Desperation – 2/6 – Sunfire

Title: Desperation
Author: Sunfire (SunfireScribbles)
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Drama, Family, Kid!fic, Hurt/Comfort, PreRelationship, Slash
Relationship(s): Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Discussion- Child Abuse, Violence- Canon Level
Author Notes: Dumbledore-bashing and Good Malfoys. And awesome art by Tiffany
Beta: NCP
Word Count: 34,060
Summary: Add the Desperation of a young child to escape his tormentors to the three D’s of Apparition, and a lot can go wrong, or right. What if, when chased by Dudley and his gang, instead of the school roof, Harry’s accidental magic delivers him to the grounds of Malfoy Manor?
Artist: Tiffany

Art by Tiffany

Chapter Six: To Rank A Wizard

For the brunette, learning to be a wizard proved to be very confusing. There was weird arm waving, and funny sounding words to say, and even funnier smelling things to put in cauldrons. He had only had about two weeks to try and wrap his head around those strange things, however, before the focus of his training was shifted. In the past, summer time had meant extra chores and extra Harry-Hunting, but at the Manor it instead meant extra lessons. As soon as the school year was done at Hogwarts and he had finished cleaning his classroom and setting things up for the next year, Severus Snape had basically moved into Malfoy Manor in order to conduct intensive training sessions with the three future Lords.

Harry, of course, received extra introductory lessons the first few weeks, and was given extra one-on-one training every other day as well. But on the whole, Draco, Harry, and Neville had benefited from daily defensive magic tutoring from Severus and Lucius that rivaled the first year course at Hogwarts. Aside from the fact that they didn’t have functional wands of their own, of course. The Potions Master also deigned to cover their introductory potions sessions several times a week. For some reason, they brewed Calming Draught quite often. The pace was at times exhausting, and the content almost more than Harry could handle, but the evening lessons with the dour wizard helped somewhat.

Every day that lessons were held, which was usually six days out of seven, after dinner, Harry met privately with Snape. Most times, the two worked on something the wizard called Occlumency, but when the still skinny boy was especially tired they simply spoke of Lily Evans. The one-on-one lessons only he received were hard, and he often went to bed with headache potion in hand, but within weeks of starting, his nightmares began decrease. The extra sleep he managed was a big relief and quite helpful in allowing him to keep up with what he was expected to learn. But the occasional stories about his mother as a girl, sometimes even accompanied by pictures, were the shy brunette’s favorite part of the summer.

For the other boys, their favorite part of summer, for the first time since they had started tutoring, was its end. About a week before classes at Hogwarts resumed, Snape departed and any lessons from him reduced to one or two short sessions on the weekends. During the week, schooling returned to the type of schedule and content that the purebloods were used to, though with some differences.

Harry, of course, was far behind where the others would normally be, and it was decided that Draco’s lessons would be put on hold while Harry was given a chance to catch up. Being more than two years behind, this meant spending a little more time in lessons each day and having a faster run-through than Draco had been given when he originally covered the subjects. The brunette felt overwhelmed at times but his friend attended most lessons with him and helped him study and practice everything even though this meant extra work for him.

The Malfoys estimated that by the end of May, about a year after the Boy-Who-Lived had appeared in their maze, both boys should be at the proper place for their age. June would mean the start of summer, though, and Harry and Draco both had the feeling that by then they would restart the intense defense and potions lessons with Snape once more. But that would be okay too. Because they would help each other. Even against a grumpy Mr. Snape, who could be almost as intimidating as any monster Draco had promised to save him from after a nightmare.

Despite the intense lesson schedule and the difficulty Harry had in finding his footing in this strange world, there were some things that weren’t as much of a challenge for the Potter heir. Some were mostly a continuation of what he had been learning at primary school, made easier without Dudley to distract him in the classroom or the Dursleys to demand his grades not exceed their son’s. The green-eyed boy found he was quite good at maths, which he was told would translate well into Arithmancy lessons in a few years.

He had a harder time with Latin, as he had never before had any type of foreign language classes. And, of course, Wizarding basics like wand care and rudimentary herb lore were just as foreign to him. At least history and the writing and research associated with it were somewhat familiar. The content of the history was not, obviously, but the basic tenants behind how to learn it were the same as he had begun studying at primary. Because of this, the boys often found themselves in one of the Manor libraries when other subjects got to be too much. At least there, Harry felt like he could find the information he needed and complete the assignments mostly on his own.

When it came to Comportment, however, the growing brunette could do nothing on his own. Even with Narcissa’s patient coaching and help from Draco, the Potter heir struggled. He usually caught on eventually, but found it almost more stressful than what his friend called the ‘real’ academic subjects. For Harry they were almost equally challenging and confusing. Practice meals were helpful, the mock high teas and formal dinners a nice change from lectures, demonstrations, and memorization of the thousands of tiny little rules that made up formal etiquette.

They never became anything close to fun, of course, but they were different, and one of the only sets of lessons Neville was always sure to join. The aftermath of the meals, though they featured a pleasantly filled stomach, also featured a review of the rules that had not been followed correctly or not adequately corrected at the table when they had been pointed out. For Harry, who had never been to or watched anything even remotely similar to what they had been practicing, it was a lengthy process.

For their sixth formal dinner performance, Narcissa had even called in Lucius and a taciturn Severus to fill out seats. Afterwards, the Lady Malfoy took the smallest boy to her favorite blue drawing room, and sat on a small settee, having him recite all the things he had been having the most trouble with. They were there long enough for Neville and Draco to play an entire Quidditch game with his toy pitch and feed all the young peacocks, one at a time. When they returned to collect their third, they found him being politely grilled by the blonde.

“What order do you use the utensils?” gained an almost immediate response of, “From the outside, in.”

“And what are they?” There was a brief silence this time.

“On the left, forks from the outside are for salad, then fish, and then meat. On the right, the seafood fork is first. Then… the soup spoon. And then, knives for… for salad and fish and then meat?”

“Very good, Harry. Are there any other utensils?”

“Uhh, above the plate are the dessert spoon and fork. And the butter knife is on the bread dish up on the left.”

“Good, the glasses?”

“There’s uh… four. On the right, up top. There’s the water, um, goblet, and a red wine glass, a white wine glass, and a um, a,” he scrunched up his nose at looked to the Lady for aide. “What’s the tall skinny one called?”

“A champagne flute, dear.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

“That’s alright, lets move on, we’re almost done. What do you do if you have to get up from the table during the meal?”

“I, uh, politely excuse myself if I’m talking to anyone. But I wait until a break in the talking. And then, I put my napkin on my chair, not the table. And I put the utensils I’m using kinda like an X on the plate with the fork points not going up.”

“Well done. You do in fact cross them with the tongs facing the plate. And when you are done using them, they go where?”

“Side by side, but at an angle, right?”

“Correct, they are placed parallel in approximately the 5 o’clock position,” she expanded in a slightly softer voice than she usually employed in lessons with all three. “Now, what are the foods it is acceptable to eat with your fingers?”

Green eyes closed in concentration before he recited the list. “Uh, bread, or-de-vers, fruit with stems, and finger sandwiches.”

“Hors d’oeuvres,” she said, correcting his pronunciation, before continuing. “And who always drinks first at tea?”

“The hostess,” he said promptly with the first smile he’d shown since before the lesson had started. She smiled back with a nod.

“Excellent,” she complimented before rising to her feet and glancing at the two boys waiting impatiently in the doorway. “Now, you may all have one hour to play before next lesson, but” she cut off before they could all race off, “remember not to get too messy as you will be reviewing presentation next.”

The boys all gave an affirmative, if subdued, response and fled the room as fast as they could while still walking ‘with elegance’ as Draco’s mother like to say. The short reprieve, as it always did on such days, ended far too quickly, and the boys soon found themselves in Draco’s bedroom changing into the formal attire they would have worn to the pretend meal if there hadn’t been real food on the table which was, despite the practice, more likely than not, to end up on some article or other of clothing.

Remembering all the variations of dress expected of a Lord was more than slightly confusing. For example, the number of ways a square of silk could be folded before placed in a pocket was unfathomable to Harry. And the ways to knot a tie were so complicated it made the Potter heir want to thrown them across the room. He had in fact done that once, but thankfully no adult had witnessed it and the other boys hadn’t said a word. Even so, dressing so fancy just to talk to people was still a little weird to the thin brunette.

Seeing Neville in similar attire when they first met had reassured Harry that dressing in what he used to consider formal attire would not make him stand out as it would have in the Muggle world, but he had still been far from comfortable with it. In addition to teaching him dinning etiquette and such, the practice high teas and formal diners – those not featuring actual food, of course – had eventually had the side effect of helping him grow slightly more accustomed to what the Malfoys considered formal dress, which was admittedly much more formal than he would have ever thought was possible before he came to the Manor.

Even so, learning all the many dress codes for each type of situation was a difficult and frustrating part of their comportment and presentation lessons for Harry. It was, however, one of the easiest for Draco who had been having his parents and nanny elf dressing him in similar fashion for years. The taller boy’s ease with presentation made Harry’s own difficulties stand out all the more. But it also meant his friend could help him practice in between lessons, despite the fact that each boy’s own training was slightly different.

They both had to learn a frustrating number of cravat folds, tie knots and kerchief folds, and there were a few that each were expected to use more often and therefore master to a higher degree. For example, while Draco learned such kerchief folds as the ‘scallop’ and ‘fan’, Harry learned things like the ‘three star fold’ and the ‘three point crown.’ Lucius seemed intent on the number three becoming a theme for the Potter heir’s style. It had something to do with the fact that he would be claiming three titles- Potter, Peverell, and Gryffindor, but other than that, Harry didn’t understand.

The important thing at that moment was that it required the brunette to learn the trinity knot for his tie in addition to others like the eldredge knot. And they had barely even started on the many ways to tie a cravat. Sometimes, when Harry started to think about it, his eyes began to burn with tears he never shed until lessons had finished and he was huddled in his big bed with his best friend holding his hand and talking about all the games they would play the next day in an attempt to cheer him up before bed.

Draco was always there with the support and encouragement he needed, and the extra tutoring, which was especially necessary at the close of their second week of standard lessons. The end of summer may have meant a significant reduction in the training that had kicked his bum for more than two months straight- sometimes literally- but it had also meant one of the topics he dreaded above all others. His Lordship.

The Malfoys may have insisted that he was heir to a Lordship and not only deserved it, but was more than capable of performing the duty, but Harry had his doubts. Just learning the basic rules of the Wizarding Peerage was giving him a headache. How was he supposed to help, or even lead, these people? He grasped some of it. He understood that the Patriarch of each House was called ‘Lord’ regardless of his House’s standing. And it made a sort of sense that while each family had their own male head, that head was not Patriarch or called Lord unless he was also the Head of the entire House. But the Houses, their rankings, and the history of them were more difficult.

The evening of the second lesson in which Lord Malfoy had gone over the formation of the House Standings and development, found the two best friends in the main library surrounded by books. Those covering the Houses’ roles in the Wizengamot, however, had been resolutely pushed aside by the blond with the insistence that they were “not there yet, overall ranking comes first.”

“One more time?” Harry asked, noticing the set of Draco’s mouth that meant he was going to insist they stop and go play any minute. The taller boy nodded with an indulgent huff and gestured for the other boy to begin.

“Okay. There are four ranks of Houses which say what their spot is in society and how much power they have in the Wizengamot.” Draco nodded, showing he was off to a good start. “The first rank that was made was the Most Ancient and Noble Houses, who are related to Arthur’s Court at Camelot. They, um, they are about 1300-1400 years old now. But they were about 400 years old when they first got that name in the 900s with the Founders.”

“Correct,” Draco cut in, “but the age of a House in the rankings isn’t really its age per say, but how long it has been established in England. For the Most Ancient and Noble, it is how long it has existed since Camelot.”

The brunette paused to think that over, then nodded a little. “Right. The only other rank made then was the Lesser Nobles and it was families that were,” he shot a look at the blond to make sure he was getting it right as he went on, “in England for at least 200 years, or seven generations.”

The blond nodded again and made a motion with his hand for the other boy to go on. With a deep breath and a wrinkle in his brow, Harry did so. “The age used to make a House Noble is still the same. But after a few hundred years there were too many that age and another rank was made up.”

A smile flashed briefly across the face of the Malfoy heir at his friend’s wording before he picked up the recitation, seeing the uncertain look in the green eyes. “Uh-huh. The designation of Ancient was added in the 1100s.”

“That’s when the name Potter started being used,” the brunette added, confident of that much at least. Draco smiled fully at the addition and continued.

“At that point, the Lesser Nobles dated back between 200 to 399 years, and the Ancient Houses were those that dated back at least 400 years, or 14 generations. Finally, came the addition of the Ancient and Noble designation.” The young Malfoy stopped and looked at his friend expectantly, and after a minute, the smaller boy hesitantly picked up the recitation.

“That was in, um, the 1500 hundreds?” It was more question than statement but when the date wasn’t corrected, he continued with a little more confidence. “To be called Ancient and Noble, a House has to date back at least 800 years in Britain. Or 25, no, 28 generations.”

“Right. So that is all the ranks, let’s go-” before the impatient blond could finish, messy black hair shifted as the other boy tilted his head to the side and ventured a question.

“Do you think there will be any more ranks? It’s been four hundred years again since they added one.”

With a sigh, the taller boy indulged his friend’s curiosity. “The British Magical Houses have not grown much, so there are not enough new ones for enough Houses to make a whole new rank. I guess they might make the age qualifications different, like make a House need to be three hundred instead of four hundred to be called Noble, but not any time soon. The number of Houses in all four ranks have actually gone down by at least a couple since the last time a rank was formed.”

Green eyes narrowed as the boy tried to make sense of that. “How can the number go down?”

“When a line dies out and there’s no one left from that House anymore. Father calls it being ‘lost.’” Draco waved off the topic and tried to stand but sat back down with a groan when his friend asked another question.

“How does that happen? There’s no one with the name Peverell anymore, you said, but I am supposed to have the title so it’s not lost. So how can a House get lost?”

“I don’t know, we can ask Father tomorrow, okay. But can we please go finish dragons now?” the blonde whinged, causing Harry to slump slightly at the answer, then after a pause jump up as he processed the question that followed.

Moments later, the two were rushing to their sitting room where they had been forced to pause their epic dragon battle earlier that day in order to have a lesson. By the time half the room was covered in toy dragon carnage, Harry’s curiosity returned and he did indeed ask Lord Malfoy about lost Houses as soon as lessons started the next day.

“The reason,” answered Lord Malfoy, “that the House of Peverell is not lost is that Ignotus Peverell’s eldest son’s eldest child, Iolanthe Peverell, married into the House of Potter. Because she was the last surviving member of her House when she died, she passed the title on to her eldest child, a son, who also inherited the Potter title from his father. Therefore, House Peverell is not lost but instead absorbed by House Potter, making the Lord Potter, also the Lord Peverell.”

The small head of messy black hair bobbed slightly as, after a minute, Harry nodded his understanding. “The only way a House can be lost is if the final heir dies without issue. That means,” continued Lucius, “had Iolanthe not had children, the House Peverell would have been lost upon her death.”

“So if I don’t have any kids, the Houses of Potter and Peverell will be both lost?”

“That is correct. It should also be noted that as a female, Iolanthe could pass on the title, and even act as Regent herself until her son came of age, but she would not have personally held the title. When she married Hardwin Potter she became Lady Potter, but had Hardwin died before her, she would not have inherited the Potter title. Since they had a son, she could have acted as his Regent until he came of age, however.”

“What’s a Regent?” Harry asked once he had had a chance to think through everything that had been said so far. All this heir and title and Regent stuff was confusing.

“A Regent is someone who controls a title on behalf of an underage or incapacitated heir. The position grants the ability to control and access House assets, including monies and properties. It also grants the ability to speak and act on behalf of the title in most circumstances. The main difference is with the House Seat. That is, the voting rights of the Lord within the Wizengamot. The Regent can only hold the Seat if they have also been named its Proxy. If the Regent is not the Proxy, she can name one.”

Lucius continued, anticipating the next question. “A Proxy is another titled individual who votes for the heir until they can do so themselves or can name their own Proxy.”

“I don’t have a Regent, do I?” Harry asked with a small frown.

“You do not, Mr. Potter. Strictly speaking, you do not even have a legal guardian, as no one with the actual legal power to do so ever officially named one.”

The mention of his lack of guardian only reminded the brunette that no one should have been allowed to leave him with the Dursleys and that his being there had been not only miserable and terrible and awful, but illegal too. “So I don’t have anyone who can make someone else the Potter or Peverell Proxy, which means no one is voting for my Houses on the court.”

“It is true that there is no one acting as your Proxy on the court, but a Regent is not the only one who can assign a Proxy. A Proxy can also be named in the Will of the previous Lord, or by the heir himself once he reaches the age of twelve.”

“My parents didn’t name anybody?” asked the entranced boy. Any mention of his parents which was made without rancor was a welcome thing to the boy who had for so long, only heard them mentioned as ‘that freak’ or ‘that worthless drunk.’

Draco’s father smiled ever so briefly at the child’s enthusiasm, then frowned just a little as he spoke. “It is possible that they did, but to my knowledge, their Will was never actually read so I do not know for sure.”

Harry frowned as well, as he remembered, yet again, what he had been told about the things that had been done to him and his family even after his parents had been killed. With a sharp shake of his head, the small boy did his best to redirect his attention to the conversation. “But I can name a Proxy when I’m twelve, right?”

“You can indeed, though most likely you will need to name three, one each for Gryffindor, Peverell, and Potter, as only one title at a time can be assigned to the same Proxy unless they are a member of the Most Ancient and Noble Houses or a Founder’s Heir themselves. In that case they may hold up to two Proxies in addition to their own title.”

“You’re on the court, right?”

“As the Lord Malfoy I hold our House Seat, yes. Lady Augusta, Neville’s grandmother is on the Wizengamot as well. She was named her son’s Proxy in addition to being named Neville’s Regent.”

Several minutes passed in silence as the wealth of information was digested by the two heirs. When the smaller of the two absently rubbed his temple with a frown, Lucius decided to change the subject to something a bit less complicated. With this in mind he summoned a house elf to fetch his wife to continue the Wizarding Culture component of the boys’ lessons.

As soon as he heard what the Lady Malfoy would be covering that day, a smile chased the troubled look from the face of the Boy-Who-Lived. They were only a few days away from the third holiday he would be spending with the family and he was anxious to learn more about what they would be doing. Beltane had passed a couple weeks before he arrived but he had enjoyed celebrating Litha and Lughnasadh despite not being able to pronounce either name correctly.

