

"Oh, ho. The baby eagle has found his claws it seems!"

"Ah, geroff!"

Harry knocked at McGonagall's door and heard her call 'enter'. He stepped inside and found the assistant headmistress seated behind her desk, marking papers. She hesitated for a moment when she saw him, but she was all efficiency a moment later.

"Mr. Potter. Very punctual. I have the pamphlets you wanted right here." she murmured as she bustled towards a battered cabinet in the corner. Harry peered around her to see inside and saw a number of boxes. She pulled something from each of them and packed them together neatly. She opened her mouth for a moment as though she would speak, but then closed it again without saying anything and simply handed them over.

"If that is all, Mr. Potter, I've a lot of grading to do."

"Of course. Thank you, professor."

McGonagall sat quietly for several long moments after the door shut behind him, then shook herself and determinedly went back to her grading.

 

Harry didn't get a chance to look at his pamphlets until he went to bed that night. He and Ron swung by the library and used his spells to gather stuff for their homework and then went exploring. There wasn’t much to see in the area they chose; it was mostly a lot of abandoned classrooms filled with dusty furniture. There was some neat stuff. One of the rooms had stained glass windows that covered the room in a rainbow of colors.

They found an upper storey to one of the classrooms as well. It was obviously meant as teacher's quarter's at one time. There was a small kitchen, a bathroom and two rooms that could serve as a sitting room and bedroom. They marked the location in their mind just in case they ever needed a secret clubhouse. Unlike the rooms on the hallway level, they wouldn't be seen and then chased out; someone would have to actually be looking for them.

They did find a secret passage, but sadly it was caved in, so they weren't even able to use it. Harry made a mental note to look into something that could fix it, and they moved on. They ended up in a creepy hallway covered in dust and cobwebs and found a strange mirror inside. Ron swore it told the future. He saw himself as headboy and quidditch captain, holding the house and quidditch cups.

"How did you not end up in Slytherin?"

"What's that supposed to mean? I'm no slimy snake!"

"You're ambitious. You want to stand out and be covered in glory. It's the house of ambition, not slime."

"Slytherins are evil!"

"We sit right next to them in the great hall for every meal. They whine a lot, I'll grant you. I haven't seen a lot of evil."

"If it tells the future, I'm not Slytherin, just awesome."

"Look at the writing on the top. I thought it was some weird foreign language at first, but I think it's actually backwards, just spaced oddly. I show not your face but your heart's desire. That's ambition, not awesomeness. Sorry mate."

"So I'm not gonna be quidditch captain?"

"I never said that, but you have to work for stuff you want. It doesn't just get handed to you. If you want to be head boy you'll have to get good grades and show them you're a mature, responsible sort that can be trusted to look after the students. If you want to be quidditch captain, first you have to get on the team."

"What do you see?"

Harry looked over at the mirror, then shrugged and turned away. "It doesn't matter. There are things I want that I can never have. The things that are in reach I already know I have to work for. Waiting and wishing never did me any good."

"Aren't you even curious?"

"I don't need some dumb mirror to tell me what I want most."

The curfew warning bell rang in the distance.

"Damn. Already? Time sure flies in this place."

"You know, I was just thinking, we should tell professor Flitwick about that cave-in. That forbidden corridor is on the third floor. What if the structural damage is spreading and they don't know?"

"Huh. That's a good point."

They swung by Flitwick's office on their way to the dorms.

"Oh! Hello boys. It's nearly curfew, you know. Did you need something?"

"We found a caved in passageway. We thought we should tell someone before the castle comes crashing down around our ears."

"Yeah. It kinda sucks, really. It's the first secret passageway we found and we didn't even get a chance to see where it went!"

"Oh. Goodness. Well, thank you for telling me about it."

"We were going to try to fix it…"

"Ah, why don't you leave that in more experienced hands, boys. I'll let you know when it's been repaired and you can explore it then, how's that?"

"Alright." the boys agreed glumly.

"Five points to Ravenclaw for being safety conscious."

 

The remainder of their first week continued to fly by. On Wednesday night they had to get up at midnight and head up to the astronomy tower for class. They were all drooping the next morning from having their sleep interrupted--all except Anthony who was used to it, and Terry and Morag who were their morning people. The two of them had a harder time the night before in getting up when they wanted to be sleeping.
Before they knew it , is was Friday.

"We've the morning free and double potions this afternoon. Wish it was the other way around." Ron griped.

"Yeah." Harry agreed.

"Mail's here." Mandy noted.

"Alright! Looks like my gloves are here! Finally!" Michael said in relief.

Hedwig landed in front of Harry with a short note from Hagrid, while across from him an animated dust mop crashed out of the air and landed in Ron's eggs.

"Bloody hell! Errol!"

"Is that…an owl?" Padma said in disbelief.

"Good lord. How old is that thing?" Lisa asked a moment later.

"Is he dead?" Anthony asked warily.

That was a fair question; the owl in question was lying on its back with its legs in the air, seemingly dead to the world. Ron had fished him out of his eggs and dumped him on the table after untying several letters from his legs.

"My parents owl. Errol. Dumb thing has trouble making the trip…well, anywhere, really. He's just unconscious."

"That poor thing! Why don't they let him retire?" Morag demanded.

"What use is a mail owl that can't carry mail anymore?" Ron grumbled. "I'd best give these to my brothers. Errol doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon."

When Ron left, Mandy and Morag tried to revolve the pitiable thing by dibbling water in his beak and fanning him to see if it helped any.

"That's animal cruelty." Terry shook his head.

"I don't think I've ever seen an owl this old." Michael agreed, poking him gently to see if he was in fact still alive.

"Hagrid asked if I wanted to come for tea during the free period today. Maybe I'll take this guy with me and see if he can do anything for him."

"What's this then?" Ron asked when he returned.

"Hagrid invited me to tea during the free period. I'm taking your owl with me."

"What for? He'll wake up soon enough."

Mandy, self-proclaimed animal lover, and Morag who planned a future career with magical animals, decided to accompany Harry down to the gamekeeper's hut, as did Ron, who seemed annoyed both at their presence, and everyone's outrage on behalf of Errol the mail owl. Even Hedwig came along.

 

They could see Hagrid feeding some of the animals as they made their way across the grounds. He spotted them as well and began making his way back towards his hut.

"Alrigh' there, Harry?"

"Fine, Hagrid. How're you?"

"Can't complain. Who're your friends?"

"Oh, sorry. Morag MacDougal, Mandy Brocklehurst"

"Nice ter meet ya. I'm Hagrid"

"Ron Weasley."

"Another one, eh? Hope yer less trouble than yer brothers. I'm always having ter chase 'em outa the forest… but then, yer a Ravenclaw, aren't ya? Sneaking inter the forest ain't really your folks style, is it?"

He spotted Errol, who had just begun to stir and try righting himself, in Morag's arms, and went to investigate.

"Who's this little fella? He's looking a bit worse for wear there."

"That's Errol. He's my family's mail owl."

"He's been unconscious for a half hour!" Mandy exclaimed.

"Yeah, he fell right out of the air and crashed into the table!" Morag agreed.

"Tha' so? Give 'em here."

Errol was dwarfed in Hagrid's large hands, but the man was exceedingly gentle as he carried him inside.
He set Errol atop one of the rafters and brought out a crock of honey, some cream, enough large mugs for all of them and set a pot of tea to brewing.

"Jes let that set there for a bit, and I'll take a look at this little feller."

Hagrid sat down by the open window after collecting Errol and gave him a thorough exam, checking his wings for any damage from his fall. When finished he fed him some shreds of meat and then settled him down on a perch near the fire where he promptly went to sleep. Hedwig joined him.

"That's your owl, ya said?"

"My parents' owl, but yeah."

"Oldest mail owl I ever saw. Trip up here was a bit hard on 'im. I'll keep him here a day or so and let 'im rest up. Yer parents should prolly get a younger owl for long distance and let that little fellow stick to local stuff."

Ron nodded, but his ears were red. Harry had a feeling that meant they weren't likely to bother getting a second owl while there was still a bit of life in the first.

"Tea's about ready, give yer cups 'ere." He poured tea all around and they passed the cream and honey around after.

"How's yer first week been?"

"Well, it's not over yet. We haven't had potions yet, but it's been okay so far." Harry replied.

"Glad ter hear it. Ravenclaw. Never saw that coming. Fer either of you two. Everyone was sure ye'd be Gryffindors fer sure."

"Well, we're not, and I can't speak for Ron, but I'm quite happy with the house I've got."

"Same here." Ron nodded.

"Ravenclaw is the best." Morag agreed.

"Yeah, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. I love our tower." Mandy added.

"Professor Flitwick is pretty awesome too." Morag nodded.

"Good, good. If'n yer all happy then it's fer the best."

There was a pile of old newspapers on the table. Harry pulled them closer and glanced at the one on the top.

"What's this? Gringott's was broken into?"

"Oh, that happened a while ago." Morag replied, peering over his shoulder. "See? The date on it."

"Hey, this is the day we were in Diagon Alley. Vault seven thirteen. Isn't that where you were headed?"

"Yeah, it's alright. I got there afore the thief did."

"That was lucky." Ron noted.

"The goblins are right peeved, I'm sure. Makes 'em look bad, even if nuthin was taken. They pride themselves on how secure th' bank is."

"Well, you said they were dangerous. I'm sure they'll catch whoever it was."

"What'd you take out? What was the thief after?" Ron wondered.

"Never you mind. That's between Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel."

"That name sounds familiar." Mandy noted.

"Yeah, it does. I wonder where I heard it before?" Morag agreed.

Harry flipped through the rest of the stack of papers and pushed them aside.

"You don't have any of the papers with Sirius Black in them."

"Ah, ye heard about tha' did ya?"

"You were keeping it from me?"

"Not exactly. Dumbledore thought it cruel ter get yer hopes up s'all. The man ain't never gonna be right in th' head. Damned shame, that."

Harry frowned unhappily. "You don't know that for sure, no one does. I was told people were surprised he was still alive after so many years, but he beat the odds there. Maybe he can recover as well. Only time will tell."

"Could be." Hagrid agreed kindly, though Harry could tell he was just humoring him. "Poor lad. I wish he'd said sumthing ter me tha' night. Mighta changed things."

"What night?"

"The night yer parents died. I told ya I took ye outa th' wreckage. He showed up not long after I'd got there. Said he'd gone ter check on tha' bastard Pettigrew, but he weren't where he shoulda been, so he thought sommat was wrong and came ter check on yer parents. Th' house was already blown up. He tried ter take ye that night, told me he was yer godfather and ye was supposed ter go to 'im, but Dumbledore told me ter take ye ter yer aunt's house, so I told him no. He gave me 'is flying motorcycle so I could get ye there safely, said he had to go find a rat." Hagrid blinked and frowned when he finished, then cast a sheepish glance Harry's way as he realized Sirius had in fact said something--he just hadn't understood what he'd told him.

Harry clutched at his tea like a lifeline while he fought down the urge to rage at the large man. What would be the point? He was a simple man, kind hearted and trusting, and he worshipped the ground Dumbledore walked on. Cursing him for ruining his life wouldn't undo the events of that night. He would always wonder though, if Dumbledore hadn't of taken it upon himself to interfere, would Sirius have been free all these years? If he'd had to worry about taking care of a baby, he probably wouldn't have run off into the night to chase down Pettigrew--or so he would hope.

"Did you mention Sirius being there to Dumbledore? Tell him what he said?"

"Don' rightly remember. Might have done. Was ten years ago."

Harry tried not to sigh in frustration. He could remember what Sirius said, but not whether he'd told Dumbledore? Grrr. It was important! The papers said Barty Crouch, who had been head of law enforcement at the time had issued a manhunt for Sirius because Dumbledore had told him he was the secret keeper. If Hagrid had told him about his conversation with Sirius, he should have had reason to think otherwise. Why else would the fact that Peter was missing mean trouble at his parents' house, unless he was the secret keeper?

When you added in that the goblins told him Dumbledore had himself made his guardian an hour after his parents' demise, and already had his minion in place to spirit him away to his aunt's house. There was really no arguing with Hagrid when it came to Dumbledore's orders, nor was there much one could do to move a ten foot tall guy if he didn't want to move, he'd learned that much during his shopping trip. So what if the newly orphaned baby's legal guardian is there and removing him against his wishes is technically kidnapping-- Dumbledore said, so it's alright. To add insult to injury, he'd been dumped on said aunt's doorstep like a bottle of milk.

He had wondered at the discrepancies when reading of Sirius' original arrest. It hadn't happened until a week after his parents' death. Well, now he knew why he hadn't been with him. Dumbledore had interfered and simply passed over his legal guardian, and stuck him with someone his parents didn't want him with. Heck, they were certain he'd have no idea who Petunia was!
The four of them stayed a little longer. Morag asked a lot of questions about what all Hagrid did at Hogwarts and what sort of animals he had, and where he'd found all the stuff hanging all over his cabin, which was just as well as Harry was lost in his own thoughts and in no real mood to be social at the moment.

"We should probably get going. It'll be lunch soon, and we still have to get our books and stuff for class this afternoon." Mandy spoke up as the conversation began to wind down.

"Yeah, I gots stuff I should be doin' too. Well, it was nice having all of ye. Don't be strangers now."

"Thank you for having us, Mr. Hagrid." Morag nodded.

"Hah! Jes Hagrid is fine, little lady. Don' need ter be calling me no mister. Run along then. Don't want ya ter be late fer yer classes."

"Goodbye, Hagrid. Thanks for the tea."

 

"That must be the potions classroom. The Hufflepuffs are already lined up." Michael noted.

"I hope this goes alright. The twins always said Snape was a hard ass, a real, greasy git. They said his class is torture." Ron muttered.

"Well, your brothers are pranksters and are always goofing around, right?" Lisa spoke up.

"Not to mention they're Gryffindors." Su added.

"If he gives them a hard time, that's probably why." Terry nodded.

"My mum was a Slytherin. She said the Gryffindors were always clowning around, and tossing stuff into the Slytherins' cauldrons during class. Depending on what you're making, and what you go tossing in, that can be really dangerous. Stuff can explode, or make poisonous fumes or… all kinds of things really. Potions is a very precise art. If he's strict, or hard on some folks there's a good reason why." Lisa concluded.

"The stuff you're making can explode or turn poisonous?" Ron said nervously.

"Indeed it can, Mr. Weasley, so I do hope you will take after your more serious-minded brothers while in my class." Professor Snape drawled as he passed by them.

He unlocked the classroom with a flick of his wand and strode towards the front as they all found their seats. He cut a menacing figure. He was quite tall, with black hair and black eyes, dressed all in black. His robes billowed behind him as he walked like great dark wings. Between that, and his large, beak-like nose, he resembled nothing so much as some great bird of prey. Harry wondered if they were the mice in that scenario. Given the fierce look he gave all of them as they settled in, he thought it might be the case.

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word—like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death—if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

The whole class was already enthralled, though the Hufflepuffs looked a bit intimidated. The Ravenclaws all seemed eager to prove they weren't dunderheads.

"Potter!"

"Yes, sir?"

"What would I get if I were to mix asphodel with an infusion of wormwood?"

Harry opened his mouth to say he had no idea, but something about that sounded vaguely familiar… it took him a moment to place where he'd seen it when it suddenly hit him: the wizarding children's stories: Sleeping beauty, in fact.

"The draught of living death, sir." he answered, pleased he was able to.

Snape studied him for a moment before nodding. "That is correct. You there…?"

"Finch-Fletchley, sir. Justin."

"Mr. Finch-Fletchley. Where would you go if I told you to find me a bezoar?"

"Uh…supply closet, sir?" A few of the Hufflepuffs tittered nervously, though the laughter ended rather abruptly when Snape just stared at them looking quite unimpressed.

"Sorry, sir. I'm afraid I don't know."

"Anyone?"

Anthony raised his hand.

"Mr… Goldstein?"

"Yes sir. A bezoar is a stone that can be found in the stomach of a goat. It will save you from most poisons."

"Correct. Last chance Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw has you two for two. What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

The Hufflepuffs looked at each other uneasily, until finally a boy in the back raised his hand.

"Yes, Mr.?"

"Hopkins, sir. Wayne Hopkins. Um…they're the same plant?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"… Telling you, sir."

"Correct. The rest of you, I expect you to read the introduction and preface of your textbook, along with the first two chapters, plus whatever reading is assigned at the end of today's period before our next class meeting. If you all had done so, everyone in this room would have been able to answer my questions. Potions is an exacting science that requires precise measurements and actions done in the correct order at the correct time and under the correct conditions. In order to know what those are you will need to be prepared at each class meeting by reading ahead and familiarizing yourself with the materials. Do not expect much in the way of praise from me. I see no good reason to give praise for simply doing as one aught, I do, however, believe in giving criticism when you screw up, and removing points if you mess about when you should be working. Anyone caught sabotaging another's work, tossing things into another's cauldron, be it 'for a laugh' or just 'to see what happens' will be assigned the most miserable, disgusting and exhausting detentions I can think to set you. Are we all quite clear?"

"YES SIR."

"Good. I'm so glad we understand each other. Today we will be working on the boil cure solution…"

 

The rest of the class period was spent taking notes on Snape's lecture, and then attempting to brew their first potion. One of the Hufflepuffs forgot to take the cauldron off the fire before adding the porcupine quills and as a result they were splashed with the potion when it suddenly boiled over. Painful looking boils erupted everywhere the potion touched. Snape cleaned up the area and sent him off to the medical wing to have it taken care of. A few of the potions were odd colors or kind of sludgy when the students were finished. Harry and Ron's attempt was a bit watery looking compared to Padma's and Anthony's, but they consoled themselves that at least it was almost right, and was hardly the worst attempt in the class.
Snape seemed to agree as he only grunted when he held it up to the light to examine it, rather than glare or flare his nostrils in disgust as he did to the kids that had sludge.

"Mr. Potter, stay behind after class."

"Yes sir."

"What's he want?" Ron hissed angrily in his ear. "Ours wasn't that bad! Why isn't he making that Finchley kid stay behind? His was orange!"

"Don't worry about it, Ron. It doesn't have anything to do with class."

"Why else would Snape wanna talk to you?"

"Finish clearing your stations. No talking." Snape said loudly, adding the last rather pointedly towards Ron. Ron bristled indignantly, until Harry kicked him in the shin, then he focused on sending outraged, wounded glares at Harry instead.

Snape continued marking everyone's potions as the students cleared out of the room, and only acknowledged Harry's presence after everyone was gone. He opened his mouth to say something, and then glared at the back of the room irritably and flicked his wand. The door to the classroom slammed shut. Judging by the yelp heard in the hall when it did, Ron had been lurking at the door trying to listen.

"You wanted to see me, Professor?"

"Yes, Mr. Potter. It seems I owe you an apology. In my defense, I was away the last few weeks of summer and had my mail forwarded to Hogwarts while I was gone. I was not expecting any correspondence, nor anything time sensitive. I'm afraid I only checked my mail last night, at which time I discovered your letter."

"You don't have to apologize, Professor, though I'm glad to know why you didn't answer. I only just found out why Pettigrew didn't answer. I was beginning to wonder if people were avoiding me for some reason."

"Dare I ask what ever possessed you to write to Peter Pettigrew of all people?"

"I got his name from the back of a picture. I wanted to know what happened to Sirius Black. My parents' letter implied he would be raising me if anything happened to them, and since he wasn't, I wanted to know why. I tried to write to some other guy named Lupin too, but my owl couldn't deliver it for some reason. Since she took Pettigrew's letter right away, and yours, I figured that Lupin guy must be dead, though one of my house mates said he was probably unplottable or under heavy wards."

"What phase was the moon in?"

"Uh… I don't know professor. I wasn't really keeping track."

"You should do so. Unsavory things can happen during a full moon."

"If you say so, professor."

"I do say so. It's something you should be aware of."

"Okay. Uh, anyway, I figured Sirius, and Lupin were both dead, and you and Pettigrew were alive, but neither of you answered me. I'm glad to know you weren't pretending to be someone's pet too."
Snape's arched eyebrow showed what he thought of that. Harry flushed. "Sorry, sir. Not to imply that you would or anything."

Snape nodded to accept the apology. "Well, now you know that I did indeed receive your letter. I am afraid I will have to decline your desire for tales of my shared childhood with your mother. Given that I am your professor, I feel it would be inappropriate and a breach of professional conduct."

"I understand, sir. I didn't realize you would be my professor when I wrote it. I thought it was going to be some guy named Slughorn."

"Horace Slughorn retired from teaching several years ago. He would probably be delighted to receive a letter from you. Your mother was a great favorite of his while we were in school. I will warn you though that he likes to collect people, though as you are only a first year you should be safe enough for a few years yet."

"Collect people, sir?"

"When he was head of Slytherin before me he ran something he called the Slug Club. He would hand pick sixth and seventh years from each house that he thought were likely to go places. He would help them make contacts and network with people who would help them in their chosen careers. In return he expected gifts and favors when you made good, and to be able to drop your name at parties if you became famous."

"I see." Harry said uneasily. He wasn't sure he wanted to be "collected", even if it meant getting stories about his mom from her school days.

Snape nodded and stood to begin gathering his things in preparation for leaving. "If that is all, Mr. Potter?"

"Actually…if I could ask you one more thing before you go?"

"Yes?" he asked, gesturing for him to go ahead of him as they left the classroom.

"Do you know why my and Ron's potion was so watery looking? I'm pretty sure we followed all the steps… Ron? You're still here?"

Ron was about to answer, until he saw Snape loom up behind Harry and shut the classroom door behind him.

"Figured I'd be polite and wait for you." he muttered. Snape's gimlet-eyed stare said he didn't believe a word of it.

"How many times were you told to stir the potion?"

"Um… three times clockwise, sir."

"How many times did you stir it?"

"Uh, Ron?"

"What? I stirred it three times!"

Snape just looked at him. Ron frowned, but then his eyes widened and grew sheepish.

"Oh! I might have stirred it once the other way. It was just once though!"

"Clockwise increases effects, counter-clockwise decreases. Your "just one stir" in the wrong direction decreased the potency."

"So even a little thing like that can ruin it, huh? What about the gloopy ones? Or the wrong color ones? What happened there?" Harry wondered.

"Hmm, how about you find the answer yourself. You can tell me what you think it was at the end of next class and I'll tell you if you're correct."

Ron looked horrified at being assigned extra work, but Harry pouted up at him. "You can't even give a hint?"

Snape's expression froze for a moment, and his eyes flashed with pain. Harry quickly averted his gaze and pretended he hadn't seen anything.

"Very well, a hint." Snape agreed, his voice a bit hoarse "The Brewer's Compendium is a good place to start."

"The Brewer's Compendium. Got it, professor."

Snape nodded stiffly and lengthened his stride so he soon outpaced them and was out of sight.

Chapter Text

"All the damned potions books are gone." Harry muttered.

"Quiet!"

Ron and Harry waited till Madame Pince had moved on, then Harry threw up a muffliato to keep her off their backs.

"They're not all gone…just a lot of them."

"There's not that many people even… Granger. I should have known." Harry growled, spotting the bushy-headed Gryffindor girl at a table further down, once again half hidden behind towers of books that took up half the table she was on. She was doing potions homework this time, it looked like. From here it looked like her essay was already up to a couple of feet and counting. Snape had asked for fourteen inches on a very narrow subject.

"Oh. Her. Just get it later. Come on, mate. It's Friday. Classes are over, we've got the whole weekend."

"I might not be able to get it later either. Haven't you noticed she hoards every book that can possibly be of use so no one else gets to use them? She's got like thirty books over there. Chances are their class has the same homework we do. I sincerely doubt she needs even a third of those books to complete it. She's just being a brat."

"So…what're we going to do about it?"

Harry considered a moment and then smiled.

 

Hermione Granger finished off the paragraph she was writing and reached for the next stack of the books she'd gathered, only to have the whole lot of them shoved to the other end of the table she was using.

"Excuse me!" she hissed.

The irritating boy ignored her and continued tapping his wand on each pile of her books. He pulled six of them loose and handed them off behind him to another boy who smirked at her and took off into the stacks.

"Hey! What… Bring those back!"

Harry got in her way so she couldn't slip past to chase Ron, and then grabbed another stack of her books and started off in the opposite direction. Hermione stamped her foot in frustration.

"What are you…you can't just… Stop ignoring me!" She stomped after Harry, bristling in fury and frustration, only to stop when Ron's voice suddenly sounded behind her.

"This your essay, Granger? You shouldn't just leave it out like this. Be a shame if something were to happen to it."

Hermione spun around and looked towards her half-finished essay in horror, expect to see it being defaced, or ruined in some other way, but Ron wasn't anywhere near it, and it was fine so far as she could see. She glared at him suspiciously and then turned around to get her books back from Harry, only to find Harry had disappeared the moment her back was turned.

"YOU JERK! I NEED THOSE!"

"Quiet!"

Hermione covered her mouth in horror and turned around to find Madame Pince hurrying around the corner and glaring at her. Ron, the creep, was gone.

"Sorry Madame Pince" Hermione whispered.

She smiled winsomely until she continued on her way and then marched off to find the jerks who stole her books and murder them both. She paid no attention to the blonde boy and the brown haired one that were up at the front desk waiting to check out books.

 

"Man, I can't believe we all wasted our afternoon doing homework." Ron complained as they headed down for dinner later.

"So? That means we're all free and clear for the weekend." Michael pointed out.

"And it means you two can take those books back later since we're all done." Lisa added.

"THERE HE IS, PROFESSOR!"

They were nearly to the ground floor when they heard the shout. Amidst the crowds headed towards the great hall for dinner, they could see Professor McGonagall and Hermione Granger in the entryway at the base of the stairs.

"Seriously?" Ron muttered.

"Mr. Potter? Could you come here for a moment?"

"Aw geez." Harry grumbled before detaching from the group to go join them.

"Mr. Potter, Miss Granger tells me you tore books out of her hands in the library"

"No, I took the books she was hoarding so the rest of us couldn’t do our homework off a table."

The rest of the kids in the group stepped up to add their voices to his--Lisa, Terry and Morag being the most vocal.

"Yeah! She's a library menace!"

"Academic saboteur!"

"Book hoarder!"

Hermione spluttered indignantly and began to shriek in protest.

"I was there too, professor. She had half the potions section hidden off in the back so no one else could do their work. She already had an essay taller than she is and she still wouldn't let us take any of the books she had. We just did what we had to." Ron spoke up as well.

McGonagall sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose as all the children began talking at once and gesticulating angrily. She solved the problem by taking five points from each house and sent them into dinner before striding off herself. Hermione stared after her with betrayed eyes, before scowling hatefully at the Ravenclaws and stalking off.

"She's going to be a problem." Padma muttered once they were gone.

"Yeah. Did you see that look?" Terry nodded.

"Scary."

"We're going to have to do something or this is just going to keep happening."

"She must not have gotten to the point yet in her essay, or she'd have been annoyed, but she probably wouldn't have gone running to McGonagall." Su mused.

"Four feet and she wasn't done yet? Geez." Morag snorted.

"That means if I just return the books to the library she's going to hoard them again. The rest of the class still needs them."

"So we tell the others what happened and let them know when they'll be back in the library so they'll get first crack at them, that's all." Michael tried playing peacemaker.

"I'll tell Parvati, she can spread the word in Gryffindor."

"I hang out with Ernie MacMillan sometimes. He can spread the word to Hufflepuff." Anthony offered.

"That just leaves Slytherin."

"The snakes can fend for themselves." Ron muttered.

"That's kind of mean." Su objected.

"Yeah. That would make us no better than Granger." Terry added his own objections.

"It would. I'll let them know if no one else will." Harry sighed.

"Looks like there's your chance." Morag pointed.

The Slytherin first years were coming up out of the dungeons. The rest of the Ravenclaws headed in to the great hall. Harry sighed and made his way towards the snakes. To his surprise, Ron stayed with him, though he didn't look happy about it.

"Hey, hang on a sec."

"What do you want, Potter?" Pansy Parkinson sneered.

"I was just wondering if any of you tried doing your potions homework yet."

"Tried." a weedy looking boy in the back mumbled "some berk checked out all the books we needed."

"That would be me."

"What? You jerk."

"Oh, it's like that, is it? Get him, boys." Draco Malfoy ordered.

The two large boys to either side of him put on a menacing face and cracked their knuckles. Harry snorted.

"Geez, what is this, the junior mafia? I thought Slytherins were supposed to be cunning. Observe" he said holding out his arms. "Do I look like I have them on me? What happens if you try to beat me up? Well, one, you're in full view of both the great hall and all the portraits. Two, all I have to do is just not return the books until after class next Friday and you're all screwed. Not very cunning to my mind."

The tall black boy and blonde girl who were on the edge of the crowd exchanged a look and smoothly inserted themselves between the two Ravenclaws and the rest of the snakes.

"Potter, right? Blaise Zabini. My associate Daphne Greengrass."

"Charmed." Harry responded dryly, shaking their hands when offered.

"Don't mind them. They get cranky when they haven't eaten for a while. I'm sure they'll be far more friendly after dinner." Daphne said, with a pointed glare over her shoulder at the rest of them.

"We assume there was a reason you came over to talk to us?" Blaise asked smoothly, directing their attention away from the power play taking place behind them. "In fact, why don't the rest of you run along. We won't be a moment."

Draco Malfoy gasped indignantly, but the weedy boy in the back grabbed him by the elbow and drug him along. Pansy narrowed her eyes at Daphne, who just looked back at her until she sniffed and stalked off, taking the remaining girls with her.

"I hope whatever this is worth it. We're going to have to listen to them whining the rest of the night." Daphne muttered once they had gone.

"I feel your pain. I only have to hear it at meal times and that's plenty."

 

"Ah! The weekend!" Terry said expansively Saturday morning.

"You were planning on playing frisbee with some Hufflepuffs today, right?" Michael asked between yawns as he peered out of the window.

"Yeah, why?"

"Not such a great day for it."

Terry peered out and frowned unhappily at the blustery winds and grey sky.

"We'll just have to use the courtyard. It should be less windy there."

"Oi, Ron, you're gonna miss breakfast."

"Geroff. I'm sleeping in." Ron growled as he burrowed beneath his blankets.

Anthony stumbled in from downstairs just as the rest were getting ready to leave.

"Did you fall asleep downstairs again?"

"Yeah."

"Whatever, man. We'll see you at breakfast."

Harry glanced back and saw Anthony crawl into bed and flop down face first.

"I don't think he's going to be joining us."

"Oh well. Not our problem."

"So, what're your plans today, Harry?"

"I figured I check out the herbology club, it's after breakfast for two hours. You know, meet new people and all. I'll probably go to the charms club tomorrow. Other than that, I only really figured I'd look around some. I didn't get much of a chance to all week."

"Cool. I'm gonna meet up with some guys I know and listen to quidditch. One of them has a wireless. It doesn't hold a candle to watching a game, but what're you going to do?"
"Oh? Who's playing?" Terry wondered.

"Arrows vs. Wasps. I'm a Tornadoes fan, myself, but eh, quidditch is quidditch."

"Not me. I'm a Puddlemere man myself. What's your team?"

"Can't say I have one. Grew up with muggles, remember? I'm looking forward to the school games starting up; it'll be the first quidditch game I've seen."

"Agh! That's appalling. You'll have to come with my family and I over the break sometime. My mum works for Games and Sports in the ministry, so she's always getting tickets. No matter how good a school team is they'll have nothing on a professional team, they're on a whole different level. We've got to get you off to see some proper quidditch!"

"I'll look forward to it."

"That’s the spirit, mate. We'll make a proper quidditch hooligan of you yet." Michael laughed.

The girls were already there when they arrived, though by the look of it hadn't been there long.

"Mail's here. I hope my subscription to the paper kicked in. I've been going mad having to scrounge for the sports page." Terry noted as they dug into their breakfast.

Papers were dropped off in front of all three of them. Thankful for his experience with the owl that delivered the paper to Hagrid, Harry knew to put a couple of knuts in the bird's pouch before it had to resort to pecking at him. Hedwig had a couple of letters attached to her leg, much to his surprise. He pushed his plate, which still had a few kippers on it her way and opened the first letter.

"Bad news?" Padma wondered.

"No, not really. I heard back from Acturus Black. He's been to see Sirius and I asked how he was doing. He said he doesn't look 'quite as skeletal', but he's still a bit too thin, and that his hair has started to grow back in. The hospital shaved it all off because it was down to his elbows and was really matted and filthy. He said he's finally managed to keep down three normal sized meals a day. They had to build up his tolerance for food before they could feed him normal meals, and that his sense of touch has come back. Apparently at first you're sort of deadened by constant dementor exposure, but being away from them for a bit you get oversensitive for a while as feeling comes back and it's kind of painful before it levels out. He also said the dead zones from frostbite have been repaired finally and his moods have begun to stabilize. His memory still has some holes, and that may never get better." Harry read off numbly. "I know everyone said Azkaban was a horrible place…but reading all this, and this is what, three weeks after he's been out? I think it's even more horrible than everyone thinks."

Michael and Terry winced and Padma frowned in concern.

"Wow. That's rough. Sorry, man."

"Yeah."

The rest of the letter just warned him that Sirius would be writing to him, and asked that he be patient if any of the letters became odd, because as he was much improved from where he'd been there was still a ways to go, and he hoped he'd be amenable to continuing the correspondence even if that should happen as he feared a rejection from him would send Sirius' recovery back months if not do irrevocable harm.

"Geez. No pressure or anything."

Harry eyed the second letter with some trepidation and decided to read it later. After such an intro, he was now a bit worried about what the letter might contain. He tucked both away in his pocket and read through the paper instead while he finished his breakfast.

Reading the paper was something of an exercise in frustration as many of the things and people in it were things he wasn't familiar with, but he figured he had to start somewhere. Hopefully over time the gaps in his knowledge would be filled in and it wouldn't be such a chore.

He'd only gotten about a third of the way through before breakfast was over. Sighing, he tucked the paper away for later as well and threw on his cloak and scarf so he could head out to the greenhouses for the herbology club.

 

"Harry! Harry wait up!"

Harry turned and saw Neville jogging towards him.

"Hey, Neville. You headed to the herbology club too?"

"Yeah. So you are going? Oh good. It'll be nice to know I'll already know someone there."

"Yeah, same. Any idea what we'll be doing here?"

"No, but I like plants, so whatever is fine with me."

What they would be doing, it turned out, was fixing up and replanting the winter garden, which was a good sized courtyard that opened off the great hall through a door by the teacher's table. First they had to take measurements of everything to see what kind of sunlight different areas in the garden were going to get, and dig up the bits of scrub and dead plant matter that was already there, and lay down some fresh soil to liven the plant beds up.

That by itself took up most of their club time. Before leaving they were charged to look up different winter plants, what sort of soil conditions and temperatures they thrived in, how much sun they tolerated, and what they looked like--whether they flowered, when and for how long, did they produce berries or seeds-- so they could draw up a plan for the garden and acquire the plants they decided on before actually replanting it.

Neville and Hannah Abbot--the blonde girl they'd crossed in the boat with, a Hufflepuff of their year who was also in the club, were both pretty gung-ho about the project and wanted to get started looking for plants right away. Harry shrugged and followed them. They were nice enough company, and it isn't like he really had other, pressing plans.

Since her dorm was closest, Hannah ran off to grab some parchment so they could take notes.

"I guess I shouldn’t have been so quick to give away my extra notebooks…though in my own defense, I didn't realize we might need to take notes for the clubs. Silly of me. I wonder how long it will take more to get here from Diagon Alley?"

"Why don't you just order some from Hogsmeade? There's shops there."

"That's right! They were even mentioned in that stupid pamphlet…"

"Pamphlet?"

"Never mind. It's not important. I had read about those shops is all I'm saying. I had meant to write to all of them and get catalogues and for some reason I completely forgot about it. In fact, maybe I'll go do that now. I'll meet you both in the library?"

"Uh, sure thing."

"Great. I'll try not to take too long."

 

"Harry! There you are. Hannah already left. She was supposed to meet some of the other girls for something or other. I was beginning to wonder if you were actually planning to come back."
"Sorry. I only meant to send off catalogue requests and come here, but the catalogues got sent right out, so I stayed put to get all of them, and I figured since I was there already I might as well order more notebooks. I also got some candy, and more stationary since I've been writing so many letters. I got this too."

"Belt pouch?"

"it's bottomless. I put all the stuff I ordered in here so I wouldn't have to lug all the boxes up to the tower. I wish I'd known about these before, but oh well. I suppose I'd still have had to get my satchel. I don't think it will hold too much more. Even so, it's pretty neat, huh?"

"Yeah. That is pretty neat."

"So what all did you find so far?"

"Hannah found some decorative evergreen trees that stay fairly small even when full grown that would be a good choice for a garden. So far I've just got poinsettias, holly, a couple different ground covering plants that stay green and species of red winter moss. I've still got a few books to go through."

"All right, let me see what I can find. I'll be right back."

Harry ended up having to teach Neville his mum's searching spell when he saw how it cut down his time flipping through books. He got it after a few tries and then the search went much quicker. They found a winter flowering plant that sprouted golden or silvery bells which tinkled when stirred by the wind, a wizarding species of winter grass that came in red, green, gold, silver and blue. They found a species of small evergreen trees like Hannah had found that came in purple and red varieties, and a couple of winter berry bushes that had red, silver or gold berries and a species of winter orchid that grew delicate flowers that looked like they were made of bluish ice.

"Wow. If everyone else finds anything near as good…and if we can actually get most of this stuff…the winter garden should be really pretty by the time we're done."

"Yeah. It'll be nice to actually have a bit of say in things for once. I do all the gardening at my aunt's house, but she picks the flowers, where they go and all…and she also takes all the credit when it turns out nice. She loves bragging to the neighbors about how 'her' roses won awards, and they all gush over them. Not a one of them ever told me I did a nice job, even though they must all have seen me out there working on the damned things every day."

"Wow. That sucks. After all that I'm surprised you joined what's essentially a gardening club."

"I didn't really mind the work that much, and it was usually peaceful. My aunt wouldn't let my cousin bug me while I was working on it usually since she didn't want her garden getting messed up."

Neville didn't really comment, but then his relatives were worse, so he hadn't really expected him to.

"I think we have plenty for the next club meeting. What are you doing for the rest of the day?"

"I'm supposed to be back here after lunch to study with Hermione."

"Study what? We only just finished the first week."

"The stuff we covered over the week, I guess?"

"Huh. Well, have fun with that."

"I should probably go grab my books and stuff now so I won't have to go all the way back up after lunch."

"Oh, alright. See ya around."

 

Harry checked the time and realized there was some time before lunch. He was a bit at a loss as to what to do with himself, then recalled he and Ron had meant to look for the kitchen when they were out the other day, but had run out of time without ever leaving the fourth floor. There was a note about it in his dad's prank book. He thought it a necessary thing to know. He said they would give you snacks to make you go away. He was hoping they were open to answering questions. If they worked at the castle and lived there they probably knew all the cool places.

