Title: Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Izzy Hound
Fandom: Harry Potter
Content Rating: PG13
Warnings: mentioned Abuse – Child, Death – Minor Character, Violence – Canon Level, Threats to Children-Hostage Situation.
Beta: Seren and Andy
Word Count: 63727
Summary: Abandoned at Kings Cross Station, Harry’s plan to escape life at Privet Drive and learn magic was at risk. With no one to turn to, help comes in a surprising form: Trevor the toad, escape artist extraordinaire
‘Come on Harry. Gran insists on breakfast before presents.’ Harry stumbled out of bed and got dressed; Gran Longbottom wouldn’t tolerate pyjamas at the table even if it were Christmas. He was looking forward to getting presents, as he knew he had a few waiting for him. The house elves had taken his gifts from his classmates and put them under the tree shortly after he had arrived.
After breakfast, they were finally allowed into the sitting room practically humming from excitement.
‘Now Harry, it’s normally just Neville and me, however, I feel no need to change our routine with your presence so one gift at a time. There’s a notebook beside you to record the name of the giver and what it is. I find this most useful when it comes to writing out thank you notes.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ smiled Harry.
‘Good, now your first ones, boys.’ She flicked her wand and two gifts floated across to the boys sitting on the floor. Harry carefully began to open the paper on his gift. While he wanted to savour opening his gift, he also wanted the full experience and to rip it off like Neville currently was.
‘Harry, my boy don’t worry about the paper or mess, rip it off if you wish. The house elves will be delighted if you do.’
With permission in place, Harry started to shred the paper and reveal the gift. Neville and his Gran both really appreciated the presents that Harry had given them and in turn, Harry was delighted with his new cloak and pin from Neville and food storage hamper from Madam Longbottom. The hamper came in useful quickly for storing the sweets he had gotten from his friends and for the snacks that he was given to bulk out the number of his presents to match Neville’s. He made sure to thank the house elves for all the baking they had done for him after a large lunch.
It was after that lunch that the inhabitants of the house separated. Neville and his Gran were off to see Frank and Alice, Neville’s parents in the hospital. The pair resided in the long-term ward in the hospital due to spell damage in the war. Harry had been torn about whether to attend too. On one hand, he wished to meet his Godmother, on the other he felt Neville probably wanted to catch up with his parents alone. In the end, they realised Harry wasn’t up to date on his inoculations, so Madam Longbottom hadn’t wanted to risk him in a hospital, particularly during flu season. A healer was arranged to attend and get him sorted out but couldn’t make it before Christmas. So, Harry was staying behind this time, but would visit them in the New Year before heading back to school. After saying goodbye to Neville and his Gran Harry headed up to his rooms to start on his thank you letters.
‘Ah, Healer Armitage thank you for the time.’ They were sitting in the drawing room, Neville had decided to give Harry space and was working on his thank you notes upstairs. ‘Healer Armitage is an old family friend and has been treating Longbottoms for decades.’
‘Quite right, Madam Longbottom, you said it wasn’t serious, but you didn’t give me much more than that.’
‘Forgive me my secrecy, we have a rather well-known house guest, Heir Potter.’ She gestured to him and Harry came forward with a bow.
‘Indeed, well met young man.’ The man said while returning the gesture. ‘Your precaution makes sense. Heir Potter, I assume you are to be my patient. I give you my oath as a healer that your care will remain confidential.’
‘Thank you, sir.
‘Not at all dear boy, merely part of the job, now what is it, that is needed but not an emergency?’
‘Young Harry here hasn’t had any inoculations for anything magical that he can remember, he had a few Muggle ones done at his primary school but there has been no other health care provided to him.’
‘You didn’t get anything before Hogwarts?’
‘No sir. Nobody mentioned anything.’
‘Not your fault lad. Shall we move somewhere more private or are you comfortable with Madam Longbottom’s presence?’ Harry thought about it, on one hand, he was a private person on the other Madam Longbottom had raised Neville and his father so probably knew what he needed doing better than Harry did
‘If you don’t object, Gran Longbottom, I would like your advice on these matters.’
‘Not at all Harry, very sensible of you lad.’ She gave him a warm smile and Harry felt like he had passed some sort of unknown test. At his nod of consent, Healer Armitage began casting a few spells on him.
‘They’re just a general diagnostic spell lad, it will tell me your health and what inoculations you’ve had up to date. Your parents may have given you some when you were a baby but with the war on, you wouldn’t be the first baby to miss out on them.’
An enchanted parchment and quill hovered at the ready and soon under the influence of the spells began to record. As the quill kept writing both Gran Longbottom and Healer Armitage started to frown. When the quill finally stilled Gran moved over and put a hand on his shoulder comfortingly.
‘How bad is it?’
‘Now, now Augusta, don’t worry the lad.’
‘Don’t now, now me, Gordon. Neville never had such a long list of ailments. Algernon is well into his 90s and having lived through several wars likely doesn’t have a list so long.’
‘Algernon’s a coward Augusta and was hiding through the wars so don’t act like he was wounded during that time. Now, lad don’t be alarmed but I have a few questions for you.’ Harry swallowed he wasn’t as well looked after as other children, he knew that, but he didn’t think things were all that bad.
‘Yes sir, that’s fine,’ Harry gave him a tight smile.
‘You said you had no inoculations, did you have any other medical treatments that you can remember?’ Harry shook his head. ‘That’s fine lad, not your fault what about visits to the opticians or dentists?’
‘I’ve never been sir, but one of my best friends parents are dentists so she gave me advice and Neville’s another friend, he taught me the teeth cleaning spell.’
‘Glad to hear that son. Now, how about when you bought your wand how did that go?’
‘It took some time none of the first wands Mr Ollivander gave me worked.’
‘How did they feel?’ Harry frowned not sure what this was about.
‘They felt kind of, hot sir and some I wasn’t allowed to touch.’ Armitage nodded along as if he had expected that answer.
‘That’s what I thought. Now I’ll be blunt, you’re not in the best of shape. You have some inoculations from a baby so you have some protection however, I don’t think I will be able to give you the booster treatments today like planned due to a few other problems.’ Harry swallowed and Gran Longbottom’s hand tightened on his shoulder.
‘The biggest problem is that you are malnourished. You also have some badly healed broken bones, your arm and ribs and there’s a small amount of scaring to your optic nerve likely caused by a blow to the head, which has affected your vision. The Muggles, lad, did you a considerable disservice. Luckily this is treatable. Your magic has been doing a superb job of holding up your health but the downside is that your core is stressed.’ Augusta gasped at this and quickly left the room to compose herself and summon Neville.
‘Is that bad?’
‘It’s not good lad. The problem you had with the wands is because your magical reserves are significantly higher than we would hope for somebody your age. Now you maybe think more magic is good, but it also means less control. There was a terrible trend years ago, people deliberately stressing children’s cores to make them more powerful, many poor children ended up squibs or obscurial, terrible times. Now, lad, you don’t have to fear that happening to you, but you need more control of your magic. Magic is a gift but to do magic you need to direct its intent. It wants to do something you have to tell it what. Otherwise, you can have unexpected results.’
‘Like setting a feather on fire instead of levitating it.’
‘Exactly lad, you’ve seen that already have you. Well with more magic instead of a smouldering feather you could have a burning desk.’
‘Oh,’ Harry gulped.
‘You see the problem and why you need to be taught control. Which is of course why you go to school and learn spells in a structured manner. Now it’s highly unusual that this has taken so long to identify, your magical guardian should have noticed and Ollivander should have reported it when you bought a more advanced wand than normally sold to first years.’
‘I’m not meant to have my wand then.’ His fingers curled as if trying to grip a wand which was not there.
‘You are lad it chose you. But most people would buy a wand like yours around their OWL year when their core has naturally expanded, and they are able to handle that much magic. The abuse you suffered has caused you to rely on your magic for your wellbeing and has unnaturally expanded your reserves.
‘So as long as I’m abused I’m not a threat.’
‘No. You aren’t a threat to anybody lad. Look at me, you are not a risk, don’t you worry about this. Your teachers can be informed to monitor your casting but with practice, you should have a firm grasp of magic. Luckily we caught this early before any problems arose and you can continue learning magic at school like all your friends. Abuse is not the answer.’
‘It most certainly is not,’ Augusta came back into the room and wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulder. ‘You will not be going back to those Muggles. Now I take it, we must heal the injuries and this will calm his core and limit any further expansion?’
‘Indeed Augusta. I’m afraid it will be a few days in bed young man with Skelegro and a few other nasty potions to boost organ function and reduce scarring. I also think a regime of nutrient potions and a good healthy diet plenty of veg from your gardens should see him well on track for a return to school.’
‘That can be done. What of the inoculations? Will he be well enough to visit Frank and Alice at New Year?’
‘I will check up on you in a week and seeing how things are going, I will give you the potions then and you should have no issues with visiting the hospital.’
Harry was put to bed and dosed with multiple potions including Skelegro leading Harry to confess that Dean wasn’t wrong about how awful it was. On the upside, his host and hostess didn’t leave his side and they had progressed to playing actual poker, chess was another matter entirely.
After a quiet New Year Harry was deemed well enough to be let out of bed although he was still taking potions to help his body and would be into the new term at Hogwarts. However, he was well enough to visit the Longbottoms in the Hospital. The visit was planned for the next morning and then lunch in the alley before heading to the bank to try and sort out Harry’s accounts
St Mungo’s wasn’t what Harry had expected. They had flooed into a large atrium filled with multiple people being either very busy or very bored.
‘Come along boys, do stick close, it’s always busy this time of year, winter bugs, why people don’t take the yearly potions I do not know.’ Neville’s Gran said as she herded them over to a set of lifts. ‘Summon the lift will you please, Neville, I don’t feel like the stairs today.’ Once the lift arrived they swept aboard along with multiple other people, including one who was missing a leg who got off at the floor for travel-related damage.
The three of them managed to get off the lift on the fourth floor and headed over to the Janus Thickey ward for spell damage. The ward had a reception and when they reached it, the woman at the desk looked up.
‘Ah, Lady Longbottom here to see your family and you’ve brought young Heir Longbottom and a friend, how lovely. It’s a good day today for both of them so I’m sure you’ll have a lovely visit.’ She ushered them past the desk to the doors, which she unlocked with a tap of her wand. Once they were past the doors she closed them and Harry heard them lock behind him.
‘It’s to keep the patients inside in case any of them get active,’ Neville explained upon seeing Harry staring at the door. Harry gave Neville a tight smile before they hurried after Madam Longbottom who was walking to her son and daughter in law’s room. Before the visit, Neville had explained about how his parents had been tortured by Death Eaters and hadn’t recovered from it. Harry wasn’t sure what was worse, having dead parents or parents who didn’t recognise their own child. In the end, he concluded both were terrible and life wasn’t a competition. As he drew closer to the room Harry could hear Neville’s Gran talking to the occupants.
‘Ah I see they weren’t wrong, it is a good day for you both. Well, how lovely and such a treat we have for you today, Neville’s come for a visit and he’s brought his friend, young Harry, your godson, Alice, poor Lilly’s and James’ boy. You remember James, don’t you Frank, in the year below you at Hogwarts and we fostered him for a summer, well his son looks just like him.’ As she was saying all this, the two boys walked into the room.
‘Here they are, do come over and say hello,’ Augusta encouraged.
Harry wasn’t sure who was supposed to be saying hello but not wanting to be rude headed over towards the occupants in the beds. They looked ill but not sickly, more as if they were very tired and hadn’t gotten enough rest. Despite this Harry could see parts of his friend in them both and he smiled at the two of them.
‘Hello again, I’m Harry, we knew each other when I was a baby. Madam Longbottom has been kind enough to give me some photos.’ As he stood between the beds Harry found himself chatting away to the two occupants of the beds despite their lack of response. He went on to tell them about school and how well he and Neville were doing and their friendship with Hermione leaving out anything negative in case it distressed them. As he wound down his one-sided chat, he noticed both Longbottoms, he had come in with were smiling at him.
‘Well isn’t that lovely, hasn’t our Neville done well for himself.’ Madam Longbottom stated before telling the pair about things that had happened since their last visit while Neville held his dad’s hand. A couple of hours later after Neville and Harry had been properly embarrassed through tales of their babyhood it came time to leave. As they were leaving the room there was a shuffling behind them and they turned to find Alice standing there.
She reached out a fist towards Neville, which he, in turn, reached to. Once their hands connected she dropped what she was holding onto his hand and gave him a vacant smile. Drawing his hand back, Harry saw she had given Neville a sweet wrapper. Alice then offered her other fist towards Harry. Giving Neville a startled glance he put his own forward toward her at Neville’s sign of encouragement. As their hands touched he felt an object fall towards his palm and he curled his fingers around it. As they drew apart Harry glanced down and saw that he had also been given a sweet wrapper although his was green.
‘Oh, Alice dear, how lovely of you to give both boys a present, such a generous soul you are.’ As she said this Madam Longbottom gently guided Alice back towards the bed she had come from. ‘Back to bed now you don’t want to overdo it and make yourself sick.’ She tucked Alice into her bed and the boys turned back and went out the room.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ Neville said. ‘Mum, she likes to give me sweet wrappers, I’ve got a collection of them.’
‘Neville I don’t mind, I think it’s great that your mum cares and remembers you enough to give you a gift each time.’ As he said this he saw Neville perk up and look pleased that his mum was doing so much despite her condition. ‘You don’t mind do you that she gave me one do you?’ Harry questioned Neville. He didn’t want to give up the wrapper, it wasn’t worth anything, but it was a gift from his godmother and meant more than to him than he expected.
‘No. I don’t mind, I’m glad that she enjoyed our visit so much. Plus she doesn’t give me green ones, mine all have animals on them,’ at this Neville showed Harry the wrapper with its picture of a toad on. ‘Most of them have a toad on them it’s why Trevor means so much to me, it’s a connection to mum and dad when I’m at school.’ Harry hummed his understanding. Turning his wrapper in his hand he let out a gasp when he saw the picture on the wrapper.
‘Neville, I think your mum remembers more than they think.’ At Neville’s curious glance Harry showed him the green wrapper with a picture of a lily on. Before the boys could act on this discovery, Neville’s Gran came out of the room and directed them towards the doors.
Lunch in the café was a happy affair and the boys showed Madam Longbottom the wrappers to which she smiled sadly and agreed that Alice was aware but sadly not aware enough to come home. Slightly disappointed they accepted this but hoped that she would recover further, Frank too.
Gringotts was as Harry remembered. The Goblins were an impressive race and one given easily to offence, according to Madam Longbottom and they certainly wouldn’t have appreciated Hagrid’s clumsiness in manner and emptying his pockets on the desk. It was hoped that if they came back with better manners the Goblins might be more cooperative and Harry might get more information. After all, they wouldn’t want to offend an account holder too badly according to Augusta.
Unfortunately, Madam Longbottom didn’t know the name of the Potter account manager and they were relying on the shared interests between the Longbottoms and Potters to get them anywhere. As such, they had set up a meeting with the Longbottom manager Sharprock.
Unlike the first time that he had been in the bank, they didn’t join a queue leading towards a counter but instead headed towards a set of doors that again had a Goblin guard. As they reached the doors Neville’s Gran acknowledged the two guards, which the boys emulated.
‘I have a meeting with Sharprock, my Grandson and his godbrother are attending.’ After a piercing look, the goblins opened the door and they went through into an ornate corridor. The corridor had multiple doors spaced down with strange symbols carved into them.
‘The names on the doors are all in Gobblygook. The goblins don’t care if you can’t read it,’ Neville supplied when he saw Harry looking at the symbols. ‘They do put the paperwork in English though or else nobody would agree to any kind of investment.’ Once they reached the door, which presumably belonged to Sharprock they stood outside.
‘The Goblins are a punctual lot and they don’t like encouraging time-wasting; it’s why they have no chairs in the corridor.’ Harry thought that was probably a good way to make people turn up on time.
‘What if you’re late to your meeting?’ In answer to Harry’s question, he received a harsh laugh from a person who had appeared in the doorway.
‘If you’re late little heir you don’t get your meeting and a penalty on your accounts. Madam Longbottom, come in, time is wasting.’ The three of them followed the Goblin into his office. The office was well appointed and organised. There were only a few papers on the desk, no doubt those needed for the meeting. Harry reached into his pocket so he could grasp his vault key. He didn’t want to re-enact Hagrid and fail to produce it when prompted.
‘Now what business do you have at Gringotts? Your accounts are in order and statements not due for another few weeks,’ the goblin hadn’t even needed to look at the paperwork to discuss this which impressed Harry.
‘Indeed Gringotts is as efficient as ever. However, I have recently become concerned about some of the joint ventures between the Longbottoms and the Potters.’
‘Oh, indeed are they not profitable enough for you?’ The goblin was curious and looking at Harry as he said this.
‘We have no issue with the investments and contracts on House Longbottom side; however, we are concerned as Heir Potter has no idea of his holdings.’
‘He hasn’t read his statements, Madam that is hardly a problem for the bank.’
‘He hasn’t read his statements, because he hasn’t received any, I think that most certainly is a problem for the bank,’ was Madam Longbottom’s rejoinder, who appeared to quite enjoy the verbal sparring.
‘Are you sure he is the heir?’ Harry thought that this was a little bit insulting although a valid point.
‘He has the trust vault key and was granted entry, by such logic he is the accepted heir by Gringotts and should be receiving statements. He is also Neville’s godbrother; magic binds them, he is Harry Potter.’ As she said this last part Harry and Neville looked at each other to see if they could spot some kind of link between the two of them. ‘The magic isn’t visible boys, but it’s there if you know how to look.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘By knowing how to look,’ Sharprock replied unhelpfully.
‘You will, I’m sure, have noticed you have a peripheral awareness of each other. And while you can’t share your magic, it can interact.’ Augusta added
‘Excuse me Neville, but what does your toad have to do with this?’
‘Harry’s interacted with him.’
‘He helped me find the platform; I mean how many other toads are there; especially ones prone to escapology. I remember you from the platform ma’am, reminding Neville not to lose Trevor again as you’d just found him again. He also led to us meeting on the train.’
‘Well, there you go boys. Your bond exists.’
‘And strong enough for a familiar to sense, even after years of separation, therefore we must have the Potter heir, but he has no statements, where are they going?’ mused Sharprock
‘That is the question and who is controlling the vaults?’
‘That Madam is a question for the Potters, not the Longbottoms.’
‘Unless they bankrupt the Potters and the Longbottoms suffer by virtue of shared interests.’
‘Very well then you have argued your point well enough. Graspclaw was the last to hold the Potter accounts, he may still.’ Turning to Harry ‘Do you have your keys, Heir.’ At this Harry pulled out the key and placed it on the desk.
‘Just this one sir,’ replied Harry.
‘Ah, curious and this was to your trust vault?’
‘Who took you to your vault, or do you not remember the names of Goblins like so many of your kind?’
‘It was Griphook sir.’
‘So, you do remember us little heir, very good, most don’t bother. Griphook is of the same clan as Graspclaw and will have been duty bound to inform the manager of your visit and withdrawal. So why don’t you have any statements?’ The last part was said more to himself than to the others in the room and so they didn’t respond. ‘Do you have a Magical Guardian little Heir?’
‘I don’t know sir,’ Harry was feeling slightly confused at this point he had never heard of one before.
‘His parents are dead and my Alice his godmother is unable to perform her duties while the other godparent is in prison. There is nobody to fill the role.’
‘What of the Headmaster does he not take on guardianship of those without magical connections?’
‘He is the guardian of the Muggle-born, Heir Potter although Muggle-raised, if you can call it that,’ this was said with a great deal of scorn, ‘does not fall into this group. Dumbledore, to his great disappointment, is ineligible to hold the position of Guardian to a peer, as he is a commoner. While he may try and hide that with fancy titles Heir Potter outranks him.’ Harry wasn’t aware of this but by the slightly startled look on Neville’s face, it was news to him too.
‘Yes, I do recall the man trying to change the law in the early 80s to include all orphans in his protection. He should be commended for managing to unify the whole Wizengamot at such a time, even if it was against him. But that does leave the question of Heir Potter’s statements, if he was without a guardian as we believe he should be receiving them, otherwise they are going to someone posing as his guardian.’
Is Aunt Petunia receiving the statements? Harry wondered, Is that why Dudley was always getting new things? Before Harry could become too distressed, he remembered his trust vault. There was no way the Dursleys would have left it untouched if they knew about it.
‘Leave the problem with me, Madam Longbottom, your allocated time is now over, have a good day.’ Harry couldn’t help but feel the last part was slightly sarcastic. However, the three of them rose and Harry only just remembered to retrieve his key before they were shown out of the door and back to the corridor. Rather than stay in the bank, Madam Longbottom led them out and back through the Alley to the floos.
‘I’m sorry to have wasted the afternoon, Gran Longbottom,’ Harry said once they were settled into the sitting room in the manor.
‘Nonsense, we learnt an awful lot. We also managed to light a fire under the Goblins and whatever else you say, they will be motivated if there’s profit on the line.’
‘Not that I’m ungrateful but why are you doing all of this, it’s not just to do with the Longbottom holdings is it?’