The second one had been the day after his birthday, which made it even better because it had been like having a party for three whole days since Neville’s birthday was the day before his. For someone who had never been to a birthday party before or had anyone celebrate his at all, the end of July and start of August had been a dream come true. And while he didn’t think any holiday could compare to that, he was looking forward to this one. As he had now had enough history and culture lessons to finally be able to fully understand the context of the upcoming holiday, he anticipated being able to enjoy the special and meaningful activities that were associated with it even more this time.

His enthusiasm did not lessen that day or the next, and on the morning of September twenty-first, he was practically dancing in place as he and Draco waited for the Lord and Lady Malfoy to escort them onto the Manor grounds. The blond didn’t quite understand why Harry was so excited, but he was more than prepared to make the most of the situation and shot his friend a grin as the adults appeared.

“Today is Mabon,” Narcissa said as they all made their way outside. “It is the Autumn Equinox and was called Mea’n Fo’mhair by the druids.”

They started as they had the other holidays. They made their way into the very center of the grounds to a garden folly where they placed flowers in a stone pool beneath a marble statue of Vivien Lac, the Lady of the Lake, the Malfoys’ famous ancestor. The flowers were different each time, the witch explained as they left the folly, always matching the particular holiday that was being celebrated. When given to the water they showed the family’s respect and gratitude to their ancestor.

“It is done at other times as well, such as before weddings to ask for her blessings on the new couple, and after funerals so she may greet her descendants when they pass. It is especially important today, however,” she reminded him and with a raised brow, waited for him to repeat what she had told them about this sacred day.

“Because Mabon is also called the Feast of Avalon and remembers the end of the greatest time in our history,” stated the young wizard, his eyes scrunched in concentration behind his new glasses.

“Exactly!” Narcissa agreed with a smile to both the boys before continuing. “We make similar offerings and requests of the gods and goddesses, depending on the holiday,” the regal blonde reminded the small boy on their quiet trek back towards the Manor where they veered off slightly and approached the trees that stood between the building and the rear gardens, behind which sat the maze. There they stopped before a particular tree, the oldest one on the grounds, and turned to face Lucius.

The blond wizard silently poured warm herbed cider onto the ground and the tree’s base and said a few words in Latin that Harry couldn’t even hope to understand. They were in honor of the God of the Forest, or the Green Man, the smallest blond explained quietly, after a few moments of silence.

“Mabon is the time when the God gets ready to die for the winter. The cider keeps him warm and strong for the journey.” Harry nodded at the whispered words, recalling the lesson with Lady Malfoy the day before. Before any more could be said, the group turned and continued their early morning procession to another area of the Malfoy lands.

They passed statues of several gods and goddesses on their trek and Harry recalled the previous holidays he had taken part in. For Summer Solstice, they had presented elderflowers and the elderflower wine cooked over the solstice bonfire the night before to one of the goddesses. Then, for Lughnasadh, they had offered fruit to the mother goddess, which was where they were headed now.

The statue of the mother goddess, unlike the others, was inside the maze. The witch had explained to him that this was because the maze was originally planted when the first lady Malfoy to live in Britain, had been pregnant. The lands had been granted to her husband, Armand Malfoy, by King William when he conquered England in 1066. The ivy maze had been intended to be a refuge for the family if the Manor was taken or attacked by the native Saxons in the area.

As the group of four wound their way through the green walls to the dead end that featured the stone representation of the Mother Goddess, the two smallest exchanged a smile, both remembering the first time they had met, just a dozen feet away at the center of the maze. No one spoke, but green and grey refocused on the adults as the witch amongst them stepped forward to say the traditional words as she placed a farewell offering of wine at the base of the statue, then stepped back. Although he had seen a lot of magic in his time at the Manor, and had been learning quite a bit himself, Harry still gasped as a single word and a wave of her wand had the nearby ivy growing and twining slightly over the statue.

The past two holidays, the brunette had only seen flowers given to the goddesses, but it didn’t take him long to remember that Narcissa had said that ivy was a traditional plant of Mabon. Apples and pomegranates were the last gift of the day as they were left with a few words at the stone Crone on their way back to the Manor. The stasis spell that had been cast on them to keep the fruit fresh to await the arrival of the Crone with the onset of winter was not as showy as the vines but the smallest wizard still found the idea of such a spell as magical as any other he had learned.

As far as Harry was concerned, the most magical part of the day was still to come, however. When the group re-entered the house, they retreated promptly to the private dinning room where breakfast had already been laid out. The meal was more animated than any the brunette had yet seen at the Manor. Conversation was as prevalent as the delicate pastries the house elves always made. And it all centered around one topic, the banquet that would be held that night. The Feast of Avalon was called a feast for a reason, after all. There would be a lavish meal and it would be focused on one thing. Family.

The Autumn Equinox meant a time to prepare for the close of the year at Samhain, and in addition to reflecting on what the warm months had brought, it was also a time to honor one’s House and its history. This had a special significance to those families that traced back to Avalon as it also meant honoring their connection to that most important era of Wizarding history.

Harry had never had any part of holidays before coming here, most especially not those that focused on families. He’d never had a family to focus on, and that was always the most painfully obvious around holidays. On those days, even more than normal, he spent all his time cooking and cleaning with the added bonus of listening to the Dursleys grow ever more excited about what was to come only for him to watch it all unfold that evening through the slats in his cupboard door.

“Come on, Harry,” cried the impatient but happy voice of his very first and very best friend as Draco pulled him from his thoughts, and the breakfast table, to lead him upstairs to their sitting room. The two had a long list of games planned for the day, having known in advance that they would be free from lessons and expected to stay out of the way of the banquet preparations.

The smaller boy went along enthusiastically, determined to enjoy every second of the day. Even the hour-long frustration of dressing appropriately for the feast. Neville and Lady Augusta would be joining them and all three adults had made it clear that as much as they were to enjoy themselves, that the boys should all take advantage of the chance to practice everything they had been learning in their various comportment lessons.

For once, the idea of such practice couldn’t even dent the brunette’s excitement. For the first time ever, he was part of the family celebration. He hadn’t cooked or cleaned a single thing all day, and he would soon be sitting around the fancy table in fancy clothes and eating fancy food. As a member of the family. And more than that, a family that had made him feel welcomed and important, and worthy of their time and attention. Even though that often took the form of lessons. How he acted and what he knew was important to the Malfoys.

He was important, and the feeling was so overwhelming that once they had dressed, Harry took hold of Draco’s hand and hardly let go the entire night. The young blond looked askance at his friend, but didn’t say anything, only smiled and squeezed the hand in his. Later that night, as he lay in his big bed, green eyes stared at the ceiling as he tried to wrap his mind around the events of the day. Those eyes were drawn to the bedroom door, however, when it opened to admit the taller boy an hour after Narcissa had tucked them in.

“Harry?” whispered the familiar voice.

“Yes?” he whispered back, not entirely sure what had prompted the visit. His nightmares weren’t as frequent as they had been, so Draco hadn’t needed to come wake and comfort him in three whole days. And Draco never came into his room this late unless Harry had a nightmare.

Knowing that his friend was indeed awake, the other boy raced across the room only to stop at the edge of the bed, hesitating for a moment until the dark-haired boy lifted the blanket in invitation. “Are you okay?” Harry asked as they settled together under the thick covers. Maybe Draco had had a nightmare, he thought worriedly.

But the blond head nodded in answer and then turned to face him with a smile. “Tonight was the very best Mabon ever,” the Malfoy heir declared quietly.

Harry smiled and agreed, his concerns and confusion about Draco joining him pushed aside as they shared their favorite parts of the day, their lingering excitement no match for the late hour. It was some time before they fell asleep in Harry’s big bed, snuggled together, still smiling.

Chapter Seven: From Herbology to Horcruxes

When he woke the morning following the Mabon holiday, the Potter heir could still feel an echo of the contentment of the night before and as he watched his friend slip into his own room to get ready for the day, one thought flooded his mind. He had a family. It wasn’t exactly the same as other kids, he didn’t have parents of his own. But the Malfoys were his family now, just like Narcissa had said that first day. He may never have thought it possible then, but now it was a reality and even resuming lessons couldn’t dull that.

While Harry was able to enjoy and even excel at some subjects, he still found most everything to be strange and intimidating. At least, he thought as he glanced over at the sandy-haired boy next to him, he was not completely alone in that. Many of his lessons were shared only with Draco, but Neville attended some of them, mostly to review things he struggled with, as Harry was still trying to catch up with where a wizard his age should be.

Herbology, however, was another matter. Neville certainly wasn’t behind in that subject, but he enjoyed it so much that he had asked his grandmother and the Malfoys to allow him to attend Harry’s lessons anyway. The chubby boy changed in the greenhouses, lit up and animated in a way he didn’t elsewhere. His enthusiasm was usually enough to blot out the memories which otherwise rose in the small brunette when he entered the Malfoy greenhouses.

The first time Harry had entered the beautiful, glass-walled structure, all he had seen was green. There were plants everywhere, some even growing on the walls and hanging from the clear ceiling. The smell of wet soil and the faint hint of fertilizer slammed into him and suddenly, he was in the small garden shed behind Number Four. His arms ached from the heavy labor, and his hands stung from the rose thorns and his back screamed with sunburn. His throat threatened to close and all he wanted was a drink of water, but he hadn’t had any in hours and wouldn’t until the rest of the flowerbeds were weeded and mulched.

Despite the light pouring in from all sides, the small boy’s vision began to darken at the edges and he felt lightheaded, probably from hunger. He usually got breakfast on days he worked outside, and sometimes there was lunch if one of the neighbors was watching, but there was never dinner. The thought of having to wait until tomorrow for anything to eat made his stomach clench, though for some reason he wasn’t all that hungry at the moment. That was strange. He was always hungry. The odd feeling of a full stomach was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and the Potter heir instinctually flinched back, his hands raising to shield his head from the coming blow. But there was only silence, and after a few heartbeats, a quiet call of his name. Aunt and Uncle didn’t do quiet. They also didn’t use his name. The hands lowered slowly to reveal pale blue eyes as Narcissa stared down at him in concern.

An awkward few minutes had followed before the lesson had begun. Lady Malfoy and the other boys had been impressed with how much he knew about tending Muggle plants and his godbrother in particular had grown excited at the prospect of someone else who loved plants like he did. They were all disappointed when rather than become more confident at his knowledge, Harry started to shrink in on himself. It wasn’t until the first night after Herbology was underway, when Draco prodded some details out of him in the wake of an unusually bad nightmare, that his friends and new family got an idea of the cause of Harry’s withdrawal during the lesson.

Since that night, Draco and Neville had made a point of distracting him with games and jokes before and after those lessons. Lady Malfoy, for her part, spent most all of their time on magical plants, barely mentioning the mundane plants, even those which were used in potions. It would appear, however, that the witch had given Neville and Draco that duty for the day, as instead of their standard Herbology lesson, the boys had been let loose in the greenhouse for the afternoon while the adults had tea together in the parlor overlooking the glass structure.

“Oh, look, you guys. There is an area set up for wormwood! See? Isn’t it wicked?” Neville asked excitedly as he gestured to an area surrounded by a shimmering dome. “Not many places have wormwood. It is very difficult to grow, since it needs very specific growing conditions that don’t occur naturally in England. See the weather wards around it? They simulate the hot and dry climate native to the areas in the northern hemisphere that wormwood usually grows in.”

Harry looked into the dome where there was a large area of sand and dry dirt and rocks. There were several groups of brown plants that reminded him of the things that blew around on the ground in the old American cowboy movies Dudley used to watch. Before he could ask his friend if the plants were supposed to look dead like that, the sandy-haired boy was distracted by another new addition to the greenhouse. “Oh wow. Look! Artemisia absinthium!”

The Boy-Who-Lived turned his attention to where the others had wandered a little ways to the left, across from the stone pond that housed all the things that normally grew in water. The plant that was causing Neville’s excitement was a startlingly bright shade of green. The Longbottom heir chattered on for several minutes about the characteristics and growing conditions of the newest plant, barely pausing long enough for the blond to mention that it could be used to brew Shrinking Solution and the Draught of Living Death.

The enthusiasm with which the normally reserved boy was leading his friends around the greenhouse searching for new additions was obvious even from the window of the parlor where Narcissa was watching her son and unofficial ward following the third of their trio from one plant to the next.

“The boys seem to be doing well in your absence, my dear.”

She flicked a glance over her shoulder, blue meeting grey as she replied. “Indeed. Perhaps next time we need a private meeting I shall have to arrange for Mr. Longbottom to tour the greenhouses again.”

“An educational play date for the young lordlings,” her husband agreed with a smirk, only to be interrupted by an aggrieved voice.

“If the miscreants are properly occupied, we have things to discuss.”

The two blonds turned from the window and joined their friend on one of the settees. It had been decided early on that a plan of attack would be necessary, but the focus had so far been on getting the boy settled in the Manor and introducing him to the Wizarding world and his role in it. Beginning the education that the child would need to fulfill that purpose was proceeding quite well, helped along by the fact that Potter was reassuringly quick to grasp connections and understand how the lessons applied to the new world around him. And with that first hurdle behind them, it was time to turn their attention to the other, more daunting task ahead.

“We are certain that the book is a Horcrux?”

The wizards nodded decisively, having spent the last two weekends sequestered in the lowest level of the Manor examining the small tome the Dark Lord had left with Lucius for safe keeping. At the confirmation, Narcissa continued in an equally confident tone. “Then we know there are at least two, Bella confided in me many times that she had been just as blessed as we were, being given a precious item to protect for the Dark Lord.”

“And,” Lucius went on as his wife took a delicate sip of tea, summarizing the conclusions that they had come to since finding and examining the diary a few weeks before, “he must have been trying to make another in order for a piece to get into the child’s scar. Yet, even so, his soul should have been robust enough to not break apart if he had only made two. Rather than expel his spirit, the curse reflection should just simply have destroyed what soul was left in his body, including the piece torn off by the act of murdering the Potters.”

Snape broke his silence with a scowl at the reference to Lily’s death. “Since the soul shard was indeed ripped from his body, the Dark Lord must have had a greater percentage of anchors elsewhere than is evidenced with the diary and whatever Bellatrix was given. In fact, his soul would have had to be very weak for the torn piece to flake off on its own as it did.”

“Not to mention,” chimed in Narcissa, “the piece in Harry’s scar is very small. Otherwise it would have appeared more clearly in our scans. Therefore the Dark Lord must have made more than three. And as we all know, after three the next magically significant number is seven…”

She trailed off, having reached the point in their joint conclusions at which they had previously arrived. It was in fact, the reason for their meeting that day. The matter was far too weighty to manage in ones and twos as they had been. A swift and accurate deduction would most easily be reached if they all spoke together. Surely with them all working their way through the situation methodically they could come to the correct conclusion. To that end, they gathered with their tea and began.

“We know the diary is one, and that a second was left in Bella’s care. As it obviously did not go to Azkaban with her, nor was anything left in the house she shared with her husband, it must have been one of two places when she was arrested. Black Manor or Gringotts. I went through our parent’s home myself after mother’s passing and there was nothing there I do not recall from our childhood. Therefore it is most likely in her bank vault.”

The wizards tipped their heads in agreement, grey eyes narrowing slightly as he thought. “You are her only next of kin, my dear, if anyone can access her vault it will be you.”

“It is settled then, Narcissa will endeavor to access whatever is in Gringotts,” Snape stated roughly. “That covers the first two. The third is of course in the whelp’s scar. Our research indicated that the most viable option for the destruction of a Horcrux involved placing the object housing it in Fiendfyre, and thus destroying the object itself. Perhaps in the case of a living host, death of the individual will suffice. Do you recall anything in the texts that stated the destruction must be permanent?”

Eyes so dark they appeared black locked onto those of his friend and the other wizard thought silently for several moments. “Nothing specific, no.”

“Hmm. I may have an idea, allow me to think on it. In the meantime, if we could determine how many we are looking for, it would be most helpful, I believe.”

“The one in the scar would be a third, and for the Dark Lord to disappear, whatever portion was left in him had to have been damaged significantly by the curse rebound. If nothing else, it was expelled from his body and has not the strength to return to another. If we can destroy the others before that happens, the fragment will be sufficiently vulnerable enough to allow us to defeat him when he finally returns.”

“As to those remaining, there can be no more than three. Mayhap, when we learn the identity of the one given to Bellatrix we will have a more specific idea as to what they might be.”

Narcissa frowned at her husband’s words, insisting that they at least devise a preliminary list for now. Snape simply continued to ponder his unspoken idea silently on the other settee while the couple talked. “The Dark Lord was not without standards of his own making. His pride would not allow him to chose items he did not feel met those standards, things that he saw as worthy to house his soul fragments.”

The Lord Malfoy leaned back, thinking for several minutes as he finished his tea before speaking up, his words finally breaking his friend from his thoughts as well. “During the early days, before the war gained momentum, the Dark Lord always wore two pieces of jewelry. I do not think he would have worn them quite so constantly if he did not value them for more than their aesthetics. Do you recall them, Severus?”

“A ring, I believe. And a locket, weren’t they?”

“Yes,” Lucius confirmed, “just so.”

“You remember correctly their value. It always seemed to me that he prized them quite highly. It was remarked upon by several of the others when he stopped wearing them just before things escalated.”

“I never saw them during the later years of the war, did you?” questioned the blond.

“No, they seemed to disappear entirely.” The dark-haired wizard frowned at his tea cup, lank strands swinging slightly as he tilted his head thoughtfully to the side. “Odd, if they did mean so much to him.”

“I agree, if he had learned something about them which lowered his opinion he would surely have spoken of his displeasure. He was certainly not one to remain quiet about such things.” The two wizards shared a glance of supreme discomfort as they recalled exactly how true that statement was.

Before thoughts of the past could waylay the discussion, the Potions Master put them back on track with a supposition. “If he entrusted two of them to Death Eaters perhaps he did the same with a third.”

One blond brow rose over blue eyes. “Perhaps. Who else in the inner circle would he have trusted enough besides Lucius and Bella?”

“It may not matter just yet, as we only have access to a limited number of places that we could search without outside help. I am sure we all agree that such should be avoided if at all possible.”

The others nodded in agreement and began to compile a list of locations they could get to that had a connection to any of the other Death Eaters. Lady Malfoy spoke first. “As we said, I should be able to gain admittance to Bella’s vault, and I can check over the Lestrange property again. It is best to be thorough.”

“In that vein, it might be worth exploring Black Manor. I know your sister had not visited the ancestral property often after she married, but as you said, we should exhaust all options.”

“If that is truly the case, I may as well go through Aunt Walburga’s as well. Regulus was hardly in the inner circle, but any connection at this point is one worth checking.”

