Changes We Have Wrought

Title:Changes We Have Wrought
Fandom/Genre:Harry Potter AU
Content Rating:Mature
Warnings:Strong Language, Canon-level Violence, There Be No Canon Here, GFY
Summary:Draco’s World Cup experience begins to shape his life

 

Changes We Have Wrought–Part One

 

Chapter 1:  Turning Point

Lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, Draco thought about the events of the night before.  Words like “terrifying” and “horrible” swirled through his mind, though they never seemed quite extreme enough.  Massive pandemonium reigned:  horrified screams, raging fires, flashing lights of flying curses and hexes.  Masked lunatics attacked randomly, seeming to only seek as much destruction as possible.  That muggle family, sleepy parents and an innocent child, levitated and tortured for their entertainment.

Draco didn’t know how much property was damaged.  He didn’t know how many people were injured, or if any were killed.  It was by pure chance that he ran into Potter and his friends in the panic.  Frightened though he was, he kept hold of his cool, haughty façade.  He did have the presence of mind to get Granger hidden from the attackers, but was forced to reluctantly admit that his father might have been wearing one of those masks.  The fact that it could have been true frightened him more than anything else.

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Draco Malfoy had been raised to believe that he was somehow better than most everyone else.  His family had a great deal of wealth, so he had been gifted with the best of everything: toys, clothes, tutors, vacations.  Draco’s father, Lucius, taught him that their pure-blood magic made them superior to half-bloods and muggle-borns; it especially made them superior to non-magical people.  Draco was not raised to disparage such people; he was “better” than that.  He had actually only used the word “mudblood” once or twice and felt dirty and ashamed afterwards.  He was taught to hold himself above, not to “Lord it over.”

As a superior wizard, Draco was also taught that he should never bow and scrape to anyone.  He should show allowable respect of course, but he should never appear to be subservient to anyone.  Draco knew his father held deep regard for several business colleagues and a few politicians.  Lucius had great respect for several healers, potion masters (Draco’s god-father among them), educators and law officials, and Draco knew that respect was seated in the work that those individuals did rather than the individuals themselves.  Lucius had very little regard for those who tried to foster relations between the magical and non-magical worlds, believing the magical to be superior.  Lucius had almost complete contempt for the Minister of Magic because he felt Cornelius Fudge to be a publicity-fed idiot with delusions of greatness.  Mildly pandering to Fudge and other politicians like him, including administering bribes, gave Lucius power within the Ministry to keep policies high on the pure-blood front.  It was how Lucius held power within the power structure, and Draco was taught that there was nothing wrong with that.

One thing that was never spoken of in the Malfoy household was the Dark Lord.  Draco’s history tutors glanced over the information, barely touching on it.  Officially, Draco learned that a Dark Wizard, known as Voldemort, held wizarding Britain within a close reign of terror.  Many muggles and muggle-borns had been tortured and killed in the name of pure-blood supremacy.  Voldemort’s followers, known as Death Eaters, kidnapped, tortured and killed with impunity.  They wore black robes and hideous masks showing demon faces.  Their arms were marked with a horrible magical tattoo called a Dark Mark, which depicted the skull-and-snake symbol of Voldemort.  Draco knew that Voldemort and his followers used the unforgivable curses, especially the Cruciatus and Imperius curses, to control their victims.

In fact, during many of the trials after the war, a lot of Death Eaters used the defense of being under the Imperius Curse and were therefore not able to control their actions.  Lucius was one of those who used this defense.  Since no proof of wrong-doing was found beyond having the tattoo, many were set free.  Lucius spent over ten years repairing his reputation and regaining his name and political influence.  There had been a sort of peace in Draco’s home for his entire life, as long as nobody mentioned that dark period.

And then came the attack at the Quidditch World Cup.  Draco saw the figures in the masks and black robes; saw the pain and fear they caused.  Draco saw the fear around him as people tried to run for safety.  And those muggles—Draco saw them, too.  His tutor may have glossed over most of the Voldemort Wars and trials, but Draco was an intelligent child.  He knew enough to know that he needed to know more.  Draco sought out old copies of the Daily Prophet and any other public record of what happened.  While the Prophet gave the appearance of everything being quite on track, Wizarding newspapers from other countries were not as optimistic.  So soon after the end of the World Cup, the Informed Magical published several articles rehashing the last Voldemort War and issuing dire warnings about the appearance of Death Eaters at the Cup.  It was very clear to Draco that the attack at the World Cup was only the beginning, and that things could get much worse.