He wasn't too keen to ask any of the teachers as they seemed to think students should stay in their common rooms out of sight when not in class or at meals, and the older kids sometimes told you wrong stuff so they could laugh at you when you got stuck in a fake step or ended up going the complete opposite way that you wanted to.

With this goal in mind he went down towards the dungeon level and began wandering in search of a painting of a bowl of fruit. He found it just as the lunch bell rang. With a sigh, he tried to mark his location in his mind as he wandered back towards where he thought the entryway was. He got turned around once or twice, but he did eventually make it back to the great hall.

"Hey Ron. You look like you just rolled out of bed."

"I woke up about an hour ago. I was starving. I didn't think lunch was ever going to get here." Ron explained as he got seconds of everything.

"Leave some for those of us that just got here."

"Shoulda got here sooner. Where were you anyway?"

"Herbology club, library, wandering around. I got lost, that's why I'm late. Most of the dungeons looks alike."

"What were you down there for?"

"Just looking."

"Eh, you can keep the dungeons. Bad enough we have to go down there for potions class."

"You wanna come exploring with me when lunch is over?"

Ron dithered and then shrugged apologetically. "I was gonna play chess. There's a couple of guys in the house that play. They have a sort of unofficial chess club. I played one of them while waiting for the lunch bell. We hadn't finished yet. Sorry, mate, but we can wander around any time."

"No worries. I'll just wander around myself is all."

"You could come watch me play."

"I'll pass. I don't know how to play myself, so I doubt it would be much fun for me."

"I could teach you."

"It's fine. Enjoy your game."

Ron seemed a bit offended that Harry might prefer wandering around by himself to watching him play chess, but Harry wasn't too worried about it.

The truth was, he needed a bit of quiet time. Hogwarts had been a big adjustment. He was used to being alone most of the time. Dudley kept other kids away from him, his relatives only really acknowledged him when they wanted to yell at him or put him to work. The neighbors mostly ignored him, except to occasionally sneer, since his aunt and uncle had told everyone his parents were drunken ne'er do wells and he himself was mentally disturbed.

He was used to being alone and alone with his thoughts for long periods of time. Being surrounded by people 24/7 had been a lot to get used to, however much he'd wanted it. In truth, he thought his short stint alone earlier had done him some good. He hadn't really noticed how stressed he was until he had been. He was so used to solitude, he was now certain he might well need it for his mental health and well-being. Damned Dursleys.

Ron tried to convince him again to come with him when lunch was over, but he waved him off with a 'good luck' and headed back down into the dungeons to find the kitchens again.

 

"What was it again? Tickle the pear. You better not have been putting me on, dad."

Much to his relief the pear giggled and turned into a door handle. Harry opened the door and peeked inside, only to boggle at what he found on the other side.
It was a massive, cavernous room. Closest to the door was a recreation of the five tables in the great hall above.

What looked to be hundreds of little creatures with big ears dressed in tea towels were bustling to and fro, unloading dirty dishes and leftover food from them. Further off towards the left was an enormous kitchen. There was a dozen large ovens at least, several long tables, and what looked to be several massive pantries beyond them. Along the wall beside the door was a nook with a booth that contained a table with a bench to either side.

The house elves, for that was what they must be--his parents had both mentioned them as working at the castle, taking care of the food, the laundry and keeping the common rooms tidy-- all seemed quite busy, so he went over towards the booth to wait for them to have a free moment. An elf brought him some hot chocolate and a couple of scones moments after he'd sat down. He almost turned it away as he'd just finished lunch, but they did smell good. He finished both off a lot quicker than he would have thought. He was licking the last crumbs away when another came to remove the dirty dishes.

"Oh, um, could you hang on a sec?"

"Young sir needs more?"

"Oh, no, no. Thanks. It was delicious but I'm sure I couldn’t eat another bite, really. I actually came here to ask you, one of you at least, a question."

The elf dithered a moment and then nodded. "You cans be asking, I may nots be answering. You goes when you asks?"

"Yes. I will. I'm sorry. I don't mean to get in your way. I can see how busy you all are. Lunch was excellent, by the way. All the meals have been. You all do good work."

The elf smiled, and he could swear the rest of them seemed to walk a little taller at his words.

"What was yous question being?"

"I was wondering if you could tell me about interesting places in the castle. I figured you all live here and all, so you probably know the place pretty well, right?"

"Oh, I cans be telling you this. There is being many interesting and nice places in Hoggywarts. The kitchens and the laundry is being state of the art, and allowing many elves to be working all at once."

"Yeah, this place is great. I was hoping for places of interest to students. I don't think we're really supposed to be here or in the laundry."

"Hmm. This is being true. Well… students is liking broom closets a lot. They is always having to be chased out…" Harry frowned, wondering what was interesting about broom closets. "Clock tower is being a place of interest too…"

Harry dug one of his new notebooks out of the bottomless belt pouch he'd just gotten and took notes.

"What was that one? Where's that at?"

He had definitely made the right call in asking the elves. They knew all sorts of places. He jotted down everything he could and thanked the elf for her help.

"Oh…what's your name anyway?"

"Me young sir? I is being Tweak."

"Well, thank you, Tweak, you've been a great help."

"You is quite welcome, young sir."

Harry was then given a basket of goodies and politely but firmly booted out the door.

"Friendly folks."

He dug out one of the cookies and munched on it as he flipped through his pages of notes. "Let's see…what's closest? Oh, here's one in the dungeons. Between the suit of armor and the naughty faun. Okay then…"

 

Harry had been wandering for an hour or more through the dungeons when he ran into another person.

"Oh, it's you. Nott, right?"

"Potter. Bit far from the eyrie, aren't you? This is Slytherin territory."

"No harm in poking about. I doubt I'll stumble across your common room by accident."

Nott realized then that Harry had his wand out. He eyed it with wary curiosity.

"What are you doing anyway?"

"Looking for secret passages and hidden rooms."

"You know a spell for that? I guess the rumor you grew up with muggles was just a load of rot after all. We figured as much. It's ridiculous."

"I did grow up with muggles. My mother was muggle born. I grew up with her sister and her family."

"Seriously? Ugh."

"Why ugh? Not that I completely disagree, but you don't even know my relatives."

"Don't have to. Muggles. That must have been awful."

Harry shrugged and kept searching. "The mere fact of them being muggles isn't enough on its own."

"Magical children don't belong with muggles."

"My mother didn't seem to find it a hardship. She thought she was lucky, actually. She said she never took magic for granted because she grew up without it."

"How would you know? She's dead." He seemed to realize how rudely that came across and waved a hand in vague apology. "I mean, well, she is."

"She wrote me a letter."

"She did? Weird."

"She knew she was going to. Die. Said she had a feeling."

"Oh. Um. That was lucky, I suppose…so she could make arrangements and all."

"I guess."

The conversation fell awkwardly silent.

"I think I found something."

"Yeah? Where at?"

"Right here. Oh. It turns. Looks like stairs."

"Wonder where they go?"

"Only one way to find out." Harry grinned before darting inside. Nott followed after him, and the wall shut closed behind them. They both lit their wands.

"Huh. How about that? That idiot Quirrel taught us something useful after all."

"So he did. Well, you know what they say. Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

"I've never heard that…besides, it would depend what sort of clock it was, wouldn't it?"

"Ah. I guess just muggles say that then. Nevermind. We're at the end already. This one turns too. Where are we?"

"Looks like the second floor. I recognize that." Nott pointed to a giant vase down the end. "Oh, and that there is the haunted girl's bathroom."

"It's haunted?"

"Yeah. Moaning Myrtle they call her. Pansy was in there and the ghost popped out through her lap when she was trying to go. She was shrieking about it the whole night. All the girls have been avoiding it since then."

They had a good laugh as they started walking.

"Well, that staircase won't be much use to me. It should come in handy for your lot if you ever need to get to and from the dungeons or the second floor in a hurry."

"I'm sure it'll come in handy at some point."

"Biscuit?"

"Uh, sure."

"You can have what's left if you like. I think I ate too much."

"Ooh, chocolate."

"So, you never said what you were doing wandering around all by your lonesome. You know what I was doing."

"I was doing pretty much the same thing. I was trying to read, but people kept interrupting me. I even tried going back to the dorms, and some of them followed me."

"That sucks. Too bad you weren't a Ravenclaw. It's kind of a rule--if someone is reading, don't bother them. So…what's the Slytherin common room like?"

"Why do you want to know?" Nott asked suspiciously.

"I'm curious. I didn't realize it was top secret information."

"It's nice. There's an arched entryway and then you have to go down steps to get into the common room proper. The lower parts of the wall and ceiling are all carved--lots of pillars and barrel vaults, but the upper part is all rough natural stonework. There's leather couches and armchairs scattered around for conversation groups, and also tables for study groups. There's a couple of tall windows that take up one whole section of the wall, they're in between pillars. It looks out into the lake. We're underwater there. You can see stuff swimming by, but only if it's pretty close. The water is kind of dark..."

Harry reciprocated with a description of the Ravenclaw common room. Nott seemed a bit envious about the library and the window seats looking out over the mountains that were perfect places to curl up with a book. Harry thought the shadowy corners of Slytherin, perfect places to slip into for a bit of quiet alone time sounded nice--although, by the sound of it, it didn't do you much good if you had kids determined to find you and yak at you at all hours.

They kept wandering around together. Nott didn't feel the need to say much, so it was almost as good as being alone, but with the added bonus of having company at the same time.

"The trophy room, looks like."

They wandered along, peering at the trophies inside, which only went back about a hundred years or so.

"I guess that makes sense. Imagine how many trophies there'd be over a thousand years…that's if they even gave out trophies back then. It might be a modern thing."

Harry spotted one listing the Gryffindor quidditch team and saw his dad and Sirius both listed--chaser and beater respectively. Nott pointed out one with his grandfather on it in a back corner that he'd won for a dueling competition.
As they were getting ready to leave, Harry noticed one that said only 'Tom Marvolo Riddle, Special Services to Hogwarts'.

"I wonder what he did? They usually say."

"Yeah, it's strange, isn't it?"

"You know that guy or something?"

"No… It's weird though. I feel like I should."

"It doesn't seem likely. Look there. He was a Slytherin. Prefect and Head Boy, way before our time. Looks like he was in school when my dad was."

Harry's eyebrows rose without him meaning to.

"I had an older brother years ago who died. My dad got remarried years later and had me."

"I wasn't trying to pry."

"It's not exactly a secret. Everyone he went to school with, not that there's many of them left, have grandkids my age."

"Huh."

"Yeah."

 

Theo stayed with him for a while longer and then wandered off again when he spotted some of the other Slytherin first years out wandering around.

"I might actually be able to finish my book."

"Good luck with that."

"Thanks. See ya around, Potter."

"See ya, Nott."

Harry checked to see what was still on his list after Nott was gone and went to the next couple of places on his list, but his enthusiasm for wandering around waned quite a bit after Nott was gone. He still had time before dinner. He headed for the library. There weren't many people there, just Hermione Granger, and now himself. She was once again buried beneath a mountain of books and reading frantically. Neville was nowhere to be seen, so they were obviously done studying together.

He slipped into the stacks so she wouldn't notice him and went looking for the Wizengamot records that the library map in Ravenclaw said was supposed to be there. He might as well do something useful with his free time now that he was bored of wandering around, right?

The Wizengamot records were contained in a whole wall of large, thick books. The area was poorly lit and rather dusty. He lit his wand so he could see better and began looking. They didn’t seem to have the most recent session records anywhere. He sighed and went looking for the librarian. She was at the front desk, checking books in. She gave him a beady-eyed stare as he came closer.

"Excuse me? Madame Pince? Do you not have the most recent Wizengamot sessions? It's just, it doesn't seem to be on the shelf…"

She looked very suspicious now. "What do you need that for?"

"Some bills up for ratification were mentioned in the paper, but they don't really explain what they are and I was hoping there would be more information in the record."

She still looked suspicious, but couldn't seem to find any good reason to deny his request. The most recent sessions, it turned out, were kept at the front desk. She brought it to him and let him have it after questioning him for a while longer.
Harry rolled his eyes once his back was to her. What an old sourpuss the woman was.

He found himself a quiet corner, out of the way and began searching. Even after he found what he was looking for, it took him a long time to actually wade through the laws in question. He needed to use a dictionary and had to re-read each of them several times before he was certain he understood them. He was starting to get a headache from it all by the time he was done.

"Hopefully this will get easier with time, or I'm pretty screwed, aren't I? Why can't lawyers and law-makers just say what they mean without making it all so confusing.?"

He was about to take the book back to Madame Pince, but then he remembered Flitwick looking at him when he mentioned being on the Wizengamot. Were they? If they were, who was taking care of it now, or had their seat just lain dormant since his parents died? He should probably try to find that out.
He ran a few queries on the records, but none of what he was looking for seemed to be listed. He was getting a headache anyway. He pulled out the notebook he'd jotted down the house elf's tips about the castle in, and made a note of what he'd found and to continue searching later and tucked it away again before taking the book back to Madame Pince.

There was still a little time before dinner, so he headed back to the newspaper archive. It was still nagging at him, Tom Marvolo Riddle. He was pretty sure he would remember a name like that, so ordinary and so strange at the same time, but he couldn't imagine where he would have heard it. Not only was he too old to be one of his parent's friends, his relatives had a deep aversion to anything or anyone 'unnatural', and a guy with a name like 'Marvolo' would certainly count.

He remembered to cast the 'muffliato' before starting his search this time. Only a few papers popped out. There was no birth announcement. The earliest mention was the year he was sorted into Slytherin his first year at Hogwarts. The next time he appeared it was to say he was one of the prefects for Slytherin his fifth year. He was mentioned again the same year:

The mysterious and troubling assaults at Hogwarts are no longer a mystery, gentle readers. Thanks to the efforts of fifth year Slytherin prefect, Tom Marvolo Riddle, a muggleborn student, the culprit has at last been found. Third year Gryffindor student Rubeus Hagrid has been expelled and his wand snapped for his role in things.
"It was an unfortunate business all around. He such a large boy, I don't think he properly understood how dangerous his pet was." said headmaster Armando Dippet.
The student had been keeping a pet acromantula hidden in a cupboard within the school. The staff has concluded the beast must have been escaping and looking for food, which as you know, resulted in the petrification of four students and the death of one, Ravenclaw third year Myrtle Green. Unfortunately, the beast seems to still be at large.
"Gives me the shivers, it does. To think that monster was right here in the castle all this time, and not a one of us knew it! It was huge! It tore gouges in the floor and walls as it escaped,
and knocked the doors right off their hinges! We're very lucky that poor girl was the only casualty!" said Hogwarts' mediwitch Tallulah Boyle. "The poor thing. She lay in that bathroom
for hours before we knew what had happened to her."
The unfortunate Ravenclaw student, and the previous victims who were petrified were not the last casualties of this whole affair either. Prefect Riddle who exposed the monster was also
laid low before the situation was brought under control.
"He got trampled on! By the monster! Ugh! I can't even bear to think of it! A great, hairy spider the size of a house! It's horrifying. That was bad enough, but then that awful Hagrid assaulted
him when he tried to defend himself from it! Poor Tom. I do hope he's properly rewarded for bringing everything to light. I mean, he could have been killed!" was what Prefect Riddle's
classmate Abraxas Malfoy had to say on the matter.
We were told that Prefect Riddle has in fact been granted a special services award for his role in resolving the situation. He was seen by the mediwitch soon after the assault and is expected
to make a full recovery.

Harry set down the paper and sat back, stunned by what he'd just read. Hagrid had been expelled in the forties and had his wand snapped because his pet had killed a girl! Harry frowned then and realized something.

"Moaning Myrtle, a ghost that haunts the bathroom! The girl that died is still here!"

He flipped through the remaining papers, but found nothing else much of interest. Tom Riddle did very well on his OWLs and NEWTs, graduated with distinction, joined something called Knights of Walpurgis' shortly out of school and then seemingly disappeared.

He sent the papers back and thought about doing a search to find out what the knights of Walpurgis were, but the dinner bell rang before he could do so. He made another note to search it later and headed out towards the great hall.

 

"There you are! Where've you been, mate?" Ron said around a mouthful of food as Harry slid into his seat.

"Wandering around, just like I said I would be."

"You never came and watched me play."

"I said I wasn't going to. I don't play. It wouldn't be very interesting for me."

"I said I'd teach you. I won two of my games earlier. They're saying I'm a prodigy or something."

"Yeah? Good on you."

"Did you find anything interesting?" Michael wondered.

"Oh yeah, all sorts of stuff. There's a hidden staircase in the dungeons that goes up to the second floor. There's a room with a circle and a bunch of weird symbols embedded in the floor…"

"Weird symbols?" Su said in interest.

"Yeah, hold on. I copied them. I was hoping I'd be able to figure out what it said." He dug out his notebook and flipped to the drawing he'd made and handed it over.

Michael, Su, Anthony and Padma bent over it while he continued.

"There's a rooftop garden, though no one's tended it in a while by the look of it. The glass dome over the whole thing is missing in places, so it's cold and kinda windy. Some of the big planters are cracked, and the plants there are all dead. I'm going to mention it to Professor Sprout next club meeting and see if we can refurbish it after we're done with the winter garden. What else? Oh, I found a couple of secret passages. I'm not sure where all they go. I knew I didn't have much time before dinner, I figured I'd take a look tomorrow. Trophy room, armory, bunches of rooms filled with old furniture and dust, more ghosts. They don't seem to all talk like the house ghosts do. Some of them seem to just re-enact their deaths, or just stay in one area doing the same thing over and over. Even with all the neat stuff I found I've barely been in more than a quarter of the castle. This place is huge."

"These look like runes." Michael explained, handing Harry his book back.

"It looks like a ritual circle. I've read about those. Rituals fell out of use for the most part when the use of wands became widespread." Anthony added.

"They're illegal. Only ruddy dark wizards muck about with that sort of thing. You should just forget you ever found that circle." Ron ordered.

Harry glanced at Padma for confirmation, and she pursed her lips before nodding. "It's true. A lot of ritual magic has been made illegal over the years by the ministry. From what my father said, that isn't true everywhere, though there seems to be efforts to see it made illegal everywhere."

"Why though?"

"It's dark magic!" Ron asserted.

Padma sighed. "Rituals can be touchy things. If someone who doesn't know what they're doing messes around with them, sometimes there can be unexpected effects. The Ministry decided it was simply too dangerous to allow and so they pretty much made the whole branch of magic either outright illegal or at least questionable. Not everyone agrees, of course, but since there are many families who have decided it's all 'dark' and would likely report you to the Ministry if they even suspected you might be trying it, even those who don't agree aren't likely to actually try to practice it."

"Damned straight. We don't hold with dark wizards mucking about with evil magic." Ron agreed proudly.

"It seems kind of overkill to outlaw a whole branch of magic just because there may have been accidents in the past. People make mistakes in potions and charms all the time. I can't say I really agree with the Ministry doing that. "

"You'd better watch yourself, mate. You go around saying stuff like that and people will think you're a ruddy dark wizard."

"You're not allowed to even have an opinion? Sounds like we've a rather totalitarian society. I can't say I care for that either."

"Ronald I realize your family obviously feels differently being all Gryffindors, but you'll find that Ravenclaws in general tend to side with Harry on this matter. Ravenclaws value knowledge, learning, and scholarship. Having whole branches of magic wiped out because something might possibly go wrong at some point is the complete opposite of that." Su Li explained. "My family has been Ravenclaws since we came to Britain, and before that they lived in Hong Kong, where ritual magic is still an accepted practice. No one in my family agrees with the Ministry's stance on the matter."

Ron's face turned the color of oatmeal.

"So what're you saying? This whole house is full of dark wizards?"

"If by dark wizards you mean nutters that go around killing and torturing people, which I'm going to guess that you do, then hardly. This house is full of people who value knowledge."

 

Ron was still twitchy and eyeballing his fellow Ravenclaws sideways when they all headed back to the common room. He went and buried himself behind a comic book in the corner of the room and seemed to not want company. Harry went up to the dorms and unloaded his purchases from earlier and put them away. He dug out his newspaper from earlier and flipped open his notebook.

The articles that had troubled him earlier were a bit easier to understand now that he knew more about what they were talking about, and more troubling as well. He made a note of who was for and against in each case and put it aside. The rest of the paper was a bit easier to wade through without research. Society announcements--people engaged, people newly married, this one donated to charity, this one held a fabulous ball. This one wrote a new book, this one is starting research to help werewolves, this one is winning an award.

The remainder was ads from different shops, personal ads and death notices. He set it aside and turned back to his notebooks. He spent some time tidying up his notes for herbology club, then did the same for his notes from the library. He moved his list of stuff he'd already searched and still needed to search to the last page and added 'ritual magic' to the list. He packed his club notebook away and put the second back into his belt pouch along with a bit of candy to snack on.

He found Arcturus' latest letter and packed that away too. All he was left with was Sirius' letter, which he still hadn't opened. He steeled himself and broke the seal, unrolling it. The letter started off messy and got neater and fancier as it went on, as though Sirius was remembering how to write as he went along.

Dear Harry, I hardly know what to write to you. Last time I saw you, you were a wee bit of a thing, and now you're off at Hogwarts. I missed all of it. I can never apologize for that enough. Let me start off by saying thank you--for seeing Peter got what was coming to him, for clearing my name, for getting me out of that place. Mere thanks can never be enough, but it's all I have to give right now. My grandfather tells me my release was actually an accident on your part, which still makes me laugh every time I think of it. I don't really know what to say to you. I should have raised you, instead we're practically strangers and you didn't even know I was alive. Ravenclaw, huh? I guess I can see where that might have come from. Your mum and dad were both smart, so I guess put them together and you get one smart cookie. Hopefully you're a Ravenclaw that knows how to have fun and isn't just trapped in the library all day wading through dusty books and forgetting what day of the week it is…though if you are, no offense, and I'm sure you're a great kid and all. I'm going to shut up now. Hopefully I haven't scared you off and you'll write back. Tell me about yourself. I want to know everything. I've missed so much already, I don't want to miss anything else. Your loving godfather, Sirius

Harry didn't cry; he'd stopped doing that years ago and swore he never would again. His eyes did feel strangely prickly even so. How many years had gone by where he'd wished with all his heart for someone to rescue him from the Dursleys? Someone who wanted him around, wanted to be his family? He didn't know if it made him feel better or worse to know that person had needed rescuing as much, if not a whole lot more so, than he had.

When he had himself back under control he dug out his stationary to write Sirius a letter. He had as much trouble with it as Sirius had apparently had--what did he say to him? He'd never had a parental type person in his life before, so he didn't really know the protocol. In the end he did just as he asked and told him about himself.

He wrote another letter to Arcturus as well, to thank him for sending him word on Sirius' recovery. After he'd done that he recalled reading a mention of the Blacks being a Wizengamot family from the paper, and asked him about his own family and whether they had a seat, explaining Professor Flitwick looking at him and his own research into the matter which hadn't answered his question. It couldn't hurt, right? If Arcturus was on the Wizengamot he could probably just tell him without him needing to do more research.

Obviously even if the answer was yes, it wasn't anything he'd need to worry about anytime soon--he was only eleven, and knew hardly anything about anything just yet. It would still be good to know for the future; if nothing else it would determine whether he stuck with history or dropped it after fifth year…though perhaps he should stick with it even so; it was certainly handy for doing other homework and getting it out of the way. Decisions, decisions.

Hedwig, his very smart owl, pecked at the window just as he finished off Arcturus' letter.

"Aren't you a clever girl? You always know just when I need you. Take these to Arcturus and Sirius, girl. Fly safely."

Hedwig nipped gently at his finger and then sped off on silent wings into the darkness.

Ron was still sulking in the common room, and the others were all busy reading or playing games. Harry wandered over to the first year's section of the library and scanned the shelves for something new to occupy himself. One near the bottom caught his eye.

"The beginner's introduction to runes. Huh."

 

"You're getting up this morning, Ron?" Harry asked curiously Sunday morning as he got dressed.

"Yeah. I'm starving. I only got two meals yesterday. I wish breakfast just wasn't so ruddy early."

"Mmm." was Harry's only comment. Even knowing Aunt Petunia wasn't around to yell him awake at the crack of dawn wasn't enough to let him stay asleep, even if he wanted to sleep in.

"What's your plan for today?" Ron wondered once they were seated and had their plates filled.

"Charms club after breakfast. After that I don't know."

"Charms club? First herbology now this? Don't go to that, it's like having class on the weekend!"

"You can skip out if you want, I'm going."

"What am I supposed to do then?"

"I don't know. Go hang out with your brothers? Read? Play chess again?"

"Fat lot of help you are."

"I told you where I'm going, I gave you suggestions, what more do you want?"

"I want you to not go to the stupid charms club."

"Well, that's not going to happen. Either you come with me or you find something else to do."

Ron was in a bad mood for the rest of breakfast, but Harry wouldn't bend, though it was tough not to give in. Ron was the one he sat in classes with and spent most of his time after class with; he didn't like having him angry with him, but at the same time, he had a feeling if he didn't stand up for himself now, he be pretty much stuck doing whatever Ron wanted from here on out. Much to his relief, the rest of their housemates seemed to be on his side and told Ron to lay off.

Ron headed over to Gryffindor to complain to his brothers when breakfast ended. Anthony, Mandy and Morag headed off to the library, Padma towards Gryffindor to see her sister, Michael, Terry, Harry, Lisa, and Su headed off towards the charms club.

It was held in one of the large halls Harry had come across on his wanderings. It was on the ground floor and had a large bank of windows that looked out into the main courtyard. There was a good sized crowd, mostly older kids. Shortly after they arrived a small group of Hufflepuffs came in, a few older Gryffindors and Hermione Granger, and a small group of Slytherins--among them were Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, and Theo.

"Welcome, children, welcome!" Flitwick called everyone to order. "I thought for today we could all learn a very useful charm to repair stonework. Obviously you upper years will be doing the heavy lifting, but never fear, the rest of you can still learn something! Then, as a treat, once we're all done, we can explore the secret passage we'll be repairing! Won't that be fun? Come along then!"

The club gathered up and followed the professor from the room. Much to Harry's surprise, Draco Malfoy fell into step with him. Harry glanced at Theo who shrugged.

"Potter. We've never been properly introduced. Malfoy. Draco Malfoy." he said, offering his hand. Harry glanced down at the offered hand and then back at the boy himself before taking it and shaking it once and dropping it. He saw no need to be rude, but the kid had tried to set his goons on him and he wasn't likely to forget it anytime soon.

"Harry Potter. Charmed."

Malfoy narrowed his eyes at him, but rallied a moment later. "So, you lived with muggles, huh? That must have been awful. Two bad your godfather was in prison your whole life. Because of your dreadful upbringing, you probably don't realize that some wizarding families are better than others. I could help you with that. You don't want to go associating with the wrong sort."

"I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks."

"Obviously not or you wouldn't be hanging out with that Weasley. They're really poor, you know."

"I don't really think being poor is a crime."

"It isn't, but you should watch yourself anyway. You're famous, and there are a lot of people out there who will want to use that."

"Like yourself?"

"I wouldn't object if it should happen to benefit me" Draco agreed easily "but I don't need it. My family is quite wealthy and prominent on its own. Most can't say the same."

"I'll keep it in mind." Harry agreed neutrally. He already knew Dumbledore had sicced the Weasleys on him, or tried to, at the train station. He hadn't wanted to read too much in to Ron ending up in Ravenclaw, especially since he seemed so very shocked and disturbed to end up there, but the cynical part of him had still kind of wondered. He didn't need the likes of Malfoy to tell him this.

Malfoy pouted at him; Harry didn't know what he expected, he was hardly going to fall all over himself gushing thanks for telling him everyone around him couldn't be trusted and probably wanted to use him.

"So… we'll probably be seeing each other over the holidays."

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Lord Black seems to be all about gathering what remains of the family together lately. He's been off visiting your godfather in the hospital, and drug my mother in to see him as well, and her sister. I don't know why, she was disowned. She married a Hufflepuff of all things. No accounting for taste. Her daughter has pink hair. It's not very dignified, if you ask me."

"Pink? Huh. She's a punk rocker?"

"No, she's a metamorphamagus."

"I see." said Harry, who didn't see at all. He made a mental note to look up the unfamiliar term later.

"I didn't even know either of them existed. My mother never mentioned having sisters, though I suppose I can't blame her. I've never even met any of these people, so it'll be new for both of us. Mother didn't talk about her family much. I didn't even know you and I were cousins! I mean, I figured we were related in some way, but I didn't realize it was so close."

"We are?"

"Yes! Your grandmother Dorea was my grandfather Pollux's younger sister. That means your father and my mother were first cousins once removed, and you and I are second cousins once removed. I suppose it's the same with you and Pinky. She and I are first cousins. Just my luck, right? My closest relation in the world and it's a pink-haired Hufflepuff."

"What have you got against Hufflepuffs anyway?"

"My mother told me my whole life that I didn't want to end up there, that Slytherin was much better. She and my father and my grandparents, on both sides, all were. I always figured it was because they were a bunch of duffers, but it turns out it's because it makes you crazy."

"It does?"

"Apparently. Her older sister turned into a mad torturer and went to Azkaban."

"Bellatrix Lestrange was a Hufflepuff? The papers left me with the idea that she was a Slytherin."

"They probably just assumed and didn't check their facts. Most of the Blacks were Slytherins, as were the two Lestranges. Like I said, my grandparents were, Lord and Lady Black were, your godfather's parents and his brother were."

"Huh. What about the last sister, Andromeda? Was she a Hufflepuff or a Slytherin?"

"Ravenclaw, actually, so I suppose you'll have someone to bond with during the holidays."

"She was? Cool. Why was she disowned?"

"She married a mudblood."

"What's a mudblood?"

"You know, muggle born."

Harry's eyes narrowed and grew cold. "I never heard that term before, but I can tell by the tone of your voice it isn't a nice one. Do keep in mind that my mother was muggle born and watch it."
Draco rolled his eyes and waved his hand in an airy apology, though he looked rather mulish about it.

"And why would she be disowned for that?"

"So wizarding stuff wouldn't end up in muggle hands, apparently. I always thought it was because they have dirty blood and weaken the bloodlines and destroy magic, but it's mostly about lines of inheritance, or so mother said."

"I don't understand."

"Well think about it, Potter. What would have happened if you had died that night too? Let's say your mum was the last to die, who's her next of kin if you and your dad were dead too? Muggles, that's who. Stupid, filthy muggles. So say they inherit. There's a statute of secrecy, and a lot of stuff is charmed against muggles besides. So, magical stuff ends up in their hands, and what happens? The ministry confiscates it all, and it's lost to the extended wizarding relations. Just gone. No one's sure what the ministry does with stuff they confiscate, do they keep it? Destroy it? Does it end up in a stupid warehouse somewhere? No one knows, but it's lost to the extended family regardless. If you marry a mud…"

Harry glared

"ggleborn, or Merlin forbid, a stupid muggle, you get disowned so it doesn't happen. According to mother, in the normal course of things your dad would have been disowned for marrying your mother, except his parents were already dead and there was no one to do it. Of course, he was the only child, and the last Potter, so he probably would have been encouraged to marry someone else had his parents lived, since disowning him would have ended the family line, but there you go."

"Alright, I can see that, I guess, it seems a shame for the magical descendants though. They get kicked out as well. It isn't like they get to choose their parents."

"They can marry back into the family, or into another pureblood family, in a generation or two and it goes away, for their kids at least. If they end up as squibs they stay in the muggle world and cut off."

They had arrived at the collapsed passage by that point, so there was no further time to talk, but that was just as well as Malfoy had given him a lot to think about.
At the time his parents died, he had a godfather ready and willing to take him, but instead he'd been snatched away by Hagrid while Dumbledore was off getting himself made his magical guardian. He was left on the Dursleys doorstep like a bottle of milk with a letter telling them they were his only relatives and thus had no choice but to take him in, however little they liked it.

Now, according to Draco Malfoy he had several cousins in the wizarding world…that he knew of. He'd said everyone was related to some degree, hadn't he? So, several relatively close cousins, one of whom was the aforementioned godfather. It made no sense--Dumbledore couldn't even really argue trying to keep him safe from unsavory elements either.

Andromeda Tonks had never been accused of anything, nor had Narcissa Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy had, but he'd been cleared, claiming he'd been imperioused. Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, husband of the woman he'd heard talking about himself on the train platform, had actually been thrown in prison for a while and been cleared for the same reason. Arcturus and Pollux Black had never been accused of anything either, nor had their wives. The Dursleys were far from his only relatives! It was infuriating! How many more 'relatively close' cousins did he have? Every time he turned around there seemed to be something else he didn't know!

He did his best to push aside his whirling thoughts so he could take notes as professor Flitwick lectured, but it was hard.

 

"Harry! Finally! So, it was a drag right? You won't be going back?" Ron said hopefully.

"It was fun and yes I will."

"You'd be wise to take notes from Potter here. If I were a poor, ginger, blood traitor I'd be trying to better myself." Malfoy sneered.

"Shut up, Malfoy! Harry! What are you doing conspiring with the likes of him?"

"Perhaps he's realized what poor company he's been keeping up until now?"

"I said shut up, Malfoy! Take your stupid dark-wizard-self back to the snake pit where you belong!"

Harry sighed and did his best to quell the urge to bang his head into the wall repeatedly as the two boys sniped at one another, and then each began tugging him like he was a toy they both wanted.

Harry yanked his arms out of both their grasp and stepped back.

"What the hell? I didn't realize you two even knew each other."

"It's not hard to pick out a Weasley. Red hair, freckles, more children than they can afford."

"Shut up, slimy snake! Blonde, pasty faced and evil! Malfoys are all alike!"

"Seriously, what is this? A family feud?"

"YES!" both boys snarled angrily.

"Are either of your families feuding with the Potters?"

"No."

"No."

"Good. If you want it to stay that way, both of you had best stop trying to drag me into yours."

He quelled the urge to sigh when they both turned identical sulky, offended looks on him.
Harry stepped around them both and continued on his way.

"Fight if you want to, but keep me out of it. And Ron, for God's sake, don't lose us any points."

 

Harry wandered off with a sigh. He had thought he'd have company while exploring this afternoon, but if Ron was going to be a prat, he'd rather be by himself. He headed towards the library instead. He did have a new term to look up.

Once in the library, he spotted Hermione Granger again. She wasn't writing an essay this time, but she was trying to lug a ridiculous number of very large books towards the desk to be checked out. Harry shook his head and went towards the card catalogue. It took him some doing to find 'metamorphamagus' as he hadn't been spelling it right. He went and found the books listed and settled down in a back corner to do some reading.

"Bloodline gifts of the great families. Should be interesting." He flipped to the table of contents and went down the list. "Let's see clairvoyance… elemental affinities… …metamorphamagus…necromancy…parselmouth…wandless magic… Hmm. All kinds of stuff."

He went to the entry on metamorphamagus first and skimmed through. Apparently it referred to a person that could alter their physical appearance at will. "Someone with a full-blown talent will randomly change their hair and eye color or features throughout their infancy and early childhood. Lesser versions of the gift will sometimes appear as well, and can usually be realized if the person in question changes or alters some part of their appearance at will, though it will happen rarely and usually only under stress conditions."

Harry re-read the last part again and sat back to think. He'd regrown his hair once because his aunt had given him a terrible haircut and he hadn't wanted to be teased worse than usual at school. He'd always healed quickly as well. The Black family was listed as the family the talent ran through. If he was related to them, it was actually possible he had a minor talent in it.

"Hopefully one of the others will tell me how to train it up. That could be right useful. I should write to Pinky, uh, Nymphydor…whatever her name was."

Curious now, he scanned through the rest of the entries to see if anything else sounded like something he might have done in the past. It wasn't until he came upon the entry for parselmouth that he got a hit.

"Talking to snakes has a name… and apparently snakes don't speak English, they speak snake language, and some people can do it to. People like me."

Normally he would have been thrilled to discover he might have two different bloodline gifts, but as he continued reading his elation slowly withered.

"Considered extinct in Britain because of anti-parselmouth purges that took place several times in history. Widely considered the mark of a dark wizard, though research suggests its origin is due to naga blood in the line rather than a propensity for dark magic."

"Great. Just my luck to have a gift that might get me killed."

A sudden horrible thought crossed his mind. What if he lapsed into it and didn't realize? He hadn't realized he was speaking a different language in the zoo, it had just happened. He resolved to try to get a handle on it, if only to know when he was speaking it. It wouldn't do to get himself killed for being unknowingly bilingual at an inconvenient time.
He scanned the rest of the entry to see if there was anything more to be found, then moved on to the next book and kept reading.

 

"I really need to see if there's an eye doctor anywhere during the holidays." Harry thought to himself tiredly. He'd read more in the last week than in his previous eleven years of life, or so it felt. His glasses were enough to help him see, but they weren't tailored for him; his aunt would never spend the money it would have taken to get him proper glasses. She had dug them out of a bin at a rummage sale and slapped them on him and asked if he could see. When he told her yes she had figured it was good enough and that was that. If he was going to keep reading so much he needed glasses actually meant just for him.

"I wonder if there's something magic that can be done?" He made a mental note to find out when next he visited the library.

He was lost in thought as he entered the common room, but a lifetime with the Dursleys and being randomly smacked, attacked by Dudley and his gang, and having his relatives turn nasty at the drop of a hat had left him with good situational awareness even when he wasn't paying attention.

"YOU TRAITOR!" Ron Weasley howled.

Harry dodged the fist swung his way and backpedaled to give himself some room. Ron staggered when his first punch missed, but he was ready and willing to try again. His second punch was also destined not to land; Harry flicked his wand at him as he moved away. Ron's shoelaces tied themselves together and he went down flailing.

"What the hell is your problem?" Harry demanded.

What the hell was it? Was he destined to be hated for no good reason? First that brat Hermione on the train, and now this?
Ron grunted and rolled himself to a sitting position, face red-purple and nose swollen from falling on it.

"YOU'RE THE BLOODY BOY WHO LIVED! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HANGING OUT WITH THE LIKES OF MALFOY? HE'S A FILTHY DEATH EATER SPAWN! YOU TRAITOR!"

"First of all, speak in a normal tone. Second of all, Malfoy is our classmate, and happens to be in the charms club. Third of all, he's eleven years old, same as you and me."

"His father Lucius Malfoy is a scum-sucking death eater bastard that bought his way off. The bastard claimed he was under the imperious curse!"

"So did your dad, and unlike Mr. Malfoy he actually went to prison for a while."

Ron went from red to grey so fast it was a little disturbing to watch. His face soon reddened again, and this time went right to purple.

"WHA…HOW DARE…MY FATHER'S NO DEATH EATER! I'LL KILL YOU!"