At the mention of his former schoolmate, lines dug themselves deeply into Severus’ forehead as he narrowed his eyes in thought. “There is something,” he muttered quietly, almost too quietly for the others to hear. “Something about Regulus that I feel I should remember. He made a comment to me before he went missing, something about the Dark Lord, but I can’t recall what. I did not consider it important at the time, but it might be beneficial to look for his journal while at Grimmauld, just to be certain.”

“Is that everywhere?”

The lines returned to the professor’s face with a grimace. “The diary is from his time at Hogwarts. And he was quite adamant that I gain a position there. I always assumed it was simply to spy on the old man, but the Dark Lord told me when I first gained the Potions position that I was being entrusted with protecting his legacy there. I took that to mean his connection to Slytherin House as I had just learned I would be Head of House, or perhaps the curse he had left on the Defense position. But there remains the possibility that he referred to something else as well, he was fond of word games, after all.” The former servants of the Dark Lord exchanged darkly reminiscent looks yet again.

“Indeed he was. He was also prone to speaking of the school as if it were a person with whom he shared kinship and knowledge none other could. A search of the building and its history if not what contents you can reach would most likely be a good use of what free time you have there.”

Snape scowled but did not protest, only pointed out that the task was sure to take much more than the remainder of the school year. The others conceded this fact and wrapped up the meeting with a delegation of other sites. It was agreed that Narcissa would start any needed procedures with the goblins to access her sister’s vault and would search the Black Manor in the interim. She would also take Severus past the wards on Grimmauld Place and gain her husband admittance to the Lestrange property the following weekend while the boys gathered at Longbottom Hall for a few days under Lady Augusta’s supervision.

Another week saw the three conspirators back in the parlor with at least some of their tasks having yielded results. In the case of Number 12 doubly so, as not only had Snape found the journals he sought, but after reading the last few entries an exhaustive search of the premises had turned up the locket the Dark Lord had once worn so frequently. The time spent with the goblins had also proved successful as after only a few days, a few stacks of parchment, and a trip to the Ministry, Narcissa had been allowed into the vault that had belonged to Bellatrix before her imprisonment and came out with a gaudy gold cup she knew her sister would never have picked out for herself. Black Manor and the Lestrange property had at least eliminated a few possibilities.

The examination of the locket and cup was just as beneficial to their cause as the finding of the objects, however. Both proved to be relics of the Founders and provided a definite focus for their search.

“Most likely they will include the ring, and something in the school, or related to its founders,” Snape concluded that evening.

“Perhaps something else specific to Slytherin as he would, obviously, be held in higher regard.”

“Or,” proposed the witch, “the Dark Lord’s own family. Did you not both say that he considered himself on par with Salazar himself?”

A consensus was reached and Severus’ search of the school and grounds was elevated in importance. Until the extensive task could be completed, it was decided that the items collected so far would be destroyed instead of leaving them stored in the Manor dungeons as they had been. Neither Malfoy felt especially comfortable having so many pieces of Voldemort gathered within their own home. A smaller family property was chosen and a remote spot on its grounds hosted a Fiendfyre bonfire that took all three to control, but which also saw to the simultaneous destruction of the diary, cup, and locket.

At the start of the summer term, Severus was forced to quit the campus to train the boys once more and avoid the old fool’s scrutiny. At that point the Horcrux within the growing Potter heir was finally addressed. “It will most likely not destroy the soul shard in itself, but if the shard can be convinced that its host is dead it will most likely seek another. Our Occlumency shields should protect us long enough to capture it and then the warded vial can be disposed of as the others were.”

Narcissa was not thrilled with the plan, but conceded that it was their best chance at success and gracefully gave in. She spent little time on the components of the plan as Severus was clearly the best to brew the Draught of Living Death which would lower the boy’s heart rate enough to mimic death and Lucius was more familiar with the private collection of dark arts books needed to find a spell that would safely stop and then restart a heart if the Draught was not enough. Besides, her time was best spent distracting the boys until preparations were complete, and then calming Draco when the plan was explained to the young wizards.

The Malfoy heir was incensed at the idea, but his friend’s desire to have the lingering effects of that Halloween night removed from his body won out. Not to mention the possibility of the scar diminishing as a result, which the brunette found very attractive in and of itself. When the day came to carry out the procedure, however, Draco had a sudden change of heart that required a calming draught and a few strategic wards placed on his bedroom before Harry could be withdrawn from his presence. The regal witch could only imagine how upset her son would be when the calming potion wore off and he realized he could not leave his room.

Her imaginings were proven accurate when, hours later, Narcissa helped her husband levitate the boy into his bed. While the couple assured their heir that his friend was only sleeping and would eventually wake unharmed, Severus locked the warded vial with the inky cloud that was the soul fragment into the dungeon until it could be taken to the empty estate and burned. Draco did not find their words at all comforting and ignored their presence entirely in favor of watching Harry.

It felt like forever before the small brunette finally began to stir. It had been at least a dozen hours, the Malfoy heir had heard his parents say, not long before. All concept of time fled, however, when bright green eyes fluttered open. Draco felt a fluttering of a much more anxious kind in his chest as he rushed to his closest friend’s bedside. It wasn’t a long process as he had insisted on being within touching distance of the Boy-Who-Lived since his Godfather had levitated him back into his room following the procedure they had conducted, whatever it had been.

The young wizard didn’t know because he hadn’t been allowed to be even a room away during the whole thing, having to wait on a whole other floor until it was complete. He had not been the least bit happy with Harry being kept so far away from him. But it was over, had been for more than half a day, and now, Harry was finally waking up. Draco leaned over the slowly waking form, one hand darting out to sweep aside the black fringe even Narcissa Malfoy couldn’t get to behave.

Draco’s was the first face Harry saw as he woke, the presence of his first and best friend helping to push back the panic that threatened to rise in response to the combination of the worried looks on everyone’s faces, the fact that he didn’t remember getting back to his room, and the fact that he did remember the frightening dream he had had. The cool touch on his forehead soothed the vague burning sensation there and helped to ground him amongst the distant, cloudy feeling in his head that was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He opened his mouth to say something to the smallest of the three blonds but only a dry croak came out.

Before he could look around to find it, the Lady Malfoy was holding a glass of water to his lips. The tiny sip he managed with her aid made him feel three years old. It was the wizard rather than the witch that spoke, however, reminding Harry that all three were there, checking on him. He’d seen Aunt Petunia hover over Dudley when he was sick, and when he was little he had wondered what it would be like to have someone there, worried about you when you were ill. It was odd, even more strange than the way he felt like he was spinning slightly despite lying perfectly still. But, as Lord Malfoy stood behind the others and asked how he was feeling, he decided he quite liked it.

“Tired, sir,” he said with a much weaker voice than he was expecting. “Strange,” he admitted as he closed his eyes against the sudden increase in the spinning the rest of the room seemed to be doing around him.

Green eyes reopened quickly when his friend made a small, unhappy sound. Draco looked even more worried than his parents and Harry did his best to smile at him, but from the look on the blond’s face, he didn’t do a very good job. Narcissa stepped away from the bed for a second, then returned and placed a cool cloth on his forehead. The Potter heir couldn’t contain a sigh at the soothing effect it had on the continued burning. With the decrease in pain came an increase in curiosity as it reminded him why he felt so awful in the first place.

“Did it work?”

Lucius nodded confidently, Narcissa smiled, and Draco tightened his hold on the other boy’s hand. “Everything went as we hoped,” the witch said softly and gestured towards the cloth and the skin it covered. “It will probably never go away completely, but the scar should diminish some, and the other damage is fully healed now.”

Harry wasn’t sure what exactly the damage was, only that it was there and was a result of the curse that gave him his scar. No one had said anything specific about it when he had first been told, and the brunette knew better than to ask an adult for information they clearly didn’t want him to have. The most important thing was that they had fixed whatever it was. The possibility that his scar might look better was a great bonus as far as he was concerned. Green eyes fell closed on a sigh and the two adults stepped back from the bed.

“You should rest, dear, we will check on you in an hour or so. If you need anything just call one of the elves, all right?”

He nodded tiredly, already feeling his limbs grow heavier at the idea of some more sleep. Harry fought the sensation, however, when the quiet words were followed by an even quieter request for Draco to follow them out. The brunette relaxed again when he felt a weight settle on the bed next to him as his friend stated that he would stay right there until Harry felt better. The wizard in question let out a sigh when the door closed and silence descended. Green eyes refused to stay open, but he forced out the words anyway, needing the reassurance before he could fall asleep completely.


“Yes, Harry?” came the immediate response, the mattress bouncing slightly as the other boy turned and shifted closer to hear the near whisper.

“Don’t go away.”

A familiar hand closed tightly around his. “I won’t, Harry, I promise. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

Chapter Eight: Legacy

Harry watched the early morning sun filter through the large windows, the pools of light shimmering in different colors on the wood flooring where it caught on the two rows of family crests delicately rendered in stained glass. It wasn’t an exhaustive collection of the near forty Pure-blood Houses, only the oldest and most prestigious names. His eyes automatically sought out the Houses of Peverell and Gryffindor. His Houses. The sight brought a hollow longing as it always did, though admittedly much less so than when Lord Malfoy had first shown him this window a month after he had arrived at the Manor. It had been during one of the many lessons on family, and Wizarding genealogy and traditions, which had filled so many of his early weeks with the Malfoys. In addition to the distant ache, higher up in his stomach where he was afraid it might choke him at any moment, was anger.

The anger had been there as long as he could remember. It had spent years buried under fear and loneliness while he lived with his Muggle relatives, but it had still been there. It had found fuel with the realization of not only the injustice of what had been done to him, but all that was almost stolen from him in the process. In the more than four years he had lived at Malfoy Manor, the list of things for him to be angry about – from his being essentially kidnapped from his godmother, to his being denied the knowledge of his family legacy, to his being refused the opportunity to learn what he would need to survive the coming of the Dark Lord – had only grown as he learned about magic and the Wizarding World.

Another thing to add to his mental tally had arrived the day before along with his Hogwarts letter, or more specifically, the supply and class list that had accompanied it. To be completely honest, this reason for anger didn’t exactly come as a surprise, Lord Malfoy had explained it months ago. But to have the proof in his hand was all the more infuriating. Not to mention everything that had been required to ensure he received said letter. The letter of course, had actually been sent to Number Four, Privet Drive, and it had taken several disillusionment and Confundus charms and a low powered stunning spell for Severus and Lucius to intercept it before it made its way to the Dursleys.

But retrieve it they did, and Harry himself had penned a reply on Muggle stationary bought specifically for the occasion, and sent it back to the school with the still sleepy and somewhat confused owl that had delivered it. Then he and Draco had sat down with the adults and gone over plans for the various shopping trips that would be needed. That was when the anger began to grow yet again at the reminder of what subjects he would and would not be taking as a first-year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“He will have to be present to acquire the appropriate wand, of course, but I do not believe it would be at all wise for Harry to go to Diagon Alley for any of the other shopping,” Narcissa stated calmly as they all settled around the table.

“What?” Draco cried out as he shifted his chair closer to his friend, “he has to come with me!”

“Your mother is correct, Draco,” Severus Snape cut in before he could continue his objections. “It is almost guaranteed that Dumbledore will have someone stationed inside the alley watching for Potter, I heard the old man discussing scheduling shifts for the task. I would not be at all surprised if one of his little lackeys was parked at the entrance every day from now until September first, and another outside Ollivander’s. As you said, Narcissa, that is one task he is assured to complete before leaving the alley.”

“It must also be assumed that he will need to make a withdrawal from Gringotts or at least convert Muggle pounds into real money in order to purchase his supplies. Therefore we can expect a watcher stationed by the bank as well. Supposing we can purchase the wand and get back without anyone seeing him,” Lucius’ sarcastic tone implied how unlikely he thought it would be that they would not actually succeed in doing so, “how suspicious will the fool find it that none of his minions managed to spot young Potter in the course of what he will assume is a full day’s school shopping?”

The Potions Master inclined his head slightly to acknowledge the risk in creating a mystery that the Headmaster might wish to solve. Drawing any attention to Harry and how he managed to enter the Alley and stop at no less than half a dozen locations in the course of shopping for the upcoming school year without once being seen was not advantageous to the boy or their upcoming plans. Yet allowing the child to be seen by someone working for the old wizard and creating the possibility that he might be interfered with in any way would be far too dangerous. Harry accidentally revealing his knowledge of the Wizarding World or being placed under some kind of Compulsion or Behavioral Charms would complicate their plans to an untold degree and could even force their hand far earlier than they would be ready for. The question was, which risk was greatest and which would be worth taking?

The debate continued back and forth for almost an hour. During that time, the two boys occupied themselves with a debate of their own, on a different but related topic.

“Is this really all they send to Muggle raised and Muggle-born students? Or is this just part of Dumbledore’s apparent plan to keep me ignorant and confused, and I assume, keep him in control of what I learn and don’t learn about what he thinks will be a completely foreign world?”

Draco glanced at the acceptance letter and supply list still clutched tightly in his best friend’s hand. It was exactly the same as the one he had received. The blond didn’t have an opportunity to respond before the brunette continued. “It doesn’t even say how to respond to the letter, just that they ‘await my owl no later than 31 July.’ How do they expect someone from the Muggle world to know how to find an owl to deliver their answer? Severus said the owls aren’t instructed to wait for a reply or anything, they just drop it with the recipient’s regular post. And they don’t say where the Alley is either, or how to get there. There’s nothing about going to Gringotts to exchange currency. I have a vault from my parents, but there’s nothing here about the key that Severus said Dumbledore has for it.”

The Malfoy heir wasn’t sure if he should be amused or incensed on his friend’s behalf as the other boy took a deep breath at the end of the rant. He decided on something in the middle and cut in before Harry got any redder in the face from anger and lack of air. “I would guess that the school simply doesn’t take the time to create a second form letter for those not raised in the Wizarding World. Either they do not have the intelligence to realize the need for something so basic, or they simply do not care.”

“For crying out loud. The average Muggle would take a letter like this for a complete joke and just ignore it entirely. They don’t even believe magic is real, why would they trust a letter that came out of the blue talking about a school for magic?”

“Letters to true Muggle-borns are not delivered by owl, Mr. Potter, but by the Deputy Headmistress as part of her duties,” the Professor answered, letting them know their conversation had caught the attention of at least one of the adults. “This enables an opportunity to convince the family of the validity of the offer and the basic introductory information you mentioned to be relayed at the same time. It is only those Muggle-raised students whom live with an adult that is aware of, or a member of, our world, who are not visited in person. Albus may assume that your aunt knows enough from her sister’s experience as a child to take care of your shopping with you.”

The fact remained unstated that Petunia Dursley would rather confront a rabid animal than take Harry shopping for anything, let alone magical supplies. The raised black brow and pointed look before the Potions Master returned to his previous discussion with the Malfoys imparted that sufficiently enough, however.

“So do you suppose he really thinks your aunt knows enough to help you figure things out or does he just want you not to know anything about anything until you are somewhere he’s in control of what you learn?” Draco asked with an off-hand sarcasm that told Harry he didn’t really need to answer. They both knew what was most likely, which was made even worse by what they both also knew about said learning environment. That it was woefully less than it should be. Less than it was intended to be. Less than it probably had been, before Albus Dumbledore got his manipulative hands on it.

With that thought, they read over the supply list another time, Harry comparing it in his mind with what Severus and Lucius had shown him of the Hogwarts Charter. The document, written by the Founders, detailed how the school was to be organized and run, including the rules by which the institution was to be governed and the bylaws that the school administration was supposed to be held to.

The copy that Lucius had acquired had been in the keeping of the Head of the Board of Governors since long before Dumbledore became Headmaster. That fact was the only reason the discrepancies between the Charter and the current running of the school were apparent. Not that it did them any good in attempting to enforce those rules and bylaws. The copy Dumbledore used in his dealings with the Board was quite different and quite conveniently matched the way things were.

Legally, it required the original Charter in order to prove that the copy being used was fraudulent, and that the current administration using it was actually in gross violation of the Charter and the Magical Contract between Hogwarts and its Headmaster. And legally, the only people who could access the original were the Headmaster, the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and the Head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority. And a proven claimant to the Hogwarts Legacy, meaning a Founder’s Heir who has had their blood relationship proven and certified by Gringotts and acknowledged by the court.

Dumbledore no doubt felt secure in his ability to continue using his own version of the Charter since he held both the Headmaster and Chief Warlock posts, and the Head of the Examinations Authority was a long time supporter of the old man who had only retained the position based on the advice of the Headmaster. And as far as he was concerned there were no living Founders’ Heirs aside from Tom Riddle, who certainly wasn’t going to walk into the Wizengamot and present a well-reasoned legal case against Albus Dumbledore. But Lucius, with his private genealogical documents that proved Harry was Heir to Gryffindor, would do exactly that at the first opportunity. And he would have the renowned Boy-Who-Lived with him when he did.

Unfortunately before that could happen, both boys would have to endure at least a year at a version of Hogwarts which the Founders surely would have had difficulty recognizing.

“I know your dad said these would be the classes we would take first-year, but this is ridiculous!” Harry grumbled with an aggravated wave of the offensive parchment. “This is not what we are supposed to be learning. How are Hogwarts graduates supposed to succeed if they haven’t been given the tools to do so?”

Draco snorted and shook his head. “Why do you think that British Magicals never get employment abroad anymore? They can’t compete. Britain is somewhat of a laughing stock in certain international institutions. But the Ministry here controls so much in this country that most of the population isn’t even aware of it.”

“And not even so much as a Latin dictionary on the supply list.” The Boy-Who-Lived continued in the wake of that infuriating comment. “With Latin eliminated as a subject they could at least give students a way to learn the meaning of some of the spells, seeing as they’re all in LATIN!”

The shout caught the attention of the adults, prompting a tangential conversation about the shortcomings of the Hogwarts education under the reign of the paragon of the Light that was Albus Dumbledore. It was a situation all the Old Families were painfully aware of, not that it did them any good. Many had grown so tired of fighting uselessly for change that they either joined the Death Eaters in the belief that Voldemort would cure such ills, or simply sent their children out of the country for their schooling. The enrollment at Durmstrang and Beauxbatons had been on a steady rise for over a decade.

Lucius had lost hope alongside his contemporaries but unbeknownst to them, that was about to change, and it was the furious child before them that would make it possible. If only they could get him properly outfitted for the school year. Which brought him back to the most feasible option they had come up with, which Narcissa had yet to be convinced was the best course of action.

“And yet, if one of Dumbledore’s little men see us with Harry at all it might give the Headmaster an idea and if he goes looking, or Merlin forbid, talks to those Muggles…” Narcissa trailed off briefly with a delicate shudder, “There is too much time and opportunity for him to find out before we are able to take the steps necessary to gain legal custody.”

