Reading Time: 124 Minutes
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Action/Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Content Rating: PG
Warnings: Death-Minor Character, Discussion-Child Abuse, No Beta, Violence-Canon-Level
Author Notes: Shout out to my artist, Krani, who was awesome. Notes on warnings in the summary post.
Word Count: 50,534
Summary: A fortuitous encounter with Narcissa Malfoy on Diagon Alley changes the course of Harry’s life and his future in the magical world.
They didn’t hear anything further about the Cerberus or the third floor, but Dumbledore was gone from the castle from that Tuesday morning, only showing back up in the Great Hall on Friday morning, looking a little flustered.
Harry didn’t pay it much mind, knowing he’d likely hear about it at some point. Of course, gossip regarding what was going on raced through the school with outrageous speculation. The best thing about it, in Harry’s mind, was that it meant that people weren’t staring at him and talking about him constantly. That had been a little weird throughout the week.
Going through the rest of the week confirmed for Harry and his friends that History of Magic was indeed just as boring as they’d been warned, Defense being sub-par wasn’t a one-off and from the grumblings of other years wasn’t going to get any better, and his Transfiguration, Charms, and Astronomy teachers were good and competent.
Friday came and with it Double Potions. This was the class Harry had been looking forward to the most behind Defense. He’d heard a lot about Professor Snape from Draco, who was his godson, but he’d also heard of how difficult and stern a teacher he was from those in Gryffindor. He himself wasn’t going to judge the man until he’d seen him in action, because it made sense to him that Professor Snape would be especially stern in that class. From what Narcissa had said, potions were prone to blowing up and having unfortunate side effects if done wrong. They’d heard quite a lot from every adult in their life about not goofing off in Potions.
When the man came swanning in with a billowing robe and a soft voice that demanded all their attention, talking about the art of making potions, Harry had to admit Professor Snape had a flair for the dramatic. Afterward, he did the roll call and looked as if he might want to say something when he got to his name, but refrained from doing so.
The first half of class was a lecture on the different types of ingredient preparations and how ingredients interacted with one another, and the importance of reading and following the directions, as well as the proper spells to prevent interference. The last thing was learning to ignite the little fire pits nestled in the stone desks they sat at.
“Now, class,” Snape said, looking at all of them like he didn’t expect much from them. “We will be making the simplest of potions, a Cure for Boils.” He waved his wand and the board turned over, and a list of ingredients and instructions were listed in very neat print. “Remember to read through everything on the board first before you begin.”
Harry pulled out the notebook he had specifically for Potions and carefully copied the ingredients and instructions into it, double checking that he’d accurately done so. He looked up, startled, when Ron blew past them, heading back from the ingredient cabinet already.
Shaking his head, Harry pulled out his potions kit and set it on the table to find the ingredients he needed.
“What’s that, Harry?” Neville asked curiously.
“My potions kit. Aunt Narcissa suggested it along with that herbology kit.”
Neville huffed as he pulled a box out of his bag, which held the vials of basic ingredients. “I wish Uncle Algie would have got me those.”
“You can find them at Primrose Emporium on the Alley,” Draco told him. “Maybe if you ask your grandmother, she’ll get them for you.”
Neville made a face as he pulled out the few ingredients they needed. “I doubt it. I’ll just have to make do with what I have.”
Harry hummed and thought maybe he and Draco could get them for him for Yule if she wouldn’t. “Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try. If she says no, then she says no, but she might surprise you.”
The three worked, Harry and Draco guiding Neville when he faltered in his confidence to do a good job, and they managed to get their potions done in the allotted time, all of them the proper color and consistency.
Snape loomed over their cauldrons once they motioned him over and gave a sharp nod. “All three of you brewed perfect potions.” He held out his hand and a tray of vials, ladles, and funnels flew to him. “Fill these bottles to the etched line. Madam Pomfrey can use these in the infirmary as there’s no reason for them to go to waste. Full marks for the day for all three of you.”
Harry and the other two grinned at one another and got to work. Snape walked behind them a few minutes later to look at the row behind them.
“Adequate, Miss Granger, but not perfect. Had you followed the directions on the board instead of those in the book, you likely would have brewed a perfect potion. Do listen the next time I instruct you to follow the board.”
“Yes, sir,” Hermione said a little stiffly. Harry looked behind him to see she was a little teary. “Do I need to bottle this?”
“No. What the three in front of you made is enough for Pomfrey’s stores for the year,” Snape said, writing in the small ledger he carried around the room.
Harry went back to work and had just finished bottling the last of his potion when there was a loud hiss and an acrid stench filled the air. He pressed his lips together when Snape sighed heavily and strode across the room to where Ron was coughing and waving away the fumes.
Boils started popping up on Ron’s face where the potion itself had splattered on him when the cauldron melted. One had even popped up on the tip of his nose, much to Harry’s amusement.
“Congratulations, Weasley. You are the first of your siblings to ever melt a cauldron in my class. And I see you’ll have use of the Boil Cure that Potter-Black brewed. Head to Pomfrey now and inform her I will be bringing the cure along after class.”
“Yes, sir,” Ron said sullenly, slinking out with his bag.
Snape vanished the potion and ruined cauldron and looked around. “Can anyone tell me why his cauldron melted and this mess occurred?”
Hermione’s hand, unsurprisingly, shot up and waved about insistently. Both Harry and Draco also raised their hands, but when Neville did as well, Snape raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Mr. Longbottom?”
“Ron should have taken the potion off the fire and let it cool for two minutes, stirring twice clockwise every thirty seconds, before stirring in the quills one at a time. He left it on the fire and threw them all in at once instead, and the quills reacted badly to the too high heat.”
“Take five points, Longbottom. Now, those of you who are done and I’ve checked your potion, dump it in the place I indicated, and then wash your cauldron at the row of sinks in the back. Do be thorough in your cleaning. You don’t want any residue in your cauldron when brewing your next potion. Cleaning your tools is essential to your continuing survival.”
Harry cheerfully wandered off to the sinks with his tools. He found Potions wasn’t bad at all.
He wasn’t so certain Ron would agree with him on that, he thought with amusement.
Lucius and the rest of the Board of Governors convened at the behest of Madam Bones and were waiting in their conference room waiting for her to arrive. House-elves brought them tea and they took the time to make it and chat amongst themselves.
Lady Longbottom, who was sitting next to him, cleared her throat. “I heard your boys were kind enough to befriend my Neville.”
Turning to her, Lucius frowned at the wording of her comment. “I’m not certain what you mean by a kindness. I know they met on the train and Harry was sitting with him at the meal when we were there that day we went to the school. From the call I got from Draco telling me how well all three did in Severus’ class yesterday, they genuinely like him.”
She sighed and stirred her tea. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. It’s not that I think he’s incapable of making friends. He’s just so shy and timid. I was honestly surprised the hat put him in Gryffindor.”
“Clearly the hat could see something you can’t, but it can see into a person the way another person can’t anyway. And honestly, a school house is just a place for them to live and doesn’t mean much in the long run.
“I do know that he brewed a perfect boil cure in Potions, and Severus was apparently impressed enough they got full marks and their potions were given into Madam Pomfrey’s care for use. He also received points for answering a question correctly regarding another student’s error.”
“Well, that shows promise,” Lady Longbottom mused. “I know he was particularly nervous about brewing.”
Lucius nodded and decided to bring up something that concerned him. “Draco said he spent quite a bit of time working on the train to read his books and take notes. He’s a diligent student and was quite confused as to why he wasn’t able to get his books earlier. He was extremely worried about being behind his classmates in basics.”
Lady Longbottom frowned. “I had planned on taking him sooner, but when I mentioned it to Dumbledore earlier in the summer when we met in the Alley, he said there was no use in studying ahead, because he could learn bad habits and that the teachers would tell them what they need to know.”
“That’s true up to a point, but the whole point of having the potions practice kit on the list is so that they can practice their technique in the month or so prior to class. Luckily Harry and Draco insisted on taking theirs and Neville spent an hour or two each day working through it until he was secure in his abilities.”
“What potions practice kit?” she asked. “I don’t recall having anything of the sort on the list.”
Lucius’ eyebrows shot up. “I don’t know why that would be. Then again, I know that Harry received a limited list for some reason. Do you perhaps still have the letter?”
“I have it at home. I can bring it to the next meeting,” Lady Longbottom said, making a note. Then she frowned. “Dumbledore also told me that Frank’s wand would be adequate for Neville. Did he lead me astray on that?”
“Yes,” Coraline Zabini, who was listening in, said with a bit of exasperation. “Every wizard must have a wand suited to their own magic. Having a badly matched wand can wreak havoc with a child’s core and channels and cause more trouble than it’s worth in regards to damage in the long run. If I were you, I’d get Neville this weekend and have him go to Ollivander and get a proper wand.”
“Note to self. Never listen to Albus Bloody Dumbledore,” Longbottom said, picking up a biscuit and shoving the entire thing in her mouth. She chewed on it furiously.
Lucius bit back a laugh and then cleared his throat. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. “Draco also had a lot of unkind things to say about your brother. Harry was none too kind about him either, and he’s not prone to disliking someone without reason.”
“Algie? I didn’t even know they knew him.” Longbottom looked at him, clearly confused.
“No, in regards to Neville,” Lucius said. “Apparently over the week Neville has let slip many things about Algernon. For one thing, Neville had desired an owl, and he forced a toad on the boy. And yet, he refused to purchase him the proper habitat and Professor McGonagall had to transfigure him a proper tank. Algernon also berates Neville often, and has more than once nearly killed him trying to get his magic to manifest.”
“What?” Longbottom said flatly, narrowing her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“Algernon threw him in a lake and nearly drown him. Luckily the mermaids residing in the lake helped him get close enough to the shore that he could climb out. And apparently he dangled him out a window and let go when someone else caught his attention.”
“That was an accident,” Longbottom said. “He told me so after it happened. He was frantic that he might have hurt him.”
“It may have been an accidental drop in that he didn’t mean to let go just then, but what kind of person dangles a child out the window threatening to drop him? He is your son’s only child, and your brother has nearly murdered him several times.”
“No, what I meant was that he said Neville had climbed up and nearly fell. He grabbed him but was unsuccessful in keeping hold of him.” She picked up her tea with a shaking hand. “I admit I was happy that his magic manifested, mainly because it saved him a very painful injury and possible death. I never meant…” She scowled. “I’m going to kill my brother.”
Derek Abbott looked at her, amused. “Perhaps you shouldn’t say so in front of witnesses.”
“He’ll simply be listed as missing. The body will never be found.”
The entire board was laughing when Madam Bones walked in. “I see I’ve been missing a good time.” She sat down and pulled out a file, and took the tea offered to her.
“We’ve merely been entertaining ourselves,” Lucius said. “So what do you have for us?”
“First of all, the Cerberus is Hagrid’s legally. I’m sure that Dumbledore greased the wheels in some manner to get it imported, but all is in order but for the proper habitat. The animal, Fluffy, is currently in stasis until it can be provided.”
Lucius nodded. “I’ll speak with the owner of Gryffindor Castle. I’m sure we can find a proper place for it. I don’t know what Dumbledore’s design was in getting Hagrid such a creature. Hagrid is very good at his job and the creatures in the forest like him. We would have a bigger problem if we sent the Cerberus away and Hagrid went with him. I have no idea what’s truly in the forest at this point and am unashamedly willing to admit I’m afraid to find out myself if there was a Cerberus running around in there for years.”
“Not to mention the majority of the students and staff like the man as well,” Landon Brown reasoned. “If there is a place where the dog cannot harm the students, I don’t see why he can’t stay.”
The rest of the board was in agreement, though they would keep an eye on it in the coming years.
Bones nodded. “What it was protecting was a trap door. It led down into a large devil’s snare. Once past that, there were several empty rooms, though they looked to be in the middle of being set up for something. At the end was a large underground chamber. Nothing was in it, but clearly something was meant to go there.”
“What did Dumbledore have to say about it?” Zabini asked.
“Simply that the staff was setting up a sort of obstacle course for the older students as a test of what they’d learned, but that it wasn’t done yet. Why he decided a Cerberus was needed in an unused corridor, I don’t know.”
“Do you believe him?” Lady Longbottom asked.
“No,” Bones said. “It makes no sense at all. However, he’s not deviating from his story, and the teachers involved are backing him up for some reason. Or perhaps they believed it. Either way, we have no proof he was planning anything wrong, and the only thing he’s done wrong is leave Fluffy in the school.”
Lucius blew out a breath. “While we could fire him for it, we have to weigh in the opinions of the rest of wizarding Britain. They allow him to get away with a lot because of the hero worship he engenders. I think at this point we might do more harm than good if we fire him.”
“I agree,” Lady Longbottom said.
The others murmured their agreement.
Georgia Whittaker spoke up. “I think we should, however, notify Dumbledore that he’s on probation. We can’t let him think he can get away with anything he wants without being held accountable and watched.”
“Agreed,” Lucius said. “I will be heading to Hogwarts this weekend, so I will inform him then.”
“Lady Longbottom,” Lucius said in surprise as she apparated just outside the gates a few minutes after him on Sunday. “How fares your brother?”
“He’s currently in St. Mungos. The idiot wouldn’t take my hexes like a wizard and apparated away while I was cursing him. Landed in their apparition area and had splinched. Took his arm clear off. He would have fared better facing my hexes. So he’s getting the curses I landed reversed and his arm reattached.
“And do call me Augusta. It seems like our boys are going to be quite good friends. It doesn’t do to be so formal.”
Lucius bowed his head. “Then it’s Lucius, Augusta.” He held out an arm. “May I escort you to the castle.”
Augusta huffed but took his arm. “I’m taking Neville for his wand today. I informed Minerva via Floo last night that I would be retrieving him for a standing appointment.”
They chatted idly as they walked down the path. At the door, Neville was waiting, along with Draco and Harry, who were keeping him company. McGonagall was there as well.
“Your grandmother is here, Mr. Longbottom,” McGonagall called out to him.
Neville waved at the two boys and strode over. “I’m ready, Gran.”
“Come along then. Minerva, I will have him back before dinner.”
Lucius watched them walk back out and then turned to his boys. “If you’ll wait for me here, I need to speak with the Headmaster for a few minutes.”
“We will, Father,” Draco told him, and the two went back to looking over the book they had.
“Albus is in his office currently,” McGonagall told him. “Boys, can I trust you two to not land into mischief?”