‘No dear boy, it isn’t to do with money, that’s just an excuse for the goblins, a transparent one at that but sometimes the world needs these little screens. Don’t think for a second that Sharprock bought what we were selling. I’m doing this because you are my Grandsons godbrother, if things had been different you would have been raised as family and be calling me Gran Longbottom without hesitation, don’t think I didn’t catch that young man.’ Harry blushed looking down. ‘It’s also because of common decency, I will not allow you to go back to those Muggles, I know the report of what they did to you and there is no way I shall accept your return to them.’
‘Hagrid said I had to go back because there were wards keeping me safe.’
‘Bah, what rubbish. You’re not safe in that house dear boy, how many broken bones do you think children normally get how many concussions and burns. No, that house may keep out dark magic but there is more than one kind of evil in this world.’ The three fell silent contemplating the evil and how it had broken their families.
‘Gran,’ asked Neville quietly.
‘What is it, Neville?’
‘If Harry has no magical guardian does that mean he is emancipated, and he can come and live with us?’
‘That is what I’m hoping Neville.’ The boys shared a look, the thought of growing up together now was a possibility and hope, which he had crushed after his first visit to Diagon Alley, was blooming in Harry’s chest. ‘Now I know it’s exciting boys, but you must keep this quiet. We have a claim due to Alice, but the Malfoys and Tonks have one through your Godfather Harry.’
‘I haven’t heard anything about him until today Ma’am, who is he?’
‘I’m not surprised they kept it quiet from you. Sirius Black was your father’s best friend; they were like brothers, Frank used to say. He was the secret keeper for your family when you were in hiding and it’s because of him that you were found. He also killed another friend of your family and thirteen Muggles before he was captured. Now many say it was because he was a Death Eater, all along, his family name was always against him. The Black family are an old one, almost died out now though, but very much invested in dark magic. They are named after stars, some say that it’s the only light they have in their life. Utter hogwash, of course, people prefer to remember the infamous over the good. But Sirius, he was a good one, I doubt and so did Frank, that he betrayed you. Rather I think they tortured him till his mind broke, had no idea what he was doing poor man. He should have been put on the ward, but no the Ministry wanted to be seen as doing something and so he went to prison.’
Harry wasn’t sure what to say after so much information. He was used to adults not telling him anything rather than giving him facts and letting him make up his own mind. He also wasn’t used to adults fighting in his corner. Harry managed to choke out a thank you before he was excused and went to try and sort out his conflicting emotions.
The rest of the Holiday passed without any more emotional meetings and Harry was a bit disappointed to be heading back to Hogwarts. However, the thought of seeing Hermione and being able to cast magic again, without the stress on his core, was something to look forward to.
Sharprock hadn’t yet figured out the issue with bank statements but he was according to his letter having meetings with Graspclaw. Statements were being sent, but they weren’t sure where to. However, they could all relax about the orders being given, as apparently none had been received in the last decade
As a treat on the last day of the holidays, Gran arranged for a visit to the Longbottom Plantations. Neville was the last in the line of generations of herbologists. At some point, a pragmatic family member had decided to utilise the family gift and set up a plantation to grow plants for sale. The majority of the plants went to become potion supplies but some of them were sold as house and garden plants.
Harry’s experiences at the Dursleys had prepared him for Garden centres but the one the Longbottoms ran was unlike any he had ever been to. Large greenhouses were dotted around fields filled with plants of different colour and shape. Each greenhouse held different types of plants, some tropical other more temperate. One of the greenhouses was turned into a cave filled with nocturnal plants and spores while another was filled with aquatic variants. They were all teeming with not just plant life but also magical animals and creatures.
‘It helps with pollination of the plants, if they are done naturally, it’s also less stressful if they have the creatures and other plants nearby, nothing grows in isolation you need to create a habitat,’ Neville explained to Harry. ‘It’s why the plants here are so much more robust than those at Hogwarts and in other establishments. The Longbottoms are licensed to have the magical creatures due to the wards and experience we have, other places have some of the licenses but not for the more dangerous animals.
‘Wow,’ Harry exhaled out understanding as he watched the display before him.
Madam Longbottom had allowed them to have a plant each to take back with them to cheer up their dorm once they took down the Christmas tree. Plant shopping was done differently than in the Muggle world here. Normally an employ would guide them around the greenhouses recording which plants the customer was interested in, but as the owner, they got to wander around the safer areas unsupervised. In the end, Harry decided that he would get a Lithop, living stones existed in the Muggle world but the magical variations were much cooler and the one Harry chose changed colour with the moon cycle. Neville feeling more adventurous chose a bonsai tree, which would look good in the window. They also got a Flutterbloom for Hermione to keep in her dorm as a very late birthday present.
The train ride to school was a boisterous affair with all the Gryffindor first years that had gone home popping in at some point or another. Hermione was thrilled with the Flutterbloom as were the other two girls who thought it would make the room much more homely.
Although Harry wanted to tell her about the visit to the bank he held back until they were somewhere private. He didn’t know who the Tonks were, but he didn’t want to live with the Malfoys, so he wasn’t going to risk having Madam Longbottom’s manoeuvring revealed before she was ready. Instead, they discussed his healing which pleased Hermione greatly even if he did have to have Skelegro to repair the damage. Apparently, the Muggle-born were taken to the hospital during their trip to Diagon Alley to get their vaccinations and while they were not compulsory it was really uncommon for a child to come to school without having had any.
They were welcomed back to Hogwarts with another feast, which according to Ron had nothing on the Christmas dinner that had been thrown. Any jealousy he had shown over being left behind was forgotten, as he regaled them with tales of playing chess with the Headmaster and how he saw the corridor being rebuilt. Apparently not much had changed when they were gone but Dumbledore had a few announcements. The castle was now fixed so classes were all back in the original places and Filch had banned another two items since the start of the year.
After traipsing up all the stairs the first years were tired enough to go straight to bed and parted ways in the common room.
‘Have you guys seen Trevor?’
‘You lost him already? We’ll help you look,’ Harry offered.
‘He won’t have gone far, he never does. Probably sitting somewhere and giving Scabbers the stink eye.’ Dean said while checking under his bed. Trevor could often be found staring unblinkingly at the rat. It was rather unnerving and so they had taken to keeping the two animals separate and in cages.
Checking his bed for the toad, as he was often found nearby it, probably because of the bond, Harry spotted a parcel on his bed. Looking at the other beds he noticed that they didn’t have anything on them. Picking up the parcel Harry couldn’t see a name anywhere, but with it being on his bed it was likely meant for him.
‘What is it? You found him.’ Harry’s inspection of the item had caught the interest of the other boys.
‘No, found this. It was on my bed; reckon it’s a present. How long has it been here Ron?’
‘Wasn’t here this morning when I got up, must be from an older year who just got back,’ Ron suggested. Shrugging his shoulders Harry put the parcel into his trunk unopened.
‘You’re not going to open it?’ Ron demanded.
‘Nah, I’ll wait to morning, I’m too tired to deal with mysteries right now,’ as the other boys accepted Harry’s reasoning, his mind was turning about what it could be and who it was from. Everybody he knew had already given him a present, even Hagrid. While he wanted to open it, he also didn’t want to be that ugly person who opened presents in front of others who didn’t have anything, Dudley used to do it to Harry and he couldn’t stand such gloating. He would wait until morning when the other boys’ curiosity had died down.
‘I’ve got him.’ Seamus, with a flourish he passed the now captured toad back over to his owner.
Getting up early Harry saw the others were still asleep so decided to open his gift now. Undoing the string and brown paper Harry saw no clue about the sender. He didn’t think it was from a year mate as they had all used colour charms on their paper. Inside the parcel was a cloak.
Unlike the one from Neville, the fabric looked old and had an unusual pattern that Harry couldn’t decipher on it. All in all, Harry didn’t think it was really his style but he could appreciate the thought. While the others were still sleeping he thought he would try it on and not have to deal with their mocking. As he shook out the cloak as small note fluttered to the ground. Hoping that it had some information on the sender Harry picked it up.
Your father left this in my possession shortly before he died. Use it well.
There was no name with the note but Harry couldn’t care, he had something from his dad. Yeah, his dad may have had weird taste in clothes but that didn’t matter. Getting up Harry went into the bathroom with his dads cloak to try it on in front of the full-length mirror. He wondered if there were any photos of his dad wearing the cloak and he decided to ask Gran Longbottom, it was a distinct enough item that it would stand out.
Harry threw the cloak around his shoulders and drew the cloak around him. As he looked in the mirror he gasped. His body was gone. Reaching towards the mirror to check it was still working Harry saw his hand reappear as it came clear from the material of the cloak. Taking it off completely Harry was relieved to see his body was still there and unchanged.
He had a cloak, which made him invisible. It was an invisibility cloak. On second thought Harry doubted that there would be any photos of his dad wearing it and if there was how would they know he was in the pictures?
Bundling the cloak up in his arm Harry decided to head back to his room and get ready for the day. Although excited by the cloak he wasn’t sure he wanted to share it with everybody, Neville and Hermione were a different matter though, he’d tell them later. As he got ready for the day the other occupants of the room woke up.
‘Hey, Harry did you open the parcel?’ Dean asked while getting dressed.
‘Yeah, it was a cloak that belonged to my dad.
‘That’s cool, what’s it like?’
‘Sort of weird, I mean I like it and it’s my dad’s but I won’t be wearing it out and about if you know what I mean.’
‘I get it my mum has some stuff from the 70s still and that stuff is wild.’
‘Flared trousers are a big no, in my mind,’ Harry agreed.
‘And the patterns, what were they thinking?’
‘They weren’t, they were stoned,’ Seamus quipped. ‘Me dad has some of his stuff too.’
‘At least it’s not just the magical world which had weird fashion in the 70s,’ Neville added. ‘That said, I think Dumbledore is still partially there. Did you see his robes last night?’
‘He’s a great wizard,’ Ron defended as the rest of them shuddered at the memory.
‘He may be great, but mate that’s got nothing to do with taste.’ With Seamus’ comment, they left the room and headed down to start the day.
That afternoon Harry took Neville and Hermione aside and told them about the invisibility cloak. According to Hermione, they were really rare so it was probably for the best that they didn’t tell everybody about it. While Harry had considered using it to sneak around after curfew he didn’t want it to be damaged or confiscated, so, in the end, decided not to.
Harry and the others fell into their previous routine faster than they had in September. Snape hadn’t gained a spirit of good cheer over the holiday and instead seemed determined to make them all miserable. Quirrell was equally disappointing; he had taken to policing the courtyards after the Weasley twins had hit him in the back of the head with snowballs. Professor Sprout, however, was delighted to hear about the new plants they had got over the break and she asked them to be brought to class so that everybody could learn from them.
Homework was piled on them as the month continued and the trio found themselves in the Library more often than not. Madam Pince had, due to the popularity of certain books, removed them from loan, so to study from them you had to do so in the library. The trio didn’t mind this, as it was quieter than in the common room. While they were doing an assignment on magical moth pollination in the library, they spotted Hagrid in the section on magical animals.
‘I don’t think that when you are that big you can be inconspicuous,’ Hermione said after observing Hagrid for a while.
‘I think it’s less his size and more to do with the fact that he never comes into the library.’ Harry had to agree with Neville. If Hagrid came to the library more often and acted more normally he wouldn’t stand out quite as much as he did at the moment.
‘Hermione, what’s that section about?’ Harry asked more interested in the unusual event than the variation in the fuzziness of moth’s legs.
‘Over there it’s more dangerous creatures, I think that shelf is about dragons.’
‘Really, he told me when he showed me around Diagon Alley that he always wanted a pet dragon.’
‘Well dragons are hardly pet material,’ Hermione huffed ‘I wonder why he’s reading about them now though?’
‘Maybe he’s planning a visit to a reserve over Easter or he could just be curious.’ As Hagrid turned to leave he saw the three of them watching him and startled so badly he dropped his books.
‘Madam Pince won’t like that,’ Hermione said. ‘He does seem awfully suspicious, doesn’t he?’
‘I’m sure it’s nothing, Hermione. We can go down to his house at the weekend maybe, he did tell us to drop by whenever, when we saw him before Christmas.
‘That’s true Harry,’ with the matter resolved, for now, Hermione decided to go back to interrogating Neville on moths.
That Friday before potions Harry sent a note to Hagrid asking if it would be alright for the three of them to come and visit for tea. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that they received their reply
You can come, just you three mind and don’t be followed.
‘Is it just me or is that a very suspicious note?’
‘You’re not wrong, it is very suspicious Hermione, do you think we should go wearing my dad’s cloak?’ After thinking about it for a while she shook her head.
‘It will be like whatever pulls the carriages, disembodied footprints are much more suspicious than three children out for a walk.’ Nodding at her logic the three of them headed up to their rooms to get warm clothes for the trek through the snow.
In the end, they needn’t have worried about being followed and made it to the hut without issue. However, once within Hagrid’s house, the three of them had to quickly remove several layers that had started to steam from the heat.
‘Wow, Hagrid you’re definitely not going to be getting cold despite the snow.’ At Neville’s comment, Hagrid seemed to look at bit flustered.
‘It’s not that warm now, yer just cold from bein’ outside. Ere why don’t yer have some tea to warm yerselves,’ as he said this Hagrid moved over to the fireplace and put a kettle onto a hook above the roaring flames. ‘Ave some cakes why don’t yer. Fang’s been ankering after them all mornin.’ The three of them said thank you but decided from previous experience not to take one of Hagrid’s rock buns, which were true to the first part of their name rather than the second.
‘How’re things been goin for the three of yer. Ave a good break?’ Hermione cheerfully started telling Hagrid all about the Alps and her skiing holiday before being interrupted by the kettle boiling. Once the four of them had a cup they went back to discussing school and how they were doing.
In the middle of a discussion on how long the snow lasts around the school, Harry noticed that there was a rattling still coming from the fireplace. At first, he had thought it was the kettle as the tea boiled but it was still there.
‘Hagrid what’s that rattling noise?’ In the end, his curiosity got the better of him and there was a lull in the conversation.
‘What noise, there ain’t no noise,’ unfortunately for Hagrid, his denouncement was betrayed by the noise.
‘I can hear it too Hagrid, it’s coming from the fireplace, is something broken? I’m sure one of the Professors will nip down and fix it,’ Hermione offered. However, at the thought of a teacher turning up Hagrid went pale.
‘No. No. No need for none of em. Nowts broke. It’s well… might jus show yer. Come on round ‘ere can you see in the embers there.’ As he pointed it out Harry could see amongst the white-hot embers a black round shape.
‘That’s an egg Hagrid, What’s it doing in the fire?’ Hermione cried.
‘Hungarian Horntails, they need a right lot of heat to atch, I’ve been readin up on it.’
‘But Hagrid that’s a species of dragon,’ Neville replied looking both fascinated and horrified. ‘Where did you get the egg?’
‘Right nice bloke down the Hogshead gave it to me in a poker match over the Holidays,’ was the cheerful response. ‘Right exciting it is, mind you don’t go tellin no one now,’ he added looking a bit cautious. After agreeing not to say anything the three bid him goodbye and headed back to the castle.
‘I know we said we wouldn’t tell anybody but that’s a dragon and this is a school and he’s in a wooden hut,’ Hermione whispered frantically as she gestured with her arms. ‘It’s not going to end well.’
‘I know that Hermione but we can’t do anything,’ Neville’s reply was slightly breathless from the cold. ‘If we move the egg now it will die and Hungarian Horntails are rare. It’s a worse crime to kill one than to breed them illegally.’
‘Then what do we do?’ she hissed
‘Can we move it after it’s hatched, Nev?’ Harry asked.
‘Yeah in the first few weeks they are small enough to move. Are you suggesting we let it hatch and then move it?’ It was currently the best Harry could come up with.
‘On one hand, that’s brilliant Harry, on the other, how do we move a dragon and where do we send it?’ Hermione asked clearly relieved that some plan was coming together. ‘Also how do we get Hagrid to part from it, he seems attached and it’s not even hatched?’
‘I think that last part is easier than the where. Hagrid cares, so as long as we convince him it’s in the dragons’ best interest, he’ll go for it,’ Neville said. ‘Maybe we suggest he can still visit it.’
Over the next couple of days, the three of them were seen often in the library, luckily, this wasn’t unusual for them, so nobody questioned why they were there.
‘It’s no good,’ Neville sighed. ‘The only place where we can send it is a reserve and they’ll ask questions where the dragon comes from.’
‘Do you think we could ask Ron’s older brother, the one in Romania, to take it? I mean he knows Hagrid so he should understand the situation.’
‘That’s all well and good apart from the fact that it’s illegal, Harry. International dragon smuggling is a high crime.’ Ever since Hermione had discovered this, she was concerned about reaching out to any of the international reserves.
It was a fear Harry could understand he didn’t want his magic to become damaged, especially after he’d just been healed. Magic was apparently a spirited entity. Neville had sort of touched on it when they’d talked about feuding but in reality, there were many ways to upset Magic
‘Could we claim we made a vow not to reveal its birthplace?’ Harry asked.
‘That’s a great idea Harry.’ Hermione exclaimed until she saw Neville shaking his head. ‘Why not?’
‘The law has ways of working around vows or else there would never be prosecutions.’
‘But doesn’t that upset Magic too?’ Harry asked getting confused by the intricacies of magical law, he could see how people ended up dedicating their lives to learning it.
‘No. The most common way is to either break or not uphold a magical vow, working around it is fine. If somebody betrayed their magical oaths such as spouse not honouring their marriage contract, the bond between them break with all the consequences befalling the guilty party. Broken bonds stress magical cores and if too many occur people lose their magic. Its why so many contracts are carefully worded and Wizarding law so easy to slip through, nobody is foolish enough to make a law which could cost them their own magic.’ Neville explained to them.
‘What about killing?’ Harry asked thinking about the situation with Sirius. ‘Surely that seriously upsets magic?’
‘Killing is murkier. Intent matters. If you’re were killing for pleasure Magic retaliates. Dark Lords often have issues with their magic and need to do dark rituals to shore up the damage done by their activities, well, that and gain minions to share out the burden. The need to keep doing the rituals to counter Magic’s ire is why people say dark magic is addictive. But that’s only for the blackest of arts and most dark families know not to delve that deep.’
‘But Neville that means Dark Lords can’t be redeemed,’ exclaimed Hermione.
‘I think they’re beyond caring.’ Harry pointed out. ‘What about killing magical creatures or by accident?’
‘Intent again, Harry, Magic factors in circumstances. To kill a great magical creature deliberately would cause a curse. But killing any magical creatures is a bad idea. Great magical creatures vary from normal magical creatures in the fact that they can draw on wild magic and therefore are deeply tied into Magic itself. Magic likes them possibly more than us, they’re less trouble.’
‘But all the stringent laws are in place anyway?’ Hermione waved her hand towards the pile of law texts as she said this.
‘Yeah they are put in place to protect the animals, some of their body parts can be used in wands and potions so they need regulating.’ Or more like the Wizards need protecting from themselves, Harry thought rather cynically as he listened to Neville’s explanation.
‘So, killing a dragon is a high crime because of the offence to Magic because of their connection, even if it’s an accident?’
‘But does the curse come into play with accidents?’ Harry asked feeling this was an important thing to know.
‘Yeah, it can do if you’re found out and tried in court. High crime trials are different to regular ones because Magic is invoked to do justice.’
‘So, the curse isn’t immediate?’ Hermione asked.
‘Yes and no. If you kill with intent it happens straight away. However, in other circumstances, you have a trial and if found guilty Magic is called upon to enact justice. However just because court found you guilty doesn’t mean Magic does. Nobody’s quite sure why some people are found innocent and others aren’t. However, most people aren’t willing to risk it. I told you magical law is really convoluted.’
‘So, its sort of fair. Are you released if found innocent by Magic?’ Hermione tried to clarify.
‘Nope, not always.’
‘So, we don’t want to risk killing the dragon in any way. I didn’t see anything about age being a factor.’
‘It isn’t, having a wand means you’re old enough to face trial.’
‘Ollivander didn’t mention that.’ Harry muttered interrupting Neville.
‘He didn’t, did he,’ Hermione said look perturbed. ‘The problem is from what I’ve read dragons are a lot like budgies.’
‘Budgies don’t breathe fire, they’re smaller too.’ Harry said grinning at the thought of such a creature.
‘I know that, Harry. But if you stress them, they die, so do dragons. Dragons because they’re highly magical, they don’t do well with external magic, such a portkey or apperation.’
‘So, smuggling them kills them and then we all go on trial for a high crime in which we may or may not lose our magic.’ Harry summed up.
‘Yes, which is why we need somewhere close by to move it to. So, it can be flown by broom.’
‘Well like I said apperation and Portkeys out. Probably the floo too, there’s no account of anybody trying that. So that leaves flying with them, or the Knight Bus which may be too public for what we intend.’
‘The thought of being trapped on that purple death trap with an enraged dragon will give me nightmares,’ Neville assured Hermione.
‘What about one of the British reserves, could they take it? They could sort out transportation too.’ They had already been over this Neville had explained that the reserves were set up for British breeds and Horntails were too territorial to fit in with these pods. However, Harry could appreciate Hermione’s perseverance.
‘Could we set up our own reserve then?’ Neville shook his head at Hermione’s next question.
‘There’s far too much paperwork and licensing to get through, it would take too long before it was all in place and the dragon would be too big.’ As he was saying this, Neville also has a look of dawning wonder. ‘But if the licensing is in place then all we have to do is move it.’