“I understand that, dear, and I agree it is a risk, but I believe it is less so than having the boy on his own in the Alley. “ Lucius kept his voice calm and soothing, able to see the honest anxiety in his wife’s eyes. He could tell their friend saw it too when Severus cut in with an even tone.

“I will Apparate Potter into Diagon in the small corner behind Ollivander’s whilst we are disillusioned. I will remain just outside with an added Notice-Me-Not until the errand has been completed and walk him back to the corner to Disapparate immediately. No one will see me and there will be little chance of the child being interfered with.”

“And as we said, you and I will cross Harry’s path no more than a meter from the corner where he will happen to ask us directions to the shop. Since we will be on our way to pick up Draco’s wand, we will graciously offer to escort him inside where the children will both select wands. We will be with him for the duration, until we part ways and Severus leaves with him. There is as little risk as possible and far less with this plan than with any other.”

The Lady Malfoy narrowed her eyes momentarily. “And if the watchers find it odd that young Harry appeared and then disappeared so rapidly and is nowhere to be found?”

One black brow arched imperiously. “I hardly think it will prove difficult for me to point out at our next little,” he paused and said the next word with a characteristic sneer at the thought of another meeting with the Headmaster and his lackeys, “gathering, how completely inept and incompetent the wretches are to have been unable to find or keep track of a single eleven-year-old boy.”

She let out a sigh at the combined argument. “Very well. Let us prepare for this illustrious outing.”

Despite the witch’s worries, the scenario played out exactly as it had been planned and less than an hour after having arrived in Diagon Alley, Harry Potter was being whisked away by the Potions Master, invisible to all. Not being able to see his friend’s departure did not lessen the young blond’s annoyance at having to remain behind to be fitted for robes at Madam Malkin’s. It was with a full pout that Draco stepped up on the dais to be measured and poked with pins for the next hour.

Harry was spared the tedious errand. Narcissa had taken the smaller boy’s measurements herself and sent them to the shop to have a selection of clothing made for the year, while hissing under her breath that the results would not be to the proper standards for the heir to three prestigious Houses. She resigned herself to the necessity, however, being unwilling to risk ruining everything after so many years’ effort and planning. Especially considering the two young wizards would be under the Headmaster’s control within weeks.

As he endured the fitting will ill grace, the Malfoy heir tried to imagine what it would be like if his first and best friend were there with him, getting ready for their first year together at Hogwarts. Purchasing their wands together had been fantastic but he had not had the opportunity to see Harry explore the magical Alley. They had only ever left the Manor to visit Neville so he was sure that the brunette would be almost as awed with the hustle and bustle of Magicals in Diagon as he would have been had the shopping district truly been his first foray into the Wizarding World.

At that thought, Draco’s mind immediately conjured a picture of how Harry might have looked if this were indeed his first exposure to magic, if he had never accidentally ended up at the Manor. They had both been just seven years old when they had met and the blond hadn’t fully understood at the time what it meant that his friend had been so small and skinny when he had arrived in dirty and oversized clothes. He hadn’t known what it meant that the other boy was so quiet and timid and flinched at every move and touch. It was the nightmares that eventually caused the realization to dawn. And even then, it was a couple years before he grasped the whole picture of what his closest friend had gone through after being discarded in the Muggle world.

The eleven-year-old shuddered to think how things would have turned out if Harry had never appeared in the Malfoy maze. He was doubly glad when the seamswitch announced that he could step down and get redressed; not only had his thoughts been redirected, but it was time to go home. Time to go back to his first friend, his best friend, his only true equal. The elder Malfoys had to remind their son multiple times to slow down and walk at a dignified pace as they headed to the nearest Apparition point. It was therefore a surprise when Draco came to a sudden halt and turned to his parents with a pleading expression.

The Boy-Who-Lived had no-one to plead with, despite his boredom as he wandered around the Manor. He was not quite sure where to go once the Potions Professor had dropped him off to return to the school and appear busy with classroom preparations. He had never been alone in the castle-like house before. After trekking to the sitting room he shared with his best friend, he then headed towards the main library and then to the reading room. He loved the large window seat there, with the beautiful stained glass crests. They reminded him that he was part of a House even if he didn’t have any family living.

The reminder was bitter sweet as he ran a hand over his new wand. The first wand that had chosen him had been the brother to the one that the Dark Lord used to kill his parents. That revelation had sucked all the enjoyment, and all his air, right out of him and he had almost left the shop empty handed. Draco had stopped him with an artful scoff and the offhand words “well, that is clearly not the best fit, then is it? Why don’t I try a few while you look for some more options for him?”

Ollivander had stuttered, eyes wide at the young Pure-blood’s words even as he hesitantly complied after a look at the haughty faces of the blond’s parents. Harry was pretty sure that he was the only one who had seen the discomforted and concerned look in those pale grey eyes. He’d been pretty uncomfortable himself and was grateful for the chance to sit and rest for a while, the sight of Draco excitedly trying wand after wand quickly restoring his mood. That cheer had lasted him through the thirteen more wands that it had taken to find another – and in his opinion, much more fitting – match. He had been relived to find it so quickly as it had taken closer to thirty to find the first. The rush of warmth that had left him tingling from fingertips to toes had been well worth the wait.

The heir to the Houses of Potter, Peverell, and Gryffindor, continued to gently handle the twenty-seven centimeters of ironwood, picturing what the dragon might have looked like that had donated the core. He resolutely ignored the memory of Lord Malfoy’s imperious “really, Mr. Potter, we all know you’re related to Pendragon, there’s no need for your own Excalibur, wooden though it might be.” He wondered if the adults had planned a variation of leading statements for just that moment or if it had been the result of sudden inspiration.

Harry would not be the least surprised if all the first-years had heard some version of what had been said by the time they boarded the train. Another family had been entering the small shop as it had been said, after all. If it wasn’t an intentional bit of PR to test the waters in Magical Britain, the brunette would be as shocked as the family that had interrupted the famous Harry Potter as he picked out his wand.

The young wizard let out a hollow laugh as he recalled the expressions on the faces of all three members of the small family when they’d realized what they had heard and who was in the store with them. Thankfully it had signaled the end of the errand and Harry had been able to leave with only a quick exchange of galleons. The implication of his ancestry and how he knew they planned to use it to their advantage in the coming years once more drew his attention to the two crests on the window. His relation to King Arthur through the Peverells may be popularly considered his most prestigious claim but the connection to Gryffindor was nearly as meaningful to Harry as any other. It was especially meaningful as he prepared to enter the school his ancestor helped build. The school currently in the manipulative and destructive hands of Albus Dumbledore.

His thoughts circled back to where they had stated that morning. Hogwarts was part of his family legacy, the thought of learning there should thrill him, it being one of the few concrete pieces of his history he could be proud of. Or should be proud of, anyway. It was hard to give it the proper respect when he knew that the school and the legacy it represented was being constantly dishonored and insulted by the actions of its Headmaster, the one person meant to care for it in the absence of a Founder’s Heir who was old enough to do so in their family’s name.

Harry gritted his teeth and reminded himself that soon Dumbledore would be barred from the school grounds, the original school Charter would be followed as it should, and honor would be restored to the Hogwarts’ Legacy. Soon could not come soon enough, as far as he was concerned. A loud clatter in the hallway signaled the return of the Malfoys and the Potter heir was provided a welcome distraction from his angry and morose thoughts.

The sight of his best friend racing into the room, without actually running, caused him to smile for the first time since he had left the Alley. He was so relieved to see Draco that it wasn’t until the other boy cried for him to ‘look, Harry, look’ that he realized he had something clutched to his chest. Before he could ask what he was supposed to be looking at, a soft but disgruntled ‘mrrow’ was heard and the small grey blob of fur in the blond’s hands revealed itself to be a tiny kitten.

“Look, Harry, isn’t he perfect? We can bring a familiar to school and you said you’ve never had a pet of your own even though I told you that you could pick out one of Polaris’ siblings. And he’s grey like steel and his eyes are sea-green like a lake and you can call him Excalibur!”

Bright green eyes blinked several times and then met what did in fact appear to be sea-green orbs staring back at him. It still took a further few moments for Harry to process everything that had tumbled from Draco’s mouth in his excitement. “For- For me?”

Grey eyes narrowed in confusion at the disbelief in his friend’s voice. Hadn’t he just said he’d gotten the kitten for him? With a resolute shake of his head, he leaned down and carefully transferred the tiny animal to his new owner. “What do you think? Isn’t he perfect?”

Harry ever so gently cuddled the furry body to himself, smiling at the loud purr he received in response. The way Draco waited eagerly for him to say something prompted a quick series of nods. “Perfect. And rather fitting, don’t you think? Your ancestor did gift the original Excalibur to my ancestor after all.”

The taller boy grinned even wider and proceeded to tell his friend all about Kneazles and how smart they were and how much fun they would have playing with him at school. Neither noticed the form paused outside the open doorway to the reading room, watching them become acquainted with the newest family member.

Lucius had refused when his son first insisted that they had to stop and get the tiny animal staring out of the window of the Magical Menagerie. But it was his own words that had lost him that argument. “But you just said that he needed his own Excalibur and that’s what we could call it! It’s grey and everything. Please? Mum, please? We’ll miss Polaris and the others and I don’t have a familiar to bring and he has never had his own pet before!”

“It would serve to remind people of the ancient and respected connection between our two families, my dear,” his wife whispered with an amused expression. He had given in, outnumbered and outmaneuvered by his family. But watching the boys exclaim over the furry little thing, he admitted that a playful reminder of Harry’s personal connection with the revered king could only benefit their plans. Lord Malfoy had a small smile of his own as he made his way down the hall.

No one was smiling as the group assembled for the journey to King’s Cross. What would normally be a simple and joyous occasion, dropping a child off at Platform 9 3/4, was complicated by the need to get Harry to the same place without anyone realizing that they had come together or leaving the famous boy an easy target for any of Dumbledore’s followers. Followers who apparently wouldn’t think twice about casting a behavioral charm on an eleven-year-old boy if their illustrious and infallible leader asked them to. Though it was also entirely possible that whoever was sent to complete the task Severus had heard being planned two days previous would be promptly Obliviated as soon as they succeeded.

Obviously, Harry could not be taken to the Muggle entrance to make his own way onto the platform in order to preserve the illusion that he was still in the custody of his Muggle relatives. Yet someone would surely be at the barrier waiting for him, someone who would be quite vigilant after the dressing down so many had received for not seeing the child in Diagon the previous month. Harry arriving on the Platform without first going through the barrier could raise several questions they did not want asked. The dilemma had led to a furtive visit to Privet Drive and resulted in the horribly disconcerting appearance of Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon on either side of him as the Boy-Who-Lived Apparated into an unused closet close to Platforms Nine and Ten.

He knew it was in fact Narcissa Malfoy and Severus Snape, one with a wand trained discreetly on him providing a strong shield against charms and spells, and the other using a steady grip on his shoulder to project a temporary Occlumency shield into his mind. Yet the brunette could not help but curl in on himself slightly, nor could he keep from flinching every time he caught sight of one of them out of the corner of his eyes. Green eyes focused as much as possible on the contents of the carrier atop his trunk while he pushed the trolley as quickly as he could get away with in the crowded station. In the few minutes it took the three to reach the barrier, Harry’s breath was coming a little faster than it should and he was thankful that his disguised escorts only made a cursory statement that they would see him in June before sending him through to the hidden platform.

Even without knowing if who ever had been waiting for him had cast any spells or attempted any other means of magical manipulation, the eleven-year-old had to clench his muscles to prevent his hands from shaking as he hurried onto the train. He knew Lucius was somewhere nearby, providing another shield around him just in case Dumbledore was willing to risk one of his people being seen casting on a child in a place where the audience would be capable of recognizing such a thing.

Even so, Lord Malfoy’s shield was proof enough that it was possible and the young wizard was finally grasping the full reality of exactly what kind of danger the old man would pose this year. He’d known it intellectually of course, they had discussed it and various ways to prevent it from succeeding, but now he felt it. It was not at all a pleasant sensation, he decided as he checked for observers and steered his trunk onto the train and then into a compartment.

Having been painfully reminded what it felt like to be around his Aunt and Uncle, he could draw a nauseating parallel between living in Number Four and what it could be like at Hogwarts with Dumbledore as Headmaster. At least he was rarely around the students other than at meals, and even the perfect Dumbledore wouldn’t risk casting on him in front of the other professors. He would therefore not have to actually be around the Headmaster very often.

His thoughts must have been plain on his face when Draco slipped into the compartment a moment later from where he had been waiting just outside the train, because the first thing he did after closing the door was hand over a note that said, “It will work out fine, we all know the plan and as long as we follow it, that old man won’t pose an immediate threat.”

Harry took a deep breath and nodded in agreement, swallowing back the urge to ask about the less immediate threats. They had gone over those with the adults many times as well. Draco was right, they all knew what to do to get through the year and make progress towards their long-term goals. The strategy started with giving a seamless impression of two boys who ran into each other once in Diagon Alley but were only really meeting for the first time that day. There would be absolutely no mention of the Manor or anything that had happened or been learned there unless they were completely sure of their privacy. The train certainly did not provide that surety. So the best friends did their best to fill the silence with the type of chit-chat young strangers might engage in.

First, there was a discussion of their favorite foods, which had reminded both of them of one of the first talks they had actually had when they’d met almost four and a half years before. Then there was a debate about which class looked like it would be the most interesting based on the textbooks they had bought the month before. The blond was pretending to explain what Quidditch was when their compartment door slid open just an inch and they heard a voice from the hallway that they knew quite well.

“Oh, never mind, I just saw him, he’s gone in here. I’ll grab him. Thanks for the help.”

Neville pushed the door open a bit further, slipped through, and immediately shut it behind himself. Turning to face his only two friends, he did his best to act like they were nothing of the kind. “Hi. Sorry about that. I’m Neville.”

Suppressing a smile, Draco held out his hand. “Draco Malfoy. Nice to meet you. It’s Longbottom, right?”

Neville nodded and turned to shake Harry’s hand and exchange greetings again. After taking a seat beside him, he met the familiar green gaze with his own. He wondered again at the likelihood that there might be listening charms cast within the train cars. The idea of someone listening to them was creepy, but at the same time, he really hoped they weren’t going through all this trouble for nothing. “I don’t know if you know this or not, but we’re godbrothers.”

Harry did his best to act both surprised and excited. “Really? That’s fantastic.”

Conversation, as awkward as it felt, flowed freely between the three for a moment before Draco asked what had happened in the hallway and why he had slipped in so strangely. It went unsaid that they had planned for the tawny headed boy to accidentally find their compartment and ask to join them on the pretext of not wanting to pull his trunk any further. Not everyone had trunks with weightless charms built in like Draco and Harry did.

Neville sighed. “Trevor, my toad, he got away from me again and I was going to make a quick search for him while I looked for-“ he caught himself before saying ‘your compartment’ and quickly continued with, “somewhere to sit that wasn’t so crowded.”

If the others noticed his near slip, they covered it well, simply appearing interested in what he was saying. “But this girl saw me and insisted that I put my trunk in her compartment and that she would help me find him. She grabbed my arm and kind of dragged me down the hall, opening doors as we went and asking if anyone had seen a toad.”

Black brows drew down. “Well, that doesn’t sound terribly polite,” Harry said.

Neville shrugged in response. “She was a bit curt, and didn’t even knock before opening the doors. That’s why I hid in here. I’ll probably have enough trouble making friends this year, I don’t want to alienate myself before I’m even introduced to people.”

“That’s understandable,” Draco was silently impressed with the almost Slytherin reasoning. It was nice to know his friend had picked up some slight cunning after all the time they’d spent together since Harry arrived. “I wouldn’t worry about your toad either. The house elves will find him if he hasn’t returned before we get to Hogsmeade. Just tell your Head of House tonight and… what did you say its name was?”


“Yeah, Trevor will be in your dorm before you go to sleep tonight.”

The heir to the House of Longbottom let out a breath, clearly having been a little uncertain how to go about finding his pet. “I wonder how many others have toads? I would bet there’s loads more cats and owls. They’re probably a lot more fun. My grandmother has an owl and said we didn’t need another. I was hoping to maybe get a cat. But Uncle Algie was quite adamant that I take Trevor.”

“Well, you can play with my Kneazle if you want,” Harry offered as he removed the small kitten from its carrier, where he had spent the entire trip so far sleeping soundly.

“Oh! He’s great!” Neville exclaimed, not even having to pretend as it was the first time he had gotten a chance to actually meet the animal the others had told him about. “It’s a boy, right?” he hastened to ask, not wanting to sound like he already knew that.

“Yeah. His name’s Excalibur. Cal for short.” The kitten meowed loudly, as if in response to his name. Though being a Kneazle, that was entirely likely. The boys all laughed and Harry reached over to let his seemingly new friend hold him.

“Wow. Thanks. He’s great,” he said again as the kitten bumped his little grey head into Neville’s stomach and purred at the scratch he received from the boy in response. “How did you pick the name?”

Draco grinned, having come up with the moniker himself. “I bet it was his coloring, right? His fur is almost the same color as steel. It even kind of shines when the sun hits it, like a sword blade would.”

The best friends exchanged grins as Harry said, “Yeah, actually, that’s pretty close. How’d you guess?”

“I’ve read every story ever written about Camelot, it has always been a big deal in my House because-” the blond was cut off by a knock on the compartment door.

All three boys exchanged looks and after a deep breath, Harry called out, “come in.”

When the door opened there were two boys their age, both in two-piece suits – one tan and one grey – who eyed the car’s occupants with surprise. “Malfoy,” they both said in turn, giving the blond a respectful nod before turning to the other two boys.

Draco took it upon himself to introduce everyone, gesturing to Neville first. “Theodore Nott, Blaise Zabini, this is Neville Longbottom.”

The visitors blinked silently before offering a brief hello. The House of Longbottom was looked down in some of the higher circles because of Augusta’s outspoken manner and Frank and Alice’s vehement defense of their fellow Aurors even after the Unforgivables were legalized for law enforcement and used more often than they liked to admit. But it was still an Ancient and Noble House and snubbing its heir was not a wise political move. The two Pure-bloods were much quicker and more eager to great the brunette when he was introduced.

“Nott, Zabini, this is Harry Potter.”

Both pairs of eyes went wide, only a hint of the previous disdain still showing as they eyed the famous wizard up and down. Draco refrained from shooting his best friend an ‘I told you so’ look. He had been against it from the start, but even his mother had agreed that Harry needed to dress in a Muggle fashion to reinforce the assumption that his short trip to Diagon Alley had been his only foray outside the Muggle world.