“Of course,” Harry said. “We’re not the Weasley twins.”
Lucius laughed as he walked away.
Harry looked up when he heard boots on the stone floor and saw his uncle heading toward them. He looked irritated, but Lucius had gone to see Dumbledore so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. He and Draco stood up from the bench they were sitting on.
“How about we go and sit out by the lake?” Lucius asked.
Harry nodded. “We haven’t been out there since we came in the boats,” he told him as he let his uncle guide him out the door.
Once they were settled, Lucius set up a privacy charm and then smiled at them. “So how was your first week?”
“Some of our classes are good,” Draco started. “But a few, not so much.” He huffed. “Defense class is going to be terrible all year, I just know it.”
“I had noted you said the teacher wasn’t all the good. What’s the issue?” Lucius asked.
“He stutters a lot and when he’s not stuttering, he mumbles. He loses his train of thought all the time, and he’s scared of his own shadow,” Harry told him.
“I don’t know how we’re to learn anything in there,” Draco finished. “The lectures are so disjointed I don’t have any real notes for the class outside of what I’ve read in the book already.”
“At the end of the second class, I decided to do what I do for history,” Harry said. “Write down the homework, and then write down any keywords or topics as he mumbles his way through class.”
“Luckily he puts the main topics on the blackboard so we can read about them later.”
Lucius hummed. “I’ll buy you two copies of the OWL guides and send them to you. And I’ll bring up to the board the issues with him. Unfortunately, Dumbledore is responsible for hiring and firing your teachers, but I promise to keep an eye on it.”
They talked a little while longer about the rest of their classes and then Lucius brought up the Cerberus, much to Harry’s interest. He’d been wondering about it, after all.
“So Hagrid needs a place to keep it,” Harry said after Lucius explained the situation.
“Yes, preferably nearby so he can take care of him,” Lucius told him. “But in order to do that, you’d have to key yourself into the private area of the property. Then we could have the goblins come in and set up a place for Fluffy.”
Draco snorted. “What a name for something that could eat you in one bite. Why not have it removed completely?”
“Hagrid is very good at his job, and he’s fostered a good relationship with the dangerous creatures of the forest. We’re not sure how they would react to the dog’s removal, and he has no place to care for the creature. In all honesty, it won’t be able to stay here forever, but it’s a good compromise for the moment.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t mind as long as everyone is safe from it.”
They got up and Lucius guided them over to the front gate and instructed Harry on how to claim the property as his own.
“How do I key you in?” Harry asked him. “It’d be better if you could take care of stuff while I worry about school.”
“Narcissa is going to strike that word from your vocabulary,” Lucius told him, sounding amused.
“Stuff,” Lucius said as he pricked his palm. “Now place my hand on the stone there and give me permission to access and alter the lands. I promise I won’t do anything without your permission.”
Harry took his hand. “I trust you.” He placed Lucius’ hand on the stone. “I, Hadrian James Potter-Black, Head of the House of Gryffindor, give Lucius Abraxus Malfoy permission to access and alter the lands as needed.”
The stone flashed and Lucius healed his hand.
Harry turned to Draco. “Do you want to be keyed in?”
Draco shrugged. “Sure. Might be interesting to see what else is here that no one can see.”
Lucius nodded. “Very well, but you two don’t go exploring unless I’m with you or you take an adult, like Professor Snape. It wouldn’t do for you to get injured and no one can find you.”
Harry added Draco, whose eyes went wide. “There’s way more to the castle than we get to see.”
“There is, indeed,” Lucius said. “Now, I know the general parameters for what we need for Fluffy’s habitat, so why don’t we go and see what we can find that will work in way of space? Maybe do a bit of exploring?”
Harry grinned up at him as they headed across the expansive lawn. They reached a tall hedge that had a door within it, and when they stepped through, Harry’s mouth dropped open in awe. “Wow.”
Massive gardens seemed to go on for miles, and little, fat birds were flitting all about it and chirping merrily, their wings beating like a hummingbird’s. They were all different colors.
“Oh,” Lucius said softly. “Snidgets. They’re extraordinarily rare in the wild now. Most are in magical zoos and they don’t breed very well there. The little gold ones were hunted to near extinction because people used them for snitches when Quidditch first began. There are only a few left in the zoos.”
Harry stared up at him in horror. “That’s terrible! They used a live bird to play a game?”
“That’s cruel,” Draco agreed, making a face. “They’re cute little birds, though. And there seems to be a lot of them.”
“There be big population all over the land,” a voice said behind them, making them jump. “Even the gold ones. They not be as extinct as wizards think, but they not be allowed to leave the Gryffindor property. Too dangerous for them.”
Harry turned around and saw a house-elf in a cute, tidy little uniform with the Gryffindor emblem on it. “Hi. I’m Harry Potter-Black.”
“Yes, you be head of family,” she said. “My name is Izzy. I be head elf, taking over when my father died ten years ago. There not be an official master for many, many years, so we made do with what we had.”
“That’s fine,” Harry said, for lack of anything to say to them. “I didn’t know there were house-elves here aside from the ones who work for Hogwarts.”
“Those be your elves as well. It be in agreement with the school that Gryffindor elves be working in the school. They listen to Headmaster and staff, but you be the master so they listen to you more. And they not spy on you like the Headmaster be asking.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Harry said, looking at Draco with surprise. “Does he try to get them to spy on me a lot?”
“He be trying six times in the first week. He be talking to them at nights when he’d come back from London. He not be understanding why they not doing as ordered. But we be knowing you accept the Gryffindor Family Magic already.”
Harry made a face. “Let’s put out the order that the elves shouldn’t be spying on anyone for the Headmaster, or any of the other teachers, alright?”
Izzy nodded. “Your will be done, Master Potter-Black.”
“Please, just Harry,” Harry said.
“Master Harry, then,” Izzy said. “Was you be looking for something specific?”
Harry looked up at Lucius who nodded and spoke. “Yes. The groundskeeper on the school side has a Cerberus that needs a proper habitat, but there is no place for him in that area. We were looking for a good place here. Ten acres is the minimum of open land, but more would be ideal. We’d need to be able to alter it for the proper temperature and climate, and add native plants that they like, and create a proper shelter. Plus, it needs to be warded so it can’t escape and the environment within won’t bleed out and affect the area outside it.”
Izzy hummed and called out, “Dimples!”
Another elf popped in and smiled, and Harry got a firsthand view of why the elf got that name. “You be calling me, Izzy?”
“Master Harry be needing a big piece of open land, at least ten acres or more for a Cerberus.” Izzy turned to them. “Dimples be head of grounds.”
“Oh, Mitzy be thrilled about having a Cerberus to study,” Dimples said, bouncing and clapping his hands. “I be knowing just the place. It be big enough. There be a hundred acres of open land.”
“That would be perfect,” Harry said. “Hagrid will need to be able to get to the enclosure.”
“We can be putting in a door to school area and long corridor. It be warded like the big hedge to keep others out of private areas,” Dimples told them. “If you be getting the plants, Mitzy and I be able to create a habitat with other elves helping. We just need plans and materials for everything.”
“That would be most helpful,” Lucius said. “Harry has given me access and permission for alterations, so I’ll be the one you’ll be working with most as Harry has classes.”
“Draco’s got permission to be here as well so you lot can listen to him unless he’s trying to get you to do something ridiculous or outrageous,” Harry said, laughing when Draco lightly elbowed him.
“As you wish, Master Harry,” Izzy said.
“Come along, then, boys. We’ll come back to explore another time. I’m sure you have homework to do and if we’re gone too long, Dumbledore might get his tacky robes all in a knot.”
Harry giggled as he followed Lucius back out, looking around at the little snidgets once more. They were really neat.
Hours later, Neville found them in the Great Hall sitting together and working on their Defense questions. “Hi,” he said, dropping his bag on the table.
“Hey, Nev,” Draco said. “How was your day with your grandmother?”
“Good. We talked a lot about stuff. I got a new wand.” He pulled it out of the holster Gran had bought him on Ollivander’s recommendation. “It’s loads better than my dad’s. Gran took that one back home. She offered to get me an owl, but I told her I’d keep Trevor for this year and think on it over the summer.”
“That’s good then. At least you know you’ll get one if you really want it,” Harry said.
Neville nodded. “Trevor’s growing on me, but an owl is more useful. I’ll decide then. Oh, and she asked me if there was anything else I wanted and she got me the kits and the potions practice kit. She also let me go crazy in the bookshops after I got a new trunk. She even got me the OWL guides when I told her about the teachers we’re having issues with. She said she was going to bring it up to the board as well.”
“Brilliant,” Harry said. “Have you finished your questions for Defense yet?”
Neville shook his head and pulled out everything he needed and spread out a bit. “I’ve got about six left. I tackled the hardest ones first so it shouldn’t take too long. I filled out my essay outline like Draco taught us, and now I just need to write it.”
Ron nudged Harry. “Be a mate. Let me copy your answers to Defense.”
“No,” Harry said, glaring at him when he scowled. “I’m not going to do your homework for you, Ron.”
“Come on, Harry,” Ron said with a whine. “I’ve got loads and loads to do.”
“Then you should have worked on it through the week instead of saving it all for today. And you slept in late and didn’t even come in here until twenty minutes ago,” Harry told him. “Don’t expect me to save your bum because you were too lazy to do it.”
“You’re an arse,” Ron snapped, getting up. “I bet Dean’ll let me copy.”
“If he does he’s an idiot,” Draco murmured. “And it’s really stupid to try and cheat in front of the five professors currently in the Great Hall.”
“Well, we know he isn’t very bright,” Neville said with a shrug. “But it doesn’t seem to be an uncommon way to do things. I know Seamus is really lazy about his homework. Not as bad as Ron, but still bad.”
“Probably because the only thing that truly counts for life are the OWLs and the NEWTs,” Draco said. “But if you don’t study, you don’t pass them with good scores or at all. But he’s not my problem.”
Neville shook his head when he saw Dean roll his eyes but pass over a sheet of parchment to Ron.
Hermione, who had been sitting on the other side of Draco, huffed. “What an idiot.”
Neville laughed and pulled his questions over.
The weeks passed by quickly, full of classes and homework, flying lessons and exploration of their new home. Nothing of real significance had happened since the Cerberus incident.
Harry did know that they had been able to create the habitat for the Cerberus fairly quickly and it was now running about his new home, frolicking and doing whatever it was a Cerberus did. Harry was considering needling Lucius into coming and taking them to see it since he’d never seen one before and he’d like to view one in safety and with no risk of being eaten.
Once Quidditch tryouts started, the only thing Ron would talk about was Quidditch, annoying both Harry and Neville with his constant nattering into the night. Harry was looking forward to the day that he could do magic normally, and the first thing he was going to learn properly was a silencing charm. And possibly a charm that would seal Ron’s mouth shut for a time, just to get some peace.
Dumbledore hadn’t pressed him for another meeting, though Izzy had come to him and occasionally updated him on the fact that Dumbledore was still attempting to get them to spy on various people. Harry found his frustration very funny, as did Draco and Neville.
So it was that Halloween was upon them. In Charms that day, Flitwick decided to work on the levitating charm, Wingardium Leviosa. Harry was paired, as always, with Neville, but for some reason this class, poor Hermione was paired with Ron.
“How’d she get stuck with him? Neville whispered. “He can’t stand her because she won’t let him copy her work, and she avoids him as much as possible. He’s never nice to her. He’s usually downright mean, even though she doesn’t deserve it.”
“I don’t know. Bad luck, I guess,” Harry whispered back. “Nobody else wants to work with him either. He doesn’t do the work and he rarely listens.”
Flitwick went through the theory with them and set them to work.
Harry patiently focused on the spell itself and practiced the movements several times with a quill. He’d learned early on to practice first and with something that wasn’t his wand, or he’d end up accidentally using up his three allowed attempts.
Neville, not so encumbered, practiced repeatedly and got it on the ninth try. “I got it!” he said cheerfully.
“That’s great, Nev,” Harry said, thinking he got the phrasing and the movements just right. He picked up his wand and cast once Neville let the feather drop to the desk.
“Wingardium leviosa,” Harry said, swishing and flicking as Flitwick instructed. The first was a bit of a dud, though it did move and tried to lift. Harry took a breath and let out his frustration, concentrating again.
The second time was the charm and he floated the feather in front of them.
“Excellent, Mr. Potter-Black!” Flitwick said cheerfully. “Those of you who have already got it, feel free to get started copying your questions from the board if you’ve not done it already.”
Harry started a few minutes later when Ron and Hermione started arguing. They were a few people down so he didn’t know what it was about, but from the look on their faces, he had the feeling it was going to blow up into a big dramatic scene at some point.
“Come on,” Harry said as they left the class. “We’re supposed to meet up with Draco at the staircase and head down with him.”
They headed the opposite direction of the others, and by the time the reached the Transfiguration corridor, most of the others were leaving. “What’s going on?” Harry asked.
“Note on the door. There was an accident in the last class and McGonagall is in the infirmary getting some bones healed,” Lavender told them. “Says she’ll be okay but class is canceled. She’ll bring us questions to answer for homework at dinner.”
Draco shrugged and looked at the other two. “Want to go down to the lake?”
In another fit of bad luck, Professor Sprout found herself distracted by an over-excited student and ended up having her arm pulled out of its socket by a particularly vexed Devil’s Snare when she’d accidentally stepped on it, so the class was canceled as well, which gave them the entire afternoon.
So it was that the day passed and it wasn’t until dinner that Harry noticed Hermione wasn’t there. He looked over at Dean. “Anyone seen Hermione? Last time I saw her was in Charms class.”
Dean shook his head. “Ron upset her after class. She ran away. I saw her running toward the stairs, but I didn’t see where she’d gone. I reckon she went up to her room in the tower.”
Lavender shook her head. “No, she’s in the girls’ bathroom here on the first floor, near the stairs. She won’t come out. She’s been in there for hours. We tried to get her out, told her that Ron’s being a berk isn’t a reason to cry in the bathroom all bloody day, but she’s too upset to see reason about it.”
Harry turned his head and stared at Ron, who sat across and down a few people. The boy was shoveling food in his mouth almost faster than he could eat it, making Harry a little nauseous. Then he looked back at Lavender. “She’s been in the bathroom for most of the day because of something Ron said?”
Ron looked up from his food. “Oi! What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That you and she aren’t exactly friends, so I don’t understand why she’d be so upset over something that came out of your mouth,” Harry replied. “Just what did you say to her anyway?”