‘I know Neville, we’ve been over this already but we have found no place that could,’ Harry had to agree with Hermione on this.
‘That’s because we’ve been looking in the wrong places,’ Neville’s eyes were bright with excitement, ‘Longbottom Plantations.’ At this Harry gasped, of course, the Longbottoms already had permission for dangerous animals.
‘Does your licensing cover dragons?’ he asked hoping that they had a solution.
‘Not specifically, but it does cover XXXX animals. Dragons are classed as that, plus we don’t have any other ones, so there is no territory conflict,’ Neville added. ‘Dragon manure is also the best fertiliser so it’s not like it will adversely affect anything, it’s win-win for everybody.’
‘That’s brilliant Nev. What do we need to do to make it happen?’ asked Hermione, who looked like she wished to write a list and only the incriminating nature of such a thing was holding her back.
‘I’ll write to Gran. I think she’ll understand, and she can arrange the rest.’
With a plan in place, the three of them decided to focus on their schoolwork again. However, a few days later a note was delivered to Harry telling them that the dragon was hatching. In the end, they decided it was such a rare event it would be foolish to miss it. They also hoped that they could gently break their plan to Hagrid before he bonded with the dragon too much.
It was an interesting thing to watch, a dragon hatching. While the dragon needed heat to incubate it a needed smoke to hatch. They stood in the hut with damp cloths held to their faces; they were enchanted to keep out the smoke but Harry’s eyes still watered. Hagrid’s were looking shiny too, but with a different emotion. Getting him to give the creature up was possibly going to be harder than they hoped. As the egg cracked, they saw among the smoke a small serpentine figure unfurl and then suddenly lunge at Hagrid’s fingers.
‘Awh, look at the little tyke, he’s got spirit.’ Failing to get anywhere with Hagrid’s finger the dragon looked around for fresh prey. The steak Hagrid waived in front of it was ignored and instead, it fixed its eyes on Fang. On unsteady feet, it advanced on the boarhound.
‘Norbert, bad dragon, I’ve got your din dins here.’ The dragon stared at the man for a while before it refocused on the hound.
‘Neville can you grab Fang and we’ll put him outside, safe.’ Following Harry’s advice, Neville managed to coax the dog outdoors without falling afoul of the baby dragon. Denied it’s desired food a second time the little dragon threw a tantrum, gouged the floor and attempted to set the tablecloth on fire. A few sparks came from the creature but didn’t catch.
Harry couldn’t help but feel that Norbert wasn’t the right name for the dragon. The little creature looked like a cross between a snake and a swan and it certainly had the temper from both those animals. It didn’t quite fit the name Norbert and when he mentioned this to Neville later he agreed. Although names have power, they also have to be accepted and the little dragon evidently decided that it wasn’t a Norbert.
While the dragon finally settled on the steak Hermione decided to try and convince Hagrid to part from the creature.
‘Hagrid, I know you’re fond of Norbert, but do you really think this is the best place for him?’
‘I hatched him; I’m all he knows.’
‘But Hagrid what about Fang, you’re all he knows too, and he wouldn’t be safe here, even if he was kept outside, how long till he’ll be bitten or burnt by Norbert.’
‘Norbert wouldn’t mean it, he’s just a baby.’
‘Exactly Hagrid, he’s just a baby, he doesn’t have the control to know what is wrong and right. He could hurt somebody, or get hurt. Isn’t it better to have him somewhere he can grow up safe and spread his wings?’
Seeing Hagrid was wavering under Hermione’s reasoning Neville jumped in. ‘You could still visit him, you won’t be abandoning him.’
‘I wish I could lad, but there ain’t no reserves in Britain. I can’t be travelling abroad all the time; I’ve got me job to do.’
‘But Hagrid, you don’t have to go abroad.’ Neville continued his plea.
‘What do yer mean?’
‘Longbottom Plantation could take him, and then you could visit on the weekends and during the holidays.’
‘Aye, that’s a fine idea but I can’t see it happening.’
‘But Hagrid let me write to my Gran. You’ll see it will work out for the best.’ Neville had already written to his Gran and the paperwork was in place. However, Hermione had felt Hagrid wouldn’t take it well if he thought they had been planning to get rid of Norbert from the start and been plotting against him. So, they would come back tomorrow and present their plan complete with the paperwork.
On a nondescript afternoon, the three accompanied Hagrid to the school gates as he carried the crate with Norbert in along with a promptly shredded teddy bear. Once there he handed over the dragon to the Longbottoms newly employed Head Dragon Keeper and signed the transfer of ownership paperwork.
They had considered sneaking the dragon away from the castle at night using brooms and Harry’s invisibility cloak until Hermione pointed out that it was far too risky and too much like smuggling. This was far less suspicious and much more legal; they had framed it as a rescue operation for an abandoned black-market egg. Because of this Hagrid and the Longbottoms were protected from accusations of smuggling from political rivals. Although they hadn’t planned to, the three spent the rest of the afternoon having tea with Hagrid to console him over the loss of Norbert.
A fortnight after the dragon transfer Neville received a note from his Gran. The dragon had settled in well to its new home and the benefits were already being seen. However, they did discover that the dragon was a girl and was now called Norberta, a name that fit much better to Harry’s mind. There was also a message to Harry telling him that they had no news on the matter that came up over Christmas but they hadn’t given up.
The three decided that it would cheer Hagrid up to hear how well Noberta was doing and so headed down to see the giant. As hoped the news lifted the man’s mood and he was quick to give them all a bone-crushing hug.
‘I can’t thank yer all enough for what yer did for Norbby and me. Jus think, she’s a girl and I didn’t know. Better off she is with them who know what they’re doing.’ It was a relief for them all to know that Hagrid had accepted the change and that he was willing to move on.
It was a few days before the Easter break and Harry was looking forward to a second visit to Longbottom Manor. Professor McGonagall had expressed some concern and held him back to ask about the visit. However, Madam Longbottom had produced permission slips signed by the Dursleys.
It was, therefore, a bit of a concern to the three to receive a letter from Hagrid.
Harry, bring your friends down to me hut after lunch don’t be followed, I’ve got a right treat for you all.
‘You don’t think he’s got another dragon do you?’ Neville asked after reading the note.
‘I don’t think so, I mean he’s quite happy with how things turned out but I don’t know. Should we go?’
‘Yes. I mean it would be rude not to and he says it’s a treat and I don’t think breaking international law is ever considered a treat.’ The other two had to concede Harry’s point.
After lunch, the three of them dressed for the outdoors, despite the snow having melted there was still a chill in the air. Once they reached Hagrid’s they could see him standing outside waiting for them.
‘You wasn’t followed was yer?’ At their negative response, he grinned. ‘Good, I’ve got a right treat to thank yer for what you did with Norbby; it was right good of yer. If others knew bout this they would all be clammerin and it wouldn’ be a treat now would it.’ He beamed at his own logic and led the three of them round the back of his hut towards the forest.
‘Right yer know this forest don’t yer?’
‘Yes, it’s the forbidden one, we aren’t allowed in it Hagrid,’ Hermione answered.
‘Ah, yer no allowed in alone, but with the staff it’s alright. Some of the upper classes come in ere from time to time for their hands on learnin.’ Professor Sprout had mentioned that during one of her lectures and some of the Creature classes took place in the forest too according to the older students. Harry could see the benefit of those practical classes but was a bit hesitant about actually going into the forest. ‘Now don’ be frettin I know these woods and we ain’t going in deep.’ Hagrid led them into the forest.
On the edges, the forest wasn’t as bad as Harry had feared. It was a coniferous dark wood and the ground had little plant coverage, with mosses and lichens growing on the fallen timbers. They stuck to the path, which Hagrid was leading them down until they were going deeper into the forest, and the path faded away. Instead, they followed in the wake of Hagrid relying on him to keep them safe.
‘What do you think we are going to see?’
‘I don’t know but there’re all sorts of things in the woods according to Hogwarts a History. Admittedly some of those things I don’t want to meet,’ Hermione replied to Harry.
‘That’s what I’m concerned about too.’ Before Harry could dwell any longer on the dangers in the forest they stumbled into a clearing. The clearing was unlike the woods. It was light and full of life and plants, the border of the forest seemed in such contrast to the little oasis.
‘Ere we are, ain’t it a pretty area. There’ loads of nice plants ere you’ll like that Neville, your dad did, mind you that ain’t what we’re ere to see.’ Neville seemed delighted to be around the different plants and the fact that his dad had been here made it a certain treat for him.
Whatever they were waiting for, they weren’t sure but they didn’t mind sitting in the sun surrounded by the plants. After a while, Harry and Hermione got up to help Neville who was collecting plants. While they were pressing flowers into Hermione’s notebook Hagrid caught their attention and waved them over.
‘Look over there at the edge of the woods can yer see.’ Harry was trying to follow the direction Hagrid pointed them but was yet to see anything when suddenly Hermione gasped.
‘Oh look, can you see? Aren’t they gorgeous?’ Trying to follow her gaze Harry finally caught what the other two had seen. On the edge of the woods were a herd of Unicorns. As they watched, the Unicorns obviously decided they weren’t at risk from the group of them so came further out into the clearing. Turning towards the other two, Harry saw them sporting matching grins.
‘I’ve never seen Unicorns before, aren’t they magnificent. Are they wild Hagrid?’
‘Aye there’s a herd of them in the forest, I keep an eye on em but they know what they are doing and don’t need no interfering with. A good treat for yer isn’t it. Keep quiet now, there’s been a couple of foals this spring, yer might be able to see em.’ At this Hermione fell quiet intent on seeing a baby Unicorn. Harry could understand her eagerness as he was feeling it too.
For the next several hours they watched the herd of Unicorns, the foals had eventually appeared. In the sunshine, the three foals ran and bound around playing games in the safety of the clearing. The sun was beginning to drop in the sky and Hagrid indicated it was time for them to head back for dinner. Suddenly a scream echoed through the woods. At this, the Unicorns surrounded the foals and drew together; the larger animals in the herd drew to the front where the sound had come from ready to defend the younger animals.
‘Now don’t worry I’m sure it were nothin, jus a bird or somethin’ Hagrid said while drawing the three of them behind him. Harry wasn’t comforted surly the Unicorns would recognise a bird. As he was thinking this he saw movement along the edge of the forest.
Crashing through the undergrowth was another Unicorn; its gait was off and seemed to be stumbling more than running. Behind was something, something Harry couldn’t recognise. It had a shadowy form and didn’t seem to run but flow over the ground lunging at the Unicorn. The longer Harry looked at it the more the pain in his head increased. The pain was flowing from his scar making it difficult to concentrate on what was happening.
The Unicorn evidently sensing the others of its type veered towards them breaking into the clearing. In the red light of the setting sun, it became possible to see the silvery blood running from a ragged wound on the throat of the animal. Whatever had attacked the animal clearly didn’t want to come into the fading daylight, gave a rattling screech of frustration and threw itself back into the darkness of the woods.
‘Stay ere’ jus don’t move. I’ll go an check on the poor thing.’ Hagrid got up from the area he had been guarding them and cautiously approached the wounded animal.
‘What was that?’ Neville gasped.
‘I, I don’t know,’ Hermione whispered with tears running down her face. ‘It was evil though, so horribly evil. Harry, are you okay you look like you’re going to be sick?’ Harry shook his head and didn’t reply, he thought if he opened his mouth he would be. The three of them stood together holding hands watching Hagrid with the injured animal.
‘Do you think it will be okay, the wound looked bad,’ Neville asked but neither of them could answer. Finally, Hagrid got up and helped the Unicorn to its feet. It wobbled slightly before Hagrid got it stable. He then very carefully led the animal along beside him till he reached the trio.
‘Will they be okay Hagrid?’ Hermione pleaded.
‘Aye he should be, I’ll take him back to me hut and care for ‘im till he’s better. Should get yer lot out of ere too, stay close an get yer wands out now. Professor Flitwick taught yer Lumos?’ at their whispered yes, he continued. ‘Right, well when we’re clear the woods head right up to the castle and ask Professor McGonagall to come down will yer.’ At this, the three of them pulled out their wands and followed Hagrid and the injured animal to the edge of the woods.
While the forest hadn’t seemed too bad on the way to the clearing, now as darkness fell and they followed a Unicorn which had been attacked, every creak and crack was an unseen threat. After passing back into the wood unable to see where they came from or how to get out, the trio were tenser than they had ever been.
A slithering sound started to be heard coming from the darkness behind them and the pain bloomed in his scar again. Casting around the shadows the three of them tried to see the cause of the sound but the ever-shifting shade obscured it.
Abruptly the pain in his scar intensified and a shadow rushed Harry. He screamed and fell backwards clutching his wand but unable to utter a spell. As the creature came over him it suddenly screeched in pain as the injured Unicorn tossed the beast away from Harry. Rather than going for a second attack, whatever it was slunk back into the shadows.
‘Is yer okay Harry? Hermione? Neville? Is the three of yer okay?’ Hagrid frantically asked while trying to support the Unicorn and checking the three of them over.
On shaky feet, Harry got up and found his hand in Hermione’s who clutched at him a lot tighter than normal, but there was a comfort in her desperation. Neville was also on the floor and Harry bent over to help pull him up.
‘Right yer three let’s go now, no need to linger, safer when we’re out. Light up yer wands again and we’ll be off.’ At his prompt, Harry recast Lumos, as did Hermione however Neville didn’t.
‘Nev, What’s up?’
‘It’s broken, my wand I can’t use it.’ At this Neville was becoming increasingly distressed and his breathing started to come more rapidly. Reaching out he grabbed Neville’s hand and pulled him towards him and Hermione.
‘Take his hand Mione, stay to the middle Nev and let’s get out of here,’ Harry ordered, everything could be dealt with in the safety of Hogwarts. After a journey that felt much longer than it had on the way in, they made it out of the forest.
They quickly bid farewell to Hagrid who was settling the injured Unicorn and with a promise to send down McGonagall they ran into the safety of Hogwarts.
The last few days of term were tense for the three of them. While they felt safe in the castle they didn’t venture beyond the doors until it was time to leave for Easter break. Professor McGonagall had been in her office when they had come rushing in after the attack in the woods. She took one look at the children and demanded to know what had happened. After a garbled answer from the three of them, she herded them down to the infirmary to be given calming draughts. While under the care of Madam Pomfrey, Professor McGonagall had disappeared presumably to help Hagrid with the wounded Unicorn.
A few hours later their Head of their House had returned and reassured them they were in no trouble and neither was Hagrid. The Unicorn while exhausted, was under the joint care of Hagrid and Professor Kettelburn the Magical Creatures teacher.
The matter of Neville’s wand was more concerning. The wand, although not snapped, had a large crack running down the side and you could see the shimmer of the Unicorn hair core. Neville’s wand it turned out wasn’t his but rather his fathers and he was deeply distressed that he had broken it. In the end, it was Professor McGonagall who comforted him by reassuring him that Frank wouldn’t mind that the wand was damaged in the defence of his friends and she would speak to Gran about the incident. With a promise that he wouldn’t try to use the broken wand she led them back to their rooms and wished them a good night.
The train journey was for the three of them slightly subdued, but Hermione perked up when they saw her parents. Neville’s Gran was standing with them so after a quick goodbye and a promise to visit, they went their own separate ways. Back in the Manor Neville was still somewhat restrained so Harry excused himself and left grandmother and grandson to talk things through.
The next morning Harry came down to breakfast and was relieved to see a more positive looking Neville.
‘Good morning Harry. As I mentioned to Neville last night I have a bit of business at the Ministry this morning, to do with your guardianship but don’t worry about it. I hope that the pair of you can keep yourselves entertained until lunch.’ At their promise, she rose from the table and left to get ready for her meetings.
‘Everything okay Nev?’
‘Yeah, thanks for last night, Gran and I talked things through and she’s not cross with me about the wand. She’s proud of me for standing up for my friends even if I didn’t actually do anything when that thing attacked us. We’re going wand shopping this holiday to get me my own wand, which Gran admitted I should have had anyway.’ Pleased with the way things had worked out, Harry congratulated his friend on living up to his Gran’s expectations.
‘What should we do with the rest of the morning?’
‘I reckon we should make headway on the homework or else we’ll never get it done and Hermione will no doubt want to talk about it when she visits.’ With the plan agreed the two of them headed to the family library.
Later that evening, playing card games with Augusta, Harry’s curiosity finally got the better of him.
‘Gran Longbottom, Professor McGonagall said that you had permission to have me here from the Dursleys, how did you manage to get them to sign?’
‘Ha well, that was fun. I was tempted to go myself, but would no doubt have cursed those terrible people into the next millennium,’ the boys both snorted at this. ‘Now as tempting as that sounds it wouldn’t have helped me get you out of there. Too many laws against cursing Muggles were introduced after the war. No, I merely delegated, sent the house elves to get the signatures. They all wanted to go, in the end, I had to schedule shifts.’ Harry was delighted at the thought of Aunt Petunia being haunted by overly helpful elves waving paperwork at her. He wondered how long it took for her to give in. She wouldn’t want the freakishness in her house but he also doubted that she would want him to have fun.
‘Talking of those vile people and how to get rid of them, I’ve been busy. Gringotts failed to get a response to the February statement so they tracked the one for March. Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t contact you then.’ At their curious looks, she continued. ‘Well, let’s just say that it put the Kneazle amongst the rats. Since then I’ve been using the Ministry resources to find out what could be done to get this in our favour. Now, Harry, this is going to come out and it’s going to cause a lot of interest in the media so it’s for the best that you’re all prepared before you go back to school. Neville, I expect you to pay attention, Miss Granger, too when she visits.’ By this point, Harry was growing concerned about what was so bad about the recipient of his bank statements.
‘Sirius Black has been receiving the statements for the last ten years,’ Augusta announced in her normal direct manner. Harry found himself appreciating this. He didn’t think there was a way to softly inform somebody that the man who was partially responsible in their orphaning was somehow their guardian.
‘Ah, you can see the trouble this is causing. Normally if somebody was convicted of high crimes it would break magical bonds such as marriage or Godparent ones. Magic’s finicky like that and doesn’t like people acting against it too much. The fact that the bond still exists is causing interest. The Goblins reached out to the Black family manager, Starkblade, and found Sirius still listed as the heir to the family. Now as you can see this has caused ripples and it was why I was in the Ministry, looking for information on the trial and sentencing.’ At Harry’s confused look she explained further. ‘If he were mad they may have given him a lesser sentence and not charged him with a high crime, that way he would still hold the magical bonds.’ Harry indicated his understanding. He knew quite a bit about the ranking of crimes after their search for a way to get rid of Norberta and the legality of their options.
‘Well today I found out something very interesting and that’s where all the media presence is going to come from, Sirius Black was never given a trial.’ At this, both Harry and Neville gasped. While Harry was choking on air Neville tried to get more answers for him from his Gran.
‘But Gran they said he was You-Know-Who’s right hand surely they interrogated him and used that to convict him, or was he insane enough to plead guilty?’
‘Neither Neville; there’s not any evidence of any interrogation I asked in the DMLE offices after I found nothing in the Wizengamot records.’
‘I thought you were trying to keep this quiet Gran Longbottom?’
‘Oh, don’t you worry about that dear, nobody knows my end game. I mentioned I was looking for it on your behalf because you wanted to know more about your family. Bought it hook, line and sinker they did especially when I sat there talking nostalgically about Frank’s time on the Auror force. Fools think I’m a senile old biddy, ha well we’ll see who get the last laugh,’ Harry got the distinct impression that Augusta was rather enjoying herself playing power games and hunting down corruption. He also had to agree that anybody who thought she was senile really wasn’t looking; she was as sharp as they came.
‘However, the DMLE now know that Sirius didn’t have a trial. Madam Bones is an honourable sort, Hufflepuff you know, and she’ll want to get him a trial, make it look good in the books. Now, this could solve my problem of how to get the man on trial. However, we have to factor in Fudge, the fool, who will possibly put a thorn in the works. He’s been bought by Malfoy who isn’t likely to let the trial go ahead, either he’ll be implicated in the confession or his son could be cut out of the Black inheritance, neither will appeal.’ By his expression Neville was keeping up with the reasoning Augusta was laying out but Harry was still slightly confused.
‘Gran Longbottom, why do we want Sirius on trial?’
‘Good question, my boy. If we get him a trial and he confesses he will be given a high crime sentence, no way around it, and you’ll be free of his guardianship and free to stay here.’ Harry could see the benefit in this. ‘However, if he’s innocent well that’s going to get ugly. An heir in prison with no trial, quite the precedent it will have set, the Wizengamot will want him out. Now if that’s the case he’ll still be your guardian although he may not be sane, in that case, I can get him to agree to let you stay here.’ Harry could see that Augusta had given the problem a lot of thought and was covering all options.
‘What about the Tonks and Malfoys?’
‘Well, Sirius isn’t going to tolerate the Malfoys, too dark and too much bad blood there for him hand your guardianship over even if he is mad. Now the Tonks family will be more difficult, but I’m sure we can play it with your and Neville’s friendship, Alice’s relationship to you and if necessary, the rank of our house. Now I don’t think it will come to that, but we can also point out it’s because of me that the injustice was found and his cousin did nothing to help him. Sirius always felt things deeply and personally and that abandonment will smart. Mind you I don’t want to play with the poor boy’s mind, but children you come first.’ The last was said with a decisive nod and Harry felt like he was choking on air again; he hadn’t ever had anybody so invested in him. Seeing him struggle with his emotion Augusta called a house elf for hot chocolate to settle the mood before bed.