Not that the light brown jumper with its blue elbow patches looked particularly ghastly with the dark blue dress shirt, but the jean things and the trainers made him look too casual and all together too Muggle in the blond’s opinion. Next to his own pressed grey trousers, suit jacket and thin black tie over a starched white dress shirt, the ensemble more than stood out. Even Neville had on trousers and a bow tie, though he had shed his jacket at some point before entering their compartment, making his navy suspenders rather stark against the white button-down.

Harry fidgeted briefly, seemingly as aware of the contrast between himself and the Wizard-raised boys around him as Draco was. He had spent so long wearing the more formal clothing at the Manor that even he felt underdressed in a jumper and jeans. The heir to the Houses of Peverell and Potter gamely gave a dignified nod to their visitors, however, glad he could at least display the proper manners if not the proper attire.

“Would you care to join us?” he asked politely. As much as he would rather spend the rest of the ride to the school with his two friends, they didn’t know for sure if there were listening spells on the train and there were certain bits of information they wanted to circulate as soon as possible. If it were public knowledge now it would save them the trouble of repeating the performance again, as it would be best to lay the foundation they needed for the false impression so key to keeping Dumbledore unaware of Harry’s life at the Manor.

Once everyone was seated comfortably, with Neville having moved to sit next to Harry with the excuse that he was still holding the kitten, and the new arrivals on the seat facing them, they returned to their previous conversation. “So, you didn’t say why you like the Camelot stories so much that you could guess Cal’s name,” the brunette prompted his friend.

Before the blond was able to reply, Nott asked who Cal was.

“Oh, Cal’s short for Excalibur, I named him after the story because he’s a shiny grey like the pictures of the sword and because he’s a Kneazle. The clerk at the store said that Kneazles are a magical species of cat. I didn’t know there were magical cats before so I thought that made him special and he needed a magical name to match. ‘The Sword in the Stone’ was the most magical story I could think of so I named him after that.” Harry hoped he wasn’t laying the naiveté on too thick as he watched Blaise and Theodore looking at him strangely in response.

“How did you not know there were magical cats?” the darker skinned visitor asked, apparently latching onto the first of the strange statements that had just been made.

“Well, I didn’t know about magic until my letter came. I live with my Aunt and Uncle. They’re Muggles,” he revealed casually, knowing that only Lucius’ contacts and elevated position in the Wizengamot had allowed him to glean that much of the famous baby’s placement. No other Noble would have had access to such information so it was decided to get that surprise out of the way as soon as possible.

“You grew up with Muggles?” the Nott heir asked in shock, his gaze raking over the strange, casual outfit again, seemingly viewing it with a more understanding eye at this revelation.

Harry just nodded and turned back to Draco for the answer to his previous question, not wanting to get into a drawn out discussion about his supposed life in the Muggle world. It was hard to keep the story straight and he didn’t want to give too many details. A lie was most successful when it was simple, Lord Malfoy had always said. The truth of the years he spent at Privet Drive weren’t to be thought on at all, let alone discussed as far as he was concerned. He suppressed a shudder and waited for his best friend to continue their loosely planned conversation.

“Well, like I said, the stories of Camelot are especially important in my House because our ancestor was Vivien Lac. “ He clarified the reference when his friend shot him a very believable look of slight confusion. “She was the Lady of the Lake.”

The only surviving Potter let his eyes grow wide, hoping he didn’t look as silly as he felt when he said, “You mean she was a real person? I thought it was just a story?”

Draco swallowed back a laugh at the well-feigned shock. He remembered the real surprise the other boy had exhibited when he learned this the first time. “Yes, Vivien, Merlin, Arthur and many of his knights were real. And were witches or wizards, of course.”

“Oh, wow,” Harry exclaimed, feeling silently pleased with the surprised but assessing way Nott and Zabini were watching the exchange. It was going to be a lot easier if they could successfully reinforce his supposed ignorance and explain his knowledge at the same time. Draco had assured him when they’d discussed the matter that if a few Pure-bloods found out that they would be unable to keep from telling every student they knew as well as their parents. Which was exactly the kind of public assumptions they needed to form. Having the Pure-blood families aware of the way his education had been so shamefully neglected in such a way that he didn’t have to actually point it out was definitely a plus.

“That must be really neat to be related to someone so famous,” he continued, watching surreptitiously as their audience’s eyes almost bulged at the display of his complete lack of knowledge of his House and legacy. Such was practically blasphemy to practically all Pure-bloods. Even Neville and Draco managed believable looks of surprise.

The way their once shy friend stuttered out “But, you-” only to cut himself off when the smaller wizard glanced to him with a quizzical look was particularly well done. Not to be upstaged, Draco gaped at the brunette and then shook his head.

“Well, you should know,” the blond stated with polite disbelief, “you’re related to Arthur Pendragon, after all.”

Harry took a moment to silently blink, hoping he looked stunned, then tried to fashion his own expression of disbelief. “I’m what?” he shook his head slightly and gathered up Excalibur who had finally grown tired of being held by Neville and crawled into his master’s lap. “Is that what your dad meant at the wand store? He said something about a dragon but I was rather distracted at the time. I mean, I assumed one of my parents had magic, since I do. But since my Aunt and Uncle never talk about them I wasn’t sure. I never thought… I mean, is that common, for people with magic? To be related to someone like that? I mean…”

The Boy-Who-Lived wasn’t sure his stutter was convincing, but no one looked at him funny as he pretended to be overwhelmed and confused by this information, so he figured he must be doing fairly well. Just in case, he was grateful that his friend piped in almost hesitantly. Who knew Neville would be such a good actor? “No, not really. There are some, but they’re…”

Draco picked up where Neville left off. “They’re very respected, influential families in our world, Potter. They’re called Most Ancient and Noble Houses and there really are only two left. The Malfoys, and the Peverells, though that House has been absorbed by the Potter line.” He did his best not to laugh at the way his friend furrowed his brow.

“Oh. Wow. You said Potter, so that means my dad was a wizard, right?”

Everyone else in the car nodded, eyes wide. It was Draco who spoke up first, wanting to make sure no one asked any questions they hadn’t rehearsed for. “Yes,” he drew out the word as if he couldn’t quite believe he was having to say it. “Your father was a Pure-blooded wizard, both his parents were Magicals. He was the heir to the House of Potter. Your mother was also a witch, though she was what we call,” he cleared his throat so it sounded like he had to rethink his wording rather than cover a laugh, “a Muggle-born. She had magic but her parents were both Muggles.”

Harry cocked his head to one side as if thinking hard about something. “So does that make me the heir to the Potter house too?” The brunette would be quite happy when he had an excuse to know these things and didn’t have to act so ignorant. It made him feel stupid, and he’d had quite enough reminders of what it was like living with the Dursleys already today.

One of the two young wizards across from them let out a choking sound, but the bespectacled boy wasn’t sure which one. It hardly mattered as his best friend’s well-rehearsed words kept him occupied. “Yes, you’re the Heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Potter, as well as the Most Ancient and Noble House of Peverell. That makes you one of the highest-ranking heirs alive. Plus you’re… well… you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” he asked, as if he wasn’t sure if he had just been complemented or insulted.

Unable to keep quiet any longer, Theodore Nott spoke with so much disbelief his voice raised several octaves at the end. “You seriously don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?”

“You’re famous. You’re the bloody Boy-Who-Lived!”

“I am not,” he denied, as if he had never heard anything so absurd. He didn’t have to try very hard as the moniker was, in his opinion, stupid and disrespectful in its careless reference to his parents’ murders.

The four other boys spluttered in shock, though Zabini and Nott were by far the loudest. Unexpectedly, it was Theodore who collected himself first. “You are, Potter. You’re the most famous person in the Wizarding world.”

“What?” the brunette cried. “Why on earth would I be famous? Is this one of those house things you were talking about? Because I’m related to King Arthur?” he asked, glancing at Draco. It was easier to focus on his best friend’s face, knowing the blond didn’t really think he was the unassailable hero the press portrayed him as.

“You defeated the Dark Lord, Potter. You killed the most powerful, most evil wizard since Grindelwald.”

“When was I supposed to have done that? How was I supposed to have done that?” The incredulity wasn’t hard to fake. He’d wondered that himself when Lord Malfoy and Mr. Snape had explained the blood war to him. He still wondered it occasionally.

“No one knows how, but it happened when the Dark Lord-“ Zabini’s awed tone faltered, as if suddenly becoming aware of the sensitive nature of the topic. “that is,” he gamely continued, “when he killed Mr. and Mrs. Potter and gave you that scar.”

Harry reared back in his seat as if he’d been slapped. He wondered if the other boy thought that not calling them his parents and saying ‘gave you that scar’ instead of ‘tried to murder you too when you were barely more than a year old’ would somehow be less painful for him to hear. He couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be learning this information now for the first time as he would have if the Headmaster had gotten his way. It had been hard enough to hear if from the Malfoys after they’d taken in him and been so kind to him and essentially rescued him from the hell that was Little Whinging.

Before anyone had a chance to comment on his friend’s sudden pallor, Neville jumped in, just barely beating Draco to it. “Well, see, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named attacked the Potter Cottage on Halloween of 1981 but no one knows for sure what happened. Only that that You-Know-Who disappeared, your parents were both killed, and that you somehow survived the Killing Curse with only a scar. That’s not supposed to be possible. So, you became really famous right away.”

“For surviving a familicide?” The dead tone was only partially faked. It still made him sick to his stomach to think about why he was famous, though he was more than willing to use it to his advantage. Several of their plans utilized his fame and the influence it gained him and he wasn’t the least bit ashamed to use it against the type of people who decided to make him a celebrity because of such a personal tragedy and think he had no reason to be bothered by it.

“No,” Draco corrected, more gently than he probably should have but unable to stand the look of pain on his best friend’s face. “For destroying the Dark Lord. For saving thousands of lives and ending a war.”

Silence descended on the train compartment for several minutes and it was a relief to them all when they heard the announcement that they would soon be approaching Hogsmeade and needed to put on their uniforms. The five wizards dispersed, Neville to retrieve his clothing from his trunk where he’d left it in Hermione’s compartment, and the three childhood acquaintances to the loos. Harry was voted to stay behind and change in the empty car. When they first stepped through the door, they nearly collided with a group of three girls who seemed to recognize the three presumed future Slytherins. At least enough to say a few words to each boy and giggle a lot. Harry could see enough to wonder absently why the witches’ semi-formal dresses looked like they had all been coordinated in various pale shades.

The blond only made it a few steps past the gigglers when he loudly stated that he had left his tie and returned to get it after waving on Zabini and Nott. He closed the door quietly behind himself and silently shot his friend a look that made it clear that he wanted to comfort him in some way but didn’t dare in case there was surveillance of some kind.

Harry shot him a wilted smile in thanks and quietly told the boy he’d supposedly just met that they could both just turn away and change in the compartment. Draco took him up on the offer and the two quickly donned their Hogwarts uniforms and sat back down side by side. If they happened to be close enough to hold hands under the folds of their robes, neither was going to ignore the opportunity to give their best friend a reassuring squeeze before the others returned. While the five waited to disembark at the station, no one mentioned the fact that their car was far more somber than the ones surrounding them. No one, in fact, spoke a word until they left the train and assembled with the other first-years to board the boats.

Chapter Nine: In Enemy Territory

After dodging a conversation with the huge man that seemed to be in charge, Draco, Harry, and Neville managed to secure a boat to themselves. Not that they could talk privately on the lake, but it was at least more comfortable than it would be otherwise. It also required a blessed lack of acting as the brunette asked about the girls who were so interested in Draco and the others. After receiving the surprising and not particularly welcome answer of, “that was Pansy Parkinson, Daphne Greengrass, and Tracy Davis. Nott’s father is rumored to be in talks with Davis about a Formal Courtship and mother and father have mentioned both Greengrass sisters enough times that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a similar rumor about me and one of them.”

“Courtship? Now? You?” Harry wasn’t sure which part of that made the least amount of sense. The whole idea left a bad taste in his mouth but Draco just grimaced and shrugged it off.

Neville turned their attention to a more palatable topic as he explained about the loud redhead that was sharing a boat with the bushy-haired girl from earlier. “His name is Ron Weasley. He was sitting with the Granger girl when I went back for my uniform. I haven’t talked to him really, but I’ve met two of his brothers. They’re twins and apparently they like pranks.”

Having been a recipient of many of what his cousin had termed ‘pranks’, the dark-haired wizard barely covered a flinch. Narrowed grey eyes told him he wasn’t completely successful, but nothing was said as the tawny boy went on. “They offered to help me with my trunk but when they reached for it this slimy stuff came out of somewhere and got all over my jacket. I had to take it off because it smelt really bad. That’s how I lost hold of Trevor.”

“What jerks!” the other two proclaimed. Neville nodded and looked back over at the redheaded first-year.

“Ron seemed to think it was funny. He laughed a lot.” That prompted Harry and Draco to aim their own, decidedly unfriendly, glares in the loud boy’s direction.

The expressions only slightly diminished by the time they were listening to the Deputy Headmistress explain about the different school Houses. The trio of future Lords made sure to group themselves far away from Weasley and Granger and before they knew it, they were lining up at the front of the huge hall to be Sorted. While the Malfoys had explained the process and the use of the Sorting Hat, Harry still found himself nervous as he waited for his name to be called. He managed to clap a little for each person, and even smile when his shy friend was greeted so warmly at the Hufflepuff table.

By the time Draco was joining the Slytherins, however, it felt like his face was frozen in an awkward combination of a smile and a grimace. The relief of hearing the hat call out SLYTHERIN promptly after it blocked out his view of the Great Hall was strong enough to allow him to join the cheering Malfoy heir without noticing the shocked silence over much of the other tables. Including the professors’ table, according to the laughing comments of his new housemates. A brief glance of his own as he filled his plate confirmed that few of the professors appeared pleased when they looked in his direction. The one who had sorted them and the one he knew to be the Headmaster looked the most displeased of all.

The latter seemed to paste on a too-large smile by the end of the meal, but the former was still looking quite pinched as she approached the Potions Master after pudding. The two friends were seated at the very end of the Slytherin table nearest the professors and their new Head of House was only about two or three meters away from them. They heard the stern witch say something about being objective as she gestured at the school’s most famous student, but they didn’t catch anything else over the noise of the Hall. They didn’t have to hear a word to see the way their former tutor dismissed her with a sneer and walked away.

The process of making it down to the dungeons and learning the route to their common room distracted the friends until Professor Snape stalked into the large, green-lit expanse. Harry had to focus on listening to the speech about House pride and rules of behavior to avoid staring out the windows into the murky water of Black Lake.

When the dormitory assignments were given out to the first-years, two per room, they both acted nonchalant about the news that they would be sharing a room. Other than the smirk Draco shot the other boys who had hoped to room with the famous boy, neither appeared to be concerned one way or the other. The exchange earned them a brief nod from their Head of House. But they both knew it was more than just an acknowledgement of the arrangement. It was also a sign of approval for the successful rendition of recent acquaintances. Even Snape may have thought they appeared to not care overmuch about rooming together based on their behavior, but when they were safely inside their dorm and had cast the charms to check for any type of surveillance spells, the sighs of relief were long and loud.

“I didn’t think that feast was ever going to end,” Harry complained as he tiredly scooped up Excalibur from where he had settled on his master’s pillow when the house elves brought him from the train.

Draco agreed and they both took turns trudging to the bathroom to prepare for bed before settling into the large four posters positioned side by side against one of the stone walls. They each left one side of the green velvet bed curtains open so they could see each other as they covered themselves with the thick emerald blankets. Harry spared a second to wish the canopy wasn’t there so he could see the elegant arches of the vaulted ceilings. The mentally exhausting day soon caught up with him, though, and he was fast asleep in minutes.

Not even Excalibur’s cries or the jostling he received when Draco climbed into his bed woke him from the nightmare two hours later. After several minutes of the blond’s arms fixing tightly around him and little Cal’s head butting into his sternum he thankfully quieted, but Harry still did not wake. Green eyes widened ever so slightly at the sight of his best friend curled up beside him in the morning. It wasn’t at all an unfamiliar way to wake up, but it was the first time he couldn’t recall the other boy waking him from the nightmare that prompted his nighttime visit. Even so, the brunette quickly shrugged it off and went about waking the taller boy.

A short discussion, peppered with yawns, proceeded to cover their opinions of the day before. It was agreed that the conversation with their two new housemates would now allow Harry to not hide his knowledge of his Houses and fame. “You might ask me in front of one of the others if there’s a book about the House of Potter or something and check one or two out of the library. Then it’ll make sense that you know about the other notable families and that kind of stuff.”

He gave a sleepy nod and reached for his glasses, wishing again that he was old enough for the corrective spells Narcissa had told him about. Once his Magical Core started to settle at fifteen it would be an option, but until then, he was stuck with the glasses. At least these were more fashionable than the round frames he’d once had, he thought as he put them on. “Maybe a book or two about the history of Pendragon’s Court too. It will explain my understanding of the formation of the original nobility and help draw attention to our links to Camelot.”

“Good idea, though-” he paused to let out another loud yawn, “we’ll have to keep a close eye on the old man if we start that too soon. I doubt he’ll be happy knowing you are learning about your place in our society. The more you admit to knowing the more he’ll realize you won’t be as easy to control as he was expecting.”

“We’ll need to do that anyway. Did you see the way he was brooding during the feast?” Draco nodded, recalling the flash of anger that had overtaken that horrible twinkle when the hat called out its decision. “Besides, that’s still better than me slipping up and showing that I know something that we can’t explain me having learned. A single conversation in a train car will only go so far. And your father said keeping that manipulator unaware of the last four and a half years was most important.”

The planned trip to the library was easy enough to fit in that first day after classes, but a carefree demeanor was much more difficult to accomplish with the weight of that calculating blue gaze on them at every meal. By the end of the first week they were both on tenterhooks waiting for their esteemed Headmaster to call his little pawn in for chat. And a pawn was exactly what Harry felt like when it finally happened after breakfast on his first Saturday in the castle. Since learning about the elderly wizard’s actions following his parents’ deaths, the Potter heir had pictured Dumbledore playing a chess game with everyone around him just being pieces on his board. But the feeling really hit home for him as he silently followed his former Potions and Defense tutor up into the Headmaster’s office.

The brunette recounted the half-hour long meeting with a tiny shiver over their Herbology reading that night. He shifted restlessly on his desk chair while describing the way Severus had acted so put out by the inconvenience of the whole thing, which had prompted the old goat to graciously offer for the Potions Master to leave Harry with him. “Snape just sneered and said ‘considering the child has already somehow befriended young Malfoy, I am hardly going to forgo the annoyance of a single morning in favor of countless hours of my godson’s complaints that I wasn’t being nice enough to his new little friend.’”

Draco snorted. “That should have worked well enough to remind the fool that Severus needed to maintain the appearance of watching you for the Death Eaters as well as remind him that the Headmaster’s behavior around you had a surefire way to make it back to my father.”