When Ron’s expression went slightly guilty and then mulish in quick succession before he apparently decided to ignore them and continue cramming food into his mouth, Dean huffed and answered for him. “He said she didn’t have any friends because she’s a nightmare. He didn’t like her correcting him when they were partnered in Charms.”
George leaned forward and glared at Ron. “So Granger had to take one for the House, so to speak, and be partnered to your lazy arse, and when she tried to help you, you decided the best way to respond was to be cruel?”
“You’re a real prat, little brother,” Fred said, shaking his head. “Mum’s gonna have a field day with this, mark my words.”
“And how is she ever gonna know?” Ron said with a shrug.
“Because I’m going to tell her, you whiny little titmouse,” Fred snapped. “Mum warned you repeatedly about this kind of behavior, Ron.”
Ron flushed bright red and scowled. “Tattletale,” he muttered, but it didn’t curb his appetite in the least.
“Maybe we should talk to McGonagall, see if she can get her to come out of the bathroom,” Harry said, jumping when Quirrell came running into the Great Hall at full tilt, screaming about a troll in the dungeon before fainting.
Harry flinched when the room erupted into chaos, with Dumbledore ordering the Prefects to take them to their common rooms.
Neville tugged on Harry’s robe. “Harry, Draco and the Slytherins live in the dungeons. They can’t go!”
Harry pulled out his mirror. “Draco!”
“Harry?” Draco answered, worry clear on his face.
“Don’t go to the dungeons! That’s where Quirrell said the troll was!” Harry said as he and Neville pushed and shoved their way against the flow of panicked students.
“I know we shouldn’t but the Slytherin prefects aren’t listening to those of us protesting it!” Draco told him.
“Meet us in the back of the Hall, near the head table,” Harry said before tucking away the mirror.
Neville climbed on the bench and helped Harry up and they followed along it until the swell of people passed by. He did note that Dean and Seamus had followed along behind him, as had Fred and George.
Draco and a few first and second year Slytherins were waiting back there, being eyed by a stern-faced Snape. “Why are you still in here?”
“Because the troll is in the dungeons, and the Slytherin dormitories are…” Draco said leadingly.
“In the dungeons,” Snape said with a groan and a bit of pink tinging his cheeks. “I’m an idiot and so is Albus. Stay here. I need to make sure none of them get their heads taken off by a troll.”
“Wait!” Harry yelled when Snape was halfway to the door, and he rushed after him.
“What is it, Potter?”
“Hermione Granger! Ron was a prat and she’s been crying in the bathroom since after Charms this morning. She doesn’t know about the troll, and she’s in the first-floor bathroom right by the stairs. If it comes up there…she doesn’t know it’s in the castle.”
‘I’ll go and find her,” Snape said, looking pained and frustrated.
They stood there, the only ones left in the hall, and then Harry looked around and frowned. “Where’s Quirrell?”
The others turned around and stared. “He was right there,” Fred said, pointing to the center aisle that led up to where Dumbledore always sat.
“Guess his fainting spells don’t last too long,” George replied. “I didn’t see him get up, though.”
“Neither did I,” Neville said with a shrug. “I suppose maybe he went to help the other teachers while we were preoccupied trying to get to Draco.”
“Maybe,” Seamus said, though he looked skeptical. “But I don’t see him going to help considering he ran away and then fainted in here because of it.”
Draco snorted. “And we’re supposed to learn to defend against any kind of magic from him? He who supposedly defeated a bloody vampire can’t take on a single troll? They’re known for being especially stupid and easy to fool and subdue if you know how.”
“And he should know how,” a second-year Slytherin girl Harry didn’t know sniffed. “My father is going to hear about this. He’s on the Board of Governors, you know.”
Draco nodded. “I’m going to contact my father. In fact, why don’t I do that now?” he said, pulling out his mirror. “Lucius Malfoy.”
The rest of them crowded behind Draco to see the mirror’s face and a few moments later, Lucius filled it. “Draco. I would think you’d be at the feast right now. I see we have quite an audience.”
“We were at the feast, but somehow a troll got into the dungeons. There’s a troll running about the school, Dumbledore sent all the houses off to their common rooms, including the Slytherins and we live in the dungeons. The group of us here were the only ones smart enough to stay in the Great Hall. Uncle Severus had to go and not only try to keep the Slytherins intact but also find a first-year Gryffindor girl who was in the bathroom crying all day.”
“Whatever for?” Lucius asked, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Because Ron Weasley is a prat,” Harry said, looking over at Fred and George. “No offense.”
“No, he is a prat. Told him so myself many a time,” Fred replied, waving him off.
“I thought you should know, because Sabrina Montrose was going to owl her father but I thought this would be faster,” Draco told him.
“Yes, well, I will be calling the Board. You stay in the Great Hall until the threat is over, do you hear me? And if the troll happens to get in, run out the back way, through the doors your teachers go through, alright?”
“We will,” Draco said, signing off.
A few minutes later, Harry’s mirror went off. He pulled it out and smirked. “Hey, Sirius. I’m guessing you heard?”
“About the troll in the dungeons? Yes!” he said, exasperated. “Are you alright?”
“We’re fine. Haven’t seen it at all,” Harry told him as he sat down at one of the tables and tapped for a clean plate. When it appeared, he helped himself to the abandoned food. The others quickly did the same. “I am quite curious as to who would let a troll into the castle. Also, how did it get in without the Headmaster knowing about it? According to Hogwarts, A History, the Headmaster is tied into the wards. I would think a troll would warrant some kind of warning. They may be stupid but they are also dangerous.”
Sirius hummed and nodded. “Curious, isn’t it? They don’t just wander into castles all on their own. They don’t even live in the British Isles. There are none indigenous to the area, so someone had to have brought it to the castle and let it in. The real question is why?”
Blaise Zabini, who had sat next to Harry, reached out and turned the mirror in his direction. “A distraction, perhaps? If I didn’t want someone looking at something I was doing, I’d let loose something that would cause chaos and confusion but wouldn’t be viciously deadly or anything. Just enough danger to keep others preoccupied.”
“And there was definitely confusion and chaos in the Great Hall,” George agreed as Harry turned the mirror back. “But who?”
Sirius snorted. “It could be anybody at this point. I’d rule out Dumbledore, mainly because he wouldn’t need that kind of distraction since he is tied into the wards there. It would all depend on what was accomplished.”
He pointed at Harry. “But I don’t want you investigating at all. Leave it to Lucius and the Board of Governors. If there was someone willing to let loose a dangerous creature on a castle full of students, then they’d likely have no qualms about hurting you. You keep your nose clean, young man.”
“I will,” Harry promised. “I have no interest in figuring out who the crazy person is who let in a troll. I have enough to worry about with classes.”
“Good. Call me next week after your exam and let me know how you did,” Sirius said, referring to the exam he had coming up in Charms.
“I will. Bye, Sirius.”
Harry put away the mirror and then began eating. The group of them were chatting quietly when Snape walked in with a teary Hermione and a group of flustered teachers.
Neville scooted down and made room between himself and Harry. “Come on, Hermione. Sit and have something to eat. You missed lunch.”
“Thanks,” she said meekly as she wiped at her eyes. “The troll came in the bathroom.”
Harry shared a wide-eyed look with Draco. “You didn’t get hurt, did you?”
“No, but he scared me something awful,” Hermione told him. “I was so scared I froze, and he was going to hit me with his club but Professor Snape rushed in and knocked him out.” Her bottom lip trembled. “I could have died.”
Harry hesitated for only a moment before putting an arm around Hermione as Narcissa did with him. “But you didn’t. Professor Snape saved you. I’m sure it was terrifying, but you’re safe now.”
Hermione nodded and rested her head on Harry’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have been in there,” she whispered. “Ron was just so mean. I mean, he’s right. I don’t have any friends.”
“Of course you do,” Neville said with a scoff. “You got me and Harry, don’t you? And I know Lavender was right worried about you too.”
“Me and Dean here like you fine,” Seamus told her as he buttered a roll.
“And you have me,” Draco added, raising an eyebrow. “And I’m far superior to anybody else at this table.” He ruined the haughty, snobbish tone by grinning at her.
Hermione giggled softly. “You’re really my friends?” she asked timidly.
“Yes, we are,” Fred said.
“There’s no getting rid of us now,” George added.
“I can always use more friends,” Sabrina said.
“I could as well,” Blaise added. “I don’t like half my housemates anyway.”
Hermione smiled at them, her eyes shining a little, but she looked much happier as she helped herself to some food.
Harry glanced over and saw Snape having an intense conversation with Dumbledore behind a silencing ward, and he shrugged, deciding to let Lucius deal with them and worry about his own problems like he promised Sirius.
The following month and a half were almost boring in their normalcy. No more trolls invaded the school. Harry wasn’t entirely certain what happened with the Board, only that something had because Dumbledore had stared at both him and Draco sourly for days after the incident, so no doubt Lucius had said or done something.
Then a week after the incident, Dumbledore had begun looking downright troubled. He was distracted at best, which was good for Harry because the man hadn’t called him back to his office for anything. But a part of him was a little curious because anything that had him that bothered probably wasn’t good for anyone.
Now it was only two days away from the start of the Yule break, and Harry was eager to get home. For one thing, Sirius was definitely well enough to stay at Malfoy Manor not only for the holiday but for good, only having to return to the bank for his weekly check-ups and his bi-weekly mind healing sessions.
Even better, Remus Lupin would be there. Harry and Draco had met him via the mirrors, and he’d promised to help them with their Defense studies over the break so they could be sure they were where they were supposed to be.
And the break also meant a trip to the Healers for Harry so he could see whether or not he was strong enough to get more freedom to use his magic in class. He’d been diligent with his potions and doing everything the healers had asked of him, so he was hoping that at least he’d be able to participate more in class.
At lunch that day, McGonagall came up to Harry, her face pinched. “Headmaster Dumbledore would like a meeting with you,” she said, giving him a meaningful look.
Harry frowned. “Whatever for? Have I done something that warrants a trip to the Headmaster?”
McGonagall shook her head. “Nothing of which I’m aware, but he’s being most insistent. I will, of course, be with you the entire time.”
“Alright, fine,” Harry said with a sigh. “When am I supposed to meet with him?”
“After dinner tonight,” McGonagall told him. “After you’re done, I’ll meet you out in the hall, alright?”
“Okay,” Harry told her.
“Wonder what that’s all about,” Neville said, watching her walk away.
“No idea.” Harry shrugged. “I’ll go this time, but if he calls me in again, I’m going to have Uncle Lucius come here to be with me. I just don’t understand why he keeps wanting to see me or keeps trying to spy on me.”
“Don’t blame you for calling him, mate,” Neville murmured as he peered at the head table. His expression went contemplative. “Have you noticed Quirrell is looking loads better than he did before Halloween?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, he looks like he’s feeling better and he doesn’t smell like garlic so much anymore. But he still sucks at teaching defense.”
Neville nodded. “He really does. You’ll send me whatever notes Remus gives you, right?”
“Of course I will. And remember, Uncle Lucius was going to talk to your grandmother to see if you can Floo in a few times during the holiday.”
“Right. I had forgotten all about that,” Neville said cheerfully. “It’s odd having friends to go and see. She was so strict about that sort of thing before. I’m glad she’s not doing that anymore. It’s nice to have places to go.”
“We’re here, Headmaster,” McGonagall said as she opened the door and ushered Harry in ahead of her.
Harry stared at the Headmaster and frowned. He didn’t like the look in his eye.
“You can wait out in the hall, Minerva,” Dumbledore told her, waving a hand.
“Albus,” she chided, but when he waved a hand at her again, she began to sweat and then walked out the door, though she was clearly fighting it and her movements were all jerky and awkward. It closed immediately behind her.
Harry stared at him with wide eyes and then ran and tried the door, only to find it wouldn’t budge. “What do you want?” he asked, plastering himself against the door and looking around for another way out.
“I’m not going to harm you, Harry,” Dumbledore said in what he probably thought was a soothing voice but it just made Harry even more nervous. “I just want to talk to you.”
“You’re to call me Duke Potter-Black,” Harry snapped, slipping away from him as he moved closer and going to hide behind the stand with the pretty bird sitting on it. “Tell me what you want and then let me go. You’re not supposed to be alone with me.”
“I need you to understand why it’s so important you remain with your aunt, Petunia Dursley,” he said, stepping closer. “And you’re not listening, and I must make you listen. It is vital to everyone’s survival.”
The bird squawked and flames lashed out at the Headmaster, causing him to stumble back.
“I’m not going to harm him, Fawkes, I assure you,” he said to the bird in that same soothing tone, which only made the bird squawk again. “He’s too important to the wizarding world not to take care with him.”
Harry thought that perhaps the Headmaster was completely off his trolley. He reached into his pocket for the mirror he’d left there and double-tapped it for the last person he called. “I’m not going back there. They’re already in lots of trouble for what they did to me.”
“Then if anyone should be your guardian, it should be me,” Dumbledore told him. “You need someone to properly guide you. You have no idea the danger you’re in. Now, more than ever. I don’t know how, but he found it. And I have no idea where he put it or what he’s doing with it. There are all sorts of things that could be done with something such as that,” Dumbledore said, wringing his hands.
He turned his wild-looking gaze on Harry. “You don’t know what he’s capable of. And you’re not ready. You can’t face him yet. It’s far too dangerous. You need to be molded properly so that you will do what you must when the time is right!”
Harry shook in fear from the look in the Headmaster’s eyes. He was right. The Headmaster certainly was crazy. “I tell you what. I’ll think on it over the break, alright?”
“You’ll be staying here, of course, where I can keep an eye on you.” Dumbledore took another step forward and Fawkes lashed out again.
“I’m going to go home, Headmaster Dumbledore,” Harry said, making sure to stay solidly behind the bird that was keeping Dumbledore away from him. “I’ve got loads of plans for the holidays. Sirius is coming to Malfoy Manor.”
Dumbledore scoffed. “Bah! Sirius is completely useless. I never was ever able to keep that boy in line properly. The best thing he ever did was go after Pettigrew.”
Both Harry and Dumbledore whipped their heads toward the main entrance as the magic around it bulged and then shattered, and Lucius and Madam Bones stepped through, wands drawn.
“What? How dare you break down my door! What is the meaning of this?” Dumbledore demanded as they strode in. Gone was the manic gleam in his eye, but Harry had seen it. He knew Dumbledore wasn’t going to give up on him.
