A Certain Level of Society – 3/4 – Meyari McFarland

Title: A Certain Level of Society
Author: Meyari McFarland
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Family, Fantasy, Kid!fic
Relationship(s): Gen
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Bigotry (canon-typical), sympathetic Dursleys, serious Dumbledore Bashing, serious body autonomy issues, compulsions and mind control issues
Author Notes: Credit for dragging me into writing Harry Potter fic after years of not writing any fanfic at all goes squarely to Keira, though as always for me, I went in my own direction for pretty much everything from cannon to how magic works to the goblins and the Dursleys. Thanks for the inspiration, Keira!
Beta: Batspit
Word Count: 129,070
Summary: If there’s one thing that is known in magical Britain, it’s that squibs can’t do magic. At all. Everyone knows that. The question is: how do they know that? Where did this certainty come from? The way the magical world works seems to be an inconvertible fact as immutable as gravity but the underpinnings of that world are built on sand and made of rotten wood. When one Harry Potter is delivered to the hands of his oh-so-Squib Aunt, Petunia Dursley, it would seem that he would grow up ignorant, abused and desperate for anything that could same him from the mundane world. But squibs aren’t what they seem, and neither is the magical world. What Harry discovers on his first trip to Diagon Alley changes far more than anyone might have expected.
Artist: Ringspells



Chapter 21

Minera started when the fireplace in the Great Hall flared green. It rarely connected with the floo network. Only Albus had the power to do it, in fact. They’d only just managed to get the tasks portioned out so Albus hadn’t actually been gone that long.

When he emerged from the floo, scowling like a thunderstorm, Minerva had a moment where she wished that he’d stayed away for hours instead.

“Hagrid!” Dumbledore snapped so harshly that Minerva flinched along with Hagrid.

To her surprise, Filius edged closer to her and Hagrid, his hand resting lightly on the wand holster strapped to his hip. Given his size, a hip holster was a better choice than an arm one.

“Yes, sir?” Hagrid asked. He fussed with his beard and fidgeted exactly as a mountain of a man never should.

“What exactly did you do when you escorted Harry Potter to Diagon Alley?” Albus demanded.

“Just what you told me to do, P’fessor,” Hagrid said much more nervously when Albus scowled at him. “Took ‘im to the bank and got his money. Then we got ‘im clothes and books and an owl. Sent him home on the train just as you suggested.”

“Wait, you sent Hagrid to help Harry Potter get his school supplies?” Minerva said once she realized that yes, she actually was hearing this. “Albus! It should have been one of us! Hagrid, I mean no offense, but there’s a whole series of questions you couldn’t answer. Not to mention to difficulty for you getting him there and back again. What in the world were you thinking?”

She asked Albus the last bit, not that it did her a bit of good. Albus just waved a hand at her, eyes twinkling, before he strode out of the Great Hall and left them all standing their open-mouthed. Minerva strangled the need to scream, sucking a breath in and then letting it out slowly between her clenched teeth.

“I jus’ did what he said to do,” Hagrid offered while tears hovered in his eyes. “Harry seemed to be jus’ fine. Got him a beautiful snowy owl, too.”

“Oh, Hagrid,” Minerva said as she patted his huge hand. “It’s fine. I’m sure Albus has his reasons for being upset or concerned. Not that they matter right now. We’ve only got a few hours to get the school fully ready. Let’s get to work and later, after the feast, I’ll corner Albus to find out just what’s bothering him.”

It wasn’t what she wanted to do. Not even close. But if Albus wasn’t going to properly lead the school, then someone else would have to. Given that Minerva was the Deputy Headmistress, sadly, it fell to her to make it all happen.

Though she really was going to give him a piece of her mind once the children were settled in. A very loud, very long piece of her mind.

++

Surprisingly, the more often you went through the floo, the easier it got. Harry barely stumbled when they were ejected out of the floo on the platform 9 3/4. Granted, that was because he’d clung to Mr. Swashlin’s hand as if he was a lifeline and gone through it as stiffly as if all his bones had been replaced with steel, but it worked.

Mr. Swashlin waved his wand and all the soot billowed away into nothingness. Once that was gone, Harry looked around the platform and boggled.

A steam engine. The Hogwarts Express was a steam engine. He’d never even seen a steam engine before outside of movies and the telly. If anyone had asked him before now, he’d have said that there weren’t any steam engines left on the isles.

“You’ll want to get a carriage towards the head of the train,” Mr. Swashlin said. “They’re the most popular because you can get off the train and on towards Hogwarts more quickly. It’s the best place to meet people and make friends.”

“Front of the train,” Harry agreed as he stared at all the families crying and hugging and laughing as they said goodbye. “And why can’t Aunt Petunia come again?”

Mr. Swashlin chuckled. “Oh, mostly because she’s plotting to sue, I imagine.”

That caught Harry’s funny bone and he snickered. Aunt Petunia probably was planning on suing Dumbledore. He didn’t know if she had the slightest chance of succeeding. He hoped she did. Maybe it would keep Dumbledore away from Harry, not that he expected it.

“You have your trunk?” Mr. Swashlin asked.

“Yes,” Harry said. “Hedwig’s flying there now. I sent her before I left for the bank. I’ve got her perch, my things, all three of my library trunks and Dudley insisted on packing me sandwiches for the trip.”

“There is a treats trolley,” Mr. Swashlin said with a smile that wrinkled his face up dramatically. “But it’s almost all candy so that’s not a bad idea.”

He put his hands on Harry’s shoulders and with a start Harry realized that they looked like father and son. Their features weren’t that similar but with their hair and dark skin, most everyone on the platform was looking right past them. Harry’s heart hurt for it. He’d have rathered have Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and Dudley with him. Remus, Anthony and Sirius would’ve been brilliant, too. All of them would’ve been the best.

Instead it was just Harry sneaking onto the train with Mr. Swashlin to see him off.

It felt very wrong.

“Be careful,” Mr. Swashlin said softly but very, very seriously. “Use your letter box to send a message if you need anything. Don’t rely on Hedwig. There’s many ways letters sent by owls can be meddled with and we’ve yet to figure out where all your support payments went.”

“I will be,” Harry promised. “You be careful, too. He knows now. I don’t want you or the others to be in danger if you can help it. And make sure that… you know, the other problem…” he tapped his forehead, “is taken care of as quick as you can.”

“From what Anthony’s said, it’s only a matter of weeks,” Mr. Swashlin said. His smile went grim and determined but not at all worried. “By Halloween at the latest.”

“Good,” Harry said as Neville and his grandmother came through the floo together. “Oh, there’s Neville! I better get going.”

“Yes, you should,” Mr. Swashlin said.

He let go and Harry ran over to Neville who looked desperately glad to see him. Neville had a toad in his hands that didn’t look especially pleased to be there. Madame Longbottom didn’t look especially pleased to be there, either, but she smiled kindly at Harry.

“You’ve got all your things, Neville?” Madame Longbottom asked just like Mr. Swashlin and probably every single parent or guardian on the platform.

“Yes, Gran,” Neville said. “I just… a toad?”

“He means well,” Madame Longbottom said with a tired sigh. “If you don’t wish to take him, I can return him to the garden for you.”

“You don’t want a toad?” Harry asked.

“Uncle Algie gave him to me just before we came,” Neville explained, still cupping the toad awkwardly in his hands. It was bigger than Neville’s hands together, big and squashy and very disgruntled looking. “He said I needed a familiar but…”

The toad rolled an eye up at Neville. Neville stared back at the toad with a befuddled expression. Harry grinned before gently touching the toad and Neville at the same time while very softly asking the family magic if it would work or not.

A very firm ‘no’ was the answer from the Potter magic. The Black magic all but rolled its eyes. The Longbottom magic sent a little huff of teal-green sparkles around both Neville and the toad who kicked once but otherwise didn’t react.

“Ah,” Madame Longbottom said. She held out a hand. “Give him to me, Neville. I’ll see him home. Onto the train with the both of you. Best seats are in the front, you know.”

She demanded a one-armed hug from Neville, got an enthusiastic one from Harry that made her blush and splutter and then smile at them both fondly. She stood on the platform next to Mr. Swashlin as Harry and Neville got onboard.

One of the older students showed them where to put their resized trunks for the trip to Hogwarts. Then Harry led the way up the train, dodging by chattering kids, teenagers and a single adult who looked like she’d much rather be anywhere but there.

The lead car was full of prefects in their uniforms who frowned when Harry opened the door.

“Sorry,” Harry said, grinning at them. “Just seeing what everything is. You’re prefects? That’s brilliant!”

“Harry,” Neville whispered behind him.

He tugged on Harry’s sleeve, but Harry forged right in and thrust a hand at the very stern-looking redhead who studied Harry with a frown. The other prefects just smiled at Harry.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” Harry declared. “I’m Harry Potter.”

The stern looks went away, replaced by startled stares. The red-headed prefect hesitantly took Harry’s hand, giving it a quick pump. His family magic screamed at Harry from behind blocks that seemed even tighter than what Lucius and Sirius had been under. Harry didn’t flinch. He just smiled up at the blocked prefect expectantly.

“Ah, Percy Weasley,” the prefect said. “A pleasure.”

Harry did the same with every single one of the prefects, much to the girls’ amusement. All of them were under blocks though none were as strongly blocked as Percy. Gemma Farley wasn’t too badly affected. Robert Hillard felt rather powerfully charmed though his family magic didn’t seem too upset by it. Or maybe it was just not all that large. Gabriel Truman from Hufflepuff was cheerfully compliant with his blocks in ways that made Harry want to shake him until his teeth rattled. But all of them were affected, every single one.

It made his skin crawl so as soon as he’d introduced himself, Harry waved towards Neville and the door.

“I’m going to go meet more people,” Harry declared. “Thanks so much, though. It was really nice to meet you all”

“Enjoy… the trip, Mr. Potter,” Percy said, blinking at him in confusion.

Harry slung the door shut just as the train whistle blew and they started to roll. Neville staggered as the train car jerked. He grabbed at Harry’s elbow so that he didn’t fall down. He looked so terribly embarrassed to have stumbled, or maybe it was Harry’s forceful introducing himself. Felt like he was embarrassed, too.

“They’ve all got blocks on their family magic, Neville,” Harry whispered to him so that no one else in the hallway could hear him. Not that they probably would. They were too busy waving to their families back on the platform.

“That’s why you did that!” Neville gasped. “I don’t… think I can do that, Harry.”

“Don’t,” Harry said. “Let’s find Draco and Susan, see if we can get a carriage. I want to collect as many unblocked kids as I can. I’ll send them to visit you. Then you and Draco can distribute the protection charms. I’ve got a hundred spares. The goblins made me lots of them, more than I expected. I should have plenty to cover all of our year and maybe more once we figure out how to help people.”

“Oh, that I can do,” Neville said with much more confidence.

Draco was with Susan, the two of them sitting in a carriage about halfway down the train. Both of them looked a little nervous until Harry walked in with Neville. Then Draco leaped to his feet and Susan sighed gustily like she’d been waiting for him to show up and was afraid they’d missed the train.

“Where have you been?” Draco demanded.

“Meeting people,” Harry said. He waved to Neville and then pulled out the sack of charms. “I’m going to go meet more people. I’m going to go meet everyone. Every single student on the train. The ones who aren’t blocked, I’ll send them here. I’ll tell them that I’m passing out charms to people I like. You guys give them to them. It’ll protect their minds.”

“Oh wow,” Susan breathed. She bit her lip and fidgeted, smoothing her shirt over her legs. “You’re really sure?”

“All the prefects are blocked,” Neville said. “Harry started there.”

Both Susan and Draco winced. But Draco and Neville took the charms so that Harry could head out and do the shake hands and touch magic thing. Susan came along, smiling brightly and introducing Harry to everyone that she knew. Thankfully, she knew a lot of people because of her aunt.

All the second year and up students had various levels of blocks on their magic. The ones from older families with more active family magic had more blocks. Those with smaller, younger family magic had less. Harry smiled and smiled and smiled until his face hurt, but he kept shaking hands and introducing himself in the hopes of finding any upper year students who weren’t blocked.

None were.

All the first-year students, except for one, were unblocked.

“Ron Weasley,” Ron said, shaking Harry’s hand enthusiastically even though Harry nearly jerked his hand free because of the way the Weasley magic screamed inside of him. “You’re really him?”

“Him?” Harry said as he finally freed his hand. “Oh, you mean, you know, The Great Harry Potter. Yeah, no, that’s all fiction. They published those books without permission. We’re suing.”

Ron’s eyes bugged out. “Seriously? That’s mental.”

Harry snorted. “They never paid my family’s estate a penny for those things, you know. Took my name and my life, made up a bunch of rubbish, and then I’m supposed to be all happy about it? I mean, if they wanted to use my name, they should’ve licensed it. Paid a proper fee and royalties. That’s how it works. But they didn’t even bother. So yeah, we’re suing. It’s all tripe and we’re not standing for it.”

“Wow,” Ron said. He shook his head. “Well, good luck with that. Um, you want to join my friends and me? We’ve got room in our carriage.”

“Oh, no, thanks,” Harry said. He nudged Susan when she opened her mouth to offer to let Ron come with them. “I just wanted to meet everyone. I’ve got a carriage with my shield brother Neville already. Which, you know, I should get back to him. He’s really nervous about the whole sorting thing. His uncle told him all sorts of horrible stories about how it goes and he’s just not calming down about it.”

“Oh, um, okay,” Ron said with a frown. He blinked several times like he was trying to come up with a response.

Just like Dudley used to before the curses came off.

“Maybe we can talk later,” Harry suggested with a mental groan at himself and his magic’s prodding. The Weasley magic was screaming for help. How could he ignore that? “I just don’t want Neville to panic.”

“Sure, that’d be brilliant,” Ron said.

He headed into the carriage, scowling as a bushy-haired black girl with tears in her eyes stumbled past. She sniffled, breath hitching as she refused to meet anyone’s eyes. Harry frowned because he hadn’t met her, yet.

“Hey, are you all right?” Harry asked.

“Oh, sorry,” the girl said as she quickly dashed her tears away. “They’re just… horrible. Why does it matter that I’m Muggleborn?”

“Well, it’s a matter of the family magic, actually,” Harry said. “I’ve got books on it in my library trunks if you’d like to borrow them.”

Her head came up and for a second Harry could’ve sworn that her hair lit up like she was electrified. Her warm brown eyes certainly went electric red-gold.

“Library trunk?” she asked. “What’s that and why didn’t anyone tell me about them?”

Susan laughed. “Oh, dear. You’re in for it now. Harry’s got all sorts of library trunks.”

“Harry?” the girl asked.

Harry grinned and offered his hand. “Harry Potter. Nice to meet you.”

“Oh,” the girl said as she smiled and shook his hand properly. “Hermione Granger. So nice to meet you, too. I’ve read about you in Modern Magical History.”

Her magic was bright and strong, unblocked or charmed in any way. It was new, too, full of the same sort of clean energy that the elves created as they worked with the family magic. Harry did his best not to stare at Hermione. The other Muggleborns hadn’t been so strong. They’d had the same sort of clarity, the same newness, but it wasn’t as obvious with less power flowing through them.

When Hermione had children someday, they were going to get a beautiful legacy from her magic.

“Don’t believe it all,” Harry said with a snort as he made himself let go of her hand. “We’re suing the people that wrote those books. Come on. We’ve got room in our carriage and you’re going to love library trunks. They’re amazing! I’ve got three, each with different sorts of books in them. The Obsolete and Inaccurate Information Only to be Read for Amusement’s Sake trunk is a hoot.”

Hermione started giggling despite her puffy eyes and sniffling. Susan rolled her eyes. Hermione followed them back to the carriage and settled in happily with Harry and Draco as they showed her how library trunks worked. Giving her the charm was almost an afterthought. She did stare at the little thing suspiciously but put it on after Susan nodded reassuringly.

“So, tell me about family magic,” Hermione said, wiggling on the seat and fixing Harry and Draco with a stern little stare. “Tell me all about it.”

 

Chapter 22

Sirius sighed as he settled into the couch that Silverclaw had had moved into his office. As much time as he, Remus and Anthony were spending there, a better place to sit was necessary. There were also new bookshelves carved into the walls, full of paperwork, ledgers and scrolls. A new set of worktables sat against the back wall, covered with things for the ongoing audit.

If anyone had suggested, say Peter or James, back when they were all kids that Sirius would someday be as comfortable with a goblin as he was with them, he would have laughed in their faces. Any goblin. Their faces, the teeth and ears and scowls, had terrified him as a child.

Now Sirius could look at Silverclaw and see just why every goblin that walked into his office paused to stare at Silverclaw as if they’d just seen the most beautiful thing since a fully justified fee against the Ministry. It was a bit brain-bending to be able to see those long, agile claws and sharp teeth as beautiful, not to mention the heavy eyebrows and Silverclaw’s pronounced earlobes and the arching tips of his ears.

“Do go get to work,” Petunia told Anthony as she marched into Silverclaw’s office as if she owned it. “We need you in place to defend Vernon and Dudley if That Man decides to strike back against Harry’s family.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Anthony said even though he obviously didn’t want to. He scuffed one toe against the stone floor. “Lacey’s got her sisters making sure that Dudley will be safe at school. One of them got a job teaching there. She’s the new Physical Education teacher.”

Both Sirius’ eyebrows went up at the same time that one of Petunia’s did. She snorted and then flipped her slender, elegant fingers at Anthony, shooing him back out of Silverclaw’s office like he was as young as Harry and Dudley. Anthony grinned, nodded to Sirius and scampered.

His heart hurt to see Anthony go.

How weird was it to have relatives that he wanted to have around? Pretty bloody weird. Even weirder to look at Petunia and see someone well worth knowing.

Lily had never been kind when she talked about her family. Snape had mentioned, early on the train as they’d all become instant enemies due to Dumbledore’s spells of manipulation wrapped around the train and the boat ride and the feast, that Petunia was older, smarter and much scarier than Lily. Where Lily was sunshine, smiles and knives in the back, Petunia was stern looks, skies as grey as her eyes and a knife sliding into your liver as she stared into your eyes. And then down at your cooling body before stepping over you calmly and coolly.

Now, seeing Petunia this way?

Snape hadn’t been all that wrong about both Lily and Petunia. Lily’s pranking had always been secret and vicious, mostly directed against the pure-bloods who made her and other muggle-borns’ lives difficult. Sirius would pay a lot to watch Petunia tear those same grown-up asses to shreds. She probably wouldn’t even break her stride.

“Kreacher,” Petunia said.

“Ah, he probably won’t…” Sirius snapped his mouth shut as Kreacher appeared as quickly and as apparently willingly as he ever had for Mother.

Kreacher frowned at Sirius, snapped his fingers and suddenly Sirius’ face was clean and dry, his clothes straightened up and he was sitting up far more properly on the couch.

“Mistress needed Kreacher?” Kreacher turned back to Petunia.

“I do,” Petunia said. She sat in the hard oak chair in front of Silverclaw’s desk. “I need you and the other elves to watch over Harry. You shouldn’t let yourselves be seen, but I want at least one of you to be on duty protecting him at all times. Take shifts to make sure that no one is overextended.”

“Um,” Sirius sighed as he moved to stand. “Petunia, they’re Black family elves and you…”

Both Petunia and Kreacher glared at Sirius, much to Silverclaw’s squinty-eyed amusement.

“Kreacher will do that,” Kreacher told Petunia. He completely ignored Sirius’ dropped jaw. “Mistress Pet wants us to guard Dudley, too?”