Harry nodded back, having been told before school started what reasoning Snape would give the other Dark Lord supporters when they heard of him being passably nice to the Boy-Who-Lived. “It did seem to work. Dumbledore tried to talk to me about my classes and how I was settling into the House but I yawned a lot and acted like I was too tired to pay very close attention. And any personal questions or comments would have been suspicious if you told your dad about them so he didn’t ask that kind of stuff. I don’t think he wants very many people to be sure about his interest in me. The prophecy is hardly the first thing he wants to bring to the Death Eaters’ attention again.”

The blond cast his friend a worried look at the vehemently bitter words. Neither one of them liked to think about the prophecy, even when they were in the midst of plotting the Dark Lord’s demise. Only a few things made the friends more disgusted than the idea that a crazy woman’s mutterings had been the cause of the Potters’ murder. One was Dumbledore himself, who both had come to view as nearly as bad as Voldemort, though he admittedly kept his hands somehow pristine whilst destroying lives. Another was the incessant staring and whispering –and Merlin help them, the giggling – that followed Harry most every minute they spent outside their shared dorm.

The last, and currently the most aggravating, was the rude comments sent their way from almost every student wearing red and gold. It was as if they each took it as a personal insult that the Boy-Who-Lived was not sorted into their House as they’d expected. While not the worst of the offenses against him, to Harry’s mind, it ranked so highly because of the way so many of the professors implied approval of the teasing and insults through their lack of discipline. There were times that it happened right in front of a staff member but they acted as though they didn’t hear a single taunt or notice a single tripping jinx or stinging hex. Unless of course, it was performed by a Slytherin. Then House points and detentions went flying.

The rivalry that was silently encouraged between the two Houses was made especially bothersome by the knowledge that the Founders had only intended the House system to help like minds find each other so as to encourage alliances and friendships. Needless to say, it was another mental note on the list of things that would change when Gryffindor’s heir was finally able to reveal himself and take his rightful place within the Founders’ Legacy. It was a long list.

As the weeks passed, Harry and Draco watched many of their peers constantly acting pleased and impressed by life at Hogwarts. The two young wizards were not impressed at all with what they saw around them. They were, in fact, just as worried about the quality of the education being provided as they had been before the start of term. Also concerning was the fact that hardly anyone outside a few of the older snakes seemed to notice a single thing amiss. Some of the other first-years complained occasionally about a few aspects of how things were done but it was almost always because they didn’t like the classes rather than the fact that those classes did not offer the breadth and quality of education that they were originally meant to.

The two young lordlings could not help but vent some of their distress as they met up with their fellow heir in a back corner of the library. The area was enclosed on three sides by bookcases, giving a much better anchor point for the anti-eavesdropping and muffling charms Lord Malfoy and Professor Snape had taught them all before the start of term. This meant that as long as they kept an eye out and their voices down, they could speak freely amongst themselves.

“Seriously? Does no one understand the importance of a minimum standard? It’s like it doesn’t matter to a single person if the people we’re learning from are qualified to teach their subject. How is a Muggle Studies Professor supposed to teach us Defense? He couldn’t defend himself from a dust bunny!”

The two Pure-bloods blinked at the unfamiliar term, then focused back on the rest of the complaint. It was really quite impossible to argue with, no matter how difficult Lord Malfoy had admitted it was for even the Board of Governors to find a competent option year after year since apparently it would be beyond the pale to actually acknowledge the curse on the positions and try to remove it. Much better to cycle through a new and increasing imbecilic professor every year. “Even if, Merlin willing,” Longbottom said quietly, “there was someone from abroad that would be agreeable to teaching at a school that doesn’t meet much more than half of the standards schools in other countries do, it would never be allowed, would it?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Of course not, because if someone with that kind of knowledge were to come here and see just how far from the international standards Hogwarts was it would make the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards look a right bollock, wouldn’t it? And we all know how likely Dumbledore is to allow something that might taint his spotless reputation.”

He wanted to ask how scores and course content had gotten so low, but it was painfully obvious that the content of many necessary courses had to be simplified to make up for the lack of foundation that was meant to be acquired in classes that had been eliminated years ago. A trend that had begun, coincidentally, not long after the current Headmaster had assumed his role. Numerous courses that had been listed as required subjects in the original school Charter had been eliminated or replaced or rewritten to be useless. As green eyes stared sightlessly at his latest essay for History of Magic, he couldn’t even force himself to finish it.

“Honestly, I learned more by the time I was eight than is covered in our entire course book for this year. And I started out years behind!”

“What do you expect when a class is taught by a ghost?” Draco asked sarcastically.

“It’s more than that,” Longbottom said as he closed his own book before Harry could go into the Founders’ hiring standards yet again. “From what Gran says the entire syllabus is different from what she learned, and Binns was teaching back then too.”

“Yes, terribly ironic that the history curriculum changed to include very little other than goblin wars and rebellions after Gringotts formally protested how much the Headmaster was withdrawing from the Hogwarts accounts without the documents their copy of the Charter stated were necessary to access the funds.” The only living Founders’ Heir would have been impressed with how his fellow Slytherin was able to speak in such an overly dry and emotionless voice but he was too busy remembering how mad he had been when that had come to his attention a few months after his tenth birthday.

Ten years old was usually when an heir was introduced to some of the basic tasks he would overtake when he became Lord. As such, Lord Malfoy had started showing both boys some of his everyday responsibilities, including those he was given as Head of the Board of Governors. It was in reviewing minutes taken at past Board meetings that such information had come to Harry’s attention. “Indeed. Just as shocking as the fact that when the Wizengamot heard the protest, the copy of the Charter they were in possession of showed a total lack of such requirements, thus allowing the Chief Warlock to clear himself of any wrongdoing.”

All three exchanged meaningful looks and moved on to another subject with resigned groans. Not all the teachers were inept or so thoroughly restricted by ‘updated’ syllabi, just as not all students were as intentionally and selectively rude as the majority of the Gryffindors such as Ron Weasley and Cormac McLaggen. Some, such as the bane of Neville’s existence, Hufflepuff Zacharias Smith, were just not nice to anyone. Others’ lack of manners wasn’t even really intentional but more a result of their being completely uniformed about Wizarding culture.

Even Draco couldn’t blame the Muggle-borns and Muggle-raised Half-bloods entirely for being so ignorant. The fact that they didn’t even try to learn anything about the world they’d entered, however, set the Malfoy heir off on a rant at least once a month. But on the whole, they all knew the lack of training or even orientation for newcomers was to blame. Many of the other Slytherins, even some of the Pure-bloods in the other Houses, knew it. But not a single one of them thought anything could be done about it and therefore stopped trying to point out the glaring misunderstandings and misconceptions the outsiders labored under. Doing so only got you labeled as elitist or a blood purist, after all.

And really, it wasn’t even surprising, Harry admitted to Draco in the silence of their dorm after a long few hours sitting in silence with a fellow first-year who’s favorite cousin had died in a tragic dueling accident the day before. The funeral was being held that night in accordance with the old traditions and as the boy’s dearest friend he held a very important role in the rite that had to be performed within three days of the death. Being unable to go home for the ceremony because it did not meet the qualifications for an excused absence and would have led to a month long suspension for leaving campus without permission had been a horrible blow to the eleven-year-old. The school itself refused to respect magical traditions so it wasn’t a surprise that everyone not raised in the Old Ways had no respect for them either.

That was never more evident than on Halloween. Finding out that his parents had been killed on the 31st of October and learning the meaning and rituals of Samhain in the same year had been both traumatic and comforting for Harry. As a child, the usual celebratory activities had meant very little to him other than the fact that he had to watch through the slats on his cupboard door as Uncle Vernon gave candy after candy to complete strangers that he would never even consider giving to his nephew for any reason.

It also, however, was one of the only nights during the year that he didn’t have to worry about his cousin pulling his attention away from his candy long enough to attack him. Nor did he have to be concerned with having his Aunt manufacture a reason the freak deserved to sweep the patio at eleven o’clock at night or sleep in the garden because she couldn’t be bothered to wake him in time for him to finish the weeding before the neighbors woke. There was an upside to having people wandering the streets at all hours.

Therefore he didn’t hate Halloween when he arrived at the Manor the way he did Christmas, where he watched his relatives dote on their son to excess and shower him with presents Harry couldn’t ever dream of receiving. He also had to spend the entire day cooking and then cleaning up the kitchen without getting more than the merest scraps to eat himself. And sometimes not even that. Discovering that Halloween had been the start of his personal nightmare at Number Four could have changed his almost favorable view of it if not for the fact that he also found out that the holiday centered around honoring one’s ancestors and those that had died.

It became a source of sorrow and an avenue of closure all at once. Not that closure was actually possible, but it gave him a perfect outlet for his grief and a way to express how much he missed his parents without making him feel like he was causing a fuss or acting inappropriately. It took years for him to accept that it was okay for him to be hurt or to express unhappiness. If he were completely honest, he still struggled with it. Which is why he found such release in the traditions of Samhain and the closing of the Wheel of the Year. It was also why the lack of understanding and outright disrespect of his fellow students was such a blow for the first-year.

The Slytherins, who had by and large been raised to not only follow Wizarding traditions but to also honor their parents and House above all else, didn’t say a word against Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy confining themselves to their dorm as soon as classes ended on the 31st. Most of their year mates joined them at sundown instead of attending the Halloween Feast. Some even brought candles and flowers to place with the carefully drawn family trees that Narcissa had helped Harry create for his observation of the holiday.

One second-year student whose mother had been in James and Lily’s year had even sent home for a photograph she’d once seen in her mother’s album that featured the couple at a Quidditch party the year they graduated. Aside from the ones of Lily which Severus had made him copies of over the years that he tutored the boys in Malfoy Manor, it was the only image he’d ever seen of his parents. The quiet hours spent in honor of the Potters were ones Harry would never forget. They even outshone the frantic tales of an actual Mountain Troll loose in the castle that were carried back with the older years towards the end of the evening.

“So the professors just sent everyone back to their dorms?” Draco asked an older student incredulously.

“Yeah. Told the prefects to take everyone to the common rooms and to stay there.”

“They didn’t send anyone to accompany the students? Not even the Slytherins or Hufflepuffs? You said the Troll was last seen in the dungeons, right?”

The sixth and seventh-year prefects stared at the irate blond with dawning horror. “Merlin, what were they thinking? I was so panicked I didn’t even realize,” cried one of them.

“Maybe they were too scared to think of it too,” offered a second-year that most people saw as far too considerate to have gotten into the green and silver House until he lost his temper and exacted painful revenge. Repeatedly.

“Thinking about stuff like that is their job,” grunted Marcus Flint. Though he could have just said it, Harry admitted to himself. It was hard to tell when he spoke through those teeth. “They are supposed to protect us as well as teach us.”

“You’d think they would be capable of at least doing one of the two,” Harry hissed to Draco under his breath. It wasn’t as quiet as he’d thought, if the narrow eyed looks he received from two nearby seventh-years were anything to go by.

Once the panic was over and their Head of House came to tell them the threat had been resolved, a multitude of letters had been written and sent off with all the feathered familiars the House had to offer. No Slytherin would allow another snake to make the trek to the Owlery when they could simply loan the usage of their personal owl to their fellows. For a small fee, of course. The two best friends spared a thought to how many Howlers the Headmaster would ignore from horrified parents that week. Then they reached their destination and turned their attention back where it belonged.

It only took a few minutes for the portrait to relay their message to the Potions Master’s office and another five for the man himself to arrive. Draco wouldn’t be the least surprised if his Godfather had been on his Floo with Lucius while he waited for the message to arrive.

“I saved you a candle, Professor,” Harry told the dour wizard, as soon as the blond had inquired after his Godfather’s limp. Draco was, unsurprisingly, rebuffed but the brunette’s words earned him a nod. No one said anything else as Severus Snape followed the Potter and Malfoy heirs to their dorm to light a single pillar candle in memory of his childhood friend.

The same action had been repeated at every Samhain Harry had known, though Snape never spoke the name of the one he thought of when he whispered Incendio. Draco had once told him that his Godfather had always lit an extra candle on Samhain when he came to the Manor to celebrate but it wasn’t until he started sharing stories of Lily with her son that the Malfoy heir had suspected whom the flame honored. Nothing was said that night either, and soon after, both first-years were huddled under the warm covers of Harry’s bed watching the candles burn. Long before they were charmed to safely extinguish, Harry’s first nightmare woke them both. The brunette always had a nightmare on the anniversary of his parents’ murder. Usually two, and his first year at Hogwarts was no exception. The boys didn’t even bother trying to sleep apart on the 31st anymore.

The terrifying green light was only a distant recollection by morning, but it might as well have still been flashing behind his eyes for all the peace he managed in the days that followed. Draco had gouged crescents in his palms from clenching his fists so hard in order to keep from cursing all the insensitive twats who said something nasty about the snakes that didn’t deign to join the ‘little people’ at the feast.

Even after being told that some people didn’t feel like celebrating on the anniversary of their parents’ brutal murder and that some people chose to stay with their Housemate instead of eat themselves sick on candy they could just order from home anyway. Still, certain other students, three of whom sported red hair, still accused the missing students of having been responsible for the Troll getting into the school and using the date as an excuse to get away with it.

Gryffindor’s hourglass was nearly in the negative by the end of the last Potions class that week. In contrast, the next few weeks saw a marked increase in the Slytherin points after the first-years attended both Potions and Transfiguration as a direct result of the extra, in depth study and discussion on upcoming chapters which the classmates had conducted. He had been at a loss at first, on how to best honor his parents while confined to his dorm.

With the lack of knowledge and respect shown the traditions of Wizarding culture at Hogwarts he could hardly do the rites outside Slytherin House and the common room was far too loud and busy until after the feast started. Then Draco had reminded him that Severus had told them many stories about Lily’s love of Potions and once, when insinuating that McGonagall favored James Potter above all others, had stated that Transfigurations was his father’s favorite subject. So, studying and experimenting, and speculation about what the Potters would have taught him of the two subjects had abounded.

Not that either Draco or Harry really needed much work in those, or any, subjects to get ahead. Their home tuition in almost all subjects had exceeded much of the first-year curriculum by the time they were ten. Though considering that they had also studied those subjects which should have been first-year courses as well, they were not so far advanced in those offered that they stood out too much. Harry actually took pains to occasionally struggle visibly with things in the classroom as such was expected of anyone raised in the Muggle world or who did not have private home tutors before they started Hogwarts.

Because of this, the best friends were able to easily complete all their holiday work in the first three days of Christmas Break. Being the sole Slytherins to stay at the school and two of only a half dozen in the entire school, they had more privacy than they’d had since arriving. They both continued faithfully casting spells to block any possible eavesdropping charms whenever they spoke about things they did not want others to know. Yet it was still a relief to not have to worry nearly as much about being seen by other students. Despite all that, both would far rather have been at home for Yule.

“Everyone knows we’ve ‘become’ friends, it wouldn’t be inordinately suspicious for you to come home with me for the break,” Draco whinged as they worked to finish the Yule alter in their dorm room.

Harry let out a sigh, knowing his friend was fully aware of the reasons they were at the school and was just working out his frustrations verbally, but the brunette answered anyway. “It’s bad enough that we are openly so friendly, drawing Dumbledore’s attention to that fact is not a good idea. Plus, it’s one thing for us to be friends but if the fool thinks your parents like me enough to invite me over, he might get worried. I mean, think about what could happen if the horrible Lucius Malfoy had unrestricted access to me for weeks. He might give me a suggestion draught or cast a compulsion charm on me.”

One naturally pale hand reached out to give the other a tight squeeze. He knew how uncomfortable, and even scared, his friend had been at the thought of being subjected to that spell by the Headmaster’s lackeys. Considering Severus had overheard the old man discussing the pros and cons of that very action with the crazy ex-Auror over the summer, they knew it had been a real danger either in Diagon or Kings’ Cross. And the disillusioned ring Snape had given each of them for their eleventh birthdays had warmed twice so far this year at mealtimes to warn them that there was a potion of some sort in their food or drink. Smuggling bits to Draco’s Godfather had revealed variations of potions meant to make the victim easily influenced or suggestible. Shockingly, both instances came hours before they ran into the Headmaster in one way or another.

Harry shuddered slightly as they affixed the final bit of evergreen to the piece of slender log Narcissa had sent them from the Manor grounds. He was sure the Headmaster told himself that suggestions like I worry about you becoming too isolated down in those dungeons, my boy, but do remember what I said about the third floor corridor when you stretch your legs’ and ‘I know it’s hardly Alchemy, my boy, but even if it doesn’t grant you eternal life, I do hope you are giving the proper attention to our humble subjects here’ were basically harmless and any negative implications of potioning an eleven-year-old boy were overshadowed by whatever role he was intended to play in the manipulative old coot’s larger game.

The idea of being controlled by another person however, of being influenced against his will, brought back nightmares of being under the absolute and abusive control of the Muggles in Privet Drive. Literally. He had woken screaming in the middle of the night after both occasions. Even Draco’s best Silencing spell on their dorm hadn’t kept the sound from carrying to the other nearby dorm rooms. Harry couldn’t even stammer through a deflection when asked the next day if they were all right, simply turning deathly white at the reminder. The Malfoy heir had immediately told the first and second-years to mind their own business but the other snakes had eyed the famous brunette speculatively in the days that followed both incidents.

A firm, comforting squeeze of his shoulder pulled the green eyes back to the candles they were meant to be placing in the small Yule log. With a deep breath, the Boy-Who-Lived refocused on their task and the work-free weeks that lay ahead. Of course, not having classes or homework didn’t mean that they would just laze around and read novels while eating the lovely care packages the Lady Malfoy sent faithfully every week. Though they did. They also discussed much more serious topics than how to float a feather or how to turn one useless object into another useless object. Topics such as the inept but suspicious DADA professor. Or the Headmaster’s apparent desire for the Potter heir to investigate forbidden areas and research Alchemy. Coincidentally, a subject Dumbledore himself had almost erased from the curriculum.

“What did Narcissa think about Flamel?” Harry asked, referring to the owl Draco had received that morning after breakfast.

“She said we were right about the stone, of course. Referencing alchemy and eternal life in the same sentence was hardly subtle, after all. Especially considering the old goat is known to have worked with Flamel in the past,” the blond said as the boys made themselves comfortable on Draco’s bed so they could admire their new alter.

Harry nodded, automatically making room for Excalibur as he jumped up between them and made a regal demand for attention. “True. Did she say whether Severus had mentioned noticing anything?”