‘A lot to take in but don’t worry, plenty of time to digest, nothing will happen now till the April Wizengamot meeting and possibly the May one depending on if Amy Bones can swing things in her favour. If need be, I may have to play on your connection to get things rolling. Now I can see what you’re both thinking, he could be innocent and here we are leaving him in that place. Well, we’re not. We aren’t complacent and we’re doing the necessary things to get him out permanently and sadly by this point a few more months aren’t going to make a difference to him.’
It was another of those blunt truths which Augusta was so good at giving, but Harry could see her point. The thought of such injustice was galling but things had to be done properly for Sirius’ and Harry’s sake. With heavy thoughts, the two boys said good night.
The next day Augusta had another meeting, this one at the bank. She had debated the benefits of taking them with her but in the end, they decided things would go better without them there as they were behind on the plotting. Instead, they would spend their time exploring the Alley and then when they had regrouped, they would be buying Neville his new wand.
Harry found, he quite enjoyed exploring the wizarding streets, Neville knew where good things were to be found and was willing to show them to Harry. So, after a pleasant few hours, he had a wealth of new information and slightly less money in his pocket after buying a few books and supplies. Augusta’s meeting had run unusually long for the Goblins and she insisted Neville eat before he got his wand, apparently testing your magic against different cores could be exhausting and she wanted Neville to get the best possible match.
Ollivander’s was much as Harry remembered even down to the creepy arrival of the proprietor.
‘Ah, Mr Longbottom, I had expected you sooner,’ he gave Gran Longbottom a hard look as he said this. ‘But here you are and looking for your own wand how lovely. I, of course, sold your parents theirs, lovely wands nice and solid. I imagine you are the same.’
In the end, it took Neville a shorter time to find a perfect wand than it had taken Harry. The wand was similar to Frank’s which obviously pleased Augusta but it suited Neville much better if the cascade of sparks were any indicator when he picked it up. The cherry wood was a much redder colour than Harry’s holly wand which was looking a bit grubby compared to the highly polished wands that he had seen. While Neville was showing his wand to his Gran Harry approached the counter.
‘Mr. Ollivander I was wondering if you sell something to clean my wand with?’ His query was met with an arched eyebrow.
‘Good lad, showing interest in your wand upkeep not many do and then get upset when it doesn’t work as well, Magic is a temperamental thing and above all a gift. Treat it well and you will find it works all the better for you.’ He disappeared into a backroom presumably to get something for Harry to use to clean his wand.
‘Where’s Garrick gone now?’
‘He’s gone nowhere he shouldn’t Augusta, this young man was requesting a wand polishing kit which I was retrieving.’
‘Very good Harry, do you have a wand holster as well?’ At his negative response, she requested that Garrick supply them with another wand polishing kit for Neville and a holster for each boy.
‘You’ve seen how fragile wands are boys and how important they are for you, look after them well and don’t miss-place them.’ When Harry reached for his money to buy his supplies, she waved him away saying she had no problem supplying them both with such essentials. This clearly amused Mr Ollivander who obviously felt she should have got her Grandson a proper wand from the start but was polite enough not to call her out on it again.
The next few days were filled with homework and anticipation for Hermione’s visit. Madam Longbottom would be going in person to collect Hermione as her house wasn’t set up on the floo and both her parents were at work so couldn’t drive her to Diagon Alley.
‘Have you ever apparated before?’ Hermione asked them shortly after her arrival.
When Harry said he hadn’t Hermione decided to share her experience. Apparently, the sensation was like being stuffed through a very tight tube and Harry didn’t think he liked the sound of it. The floo was manageable and he was falling down less so he would rather stick with that.
‘I did say that I could catch the Knight Bus but your Gran, Neville looked horrified at the thought. Is there something wrong with using it?’
‘Gran hates the Knight Bus, Hermione, if you thought that apparating was bad imagine being stuck on a purple triple-decker which is apparating all over the country. Its why I had nightmares of Norbertta on it.’ The thought of this was evidently enough to put Hermione of the thought of trying it. ‘It’s alright in a pinch though,’ Neville offered seeing her reaction.
‘Without the dragon,’ Harry added. ‘What about flooing?’
‘I looked into that Harry, but because my parents are Muggle, they won’t put us on the grid. Although I’m not sure I would enjoy fllooing, there’s something about stepping into fire that makes my skin crawl.’
‘It’s a natural fear. The witch burnings affected us all and Magic remembers the time, the memory of suffering and fear still resonates. Fire can often be found as part of ward structures as a defence,’ explained Neville.
‘But I thought we had spells to deal with fire?’ Harry asked thinking of how Flitwick extinguished the burning feather.
‘We do now. But fire makes us uncomfortable.’
‘I think, Neville that fire makes even Muggles nervous. But it does make flooing a very masochistic option.’ Hermione said.
It would seem that the Hogwarts Express was the most comfortable method of travel in the magical world. Brooms although fun, for some people, were drafty and flying carpets illegal. Flooing involved braving fire and then being spun around and spat out of fireplaces, portkeys sounded like the love child of flooing and apperating from what he had read about them. He wasn’t in a hurry to experience it.
Sooner than hoped the three found themselves on the way back to school.
‘We have so much to do this term. Mum mentioned to me how pleased she was that I had friends as it was calming me down. When I asked why she pointed it out, this time last year I was already revising. We are so far behind even if I schedule every spare hour, there’s no way to go over all our class work before the exams.’
‘Hermione we’ve been busy doing practical learning, surely that counts as revision.’
‘Harry. Planning to and smuggling class XXXX animals is not revision.’
‘On the other hand, it’s not something that we’re likely to forget.’
‘Neville that’s not the point, we need to revise.’
‘Hermione, not that I’m not really grateful for your investment and I totally am but I don’t think we have to repeat every class from the past few months in a matter of weeks,’ seeing her look, ‘I’m not backsliding on my work, it’s just I’m sure there are better ways to revise.’
‘I’ve always revised like this though.’
‘Yeah but you’ve got friends now so we can work together, Nev will help with herbology, maybe we can have Parvati help with astronomy, I’ll do some for the practical in transfiguration. You don’t have to do everything. We’re here for you too.’ Hermione launched herself into his arms.
‘Yeah, we’re on top of it all, just you wait and see.’ As their other housemates dipped in and out of their compartment they all agreed to join the revision group. With every confirmation, the frantic energy in Hermione relaxed slightly more.
‘Sorry, I just want to do well.’
‘Of course, you do Mione, we do too, it’s just we need balance, things are going to be stressful enough for Harry as it is with the trial.’
‘Oh that’s this weekend, isn’t it?’ observed Hermione.
‘Unless it’s blocked,’ said Harry softly.
‘Gran’s hopeful that it will all be cleared up by the time we break up for the summer so Harry doesn’t have to go to the awful relatives of his.’
‘Harry, Gran sent an owl about the meeting.’
‘What does it say, have you opened it yet?’
‘No I was waiting till I found you.’ The three of them were gathered in an out of the way nook. Hermione and Harrys sat on tenterhooks as Neville read the letter.
‘Damn,’ swore Neville.
‘They didn’t have the trial?’
‘Nope Malfoy and his cronies blocked it. Gran’s fuming, they wouldn’t even let Madam Bones describe the issue. Gran spent the rest of the day setting up meetings to let a few families she trust know what’s going on. She reckons if they find out an heir didn’t get a trial it’ll swing the grey and some of the nonaligned dark houses in her favour when she proposes the motion. She’s going to have to play dirty with the more progressive staunchly anti-dark houses. She’s asked if she can bring up the fact he’s still your guardian, that should get their dander up enough.’
‘Hero of the wizarding world trapped under the care of You-Know-Who’s right hand. Yeah, that’s going to get people acting. Tell your Gran I’m fine with it or should I write to her too.’
‘Best you write and then she has evidence that she’s acting in your name if any of Dumbledore’s lot cause a stink.’
‘Neville, the Headmaster isn’t going to cause problems, I mean his job is to care for a student’s welfare.’
‘True, but it’s also his job to ensure, the government is abiding by its own laws and sending a man to prison without a trial isn’t within those rules. I mean he can’t, not know there wasn’t a trial.’
‘It was probably really busy at the end of the war, he might not have noticed.’
‘He had enough time to put a baby in a Muggle household.’
‘Yes, but Harry was a hero, he was high profile,’ Hermione pleaded.
‘So was the man who betrayed him, plus he had time to testify for other Death Eaters at trials.’
‘You mean against Nev,’ Hermione corrected.
‘No I mean on the behalf of.’
‘What?’ Harry exclaimed.
‘Oh yeah Gran told me, he was there, arguing for tolerance and forgiveness, not like they hadn’t murdered and tortured others. Gran said he really fought against some of the wartime orders too, like letting Aurors use lethal force.’
‘But he’s a good man, a hero,’ Hermione sounded broken as the pedestal she had the Headmaster on crumbled under the force of his own actions and inactions.
‘With feet of clay,’ Harry murmured not quite believing it either.
‘It’s worse than that.’ Neville continued. ‘Snape, he was a Death Eater, allegedly he changed sides and spied for the light but we only have Dumbledore’s word. Nobody would employ him so Dumbledore gave him the job of Potions Professor. There was an outcry at the time but Hogwarts isn’t under Ministry control and so he still got the job.’
‘A Death Eater, we’re being taught by a Death Eater, I’m Muggle-born, dear Merlin, is he hoping I die in an explosion, is that why he doesn’t teach us.’
‘Guess that explains why he hates me though,’ said Harry.
‘Yeah, I don’t know how much it’s common knowledge these days but it’s why I can’t stand him hovering behind me in class.’ Harry shuddered, sometimes ignorance was bliss and there was no way they were going to make it through another four years with the man.
‘We can’t even complain, can we; I mean when I first started everybody told me Dumbledore was such a champion of Muggle-born rights but he’s employing a man who raped, tortured and murdered us.’ The three trailed off.
‘I better write to your Gran, I don’t want anybody interfering.’ Harry said as he set off.
The month leading to the next Wizengamot meeting was tense. It was made harder due to the fact that they were restricted in the information they were receiving. Dumbledore was aware of the lack of trial since Amelia Bones had tabled the motion for a vote and although he hadn’t said anything to Harry the three of them had noticed that he was getting long looks from the man at mealtime.
‘Gran’s written, she said we shouldn’t do anything to draw his focus to us. He is apparently trying to cover up the whole issue at the Ministry, claiming that surely there was a trial and it was an administrative error. Madam Bones is apparently furious because it’s implying, she’s incompetent’
‘That’s ridiculous, she’s probably one of the most competent people there.’
‘True but, Harry, Gran says due to the attention she’s not going to write to you, Dumbledore knows she’s met you over the holidays but not how much support she’s given you.’
‘You think he would do something if he knew how much.’
‘Hermione, the man’s creepily invested in Harry for all that they haven’t actually had a conversation.’
‘True.’ They all glanced up and spotted the Headmaster looking at them.
‘He can’t do anything to stop you getting mail can he Neville?’
‘Nah, too obvious if I stopped getting mail at this point; everyone knows Gran writes to me every Monday.’
‘So we’re stuck without information while everybody plots around us.’
‘Merlin, this is going to be the most stressful month ever,’ Harry’s words were proved correct sooner than he thought. The teachers had obviously decided now was the time to inflict an increased workload on them in preparation for their exams.
‘You’d think that they would change their teaching method rather than drown us at the end of the year,’ Harry complained looking up from his essay.
‘I’m certain that Snape was considering drowning us, literally.’
‘Merlin, since you told me about his crimes I can’t focus on my work. He stands behind me and my back crawls,’ Harry admitted.
‘We’re going to fail his class; at least Gran won’t blame me for that one.’
‘Nev. We’re not going to fail. I won’t let you and not because I love studying, but because I refuse to let that slimy man have the satisfaction,’ Hermione said.
‘He’d hate it if we did well.’
‘Exactly Nev, he spent all year complaining how stupid we are and when we get an “O” on the exam he’ll look like an idiot.’
‘Should we really provoke him?’ Neville felt the need to ask.
‘Don’t see why not. I mean the man’s going to be pissed at us whatever but at least if we follow Mione’s plan, it looks good on us.’
Thus began weeks of potions revision on top of all their other work. The end result was that they could at least start recognising what was a potion and what was soup just by magical feel.
‘Intent,’ they both looked at Hermione. ‘Intent matters in magic. We’ve discussed it in the other classes, I mean you can’t turn a fish into a slipper unless you want to, and you can’t make a potion by the same logic.’
‘So, you’re saying I’m so bad at potions because I don’t want to make them,’ Neville concluded.
‘It’s not like the room is encouraging and with that man and what you knew from the start it’s no wonder potions is so difficult. Well, that and the fact the man teaches us nothing,’ Harry added.
‘Yes, but not only that. It means we can recognise potions due to the magical intent in them.’
‘Hermione why would that matter?’ asked Harry.
‘Well, it could be on the exam. But there are so many corruptive potions out there. Like love potions or loyalty ones and I think that we should be aware of them.’
‘They’re illegal, Mione.’
‘So is raping, killing and joining terrorist organisations but it was rather popular last decade. Shitty people don’t care and most of them have made the laws biased in favour of them so they get away with it too.’
‘Mione, you didn’t use to swear this much.’
‘Well, I didn’t use to be part of a corrupt government either Harry.’
‘Technically you were, you just didn’t know,’ Harry said as she threw a dirty look at him.
‘Anyway, I’ve been looking into illegal potions. There was an incident involving love potions just a few weeks ago in Ravenclaw. It got me thinking what with Harry’s fame and both of your wealth you’re ripe for being slipped a potion.’
‘Now that’s an encouraging thought.’
‘It’s not meant to be Harry. But if we are able to detect traces of magic in things, we should be safe. Or at least safer and don’t accept food from strangers; although that one speaks for itself really.’
The day of the next Wizengamot meeting held the three in such suspense that in the end, even Hermione gave up on revision, claiming that it was all going in one ear and out the other. Eventually, the three of them drifted outside and sat by the lake wondering what was playing out several hundred miles away. At dinner, there was no sign of the Headmaster.
‘It’s a good sign I mean if he was here then it would all be over.’ Hermione smiled encouragingly as she said this.
‘But it means that they have to debate the issue, you would think that it was beyond a shadow of a doubt the right thing to do,’ huffed out Harry feeling deeply disappointed in politics and the law.
‘But they’ve already blocked it once and now those people will be fighting to stop it because it’s going to come back at them and look bad.’ Neville reminded them both.
‘Worse than being accused of being a terrorist a decade ago? I’m being cynical and I’m too young for that according to mum. Maybe the delay is because they’ve gone ahead with the trial,’ Hermione suggested in an attempt at positivity, but Neville shook his head.
‘No way is the government that efficient, they’ll push to do it soon or they’ll drag it out and take months. But they aren’t holding the trial right now because nobody has summoned Harry.’
‘Could they do it without me?’
‘No, as it’s your accounts that are evidence and your Godfather, you’re needed for it to happen. A few others like McGonagall may be called on too.’
‘Really?’ asked Harry.
‘Yeah she was his Head of House when he was at school and then she was part of the group who left you at the Dursleys, plus she sends out the school letters so they would ask her about that, Hagrid too.’ Explained Neville.
‘But how does that play into Sirius trial?’ asked Hermione.
‘It shows how quickly things were acted against him for one. I mean Harry was taken away from our world within hours of his parent’s death before anybody knew about Sirius’ crimes or mum and dad were attacked and that stinks of conspiracy.’
‘He could be guilty,’ observed Hermione.
‘Of killing Pettigrew and the Muggles possibly but I agree with Gran that I doubt he was a traitor or at least a deliberate one.’
‘So he could still deserve prison time.’
‘Nobody deserves Azkaban Harry. But it’s not really a crime killing Muggles, especially for an heir of an ancient and noble house. The Pettigrew part is more nebulous, but it could be argued he was defending his Godson and the Muggles were in the way in which case the most he would have gotten, was a fine and to pay the cost for the Oblivators.’
‘That’s disgusting,’ Hermione’s revulsion was written clearly across her face.
‘Well yeah, but Nev did warn us on the train here, things were corrupt.’
‘There is corrupt and corrupt. I’m going to have to rewrite our revision schedule now.’
‘Why, we’re going to have to overthrow the government.’
‘Not that I don’t appreciate the goal and I totally do, Hermione, but we’re first years, maybe we should wait until we’re older,’ Neville agreed.
‘Really you two; do you think that you can overthrow governments without any planning? No, we start now and then if the opportunity strikes, we take it, and everything will fall into place nicely.’
‘Neville, I don’t think we should have introduced her to Gran.’
‘Mate I think you have a talent for understatement.’
That evening the anticipated letter from August arrived.
‘What does it say?’
‘Let him open it first Mione,’ the three of them gathered around the letter and poured over the contents.
‘Oh well played, moral outrage over the Boy-Who-Lived. It’s going to be all over the press. No way to cover it up. Gran reckons the trial will happen within a week. Interesting though that it’s not going to be a high crime trial.’
‘Still it’s sooner than we thought,’ Hermione said.
‘Probably to stop anybody digging in even deeper into the mess who knows what other skeletons are lurking,’ Neville pointed out.
‘Damage control, it’s not like they really care about me then,’ said Harry.
‘Some do by the sound of it, well more for The-Boy-Who-Lived than Harry but we can work with that.’ Before their plans could be developed further McGonagall came into the common room.
‘Mr Potter could you please come with me?’ the three of them looked at each other.
‘But ma’am I haven’t done anything and curfews already been.’
‘It’s alright lad you’re not in trouble and I’ll cover any issues with curfew.’
With no other way to avoid the situation, Harry had no choice but to follow his Head of House out of the room. She led him to a room he didn’t recognise, but it was comfortably furnished with a big desk at one side and a small area with deep armchairs. It was to these chairs that Harry was led to.
‘This is my personal office, Mr Potter. Now don’t look at me like that, you’re not in trouble but there has been an incident today involving you.’
‘I’ve been with Neville and Hermione all day ma’am.’
‘Good to know but this was outside of school. Do you know what the Wizengamot is?’
‘Nev’s mentioned it, ma’am.’
‘I suspected he had, you see when your parents died you were placed with your Muggle relatives against advice.’ Harry gave her a curious look.
‘I thought they were the most intolerable Muggles I had ever seen. Were they?’
‘They hate magic, scared of it, I think, I don’t believe my letter situation made them any fonder.’
‘I’m sorry for that, but you see you shouldn’t have gone to them you had magical guardians, a godmother and godfather.’
‘Neville explained ma’am. I’ve been to visit Alice over the breaks.’
‘Good and I’m pleased that Mr Longbottom has been there to help you. It was believed that your godfather betrayed you to You-Know-Who but today there’s been doubt cast on that. I also think this is more of a surprise to me than you.’ Harry looked down unsure what to say to his teacher.
‘I went to school with Augusta. That woman was a force to be reckoned with even then. How bad is it with the Muggles?’ Harry looked up startled. ‘Augusta sets a lot of store by family, she wouldn’t be trying to take you away if it wasn’t in your best interests.’
‘They kept me in the cupboard under the stairs. That’s where my first letter was addressed.’ Harry thought he would start from the things that should be known.
‘I don’t address them and I don’t read them, perhaps I should start doing so. They starved you too. Don’t look at me like that, your papa may have been skinny but not to this extreme, and I’ve seen a lot of eleven-year-olds over the years and you aren’t in the best shape, improving but not what you should be.’
‘They said I was a burden; they couldn’t afford to feed.’
‘You’re not going back.’
It wasn’t a question it was a statement and Harry felt like they may have a potential ally within the school.
‘Now I don’t know if you know yet, but it was discovered that your godfather Sirius never had a trail and so he is still your godfather, throwing a lot of doubt over his guilt. Those who think he is guilty are horrified their saviour is under the control of such a man and so a trial is being held to define his guilt.’ McGonagall explained.
‘The trial is going to be soon, within the week probably, the Headmaster sits on the Wizengamot and doesn’t think that you should know about any of this, I disagree.’ Harry grinned at her. ‘I will likely be called to the trail and I will be taking you with me Mr Potter, as your Head of House I stand in loco parentis for you while you are in the school so I can approve this. Do you have dress robes?’
‘Madam Longbottom got me some at Easter.’
McGonagall snorted. ‘Should have known. Augusta has been pulling strings for a while hasn’t she.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ smiled Harry.
‘Good, now to bed with you I’m sure your friends are curious.’
It was on Thursday morning that Harry was woken extra early by Percy Weasley.
‘Up you get Potter. Professor McGonagall said that you would understand but it’s today, whatever that means?’ Harry could tell that Percy wanted to know what was going on, but feeling petty about how unhelpful the older boy had been, Harry said nothing beyond thank you and proceeded to get dressed in his formal attire.
‘This morning is it then?’
‘Sorry to wake you Nev, But yeah I think so.’
The Professor had apparated the pair of them to the Ministry and Harry had to agree with Hermione’s description of apperation, it was far too much like being squeezed through a tube to ever be comfortable.
‘We could have flooed but the Headmaster would have noticed and that would have caused problems. Has Augusta taught you magical etiquette?’