“Keep an ear out for him,” Petunia said, smiling as she patted Kreacher’s shoulder, “but I don’t expect that he’ll need as much as Harry. That boy. He gets in more trouble than anyone I’ve ever known short of his mother.”

“Kreacher knows,” Kreacher said with a tired, heart-felt sigh. “Crow will be watching over Master Sirius.”

“Good,” Petunia said.

Both of them completely ignored Sirius’ splutters of outrage. He didn’t need someone to watch over him. He was fine. A little sick and weak yet, but fine.

Petunia turned to Silverclaw and started questioning him about the audit, leaving Sirius to pout on the couch and glare at the backs of their heads. Really, you’d think that Petunia was the head of the Black family instead of Sirius. Someday he was going to figure out how she did it.

And then he’d figure out how to copy it, so people treated him with as much respect as they did Petunia in a snit. Better still, he’d figure it out and then teach it to Harry so that he had the joy of watching Harry set the world on its ear even more than he already did.

+++

By the time they reached Hogsmeade, Harry had firm friends in Draco, Neville, Hermione, Susan, Susan’s best friend Hannah, and Blaise. They’d all been horrified by all the stuff Harry told them about how he was raised and how his family had been cursed. Blaise, in particular, had cursed like Uncle Vernon when his favorite rugby team lost the finals after finding out that all the older students were affected by the blocks.

“We’re going to this school,” Blaise complained for the ninth time as they all gathered their things and got ready to leave the train. “We should be safe here.”

“I know,” Harry agreed, again, “but we’re not. If you can, find a way to ask your parents for a letter box. That way no one can intercept your mail. I’ve got one the goblins made for me. If you need me to, I can have Aunt Petunia or the goblins mail the letter for you.”

“I’ll be taking you up on that,” Draco said with a scowl as he adjusted Neville’s tie and settled Neville’s robes across his shoulders. “Oh, do stop that, Hermione. Let me do it.”

“Sorry,” Hermione apologized as she fidgeted her way through Draco straightening her up. “Madame Malkin didn’t exactly explain the proper way to tie it. Or how to wear these.”

“No one did,” Harry said. “I had to have it explained to me, too. Which is really weird. You’d think that people would get at least an instruction book on ties. My cousin Dudley got one for how to wear his uniform for Smeltings. He was gobsmacked that we didn’t get anything at all.”

Harry led the way out into the hallway, not very excited about the whole sorting thing. He was kind of worried about the sorting, in a ‘is this how Dumbledore spells people’ sort of way. Not in the ‘where will I end up’ sort of way because whatever house he was put in would be good. Harry would make it good, somehow.

Draco was probably going to be Slytherin, so he’d have a friend there. Neville was convinced he’d be in Hufflepuff so that would be fine. Hermione seemed destined for Ravenclaw given how smart she was, but she was also really, really fierce so she might end up in Gryffindor. Another friend there. And Susan had shrugged and said she expected Hufflepuff given her family legacy, but would be fine with anything. Hannah had nodded along with her while Blaise had said that he’d be perfect no matter what house he was in.

Two tall redheaded twins were in the hallway, leaning against the wall like they were too tired to do anything like walking. Weasleys, definitely. They had the same hair and the same eyes and the same jaws and the same worn-out looking robes that were just the right side of threadbare.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” Harry said as he walked up to them. Neville and Susan both groaned behind him. “I’m Harry Potter.”

“Why, bless my soul,” the one of the right said with a blooming and rather nerve-wracking grin. He took Harry’s hand and shook it. Enthusiastically.

“It’s Harry Potter, as I live and breathe,” the left one said as he took Harry’s other hand and shook that with intense, deliberate, obvious pompousness that made Harry laugh at them both.

The left twin’s grin was a tiny bit wider than the right twin’s but both of them felt of ferocious Weasley magic and mischief, wild and wonderful in ways completely different from the elves or Hermione or the Potter magic or even the Black magic.

Neither of them were blocked.

There were shreds of blocks, bits and pieces in tatters at the edges of their magic but that was it. In them, the Weasley magic was raging, angry, defiant, clawing at the remnants of the blocks with a fury that Harry completely understood.

But they were free. They were the only older students who were free, on the whole train. Harry stared at them for a long moment, his grin blooming to match theirs.

“And you are?” Harry asked.

“George Weasley,” the twin on the right said.

“And Fred Weasley,” the one of the left finished. He winked. “At least for the moment. You never know. Might change any second.”

Harry laughed. And then winced as Ron ran up, his tie a mess and his robes askew around him.

“Fred, George, I can’t get this thing tied right,” Ron exclaimed. “Oh, hey, Harry. You look good.”

“That’s all Draco,” Harry said, pointing to Draco who looked so appalled by Ron’s robes that Harry laughed. “Let him help. He’ll twitch forever if you don’t.”

Ron didn’t look happy about it at all, but he did let Draco pull him off into the compartment. Harry watched his back as he went and then turned back to Fred and George. The others were waiting but the rest of the students had already gotten off the train.

“You broke the blocks,” Harry whispered.

“Ah, the Great Harry Potter sees things,” George said in a very low murmur.

“That we did,” Fred agreed. “You’ll want to be careful. They’re applied in the classrooms and at meals. Also during the sorting, when you’re in the infirmary and sometimes when you’re wandering about the halls. We’ve tried to figure out how it’s done but haven’t succeeded yet.”

Harry nodded and pulled two of the amulets for them. “These should help. Wear them. I’m gonna want to talk to you later about how to break the blocks on the Weasley magic. It’s screaming.”

Both Fred and George winced. They put on the amulets and sucked in identical breaths. Then they bracketed Harry in very nervous-making ways while grinning far too widely at him. Neville whined behind them as Susan groaned again. Hannah hid behind Susan while Hermione and Blaise leveled narrow-eyed glares at Fred and George.

“Ickle Harry Potter saving everyone,” George exclaimed.

“Who’d’ve thought?” Fred finished.

“Oh, everyone who’s met me,” Harry replied. He laughed when they stared. “You two are going to be fun but we should get going. The train’s already empty.”

Draco emerged just then with a much-improved Ron who looked profoundly sulky about it. Not sulky enough to undo the tie and mess up the robe but clearly not happy. Fred and George grinned, leaping on Ron who squawked and flailed to try to get free.

“Ickle Ronnikins!” Fred exclaimed.

“Mum would be so proud to see her little boy all grown up,” George said, one hand dramatically pressed over his heart.

“Geroff!” Ron huffed and managed to wiggle free. “Why do you have to be that way?”

They laughed, winked at Harry and then sauntered towards the exit without answering. Harry shook his head. He really did need to talk to them but wow, it was probably going to be trouble to do so. Ron grumbled under his breath as he stomped after them, leaving Harry’s party to follow.

Outside, the other students were talking and gossiping as if they hadn’t just spent the last day on a train together. There were a couple of instructors directing the older students towards some carriages that didn’t seem to have horses to pull them. Hagrid was off on the side shouting for the first years to come with him.

“Enjoy the sorting, Firsties!” George exclaimed as he bowed at Harry.

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt much,” Fred said with a mirrored bow for Ron who whined and went so pale that his freckles stood out like paint.

They laughed as they ran for the carriages. Hagrid shook his head at them but smiled brightly when he saw Harry.

“Made it all right, did ye?” Hagrid asked.

“Yes,” Harry said. He grinned up at Hagrid. “The train was brilliant. I sent my owl on ahead. I named her Hedwig. Thank you again for her, Hagrid. She’s wonderful and I love her.”

Hagrid went red in the face, shuffling his huge feet and sniffling like he was about to burst into tears. After a second, he nodded, took a gusty breath and then lead them all off to a series of small boats.

“Four per boat,” Hagrid told them all. “Don’t worry ’bout rowing. They’re spelled to take ye where ye need to go.”

Hermione joined Harry. So did Neville. Harry expected Draco to join them, but Ron pushed past him into the boat, so Draco rolled his eyes and went with Blaise, Susan and Hannah. Each of the boats had a beautiful lantern with a magical flame on it. Harry kind of wanted to poke at it but that would rock the boat and Neville looked nervous enough as it was.

“Oh! Look!” Hermione gasped.

She pointed ahead of them where Hogwarts had just appeared around a bend in the shore. It was up on a cliff, shining from within by lights that flickered and blazed and danced in ways that candles didn’t and neither did electric lights.

“It’s beautiful,” Neville breathed.

“Yeah,” Ron agreed.

“I wonder what it looks like inside,” Harry said.

He had a thousand different things he wanted to say that he couldn’t with Ron in the boat. It wouldn’t be too smart to say them on the lake anyway, what with the way sound carried over water. But Ron’s presence and the screaming Weasley magic inside of him made it all the harder. And all the more necessary to keep his tongue between his teeth.

It felt like before the letter came in all the bad ways that made Harry’s skin crawl. He really wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to do this, not if he had to watch what he said and did every single second. Not if he had to worry about all of them being…

“Oh,” Harry said, horrified.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“I need to talk to Hannah and Blaise when we get off the boats,” Harry said. “Really quickly.”

“They’re just a boat ahead of us,” Neville said. “It should be easy.”

“Why you wanna talk to them?” Ron asked with a scowl. “A slimy snake and a puff? They’re not important.”

Harry stared at him for a long moment. The stare didn’t do anything to budge Ron’s sullen attitude. It didn’t even seem to enter his brain that they were all frowning at him.

“It’s about the sorting,” Harry said. “Something the twins said that I wanted to warn them about. See, I figure they’ll call us alphabetically or maybe reverse alphabetically so Hannah and Blaise will be first. You know, if they start with A or with Z.”

“Oh,” Ron said, shifting to a much more nervous expression that still didn’t seem to connect with his eyes properly. It was like watching a ball trying to roll through treacle. “You don’t think I have to worry, do you?”

“Gran said it’s always in alphabetical order,” Neville offered. “You’ll probably be next to last.”

“Oh, good,” Ron said with a huge sigh of relief.

As soon as the boat landed, Harry dashed off and caught Hannah’s hand. She started and then frowned at Harry as if him holding her hand was somehow very, very improper. Harry pushed with the Potter magic, trying to warn the Abbot magic that she was about to be blocked and spelled and trapped into obeying Dumbledore.

He asked, in a desperate, wild sort of way, for the Abbot magic to try and break whatever it was that was going to attack Hannah. It growled like the Weasley magic did around the twins. Protective magic surged around Hannah and Harry.

Hannah gasped. “Oh. Oh wow.”

“Focus really hard on the charm,” Harry said. “Feel it. Feel what it does, and then try to wrap the same thing around your magic. Your mind and your heart and everything. Your magic will help you. I’ll be trying to do the same thing with the Gryffindor magic. I mean, it’s supposed to be my castle. Maybe I can help?”

“I’ll try,” Hannah promised even though she looked terrified.

“We’ll all try,” Susan said. “And we’ll get help if you fail, I promise.”

“The Weasley twins will help,” Harry agreed. “They found a way to break free.”

That helped calm Hannah down dramatically. She and Susan headed up into Hogwarts holding hands. Draco blew out a breath next to Harry. All the first years, other than Ron who’d already headed after Hagrid, were watching him. Ron didn’t notice. He was too busy asking when they’d get to eat.

“The sorting does something,” Harry told all the other first years. “Be careful, focus on your family magic and try to do what the charm does. In, you know, a sort of ‘please work!’ sort of way since its really complicated goblin magic that we won’t learn for years.”

“I hope it works,” Lavender Brown said.

“Yeah,” Neville agreed.

“We’ll figure something out if it doesn’t,” Harry said. “My family’s already working on it. And really, the Weasley twins did figure it out. It can be done. We’ll be fine. We just have to be brave as we can and do our best. If we take care of each other it’ll be good. It’ll be fine.”

He hoped it was true. Harry said it with as much confidence as he could and that seemed to be enough for the other first years. They all trooped after Hagrid and Ron, heading into Hogwarts together. Harry hadn’t ever thought he’d be doing something like this.

Facing down spells and enemies who were in charge of his life for the next seven years. Friends with Dudley and fond of his aunt and uncle instead of afraid of them. Harry raised his chin and made his shoulders relax. He’d gotten this far. He’d make it through the sorting, too. Whether his Dark Lord enemy was Voldemort or Dumbledore, Harry would survive.

Probably.

 

Chapter 23

Severus sniffed, his lip curling up as he sauntered by Filius’ side. “I fail to see why it’s a concern.”

“Really?” Filius asked Severus with enough of a frown for Severus’ pale cheeks to flush pinker. “He’s lost a good two stone, Severus. Quirrell’s obviously quite ill. He’s stammering, flinching at shadows and Minerva swore before Albus returned that she caught a faint scent of rot around the poor man.”

As sour as Severus always was, he did frown with some level of concern about the rot. But the sheen of mind alteration shimmered across his eyes and the sneer returned. Damn Albus for his meddling. What was to be gained by keeping people from realizing just how sick Quirrell was?

“It was probably Quirrell’s beloved garlic going bad,” Severus said. He snorted. “Though, honestly, it’s likely just the garlic itself. He’s always had a bit of a fondness for garlic. His new obsession with it is making it hard enough to breathe that I’d doubt even Minerva’s nose.”

Filius breathed a laugh even though he wanted to hex Severus silly. “That is true. You have to admit, his favorite korma is delicious.”

“Well, of course,” Severus said as they entered the Great Hall. “I’m just glad it isn’t often served in the Great Hall. Not many of the students here can handle Quirrell’s level of garlic.”

They shared a small smile at that, almost as though Severus was in his right mind. But the shimmer in his eyes shouted that no, he wasn’t all right. None of the instructors were. Filius had been purged over the summer break, as he always was. Hopefully this time the charms he’d purchased would be sufficient to allow him to keep his own mind for more than a few hours.

Probably not. Nothing had worked so far. If it weren’t for the children themselves, Filius would quit his job and go work somewhere else. Perhaps for the Goblin Horde. Or perhaps at Beauxbatons.

The older students were starting to file in, chatting amongst themselves as they played out the roles that Albus had assigned to them.

The Slytherins sneered at the Gryffindors. The Gryffindors blustered and played mean little pranks. Nearly every Ravenclaw had a book in their hands, whether they were the bookish type of learner or not. He would have to do some careful work tonight to ease the new restrictions placed on them as they entered Hogwarts today. The Hufflepuffs travelled as a group, smiling and chatting even though Filius knew that some of them were true introverts who’d rather have quiet contemplation before facing the overwhelm that was the feast.

He settled into his chair at the head table, rubbing his nose against the powerful scent of garlic that lingered like a cloud around Quirrell. Really, he needed to see if he could get Poppy functional enough to check on poor Quirrell. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes had bags as dark as Severus’ robes and his hands shook as he sat at the end of the table.

Albus smiled in his central throne like a benevolent god looking down at his worshipful subjects.

If he ever got the chance, Filius was going to blast Albus through a wall. He’d have to steal that wand of Albus’ first, of course. No one else at the school had the gifts to see just how powerful the wand was. None of them had goblin blood.

Filius could see it glowing in Albus’ holster, throbbing as if it had a pulse of its own. Someday. Someday, somehow, he would get that wand away from Albus and then the hidden tyrant of Britain was going to get some of his own medicine. Probably delivered by Quirrell’s fists straight to the teeth and then by Minerva.

If he got very lucky, she might transform Albus into a rat and do it literally. It was certainly the least that Albus deserved for all his crimes.

He buried a smirk into a smile that he made as genuine as he could for the first years coming in with Minerva. Yes, somehow, perhaps even this year, Filius would steal Albus’ wand and then he’d find a way to free Minerva so that she could tear Albus to shreds.

He sighed.

It was a lovely dream. Maybe someday he’d find a way to make it reality, though that would probably take all the founders’ magics being claimed and Voldemort dying. That was as likely to happen as Hagrid deciding that he needed to wear a pink tutu to go with his umbrella while he danced with singing dragons out by the lake with the giant squid.

Still, Minerva tearing Albus apart would be delightful.

He smiled as the Sorting Hat began to sing.

Such a lovely idea.

+++

“Abbott, Hannah!”

Professor McGonagall smiled tightly at Hannah as she gulped and slowly sat on the stool that had held the Sorting Hat until just a moment before. The hat was a lumpy, threadbare mess that looked and felt alive. Harry’d been quite awed by the magical mural on the ceiling at first, but the Sorting Hat had captured his attention the instant he saw it.

It felt blocked even though Harry wasn’t anywhere near to touching it.

The Abbott magic shivered in Harry’s hand. He’d touched Hannah, connecting her magic to his just before she went up to the stool. Dumbledore’s head had come up and the twinkle in his eyes had gone hard and dark for a second, but it was too late for him to do anything because the hat was already descending onto Hannah’s head.

Harry shoved at the blocks on the Sorting Hat while Hannah whispered something under her breath with one hand pressed against the charm that lay invisible against her throat. Sparks of light appeared in the Sorting Hat’s eyes as it fidgeted on Hannah’s head. Then Hannah started, grinned and started giggling.

“Hufflepuff!” the Sorting Hat yelled.

Hannah pulled the Hat off and passed it to Professor McGonagall who frowned as Hannah ran off to the Hufflepuff table. The Sorting Hat wiggled in her hand, startling Professor McGonagall so badly that she dropped it back down to the stool.

It seemed better. Less blocked. Not blocked? Harry couldn’t tell but the Abbott magic was happy and Hannah waved to Harry so he let the Abbott magic go. He kept on doing it for everyone who was called in front of him.

Hermione’s magic vibrated so badly through her hair that the Hat barely even seemed able to sit on her head. The Hat looked happy about that and shouted ‘Ravenclaw’ almost the instant it was put on her.

Neville gulped as he took the stool and flinched under the Sorting Hat. Harry’s magic swirled with the Longbottom magic, earning another hard look from Dumbledore and a faintly concerned frown from Professor McGonagall. But none of that mattered as the Sorting Hat snorted and announced ‘Gryffindor!’

Draco, unsurprisingly, went to Slytherin. He’d said that he was pretty much guaranteed that house and looked very happy as he settled in next to his new house mates. Harry was a little sad that he wouldn’t, no matter what, have all his friends in the same house with him but that hardly mattered. They could still be friends, no matter what houses they slept in.

“Potter, Harry,” Professor McGonagall announced finally.

Harry smiled at Blaise who patted his shoulder and blew out a breath as he marched up to the stool. The whole hall was quiet as he took the stool and then the Sorting Hat landed on his head.

“Good to finally meet you directly, Mr. Potter,” the Sorting Hat said directly into Harry’s head. “My thanks for breaking the enchantments on me.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” Harry muttered. He couldn’t really see anything. The brim of the Sorting Hat blocked his view of the room. There was a little torn spot that was shaped just like Ireland in front of Harry’s nose. “I’m glad that I could help. Do I need to worry about the others?”

“No, Mr. Potter, you do not,” the Sorting Hat declared. “I will, of course, be enchanted again once this is over, but you need not worry about that.”

Harry huffed at the Sorting Hat. “Of course I need to worry about it! That’s horrible. No one should be spelled and blocked and controlled that way.”

The Sorting Hat chuckled. “Well, you’d best claim your position as the Heir to Gryffindor then, Mr. Potter. I’d suggest Slytherin given how sneaky you’ve been about this, but I see that it was all your aunt’s doing, not yours.”

Harry blushed. “Yeah, I’m a bit… straight-forward, I guess.”

“That you are,” the Sorting Hat agreed. “Better be… Gryffindor!”

Only the last word was said out loud. Harry started and lifted the Sorting Hat off his head. When he passed it to Professor McGonagall, she was smiling so proudly that he blushed harder. Then he ran off to the Gryffindor table to sit next to Neville.