“Harry called me on his mirror and we heard you,” Lucius told him, glaring at him as he held an arm out for Harry while keeping his wand aimed at Dumbledore.
Harry rushed over to him and clung to his side. “He did something to make Professor McGonagall leave the room after she told him she wasn’t going to leave me alone with him. She was sweating and didn’t look so good.”
“She was passed out in front of the door,” Bones snapped at Dumbledore. “What did you do to her? Did you use the Imperius on her?”
Dumbledore sent her a wounded look. “I would never use the Imperius on anyone,” he said, shaking his head. “Harry and I were simply talking.”
“Yes, we heard part of your conversation,” Lucius retorted. “You were informed, were you not, that you were to have no private contact with Harry?”
“Yes, but Minerva would hardly let me speak to Harry like I needed to, so I gave her just a bit of a nudge so that she wouldn’t interrupt me,” Dumbledore said in a pleasant tone. “I’d never hurt her.”
“Clearly you did,” Bones said. “She’s currently being taken to St. Mungos and we’ll find out just what exactly it is you did to her. You can rest assured that if there were any laws broken, you will be charged to the fullest extent of the law.” She turned to Lucius. “If you don’t mind bringing him to the DMLE, we’d like a memory of what happened here for possible future prosecution.”
“Of course, Madam Bones.” Then Lucius drew himself up and glared at him. “As Chairman of the Board, I hereby suspend you from your position of Headmaster until such time as we can convene and decide just what to do with you. You have thirty minutes to pack what you need from your room and leave the school.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, what you’re allowing,” Dumbledore started, but Lucius held up a hand.
“Save it, Dumbledore. I don’t want to hear it. My son is shaking like a bloody leaf and it’s your fault. Leave now. You have twenty-nine minutes.”
Dumbledore scowled. “He’s not your son.”
“He may as well be,” Lucius snapped. “I may not have given him his life’s blood, but he’s mine nonetheless. Now hurry up and vacate this property.”
Harry buried his face in Lucius’ side as Dumbledore made his way up the short flight of stairs. “He scared me so bad,” Harry mumbled when the door slammed closed behind him. “I thought he would hurt me, but the flaming chicken wouldn’t let him.”
Lucius burst out laughing and the ‘flaming chicken’ squawked indignantly. “That’s a phoenix, Harry,” Lucius said around his laugh. “A fire phoenix, specifically, and his name is Fawkes. From what I understand, he’s Dumbledore’s companion.”
Fawkes squawked indignantly again and shook his head emphatically.
“Perhaps not,” Lucius mused. “Honestly, I’m not certain where he came from then.”
Harry walked over to the bird and reached his hand up hesitantly, sighing softly when Fawkes ducked his head and leaned into Harry’s hand. “Thanks, Fawkes. And sorry about the chicken comment.”
Fawkes twittered at him and then hopped onto his shoulder and made himself at home there.
“What do you think he wants?” Harry asked Lucius when the bird didn’t seem like he wanted to move.
Lucius stared at Fawkes and then his eyes widened in surprise. He was silent for some time before he blinked and nodded.
“He’s the Gryffindor family’s companion, or one of them. He made himself known when James came to Hogwarts because he knew he would father the one who would be able to reawaken the line. He basically made himself at home with Dumbledore to keep him from doing anything too Dark within the school. He doesn’t have any idea though, what Dumbledore was up to on the third floor. He’s not omnipotent and he didn’t have any kind of bond with Dumbledore.”
“You got all that from staring at him?” Harry asked curiously.
“He sent it to me mentally in fits of words and flashes of scenes,” Lucius replied. “He wants to come back with us for the holidays. We’ll buy him a new perch of his choice. I know they have some lovely ones with houses that hold expansive flying areas. Maybe he’d like one of those.”
Fawkes twittered and chirped again and nuzzled against the top of Harry’s head. “I’ve still got two days of classes and I can’t miss Potions on Friday. We have an exam over the contents of the first half of the year.”
Lucius hummed. “How about I go and get that perch and bring it back here for Fawkes to use? I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate having to perch himself on one of the posts on your bed.”
“That’d be great,” Harry said, moving closer to Lucius when Dumbledore came stomping back down.
Dumbledore glared at Fawkes with what Harry thought to be betrayal. Then he peered at Harry and his expression went thoughtful and filled with something else that had Fawkes chittering out angrily and Lucius tucking Harry neatly behind him. Harry didn’t even feel the slightest urge to peek out from behind Lucius. He’d rather not look at the man if he could at all help it.
Lucius’ tone was low and furious as he spoke. “You are not to contact Harry in any way, shape, or form. Nor are you to approach him should you see him anywhere. If you do, I will have you brought up on every single charge I can have thrown at you for stalking an eleven-year-old child. Are we clear?”
“Perfectly,” Dumbledore said. Harry could almost imagine the man flouncing out of the office. The door slammed and Harry relaxed as Lucius moved to the side and put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll follow the drama queen down to the front gate,” Bones said, shaking her head. “We don’t want him trying anything funny like sneaking back onto the property.”
“Come, off to Gryffindor Tower with you, and I’ll bring you that perch before curfew. Then I have some calls to make and a Headmaster to get fired.”
Harry chewed on his bottom lip as they walked down the stairs. “Will he be able to get back on the property?”
“Not once we’re done,” Lucius told him. “After I come back, we’re going to go down to the gates and you’re going to make it so he can’t return to it.”
“What is that?!” Ron half-shouted, his eyes wide as he gaped at Harry when he walked into the common room.
“That’s Fawkes,” Fred told Ron, looking at Harry with surprise. “He’s Dumbledore’s familiar. He’s always in Dumbledore’s office.”
“Actually, he’s not,” Harry informed him as he reached up and scratched at Fawkes’ breast. “He’s the Gryffindor family companion, and he was waiting for me. He decided to come here with me while I was up in the Headmaster’s office.”
Percy’s mouth dropped open. “You’re the Gryffindor Heir? I didn’t think there was one.”
Harry nodded. “I already claimed the Family Estate and Magic,” he told them as he sat down and Fawkes hopped onto the arm of the chair. “Uncle Lucius is bringing a new perch for him.”
“Wow. He’s really something else,” Percy said, staring at Fawkes in awe. “I knew there was a phoenix in the Headmaster’s office, but I’d never seen him. No surprise that this one did,” he added, flicking Fred on the ear when he grinned up at his older brother unrepentantly.
Neville nudged him. “So, what happened?” he asked as everyone else went back to their business once they’d ooh’ed and ahh’ed over Fawkes for several minutes.
Harry leaned closer to him and whispered, “Dumbledore was acting all crazy, and he used some kind of magic on Professor McGonagall that made her pass out cold from it. He forced her to leave the room and leave me alone with him. I used the mirror to get Uncle Lucius’ attention and he came in with Madam Bones. Uncle Lucius suspended him on the spot and is going to talk to the Board about firing him since he was already on probation.
“I don’t know what would have happened if Fawkes wasn’t there. He kept Dumbledore from getting to me every time he tried to walk closer to me.”
“Were you scared?” Neville asked him.
Harry nodded. “I don’t think he would have hurt me physically, because he seems to think I’m needed to do something, but I don’t know that he wouldn’t have tried magic on me like he did to McGonagall. So I would do what he told me to.”
“At least he’s gone for now,” Neville murmured. “So we don’t have to worry.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, leaning his head back. He did wonder, however, who the ‘he’ was that Dumbledore had been ranting about.
Harry stepped off the Hogwarts Express and grinned when he saw Sirius waving cheerfully at him and ignoring the looks he was getting from the ladies standing nearby. He turned to Neville, who was waving at his grandmother, who was standing with several other women several yards away. “See you in a few days, Nev.”
“See ya, Harry. Bye, Hermione, Draco,” Neville said cheerfully as he ran toward Lady Longbottom.
“I’ll see you when we get back,” Hermione told them as she flashed them a smile. “I’ll write and let you know where Mum and Dad took me for the holidays!”
“Bye, Hermione,” Draco said and they both waved her on. Then the two dashed toward Sirius and gracelessly flung themselves at the man.
“I missed you two troublemakers so much,” Sirius said, hugging them tightly.
“We missed you too,” Harry told him. “Did Fawkes find the Manor okay?”
“Yes, when I left, Fawkes was sitting atop Remus’ head and twittering away at him like he hadn’t a care in the world, much to Remus’ annoyance,” Sirius told them cheerfully as he guided them towards the fireplaces.
Harry laughed as he picked up a handful of Floo powder and stepped into the fireplace. “Malfoy Manor.”
He stumbled out the other side and got out of the way, laughing when he found Remus there, Fawkes on top of his head. The man was glaring upwards, but Fawkes appeared to be unfazed by Remus’ irritation. “Problem, Remus?”
“Your bird is a menace,” Remus said with a sigh. “It’s nice to see you again in person, Harry.” He smiled at Harry and pulled his wand, removing the soot from him.
Harry walked over and hugged the man. “Nice to see you, too. I’m glad you could stay with us for the holiday.”
“Me too, cub,” Remus said, hugging him back. “Narcissa had some sort of tea to go to today that she couldn’t get out of, and Lucius had yet another meeting with the school board. There are a couple of holdouts for firing Dumbledore, apparently.
Harry hummed and pulled out his mirror. “Lucius Malfoy.”
“Yes, Harry? Did you get home alright?” Lucius asked him when he answered. The man looked irritated, and Harry couldn’t blame him. He’d wanted to meet them at the train station, and now he was away from home on their first night there.
“I did. Remus told me about the ones holding out. Would it help if I said that if he came back to Hogwarts, it’s well within my rights to kick the school out of my castle because he’s a threat to the Head of the Gryffindor Family?” he asked, grinning when Remus snorted and clapped a hand over his mouth to keep his laughter in.
Draco popped out of the Floo, looking startled and a little scared. Before Draco could say a word, Sirius popped out of the fireplace and huffed.
“That nutter, Dumbledore, was on the bloody platform!” Sirius said as he cleaned both himself and Draco off. “He saw me, scowled, and then looked around me, presumably for Harry. He’d pulled his wand just after Draco Flooed out, and I didn’t stick around to see what he was going to do.”
Harry looked back into the mirror and quirked an eyebrow. “Threat to the Head of the Gryffindor Family.”
“Well, gentlemen?” Lucius said dryly. “Ah, so then we’re finally in agreement. Albus Dumbledore is to be terminated effective immediately.”
Lucius looked back at Harry. “I’ll be home as soon as we take care of the legalities and whatnot dealing with his dismissal.”
Harry nodded and then hopped around happily. “Yes! He’s gone. Now I don’t have to worry about all his creepy staring while at school!”
Sirius snorted. “Come on, pup. Let’s get you settled in. We’ll be going shopping in France tomorrow. We don’t trust him not to be on the Alley looking for you. I just didn’t think he’d show up on the bloody platform.”
Harry skipped into Healer Martok’s office the day after they returned from France. “Hi!” he called out cheerfully to Martok and Marius as he hopped up on his usual exam table.
“Hello again, Hadrian,” Martok said as she approached with her staff. “I trust you’re doing well at Hogwarts? No problems with magical exhaustion?”
Harry shook his head as he laid down flat. “Not at all. I kept to the limitations you gave me, and the professors were really good about not trying to make me do more. I think it might have actually helped because I didn’t flail about like some of the other kids did,” he said, and he went on to explain his process while she and Marius cast over him for several minutes.
“You can sit up now,” Marius said, smiling at him. “I’m glad you’re having a good experience at school.”
“In most of my classes anyway,” he said, making a face. “The DADA teacher is incompetent and the class is nearly useless. I had to have Sirius send me magical earplugs for History of Magic, and then more because Neville and Draco wanted some. And I kind of hate Astronomy because it’s so bloody late. I spend more time trying not to fall asleep than paying attention to what’s going on in the class. Teacher is really good, though.”
“I’m not sure why it’s held so late now,” Marius mused. “It was held during regular hours when I was in school and they used charmed rooms to show the star maps.”
“Maybe I need to ask Uncle Lucius,” Harry said with a shrug. “He’s got plans to try and get the school up to proper standards, but he’s going to leave it for the rest of the year since it’s already halfway over.”
“Good idea,” Martok said. “Now go and find your family while we look your results over and talk about you. We’ll be there soon.”
“Okay,” Harry said, sliding down and heading back to Filrig’s office. He flopped down on the sofa next to Draco and peered over his shoulder at the Quidditch magazine he was reading to look at the picture. “Looks like Nimbus has got a new broom coming out.”
Draco nodded. “A Nimbus 2001. If I decide to try out for Quidditch in third year, maybe Father will get me one. I’d like to be a Chaser, or maybe Seeker.”
“Seeker might be fun,” Harry told him. “I think I’d quite like chasing after a Snitch.”
They continued talking about Quidditch while Lucius and Sirius discussed his accounts with Filrig and Kurnok, and Remus and Narcissa spoke about whatever it was they were talking about. They only looked up when Marius walked into the room.
“Martok had an emergency with one of the apprentices,” he told them as he sat down in one of the chairs near Harry. He smiled at Harry. “You’re doing very well. Better than we expected, actually. Even with the limits, we were afraid it was going to take its toll on your magic, but there have been no issues. You’re healing ahead of the schedule we’d projected, so we should be able to remove the dark magic in your scar during your next Yule break instead of in the summer between your second and third year.”
“Oh, that’s excellent news,” Narcissa said happily.
“It most certainly is,” Marius agreed. “We’ll continue you on the potions regimen you’re currently on since it’s doing so well, and we’ve increased your attempts or practice spells in class to five. You can also cast up to ten times on Saturday and Sunday, but don’t try more than three in a two hour period. And stop at ten.”
Harry nodded. “That’s great, actually. I’m looking forward to being able to practice a bit on some of the spells that were a little harder.”
Marius nodded. “I’ll send out letters to…who is taking over? I know Dumbledore was fired.”
“Minerva McGonagall will be acting as Headmistress for the rest of the year, with Professor Flitwick taking on the duties of the Deputy Headmaster. Professor Babbling will be acting as the Head of Gryffindor for the year,” Lucius informed him. “We’ll decide on permanent replacements after the year is over.”
“Then I’ll send them to Headmistress McGonagall,” Marius said. Then he looked back at Harry. “No magic during the holiday. Let yourself rest.”