"I don't know your father and I don't know Mr. Malfoy. All I know about either of them is what I read in the paper. If your reason for attacking me and calling me a traitor is that I spoke to a kid whose father was accused of being a death eater and getting off by reason of imperious, by that logic I shouldn't be talking to you either. In fact, right now that sounds like a capitol idea. Keep your distance, Weasley. And if you ever attack me again, I'll destroy you. I'm no one's punching bag."

Had Harry shouted or raged, his words likely would have been dismissed and forgotten. The fact that he spoke with calm, utter certainty gave his statement a gravity that would otherwise have been missing. The common room stayed quietly frozen as Harry turned and headed up to the dorms.
Ron shivered, then got angry all over again that he had. He had just about talked himself in to going after Harry and giving him a piece of his mind, when his ear was snagged by a very displeased looking prefect.

"Up you go, midget. This one's going right to professor Flitwick."

He flicked his wand at him and untied his shoelaces and drug him after him towards the exit. "What were you even thinking, you deranged little berk? Maybe that sort of caveman behavior flies in Gryffindor, but it sure as hell doesn't here… though I suppose we can't expect better from death eater spawn, right?"

Ron's howls of protest were cut off as the door shut behind them.

"Little brat" one of the fifth years sighed. "He's the one that just lost us twenty points for dueling in the hallway, isn't he?"

"That whole family is trouble. How in the world did Percy end up related to them?"

"Yeah, Penny, you seem to have gotten the only sane one."

"Or did you? He might just hide it better!"

As the fifth years laughed, and Ron was marched off to get scolded by Flitwick, Harry sat alone in his dorm and waiting for the shaking to stop.

"This was supposed to be my different, better life."

He could hear people coming, so he sucked everything down where it wouldn't show and got up to put his library books away on his book shelf.

"Hey man, you alright? It didn't look like he got you but…" Michael asked.

"I'm fine. He didn't."

"What was with him anyway?" Anthony wondered.

Harry explained how Draco had spoken to him briefly at charms club, and how he and Ron had started arguing afterwards and tried to drag him into their family feud.

"What a jerk. Did his dad really get arrested as a death eater?" Terry wondered.

"Yeah, or so the paper said. He was in Azkaban for a week, but an Auror named Moody went there to check him out on Dumbledore's orders and found he was under the imperious curse, so he was released."

"I just feel I should tell you there were some people who didn't believe Lucius Malfoy when he said he'd been imperioused." Anthony warned.

"Wouldn't someone have checked?"

"You would think so. I have to assume they did and found something…" Michael shrugged.

"Yeah, no one would be fool enough to just take someone's word for something like that, right? Me, a crazed nutter that likes to kill and torture people? Perish the thought! Oh, okay Mr. , you can go home now!' That would be crazy!" Terry added with his own shrug.

"What do you think Flitwick will do to Weasley?" Michael asked.

"Flitwick?"

"Yeah, after you left one of the prefects drug him off. He's going to be a bit of an outcast around these parts until he straightens himself out. He lost us twenty points earlier. The older kids are already mad about that."

"I'm mad about it too!" Terry complained.

"He did? That jerk! I even told him not to lose us points when I left him earlier."

Talk soon turned to other things, and when the bell for dinner rang they went down as a group.
It occurred to Harry on the way that this way indeed his 'different, better life'. The same sort of things happened, but they didn't affect him the same way.

He hadn't gotten smacked for Ron attacking him, he hadn't gotten locked up, and he still got to eat dinner!
Things were looking up.

Chapter Text

With a full week of school in their belts, the classes at Hogwarts seemed to go into full gear. The students were soon buried beneath their studies, though the classes got more interesting and more in depth, so Harry wasn't going to complain.

Mid-way into the second week the first years began flying lessons. Flying was, in Harry's opinion, the greatest thing ever. He took to the air like a bird. It seemed to come naturally to him. The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs all had a blast, though there were a few students wary of heights that had to be coaxed into the air.

The Gryffindor-Slytherin class didn't go as well, from what he'd heard. Neville lost control of his broom and fell from the air, breaking his wrist. When he'd been taken off to the hospital wing by Madame Hooch to have it seen to, Draco Malfoy found something Neville's gran had sent him that morning in the grass where he'd fallen and tried to take it. Hermione Granger had told him off and demanded it back and he hexed her for it. Hermione slugged him in return, and by the time Madame Hooch came back there was an all-out war going on between the two houses. A hundred points were taken from both houses and they all had detention, except for Neville since he wasn't there. Even he didn't get out unscathed. On top of the broken wrist he'd gotten, his Rememberall, the thing his gran had sent him, had gotten broken during the scuffle.

Both houses were furious with the first years, who all walked small in the following weeks and kept their heads down.

Ron and Harry remained on the outs. Ron never apologized; instead he sulked, muttered about Harry being a 'stuck up prat' under his breath and wandered around in a foul mood. The rest of the Ravenclaw first years pretty much closed ranks against him. They all thought he was being ridiculous, trying to control who Harry was even allowed to speak with, especially as both his and Malfoy's fathers were on equal footing so far as any of them knew. He didn't take well to that either, and so was irritated with the rest of them as well, not that any of them seemed to mind overmuch. He began spending most of his free time with Dean and Seamus of Gryffindor.

 

Before any of them knew it, September was gone, and October had rolled in, chill and blustery.

"You know, as much as I'd like to be on the quidditch team, on days like this, I'm really glad I'm not." Michael mused as they watched the quidditch team troop inside for breakfast.

The first game of the season was only two weeks away and all the teams had been practicing like mad. The Ravenclaw team had the pitch that morning, and most of them wished they hadn't. They were all soaked and mud splattered, even though they'd only stayed out for half their allotted practice time. The ceiling of the great hall was ominously grey and illusionary rain was pouring down overhead.

"I like watching. I've never had any desire to play. Poor bastards. They look half-frozen." Terry agreed.

Harry could only agree. As much as he enjoyed flying, he wasn't sure he wanted to be forced to do so in such weather.

"Pansies. This is why Ravenclaw never wins the ruddy quidditch cup. Oliver Wood would have had them up at dawn and would have kept them for the whole time." Ron scoffed, referring to the Gryffindor quidditch captain whom he'd come to admire a great deal.

"Oh, be quiet Weasley. As much as we'd all enjoy winning, at the end of the day it's just a game." Lisa huffed.

"Quidditch is not just a game!" Ron sputtered in horror. "It's quidditch!"

"I'm going to have to go with Lisa on this one." Anthony agreed.

Michael and Terry looked just a flabbergasted as Ron.

"Lisa! You go too far!"

"That's blasphemy!"

The morning owl post arrived in a flutter of wings. Padma brightened when a large owl dropped a small box at her place before swooping towards the Gryffindor table to give the same to her sister.

"Ooh, my grandmother must have been cooking. She usually sends us treats when she has been."

Harry gathered his own mail. He and Sirius had been writing back and forth since the first letter, once sometimes even twice a week.

He seemed to be doing well. He had finally been released from the hospital, though he still had to go back once a month for the next year for check-ups, and was staying with his grandparents for the moment. His house had been seized and sold after his arrest, and he didn't want to go back to the house he grew up in. Harry had been supportive of that decision. He didn't think he'd want to go back to the Dursleys after getting out of a prison like Azkaban. If Sirius had a similarly unhappy childhood, he didn't blame him in the least. He'd have to be sure to tell him so, especially as it seemed Remus Lupin had surfaced from wherever he was and thought he was being ridiculous.

He turned his attention to the rest of his mail. Much to his surprise he had a small box of treats like Padma did. He had written to Andromeda Tonks a few weeks ago. He didn't hear from her that often, but she did send him treats every once in a while, which was nice. Over at the Slytherin table Draco had a similar box from his mother. He was handing out his sweets with the air of a king showering blessings on the lowly peasants. It really was almost comical how arrogant that kid was.

He had a letter from Nymphadora Tonks as well, Andromeda's daughter. She insisted he call her Tonks as she hated her first name. Honestly, Harry didn't know why. It was sort of pretty. He had asked if he could call her Dora or Pinky, but those suggestions had been similarly rejected.
She had been giving him advice on training a possible minor metamorphic talent. So far he hadn't had much luck, but he was persevering; being able to change his hair and eye color would come in handy, especially in summer when he couldn't use magic. He didn't want to be hounded by crowds again if he went to Diagon Alley like he had been while doing his school shopping.

He packed away his letters and turned to the paper. He looked for the letters to the editor and grinned when he spotted the one he'd written against the Muggle Protection Act that was up for a vote soon. He'd asked Professor Flitwick to proof-read it before he sent it off, and he thought it sounded very mature and well-thought out. He'd gotten points for it too.

It had just seemed nonsensical to him. It was already illegal to maliciously enchant items that would hurt muggles, there didn't actually need to be a new law to do that. The way the thing was written it would be illegal to enchant any muggle items to 'behave in ways they weren't meant to'. On thinking about it, he realized making something work on magic rather than electricity would technically count. Technically, enchanting brooms to fly rather than be used for sweeping would also count. If you lived in a muggle area and wanted to enchant your lights and appliances to work on magic to more easily blend in, you couldn't do it, which seemed silly to him, and short sighted.

There was also the fact that it would give the misuse of muggle artifacts office rather wide ranging powers in a wide array of departments--law enforcement, judicial, international trade. That seemed like rather a lot of power to put in the hands of one small office, especially as there were whole departments to already overlook all those things.

Professor Flitwick had made him explain his position at length, and then opened up a debate with the rest of the house for and against. By the time the debate was over, most of the house agreed with Harry that the law was a bad idea. A few more had written letters to the editor saying as much. Ron, for some reason, hadn't taken part in the debate; he'd just gotten mad and stomped off to the dorms in a bad mood. It seemed to be a recurring theme with him.

He wasn't going to waste time worrying about it. Harry put all thought of politics out of his mind and turned to the sports pages. He'd been following the professional quidditch leagues so he had something to talk to the other boys about. He was really looking forward to the start of the quidditch season. Sadly, the first teams up were Gryffindor and Slytherin. Ravenclaw wouldn't be playing until early December. Still, it was something to look forward to.

The bell rang, signaling the start of another day of classes.

"Back to the grind." Mandy sighed.

"Another day of Q-Q-Q-Quirrel." Ron said sourly.

"Be nice. His stutter has gotten a lot better since the start of the year." Padma scolded.

"Yeah, he was probably just nervous before and it made his stutter worse. I mean, it's still annoying, but you have to admit it's gotten better." Lisa agreed.

"Whatever. Quirrel's an annoying berk. He should have stayed in muggle studies rather than messing up an important class like DADA."

"All classes are important." Anthony chided absently.

His nose was buried in a book; he was only half paying attention to what was going on around him. The rest of them were used to this happening on average of once a week. They just steered him in the right direction and prompted him to avoid the trick step.

"Welcome t-to class, students." Professor Quirrel greeted them once the bell rang. "I have your h-homework from Monday. I'm quite pleased w-w-with your progress. I would like to remind everyone though that the length given for your essays is a firm guideline, not a suggestion."

He didn't look at Hermione Granger, but most of the class did. Hermione for her part glared at the professor through narrowed eyes, checked her returned essay for her grade and gasped in outrage. Harry had no doubt she'd be running crying to McGonagall the moment class was over.

"I couldn't help notice in today's paper that one of our own had his letter to the editor printed." The Ravenclaw first years, except for Ron, grinned at Harry. A couple of the smarter Slytherins looked at him speculatively. The Hufflepuffs looked cheerful, and most of the Gryffindors clueless.

"I must admit my surprise, however, that the proclaimed 'Boy-Who-Lived' would come out in favor of eradicating a law meant to protect muggles."

"I take it you didn't actually read my letter, professor?"
"That's 'cause he's a muggle-hating dark wizard!" Ron muttered at the same time.

The Gryffindors gasped in horror, as did the Hufflepuffs. The Ravenclaws looked at Ron like he was nuts, and a couple wadded up parchment and threw it at him. Ron spluttered in outrage as they bounced off his head one after another.

"You don't get to comment, Weasley. You don't know what you're talking about. Don't think we didn't notice you didn't bother to stick around for the debate the whole house had before Harry was allowed to send his letter off!" Padma growled.

"Yeah, what's your malfunction, Weasley?" Lisa demanded.

"His father wrote the Muggle Protection Act." Draco Malfoy chirped helpfully, with a mean smirk at Ron, whose ears turned red.

"Shut up, Malfoy! No one asked you!"

"Ahhh." the rest of the Ravenclaws said with sudden understanding.

"I see I am perhaps uninformed. Perhaps you could enlighten those of us who haven't yet read your letter why you came out against it?"

"Professor? What does this have to do with defense against the dark arts?" Hermione demanded.

"Quite a lot, actually." Anthony replied. "Items that fall under the purview of this law would automatically be classified as being 'malicious enchantments against muggles', even if all you did was enchant your lights to run on magic--though likely only if the person in charge of deciding if you were in violation didn't like you, and chose to go after you for some reason. That person would be Arthur Weasley, who would be given the right to put together a group to stage raids on people's homes, decide they were in violation, and throw them in prison. It would all be on his say-so, as would deciding whether certain imports were allowed into Britain, depending on whether or not he decided they were in violation. It's not a bill to protect muggles, it's a loophole filled power-grab. It's especially galling as Arthur Weasley is already in violation of this law he wrote. He has an enchanted car that flies and turns invisible!"

"Well, that's all very nice, but what does it have to do with the dark arts?" Hermione sniffed.

"Well, if it passed, all enchanted muggle items would be essentially be classified as dark arts, though the way the law is written Mr. Weasley gave himself the power to pick and choose which ones would be prosecuted. You wouldn't even get a proper trial, just go to Azkaban on his say-so. Frankly, we were all appalled and were firmly in support of Harry speaking out against this travesty pretending to be a law to protect muggles!" Padma sniffed back.

Class ended up being very interesting; the discussion on Harry's letter branched out into a more general discussion of what exactly were 'the dark arts', both from a practical magic standpoint, and from the Ministry's legal definition, which didn't always overlap. Well, the Ravenclaws--minus Ron, and half the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs seemed to enjoy it. The Gryffindors, barring Hermione and to a lesser degree Neville, and Dean mostly seemed bored. The discussion lasted until class was nearly over. Quirrel, seeing half the class seemed not to be paying attention, turned to more practical matters at the end and taught them a couple of new jinxes.

Usually everyone was in a hurry to leave once class was over--Quirrel usually smelled strongly of garlic, and it got to be unpleasant after a while. This time, those who had been most involved in the discussion about dark magic and ministry laws stuck around after to ask questions that didn't get covered in class.

Hermione didn't stick around, but then Harry figured she was off crying about her grade. Ron didn't stick around either, he was off like a flash as soon as the bell rang, tagging along with the Gryffindor boys.

Everyone started heading off when the dinner bell rang, most quite surprised that they had spent so much time on the subject. Harry lingered at the doorway when the professor addressed him. The rest of the students glanced back curiously but continued on their way.

"Yes, professor?"

"I just wanted to say I was surprised…and impressed, by your initiative. You don't find many first years interested in politics."

"I wouldn't say I was interested, exactly. I only even read up on the stuff because I was trying to read the paper and realized I didn't understand most of what they were talking about. It took a couple of weeks of it percolating in the back of my mind before I even really understood why it kept nagging at me. Once I did I figured I needed to say something, because it was obvious from the comments in the paper that no one else really seemed to see the problems. I have to wonder if any of them even read the law they were supposed to be voting on." Harry grumbled with a frown.

"You remind me of someone."

"Oh? Who?"

"He was a bit before your time. You wouldn't know him. Tom Marvolo Riddle?"

"The Slytherin prefect and headboy from the forties?"

Quirrel stiffened and looked at him searchingly. "How do you know that name?" His voice was very casual, but Harry could sense he was much more interested in the answer than he wanted to appear.

Harry did his best not to let on that he noticed. He told him about his trip through the trophy room and how he'd looked up the name in the paper afterwards.

"It seems an odd thing to do. Why go to such trouble for someone you didn't know?"

"Well, that's just it. I felt like I should know him. When I saw the name it was odd… like he was an old friend I'd forgotten about a long time ago. I don't see how it would be possible though. Searching the papers didn't help either. He seemed to disappear shortly after Hogwarts. Do you know what happened to him? It's just…he was a prefect and headboy, and won awards and was top of his classes and graduated with distinction. You'd think someone so brilliant and accomplished would have left a lasting mark on the world in some way, but he just vanishes."

"Perhaps he had a greater destiny he needed to meet. I couldn't say."

"A greater destiny, professor?"

"Yes, the world is a large place, after all, Mr. Potter. Perhaps he's been elsewhere all these years making his mark, or even gathering momentum to make his mark here in the future."

"I suppose. I'd best be getting to dinner, professor, before Weasley eats everything."

"The house elves make more than enough for everyone, Mr. Potter. I doubt you need fear that."

"That's what you think. It's happened before. We've all come to the conclusion that he must have a black hole in his stomach. We really don't know where he puts it all. I mean, we all like to eat, but he takes it to a whole new level."

 

"All right! Halloween!" Ron cheered. "Too bad they make us still go to classes. Still, there's supposed to be a feast tonight. I've heard they go all out."

"Yeah, it should be good." Su agreed.

Harry was looking forward to the feast, but his enthusiasm was slightly dimmed by his new knowledge that his parents had been murdered on Halloween. He felt guilty that he was looking forward to celebrating. It was too much to deal with, so he put it all out of his mind and tried to focus on school instead.

"Good morning, students! Everyone present? Good, good. Today we'll be starting work on the levitation charm, which will round off our study of movement charms. The wand movement is a simple flick and swish, and the incantation is wingardium leviosa! Mind the pronunciation, everyone! You don't want to end up like the wizard Baruffio who ended up with a moose growing out of his chest! Everyone together now! Swish and Flick! Swish and flick! Make your flick a bit smaller there, Mr. Entwood! A bit smaller, yes, just like that. A bit too much swish there, Miss Bulstrode! Ah, Miss Granger, very nice! Those of you still having difficulty, copy Miss Granger!"

Flitwick sent a feather to each desk so that everyone had one.

"Once you feel confident that you have the wand movement down, try to float your feather! Remember, pronunciation is key!"

Ron obviously hadn't been listening, because he was whipping his wand around and shouting at his feather, which wasn't responding at all. Neville somehow grabbed hold of the professor and sent him flying, luckily into a pile of pillows at the far end of the classroom. Seamus Finnegan's feather burst into flames, much to his dismay.

"You're doing it all wrong!" Harry heard Hermione Granger hiss to Ron. She grabbed his arm to stop his flailing and sniffed at him disapprovingly. "And it's leviOsa, not levio-sah."

"You know so much, you do it!" Ron snarled back, his face red.

Hermione gave him a frosty look and stuck her nose in the air. "wing GAR dium Levi O sa!" she incanted firmly as she gave her wand a picture perfect swish and flick. Her feather began to rise slowly but steadily.

"Very Good! Miss Granger has got it!"

"Grr." Padma hissed under her breath. Her feather followed a moment later.

Neville was sitting beside Hermione and had been listening closely while she coached Ron. He practiced the wand movements and the incantation under his breath before making another attempt. It did rise, but it shot straight up towards the ceiling, rather than the gentle, controlled rise it was supposed to have. Dean got his to rise properly, as did Lavender and Parvati. Seamus was still having problems with fire. They spent the rest of the class period working on it.

Those who managed to properly control their feather were allowed to move on to different items and levitate them as well, so they got a feel for the differences to expect when trying to move things of different weights and shapes. Maybe a quarter of the class got to move on to more advanced levitation. By the end of the class everyone had at least managed the feather. Ron, much to his embarrassment was one of the stragglers. He wasn't the last, but he was close enough to that he was in a very foul mood indeed by the time class ended. The rest of them thought he was pretty much sabotaging himself. He didn't listen to Hermione when she tried to help him, and the more upset and embarrassed he got the worse trouble he had.

He was still fuming as they all left the classroom.

"Honestly! That girl's a nightmare! It's no wonder she hasn't got any friends!" he snarled. There was a small gasp behind them, then a blur of bushy hair raced past them.

"Nice work, Ron." Michael scolded.

"She was crying." Mandy pointed out.

"She was just trying to help you." Su agreed.

"You should apologize to her." Padma added. Parvati and Lavender nodded in support and all three gave Ron a dirty look before they headed off. None of them were particularly close to the girl, but he had been out of line.

Ron looked slightly guilty for a moment, but as everyone started reprimanding him, he grew mulish. "It's not my ruddy fault she's oversensitive! It's her own fault for being a know-it-all."

Su Li and Morag glared at him as they passed by, and Anthony and Terry shook their heads at him.

Hermione didn't make it to their next class, and there was still no sign of her as everyone headed down to the feast.

"She's still crying. She's off in the second floor bathroom. She's been there all afternoon." Parvati told Padma as they made their way to the great hall.

Harry glanced over at Ron and saw he'd heard them as well. His ears turned red, and his shoulders hunched, but the stubborn look was on his face again.

"Honestly, Weasley! This is getting ridiculous. Go find the girl, say you're sorry and you were out of line!" Michael complained.

"And miss the feast!"

"You can both enjoy it without all this hanging over your heads if you go take care of it now." Anthony pointed out.

"Crying girls aren't my thing." Ron muttered before stalking off.

"Well! That Weasley is no gentleman. Come on, lads. Let us go fetch the lady so the honor of our house remains unsullied." Michael decided, shoving Anthony back up the stairs.

"What! We didn't make her cry!" Terry complained.

"Not to mention she's in the bathroom. The girls bathroom." Harry thought he should point out.

"You know how to knock, I assume?"

"Why do you care?" Anthony complained as Mike chivvied all of them along.

"She's sort of cute. Overbearing, but I can work on that. When we come to her rescue she'll throw herself in my arms and I can comfort her! It's perfect!"

"Are you trying to tell me you fancy her?" Harry laughed in disbelief.

"You do remember we're eleven, right?" Terry complained.

"Oh, come on! It's good practice for when we're older if nothing else." Michael said glumly. "If she just hung out with us we could put an end to this ongoing book feud we all have going on. Besides, Weasley's practically a Gryffindor these days. They owe us a student in exchange."

"There's the bathroom."

"Go on. It's your show. Hurry it up though. I don't want to miss the feast." Harry gestured.

"Yeah. Keep in mind Ron's down there alone with all our food." Terry added.

"Good lord, you're right! Let's do this!"

He knocked firmly on the door and they heard a faint "go away!" from within.

"Hermione Granger? Are you really going to let the likes of Weasley drive you away from the Halloween feast? That's like letting him win! Have some pride!" Michael called out cajolingly.

There was silence inside for a long time, but eventually Hermione peered out of a crack in the door and looked at all of them suspiciously.

"What are all of you doing here?"

"We're here to chivvy you out of the loo!" Terry said cheerfully.

"Hopefully sometime soon. Ron's down there alone with our food. He has a black hole for a stomach. There's probably not going to be anything left by the time we get down there." Anthony sighed.

"Ron's a berk at the best of times. He tried to punch me in the head…twice! For talking to someone he didn't like." Harry agreed.

"See? Don't take anything he said to heart. Frankly we're embarrassed to count him among our number sometimes." Michael added.

"He can be a jerk at times." Terry agreed.

"So, please. Come with us, hold your head high. Your roommates are concerned about you as well. They're how we knew where you were."

Hermione looked at all of them suspiciously for a bit longer, then slowly opened the door, dabbing at her eyes as she did so. They were puffy and red-rimmed, though she looked much calmer already.

"What the heck is that smell?" Terry asked suddenly.

"What smell… oh. That smell. I don't…Mike? You ok?"

Michael seemed to be frozen in place. His face had gone white and his eyes looked ready to bug out of his face. The rest of them slowly turned to see what had made him look like that and gaped at the twelve foot tall, lumpy, very smelly…thing, with the giant club that was glaring at all of them and stalking towards them like it meant to squish them all flat. The rest of the boys froze as well. Hermione screamed, high and shrill. It broke the boys from their paralysis. Sadly, it also seemed to enrage the monster as well, and he roared and charged towards them, club held aloft for smashing.
"RUN!" Michael screamed, before turning to flee. Anthony and Terry were a half-step behind him. Harry started as well, but then went back two steps, grabbed Hermione by the arm and tugged to get her moving when he realized she was still frozen.

"RUN!"
"Up or down?"
"DOWN!"
"Oh…crap! Crap! The stairs!"
"Damn it!"
"Quick, this way!"

Harry, still dragging Hermione, took the lead and led them towards a passageway he'd discovered in his wanderings, and then down the new hallway they ended up in, towards the secret passage the charms club had fixed a few weeks ago. They all darted inside and began running down it. It came out in anteroom to the great hall, where they could alert the teachers and get help.
They charged out into the great hall, frazzled and out of breath, only to discover the place was completely deserted.

"But…but…where is everyone?"

"They must already know about the troll. They must have sent everyone back to their common rooms." Hermione reasoned.

"That troll could be anywhere by now! What do we do? They'll have noticed we're missing by now. What if they come looking for us?" Terry wondered.

"Oh! Wait, I've got an idea. Come on!"

Harry led them back to the entry way and then down the stairs towards the dungeons, though he headed away from where they normally took potions class.

"Where are we going?" Michael asked curiously.

"The kitchen."

"Of course! House elves! They can tell people where we are!" Anthony nodded.

"Good idea!"

"How'd you find the kitchen?" Michael demanded.

"And why didn't you tell us?" Terry added accusingly.

"They don't really want students in there, but this is kind of an emergency."

Harry tickled the pear and led everyone inside.

They walked into a scene of chaos. The replica tables were full of food and mostly full plates. The house elves were sobbing and twisting their ears while looking at it.

"Um…. Are you alright?"

"Nobody is eating dinner! We has failed!"

One of the elves was repeatedly bashing himself in the head with a wooden spoon, while another seemed to be trying to strangle herself with a tea towel.
The children gaped at all of them, but Harry moved to try to stop the ones being most aggressive about doing themselves harm.

"Please stop! We think everyone got sent back to their common rooms because there's a troll in the castle!" Hermione shouted to make herself heard over the wailing.

"We knows there is troll in the castle! We puts it there!" Tweak scoffed.

"You did? Why would you do that?" Michael demanded.

"Dumbly is telling us to. We puts it in the dungeons."

"Wait, wait. Why did he want a troll in the dungeon?" Terry asked, aghast.

"We didn't ask."

"Was it asleep when you did?" Anthony wondered.

"Oh yes. Quirrly turban-head is giving it something."

"I see… Well, uh, it woke up and it's roaming around the castle now. It's not supposed to be." Terry spoke up after trying to wrap his mind around the insanity that had apparently gripped the headmaster.

"We were on our way down to the feast and we ran into the troll on the second floor. We got down to the great hall but it was empty, but now we're afraid to try to go back upstairs in case we run into it again. We were hoping you could tell a teacher where we are and where the troll is so we can go." Anthony tried to get everyone back on track.

"Someone should probably tell our prefects too so they don't come looking for us." Hermione added.

"Oddment can be doings that. I bes telling Dumbles where yous be."

"Great! See? You, uh, can all calm down. Really. The meals here are always first rate. In fact, I bet if you were to take the food up to the common rooms everyone would be really happy." Harry suggested.

The house elves began to calm down little by little and regain their customary cheer at the children's reassurances.

"Hey…I don't suppose we could get our dinner? I mean, as long as we're here?" Michael was quick to ask.

"Maybe some hot chocolate too?" Terry added.

"Oh, certainly young sirs and miss. You bes sitting right down now!"

"Thanks."

The kids slid into the nook with relief and were soon happily devouring their share of the Halloween feast and drinking hot chocolate to their heart's content.

A faint roar and a crash sounded overhead some time later, and they all froze in fear.

"You think the teachers found it?" Hermione wondered.

"Hopefully it was the teachers." Harry replied.

The elves, seeing the children were upset again, began plying them with cakes and puddings and more hot chocolate. Try as they might to concentrate on the food, it didn't quite drown out the distant crashes and roars.
Little by little the food on the rest of the tables began vanishing as the elves took everything up to the common rooms. A dozen stayed with the children in the kitchen to be sure they wanted for nothing.

 

"Well, so much for the fun, much anticipated Halloween feast." McGongall sighed.

"There would have been no problem if someone wasn't an idiot." Snape drawled.

"As much as I hate to agree with Severus… really, Quirinus, what were you thinking? You're no potions master. You should have at least asked if the dosage was correct!"

"I-I-I'll keep that in mind." Quirrel answered meekly.

"That's the last of it." Flitwick called. "Made quite a mess, your troll."

"Y-y-yes. So I saw."

"Well, now that's all taken care of, we'd best go collect the stray students." Dumbledore announced cheerfully.

"Stray students?" McGonagall demanded. "Of all the idiotic…"

"Obviously not Gryffindors, or we'd likely be scraping bits of them off the floor." Snape muttered.

McGonagall glared at him, but Dumbledore chivvied them downstairs before they could start bickering like children.

They ran into Professor Sprout in the entryway.

"I heard the commotion. Everything taken care of?"

"Yes, and the damage has been fixed." Dumbledore agreed. He pointed his wand at the door and a silvery phoenix shot out of the end and vanished through it.

"Just letting Hagrid know there's a troll in need of transporting. Shall we?"

"What? Where are we headed?"

"The kitchens. Some of the little blighters were running about while the troll was loose."

"Severus!"

"Not any of mine. I did a head count before heading back out to patrol." Sprout asserted.

"Not any of mine. All of my students were present and accounted for at the feast, and none of them would be idiotic enough to roam around with a troll on the loose." Snape agreed.

 

Harry was rather taken aback when professor McGonagall marched into the kitchen and began yelling at him. She had spotted him upon opening the door, and a thousand and one stunts and pranks performed by his father and his miscreant band of friends cascaded through her mind in an instant.

"MR. POTTER! I am appalled at how utterly reckless and idiotic…just like your father… and to endanger the lives of these other children…"

All five of the students gaped at McGonagall in shock. They had all been sitting quietly and reading when she stormed in, yelling.

"Minerva, four of them are my students. I will handle this if you don't mind." Flitwick interrupted, his voice stern. McGonagall was still glaring disapprovingly at Harry, who was now glaring right back.

"Boys, how did you end up here?"

"Ron Weasley said something mean to Hermione here after charms class and she was in the bathroom all afternoon crying…." Anthony began to explain. He was very succinct and dryly factual, but his voice was clipped and his lips thin as he spoke. He realized he was also glaring at McGonagall as well. He removed his glasses and began cleaning them to disguise this fact. When he was done, Flitwick nodded.

"I see. Well, five points to Ravenclaw for looking after your fellow students, and take another five for Gryffindor and Ravenclaw for keeping a clear head in a crisis and taking responsible measures to communicate with the staff. Well done everyone."

"Thank you, professor." the children chorused.

"Is it safe to go upstairs now?"

"Yes, children. In fact, I'll escort you boys up right now. Minerva, I assume you'll see to Miss Granger? Good. Come along, boys."

McGonagall looked regretful for but a moment, before pulling herself together stiffly and calling for Hermione to follow her as well.

 

The remains of the Halloween feast-that-wasn't were in evidence all over the common room when the four boys returned. Penny looked ready to topple over in relief when she saw all of them.

"There you are! You idiots! There was a troll on the loose!"

"Yeah, believe me we know!"

"We ran into it!"

"Don't tell me you little idiots went looking for the thing!" Aidan, the other fifth year prefect demanded.

"What?"

"No!"

"Why would we do a dumb thing like that?"

"We hadn't gotten down to the feast yet because we went to fetch Hermione Granger out of the bathroom she'd been crying in all day because of Weasley here." Michael pointed.

"We were about to go downstairs and smelled something nasty…" Terry continued.

They took turns relating their harrowing escape from the troll and their stay in the kitchen. Everyone was very dismayed at how badly the house elves had taken them not eating dinner, and were quite grateful they'd talked them around to sending it upstairs.

"We'd only just sat down when Quirrel came running in."
"I had just barely finished filling my plate!"
"I had maybe two bites and we were sent upstairs!"
"Yes, we're all very thankful we got dinner after all. I think the real question is how on earth a troll got into the castle in the first place."
"That is worrisome. Hogwarts is supposed to have the best wards around, not to mention the gate should have been shut and locked for the night."

"The house elves brought it in, they told us."

"What?!"

"Yeah. Dumbledore asked them to. They said they don't know why, but that it was asleep when they brought it in."

"That's crazy! Why would he order something like that brought through the wards?"
"Wards that were designed to keep things like that out!"
"Someone could have been killed!"
"Maybe it was supposed to be a classroom demonstration?"
"Care of Magical Creatures classes take place outside."
"Maybe it was for DADA? They said Quirrel was the one that had given it something to make it sleep?"
"That makes even less sense! Quirrel is afraid of his own shadow more often than not!"
"And the point about CoMC classes being outside is still relevant. If Quirrel was planning such a thing, it should have taken place outside on the edge of the forest, preferably with Professor Kettleburn and possibly Hagrid nearby in case there was a problem!"

"You know, my grandmum was always saying Hogwarts has gone downhill since Dumbledore has been here. I never put much stock in it…he seemed like an eccentric, but mostly harmless old coot… after this though, I have to wonder if there's something to what she's been saying." Cho Chang, a pretty second year, and seeker on the house quidditch team, spoke up.

"My dad as well, though given who my cousins are, I always thought it best to not mention it." Aiden admitted. His full name was Aiden Lestrange. Everyone in the house knew he was fourth or fifth cousins at best with the incarcerated Lestranges, and didn't hold it against him. He still tended to avoid Neville when he saw him.

"You all shut your mouth!" Ron growled angrily, his face and ears red, while glaring at Aiden and Cho respectively. "Dumbledore is the greatest wizard that ever lived! Tell them, Harry!"
Everyone in the common room turned to look at Harry, who just huffed at Ron in annoyance.

"Oh, it's Harry again, is it? Don't tell me who to talk to, and don't presume to speak for me. I don't know what you're expecting me to say, either. I didn't even know who Dumbledore was until I got my Hogwarts letter."

"Yeah, Weasley. Besides, unlike you, Harry and the rest of us were in the path of that troll." Terry added

"Us and Hermione, who I might add wouldn't have been there if you weren't such a bloody prat to her earlier" Michael concluded.

"And really, kid? The greatest wizard that ever lived? I think most would agree that title would still go to Merlin, or perhaps the Founders." Fergus Burke scoffed.

"He defeated Grindlewald , and he was the only wizard You-Know-Who was afraid of!"

"Ha! I'd argue our Harry here easily stole that title ten years ago!"

"My parents you mean. In spite of all the hype, I was an infant at the time. Whatever happened that night, I'm pretty sure it was probably something my parents did."

"Well, now that all the excitement is over for the night, you lot should probably be heading to bed. Lights out is in ten minutes." Penny interjected.

"Geez. We spent most of the night in the kitchen." Michael grumbled.

"Did you at least make the most of your time?"

"We stopped a couple of house elves from committing suicide." Anthony offered.

"Wha…? Seriously? When you said they were upset…"

"They were really upset." Terry nodded.

"Wow. Well, then. You can't say the time was wasted."

"True."

"You think we should do something nice for the house elves?" Harry wondered.

"I dunno. What do they like?" Michael asked curiously.

"I'm no expert…but working and tea towels seems to be a theme with them."

"Make a lot of messes?" Terry suggested.

"Get them new tea towels for Christmas?" Michael chimed in.

"Give them candy?" Anthony added, not wanting to be left out.

"Do they eat candy?" Harry asked curiously.

"Haven't the foggiest."

It had been a wild night. The boys were all sound asleep soon after.

 

By morning, the four boys were of the opinion, now that the terror of the night before was forgotten, that their brief run-in with the troll had been an exhilarating, if unexpected, adventure. That wasn't to say that any of them were keen to go seeking another. Ron glowered at the rest of them as they laughed about it all through breakfast.

"Oh, lay off Weasley. If you'd gone and apologized like we told you, it would have been you laughing about dodging a troll last night."

"Yeah."

"See, Weasley. It pays to be a nice person." Padma sniffed.

"Oh, shut it. I am a nice person."

Ron stomped off in a bad mood again when breakfast was over. Fridays always left him at a bit of a loss. Gryffindor had its potions class in the morning while they had the mornings free, which left him with no one to hang out with, so he'd taken to challenging Su Li to chess games to while away the mornings.

"No chess game today, it looks like." Mandy commented as Ron stomped off.

"Just as well" Su shrugged. "He's a good player, but a bad sportsman. He sulks when he loses and gloats when he wins. I was already thinking I'd just say no to further games. It gets old pretty quick."

 

The weather turned very cold seemingly overnight. Everyone got used to the sight of the Gryffindor and Slytherin teams coming into breakfast half-dead and half-frozen each morning. Excitement began to mount as the first quidditch game of the season drew closer.

The day itself dawned cold and bright, and the excitement among the student population reached a fever pitch. Classes were cancelled for the day so everyone could go to the game. While most of the Ravenclaws were a little annoyed that there would be no potions class--they only had it once a week, after all--none could deny the prospect of a quidditch game was still a welcome diversion.

Ron garnered some dirty looks when he came down to breakfast vibrating with anticipation and sporting the colors of Gryffindor house.

"What the hell, Weasley? You do remember Gryffindor is competition, right?"

"My brothers are on the team, and besides, they're playing the slimy snakes today. I'm sure no one here wants to see those bastards win."

"I don't care which of them does. I just want Ravenclaw to win, as is good and proper since it's our house."

"Hey, I'd like us to win too, if only so I can rub my brothers faces in it this summer, but it's never gonna happen. Our team is a bunch of pansies that can't last a whole practice, while Oliver Wood is a quidditch warrior."

Harry and Padma caught each other's eye and both of them started snickering.

"Quidditch warrior, huh?" Michael said dryly. "Something you want to tell us, Weasley?"

When Ron just looked at him blankly, Terry decided to be helpful. "When's the wedding?"

"Huh? What? No! NO!"

By that point, the whole group was laughing, and Ron's face was as red as his hair.

Breakfast ended, and the students donned their cloaks, gloves and scarves and streamed out of the castle towards the pitch.

"I wonder who they are?" Padma spoke up as they got closer to the stands.

"Who?"

"Them, idiot. The two men lurking outside the pitch. They seem to be looking for someone." Morag pointed.

Harry studied the two men as best he could from a distance. They looked familiar, and the closer they got the more certain he was.
"I think I know who they are." Harry muttered before running towards them.

Sirius spotted him and his face lit up and broke into a smile, and Harry could see the happy, laughing man from his parents' pictures.

"Harry! There you are!"

"I saw you looking for me with the Gryffindors." Harry accused.

"Your parents, me and Moony were all Gryffs, sue me."

"What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Came to see you, and see Gryffindor play, but mostly to see you. Oh, pup, this here's Remus Lupin."