“It was chatty,” Harry murmured to Neville as the sorting continued.

“I know,” Neville agreed, keeping his voice down so that it wouldn’t carry over the sound of the continued Sorting. “I was really surprised. It was so curious about you, Harry. And how you’d known that it was spelled.”

Harry shrugged. “It was kind of obvious and the twins warned me. Be careful about the food and classrooms, too.”

Neville shuddered. Eventually, everyone was sorted. Ron ended up in Gryffindor. Blaise ended up in Slytherin right next to Draco. Once everyone was at their tables, Dumbledore stood and smiled at them all. It was probably supposed to look very kindly, very grandfather-like, but the hard look in Dumbledore’s eyes whenever he looked Harry’s way ruined the effect.

At least, all the first years noticed it and shivered. The teachers and other years just watched Dumbledore with blandly accepting expressions that made the hair on the back of Harry’s neck stand up.

His welcoming speech was… odd. Just four words that Harry couldn’t figure out: Nitwit, blubber, oddment and tweak. It was, at least, short. Given that their food was magically delivered by house elf magic to the table as soon as Dumbledore sat down, Harry wasn’t too upset about it.

The food was amazing, despite the lingering feeling of the house elves not being very happy or fulfilled. Harry’s amulet warned him away from the pumpkin juice, something he’d never heard of before and really wasn’t sure he wanted to try. Who’d juice a pumpkin? Why? The rest of the food was fine, other than the treacle tarts and a rice dish with raisons in it that Harry avoided along with all the other first years but Ron.

Ron ate everything. Everything in front of him with a sort of urgency that made him look greedy and slobby, but Harry thought he could see an edge of desperation in Ron’s eyes. It was like he was starving and the food couldn’t fill him up.

After years spent blocked and Dudley’s experience with his block, Harry had to think that Ron was going through exactly that. It might not matter how much he ate. It wouldn’t fill his belly or make him feel as though he’d had enough.

Horrifying thought. Harry had to get the twins to the side sometime soon to ask them just how they broke free. Once everyone, even Ron, finished eating, Dumbledore stood up once more.

“Now that we have all eaten and slaked our thirst, I have some start of term notices,” Dumbledore said with a stern little smile that didn’t get any nicer as his eyes twinkled extra-hard. “As always, the Forbidden Forest is forbidden. Some of our older students would do well to remember that.”

He glanced at the Weasley twins who both put on angelic expressions and batted their eyes at him.

“Mr. Filch would remind everyone that there is to be no magic in the hallways,” Dumbledore continued. “Those who break that rule will lose house points and have to serve most unpleasant detentions with Mr. Filch. Madame Hooch will be holding Quidditch trials in the second week of the term. Those interested should approach her for details.”

Dumbledore lowered his chin and swept his gaze across the room. Everyone, Harry included, stilled and stared up at him. Once they’d quieted enough, not that anyone had been chatting during his speech, Dumbledore continued.

“Finally, I must warn you all that the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a painful death,” Dumbledore intoned while staring straight at Harry as if daring him to go look right then.

Harry laughed, weakly, though almost no one other than Hermione did. After their laughter died out, Dumbledore smiled at them all and they sang the school song which was ridiculous, to any tune they wanted, completely out of sync with each other. The Weasley twins finished last because they’d chosen a very slow funeral march that they put their backs into. You’d have thought that they were singing for King Arthur’s trip to the afterlife instead of making everyone wait to go to their rooms.

“Ah, lovely,” Dumbledore said, wiping a fake tear from his eye, once the twins finished with a final note so low that they broke out coughing after they held it too long. “Now, off to bed. Welcome to Hogwarts, everyone!”

The final look he threw Harry’s way was anything but welcoming.

Not that it really mattered. They were free to leave, and Harry was glad. Percy led all the first year Gryffindors out into the hallways and then up flights of stairs that moved under their feet. They encountered Peeves, a poltergeist with a very childish personality, before eventually coming to a very large painting of a very large woman dressed in a very formal pink gown.

“This is the door to our common room,” Percy said. “The password this week is Caput Draconis. Don’t forget it because you can’t get in without it.”

Harry was going to ask Percy who they gave it to when the lady in the painting nodded firmly at him.

“That’s right. I won’t let you in without it,” the pink lady declared.

“Oh, wow,” Harry said, smiling up at her. “That’s brilliant. What’s your name, ma’am? I’d hate to be rude.”

“She’s the Fat Lady,” Percy said so dismissively that Harry glowered at him.

“My name is Fellona, young man,” the pink lady said with a stern glare at Percy. “Thank you for asking. Few do these days. Such manners you’re taught anymore. It’s a travesty.”

“Ah, sorry,” Percy said as his face went as red as his hair.

Either way, Fellona opened the door to the round tunnel beyond, and let them into the Gryffindor common room. It was round and red and cozily warm with squashy sofas and desks tucked away that you could study at. Harry loved it instantly.

“Girls’ dorm is off that way,” Percy said, waving, “and the boys’ is this way. The bathrooms are the next floor up. Be sure to get cleaned up before breakfast or you won’t have time until the evening. Your things have already been put in your rooms. First years have the lowest level rooms. It goes upwards from there so that seventh years have the very top. I strongly recommend knocking before you open any door above third year. Just a recommendation.”

Harry exchanged looks with Neville who looked as alarmed as Harry felt about that little recommendation, but he was too tired to ask further about it. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to know more, frankly.

Harry’s dorm room had five beds in it, one for each of the first-year boys. Harry’s was close to the window. Neville was near his feet and Ron was next to Harry, closest to the door. Seamus and Dean had the beds on the far side of their half-circle room.

“Man, I’m exhausted,” Ron said through a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Me too,” Seamus said as he flung himself onto his bed.

“Sleep?” Harry suggested. He got nods all around.

They all switched to their night clothes. Harry, as was his habit, pulled out his Things To Learn library trunk. He’d finished his second book on goblin customs on the way to Hogwarts in the odd quiet moments, so he switched to the third in-depth history of the house elves. Maybe that could tell him what to do about the poor elves here. Or maybe a book on the Gryffindor family? The Sorting Hat had implied that there was something he could do.

“Why’re you studying already?” Ron complained.

“It helps me sleep,” Harry said with a shrug. “I mean, I fall asleep with a book on my face half the time, but it still helps. Besides, there’s tons of stuff I want to learn that aren’t going to be taught. Reading before bed helps me learn it.”

“Ugh,” Ron groaned as he buried his face in his pillow. His complaint came out all mushy because of it. “You should’ve been in Ravenclaw with an attitude like that.”

He started snoring before Harry had a chance to reply. Ron snored like he was going to rattle the windows out of their frames which was horrifying. Neville shook his head and went to pull Ron’s curtain’s shut. The sound immediately dropped to almost nothing.

“It takes a lot to get through those curtains,” Neville said with awe. “Gran told me that they’re spelled to keep all sound down so that you can sleep. Uncle Algie said that even the most enthusiastic hijinks wouldn’t be heard but I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.”

“Sex,” Seamus said. He grinned when Harry and Neville stared at him. “That’s what he meant. Also what Percy meant with his warning. Me mam warned me about that. It’s all about sex, apparently.”

“That better not happen this year,” Harry said, horrified.

The others snickered at him but really. They were eleven. Far too young for those doings. Aunt Petunia would strip someone’s hide off for it.

“We’re all safe, now, right?” Dean asked very quietly as he pulled his curtains almost shut.

“I… don’t know,” Harry admitted. “I think we have to assume that the blocks will be coming at us all the time. The Sorting Hat said that I needed to claim something Gryffindor, but I don’t know what that means.”

“I’ll research it tomorrow,” Seamus offered. Dean nodded that he’d help too.

“Send a letter to your aunt,” Neville advised. “She can research it, too.”

“Good idea,” Harry said. “I’ll just close the curtains for that. No reason to keep you all up with my muttering and scribbling.”

It took far too long to write the letter, especially with Harry as tired and full as he was. Harry made three copies of it, one to keep and one to send tomorrow officially with Hedwig who hopefully had made it safely. Harry put the third copy in his letter box. It disappeared, flashing away to home. Hopefully someone would be able to tell him what to do about the Gryffindor thing.

 

Chapter 24

Sirius took a deep breath, tugged the waistcoat that Crow had selected for him down, and then strode into the Ministry with his head held high. It was too soon. Much too soon. He knew it but the one thing that no one had been able to determine so far was just how much control Dumbledore had over the Ministry.

What better way to discover it than by having Sirius Black, notorious murderer, stride back in to request his wand back?

Yes, of course, it was madness. Complete stupidity and the most ridiculous idea that Sirius had had since James was still alive.

Remus had shouted it at the top of his lungs last night. Anthony had groaned and hid his face in his hands. Lacey, lovely woman that she was, had threatened to cut Sirius’ bollocks off, slice them thinly, bread them before deep frying them and serving them to him with tartar sauce.

She seemed quite serious about it, too. It was amazing just how much of a type the Black men had. Across generations and whether you were raised in the family or not, Black men always fell for the women who could and would cut their throat and then walk over top of them.

“Master Sirius is being very stupid,” Crow murmured.

“You’re supposed to be invisible,” Sirius murmured back to her.

“Master Sirius us supposed to be healing up,” Crow countered without missing a beat. “Not getting hurt worse.”

“Hasn’t happened yet and we need to know,” Sirius said. “Now hush. Checkpoint.”

The checkpoint by that ridiculous fountain was mostly empty, just a very junior auror sitting with his chin on his palm like he was half a second away from falling asleep on his post. Either just got up or just shy of ending his shift. Sirius remembered those days, not fondly at all. Worst job in the place, wand-check duty.

“Name?” the auror, one Penworthy, muttered.

“Sirius Black,” Sirius said. He smiled as the kid’s head snapped up. “Croaker released me from Azkaban as I haven’t had a trial at all. I’m here to answer some questions for him. Oh, and I’d like my wand back, please. Do let him know I’m here.”

Penworthy stared at Sirius for a long, long moment. For about three seconds, Sirius thought he was going to have to run for it and then have Crow pop him away. Then the lights turned on behind Penworthy’s eyes and he visibly decided that first, this was above his pay grade, second that he was too tired to cope with it, and third, someone else of more rank was going to have to deal with Sirius. Not him.

“Yes, sir,” Penworthy said as he passed Sirius a badge. “I imagine your wand will be in Evidence, but you’ll want to check with Madame Bones on that. She’s been on a rampage, going through all the files for the last twenty years or so. Croaker should still be in his office unless he’s got another way out.”

Sirius grinned and attached the badge to his robe. “Oh, I’ve no doubt that he does but you’d never know it. Probably would send someone out as Croaker just to keep the secret.”

Penworthy blinked several times and nodded slowly before directing Sirius to the lifts. He waited until the doors shut to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Crow patted Sirius’ hip, her fingers shaking as she clutched his trousers. Good to know that he wasn’t the only one about to fly into a panic over this stunt.

“Amelia first,” Sirius said, breathing in and out before pushing the lift button. “Then Croaker.”

“Master Sirius should still be going home,” Crow said. “Kreacher is going to be beating Crow about the head and shoulders with her own limbs for not stopping Master Sirius.”

“Hey, I’m the Patriarch,” Sirius said, finding Crow’s shoulder and gently squeezing it. Odd with her invisible this way but he was getting unreasonably fond of Crow. She had a sense of humor that was a perfect match for Sirius. “You have to do things when I order you to.”

“Master Sirius is trying to tell Kreacher that,” Crow announced as the lift slowed. “Crow will have a camera ready so everyone can see the results of that.”

“Mean,” Sirius said, grinning. “I might, just to see what he does. Brace yourself. This is probably going to be terrible. Make sure you pay attention to how many get the shimmer in their eyes. And who. That’s the most important thing about this entire stunt.”

“Crow is ready,” Crow promised. “And Crow is going to get a camera, just you wait. Crow will do it!”

He laughed a little and then tugged his waistcoat down again as the doors slid open on a room full of aurors getting ready for their day. Here’s hoping he didn’t die. It was far too soon for Harry to be the Black Family Patriarch.

Not that he’d be half bad at it. He already had the politics down better than Sirius ever would.

Sirius strode out of the lift, braced for dozens of wands pointed straight at him.

+++

There was a letter in Harry’s box when he woke up in the morning. He’d woken early, far earlier than he expected, but that was because his letter box had vibrated under his hand. Harry woke with a book on his chest, his letter box by his side and Kreacher frowning at him from the foot of the bed.

“Master, this is not a good place,” Kreacher said in a much more gravelly voice than normal.

“Yeah, I noticed,” Harry said.

He sat up and waved for Kreacher to come sit with him so that he could share magic with Kreacher. The light coming from underneath his bed’s curtains was dim and grey. Still pre-dawn then. What was going on that he was getting a letter this soon?

“What happened?” Harry asked as Kreacher sighed with relief and set to work straightening out Harry’s books for him.

“Master is to read his letter,” Kreacher said. “Kreacher is not happy, but Kreacher was told not to say anything. Kreacher is not saying anything. Nothing at all.”

Harry raised an eyebrow, but Kreacher just shook his head. The letter was from Sirius but there wasn’t just Sirius’ letter. There was a letter from Remus and Aunt Petunia and Mr. Swashlin and a very thick one from Silverclaw. He started with Sirius’ very brief letter.

“He’s fine, don’t worry, everything is going great?” Harry asked Kreacher because that was literally all the letter said.

“Master Sirius is determined not to worry Master Harry,” Kreacher grumbled. “Master Sirius is being an idiot. Like always.”

“Did Dumbledore try to get him arrested like Mr. Swashlin was worried?” Harry asked even though he was already opening all the other letters.

Remus’ letter was full of reassurances that he was taking care of Sirius who was an idiot and that Harry shouldn’t worry. Curses weren’t that big of a deal. Harry squeaked over that and went to Aunt Petunia’s letter which had a mixture of news and some very snippy comments on Sirius’ ability to use common sense when dealing with people who wanted him dead.

Dudley was at Smeltings and having a grand time, apparently. Uncle Vernon was working with Anthony again because Anthony had had to go back to work full time despite the legal issues regarding Sirius’ imprisonment not having been fully resolved. Amelia Bones was working on it, though, so that would be fine. She did not explain just what had happened to get Sirius cursed and ‘just fine’.

Mr. Swashlin did, thank goodness. Apparently, Sirius had gotten it into his head to go to the Ministry to demand his old wand back. An old auror named Mad-Eye Moody had seen him, overreacted and cursed Sirius in a fierce battle that had gotten his wooden leg broken, Sirius’ shoulder broken so badly that he needed to have the bones regrown and then Amelia Bones had threatened to beat them both to death with their own limbs right in the middle of the Ministry’s atrium.

Silverclaw’s report was detailed, lovely and a thing of wonder. And confusion. Because apparently the missing money that should’ve gone to Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon for his care had actually been funneled into an account that had been disbursing it to the Minister of Magic, one Molly Weasley and to three more accounts that had yet to be identified because the true owners were hidden behind multiple layers of false names, fake accounts and side-stepping transfers that Silverclaw was determined to figure out.

“Is Molly Weasley a relative of Ron, Fred, George, and Percy Weasley’s?” Harry asked Kreacher.

Kreacher nodded. “Mother.”

“…Why?” Harry asked even though he could feel that Kreacher had no clue. “No, never mind. I’m glad I know. You have the unenviable task of going back to Black Castle and telling Sirius that I’m going to cry if he gets hurt again.”

Kreacher’s eyes went wide. His ears went up and out and then he started snickering. “Kreacher will do it. Can Kreacher be sad and mournful and tell Master Sirius that Master Harry is very upset?”

“You can,” Harry said. He rubbed his tummy. “Because I am, actually. I mean, I’m not crying now or anything, but I’m kind of nauseous and not just because of the horrible magic here. Speaking of which, what do I do about the elves here? They’re so unhappy and sick feeling, Kreacher!”

“Master Harry is a very good master,” Kreacher said as he patted Harry’s knee with a fond and tolerant expression.

“That’s not helpful,” Harry complained.

“Master Harry cannot fix it,” Kreacher said with a little shrug. “Master Harry is not master of Gryffindor magics yet.”

“That!” Harry said, pointing at Kreacher so sharply that Kreacher jumped. “The Sorting Hat said something about that. It said I needed to claim the Gryffindor something-or-other as soon as possible but I didn’t really understand what it meant.”

“Gryffindor magics is not the same magics as Potter or Black magics,” Kreacher said, head tilted so far to the side that he looked like Hedwig when she was confused by something Harry did. “They is not claimed for many generations. Master Harry can claim them. No Potter has, not since last daughter of Gryffindor married into family, but they could. Gryffindor magics is waiting patiently for a Potter to do so. Then castle belongs to you, elves belong to you, and Master Harry can kick bad Dumbledore and rotten school out of castle.”

Harry was all on board with that idea until the last little bit. Then he sat and stared at Kreacher for a long, long moment.

“I think I need to talk to people before I do that,” Harry said. “Can you tell Aunt Petunia about that? And Anthony and Lacey and Sirius, once he’s healed, and Remus, too? I’ll send a letter to Silverclaw about it. I kind of think that’s not something I should do without warning everyone.”

Kreacher nodded and patted Harry’s knee again. “Master Harry is very wise for his age. Very wise. Kreacher will do. Go back to sleep. Is not morning yet.”

He popped away before Harry could say that he was far too awake for going back to sleep. Which he was. Dramatically too awake. Harry shook his head and got to work writing letters. One for Silverclaw, thanking him for the wonderful detailed report and asking that he continue working on it. He made sure to add the whole ‘what to do about the Gryffindor magic’ question on the end.

Then he wrote a detailed letter to Aunt Petunia about the whole Sorting Hat imposing blocks issue and the Gryffindor magic problem he had to solve. By that time the light coming under his curtains was brightening towards dawn, so Harry dashed off a quick note to Remus and Sirius, just saying that he’d gotten into Gryffindor and that he was a little appalled that they’d not warned him about all the sex the upper years were having behind closed doors. It should make Sirius laugh and Remus blush, just what they both needed with Sirius injured that way.

Ron was still snoring when Harry opened his curtains. It was kind of amazing just how loud he was. Seamus and Dean were mumbling and grumbling their way through gathering their bath things. Neville was already gone. Harry grabbed his things and hurried to the boys’ bath which was already busy with upper year boys who looked either bright and eager for school to start or so exhausted that they must’ve gotten almost no sleep.

“Is he still snoring?” Neville asked Harry once they were both done showering and were working on tying their ties, in Neville’s case, and fighting with his hair, in Harry’s case.

“Ron?” Harry asked as he groaned through removing all the tangles that’d formed overnight and then rolled his eyes when his hair refused to lie flat no matter how he brushed it. “Yeah, he was. He sleeps like a log.”

By the time they got back to their room together, Seamus and Dean were up. Ron was the one mumbling and grumbling, mostly because the twins were there with huge grins on their faces as they hauled Ron out of bed by one arm and the opposite ankle.

“He really does sleep like a log,” Neville commented once the twins had dragged Ron off to the showers. “I hope we don’t have to do that.”

“I think I’ll let the twins handle him,” Harry said. “I got letters already.”

Neville brightened up and joined Harry on his bed. He frowned through all of the letters, none of which were really private, so Harry didn’t mind sharing them. Silverclaw’s letter had Neville looking hopelessly lost until he got to the part about Molly Weasley.

“She wouldn’t be part of it,” Neville whispered, eyes wide. His hands shook on the letter.