Draco was worried.  What if his father had been one of those Death Eaters causing all the havoc and torturing that family?  Draco was raised to be above such nonsense.  He had heard once that a man’s true character would show through how he treated others, especially those beneath his own station.  Torturing those muggles was not the act of someone who was “better”.  It was the act of someone who would kneel down and be subservient to a madman.  Lucius Malfoy may have been Imperiused into submission long ago, and he might-perhaps-be falling into submission again, but Draco Malfoy wanted no part of it.  Draco was raised to believe that he was a better wizard than that—a better man than that.

A better man would try to find a way to keep the horror from starting again.  Rising from his bed, Draco went to his desk for parchment and a quill, and he began to write.

 

 

 

Chapter Two: The Telling

 

Dear Uncle Severus,

I hope this letter finds you well during the summer holidays, and that you are using the time allowed to prepare for the upcoming school term.   I have spent my holiday with my family as always, and along with flying lessons, Quidditch practice, and independent study for classes, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Quiddich World Cup.  It was a very exciting time for me.

I am writing to you to inquire if you would have time for me before the start of school.  I would like to finalize my independent Potions project with you, and seek advice on a more personal matter.  I await your response, and this is a matter of no small urgency for me.  I may need other, outside advice as well, and would leave such details to your discretion.

Ever in your service,

Draco Malfoy

 

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Severus Snape read and re-read the short missive from his godson, wondering what could possibly be the matter.  Draco did, indeed have an “exciting” time at the Quidditch World Cup; everyone there had an exciting time, what with the Death Eater attack that was reported widely in all the most prominent papers. Also, there was the matter of Draco’s independent Potions project.  It simply did not exist.  Severus never assigned independent projects for years younger than NEWT level, and Draco was only set to begin his fourth year of formal education.  That his godson needed him was most evident.  What he could do about this, was not.  Obviously Draco needed counsel, and had sought him out rather than his own father.  Knowing how close Draco was with Lucius, this seemed most startling.  There was nothing for it; Snape would have to help with whatever Draco needed, however he could.  He reached for the Floo Powder to fire-call the Headmaster.  He needed to set aside some time to privately deal with this.  Bringing Draco to the school so early was out of the question.  Much as he was loathe to do so, he would have to bring the boy into his own private residence.  Hopefully, they would not need stay there for any great length of time.

 

“Severus, what can I do for you today?”  Dumbledore was not twinkling today, which was fortunate.  Severus had always found that to be particularly annoying.

“I realize that this is short notice, but I must request some time away before the start of term.  I have just been made aware of some rare potions ingredients being offered at private auction, and I may be able to find some items necessary to my private research.”

“You do realize that we are finalizing arrangements for the Tournament this year?” Dumbledore frowned into the Floo. “We do need all hands available for re-arranging class schedules and monitor duties.  How much time will you need?”

“That much is uncertain at this time,” Severus prevaricated.  “I most certainly will not need more than one week, and I have already submitted my reports on class arrangements.  As for monitor duties, I shall comply as is possible.  I realize we are close to the start of term.  I do plan to be quite ready long before then.”

“Very well, Severus.  I hope all goes well with your personal research.  I shall see you in a week or so.”

“Thank you, Headmaster.”

 

Severus rather hoped all went well with this private matter as well.  Hopefully Draco hadn’t done something so utterly dunder-headed as to get a parlor maid up the duff.  He reached for parchment to respond to Draco’s missive immediately.

 

 

Draco:

All is well here with me.  As always, I am happy to hear from you.  I would like to be able to advise you with your personal issue, so I am inviting you to come to my residence in Spinner’s End.  I shall unblock the Floo after the noon hour in two days’ time, and you can come there directly.  Do let your parents know that you will be in good care.

Severus Snape

 

Now all he had to do was make sure there was edible food at the old homestead.  That was in doubt, as Severus rarely spent time there.  It was a rather gloomy place full of bad memories; he much rather preferred his dungeons.

 

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Two days later, the fireplace in the sitting room of 1221 Spinner’s End burst into green flame, and fourteen-year-old Draco Malfoy stepped through, dark circles under his eyes and shoulders hunched with stress.  Severus Snape thought he appeared to be almost forty years old, and he wondered what was sitting so ill in his godson’s mind.

“Sit, Draco, and have some tea,” he said, directing the young man away from the Floo.  “You look like you need to shed some weight of mind.”

“Thank you, Godfather.  I haven’t been sleeping particularly well as of late.”

“Please tell me what is on your mind.”  Severus took his place in a worn armchair and watched the boy warily.