"Oh. Hi. I tried to write you a letter once but Hedwig couldn't find you."

"Ah, yes…well…I was probably under heavy wards. Nice to see you again, Harry."

Harry wanted to ask the man a question about that, but by that point the rest had caught up to them, so he figured it was best left until later.

"Harry? You know these guys?" Lisa asked curiously.

"Wait, I recognize you! You're Sirius Black!" Michael pointed.

"Is Azkaban really as awful as they say?"

"Mandy!"

"I was just asking."

"Are you going to introduce me to your friends?" Sirius asked rather than answer.

"Sure. This is Mike, Terry, Tony, Padma, Lisa, Su, Mandy and Morag. And that's Ron Weasley. Everyone, my godfather, Sirius Black and his friend Remus Lupin."

"Nice to meet you." the kids chorused.

Sirius eyed the red and gold paint on Ron's face and the red and gold scarf he was wearing--unlike the rest of them who were in Ravenclaw colors.
"Gryffindor? Well, of course you are. The Weasleys are all Gryffindors."

"He's actually a Ravenclaw, not that you'd know it most days." Michael scoffed.

Ron glowered at all of them and stalked off to find a seat.

"Ah. Some tension there?"

"You could say that. It's not important. We should probably find seats before the game starts."

"Yeah. You can tell me all about it after."

"If you want."

"Ah, Mr. Black, Mr. Lupin. Goodness. It is lovely to see you both. You're looking surprisingly well, Sirius, considering."

The group turned to look and found Dumbledore along with a few of the teachers.

"We should probably find our seats. Come along, gentlemen. Children, you'd best run along as well." McGonagall ordered.

"Come along where?" Sirius protested.

"The teacher's box, of course. I do hope there's room, we usually get a good crowd from Hogsmeade as well."

"I was going to sit with Harry…"

"Students only. Come on."

Sirius looked immensely frustrated, but Remus pinched his elbow and gave him a warning look, so he subsided.

"I'll see you later, I guess."

"Yeah."

Harry was rather disappointed that he wouldn't get to watch the game with his godfather, but his disappointment was soon buried behind excitement as the game began. The play was fast and furious, and the announcer, while terribly biased towards Gryffindor, was quite amusing, nonetheless.

Slytherin won the game, as their player got the snitch, but they only won by thirty points, so Gryffindor still had a chance at the cup if they did well in their next three games. Oliver Wood, Ron's idol, seemed to be weeping while laying prostrate on the ground. The Slytherins were in high spirits, carrying their players around on their shoulders and shouting themselves hoarse.

Now that the game was over, Harry searched for his godfather and Remus and spotted them seated near Dumbledore in the teachers stands. He said something to them, which Sirius didn't seem to take well. Dumbledore stood and climbed down out of the stands, took two steps and disappeared. Harry had to thank Professor McGonagall for giving him those pamphlets when he asked, or he might have thought he'd gone crazy rather than realized Dumbledore must have apparated.

While he watched, Sirius and Remus climbed down as well and they seemed to be arguing. When they reached the bottom, Sirius flung out an arm towards the Ravenclaw stands, but Remus shook his head and gestured towards the castle instead. Sirius finally threw up his hands in frustration, glanced towards the Ravenclaw stands and then he disappeared as well, Remus right behind him. Harry narrowed his eyes at the spot the three men had vanished from.

"You gonna go meet your godfather now?" Terry wondered.

"Can't. Dumbledore took him off to his office."

"What for?"

"You've got me. Interfering old coot."

"That's rather rude…but I can understand the sentiment. That was the first time you've seen him in person, wasn't it?" Anthony said sympathetically.

"Yeah. Well, I mean, he was around a bit when I was a baby, but I don't remember that."

"That was rather rude. If he wanted to talk to them so bad, surely it wouldn't have hurt to let you walk back to the castle with them before running off with them." Terry muttered.

"I know, right?" Harry drummed his fingers on the rail as he thought. He started down the stairs after the rest of his housemates. He spotted Professor Flitwick down below and got an idea.

 

"Yes, it was a terrible business all around. In light of events I've asked professor Quirrel to rethink his curriculum… a bit."

Sirius and Remus exchanged a look when Dumbledore trailed off and frowned. A double knock sounded at the door and it opened, revealing Harry, who smiled tightly at Dumbledore before turning to the two of them with a real smile.

"Hello. Your chat done yet?"

"Harry, my dear boy! What brings you here? I don't recall sending for you." Dumbledore chided, while peering at him disappointedly over his half-moon glasses.

"Well, Albus, I came to fetch my godfather. I didn't get a chance to do more than say hello before you absconded with him."

Dumbledore looked rather taken aback to be referred to so casually by one of his students. Sirius bit his lip to keep from laughing, while Remus choked out "Harry!"

"What? I'm just following his lead. Apparently we're on a first name basis."

"Mr. Potter, if you were intended to be part of this conversation, you would have been invited."

"No harm done. We were just about finished, wouldn't you say?" Sirius interjected, climbing to his feet and ruffling Harry's hair.

"Sirius…" Remus sighed.

Dumbledore's eyes now seemed to be glinting rather than twinkling; Harry was pretty sure he was angry and trying not to show it.

"Yes, we were just about done. There were a few things I'd still hoped to go over…but another time, I suppose. Sirius, you will, I hope, take my words to heart. Were any tragedy to befall, it would be on your hands."

Sirius' lips thinned and the hand on Harry's shoulder tightened for a moment.

"I'll take it under advisement."

"I must insist, Mr. Black. It is for the best."

"Come on, Harry. You can walk us out."

"Sure thing."

Sirius looked like he would speak when they left the office, but Harry shook his head and hurried them down the hall. Sirius looked confused but went along with it. On both sides of the wall were portraits that all looked entirely too interested in all of them. He knew by this point what terrible gossips they all were. He'd prefer to not have his business splattered all over Hogwarts if at all possible. Heck, people in throughout the castle had known about Ron and Draco fighting over him before he'd even gotten downstairs, they were so efficient.

Once they were outside, Sirius raised an eyebrow at him.

"You can talk now."

"And we couldn't before?"

"Not unless you want every word you spoke to be reported back to Dumbledore and spread throughout the castle before you could blink."

"Ah. Well, it's not like I had anything top secret to say."

"I might have, if I'm right about what Dumbles called you up to talk to you about."

"Professor Dumbledore, Harry. You will address him with respect."

Harry just gave Remus a cool look in response before turning back to Sirius.

"He wanted to encourage you not to try getting custody of me, didn't he?"

"Harry, there are factors that you don't understand…" Remus began. Harry let out a frustrated huff. "Excuse me, but I believe I was addressing my godfather, not Dumbledore's cheerleading section, if you don't mind!"

"Harry, that's quite enough. Don't speak to Remus that way."

"If he promises to stop being Dumbledore's lackey, I'll think about it."

"Harry." Sirius scolded, before wiping a hand down his face in frustration. He steered all of them towards one of the benches in the courtyard and crouched down in front of Harry after he sat down.
"He said because your mum sacrificed herself for you he was able to create a charm to build blood wards at your aunt's house to keep you safe all these years. He said you have to remain with them to keep the wards charged."

"You see Harry, Professor Dumbledore is just looking out for you."

"Protect me from what?" Harry asked Sirius, ignoring Remus for the moment.

"Sirius, it's probably too much for him."

Harry kept his eyes steadily on his godfather, who sighed, cast an apologetic glance Remus' way and answered.

"He said Voldemort didn't completely die that night. He said he's still out there, wounded badly, but still alive. He… He thinks he might come back at some point and start things up again."

"If he knows all this, why haven't aurors or something gone out to put him in custody?"

"I… I don't know actually. It's a good question."

"It would be too dangerous."

"For a whole group of aurors? Against one wounded man? They can't be very skilled then."

"You don't understand, Harry. Voldemort was…"

"Blown up ten years ago. I was given reward money for killing him."

"Harry, the point is, he thinks he'll be back, and he'll want to come after you. He said those blood wards could mean the difference between life and death."

"Against a guy who may or may not be too badly hurt to do much, and could theoretically be done in if someone would just get off their asses and do their jobs. That's nice. Here's a question for you. What will protect me from them?"

"Them? Them who?"

"The bloody Dursleys! My aunt grew up with my mother. She'll know I can't use magic during the summer! If there was a chance she wouldn't know it might have been different! There's no way in hell I'm going back there without being able to defend myself, not to mention how hard it's going to be to get used to not eating again after getting to eat every day for months, and that's without even counting in Dudley and his gang! Where the heck does Dumbles get off messing about with my mum's sacrifice anyway? That kind of thing doesn't just go away! But if he altered it and tied it to the Dursleys, it'll be his fault if the bloody thing is wrecked…. And how long was he planning all this? And why? The goblins said he had himself made my guardian an hour after my parents were dead. Hagrid was already on the scene to dump me off at my aunt's house before you got there. And if he was so damned concerned with my safety, why'd I get dumped on the doorstep like a bottle of milk and left out all night? My uncle apparently tripped over me the next morning and messed up his knee. He still has trouble with it when the weather changes. It was November. I don't know if I could walk, but I'm sure I was able to crawl. He's damn lucky I didn't either die of exposure or wander off and get hit by a car! And that doesn't even get into the fact he was apparently planning to rob me blind the moment I turned eleven!"

"Harry! That's ridiculous! How dare you! Dumbledore is a great man!"

Sirius held up a hand to make Remus quiet himself.

"What are you talking about, he was planning to rob you? Why in the world would you think that?"

Harry sighed and told him about the weird week that led up to him finally getting his Hogwarts letter, Hagrid, Dudley's pig tail, their trip to Diagon Alley and the bank. By the time he was finished, Sirius looked disturbed, but Remus, though he looked uncomfortable was shaking his head. "I'm sure it was all just a misunderstanding…"

"The goblins didn't seem to think so."

"Well, the goblins don't like wizards, generally, always trying to start trouble…"

"If you won't try to get custody of me on Dumbles say so, will you at least try to become my magical guardian?"

"Harry, you don't understand…"

"That's it then? You're not even going to try?"

"Harry…"

Harry yanked his arm away from Sirius' hold and stood up from the bench.

"I'm not going back to those people. It was bad enough before. After spending a year at Hogwarts' it's just going to be that much worse."

"Harry, they're your family."

"They're my relatives. They are not and have never been my family and that has never been my home, and they made damn sure I knew it."

"Harry, I'm sure you're exaggerating."

Harry gave Remus a filthy look, and turned to walk away.

"Harry! Come back! Damn it, Remus, could you shut up about bloody Dumbledore for five minutes!"

Sirius caught up to him before he went back inside and turned him to face him. He kept his hands on his shoulders as he crouched down in front of him once more.
"Harry, I will try but I can't guarantee anything. Dumbledore is a powerful man. Pretty much nothing gets done anywhere without his say so."

"I don't want him having any power over me, Sirius. I don't trust him. He has some plan concerning me, and whatever it is, I want no part of it."

"I'll try. That's all I can promise, alright? I'll try. And hey…even if I can't get custody, well, there's nothing saying you can't come visit!"

"For the whole summer?"

"Well…"

"That’s what I thought. I don't care what the old man says. I'm not going back. Some old lady left me a farm. If I have to I'll go there, be a farmer for the summer. I did all the gardening at my aunt's house, I'm sure I can manage."

"Harry, you're not running off by yourself to be a farmer." He sighed a moment later. The expression on Harry's face was one he'd seen on his father's face often enough. It was an expression that said 'I've already decided and nothing you say or do is going to stop me.'

"Look, it's not even an issue right this moment. You've got months left of school still. Let me see what I can do and I'll get back to you, alright? And it's not all bad…look, the holidays are coming up. You want to come visit? I know you've been writing to my grandfather…for some reason."

"I like him. He's cool."

"Cool." Sirius repeated disbelievingly. "Okay… but anyway, I'm still staying with them, and they would like to meet you, and of course, I'd love to have you…"

"Is he going to be there?"

"Who? Remus? Uh, probably…that's not a problem, right?"

"It might be if every other word out of his mouth is Dumbledore, and he keeps accusing me of lying about stuff."

"Harry…he wasn't… look, Dumbledore did him a good turn years ago, and he feels like he owes him a lot…"

"Does this have anything to do with him being a werewolf?"

Sirius looked surprised, then shifty.

"You know about that, huh? How do you know about that?"

"Under heavy wards. There was a full moon when I wrote to him." Harry lied.

"Oh. Ravenclaw, right. Smart cookie. I thought it might have been that bastard Snape."

"Professor Snape."

Sirius' face contorted with horror.

"What?"

"What has that greasy git done to you?"

"Nothing, and be nice. He's my potions professor. He's very strict, but then he has to be. Apparently Gryffindors spend all their time throwing random stuff into the Slytherins cauldrons. Do you people not realize how dangerous that is? I've already got an in to the potions club if I want it when I get to NEWT level. Which is pretty cool, really, there's a lot of people that want in but he's just like 'no, you're a dunderhead'. He said I have my mum's talent in the subject, and that if I apply myself I might even manage to become a potions master someday. I'm not really sure yet what I want to do, but hey, It's good to have options, right?" Harry narrowed his gaze on Sirius' face; he looked sick to his stomach.

"I knew there was more to the story than 'they grew apart'."

"Is that what that slimy…"

"That's what my mum said in her letter."

"I find that hard to believe. Your mum hated Snape, and no wonder after what he did. She loved your father and hated Snape."

"So, they were fighting over her, were they? What'd he do?"

"He called her a mudblood!"

"What, just randomly?"

"She was trying to help him!"

"Do what?"

"Well…that's not important!"

Harry crossed his arms and just stared at him.

"Look, your dad and I were having a go at old Snivellus, and your mum, who was a prefect, came over to tell us to knock it off."

"Two against one? Was that usual?"

Sirius laughed. "Nah, usually it was all four of us. We were just bored that day."

"Four against one? And you think that's funny, do you? Let me tell you something. It's not funny if you're the one. Do you remember I mentioned Dudley and his gang? For as long as I can remember, their favorite game has been 'Harry hunting'. They would chase me all over, and then when they caught me Dudley's friends would hold me down so he could whale on me till he got tired. I had to just take it too, because if I fought back, Dudley would tattle to his parents and I'd get in trouble. They'd usually withhold dinner and I'd get locked in the cupboard for a day or two. If you're expecting me to get a laugh out of the four of you going after one guy, you're talking to the wrong person."

"It wasn't like that! Look, he was really dangerous!"

"Was he really, or did you all just tell yourselves that so you could sleep at night? I know Professor Snape is brilliant, but I've been told all of you were as well."

"How can you be defending him? He called her a mudblood!"

"And that was wrong, but then again, maybe he was angry with her. You guys kept going after him because of her, and maybe he saw she'd taken a shine to my dad…. I don't know, I'm not Snape. It was a lousy thing to do, especially to his best friend, but geez, it's not like he killed someone."

"He would have, given half a chance!" Sirius said darkly.

When Harry just looked unimpressed, he was quick to elaborate. "You know the Whomping Willow?"

"Yeah. It almost took my head off."

"That got put in when Remus started school. It guards a passageway that leads down to the Shrieking Shack, it's a place in Hogsmeade. Most people believe it's haunted, but that was just Moony transforming."

"How could anyone get in there?"

"The knot, you press it. It makes the tree stop for a few seconds. That part's not important. The thing is, he was always lurking about, sticking his big nose where it wasn't wanted. He wanted to know where Remus went every month. He did something to me, because I told him. He went down there to kill him! There would have been nothing we could have done if he did. It's not against the law to kill a transformed werewolf. If he'd gotten bit, scratched or torn apart before he had a chance, Remus would have been done for! I wouldn't have shed a tear if old Snivelly had bought it, but I never would have done that to Remus! I told your dad and we went down to stop him and save Remus. So, don't go thinking he's some angel!"

"Did he know Remus was a werewolf, or would he have just been walking into his jaws all unawares?"

"Oh, he knew! He must have. He ruined everything. We almost didn't get to him in time. Your dad had to transform to beat Remus back. Dumbledore swore everyone to secrecy. Remus was going to announce to the student body that he was a werewolf on the last day of term seventh year, and that he had been all along, you know. Make everyone confront their baseless prejudice. It would have been a great step forward for werewolf rights! But because of Snivellus, it was all ruined. If Remus had tried, he would have stood right up and said he was lying and he'd nearly killed him."

"How convenient."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, think about it. If he'd been able to do what he wanted and it worked…well, he'd always have been grateful to Dumbledore for giving him a chance to prove himself, but if he had a job and a life and a girlfriend, well, he'd be too busy getting on with things to be on call to sing the man's praises on command. As it stands, he's pretty much stuck--only safe port in a storm and so on…"

"That's ridiculous."

"Is it? Tell me something, Arthur Weasley, was he part of the Order of the Phoenix?"

"How do you know about…no. No, his wife's brothers were, but that's all."

"Hmmm. He got him out of Azkaban, you know. He was accused of being a death eater. Dumbledore asked an Auror named Moody to go check up on him and get him cleared. Why didn't he bother to do the same with you? You weren't checked for imperious, or potions, and no one talked to you or gave you a trial. Dumbledore already had himself appointed my guardian by the time you ran into Hagrid. If you had stayed out of prison, free and innocent, what would have received more weight? My parents' wishes, or Dumbles self-appointment?"

"That's… No. No. Dumbledore is a good man. He thought I was the secret keeper. We told him I was going to be."

"You know, I honestly hope you're right…because if he's as powerful as you say he is, we're in trouble if he's even half as evil as I think he is."

Sirius looked rather broken by the time Harry finished speaking, and he felt a sudden pang of remorse at the sight. It was cruel of him to dump all this on the guy when he was still recovering from all his years in prison.
When Sirius climbed to his feet, it was with the air of a much older man.

"I'll see what I can do, pup." he said quietly, before bringing him in for a one-armed hug. Harry stiffened up at first--he could never remember anyone hugging him before. The only time people usually touched him was to beat him up or punish him. He made himself hug the man back, both because he wanted to be able to, and as a sort of apology for burdening him with his paranoia when he was already not well. Sirius ran his fingers through his hair a few times as they stood there.

"It was good to see you again, kiddo. I don't know if I'll make it to the next game or not, but even if I don't, I'll see you for the holidays, right?"

"You bet. I'll look forward to it."

Remus said goodbye as well, though from a distance and he seemed a bit pissy still. Well, that was too bad. He didn't care if Dumbledore was the man's own personal Jesus, next time he could keep his opinions to himself, and not keep butting in to conversations that didn't concern him. He waved them off at the gate and headed inside. Lunch was already underway when he got back inside.

"So?" Anthony asked curiously as he sat down.

"He wasn't too happy to see me, but he let me take them."

"Ah, that's good. No detention? No lost points?"

"Not as far as I know, though I suppose if I get a random detention sometime soon for breathing too loud or something…"

Anthony snorted. Most of the talk at the table was about the game earlier, and what everyone thought Ravenclaw's chances were for the Cup that year. Ron was morose because quidditch-warrior Oliver Wood had lost, and wasn't comforted by the fact that it made Ravenclaw's chances better. Michael and Terry threw bread rolls at him and called him a traitor. A full food fight might have broken out at that point, as Ron was ready and willing to retaliate, but the juice pitcher sprouted a face and said in Professor Flitwick's voice "that will be quite enough, boys!" All the first years jumped and turned to look at the Professor, who wagged his finger at them warningly.

 

Over the next couple of days the weather steadily got colder. Harry broke out his winter-weight robes and said a silent thanks to his mum for warning him to get them. He quite appreciated them, especially during Herbology class and Midnight Astronomy, which took place every Wednesday up in the astronomy tower.

It was once again the weekend. The Herbology Club had finished the Winter Garden--which turned out quite lovely and colorful, musical as well, filled with tinkling bell flowers. Harry had suggested the rooftop garden as their next project. Professor Sprout hadn't even known there was a rooftop garden. The Charms Club had repaired the glass and stonework the previous weekend, and then Professors Sprout and Flitwick had carefully inspected the whole place before giving the go-ahead to refurbish it.

Harry, and a few others who were in the Charms club had already seen the place before, but the rest of the students were quite excited as Sprout led them up the staircase that seemed to go nowhere through the hidden doorway and up onto the roof. The place looked great, if a bit bare, after the Charms club was done with it--the glass geodesic dome overhead sparkled and gave a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, though it was blocked in places by the tops of the highest towers.

There were two dozen large stone planters, each oddly shaped so as to form winding pathways between them, and a large, narrow one that rested just inside the dome and encircled the whole arrangement. Small stone benches nestled in the spaces between. The whole club was excited over the possibilities presented and eager to get to work. It would be a lovely space once they were done, and many of the older kids were already giggling and imagining wandering around up here with their sweethearts. Professor Sprout told them with a smile that the password on the door was going to have a time function added once they were done. It would only be open to students during daylight hours on the weekends; it was the only way the headmaster would give the go ahead for anything to be done with the place.

"Well, children, the soil isn't going to pot itself! Let's get to work!"

Harry, Neville, Hannah Abbot, and Susan Bones, another Hufflepuff and Hannah's best friend who had recently joined, grabbed some sacks of soil and found a planter to work on.

"This place is great. I had no idea it even existed!"

"I think no one really did, till Harry mentioned it."

"This was a great find! How'd you stumble across it, I mean, most people never bothered with that stairway, because you can see it just runs into a wall!"

"Which really makes no sense when you think about it, I mean, Diagon alley is hidden behind a wall, you have to walk through a pillar to get to King's Cross station…"

"We just flooed."

"We apparated, or well, my gran did and drug me along. I don't recommend it."

"Oh. I came in from the muggle side. You have to walk through a pillar."

"So, you figured the wall wasn't just a wall then?"

"No, actually. I asked a house elf where the cool places in the castle are. I got a list."

"Is there more places like this?"

"No, it's all different stuff. Like, I know how that troll got from the dungeons to the second floor. There's a hidden staircase that goes there. I found an old ritual circle covered in dust. What else? Just stuff like the armory, the long gallery, the trophy room, some pretty rooms with stained glass windows, the clock tower… I think this was actually the coolest thing, though I still haven't explored the whole castle yet. I never seem to have the time."

"Yeah, between classes, homework and club time there never does seem to be time to much else. I haven't explored the castle at all beyond knowing where to go for classes, our common room, the library, owlery and the hospital wing."

"Well, you might get a bit of a chance if you're with the charms club. Remember we were supposed to suggest new group projects? I mentioned how there's so many abandoned classrooms full of old furniture and dust and it seemed a shame just leaving it like that. I thought we should clean up a few of those places and make inter-house study rooms and hangouts and stuff. I know Padma and Parvati have had a hard time finding places to hang out and talk, and of course they can't in the library or during class. He thought it was a good idea, so we might be doing that at some point, though I don't know when."

"Oh, cool. It's not really an issue for either of us. Most of our friends are in Hufflepuff, and the ones that aren't, like you guys, we're in clubs with."

"It's pretty much the same with me."

"Except for Hermione, all my friends are outside my house, so it'll be nice to have someplace like that." Neville admitted quietly.

Susan and Hannah both looked horrified, but Neville just shook his head and smiled.

"It's alright, really. Truthfully, I just don't have a lot in common with the rest of them."

"Do you regret aiming for Gryffindor?"

"Well…no. My gran was happy, which will save me a lot of grief in the long run, I bet."

"I think it's wrong for parents or grandparents or whatever to demand you end up in the same house they did. I mean, just because it was a good fit for you doesn't mean it will be for your kids. They might just have a different personality or different interests."

"Well…yeah…but what if they landed in Slytherin?"

"So what if they did? They're not monsters, you know."

"I dunno, I think Malfoy might qualify. Him and his goons."

"That's still just three kids out of a whole house."

"B-but You-Know-Who was in that house!"

"And Peter Pettigrew was in Gryffindor. And Bellatrix Lestrange was in Hufflepuff."

"SHE WAS NOT!" Susan and Hannah gasped. Neville shook his head. "She was a slimy snake, everyone knows that."

"Nope. Hufflepuff. Now the Lestrange brothers were Slytherins, but Bellatrix wasn't. Malfoy's mum is her sister. She warned him his whole life not to be a Hufflepuff, because she's convinced it makes you crazy. See? Your point of view really is determined by where you're standing, so to speak."

Susan and Hannah still looked rather put out, but they didn't argue further.

 

As November waned and December approached, the teachers began seriously piling on the homework in a last-ditch attempt to get everyone ready for the end of term exams. Harry had been doing well in all his classes thus far. Between that and his extra-curricular studies, he was actually feeling pretty confident about things and didn't bother to stress too much. That was actually true for most of his Ravenclaw year mates as well--with the exception of Ron.

The red-head had fallen into some bad habit since he'd stopped hanging out with the other Ravenclaws. He'd started scrambling last minute to do assignments, often hadn't done the assigned reading before class, and slept through history class. Now that the end of the year was fast approaching and he realized his grades would be getting sent to his mum he was going into panic mode and trying to stuff a term's worth of knowledge into his head in the few weeks remaining.

Several feet of snow got dumped on Hogwarts as the month wore on, which kept everyone inside except for Herbology class, or Care of Magical Creatures among the older kids.
The second week of December, professor Flitwick took the names of those staying at Hogwarts for the holidays. After Flitwick had departed, Ron, who was seated nearby, addressed him.

"Looks like it'll be just the two of us for the holiday. My mum and dad and my sister Ginny are going to Romania to see my brother Charlie, he's the dragon tamer. They told all the rest of us to stay here."

Harry frowned at Ron, not sure why he was telling him all this, or why he'd made such an assumption.

"Uh, huh. Sorry to break it to you, but I'm leaving."

"What? But… that means I'll be stuck here alone for the duration!"

Harry shrugged; it really wasn't his problem after all. "Maybe McGonagall will let you stay with your brothers till term resumes. You should ask her."

Ron glowered at him and stalked over to the other side of the common room to join a game of exploding snap that was already in progress. Harry just rolled his eyes and wished the guy would get over himself already. He really didn't get why he was always a miserable git around him either; he seemed to be full of fun and good cheer whenever he was with Dean and Seamus from Gryffindor. Whatever. He wasn't going to worry about it anymore.

It was curfew, so heading out was out of the question. He was caught up on his homework, as well as his correspondence. He'd already read the newspaper. He headed over to the first year section of the house library and began browsing for something new to read. He was rather surprised at how much of the section he'd already gone through. Everything that looked remotely interesting on the first two shelves he'd already read. He looked at the third shelf and started browsing.

"Huh. I've read a lot of these too. What's this? The Magic of Numbers: A beginner's guide. Probably, what was it? Arithimancy. Why not. I was always good at math."

Harry settled down in a comfy chair and began reading.

Chapter Text

Hermione Granger was certifiably insane. Harry was willing to testify to that effect if asked.

"Okay, Granger, tell me something. When do you like, do fun stuff? This schedule you've made for us to follow, it's…" Terry trailed off, not having words. Hermione had presented all of them with a large color-coded study schedule to prepare for exams. She seemed to take it as a given that they would bow to her will and follow it.

"Crazy. Completely crazy." Harry muttered, before pushing it away.

"Exams are coming up! You want to do well, don't you?"

"And we will. We know this stuff. You've got every spare minute from now till test time blocked out for studying!" Michael complained.

"She's more Ravenclaw than the Ravenclaws, I guess." Neville chuckled.

Said Ravenclaws gave Neville an affronted look.

"Hardly. We don't spend all our time studying. We read books not related to our class work, we have debates, we do other things." Anthony objected.

"Yeah, really. Besides, she wasn't even offered Ravenclaw, so I don't know what you're on about." Harry scoffed.

Hermione looked insulted, Neville confused.

"Sure she was. She wanted to be a Gryffindor, so she argued with the hat."

Harry snorted.

"I don't think so. She was offered Slytherin or Hufflepuff." The pink in Hermione's cheeks said he was right.

"She said on the train Ravenclaw would be alright, as a second choice. If she'd been offered Ravenclaw she would have taken it. She argued with the hat, for a long time no less. Slytherin or Hufflepuff. She's got big plans of some sort for her future, and she sees nothing wrong with studying every minute of every day to make them happen."

"Sorry, Hermione, but I'm with them. If I studied this much, I'd be completely burnt out by test time." Terry shrugged.

"Look, how about we quiz each other on the material, a little bit each day, just to refresh everything, and then do a run-through of the practical side of things when that gets boring. Sound good?"

"You can do that if you like." Hermione sniffed. "Neville and I will be sticking to my schedule. You'll see when the grades come out. I'll bet you'll wish you'd listened to me then."

"Suit yourself."

Harry cast a couple of quick 'muffliatos', one at the edge of the alcove they were all seated in so Madame Pince wouldn't come complaining that they were making too much noise, and another at Neville and Hermione so they wouldn't disturb them with their quizzes.

"Let's start with history, I'll do that one. Left to right. If you can't answer it moves on till someone can. Terry, you're up first."

"Hit me."

 

The remaining time flew by. Before Harry knew it he was sitting his end of year exams and his first term at Hogwarts was officially over. Hogwarts was done up beautifully for the holidays--Hagrid had brought in twelve Christmas trees which Professor Flitwick had decorated with sparkling ornaments, charmed snow and fairies. Harry was almost sad to be leaving, but the prospect of a holiday with someone who wanted to be his family was a lure too big to ignore.

Already it was shaping up to be his best Christmas ever. He'd already gotten presents from most of his roommates, and the girls in his year as well. He was really glad he'd taken the precaution of getting a little something for everyone. He left Ron's present, a small box of candy, on his bedside table, before heading down towards the train.

Neville had gotten what would have been Ron's new-wand-gift-certificate; Neville had his father's old wand, and from what he'd seen it wasn't a very good match for him. Hopefully his gran would actually allow him to get it. She'd insisted he use his dad's wand and told him it was a great honor. He really hoped she let him. Neville had power to spare from what he'd seen, he just had a lot of trouble regulating it through the wand he had. He supposed he'd see one way or another at the end of the holidays.

The grounds were buried beneath several feet of snow, though there were pathways cut through it, and the road down to the train station had been cleared.
There was a long line of carriages, each hitched to skeletal winged horse-things, waiting for them.

"Hey, wait up! Do you have room for two more?"

"Uh, yeah. Come on in."

Hermione and Neville shoved their trunks inside and climbed in after. It was a bit crowded with six of them and the two trunks, but it was probably manageable for the trip down.

"But…your trunks? Didn't you bring them? What about the holiday homework? Don't any of you care about your grades at all?"

Harry pulled his shrunken trunk from his pocket and waved it around before putting it back.

"All our trunks are shrunk." Michael explained. Hermione looked quite upset at this revelation.

"But…but…we haven't learned how to do that yet!"

"It's built in. We've all got customized trunks. Multi-compartment, built in shrinking and enlarging functions." Terry explained.

"Lucky. My dad just had a standard school trunk, no frills. Gran said it was good enough for her, good enough for my dad, so it's good enough for me."

"I didn't even know it was an option! Professor McGonagall pointed us all toward a pile of trunks and told us each to grab one!"

"Also, my holiday homework is already done." Anthony said absently.

"Mine too. I wanted to relax and not have it hanging over my head." Harry agreed.

"Same here."

"Yeah. I mean, we had a whole weekend between the end of exams and today. Why waste it?" Terry nodded.

"You're all done your homework? All of it?" Neville said with disbelief.

"Well, yeah. We always get that stuff out of the way as soon as possible. Now we can just enjoy the holidays." Michael shrugged.

"Wish I'd done that." Neville said glumly.

Hermione crossed her arms and looked rather put out. She seemed to enjoy nothing more than bossing people around, but their group gave her little leeway to work with. They were usually done all their homework before she got a chance to nag, they scoffed at her study schedules and still managed decent grades, and often when she tried to brag about various bits of obscure knowledge she'd acquired, one or more of them knew it as well, and sometimes knew more than she did. She loved battering people with what she knew, but she really, really disliked it when people did it to her. Each of them had made a point to do so at least once. It was rather amusing how bent out of shape she got.

"Do any of you have holiday plans?" she asked instead.

"Probably the usual round of visiting relatives, having my cheeks pinched, not getting to read because everyone insists I be social." Anthony sighed.

"Pretty much the same here, minus the reading. I work in my greenhouses instead." Neville agreed. "Plus we'll be doing our holiday visit to my parents." he added in a quiet voice.

"That must be rough, even if you're happy to see them." Michael said sympathetically.

"It is." Neville agreed, before turning to look out the window.

"How about the rest of you?" Hermione said desperately.

"I'll be visiting my godfather and his grandparents. I don't actually know what sort of plans we have."

"My family usually goes to a Christmas concert, we play games and such Christmas eve and get up early for presents and then go to my grandparent's house for a big family dinner. What about you, Hermione?" Terry asked curiously.

"Oh, well, my parents are both dentists. They usually close down their practice for the holiday, but they're still on call for emergencies. There's usually at least one every year… We have a movie marathon Christmas eve, presents in the morning, Christmas dinner at the country club they belong to. After that we'll probably go off for a few days to go skiing or something."

"Sounds like fun."

"My parents love it. I'm fairly indifferent to skiing. I usually stay in the lodge reading while they're tearing up the slopes."

"Still sounds fun." Anthony remarked.

"What about you, Mike?"

"The usual, do the rounds, lots of relatives, maybe take in a quidditch game if my mum's gotten tickets."

 

The train ride back to London seemed to take forever. It was dark in London when they arrived, but the platform was full of waiting parents.

"There's Sirius."
"My gran too."
"And my mum."
"And my dad."
"And my parents."
"What are they all doing together?"
"I guess we'll find out."

Hermione followed them over--the girl was too curious for her own good sometimes.

"Hey, kiddo! Welcome back!"

"Hi Sirius!"

All the kids greeted their respective parents or guardians, then there was a general meet and greet on all sides, before everyone began apparating or flooing away. Hermione sighed at how quickly everyone disappeared. Her parents had mentioned wanting to meet some of her friends; now they were going to think she'd made everyone up.

"Where's your parents at, kid? They not here yet?" Sirius asked.

"They're muggles. They're out on the regular platform."

"Oh. Well, let's get you sorted then." he offered, hefting her trunk to his shoulder after hitting it with a feather-light charm.

"So, Hermione, was it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sirius, please. I'm no sir. You were the girl in the bathroom, huh?"

"Sirius!"

Hermione's cheeks pinked. "Yes, that was me."

Sirius laughed, which always made him look years younger.

"I gotta hand it to you, kiddo, your dad would have been so jealous! He would have killed for a troll attack to save your mum from. She wouldn't give him the time of day until they were seventh years!"

"It's not like that!" Harry protested, while Hermione spluttered and her face turned red.

Sirius just laughed some more.

"There's my parents now." Hermione pointed with relief.

"Oh, hello. We're the Grangers. Who might you be?"

"Sirius Black, my godson Harry Potter."

"Harry Potter?" Mrs. Granger asked. Her voice was mild, but Harry got the impression she was amused for some reason.

"That would be me. Nice to meet you both, Dr. Granger, Dr. Granger."

"Very nice to meet you as well. We've heard so much about you." Mr. Granger said dryly.

Harry eyeballed Hermione suspiciously. "Been writing home about me, huh? Telling them what a charming and clever fellow I am?"

"Hardly. I told them you were mean and got me in trouble!"

"You were being a book-hoarding library menace! And, in case you forgot, she took points from Ravenclaw too!"

"You stole my books! I wasn't finished writing my essay yet!"

"You had five feet! The assignment was fourteen inches! You had every book on the subject in the library!"

"You could have waited!"

"Till I was old and grey? We have class after you! It's a double period! You should have been long done by then! I like getting it all out of the way early so I don't have to worry about it!"

"You were still rude! I was in the middle of using them!"

"You were being a brat! You're not the only student there!"

Hermione growled and stamped her foot and they turned away from each other with a huff, only to eye the adults suspiciously. Mr. Granger was glowering at Harry rather unhappily, but Sirius and Mrs. Granger both looked to be fighting smiles.

"It was lovely to meet you both, but we should probably get going."

"Yeah, same here. We've a ways to go yet. Happy holidays."

"You too, and have a wonderful new year."

"You as well."

Once the Grangers were out of earshot, Sirius put him in a headlock and ruffled his hair. "Cute, smart and feisty! Your dad would be so proud! Heck! I'm proud. You dog you!"

"What are you on about? We're like, nemeses or something."

"Ha! Give it a few years."

"You're crazy. She's bossy and overbearing…"

"I can hear the wedding bells already." Sirius crowed.

Once Sirius (finally) stopped laughing and teasing, he took them to an out of the way corner and apparated them both to the outskirts of a smallish village. It was rather quaint looking--snug little cottages, covered in snow and lit from within and without with Christmas lights. It looked like something out of a storybook. Further out were some farms which were just as picturesque, and up on a hill overlooking the lot was a looming fortified manor house.

"Castle Black. It's been held by my family since the middle ages. We don't have any real authority over this town these days, as the Ministry's supposed to take care of all that. Anyway, hungry? The inn here does a mean shepherd's pie. My grandparents are probably asleep by now, but even if they're still awake they have set meal times, and dinner is already long past. They're sticklers for their schedules. I swear the house could be burning down and they'd sit down to dinner at six o' clock regardless."

Sirius led them into the town proper. Up ahead a door swung open, spilling light and the sound of voices and laughter out into the street.

"That's where we're headed. The Ploughman's Ease."

Harry followed him into the inn. The place was warmly, if dimly lit, with a merrily burning fire at each end and a candle at each table. The smell of ale and spirits hung heavily in the air, along with the savory smell of hot food, and the slightly acrid tang of pipe smoke, which hung heavily amongst the exposed rafters in a lavender-grey cloud. There seemed to be a good-sized crowd; several men, workmen and farmers by the look of them, were gathered near the fire, laughing. Couples sat at a couple of the tables eating dinner and conversing quietly. A group of women, likely the wives of the men by the fire, sat gathered in the largest booth together talking. A couple of men of varying ages sat along the bar nursing foaming mugs of ale.
There were a couple of booths left along the wall. Sirius signaled the barman and steered Harry towards one of them.

The booth was all old, dark-stained, rather battered wood that looked like it had stood the test of ages. It was a simple construction: a table, and a very high-backed bench to either side, creating a small private cubby for the diners within.

Within moments of them sitting down a plump, matronly woman bustled over and plopped down a basket of bread rolls and took their orders. Minutes later, Sirius had a mug of thick, foamy dark ale, and Harry a mug of hot, spiced apple juice to wash down the big plates of steaming hot shepherd's pie they both received.

The woman looked at Harry's school uniform and shook her head. "Hogwarts is just letting out now? The local school let out days ago for Yule! Seems a mite cruel, keeping children from their families for the holiday. I'd have thought someone would have done something about that by now. It's no wonder all the old ways are dying out. Shameful, it is." she muttered before bustling away.

Harry looked at Sirius questioningly, and he just looked uncomfortable.