“All of her kids, including Ron, are already blocked,” Harry said. He took the letter and smoothed it out, then folded it and put it away when the door opened.

Fred stuck his head in.

“Ickle Ronnikins is awake,” Fred announced with a wicked grin.

“…I’m never, ever going to sleep late if that’s how you wake people up,” Harry said. He grinned when George pushed into the room, laughing. “Um, do you have a quick moment?”

“The…” Fred waved at his head vaguely.

“That plus this,” Harry said. He retrieved the page of the letter that mentioned that Molly had gotten some of the money that was supposed to go to him.

George and Fred put their heads together to read it, arms wrapped around each other so that each held one side of the letter. It was strangely like the two of them were one mind shared between two bodies for a moment. Then George jerked back, cursing under his breath and Fred shuddered, taking the letter from his twin.

“Mom makes potions,” Fred said without meeting Harry’s eyes. “She’s really good. Almost had a mastery when she got pregnant with Bill, our oldest brother.”

“We’re not allowed in her private lab,” George agreed. He ran his fingers through his hair and pulled, hard. “Never even heard a peep of what she creates. She won’t let us study her books or anything. Dad’s fine with it, all bland and passive about it.”

“Remus had potions that were keeping him in line,” Harry said. He took the page of the letter back from Fred. “And both Sirius and Remus had charms, spells and potions affecting them. Maybe that’s what it was. She was hired to make things for the person doing it.”

Neville shuddered. Given that George looked like wanted to kill someone and Fred looked like he wanted to die, Harry couldn’t blame him. Harry, on the other hand, frowned at the list of unknown accounts.

“Can one person, say, a wizard, create potions, charms, mind control spells and curses?” Harry asked.

“Nah, doesn’t work that way,” Fred said. He waved his wand at Ron’s bed and it made itself so that he could sit down.

“I want to know that spell,” Harry declared, prompting Neville into startled giggles and both twins into grins. “Seriously. That’s brilliant.”

“The elves normally get the beds,” George said.

“They’re not strong,” Harry replied with a fierce frown. “I don’t want to tax them if I don’t have to. At least not until I figure out what to do about the Gryffindor magic.”

He got three minutes into explaining that, otherwise known as not far enough to make sense, when Ron, Seamus and Dean returned from the bathroom. Fred and George teased Ron, joked with Seamus and Dean and then disappeared into the hallway singing a silly little ditty about breakfast.

“I suppose we should go eat,” Neville said.

“Yeah, I’m starving,” Ron complained.

He shrugged into his robe, fidgeted until he almost got it settled right and them made a face when Harry and Neville both mimed the little lift and shift the shoulders thing that Draco had shown him.

“Fine,” Ron said as he did it and immediately looked a hundred percent less rumpled. “Don’t know why I have to follow a slimy snake’s instructions.”

“It’s so you don’t look like you just rolled out of bed,” Seamus drawled, his accent extra-thick. “Though I see Harry’s given up on his hair.”

Harry groaned.

“He brushed it!” Neville exclaimed, grinning at Harry’s mock-swat at his shoulder. “A bunch. His hair just bounced back and looked like that when he was done.”

“My hair never obeys,” Harry complained.

He put his letter box away, grabbed his bookbag and the Important Things to Learn library trunk. Strapping on his holster prompted everyone else, except Ron, to strap on theirs. Ron grimaced as he fidgeted with his wand.

“That looks really old,” Harry said of Ron’s wand.

“Yeah, my family couldn’t afford a new one for me,” Ron said. His cheeks were bright red, and he glared at Harry and Neville as if it was their fault.

“My Gran wouldn’t get me one,” Neville said. He nodded to Harry. “Harry gave me a wand from his vaults and it works way better.”

“I found a bunch,” Harry said. He pulled out one of the wands that didn’t work at all for him. “Try it.”

Ron took it and got a weak spray of sparks. The second one that didn’t work barely glowed at the tip. Harry’s grandfather’s wand swelled with power, but it made Ron’s hair stand on end. His grandmother’s didn’t work at all. Harry ran through all the wands until he got to the one that Ollivander sold him.

“Last one I’ve got,” Harry said, giving it to Ron to try.

Magic swirled around Ron. Not like he was doing it but like the wand was assessing him. It died out after a moment that left Ron panting and staring at the wand.

“Darn,” Harry said, taking the wand back and holstering it as quickly as possible because it was still horrible to touch. “Sorry. I hoped that one of them might work.”

“I’ve got a couple,” Neville said. He grinned at Harry’s startled look. “Gran felt guilty and let me go through the vaults, too. I found four wands. Want to try one?”

“Uh, sure,” Ron said though he didn’t exactly look excited about the idea.

The first two didn’t work. At all. One of them Ron barely touched before he was shoving it back into Neville’s hand. The third one was perfect. Harry could feel it. He could feel the Weasley magic linking into the wand, shoving at the blocks on Ron’s magic and mind.

Harry grabbed Ron’s arm. Neville grabbed Ron, too. They both pushed magic into Ron to help the Weasley family magic and the wand snap the bonds on Ron’s magic. Ron shouted and nearly fell down even though Seamus and Dean caught him from behind as his legs gave way.

“What the bloody hell was that?” Ron demanded. He stared at the wand, then at Harry and Neville. “What is it? It’s so angry.”

“That’s the Weasley family magic,” Harry said. “It’s a long story. Someone blocked you from feeling it. I don’t know why but the Weasley magic is super-mad about being blocked from all of you. The twins are free. Now you are, too. We’re gonna try and free everyone else.”

He pulled out one of the amulets and slung it over Ron’s neck. Ron gasped and clapped his free hand over the charm. It seemed to help because he managed to stand up properly after a second.

“That’ll help,” Harry said. “Don’t tell any upper years or teachers. All the upper years are blocked. I bet most if not all the teachers are, too. You’ll probably be less hungry all the time now, too.”

“This…” Ron shuddered and nodded. “Right. Yeah. Okay, I’ll… stay quiet. But. Um, you’ll explain?”

“Once I’m sure it won’t get us all in trouble, yeah,” Harry said. “I promise.”

Ron accepted that with a little nod. He headed for the door, still shaking. Seamus and Dean followed, though Seamus looked at Harry with a frown that would’ve meant trouble if it was Dudley’s old friends. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen here. Hopefully.

“Breakfast?” Neville suggested.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I want to ask Hermione to see what she can find out about the Gryffindor magic. I bet the Ravenclaws have an awesome library.”

Neville laughed and shook his head. “You and your libraries. Let’s go. I am hungry.”

“Me, too,” Harry agreed.

He wasn’t terribly excited about having to deal with Dumbledore watching him at breakfast, but food sounded good. Food and a book to read sounded better. Food and a book and answers of what to do next would be the best thing ever.

 

Chapter 25

“It’s a pity that young Ron Weasley is so different from his brothers,” Minerva complained to Filius as they made their way to the Great Hall for breakfast. “The twins had to literally drag him out of bed by his ankles this morning. I was ready to scold them quite severely, but Percy told me that it was normal. Normal! That boy’s going to be a disgrace if he doesn’t settle in.”

Filius nodded quietly. He’d not said a single word all morning and they’d had early tea in the staff room while going over all the lesson plans together before coming to breakfast. He really was a huge help. Minerva couldn’t have done all the work Albus shifted onto her without Filius’ help.

“Are you all right?” Minerva asked Filius. “You’re unusually quiet today.”

“Ah, my apologies,” Filius said with a wry little smile. “First day for the Ravenclaws. You know how it is. I had to chase them off the lending library shelves sixteen times before they’d all go to bed. I’ve several very bright new students. I think you’ll like Miss Granger. A very bright Lumos, that one. Quite the contrast to your Weasley.”

“Goodness, we should keep them apart then,” Minerva complained. “Young Mr. Weasley was complaining about having to get up for class. He seemed to think that classes should not actually start for another week or two.”

“Oh dear,” Filius said with enough amusement that Minerva chuckled along with him. “Yes, I do think we should keep them apart. How was our Mr. Potter?”

Minerva hummed as she settled in her place, Filius by her side. While Minerva always sat in the same place, Filius insisted on switching seats for every meal. He rarely ever sat in the same place twice. There was no pattern to his movements that she’d ever been able to detect. He just seemed to enjoy conversation with everyone at the school.

“He’s… genial,” Minerva said. “A rather strange blend of Lily and James, actually. Very smart. I’m rather astonished he didn’t end up in Ravenclaw. He has three personal library trunks, Filius. Three!”

“Goodness!” Filius said with enough delight that Minerva had to hide her grin from the students stumbling by taking a sip of her tea. “I wonder if he’d allow me to see the catalog of his books.”

“I think he probably would,” Minerva said.

Albus wasn’t there yet, more’s the pity. Minerva had a great many things to say to him about his abandonment yesterday and the horrible way he’d treated poor Hagrid, too. But then, she always had things to say to Albus and somehow, he always seemed to escape her lectures.

“Minerva,” Filius murmured low enough that she almost missed the comment, “I’d suggest being checked for potions and compulsions in the next couple of days.”

She turned to stare at him but Filius was focused on adding a ridiculous amount of lemon to his tea. “Why?”

“Mmm, it’s… advisable,” Filius said without meeting her eyes at all. “It’s the season for it at Gringotts. A good time to make a trip into London, really. Perhaps this weekend.”

“I have so much to do…” Minerva started to say.

Her voice trailed off in the face of Filius’ grim look. She would have asked more but Albus breezed in as the final few students, Ron Weasley included, slouched to their places at the tables. Another time, perhaps. He must have a reason for such an odd suggestion. She’d just have to make a note of it for later, perhaps this evening after the children went to bed.

+++

Breakfast was another banquet full of food that looked and tasted amazing. Harry’s charm warned him about the bacon, which was a tragedy, the pumpkin juice which didn’t bother him at all, and the porridge. He ate eggs and ham and toast smeared with a thick layer of rhubarb preserves.

Neville avoided the pumpkin juice. All the first years and the twins did, too. Even Ron avoided it with a wary expression and a light touch to the charm around his neck. No one else avoided the bacon so Harry stole a rasher from Neville who huffed and mock-glared at him for it.

The plates had just been cleared away when Professor McGonagall showed up with their class schedules. There was no map. Harry frowned.

“Um, Professor?” Harry asked.

He didn’t flinch away from her stern look. It was very impressive but not as impressive as Aunt Petunia facing down her bridge party when someone had thoroughly inappropriate gossip to share.

“Yes, Mr. Potter?” Professor McGonagall asked. She looked over the rim of her square glasses at him as if she expected him to spout nonsense.

“I was wondering if there’s a map?” Harry said. “The school’s quite large and I’m certain I’m going to get lost without one.”

“Mr. Potter, the upper years will escort you to class for the first week,” Professor McGonagall said much more severely and with a rather faded twinkle in her eyes. “I’m sure by that point you’ll have figured it out.”

“Ah,” Harry said. He stared at her until the twinkle faded. “I see. Well, is there a map anywhere? I don’t want to mistakenly go to the third-floor corridor that Headmaster Dumbledore warned us about.”

“Oh, yeah,” Seamus said. “I’d really like to avoid a gruesome death, ma’am. Me mam would be right upset if I died my first year.”

Neville nodded his agreement as did Dean and Lavender Brown who clutched her hands to her chest and made sad puppy eyes at Professor McGonagall. The twinkle resurfaced only to fade a moment later. Interesting. Maybe she was working her way free of it? That could be helpful.

“The library does have maps of the school,” Professor McGonagall said. “You’re free to study them when you’re not in class but right now you’d best be off or you won’t make it to class in time. Go on, now. Scoot!”

They scooted. The twins made a point of escorting Harry, or more realistically, tormenting Ron by escorting Harry. They made it to Transfiguration in time, not much thanks to the moving staircases or the twins who tried to stop and point out every sculpture, painting and suit of armor along the way. They grinned and ran off when they finally arrived at the classroom.

Ron ended up on one side of Harry. Neville was on the other. From the way Ron cradled his new wand, he expected someone to take it away at any moment.

“It makes me feel so different,” Ron murmured.

“Oh, that’s not the wand,” Harry said, just as quietly. “I couldn’t tell you on the train, but something here has been putting blocks on people’s magic. And their minds. You were reacting kind of like my cousin Dudley.”

Ron stared at Harry. “What kind of name is Dudley?”

His horror set Harry to snickering just as a cat with square markings around its eyes marched in. It transformed mid-step into Professor McGonagall which made Harry gape in awe. He’d read, briefly, about Animagus after Remus told him about the spell but he’d never imagined that he’d see it happen with anyone but Sirius.

Who, honestly, was still too weak to do it. Especially with a broken shoulder, the reckless idiot.

“Good morning, children,” Professor McGonagall said. “In this class you will be learning the art of transfiguration, the transformation of one object or creature into another.”

Her lecture was light on details of what the ethical and magical limits of transfiguration were, which Harry scribbled into his notes as a thing to follow up on. It was also very, very basic on their first attempt to transfigure things. Changing a matchstick into a needle was not as easy as it seemed like it should be, but every single one of them managed it after a few tries.

Professor McGonagall seemed stunned by that.

“Ma’am,” Harry said, holding his hand up, “I was wondering, um, do you have any recommendations on further reading? I was kind of concerned about the ethical issues of transfiguration.”

“Ethical?” Professor McGonagall asked with far too much confusion and a very strong twinkle in her eyes.

“Well, yes,” Harry said as earnestly as he could. “You said that you could transform a creature, an animal, into something else. Like transforming Ron’s rat Scabbers into a teacup or something. That seems… not so good? I mean, does it hurt the animal? Are they aware of themselves while trapped in inanimate form? I don’t want to hurt anyone if I can help it.”

Professor McGonagall shook her head so sharply that her glasses slid down her nose and then blew out a sharp breath. The twinkle abruptly left her eyes, leaving them glowing with a bright red-gold light. The first glow that Harry had seen out of any of the Hogwarts professors. Or the students, now that he thought about it. Even the first years hadn’t shown any glowing eyes or vibrating voices or shifting hair while waiting for the Sorting.

How very odd.

“A very good question and one that I normally don’t address until third year, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall said. She smiled rather proudly at him. “Ten points to Gryffindor for forward thinking. I’ll bring you a list of supplementary reading next class.”

“I’d love to have it, too,” Draco said from the table he’d staked out with Blaise and Pansy.

Everyone else nodded their agreement, other than Ron who looked a little horrified by the thought of doing more studying than he had to. Professor McGonagall’s breath caught as she grinned, suddenly looking decades younger and much less stern.

“I’ll bring copies for everyone, but you’ll have to share the books,” Professor McGonagall said. “There’s only a single copy of each in the library.”

“I think I might have to order some books,” Harry said and then laughed when Ron, Neville, Seamus, Dean, Blaise, Pansy and Draco all groaned at him. He shrugged at Professor McGonagall’s curious look. “I like books.”

“You may look like your father, Mr. Potter, but you’re the very soul of your mother,” Professor McGonagall said. “Off to your next class now. A prefect should be waiting to escort you.”

One was. After each class, one of the older students or a prefect was there to show them where to go. Herbology was lovely. Harry and Neville had a grand time talking about their favorite plants. Neville had a lot of experience with magical plants while Harry knew tons about mundane ones, so they paired up and enjoyed themselves tremendously.

Flying was rather frightening. The booms all felt very old, nearly as old as the wand that couldn’t be used back in the Potter vaults or Ron’s original wand. They still worked, barely, but Harry wouldn’t want to try anything hazardous on them. Draco looked as nervous about them as Harry, grumbling under his breath about his father would hear about this every time his broom failed to respond instantly to his commands.

Thankfully, no one was hurt during the lesson and they all got to head back inside for Potions.

“I’m looking forward to this one,” Draco announced with a little puff to his chest and a grin of delight. “Mother’s been tutoring me on potions for years.”

“I’ve been dreading it,” Neville groaned. “I’m pants at potions. I always have been.”

“Which teacher is it?” Harry asked, having forgotten to look at the schedule what with the map question and the stairs and everything else today.

“Snape,” Draco said. “Severus Snape. He’s my godfather.”

“Oh,” Harry said, eyes wide as he stared at Draco. “My mum knew him. Aunt Petunia really, truly does not like him even after all these years.”

Draco’s jaw dropped open as he stared at Harry. He didn’t have a chance to reply because Professor Snape swept into the room like a storm cloud. His nose was a beak. His hair was black and greasy and it hung about his forehead and cheeks in ways that made Harry want to sic Kreacher on him. His robe was at least three sizes too big for him and made him look like a scarecrow.

He paused and sneered at Harry. “Mr. Potter, our resident celebrity.”

“So I’ve been told, Professor,” Harry said. He shrugged. “Though we are suing the people who wrote those books. They were all created and sold without licensing, permission or any connection to the truth.”

Professor Snape’s head went back and he frowned as if that was the last thing he’d expected to hear from Harry. Perhaps it was. Aunt Petunia was never kind when she spoke about Snape. Remus had been a bit kinder when he talked about Snape but he’d made it perfectly clear that Harry could never trust Snape or be safe with him.

Snape had apparently stalked his mum her entire life and still, a decade later, hadn’t stopped pining for her.

It was dreadfully creepy and Harry had no intention of trusting a single thing that came out of Professor Snape’s mouth. He might have to have classes with the man but that wasn’t going to last very long if Snape decided to bully Harry. He’d find a way to get Snape sacked. Somehow. Probably.

“I’m sure you’ll get your profit somehow,” Professor Snape finally snapped at Harry.

“Won’t take a penny of it,” Harry said. “I just want them to stop lying about me.”

“I’m stunned that you would care, given your lineage,” Professor Snape said with all the viciousness of Piers, Dudley’s former best friend, when he was working himself up to a Harry Hunting.

Harry blinked at Professor Snape, slowly smiling. The entire room stilled. Draco caught Harry’s sleeve, shaking his arm very gently. It was like he was afraid to catch Professor Snape’s attention. Or to ruin Harry’s focus.

Harry laughed, as much like Remus’ soft, quiet laughs as possible. He let his eyes glow green, the same green his mum had. Professor Snape paled, clutching his desk with one hand that went white at the knuckles.

“Aunt Petunia warned me about you,” Harry said with a little smile. Professor Snape jerked at Aunt Petunia’s name. “She remembers everything about you.”

“What?” Professor Snape’s voice was very harsh and very high-pitched. He licked his lips.

“Everything,” Harry repeated with a slightly wider smile. “I’ll have to tell her that you haven’t changed at all. Should I tell you what she says about that?”

“Take your books out!” Professor Snape ordered as he whirled and started writing on the board.

He didn’t look Harry in the eyes the entire rest of class. Professor Snape was very, very careful not to go anywhere near Harry. His lesson was so abrupt that only Draco did a good job on the potion. Everyone else simply didn’t have enough information to do what they needed to.

“Why didn’t he explain about the difference in crushing versus cutting?” Draco ranted as they all, both Slytherin and Gryffindor, headed up to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. “It’s one of the most important lessons of all. And stirring! You have to be very careful how you stir, which direction, how long, what stirrer you use. Nothing. He gave everyone absolutely nothing they needed to succeed.”

“Yeah,” Seamus drawled, “but that’s because Harry scared the piss out of him.”

“I kind of did,” Harry agreed. He grinned at Seamus’ cackle and Draco’s glare. “No, really. I did. I mean, I know you think Aunt Marge is worse but Aunt Petunia is much scarier than Aunt Marge. Aunt Marge just lectures at you. Aunt Petunia is terrifying.”

“She really is,” Neville agreed. “She argued Gran into shutting up. And got Amelia Bones to rescue Sirius.”