Draco sipped at his hot tea while he gathered his thoughts.

“You were not, to my knowledge, in attendance at the Quidditch World Cup?” the boy finally asked.

“No, there were important matters to attend to at Hogwarts for the coming term.”

“You have seen the Prophet, though?”

Severus lifted one arched eyebrow in query.  “You speak of the attack on the muggle groundskeeper in the campground.”

Draco sighed, and then took a deep cleansing breath.

“Godfather, you know what I have been taught my entire life.  You know how my father has made point after point about pure-blood superiority.  You also know that in no way, at least in front of me, has he mentioned brow-beating, humiliating, desecrating, or torturing muggles, muggle-borns or half-bloods.  He has always maintained superiority over dominance.  He has also maintained that his involvement with the Dark Lord was a result of an Imperius Curse, as the Dark Lord sought to use my father’s influence and wealth for his own agenda.”

Severus leaned forward slightly.  “Draco, what is this about?”

“Was it all a lie?  Was my father a true believer?  Did he torture and kill, and then lie about it to escape justice? You would know.  You were there.  You were always there, and I do not want to become like that.  I do not want to become a sycophant to some sadistic dictator.  I need to know the truth.  I haven’t slept since the World Cup.  I keep seeing the flying curses.  I keep seeing that tiny child, levitating and spinning in the air, crying in terror.  Please, tell me the truth.”  Draco seemed to wilt with the confession and he set his teacup on the table beside him.

 

Severus was in turmoil.  Here was his godson, whom he had sworn to always protect in the absence of his parents.  Both Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy asked specific favors of him, ironically separately, before he gave his vow as Godfather.  While Lucius requested Severus swear to educate and protect Draco, and to provide a safe home in case of the loss of his father, Narcissa was more specific with her request.  She sought to protect Draco from all harm, even if the harm came from Lucius himself.  She made Severus swear to protect Draco from Lucius’ fanaticism and ugly prejudice.  While the wizarding world thought Severus Snape to be a loyal friend to Lucius Malfoy, the truth was much different: Snape was most loyal to Narcissa, who showed gentle kindness to Snape when he was younger and in need of unwavering friendship.  Narcissa never asked for a loyalty that she herself would not give to Severus first.  It would seem that this would be the first test of his loyalty to her.

There were many things in his life that Severus was not proud of, but his love for his godson was not one of them.  This was his chance to possibly save Draco’s life, and he realized that this step would have to be taken carefully.  Severus knew that what he was about to say would shock and possibly disappoint Draco, but it was necessary that Draco had as many truths and facts as he could impart.

“Draco,” Severus said hesitantly, “there is something I must tell you.   You must remain calm, for this tale is long and frightening, and is not something I am proud of.  However, before I can answer any questions about your father, you must know how he and I became acquainted.”

“You were friends in school, were you not?”

“We were not, in fact, friends in school.  Your father is several years older than I am, and he traveled in much different circles than I.  Your mother, on the other hand, became a friend to me shortly after the incident I am about to disclose.”

Draco frowned slightly.  “I always thought it was Father you were close to.”

Severus shook his head slowly.  “Your father offered me a chance to remain close friends to Narcissa after they were married.  He and I were mere acquaintances, and sometimes colleagues, nothing more.”

“Alright, Godfather, please tell me what you would have me know.”

“No more interruptions, please.  You may question me after my tale is finished.”

“Very well,” Draco agreed.  “Shall I pour you more tea?”

“Not at this time.  I may require stronger drink when I am finished.”

 

Severus settled himself in his armchair and regarded Draco for a moment.  He knew his tale would forever alter Draco’s view of him.  He only hoped their relationship would not be irrevocably damaged.

 

“I was not raised in the best of families.  In fact, I was raised in this very house.  I only keep it because it was the only part of my childhood that had any value.  My mother was a gifted witch, who worked in an apothecary while studying to become a potion mistress.  The apothecary, one I still do business with, had ties to muggle pharmacies and healers, and it was through these contacts that she met my father.”  Severus paused while Draco absorbed the shock of the statement.  “I do not share the information that I am a half-blood because I am ashamed of that fact.  Rather, it is because I am ashamed of my paternity.  My father was a hard man, hard-working, but not very personable.  He never had much wealth, and often tried to bully my mother into using witchcraft to make more money, which she always refused to do.  When I was three-years-old, there was an accident at the factory where my father worked.  He was severely injured, and could no longer work.  He could, however, drink, and he became a bitter and abusive drunk.  My mother resumed working at the apothecary to bring income, and while I was young she could take me with her.  Once I reached school-age that was no longer an option, so I dove deeply into my books to avoid my father.”