“I promise,” Harry replied. “We’re just working on the holiday work they gave us, and Remus is going to go over all the things we should have been learning in DADA.”
Marius nodded and stood. “We’ll send you another batch of potions before school starts.”
Marius took his leave and Harry and Draco went back to the magazine while the adults did their thing.
On December 25, Harry startled awake when a heavy weight jumped onto the bed. He lifted his head and groaned. “Padfoot, it’s too early,” he grumbled, shoving his head under his pillow when Padfoot released a series of loud barks.
Then Sirius transformed and pulled the pillow off his head. “Up and at ’em, pup!” he said cheerfully. “It’s time to open gifts and see what all you got!”
Harry perked up at that. He’d forgotten it was Christmas morning. “I’ll be down in a minute,” he said around a yawn as he threw off the blankets and stumbled into the bathroom.
Ten minutes later Harry wandered into the living room where everyone was waiting, an enormous pile of gifts nestled around the ten-foot-tall tree.
Dobby popped in moments after Harry sat down on the floor near Draco. “I be bringing hot cocoa,” he said, handing out a mug to everyone, and setting small plates of biscuits near each of them.
Then he snapped his fingers and all the gifts started floating through the air, settling in front of the one they were meant for. “Breakfast will be ready as soon as you’ve finished opening gifts.”
“Thank you, Dobby,” Narcissa said.
Harry stared, wide-eyed, at the sheer mountain of gifts in front of him. Not even Dudley had ever received so much. He could only imagine what his cousin would say if he saw the mound of presents in front of Harry right now.
“What are you waiting for, Harry?” Draco asked as he tugged on the ribbon of one of his smaller gifts. “Start opening them.”
So Harry did, beginning with the huge stocking with his name on it. In it, he found a small mountain of sweets, small tins of biscuits, oranges, and apples, and a multitude of small toys and crackers and wrapped gifts.
He kept out the crackers and gifts and put the rest back, then reached for one of the gifts slowly, wondering if it would disappear when he touched it.
It didn’t, and soon enough he was tearing into them as eagerly as Draco was his, the adults moving at a more sedate pace.
He received the expected clothes since he had grown a bit during the last few months, books from Hermione, a box of Chocolate Frogs and some owl treats from Neville, and a box of their own pranks from Fred and George. He also received a nice set of Defense books from Remus, as well as a photo album of his own from both him and Sirius.
The most extravagant gift he received was a joint gift from Lucius, Narcissa, and Sirius, which was a Nimbus 2001, and Draco received the same.
“I didn’t think these were out yet!” Draco shouted after he let out a loud squeal of delight.
“Sirius was quite persuasive,” Lucius told him with a smile.
“The Nimbus owner was a good friend of mine in school, and he just took over the company. When I explained what I wanted and for who, he was more than happy to accommodate me. It’s actually not that much longer until they come out, and they were already in production.”
“Thank you,” Harry said, getting up and hugging all of them. “I’ve never had a Christmas this good.” He went back to his pile of gifts and continued opening them, appreciating every single one of them.
The biggest bit of gossip when they returned to Hogwarts via the train was, of course, the firing of Albus Dumbledore. The rumors flew through the school faster than a Snitch, ranging from the boring to the outrageous.
Harry and Draco knew the reasons, as did the others who had Board members for relatives, but they all kept it to themselves. They were in agreement that the truth was rather dull compared to some of the theories floating about, especially from the older years.
Lucius had given them the little wizard’s talk before they’d left for school at the beginning of the year since he’d known how the older students were and didn’t want them to get the wrong information, so Harry and Draco had had a good idea what some of the rumors meant. It didn’t keep their faces from flaming when they heard them, though.
But things settled down well enough, though Ron kept giving Harry dirty looks. He had no idea why, since he hadn’t done a bloody thing to him before they’d left for the holiday and Ron hadn’t seen him until they’d returned to school.
After Ron nearly knocked him down the stairs when he shouldered him out of the way while walking by, Harry glared at him and snapped, “What is your problem, Weasley?”
Ron whirled around and glared at him. “I know it was you that got Dumbledore sacked. Everyone knows your guardian is the Chairman of the Board of Governors. He was a great Headmaster and you just had to go and get him sacked because he didn’t kiss your arse like you thought he should.”
Harry scowled at him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about, Weasley. I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but I can tell you it’s not right at all. But if you got such a problem with his being fired, maybe you should go and talk to Headmistress McGonagall. I’m sure she’ll set you right.”
“What would she know about it?” Ron scoffed.
“Because she was one of the ones involved,” Harry retorted. “And maybe you should remember all the crap that happened in the first half of the year. The Cerberus? The Troll? There were a lot of reasons, I bet, that they decided to fire him. They can’t fire him just because someone doesn’t like him, or he’d have been gone a long time ago.”
Harry turned and stalked away, shaking his head. “He’s a bloody idiot.”
“Well, we all knew that,” Hermione said as she and Neville ran to keep up. “Fred and George said that he practically hero worships Dumbledore.”
Neville nodded. “They told me that Dumbledore was around their house, talking to their mother and Ron a lot. Who knows what Dumbledore was telling them about the whole thing.”
Harry frowned. “But they didn’t leave the castle. I thought their parents were going to see their older brother.”
“Apparently they were called home two days into the holiday,” Hermione said. “Percy was complaining about it to the other fifth-year prefect. He was irritated because he had a whole study schedule for the holiday. He has OWLs this year, you know, and he wasn’t happy that he wasn’t going to be able to use the library while most everyone was gone.”
“Well, whatever they were talking about, it can’t be good,” Harry said, making a face. Then he turned to them. “Hey, you want to go with me into the private part of the estate? Professor Snape asked if he could harvest some ingredients that are available there. Draco’s coming too.”
“Yes! I’ve been desperate to see the little Snidgets but didn’t want to ask,” Hermione said, smiling bashfully. “I’ll likely never get to see them anywhere else, at least not up close.”
“Come on, then. We’re supposed to meet Professor Snape and Draco outside. We’re having a picnic. Dobby’s bringing a hamper from Malfoy Manor.”
Neville hummed. “Do you think he’ll let us go to see Fluffy? I haven’t got to see him yet.”
“I’m sure he will,” Harry said. “I think some of the plants he wants to harvest are near there anyway.”
Harry frowned as he rubbed at his scar after leaving the Defense classroom for the last Defense class of the week. He was really beginning to hate that class with everything he had. Everything about it was miserable.
“Are you alright, Harry?” Hermione asked worriedly as she moved him out of the flow of students after he got knocked against a few times.
“I don’t know,” Harry said and sighed. “I feel terrible. The first half of the year was okay even though it was a bad, boring class. But the last few classes, my scar has hurt. Enough to make it difficult to even sit in class.”
“That’s weird,” Neville murmured. “Why would your scar hurt? It never hurt before the holidays? Are you sure?”
Harry shook his head. “No, it didn’t hurt me at all, not even once. I don’t know what’s changed. The class is the same as always.”
Hermione bit her lip. She looked worried. “Maybe you should call Lord Malfoy and let him know what’s going on. Maybe you need to go and see your healer. You are using more magic than you were.”
“But it’s only in Defense class,” Harry told them. “If it were my magic, I’d think it would happen in every class, and we didn’t do spells in Defense today anyway.”
Shrugging, Neville guided him toward the stairs. “Then it has to be something else, but whatever is happening isn’t good. We’ll go to Gryffindor and call Lord Malfoy. He needs to know.”
“Yeah, we better. It’s not hurt this much before.” He blew out a shuddering breath and let them guide him back to Gryffindor Tower.
Harry dropped down on the sofa as soon as they were in the tower, wincing at the pounding headache that bloomed in the short time they’d been walking.
“Where’s your mirror, Harry?” Neville asked.
Harry flicked it out of his wrist store and Hermione plucked it out of his hand.
“Lucius Malfoy,” she said shakily.
“Miss Granger? Is something wrong?” Lucius’ voice came from the mirror.
“Lord Malfoy, Harry’s head is hurting him something terrible. In the last couple of weeks, his scar has been hurting him some after our Defense class, and it’s really hurting him now worse than ever. We’re not sure why. It didn’t do this before the holidays.”
“I’ll call Marius and Martok and get them to Hogwarts as soon as possible,” Lucius said. “Harry, don’t move until we get there. And don’t let anyone else treat you.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry mumbled, closing his eyes. He smiled slightly when Fawkes flamed in and twittered at him. “Hey, boy.”
Hermione placed the mirror in Harry’s pocket. “I do hope they’ll hurry,” she said, wringing her hands. “You’re so pale. You look like you’re about to faint dead away.”
“Just hurts, that’s all,” Harry told them. “Making me a little nauseous.”
“I’ll get you a garbage bin,” Hermione said, rushing across the room to the tables. “Just in case you need to throw up.”
“The scar looks all red and angry looking,” Neville told him. “It doesn’t usually look like that.”
Harry hummed but kind of drifted until he was prodded sometime later.
“Come, Harry,” Marius said, gently picking him up. “We’re going to take you to a private room in the hospital wing.”
Harry let out a soft sigh and rested his head against Marius’ shoulder, drifting off in spite of the throbbing in his head.
Lucius strode in front of the Healers, glaring at anyone who dared to get in their way. Worry was eating at him, especially since both healers had appeared highly concerned about the fact that it was the scar that was causing Harry a great deal of pain. The Horcrux was meant to be dormant. If it was awakening, that couldn’t bode well for anyone.
He knew that the Granger girl and the Longbottom boy were following behind. He didn’t mind it, since he knew they were an integral part of Harry’s small circle of friends. They did have the good sense to call him instead of trying to deal with it themselves, so it showed they had common sense, which often seemed to be in short supply in the wizarding world, particularly in the UK.
He held out an arm when Draco came running. “How’d you hear?” he asked as they headed down the hall where the infirmary was located.
“Fawkes came to me. Used that thought sharing thing he does. He let me know you were taking him here,” Draco told him. “What happened?”
Lucius explained what he knew and then they entered the infirmary.
“What’s going on here?” Madam Pomfrey asked as they filed in.
“We need access to one of the private rooms. “Harry is having some health issues and we need privacy,” Lucius told her.
“Oh, dear,” she said, rushing by them and leading them toward the back. “Here, this room will do. It was freshly cleaned just this morning. Do let me know if you need anything.”
“We will,” Martok told her. “Lucius, if you and the children will stay out here? We’d like as little magical interference as possible.”
“Of course,” Lucius said, conjuring chairs so they could all sit down.
Lucius turned to Hermione. “You said that his scar has been hurting?”
Hermione nodded as she chewed on her thumbnail. “Mind you, it hasn’t been bad. Just a dull aching the last few classes. He was going to bring it up if it kept on, I promise, but today for some reason it was just really, really bad for him. And we haven’t been able to figure out why!”
Neville nodded his agreement. “There’s been nothing different in class. Quirrell may not look as horrible as he was, but his class is as dull and useless as ever. We weren’t using magic today, and his scar doesn’t hurt in his other classes, even when he uses magic. And he’s not been overdoing it. He’s not even using his full number of times allowed on the weekends.”
Lucius hummed. He trusted that they were telling the truth because they were all concerned about Harry’s health enough to keep an eye on him even if he didn’t need it. “Perhaps I need to look into it. Maybe he brought in something that’s affecting Harry adversely for one of the older years.” He looked at Draco. “Anything else of note going on?”
“Ron Weasley’s started acting weird again, after a good amount of time glaring at us and blaming Harry for Dumbledore’s firing. Now he’s trying to get into Harry’s good graces,” Draco told him. “He’s even attempted to be nice to me, and we all know what he thinks of me.”
“Think it might have something with all the time that Dumbledore spent with the Weasleys?” Hermione asked. “The twins said he paid special attention to Ron while he was there.”
Draco shrugged. “Most likely, but I’m not sure how he thinks Harry’s going to fall for it. Ron’s been a git all year once he figured out Harry wasn’t going to worship the ground he walks on.”
Lucius bit back the amusement that came from listening to the same type of childhood gossip he and his friends had indulged in while they were at Hogwarts, but these three did have some valid points. “I don’t see Ron as anything more than a thorn in your side at this point. There’s not much he can accomplish even if instructed by Dumbledore to do something.”
Neville nodded. “The twins say he’s an awful liar and he wouldn’t know subtle if it took a bite out of his bum. They’re keeping an eye on him. Not sure how, but…” He shrugged.
The door opened and Marius walked out, looking irritated. “Lucius, if you would join us.” He smiled at the children. “Harry’s having an issue, but he’s going to be fine once we get it all fixed up.”
Lucius rested a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.” He got up and stepped into the room, frowning to see Martok still casting over him. “What’s wrong?”
“The Horcrux in his head is waking up. We’re not certain why, but we’re not going to be able to wait for next Yule to remove it. Martok’s preparing him for transport, and she’s already been in contact with the bank. They’re getting the ritual room ready and all the potions he’s going to need.”
“It’s not going to damage his magic, is it?” Lucius asked. “There was a reason we were waiting for so long.”
“It’s not going to be pleasant, but it must be done,” Martok told him as she finished casting over him. “We no longer have a choice in the matter. He’s in a deep sleep now so the pain doesn’t bother him.
“Conceivably it could have been done right at the first, but it was always going to be easier on him the healthier he was and the fewer blocks and bindings there are on him. As it is, we’ll have to remove the rest of the obstructions. It’s going to be exhausting, so he’ll likely not return for at least two weeks. Possibly a month, depending on how he recovers from it. And how much it drains him.”
Lucius ran his hand over his forehead. “Do it. I’ll speak with McGonagall regarding his absence, and I’ll see if his friends can share their notes and write down all of his in-class assignments and homework.”
Marius nodded and conjured a stretcher for him. “We’ll have to apparate with him outside the gates.”
Lucius pursed his lips. “Can you wait until I can get Sirius and Remus here? I’d like more protection in case Dumbledore is lurking outside the gates like the creepy old man he is.”
Marius snorted and then laughed outright. “Go ahead. We’ve got time. He’ll stay asleep for some time yet.”
Lucius nodded and walked out, motioning for the others to come with him. “Harry has to have some medical procedures to remove some bad magic from his scar that’s bothering him. It’s going to take some time to recover. The healers said it could take as much as a month.”
“Oh, no!” Hermione cried out. “He’s going to miss so much class!”