“No one messes with Aunt Petunia,” Harry said with all the seriousness that it deserved. It was, after all, as serious a rule as the law of gravity.

Draco shook his head and went on grumbling as they made their way from the dungeons up to the third floor on the left-hand side. The right-hand side across the central area with its moving staircases didn’t look dangerous. There were a bunch of doors and corridors leading off down into a different wing. From where they were, it looked perfectly normal.

Harry could feel a drift of magic that was outright wrong coming from the area, though. He pursed his lips. As much as he wanted to know what was down there, he absolutely wasn’t going to go exploring. What he was going to do was send Silverclaw, Aunt Petunia, Sirius and Remus a letter about it.

“Remind me to tell Susan to send her aunt a letter about the third-floor corridor,” Harry told Neville as they headed into the DADA classroom. “I bet her aunt will have a lot to say about that.”

The room stank of garlic. It was so thick that Harry’s eyes watered which was really, really bad given how much Harry loved garlic. Draco started coughing immediately and Neville wheezed, his eyes watering.

“G-good morning, ch-ch-children,” Professor Quirrell said from the head of the room. “P-p-p-please t-take y-your seats.”

 

Chapter 26

Lacey didn’t drop her jaw as she walked into the room where the goblins were storing Voldemort’s stupid horcruxes. It was a near thing. She’d never felt wards like that before, despite having studied in Rome after Beauxbatons. They were a palpable presence, cascading over her body in a waterfall of power that first checked her identity, then whether her mind was clear and then, as she stepped into the chamber proper past the heavy airlock doors, purified her of all outside influences.

Small price to have to renew her contraceptive and menstrual charms to be that sure that neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort had influenced her.

“Wow,” Lacey murmured to Silverclaw.

Silverclaw smirked. “We take no chances with these… items.”

“I’m glad,” Lacey said with a snort of amusement. “Lord knows, the Ministry would toss them in a cardboard box and leave them on an unguarded shelf in an open corridor.”

“I can see them doing exactly that,” Silverclaw replied. He shuddered like someone’d just cut a galleon in half and revealed that it was filled with tin.

Lacey would have grinned, maybe teased Silverclaw a bit. She liked the grumpy, prideful, vain goblin. Anyone who went to Silverclaw’s efforts to protect a child was a good person in her estimation.

Ragnok, Chieftain of the Goblins, strode in after them.

“Chieftain,” Lacey said with a very proper bob of her head and a tight-lipped smile. “You honor us.”

“Yes, I do,” Ragnok declared. His eyes lingered an almost indecently long time on Silverclaw’s claws before narrowing as he turned to the table with all the horcruxes. “What do we have?”

Six other goblins came in behind Ragnok, each of them in bespoke tailored suits with perfect hand-stitched pinstripes and silk ties that were worth as much as Lacey’s entire wardrobe. They all held mithril or silver or platinum staves bedecked with perfectly cut jewels.

Every single one of them locked eyes on Silverclaw for just a little bit too long.

All right, then. Silverclaw did have reason to be vain. She’d never realized that goblins actually had distinct measures of attractiveness before. A thing to note and maybe tell Narcissa. No one else other than Harry and Petunia would find it interesting.

Hmm. She’d best ask Silverclaw later if there were any books on goblin aesthetics so that she could give it to Harry when she told him. He’d just pester her with endless questions otherwise.

Once the other goblins had looked their fill, Silverclaw cleared his throat and approached the table. A very serious ward shimmered into life before he could go in touching range. Ragnok didn’t look at all upset by the delay to getting his question answered, maybe because it let him stare at Silverclaw a little longer than was at all proper.

“Voldemort was born Tom Marvolo Riddle,” Silverclaw stated, bowing his head slightly to Lacey when she choked and stared at him. “This was discovered earlier today through interaction with the diary. He created five horcruxes with the intent of creating one more. It was his belief that if he slivered is soul into seven pieces, he would be immune from death.”

“…He was an idiot,” Lacey said, shaking her head.

The mage-goblins nodded their agreement, a couple of them curling their lips to expose sharp teeth.

“Very much so,” Silverclaw said. “The diary was the first. It took two attempts. The first attempt resulted in the death of a young woman at Hogwarts. The second, very shortly afterwards, was successful. He chose his own family for the sacrifices to the ceremony’s requirements. The second piece of his soul is in the Gaunt family ancestral ring, inherited from his mother’s family as last of line. Next was Helga Hufflepuff’s cup. Then Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem was used. Each was hidden in distinct places that would be nearly impossible to discern, had we not had carte blanche to search all Black and Potter properties from Heir Potter.”

“Where were they?” Ragnok asked before Lacey could do so.

She hadn’t even realized Harry had given that order. Anthony must have forgotten to tell her about it.

“The diary came from Lucius Malfoy after Heir Potter saved him,” Silverclaw said. “That gave us the signature to search for. We found the cup in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault. Heavy fines were levied for bringing an unauthorized and unprotected horcrux into the bank.”

“Does she have anything left in her vault?” Lacey asked more out of curiosity than anything else.

“No,” Silverclaw said.

His smug little smile made Ragnok and the mage-goblins shift like Anthony when he was around any of the Delacour sisters. Okay, really attractive by goblin standards. She pursed her lips rather than grinning at that tidbit of knowledge.

“Good,” Lacey said instead.

“The locket was delivered by Kreacher,” Silverclaw continued, holding up a hand when Lacey gasped, worried for Kreacher. “Heir Potter took care of Kreacher immediately after. He is thriving now. Due to Heir Potter being the Heir of Gryffindor and his giving us carte blanche, we were able to contact the house elves of Hogwarts. They directed our strike team to the Room of Requirement. We were able to retrieve the diadem while Dumbledore was in the will reading and while the other teachers were busy preparing the school for the students. You, personally, saw the retrieval of the soul shard that had been contained in Heir Potter’s scar.”

“We have all the pieces of Voldemort’s soul, then,” Ragnok said with a little growl that was a lot like the one Marge’s horrible dog got just before he got a treat.

“All but one,” Silverclaw agreed. “We are here to discuss the best ritual to use to draw Voldemort’s soul out of its hiding place so that we can destroy all the pieces at once.”

“That’s not exactly going to be easy,” Lacey said, gnawing on her thumbnail. “If he’s anchored himself somewhere else, especially if he’s found himself a willing host, it’s going to be almost impossible.”

Silverclaw’s smirk grew. “It would be, yes, however Voldemort was truly an idiot. The Gaunt ring holds the Resurrection Stone of legend. We can free it from the horcrux and then use the Stone to draw Voldemort to us. In fact, it may be possible to free all the artifacts from their corrupting horcruxes and then summon the final shard of Voldemort’s soul. I couldn’t say. I’m not a mage. That’s why you’re all here.”

Lacey wasn’t at all surprised that the mage-goblins pushed right past her to get up against the protective wards around the table. She wanted to shove them aside, too. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell?

At least they’d gotten all the pieces but one. If they were lucky, in a week or a month or so, Harry would be safe from Voldemort at last.

+++

Harry frowned as he tried his best to take notes on Professor Quirrell’s lecture. There wasn’t much to take notes on, honestly. Professor Quirrell stammered badly. He was lucky to get one word in four out without stuttering on it. Frequently, he gave up on one word and switched to something else entirely.

But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Professor Quirrell didn’t tell them anything. He talked about the book but not about what was in the book. He did give them an assignment, right at the start of class, but the rest of their class was spent listening to Professor Quirrell attempt to talk about the pure-blood wizard who’d written the book and how he’d been a very daring and talented DADA master.

Aunt Marge would be the first to say that provenance of information was very important. Vital even. But a whole class spent just on the credentials of the textbook author? It was like Professor Quirrell hadn’t even read his own textbook.

The weird part was that Professor Quirrell kept staring at Harry as if he expected to get some sort of response. He never asked a single question of Harry. Or of anyone else. But he’d stare at Harry with eyes that glowed blood red on a regular basis and then frown when Harry just stared back at him with his quill poised to take more notes.

So very strange.

The magic in the DADA room was such that Harry had a hard time feeling anything but his own magic. Someone, probably Quirrell, has put wards and protective spells so thickly that it was kind of hard to breathe in the room. Adding that to the overwhelming smell of garlic and Harry wasn’t surprised that some of the other kids were busier blowing their noses than paying attention.

“M-Mr. Potter,” Professor Quirrell said after he finished his lecture and let them go. “A m-moment, please.”

“We’ll be outside,” Neville whispered to Harry.

“Leave the door open so I can breathe,” Harry told Neville who nodded and did just that.

Harry joined Professor Quirrell at the head of the room. “Yes, Professor?”

“Odd,” Professor Quirrell said in a silky voice that didn’t stammer at all. His eyes were blood red again, bright and hostile. “I expected more from you.”

“I expected a class worth taking notes in, sir,” Harry said with a little shrug. “I suppose neither of us got what we wanted.”

Professor Quirrell’s head went up and back and he snarled at Harry in ways that reminded Harry very much of Uncle Vernon back before the curses were removed. Harry frowned at him, wondering if he was cursed that way, too.

“Did you want something in particular, Professor?” Harry said as he offered Professor Quirrell a hand. His magic shimmered over his fingertips without Harry’s meaning it to. “Another handshake? You did say you were a fan.”

Professor Quirrell took a sharp step back. His eyes faded back to their normal indeterminant hazel-grey.

“N-no, that’s enough, M-Mr. P-P-P-Potter. Y-you c-can g-g-g-,” he stopped, took a breath and then nodded towards the door, “leave.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said. “I hope that we get into the text next class. It sounds interesting, given the information you told us about the author. I’ll have to read ahead.”

Not surprisingly given how many of Harry’s teachers had objected to him knowing more than he was supposed to, Professor Quirrell glared at him. He didn’t say anything else which meant that Harry got to escape the room and suck great lungsful of air outside.

“Wow, he was not that bad when I met him before,” Harry said. He shuddered at Draco and Neville, both of whom had waited for Harry. “Next class?”

“Next class,” Draco said. He scowled at the door. “My father is going to hear about this. Ridiculous that we’re expected to learn from someone who can’t even speak.”

“I object more that he doesn’t seem to have opened the book before,” Harry said. “Not one word about the actual subject, just stuff about pure-blood this and mastery that.”

“You got more out of that than I did,” Neville said. “I couldn’t understand most of what he said when I could hear through my sneezing and blowing my nose. The garlic was horrible!”

He groaned and led the way back to the central staircases and the way down to their next and final class of the say. By dinnertime, Harry was grateful to be done. He had a great deal of homework to do, of course, but when he found himself in the library it wasn’t to do his essays and assignments.

There were no books on the Founders that Harry could find.

“What are you looking for?” Hermione asked. She grinned at Harry’s start. “Sorry, I thought you heard me coming.”

“No, I didn’t,” Harry said. “Too focused, I guess. Have you seen any books on the Founders? I wanted to look up stuff on them but I can’t find any books that talk about them.”

Hermione huffed and crossed her arms over her chest as her hair bristled around her head.

“Professor Flitwick said that they were removed from the general section of the library a while back. About a decade or so ago? They’re in the Restricted Section now. We won’t be able to read them for years and even then, we’ll need to get permission slips from a professor.”

“Huh, that’s odd,” Harry said.

He could think of a bunch of reasons why it was a terrible decision. And one reason why Dumbledore would have done it. He didn’t want anyone to know about the Founders so that no one could claim the Founder’s magic, however that was done.

Harry wasn’t sure how it worked, really. The Potter magic and the Black magic were just there. If the Gryffindor magic was lurking around, Harry couldn’t tell. He shook his head. He’d just have to order some books on them from the goblins. It would cost more but it would be worth it, especially with Aunt Petunia, Anthony and everyone else busy trying to get Sirius either ‘acquitted’ or a proper trial.

He couldn’t be truly acquitted since he’d never been convicted, not that the magical government seemed to care much about that.

“What about in Ravenclaw Tower?” Harry asked. “Does anyone have books on it there? Are you having fun there? What’s it like?”

Hermione grinned, joy lighting her eyes and making her voice vibrate enticingly. “It’s wonderful, Harry! Every single room has bookshelves and we can put in requests every morning. By night, the books we wanted to read are there waiting for us. It’s a lending library, of course, so you only keep them for a week, but it’s still lovely. They’re just delivered right to you! I’ve got so many plans of what to study and learn.”

“…I want a magical lending library,” Harry complained in as horrible a whine as any Dudley had ever made.

She just laughed at him, loud at first and then with a hand over her mouth when Madame Pince glared at them both from the end of the aisle. Instead of working on the Gryffindor thing, Hermione and Harry worked through the first three chapters of the DADA book together. They quizzed each other and found backup source books for anything that wasn’t clear.

It was wonderfully fun. Hermione was absolutely brilliant and got things incredibly quickly. Harry wasn’t as smart as she was but he got the practical aspects of it faster than she did, not that either of them tried any of the spells in the library. That would be rude to the other students. Madame Pince might also throw them out and that’d be a tragedy.

Either way, Harry felt much more prepared for DADA by the time curfew hit and they had to go back to their respective towers. The stairs tried to deposit Harry on the third-floor right-hand side but he hung on and then stomped back down the stairs and up a different set until he managed to get to the right set of stairs leading up to Gryffindor Tower.

There were far too many stairs in Hogwarts. His legs were going to be killing him for ages until he got used to it. The Pink Lady, Fellona, smiled at Harry when he made it home.

“Good evening, Fellona,” Harry said. “Any problems today?”

“Not a one that hasn’t happened a thousand times before, Mr. Potter,” Fellona said. “You’d best get to bed, young man. It’s late.”

“Agreed,” Harry said. “Caput Draconis, right?”

“Exactly,” Fellona said with a nod of approval. “Sleep well.”

“Thank you and you, too,” Harry said. He paused just before crawling into the tunnel. “I mean, if a portrait sleeps, that is.”

“Bed!” Fellona ordered with a hearty laugh. “No dawdling, now.”

Harry grinned and didn’t dawdle at all. Seamus and Dean were already in bed, curtains drawn. Neville was just pulling his curtains when Harry walked in. He yawned and waved to Harry, flopping to his pillow as he closed the curtains.

Ron was still up though he was dressed in his night clothes. His new wand was in his hand. He kept stroking it as if he was afraid it would go away.

“It’s really not the wand,” Harry said. “Let me get into my night clothes and I’ll explain, okay?”

He got no response, but Ron waited and then frowned when Harry joined Ron on his bed and pulled the drapes. Harry really wished he knew a proper privacy spell. Something that would make it impossible for Dumbledore to listen in. He didn’t so there wasn’t much to do about it besides just make the best of it.

“All right,” Harry said as he sat cross-legged on the end of Ron’s bed. “Let me explain the whole thing. It’s a long story so it’ll take a while.”

It did take a while. Ron didn’t say a single word all the way through though he started and stared, winced and shuddered more than a few times. He actually gasped that Mr. Malfoy had invited the whole Weasley clan to his home to meet Harry. Given the blood feud between the families, that wasn’t exactly a normal thing for Mr. Malfoy to do.

Once Harry explained the whole thing, everything that he knew and understood and the stuff he only sort of understood a little bit, Ron groaned and grabbed his pillow to scream quietly into it.

“Um, are you all right?” Harry asked Ron.

“My mum is evil!” Ron exclaimed. “She has to be! She took the money that was supposed to go to you!”

“Well, no,” Harry said thoughtfully. “She’s being paid by someone evil but that just means that she was trying to support your family as best she could from home. I mean, you have a big family. It probably takes a lot to keep everyone clothed and fed. Uncle Vernon is always complaining about how much kids cost.”

“Yeah, Mum does the same thing,” Ron said with a wry smile that quickly faded into a miserable expression. “I’m really sorry, mate.”

“Pfft, it’s not your fault,” Harry said. “Seriously, you were blocked and trapped. The only thing that matters now is what you do with your life. Though I am really curious why you keep stroking your wand.”

“It… I get dreams sometimes,” Ron admitted as if he expected to be teased for it. “Or say things as a joke and they come true. The wand, well, it’s kind of… making it easier to see stuff? I think? I don’t know how to explain it, Harry. I mean, the blocks are gone, and I can read and I’m not starving all the time, but there’s something else, too. The wand helps. More than just to do magic. It’s like it lets me focus on something that I can see but not with my eyes.”

“That’s wicked,” Harry breathed, staring at Ron with awe. “That’s as cool as Hermione’s magical lending library in Ravenclaw. Maybe more cool. I’ll have to see if I have any books on that.”

Ron groaned a laugh, shaking his head at Harry. “Mate, do you have to study everything?”

“Yes,” Harry said with a huge grin. “Yes, I do. It’s fun. Besides, I don’t know if we can trust any of the teachers, so books are the only choice. I’ve got some really old ones that might not be available elsewhere. Even in the school library. If it helps, as long as they’re not out of date and inaccurate, why not? It’s better than nothing.”

“All right,” Ron said with a put-upon sigh. “I’ll read your books if you find them. But only on this. Not on everything!”

“Deal,” Harry said. He grinned and offered Ron a hand.

Ron shook his head and took Harry’s hand. “Deal.”

The Weasley magic hummed happily to the Potter and Black magics. It was still angry and trying to free its other members, but it was very pleased that Ron was free. Harry smiled.

“Bedtime?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, definitely,” Ron said. “I’m exhausted.”

“Pull your curtains shut all the way,” Harry told him and then laughed when Ron frowned. “You snore like the end of the world. The curtains are spelled to keep it quiet.”

“Get out,” Ron groaned as his cheeks went beet red. “I do not… do I?”

“You really do,” Harry said. “Might want to see someone about it sometime. You know, when you’re not at school or something. I’m not sure it’d be safe here.”

Ron paled at that and nodded. “G’night, Harry.”

“Goodnight, Ron,” Harry said.

Harry tried to read one of his books before falling asleep, but the words kept blurring in front of his eyes, so he ended up setting the book aside and curling up under the covers instead. Tomorrow. He’d write Silverclaw another letter tomorrow and tell him about Ron’s new gift and the lack of books on the Founders and the weird way Professor Quirrell acted. And the lack of glowing eyes. That seemed really important given the way everyone magical had glowing eyes elsewhere.

So many things to keep track of. Harry yawned and rubbed his cheek against the pillow. He needed to keep a diary or something to make sure he didn’t forget anything. Another thing to remember tomorrow.

 

Chapter 27

The ritual room deep under Gringotts shimmered with magic, deep magic as alien to Lacey as the bottom of an oceanic trench would be. Her hair, loose around her face, drifted in the currents of magic filling the air. She’d been given a stunning mithril and silk robe for the ceremony, as had Anthony, Sirius and Remus.

Each of them had different images worked into their robes. Air with birds and butterflies and clouds for Anthony. If ever there was an accurate match of personality to type, that was it. She’d called Anthony an airhead for ages before she’d accepted her first date with him. He’d always taken the taunt with pride.

Remus had wolves and mountains, forests and bears, on his robe. He stood oppose Anthony, fidgeting like he wanted to shift and run. After all this was over, once they’d destroyed Voldemort and thrown Dumbledore in prison, Lacey was going to face Remus down and insist that he tell Harry the truth about his lycanthropy. And then she was going to bludgeon him into accepting help creating some sort of charm that would make it less of a curse. Somehow.

Sirius stood opposite Lacey, but his eyes were only for the altar in the center of the ritual room. His robes were covered with fish and seaweed, all drifting in a current that wound from the bottom of the robe up towards his shoulders and then down towards his fingertips. She’d have placed him as fire, but his mercurial personality worked just as well as water.