Severus paused again, momentarily lost in the past, but spoke again before Draco could voice any questions.  “Whilst at muggle primary school, I met a young girl; my age, and so very bright and friendly.  She didn’t seem to care that I came from a poor family, or that I was not a handsome child.  She cared that we could assist each other with class work, and that we could laugh at the same stories.  Her name was Lily, and she lived not far from here, in a close neighborhood.  We would meet in a nearby park after school and during summer break.  She was my best friend.  Her sister, Petunia, was not as friendly, nor as lovely, nor as non-judgmental, and was not a friend of mine.  She actively disdained me, and would mock me to others, but Lily remained true.

“By the time I was nine-years-old, I had begun to show signs of magical ability.  This seemed to be another reason for my father to abuse me.  He would beat me often, as well as to tell me how useless I would become—just like my mother, who still refused to use magic to improve our lives.  I began to sneak out of our home and sleep in the park in a small cave just so I would not be near my father’s flying fists.  Despite his abuse, my mother loved him still and would not leave him.  Lily found my hiding place one day, as she too had run from home.  It seems she had also had an incident of accidental magic, and was afraid of what her parents would do to her.  When she told me, I revealed myself and my magical parentage to her.  While she and I were talking about the possibilities of one day attending a magical school together, a professor from Hogwarts was talking to Lily’s family.  Once again, her more positive family unit prevailed, and her parents were as accommodating and understanding as my father was not.  Only Lily’s sister, Petunia, was hateful and hurtful.  She was a year younger and was informed that she would have no magical ability at all.  Her jealousy tore her from Lily when they had once been so close, and Lily and I grew closer still.

“Draco, I tell you now: you will have wealth beyond measure if you find a friend like this.  Lily knew all of my secrets—the abuse, the fear, the almost-crippling loneliness.  She was my friend anyway, and judged me not. I told her that I would never reveal my parentage to future schoolmates, because my father caused so much pain to me, and she agreed that that was for the best.  She knew it was the abuse that shamed me and not the poverty.  By the time we received our official Hogwarts letters, her family knew me as well, and her home became a safe refuge when my father’s temper got to be too much to deal with.  Her father had given me chores to do to make some pocket money, and I learned the value of honest, hard work.   Lily was a sister I never had, and I suppose I became a replacement sibling for her when Petunia drew away and called her ‘Freak’.  But our friendship was about to be sorely tested.  I was sorted into Slytherin House, and Lily into Gryffindor.  The house rivalry was not harsh back then, but the physical distance would be difficult.  She was a bright spark, and would make friends easily.  I, however, would not.  I had not known much kindness and did not really know how to show it.

“My intelligence and innate ability for potions became my greatest assets.  I became known as a good study partner, and an excellent potions partner.  My poverty status went acknowledged but unspoken in my House, and I was never perceived as a charity case.  Outside of Slytherin House, things were different.  I became a favorite target of a few wealthy Gryffindor students in my year.  Lily stayed a true friend, and always tried to deflect their attentions.  For the most part, she was successful.  But there were classes they attended that she did not, and library study times that they would stalk me.  They would call me names, cast hexes at me, and generally bully me until I would spend most of my time in either my dorm or, more likely, the potions classroom.  Professor Slughorn would allow me to practice and experiment, and he encouraged my interest by inviting other potions masters to confer with me.  Lily was so proud, and she always let me know.

“But Lily was a dorm-mate of my tormentors, and one of my main antagonists was very attracted to the bright spark that was my best friend.  He would double his efforts in tormenting me just to garner her attention.   Whether she was teasing back or telling him off, he would bask in her attention.  She would tell him that she would spend time with him if he would back off of me, and for a time he would.  At least until his best friend would goad him into tormenting me further.  She was slowly falling in love with him, and I really could not fault her for it.  He was handsome, intelligent, wealthy, and far more brilliant than anyone else in our year.  Had he not been such a horror to me, I could almost have fallen for him myself.

“Her attentions on this boy, coupled with his tormenting of me, put strain on our friendship.  I did not react well to the stress, and I withdrew from her and placed more of my effort into my studies.  Your mother, Draco, became a friend to me during my fourth year.  She was in my year at school and already madly in love with Lucius, who was a Seventh Year at that time, and he appeared not to notice her, although how that was I have no idea.  She was a beauty even then.  But Lucius had interests beyond school, and his head was not easily turned.  Narcissa needed a friend, and so did I, and so we found each other.  I listened to her woes, and she listened to mine.  She encouraged me not to give up on Lily; told me that nothing would ruin our friendship.  She was wrong in that respect.”