‘Good now we aren’t likely to be in conversation with anybody but depending on how things go, we may be called on to witness, regardless of this, people will observe you and for many, it will be the first time they see you and they will form their impressions of you today. If you don’t want to do this, we can leave now.’ Harry appreciated her warning and part of him didn’t want to be scrutinised today. But to not attend would be worse, Harry needed to be there for the truth.
‘I want to ma’am, I need to know, it would probably look worse if I didn’t attend anyway.’
‘Good lad, you’re a lot like your mother you know, she had such a sense for wrong and right.’ It wasn’t often he was compared to his mother and Harry found that he appreciated it, he was the son of both his parents.
Professor McGonagall led him out of the alley they had apperaated into and to a phone box.
‘It’s the entrance to the Ministry, ridiculous really but then it lowers your expectations so that the rest of the place isn’t too much of a disappointment.’ Harry had the feeling that his teacher wasn’t a fan of the government. ‘Witness of the trial,’ she said into the telephone receiver. Two little badges were issued out of the change slot and then the floor dropped out underneath him and Harry found himself clutching at the walls. As suddenly as it started, it stopped and the door swung open to reveal a large room.
‘Wizards suck at all transport, I’m just saying the truth ma’am,’ Harry said at her look.
‘No argument from me lad, come along quickly, let’s not see if the ride up is just as bad.’ Needing no further encouragement, he walked into the Ministry atrium.
‘Put your badge on and do not leave my sight. The place’s heaving, bloody vultures. And no Mr Potter you may not repeat that language or tell anyone I said it.’ Grinning he followed in her wake past a disturbing statue of wizards and magical creatures to a security desk where he had to have his wand inspected to let him enter.
‘I hope that I don’t have to have words with you, Mr Herten, about discretion,’ at the threat the man who had perked up at the revelation of Harry’s presence deflated. As they cleared security Harry couldn’t help but ask what that was about.
‘Don’t think for a second Mr Potter that broom cupboards are private.’ At his confused look she smirked. ‘One day you’ll know what I mean.’
Still pondering what his teacher meant Harry followed her into the lift. They were soon outside Courtroom Ten.
‘They used this one for the worst of the trials during the end of the war, quite a statement they are making by using it again.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘People will remember it lad, they were dark times and people are more likely to think the worst of Sirius for it. No Death Eater tried in this courtroom wasn’t convicted and harshly at that, not that they didn’t deserve it.’
‘That’s unfair though isn’t it to Sirius.’
‘Perhaps or perhaps some people are going to get an ugly surprise,’ she was smiling as she said this.
‘You’re not very nice, are you, ma’am, not that it’s a bad thing.’
‘Oh lad, you try being a teacher for 35 years under Albus Dumbledore and see how you turn out.’
‘I think seven years of school will the death of one of us.’ Snorting at his reply, but not denying it McGonagall headed into the courtroom with Harry. It was a large circular room with a metal chair in the centre and rows of chairs circling it.
‘We’re not sitting members so we have to go to the upper levels.’ Led to a seat overlooking the room, Harry had to appreciate the view of the room. Several tiers of chairs ran around two-thirds of the room and the last third was given over to separate the podium and the door they had entered through.
‘We can see everyone?’
‘Aye, that’s the purpose of the room, styled on King Arthur’s round table. Theoretically, it makes everybody equal and ensures that nobody’s excluded.’ Harry could see the logic of that.
‘It’s not like that now though is it, Neville mentioned people were largely divided after the war.’
‘They were divided before the war, the first war at that, but they’ve grown worse over the years. The lowest level of chairs is for the Ministry then above them is the Guilds and at the top rank are the Lords. The podium is for the Judge, the Minister and the head of the Wizengamot, the Chief Warlock. Over there is the light faction and in the middle below us is the grey faction and by the door is the dark faction.’ As she was indicating the areas to him Harry noticed that they were being observed and pointed out to the other sitting Lords.
‘My aunt always said it was rude to point.’
‘Oh it is, but most of these sitting Lords need a good boxing around the ears to remind them they are no better than anybody else.’ As she said this she levelled a glare on the pointing members who quickly looked away. ‘Ha still got it.’
Before his Professor could intimidate any more of the sitting members, the Minister and the Chief Warlock arrived.
‘You’d think he’d have the sense to dress appropriately,’ McGonagall muttered as she saw Dumbledore enter the room in magenta robes with shiny silver keys floating all over them. It was politics Harry thought and it was not only ugly to look at but sent an ugly message. Gran Longbottom’s hat was a message too, one he thought most of the Wizengamot had forgotten how to read.
Gran was there too, sitting on the edge of the light faction and edging into the grey, she had obviously seen Harry but beyond a sharp grin, gave no other indication that she knew he was there and instead chatted away to those around her. The falling of the gravel silenced the room and everyone focused on the Chief Warlock.
‘Welcome ladies and gentlemen to this trial. Today we are correcting the oversight of a trial of Sirius Black.’ He said spreading his arms wide like he did at the start of the term feasts. A witch sitting on the podium wearing a monocle glowered at Dumbledore. ‘Does anybody have any questions before we begin?’
‘Yes, I have one.’
‘MacDougal, what can we do for the Guild of Solicitors today?’
‘You can step down as you have a conflict of interest in this case and let a neutral party take your place.’ A murmur of interest ran around the room at this point.
‘I have no idea what you mean, my dear boy?’ Harry noticed that his smile had dimmed and his eyes instead of twinkling had gone hard.’
‘You know what I mean. You held this position 10 years ago and failed to do your duty. Now you should step aside and let somebody else lead for this session at least.’
‘I’m the most qualified to hold the chair of this meeting.’
‘Nonsense,’ another voice called out. ‘I can think of three other sitting here today who have equal or better claim to it than you. They also don’t have the taint of the miscarriage of justice attached to them.’
‘I would remind you, Selwyn, that I am not on trial here today.’
‘No but I see you think that you at least deserve one.’ Snickers echoed through the room punctuated by jeers as Lord Selwyn called this out.
‘I can see that emotions are high today so I will be obliging you and step down, perhaps Dodge will be so kind as to fill my place.’
‘Not likely, he has no experience, if anybody it should be Ogden, Marchbank or Ross.’ McGonagall went slightly stiff beside him at the names. He cast her a worried glance but she waved away his concern.
‘We’ll have a vote then to settle the matter.’ After a quick poll with the wizards lighting up their wand as the name of their favoured candidate occurred Madam Marchbank was given control over proceedings.
‘It’s not very private is it, the voting?’
‘No lad, they debated it of course, but this way you know who to pay off to get your bills passed and most of them can’t be bothered to learn any statesmanship to get it done properly. Shush now, things are going to get started soon.’
She wasn’t wrong, shortly after Dumbledore had been sent to sit in the spectators’ galley rather ironically the only space available placed him above the dark faction. Harry could see how much the insult on top of the injury had upset the man.
With the new Chief Witch in control, she ordered the arrival of the prisoner. Harry thought the whole event was disgusting. Black was dragged into the room wearing tattered rags which may once have been robes. His legs and arms were shackled but he was held at wand point nonetheless. When he was at the chair he was pushed towards and fell more than sat. It made the wizards look like bullies and cowards, Black appeared too pitiful to put up any resistance and yet he was treated like this. Nobody so proud of their Pure-blood heritage would allow themselves to be treated thus.
‘Sirius Black you are here today to face trial for the betrayal of magical Britain through the service of the terrorist known as Lord Voldemort.’ Gasps and squeaks shuddered through the room although Harry noted his Professor wasn’t amongst them. ‘Oh be quiet this is a courtroom and you’re supposed to be the protectors of this land. Squealing at a dead man’s name is hardly going to inspire confidence. Black, how do you plead?’
‘Innocent.’ Angry mutters filled the room again.
‘I have already asked you to comport yourselves, I will start issuing fines if you don’t let us say one sentence without an audible reaction. Black, you are also accused of the murder of the wizard Peter Pettigrew and thirteen Muggles. How do you plead?’
‘You have not provided a solicitor would you like the court to provide one?’
Harry could see the man debate with himself over the option before responding.
‘How do I know they’ll do their job?’
‘Normally I’d fine you for contempt of court but under the circumstances, I can understand your lack of faith. If you accept a solicitor they will swear an oath to do their duty,’ the witch responded
‘Hmm, I’ll have one but I doubt you’ll get one willing to that for me,’ was the bitter response.
‘Will a representative for Heir Black please come forward.’ Silence echoed through the chamber. ‘If one of you doesn’t step forward, I will have to bring the case before the International Confederation of Wizards.’
‘We don’t want to trouble that august body with these issues. I will, of course, represent Mr Black.’
‘I’m beginning to think you’ve gone senile. Not only Mr Dumbledore is it a gross conflict of interests, which is why you aren’t presiding over the affair, but you can’t even get his name right when you put forward your illegal notion.’
‘Madam Marchbank, I have no idea what you mean.’
‘This is an official trial, only a court-approved advocate may stand for Heir Black. Unless you have some hitherto unknown qualifications you cannot stand. Surely as the head of this august body, you are aware of that or do we need to go through the past court records to check.’ At this looking rather flushed Dumbledore sat down.
‘Not a good day for him,’ came the satisfied comment beside him.
‘Now will somebody step forward?’ After some shuffling an older wizard stepped forward.
‘Fredrick Croft, Madam, licensed to represent all range of clients in this body.’ He offered forwards a series of documents to a scribe sitting in the lower part of the podium. He then turned to face Sirius. ‘Heir Black I’m willing to vow my services to you for the length of this trial.’
‘Croft’s, a solid lawyer Sirius could do a lot worse than him,’ McGonagall muttered in his ear.
‘Preposterous. I object the man’s a half-blood.’
‘Sit down, Nott. Unless you want this done at ICW and if I recall they are even less tolerant of blood-based bigotry than I am. While we’re having these reviews we can always look at your trial, it happened around the same time maybe there are a few errors there worth looking at.’ McGonagall cackled beside him.
‘It’s a bad sign in Muggle tales when witches cackle.’
‘Oh, lad it’s a bad sign in this world when witches cackle, best you learn that early.’ Harry gave her a side eye as Croft took a vow before the Wizengamot.
‘Heir Black, you have pleaded not guilty, do you have evidence to support your claim.’ Black consulted quietly with his lawyer who stood and addressed the courtroom.
‘He is willing to take a vow upon his magic.’
‘Give the madman a wand while The-Boy-Who-Lived is in the room are you insane?’ Harry bristled at his inclusion but sat still as the majority of the room turned to stare at him. Black attempted to turn towards him but was unable due to the chains restricting him.
‘Minister Fudge, I do believe that I am in charge of proceedings, do be quiet. Unfortunately, Fudge is correct in the fact that we cannot provide a wand and a wandless vow has no value in the courtroom,’ Croft bowed his head.
‘We expected this, but I would like the room to note his willingness. However, he is also willing to undertake Vertaserum questioning.’ Conversations broke out across the room and it took several bangs of the gravel to reclaim the attention of the sitting members.
‘Is your client willing to undergo verification that he is suitable for the questioning?’
‘He is, but he insists that the questions be restricted to an approved list. He has little faith in the honour of the Ministry.’
‘Understandable. Send for a healer from the Ministry and another from St Mungo’s. I want no questions about his results. And no, Dumbledore you are not a healer, sit down.’
‘Indeed, Madam Marchbank I was going to make no such claim but suggest that a potion master be sent for, Hogwarts has one such.’
‘Addled, you’re utterly addled. Snape is a former Death Eater who went to school with Black; yes I do recall the students’ exams I oversee. He is in no way suitable.’
Dumbledore slumped back into his seat. Harry glanced at McGonagall who was looking like a cat who was being hand served canary with cream sauce. He had thought that the teachers had all got on but today had been a bit of an eye-opener. Then again he hated doing all the chores, but Petunia getting the praise for his hard work. It was probably the same for McGonagall and Dumbledore.
The healers entered the court and at Madam Marchbank’s urging took a vow of honesty before they gave Black a check-up. Under the watchful eye of Croft, they revealed the results. No Occulmency barrier strong enough to subvert the potion and no other substance found, which would impact the effect of the potion.
With the acknowledgement of the results, a vial of the potion was sent for. While waiting for the potion a ring was cast around the chair and a light shimmer of magic surrounded the chair and domed over the occupant. Croft steeped through the ring to talk to Black before walking back through it to speak to the scribe at the podium.
‘What’s going on?’
‘The bubble means Black can’t hear anything outside of the bubble, no one can ask him anything through it, so he’s not forced to reveal himself to anybody’s curiosity. Croft and Madam Marchbank are checking the questions and agreeing on what’s going to be asked.’
The Potion was brought into the room and checked by the two healers who verified the potion and its strength. Several drops were provided to Black under their supervision.
‘Black has agreed to the questions and Croft will be presenting them to his client. The questions have been approved by the court and DMLE.’ With a nod to the podium, Croft stepped into the bubble.
‘Please tell your name to the court.’
‘Sirius Orion Black.’ The response was prompt but flat, any inflexion in his voice suppressed by the potion. Hermione hadn’t mentioned truth potions during her research but it was one Harry felt worth fearing.
‘If the court wishes they may verify the potion has taken effect.’
‘Don’t normally do this but under the circumstances, let’s get all the owls in a row, healers please step forward and check.’ Once again the healers tested Black and reported that he was under the effect of the potion.’
‘Then let us proceed,’ Croft said and giving no time for objections started the interrogation.
‘Heir Black have you ever supported the man known as Lord Voldemort?’ once again there was a ripple of gasps, silenced under the glower of Madam Marchbank.
‘No,’ the gasps were louder at this point and it took several bangs to return order. During which Croft had exited the bubble to observe the mood of the room.
‘Just because he doesn’t support than man, doesn’t mean he didn’t sell out the Potters, he could have been jealous and then murdered Pettigrew to silence him,’ Fudge shouted over the other voices.
‘Fudge consider yourself fined and do shut up before you lower the room’s IQ further and speaking as the authority of the education board it cannot take that much of a blow. Croft, continue with your questioning.’
‘Heir Black did you reveal the Potters secret to anybody?’ He asked once back in the bubble.
‘No. I wasn’t the secret keeper; magic wouldn’t let me speak even if I wanted to.’
‘You had no part in the death of the Potters?’ Black seemed to struggle.
‘It was suggested to me that Pettigrew would be a better secret keeper and I a decoy, so I did not put my name forward. I should have objected, then Peter wouldn’t have betrayed them.’
‘By that logic, everybody in this room bar Heir Potter is guilty of their deaths.’
‘That wasn’t a question Black, I apologise. Why did you kill Peter Pettigrew?’
‘You didn’t attack him in the street?’
‘Did you confront him in the street?’
‘How?’ asked Croft.
‘Words, I blamed him for the death of the Potters. He shouted it was my fault, blew up the street and fled.’
‘You claim that he blew up the street and fled how?’
‘I didn’t hear the curse but he is an animagus, he transformed before disappearing in the chaos.’
‘You are the Potter heir’s Godfather?’ Croft redirected the line of questioning.
‘And the bond is intact?’
‘Why was it not noted at the last trial?’
‘There wasn’t a trial; I was thrown straight into Azkaban.’
‘You weren’t even questioned?’
‘No,’ looking across the courtroom Croft stepped out of the bubble again.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, there is no recording error, there was no trial. The accused admits it and the lack of evidence speaks for itself. What’s more, the man before us is innocent of what he has been accused. It is the duty of those in this room to see justice done.’
‘Well said, Croft,’ Marchbank agreed sounding slightly shocked by proceedings. ‘Does anybody else have any questions for the accused that are worth the time of the court?’ When nobody stepped forward, Marchbank, turned to the healers. ‘Administer the antidote please and verify the effectiveness.’
Instead of sitting in silence as this occurred the courtroom rustled with hissed conversations and dirty glances. Political posturing ran rings around the room. It was only after the healers had been dismissed that Madame Marchbank called the room to order.
‘We have heard beyond a shadow of a doubt that Black is innocent of his crimes however the rules of this body demand a vote on the matter to hold the findings legally binding. All those in favour of clearing Mr Black of his wrongfully accused crimes please vote.’
Like earlier the sitting members lit up their wands to indicate their position. The majority of the wands in the room lit instantly and obviously sensing the mood of the room the rest were quick to join. Soon the call for the opposite position was called and none were brave enough to put themselves in the minority.
‘Not everybody’s voted Professor.’
‘They’ll be an abstainer, Malfoy can claim a family connection to refuse his vote but for the rest of them it’s harder, Crouch and Fudge will likely argue conflict of interest.’
‘They didn’t do that earlier.’
‘They expected a different result then, lad and none of them are man enough to admit it. Although somebody must have had an inkling as this wasn’t a high crime trial,’ McGonagall murmured giving Gran Longbottom an assessing look.
‘Why didn’t they just invoke Magic to clear him?’
‘Nobody just calls on Magic, it’s a wild force and doesn’t like being bothered. Rarely is calling upon Magic worth the cost.’
‘What happens now?’
‘That’s the question nobody in power really expected this and people are scrambling.’
‘With the inclusion of the abstaining votes, Sirius Black is declared innocent of all charges and is free to go about his daily life free from persecution.’ Madam Marchbank declared clearly deciding that something needed to be done to restore a semblance of order.
‘My client is entitled to compensation for the illegal incarceration.’
‘Come now man you’re no longer contracted to represent him,’ Fudge blustered.
‘Oh, contraire, the trial has not yet been ended by the sitting Chief Witch and my client is entitled to lost monies and compensation for the emotional trauma not to mention the damage done to his reputation by the Ministry. One would think, Fudge, that you are trying to avoid your responsibilities.’
‘Indeed. Black was by Ministry records employed as an Auror at the time. I, therefore propose that he is given back pay along with three promotional raises for the time he was incarcerated and the option to return to work depending on if he is declared fit and his own personal decision on the matter.’ Many in the room called out their approval of the proposed settlement.
‘And what about the emotional damages?’ asked Croft. What followed was an hour of negations during which Black sat confined in his chair the bubble still in place.
‘Have they forgotten about him, Professor?’
‘Possibly or possibly Croft hopes that having him sit there all damaged and in rags invokes sympathy and gets him a better deal.’
‘Why keep up the bubble then.’
‘Black had a temper in his day and having him insult the members wouldn’t go in his favour.’ Finally, after a back and forward argument, the sum was decided upon. The cost of all healing associated with his incarceration would also be paid for by the Ministry.
With the final decision made Black was released from the bubble and informed of his fate. The chair which had held him bound released him almost reluctantly and he was led from the room while asking Croft something and struggling in the hold of the men who were leading him away.
‘What’s that about?’
‘He was looking for you lad.’ Harry didn’t know what to say.
‘Can I see him?’
‘Perhaps not today, although I doubt the Headmaster will let you out of school to the visit him now that I think about it. I will see what I can manage.
‘Whys he so invested in me,’ asked Harry.
‘Black because he’s your godfather, Dumbledore well he’s always had a thing for power. Luckily it looks like Fudge is going to be useful for once in his life and get us past the Headmaster without issue.’ Fudge was sitting there and not very subtly trying to catch the Headmaster attention. ‘Ridiculous man doesn’t realise he’s a puppet to everyone.’
With no other issues, the court was dismissed, and the room began to empty, first from the room was the press quickly followed by the Headmaster. Augusta getting up caught McGonagall’s eye, who in turn acknowledged her head.
‘Hang back a bit lad, let everybody else go and cause chaos and we’ll get where we want to without them in the way.’ Sitting tight Harry decided to ask a question which had been bothering him for a while.
‘They called this trial because he was my guardian, but nobody but Croft brought it up and only briefly. They didn’t call me or you to witness either. Do they not care?’
‘Vertasium meant we weren’t needed. As to your guardianship, they care about what they can get from it, but most of them don’t give a fig about you lad. It’s ugly but most of them kept quiet and are busy plotting how they can use the situation to get at you.
‘That’s politics. You’re also an unknown to them, kept apart by the ruddy Headmaster to the point most of them forget you’re a little boy.’ She was pursuing her lips as she said this, anger bringing out her accent.
At a signal from Augusta, the pair got up and left the courtroom.
‘Minerva I’m pleased you could make it.’
‘Indeed Augusta, he was one of mine I’m pleased he’s got justice, even so late.’
‘Terrible business, I’m so ashamed that it took so long to bring attention to the matter. Of course, I’m glad my little inquiry on Heir Potter’s behalf brought about such a result.’
‘Lucky it did.’ The two witch’s conversation flowed over a bemused Harry. It took him a moment to realise that the conversation was being listened to and they were covering their tracks.
‘Talking of old lions of yours I was feeling like visiting dear Frank and Alice. They would be pleased to hear the result. Frank never held with Blacks guilt before the attack.’
‘I would be honoured to visit, alas I’m escorting young Heir Potter.’
‘Bring him he’s met his godmother before, I’m sure you don’t mind, do you?’
‘Not at all ma’am,’ said Harry.
‘Good it’s decided then, we’ll take the floo I can’t stand that foolish Muggle entrance.’
The two of them swept through the crowd of onlookers with Harry in their wake. They managed to reach the floos un-interrupted and got through to the hospital.
The hospital hadn’t changed since the visit at Easter but Harry felt a bit uncomfortable talking to Frank and Alice without Neville there as well.