Biting back a laugh, because based on what Harry and Draco told him about Hermione that was the kind of reaction he should have expected, Lucius nodded. “He will, but I’m certain that he will be well enough to study the theory while resting from his treatments. I was hoping all of you would be willing to take any relevant notes for him, as well as gather any assignments during class and homework information so he can at least keep up while he’s bedridden.”
“Of course we will!” Hermione said. “We’ll divide it up between us concerning who should get what and in what class. We’ll have a packet ready for him this weekend for the remaining classes. Do you think Fawkes will come and get it for him?”
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t,” Lucius said. “I thank you all. Now, I’m certain you three have things to do, do you not?”
Draco nodded. “Yes, sir. Tell Harry to call me as soon as he’s able.”
“I will, Dragon. Off you go.” He smiled to himself as the three ran off, talking as they went. It was nice to see Draco had made good friends, especially in other houses. He had worried initially about Draco’s ability to make good, true friends and not the kind that would have their heads turned by the money and power their family held.
He pulled out his mirror as he ducked into the hallway leading to the Headmistress’ office. “Sirius Black.”
“Lucius,” Sirius said distractedly. “Do you know how bloody boring going over some of these business contracts is? I’m about to expire from the tediousness of it. Please tell me you have something more exciting than this.”
“Sirius, I need you and Remus to come to Hogwarts,” he said, ignoring Sirius’ complaints. “Harry’s going to have to have his scar treated now.”
“What?!” Sirius half-yelled into the mirror. “That’s not supposed to happen for nearly another year!”
“Something has gone awry. We’re not certain yet what it is, but Marius and Martok are in agreement that it needs to be fixed posthaste. I’m going in to inform McGonagall, but I need you and Remus to come and help with protection detail. They’re going to have to take Harry off the property to apparate with him.”
“We’ll be there as soon as I get Remus,” Sirius said, the mirror going dark a moment later.
Lucius started to move toward the office when McGonagall’s voice came from behind him.
“Lord Malfoy, what are you doing here? Did we have an appointment?”
Lucius turned. “Headmistress. Harry’s been having headaches and his healers have come to the conclusion that what’s affecting him needs to be taken care of immediately. I cannot speak of what’s wrong with him, but he will need to be gone anywhere from two weeks to a month.”
“Oh, dear,” McGonagall said, leaning against the wall. “Is he going to be alright?”
“He should be, given some time to recover. I’ve already tasked Miss Granger, Mr. Longbottom, and Draco with gathering any class assignments and notes and such he’ll need. I’d also like to gather his trunk so he may have the books he needs while he’s at home recuperating.
“Of course,” McGonagall said, “I’ll call a meeting for his professors and put them on notice. The one he may have the most trouble with is Potions, because of the brewing.”
“I’ll speak with Severus later, see if he would be willing to have him brew them over the break in April to make up for missing the classes.”
“I’m certain he would be willing,” McGonagall said, motioning for him to follow. “Come. We’ll go and get his belongings and then you can be on your way. Do give him my best, please.”
Lucius stood just inside the door of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, peering around at the items within and trying not to make a face at the underlying scent of old garlic. He knew it was much worse at the beginning of the year. The boys had complained about it more than once during their talks over the mirrors and in their letters.
“C-can I h-h-elp you?”
He looked over to see Quirrell standing at the top of the stairs. “I’m Lord Lucius Malfoy. You have my children in your first-year class.”
“Ah, yes. Young D-d-draco.”
“And Duke Potter-Black,” Lucius added, eying the man in front of him. He’d never met him before, an he didn’t seem like much of a Defense teacher by the look of him. Timid was the least offensive thing Lucius could come up with, and he wondered where Dumbledore found someone like him. “He seems to be having a bit of an issue in this class. Something causing him severe headaches.”
He walked into the classroom and looked around. “I was wondering if you had brought in something during the Yule holidays that was causing it. Is there anything new that might be the culprit? Anything with curses or perhaps some kind of potion that might adversely affect a student?”
Quirrell looked thoughtful for a moment before he shook his head. “Nothing that I can think of. A few books perhaps, but I don’t see how they would only be affecting one of the students. Nothing with any sort of curse on it that I recall.”
“Curious,” Lucius said, studying the man before him. He was tense and Lucius could practically feel the deception oozing off him. How interesting, especially since now he seemed a little less timid. “Perhaps the Board needs to have some curse breakers and goblins come in and see if there’s something amiss.” He threw the man a small, insincere smile. “We’ve been lax in our duties, I’m afraid, trusting that Dumbledore was taking care of the school and its occupants as required, and there’s much that’s going to have to be put to rights within the school. It will take some time, but since this classroom, in particular, had an adverse effect on a student, we should start here.”
“Of course,” Quirrell said with a nod. “I’d be h-h-appy to help.”
Lucius nodded and left the room, frowning. He didn’t detect anything sinister within, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Quirrell could have removed whatever it was after hearing how Harry had been affected.
No matter. He’d be having curse breakers and goblins in as soon as the Board approved it. And they would, because it just wouldn’t do if someone was trying to harm the boy they considered the savior of the wizarding world. And if that wasn’t enough, he was Lucius’ boy, and he’d be damned if he was going to let harm come to him if he could help it.
Monday morning found Lucius, Narcissa, Sirius, and Remus waiting in Filrig’s office while the goblin healers removed the Horcrux from Harry’s head. The doors had been sealed shut to keep them from darting out at the first sight of any issues. Sirius in particular, Lucius had noted, was extremely jumpy and had attempted to bolt when someone had dropped something particularly loud and heavy in the hallway.
“For the love of Merlin, will you sit down?” Narcissa snapped at Sirius, who was pacing back and forth in front of the door. “My nerves are already shot, and your stomping about is grating on my very last still-intact nerve.”
“I’d do as she demands,” Lucius said, looking up from his book. He was certain he was the picture of calm and unaffected, but he inwardly he was just as nervous as Sirius was. He wasn’t this nervous when Draco was born, and he was a wreck then. Of course, that was partially because of the wandless hexes Narcissa had kept throwing at him, but still. “The last time I behaved in such a manner and she found me vexing, I ended up tied up inside a closet. I was there for an hour before Dobby accidentally discovered me.”
Remus snorted and then burst out laughing. “I can just see him opening the door and finding you there, bound and gagged and desperate to be found.”
“Desperate was right. I was in need of the facilities before she’d tied me up,” Lucius said wryly.
Sirius laughed softly as he sat down next to Remus and sighed. Then he looked at Lucius. “Did the Board approve the search of the Defense classroom? I meant to ask the other day but forgot about it since I’ve been spending all my time with Harry.”
Lucius nodded his head. “Augusta is taking care of the details, so I can be here for Harry. She has a meeting this morning with the lead curse breaker.”
A loud, maniacal scream echoed down the hall and a few seconds later the floor under them rumbled for a good thirty seconds before everything went still.
“What the hell was that?” Sirius yelled, jumping up from his seat.
“The reason you’re sealed in here with me instead of being allowed to run amok in the bank’s hallways,” Filrig said, pointing to the sofa. “Sit back down and calm yourself, Sirius. The scream was the Horcrux, nothing more. They’re never exactly appreciative of being moved beyond life when we do that.”
“And the shaking?” Narcissa asked, her voice trembling, and Lucius reached out and took her hand.
“Harry’s magic,” Filrig told them. “He has a great deal of it. The Horcrux, once it started waking up, began utilizing it. That’s why he’s going to be bedridden for so long. His magic basically expended itself to only just what he needs to actually survive.”
“Merlin,” Remus murmured, dropping his head into his hands. “Just when you think that the things Voldemort did couldn’t get anymore heinous, something inevitably pops up to show you just how wrong you really are. Is there no end to his horrible crimes?”
Sirius, who had reverted to his canine form as he was wont to do when emotions got to be too much for him to bear, whined and nuzzled at Remus’ arm until he could hide his head under it.
Lucius pulled Narcissa closer and closed his eyes as he rested his cheek on top of her head. All they could do was wait now.
“What do you mean, he’s gone?” Lucius asked Augusta as he escorted her into the parlor for tea.
“Exactly what I said. Quirrell left the school at some point between Monday evening when he was informed that the inspection of his classroom would take place, and this morning, when we arrived. Minerva had given him the day on Tuesday because she said he was fighting a cold and looked miserable, so she didn’t think anything of him not being seen around the castle.”
Augusta took the tea Daisy offered her. “And then he wasn’t seen this morning, but again, she didn’t think anything of it, as his classes were canceled today because of our arrival. We showed up with the curse breaking team just after the second session was in, and he wasn’t there. All of his things are gone as well.”
“Well, that’s just bloody terrific,” Lucius said with a huff. “Nevermind Quirrell for the moment. Who are we going to find at such short notice to take over the Defense classes for the rest of the year?”
“Why don’t you have Remus do it?” Sirius asked him from the doorway. “He can teach the classes for the day and then come back here in the evenings if he doesn’t want to actually stay at the school.”
“I’d feel better with him there once Harry goes back,” Lucius admitted. “This thing with Quirrell on top of Dumbledore’s attempts at meddling, I’d feel better if there were an adult we trust in the school.”
“Is he capable of teaching?” Augusta asked curiously.
Sirius nodded. “He is. He helped Harry, Draco, and Neville catch up to where they should be in Defence over the holiday. I watched him. He’s very good at explaining and he relates to the children exceptionally well. Besides, it’s only for half a year at most.”
Augusta nodded. “Very well. I will put his name forward at the board meeting tomorrow and make sure they know he has your stamp of approval, Lucius.” She sipped at her tea. “Now, how is Hadrian faring? I know he was allowed to come home this morning.”
“As well as to be expected,” Lucius told her as Sirius walked back out and headed toward the stairs. Lucius knew the man didn’t like to be away from Harry too long. “He’s been sleeping mostly since Monday. Marius says he should start staying up more by Friday, and by next Monday he should be able to sit up for some time and work on things like homework. He won’t be able to do magic or run about for some time yet.”
“I’m glad,” she said with a nod. “Neville has been fretting something fierce over his health since he left.” She smiled wryly. “I’ve started to regret giving him communication mirrors as a gift. But he will be happy with my report, which I shall be giving him just as soon as he inevitably calls tonight.”
“You all packed up, pup?” Sirius asked as he sat down on the bed and watched Harry place his bathrobe in the appropriate section.
Harry nodded. “Yeah, I got everything. This is the last of it. Dobby just brought it back fresh from the laundry,” he said, shutting his trunk and shrinking it. He placed it carefully next to his other items for the next morning.
Then he turned back to Sirius. “I’m really excited that Remus accepted the Defense position for the rest of the year. Neville and Draco are excited too, and Hermione is practically beside herself that we’re getting a competent teacher. It’s going to be loads better in the class now that Quirrell is gone. Has anyone seen any sign of him at all anywhere?”
Sirius shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of, and people have been looking. Unfortunately, it’s not illegal to decide to just up and leave, so there’s nothing the DMLE can do about it. There’s no indication that he was actually doing something illegal in the school itself. As far as anyone knows, he’s just an arse who left without notice.”
Harry shrugged. It wasn’t exactly like he cared. The man was an idiot anyway and his leaving only meant that they didn’t have to try to stomach his class anymore. “Did they find anything in the classroom?”
“Just the curse that Voldemort had originally put on the position within the school,” Sirius replied. “He cursed the position of DADA professor so no one could teach the class for more than a year…maybe two if they were particularly robust magically. It’s gone now, so keeping a teacher should be easier. Finding a competent one, however…”
“But they found nothing that would have caused my scar to hurt,” Harry said with a nod. “At least it can’t hurt me anymore now.”
“Nope.” Sirius pulled down the covers. “Hop in. Lucius will be taking you early so you can have breakfast with your friends.”
Harry jumped in and gave Sirius a hug. “Night, Padfoot. See you in the morning.”
The next morning, Harry came flying down the stairs, jumping over the last three and into Sirius’ arms with a laugh.
“Careful there, pup. Don’t want to hurt yourself and end up back in your sick bed,” Sirius said cheerfully as he set him down.
“I’m just happy to be going back. Sitting in bed all the time is boring and I miss Draco. And Neville. And Hermione too.”
“Well, you won’t be going anywhere if you break your neck before you leave the house,” Narcissa replied dryly as she walked up. She looked him over and attempted to smooth down his hair as she always did. Then she huffed when it didn’t work, just like she always did. “You will remember to take your potions for every single meal, won’t you?”
Harry nodded. “Of course I will, Aunt Narcissa. I don’t want to make Martok cross with me. Remember when she turned Sirius’ hair bright green with purple streaks because he refused to take his potions that one time?”
Sirius whined. “Don’t remind me, Harry. I looked positively dreadful.”
“And I’ve got the photographs and the pensieve memory to prove it,” Lucius said as he wandered in from the back of the house. “Are you ready to go? Did you get all your work done?”
Harry nodded. “All my assignments done, all my things are in my pocket or my bracelet.”
“Good. We will be Flooing into Headmistress McGonagall’s office. It’s nearly breakfast time, so you’ll go directly to the Great Hall.”
Harry gave Sirius and Narcissa big hugs and then headed to the receiving room with Lucius. They quickly made the trip to the Headmistress’ office.
“Good morning, Duke Potter-Black,” McGonagall said. “I’m glad to see you’ve returned to good health and are ready to join us again.”
“Thanks, Headmistress,” he said, fidgeting while Lucius cleaned him of soot.
Lucius snorted and jerked his head toward the door. “Off with you.”
“Bye!” he said, giving Lucius a quick hug before tearing out of the room.
“That boy,” McGonagall said, shaking her head, but she was clearly trying to keep from smiling.
Lucius laughed. “He is something. He’s really missed his friends. He had the four of us, but it’s different. None of us are his age and can’t relate to him the way his friends can, so he was kind of lonely, I think.”
“Oh, those three, in particular, were positively morose the last few weeks. You’d have thought he’d died from the pall surrounding them. Augusta came for tea and a bit of gossip on Saturday and complained for thirty minutes straight about all the nagging Neville has done.”
Lucius shook his head and chuckled. “It’s not like they didn’t speak to Harry. Draco was practically attached to the mirror every chance he got and they were often with him. We had to take away Harry’s at one point just so he could get some sleep.”
He looked at his watch and sighed. “I’d best be going. I have a lot to do this week since I put off much of it to help with Harry. Please let me know if there are any further issues, Headmistress.”