"Your family didn't celebrate Yule. They lived in a mixed village. Christmas was easier. Hogwarts celebrates the muggle holidays. Lots of muggleborns, half-bloods… I guess they figured it was easier too. There's not many celebrate the wizard holidays anymore. This place is a bit of an oddity that way. Officially, it's a mixed muggle-wizard village… but apparently in truth it's all wizards and a few squibs. They drove the few muggles there were off and have taken discreet pains to keep them away since. The whole village is in on it. They all seem to think the Ministry will start importing muggles and forcing them on them if they were to know, so they keep up the fiction that there's muggles about. Paranoid bastards." he snorted. His lips twisted in disgust. "Said they wanted to celebrate Yule without muggles crying about them being godless pagans and to use magic whenever. Pureblood maniacs."

"Well…what's wrong with that?"

"The muggles have a right to exist and live…"

"Well, nothing you just said says otherwise. If they want to celebrate their own holidays freely and feel free to be wizards, I don't see anything wrong with that. My roommate Anthony, his family is Jewish. All the Jews live in the one section of the city, because they do things their own way and want to be free to do that without interference. This doesn't seem any different."

"They drove them off! They couldn't defend themselves!"

"Well, with the Statute of Secrecy in place, having them around was just asking for trouble. Plus, it's against the law now to defend yourself with magic against a muggle. If one of those people stumbled across the secret of magic and didn't take it well… If they had a shotgun, I'm pretty sure it could kill a wizard before they realized what was going on. If someone used magic on them to make them stop, they would have gone to prison, and whoever the muggle killed would still be dead. I don't know. Having muggles about when we're meant to keep magic a secret just seems like a tragedy waiting to happen, and yet from what I read, Hogsmeade is the only all-wizard village in all of Britain. That seems rather mad to me."

"Harry… you grew up with muggles! Your own mother was muggle-born… so's that little girlfriend of yours. I'm surprised at you!"

Harry sighed. "Yeah, I grew up with muggles. And you know what? They hate wizards and they hate magic. They feel about us the way the death eaters seemed to feel about them. I have no doubt if they thought it would do any good and they wouldn't receive any repercussions, they would quite happily see every one of us dead and consider it a job well done. From what I've heard, the muggle-born kids in my year don't have it that bad, but you know what? None of their families is actually happy about them being magical."

"Just eat your dinner." Sirius sighed.

After finishing up, they began the long walk up to the manor house. There were lights on in the ground floor, but the rest of the house was a dark shadow looming up against the horizon. There was a gatehouse with a tall, spiky gate which Sirius just tapped with his wand as they approached. It swung open silently and then closed again once they were past, leaving them in a stone courtyard.
There were a few lanterns about the edges allowing them to see.

"Formal garden over there, kitchen garden down that way, brew house, dairy, stables over there. You ever been riding? No? We'll have to do that. Or we can hitch them to the sleigh and take that out for a spin. It's been a good many years since I've done that. We've plenty of snow for it… What else? Oh…there's a greenhouse down that way, kitchen, bake house…lots of cellars. Crypts down below. You'd probably like that. It's creepy, lots of bones… Those there used to be guard barracks and such back in the day. I'm not sure what they use them for these days. You'll have a chance to see everything tomorrow. Expect to be woken early. Like I said, they love their schedules. Come on, we've a bit of climbing to do."

He led them to the far side of the courtyard and tapped what looked to be a blank wall, which swung open and revealed a stone staircase. There was a single lantern hanging at the top of the stairs, so it was dimly lit, especially once the wall shut behind them. At the top of the stairs Harry looked around curiously.

"We need to go up another flight."

"What's on this floor?"

"Uh…servants quarters, that's where the elves live. Um…library, drawing room, parlor, dining room, there's a big terrace out that way…or is that the next floor? What else? The morning room. That's where breakfast will be. I think the guest quarters are down that way. Great hall-slash-ballroom… I think that's on this floor. Big place. I'm not even sure."

"Wow."

"Come on, up another floor." Sirius tapped another blank-seeming wall and another staircase was revealed.

"Am I going to have to go around tapping my wand on everything to go anywhere?"

"Nah. It's just because you've not been added to the wards yet, so I have to open everything manually while you're with me. It's a security feature. Anyone not on the wards has to be accompanied, and a resident has to open access to each floor."

"Oh. What's up here?" he asked as they emerged on the next floor.

"Bedrooms. Yours, mine, family when they visit. Only non-family gets stuck down in the guest quarters. Bathroom there, one there in the middle, another at the end of the hall there. Long gallery. My grandparents' room is down past there somewhere. There's a nursery and school room on the other side. If you'd been pre-Hogwarts age that's where you'd have been stuffed."

"Nurseries are for babies!"

"And small children pre-Hogwarts age, at least in this family. Come on." Sirius headed towards the end of the hall and patted the door there. "Here I am. The doors with a fleur-de-lis on the door are already claimed. That's Cissy and Lucy down there, and I think their kid will probably take the one across. The middle there is Andi and Ted, Nymphie over there. That one there is Aunt Cassiopeia. That one there is aunt Lucretia and uncle Ignatius. That leaves three, so you can take your pick."

"Are they different?"

"Right now, no. White walls, white curtains and so on. It'll charm itself up to suit you once you've picked one. The only real difference is that the rooms on that side look out onto the courtyard, and the ones on this side look out over the countryside."

"Can I have that one?" Harry asked, pointing to the door next to Sirius' room.

"Sure thing, kiddo. Let's take a look. Here, put your hand on the door here and repeat after me. "Hoc est meum"

Harry dutifully copied him and then grinned as a fleur-de-lis appeared on the door.

"What did I say?"

"I think you just said it was yours. Whatever. It works, doesn't it?"

Harry giggled and opened the door, eager to see the place. There was a four-poster bed with curtains, and beside it a deep-set window with a seat that looked out over the village and surrounding countryside. A wardrobe sat across the room, and a dresser ran along the wall beside the door. A small desk with a double shelf overhead stood in the corner beside the window but facing the wall so your back would be to the window while you were working.

"Wow. This is even bigger than Dudley's main bedroom. It's way bigger than his second bedroom!"

"Second…? Why the heck does anyone need two bedrooms?"

"It's where he kept his toys and stuff that didn't fit in the first one. I got stuck in there after my Hogwarts letter came."

"Where were you before?" Sirius asked, confused. "Why didn't they just leave you in the bedroom you already had?"

"They were afraid wizards would get mad if they found out I slept in the cupboard under the stairs." Harry huffed. "I told you that before!"

"No you… I would have…" Sirius rubbed his head and looked ill and worried for a moment before grimly trying to smile. " I suppose we should both head to bed. It's been a long day."

Harry smiled back and tried to act cheerful and carefree, but all the while he wondered: was Sirius' mind deteriorated to such a degree that he couldn't remember things, or had someone made him forget?

The rug, curtains and such were all a nice, deep sapphire blue, reminiscent of the Ravenclaw common room. The walls looked like tree trunks and the ceiling overhead looked like the leafy canopy of a forest. It wasn't what he'd been expecting, but Harry felt right at home. He enlarged his trunk and left it at the foot of his bed and looked around with a grin.

Sirius smiled back and ruffled his hair. "Go ahead and get some sleep, kiddo. I'll warn you now, the day starts early around here, so if you were hoping to have a lie-in, you'd best put it out of your mind." Sirius grumbled. He sounded like someone who knew this from experience.

"Good night, kiddo, sleep tight."

"Good night, Sirius."

After Sirius had gone, Harry spent some time putting away his clothing--robes, jackets, vests and shoes in the wardrobe, shirts, trousers, socks, underwear spare pajamas in the dresser. Dressing gown on a hook on the door, slippers beneath the edge of the bed. His school books went on the shelf, stationary in the desk drawer, quills and ink in another. Hedwig should have stayed here after the last letter he'd sent, so she was likely wherever they kept the owls. He put her cage on the dresser after giving it a quick cleaning. Finally satisfied, he changed into his pajamas and snuggled down. He was asleep a few minutes later with a smile on his face.

 

"Young sir is waking up now!"

Harry surfaced from sleep groggily and had to stifle a scream when he opened his eyes and saw a greenish blur with bulbous eyes a few inches from his face.
He groped frantically on the bedside table for his glasses and let out a shaky breath when the blur resolved into a house elf with wispy hair and an apologetic air about him.

"Uh…hello?"

"Young sir is waking up now. Breakfast will be in twenty minutes in the morning room. It will be Scumble's delight to be showing young sir the way. Young sir be getting dressed now, and be making hisself presentable. The master and mistress is being most eager to make young sir's acquaintance."

"Oh, uh, sure. I'll get right on that."

"Scumble has taken the liberty of laying out young sir's clothes. Scumble is glad to see young sir is a proper young gentleman and not running around in unsuitable clothing and being a hooligan. Yes, Scumble is very pleased."

Harry slid out of bed and edged around the muttering house elf and went in search of the nearest bathroom. He did a quick wash-up and headed back to get dressed. Scumble had laid out grey trousers, a white button-up, a yellowish-gold waistcoat with green embroidery and his green jacket and a grey tie. Harry hurriedly dressed and ran a brush through his hair a few times in a losing battle to make it lie flat.

"Young sir will do, Scumble supposes. This way."

Harry followed the house elf down the hall, down the stairs, down another hall, around a corner and down another hall. At last they came to a doorway. Scumble stepped in ahead of him. "Mister Harry Potter, arriving for breakfast, mistress."

"Thank you, Scumble, you can run along now."

Harry rubbed his hands down his jacked in an effort to dry his sweaty palms and carefully stepped inside.

"Come along, child, don't be shy. My husband and my wayward grandson should be along any moment. Well, let's get a look at you."

The woman, Sirius' grandmother, it would seem, was a thin, stately looking lady. She was dressed in a dark-grey high-necked gown with long sleeves that was fitted on top and fell into a long skirt to the floor. Her hair was upswept into a chignon at the back of her head. It was blonde, with strands of grey and white threaded through it. She looked rather regal, not to mention quite well put together, especially considering how early it was.

"I am Melania Black, nee MacMillan. I believe you are currently at school with my great-great-great nephew, Ernest."

"Yes, he's in Hufflepuff. I can't say I know him at all well."

"He should be along during the new year's celebrations. You'll have time to rectify that." she noted absently as she took him by the chin and turned him this way and that so she could get a good look at him.

"I remember your father when he was a boy. I didn't see much of him as he got older. You look quite like him. Can you see without those? They're not very flattering."

"I was hoping to get in to see the occulist while I was doing my school shopping, but Hagrid didn't give me a chance."

"Hmm. We shall have to rectify that. Perhaps see if there's a potion to fix whatever the problem is… Yes. I'll have to schedule something for later in the week. Breakfast is self-serve. Take what you wish from the sideboard there."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Very polite. That's good. You may call me grandmother. Run along and eat, child. A growing boy and all."

"Um, thank you…grandmother."

Melania nodded regally and went back to her own breakfast.

Harry was at the sideboard trying to decide what he wanted when a dapper older gentleman bustled in. "So sorry, my dear. Old Mac wouldn't get off the ruddy floo. Gabbing on about something or other."

"What was the problem?"

"Haven't the foggiest. Told him it was seven o' clock and I was meant to be eating breakfast! I suppose I'll have to stop by the village later and see what he was on about. Scumble!"

"Yes, master?"

"Give that layabout good kick for me, would you?" He grabbed his plate and bumped into Harry and looked at him in surprise.

"Who are you then?"

"That's Harry dear. He arrived last night. You remember?"

"Oh, right, right. Punctual. Good show. Get some muesli. Keeps you regular. Good for growing lads."

"Uh…yes, sir?"

"Good lad. Polite. I like that." he nodded.

Sirius stumbled in a moment later and gave his grandfather an outraged look.

"You told him to kick me?"

"Of course! Breakfast is at seven. An early start is a good start! Myself, I've been up for an hour. You're a young man, you should have been up for two!" He filled his plate a bit and nudged Harry. "Get him some muesli too. He must be irregular, wouldn't need to sleep so much otherwise."

"Darling, not at the table."

"Of course, my peach, forgive me. Give him some prune juice too." he added in an aside to Harry before heading for the table. Harry nodded seriously and then turned away so he wouldn't see him laughing. Sirius gave him a dirty look when he offered him a glass of prune juice to take with his eggs.

"What's on the agenda today, my dear?"

"You'll be heading down to the village after breakfast to speak to Old Mac. Cassiopeia will be here for luncheon. McCallister is supposed to be coming by at 3 o'clock to get that colt for his granddaughter. The girls and their families should be here in time for supper."

"Ah, nothing too strenuous then. Good, good."

"The colt's is getting sold? I wanted to show Harry it."

"Best do it by three then."

"So, Harry was it? You're in school…yes, of course you are. Wrote to you, didn't I. What house again? Gryffindor?"

"Ravenclaw."

"Oh, good show. I was a Slytherin myself. Fine house. Like it do you?"

"Yes sir."

"Excellent. Who's the head?"

"Filius Flitwick. He's a charms master and he used to be a duelling champion."

"Knows his way around a wand. That's good. Favorite class?"

"Um, well I like charms and potions the best. Transfiguration and herbology are okay. History's fine if you ignore the teacher. Astronomy's alright, but I don't like getting up in the middle of the night for class. DADA's good, but the teacher stutters a lot and he's hard to understand sometimes. He's gotten a lot better. Rumor is he got attacked by a vampire over the summer and he's afraid he followed him or something."

"Pfah! They should have had a team of curse breakers in there ages ago. One teacher leaving after a year is nothing. Two in a row, unfortunate but it could happen. It's been going on for nigh on forty years. Lot of rot if you ask me."

"Any thoughts on your future?" Melania asked.

"Um, no. Not yet."

"You're young yet. I'm sure you'll know in time. Have you plans for the day?" she turned to Sirius.

"I told Harry we might take the sleigh out for a spin. I haven't done that since I was his age or near enough."

"That sounds lovely. If you're going to be out anyway, could you make a few stops?"

"Stops where?"

"The farms and the houses in the village. We haven't distributed the Yule baskets yet."

"Oh. One each? Yeah, we can do that, I guess. You don't mind, right?"

Harry shook his head.

"Have you a hat, child? I'll make sure Scumble gets you a hat."

"You should take some brandy too. Warms the blood." Arcturus added.

"I think Harry's a bit young."

"Nonsense! Put hair on his chest!"

"Perhaps some hot chocolate."

"With some brandy in it. Just the thing for a day like today. Mark my words" he told Harry "keep the blood hot, keep yourself regular, you'll go far in life."

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, sir."

"Good lad."

 

Scumble popped up in Harry's room when he went to fetch his cloak and a robe before heading outside. He handed him a furry hat with ear flaps and vanished again. Harry shrugged and put in on, wrapped his scarf around his neck, donned his cloak and grabbed his gloves.

"Looking good there, kiddo. The height of fashion. That's you."

"It's cold outside. Scumble gave it to me."

"Well, I guess we don’t want you getting sick."

They took a meandering path down to the courtyard. The place was huge, much bigger than it looked from the outside and from outside it looked pretty big. More snow had fallen during the night, as the courtyard, which had been bare last night was coated with a few inches. There were a lot of footprints along the one side of the courtyard, going to and from the gatehouse, as well as wheel tracks. It looked like the place had been quite busy, even though it was still early.

"Folks come by and work in the bakery, the dairy, and brewery. Vegetables and such from the harvest are stored in the cellars here too. There's preservation spells all over them. The farmers come by and take part of the harvest out bit by bit over the year to sell in the markets. My grandparents get a portion of all the harvest to pay for the storage. There's usually lots of folks coming and going most days."

Harry had asked about the former guard barracks. Grandmother had told him that they ran a local pre-Hogwarts school house out of them. The schoolteacher, Mrs. Haversham, had quarters in what used to be the guard station, while the school was in the former barracks and they served meals in the former mess hall. Mrs. Haversham was off visiting with some relatives, the Fawcetts, in Ottery-St. Catchpole while the holidays were on, and likely wouldn't return until after Harry was already gone.

Sirius led the way to the stables. A large golden sleigh was already in the yard and a team of four horses were being hitched to it. A large red bag took up the whole back seat.

"We're going to be santa."

"Yeah. No flying reindeer though, sorry kid. Come on. We'll go see the colt. I don't know how long it'll take us to make the rounds. It'd be a shame if he was already gone before we got back."

Harry followed eagerly into the shadowy recesses of the stable. The sweet smell of hay, well-oiled leather, and the smell of the horses hung heavy in the air. The horses peeked out of their stalls as they passed and one tried to eat Harry's hat off the top of his head. In the back was a small colt, with a silvery grey coat and a white blaze across his forehead. He came to the stall door when they approached and watched them curiously. He let Harry pet his nose, and tried to nibble at his cloak as he did so.

After visiting with the colt for a bit longer, Sirius let him go around to see the rest of the horses, some of which were the size of elephants and had wings! Harry was enchanted. There had been a school trip to a farm in primary school, but he hadn't gotten to go. He'd been terribly jealous when Dudley had come home bragging about the horses and the cows and the pigs he'd gotten to see. Even if no other good thing happened for the rest of the holiday, it was already the best one ever.

"Alright. We don't want the poor horses out in the snow getting stiff. We'd best get going."

Harry ran ahead, eager to get started. The front seat of the sleigh was padded and there was a thick fur blanket waiting, along with a large thermos and a flask of brandy. Sirius tucked the flask away with a wink, gathered up the reins and flicked them, which set the horses to moving. The horses reins had bells on them, and the jingled softly as they took off like a shot, kicking up clouds of powdery snow which fell down around them softly and glittered like diamonds in the morning light. Harry let out a whoop and laughed out loud at the feeling. It was like flying but on the ground. There were people milling about in the village, who waved and called out greetings as they passed.

The village looked just as pretty in the light of day as it had at night. Everything was covered in snow and looked cozy and homey. It still looked like a scene from a holiday card. There was a forest surrounding the village. There was greyish green lichen growing on most of the trees which left them looking a bit scabrous. When he mentioned it, Sirius snorted. "That's how this place got its name. Mould-on-the-Wold. Awful, isn't it? I told grandfather he should change the name, but he said that's always been the name and to stop being a curmudgeon!"

Harry giggled. "It is pretty awful. That's this place's name? Yuck."

"Finally! Someone sane. It is awful, isn't it? You warm enough there?"

"Yep."

"Having fun?"

"Yep."

"Easy to please. I like that. That's our first stop there. That's the Cuthbert Farm. That's the Beerys', Belbys out that way. Damocles over there."

"What kind of stuff do they have on their farms?"

"All kinds. They each have all different crops so there's a good assortment. The town's pretty much self-sufficient. They have some complicated thing where they rotate the crops through all the farms somehow to keep the soil from getting worn out. I don't know the details. I was never really interested in stuff like that. Animals too. There's some goats, pigs, chickens, cows. Turkeys too. I think one of them has pheasants or something… or maybe they're wild. I'm not sure. There's wild ducks, I know that much. They show up here and take over the lake out that way. You see deer in the woods sometimes, though they tend to stay deeper in, away from where all the people are. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, stoats, polecats. There's all kinds of critters roaming around these parts. There used to be a beaver dam a ways down that way. I don't know if it's still there. I'll have to take a look. We can go see it in the summer if you want."

"Can we? I've never seen a beaver dam before!"

"Yeah, sure thing."

Sirius aimed the horses towards the long road leading to the nearest farm and they raced down towards the farm house. A dog came tearing around the house as they approached and ran alongside the sleigh barking. A man and woman came to the door, and a handful of kids spilled out behind them.

"Ah, young Sirius is it? Happy Yule to you!"

"Happy Yule. From our family to yours. All the blessings of the seasons to you." Sirius replied, handing over one of the goodie baskets from the back of the sleigh.

 

Lunch was long over by the time they were finished. That was actually fine by Harry though; he wasn't sure he could eat right now if he wanted to. Half the people they'd given stuff to had invited them in and given them hot spiced apple juice or hot chocolate, and different holiday treats, many fresh out of the oven. Even though they'd not had much at any one stop, it had quickly added up.
The stable master came and began unhitching the horses and leading them inside to cool down and be tended when they pulled in to the courtyard. Harry hopped out of the sleigh with a grin. He was half-frozen, too full of goodies, and was nearly sloshing from all the hot chocolate and juice he'd drunk, but he was in high spirits.

"That was great! Can we do it again before I go back to Hogwarts?"

"Yeah, if you want to. We'll see if we can go a bit further afield next time, plus no deliveries. We'll see if we can manage it."

Harry managed to find his room without trouble and put away his cloak, scarf, gloves and new hat, then made a quick trip to the bathroom. When he emerged he wandered off in a random direction to look around.

The Black's house was amazing. Much like Hogwarts it was filled with secret passages, endless rooms filled with old and sometimes mysterious things. There was a huge library, almost as good as the one at Hogwarts. Harry had lingered in there, browsing through the books and lost track of time until Scumble popped up and told him the masters were wanting him to come.
Scumble led him to a large parlor this time instead of the morning room where they'd had breakfast. From the sound of it, it was full of people. He wiped his palms on his jacket nervously, straightened his shoulders and walked in.

"There ya are, pup! You vanished after going to your room. I was wondering what happened to you!" Sirius called out as soon as he spotted him.

"He's a Ravenclaw. He was probably in the library." Draco Malfoy snickered.

"Only just at the end there. Before that I was looking around."

"Don't just linger in the doorway child, come and greet everyone."

Besides Arcturus, Melania and Sirius, there was now a black-clad older witch wearing a long black veil over her face, and nearby an odd couple--she looked wispy and tragic, like life had treated her very badly. Her husband, if that's who he was, looked like a stern banker or something. He was very…precise. His part was razor-straight, his moustache just as rigid. On the next couch was another older woman, also in black but without the veil. Next to her was a blonde couple who could only be Draco's parents. A brown-haired couple who were likely Ted and Andromeda Tonks, a pink-haired girl who had to be Nymphadora were on another couch. There was another black-haired woman going to grey and a red-haired man who looked a bit like Ron there as well.

"Wow. Full house."

"Everyone, this is Harry. Harry, I believe you already know Draco…" Melania introduced everyone.

The lady in the veil was Narcissa and Andromeda's mother, Druella Black, neé Rosier. Her husband, Pollux, had died a few months ago. The other older woman was Cassiopeia black. She was Sirius, Narcissa and Andromeda's aunt, and his, Draco and Nymphadora's great aunt. The last two couples he didn't know were Lucretia and Ignatius Prewitt, and the Crouches. Lucretia was Sirius' aunt--her brother Orion was his father. Ignatius Prewitt was, it turned out, a cousin of Molly Weasley (Ron's mother) who had been a Prewitt before she married, which explained the resemblance he'd seen between him and Ron. The wispy woman and the banker were Barty Crouch Sr. and his wife Cassandra Crouch neé Yaxley. Well, that explained why she looked so tragic. Her only child, Barty junior, had gone to Azkaban when he was barely out of Hogwarts for torturing the Longbottoms. Barty Senior had been head of Law enforcement during the war and had been forced to send his son there.
Harry took a seat on the ottoman next to Draco after saying hello to everyone. He kept looking at Ted, thinking he looked familiar, when it finally dawned on him who he was.

"Hey, you're Ted Tonks the news man! I thought you looked familiar. I should have known from the name, I guess, but I just assumed you were some other Ted Tonks."

"You already know each other?" Lucius Malfoy asked curiously, eyeing Ted askance.

"He's on the telly. He's famous in the muggle world. Mostly because everyone is taking bets on when… Nevermind. He's pretty well known. He's on the news every night." Harry finished with a disarming grin. It was probably rude to say most people thought he was a bit off and likely to have a psychotic break on the air one night.

Andromeda gave her husband a look and sighed. "He can't help himself. He knows what the real story is most times. He finds the muggle-worthy excuses hilarious. I told you! You look like a lunatic cackling like you do!"

"Oh, he does not mum! You're always too hard on him!" Nymphadora objected.

"Uncle Vernon thinks he's cracked. Sorry." he added to Ted. Nymphadora glared at him, but Ted just laughed.

Talk soon turned to adult matters, and Harry and Draco found themselves sitting there quietly and rather bored. Draco sighed and began to fidget. He was obviously as bored as Harry was. No one seemed to be paying attention to them, and Harry had seen a long railing that was just begging to be slid down…

Harry poked Draco in the side and gestured with his head towards the door. Draco glanced at his parents, but no one was paying them any attention. They both stood and waited a second to see if anyone would yell at them, and casually made their way to the door. They were still in the clear. They slipped out and grinned at each other. They were free!

"Come on. This way."

"Where are we going?"

"We're going to slide down the grand staircase railing."

"We are? What? No we're not."

"You can sit it out if you want. But I'm going to try it!"

"The floors are all stone! You'll break your stupid head open!"

"Hmm… good point. Oh, I know. There were a punch of padded benches around the edges of the room at the bottom. We'll just get those."

They arrived at the staircase. The railing was long and smooth and really was just begging to be slid down. Draco seemed to be warming up to the idea. They grinned at each other again and ran down to the floor below to start pulling the cushions to pile up at the base. It was a fairly large room, so they had quite a pile when they were done.

"There! Safe as houses."

"First one to the top goes first!" Draco shouted, already part way back up the stairs.

"Cheater! No fair!"

Draco laughed and hopped on the railing first and went shooting past him. Harry stuck his tongue out at him. It had been his idea! He ran up the rest of the way and was just in time to see Draco shoot off the end and land on the cushions, which sent up a big cloud of dust when they were landed on.

"Get out of the way! It's my turn!"

 

The boys were breathless, and laughing themselves silly when suddenly…

"Draco Lucius Malfoy! What do you think you're doing!"

Both boys froze and their laughter cut off abruptly. There, at the top of the stairs stood Narcissa Malfoy. Her hands were on her hips and she looked quite irate. There was a spot of pink on each of her cheeks and her lips were pressed into a thin, white line. The boys scrambled to their feet, only just then really taking note of how filthy and disheveled they both were.

"You know that looks like fun. Out of the way boys!"

"FATHER!"
"GRANDPA!"
"ARCTURUS!"

The adults all shouted in dismay as the old man cackled and hopped on the top of the railing and went off like a shot. They all drew their wands and a dozen cushioning charms layered themselves over the cushions, which had been enough for two small boys, probably wouldn't do much to keep a man his age safe from harm.

"WOO HOO!" Arcturus shouted as he flew off the end. He landed with a soft thud and bounced lightly a few inches above the top of the cushions, breathless and laughing like a boy. The kids hurried over and helped the old man up, laughing as well.

"That was great!"

"Good job!"

"Ha! I've still got it! Should have done that years ago!"

"Me next!"

"Oh, Sirius, really!"

"Yeah!"
"Go, Sirius!"

"Me too!"

"TED!"
"Go for it, dad!"

The kids had to hold their stomachs, they were laughing so hard.

"Lucius! What do you…don't you dare!"

"Just once won't hurt, surely? Anyway, if it's good enough for Lord Black…"

"Father?!" Draco squeaked.

The five of them backed away from the cushions as Lucius slid down as well. Ted clapped for him, and Sirius looked to be laughing himself sick.

"That's the way! Good show, old boy!"

The boys jumped up and down cheering as he landed.

"Come on, Pinky! You too!" Harry called up.
"Don't call me that!"
"Pinky! Pinky!" Draco chanted in a very bratty way.

Nymphadora growled and hopped on for her own trip down the railing. Melania looked resigned but amused. She gathered up the rest of the ladies, Ignatius and Barty, who looked rather shocked and dismayed at everyone's behavior, and took them back to the parlor when she saw Sirius and the two boys were fighting their way back up the stairs to be the first to take the next turn.

"Let them have their fun. There's no harm in it. You all WILL be cleaning up after yourselves though!"

"Go Harry!"
"WOOO HOOO!"
"YEAH!"

Dinner that night ended up being a rather merry gathering. There was plenty of good food and laughter, and the atmosphere was much more relaxed and convivial than it had seemed earlier.

Everyone woke early the next morning and gathered in the parlor in their pajamas and dressing gowns to open presents. Harry was surprised and delighted to discover that many of them were indeed for him. He had always been envious, watching sadly through the cupboard door as the Dursleys celebrated around the tree, and Dudley opened enough presents for any three kids. This was the first time he got to celebrate as well.

Amongst other things, he and Draco had each gotten toy soldiers, castles and siege engines. They had a great time setting up across the parlor and waging war on each other for most of the morning.

At one point of the day, Harry was rather confused when Cassandra Crouch approached him and asked him to take a walk with her. She seemed harmless, so he agreed. They wandered sort of aimlessly for a bit and ended up on the terrace that overlooked the courtyard on the second floor. It was then that she finally explained why she'd wanted to speak to him.

"I know you must be wondering why I asked you to take a walk with me. I was hoping you could help me."

"Me? I'm only eleven. What can I do?"

"I was hoping you'd use your name to help me get my son's case reviewed."

"Why ask me though? I mean your husband or you…"

"My husband was never the same after Barty's sentencing. He just shuts down when I try to talk to him about it. He's been there for ten years. Ten years. I can't even bear to think of it. I saw your godfather shortly after he was brought out. It made my nightmares about my boy worse, if anything. My husband and I will be leaving soon. I almost feared I wouldn't have a chance to speak to you before we did. I had to wait till he wasn't around before I dared approach you. If he knew what I was doing he would try to stop me…and I can't wait any longer. I'm ill. The healers say I haven't much longer to live. I had half resigned myself to possibly only getting to say goodbye to my son before… But then I saw you, and I realized there may be another way."

"Ma'am. I still really don't understand what you think I can do. Unlike Sirius, your son had a trial and all, right?"

"He did, but there are enough oddities that I think if someone would just listen to them that they might agree to review his case."

"Alright. I'm listening."

"Thank you."

She pulled a greying, battered stack of papers from her pocket and opened them up. "This is the transcripts of the trial and their questioning. There's no record of my son being questioned, though the questioning of the Lestranges is in the records. Look at it."

Harry glanced at her uncertainly and then began reading. He was frowning by the time he finished.

"This is their trial? This is… Though I guess there doesn't need to be questioning and evidence if three of the four happily confess… almost sound like they're bragging. None of them turned on your son for not doing the same or trying to back out or anything…"

"Yes! You see? They all confessed! They said they did it and they'd do it again. He said he was innocent, begged his father to look at him!"

He nodded and tucked away the papers.

"I can't promise anything. I know Susan Bones. Her aunt is head of law enforcement these days. I'll write her and see if she can get me a meeting with her aunt before the holidays let out. Beyond that, I'm not sure if there's anything I can really do."

"The fact that you're willing to do anything is enough. No one else will even listen. I've tried myself to get his case reviewed. They all seem to decide the moment they see me that I'm simply a delusional, grieving mother and they just humor me while hustling me out the door. They don't even listen to me. Not them, not my husband. He's my only son. I can't simply…. I can't just do nothing. It's been ten years. "

Harry got uncomfortable when she began quietly weeping. He awkwardly patted her on the arm until she pulled herself together.

Cassandra flicked her wand at her face as they started back to where everyone else was. Whatever charm she did disguised the red and puffiness around her eyes and vanished any tracks of tears. It made Harry sad to think how practiced she was at it. It had seemed a reflex. Despite how tragic she looked at first glance, this was a woman well-used to hiding her tears. Harry sighed and hoped he hadn't made a mistake in offering to help. If they pulled her son out and questioned him and he turned out to be actually guilty, Cassandra probably wouldn't survive the revelation. He really hoped she hadn't wasted ten years crying over an unrepentant murderer.

 

Harry managed to put Cassandra and her son out of his mind for the rest of the day. There were toys to play with, treats to eat, and fun to be had. That night as he undressed for bed he found the papers Cassandra had given him.

"Well, I did promise." he decided. He dug out his stationary and mulled over what to write for a while, until just decided to be short, sweet and to the point.

Dear Susan, I hope your holidays are going well. I've been having a blast. As much as I like Hogwarts, I think I might actually be sad to go back! I know you're probably wondering why I'm writing to you like this, and I have to admit I wanted to ask you for a favor. I've come across a possible miscarriage of justice that I think should be looked into. I was hoping you could ask your aunt if she would meet with me so we could discuss it. I don't know what your schedule is like, but if she is free I will try to be available as well. Thank you in advance. Hope the rest of your holiday is fine as well. All the best, Harry Potter.

Hedwig, clever owl that she was, pecked at the window just as he was finishing up.

"Well, hello, girl. I was wondering where you've been! Been having a nice visit?"

Hedwig barked a few times and gestured with her wings.

"Yeah, it's a pretty cool place. Did you see my room? Isn't it neat? I've been having the best time. I wish Dumbledore would keep his nose out of my business. Can you imagine if we could stay here all summer rather than at the Dursleys?"

Hedwig seemed to agree that Mold-on-the-Wold was in every way far superior to Little Whinging, Surrey. Harry petted her and tried to put the thought of possibly being forced back there out of his mind.

"Well, I should be getting to bed, girl. Take this to Susan Bones. No rush. I don't know how busy she is or where, what with the holidays and all. I guess wait and see if she has an answer. If not, come on back. So far as I know I'll be here the whole time, so you shouldn't have to go looking for me."

Hedwig puffed out her chest as though to assure him she was most definitely the owl for the job. He gave her a boost out the window and watched her fly off into the distance. He stayed curled up in the window seat for a while longer, looking out over the snowy village and the twinkling lights. It had only been a few days, but this place already felt more like home than the Dursleys ever had.

Finally, the excitement of the day caught up to him. He snuggled down in his bed, in his very own just-for-Harry room and was asleep moments after his head hit the pillow.

 

The next few days were filled with more fun. He and Draco joined the village children for a snowball fight, and prowled around the crypts, which were just as creepy and full of bones and Sirius' said they were. Sadly, all good things come to an end, and everyone began returning to their own homes. It was just as well. Harry finally heard back from Susan. She and her aunt would be coming by for tea later that day. Madame Bones had apparently called grandmother to arrange a good time.

Now that the meeting was approaching, Harry was getting nervous. If Cassandra had tried before, there was no guarantee he'd have any more luck than she did. What if the guy was actually innocent? He'd feel terribly if he was just left to rot because he couldn't get anyone to listen either.

He was in the long gallery, fretting about just this subject when one of the portraits finally had enough.

"What's troubling you? You're a bit young for angst. It's usually teenagers that spend all their time moping about."

Harry glanced at the portrait's name once he saw who was addressing him. Phinneas Nigellus, the plaque read.

"Madame Bones, the head of law enforcement is coming by for tea. I asked for a meeting to try to get her to re-open a case but I'm not sure how to go about it."

"Hmm. Much weightier troubles than I was expecting from someone your age. Simply tell her why. It shouldn't be difficult."

"The guy's mum has been trying for the last ten years but no one will listen."

The portrait's interest seemed to be piqued, and he sat up a bit straighter in his chair.

"This wouldn't be the Crouch boy?"

"Yeah."

"Why would you bother? He received a trial, unlike that idiot great-great-great grandson of mine."

"That's just it. Mrs. Crouch got copies of the records." Harry explained all Cassandra had told him, and why he had agreed there was enough wiggle room that he was willing to try to help her.

"That is troubling. In ten years you'd think someone… No matter. Here is what you do. Simply lay out the facts as you know them without naming any names. Don't say his mother, say… I don't know, 'a concerned party' or something. Don't mention there were four of them, just say 'the accomplices', or something to that effect. Lay out the facts as you know them. From what I know of Madame Bones, it should be enough to get her to agree to at least take a look at things. Beyond that, there isn't anything you can really do."

"Concerned party. Accomplices. Right."

"Good luck, boy. Hopefully it's not a wasted effort. I wouldn't have believed it of young Bellatrix and the other boys either, and yet they quite gleefully confessed to their crimes, I've been told. It would be nice if at least one of them was actually innocent. It was a terrible business. Family against family."

"They're relatives?"

"Yes, all of them. All purebloods are related to some extent. Bellatrix, Barty and Frank Longbottom are all my direct descendants, as are you. Bellatrix and Frank there's nothing to be done for. If young Barty can be saved, by all means do so."

"I'll do my best."

"That's all anyone can ask. Good luck."

Scumble popped up suddenly to announce that Madame Bones and Susan had arrived and were with grandmother in the south parlor.
Harry straightened his shoulders and wiped his palms on his jacket before following Scumble out.

 

Harry and Susan were sent off to play after he'd made his case. He was taking her on a tour of the house as she'd never been there before. She'd been a bit quiet so far, but finally spoke up as they headed towards the stables.

"So, you really actually wanted to talk to my aunt about a possible miscarriage of justice?"

"Well…yeah. I said that in my letter."

"Hmmm."

Harry looked at her uncertainly. He kept getting the feeling she was annoyed with him for some reason, but he couldn't imagine why.

"Um, well, here's the stables. There's a bunch of horses here. They're not all ours. A couple of them belong to people in the village, but they don't have anywhere to keep them, so they leave them here."

Susan tilted her head and listened for a moment. "Shush. Do you hear that?"

Harry quieted and listened as well.

"Sounds like…"

"Kittens! I think it was coming from over here."

They searched all through the stables and finally found a little hollow surrounded by hay bales on each side. There was loose hay in the center with a blanket laid over it, upon which a striped tabby momma cat was laid out with five kittens nursing.

"Oh! Look at them all! They're adorable!"

The mom didn't seem too happy to have them so close, so they kept their distance and just watched for a bit.

"Ah, yeh found the wee kitties, did ya?" Steve Abington, the stable master laughed when he spotted them.

"Hiya Steve. We heard them. How old are they?"

"Just born, few weeks or so ago."

"Whose cat is she?"

"Belongs to the whole village, that one. Goes where she pleases, but then most cats do. They're still a bit young for playing with. Arnie Hall at the inn's got a litter o' pups if you want to see. They're a few weeks old, old enough to handle 'em a bit if you like."

"Really?" Susan said eagerly. Harry wasn't quite so enthused.

"What's the matter lad? Don't like dogs?"

"Not really. My uncle's sister breeds bull dogs. She has one, Ripper, that she was always setting on me. He chewed up my leg one time."

"What? That's… I've a good mind to wallop that woman! Arnie and Nan's Princess is a sweet little thing. You don't have to worry about her trying to bite you. Just approach slowly and let her smell you before you try to get close to the pups. Keep an eye on her. If she looks like she wants you to let them be, listen to her, that's all. The pups themselves might chew on your fingers a bit, but they're just babies and don't mean no harm. You should go see them, lad. My girls were in rolling about with them the other day."

Harry led the way to the inn, and sure enough, Mrs. Hall, or Nan as most knew her, just laughed when she spotted them at the door and pointed them towards the shed out back.

"You're in luck. Princess and the pups are out there running around. They'll probably be happy for some new playmates."