‘Stop looking, confused lad,’ Harry looked at his Professor. ‘Not that I don’t enjoy seeing the Longbottoms but we’re here to see Sirius.’
‘Sirius, he’s here?’
‘Aye, they bring all the prisoners released from Azkaban to the Janus Thicky ward to treat them before they are let free. Black should be brought in soon.’
‘Thank you, Professor, Gran. Not that I’m not pleased to see Frank and Alice,’ he hastily added.
‘It’s alright Harry I understand,’ she gave a sad look at the two occupants. ‘It’s not a good day for them.’
Despite her assessment, Harry found himself sitting between the two patients while eating a late lunch and telling them about Neville’s new wand and the exercises they were doing to help him regulate his casting strength, Harry’s own core had settled well.
Soon however there was noise outside of their room. McGonagall indicated the pair to stay there while she went to investigate and Harry went back to discussing revision.
‘Mr Potter,’ Harry glanced up ‘He’s in a room, two doors down and on the left, you can go in if you want. A healer will be in there supervising, but they have no objections as long as you don’t excite him.’ Harry got up on shaky feet and said goodbye to Frank and Alice not wanting them to feel forgotten.
‘Oh, Alice, dear.’ Harry turned once again Alice was coming towards him with her hand held out. Reaching for the gift Harry accepted the sweet wrapper only to discover he was given two. The normal one for him green with a flower on and another with a frog normally given to Neville.
‘Thank you, Auntie Alice. I’ll give it to Neville tonight and tell him you are thinking of him.’ With a misty smile, she was led back to bed by Augusta. Leaving the room Harry curled his hand into a fist around the sweet wrappers. At least one of his godparents cared about him.
Black’s room was less personalised than the Longbottom one. It was sterile and the ragged man stood out in it.
‘Harry, Harry, Harry,’ he breathed out in a chant when he recognised the boy in the doorway. He lurched to his feet and was pushed gently back into the bed by a healer who ushered Harry closer.
‘He won’t hurt you.’ The healer said as Harry hung back. Harry hadn’t even considered that a possibility.
‘I won’t hurt you, I won’t. Look at you all grown up… so small.’ He frowned. ‘You’re smaller than I thought, how old are you? Have I lost more time or less?’
‘I’m eleven, twelve in July. It’s May,’ he added.
‘You’re small, too small. Who raised you, was it Alice?’ Harry shook his head.
‘She’s two doors down. I was placed with Petunia.’ “Raised” implied some sort of care involved in the process. Black’s eyes widened.
‘That bitch, they put you with that bitch.’ He froze, ‘I shouldn’t swear should I.’
Harry couldn’t help it he started to laugh. His mood was infectious and soon Black was slumped over laughing too.
‘I’m sorry Harry I should have been there for you. But Snape had been there, and I feared other dark bastards, sorry, would turn up. Then Hagrid came, he’s a good man and pretty hardy when it comes to spell fire but hasn’t got a wand. I gave you to him ready to fight any Death Eater who tried to take you from me but in the end, it was Hagrid.’ He gave a short humourless bark of laughter.
‘I couldn’t fight him for you not with you in his arms so I had to watch as he took you away. I went to Hogwarts but the wards wouldn’t let me through, went to the Potter family estate, same thing. I went out of my mind with worry, thought Pettigrew had gotten hold of you, went to hunt him down, even if he hadn’t, he was too much of a threat. Failed at that, didn’t I. He’s still at large and you ended up with fucking Petunia.’ His head was hanging down in shame. ‘And I keep swearing, Lily would kill me.’ Harry swallowed around the lump in his throat.
‘Oh pup, you’re like a son to me. I would give everything for you.’ Harry rushed forward and wrapped his arms around the man. For somebody so thin Harry noticed the arms which held him had a lot of strength.
‘You’re not going back to Petunia, why did you go to her? You said that Alice was two doors down.’
‘She and Frank were attacked early November after my parents were murdered. Held under Crucitus Curse for too long and they never really came back.’ Sirius sat there stroking Harry back comfortingly.
‘He survived. His Gran’s been raising him. I spent Christmas and Easter at their home.’
‘Good. I want to take you for the summer but I don’t think they’re going to let me.’ He snorted. ‘Bet the bastards,’ Sirius winced but kept going, ‘are planning how best to take your guardianship from me.’
‘Probably,’ looking at the doorway Sirius tried to get up. ‘Sit down boy, you won’t do yourself any good bopping about,’ Augusta ordered.
‘Luckily we’ve been preparing for this. Sirius, I don’t want to take Harry from you but you’re not in a fit state to look after yourself, let alone a child.’ Before he could protest she continued.
‘I propose that Harry be put under a temporary fostering to the Longbottoms. He will still be yours, but I will take care of him. The boys are of the same age and the history’s there. James spent a summer with Frank when his father fell ill the first time. While he’s fostered you can be healed without giving up any of your rights and keep Harry out of the clutches of those who will hurt him.’
Sirius was nodding along as Augusta laid out the plan.
‘I remember Lily and James doing the paperwork. You get on with Neville?’
‘He’s one of my best friends.’
‘I don’t want to give him up but I can see the benefit. You’re going to have to move fast to get it through.’
‘Ha. I’m not the first year here. Who’d you think got you a trial,’ Augusta reached into her bag and produced a wedge of parchment.
‘Healer Marston, Black has been cleared mentally hasn’t he?’
‘Yes, no objection over his mental capacity to sign paperwork.’
‘Glad to hear that, considering how much they made me sign before leaving the Ministry,’ Sirius muttered.
‘They made you sign before leaving? Good, that means they can’t contest this paperwork.’ Sirius pulled Harry closer and went over the paperwork with Augusta. Eventually, McGonagall came back into the room.
‘I’m sorry boys but it’s time for Harry to return to school.’ Sirius tightened his hold on Harry, and he couldn’t find it in himself to object.
‘You’ll look after him won’t you, Mini, he’s all I’ve got.’
‘Of course, I will. Meet me by the door in a few minutes.’ Harry looked at Sirius and found himself unwilling to leave.
‘Come on pup, you promise to write to me, your friends can too.’ Harry gave a watery smile. ‘Off you go now; you have your exams to do. Your mum wouldn’t want you to miss out, meant a lot to her doing well at school.’ Sirius was smiling at him and Harry had to give him one last hug before hurrying from the room tears in his eyes.
McGonagall didn’t say anything but gently led him from the room.
‘I didn’t say goodbye to Gran Longbottom, after all, she’s done,’ protested Harry.
‘It’s okay lad, she understands. We’re going to have to floo to the Three Broomsticks, you can’t apparate out of the Hospital, don’t want distressed patients escaping,’ she said briskly.
It was surreal being back at school. As they walked up the hill to the school Harry turned to McGonagall.
‘You aren’t going to get in trouble with the Headmaster are you?’
‘No lad. He can say all he wants but at the end of the day, he won’t want to do all of his own work. He’ll be busy enough as it is at the Ministry.’
Harry sighed. It made sense that he would be trying to sort out Harry’s guardianship not aware of the afternoons manoeuvring. McGonagall led him to the common room door and wished him good night.
Entering the room Harry was taken aback by how ordinary the room was. The rest of the school wasn’t aware that the trial had been called today. Hermione and Neville, however, did know and they were soon sequestered in their corner with him determined to find out the day’s events. After dinner at which the Headmaster was not present, Harry went to bed exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of the day.
The next day the news broke and Harry found himself subjected to more stares than he had at the start of the year. Like before Hermione and Neville tried to shield him from most of the curiosity.
‘At least we know where you were yesterday,’ Dean said before class. ‘Hermione took notes for you but we didn’t cover much new stuff and McGonagall was off too.’
‘Yeah, she was the one who took me,’ before Harry could continue they were called into potions with Snape. He had evidently heard the news and Madam Marchbank’s comment about the two being at school together came back to Harry. Apparently, the antagonism between houses wasn’t something new. Snape was utterly merciless in class even turning on his Slytherins before giving them homework despite it not being scheduled that night. Rather than complain the children took their chance and fled the room. That evening at dinner the Headmaster was back. While Harry was avoiding the questions from his housemate’s Professor McGonagall came over to him.
‘Mr Potter the Headmaster hopes to see you after dinner. As your Head of House, I may attend with you if you wish.’
‘Of course, Professor I would be delighted for you to attend with me after all I don’t know where to go.’
‘In that case, wait in here till I collect you and we shall go together.’ Giving him a tight smile she left.
‘That took longer than I thought,’ Neville muttered.
‘Obviously, he’s been busy, he can’t undo our plans can he?’
‘Nope, he’s only the Headmaster and Chief Warlock. He has no say over your welfare.’ Eventually, McGonagall collected him and the pair headed off.
‘I’m not sure if Miss Granger mentioned it to you Mr Potter but the Headmaster can only discuss school matters with you.’ Understanding what she was saying Harry mentioned that Hermione had.
The Headmaster’s office was trying to be grand but instead was coming across as tacky. There were multiple silver instruments on shelves and windowsills but apart from making noise and smoke, they appeared to do nothing. They held none of the magical intent Hermione had been teaching them to recognise. He would have done better with a model train set in Harry’s opinion. The wall was covered in portraits of various past head teachers, some paying attention, others pretending to be busy. A large bird in crimson and gold plumage sat by the window bathing in the light of the setting sun while the Headmaster sat behind a large desk on another golden throne-like chair. He like some of the portraits was pretending to busy.
‘Ah Harry my boy,’ the man said several moments later, ‘just a moment while I sort this out,’ and without writing anything else he stacked up the parchment, probably smudging the ink and put them in a drawer. Harry barely concealed a snort at the acting. Even Dudley was better at pretending to work.
‘Minerva,’ He said a far snippier tone. ‘Thank you for escorting Harry here.’ It was a dismissal that she decided to ignore. Instead, she sat down in front of the desk and indicated Harry to do the same. The teachers stared at each other.
‘Surely you have work to do Minerva. There’s no need for you to sit with Mr Potter.’
‘Oh no, Albus all my work is done. It is, however, my duty to represent my students. Especially when summoned to the Headmaster’s office.
‘He hasn’t done anything wrong and needs no defence.’
‘Then you have no grounds to object.’ The staring match continued.
‘Harry my boy,’ Dumbledore said breaking eye contact ‘have a lemon sherbet,’ Harry stared at the proffered bowl.
‘No thank you, sir, I just had dinner.’
‘Ah, yes. Well I wanted to talk to you about yesterday,’ Harry didn’t respond, and the silence was once again only interrupted by the little machines on the shelf. ‘About the trial. I saw you there.’
‘I had permission,’ stated Harry.
‘I know you say that dear boy but sneaking out of school to involve yourself in adult matters is not allowed. I will have to take points.’
‘You said I wasn’t in trouble.’
‘You said, sir, I wasn’t in trouble, a few moments ago to Professor McGonagall. Maybe Madam Marchbank is right and your memory’s gone a bit.’ Dumbledore didn’t like that, and his genial smile slipped momentarily. Harry squashed a victorious smile at the warning glance from McGonagall.
‘Ah, so I did. Well, I won’t take points then. But my dear boy being around deranged murderers isn’t suitable for young minds.’
‘But there weren’t any, murderers that is. Sirius is innocent.’
‘Heir,’ coughed McGonagall not even attempting to be subtle about correcting the Headmaster in front of a student. Dumbledore’s smile became fixed.
‘Yes, Heir Black has suffered and isn’t a suitable person to care for a young man such as yourself. I’m afraid that you can’t go to him this summer, after all, your dear aunt would no doubt be heartbroken to lose you.’ Harry rather thought she would throw a party but didn’t want to tip off the Headmaster to his plans so looked down while trying to formulate a response. In doing so he missed the frustrated look on the Headmaster’s faces at the lack of eye contact.
‘Sir, I’m not really sure why you care, but I don’t intend to spend the summer under Heir Blacks care,’ the Headmaster blinked.
‘You don’t. Well, that is good news my boy, wonderful in fact. Now off you go and have some merry little adventures with your chums.’ The Headmaster stood and directed them from the room.
‘Foolish man I assume you know how to get back to your quarters from here Mr Potter.’ At his nod, McGonagall wished him goodnight and headed off no doubt towards her own.
I can’t believe he bought that,’ exclaimed Hermione when he filled the other two in back in the common room.
‘There’s arrogance and there’s arrogance,’ Neville agreed. ‘At least he’s not going to hound us.’
The press was rabid over the case and soon questions were being flung at the leaders about the validity of all the trials and decisions were raked through the mud. Dumbledore was busy keeping his name as clean as he could to worry about Harry and so he found, after that night, he rarely even saw the Headmaster.
Things, however, got ugly with Ron. He seemed to take the situation with Sirius as a personal attack on his idol, Dumbledore. Harry didn’t care too much that the man was getting called on his shitty decision-making skills. Somebody who abandons babies and employs Death Eaters was due some kind of recompense in Harry’s book.
‘Oh look there, the mini Death Eater, going to ask your godfather for tricks on how to kill Muggle-born, look out Granger, you’re next. People like that don’t have friends,’ Ron’s taunts filled the common room.
‘Really Ron are you that illiterate?’ Hermione snapped at the boy.
‘I’m not a sick rat, that’s Scabbers and leave him out of this.’
‘Oh, dear Godric you are. No wonder you seem to think Sirius is a Death Eater. Here let me explain I’ll even use little words. Sirius Black is a good man. He was betrayed by everybody and sent to prison with no trial. Ten years later he got one and he was found to be innocent of all crimes.’
‘He bought them off, it’s what the other Death Eaters did.’
‘No Ron, he didn’t, are you accusing even your own father of corruption, the people who would have voted against him or abstained are the Pure-blood bigots.’
‘My dad’s not a bigot,’ Hermione took a deep breath.
‘No he’s not, which is why he voted Sirius innocent. You, however, are a bigot.’
‘I’m not a Death Eater,’ Ron shouted back. Harry had never seen a whole room slump in exasperation before.
‘Come on, Mione, there’s no point arguing with him.’
‘But he’s calling you and Sirius, Death Eaters.’
‘Gran always says there none so stubborn as a fool. You won’t change his mind, Mione.’
‘Not enough of one to change,’ one of the twins called out.
‘Fred. You can’t say that about our brother.’
‘Oh come on Percy, he called dad a corrupt Death Eater and thinks everybody else is one too by the sounds of it. Mum must have dropped him as a baby.’ The trio walked away as the twins debated who was the most likely to have dropped baby Ron.
‘It makes me so angry Harry, how can you just accept him saying that stuff about you?’
‘I’m used to it.’
‘What! Who else’s been calling you a Death Eater?’ Hermione asked looking like she was going to go fight them on his behalf.
‘No one, I meant my neighbours, they all thought I was a lazy little thug, I’m used to the petty insults of shallow minded bigots.’
‘That’s horrible Harry.’
‘At least they’re kind enough to weed themselves out like this though,’ Neville cheerfully added. ‘I mean this way we know who is worth talking to and who’s going to be an arse.’ Hermione harrumphed and the boys assumed that the argument was over for the time being.
Exams hit the school out of the blue. The recent scandals had been absorbing the attention of even the staff and then suddenly Madam Marchbank and the education board were at the gate. The fifth and seventh years turned in to frantic creatures likely to cast first and ask questions later and even the twins didn’t dare provoke Percy.
‘I can’t believe that I forgot about exams. I mean all governments are corrupt why did I become so absorbed in ours?’ Hermione complained to the two boys from somewhere within a tome.
‘Because you care about your friends,’ Neville suggested.
‘If I cared I would have made you revise not plot.’
‘What about your plan to overthrow the government?’ Harry got a glare in response.
‘You need to be smart to overthrow bigoted and corrupt organisations.’
‘I know that and you are, you don’t need exams to prove that to us or your parents.’
‘There are more people in the world than that Harry and exams results will prove my point.’
‘Mione, I mean it’s not that the exams aren’t important but they aren’t the OWL exams or NEWTs, you don’t have to exhaust yourself over them. Nobody is going to care about your first-year results.’
‘I know that Neville but I’m not going to fail and prove those, who say Muggle-born are no good, right.’ The boys shared a glance. Hermione had been relaxed recently; the mania had come unexpectedly.
‘You aren’t going to fail, Mione,’ Harry attempted damage control. ‘Who said you weren’t good enough?’
‘Who do you think? Our dear housemate with a job already lined up at the Ministry.’
‘You can’t mean Ron?’ Neville gasped out.
‘Hermione I doubt even the Ministry would take him. He has no, well anything. He’s like the personification of laziness and gluttony,’ Harry argued.
‘He said that I would never get a job there, but he would because of his birth.’
‘Oh Mione, even the Ministry isn’t that bad.’
‘Like Neville said, plus they’ll be trying to tidy up their image after this scandal, Ron isn’t going to make the cut.’ Harry soothed. She took a deep breath.
‘Thanks. I’ve been a bit silly about this, haven’t I?’
‘Not really, I mean there’s been a load of pressure on us recently something had to give, plus we’re going to ace our exams now.’ Neville, ever the optimist, pointed out.
Harry wouldn’t say he aced his exams but he was pretty certain he did well. His teachers would probably understand, apart from Snape. Having daily reminders that your parent’s betrayer, animagus rat Pettigrew, was at large could be quite useful in that regard. The trio were walking out of the defence exam when they heard Ron complaining.
‘I mean she’s a complete nightmare, but why couldn’t she have helped me revise. What’s the good having a swot in the house if they don’t help?’
‘Hermione may not have helped you Ron, but she helped the rest of us as we treat her like a normal person, not like some kind of homework dispenser.’ Lavender huffed and shouldered past him. Seeing Hermione she smiled and gave her a hug. ‘Thank you for the flash cards, I’m certain they just saved my life better than any spell.’
‘No, it’s not okay because you didn’t give me any.’
‘Be quiet Ron, you’re annoying us. And Hermione didn’t make them for us, she just introduced the idea and we all made our own,’ Harry defended.
‘You didn’t include me.’
‘You didn’t want to be included, you haven’t come to a single study session and all last week refused to sit at the same table as Harry.’ Neville added.
‘Well, maybe I don’t want to sit with dark gits.’
‘I’m getting McGonagall,’ Lavender declared.
‘Snitch,’ Ron shouted at her back and they all heard Lavender sob as she headed down the corridor.
‘Really Ron, picking on girls to hide your inferiority that’s completely in line with those Gryffindor values you love so much.’
‘Shut up, I don’t know what you mean Neville, but I don’t have to listen to a squib.’
‘Of course, you don’t, it will take a miracle for you to pass the year,’ Hermione muttered. Unfortunately, she was heard by Ron who decided to shove her in retaliation. Recognising the look on his face, having seen it on Dudley’s a number of times Harry put himself between them and took the full brunt of the shove. Neville seeing what was happening tried to pull Ron away while Hermione, the most effective of the three of them, swung her book bag at him.
‘Stop this at once,’ they froze in mid-action. ‘Detention tonight, the four of you in my classroom at seven. Quirrell swept on down the corridor.
The four of them traipsed into the defence classroom. None of them was looking forward to the detention and hoping that it wouldn’t be too bad. The twins had offered up tales of the delights Filch and Snape had subjected them to over the years.
‘Ah good, you are all here. Detention is in the trophy room tonight come along now. Leave your bags no need to have them with you. They’ll be safely locked in here till after you’re finished.’ Quirrell ushered them out of the room and to the second-floor corridor.
‘Filch has been good enough to get you some cloths to polish the trophies, best you split up to get them done hmm.’ Harry didn’t think that even splitting up the four of them stood a chance of getting the job done, the trophy room was huge and held various awards going back centuries.
‘Don’t worry about the Quidditch or House Cups, they’ll be handed out soon enough, no, no, go for those other awards.’ Sharing a look, the trio traded glances and headed towards the cases.
Ron was grumbling under his breath about doing housework but Harry didn’t mind. Polishing was one of his favourite chores to do at the Dursleys as it didn’t involve too much thought or effort but was instead monotonous. The first few hours ticked by with the group slowly spreading out as they achieved cabinet after cabinet.
‘Professor, it’s getting late will we be stopping soon?’
‘Oh, it will be over soon enough don’t you worry Miss Granger, just a little bit longer.’ Turning back to his work Harry moved on to another case hidden behind a pillar.
‘Ah, interesting isn’t it?’ Harry jumped not having heard the teacher coming up behind him. He had for the past hour felt a headache building and Quirrell’s voice was like a knife between the eyes.
‘What is, sir?’
‘The awards, just think of all the things these people achieved starting here and in your hands are the first signs of their greatness.’ Harry hadn’t thought of it like that and looked down at the plaque in his hands. It was an award for special services to the school. The name was obscured with tarnish, so Harry rubbed at it till it became clear, Tom Marvolo Riddle 1943. Glancing up Harry noted Quirrell was smiling at it fondly.
‘I haven’t heard of him, sir.’
‘Haven’t you? Surely such a man would be remembered?’
‘Maybe he died in the war, sir.’
‘Perhaps. You should put it back now Potter.’ Giving his teacher a concerned look Harry turned slightly to put the award down. As he turned back around, he saw a flash of red light and felt darkness rush towards him as his legs crumpled.