That’d left Lacey as fire and she absolutely wasn’t going to admit that it was appropriate. Especially not when every single one of those men had nodded like it was a foregone conclusion as soon as the fire robe was revealed. Her temper wasn’t that bad.

Except when it was.

“We are ready,” Ragnok said as he carefully placed the last item, Ravenclaw’s diadem, onto the altar. “Humans, your job is to stand firm and to remember your duty. Protect Harry Potter by not allowing Voldemort’s soul shards to pass. We will pull them out. We will unify them. We will destroy them.”

“Understood,” Lacey said when the men only nodded.

“Ah, yes, understood,” Remus said.

“Whew, um, yeah, ready,” Anthony said though he glanced nervously towards Lacey and then Sirius as if he wasn’t at all ready for this. “Kind of wish that Petunia could do this.”

Ragnok laughed, a harsh bark of noise. “Had she the strength for ritual work, we would have invited her. She’s waiting outside for our report so do not fail.”

“Won’t!” Sirius immediately declared, eyes wide. “Trust us, Voldie won’t get past us.”

Lacey pressed her lips together so that she wouldn’t start cackling at the way Anthony and Remus both nodded urgent agreement. She was telling Petunia about this the first chance she got. Maybe while they were all listening in. Petunia’s little sniff, the smirk she’d get and the way it would make the guys wince, would be well worth it.

“We begin,” Ragnok declared.

He pulled a staff from his dimensional store, hitting the stone floor and sending up sparks that spiraled around the room. The other mage-goblins moved into position around the altar, forming a perfect hexagon. Their staves drew sparks, too. In moments a haze of flame separated Lacey from them and the altar.

She couldn’t hear the words they chanted. Nor could she read their lips. Certainly deliberate on Ragnok’s part. Why share a powerful ritual when you hadn’t been paid to do so?

Her scampering thoughts screeched to a stop as the diadem began to vibrate on the altar. Smoke billowed up out of it. Lacey immediately cast her strongest shields around the flame-ward. Remus blanketed hers. Then Anthony put his and Sirius blew out a breath before casting wards the like of which she’d never seen around the lot.

Sirius’ wards were silver, quicksilver, alive like hungry ferrets hunting prey. They shifted and moved. After a moment, Lacey realized that no, they were more like schools of fish, darting to and fro as they hunted for prey.

Her ward, the one closest to the goblin’s flame-ward rumbled and burned with her fury. Remus’ was deep, grounded in the earth and grew over the top like the arch of a forest’s canopy. Anthony’s flowed between them all, living air forcing everything evil back within the confines of the ward.

She could feel their magic. She could feel the goblin’s pressing more magic into the ritual as the cup began to smoke, then the locket and the ring. The diary began to smoke last of all. It gave off a great blech of smoke that formed a screaming face that whooshed at and then through the flame-ward.

Lacey snarled and held firm. Anthony’s magic backed her up as Sirius and Remus both pushed in to tear at the diary’s soul shard as it battered at the shields. It’s horcrux.

There was no craft, no ritual, to this. Lacey sweated under her lovely robe, sweated and snarled and refused to let that foul… thing… pass!

It wailed and whirled back into the center of the altar, whirling around and around the ring which glowed now like a black Lumos. Lacey kept the wards strong, gritting her teeth as the goblins’ chanting grew louder, stronger, deeper.

The ring glowed brighter and brighter as it pulled each of the soul shards into it. Then, as Lacey swayed and licked sweat-salt off her lips, the Stone cracked, the ring’s golden prongs falling to the altar. The instant it touched the altar stone, the magic of the ritual sucked at them all, pulling and pulling and pulling.

Sucking the last shard of Voldemort’s soul free from wherever it had hidden.

+++

“I’m so glad it’s Friday!” Ron exclaimed as they made their way, for the first time without a prefect or upper year student to guide them, to DADA. “Two more classes and we get a break!”

“There’s still a bunch of assignments to do, you know,” Harry said with a grin at Ron’s disheartened groan. “You’ll do much better if you just sit down and work on them every day. It’s much easier.”

“I don’t want to,” Ron complained. “We’ve only been in school for a week. Why do we have to have so many assignments? Why can’t we have more fun?”

He’d been complaining about their schoolwork ever since that night that Harry explained what was going on with the blocks. Ron definitely could understand the work now. He hadn’t been able to before, though he’d only admitted that in a blushing mumble. When Ron sat down and read his assignments now, worked on them, he finished them as fast as either Harry or Hermione. Draco was slightly slower than Ron but that was because his penmanship was actually legible, unlike Ron’s.

Neville laughed. “I’m with Harry. Just do the work, get it done, and then you can have fun. It’s not that much. Harry does way more than any of us.”

“There’s so much to learn!” Harry exclaimed even though everyone laughed at him for it. “I’m serious. There’s tons of interesting things and so many books to read.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t end up in Ravenclaw, mate,” Ron mock-grumbled.

He gently punched Harry in the shoulder, barely even rocking Harry, but then Harry was used to Dudley’s punches. Nothing yet had compared to Dudley’s magic fists of doom.

The classroom still stank to high heaven of garlic. Harry kind of wondered, along with most every student in the school, whether Professor Quirrell had filled his oversized turban with garlic in an effort to protect himself from imaginary vampires. Or his memories of the vampires he’d encountered in Romania, maybe.

It was almost enough to put Harry off garlic. Almost. Not quite, though.

Ron and Draco pushed each other, losing the spot next to Harry to Blaise who slipped into the seat as they battled each other. Neville already had Harry’s right hand, just like he always did.

“Th-that’s enough, ch-children,” Professor Quirrell said with an attempt at a stern stare at Ron and Draco. “T-take your seats, p-p-p-p.. now.”

That left Draco and Ron sitting with Pansy who made them sit next to each other. Harry couldn’t blame her for that. He wouldn’t have wanted to be between them. Even though both Draco and Ron agreed that the blood feud was stupid, they seemed to enjoy fighting with each other over utterly stupid things. It was mental so Harry stayed well out of it. They could fight their own ridiculous battles.

“O-open your b-b-b-books to Ch-chapter Three,” Professor Quirrell said.

He turned to start writing on the board but staggered. Professor Quirrell gasped and clutched at his turban. Light poured out of his hands and then he whirled to glare at Harry with blood red eyes and smoke pouring from his nose and mouth.

The magic in the smoke was dark, horrifyingly dark. The Black magic bellowed inside of Harry, making him and Draco jerk. The Potter magic roared with a rage that sounded distinctly feminine. Like Aunt Petunia in a fury.

Or maybe like Harry’s mum.

Voldemort.

Professor Quirrell was Voldemort.

Somehow.

Harry shuddered and then bolted to his feet. His chair toppled over behind him in a clatter that startled Blaise and Neville to their feet, too.

“Everyone get away from him!” Harry yelled as he pulled his wand from his holster. “Move, move, move!”

The other kids in the class screamed and ran for the rear of the room. Ron got there first, hauling on the door desperately.

“It won’t open!” Ron shouted. “We’re trapped!”

“Harry Potter!” Quirrell shouted in that silky strange voice he only used when talking alone to Harry.

The smoke billowed up and out of Quirrell who collapsed to the floor, eyes rolled back in his head and blood coming from his nose, mouth and ears. It was just like the soul shards. No, this was the final fragment of Voldemort. It had to be!

Harry pushed his magic through the wand, only then realizing that it was his grandfather’s dueling wand.

“Stay back!” Harry shouted with every bit of his magic, all the Potter magic, all the Black magic. “Don’t touch anyone!”

It wasn’t enough. Harry could feel Voldemort’s soul fragment battering against the shield he’d thrown up on pure instinct. Quirrell had only lectured about shields, not let them try to cast them yet. But his grandfather’s wand knew exactly how to cast shields and it drew more power from Harry then he knew he had inside of his soul.

“Stay back!” Neville shouted as he stood next to Harry with the wand Harry had given him.

A moment later, Draco was by Harry’s side. Then Susan and Ron and Blaise and then every single student in class threw up shields of their own to reinforce Harry’s.

Voldemort wailed, throwing himself against the shields in increasing desperation. Wisps of his smoke, his magic, began peeling off and zipping up through the ceiling. Then more and more of him was pulled away until Voldemort screamed and was dragged out of the classroom entirely, leaving them all staring at their shields and shaking.

Harry was shaking anyway. He panted, and carefully, as best as he could remember, dismissed his shield. It took three tries but eventually the shield fell. The others dropped theirs. Eventually it was just Neville staring at the ceiling as if he expected Voldemort to come rushing back in.

“He’s gone, mate,” Ron said. He put his hand on Neville’s shoulder. “Come on. Let it go. They caught him. He’s trapped. He’s not coming back. Let the shield go.”

Neville stared at Ron for a long moment but finally let his shield go, too.

The room was silent. Still. Quiet. It stank of garlic but something much worse, too. Harry put his hand over his mouth, gagging, only the shout as the door slammed open and a flood of teachers poured in.

Shields slammed into the teachers as Ron, Draco, Susan and Pansy defended them all.

“Put those down this instant!” Professor McGonagall snapped at them. “What in the world is going on in here?”

“Voldemort,” Harry said. Every teacher froze, even Dumbledore who lurked behind Professor McGonagall and Flitwick. “Professor Quirrell was Voldemort.”

“Possessed,” Blaise said. “He was possessed. Something pulled You-Know-Who right out of him. Harry shielded us. Then we all shielded too when Harry’s shield started to fail.”

“What?”

Every single teacher shouted that, but Dumbledore was the loudest. He shoved everyone else aside, rushing into kneel by Professor Quirrell’s side. Harry could feel the magic Dumbledore did, but he didn’t recognize it. All he knew, as he stood there swaying in rising exhaustion, was that it felt oily. Strange and wrong and as oily as a plastic school binder that’d been left in the sun so long that the oil started to leech out and stick to your fingers and desk and clothes, leaving stains that you could never get out.

“Tell me what happened, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “Tell me what you did!”

He rose and the twinkle was gone. Completely gone. Only the hard, angry glare was left. Professor Flitwick was just there in front of Harry, his wand out and a glow lighting his small body. Then Professor McGonagall was at Harry’s side, gripping his shoulder.

“Blaise said,” Harry said. He swallowed and looked at his grandfather’s wand. “I didn’t mean to go for this one. It’s too strong for me yet.”

“That’s not the wand you’re supposed to have!” Dumbledore snapped at Harry. “What did you do? How did you drive him out?”

“I didn’t,” Harry said. “But I’d bet that the goblins finally found all the other pieces of his soul. They said that they could. That they would. They said that they’d be able to draw him from wherever he was once they had enough of his soul. It looks like they were right.”

Dumbledore’s eyes went wide. His mouth twisted into a snarl that sent all the kids other than Ron, Draco and Neville running out the door. Professor Hooch was on Harry’s other side, wand out. Then Professor Snape stepped into his field of vision, a sneer twisting his face.

“I doubt the boy had anything to do with it,” Professor Snape said. “This was probably yet another prank.”

“I don’t play pranks, Professor,” Harry said, glaring at him. “But no. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“You must have!” Dumbledore shouted. His wand was just in his hand, glowing slightly as if he was about to throw a curse at Harry. “You must have defeated him!”

Professor Flitwick cast a quick, silent spell and Dumbledore’s wand arced out of his hand into Flitwick’s free hand.

“That’s enough of that,” Professor Flitwick snapped. “You’ll calm down right now or I’ll stun you.”

“My wand,” Dumbledore said so numbly that Harry frowned at him. “You took my wand.”

“You’ll get it back the instant I decide you’re calm enough to have it,” Professor Flitwick said as he hid Dumbledore’s wand somewhere in his robes. Maybe in an expanded pocket. That would work.

Harry realized that he was giggling quietly when Professor McGonagall started pulling him towards the door. Oh my. His legs just did not want to work. Why wouldn’t they work?

“You’re magically exhausted, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall said much more kindly than Harry expected. “We’ll just get you to the infirmary and you’ll be fine.”

“No, not there,” Harry said. He stopped dead in his tracks, blinking up at Professor McGonagall and then at Dumbledore who snarled at Harry. “I won’t go there. I don’t trust the infirmary. I want Aunt Petunia. And Anthony Black. Remus, too.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Professor McGonagall said with a strong twinkle in her eyes. “There’s no need for histrionics, Mr. Potter.”

“Kreacher!” Harry snapped. “Itzy, Bitsy, Zing, Lenny, Crow!”

They all popped in to form a ring around Harry that became a shield to push Professor McGonagall away from him. Harry sighed, plopping to the floor right there in the hallway. Kreacher shook his head and patted Harry’s shoulder.

“Master Harry is as bad as Master Sirius,” Kreacher said. “Master Harry must rest.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry said, panting. He swallowed down a yawn. “But not where I’m not safe. You’re to watch over me. All of you. As many of you as necessary to make sure no one puts more blocks on me. And the others, watch over the others. Don’t let Dumbledore touch them.”

“Mr. Potter!” Professor McGonagall gasped.

The twinkle in her eyes surged and faded, surged and faded. Even as tired as Harry was, he could see her trying to fight free of whatever Dumbledore had done to her. But it didn’t seem like she could win free properly because the twinkle grew as Dumbledore muttered something in the DADA room.

“Hey, you okay?” Ron asked Professor McGonagall.

He took her hand at the same time that the twins stepped out of the crowd. The Weasley family magic tore into the blocks on her. Then Draco took her hand, and Neville grabbed her arm. Susan ran over to put her hands against Professor McGonagall’s side.

Their magic surged into Professor McGonagall. Her magic surged to meet it. Harry leaned into Kreacher’s side as he felt and heard and tasted and smelled the blocks shatter into a million pieces. It sounded like hundreds of glass windows breaking all at once, felt like leaping into a shallow mud puddle that’d frozen in the middle of January, smelled like that first slice through an onion just before the smell made you cry.

Inside the DADA room, Dumbledore gasped and clutched his chest.

“Good,” Harry whispered to Kreacher. “She’s free. Make sure she stays free, Kreacher. Make sure she gets one of the charms.”

“Master will sleep now,” Kreacher said. “Kreacher will take care of you and Crow will pass out charms. Many, many charms.”

Harry wanted to ask why it would be ‘many, many’ but his eyes drooped as Professor McGonagall started cursing up a storm that would’ve made even Uncle Vernon in a rugby rage cringe. He tried to stay awake so that he could remember the curses. He failed.

But wow, he hadn’t had a clue that Professor McGonagall could curse like that…

 

Chapter 28

Smeltings was boring. Stupidly, ridiculously, unbelievably boring. As boring as listening to Dad’s rugby lecture for the fourth time in a day. As boring as having to sit polite and pretty for one of Mum’s tea parties with the neighbors. Heck, it was as boring as not being able to be full after eating everything he could and having no other thoughts than not liking Harry, so he had to beat him up.

Over and over and over and over.

Stupid curse. His whole childhood had been boring, and he’d had no clue that it could be any different because of that stupid Dumbledore. Dudley sighed as he followed his new ‘friends’ from the cafeteria out to the grounds.

All they talked about was rugby, grades and whose parents were more important than whose. Like that took long to figure out. Dudley’d taken all of ten minutes to sort them out, going back to their grandparents and all the titles and money they were looking to inherit.

Granted, none of them had an Aunt Marge to drill that stuff into their heads.

Or Harry to study with, for that matter.

“You’re sighing a lot,” Piers commented. He’d been really twitchy around Dudley ever since the curses were broken. Still was, even at Smeltings.

“I’m bored,” Dudley said. He rolled his eyes as all the others turned to stare at him. “I am. Same complaints. Same brags. Same stupid posturing. Like I couldn’t tell in ten minutes that Tommy-boy’s bottom of the heap when it comes to rank but top when it comes to money. And Piers, you’re middle of the lot, no matter how you look. All the jabber and it’s a waste of time.”

Tommy glared at Dudley. “Like you’ve got anything to brag about, Dursley.”

“Eh, my cousin’s gonna be a duke,” Dudley said with a casual shrug. “Not that Harry’s much for going on about it. He’d rather have his parents back, you know. Murdered when he was just a baby. We were both babies when it happened.”

“Murdered?” Piers asked, blinking at Dudley with confusion. “I thought his parents were drunks?”

“Nah, that’s just a story Dad told because he was being an idiot,” Dudley said. “Mum set him to rights before we came. Middle of the summer, that whole time Aunt Marge was visiting?”

Piers shuddered. He’d stayed well away during Aunt Marge’s visit. Dudley hadn’t missed him. Not at all. Honestly, he kind of loathed Piers and his new group of friends. They were so stupid. Honestly stupid, dim-witted and slow instead of just annoying. Though they were annoying, too.

“No, his parents were murdered outright,” Dudley said, staring north towards Harry’s school, the one he’d never get to see. “Tragedy, that was. Makes you wonder. What he coulda been, what I coulda been. Wouldn’t be going here, that’s for sure.”

Got a full round of glares from them for that. Dudley rolled his eyes and waved a hand at them. Like he cared what they thought. None of them had magic fists. None of them had magic anything. He didn’t fit here, and he knew it. They knew it too, just like Mum had always said.

People could tell when you were different. None of them liked it.

At all.

“Either way, you’re all boring,” Dudley said. “I’m going to the library. Gotta be something decent to read.”

“You hate reading,” Piers objected. He was pale and shaking, eyes so wide you’d think he’d seen a ghost.

“Mmm, used to,” Dudley agreed. “Don’t anymore.”

His skin itched. His hands felt too heavy to gesture at Piers, at Tommy-boy. At any of them. There was a crackle between his fingers, a shimmer of light and sound that was just on the edge of there. Dudley turned and walked away, striding away from them even though Piers, hesitantly, called after him.

Thankfully, Tommy-boy snidely told Piers to let Dudley go. Apparently, they didn’t need ‘someone like that’ hanging around. Huh. Mum really had been right.

The instant Dudley went around a corner, out of sight, he bolted. The dean’s office was three floors up, at the far end of the school. Dudley ran the whole way, pelting through the empty hallways with is heart pounding and his hands crackling with magic.

Harry.

Something was wrong with Harry. He needed to get to Harry. He needed to protect Harry.

Right now!

“Sir!” Dudley blurted as he slammed the dean’s office open. “I gotta go home. Now!”

The dean wasn’t at his desk. He was sitting in the big leather armchair he kept by the window. A tray of much better than cafeteria food sat on the little table next to him. When he looked at Dudley, he scowled.

But only until he saw the crackling magic around Dudley’s fists.

“Boy, you stop that,” the dean said just like Dad used to around Harry.

“No,” Dudley said. He clenched his fists and the magic jumped like lightning over his knuckles. “I need to go home. Immediately. You know what this is,” Dudley waved his fist at the dean who paled, “so you know how important it is when I say that my Patriarch is in danger. I need to go. Now!”

The dean paled further, sucking in a breath that he let out in a shuddery rush. It took a moment but eventually he nodded.

“Call,” the dean said. “I’ll have someone pack your things.”

“Don’t bother,” Dudley snapped. “Zing! Come here, quick. I need to get to Harry. And Mum.”

+++

Harry woke to someone’s fingers gently combing through his hair. Sort of gently. His hair was tangled, like always, so there were little tugs as whoever it was pulled on a knot and then gently untangled it.

It was nice. Strange, nothing he’d ever had before, but nice.

“Aunt Petunia?” Harry asked once he managed to open his eyes.

“You do get in the most ridiculous situations, Harry,” Aunt Petunia said with a wry, sad little smile.