They must have been in playing with the puppies longer than they realized as Sirius and Madame Bones came looking for them. Nan just chuckled as they were leaving. "No harm done. I've had most the youngins in these part in my yard these last few days. Princess don' mind none. They tire the pups out, which means she can get some sleep as well. We're looking for homes for the lot if any of ye are interested."

Susan's eyes got big and she looked at her aunt hopefully.

"Not us, I'm afraid. You'll be away at school, and I'm at the Ministry more often than not. The poor thing will be on his own, and that wouldn't be right. Wait till you're out of school, and you can have all the dogs you want."

Sirius, who had taken a shine to a particularly playful pup looked torn. "I'll get back to you."

They said goodbye to the Bones'-- Madame Bones looked around very carefully and found a spot out of sight to apparate them away. The villagers looked pleased; it meant the ministry still hadn't caught on.

Sirius and Harry began the long walk back to the house.

"So, I was thinking. We could go to Godric's Hallow and see your parents if you want." he sounded reluctant, but considering all the bad things that had happened there, Harry wasn't surprised.

"Have you been there since…everything?"

"Once. Shortly after I got out of St. Mungo's."

"Will that be alright?"

"I'm fine, pup. Don't worry about me, alright? I'm far less fragile than people seem to think. Get into some muggle clothes and we'll head out."

"I don't have any muggle clothes."

"You must have some! You lived with muggles most of your life!"

"Dudley's hand me downs. He's head and shoulders taller than me and about three times as wide. I wore some of them to the train station but that was all. I refused to wear them after getting my own clothes. Anyway, what I'm wearing is fine, I just have to take the robe off."

"Cloak too. Muggles don't wear them."

"I don't have a coat."

"We might have something packed away that'll suit. I'll ask grandma."

 

In the end, Harry was stuffed into a dark green wool overcoat that smelled like the cedar chips it had been packed away in; Sirius had a long black one. Once they were both suitably attired, he apparated them to the edge of town in a stand of trees. Sirius forgot that, with it being winter, what had been a dense, leafy cover would now be bare. They scared a few years off the life of a little old muggle man who was walking past just beyond the trees.

"You just appeared out of nowhere!"

"No we didn't."

"Did too! I seen it! Oozed into place and bam!"

"You must be imagining things."

"Am not! I was standing right here!"

Sirius looked around quickly, pulled his wand and obliviated the man, before hustling Harry on his way.

"Pain in the ass…"

"Still think what our villagers did was wrong?"

"Not now, Harry."

"Fine. Where are we headed?"

"There's the town center there. They're in the church yard there."

"Where's the house?"

"Down the road there. It's off at the edge of town. If you really want to, I suppose we could go see it after."

"I think I would like to. I don't really remember anything about this place at all."

"It's to be expected. You were just a baby."

Harry glanced up as the statue they were approaching changed. It had been a war memorial of three soldiers. It was now a couple holding a baby. It was him and his parents.
He froze and stared up at the statue blankly. He'd been told he was famous, that his parents were, that there's been a war… even reading bits and pieces in the paper hadn't brought it home quite the way have a large stone replica of your family installed in the town square did.

"Ah…yeah. I forgot to warn you about that. It's a pretty good likeness. Freaked me out a bit when I first saw it."

Harry shook off his surprise and looked around. "There?"

"Yeah, just through the gate there."

 

The churchyard was eerily quiet. The sounds of life and movement from elsewhere in the village seemed to disappear once you were inside its confines. There were a few trees scattered among the gravestones, all of them dusted with snow and icicles. The gravestones were mostly old ones, weathered and worn with age.

"It's the ones from that tree calendar, like with the runes."

"Huh?"

"The trees. There's one of each from the tree calendar with the runes."

"Huh. You're right. How do you know that though? Runes don't start till third year…unless they changed it. Did they change it?"

"I read a book."

"Right. Ravenclaw."

"Dumbledore?"

"What? Where?"

"The gravestone. Stones. There's two of them."

"Kendra. Ariana. Huh. You know I do vaguely remember your dad mentioning they were from this village too."

There were a bunch of very old gravestones that bore an odd symbol on the top of each--a triangle with a circle in the center bisected by a line.

"Peverell."

"Yeah. Real old family. I think the Potters are descended from them. Well, lots of families are related to them, they were far enough back. Here they pretty much became the Potters. It's one of the family names that died out. It does just figure I'd be able to remember that stinking book."

"What book?"

"Nature's nobility. It's the pureblood maniac's bible. All the old families and their lines of descent. I had to memorize the damn thing when I was a kid."

"Are the Potters listed?"

"It's mostly families that have died out in the male line. If you don't have kids it will be."

"So, no pressure or anything."

"Funny. Back here."

In a shadowed corner of the yard, under an elder tree, there they were. James Potter. Lily Potter. Only twenty one when they died. That was only ten years older than he was now.

"The last enemy that shall be defeated is death." What does that even mean?"

"I don't know. Your dad always said he wanted something like 'despair, for here lies the world's sexiest man and now you'll never get to meet him'. I don't know who picked that."

Harry snorted and then he and Sirius were giggling. It felt wrong to be standing over gravestones and laughing, and yet, it felt right at the same time. The day seemed a little brighter, as though his dad was watching and telling them to be happy. Sirius seemed to feel it too, because some of the tension leached out of his shoulders. He wiped at his eyes, even though he was smiling.

"That's James for you." He straightened up and gestured vaguely at the headstones. "You wanna talk to them or something?"

"I can talk to them whenever. They're not there. They're somewhere else."

Sirius just nodded.

They tidied up their graves and Sirius conjured a blanket of bright red poinsettias to cover them both.

"See you next year James, Lily. Sleep tight."

"Bye mum. Bye dad."

 

They saw a few people out and about, but even those small crowds fell away as they headed down the lane. There down at the end of a tree-lined pathway was a cottage. The entire one side of the roof was blown open like a massive explosion had taken place in the upper floor. Harry could only stare at it. He had been there, at ground zero, when he was just a baby. How had he even survived? He walked towards the ruined house like he was in a trance, then jumped when something popped up in front of him right at the gate.

"Preserved in its ruined state as a memorial to the violence that tore apart their family." Even here they don't dare use his name. It's still You-Know-Who. It's weird. All those years I was stuck off with the Dursleys, and there was a whole world of people who knew more about me, about my life, about my family than I did. They came here and left messages, and I had no idea."

Sirius said nothing, he just sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Can we go inside?"

"You want to? Yeah, I guess we could… you could. It might not be a good idea. Might not be sound. Between the damage and then being out to the weather all these years. Maybe the bottom floor…"

He reached for the gate and another sign popped up, blocking the way. "NO TRESPASSING".

"How is that fair? It's my house, isn't it?"

"National monument now."

"Hello? Are there visitors? Hello?"

Sirius and Harry turned and saw an extremely old lady in the doorway of the next door cottage.

"Bathilda Bagshot, right?"

"Who's there?" she fumbled with a pair of very thick glasses hanging around her neck and held them up to her eyes and squinted at them. Sirius started towards her, so Harry followed him.

"Sirius Black and Harry Potter."

"Sirius Black? I remember you! Racing around on that noisy contraption of yours like a hooligan! Wait, did you say Harry Potter? Come here, child, let me see you!"

Harry stood as still as he could manage and she got right up close and peered at him.

"Why, as I live and breathe, it is little Harry. I haven't seen you since you were a wee babe! I was the only guest at your first birthday party. Why, I'm practically your granny! Come in, come in. Bit nippy out here. Not good for these old bones."

"We really should… we don't want to impose."

"Nonsense. Come in."

Bathilda's cottage was very warm and quite cluttered, but she bustled amidst the clutter with the ease of long practice.

"Come, come. Sit."

Harry tapped his fingers on the table and then glanced down when he felt how rough it was beneath his hands. Someone had carved symbols all over the surface, one after another.

"It's the symbol from those gravestones."

Bathilda flicked her wand and a steaming hot pot of tea, three cups and a plate full of ginger biscuits appeared.

"Hmmm? Oh, that. Yes. My nephew. Gellert. Obsessed with that symbol."

"What does it mean?"

"It's the sign of the deathly hallows, child, like in Beedle the Bard!"

"Who?"

"Surely you know Beedle? Kids still grow up on those stories, don't they?"

"I grew up with muggles."

"What? But you're here with…"

"I was in Azkaban."

"You were? What for?"

"Betraying the Potters."

"Nonsense. You two were like brothers!"

"Shame no one else thought that."

"You're out now though."

"Yeah."

"So, whose bright idea was it to make my parents' house a national monument? What If I'd wanted to fix it up and live there?"

"I'm not sure whose idea that was. That's not where they lived though, it's just where they hid. Their home was on the other side of the village."

Sirius blinked and looked pained and sheepish.

"That's right. I should have known that. I used to live there. I moved in with the Potters when I was sixteen. Uncle Alphard left me a house when he died, so I moved back out after I was of age…"

"The house?" Harry prompted.

"Oh yes. Bought it from Albus…Dumbledore. Years ago now. I used to let it out to couples and such just starting out. He sold it to me after his sister died. He used the proceeds to buy the Hogshead for his brother and then went on a grand tour with his half."

"Oh. So they were just renting from you?"

"Oh, goodness, they didn’t pay rent. They had a madman after them, and they needed a place to hide. Albus suggested it, asked me if I'd let them use it. Said it'd be safer. He was obviously wrong on that. But no, child. They lived on the other side of town. Albus thought it would be very obvious where they were if their own house disappeared. This one is on the edge of town, out of the way. Few people come this way. I guess he figured it wouldn't be obvious where they were and they'd be safer."

"So, wait. There's a house that's still standing and not blown up? Hagrid said it was my parents' house that blew up. I thought there was nothing…except the farm that old lady left me. Cool."

"Harry, you can't live alone, whether it's in your parents' house or on a farm."

"I've been taking care of myself for years. It'll be fine."

"What's this then? Why would you be living on your own? Where will you be?"

"Dumbledore wants him to stay with his muggle relatives. Harry doesn't want to."

"So tell him no."

"He's his magical guardian."

"So get custody of him."

"It's unlikely I can because I was in Azkaban for so long."

"Were you the guardian named in his parents' will?"

"I should be."

"That's that then. Unless there has been large changes in the laws, parents' wishes supersede most anything. The only way he could really hold on to it is if both of you agree he has the right and the authority to do so."

"That's why he's dropping hints that you're crazy and trying to get you to not even try. He doesn't have a legal leg to stand on."

"Don't get your hopes up, kiddo. I have to look into this. No promises."

"Whatever."

"You're not running off to be a farmer."

"Hee hee. You're going to have your hands full with this one. He's like both of them. Stubborn. Independent too."

"You don't have to tell me."

They stayed with Bathilda for another hour, but by then she was getting tired. Harry figured he shouldn't be surprised. She was already a grown-up when Dumbledore, who was really, really old, was a little kid.

They said their goodbyes and set off into the village proper.

"Do you remember where their real house was?"

"Yeah, yeah. I think I do. They lived at the point."

"Where's the point?"

"Godric's Hollow is sort of shaped like a long triangle. Bagshot and all is on one of the short points. This is right at the edge over here. The church yard and all was in the center… so it should be down that way, on the other side of the village commons."

They set off walking. Godric's Hollow was actually a really small village, it turned out. There was a church, an inn, a post office and a small market, but that was pretty much it. All the rest was houses. You could tell where the muggles were as some of them had cars. They all tended to live on the edges, nearest the road out of town. The rest of the village had no real space for cars; the streets were narrow and cobblestone in some places.

The wizard houses all had gardens filled with herbs and vegetables, and none of them had tv antennas or telephone wires coming off them, where the muggle houses all did. They were mixed in just enough that the whole village, the wizards that is, probably had to watch themselves all the time. Harry spotted one of the muggle houses with a for sale sign in the yard and made a note to find out how much it cost.

He thought the folks in Mould-on the Wold had the right idea. If he bought up the houses as they went up for sale he could try to make Godric's Hollow all-wizard as well. If he had a house in this town, he'd probably end up living here when he was out of school. He didn't want to spend his whole life looking over his shoulder just in case someone was watching.

After a brisk hour's walk, the land began steadily rising as they continued. The forest was thicker at this end, though with all the trees winter-bare it didn't provide much cover. He could see the top of a tower in the distance. It was probably quite hidden by the leaves in the spring and summer. They weaved their way through the forest for another fifteen minutes and came at last to a wall that blocked the way. Sirius got his bearings and led them to the right, following it. After some distance they finally came to a gatehouse with a metal, spiked portcullis. Sirius reached out and pressed his hand against thin air about a foot from the gate.

"Looks like they locked the place down before moving out. The wards are active. That's a good sign. Means no one's messed with the place. You'll have to reset the wards for us to get in."

"I don't know how to do that though!"

"I'll help you. I need to cut your palm."

"What? Why?"

"Blood. Old places like this, like my grandparent's house…the wards are old, built when blood magic was still commonly practiced. Generations of families lived in these places. Every birth, every generation, a bit of their blood was added to the stones. These old places were usually built on ley lines, so there's plenty of magic close to the surface to help power them and keep them strong. The family's blood changes these places. All those generations, all that blood. The magic in these places changes. It will usually only respond to the family, so long as the family stays and keeps charging it."

"How long does it take for a place like this to lose its charge?"

"I don't know. Ten years. Fifty. A hundred?"

"So, in theory, if I didn't know about this place, never claimed it, went and moved somewhere else when I got out of school… the charge would have eventually disappeared and someone who knew this place was ripe for the taking could have just stolen it out from under me?"

"You're too young to be so paranoid."

"Let's get this place recharged."

"Hold still."

Harry winced as Sirius made a quick, shallow slice across his palm.

"Squeeze your fist. Let three drops fall on the stone there."

He pointed down. Harry followed his gaze and realized he could just make out the edges of a large slab of stone underfoot. It was covered over with dirt, snow and other things. Sirius flicked his wand and cleared a patch for him to use.
He let three drops fall. The faint buzz in the air he hadn't even been consciously aware of changed in pitch.

"Alright, now walk straight forward draw your wand in your bloody hand and press the tip to the "P" on the center of the gate there, then repeat after me."

Harry dutifully repeated the long latin phrase as best he could. The buzzing changed pitch again and then settled to be nearly unnoticeable again.

"Alright, now tap the wand firmly on the 'P'. If we did this right the gate should open."

Harry did so and they both sighed in relief when the gate slid upwards.

They stepped into a courtyard. The building revealed was a rectangular building with a single squat tower rising off the side at one end. There were spaces around the courtyard that looked like they were meant to be animal pens. There was a vegetable garden and greenhouse that had seen better days. While it looked like the wards had kept the surrounding greenery from encroaching, it hadn't stopped whatever was in the greenhouse from continuing to grow. It looked like the growth has expanded enough to knock loose some of the glass panes so the plants could grow out through it.

"Yikes. That'll be a job and a half. "

There was a door that led into the rectangular part of the building. Harry tapped his wand on the door and it swung open.

"Is it the same thing as at your grandparent's place?"

"Yeah. I need to be added to the wards again. Putting it in lock down removes everyone but the family members present when you do it. It's usually intended that the family stay inside when it's done… We can do that in a bit. I'll have to show you later. It's lucky I actually know where the ward stone is. We'd have had a fun time if we'd had to search for it."

The floor they entered in on had a large entryway which opened onto a great hall. The ceiling above it was open, and there was a mezzanine running along the outer edges with doors along its length.

"What's up there?"

"Guest rooms, drawing room, library back that way. They must have packed the place up. There used to be tables in here, banners on the wall, weapon displays, that sort of thing."

"There's a bunch of tiny furniture in my mum's vault."

"That's probably it then."

It was cool, but sort of depressing, exploring the place. Lots of empty rooms and dust. Much like the Black's place, the rectangular part of the 'castle' was public areas--great hall, guard station, guest rooms, classroom, armory. Down below was the kitchens, pantries, cellars, laundry, potions lab and such. Towards the back was a library, study, solar, small dining room. The family quarters were in the tower. Right now it was just a lot of big, empty spaces. They made a quick trip to the lowest level to add Sirius to the wards and then headed out to the yard so Sirius could apparate them away.

 

The next morning at breakfast, grandmother told Harry they were going out.

"I've made an appointment for this morning with the occulist. We'll see what's to be done. We'll leave after breakfast."

"Oh. Alright. I've never had my eyes checked before. Does it hurt?"

"You must have at least once! You wear glasses."

"Aunt Petunia got them out of a bin at a rummage sale. She just asked if I could see and said it was good enough."

Grandmother's lips pressed into a thin line, and she let out a tiny huff. She was always very dignified. For her, it was the equivalent of a shout in another person. When she realized he was eyeing her a bit uncertainly from the corner of his eye, she touched him lightly on the arm before returning to her breakfast. Harry relaxed and was able to enjoy the rest of his.

"Alright, dear. Run along and get your cloak. Gentlemen, we'll see you both later."

Grandmother hit herself and him each with a spell when they arrived in the floo room.

"Imperturbable. The floo, while convenient, is filthy. If you don't take precautions you'll be covered head to foot in soot at the other end." she held out a small canister from the mantlepiece.

"Just a pinch is all you need. You'll throw it in the fire and say 'Diagon Alley' very clearly." she pulled the canister away before he could take any of the powder. "Just a moment, child. Once you step in you'll find yourself spinning and moving very fast. Keep your eyes and mouth closed. When you feel yourself slowing down, twist yourself a bit in the opposite direction that you're spinning. It helps cancel the momentum. Open your eyes at that point. You'll be flung out a moment later. Once you've found your feet move aside. I'll be a moment behind you. Do you have all that?"

"I think so."

"Here you go then. Give it a try."

"Diagon Alley!" The fire turned green. Harry steeled himself and stepping in to it.

He did his best to remember everything she'd told him, but he didn't notice at first that he was slowing down. He was trying to twist as he got flung out, and so ended up stumbling and staggering like a drunk on the other end, which made the people nearby stare. Grandmother, by contrast, stepped out as neatly as you please. She took one look at his dazed face and patted him bracingly on the shoulder, before steering him down the lane. "You'll get the hang of it, child."

The occulist's shop was a brightly lit place, filled with models of eyeballs and different sorts of glasses on stands. The occulist himself was an old man with wispy, flyaway hair and a strange contraption on his head that he put over his eyes to examine you. He examined Harry at length and then took grandmother aside to speak to her. They must have put up some sort of silencing spell, because he couldn't hear them. She had the 'I am most displeased' look on her face again by the time he was done.

When they came back, he was made to try on several different frames until he found ones he liked. He ended up with thin wire frames that were almost unnoticeable on his face, compared to the thick bulky frames he currently had. He could see so sharply and clearly, he was amazed at how much he'd been missing before. They were a lot lighter as well; enough so he kept checking to make sure they were still on his face.

After grandmother paid the occulist for his new just-for-Harry glasses, they found themselves back in Diagon Alley. He could see Gringott's at the end of the alley, which reminded him he wanted to look into maybe buying a house.

"Can we go to the bank?"

"What for, child?"

"I wanted to see about buying a house."

"I thought your parent's house was still standing and in good order?"

"No, it's a house a muggle lives in in the village. It's for sale."

"I'll tell you what. We'll stop for tea and you can explain to me at length why you need to buy a house and I'll let you know."

She took them to a café a little ways down. It was really neat inside. It looked like you were underwater. There was gently flowing seaweed hanging between the tables, and there were even brightly colored fish floating by. They ordered tea and a selection of little pastries for two and once they were all settled, she asked him to explain.

"Well, Sirius told me about what you all did at your village with the muggles and I thought it was a good idea. Godric's Hollow has a lot of them, enough that it would probably really be a pain to live there. One of the muggles put their house up for sale. I thought maybe I could buy it or something and if I kept doing it each time one of them moved that maybe I could eventually make it like your village. Maybe by the time I'm out of school. I don't know. I wanted to find out if I could even afford to do that. I mean, a whole house is probably pretty expensive, right?"

"It is possible that won't be necessary, though I would have to look into things to find out. If you would like, you could authorize me or someone else to act as your agent in things and go through your holdings and finances for you."

"Would you? What do you mean buying the house wouldn't be necessary though?"

"Well, that would be one of the things I'd need to find out. There is a possibility that those houses actually belong to your family and are being leased for some period of time from your family. It may not be the case, that is what I will need to find out. If it is not the case, we can look into other options. If I recall correctly, you threatened to run off and become a farmer at some point. Is this farm somewhere in Godric's Hollow as well?"

"No. Some lady left it to me. I've never been there. I don't even know what kind of condition it's in."

"Is there any other property?"

"I'm not sure."

"Very well. If you would like me to act as your agent in this, I can begin investigating these matters for you while you're in school. Come summer I will go over things with you, explain what things mean and what measures I've taken so that you will learn to be able to do it for yourself at some point. Will that be acceptable?"

"Yeah, thanks. That'll be a big help."

"Very well. We'll go to the bank once we're finished and get started on all that. Have you any other business with the bank while we're there?"

"No. I don't really need anything else."

After speaking briefly with the teller, they were taken back to see Pickaxe again. They both signed a contract that Pickaxe gave them, and then he gave grandmother a copy of a big, thick book, which she shrunk and put away in her purse. The whole thing took a few minutes at best.
Once they were back outside grandmother suddenly stopped and looked dismayed.

"I just realized. Narcissa's new year's gala is tomorrow. Do you have any dress robes?"

"No?"

"Goodness. It's a good thing I realized… Come along."

 

The Malfoys would be holding the new year's celebration since the Blacks had hosted Christmas. The following evening he and Sirius were chivvied off to go get cleaned up and get dressed so they could all go.
Harry's robes were black with faint silvery embroidery. He had a red and blue marbled waistcoat for underneath with a matching bow tie.
Sirius looked quite dashing as well. He was in black and silver also, though it was black robe, silver waistcoat and matching tie for him.

"Why am I so much more colorful than you? Is it just because I'm a kid?"

"Red and blue are the Potter colors. Silver and black are the Black family colors."

"Oh. Why am I wearing both?"

"Because as it stands right now, I'm my grandfather's heir, hence the colors. You, my dear pup, are my heir. Unless I have children of my own, as it stands you're next in line after me to be head of the Black family."

"I am? Why?"

"Because you're my godson, and you're a Black by blood if not by name."

"Is everyone going to be wearing colors that mean something?"

"Depends. The old families will usually have their family colors. If you see someone wearing their house colors from Hogwarts, it doesn't mean that they're founder's heirs, it usually means they're either not of a prestigious enough family to bother, so they claim their house instead. Same thing if it's plain black. Sometimes it means something beyond that but it's usually subtle and you have to know a bit about them and their allegiances for it to mean anything."

"There always seems to be more to learn."

"You're still a kid. This is when you're expected to be learning this stuff. If it makes you feel any better, it'll be something of a refresher course for me. I put most of this stuff behind me when I was young, and in between I was in prison for ten years. I'm not sure how much I remember, or frankly, even want to remember. It's kind of weird getting back into the thick of all this stuff I thought I'd left behind."

He straightened Harry's tie a bit and steered him towards the stairs so they could meet Arcturus and Melania when they arrived.

"Remember your dancing lessons?"

"Sort of. Not really."

"Just relax and try to have fun. Kids are usually only expect to dance once or twice early in the evening and then you'll all be sent off elsewhere for the remainder of the party. Draco will be expected to play host since it's his house. It's usually considered polite if your nearest kin have your back and help that along. I've no doubt with him being Lucy and Cissy's son he's well practiced at it, but he might not be used to hosting very large crowds yet. If people start getting unruly, help him out, but don't try to take over."

"Okay. I can do that, I guess."

"You'll probably all be brought out again in time for the countdown to new year's. We'll probably leave within the hour once that's done."

"Alright. Sounds like fun."

 

There was a carriage waiting for them outside, hitched to four abraxans, which were the large horses with wings, in a long row. The carriage was pretty fancy, black with silver trimmings and the Black crest on each door.

"Are we going to fly?"

"Of course. Take a long ruddy time to get to Wiltshire otherwise!"

A house elf was seated in the box at front. He was apparently their driver for the night.

"Warming charms alright there?"

"Yes master! Rudy is being very toasty!"

"Good show."

The carriage was a lot bigger inside than out, and was quite comfy. It had padded seats and a mini bar built in. Arcturus and Sirius had scotch, Melania had a gillywater, and Harry apple juice for the ride over.
Harry laughed in delight as the carriage raced down the road and then lifted into the air. The night was clear, and brightly lit because of all the snow. As the village lights fell away he could see a million stars spread across the sky.

He wasn't sure how long they travelled, but in time the carriage soared downwards and raced down a long road, between large gates towards a large, brightly lit manor house in the distance. Harry could see other guests apparating to the gate, some more through the window, popping out of the floo. He could already hear music and the sound of many voices.
The Malfoys stood in a line, all of them in grey and white, which he assumed must be the Malfoy colors, greeting the guests as they arrived. The house was beautifully done up to look like a winter wonderland. There were small tables scattered about filled with food and little pastries, and drinks.

Harry shook Lucius' hand, told Mrs. Malfoy she looked very pretty.

"Aunt Cissy, dear. We are family, after all."

"Harry, so good of you to come." Draco was next. He was standing very straight with his nose slightly in the air, holding out his hand.

"Draco, old man, positively spiffing to see you again." Harry offered, making himself look and sound equally pompous. Draco broke character enough to roll his eyes and grin at him, which was good. He preferred real Draco to 'pureblood heir Draco' any day. He was still a bit of a brat, but he was much more fun.

Harry was taken on the rounds; he met so many people he knew he'd never keep all the names straight; it was enough to make his head spin.
Everything was so very magical; it was like a grand ball out of a fairytale.
It had been, without a doubt, the best holiday ever.

Chapter Text

All good things must eventually come to an end. The winter holidays were over and it was time to return to Hogwarts.

Harry made the rounds that morning and said goodbye to the villagers he'd come to know, Steve the stable master, Emil the baker, Old Mac the brew master, he said goodbye to the kitties and the puppies and the village children. He was quite bereft to be saying goodbye to Arcturus, Melania and Sirius as well.

It was quite different from his first trip to Hogwarts, when he'd been counting the days and praying for them to go just a little bit faster. This time, as the train pulled away from the platform, he found himself wishing the holidays could have lasted just a little bit longer.

"Harry! Thanks so much for your present. I'm sorry I didn't get you something better."

"Don't be silly, Nev. The melodic mums were great. I left them in the greenhouse at Sirius' place. He promised they would get looked after properly. I can't wait to see them full grown."

"I hope he knows how to tune them right. They sound really sweet if someone who can sing teaches them the scales properly. If a bad singer does it they make an awful racket."

"Lizzie who runs the sweet shop promised to come by and tune them. She sounds real pretty when she sings."

"Oh. That's a relief."

"So let's see it."

Neville grinned and pulled his new wand. It was a nice looking wand. Reddish brown at the tip and slowly growing darker as it reached the base, which twisted to form the handle.

"Cherry and unicorn hair. Thirteen inches. It fits me a lot better. I was able to go through a lot of the stuff we did at school last term and try it again. It was so much easier. I really can't thank you enough."

"My pleasure, Nev. I was watching you during the school year. You've got power in spades, your dad's wand just wasn't letting you regulate it properly, so I'm glad it worked out. Good holidays?"

"I was in the greenhouse mostly, in between visiting relatives. It was great. You?"

"Awesome. We went for a sleigh ride…"

Hermione showed up after a while.

"Here you are! I was looking all over!"

"Sorry. We almost got here late. I scrambled on last minute and just grabbed the nearest empty space." Neville apologized.

"I've been here the whole time." Harry shrugged.

Neither of them got a word in edgewise for most of the rest of the journey. She fretted over homework, upcoming classes, her grades, in between talking about her and her parents' holiday ski trip.

Harry spotted his roommates once they'd gotten to Hogsmeade and the six of them shared a carriage again. As the carriage wound its way up the mountain, they could all see the castle up ahead, blazing with light and welcoming them back. In spite of everything, Harry was indeed happy to be back at Hogwarts.

"Weasley. Good holiday?" Terry asked once they were all at the table.

Ron looked incredibly smug for some reason. Harry had expected him to be in a bad mood again since he'd been stuck at school alone while everyone else went off to have fun.

"It was good. I read a bunch of books, played chess with some guy from Hufflepuff when he wasn't studying…"

"Sounds like fun. Me, I'm behind on all my reading." Anthony lamented.

"Some guy stayed here to study all holiday?" Michael said in horror.

"He's worried about his grades. He's got NEWTs at the end of the year and thinks he's not gonna do well."

"Anything else?" Harry asked just a bit suspiciously. Reading and playing chess shouldn't have made him look so smug.

"Wouldn’t you like to know."

"Suit yourself."

Ron frowned when the subject was just dropped and everyone just continued to update each other on their holidays. Ron finally couldn't take it anymore and interjected while Lisa was telling everyone about the new pet rabbit she'd gotten for Christmas.

"I had myself my own adventure while you lot were gone, and it was way more impressive than a stupid troll."

"Dumbledore let another monster into the wards?" Harry muttered.

Ron ignored him and continued his story to the others who looked vaguely curious.

"I was heading upstairs one night at curfew, and the stairs moved while I was heading up and I got stuck. Guess where?"

"I don't know. Where?" Michael humored him.

"The forbidden corridor. My brothers were with me. We decided to explore, you know? See what the fuss was about. Turns out, there's a giant three headed dog down there! It was huge! Took up the whole room! Each one of its heads could swallow you whole! We all nearly died!"

"That's ridiculous! Who'd ever put something like that in a school." Su scoffed.

"It's true! I saw it with my own eyes. There's more too. George said it was sitting on a trap door, and Fred said those things are used as guard dogs. There's no collapsed ceiling or anything, there's a treasure down there! It must be a heck of a treasure too. I was talking to Hagrid later and I mentioned the dog. Turns out its his. Its name is Fluffy if you can believe it! He said all the teachers helped with the protections, not just him."

"Protections for what though?"

"I don't know yet. Hagrid wouldn't say. He just said whatever it was, it was between Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel. Whatever it is, it's bound to be good."

"Nicholas Flamel the alchemist?" Anthony asked absently.

"You know who that guy is? Pay attention and tell me!" Ron grumbled, covering his book. Anthony pulled his book away with a frown and pushed his glasses up angrily.

"It's easy enough to look up!"

"Just tell me."

"Nicholas Flamel is a famous alchemist. Dumbledore is rumored to have worked with him in the past. They discovered the twelve uses of dragon's blood."

"The Wizard Quo Ling discovered fifteen uses five thousand years ago, though I suppose most western scholars aren't familiar with his work." Su said with some asperity.

"In any case, the thing he's most famous for is creating the only known philosopher's stone."

"Philosopher's stone? Sounds stupid."

Anthony huffed in exasperation. "It's the holy grail of alchemy! It makes you immortal, allows you to make gold! It's hardly stupid."

"As much life and gold as you want? Wow! That's some treasure! Who wouldn't want that?"

"What happened to Flamel?" Harry wondered.

"He's been in hiding his whole life." Anthony shrugged.

"Why?" Ron demanded. "If it was me, I'd be off living the high life!"

"There's always a tradeoff for that sort of thing. People know he made the stone. They know if they get it they can be immortal and rich, in theory. He's been alive for over six hundred years, free to live and study to his heart's content, but he can't be truly free because of the stone. It's a great irony of the alchemist's art that the only one truly worthy of the philosopher's stone is the one that knows he cannot truly use it, not the way those who would be looking to steal it would try to."

"I was right the first time. It is stupid."

"No, what's stupid is that he has the thing here, and instead of keeping his mouth shut and keeping it in his pocket or putting it in a fidelius-charmed drawer or something, he set up elaborate protections and announced right where it was to the whole school." Harry grumbled.

"He's right." Padma mused. "If any crazed, immortal wanna-be thief comes looking, having it right in the center of the school puts all of us in their pathway."

"A whole school full of hostages. All the thief would have to do is grab a first year Hufflepuff and hold them at wand point. The public would crucify him." Terry said in horror.

"Bah, it's Dumbledore! Even if he tried it, I doubt there's a wizard in the world that can stand against him! He'd have the thief subdued and the Hufflepuff safe as houses in a blink!" Ron scoffed.

"I know you Ravenclaws like to theorize, but could you leave us out of it?" Sally-Anne Perks complained from the Hufflepuff table.

"Who else would a would-be thief hold hostage? You guys are like squishy marshmallow…bumblebees" Ron finished, making a vague gesture at their yellow and black striped ties.

The Hufflepuffs all glared at him and fell to muttering darkly amongst themselves.

"You just live to make enemies, don't you?" Morag sighed.

 

Harry, tired as he was, had a bit of trouble falling asleep that night. He'd gotten used to being in a room by himself again, so the sound of everyone's snores and breathing was distracting. When he did finally fall asleep, it wasn't restful. He kept dreaming of the night his parents died for some reason. Every time he would wake with his heart racing, terrified out of his mind. He always had trouble falling back asleep afterwards. He would wake in the morning tired and out of sorts.

The first week was filled with turning in the holiday homework and doing a review of the previous term. Next week they would be thrown back in the deep end once more as the teachers tried to stuff as much new knowledge in their heads as possible before exams.

"Just our luck. Quirrel must have gotten spooked over the holiday or something. His stutter's nearly as bad as it was in the beginning of the year." Michael sighed.

"He does look pretty bad, doesn't he? He looks exhausted." Mandy agreed.

"He looks almost as bad as you, Harry. What's the deal?" Terry wondered.

"I haven't been sleeping well."

"If it keeps up you should ask Madame Pomfrey for a sleeping draught or something."

"I'm sure it'll sort itself out."

"Potions today. I hope we're making a potion today, not doing a review. He always calls on me." Ron muttered.

"Because it's obvious half the time you don't even know what he's talking about, let alone the answer. Plus you never raise your hand. He always calls on the people that don't raise their hand. I stopped raising mine for just that reason. He never called on me." Lisa scoffed.

"Mail's here. I hope mum sent my dragonhide gloves. I forgot them at home." Michael interjected, watching the incoming owls.

"Didn't you forget them at the beginning of term too?"

"It's not my fault. My sister likes to wear them for some reason and she keeps running off with them. I thought I'd gotten them off her. I don't know, maybe she took them again."

Harry wasn't really expecting anything. He'd just sent Hedwig out yesterday with letters for Sirius, Arcturus and Melania, so he was rather surprised when a dignified looking owl landed in front of him and held out his leg after giving a grave hoot.

Harry took the letter tied to his leg and offered him some bacon, which he took with the same air of grave dignity before flying away.

He glanced at the name once he'd unrolled it and saw it was from Madame Bones.


Dear Mr. Potter,

As you requested, I spent some time looking into that case for you. I did a thorough check of the records before taking any further action just in case something was overlooked by your 'concerned party' when she had them pulled for her. When I was unable to find anything further, I went ahead and had him pulled from Azkaban for questioning.

To my horror, we discovered that there was in fact a grave miscarriage of justice ten years ago. Young Barty was nowhere near the Longbottoms nor did he have anything to do with their torture. The only reason he was with them the day they were captured is because they approached him about the possibility of adopting you since your godfather was in prison. Mrs. Lestrange claimed she had been hit by a curse and was unable to have children, and as she was a close cousin of your godfather and father both she was an ideal candidate to take you in.

Up until that point the Lestranges had not been named by anyone as having any connection to the death eaters. For this reason, when young Barty approached his father with their request he agreed to allow it, but only if his son accompanied them and made sure your relatives were willing, as he would not countenance them simply being forced or obliviated.

From what young Barty said, they apparated onto the front lawn and startled a muggle man who had a handful of letters, which went flying when he jumped in fright. The Lestranges opened fire on the man and killed him, which is what alerted the aurors to come to the scene. Young Barty claimed he pulled his wand, intending to subdue the Lestranges, but he was knocked out by aurors when they arrived, and his wand was broken during the scuffle.

So far as we can ascertain, of the four of them, only Rabastan and Bellatrix Lestranges were woken one by one and questioned, which is when their connection to the Longbottom case was discovered. I can only assume the aurors on the case assumed they had enough information, as Rodolphus and Barty were never awakened or questioned. From his testimony, the next thing he remembers is being dragged into the courtroom and accused of torturing the Longbottoms. The murder of the muggle man was never brought up during the trial, for some reason.

His record was expunged of all criminal charges and he was transferred to St. Mungo's hospital... as were both his parents. Madame Crouch was already in poor health, and Mr. Crouch suffered a heart attack when told the news.

I do hope this letter reaches you before the paper does. I thought it best to give you some advance warning that your involvement in the case is known, and due to the power of your name, not to mention your connection to the release of your godfather from similar circumstances, you will likely figure prominently in the media coverage of the story.

I fear we at the Ministry will be quite busy in the coming months. Having not one, but two wrongful imprisonments come to light, we will now have to not only deal with the public backlash and loss of confidence in the Ministry, but will have to begin the long process of going over all the records for Azkaban so that we can be sure no more innocents have fallen through the cracks.

One last word of warning. You may well find yourself with a new moniker before the day is done. I'm pretty sure I heard some of the reporters trying 'angel of azkaban' and the 'miracle child' on for size. Good luck.

Regards,

Amelia Bones

Head, DMLE

Harry looked up and realized the morning papers were being dropped off all over the room. "Oh, crap. Neville."

He hustled over to the Gryffindor table and snagged Neville's elbow. "Nev, I need to talk to you. Come with me."

"But breakfast!"

"Now."

Hermione stood as though she was going to follow them, nosy as ever, but Harry gave her such a look she 'eeped' and decided to stay put.

People around the room were already gasping and chattering, so he hustled them out of the room a little quicker.

"Harry. Harry! What's this all about?"

Harry handed him the letter.

"What's…"

"Just read it, it'll explain. I'm afraid your family is going to be spread all over the paper again, sorry. If it's any consolation I will be too."

Neville read through the letter quickly, then just stood there quietly not sure how to feel. He had hated Barty Crouch jr. for as long as he could remember. His gran had made sure he knew and understood what had happened to his parents that made it impossible for them to be with him, and made sure he knew who was responsible.

They both realized they could feel eyes on them. When they turned they realized most of the students in the great hall seemed to be craning their necks and trying to get a good look at them both--as though they didn't see them every day.

Neville looked a bit daunted at the prospect of heading back in there.

"Wanna grab something from the kitchens and hide out till breakfast is over?"

"My bag…"

"Hermione'll grab it, or you can swing by after the hall clears out."

"Yeah… Let's go."

The elves were nice enough to just bring their plates to them, so they were able to just finish the breakfast they'd already started.

"You ok there?"

"Yeah. Yeah… It was just a shock. I've hated that guy for so long. I swore if I ever got the chance I'd get them all back for what they did. It wasn't really likely to ever be an issue, what with them getting life in Azkaban, but that was how I felt. Now, it turns out one of the people I hated all this time was just one more victim of the Lestranges."

"Aww geez. Aidan. I should have warned him too."