Harry woke up sluggishly and tried to fight off the blanket which had wrapped around him in his sleep. As he was struggling he noticed something wasn’t right. He didn’t go to bed with his shoes on and the blanket was moving. Opening his eyes Harry started to struggle all the more. He was somewhere dark, and he was lying on a plant which had him wrapped up in vines.
For a mad moment, he was convinced that Hermione’s Flutterbloom bush had mutated and attacked the common room before he remembered the detention in the trophy room. He was somewhere else now and this wasn’t a Flutterbloom but something similar and apparently more dangerous. Harry tried to kick himself free but was dragged further into the tangle of vines as he did so.
‘Harry, Harry is that you?’
‘Neville are you there? I’m being attacked by a plant, help me. Get help.’
‘Harry calm down, it’s Devil’s Snare, the more you fight the tighter it’ll bind you.’ Harry appreciated Neville’s advice, but it was easier said than done but eventually Harry managed to still himself in his binds.
‘Nev, where are you?’
‘Tied up somewhere to your right. I don’t know where here is, but I haven’t seen anybody else. I’m just as stuck as you.’
‘How do we get out of this stuff?’
‘Light, Devil’s Snare hates it but my wand’s in my holster and I can’t get to it, what about you?’ Harry tried an experimental wiggle but with no success.
‘Same as you, stuck tight. What do you remember? I was talking to Quirrell and then I saw a red light, a spell I think, but I didn’t recognise it and next thing you know I’m here.’
‘Yeah about the same for me, but I wasn’t talking to him, saw his reflection in the cup I was cleaning.’
‘You think he’s gone mad?’
‘Got to have,’ agreed Neville.
‘You reckon Mione and Ron got away?’
‘I hope so, but Harry I doubt it, we didn’t see it coming and we were separated.’
‘He did that deliberately, this is planned.’ Suddenly the floor above them started to thump as if something large was bouncing around on top of it.
‘Nev, start calling for help maybe they’ll save us.’ The two boys started to shout for help. There was a silence from overhead and then a trapdoor opened above them. As the sliver of light hit the plant it withdrew and Harry managed to wiggle free slightly but then the light was obscured and something fell towards them. A body hit the plants slightly to the side of Harry; it was small and had bushy hair.
‘Hermione, come on Mione wake up.’ The force of her impact had upset the vines and they were wrapping her up much like the boys. Seconds later another body fell, this one much more gangly and with a shock of red hair.
‘Mione, Ron, wake up,’ Harry was chanting this, as was Neville, but it seemed to have no effect on the two unconscious students. There was a further sound from above much like a large animal and a third body descended although this one with more grace than the last two. The trap door filled with sound and snapping jaws as a giant dog thrust it’s muzzle in after them. It pulled away and was then back again and again. The Cerberus was above them.
‘We’re in the forbidden corridor.’
‘We are indeed Mr Potter. Five points to Gryffindor.’ The trapdoor above them slammed shut knocked, by the fighting animal.
‘Why Professor, why bring us here?’
‘Ah because I want what’s at the end of this little gauntlet and you are going to get it for me.’ The stutter was gone from his voice and Harry kind of wished it was back so he did have to understand the sentence or the implication behind it.
‘But we’ll die. That’s what Dumbledore said at the feast.’
‘Perhaps Mr Longbottom but I hedged my bets and brought four of you, hopefully, one of you will survive long enough, if not plenty more in the castle.’
‘Ah Miss Granger nice of you to join us, I would apologise for stunning you twice but I don’t particularly care. Blame your Head of House for getting in my way and delaying our little get-together. Unfortunately, it was impossible to transport you all at once. See I’m hardly mad, too logical for that.’ Harry didn’t think he was making a sound argument for his sanity but also didn’t want to make him angry, so stayed quiet.
‘Once Mr Weasley joins us, we’ll be off, but while we wait perhaps one of you can describe our first task and how we will get past it.’ He was definitely mad. Here they were being squeezed to death and he was acting like it was a normal lesson.
‘Come now Miss Granger normally you’re so willing to share with the class.’
‘Devil’s Snare we’re on Devil’s Snare.’
‘Very good but I also asked how we get past it.’
‘Umm, fire, fire or light. I chose light, let’s not start a fire now.’ Quirrell started to laugh clearly delighted at her panic.
‘Indeed, if you had your wand I would have you light a Lumos but I suppose it falls to me.’ Harry’s eyes widened, Quirrell hadn’t searched them he didn’t know he and Neville had their wands still. The light from Quirrell’s spell was enough to make the vines drawback and drop what they were holding and so the five of them fell further yet, this time hitting stone flooring.
‘It’s an amazing castle isn’t it, who knew this area existed,’ came the enthusiastic appreciation from their mad teacher. Ron groaned the force of the impact jolting him out of his spell induced stupor.
‘Where’m I?’ Ron groaned.
‘On an adventure, Mr Weasley how very Gryffindor of you.’ Harry felt it was hardly their choice to go on this adventure and as the Professor updated Ron, Harry tried to see a way out. Unfortunately, the only way seemed to be down the corridor in front of them, the vines having woven together again into a complete lattice.
‘Now I suppose I should deal with these little Gryffindor impulses of yours.’ He grabbed Hermione and put his wand to her neck. ‘See aren’t you all willing to cooperate on our little venture together, I have no idea why Severus complains, you are such obedient little children aren’t you.’ It wasn’t exactly a threat but Harry found himself agreeing with the mad man rather than risk Hermione. Perhaps if they had been quicker he and Neville could have taken out Quirrell but it was too late to try, with him holding Hermione hostage.
‘Onwards we go, you first.’ The corridor sloped down into the gloom and the only light came from the wand pointing at Hermione’s neck behind them. Harry reached out to steady himself on the wall and found it slick with water and some kind of slime.
‘Can you hear that?’ Harry muttered to Neville.
‘Hear what? Describe it, boys.’
‘Wings, it sounds like hundreds of wings,’ Harry answered dreading the thought of what creature it could be.
‘Ah, it must be Filius’ little challenge. All your teachers were kind enough to give us something. Shall we guess whose we’ve already been through?’ He was like some kind of demented travel guide seemingly determined to make them enjoy their trip.
‘Mr Weasley. You’ve been quiet, any guesses?’
‘Sprout,’ answered Ron.
‘Well done Mr Weasley. Another five points to Gryffindor I think.’ Normally Ron looked pleased to get points but at the moment, his face pale and freckles stark, he looked like he would happily never again accept points. ‘Slightly trickier now, who can guess our fluffy friend.’ As Quirrell said this he started to chuckle again obviously pleased with some unknown joke.
‘Professor Kettleburn.’ Harry suggested.
‘Oh good try,’ dread filled Harry. Was he going to punish them for getting it wrong? ‘Not quite, but I suppose he did help, more a combined effort between Hagrid and Silvanus, I’m feeling generous you may have it but no points Mr Potter, you have to work for them.’ Harry started breathing again.
The closer they got to the sound the brighter it was and soon they were standing in a brightly lit room with strange little birds. There was at the other side of the room a large locked door and a rack of brooms.
‘Mr Longbottom, try the door.’ Neville walked across the room his arms up ready to defend himself from the birds if they swooped but they continued flying, ignoring him. At the door, he tried to open it, but it proved to be locked.
‘Well, then we need the key. Who wants to catch it?’ Quirrell stated. Harry looked up again and saw the birds were in fact enchanted keys, suddenly the brooms made more sense.
‘Mr Weasley, if I recall you were very eager to fly at the start of the year, will we be seeing a second flight, your first was so very memorable.’ Harry didn’t think Ron was going to manage a flight, not throwing up seemed to be taking all his effort. ‘Perhaps not, it may get messy, don’t worry I’m sure your time will come. Mr Potter you will have to fill the position instead.’
Harry walked woodenly towards the brooms. The last time he had flown he enjoyed it until the crash. He didn’t think he was going to enjoy it this time. Getting on the broom Harry took off. There were hundreds of keys and they were moving Harry didn’t know which one to grab, but didn’t want to look like he wasn’t trying. Not with Hermione’s life on the line. As he flew he saw Quirrell move over to the door with Hermione and Ron tagging along behind.
‘No luck yet? Try looking for a large cast iron one.’ Quirrell called after inspecting the lock. Once, Harry, had it described to him, he clearly saw which key it was. Sensing his focus the key started to flit around and the chase was on. Diving and swooping Harry was failing to catch the key, the rest of them determined to get in his way and his hands were covered in nicks.
‘Harry you need to corner it.’
‘Oh, good call Miss Granger, that’s two points for Gryffindor,’ the man was utterly insane. Harry took her advice and managed to splat the key against the wall. As it struggled against his hand and the brickwork he curled his fingers around it and flew down to the waiting group.
‘Well go on then Potter, I won’t deny you the pleasure of your hard work,’ the man said waving him to the door. Harry, still clutching the key, managed to fit it in the lock and they all heard the satisfying clunk of the lock disengaging. Letting go of the key Harry saw that even if he freed it from the lock it wouldn’t fly again, it’s wings shredded from the stone and crushed by his grip. Turning the handle, the door swung open.
‘Oh, good show; all of you now let’s see what’s ahead.’ The next chamber was so dark and as the Professor stepped through the door swung closed trapping them in the blackness. ‘Well, this is cheery, head forwards now,’ Quirrell ordered.
Stumbling into each other the three boys headed into the darkness. Suddenly torches lit along the walls and towering above them were giant statues on a chequered floor. It took a moment for it to make sense but then Harry realised they were standing on a chessboard. Quirrell came up behind them.
‘Who wants to guess the teacher this time?’
‘It’s Professor McGonagall sir,’ Neville guessed.
‘Indeed, five points, but how do we get past it; boys walk across the floor.’ With little choice, the three of them set off. As they made it to the other side the pieces sprang forward and blocked their path, helplessly they glanced back. Then as they stood there, four pieces on the black side rolled off the board.
‘It would appear we have to play. Mr Weasley your time has come sooner than we all thought. You are our chess prodigy after all; I do recall your Christmas match with the Headmaster.’ The mad man turned and dragged Hermione along with him to the vacant position of king. Looking at Ron, Harry and Neville took their places as pawns while he became a knight.
‘White always plays first,’ Ron said, and they all watched as the first piece rumbled across the board.
‘Do you think this is like real Wizards chess?’ Harry had seen Wizards chess and Neville’s question made him wonder how they were going to survive the game.
‘Don’t know mate really only one way to find out.’ Ron replied as he manoeuvred a pawn into the line of fire. When the white piece came in front of it, they all held their breath. Suddenly the white piece reared up and smashed the pawn into rubble. As the dust hung in the air they saw the debris being swept off the board by unseen magic the white piece moved forward.
‘Yeah, it’s real Wizard’s chess,’ Harry felt sick how were they going to survive? ‘I’ll try to keep you out of play,’ Ron promised them.
‘Now, now Mr Weasley, this is no time for sentiment, we are playing to win. Sacrifice them if you must.’ Quirrell really was a twisted bastard. The game progressed slowly with no mercy shown to the lost pieces. Eventually, Harry found himself standing before a rook and unsure how he was supposed to take down the other piece without revealing his wand and endangering Hermione even more.
‘Push it over Harry, just make sure you stay in your square.’ Following Neville’s advice, Harry pushed the white marble statue in front of him. With more ease than he expected the piece toppled over and smashed into as many pieces as those before. Harry moved forward.
Eventually, gameplay went against them and Ron had a choice, he could play himself and be taken, leaving the way open for them to Checkmate, or he could save himself and play Quirrell. Harry doubted that Quirrell would make a move that would endanger him, so Ron took the sacrifice play. Before he took the move he shouted the instructions to the others so they could play on without him in case he didn’t make it. The only one unconcerned by this was Quirrell.
Harry hadn’t always had the kindest thoughts about Ron and part of him felt they wouldn’t be here if Ron hadn’t gotten them detention. But as they observed Ron moving into the path of the white queen, Harry had to admit that Ron was at least brave enough to be part of the house of the bold. Hoping that the magic would play out differently with real people on the board they watched the queen strike. As the dust settled they saw the unconscious form of Ron being dragged from the board leaving a smear of blood. Hermione made a strangled sob.
‘Your move Mr Longbottom,’ called the undisturbed even gleeful Professor. Neville strode forward furiously to the king who removed his crown and threw at it Neville’s feet with enough force that it broke on impact. They had won the game and were free to move. Neville and Harry turned and started towards Ron who was lying near the door they had entered through.
‘I wouldn’t do that boys,’ called Quirrell
‘But sir, Ron’s…’ Neville trailed off unsure quite what Ron was, apart from not well.
‘Indeed he is. Oh well, at least his parents have children to spare. Leave him, I’d rather not fight across the board again, although if you boys are enjoying it that much, I’m sure Miss Granger and I can head along together.’
Harry was torn, on one hand, Ron was unconscious and alone, on the other Hermione, his friend was being held hostage and only he and Neville had wands. It was an ugly choice but in the end, he indicated that he and Neville should follow Quirrell. Neither of them knew any first aid and hopefully, together they could stop Quirrell and this would make Ron safer. Separating now would put them all in danger. With a heavy heart and many backwards glances, the boys headed down the passageway beyond the chessboard.
‘Wise choice boys,’ the man said when they reached him. ‘Now can you smell that? Troll.’ Their eyes widened, was this the troll from Halloween and what happened that night? Had it escaped?
‘Now I can see what you’re thinking but I’m afraid it’s a different troll, the first one on Halloween perished, Severus got a bit carried away. Dratted man, if only he had taken longer for him to reach it.’
‘You meant to use it to break the corridor underneath the forbidden corridor didn’t you, to get access,’ gasped out Hermione.
‘Miss Granger you truly are a smart little witch. It was my plan. That damned Cerberus. Finally, I got Hagrid to tell me how to get past it before Easter, but Dumbledore has been keeping watch. But he’s away tonight, thank you for that Potter.’
‘The Hogshead, it was you who gave him the egg, wasn’t it?’
‘Indeed it was, I’m surprised you know about that, I assume the oaf had killed the egg, the lack of dragon rather telling.’ Harry while not wanting to let the man slander Hagrid also didn’t fancy telling him about the dragon smuggling. It was the sort of thing which could end up being used against them if the man went on trial.
‘Now, let it not be said I’m not pulling my weight on our little expedition.’ He opened the door and shoved Hermione into the room with the troll and strolled in behind her. Before Harry or Neville, could get in, the door slammed shut again. They were stuck behind the door hearing only Hermione’s screams and the bellows of the troll.
‘Alohamora, come on Alohamora, Incendio!’ Harry and Neville, both with their wands drawn, tried every spell they could, to get the door open but nothing worked. Suddenly the troll went silent, but they could still hear Hermione.
‘Be quiet girl or I’ll leave your little friends behind.’ The muffled voice was growing stronger so the boys slipped their wands back into their sleeves. The door swung open to reveal Hermione, pale and shaken with tears running down her face and once more at wand point. Harry swallowed his frustration that they couldn’t yet take down the mad man. Directed in front of Quirrell again, the boys walked past the dead, oozing troll and into a new room relieved to be beyond the rancid smell.
As they stepped into the new room fire sprang up all around them trapping them at a table with several potion flasks and a note.
‘It’s a clue to the puzzle, one potion will let us through the fire to the next room the other will lead back, and the others are either poisons or wines.’ Hermione explained when prompted.
‘Well, Mr Longbottom can you guess who set this puzzle?’
‘Snape, sir,’ replied Neville.
‘You are on the ball Mr Longbottom, five points for you, Miss Granger your turn. Please do select the correct potion to move us along.’ He led her over to the flasks. Harry stood back and watched Hermione smelling the flasks and rearranging them on the table her hand hovering over them as her face scrunched in concentration trying to divine the intent. ‘Wine, poison, a rather nasty one at that, wine again, potion, poison, poison and there we have the last potion.’ She muttered to herself as she sorted through the options.
‘Well, Miss Granger who shall be our first taster and which potion shall we test on them.’ Hermione looked at the boys then back at the note and then the flasks. ‘Time’s wasting Miss Granger, who do you chose?’
‘I’m so sorry Harry.’
‘Oh, living dangerously, I approve but which potion will you give him? Get it wrong and he will be a crispy critter.’
‘That one.’ Hermione pointed at the darker of the two flasks.
‘Well go on Mr Potter, Longbottom hold the flask for him after he’s taken a swig.’
‘It’s okay. Mione, it’ll be fine I trust you,’ Harry looked her in the eye as he said this conveying his forgiveness, trust and apology all in one.
‘Oh please cut out the sentimental stuff, we are on a schedule.’ Glaring at the man Harry swallowed a mouthful of the potion and walked into the fire. Like stepping into the floo the magic in the fire licked at him but instead of wrapping him up it pushed him out the other side and Harry found himself in a new room. It was grander than the ones which had come before and at the far end, down some steps was a mirror.
‘Well done, Miss Granger, you next Longbottom.’ A few moments later Neville was standing next to him.
‘Do you think he’ll give Mione the potion?’ Harry startled, he hadn’t considered that she wouldn’t get it, but Quirrell was callous enough to leave Ron behind so maybe he wouldn’t care to save Hermione.
‘He’ll give it to her. She’s been the most useful so far and he’s not going to give up his hostage.’ Harry hoped he was right but the man was mad nobody could have predicted that he was going to do this. Shortly after Harry was proven right as the pair stepped through the fire.
‘Ah. It would appear we are nearly at the end of our little outing, Dumbledore, how egocentric of you to go last. The final defence, how glorious it will be to thwart you. Gather round now children.’ Harry with Neville, shuffled towards the man Harry didn’t particularly want to be near to him but the risk to Hermione was too great for him to disobey. Before the children had time to react Quirrell’s wand slashed through the air and they found themselves bound together with pale ropes.
‘Ah, ah don’t pout, the only reason I haven’t taken points is due to my supervision of you, just like with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest, yes I know about that. But now children my focus is needed elsewhere and I can’t have you wandering off, why you could get hurt.’ As he said this, he let go of Hermione and the three of them lost their balance and toppled over. Unfortunately, their struggles further unsteadied them and they rolled down the steps towards the mirror. Once at the bottom they lay in a heap winded and bruised. Aching and scared Harry slipped his bloody hands into Neville’s and Hermione’s and they clung to each other. Quirrell, utterly unfazed about their fall, strode past them towards the mirror.
‘I can see it but how to get it out?’ The man was peering into the mirror enthralled. After a while, he broke free of the trance and started casting spell upon spell on the mirror.
‘He’s distracted. Mione, Nev and I have our wands. Sorry, we couldn’t help you but he’s just too mad to predict.’
‘Oh, Harry I don’t blame you; you either Nev. Can you get a wand free at all?’ At this, the boys both wiggled around trying to get to their wands.
‘It’s no good Harry, my arm’s at the wrong angle, what about you?’
‘I can almost get to it. Mione wiggle to the right, can you get your hand up my sleeve.’
‘Yeah, how do I get it out?’
‘Should just slide,’ he replied and Hermione fumbled at the holster.
‘Almost there. Can you straighten your wrist, Harry? Yes like that. Ha!’ Hermione breathed out her triumph. ‘I’ve got it, here you go.’ Wand in hand Harry felt a bit better but realised he had no idea what spell was holding them let alone how to get them free.
‘Any ideas?’ he asked in defeat.
‘Try finite,’ at his look, Hermione tried to shrug. ‘He’s not been doing a lot of heavy magic till just now, it’s worth a shot.’
‘Finite,’ Harry angled the wand tip to the rope but nothing happened. Determined to get them free Harry kept at it.
‘I think you need the wand movement to end it, Harry, any idea what it is, Mione?’
‘No, the only other cancelling spell I can think of is Nox and that’s no help.’
‘Could we destroy the ropes instead?’
‘It may get us free, but we’re likely to catch on fire too and probably end up worse off. How do we not know any spell to get us out of this?’ Hermione huffed in frustration after she said this.
‘Because, Mione the man, who’s meant to be teaching it, is the person who’s kidnapping us,’ snapped Harry.
‘You think it’s that deliberate?’
‘The dragon was several months ago; he’s been after whatever this is about for a while.’
‘I have indeed Mr Potter.’ They froze worried how much he had overheard. ‘Since last July even, do you recall our meeting, I tried to get it from the bank but was just a few hours too late.’ He sat down on the steps by the children where they lay.
‘This gauntlet became my next chance, but Dumbledore took so long to assemble it. I didn’t know where the stone was until he finally placed it here after Christmas. You just can’t get the staff these days. I had all the information before Easter but couldn’t make my move, too many eyes. I tested it after the break, everyone was so delightedly distracted by Black. But the traps were too lethal to get by. I had to retreat and rethink.’ Harry frowned had the traps changed, they were dangerous and Ron, Ron might be dead but they were children and they were managing okay.
‘I can see you frowning at that. Yes, I suppose you’re wondering how you got through so easily. The answer is of course Magic. Ingenious really, I even surprised myself how simple the solution was.’ Harry couldn’t believe the man was preaching at them or perhaps lecturing. ‘You see it’s a school and so much Magic, raw untrained Magic has soaked into these stones over the years, Peeves is an example of it manifesting. There are others of course but less visible and one of those is the protection. The school cares for its students. It keeps you safe, I suppose it must have to, otherwise you little darlings would have killed each other off years ago with petty fights and schoolyard brawls.’
‘The school protection changed the nature of the traps, didn’t it?’