She was sitting on the side of his bed at school, the curtains drawn about them both. It was so very strange seeing her here, at Hogwarts. He wouldn’t have ever expected that Aunt Petunia would be allowed to come see him.

“What happened?” Harry asked.

“The elves flatly refused to allow anyone near you but me,” Aunt Petunia said with a little sniff.

Not the sniff of doom. The ‘really, why are you this way?’ sniff that was at least partially fondness and amusement to go with the annoyance. She smiled as Harry rolled over and tried to sit up. He failed.

“I’m so tired again,” Harry complained. “Why do I keep getting so tired when I do things?”

“Healer Smethwyck says that it’s because you keep using up your magical stores,” Aunt Petunia said. She shook her head. “I’d say it’s because you absorbed all of Vernon’s ideas about charging straight into a situation without thinking first. What were you thinking using a wand that was too strong for you?”

“Didn’t mean to pull that one,” Harry mumbled through a jaw-cracking yawn. “It just jumped into my hand.”

Aunt Petunia’s sigh said that she thought that was a very poor excuse. Which, you know, it probably was, but it was true. Harry’d wanted his regular wand, not the one that made it feel like he was about to turn himself inside out from the amount of power it pulled.

“How long have I been out?” Harry asked.

“About six hours,” Aunt Petunia said. “The school is being investigated. Your friend Susan contacted her aunt who’s brought in every investigative resource there is. Including ones from the continent. It’s quite the show. Dudley’s having the time of his life.”

“Oh, no,” Harry groaned. “He’s here?”

“Oh, yes,” Aunt Petunia said with a stern look at Harry that made him squirm. “We all felt what you did. Anthony was beside himself. Dudley put himself in such a state that he was sent home for a week off because of ‘the stress’ getting to him. Vernon was unaffected, of course, but all of Anthony and Lacey’s sisters showed up demanding to see you.”

Harry groaned even louder. “Sirius?”

“He’s still at Black Castle,” Aunt Petunia reassured Harry. “Remus came instead. He very nearly tore Dumbledore apart. Apparently, there was a Cerberus in the school guarding some sort of half-completed maze. No one knows why. Yet.”

Harry shook his head. Everything Dumbledore did made no sense. Well. No, not really. It made sense in that it all gave him more power and authority. A lot more power than he should have and way more authority than should rest in one man’s hands.

So many wars had been fought against one man controlling everything and here Harry was in a castle that belonged, illegally, maybe, to a man trying to control all of Magical Britain. Aunt Marge would be ranting her head off. Harry kind of wanted to rant, too, but he was far too tired for it.

“You should sleep,” Aunt Petunia said. “I’ll deal with that man.”

“No, no, you should deal with Professor Snape,” Harry said. He grinned at the sharp look Aunt Petunia gave him. “He went all kinds of pale when I told him that you remembered him. And then wouldn’t look me in the eye when I said I’d ask you about him.”

Harry leaned back into his pillows as Aunt Petunia smiled. That was the smile she used when someone tried to cut down Uncle Vernon at a party. Aunt Petunia patted Harry’s arm and tugged the covers up over him again.

“Get some sleep,” Aunt Petunia ordered. “Kreacher and the elves are keeping watch over you. You’re safe.”

“Thank you,” Harry said.

He waited until the curtain was shut to laugh as he wiggled down under the covers further. Tomorrow, when he felt better, he was going to have to ask Dudley and Draco and Blaise and maybe Ron about the confrontation between Aunt Petunia and Professor Snape. Maybe Hermione, too.

She had to be so worried about him. Hermione always fussed. Over everything. At least she wasn’t here in Gryffindor. If she was, she’d probably be right there in his room scolding him for doing something reckless and dangerous.

“Not like I had a choice,” Harry complained. He yawned. “Oh, darn. I forgot to ask Aunt Petunia about the Gryffindor magic thing.”

Harry woke the next time to Kreacher standing on the bed next to him as he glared at someone on the other side of Harry’s bed curtains.

“Master Harry had best get up,” Kreacher declared with an angry little sniff. “No one is having any sense at all. Master Harry had best claim the Gryffindor magics fast, too, because Bad Dumbledore is causing more trouble than we is able to handle.”

“What’d he do?” Harry squeaked as he sat straight up.

Nothing felt off about his bed but the curtains were a very effective barrier against all sound and magic from outside. He’d noticed that the third day in school. The light was gold and pink, tinting the bottoms of the bed curtains so it must be dawn. He’d slept the day and night away.

Who knew what’d happened?

“Kreacher,” Harry said, tugging at Kreacher’s sleeve. “What happened? Seriously, I need to know. I still don’t know how to claim the Gryffindor magic when I can’t find it. None of the books I have are any help.”

Kreacher huffed as if Harry was being silly. “Is not a finding, Master Harry. Is a claiming. You is not to find it. You is to claim it and if you is worthy, which you and your whole line are, then it is finding you.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He blinked several times, wishing abruptly for his discarded glasses because it would be nice to have something to fidget with. “Well, that’s easier than what I thought. But it doesn’t answer what’s happened. Is everyone all right? Aunt Petunia and Dudley are okay, aren’t they? And Remus. What about Anthony and Lacey and their sisters?”

“They is all here, fighting with Bad Dumbledore all night long,” Kreacher said. “No one is getting anything done. Is very annoying. That nurse is coming again and again but Kreacher is not letting her near you. Master Harry does not need healing. He needed sleep. You has sleep. Now is time for doing things.”

“Right,” Harry said. He blew out a breath and then threw the covers off. “You’re right. I’ll get dressed and head down to help everyone. Um. Is the claiming thing dramatic?”

Kreacher made a face, his ears going catawampus as he grimaced and shrugged. “Was very dramatic for Fawley heir who claimed Ravenclaw magic. Was very, very dramatic but happened in France so no one here knows has happened. Was not dramatic for Madame Bones. She did not let Hufflepuff magic be. No one can claim Slytherin magics unless Master Harry allows it. Master Harry’s parents subdued and won it before Master Harry was taken away and cursed.”

Harry stared at him. Someday, hopefully very soon, he was going to find a book that actually gave him real, useful, accurate information on what the house elves could see and do. One that didn’t act like they were degenerate and polluted. One that explained how wixen and house elves had come to work together.

It had to exist. Somewhere. And if it didn’t, then he’d write the darn thing himself.

Because wow. All the answers he’d been looking for all week, right there.

“I should’ve asked you for more information last time I talked to you,” Harry said. “Oh well, I know now. Do you think the Slytherin magic would like Lucius? Or maybe Remus.”

“Not Master Wolf,” Remus said. “His magics is not accepting that sort of thing. Master Lucius would be good but he is too fragile yet.”

“Huh, maybe Blaise,” Harry muttered. He peeked out of his bed curtains and was desperately relieved that no one was there. “Or Pansy. She’d be really good at it.”

“Little Parkinson would be good,” Kreacher agreed. He hopped off the bed and went through Harry’s trunk to pull out his nicest socks and pants, his best charcoal trousers and the burgundy shirt with long sleeves that Harry loved best of all. Then he put the casual robe in deep royal red on top of it. “Father would not be happy but she would work. Be careful about Master Blaise. Mother is very scary, Master Harry. Very, very scary.”

Harry grinned as he took his bath things, leaving the clothes to Kreacher when he glared up at Harry for daring to reach out to take them, and then headed to the bathroom with Kreacher by his side.

“You say that about Aunt Petunia,” Harry said.

“Mistress Pet is very scary!” Kreacher exclaimed, ears flapping with his vehemence. “Master Harry is just not seeing right.”

No one was on the stairs. Or in the bathroom. The entire time Harry spent getting cleaned up, moving faster and faster because the sheer lack of no one wandering in had him twitchy, not a single peep came from the hallways. There was no one in the common room. Or on the stairs heading down to the great hall.

When Harry pushed the door to the great hall open a crack, he saw why.

Absolutely everyone was there.

Watching as Dumbledore argued with Aunt Petunia, Madame Bones, Madame Longbottom, Lacey and Professor McGonagall. Whose magic was swirling and sparkling around her like a firestorm.

There was obviously some kind of privacy spell wrapped around them because all Harry could hear was the occasional shuffling foot or awkward cough. No one even noticed him lurking at the doorway, peeking through the gap.

Harry shut the door and turned to Kreacher who was glaring at the door like he wanted to be in there yelling at Dumbledore, too.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Harry demanded. “No dodging, Kreacher. I need to understand this.”

Kreacher pulled on his ears and stomped a foot. “Master Harry must claim Gryffindor Magic!”

“That’s a solution, not an explanation,” Harry said. “I need more words.”

Kreacher blinked at him before muttering and shaking his head in despair. Harry rolled his eyes. Fine.

“Crow,” Harry said and then laughed as Crow popped to his side and latched herself around his thigh. “Hey, what did we say about that?”

“Master Harry said that Crow should not hug in public,” Crow said with a huge grin that wrinkled her eyes and nose up adorably. It was like looking at an especially happy pug. “We is not in public, Master Harry.”

Harry laughed and shook his head. “Okay, that’s fair. You heard?”

“Crow heard,” Crow said. “She doesn’t know why Master Harry needs more words. Answer is still answer.”

“Because I like knowing All the Things,” Harry said with especially pompous emphasis on the last few words. As predicted, that finally got Kreacher to sigh and nod while Crow made little high-pitched humming noises of understanding. “So, what’s going on here?”

“Bad Dumbles is trying to say that Master Harry did not protect himself and others against Voldeghost,” Crow said. She laughed and dodged Kreacher’s half-hearted swat at her for the mangled name. “Everyone else is saying that he is wrong and that Voldeghost,” she dodged again, “is dead. Which he is. Is just distraction, Master Harry. Bad Dumbles is trying to make everyone look away from Mistress Kitty’s broken blocks. And all the broken blocks on all the kids and grown-ups at Hogwarts. When Weasley magic broke blocks on Mistress Kitty’s magic, it broke all the blocks on all the people here because Weasley magic is old and strong and very, very angry. Was Very Big Deal that Bad Dumbles not wants anyone to notice until he can fixes it.”

She pointed dramatically at Kreacher as if he was Harry, dancing in place while Kreacher groaned, buried his face in his hands and shook his head in dismay.

“Look! Look! Is very bad Voldeghost hiding in small boy!” Crow exclaimed. “Do not be lookings at anything else. Try and find bad Voldeghost hiding inside. Listenings to me because I is great and powerful and pretended to do good things a long, long, long time ago!”

Harry grinned at her.

“Crow is ridiculous!” Kreacher huffed. “Go back to work, you. Kreacher will take care of Master Harry. Crow is to make Master Sirius laugh and stay right where he is.”

Crow giggled. “I can be doing that, but Master Harry must go claim Gryffindor magic. Quick-like.”

“Publicly and dramatically?” Harry asked. “Or quietly and secretly?”

Kreacher and Crow exchanged looks. While Kreacher grimaced and frowned, Crow danced in place, tugging on her ears. Finally, they both turned back to Harry.

“Publicly will be better, Master Harry,” Kreacher said. “Will be fewer people who can listen to Bad Dumbledore lies.”

Crow nodded. “Let Gryffindor magic be as big and flashy as it wants to be, Master Harry. But not earthquakes. Hogwarts elves is not liking earthquakes.”

“…Okay,” Harry said, stomach turning flips at the idea of claiming something that could cause earthquakes. “Go on, Crow. Tell Sirius that I’ll be fine. And then maybe sit on him so that he doesn’t come here.”

“Crow is gluing him to his bed,” Crow declared with a wicked grin that Kreacher grumbled and shook his head over.

She disappeared, leaving Harry with Kreacher who complained under his breath about ‘permissive masters’ and ‘encouraging her’ and ‘silly child’. Not aimed at Harry, as far as Harry could tell. Crow was much younger than the other Black elves and Kreacher was the only one who didn’t indulge her.

“Go,” Kreacher told Harry. “Kreacher will protect. Will be invisible but will be there making sure Master Harry is safe.”

Harry smiled at him and put a hand on Kreacher’s shoulder. “Thank you, Kreacher. I’m so glad that I can rely on you. It means a lot to me.”

Kreacher flushed and muttered, just happy little noises with no meaning behind them, before pushing Harry towards the door. He disappeared but Harry could still feel his magic. Invisible. Wow, he really needed to find that book on Elves. They could do just about anything.

Harry took a deep breath. Claim the Gryffindor magic. Stop Dumbledore. He could do that. He would do that.

Probably.

 

Chapter 29

How had he not noticed before?

Filius hummed quietly as he held the Elder Wand firmly up his sleeve. It shouldn’t have been possible for Dumbledore to hide an artifact like this from him. Goblin sight wasn’t an easy thing to obscure.

Dumbledore had clearly done it, somehow. For years, even. Outside of the curses and the compulsions and the potions from who knew where, that one thing was a troublesome detail that Filius desperately wanted to discuss with Ragnok. More importantly, he wanted to slip away and take the Elder Wand to the bank so that it could be properly secured.

It vibrated angrily in his sleeve at that thought.

As if he was a proper carrier for the Elder Wand. Filius didn’t allow himself to snort. That would be incredibly rude to Death and his wand.

How had Dumbledore gotten it? Where? When? It had to have been back during the war against Grindelwald. Filius’ stomach churned at the idea of Grindelwald ever touching this wand.

Oh, goodness, his thoughts were running in circles like he was as young as his first year Ravenclaws.

He set to work on controlling his breathing, not that Filius expected it would help a bit. At least it turned his thoughts outwards instead of inwards.

Just in time for the doors to the Great Hall to open.

Filius didn’t look Harry’s way. He kept his eyes on Minerva, Petunia and Amelia as they argued vehemently against Dumbledore’s demands that Harry be arrested, interrogated with Veratiserum and thrown into Azkaban. As if Harry could possibly be possessed by Voldemort. The boy’s aura was perfectly clear.

And very determined.

Magic swirled invisibly around him, red and gold and so very old. So powerful. Filius didn’t know if Harry could see it. He’d shown no signs of being aware of the Gryffindor magic since he came to the castle, but there’d been less before. Now it hung around Harry like a cloud, like a mantle.

Like the cloak of a king striding towards his throne.

Or a king striding into battle against his sworn enemy.

+++

No one noticed when Harry opened the doors to the Great Hall.

Overhead, the floating candles guttered, almost going out only to blaze back to life. He’d never seen that before. Maybe Crow and Kreacher were right? The Gryffindor magic was following him and would find him when he claimed it? Hopefully so.

Either way, it felt very, very strange to stride into the Great Hall with no one paying the least attention to him.

The seventh-year students started noticing when Harry slowly strode into the Hall, eyes locked on the grown-ups arguing with Dumbledore. Then the lower level students saw him. Finally, the first years who all looked hugely relieved that Harry was there.

Snape was the first teacher to notice his arrive. He sneered at Harry only to flinch when Hagrid glowered at him. Then Flitwick grinned and waved Dumbledore’s wand at Harry. It wasn’t until Harry was at the end of the tables where the gap between the students’ tables and the teacher’s tables up on the dais that Aunt Petunia and Dumbledore noticed him at the same time.

“You see?” Dumbledore exclaimed as the silence spell broke. “I’m right!”

“I am Harry James Potter,” Harry declared. He paused, listening to his magic before nodding slightly. “I am the son of both Potter and Black magic. I am heir to the line of Gryffindor.”

“No!” Dumbledore shouted.

He made as if to pull his wand but his hand came up empty because, of course, Flitwick still had his wand.

“This school and all these people are in danger,” Harry declared. “I will protect them. I will protect this country. I will protect this world. I claim the Gryffindor magic as is my right.”

Harry stood his ground as Dumbledore started at him. Dumbledore only got a step closer before Madame Bones and Madame Longbottom hit him with spells that froze him in place. Lacey’s eyes were wide as saucers, as were the teachers other than Snape.

Aunt Petunia nodded to Harry, the little nod of approval that you would miss if you didn’t know what to pay attention to.

A rushing sound, like a waterfall in the distance, echoed in the Great Hall. It got closer and closer, increasing the air pressure until Harry’s ears popped. Then popped again and again. His chest felt too tight, like the air was too thick and too warm, like there was a gale and the wind was snatching the air out of his mouth before he could breathe in.

It was red.

Red with an edge of gold as it swirled around Harry, not quite touching him. He could feel it assessing him, measuring him against some impossible standard. But it wasn’t impossible. Harry could feel the standard.

Is he good? Is he kind? Does he care? Will he think and work and try to do the best?

Yes, Harry thought at the Gryffindor magic. Yes, I will. I’ll do my best. I don’t know much yet but I’ve been trying all this time to do my best. Even when Dumbledore had my magic and my mind blocked, I tried to do my best.

“I just want everyone to be safe and happy,” Harry said out loud. “That’s all.”

Bells rang overhead, as loud as if they were right there in the Great Hall with them but Harry didn’t think that Hogwarts had any bells at all.

As he tried to figure that out, the Gryffindor magic twisted and slammed into Harry’s chest. It was like taking one of Dudley’s punches. Like being tackled in rugby or taking a bludger to the chest. Only more. So much more.

Harry could feel the Gryffindor magic swelling inside of him, filling all the places that had been left empty by his shielding yesterday. Then it went further and further, mixing with the Potter magic and the Black magic. It poured into Harry until it was coming out of his eyes and his ears and his mouth.

It flowed out his fingertips and toes, from the top of his head where his hair stood on end. Harry sucked in a breath, then another. Another.

“I… am… the heir… of Gryffindor,” Harry managed to say. His voiced echoed with magic so that it boomed through the Great Hall, drowning out the bells that kept on pealing overhead somewhere. “This is my castle.”

Dumbledore shuddered and abruptly broke through the spells that Madame Longbottom and Madame Bones had put on him. “No! You can’t do this!”

“I declare Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore to be an enemy of the House of Potter,” Harry declared. Saying it gave the overwhelming flood of magic something to do. It helped. It felt way better. “He is an enemy to the House of Black and forever the enemy of the line of Gryffindor. No one in the houses of Potter, Black or Gryffindor shall give him quarter, aid, or shelter. So mote it be!”

He was kind of surprised that he remembered the ‘so mote it be’ bit. The books on the Dwarves always emphasized how important such things were but Harry’d thought that it was a bit silly.

Not anymore. The ‘so mote it be’ ended the swirl of the Gryffindor magic around Harry. It flashed out to hit Dumbledore in the chest. Dumbledore screamed and staggered backwards, clutching his forehead.

“As Dumbledore is an enemy of the house of Potter, Black and Gryffindor,” Madame Bones said in the same earthshakingly loud and powerful voice as Harry had just used, “so is he enemy to the house of Bones and Hufflepuff. We shall give him no aid or shelter. We will give him no quarter. So mote it be!”

Madame Bones looked downright delighted to say the ‘so mote it be’. Her magic stabbed into Dumbledore like a bolt of lightning, knocking him onto his bum.

“You… don’t know what you’ve done,” Dumbledore said, panting as he struggled to stand back up.

When he dropped his hand, there was a mark on his forehead. It was like a mirror image to Harry’s scar. Lacey gasped and apparated to stand in front of Harry with her wand out and glowing.

“Oh, I think we all know exactly what they’ve done,” Aunt Petunia said in her strongest, most vibrating angry voice. She sniffed in the sudden silence. “They’ve revealed you for what you are. What I’ve always known you to be, you terrible old man. You stole my sister from me. You’ll never take Harry now.”

Dumbledore turned to glare at Aunt Petunia who wasn’t standing behind Madame Bones and Madame Longbottom. She was standing to their side, the three of them in a row facing Dumbledore. He snarled and suddenly there was a wand in his hand.