"Who's Aidan?"

"Aidan Lestrange. He's our prefect. Don't look at me like that. He's a distant cousin at best. The thing is, he has the same name, so every time they come up there are people that give him a hard time about being related to them. Not in Ravenclaw. It's mostly Gryffindors. We know he's a good guy."

Neville seemed to be making a conscious effort to release the stiff posture he'd fallen into when the boy's name was revealed.

"I'm serious. He's a good guy. If just being related to a crazy was enough, we'd have to condemn the whole wizarding world. You and I and Barty are all cousins to the Lestranges too, you know."

"I do know…it's just, that name for as long as I can remember has meant pain."

"I can understand that, but he was only like, five, when that all happened."

"Yeah, I guess. How did you even get involved in all this anyway?"

"I met Mrs. Crouch over the holiday and she asked for my help. She's been trying to get someone to review his case for the last ten years but no one would listen. Everyone just assumed she was delusional or something and couldn’t accept the truth. I pretty much told her the same thing at first. He had a trial, unlike Sirius. The thing was, there was no record of him being questioned. I agreed it was just enough of an irregularity that I would do what I could. I really figured he probably was guilty. I figured if he was, if she saw or read his confession for herself maybe she could finally move on. If there was even a slight chance he was innocent, well, it would have been terrible to just leave him there. I really didn't know which way it would go, but she asked for my help and I felt sorry for her."

"Why you though?"

"No one else would listen, and I guess she figured they'd at least humor me because I'm a kid, and because of the whole thing with Sirius, even though that was all pretty much an accident. I felt bad, so I agreed. She seemed like a nice lady, and really sad, and she asked. That's why."

"You did the right thing. A lot of people probably wouldn't have bothered."

"I promised. I had to do something. I'm glad Madame Bones actually looked into it. I told her what I knew without naming names at first--grandpa Phinneas coached me a bit when I told him what I was up to--she agreed it was irregular and bore investigating. When I told her who it was she got this look on her face. I really thought she was just going to forget it and tell me something to put me off, but she followed through."

"It's a good thing too, since he was innocent and all. You don't think there's any more do you?"

"Gosh, I hope not. Two is too many."

"Yeah, it really is."

The bell rang and Neville sighed. "Guess it's time to face the music."

"Good luck."

They both got accosted by owls trying to deliver their papers when they left the kitchen. Neville headed off to class after retrieving his. Harry went off in search of a quiet place to read so he could see what the damage was.

He really, really hoped they didn't stick him with another stupid hyphenated name. One was more than enough.

 

"There you are, Harry! Where'd you run off to earlier?" Padma asked curiously when he joined the rest of them outside the potions classroom.

"I went and grabbed Neville to warn him about the whole business with Barty Crouch. I figured they'd reprint all the business with his parents, and they did. Bunch of vultures. It didn't occur to me until later I should have warned Aidan as well."

"He's a big boy, not to mention a prefect. If anyone gives him a hard time he'll just put them in detention." Michael consoled him.

"That's true, isn't it?"

"I'm not late, good." Ron panted out of breath as he stopped. Once he caught his breath he shoved Harry hard in the arm.

"What the hell, Potter. You're getting stinking death eaters out of prison now?"

"He was innocent."

"So he says. Who'd you bribe to get that done?" he demanded, shoving him again.

"Weasley. Detention. No fighting in the halls." Snape drawled as he arrived. Ron gave Harry a filthy look once Snape entered the classroom.

"Teacher's pet." he snarled. He pushed past Harry, shoving him into the wall as he did. Harry tied his shoes together just as he tried to go in the door. Ron stumbled and sprawled out onto the ground. Harry flicked his wand again and undid his spell.

"Five points from Ravenclaw for blocking the doorway."

Ron was seething as he slunk into his seat beside Anthony, who just shook his head at him. Harry could feel his glare on his back when he took his seat in the front row beside Padma. He made a mental note to keep an eye out for stray things getting flung into his cauldron.

"Well, you've all had a nice long holiday. Let's see how much you've forgotten while you were all busy stuffing your faces with pie and candy. Weasley! What are the ingredients to the befuddlement draught?"

Ron sunk down in his seat. "Uh…hellebore?"

"Wrong. Two points from Ravenclaw for being unprepared. Anyone else? Mr. Hopkins."

"Uh…scurvy grass?"

"Three ingredients, Mr. Hopkins."

"Uh…"

"Miss Patil, perhaps you can assist Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Weasley?"

"Scurvy grass, lovage and sneezwort."

Snape was relentless. He quizzed them on everything they'd done the previous term, and the questions kept coming. Ron was purple and started getting belligerent with him before class was half over. He lost ten more points and got himself a second detention by the time the second bell rang. He gathered up his stuff and stalked out in a high dudgeon the moment class was over.

"Mr. Potter, stay behind a moment."

Harry sat back down. When the class had cleared out, Snape shut the door and finally addressed him.

"What is it with you and prisoners of Azkaban? Don’t bother answering that, it was a rhetorical question. He leaned against the front of his desk and crossed his arms.

"Dare I ask how you came to be involved?"

"No big mystery. Mrs. Crouch asked for my help. She said no one was willing to even listen to her because they thought she was delusional and couldn't deal with reality. I wasn't too sure at first-- about what I could really do and if I even should, but she showed me the transcripts she'd gotten and I saw there really was enough wiggle room that something actually could have gone wrong so I agreed to try to help her."

"Just marched into the ministry did you?"

"Heck no. I wrote to Susan Bones and asked for her help. She and her aunt came for tea and I laid it out without naming names. She said she'd look into it and here we are."

"Hmmm."

"Did you know him? Barty Crouch, I mean."

"He was a year behind me at school. He, Rabastan Lestrange and Regulus Black."

"The war took quite a toll on society, huh?"

"Yes. A very large toll indeed. It's probably just as well that we don't have class reunions. My own year and those just above and below were decimated. There would be very few guests at the party."

Snape studied him pensively for a bit.

"You were quite the busy little socialite over the holidays."

"What do you mean?"

"It was all over the society pages. You attended the Malfoy New Year's gala. There were quite a few who were rather discomfited by the company you've been choosing to keep. There are some who might consider it unwise. He has some…grey areas in his past."

"The whole accused-death-eater-but-claimed-imperious thing? Yeah, I know all about that. Ron's dad has the same 'grey areas' in his background, but Dumbledore still tried to sic the family on me at the train station. You saw how well that's worked out… though to be fair, I haven't had any trouble with any of his brothers."

"What do you mean the headmaster, professor Dumbledore tried to sic them on you?"

"I was in a compartment right near where they were standing on the platform. The mom said Dumbledore called her and asked her to keep an eye out for me because I didn't know how to get on the platform. I did though. I asked Hagrid if there was a trick to it. I was already there and seated long before they showed up. There's the whole Pettigrew thing too. I mean, I don't actually know Mr. Weasley, but from where I'm standing he ends up coming off a lot worse than Mr. Malfoy does. I'm just saying."

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "I see your point. I just wanted you to be aware that some of your recent choices haven't won you any favor in certain quarters."

"Look, with all due respect, so far as I'm concerned, Albus Dumbledore destroyed what little of my childhood was left after Voldemort got through with it. I could care less what he thinks of my choices."

"The headmaster only wants to protect you."

"If he wanted to protect me he wouldn't have left me on a doorstep. If he wanted to protect me he wouldn't have messed with my mother's sacrifice and twisted it and tied it to the Dursleys. I don't even know if leaving them will destroy it after what he did. He had no right. No right at all. Actions speak louder than words, and his actions thus far name him a liar. I won't pick and choose who I speak to based on whether or not he or his groupies like it. I already told Ron the same thing when he tried punching me in the head twice for speaking to Draco Malfoy."

"You seem rather determined to maintain your ties with them. I hadn't realized you and Draco had become such bosom companions."

"We haven't, really. I hung out with him a bit over the holidays. He a spoiled brat, but he can be fun, and he isn't nearly so awful as Ron likes to think. So far as his dad goes, a man who slides down bannisters and wears fuzzy slippers that look like gorilla feet can't be all bad. Ron's dad, by contrast has the same 'grey areas', the Pettigrew thing, and his recent unsuccessful power grab at the Ministry. He still comes off worse. Add in Ron constantly attacking me and telling everyone I'm a muggle-hating dark wizard when I don't do as he tells me to… Let's not forget Hagrid giving my cousin a pig tail and then leaving me at their mercy for a month. Not to mention having to fight to spend every single knut of my own money to get basic necessities to see me through school because Dumbledore said I wasn't allowed anything but what was on the school list… Yeah, Dumbledore's minions don't come off so well."

"Gave your cousin… what?"

"It's okay. I got rid of it. It was really a good thing 'finite incantatum' worked. My aunt and uncle were trying to find a surgeon that didn't ask too many questions so they could get it removed before he was due to start school."

"Hot-headed, blundering…"

"Can't forget the school letters either… McGonagall's one of his minions, and people told me she's responsible for sending out the school letters. It had to have been her that sent out ten thousand of them to harass us across half of England. On the plus side, she did give me the muggle born pamphlets when I asked her to…"

"Explain."

"Oh come on…"

"Now."

Harry slumped and told the story. He knew better than to argue.

He didn't get away until shortly before dinner. Snape had been relentless. He'd wrung every detail about his introduction to magic and the wizarding world, and then started quizzing him on his home life, interactions with 'the minions', his holidays with the Blacks, all sorts of things. He always seemed to know when there was more to wring out and he chased after every last tidbit like a starving dog with a bone until Harry felt like a wrung out noodle. He'd then pointed his wand at him for a while and then started pacing and muttering to himself after telling Harry to "Go!" He wasn't sure what the last part had been about. He hadn't done anything to him, as far as he could tell. He had just told him to come back to his office after Herbology club the following day.

 

Harry wondered all night what Snape wanted, but finally Herbology club was over and he headed down to the dungeons to finally have his curiosity satisfied.

"Mr. Potter, good. Come along." he grabbed a canister of floo powder and offered him some, before tossing in his own pinch. "Hospital wing." Harry shrugged and followed after. He managed to keep his feet this time when he exited, which had him grinning in victory. That's when he noticed that Professor Flitwick was there as well as Madame Pomfrey and Professor Snape.

"What are we doing here?"

"You've a few irregularities that, while not life threatening, could develop into health problems if they're not addressed in a timely manner. Madame Pomfrey is going to verify my initial diagnosis and act as a witness and Professor Flitwick is, of course, your head of house."

"Health problems? Like what?"

"Madame Pomfrey?"

The hospital matron pointed her wand at him much as Snape had before and frowned. "I see what you mean. Your bones are a bit brittle, not hugely so, but they're not as strong as they should be. Broken arm. Didn't heal quite right. Deep tissue scarring on the leg there. At least three concussions. Weak eyesight. A few vitamin deficiencies… Nothing life threatening, but best to address them while you're young."

"How did you break your arm?"

"Dudley pushed me down the steps at school. I landed on it badly and then he stomped on it while it was lying across the step and it broke."

"You make it sound quite deliberate."

"It was."

"What did your aunt and uncle do?"

"They were really mad…" The three adult relaxed, though their ease vanished as Harry continued "they had to take me to the doctor or people would ask questions. I got punished for two weeks because of it."

"Punished?"

"I didn't get lunch or dinner. They said it was for making them waste money."

"Was this a normal punishment?"

"Well, yeah. I usually managed to eat once a day, unless they were really mad about something."

"Your leg?"

"Aunt Marge's dog. She breeds bulldogs. She likes to set Ripper on me. I can usually manage to outrun him, but we were inside and he got me before I got out the door. Tore my leg all up. I climbed a tree to get away from him. I was up there for hours."

"Where were your aunt and uncle?"

"They watched for a while and laughed at me being stuck, then they got bored and went back inside. I got in trouble later for ruining my trousers. It was Ripper that tore them up, and I couldn't help bleeding all over them."

"The concussions?"

"Probably Dudley and his gang slamming my head into the ground. One might be aunt Petunia walloping me with the frying pan, before I was quick enough to dodge. I'm not sure."

The adults traded a dark look over Harry's head. Madame Pomfrey finally chivvied Harry into the back. There were two individual rooms back there. She hustled him into the closest one and flicked her wand at him, putting him in a pair of pajamas.

"Into the bed with you. I'm afraid you're in for a long weekend…though you likely won't notice as you'll be asleep for at least part of it."

"What are you doing?"

"Fixing what can be fixed. Go on then."

Harry sighed and climbed into the bed under their watchful eyes.

"Arm please. Might as well straighten that a bit before we give you the skelegrow…" She tapped her wand to his arm and it went numb, then again and then once more. The numbness disappeared, and a deep ache in his forearm appeared. It didn't hurt really, mostly just felt odd and sort of delicate.

"Take these. Grey first then the red."

"If this stuff is gonna fix stuff that's wrong with me, I'm all for it…but won't this just, I don't know, remove all the evidence?"

"Each time I scan a student the findings get added to my records. The results of all my findings today have been recorded. I'll send a copy to St. Mungo's as well to be added to your records there."

"Oh, good. Grandmum said she was going to take me there during the summer because of something the occulist said."

"Grandmum?"

"Melania Black. She said I could call her that."

"Rutger Sullivan on Diagon Alley?"

"Yeah. That was him."

"He probably noticed some of the same things professor Snape did."

"Take your potions, Mr. Potter. I'll see you in a few hours."

Harry sighed and downed the grey potion and made an awful face as he did, which made Snape grin. He was a sadistic bastard at heart, Harry had noticed.

"Next one. Go on then."

Harry downed the next one and gagged. Madame Pomfrey handed him a small glass of water to wash it all down then urged him to lay down. He was sound asleep a moment later.

The three adults watched him sleep for a moment then traded a look.

"We're all agreed then? We keep Albus out of the loop for the time being?" Snape asked.

"Surely you don't think he would continue insisting if he knew about all this?" Pomphrey objected.

"That's the thing, based on what Mr. Potter told me when questioned I'm not sure he wouldn't." Off their look, he elaborated. "Albus believes what he did was for the best and necessary. He can be stubborn, and rarely listens to others opinions once he's made his mind up about something. Even if the love protection is as strong as Albus claims, it won't do the boy any good if his muggles kill him first." Snape's countenance grew dark with old bitterness. "He never believes children who don't want to go home. He never thinks it's as bad as they claim. He's always too determined to see the good in people."

"I'm quite fine with keeping Albus out of things." Flitwick agreed. "My only interest is the well-being of the child. Will your treatments correct the problems you found?"

"They should. He's young enough and none of it is severe enough yet to be irreversible… of course none of it will do much good if we get him healed up and then he gets sent off to be starved and concussed by his relatives all summer."

"He's a lot like his mother. I doubt he'll simply crawl off meekly to his relatives simply because Albus tells him he must. If he goes visiting for the entire summer there really isn't much anyone can do about it."

 

In the end Harry spent most of the weekend in the hospital wing. He was there after his clubs until lunch and then back there till dinner then allowed to go back to his house for the night. His appetite went through the roof and he couldn't seem to get enough to eat at mealtimes. Madame Pomfrey said it was because his body was using up resources very quickly trying to repair damage and he needed to replenish the energy.

He still had more to take, though the next bunch would only be once a week for the next seven weeks. He was told he'd probably be hungrier than usual until his treatment had run its course. He was already looking forward to it all being over. Not only did all the potions taste nasty, he was having to fight Ron for scraps at every meal, and Ron played dirty. He'd nearly gotten stabbed with a fork more times than he could count already.

He finally complained to Professor Flitwick who directed the house elves to pop small snacks into his bag during the day to nibble on between classes, which made things much more manageable.

After about a month of potions Harry's glasses had to be adjusted twice and Madame Pomfrey noted the built in expansion charms on his robes to allow for growth had activated to adjust for a small growth spurt. That was good news indeed to Harry who was the shortest boy in his year…he was even shorter than a lot of the girls!

Hufflepuff and Gryffindor played each other in February just after Valentine's day. Gryffindor won by a good margin. The Hufflepuffs were subdued but determined to work a bit harder next time. Ron, who had donned red and gold again for the game strutted around like he had scored the winning goal for a few days afterwards, until his roommates decided to beat him silly with their pillows one night until he agreed to stop.

 

"Congratulations, Mr. Potter. Last one."

"Thank goodness. I think these things melted my tastebuds."

"Down the hatch."

"Ugh!"

"We saw some growth at the halfway point. We may see further obvious improvement after this one. Hopefully, once you're all caught up to where you should be you'll be able to make the most of your expected growth spurt this summer. I want you to continue with the snacks between classes if you're still feeling hungry between mealtimes. Only if you're hungry! Don't just gorge for no reason."

"I will. It will slow down though, right? I won't feel like I'm starving all the time, right? 'Cause that's for the birds."

"It should be much less noticeable, yes, but you may well still feel hungrier than normal. If you are, eat. It means your body is storing up the energy for its next move and probably needs it."

"Okay."

There was still time until curfew, so he wandered aimlessly down the hall.
"I've already looked around all through here." He dug out his notebook and flipped through it for a few minutes looking for the list the house elf had given him months ago. After his first tour he'd pretty much forgotten all about his list. He just wandered as he had time. Things always seemed to come up to distract him. Even now, as it was nearing the last quarter of the school year he still hadn't explored the whole castle.

"Where was it? Ah, here we go. Saw that. Saw that. Been there… found that. That too. Oh, what's this? Huh. Sounds interesting."

He started towards Ravenclaw tower and then continued past the entrance and around the corner. There was a blank stretch of wall, and across from it stood a tapestry of a line of centaurs doing a synchronized kicking routine.

He studied the wall for a moment and shrugged, after taking another glance and the instructions. "Back and forth three times, think of what you want. Hmm… I kind of have to go to the bathroom…
He paced as instructed and a door appeared.

"Ugh. Chamber pots. Whose bright idea was this? Although…"

Harry looked both ways and ducked into the room and came back out a minute later looking refreshed.

"Well, I suppose it works, but yuck. Let's see if you can actually do anything good with this thing."

He paced again and peeked.

"Broom closet."

"Study."

"Big empty room"

"Whoa. Cool. Look at all the junk."

He ducked inside and looked around with a grin. The shelves towered high overhead and continued on as far as the eye could see, and every last inch was stuffed full of stuff. There was trash to be seen--empty bottles, stacks of newspapers and the like, but there was also trunks with stuff spilling out, racks stuffed down some of the aisles filled with old clothes, rolled up rugs and tapestries, furniture--all kinds of stuff. All of it mixed together willy nilly. He could probably spend a lifetime digging through it all and never reach the end. Who knew what sort of buried treasure was hidden within?

"Brilliant. Just brilliant." he laughed, before diving right in. He poked around in the first set of shelves and found all sorts of odd bits and bobs. It was all damaged in some way, but they were great finds nonetheless. The warning bell for curfew put an end to his fun.

"Damn. I barely had a chance to poke around."

The really frustrating thing was he knew full well it would probably be a good while before he had such a chance again. Things always did seem to come up whenever he had the urge to go poking around.

"Oh well. Next time."

 

Harry woke in the morning feeling stiff and a bit achy. He stretched to try to relieve it a bit and stumbled off to the bathroom so he could start getting ready for the day. The first thing he noticed once he woke up a bit was that his pajamas, which he'd gotten in August, were about an inch too short in the arms and legs. Harry grinned giddily and practically skipped on his way to take his morning shower. He was in high good spirits as he finished getting ready.

The second thing he realized is that he'd been wandering around for twenty minutes without his glasses and he hadn't noticed because he could see fine. Just like that his earlier happy mood plummeted.

All this time he'd been assuming he had bad eyesight because his dad did. Turns out, he had bad eyesight because the Dursleys suck balls. He had to wonder; if Snape had never decided to examine him, or if Grandmum never took him to the occulist, what would have become of him in time? Would his bones just started breaking, would he have remained really short into adulthood? Would he have gotten sick or had other problems? With some difficulty he shook off his gloom, grabbed his bag and his glasses and headed towards the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey would want to give him a checkup. Hopefully the last one he needed.

He looked at his glasses thoughtfully as he walked. It felt weird, not wearing them. His face felt sort of naked. He was sure he'd get used to it in time, but it was still weird. Happily, his uniform still had some room in the growth charms and had kept up, but his shoes were starting to pinch a bit.

"Harry, dear. Good morning. Let's take a look at you. Ah, look at that. Excellent. I must say, the treatment worked better than we dared hope. Marvelous."

If anything, Madame Pomfrey seemed happier than Harry did. Much to his relief she loosened his shoes for him and said she'd see if one of the house elves could expand his pajamas.

"If my eyesight is fine, could you just make these plain glass for me? I feel weird without them. I think I'd like to work my way up to it."

"Oh…well…I suppose it wouldn't hurt. Here you are."

Harry slipped the glasses back on his face with a relieved grin. "Thanks. I know it's weird, but I've had them as long as I can remember, really, and I just got these at Christmas."

"I suppose I understand, but still I'd think you'd be eager to get rid of them."

Harry just shrugged and smiled innocently.

"Best get off to breakfast."

"Yes'm. Thanks for everything."

"You're quite welcome, dear."

Harry sauntered off in high spirits once more. He now had a built in disguise to keep from being mobbed in Diagon Alley; everyone knew Harry Potter wore glasses. He was like that guy…Superman. He could put charms and stuff on them too, just like that McCrumby guy from that book series Terry had gotten him hooked on. He could be a crime-fighting vigilante, or a spy or something, with his charmed glasses that helped him spot evil…or at least magic and secret passages.

There was a spring in his step as he entered the great hall. He was taller, he had good vision, he had glasses all ready for some awesome charms, and he had his very own superman disguise. Things were looking up.

 

In mid-March Hermione unveiled another dense, color-coded study schedule.

"Exams are nearly three months away if you're counting weeks. Are you insane?" Michael said in dismay.

"You must be. You really need to relax." Terry agreed apologetically.

"You should take my advice. I'm sure you all noticed I scored top of our year."

"The rest of all placed in the top ten". Anthony shrugged.

"We also all studied about 80% less than you." Michael pointed out.

"I was number nineteen." Neville sighed.

"Still top half of the class. Nothing to be ashamed of." Harry said bracingly, only half paying attention. He was on the last McCrumby and things were getting good.

"Yeah, there's forty of us. As long as you placed in the top twenty you've nothing to worry about." Anthony added.

"Gran said my dad placed sixth one year. She thinks I'm not trying hard enough."

"Don't worry about it. So long as you keep doing well and passing she's got nothing to complain about, and anyway, it's the OWLs and NEWTs that are important." Michael shrugged.

"Hey, it's Hagrid. I wonder what he's doing in here?" Terry pointed.

"Hey yeah, it is. I guess he's looking something up."

Harry looked up and saw Hagrid lurking in the stacks and pulling books. He had a good pile in his arms already. Just past him he spotted Ron sitting nearby with Dean and Seamus. Ron called Hagrid over and talked to him briefly, but Hagrid left in a hurry shortly afterwards. Ron went over and looked in the section Hagrid had been pulling books from and then went back to Dean and Seamus all wide-eyed to have a fierce, whispered conversation.

"Harry, are you paying attention?" Hermione called, sounding exasperated.

"No."

"Harry!"

"You asked."

Harry went back to his book.

"That's not even a school book! Pay attention."

"Leave it, Hermione. I want to know what happens to the ship captain. No spoilers." he told Terry warningly when he grinned and started bouncing in his seat.

"This is important! Your whole future rests on this!"

Harry shot a muffliato at her and kept reading, then tried not to grin at how her hair bushed out more than usual because of how angry she was.

 

Ron seemed distracted and worried over the next few weeks. Harry spotted him having a few more intense conversations with Dean and Seamus and he spotted all of them heading down to Hagrid's hut on a few occasions. Whatever was going on seemed to be causing a rift between the trio as they seemed to begin ending their secret conversations on a sour note.

He also spotted Ron writing a hasty letter which he sent off with a school owl. Every day at mail time he seemed to be waiting anxiously for a return letter. Each day when one didn't arrive he'd look at Dean and Seamus and shake his head. As the days wore on the two Gryffindors began to seem more glum and uneasy.

Harry was undeniably curious, but he kept telling himself it wasn't his business. He focused instead on trying to be able to charm up his glasses to do something useful. Sadly, his first year school books didn't seem to be overflowing with the sort of spells he was hoping existed.

He finally got another chance to go visit the strange changing room that the elf had called the 'come and go room' towards the end of March. He had hoped he'd have his glasses charmed up already by the time he could; it would certainly make it easier to weed out the trash, or so he assumed. It looked like he'd be doing it manually once more.

He was somewhat distracted by his glum thoughts while trying to call up the junk room from before, and to his surprise it affected the room he called up. It was a fairly simple room-- table and chair, and a bookcase with a selection of books within. Curious he went in to investigate.

"McCrumby. The whole series. Huh. Cursebreaking Essentials. Powers You Didn't Know You Had and What to Do Now That You've Wizened Up. What is all this stuff? The Warder's Bible. Enchanting Enchantments: A Guide for the Do It Yourself Wizard. The Noble Art of Spell Crafting. Charms Essentials. Tricky Tricks for Plucky Wizards. The Insider's Guide to McCrumby: Crime Fighting Vigilante. My Life as an Auror… Weird."

"I wish I had some idea why these were here… or at least what order to read them… in. Huh." Harry trailed off as he realized many of the books were now in different positions. "Well…I already read McCrumby. The Insider's Guide it is. "

He pulled his chosen volume from the shelf and settled himself down to begin reading.

"Aw man! That spell was made up? I wanted to learn that one! Damn." He flipped ahead a few pages and frowned in disappointment. "It tells you what a lot of the spells are, but not how to do them. Still… I guess it does give me a starting point." He dug out his notebook and went back to the beginning.

He was only a short way through the book when the bell for curfew rang.

"Damn. I wish I read faster sometimes. I've been at it two hours already."

That was when Harry discovered something terrible. The book he'd been reading vanished from his hand when he tried to take it from the room.

"Damn it. It must just have been a copy or something. I don't have time to get more notebooks to make copies in or anything. Grrr."

A bit peeved at the new development he continued on his way back to Ravenclaw, the door vanishing behind him as he left. "I guess I either have to get it out of the library or wait till I can go back to finish it."

When he got back to the house he spotted the in-house library and found himself curious. He went to the big book that listed every book on the Ravenclaw shelves in alphabetical order and checked for the titles he remembered. They didn't have the McCrumby series or the Insider's Guide, Enchanting Enchantments, Tricky Tricks or The Noble Art, but they did have Charms Essentials, Cursebreaking Essentials and the Warder's Bible. One on the fifth year shelves and the other two with the seventh year books. He went to the fifth year shelves and found Charms Essentials and settled down to start reading. Even if he wasn't sure what it was, he was certain the room must have had a reason for showing him those books.

He had only gotten a few chapters in when he put it back where he'd gotten it with a sigh. He didn't understand what it was talking about. The material was obviously too advanced for him, what with him having only most of a single school year under his belt. It would be nice if he knew where he had to start to understand what the author had been going on about. He was passing by the second year stacks when a book caught his eye and he stopped to take a look at it. Magic Theory: The art of charms.

"Huh. There's more of these things. I read all the first year ones already." He went and found his seat again and started over. He slowly relaxed and got absorbed in the material. This stuff was more familiar, and covered stuff he'd already read about.

Without quite meaning it to, it became something of a theme in the coming weeks. Harry found himself heading back to the tower after classes and slowly working his way through whatever caught his eye in the second year stacks. He'd read everything he thought looked remotely interesting in the first year stuff already.

It all had tended to cover the same ground they were covering in his classes, just sometimes from different angles than in class. It had helped him immensely with his schoolwork, but it did start to get repetitive after a while, which is why he'd sort of tapered off. The second year books were an undiscovered country; while it still touched on stuff he'd already gone over at length, it was used as a jumping off point to go into new stuff.

He sometimes found himself going back to some of the first year stuff to reread after finishing some of the second year material as a sort of review. Somewhere along the way he quite forgot that he originally started reading with the intention of charming up his glasses to do stuff.

While lost in his academic haze, he also forgot about Ron and the Gryffindor boys and whatever was going on with Hagrid…until Ron showed up one night trying to stealthily bandage up his hand to hide what looked like a nasty bite that was seemingly infected if the redness and swelling was anything to go by.

"What bit you?"

"Dog. Don't worry about it."

"Ugh. That looks pretty nasty. Why didn't you go to Madame Pomfrey?" Terry wondered.

"It's fine."

"Doesn't look fine." Michael put in his two knuts.

"What is it with all of you minding my business? I said it was fine!"

"Geez. Excuse me!"

"Yeah, really. Let it get infected and fall off if that's what you want." Terry snapped.

Ron's hand looked worse in the morning, but he still insisted it was fine. It really wasn't. He banged it on one of his bed posts when trying to get ready in the morning and looked for a moment like he was going to pass out.

Dean and Seamus came over to see him when they all went down to breakfast and pulled him aside. They all seemed to be arguing. Harry was beginning to wonder if he should worry about what was going on. In the end he decided if Ron still hadn't gone to Madame Pomfrey by the next morning he would have to say something to one of the prefects about his wounded hand if nothing else.

 

Ron looked paler and progressively more ill as the day wore on, and his hand continued to swell and began to look somewhat green. Harry decided he was going to try to talk sense into Ron at dinner, and if he still balked he was going to get Professor Flitwick involved before he could escape the great hall, but Ron never showed up to dinner.

"You think he collapsed somewhere? You know him; he never misses a meal." Harry wondered.

"He might have. He was looking pretty bad by the time classes let out." Anthony frowned.

Dinner let out and Ron still hadn't showed up.

"We should go check the hospital wing first. He might have gone there once he realized he couldn't just hope it went away." Michael decided.

"You do that. I'm going to go talk to Professor Flitwick." Harry disagreed.

"You're going to tell him about it?"

"Yeah. I don't know what's going on, but it has something to do with those Gryffindors he hangs out with and Hagrid. I'll dump it on the Professor and let him deal with it."

"Probably for the best."

"We won't mention it to Weasley." Terry offered.

"Good. I'd prefer to not have him trying to punch me in the head again."

The other three headed off for the hospital wing while Harry chased down Professor Flitwick. He'd gotten out of the great hall while he'd been talking to the boys, so he headed up to his office hoping he was there.

"Come in!"

"Professor?"

"Oh, Harry. Come in. Something troubling you?"

"Well…It's about Ron Weasley."

"Have you two been fighting again?"

"No sir. He has a bite on his hand…"

Harry laid out everything he'd noticed, from Hagrid in the library a few weeks ago and the panicked discussion that took place after, to Ron and his friends whispering and arguing in corners, culminating in the animal bite Ron was trying to hide.

"The guys went off to check the hospital wing to see if he was there. If he's not, we're going to have to search the castle because he probably collapsed somewhere. He looked really sick earlier, and he was just about blacking out every time he got jostled."

Flitwick looked rather concerned by the time Harry had finished.

"I see. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. You can run along now. I'll look into it."

He was halfway to the floo when a loud knock sounded at the door, startling them both. Harry opened the door and his three roommates tumbled into the room looking panicked.

"It's a dragon! Hagrid's got a dragon! That's what bit Ron! We heard him, Finnegan, and Thomas arguing when we got to the hospital wing. Weasley promised Hagrid to smuggle it out or something to his brother, but the other two want out!" Michael yelled.

Flitwick facepalmed and groaned.

"Boys, I will investigate the matter. Please keep this to yourselves for the moment. If there is some sort of illegal dragon smuggling going on…dear lord… it will be handled. I would prefer to not have three of our first years hauled off on charges of such without cause."

"Sure thing, professor. I doubt anyone would believe us." Terry laughed a bit hysterically.

"Hospital Wing!"

The boys exchanged wide-eyed glances as Flitwick disappeared into the floo. He sounded furious.

 

In spite of precautions taken to keep things under wraps, rumors were flying fast and furious by morning. They heard from Penny that she'd heard from Percy that Finnegan and Thomas got hauled off by their ears by professor McGonagall and when they came back they slunk off to their dorm and wouldn't talk to anyone. Harry heard from Neville later that they had vowed vengeance on Ron and Hagrid both for getting them into the mess in the first place.

Ron was still in the hospital wing and likely would be for another couple days at least. They heard later that a bunch of guys in kilts had shown up in the afternoon; Aidan said he saw them as he was in herbology at the time. He was pretty sure they were from the McFusty clan, who had a dragon reserve on the northwestern coast not too far from Hogwarts. One of the girls from Hufflepuff told everyone she'd overheard part of the argument and they claimed the dragon had been stolen from them before she'd gotten chased off by Snape.

Word in the halls was that Ron, Dean and Seamus had concocted a mad plan with Hagrid to sell stolen dragon parts for profit to black market wand makers and potioneers and were probably all going to Azkaban. Others insisted that Hagrid was doing someone a favor, others that he'd been misled and didn't know it was stolen, still others figured he got drunk one night, wandered off to the dragon reserve and found one of the eggs and stuck it in his pocket before wandering home to pass out.

The only thing everyone could agree on is that Gryffindor was down a hundred points, Ravenclaw fifty. Poor Dean and Seamus were being shunned by their housemates. Ron got off a bit easier because he was off in the hospital wing.

With all the talk of stolen dragons and smuggling rings, everyone kept expecting to see aurors at some point, but they never showed. Harry did note the staff all seemed to be angry with Dumbledore, though he acted like he didn't notice. They were also angry with Hagrid, though their anger with Hagrid seemed more exasperated than cold the way it was with Dumbledore. Harry would love to have been a fly on the wall during the arguments that had ensued in the wake of the whole dragon fiasco so he could have at least known why.
As the days passed and nothing more came of the whole mess, the rumors and talk eventually died down.

Ron was finally released from the hospital wing and returned to a cool reception in the tower. He hardly noticed as he was already in a foul mood.

"What's with you? Your hand gonna fall off after all?"

"NO. My hands fine. My stupid brothers hexed me earlier 'cause they said it was my fault Gryffindor is down a hundred points. Dean and Seamus aren't speaking to me. If they hadn't of been such cowardly pansies none of this would have happened! I'm probably gonna get it from Charlie too. A bunch of his friends came to get the stupid dragon, and there were teachers waiting to yell at them! He's probably gonna kill me. On top of all that I've got a stupid detention to go to because of this whole mess!"

"Count your blessings." Anthony scoffed. "You, and your brother and his friends and those stupid Gryffindors and Hagrid himself could have all gone to prison! It's illegal to have a dragon in your possession without a license and it's certainly illegal to smuggle it across several countries! A few stupid points and a detention is hardly a hardship if AZKABAN is the alternative. Suck it up, Weasley. You all brought this on yourself."

Anthony, Terry and Michael shook their heads at him and went down to the common room.

"Oh, like I'd go to Azkaban! I'm eleven, and it was Hagrid's ruddy dragon."

"You think so? I think the only reason you didn't is because the teachers backed down to protect your stupid self."

"What are you on about?"

"The teachers were all furious when they heard about the dragon. People have seen them out at Hagrid's yelling at him. They have good reason too. Not only is it highly illegal, the last time Hagrid had a big, dangerous pet at Hogwarts a student died."

"What? That's crazy!"

"It was in the papers. Back in the forties, when Hagrid was a student. A girl died. He was expelled, his wand was snapped and he went to Azkaban for a bit. When he got out Dumbledore got him a job here. I've been watching the teachers. They're all angry with Dumbledore. I think he either outright threatened or implied that if they tried making an issue of things and got aurors involved that you, Finnegan and Thomas were going down too. If I were you I'd get Flitwick something nice for Christmas this year. He and the others backed down to keep you three out of prison. Your 'greatest wizard that ever lived' threw you three under the bus to protect Hagrid. Think about that, why don't you."

"That's… He wouldn't do that."

"Even if you all got a hundred detentions you got off easy. Do you use your brain at all?" Ron gave him a furious look. "Where'd he even get the thing? That's the part that's been bugging me. I was never that surprised he had one. He tells anyone who'll listen how much he wanted one."

"He said he won it, the egg that is, in a poker game at the Hogshead. Said the guy kept his hood up. He never saw his face. He's the one that hatched it. Hagrid I mean. The guy put it in the pot because he chatted him up about all his dangerous pets or something."

"That's weird." Harry mused. That's when something occurred to him. "You do know Dumbledore's brother is the owner of the Hogshead, right?" Harry sighed.

"What? No he's not!"

"Yes he is. What's more, he's old enough to know about Hagrid's past. I'd think, knowing that, if he saw Hagrid getting a strange egg from a shady man that he'd have sent word to his brother about it. You'd think so, anyway. And if he did…" Harry frowned. "Did Hagrid say anything else about it?"

"Not really. Just said he won it in a poker game. Why?"

"I was just wondering. There's something odd about the whole situation, but I can't put my finger on it. I don't know. It's probably not important."

"Stupid Hagrid. This is a lousy way to round out the school year. Ravenclaw and Gryffindor are both pretty much out of the running for the house cup. Gryffindor's in last place and we're only just ahead of them. We'll never win enough points to win with only, what, six or seven weeks left in the year? So much for being the school champions."

"We're still in the running for the Quidditch cup. Last game is us versus Slytherin. If we win the cup is ours."

"Our team sucks."

"You're just determined to be miserable, aren't you?"

 

Harry put the whole dragon debacle out of his mind as best he could. Because Ron was on the outs with Dean and Seamus…and most of Gryffindor house…because of the loss of points, he started hanging out with them again. This had the unfortunate effect of making their library time very annoying.

"You're completely barking!"

"You're rude!"

"You're both driving the rest of us crazy!" Harry muttered under his breath.

Ron and Hermione were like oil and water. Every time they were in each other's presence for more than five minutes they started bickering and just seemed unable to stop. They were relentless. The worst part was they couldn't seem to stay away from each other either, and seemed to forget anyone else was around because they were so intent on arguing with each other.

"No, no, no, you're doing it all wrong!"
"Leave it! It's fine!"
"If you would just…"

"Okay. That's my limit. Have fun guys." Harry muttered.

"Don't leave us with them!" Michael hissed.

"Just go somewhere else. You're not chained down." Harry scoffed. He heard Neville hiss as he left the library. "Don't leave me alone with them! I'm going with you." he glanced back as he reached the door and saw the four of them slinking off to try to find space elsewhere in the library. He didn't think they'd have much luck; the library was full most nights these days with fifth and seventh years studying for OWLs and NEWTs and with slackers trying to salvage their grades for the year.

Harry started towards Ravenclaw tower, then backtracked to hit the nearest bathroom. He hesitated by the door when he realized someone was in there talking.

"This is taking too long. You got what you needed from that fool. What's the hold up!"

"Please, master. I need more… I just need a little more time. I daren't move too quickly with him watching."

"Get on with it!"

"Yes, master, thank you master."

Harry pushed his way into the bathroom but all he saw was a flash of robes as Professor Quirrel vanished out of the door on the other side.