“Of course, Lord Malfoy.” She snorted. “I just hope we can get through the rest of the year without something even more dramatic happening. I thought we’d got rid of the drama once Dumbledore was gone.”
Lucius shook his head. “Luck doesn’t seem with us in that regard, does it?”
McGonagall shook her head. “No, it doesn’t.”
Harry walked into the Great Hall, peering around and huffing when he realized none of his friends were there yet. The Weasley twins were, however, and beckoned him over and he went willingly. Fred and George were always nice to him.
“Harrikins! Our favorite firstie of all time!” Fred called out as he pinched Harry’s cheek. “I see you decided to grace us mere mortals with your divine presence again.”
“I had to. I knew my loyal minions wouldn’t know how to function if I were to be gone too long,” Harry retorted dryly as he sat down next to Fred. “Anything exciting happen while I was gone?”
“Most exciting thing was getting someone who actually knows how to teach Defense for a change,” George told him. “Professor Lupin is bloody brilliant. Did you know he has a Mastery in Defense? And in Transfiguration.”
“I did know,” Harry said with a nod. “He’s Sirius’ best friend, and he helped us over the holiday with catching up in Defense.”
“Well, I hope he decides to stay for next year,” Lee Jordan piped in. “And if we could just get rid of bloody Binns. I’m sick to death hearing about Goblin rebellions and whatnot.”
Fred, George, and Lee all winced at the high-pitched screech of Hermione’s excitement, while Harry just laughed and got up and braced himself for the near tackle. He staggered a bit, but Percy, who was standing with another prefect and talking nearby, steadied him to keep him from falling right on his bum.
“Hi, Hermione,” Harry gasped around the vice grip she had on his neck. “Can’t breathe.”
“Oh, sorry,” Hermione said, stepping back and blushing a little. “I just missed you is all. I was so worried!”
“We all were,” Neville said, patting him on the shoulder. “But I think I’ll refrain from strangling you to death all the same.”
Draco gave him a one-armed hug and all three sat down for breakfast.
“Is Ron still having fits because you’ve been eating breakfast at our table?” Harry asked as they served themselves from the platters that appeared a few moments later.
“Yes, of course,” Draco said with a dismissive shrug. “I even heard he went to the Headmistress to complain but she told him that it wasn’t against any rules and that he needed to mind his own bloody business. And if he didn’t like it then he could just move down the table so I didn’t have to look at him.”
Harry laughed a little at that because it seemed like the kind of thing McGonagall would say. She didn’t take any crap from anyone, especially when it was dumb.
“Unfortunately Ron’s always thought that everyone else’s business is his business,” George told them. “He’s always sticking his nose in whatever we’re doing. He does the same to the rest of the family when he can get away with it. Percy locks his door all the time, and I don’t know how many times Ginny has screeched about it because he snoops in her journals.”
“You’re back!” Ron said cheerfully just as George finished complaining about him.
“Speak of the dark lord,” Fred muttered, much to Harry’s amusement.
“I am, yes,” Harry said, flicking out a small set of potions, which he opened and took one by one before returning the little box to his store. “Thanks for noticing the obvious.”
“What’s all that, mate?” Ron asked as he piled food onto his plate. “Never seen you taking so many potions before. You were only taking the one at each meal.” He leaned forward and peered at him with narrowed eyes, almost as if he could see his thoughts if he looked hard enough. It was weird. “Are the Malfoys or that godfather doing terrible things to you? You can tell me. I can help you get out from under their thrall.”
“Hey!” Draco yelled, obviously affronted by the question, not that Harry could blame him.
Harry put a hand on Draco’s arm and shook his head. “He’s not worth the detention if you punch him in the face, no matter how much he deserves it.”
Then he turned his attention to Ron. “No one is doing anything to me. I have problems that needed to be fixed, and my healers are fixing them. If anyone is to blame for them it’s Dumbledore, who interfered with my placement after my parents died. I wouldn’t be having the problems I’m having now if it weren’t for him sticking his big nose in my life. So if you’re spying for him or whatever, you can tell him that. Now leave me alone.”
Ron huffed and glared at him before digging into his food, and Harry was content to ignore him for the rest of the meal. He did hope, however, that Ron would take McGonagall’s advice and start sitting at the other end of the table.
Weeks and then months went by. As far as Harry knew, no one had seen Quirrell and Dumbledore was quiet and seemed to be keeping to himself and the positions he still held.
Harry had discussed it with his friends, and they all decided that Dumbledore was probably making plans regarding some ridiculous thing having to do with Harry and whatever it was he’d been rambling about when he’d last seen Harry. What it might be, they didn’t have the first clue, but they certainly had a lot of fun making things up. If anything, it staved off boredom in the moments they didn’t have anything they wanted to do.
They all stayed during the break in April since Harry had to brew the potions he’d missed for Snape and take a few make-up quizzes and an exam, and they didn’t want to leave him in the school by himself.
April flowed into May, which turned into June, and soon final exams were upon them. The OWL and NEWT students would take their major exams two weeks before the rest of the school did theirs, so the entire month was a mess of busy and frenzied students running amok. Even the professors were starting to look more than a little frazzled by the entire thing.
Harry, Hermione, Draco, and Neville all simply kept out of the way. They commandeered an end of the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall for their study sessions, welcoming whichever students in their year who wanted to join them. They didn’t dare brave the library, not even Hermione, and simply made use of the study libraries Draco and Harry had.
In fact, Hermione preferred them and often asked to use their libraries in lieu of trying to find the books she needed at the library. She had spent the first part of the year annoyed because the most useful ones always seemed to be checked out. By the end of the year, the OWL and NEWT students from Gryffindor were asking to borrow from Harry, which he didn’t mind at all.
A week before their final exams, Harry was leaving Charms with Neville and Hermione when he groaned. “I left my favorite quill on the desk. I meant to put it in my wrist store and forgot all about it when I was trying to get my book shoved into the bag. I don’t want someone to take it. You two go on ahead. I’ll catch up!”
“Okay, Harry,” Hermione said distractedly as she was studying her flashcards as they walked, as she had been wont to do for the last couple of weeks. No amount of pleading for her to watch where she was going seemed to sink in, so they did the best to keep her from falling and breaking something.
Neville snorted and stood behind her, taking hold of her shoulders so he could guide her around obstacles and keep her from falling in random holes. Which had happened two days before and hadn’t deterred her in the least, even in spite of the embarrassment. They still weren’t sure, however, what had made that particular hole. “I’ll make sure she gets to Herbology in one piece.”
Harry laughed and nodded, heading back for the charms classroom. He groaned when he saw the stairs had moved so he took an alternate direction, heading through the second-floor hallways to get to the back stairs, which were closer to the classroom anyway. Just a pain since it took more winding this way and that to get to that set of stairs.
As he walked past what he knew to be the girl’s bathroom – the one they never used but he never asked why…he wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to know why – something grabbed him and yanked him into the bathroom.
He yelped and stumbled as he was half-tossed across the room. He heard the bathroom door slam and he whirled around, his eyes going wide with shock. “Professor Quirrell! What are you doing here? Everyone’s been wondering what happened to you since you just up and left.”
“Of course I had to up and leave,” Quirrell said, walking a few steps closer before stopping and staring at him. “That arrogant twit, Lucius Malfoy, was nosing around where he didn’t belong, just like he’s been doing all bloody year. I couldn’t risk him discovering any of my secrets. There was far too much at stake, you see, and I know his kind well. He’d never have let anything go, and he’s the kind of man that keeps his word, especially when he knows it’s going to put someone else in a difficult position.”
Harry frowned and shook his head. “No, I don’t see. The only reason he bothered was because something made my head hurt when I was in your class. All he wanted to do was figure out what was making my head ache like that. He didn’t care about anything you might have been doing.”
He felt his pendant heat against his skin as Quirrell stared at him without saying anything, and he grew worried. He suddenly realized that the man hadn’t stuttered or mumbled, not once. Nor was he acting twitchy and paranoid. In other words, he wasn’t acting like himself at all.
Was his behavior in class all an act? Or was there something else going on with him? Harry had a feeling he didn’t really want to know.
“There was no ‘what’ in the classroom, Potter,” Quirrell told him after he stopped staring at him so hard, and the pendant stopped heating up. “They’d have not found anything, but the goblins are wily and well-versed in certain magics. They could have detected my passenger and I couldn’t have had that at all. You see, we have plans. Many, many plans, and being thwarted by those blasted goblins wasn’t one of them.”
Harry stepped back and eyed the man with a wary eye. He had a really bad feeling about him. “Why do you keep saying we?” he asked, trying to keep the man talking. Hopefully, Neville and Hermione would notice that he wasn’t showing up and would send someone to look for him. “You’re only one person, and I never noticed anyone with you.”
The trick he’d used when cornered by Dumbledore wasn’t going to work since he’d dropped the bloody mirror on the bed after he’d used it early that morning and he’d forgotten to pick it up. And he had no idea where Fawkes was or how to call for the phoenix. He really needed to look into that this summer.
He should have gone back for the bloody mirror when he realized it, the way he’d run back to the Charms classroom for a stupid quill, but he’d thought he was safe in the school with Dumbledore gone. That he wouldn’t need a means of contacting his family every moment of the day, once things had calmed down.
He was never making that mistake again.
“I’m speaking of my master,” Quirrell told him, a creepy smile settling on his face that had Harry taking another step back in revulsion. “He’s been with me this whole time, ever since last summer. You nearly bollocksed everything up for us at the beginning of the year, what with thwarting all of Dumbledore’s childish defenses and derailing his plans…
Quirrell snorted and shook his head, pointing at Harry. “You should have seen what he had planned for all of us who were to help him. His obstacles were set up so that even the most pathetic of first years could get through them.” He tilted his head. “Of course, that may have been his design all along. I can’t say for certain, but I think he wanted to see if you could get past them.”
Then he shrugged. “No matter. But then things had to change because you and your little friends tattled on him about the third floor and the Cerberus, and Dumbledore had to make new plans.”
Quirrell laughed a little and shook his head again. “That man’s arrogance is his downfall, you know. It’s a terrible vanity for him. He thinks himself so superior. Smarter and more cunning than anyone else. He believes his own ruddy press, he does. Never mind that he’s a manipulative bastard who likes to con others into doing his dirty work for him while he keeps his hands as clean as possible.”
Quirrell huffed. “That’s not the point. The point is, he thinks himself so far above everyone that he doesn’t pay any attention! And I? I do. I always pay attention and I watched absolutely everything. I was so careful, so cunning, and he never even suspected.
“So thanks to you kids, I found where he was hiding the artifact I needed. I just needed time and something to divert him from noticing.”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “You set the troll on the school!”
Beaming at him, Quirrell nodded. “See? Already you’re smarter than that barmy old git, and you’re only eleven. Yes, I set the troll loose. I needed all the teachers diverted away from its hiding place. It was far too easy to get. I was a little frightened, I admit. Even though I knew where it was and was able to get it, there was no guarantee that it was the real thing. But it was. He was just that stupid to hide it in the school. And badly.”
Tilting his head, Harry frowned. “If you got what you wanted, why did you stay? I mean, weren’t you worried that he would know it was you and take it back?”
Quirrell snorted. “If I had left right then, he’d have known for certain who the culprit was,” he said as he conjured a seat and sat down like they were here for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. “Besides, I stashed it away in a place he’d never find in a million years. And even if he knew the location, there was no way in hell he’d be able to get to it. The moment I got it in my clutches, it was out of his reach.
“I did have another motive for staying, however. Research. Hogwarts does have one of the biggest libraries in all of Britain, and there are even more books about if you know where to look, many of them old and obscure. Plus, before Dumbledore was run out of here due to his abnormal fascination with you, his personal research was of interest to me. His arrogance allowed me to copy everything of interest without him ever knowing.”
“But why did you still stay after that? After he was gone and you did the research. Why risk getting caught?” Where in the bloody hell were Neville and Hermione? Please, please, please, notice I’m not there, he thought to himself. The last thing he wanted to do was die at the hands of this barmy git, though he seemed to be safe enough at the moment. For a relative value of safe.
“I needed the privacy Hogwarts could give me to experiment with the artifact. Personally, I would have continued on and left you to your own devices, but my master has other plans regarding you. He’s quite obsessed with you, you know.”
Harry huffed. “You keep saying your master. Who is your master? And why doesn’t he just find me himself?”
“Ah, but he is here,” Quirrell said, reaching up and unwinding his turban. Then the entire chair turned around as the man sat in it calmly.
Harry’s eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open in horror as Quirrell revealed a rather hideous face protruding out the back of his head. It had glowing red eyes, and there wasn’t a nose. Only slits where the nostrils were, and it had thin lips contorted into an ugly sneer.
“Ewwww,” Harry said, stumbling further back. “Why do you have a face on the back of your head?!”
“Well, well, Potter. We meet again,” the face said in a raspy voice. “Do you know who I am?”
“I don’t even know what you bloody are,” Harry replied, putting a hand on his stomach. He felt like he might be sick, the abnormal sight turning his stomach.
“I am Lord Voldemort,” it replied in a haughty tone. “I was once a great wizard, but I was reduced to this the night I murdered your parents. I am like this because of them and because of you. But now I have the means of regaining a body, thanks to your thwarting all of Dumbledore’s schemes.”
Harry clenched his jaw. So this was the thing that killed his parents and left him to live a life without love and care. Dumbledore may have been responsible for leaving him on the Dursleys’ doorstep, but this monster was the reason he was able to get that far in the first place. “Why? Why would you want to murder them? Why did you want to kill me? No one can tell me why! I want to know. What did I ever do to you? I was a baby!”
Cruel, red eyes flashed as a cold smile spread across the hideous face. “If no one has bothered to inform you, why should I be the one to speak of it to you? No, I have but one purpose this day, and that is to see you dead! Quirrell! Kill him!”
Harry looked around, wild-eyed, as Quirrell spun around. He lunged for one of the stalls but Quirrell grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him back until he slammed against the wall, hitting his head hard enough that his vision whited out for a second.
When he saw Quirrell lifting his wand, Harry screamed as loud as he could and one hand shot out to clutch at the one holding the wand while the other clawed at the hand holding him still.
Quirrell yelped, jumping back as his wand fell to the ground. He stared at his hands in horror as they smoked and started to turn grey and black in splotches on his skin. “What is this? What’s happening to me?”
“Nevermind that, you fool. Kill him! You told him too much! He cannot survive! No one can know what we’ve done!” Voldemort shouted and Quirrell advanced again.