‘Well done Miss Granger. I am feeling rather generous so take twenty points. All I needed to get through the traps were some children, school children. I had hundreds to choose from and yet you are my lucky little companions.’ Harry apparently had a wildly different definition of luck to his teacher.
‘But why didn’t you act sooner?’
‘Good question Longbottom. I suppose I could argue it was practicality, waiting until the annoying Headmaster of ours was out of the way. I could have killed him but it would have drawn too much attention, no, waiting was the better option. But if I’m honest I rather enjoyed teaching. I wanted to be a teacher once, but Dumbledore the high and mighty denied me. So here I am teaching under his nose. I couldn’t, of course, abandon my students before their exams.’
‘You’re not really Quirrell, are you?’ Harry accused.
‘Is this not Quirrell’s body, Mr Potter?’
‘It might be, but you’re not him, are you?’
‘Very well observed. I’m afraid Quirrell has faded away, not much of a loss.’
‘Faded?’ Hermione queried.
‘Yes for a while we, what is the term, cohabited in his body, very generous of him to share. Unfortunately, the strain became too much for him and we suffered some, issues.’
‘The Unicorn, that’s how you knew we were in the forest.’
‘You are a clever one, another five points, Miss Granger. But do share with your friends, I don’t believe they’ve caught up with us yet.’
‘Unicorn blood can tie somebody to life, but it comes with a heavy price, Magic curses the consumer to live a cursed existence.’
‘Indeed, but needs must and Quirinus suffered for it, after all, it was his body which consumed it. But the animal didn’t die and so it was a lesser curse than it could have been. In the end, the blood had an unexpected benefit. It weakened his soul to the point that I could take over. I hadn’t planned on this, even I didn’t think it would be possible. It has been so very long since I’ve had a body. Being stuck on the back of somebody’s head doesn’t count. However this body is weak and riddled with curses, magic doesn’t flow from it as it should, so we are here to solve it.’
Harry felt sick, he hadn’t wanted to help the man and yet by being in the forest and saving the Unicorn they had, no wonder he chose them to help him again. He probably hoped that they would become his minions.
‘Any guesses on what I’m after, no not even with the unsubtle Hagrid having you for tea.’ They all mutely shook their heads. ‘What unfortunately good children you are, Dumbledore must be fuming. Here he is setting us up Harry and you didn’t play along.’
Harry was wondering why the man seemed so focused on him. Was it because he was The-Boy-Who-Lived and therefore in the twisted man’s mind an equal. As he thought this several memories from his trip to Diagon Alley returned. Ollivander had said that some thought he was equal to Voldemort. Hagrid had mentioned Voldemort too, said that there wasn’t enough of him left to die, that some thought he would come back one day. Harry’s scar hurt in the man’s presence and it was the thing, now known as Quirrell which attacked Harry in the woods.
‘No, what Potter?’
‘You’re dead. You died on the 31st of October 1981.’ Hermione gasped and Neville stiffened against him. ‘You killed my parents and then you died.’
‘I did kill your parents, I killed a lot of people though so don’t take it personally after all I killed my own father. But I didn’t die. No, I was cast from my body, weak and alone for ten years. I suffered. But I didn’t give up and today I will be reborn. And you will witness my return. I’ll be blunt, you won’t be leaving here alive, nor will Mr Longbottom. How fate and magic have favoured me to be given both of you.’ With a creepily fond smile, he rose and wandered back to the mirror.
‘The Philosophers stone, the greatest achievement of alchemy, the elixir of life; it can heal and even deny death. Immortality is just out of my reach. How do you get it out of the mirror?’ Quirrell raged and returned to his spell casting.
They had to act soon if they were going to survive. With the man distracted Harry went back to trying to break the bonds driven by desperation and anger in equal amounts.
‘I can’t get the ropes to break, Nev, can you get your wand? It might help.’
‘Harry, he might catch on.’ Hermione panicked.
‘He’s going to kill us anyway at least with a wand we might be able to do something.’
‘Do what Harry? We can’t transfigure any mammal bigger than a mouse and all we know how to do is water plants, light fires and float feathers,’ she whispered back almost hysterically.
‘Harry, I don’t get it.’
‘Remember the lesson, Seamus overcast his spell and the feather was destroyed. We can take out the ropes and then we’re free.’
‘He’s weaker too. You heard him, Mione, he can’t cast magic well and I bet all those spells he’s casting are exhausting him,’ Neville looked at Harry as he said this.
‘He’ll notice when we break the ropes there was a huge bang when it happened last time,’ Neville pointed out.
‘While he’s distracted, Neville you draw your wand and Mione you run behind the pillar.’
‘But Harry I don’t want to leave you.’
‘We know, but you don’t have a wand, so you need to be safer than us. Feel free to throw stuff at him though. Neville are you still able to overpower your spells?’ At his nod, Harry grinned. ‘Cast Lumos as hard as you can.’
‘We’ll have to close our eyes too or we’ll be equally as blind.’
‘Good point, Mione. Can you do this, Nev?’
‘Yeah,’ said Neville.
‘What next after Neville blinds him?’
‘We make it up as we go along.’ With a wry grin, Harry reached out and grabbed his friends with hands made slippery with blood from the numerous small cuts he’d got in the key room. Letting go he pointed his wand at the ropes again angled so any explosion didn’t injure Hermione.
‘Wingardium Leviosa.’ Rather than follow through with the final swish he held his wand steady. The ropes around them twitched under the incomplete spell and grew warmer.
The ropes broke and they were in action. Hermione went to the pillar and Harry rolled to the side away from where they had been laying, Neville did the same. Just in time as a red spell flew to the place they had been moments before scorching the stone.
‘Nev, now,’ Harry cried slamming his eyes closed.
‘Lumos!’ The light was so intense that Harry’s eyelids went white and Quirrellmort shouted in pain. ‘Nox!’
Harry opened his eyes to see the figure blindly stumbling across the chamber towards Neville. Getting up he ran towards his friend. Neville breathing hard was pointing his wand at the approaching figure but had yet to cast a spell.
‘Impedimenta,’ Harry cast at the figure causing him to stumble and fall awkwardly grabbing on to Neville in an attempt to stay upright. Running up to the man Harry grabbed him and ripped his hands off Neville. As Harry’s skin touched Quirrellmorts, the flesh under Harry’s fingers began to blister and the man cried out. Pulling Neville clear and to his feet, the boys ran and hid behind a pillar.
‘What do we do now?’ Neville panted and ducked as spell fire splinted the stonework on their pillar. Movement out of the corner of his eye caught Harry’s attention. Hermione, safe behind another pillar, was pointing at the mirror.
‘Nev what’s she saying?’ Turning around Neville focused on Hermione.
‘The mirror, we need to break the mirror, so he can’t get the stone.’
‘Flipendo,’ darting around the side of the pillar Harry cast the spell at the mirror only for it to fizzle out on contact. ‘It’s protected against magic.’
‘Makes sense to keep the stone safe, how are we going to do this?’
‘Pushing it over might work, I doubt that it’s warded against it.’
‘Harry, it’s bad luck to break mirrors.’
‘Nev it can’t be any worse than an insane Dark Lord trying to kill us.’ Harry went back to hurling jinxes at Quirrellmort. Hermione in an attempt to distract the man and give them a chance to make a move started throwing chunks of fallen masonry at him.
With Quirrellmort momentarily distracted and Neville proving covering fire for Hermione, Harry broke cover and charged at the Dark Lord. Hoping whatever caused him to start burning the man last time they touched happened again, Harry ploughed in the man.
In a move stolen from rugby matches and perfected in fights with Dudley Harry tackled the Dark Lord. Grappling even as they stumbled, Harry pressed his hand to the man’s neck, feeling the skin warm under his touch; he steeled his nerve and persevered. This man had killed people, he had admitted it. He had killed Harry’s parents and tried to kill him, three times now. He was a threat to Harry and a threat to his friends, the family he was building for himself in the aftermath of the man’s reign of terror. Harry wasn’t going to let him get away. It was terrible to hurt people for the sake of hurting them but this was a fight for survival.
The unexpected attack and Harry’s momentum drove the pair back into the mirror. The little lion claw feet on the mirror were not designed to hold up to such an onslaught and so the two figures fell backwards as the mirror toppled.
The mirror shattered. Magic surged. The feeling of a hundred enchantments breaking all at once cascaded over Harry and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, Hermione’s and Neville’s startled calls faded. Harry sunk into the splintered depths of magic.
Harry woke up sluggishly and tried to fight off the blanket, which had wrapped around him in his sleep. As he was struggling he noticed something wasn’t right. He had done this before. Shoes, vines, Neville, Hermione, Ron, Quirrell, keys, chess and trolls, fire, poison, mirrors and stones. Harry jolted up.
‘Now Mr Potter that is enough, you’ll do yourself a further injury. You’re safe now in the infirmary.’ Harry slumped back. There was a pillow and in front of him silhouetted by a bank of windows was Madam Pomfrey.
‘There you go, poor dear.’ She gave him several potions and under her stern gaze he drank them down with barely a shudder. ‘Good lad. Never in all my years have we had such a thing, but you’re safe now and so are your friends.’
‘Hermione, Neville and Ron too?’ Yes all three of them were retrieved alongside you by the Headmaster, although why he insisted on the foolish death trap I don’t know?’
‘How did he know?’
‘Your Head of House, so many first years out of bed wasn’t going to go unnoticed. Now enough chit-chat, sleep and if you’re good you may have some time with your friends in the evening.’ With a glance to the cordoned of beds, Harry settled down and felt himself slip off to sleep.
The next time he woke up, Harry felt every bruise and cut on his battered body. Lying still he wondered what had happened, he felt as if he had only half the story. Like he was standing near somebody on the telephone and only got to hear the responses to unknown questions. It was really frustrating so he huffed out a breath and winced at the movement. However, the slight sound had attracted the matron and she quickly dosed him up with pain relief.
‘It’s mainly cuts and bruises young man, painful but not serious. You did suffer magical exhaustion from the collapse of the spell work and your accidental magic but I’ve been keeping an eye on you and your core’s recovering nicely. As terrible as the situation with those Muggles was, it has at least given your magic reserves hardiness not normally seen in children and you should be out of here before the end of the term, as long as you cooperate.’
Harry got the feeling that cooperate meant, do as she said, rather than any form of compromise but he didn’t really want to stay at school during the holiday. If the Dursleys were still on the table it would have been a different matter. Harry stiffened, what if Madam Longbottom didn’t want him now, because a mad Dark Lord was targeting him. It would make sense that she would want to protect her remaining family by reducing the threat to them.
‘Here you go lad,’ Harry blinked as the matron placed a tray containing three loaded plates of food on his knee. A jug of pumpkin juice and three glasses floated onto the bedside table.
‘Ma’am I don’t think I can eat all of that.’
‘Nonsense you’re a growing lad and you’ve burnt through a lot of energy in the last few days.’ Harry blinked in shock, days. How long had he been asleep?
‘Harry, I’m so glad you’re awake,’ Hermione appeared at his side and climbed into the bed to give him a hug.
‘Normally I wouldn’t let you share a bed. But under the circumstances, as long as you behave, you may. Eat up dears.’ The matron smiled at them and headed back to her office. Harry looked at the food.
‘Can you help me with this?’
‘Oh Harry, it’s not all for you. Neville and I are allowed to eat with you, now that you’re awake.’ As she was saying this Neville wrapped in a large fluffy dressing gown similar to Hermione’s, sat in the chair beside the bed.
‘Glad to see you awake mate, we were getting a bit worried.’
‘Thanks, guys. I haven’t got a clue what’s going on.’
‘Do you remember the forbidden corridor?’ At his nod, Hermione continued. ‘Well after you tackled Quirrellmort into the mirror and it smashed, you passed out. Nev and I also blacked out for a while but because we were further away and we were less affected. You lost control of your magic. It’s why he couldn’t touch you.’ Harry flinched at the memory; it was one thing to attack in the heat of the moment but looking back on it made him feel really dirty inside. Hermione gently swatted his arm.
‘None of that Harry, Neither of us blames you for losing control of your magic, that monster killed your parents and tried to kill us all. If we hadn’t passed out I would have stabbed him with part of the mirror. Some people aren’t worth your regrets and Dark Lords fall in that category.’
‘Were you always this bloodthirsty Hermione? Neville, how did we not notice?’
‘Oh shush. It’s new. You try having an insane Dark Lord holding you hostage and forcing you to nearly poison your friends. You’d want them dead too.’ At her outburst, Madam Pomfrey stuck her head around the door and the three of them busied themselves with the plates of food.
‘Anyway, Dumbledore came to rescue us after Professor McGonagall raised the alarm. She thought Quirrell was acting suspiciously after our detention was meant to have ended and mentioned it in the staffroom. In the end, she decided to check in on us and found that we hadn’t made it back and then Seamus pointed out Trevor was all over the place, if not for the cage he would have been right there with us. McGonagall followed Trevor to the third-floor corridor and after that Dumbledore was summoned.’
‘How did they get past the traps, I can’t imagine they took sacrificial children along too?’
‘That’s a good point, Harry I imagine that Dumbledore had an override or something. They found Ron, he’s okay just a couple of bruises and a few broken bones. Madam Pomfrey let him out already and his mum took him home early. She was kind of overbearing really, tried to fuss over us all and take us home too.’ Hermione explained.
‘Was You-Know-Who captured?’
‘Not exactly; he escaped again as a wraith, Quirrell’s body was too destroyed and couldn’t hold him and he couldn’t get into any of us luckily,’ they all shuddered at the thought. ‘Dumbledore saw his wraith leave but was too busy tending to Ron to stop him.’ Hermione’s expression said everything she thought about the situation. Her already dented trust in authority figures obviously hadn’t survived the experience.
‘So he’s out there again?’ Harry clarified.
‘Yeah but he’s weakened and he didn’t get the stone so hopefully, somebody will deal with him before he tries again.’
‘Who?’ Harry asked Hermione. ‘I mean come on Mione, we did more than Dumbledore, to stop him and you heard what he said about it all being a setup.’
‘He’s insane, Harry,’ Neville pointed out. ‘He may have been making it up to weaken us.’
‘He wasn’t like I expected,’ Harry admitted. ‘I mean he was insane and callous and didn’t care if we suffered and was rather gleeful about it and our deaths. But he was more charismatic than expected.’
‘It makes sense, Harry; nobody would follow a man who was blatantly insane. He had to be inspiring enough to get people to join his cause. He had to be somebody before he was a Dark Lord, it’s not like it was his first career choice either. He said he wanted to be a teacher.’
‘Merlin, can you imagine, he would have made Snape look tame.’
‘Shut up Nev, we don’t need that nightmare.’
‘Professor Voldemort,’ Neville flinched.
‘Hermione don’t say his name, especially now, he’s going to have it in for us.’
‘He’s too weak for a taboo curse at the moment, Nev. But I suppose you have a point, wouldn’t want to get in the habit in case he does get a body. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.’
‘Because of the power in a name,’ asked Harry.
‘I think there’s more than we first though Harry.’ Hermione admitted.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Vol de Mort. It’s French. Is there a family by that name Neville?’
‘There’s no family of noble blood with this name, people checked when he first came to power, he claimed to be the heir of Slytherin.’
‘But he’s known by another name. It’s bad French you know,’ Hermione mused ‘Flight from Death is the meaning.’ The three of them fell silent at this.
‘Names have power,’ Harry broke the silence. ‘He was always going to come back wasn’t he?’
‘I think once he took that name then yes Harry, he was always going to come back.’
‘You can’t just make a name, there’s something in it which ties him to who he was.’
‘So you’re saying Nev, if we find the link we can change him back and make him human again and defeat him.’
‘I don’t think he was ever human Mione, and I don’t think he will change easily, why would he give up such power? He could have existed longer, pretending to be Quirrell, he said since he won control, the body was more stable but weak. If he had played the long game nobody would have known he was back until too late.’
‘He’s greedy and arrogant; it’s how he lost, probably the first time too,’ Harry said as they fell silent.
‘At least we have seven years,’ Harry finally broke the silence.
‘What do you mean Harry, we’ve only got six years of school left?’ Hermione asked.
‘Well, Nev said it’s bad luck to break a mirror and it’s seven years bad luck, isn’t it? And it was Quirrellmort who hit the mirror first, not me. So he got the bad luck.’
‘That’s true,’ Neville agreed.
‘We have seven years to stop him then or else he may come back. Unless we throw another mirror at him.’ He cheekily added to snickers from the other two.
‘I think we can come up with something better than that Harry,’ Hermione laughed.
‘Anything else happen while I was unconscious?’
‘Well everybody knows we were kidnapped by Quirrell, not about the un-dead Dark Lord part. Oh and Slytherin won the Quidditch cup. We’re in the lead on house points though. Apparently the ones we got from Quirrellmort count.’
‘The system’s fucked up.’
‘Harry, language,’ chided Hermione.
‘Come on, Mione I heard your language for the past few days. Harry has a point though child murdering Dark Lords shouldn’t be able to give points.’
‘Bet he’s all pissed off, that Gryffindor’s in the lead seeing as he’s the heir of Slytherin.’ Laughing quietly the three of them finished off their dinner. Harry was surprised by how hungry he was.
‘When are you two getting out of here?’
‘We could leave in the morning, but we didn’t want to leave you alone and Madam Pomfrey’s being kind. I think she’d try and get us a mind healer if Dumbledore let her.’
‘He’s not?’ Harry exclaimed.
‘Nope trying to brush it under the carpet; the Weasley family are always firmly in his camp, so they aren’t likely to kick up a fuss even if he nearly got one of their children killed. Mione’s parents are Muggles so they have no influence. He and Gran have been butting heads and I think he threatened to make a fuss about her getting guardianship of you at Easter if she pushed it. She’s staying quiet so he can’t interfere with our summer plans.’
‘She still wants me?’
‘Course Harry, she doesn’t blame you, Mione and me either. Everybody else is getting the blame though. I mean how do you not notice a possessed teacher especially when you have an insanely valuable artefact in a school full of children. Plus, Gran will get us a mind healer. She told me she trusts Pomfrey enough to heal us but she’s responsible for our welfare. Anyways she knows loads of good ones since everything happened with Sirius.’
‘Does he know?’
‘Nah, the mind healers thought it would be too stressful; he knows we were kidnapped but not everything. Gran says it’s a struggle to stop him charging the gates of Hogwarts as it is, without factoring in his wrath for the man who killed his best friends abduction their child.’
‘Wait, if Sirius and the school know we were kidnapped, how hasn’t everything else come out?’
‘They don’t know how bad it was, they think that he attacked us in detention and was caught trying to move us. Nobody knows about the corridor.’
‘We can’t tell them either,’ Hermione added. ‘We’d just sound like children making up a story for attention. It’s kind of disgusting really how well trapped Dumbledore’s got us.’
‘We’ll be free soon, the holiday’s coming and we can come back prepared.’
‘Merlin, Neville, it’s’ school not war.’
‘Nah Harry, ever since Dumbledore put a Death Eater in the school and let a Dark Lord swan about he turned it into a battlefield.’
‘Neville,’ said Harry.
‘Yeah?’ replied Neville.
‘Your Gran’s going to be so proud of you,’ Neville grinned at this.
‘Wouldn’t be if it weren’t for you and Mione.’
‘That is what friends are for. Oh god, I’ve turned in to a Hallmark card.’
‘Well done Harry you ruined the mood, I love you too Neville.’
The school year ended how it started, with a feast. The hall was bedecked in Gryffindor colours, but Harry couldn’t feel the same pride as the rest of his housemates over the victory. Slytherin’s winning streak was only defeated because their heir was a lunatic. The rest of the house tried to interrogate them about what happened, but Percy stepped up to defend them. It was less about defending them and more he didn’t want any speculation on what happened in case it caused Ron problems, or so he claimed. The twins said it was because he didn’t want it to reflect badly on him and ruin his chance to be Head Boy.
The feast was just as grand as those in the past and the first years sat around bemoaning holiday homework and planning get-togethers over the break. When asked about his plans, Harry would just smile and say he’d write. He wasn’t letting anything ruin his summer plans at the eleventh hour. Eventually, the three of them made it to their dorm rooms and spent the time before bed frantically packing to get ready for the train journey in the morning.
As the three of them walked out the castle the next morning they saw the line of carriages standing in front of the school. They quickly headed towards an empty one but as he drew closer, through the corner of his eye he saw a slightly equine horse shape. He stared at where it had been.
‘Did you see that?’ blurted Harry, wide eyed he turned to the other two and pointed towards where the creature had been.
‘The horse thing, was it a mirage?’
‘I doubt it, Neville. It’s not warm enough to cause one. Maybe they spell the horses invisible,’ rationalised Hermione.
‘Why would they do that?’
‘Why do they do anything? Drama and power. You remember, Harry, in the Muggle world, how magic is just smoke and mirrors? Well, I think that it’s still the same here just with a bit more oomph.’
‘Smoke and mirrors, we’ve had that this year alright.’ The three fell silent and watched the carriages fill around them.
‘Come on you two, we don’t want to miss the train. Could you imagine being trapped in school.’
‘Who thought at the start of the year that it would be Hermione Granger who was the most eager to escape for the summer?’ With a laugh, Harry followed his two friends into the carriage. Whatever the horse thing was, it could wait with all the mysteries and monsters the school had yet to reveal to them, Harry was going home for his first summer with family.