Harry wandered back into the bathroom to take care of business, and pondered what he'd just heard. It's as he was washing his hands that it really hit him.

"Bugger. That's what's been nagging me about that whole business with the dragon! Hagrid you idiot."

He debated for a while as to whether he should do anything. In the end he decided not to.

It had taken Quirrel the whole school year just about to get past the first protection. He still had to get through everything else that had been put up, and the school year was nearly over. It was all a big set up anyway, that much was obvious.

In fact, if it was obvious enough for him, a first year, to see, one had to wonder how Quirrel and his "master", who were supposed to be adults, didn't.

It was pretty sad, actually. It really lowered his opinion of Tom Marvolo Riddle as well.

"HA! "Greater Destiny" indeed. That guy was obviously just a book-smart loser with no common sense who planned for decades to make his mark as a dark lord, and this was what he came up with? Can't even rob a school over the course of a whole year. Yikes. That's pretty pathetic."

He had more important things to worry about anyway than some loser and his pet dark lord; this was the last proper week of classes before exams started. He wanted to do well. It'd be nice to get a bit higher than seventh in the class too. First would be nice, if only to knock some sense into Hermione Granger.

There was more to life than studying. Seriously; he didn't even know how she could just relentlessly go over the same material over and over and over for months. The girl really needed a life.

Chapter Text

"Quirrel really looks bad, doesn't he? Do you think he's sick?" Mandy wondered that morning at breakfast.

"It might be the curse kicking in." Terry whispered.

"The DADA curse? Do you really think there's anything to that? I mean, surely they would have done something about it? Right?" Michael said uneasily.

"I don't know. Grandpa said a teacher hasn't lasted more than a year for forty years. So far as he knows they never tried to fix it."

"Maybe they did and it didn't work, but they just didn't say anything because it would be hard to get a teacher if it was known for sure the position was cursed." Ron mused.

"It would be rather unethical to hire people without telling them it was." Padma objected.

Ron just shrugged and continued eating.

"I hope he at least lasts long enough to finish the year." Mandy sighed.

"This is our last class with him before exams. If he does die it won't impact us much."

"Anthony! That's horrible."

"Well, you know what I meant. Beyond the fact of him dying, which would of course be terrible and whatnot. I just meant from a practical standpoint as it effects our education. Someone else can proctor our exam if it's really necessary."

"That's an awful thing to say! We're talking about a man's life!"

"How likely is it he's going to just suddenly drop dead in the next week and a half?"

"It's still a terrible thing to say."

 

The conversation from breakfast was still on Harry's mind when they took their seats in DADA that afternoon. Considering what he was up to, it was actually quite possible he would die in the next week and a half. It made him reconsider whether he should tell someone. The guy was such a sad sack it would probably be kinder.

He was rather bored with the review; he was pretty sure he had DADA covered so far as the upcoming exam was concerned. He was tired of going over everything again and again. He was ready to move on to new stuff. He began letting his mind drift and idly daydreaming.

"Quirrel's attempt to get the stone are about as laughable as Hagrid's attempt at dragon-smuggling." He had to bite his lip to giggling as the comparison occurred to him. "Tom Riddle is the Hagrid of Dark Lords!"

He could picture it all so clearly.

Hagrid enthroned, wearing a Slytherin uniform, with his wild hair slicked down and neatly parted, surrounded by his minions-- well, minion, really: Ron in a turban.

 

"I need yer ter get me that Philosopher stone thingy"

"Yes master! Right away!"

Ron set off at once to do his dark master's bidding, but kept running in circles, bouncing off the walls and ended up tangled in a heap on the floor, while Hagrid/the Dark Lord sat admiring himself in a mirror.

"Thas' me! Great and Powerful Lord Thingummy! Gonna rule the world I am, and be mortal and stuff!"

"I think you mean immortal, o great and powerful dark master!"

"Shut yer trap! Who's in charge here?"

"You are, your dark awfulness!"

"Too right I am. Get on with it. Look. That idiot headmaster won't even know what's comin'!"

Turban!Ron turned and gaped at the hastily painted sign perched on the hillside.

"Philosopher's Stone. Top Secret. Don't touch. (Really)."

The stone itself sat out in the open just below the sign, with a big red arrow pointing to it. Dumbledore was just beyond the signs, hiding behind the bushes and giggling to himself, though Hagrid and his minion didn't seem to see him.

The rest of the teachers were whispering behind Dumbledore and occasionally trying to convince him that leaving a big sign pointing to the stone was a bad idea, but Dumbledore ignored them.

"It's okay. I have a cunning plan. Hee hee!"

It was such a ridiculous scene, he had a hard time keeping himself from laughing.

 

While Harry was lost in his increasingly silly daydreams, the rest of the class was watching Quirrel warily. He was starting to look decidedly grey, and he kept wincing like his head hurt. He was getting a bit shiny as well; he seemed to be getting clammy and sweating.

Harry rubbed absently at his head. He was getting a headache.

Quirrel staggered and let out a whimper and then started to fall.

"Professor?"

"Professor? Are you alright?"

All of a sudden Quirrel and Harry both screamed. Harry's hands flew to his forehead and he toppled out of his seat. Quirrel fell to the ground, his screams growing louder as he began twitching. The rest of the students jumped to their feet and hovered anxiously, not sure what to do, while a few shot out the door to find Madame Pomfrey, a teacher, anything.

Padma screamed as well and pointed. A dark, shapeless mist was pouring out of Harry's scar and blood was pouring down his face. The mist coalesced and shot towards Quirrel who screams grew louder, while Harry slumped down and lay still.

"OH GOD! HE'S DEAD! HARRY'S DEAD!"

"SO'S THE PROFESSOR!"

"HE'S STILL SCREAMING!"

"I DON'T THINK THAT'S HIM!"

The teachers, who heard the screaming and the crying, had a hard time getting into the room as they had to fight against a whole class full of first years who were all hysterical and trying to flee.

"WHAT'S GOING ON?"

"IT'S DEMENTORS! THEY'RE MAD ABOUT ALL THEIR PRISONERS BEING STOLEN AND THEY CAME TO KILL HARRY…AND THE PROFESSOR FOR SOME REASON!"

"WHAT'S HAPPENED?"

"IT'S EVIL GHOSTS!"

"MERLIN'S BEARD! QUIRINUS!"

"IT'S THE DADA CURSE! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"

"GOOD LORD! PROFESSOR QUIRREL!"

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!"

"WOULD YOU CHILDREN BLOODY WELL SHUT UP ALREADY!" Professor Burbage, the muggle studies teacher, shrieked.

A loud bang sounded over the chaotic scene, which prompted more screams, and then silence as Dumbledore strode down the hall practically radiating power. It seemed to shimmer around him creating an almost visible haze in the air around him.

"Professors, you lot take the children to the medical wing. I think a few calming draughts wouldn't be amiss. The rest of you with me. Go."

The children scrambled to obey. Neville grabbed Harry, hauling him up and throwing his arm over his shoulder. Draco Malfoy, who was looking ready to keel over himself, grabbed his other arm and together they hustled him from the room after the rest of the students.

Professor Burbage conjured a stretcher for him and took over transport, bringing up the rear as the rest marched the students off. The halls, stairs and mezzanines were lined with freaked out students from the other classes.

"ALL OF YOU, PROCEED TO THE GREAT HALL IN A SLOW AND ORDERLY FASHION. ONE OF US WILL BE ALONG MOMENTARILY TO UPDATE YOU AS SOON AS WE KNOW MORE ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON. PREFECTS, PLEASE KEEP ORDER." Professor Sprout said, her voice booming out over the castle.

The kids screamed again as huge fireball erupted overhead, but then they all relaxed as a beautiful song sounded out.

"Phoenix!"

"It's a phoenix! Oh, look at it!"

The phoenix circled the stairwell, singing, and then flew down and alighted on the stretcher behind Harry's head.

"He's crying!"

"He's sad Harry's dead."

"He's not dead, you ghouls!"

"Yeah, really! He's still breathing!"

"Keep moving children!"

 

When they arrived at the hospital wing, Madame Pomfrey bustled forward, as did several healers wearing the green robes of St. Mungo's. There were purple-clad aurors still arriving through the floo.

"What's all this?"

"My death alarm went off, took years off my life it did. One dead, one near death, another unconscious… I called for back-up! What on earth happened?"

"We would all like to know that."

 

The children, most of whom were still crying and quite traumatized by events all began speaking at once. Madame Pomfrey summoned her whole stock of calming draughts and began handing them out.

The Auror in charge began organizing everyone to question the children one at a time once they'd calmed down, and sent others off with one of the teachers to see what was going on back at the site of the event.

The healers had all converged around Harry, who seemed to be doing much better since the phoenix had cried all over him. Madame Pomfrey went to check on Harry as well now that the children were calmed down and did her own scans.

"He must have been very near death if the phoenix felt compelled to show up to help. Where did it come from though?"

"That's Fawkes. He lives in Dumbledore's office. He would have been right nearby when everything happened."

 

The phoenix trilled and began to croon softly, which also helped reduce the frantic tension in the room.

"There's not really much left for us to do here. I guess we'd best go see if there's anything to be done for the other patient."

By that point the children had given their statements. The stories were all quite consistent in the details, though their interpretation of events varied greatly.

"Any ideas on what the hell happened here today?"

"Haven't a clue. Whatever all this is, it's something I've never seen before."

"Best get one of the Unspeakables in. Maybe one of them will know something. They work in obscure magic."

"I guess. Those guys always creep me out."

 

A call was put in and several minutes later a trio of Unspeakables, clad in purple like the Aurors but with a different crest on their robes, appeared out of the flames and asked to be filled in. The timeline of events as described by the children was given, and the three went and did their own scans on Harry, conferring together in quiet whispers that didn't carry past their own little group. The three of them traded a look.

"We're going to need to see the other. Now."

Professor Burbage arrived back from escorting the aurors and healers, only to have to turn around to take the rest of them. Professors Sprout and Vector, who had stayed in the hospital wing began gathering up the children to take them down to the great hall.

"Madame Pomfrey? Who's unconscious?" Hermione asked suddenly. "You said one dead, one near death and one unconscious. Only Harry and Quirrel were hurt in the classroom."

"I…" she trailed off in realization. "Good lord. Thank you for pointing that out…so many people running every which way… Go ahead and take everyone down to the great hall. I've another patient to find!"

 

 

"… enough beating around the bush, Albus! Just what has been happening at Hogwarts? Why does your teacher have two faces? Why is there a student so near death a phoenix had to appear to heal him?"

"I have guesses…of course, my guesses do tend to be more accurate than most people's. As for the events in this room today, I can only speculate."

"This should be good. By all means, enlighten us." the lead Unspeakable said wryly as they entered the room.

"Ah. More visitors. Hogwarts seems to be quite the popular place today."

"Albus! Merlin's beard! Would you just answer if you know! Why is Tom Riddle's face on the back of Quirrel's head?"

"Tom Riddle? The face has a name?"

"Tom Riddle? He died years ago!"

"You know him?"

"I was in school with him. He was head boy my third year." One of the healers revealed.

"Ah, to answer that question will require a bit of a history lesson…" Dumbledore began to explain.

"This Tom Riddle was evidently You-Know-Who." the head Unspeakable talked over him. 

The aurors, healers and a few of the teachers yelped and jumped back from the body, which most of them were already standing a wary distance away from.

"He did rather foul dark magic in a foolish and fruitless attempt to make himself immortal. Somehow, this dark magic was undone, rather spectacularly, and sadly in full view of a whole group of small children. If I were to speculate, whatever was left of him after he vanished ten years ago pulled himself together enough to possess your teacher here…which you somehow failed to notice. Did I miss anything?" the Unspeakable said dryly as he and his colleagues scanned the body, the room and all the furniture.

"What happened to Mr. Potter?" Flitwick demanded.

"Remnants of the dark magic seem to have attached themselves to his scar, probably the night You-Know-Who was destroyed. It unraveled along with the rest and returned to the originator when it became undone. It's quite a painful process. The shock of it nearly killed him. He was rather lucky that he was layered in sacrificial love magic which buffered the effects of it all these years, or he probably would have died regardless of how close by the phoenix was. Truthfully, it was very lucky this all happened when it did. Another year or two and those remnants might not have been able to be removed without killing him. Whether the remnants of the curse or some other factor, something had nearly eroded the protective magic down to nothing."

The Unspeakables all noted that two of the teachers stiffened and glared at Dumbledore, who continued smiling and acting as though fascinated by everything being said.

"So…the kid didn't do anything? He doesn't have some kind of…super magical forehead or anything?"

The Unspeakable just looked at the Auror until he hung his head and shuffled his feet in embarrassment.

"No."

"Ah… Well. That's good. Bit dangerous otherwise. Just erupting and killing dark lords and teachers all over the place."

"Mr. Abercrombie, really!" McGonagall huffed.

"Well, we know what happened, all is well now. I suppose we can all go about our day."Dumbledore interjected brightly.

"What about Quirinus?"

"I'm sure our friends from the Ministry and St. Mungo's will see to his remains. We are still in the middle of a school day, and have a whole school full of children to see to."

"Yes… that should be fun. What on earth do we tell them?"

"We'll figure something out. Speaking of… Where on earth is Severus?"

"Did he go down to the great hall with the children?"

"It's Severus. How likely is that? I realize his classroom is in the dungeon, but surely he heard the commotion even down there!"

Dumbledore frowned worriedly, but Flitwick was already hurrying to the floo.

"Severus Snape's office!" He vanished into it to look around and returned a few minutes later.

"No sign of him in his office, classroom or his quarters."

"The matron said there were three injured when we arrived: one dead, one near death and one unconscious. If he was one of the injured, it's possible she's already gone to gather him up."

"Good point." He fired up the floo again. "Hospital wing!"

Dumbledore slipped past the others in the room and was the next through. The others exchanged glances and shrugged. The healers conjured a sheet and wrapped Quirrelmort's body to bring along.

 

When Dumbledore stepped out of the floo just behind Flitwick, Arcturus, Melania, and Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin all turned to look at him.

"Ah…more visitors. How delightful. As you can see, all is well. No cause for concern."

"My godson nearly died while in class. I think there is in fact cause for concern." Sirius growled.

"Lord and Lady Black? Mr. Black? Mr. Lupin? What are all of you doing here?" McGonagall said with some surprise as she exited the floo.

"I should think that would be obvious. We were notified that Harry had nearly died while in class, but had been healed and was in no further danger. The news was alarming enough we came right away to see with our own eyes."

The group's eyes widened as they saw the long line of aurors, healers, teachers and unspeakables that exited after her, and their gazes were riveted by the wrapped body that came out with the final healer.

"Well, now that everyone seems to be here, perhaps someone would be so kind to explain how Harry and two teachers came to be in such straits."

 

Everyone who had just arrived could see Professor Snape was indeed unconscious on one of the beds, though the screen around it mostly blocked him from sight. The Unspeakable repeated his earlier explanation, though this time at least half of the audience knew of what he spoke of.

"He made a horcrux, several,  if what you're saying is true. It's no wonder the man was mad! One is bad enough. It's an abomination. Well! We're well rid of him." Arcturus huffed.

"What a terrible waste. That boy had so much going for him. It's a tragedy and a waste what he came to in the end."Melania agreed, sounding sick.

"When is Mr. Potter likely to be awakening?"McGonagall wondered.

"At this point, probably not for a while. He's fine, thanks to Fawkes, but it was still a terrible shock to the system, I shouldn't think."

"Would you be able to awaken him without harm?" one of the aurors asked.

"Come now. Surely the child has been through enough."

"For completeness sake I would like to see if he has anything to add to events in that classroom."the Unspeakable disagreed.

"Surely that isn't necessary."

"We'll allow it if it can be done without harm to the child." Melania cut across Dumbledore's objections.

"It shouldn't be a problem. No overtaxing him though. I imagine he'll not be awake for long regardless. Ennervate." Pomphrey warned.

 

Harry's eyes snapped open with a gasp and then he winced, then looked sort of puzzled. He blinked a few times and his eyes darted around to take in the veritable sea of strange faces surrounding him.

"Harry!"

"Good to see you awake, old boy!"

"Harry, dear how do you feel?"

Harry blinked at the three Blacks as though he really could not for the life of him imagine what they were all doing there.

"What happened?"

"We were hoping you could tell us, Mr. Potter."

Harry frowned as he tried to piece together recent events. His eyes suddenly widened as it came back to him in a rush.

"Professor Quirrel screamed and fell down…and then my forehead exploded."

"Could you tell us what you were doing just before this happened, Mr. Potter?" one of the Unspeakables interjected.

"Doing? Daydreaming, mostly."

"Girls already, Harry?" Sirius laughed.

"No. It had just occurred to me that Quirrel…Professor Quirrel was the Ron of minions and Tom Marvolo Riddle was the Hagrid of dark lords and I was having a silly daydream about how pathetic he and his dark master were. A whole school year just about and he hadn't managed to get past even the first defense on the philosopher's stone. I mean, really. How sad is that?"

"You were aware professor Quirrel was working for You-Know-Who and was trying to steal the philosopher's stone?"

"He was working for some guy name Tom Marvolo Riddle. He told me I reminded him of him. I asked what happened to him. He said he was off waiting to make his mark and he had a 'greater destiny' which is code for being a dark lord."

"Harry, Tom Riddle was Voldemort."

"Huh? Oh! It's an anagram! Here I thought he must have been a death eater and was planning on taking Voldie's place…but it was him all along, huh? That just makes it worse. People are still afraid to speak his name and that's what he'd been reduced to. Man."

"How did you know about Quirrel's involvement with a dark lord?"

"I want to know how he knew about the stone!" McGonagall said indignantly.

 

Harry still seemed a bit loopy, so he could perhaps be excused for not censoring his opinion.

"Oh, please. We've all known about that for months. I mean, really, it's not like it was hard!"

The aurors bit their lips as the teachers bristled and looked insulted.

"Perhaps you could start at the beginning and lead us through your discoveries?" One of the Unspeakables interjected.

"My discoveries? Well…the first clue was while I was doing my school shopping with Hagrid. He told the goblin he needed to get the 'you know what' from vault 713…"

As Harry's story went on, complete with scathing commentary and punctuated by yawns, the teachers began hanging their heads in shame, the aurors began glaring at them, and the Unspeakables seemed to be trying hard not to laugh.

"…and that's when I realized what bothered me about the whole dragon thing. It just seemed so random, you know? The voice said 'you got what you needed from that fool'. I understood then that it had all been a ruse to get information about Fluffy and how to get past him. It really just goes to show you what a halfwit minion Quirrel was though. He was a teacher and was supposed to be helping with the protections. All he really had to do was just arrange to 'happen by' where Hagrid was, complement the dog, suggest he wanted one himself and start asking questions. Hagrid would have told him everything he needed to know. It would have been an ideal time too. The protections didn't all go up at the same time, or so I guessed, since Quirrel's addition, a troll, wasn't brought in till Halloween and then left out in the open so it could run amok and serve as a distraction. Depending on what order everyone went in as far as adding to the security, the earlier in the year he managed it the easier it would have been for him. Instead, here it was nearly the end of the year and he had only just figured out how to get past the first obstacle. I considered giving the teachers a heads up but then I decided it would be too much hassle explaining, and he was so incompetent anyway it really wasn't that big a concern, so I just went on my way. Quirrel even said it was 'too dangerous' because 'he' was always watching. I figured as long as Professor Snape didn't leave he wasn't even going to try to steal the stone."

Dumbledore looked rather thrown. "Professor Snape?"

"Well, he was the one keeping an eye on him. Who else would he have meant?" Harry yawned again, nearly cracking his jaw, and blinked at the adults surrounding his bed on all sides.

"So…what happened anyway? Why'd my forehead explode? And why was Professor Quirrel screaming?"

"Professor Quirrel was possessed by what was left of You-Know-Who…he did very dark magic to make himself immortal…"

"So… what you're saying is I had a piece of Voldemort's soul…in my forehead?"

Everyone jumped when Dumbledore suddenly pointed his wand at Harry. Harry caught the movement from the corner of his eye and snatched the wand from Dumbledore's hand, dropped it on his lap and then swatted his hand as though scolding a naughty child.

"Excuse you! Watch where you're pointing that thing! What's the big idea?!"

Dumbledore was obviously shaken by being so easily disarmed…that it was without magic by a child a small fraction of his age only added insult to injury.

"No true first year would have such knowledge of such vile dark magic, Tom Riddle!"

Harry rolled his eyes and pointed to himself before saying very slowly and clearly "HAAARRRRYYY POTTTTEEER". And seriously? That's what's got your knickers in a bunch? It's called reasoning. Point A: Voldemort has no body. Point B: his bodiless self was possessing my teacher. Point C: he left a piece of himself behind in me. Since it obviously wasn't his pinky-toe, what's left but his soul? I mean seriously, work with me here. It’s not bloody rocket science. It explains a lot too. I knew I knew the name Tom Marvolo Riddle, I just couldn't imagine how."

He frowned then and crossed his arms, looking disgruntled.

"Quirrel told me I reminded him of him. Of course, if he was being possessed, maybe he told me I reminded him of himself. Either way, I think I'm insulted. Unless he meant when he was still smart, had a body…and a brain, and wasn't a crazy dark lord…but it's still kind of icky."

"You should get some sleep child. I'm sure the aurors have what they need now." Melania interjected.

"Wait! I still want to know one thing. What happened to Professor Snape?"

"Lord Voldemort seems to have left a failsafe which he tried to utilize to save himself." Dumbledore said airily.

"Why him though?" one of the healers wondered.

"Was he one of them? A death eater?"

"He was working as a spy. For Dumbledore." McGonagall corrected when the aurors all turned to look at the bed Snape was still unconscious in. "Right, Albus?" she urged when she Dumbledore said nothing.

He was instead eyeing Harry. "You seem quite unfazed by this revelation."

"I already knew. I read about it in the paper. You vouched for him at his trial. I figured it was either true, or you had reason to believe he wouldn't be a problem. Either way I wasn't worried. Professor Snape hasn't given me any reason to distrust him."

He looked around till he spotted Pomfrey.

"Will he be alright?"

"Yes. He should make a full recovery."

"That's good." He closed his eyes then, though he was heard to mutter "You think he'll want to be the DADA teacher now that the curse is broken?" as he fell back asleep.

"The curse is broken? When did that happen? And how?"

"It might be more subconscious knowledge from the soul shard. If You-Know-Who was responsible for the curse, he might be aware of it even if he doesn't consciously realize it."

"You know…I'm qualified for the position. If there's an opening…and the curse is gone." Remus spoke up hopefully.

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts Express pulled in to King's Cross station amidst a cloud of steam.

"Well, that's it then. School year's over." Harry sighed despondently.

"What are you so glum about? Summer! No homework, no classes, no tests! Those ruddy exams were enough for me…" Ron griped belligerently as he gathered his things together.

"My parents and I are supposed to be going to France. I can't wait. They have an entire magical province there, you know. Hopefully my parents will let me explore and pick up some light reading… though knowing them they're probably going to want to lounge around half naked on the beach drinking wine. Such a waste of time, especially when I could be doing extra credit work…in French. That would put me at the top of the class uncontested for sure!" Hermione grumbled a moment later. Her voice seemed more nasally and annoying than usual.

Harry followed along after the crowd, an uneasy feeling growing in his chest as he reached the platform. He hadn't spotted Sirius on the way in. All around him families were having joyous reunions. He was buffeted this way and that by the crowd as he searched--at first curiously, but then more frantically as the platform began to clear and there was still no sign of his godfather.

"He's probably just running late. Maybe he's on the muggle side? Chatting up Mr. and Mrs. Granger and keeping them company while they wait?"

The platform was deserted; the last of the families vanished through the floo as those with a single child apparated away. All that was left was a few candy wrappers, and a page of the Daily Prophet idly blowing down the track. Heart pounding, he exited to the muggle side and looked around. He spotted Hermione and her parents exiting the station; there was no sign of Sirius.

He jumped as a heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder.

"It's about ruddy time, damned freak. You think I've got all day to wait around for the likes of you?"

"Vernon! Save it for when we get home. People are watching."

Harry's blood ran cold. "No." Harry whispered quietly.

"None of your nonsense, freak." Vernon growled, squeezing his shoulder and dragging him along like so much unwanted baggage.

Harry, still numb, let himself be dragged along. All the while in his head a constant litany of "No. No. No. Nonononono…." was resounding through his head. It was getting hard to breathe. They were halfway across the station already and his shoulder was beginning to ache under Vernon's meaty fingers.

Harry suddenly wrenched his shoulder out of Vernon's grip and hurriedly backed out of striking range. This wasn't happening.

"No. NO! What are you doing here? It's over! He's dead! There's no reason for me to go back! I want Sirius!"

Vernon's face was slowly turning purple and he began huffing like an enraged bull. He lunged for him, but Harry had already turned and started running the other way. He hadn't gotten more than a few feet when his path was suddenly blocked.

He tried to swerve, but the man anticipated this and grabbed him.

"Now Harry, you're making a scene." Remus Lupin sighed in his weary, passive-aggressive voice.

"Let go of me! Where's Sirius?"

"Dumbledore decided it was for the best that you return to your aunt's house. Sirius agreed."

"No he didn't! He promised!"

"Harry, really…."

"NO!"

Harry broke free a second time and took off in a new direction, this time deeper into the station. Again he'd barely gotten a few feet when he was stopped again.

"Harry, dear! There you are! Goodness gracious! Running about, making a scene. You're just a child! You need to do what Dumbledore thinks best!" Molly Weasley scolded while firmly embracing him.

Harry struggled, but the woman was like an octopus with steel arms.

"Let go! Let me go! NOO! Sirius!"

"BOY!"

"Now Harry…"

"Worthless freak!"

"Harry dear…"

"Harry! Harry! HARRY! Wake up!"

Harry woke with a start and looked around in confusion. His heart was pounding, his skin was clammy, and for a moment he wanted to flee.

"What…? Where…?"

"You were having a nightmare." Hermione huffed. "You nearly got me a couple of times, the way you were flailing around!"

Harry slowly straightened in his seat and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, trying to wake up. His roommates and Neville were all watching him warily.

"We're almost to the station. Pull yourself together." Hermione ordered.

"Was it about You-Know-Who?" Neville asked fearfully.

"What?"

"Your nightmare. Was it about him?"

"It was about your forehead exploding, wasn't it? I know that would give me nightmares. Just sitting around in class and then BOOOM!" Terry disagreed.

"No. No it wasn't about either of them." Harry muttered distractedly.

"You were calling your godfather's name. Were you… Was he hurting you? Are you afraid to go home with him?" Hermione asked worriedly. "I know he's unstable…"

"He is NOT!"

"You don't have to cover for him, Harry. It's probably not completely his fault. Azkaban damaged him."

"I was not having a nightmare about Sirius! Would you quit it!"

"What was it about then?"

"That Dumbledore called the Dursleys to come pick me up from the station because he'd decided to keep interfering in my life, if you must know."

"Dumbledore is a great and respected wizard and…"

"Again, shut it. His interfering landed me and Sirius both in our own version of hell for ten years. Voldemort is gone. He doesn't have any more excuses to keep interfering, but I'm not sure that will really stop him."

"Honestly! You're being paranoid."

"It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you." Michael chimed in from his spot by the window.

"Looks like we're almost there. If those relatives of yours really are there, don't worry. You can come visit me for a bit. I'm sure my mum wouldn't mind."

"And if she does, you can come stay with us. Our house isn't very big, but I'm sure we could find somewhere to stuff you." Terry agreed.

"I'd invite you, but we're going to be visiting relatives all over for most of the summer, and it would be difficult to add you to our travel plans last minute, but otherwise…" Anthony added apologetically.

Harry smiled at his roommates.

"Thanks, I appreciate it…but hopefully none of it will be necessary."

"I guess we'll find out." Neville agreed.

Harry followed out after the crowd; the similarity to his nightmare was enough that he could feel his stomach clenching in response.

"Harry! Over here!"

"Sirius." Harry's relief was so great the tension just bled right out of him, leaving him feeling wobbly and lightheaded.

Sirius, with Remus right behind him, pushed their way through the crowd towards him, both their faces alight with concern.

"Harry…you're all clammy! And pale… Pomfrey said you were fine!"

"I am"

"Then what…"

"Nightmare. On the way here. It's nothing, don't worry about it."

"Let me decide if I need to worry about it. You look like death warmed over."

"What was your nightmare about? Voldemort is gone, Harry. You don't need to worry about him ever again." Remus added kindly.

In response Harry huffed disgustedly and rolled his eyes.

"Why does everyone think I'm worried about bloody Voldemort? I know he's bloody well dead. I was there. Not to mention stuck in the stupid hospital wing for a week, even though I was fine…"

"If it wasn't Voldemort, what was it?"

"I dreamed you weren't here to pick me up. Dumbledore was going to force me back to the Dursleys. I tried to run for it, but all his minions were waiting to drag me back." he added with a distrustful glance Remus' way, though they missed it as they were exchanging a look when he did it.

Harry caught it and stepped back out of reach, glaring at both of them.

"What's going on?"

"We actually were planning on heading to the Dursleys…"

Harry's already pale face went grey.

"Harry? Harry! Breathe! It's not what you think. We were going to see if they'd sign over custody and then we were going to gather any of your stuff that was still left there!"

Harry sucked in a breath; he hadn't realized he'd stopped until the two men freaked out.

"I told you this was a bad idea!"

"Dumbledore said…"

"Well Dumbledore is obviously talking out of his ass again and has no bloody clue what he's talking about."

"Do I have to be there?"

"Well…no. We just thought you'd want to get your stuff and all. Say goodbye."

"I don’t have any stuff there. I told you as much. Repeatedly. I've no desire to see any of them ever again, and I'm sure the feeling is quite mutual."

"In that case I'll head over there myself tomorrow."

"I'm coming with you." Remus warned.

"Let's just head home." Sirius replied, grabbing hold of Harry. "Hold on tight."

Moments later they were on the edge of Mould-on-the-Wold. A crack to their left a moment later announced Remus' presence.

"Hungry?"

"Very."

The Ploughman's Ease was serving chicken pot pies that evening. The three of them ordered one, plus a large mug of dark foamy ale for the two men and a nice glass of juice for Harry.

"Grandpa and Grandmum were talking about maybe doing some travelling this summer. You'd best get your homework out of the way so it's not hanging over you while we're off to have fun. We'd likely come back just in time for you to go back to school, so you wouldn't really have time to do it afterwards."

"Yes, you don't want to leave it for the last minute."

"It's already done."

"Pull the other one." Remus chided. "Your father used to use that one on his parents."

"Tried to, you mean. Your grandmum always demanded to see it."

"That's right. He always ended up grounded the first week of summer."

Harry pulled his trunk out, enlarged it and dug out several neatly rolled scrolls, which he plopped down in the center of the table. Remus and Sirius exchanged a disbelieving look and each grabbed one.

"What've you got?"

"History. Witch burnings."

"I've got potions. Switch? I was never any good in that class."

They each read through, and then took another. Remus read the seventh--he'd always been a faster reader than Sirius. They were still at it when their food arrived.

"Unbelievable. You actually did all of it. Well too. You definitely take after your mother. In this at least." Remus finally concluded. "If you continue in this vein, you should have no trouble maintaining an 'O' in my class next year."

"Your class?"

"I'm going to be the DADA professor next term."

"Yeah? In that case, you can keep this one. One less thing for me to worry about." Harry told Remus cheerfully, digging his DADA homework out of the pile.

Remus took the offered scroll with a sigh and tucked it into his pocket. Sirius snickered, flicked his wand, and the rest of the scrolls re-rolled themselves and packed themselves away.

"Why would you do your homework so early? And when?" Sirius wondered, sounding slightly horrified.

"So it was out of the way and I wouldn't have to worry about it for the rest of the summer. As for when, it was after exams but before we left. We were stuck waiting around cooling our heels for a whole week before we were let go. Ravenclaw house just decided to use the time wisely. Not to mention we still had access to the Hogwarts library, as well as the house library, during that time. We only have a couple of muggle born in the house, and they're all in the upper years. They pointed out that, unlike some of the students, there was no big family library waiting for any of them to do research in. The practice just sort of spread from there. It's become almost a Ravenclaw tradition. Use the last week after classes end to get the summer or holiday work out of the way. It would have been the same for me at the Dursleys; there's certainly no magic books there. Heck, I probably wouldn't have even had my school books to work off. Aunt Petunia knows I can't use magic in the summer to defend myself. My stuff would have been taken off me the moment I was inside, and either locked up or burned."

"Harry…"

"Don't start. I lived with those people for ten very long years. I think I know better than you what they would or wouldn't do. Definitely better than Dumbledore, so I don't care to hear what he has to say on the matter either."

Several of the sconces along the wall shattered one after another, causing everyone in the room to jump in fright. The two men slanted a look at Harry, then at one another. They said nothing, just joined the others in the inn who were setting things to rights with a few quick 'reparo' spells. Harry noted a lot of the people in the pub were side-eyeing him as they undid the damage. He had to make a conscious effort to not hunch his shoulders. They had no proof it was him; he hadn't even had his wand in hand. If he went acting guilty it was as good as admitting it…. Even if he wasn't quite sure how he could be responsible. According to the kids at school you stopped having accidental magic after you got a wand. He had a whole year of school under his belt at this point; he really shouldn't having accidents like this.

"Well. Bit of excitement there." Sirius said cheerfully as he sat down. "No harm done though. No one was hurt."

Remus looked like he wanted to say something, but Sirius kicked him, so he reconsidered.

"So…where are we going to go? You said grandpa and grandmum wanted to take a trip?"

"Yeah. We've got a place in France. That's where aunt Cas has been living. We might go there. We've also got a place on an island in the Mediterranean."

"Majorca?"

"Yeah. Been there?"

"No, but Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon have always wanted to go there. Can we go? I could send them pictures of me with a tan standing next to a sign that says Majorca. They'd die if they knew I got there first."

"I don't know where they want to go exactly. We might head off to India. We've some business investments there. Grandpa was saying something about getting me familiar with things…"

"I wonder if I'd see Padma and Parvati?"

"Oh?"

"Padma's is in Ravenclaw with me. Parvati is her twin sister. She's in Gryffindor. Padma said they were going to visit an uncle or something that's still there. "

"Could be, if the uncle's in the same magical district. Given the choices, do you have a preference?"

"No. Wherever is fine with me. I've never been anywhere but my aunt's house, here and Hogwarts. Anywhere we go will be awesome. Oh, hey, I might see Hermione or her parents if we go to France…although, maybe not. They're muggles. She doesn't even know if they'll let her take a tour of the French magical district. I got the impression they intend to lay around mostly naked on the beach and drink a lot of wine. Hermione's not too keen on that idea."

"Well, if we end up going there maybe we can take her for the day or something."

"Mmm." Harry replied, noncommittal. He wasn't sure how fun hanging out with just Hermione for the day would be, even if they were in France in a magical district. She'd probably just want to hang out in the library and obsess about homework.

"So…how'd you do on your exams?"

"Pretty good, I think."

"So…there weren't any issues after your forehead…?"

"NO." Harry huffed. "And before you say another word, I don't have brain damage or anything of the sort. I got enough of that sort of thing from bloody Hermione, I don't need it from you two as well. For your information, my forehead exploding was the best thing that ever happened to me. My memory is better, I can concentrate better and it's easier to do magic…like, a lot easier. Loads, even. There's no comparison. That thing was stealing half my brain power and the majority of my magic, I think. I was completely surprised, you know, when Hagrid told me I was a wizard. I didn't have a clue. I mean yeah, sometimes weird stuff happened around me, but I never really believed I was responsible. I never really felt like it had any connection to me. Well, now I know why. So much of me was tied up in fighting that thing off, or it feeding off me, or something, that there was very little left for me."

"Oh…um, that's good?"

"Damn skippy."

"Um, who won the house cup?"

"Yeah, Gryffindor, right?"

"Not hardly. Between all the points they lost battling Slytherin at the first flying lesson, and the whole dragon smuggling thing… Nah, Hufflepuff won. Slytherin lost points for the flying lesson too, and they and Ravenclaw lost a bunch because Weasley and Draco kept fighting. Weasley also lost us a lot of points because he kept getting shirty with Professor Snape, and he attacked me a couple of times… Basically Hufflepuff was the only house that didn't lose a bunch of points all year, so yeah, they won. When it was announced they all just sat there like lumps for like, five minutes, and then they started cheering so loud I'm pretty sure the walls shook. They were like, crying and stuff. I heard it's been centuries since they've won, so I guess you can't blame them, but geez."

"Hufflepuff?" the two men said in unison, sounding flummoxed.

"Yup."

"How about the quidditch cup? Gryffindor?"

"Nope. Ravenclaw won that. Slytherin's had it the last seven years. Gryffindor was strutting around all year and swore the cup was going to be theirs, but their seeker kind of sucked. Well, ok, he didn't completely suck, but he wasn't the best. The rest of their team was good enough that they made up for it in goals, but Slytherin got the snitch. So, they won the game, but they weren't up enough on points for it to make a difference. We managed to win all our games with a big enough lead in points that it ended up being ours. It's been a long time since Ravenclaw had the cup, so we were pretty excited… surprised, but excited. It was pretty cool, plus we got to rub Weasley's face in the fact that our team beat out his hero Oliver Wood, the quidditch warrior." Harry snorted.

"Huh. Weird. No offense, but Ravenclaw's quidditch team isn't usually…" Remus said apologetically.

"We're the geek-slash-nerd house not the jock house. Yeah, I get it. We still won."

"You gonna try out for the team at any point?"

"I don't know. I think it might be fun. I'm not sure how keen I am to be out there in all kinds of weather, getting cold, getting rained on, when everyone else is warm and toasty inside. I might. I'm still not sure."

"You should. Your dad and I were both on the team"

"Yeah, chaser and beater. I saw."

"Your dad played seeker too, only for one year though. The seeker we had got suspended. We had reserve chasers but no seeker or beaters. The lot of them were sent out to see who could best take his place for the games, and your dad won. He wasn't too thrilled. Chaser was what he liked and what he'd tried out for. We won the cup the year he played seeker though."

"Cool. Like I said though, I'll have to think about it. I never seem to have time as it is, and it would probably mean having to drop out of the clubs I'm in."

"What clubs are you in?" Remus asked curiously.

"Herbology and Charms."

"You'd pick gardening and charm work over quidditch? But…it's quidditch!"

"I bet you'd get along well with Ron. Or Mike. Or Terry." Harry said, rolling his eyes. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I like quidditch. I think it would probably be fun to play once in a while, I do like flying, but it's not the end all be all of creation either."

"Blasphemy!"

"Oh, whatever."

They made small talk while finishing up their meals, and then it was off to the manor house.

 

Harry ran ahead and beamed when the gate swung open as he appeared. It was good to be home.