The taller boy laughed. “For someone who has spent probably the last century manipulating people to his own ends, you wouldn’t think he’d lack subtlety in all areas.” Draco reached over to scratch the growing kitten behind his ears, drawing a loud purr from the nearly six month old ball of grey fur. “Needless to say, Severus was well aware of the Headmaster’s attempts to make him look somehow involved in that mess in the forest last month. He also noted the old man’s new angle.”

The brunette shifted onto his back so Cal could curl up on his stomach and shook his head as he thought about the obvious hints the old wizard had been making within his earshot several weeks before. “Honestly, loudly thanking Professor Snape for restocking the infirmary potions, ‘I know how troublesome it is for you to trek out in those woods so late at night to collect the unicorn hairs for that brew, Severus’. How is that supposed to be anything except an indirect accusation that Snape killed that unicorn?”

“It’s like he thinks you’re a Gryffindor and need to be led by the nose where he wants you to go. Though I suppose he had counted on Severus being horrible to you because of your father. With him being your Head of House and acting almost painfully neutral about you, Dumbledore must have thought he needed to be more direct. But he appears to have given up on that and has now shifted to implying the terrified turban is behind it.”

“But how does he expect to make me think it’s Quirrell while at the same time assuring Snape that Quirrell isn’t up to anything and doesn’t need to be watched?” the green-eyed wizard asked, exasperated.

“Maybe that’s why he wasn’t in Slytherin? He wasn’t cunning enough to make the cut. Because he is certainly manipulative enough, and more than happy using other people to his own ends without caring what happens to them in the process.”

“True enough,” Harry answered, wincing slightly as Excalibur stretched his feet and dug his claws into his master’s stomach with abandon. “That should work to our advantage, though, right? Him telling the school that he is having our resident Defense expert patrol the forest just before another unicorn is found dead. And then of course ‘reassuring’ everyone that if another Troll gets in it would be fine because Professor Quirrell is ‘quite good with the creatures.’ Not to mention the complete lack of defensive measures on the third floor. Even after Filch caught those Weasley twins right outside the room Severus said that buffoon’s dog is hidden in? How is that supposed to be safe, or even close to it? There’s hundreds of kids in this castle and he’s got a bloody Cerberus stashed behind a door a first-year could open without even so much as an alert ward or an age line in place!”

Draco turned away from the altar to stare instead at his friend as he got more and more incensed. The blond barely held back a laugh at the red color of Harry’s face, though he let out the chuckle prompted by Cal’s hissed protest at being disturbed by the wild hand gestures. Once calm, the Malfoy heir reached out to pet the kitten briefly, then took hold of the other boy’s hand.

“Don’t worry. All this stuff is only to our advantage. Every day Mother and Father are compiling more and more evidence for the file. He won’t keep getting away with this stuff forever. We have a plan and it’s going to work. Even Severus thinks so and you know how doom and gloom he is. Mother said in the letter that Snape had some good news to impart at tea. Something about following Quirrell to the 7th floor the other night.”

Harry shrugged, having a hard time being as optimistic as his friend. “Maybe that means that they’re getting closer to finishing whatever it is that they keep insisting has to be done before we can move forward. I really wish they’d explain that more.”

“I know, me too. But regardless of what it is, as soon as they’re done Father said it will be time for the first major game to start against that manipulative old man.”

The brunette nodded again, holding the hand in his tightly for a moment before letting go and petting Cal again. “I hope so. It’s getting so hard, Draco. So hard to ignore him here and act like I don’t know what he’s trying to do to me. What he’s already done and is still doing to this school and…” he trailed off, green meeting grey before closing on a sigh. “I feel like a chess piece when he looks at me. Like I’m small and helpless and he can just do what he likes with me and it’s like being back-”

The blond scooted closer on the bed, taking hold of the hand again as it stilled on the soft grey fur. “We’re going to turn the tables on him soon. I promise. We’ll start our own game with him on the board. He may see himself as the white king and you as the pawn, but you’ll be a king. You’ll be the black king, Harry, and we’ll take the old man out before he’s even aware that he’s no longer in control of the board.”

A smile finally broke through the frown. “Well, I guess the black king isn’t too absurd,” he said with an attempt at humor, “I am related to King Arthur. But it’s really too bad Vivien didn’t leave Excalibur with the Malfoys when it was returned to the lake. I bet that would take care of that bloody twinkle in his eyes.”

Chapter Ten: Taking Aim


The new year had gone by much faster than either Slytherin had anticipated. Having already learned the material did not negate the need to complete reading and essays as Harry especially had a hard time remembering what information he was supposed to know based on where the class was on the subject, as apposed to what he actually knew based on the private tutoring that everyone assumed he hadn’t had access to. As a result, he had to be rather diligent in doing the assigned reading so he knew what knowledge to display and what to hide when completing the assignments and exams. Draco, however, was able to show a more extensive grasp of Magical Theory despite it not being taught at the school as had been intended.

Even so, he spent much of his time either helping his friend with the required educational subterfuge, or providing the necessary conduit between his parents, his Godfather, and his friend. It would hardly do for Harry Potter to be in direct contact with a former Death Eater or the professor who was meant to merely tolerate him. This left the blond writing and reading letters and taking meetings with their Head of House and then relaying the information to the other boy in private. They had spent much of the previous night doing that very thing after the Malfoy heir had received a much-anticipated missive from his parents at dinner.

“He said they would be completing the final steps to dispose of the last obstacle,” Draco explained excitedly. Neither knew exactly what the obstacles had been but they did know that the Malfoys and Snape had been working diligently to discover and eliminate them since shortly after Harry had arrived at the Manor. They also knew that none of their other plans could proceed without these things being dealt with first, so having that long awaited goal in reach was a heady feeling. “Severus is even going to make an excuse about ‘refilling potion stocks before exams’ so that he can help during his free periods tomorrow morning,” he had continued.

The free periods in question would be just before and during their final DADA class, so neither boy was able to fully concentrate on the year-end review that was taking place that morning. They did not even notice when Professor Quirrell suddenly stopped speaking shortly after he began the lecture. Their attention was not drawn to the front of the room until the man stumbled noticeably and had to catch himself on his desk before stuttering through a few more sentences. Though in truth, physical and verbal clumsiness was hardly out of the ordinary for the man, but his obvious distraction and the way he kept staring at Harry was enough of an oddity to put the friends on their guard.

For some reason he couldn’t explain, the brunette found himself mentally reviewing every defensive and offensive spell he had learned from Snape and Lord Malfoy. The instinct proved accurate and the training more than beneficial when less than half an hour into the class period the professor inexplicably lunged at the famous student, wand out. A moment’s shock froze the rest of the class in their seats even as Harry and Draco reacted instantly, the way they had been trained.

The blond roughly swept his classmates to the back of the room, desks and all, with a spell designed specifically for crowd management. Directly afterwards, he erected a shield with himself, Harry, and the apparently insane professor, on one side and the other Slytherin and Hufflepuff first-years on the other. He also activated the emergency notification charm in his watch to let Severus know that he was needed immediately, but no one else saw that.

At the same time, Harry threw up a shield of his own to deflect the curse that had been aimed directly at him. In the minutes that followed, the popular belief in the Defense professor’s inability to fight off a drunken Doxie was thoroughly dispelled as the wizard tossed lethal hexes and Dark curses left, right, and center, in rapid succession. Likewise, anyone who doubted the magical power or bravery of the Boy-Who-Lived was proven completely and utterly daft. Harry Potter fought with the speed and accuracy of a near-champion dueler. The eleven-year-old shielded against one curse while gracefully dodging a second hex all while firing off spell after spell almost faster than his overwhelmed classmates could follow.

There was no discernable reaction when a slashing hex made it past the boy’s shield and spun both him, and an arc of red blood, in a full circle. The young wizard just kept casting. And when another shot from the Professor sent his wand skittering across the floor he simply ducked and lunged, blocking the man’s wand arm with one hand while striking out against his opponent’s exposed throat with his other hand. The reaction to that was quite easily discernable as both screamed, though Quirrell did so as he turned away and tried to distance himself from his would-be victim. Harry on the other hand, continued to move forward, trying to get the wizard on the ground where his greater size and weight would be less of an advantage.

The movement however, knocked the hideous turban onto the ground and what it revealed stunned everyone. Even Draco froze as he tried to find an opening to shoot another hex at the professor without risking hitting his best friend instead. The shock only lasted a few seconds before the blond was back to aiming his wand and glancing impatiently back to see if his Godfather had arrived yet. It only took minutes for the Potions Master to come rushing down the steps that led to the DADA office and the Floo there. But in that time, the twisted visage on the back of Quirrell’s head left no question as to its identity.

“Harry Potter! Did you really think you, a pitiful Half-blood child, had defeated me? I am Lord Voldemort! I will never die! Your mudblood mother is not here to save you this time, boy! This time I will kill you and all who stand with you!”

The frenetic words had screams of terror erupting from behind the shield but served only to direct the young brunette’s rage as he leapt towards what was left of his parents’ murder. With his wand halfway across the room, still-smoking hands served as his only weapons, one slamming into the shouting face, turning it to the side to disrupt whatever aim the hysterical thing was capable of as it turned to allow Quirrell to face their intended victim. The other had grasped the wand arm as it swung into reach, wrenching it up and away with enough adrenaline-fueled strength to break the bone cleanly in half. The dry snap was drowned out entirely by the tortured screams and the smell of burnt flesh.

Amongst the smoke that rose from the professor wherever Harry touched him, was a darker mist so black it looked solid. It writhed and screeched and flew towards the exhausted Potter heir. But before Harry could react, Draco and Severus were there, the blond shoving his best friend to the ground and covering the smaller body with his own as the Potions Master swiftly captured the mass with his wand and directed it into a charmed vial where it dissolved it into nothing. The dour man let out a mental sigh as the concentrated basilisk venom writhed and then settled within the unbreakable glass. The silence that followed was deafening, before it started to fill with the panicked cries of the still shielded students when they watched the wizard collapse to the floor next to the still prone forms of the blond and brunette.

Neville Longbottom was the first and only one to remain calm as he yelled at his friend to drop his shield. When Draco did so, wand hand shaking from adrenaline, the Hufflepuff stepped forward and checked on the heirs to the two remaining Most Ancient and Noble Houses, and their snarky Head of House. Snape waved him off irritably and regained his feet with little trouble, despite being drained from the powerful spell needed to capture the Dark Lord’s wraith. Draco too, was quick to insist he was fine, though the words were somewhat difficult to make out as the blond was much more focused on assessing his best friend than himself.

“Harry, are you all right? Harry?”

The brunette let out a low groan and managed to fix a glare in the appropriate direction. “Next time, try telling me to duck instead of tackling me to the stone floor, yeah?”

Draco and Neville hurried to help when their friend started sitting up, one hand reaching back to rub his head where it had hit the floor. As soon as the appendage brushed his hair, he let out a hiss of pain. The sound prompted all three wizards to focus their attention on his red and blistered hands, though Severus did so with far less frantic speed. And far less volume. Once Harry had been pulled carefully to his feet, Neville stepped back, swept a gaze over the entire front of the classroom, and asked the question everyone was thinking.

“Was that You-Know-Who?”

“What was left of him. Does anyone see my wand?” Neville blinked in shock at the calm response, half the class gasped, and Draco smiled in relief to see that the momentous occasion hadn’t damaged his friend’s priorities. Snape raised a single brow and then summoned the missing wand with his own.

“Really, Mr. Potter? Driving the Dark Lord from his body twice and destroying his last remnant wasn’t attention seeking enough? Now I am expected to fetch your things for you as well?” A first-year class had never been so attentive to a professor as the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs were as the Potions Master handed the wand, handle first, to Harry Potter with a slight nod of his head.

“I’m pretty sure your poison is what actually killed it, sir,” the brunette responded without a trace of sarcasm.

Severus Snape let out an aggrieved sigh. “Venom, Mr. Potter, not poison. However you are partially correct. The basilisk venom did, indeed, finish destroying the bastard for you. Though I suppose you will expect us all to hail you the boy-hero for dueling a fully trained opponent more than twice your age and experience that was possessed by the shade of the most powerful Dark Lord in a century. Perhaps you will deign to allow us to forgo kissing the precious hands that finished the deed until they have been properly healed?”

No one in the room was sure whether to be more shocked by the conversation occurring in front of them, or the duel that had preceded it. They were saved from having to decide by the arrival of the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress, trailed by the one student who had thought to flee the room after Draco’s shield went up.

“What is going on here?” demanded the stringent tones of Minerva McGonagall. “My word! Is that Professor Quirrell? Mr. Potter?”

“Now, now, let us all remain calm, I am sure we can-“ Snape’s irritated tone cut off the bearded wizard before Dumbledore could get out a full sentence.

“It is in fact Quirrell,” the black eyed wizard shot a quick diagnostic spell at the body, fully aware of what it would show, “though the man is most certainly dead. It appears that he has spent all year carrying around a returned Dark Lord beneath his turban and has-“

McGonagall’s sharp “what?” interrupted the Potions Master, causing him to raise a single brow at her as Draco jumped in with the particulars.

“He attacked Harry, ma’am. They dueled and Harry forced Voldemort-“ Several screams had sounded at the use of the feared name, prompting the blond to raise his voice as he went on, “to leave the professor’s body. Professor Snape froze the wraith and destroyed it with basilisk venom.”

“What?” the witch repeated, this time in a lower, more incredulous tone, one hand on her chest.

Neville took his turn with the explanation. “It was quite a duel, Professor, but Draco moved us all out of the way and raised a full defensive shield, so no one was hurt.” The tawny-headed wizard left out mention of the bumps and bruises he was sure some of his classmates had gotten when the blond had swept them across the room to safety.

The Malfoy heir, having paid close attention to the Headmaster since he had entered the room, did not miss the rage that flashed briefly behind the half-moon glasses only to immediately be covered by a slightly dimmed twinkle. When he saw the old man opening his mouth to speak, he quickly spoke up himself. “Can we finish this discussion in the infirmary, Professors? Harry’s hands are quite badly burned and need to be treated.”

Every eye in the room went from the hands in question to the badly charred head and arm of the body on the floor.

Dumbledore was quick to speak up before anyone else could cut him off “Yes, yes. We shall need to let Madame Pomfrey know that she’ll have a patient tonight. And I am afraid, my boys, that I will have to contact the Aurors as well, to try and explain Professor’s Quirrell’s demise. Perhaps I can have a word with-” Harry Potter cut off the illustrious Headmaster before he could regal everyone with how he would single-handedly resolve any problems that might arise.

“They should in fact be called, but I do not think that the Ministry will have a problem with me finishing what my mother and I started ten years ago. Unless you see a problem with me destroying Voldemort, Professor?”

Draco Malfoy struggled to keep his overwhelming pride off his face as his best friend calmly stared down the Headmaster, refocused everyone’s attention on the reality of Voldemort’s defeat, reminded them of what Lilly Potter had done, and claimed credit for himself all at the same time. Not to mention saying it in such a way that should the Ministry dare accuse him of wrongdoing it would only make them look the villain. The smile nearly broke through as Dumbledore’s all-knowing smirk and placating tone soured momentarily before the manipulative old fool tried to regain the upper hand.

“Of course not, dear boy. But things are often more complicated than-” the signature twinkle flickered when he was cut off yet again.

“I’m sure many things are complicated, but the path to the infirmary is not one of them. Or does my preventing another war not entitle me to basic medical care?”

With the trip to Poppy Pomfrey’s domain unable to be put off any longer, Dumbledore and Snape accompanied the two Slytherins to the hospital wing while McGonagall magically sealed the classroom until the Aurors arrived. The remainder of the class was sent back to their common rooms, where they would, of course, spread the tale of Harry Potter’s epic battle with the possessed DADA professor and the demise of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Again.

The fierce hospital matron herded the adults from the room almost as soon as they entered and Harry had never been more thankful for her inability to tolerate anyone other than a patient in her ward than he was in that moment. At least until she turned to Draco and tried to shoo him out as well. The brunette’s pleas for his best friend’s presence after his ‘ordeal’ and the blond’s insistence that he was sure to suffer a panic attack if Harry left his sight finally gained them a terse order to both get into beds and stay there. They immediately complied, laying silently under her examinations.

The ward was still silent hours later, though that had more to do with the surreptitious privacy charm than anything else. “I knew I’d probably have to fight the Dark wizard who’d killed my parents and that I should get as much training as I could but I didn’t think it would be before the end of bloody first year. Draco, I…”

The breath that he sucked in was long and sharp and not at all steady. The bandaged hands that covered his face were just as shaky. The blond scrambled to extract himself from the uncooperative covers of his cot and climb into Harry’s. His arms were around the smaller boy before he completely finished. While it made it slightly easier logistically at times like this, Draco still hated the fact that his friend had still not reached the size of an average eleven-year-old. Severus had said that there were growth potions they could try, but they were dangerous before the Magical Core had settled so it would be another few years before that would be possible. At least the brunette’s weight had slowly risen to a healthy level once he’d been able to stomach larger meals.

“I know we weren’t expecting it, Harry, but it’s over now. He’s dead. The wizard who killed your parents, who tried to kill you, he’s gone and you are the one responsible for that.”

A muffled sound that Draco assumed was supposed to be a laugh made it past the hands covering the Potter heir’s face. Draco shook his head, both at the strange sound and the fact that his friend was actually using the swollen and blistered hands. The pain cream and potions the school matron had used must be very effective, which was a relief as she hadn’t yet been able to actually heal them.

“You are,” he insisted.

Harry actually uncovered his face to respond. “Snape is the one that finished him off, not me.”

“You were fantastic, Harry!” He held on tighter when the other boy shook his head. “You held your own against a fully grown, fully trained wizard who had the help of the bloody Dark Lord. At eleven! You were moving so fast even I could hardly follow everything. I certainly couldn’t get more than two or three shots off. I’m not even sure the third one landed. And after you lost your wand…”

It was Draco’s turn to take a shaky breath, remembering the fear that had shot through him when he’d seen the wand go flying and realized that his best friend was wandless against Voldemort. And the two dueling wizards had been between him and where it had landed, making it impossible for him to even summon it without the risk of Quirrell getting ahold of it on its way past. He’d never been so happy to see his Godfather. Draco let out another breath. If Severus had been even a few moments later, the dark thing could have gotten away and that wasn’t even worth thinking about. Like he’d told Harry, it was over now.

“I thought I saw an extra couple spells coming from somewhere, but I was so focused on the Quirrell/Voldemort thing to really pay attention.”



“Quirremort?” the blond shot back.

“Quirrellmort? Oh, how about Quoldemort?”

The Malfoy heir snorted in amusement. “I like that one. Maybe you should use it with the Aurors tomorrow. Though I’m not sure they’d be able to appreciate the humor. I think you had to see the face under the turban thing to understand it.”