Quirrell advanced on him again. He grabbed Harry’s robes this time, ducking Harry’s attempts to slap at his bare skin, and used them to cover the skin around Harry’s neck. His hands wrapped around his neck and squeezed.
“Just die, Potter,” Voldemort hissed from the back of Quirrell’s head.
Crying and gasping for breath he couldn’t manage because of Quirrell’s tight hold, Harry lifted his hands and reached for Quirrell’s face, grabbing hold and jamming his thumbs in Quirrell’s eyes as hard as he could.
Quirrell and Voldemort both screamed as he tightened his hold on Harry’s neck, but it loosened moments later as Quirrell fell to the ground and his skin continued to blacken and turn to ash.
Moments later, a dark, sinister cloud erupted from the former professor as he disintegrated completely. The cloud screamed in outrage and flew towards Harry, knocking him back and he hit his head against the bathroom wall again.
Harry slid down, coughing as his sight dimmed, and after he watched the cloud slam through the bathroom doors, knocking them off their hinges, it grew dark and he knew no more.
Sirius ran into the infirmary, looking around wildly. He’d been in Ireland, working on a business deal and hadn’t answered his mirror right away. He was seriously regretting that decision and had vowed to himself to answer it no matter what he was doing from then on because his godson was a bloody trouble magnet. “Where is he? Where’s Harry?”
Madam Pomfrey shushed him. “He’s in the private room. Marius is with him now. He’s alive and not in danger of being otherwise, so take a deep breath and calm yourself. You don’t want to add to the upset the children are already feeling. You can wait with the others over there.”
Sirius turned and found Draco, Neville, and Hermione sitting on chairs near the windows. The two boys were bracketing Hermione, who was crying and dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. The boys didn’t look like they were any better off, though they were maintaining a bit better.
Remus was also there, as was McGonagall, and both of them looked angry and emotionally exhausted. Lucius and Narcissa, who had been in Paris for a week alone before the boys came home to wreak havoc for two months, hadn’t arrived yet.
“What happened?” Sirius asked, sitting next to Draco and pulling him into a hug.
“We don’t know,” McGonagall said with a sigh. “Harry was unconscious when we brought him here, and if he’s awake they’re not telling us.”
Neville wiped at his eyes. “We left Charms and had just made it outside. Harry forgot something in the classroom so he went back to get it. It’s happened before and he’s gone back without anything going wrong so we didn’t think anything of him running back to the classroom.
“When Herbology class had been going for ten minutes and Harry hadn’t arrived, I got worried and asked Sprout if I could go find him. She knows about his health problems so she let me go.
“I was on the second floor when I heard this loud bang and this dark cloud came out of nowhere. It had a terrible looking face and the cloud trailed along behind it, and it was screaming. Nearly ran me over. I had to dive out of the way to keep it from touching me. I ran to where it came from, and I found Harry there.”
“What did you see?” McGonagall asked gently, and Sirius realized that this was probably the first time the boy could bring himself to speak.
“There was a person-shaped pile of ash and robes lying on the floor. And Harry was against the wall. There was blood on it from where he slid down. He only groaned when I shook his arm to wake him up, and I noticed the bruises on his neck.”
Neville took a shuddering breath. “I ran and I found Professor Snape. He came and brought Harry to the infirmary. He sealed off the bathroom too.” Neville looked up. “I think the ash pile was Professor Quirrell. I saw his turban on the floor. I don’t even know why he’d be in the school. He was supposed to have left. He did that to Harry. Why would he do that?” Neville trailed off and pulled his legs up, wrapping his arms around them and resting his head on his knees.
Sirius closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to Draco’s head when he sobbed and clung to Sirius. “He’s going to be alright. Marius will take care of him.”
“Where is that boy?” Martok yelled as she burst into the hospital wing. “I swear, he’s going to turn my bloody hair white a hundred years before it’s time!”
Madam Pomfrey pointed to the appropriate door and Martok snorted. “I’m making him a bloody engraved plaque and putting it on that door just for him. ‘Harry Bloody Potter’s Personal Suite’ it will say,” she muttered, storming her way in. “I’m making it in pure mithril!” she shouted back at them before closing the door loudly.
Remus shook his head and then burst into laughter a few moments later. “Harry’s going to get an earful from her when he wakes up. He’ll be lucky if his hair isn’t some terrible color. Or a mixture of terrible, clashing colors.”
Sirius snickered, some of the tension from his body easing. “He’ll be fine. I don’t understand, though, why he didn’t use his mirror like he did with Dumbledore.”
“He forgot it this morning after he used it when he was talking to you. It was on the bed where he’d tossed it, and we were a little late getting out of the dorm,” Neville told him. “We didn’t think he’d need it since we’d be in class, and he would just get it after lunch, before the next class. We thought he was safe without it on hand.”
Sirius nodded, since that made sense. Harry should have been able to trust he would be safe in the school, in his own bloody castle. He sat back and waited, comforting Draco and pulling the kids into conversation once they calmed down some.
Marius came out half an hour later and threw them a smile. “He’ll be just fine. It looks like whoever attacked him attempted to strangle him and he took a couple of blows to the back of the head. Most likely it was from hitting a wall, and not from being hit by an object.
“We gave him some potions to help with the concussion he developed, but luckily he didn’t suffer from any kind of skull fracture. We’ve also given him pain medication, and Martok had a goblin-made bruise balm that will help the bruises around his neck heal up faster.”
“How long will he need to be in the hospital wing?” McGonagall asked. “That poor boy has spent far too much time this year in medical care for one thing or another.”
“If he does well enough overnight with the medications, he can go back to Gryffindor Tower in the morning. He’ll need to stay in bed there for another day before he goes wandering around the castle. And he’ll need to take it easy for the next few days after that.”
Sirius sighed and nodded, the relief that he was truly going to be alright rushing through him and easing his muscles, which all now felt like jelly. He’d be surprised at this point if he could stand up without help. “Thank you, Marius. It’s nice to know you’re on your game while that kid is busy running about, scaring years off my life,” he joked.
Marius laughed and nodded. “When are Lucius and Narcissa going to be here?”
“Their portkey should be leaving Paris in about ten minutes,” Sirius said after a glance at his watch. He got up slowly, testing his legs and finding that he was wrong, and they were actually going to support his weight. “I should go and call them so they don’t worry themselves to death.”
He walked away from the group and out into the hallway. Once he was sure he was alone and he put up a privacy ward, he pulled out the mirror. “Lucius Malfoy.”
“How is he?” Lucious asked as soon as they connected. “How is our boy?”
“He’s got a concussion and the person we think was Quirrell tried to strangle him, but he’s going to be fine. In a couple of days, he can go back to classes, though once school is out we’ll need to see about a mind healer for him.” Sirius grimaced. “Probably Neville too. I’ll explain more when you get here. We don’t know the whole story because we haven’t been able to speak with Harry yet. We’ve only managed to get what Neville saw from him, and he didn’t see much. Certainly not anything having to do with what happened between Quirrell and Harry in that bathroom. Marius and Martok are in with him.”
Lucius nodded and sighed in relief. “Okay, thank you. I’ll let Narcissa know. I need to go. Our portkey leaves soon.”
“We’re in the infirmary when you get here,” Sirius said and shut off the mirror. He went back into the infirmary and sat next to Draco, pulling him close again. “Your parents will be here soon.”
“Good. Do you think they’ll let me buy a leash so I can keep hold of Harry so he can’t do this kind of thing to us anymore?” he asked hopefully.
Sirius snorted. “I’m sure they’d seriously consider it.”
Harry sat up in his bed, watching the adults pick apart the memory he’d allowed them to pluck from his mind. It was easier than having to tell the entire thing, so he wasn’t about to complain about it. He wasn’t sure he could actually talk about it at all. His throat seemed to close up every time he tried.
“You alright, Harry?” Draco asked, nudging him lightly with his elbow. He hadn’t left Harry’s side since he’d arrived that morning. Snape had excused him from class once he’d seen the determined scowl on his face when he’d attempted to imply Draco should do otherwise.
“Yeah, just tired,” Harry said, leaning his head against Draco’s shoulder. “Head doesn’t hurt though. So yay. But my throat doesn’t feel great. I think that bruise stuff Martok brought me is helping though.”
“Well, he did try to strangle you,” Draco replied, pulling out the Tales of Beedle the Bard and opening it. He began reading aloud to him the tale of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows.
Harry closed his eyes and listened to Draco read to him. Even though Narcissa and Sirius had both read to him while he was convalescing at home after his scar was dealt with, it was still a novel enough experience to have someone read to him. Petunia certainly hadn’t done anything of the sort for him, but he’d known for some time that she was a terrible person.
He liked having Draco read to him. He tended toward sarcasm when the characters in a story irritated him beyond what he could tolerate and he often made little snotty comments about them and their decisions that never failed to make him giggle. He seemed to be refraining from that today, though. Probably in deference to Harry’s poor head. He kept his tone gentle and his voice low, something Harry appreciated.
The familiar scent of perfume tickled his nose and he opened his eyes to find that Narcissa was sitting in a chair next to the bed, smiling down at him. He looked over to see that Draco had dozed off next to him, book hanging limply from his fingers.
“How long was I asleep?” he asked, shifting around to get more comfortable. He grimaced at the rough sound of his voice.
“Not long. Maybe an hour,” Narcissa said. “Are you sure you’re up to staying in the tower? If not, you can come home for the weekend. We wouldn’t mind in the least and we could bring you back Sunday evening.”
Harry shook his head. “I’ll be fine. It won’t be long until we’re coming home anyway, and I’d like to study with my friends. I think if I disappear again on them, they just might stage a revolt.” He grinned when she laughed. “I’ll be okay. I promise. And if I’m not, I promise to call right away and you can drag me away.”
Narcissa smiled and leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Alright, then. We’ll meet you on the platform. And please, try not to get into any more trouble. As you said, there aren’t that many days left in the school year.”
Harry grinned. “I’ll try, Aunt Narcissa. It just seems like trouble always seems to aim straight for me.”
“So it does,” she replied, shaking her head.
“You two being all mushy woke me up,” Draco groused as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Couldn’t you wait until I was awake and had fled the room?”
Narcissa laughed and gave Draco a kiss on the forehead and ruffled his hair, laughing harder at his squawk and flailing that nearly sent him flying off the bed. “I’ll send Sirius and Lucius in to say goodbye.”
Narcissa walked out and pointed at the two and then toward Harry’s room. When they were gone, she sighed and looked at Madam Bones. “Do we have any idea what it was that Dumbledore was hiding here?”
“None whatsoever. And he’s refused to answer any questions regarding the earlier situation, considering we have nothing to charge him with. And we cannot prove that whatever Quirrell may have had was illegal. It very well could have been perfectly legal. Just not his. And it wouldn’t lead to a prosecution of Dumbledore at any rate.” Bones shook her head. “At this point, we’re flying blind and we can’t force anyone to talk. We’ve reached an impasse.”
“I doubt he’s going to tell us what it was at this point,” Narcissa murmured. “And we have no idea where the Quirrell-Voldemort hybrid put said item.”
Bones nodded. “At least we’re all now aware that the spirit of Voldemort is still running around and what his goal is. That’s something at least.” She cleared her throat. “At any rate, I’m going to head out. I’ve got a meeting with the goblins in an hour.”
Narcissa waved her off and sat down, taking the moment alone to just slump in relief that her children were well.
Harry hopped off the carriage, eyeballing the weird looking horses driving them. The others hadn’t seen them when he’d asked, and it was something he was going to have to ask Sirius about when he got home. He knew for certain when he’d arrived at Hogwarts back in September, he hadn’t seen anything driving the carriages. Which would explain why others couldn’t see them, but it didn’t explain why he could now.
He glanced at them once more, committing their description to memory, before putting them out of his mind and turning his attention to Hermione. He rolled his eyes when he saw what had her full attention. “Hermione, come on! Exams are over. They’ve been over for days now. Looking through your notes and trying to figure out what you may have missed on one question is pointless.”
Neville plucked the book from her hands and closed it before shoving it into her bag in spite of her half-hearted protests. He made a face at her, making her giggle. “It’s our last few hours together before we split up for the next two months. I don’t want to spend them watching you search through your notes and fretting over something you can’t change anyway.”
Hermione huffed but then smiled, hooking her arm in Neville’s when he offered it to her. “Alright. Alright. I will stop looking for my mistake, at least until I get home. Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” Draco said drolly as he climbed the stairs to the Hogwarts Express. He made a beeline for the compartment they’d been in for their first trip on the train and settled in, the others filing in behind him.
“Do you know what you’re going to be doing this summer?” Hermione asked them. “I know Mum and Dad are taking me to Italy for their vacation this year. And I know my grandparents are coming at some point for a visit. We’re having a family reunion when they do, but that’s later in the summer.”
Harry and Draco looked at one another and shrugged. “Mother and Father have something planned, but they said it’s a surprise,” Draco told her. “We tried needling it out of them but they’re not giving in to our queries. It’s irritating, but I suppose we’ll survive until they decide to tell us.”
“Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it,” Harry said. “I’ve never been off the island, except to go to Paris, so I’m excited to go anywhere they want to take us. Sirius and Remus are going with us too. I just want to have fun and not worry about all the stupid stuff that happened this year, or what Dumbledore is planning.”
“Gran wants to go to Egypt this year. We’ve never been anywhere either, I think because she doesn’t like being that far away from my parents, in case something happens. But I think she’s trying to make up for her brother being a prat,” he said with a shrug. “I think I’ll like it. It’ll give me a chance to look at the desert plants there. I want to see the pyramids and they’re supposed to have a really neat magical district there.”
“Oh, that should be so much fun!” Hermione exclaimed. “You should see if there are any books on the plant life there. It would be nice to start a good collection of Herbology books if you’re really interested in it. It’s never too late to start a collection for a potential career.”
Draco nodded. “There’s always needs for Masters in Herbology. Father has said that often. Most people can’t grow their own plants, especially those required for Potions. It couldn’t hurt to prepare, and even if you decide to do something else later, you’ll still have them for fun.”
Harry grinned as the other three chatted, content to listen to them talk rather than chime in. He knew there were a lot of mysteries and possible dangers in his life. No one knew what Dumbledore was up to, and Voldemort was out there, lurking about and wanting him dead. But life was exciting too, and he was finally with people who loved him and he had friends that appreciated him for being just Harry.