It was rough, barely a wand at all. There was a thorn in the shaft of it, reddish against the aged grey of the wood. Harry flung himself forward as soon as he saw it. Something inside of him knew that wand. Knew that it was bad and dark and evil in ways that no one should face down, especially not Aunt Petunia who couldn’t use the magic inside of her to shield, who couldn’t protect herself except with words.

“Don’t you hurt my mum!” Dudley bellowed from the other side of the room.

He slammed his fist into his hand and a blast of magic, wild and chaotic like a twenty-foot wave in a storm hitting a lighthouse, slammed into Dumbledore who shouted and staggered.

Harry made it between Aunt Petunia and Dumbledore, his feet skidding on the smooth floors. He staggered and then reached for his wand. It came out. And out and out and out until he realized that somehow, he’d pulled a sword out of his wand holster.

The sword was bigger than Harry, so heavy that the tip immediately hit the floor in a shower of sparks. Harry pushed it upright like a shield with his hands on the cross-guard. The Gryffindor magic surged into the sword and suddenly there was a shield between Harry and Dumbledore.

Instead of the green and silver that Harry was used to, this shield was red and gold. Gryffindor magic, almost entirely.

He reached for the Potter magic and a thread of it wove into the shield. Then the Black magic followed and the shield was suddenly a shifting pattern of red, gold, green and silver plaid that Harry wasn’t entirely sure was visible with his eyes. It might just be the magic itself instead of true colors.

“Fawkes!” Dumbledore shouted as he flung up an arm.

“Bad Dumbles is not escaping!” Kreacher shouted at the same time.

Kreacher put a shield around Dumbledore but it did no good because Fawkes flamed into being inside of Kreacher’s shield. He looked terribly sad as he landed on Dumbledore’s arm but Fawkes still flamed away with Dumbledore.

The Gryffindor magic roared inside of Harry, not outside which was a relief. There was fury and pain and loss that Fawkes would take Dumbledore’s side. Harry was going to have to ask Hermione to research that. Later. Maybe. He had too much other stuff to do it himself.

Or maybe he could ask Professor McGonagall?

The anger in the Gryffindor magic stilled enough for Harry’s ears and mind and heart to focus on something besides the magic. He licked his lips as the Gryffindor magic stilled into a warm red wash inside of him. It was mixed in odd ways, like a lava lamp with three colors where Harry was the lamp.

Harry shook his head and huffed as his arms shook from the weight of the sword. Even with the magic’s help it was heavy as all heck.

Silence.

Even the bells had stopped ringing.

“You can drop the shield, Harry,” Aunt Petunia said. She sniffed as he put one hand on Harry’s shoulder. “It’s over.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry said.

It took a bit of concentration to get the Gryffindor, Potter and Black magic to settle down but they did. The instant the magic subsided and his shield collapsed, the sword suddenly weighed at least five times as much as it had. Harry squawked, trying to keep from letting the thing topple over. Dudley ran over and caught it.

“Oof, that weighs a ton,” Dudley said with a huge grin. “You’re never gonna grow into this thing, Harry.”

“I know,” Harry complained. “I need to know what’s wrong with my wand holster. That’s the second time in two days that I’ve gone for one wand and ended up with something else entirely.”

The dead silence broke into a wave of giggles that swelled into laughter from all around. Harry rolled his eyes while Dudley grinned. Madame Bones looked a bit shaky. Next to her, Madame Longbottom looked outright furious despite her honk of a laugh.

The only person not laughing at all was Professor Snape to sat at the high table staring at Harry while shaking in his seat. For the very first time, Professor Snape didn’t sneer at Harry. He didn’t frown or curl a lip or even lift his chin so that Harry had to stare up his beak-like nose.

Professor Snape stared at Harry as if the sword in Harry’s hands was going to chop his head off. Like Harry was going to kill him at any moment. And it was definitely Harry, not Aunt Petunia. Professor Snape’s eyes never moved from Harry’s face even as Aunt Petunia reached out to help Harry with the sword.

There was something very, very wrong there. Very wrong. Harry didn’t know what it was, and he wasn’t at all sure what to do about it, but first thing was figuring out what to do with his stupid new sword. Then tracking down Dumbledore. Then he could think about Snape.

 

Chapter 30

Vernon let out a slow breath as he hung up his phone. Lacey’d managed to get her cell phone to work well enough to let him know that Pet, Dudley and Harry were all okay. Hale and healthy and, predictably, kicking people’s arses from one end of Scotland to the other.

“I’m done,” Vernon muttered. “Just done.”

He turned off his computer. Sorted all the files in his in basket and then passed them off to the people who could do something with them. Most of them should have done it instead of passing it up to Vernon anyway. Vice Presidents didn’t do such work, normally.

He took his pictures of his family and tucked them into his jacket pocket, the one that Lacey had spelled to be bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Then he stopped by Anthony’s office in Accounting.

“What’s up?” Anthony asked. He was shutting his computer down, too, though his desk was already clean and tidy. It always was.

“I’m done with this,” Vernon announced.

“Ah, today’s work?” Anthony asked cheerfully even though there was a wary shimmer in his eyes.

“No, with all of this,” Vernon answered.

He looked around Anthony’s plain, ordinary, boring office. It wasn’t any different from Vernon’s except that Anthony had pictures of Lacey while Vernon had pictures of Petunia and Dudley. Plus a new picture with all of them plus Harry and Remus and Sirius and Lacey and Anthony. Those pictures were the only things that mattered to Vernon in the whole company.

Both of Anthony’s eyebrows went up. “Ah. You’re not.. feeling anything?”

“Just… done,” Vernon said. He laughed softly. “I’ve spent my whole life living up to other people’s expectations, Anthony. Got this job because it made my dad proud. Kept it because my mum was so pleased every time I got promoted. It’s…”

“Boring and safe,” Anthony finished when Vernon couldn’t put it into words. “You’re not a safe man, Vernon. You never have been. I couldn’t figure out what you saw in this job in the first place.”

Vernon laughed as he shook his head. “I’ll tell you later. I’m going to talk to the President.”

“We’ll both go,” Anthony said as he used a quick flash of magic to gather up his pictures and a few trinkets from his desk drawer. He shrugged on his jacket while grinning at Vernon. “I was only here because you were. It’d be nice to be free to do more important things, you know.”

“Yeah,” Vernon said. He laughed with more feeling this time. “Yeah, it would. And it’d be nice to get back in shape for rugby. It’s been so long since I’ve even attempted to play.”

The weight on Vernon’s heart lifted. Anthony clapped his shoulder and then gestured for Vernon to go first. Every step they took towards the President’s office put more and more bounce in Vernon’s steps. There was no reason to go on with this. None at all.

Just like Harry, he could be free finally.

+++

“He has to be You-Know-Who in disguise!” Auror Dawlish shouted at Madame Bones.

Harry sighed as he leaned against Aunt Petunia’s side. They’d all ended up in Dumbledore’s office. Not so much because Harry wanted to go up there. He didn’t. The last thing he wanted was to be in the middle of Dumbledore’s nest of spells and traps and blocks.

But Madame Bones had insisted on it and Aunt Petunia had agreed, so they’d all trooped up there only to find that the gargoyle wouldn’t move.

Harry had frowned at it and then tapped the nose of the gargoyle with the Gryffindor magic. It hadn’t moved. Professor McGonagall had gone through the last six passwords, all of them various sorts of sweets, and none of those had worked. Finally, Harry had pulled on the Gryffindor magic and smashed the gargoyle to bits.

The stairwell was perfectly normal once he did. No moving stairs, nothing strange or unusual about it. They’d all gone up and Kreacher had brought breakfast for Harry and Dudley just in time for Madame Bones’ staff to show up and start yelling about Harry being Voldemort.

“If you say that one more time,” Madame Bones snarled with her wand against Auror Dawlish’s chest, “I’m putting you through a wall and then throwing you in Azkaban!”

“But—!” Dawlish started to say only to pale as Madame Bones’ wand went bright with magic. “Yes, ma’am.”

He glared at Harry.

“I want to know how he decided on that,” Harry said. He sipped the last of his tea-flavored milk. “I mean, it’s only been, what? Half an hour since Dumbledore ran away? You kept Dumbledore here the whole time I was asleep. No one was able to leave the Great Hall or the castle. There was no one who could carry the message out of Hogwarts. The Hogwarts elves didn’t do it. So how is Auror Dawlish saying the exact same things that Dumbledore was?”

Six stunners hit Dawlish from six different directions. Harry blinked, eyebrows going up. He hadn’t expected that.

Madame Bones knelt next to Dawlish’s side, muttering some sort of spell. “No Polyjuice. He’s not Dumbledore in disguise.”

“How many blocks’s he got on him?” Dudley asked. He was upside down yet again, feet kicking in the air and hair brushing against the gaudy red and gold and purple carpet in Dumbledore’s office. “F’all we know, he’s like a puppet. Dumbledore did that to a lot of people, after all.”

“Good point,” Madame Bones said. “Take him to Saint Mungo’s. No, no, wait. Take him to the ICW. I can’t trust Saint Mungo’s yet. Do not let him escape and do not come back here. You are to stay with him the entire time until I come to get you, is that clear? Do not release him to anyone but the ICW, either.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the young woman with changing hair said. “I got it. Sorry, Harry. I was hoping to formally meet you. It’ll have to wait.”

“Who are you?”

“Tonks!” she said with a huge grin. “Cousin of yours. My mom got disowned but we’re still cousins.”

“You’re family,” Harry declared. “You and your mom and your dad and anyone else on your side of things.”

The Black family magic surged, rocking Harry and making Tonks stagger and fall right on top of Dawlish. She whined, clutching her head as she battled the blocks inside of her. Harry grumbled and went to her, putting his hands atop hers while Madame Bones laid one hand on Tonks’ back.

The blocks didn’t break until Professor McGonagall added her magic to the mix. Then Tonks gasped and straightened up, eyes blazing as the Black family magic reclaimed her and her parents both. Harry felt the Black magic echoing through them and their elf who squeaked and laughed and spun the Black magic around and through her master and mistress.

“Oh, you need to bring them here,” Harry breathed as he stared into Tonks’ ever-changing eyes. Her whole face shifted as she stared back at Harry, but she always felt like herself magically. “They feel amazing, Tonks.”

Madame Bones sighed and waved for a different auror to take Dawlish. “Hopefully, you’ll be fine.”

“Actually, I would expect that everyone in Britain is blocked,” Aunt Petunia said in her utterly matter-of-fact voice that always rocked people back on their heels. “Why would that man restrict himself? He’s had decades of shaping British magical society exactly as he chose. He would’ve blocked all of the students and anyone that he met that he could without being noticed.”

“Everyone at the school but the first years are blocked,” Harry agreed as he leaned against Tonks. “Well, everyone but the Weasley twins. They figured out how to free themselves.”

“Damn it all,” Madame Bones complained as she took off her monocle and rubbed her eyes. “Fine. I’ll call the ICW in to check and free everyone in the Ministry if I have to.”

“You have to,” Tonks said. She latched onto Harry, hugging him tightly. “Trust me, ma’am. You have to. Pretty sure Dawlish here’s blocked more’n most. Or he’s just a wanker. Not sure which.”

“I vote both,” Dudley said, grinning at Tonks who grinned back at him in a kindred soul sort of way that made Harry distinctly nervous.

Harry pulled Tonks to the sofa tucked in a corner of Dumbledore’s office so that he could cuddle up with her while Aunt Petunia chatted with Madame Bones. Dawlish got carted off by Professor McGonagall who sniffed and levitated him with a sharp little flick of her wand.

“I did wonder how you found all this out,” Professor Flitwick asked once Dawlish and every auror but Madame Bones was gone.

He looked to Harry, but Harry shrugged and pointed to Aunt Petunia. Her telling of the whole story was much more concise than Harry’s. She took just about three minutes instead of the hour and more it always took Harry. But then, she left everything interesting out like Aunt Marge and discovering Sirius was innocent and the Goblins and how the family magic was all furious about the blocks and the Dark Marks.

“Goodness, I suppose I should contact my family,” Professor Flitwick said. He took off his glasses and polished them just like Harry used to when he needed to think.

“You really should,” Harry told him. “The most important thing is freeing everyone from the blocks Dumbledore put on them. The family magic is really, really, really angry about that. And there’s some sort of prophecy, too. I’m pretty sure it’s about Dumbledore, not Voldemort.”

No surprise, really, Tonks and Professor Flitwick both immediately needed to hear the prophecy and then ask a zillion questions about it that Harry couldn’t answer. He thought they might have kept on going all day long and into the night if Professor Snape hadn’t crept up the stairs to stare at Harry with haunted eyes.

“Who’s he?” Dudley asked. He glared when Snape sneered at him. “Oh, Mum. Is that that Snape bloke you always complain about? He sure looked like that Snape wanker.”

Aunt Petunia looked at Snape and Harry could’ve sworn that the temperature in Dumbledore’s office dropped by a good fifty degrees. “Severus.”

“Petunia,” Professor Snape said with just as much ice. “I was hoping to speak to the… to Potter.”

“Not by yourself, you’re not,” Tonks declared as Dudley rolled upright and glared at Snape with his hands clenched in fists.

“Also not without Aunt Petunia there,” Harry said.

He wasn’t at all surprised that Professor Snape stiffened and glared at Harry like he wanted to chop Harry’s head off and spit down the hole, just like Uncle Vernon always threatened when the referees made bad calls on his favorite rugby team.

Harry shrugged. “If you won’t accept that, then you can leave. I don’t know what your problem is other than that you stalked my mum when she was little. I really don’t much care. Say it or go away. Your choice.”

“You are exactly like your father,” Professor Snape snapped. He stepped into the room, standing on the very edge of the room as if going another inch into it would make him burst into flames.

“He’s far more like Lily,” Aunt Petunia said with a sigh and a shake of her head that was fond, not dismayed. “Other than the propensity of charging into situations without thinking. Though, honestly, Lily was terrible for that, too. She just didn’t get caught.”

Snape’s expression went hungry the instant Aunt Petunia mentioned Harry’s mum. He shuddered and rubbed his arm.

“Oh, you have the Dark Mark,” Harry said.

“…How?” Professor Snape stared at Harry, visibly shaking.

“I saw Mr. Malfoy’s mark,” Harry said. “I’m surprised you’re not dying.”

That made Professor Snape go so dramatically pale that Harry expected him to pass out on the floor right there. He didn’t. He gulped and raised his chin so that Harry had to stair up his nostrils and then nodded once as he pulled up the sleeve.

Where Mr. Malfoy’s mark had been pulsing with power, red and angry on his arm, Professor Snape’s mark was smooth and black. It looked like a real tattoo rather than the nasty magical trap that it was. Harry gestured and Snape stomped over so that Harry could very carefully touch the mark.

No family magic screamed inside Professor Snape. There was the faintest echo very far away of something that might have been family magic, but it was like a door had been locked between Snape and the magic. Maybe a big vault door like the ones leading to Silverclaw’s office.

Worse, Professor Snape had only two blocks, little bitty ones that seemed to do not much of anything to make him change his behavior. They were pain blockers. Harry frowned as the Gryffindor magic explained in a wordless sort of way how they worked.

“I can’t help you,” Harry said. He pulled his fingers back only to squawk as Professor Snape grabbed his wrist and smushed his hand back against Snape’s arm.

“Check again!” Professor Snape demanded. “There must be something you can do!”

“There’s not,” Harry said. “You don’t have family magic trying to free you. You don’t have blocks keeping you from being yourself. There’s only a couple of pain blocks and I don’t think taking them away would be a good thing. Without that force of magic from within trying to push the Dark Mark out, I can’t make it go away.”

“No,” Professor Snape whispered as he staggered back a step. “I’m a Prince. I’m the last heir to the Prince bloodline. My mother was Eileen Prince! The Prince family magic should be inside me, waiting.”

Harry stared at him, wishing he had that genealogy chart, but it was upstairs in his dorm room in his trunk. He’d not paid a bit of attention to the Prince bloodline because it hadn’t seemed to be a living one and no one in it was closely related to the Potters or Blacks.

“Sir, I’m sorry but the only hints of family magic I get off you are locked away,” Harry explained. “It’s like there’s something blocking you from it. Or it from you. I don’t know which.”

“Disowned?” Madame Bones asked.

She marched over and touched Professor Snape’s mark. He glared at her, but he didn’t pull his arm away from her. The hungry, desperate look strengthened as Madame Bones hummed, shut her eyes and went very still for a long moment.

“Your bloodline was disowned,” Madame Bones said. “Ritually removed from the family magic. There are hints there but it’s locked away. You’ll never be able to claim it. I do remember your mother. She was ritually disowned and thrown out for marrying a muggle, yes?”

“Yes,” Professor Snape whispered. His face was so pale that he looked green.

“Mmm, well, you’re out of luck,” Madame Bones said. “Harry’s right. There’s not a damned thing either of us can do for you. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff magic can’t latch onto anything inside of you because the family magic is gone. There’s only your personal magic and that’s not enough to work with.”

Professor Snape whirled and stormed out of Dumbledore’s office in a swirl of black robes that reminded Harry of a thundercloud about to burst into rain. He sighed and leaned into Tonks’ side. What a mess. He’d really thought he could save everyone but apparently not.

“He’s gonna be a problem,” Tonks commented. Her eyes were a bright rainbow that shifted constantly but her dislike was obvious as she glared and pulled Harry almost all the way into her lap.

“He’s a teacher here,” Madame Bones said. “The Headmaster… oh. Huh. I guess that’s not a problem now, is it?”

“You’ll need to choose a new Headmaster or Headmistress,” Aunt Petunia said. “That fool needs to be removed and replaced from his position immediately. He can’t be allowed to remain. He never was the sort of person who should be a teacher.”

“Always was the worst class,” Tonks muttered to Harry.

“And we gotta find Dumbledore,” Dudley exclaimed. “He got away! Can’t let that go on.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “All right. I’ll talk to the professors and see who can and wants to do it. Aunt Petunia, we need to replace DADA, too. Voldemort was inside Professor Quirrell and when he was pulled out Professor Quirrell kinda died, so we need a new teacher there.”

“I’ll get everyone working on it,” Aunt Petunia sighed. “You and Dudley had best go see how the students are doing.”

“Yeah!” Dudley exclaimed. “I wanna go explore!”

“Not the third-floor right hand side,” Madame Bones exclaimed as Harry squirmed free of Tonks and ran for the stairs with Dudley. “It’s not cleaned up yet, you two!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry called over his shoulder. “Thank you!”

He escaped, running down the stairs with Dudley. Before he did anything else, though, he was going to find all the Hogwarts elves and see if he could help them. They needed it and their need was the loudest thing echoing in the Gryffindor magic. Elves, kids, new teachers, new headmaster; it’d all work out. Probably.

At least Aunt Petunia was here helping. That made it a lot easier to handle.


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MeyariMcFarland

I am an indie publisher who started out in fandom until my canon (DC comics) got so bad I took my toys and went home to play with my own characters. If anyone is going to destroy my characters, it's gonna be me! ...Except that Keira sucked me in and here I am writing fanfic again. All credit for that goes squarely to her.

3 Comments:

  1. I love your version of petunia. She’s a badass! This whole story is just too much fun!

  2. Your story is brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing it!

    I also loved seeing Fellona. Another OaLC fan?

  3. Honestly, there’s just too much fantastic stuff going on here for me to pick a favorite. Although, I’d have to say that Aunt Petunia fixing the magical world is all sorts of fun. I’m with Harry, I want to learn that withering look too!

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