Harry groaned at the reminder of the impending visit from the Aurors and what he assumed would be an interrogation of some kind. “It’s probably a good thing it happened in front of the class, they can collect memories and stuff to watch it themselves. If it had happened without any witnesses, the Ministry might actually try and say it either hadn’t happened or that I did something wrong.”

The aristocratic blond sneered at the reminder of the Headmaster’s insinuation that Harry might be in trouble and need his help to get out of it. He wanted to say that the Ministry might not be the only one that would try and say that. Hell, the old man had already tried to insinuate it in front of the class. Apparently he thought this was his best opportunity to place Harry in his debt by getting him out of trouble. He must be awfully frustrated that he hadn’t had any success with his attempts to spell or potion the famous boy into either trusting him or just doing whatever he said. No one was entirely clear on what the manipulative goat had in mind on that front.

But he didn’t say any of that. There was no telling how effective the privacy charm would be at anything other than making it so Pomfrey didn’t hear them. They didn’t dare use the more complex anti-eavesdropping spells, no first-year would reasonably know, or need to know, those spells. And this was far from their dorm room, nestled safely within Severus’ realm in the dungeons. Or even the secluded nook in the library that they routinely swept for listening spells and other magical means of surveillance. Besides, from the scowl on his friend’s face he assumed that the other boy was already thinking along the same lines he was. There were other things that he could say, though.

“I’ve already owled my parents and told them what happened.” Harry shot the blond a confused look, knowing neither of them had left the infirmary since they’d arrived, and they’d only been separated for a few minutes during the mediwitch’s exam of his hands. “Severus sent a house elf with writing supplies earlier. I sent the letter with the elf. It was delivered to Severus hours ago, so I’m sure he’s already sent it to the Manor for me.”

The brunette nodded, neither saying that the Potions Master had probably already Floo’d the Manor himself to update the elder Malfoys. They had yet to hear where the Professor had been when the emergency alert spell had been triggered, calling him to the DADA classroom at a dead run. “What do you think they’ll say?”

Draco doubted that was exactly the question he’d wanted to ask as the other boy was already fully aware of how the Lord and Lady Malfoy would take the news of the Dark Lord’s demise. So he answered the question he figured Harry had wanted to ask. “They probably reacted close to how everyone in the class did, crossed with McGonagall’s appalled shock. With some fury and terror knowing I was there when it happened.”

He wanted to say ‘we’ were there, but he didn’t dare imply too close a relationship between his parents and his best friend in case anyone was listening. Harry seemed to know anyway, and nodded without any trace of surprise. “How exactly did the rest of the class react? I never even looked to see after Professor Dumbledore arrived.”

Yes, Draco thought, the presence of the old man who kept you from your legal guardian, dropped you into an abusive home without a single backwards glance, and then tried repeatedly to spell you into compliance, would in fact give a person something else to focus on. “I don’t think they understood what was happening until you and Severus started talking afterwards. They were all horrified that our Professor attacked you of course. And scared they would get hurt, I’m sure, though when they realized the shield would protect them they were more grotesquely entertained. I think your reputation as the best dueler to ever grace a classroom in this place is forever assured. You really were bloody amazing, Harry.”

The Boy-Who-Lived looked away uncomfortably at the sincere praise and gestured with a bandaged hand for the other Slytherin to go on. “Horror came back when the turban went flying though. And the burning flesh was pretty gross, I have to admit, so they were most likely a bit freaked out about that.”

Both boys looked down at Harry’s hands and grimaced before the blond continued again. “When it became clear what had happened with Quirrell being possessed and that wraith thing that Severus caught and basically dissolved, I don’t think anyone knew what to think. Aside from Neville, anyway. He seemed to catch on rather quick and be pretty calm about it too. That little speech you gave the Headmaster, though.” The grin he’d suppressed in the classroom covered Draco’s entire face. “Merlin, Arthur, and Vivien, Harry, that was the best thing I’ll hear in a classroom for my entire life. Maybe anywhere. Every eye in the room was on you two, and at least twice their normal size.”

The brunette actually winced. That hadn’t exactly been planned, it had just come out. He’d been so furious at the old man he’d had to say something. He was just glad it wasn’t anything that would have given away the things they’d all been trying so hard to hide. As it was, Draco seemed to think what he’d said would be to their benefit, at least if his devious smirk was anything to go by. He took the time to think it over himself. Perhaps it would work for them after all.

Depending on how well the other students heard and understood what had been said and how accurately it was spread through the gossip mill, he, Severus, and even Draco, could be hailed as heroes. It could help to clear up the stigma Snape had from having taken the Dark Mark. Draco’s protecting everyone could only help the Malfoy reputation and position within the Ministry. And he seriously doubted the Boy-Who-Lived would suffer from publically defeating the Dark Lord. Again. It would solidify the view of him as some kind of evil-fighting savior of the Wizarding World. Which could go a long way towards making their plans a reality, perhaps more quickly than they’d anticipated.

Certainly having Voldemort taken care of already would be a huge help to their agenda. When they had talked about it over the summer, none of the adults had been all that sure when they could move on the offensive against the Headmaster, as they had been fairly certain that the Dark Lord should be their first priority. And having Harry defeat said Dark Lord, would help to give his name the kind of influence they could use to make their long-term plans a reality.

Those silent predictions proved correct in the days and weeks that followed. The two Slytherins were followed constantly by either silent staring or furious whispers for the rest of the school year. Even the Aurors who came to interview them just before final exams acted in awe of them. It wasn’t until they insisted that they had to study that the four witches and wizards from the Ministry finally left. Though the study sessions they held at that point were peppered with the blond’s frequent whinging that year-end exams should have been canceled after the show-down with Voldemort. “I bet if you had been a good little Gryffin-pawn like intended, the Headmaster would have canceled them for you,” Draco was heard to say many times. As far as Harry was concerned, the end of exams could not come fast enough.

Even so, the ten days it took after exams to receive their end of year results and then board the train for Kings’ Cross felt like they took a lifetime. When the time came, however, sitting in the compartment with Draco and Neville was so eerily similar to the start of term that it felt like they had all been sitting there only yesterday, pretending to meet for the first time. There would be no pretending on the second trip, since the school wasn’t technically over until they left Hogsmeade and they were thus allowed to cast anti-eavesdropping charms on their compartment before the train pulled out.

If Narcissa had had her way, however, he wouldn’t have been making the trip at all. When Severus had Floo’d the Malfoys to inform them of what had happened with Quirrell, Lucius had been forced to cast a restraining spell to keep her from stepping through the Floo, storming the infirmary, and taking Harry back to the Manor with her right then and there. He kind of wished she had, even if it would have caused them all manner of trouble with the custody situation.

Harry felt safer and yet more on edge than he had on his first trip on the Hogwarts Express. The charms were up, allowing them to talk freely, but the Dark Lord’s final death had indeed moved up their timetable and the next stage of their plans was now officially in motion. And as much as he’d been looking forward to that, the next few weeks would reveal most of what they had tried so hard all these years to hide from the powerful elderly wizard so intent on controlling – and ruining – his life.

Cal’s annoyed cry brought his attention back to the conversation occurring around him, and Harry carefully stroked the now year-old Excalibur, being careful of the bandages that were still on his hands even after nearly two weeks. The burns there had resisted all magical treatments Madame Pomfrey had used to try and heal them. The Kneazle had not gotten his attention soon enough for his friends to have missed his silence, however, and both were staring at him fixedly despite the fact that they continued to speak to each other. A brief silence fell over the compartment.

Draco didn’t have to ask him where his thoughts had wandered; the blond knew exactly what had been on the mind of the Boy-Who-Lived. Without bothering to confirm it, he quietly assured the smaller wizard that everything was in place, and it would all go to plan.

Neville asked what the first step would be now that You-Know-Who was dead and they could focus on Dumbledore. Harry and Draco had discussed the plan several times with the elder Malfoys before leaving for their first year under the fool’s thumb, but the Longbottoms had rarely ever been involved in such discussions. He was sure, however, that the Lord and Lady Malfoy had by now explained to the acting Lady Longbottom at least some of what they were going to do, as several steps required her support.

“My father has all the paperwork ready, and the moment Harry is safely behind the Manor wards, he will file for emergency custody of him pending an investigation into the situation. He has a friend in the Ministry that will make sure it all goes through tonight before the old man can even notice it, let alone stop it.”

The brunette nodded in agreement with Draco’s words before filling the third boy in on the rest of their immediate plans. “We’re going to start exposing Dumbledore’s crimes without actually accusing him outright. The goal is to ruin his reputation with the public and call the International Confederation of Wizards’ attention to his illegal actions. Mainly the fact that he essentially kidnapped me as a baby and arbitrarily decided my placement without the legal right to do so, and then proceeded to ignore me entirely which,” Harry swallowed hard before he could go on, trying to think only about the clinical wording Narcissa had used to explain it to him instead of focusing on what it was referring to.

Even so, it took another deep breath before he could finish his statement. “Which allowed me to be criminally neglected and abused by my Muggle relatives. Also, we’re hoping to show all the things he’s done as Headmaster that have been illegal, dangerous, and downright negligent of his duty to the school and students. But that might have to wait a bit. Lord Malfoy said we should focus on me and my personal situation first, though I can’t imagine that everything with Quirrell won’t get the other ball rolling as well.”

“Dumbledore relies on his fame and reputation and his various positions in the ICW, the school, and the Wizengamot, to get away with whatever he wants and still come out looking like a paragon of virtue. If we can chip away at those one at a time, it will eventually allow us to remove him from his power base and limit, if not end, his political and social influence.”

Neville nodded at first the brunette, and then the blond, as they took turns speaking. “Makes sense. How exactly do you plan to get started? I’m sure half the students wrote home about the gossip and everything regarding Harry Potter and the Defense Professor, but I don’t imagine that will accomplish very much.”

“No, he’ll most likely be able to convince most people that the students were exaggerating and ignore all the parents that disagree. He’s already gotten the Aurors to stay quiet about it. I’m sure he’s gotten good at that type of thing over the years.” The Malfoy heir agreed.

“We’re going to make sure everything gets out, though. The full truth. Even about… about me and… before.” Harry swallowed the lump that wanted to rise at the second reminder of the things he would have to make public in only a few hours’ time. He knew it was essential to the plans, but just the thought of it made him sick to his stomach. “Lord Malfoy has arranged for a reporter to be on the platform when we arrive to ostensibly ask about the rumors that did get out. The other students’ memories were copied and logged as evidence, and I can always supply mine as well. Once it’s out, we’re hoping to force the Wizengamot to look into that at least.”

“Well,” Neville swallowed audibly at the idea of talking to a reporter. He’d shed a lot of his shyness over the years of friendship with the other two boys, but it was still a daunting idea. “Do you know what you’re going to say?”

Harry bit his lip, his nerves evident. No matter how many times he and the Malfoys had talked about it the year before, or how many times during the term he and Draco had discussed the idea, it was still one of his main worries. What if the reporter asked something they hadn’t thought of and he didn’t know what to say? He couldn’t ask, or even look to, anyone else during the interview. It had to be clear that he and he alone was responsible for every word. After voicing the concern, the boys all decided to spend the rest of the ride coming up with possible questions and ways to answer them that were truthful and painted the exact picture they wanted everyone to come away with.

They were only half an hour away from the end of the trip when the subject of voting Proxies for the Potter and Peverell titles came up. The Malfoys had ensured that he had been educated quite thoroughly on the topic of the Noble Houses, the Wizengamot, and his duties as a peer. And yet he did not feel at all ready for it.

“You don’t have to be ready for the title, Harry. You won’t be turning twelve until the end of next month, and even when you take the title at fifteen as the last of your line, you’ll still be acting under the supervision of your Proxies until you turn sixteen,” Neville reminded him.

“And us too. We will both be Lords and Patriarchs of our Houses, Harry, we’re having to learn this too. Just because Neville won’t take his on until he’s seventeen and I may not take control until father is much older, we can still help you. We’ve been learning this stuff since we were very young, so maybe that’s why we’re used to the idea, but you’ll get used to it too. And you won’t be alone. Not ever. So let’s just focus on now. Let’s get through the plans for the summer, and deal with everything else after, okay?”

Green met grey and the young hero gave a jerky nod. “Yeah. Okay. This summer. I’m not supposed to specify my Proxies, but how much should I say about it? It’s sure to be a question.”

The other wizards nodded in acknowledgement. “Well,” ventured Neville, “the Gryffindor title won’t come up at all since no one really knows and you don’t want them to yet. So can you just say something like you’ll be doing your best to honor your parents’ wishes?”

“You’re parents are most likely to have named your godparents as Proxies. That’s almost always how it’s done, so even if we aren’t able to unseal the Will you can go by that and still be taking their advice, so to say. Trusting your title with the one they trusted to take care of you.”

Harry let out a small smile. “That sounds good, I really like that wording. I’m stealing that, just so you know.”

Draco laughed and soon they were all letting out a few tension-easing chuckles. The advice had merit. Even if he couldn’t name the imprisoned Sirius Black a Proxy, Alice Longbottom had also been a godparent. If things had gone through the proper legal channels, he would have been given to her, and then to whomever she and Frank named in the event something happened to them. Which was obviously Augusta Longbottom, as that was where they’d wanted Neville to go.

So he could name his godbrother’s grandmother if pressed, and who was to say she wouldn’t advise him on the second Proxy? Come to think of it, he was pretty sure he would eventually choose her to oversee one of his titles. As to the others, who better than the people who had taken him in and raised him like one of their own? The Lord and Lady Malfoy were both titled and members of a Most Ancient and Noble House, by birth and by marriage. They fit all the requirements of a noble Proxy.

Harry nodded to himself, resolved, and just in time, as the announcement came minutes later that they were approaching King’s Cross. He did his best to put on a confident smile and hide the tremor in his hands as he gently maneuvered Excalibur into his crate. His efforts were only partially successful.

The station was an exercise in endurance. He was so nervous when they arrived that it took both his friends’ help to get him, his familiar, and his luggage off the train. The crowds had seemed to swallow him up when he stepped onto the platform and the loud exclamation of his name by the reporter upon spotting him had only made it worse.

Thankfully, as soon as short introductions had been exchanged – including the Longbottoms as Augusta had quickly found Neville with his friends – the reporter had happily cast the requested privacy charm around the seven of them. After all, conducting it on the crowded train platform assured that people would know about the interview, but this way they would have to actually purchase the paper in order to find out what their young hero had said.

The interview itself was a blur to him, and only the presence of his friends and their parents kept his voice mostly steady as he answered the woman’s questions. The continued press of the crowd around them was unnerving, even knowing that they couldn’t hear what he was saying. They could, and no doubt were, watching as closely as possible. He would have preferred going somewhere else to conduct the interview, but it had been decided that it would only aid their plans to have so many people know that Harry Potter himself had indeed spoken personally and that at no time did anyone answer for him.

When the interview was finally finished, the Malfoys loudly proclaimed that the boys would no doubt want to say good-bye to each other, then the entire group stepped off a little ways. As soon as they were somewhat out of sight, the adults subtly cast shied charms around Harry, and the feel of Lord Malfoy’s warm grip on his elbow let him know that the Occlumency shields were also in place around his mind in case one of Dumbledore’s little minions were to sneak into the crowd around them. If nothing else, they knew the Weasleys would be there and no one questioned that family’s loyalty to the Headmaster.

Harry could only be grateful that Severus had been the staff member assigned to accompany the train and that he had been willing to disillusion himself and provide the shield around Harry during the interview. The Malfoys had not dared to do it themselves as they had been under far too much scrutiny at the time to be confident that they could do so unnoticed. The last thing they needed was additional accusations of the family controlling the Boy-Who-Lived for their own gain. They were all quite positive that Dumbledore would state that loudly enough on his own when he became aware of things.

To hopefully delay that moment as long as possible, they bid the Longbottoms farewell before Narcissa clearly stated that they should set up a time for the boys to get together during the summer before they all accompanied Harry through the barrier as if they intended to go talk to the Dursleys. Hopefully the performance would fool any of Dumbledore’s cronies that were watching and preserve the impression that he was still living with his Muggle relatives. At least for one more day. Once between platforms nine and ten of King’s Cross, they promptly cast subtle Notice-Me-Not charms and hurried to the unused closet Severus, Narcissa, and Harry had used to arrive back in September. Once there, each of the elder Malfoys took hold of one boy and Side-Alonged straight to the Manor.

Appearing in the private foyer, Harry was struck by the sensation that he was home. It occurred to him that he had never felt that before. He certainly wouldn’t feel like this if he were to return to the wreck of a cottage in Godric’s Hollow that he couldn’t remember, or the nightmare that had been Number Four, Privet Drive. He’d heard a few of the older students say at the beginning of the school year that coming back to Hogwarts had felt like coming home. And since he would, technically, inherit the Hogwarts Trust when he took his titles at fifteen, that castle was the closest thing to his that he had. But it didn’t feel like home and probably wouldn’t even after Dumbledore was finally gone. Malfoy Manor, however, the intimidating castle-like structure he had accidently invaded at seven years old… this was home. Or as close as he’d probably ever get, considering it wasn’t actually his.

Maybe, he thought as Narcissa gently herded the two boys up to their rooms to change out of the traveling robes, maybe someday he would have something that was all his. A real home that belonged to him. The thought was almost dizzying. Or perhaps that was the fact that he had been too eager to leave to eat breakfast at school and too nervous to eat lunch on the train. Either way, he had more important things to think about. Voldemort was gone and as unexpectedly wonderful as that thought was, the end of the Dark Lord was only the beginning of what they had planned.

There was still another enemy out there who was responsible for much of the hell he had gone through in his life. An enemy that, regardless of the now fulfilled prophecy, was most likely still intent on controlling his life without regard to his own wishes. Yes, Dumbledore still needed to be dealt with, and the damage he had done to the Wizarding World still needed to be repaired. But first, he needed a meal, a potion to settle his stomach, and some rest. Not in that order. Because Harry Potter may be the future Lord of three Houses, and the lauded Boy-Who-Lived, but it had been a long day. Plotting the demise of his remaining enemy could wait until tomorrow.

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I have been writing fanfic since I was twelve and despite my love of the source material I have found plenty over the years to twist to my own purposes so this theme is going to be a blast. I love turning things on their head and looking at canon from a completely different direction and making it totally different without changing the core.


  1. This was as wonderful as the last part. I really love the part where Harry and Draco were just coming up with names for the Quirrel/Voldemort hybrid. I’m so glad that part of his life is over for Harry. And so excited about what’s going to happen next!

  2. Oh my GIDDY AUNT! OK, so Moldy Shorts is gone and there are still 4 wonderful chapters to read! giggles madly This is going to be AWESOME!!! Watching fumbles get his is going to be epic!!!

    This is FANTASTIC so far!!!

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