 

Severus sat back and took a deep breath.  The telling of the tale was cathartic, but the hardest part was yet to come.  Wandlessly re-heating the tea, he refreshed his cup, then Draco’s, and he drank deep.  Settled again, and centered, he continued the story.

 

“Fifth year, as you shall soon learn, is a very stressful year at Hogwarts.  Preparing for and taking the OWL exams has driven many students to the brink of break-down.  I was no different, except for the fact that I became a target for the stress-relief of a few other students.  While they couldn’t hex me during class as in previous years, they would haunt hallways and passages and try to catch me in between classes.  During exams was no different, but as Lily was often as busy studying as I, she could not deflect much.  My temper, as it often did, rose upon such occasions, and I tried physical exercise and flying around the Quidditch pitch in order to burn off temper and energy.  Then came the day of the Potions written examination.  As I often did after tests, I reviewed notes afterward to see if I might have answered differently or better, and I was not paying attention to my surroundings as I left the castle and strode toward the lake.  I was cornered by my tormentors and cursed in front of almost the entire student body.  I struggled madly trying to free myself when I heard Lily’s voice calling for them to stop and release me.  I was stressed and furious, and I struck out; unfortunately I struck out at Lily.  I told her that I did not need any help from a filthy mudblood.”

Draco hissed in surprise, and Severus offered a grim nod in recognition of his own error.

“As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished them unsaid.  I was filled with such deep shame I could have died right there and then.  Once released from the hex, I ran back to my dorm, mortified tears almost blinding me.  Narcissa was the only person in the common room, and she immediately tried to comfort me.  I told her what had happened, and what I did and said.  She said nothing.  She only held me as I wept like a small child.  What I was not aware of was that Lucius was visiting Hogwarts and had entered the Slytherin Common Room while I was speaking.  He had just begun some sort of business apprenticeship and had returned to confer with a few of the professors, and that was the only reason he was in the school at that time.  This was when he offered his own friendship.  He offered me a way to rise above my shame, to rise above my tormentors.  He told me there was a great man who would take an intelligent student like me and turn me into something great.”

“He was talking about the Dark Lord, wasn’t he?” Draco frowned.

“Yes, Draco, although I didn’t know that at the time.  The rest of my time here at Hogwarts was a sad, lonely blur.  Lucius and Narcissa began courting in earnest that summer, and he petitioned her father for her hand our seventh year.  I was accepted as an apprentice for one of the premier potion masters in France, and gladly left my father’s house once I received my final grades.  While I was away studying, his drinking got worse, as did his temper, and I was no longer at home to deflect his attention.  He began beating my mother on a more frequent basis, and she began missing more and more work.  The Apothecary who employed her wrote to me to let me know what was happening.  I had planned to return home to bring her to France with me once I had saved enough from my apprenticeship to afford a small apartment.  My master told me he could find employment for her.  Before that could happen I received another letter from my mother’s employer:  My father had beaten my mother into a coma, and she had never recovered.

“The anger I felt from this betrayal of my father built upon the anger from my school days, and I welcomed any path to revenge I could find.  I sought out your father, and asked to meet this man he had spoken of.  I continued my studies, and went to this Dark Lord to learn of his vision of a new Order for the magical world.  He called for Pure Blood dominance, and although I was not a pure-blood wizard, I fell into his pretty trap.  I had enough hate in me to denounce my father’s very existence and follow a new Lord into what I hoped would be a better future.  That I was required to kill another human being to prove loyalty was of no concern to me.  In order to keep my magical core as pure and untainted as possible, I poisoned my target.  He was a despicable man who was responsible for the deaths of many children in St. Mungo’s Hospital, and he died horribly after several weeks, and my lord was both pleased and amused.  He never required me to kill again, as the taint would affect my magic and that would in turn affect my ability to brew as needed.  This Dark Lord had most need of me as a potions master, so I stayed away from his darker dealings.

“The first war of the Dark Lord, who was known as Voldemort, began in earnest.  I stayed mostly in my potion lab, brewing for him and creating my own potions.  I became quite well known in the potions world, and my patents brought me enough money to live comfortably.  I visited often with your mother, as our friendship kept strong throughout the passing years.  Your father backed me on several ventures in the potions community, and we both profited from the endeavors.  I became more and more disturbed by the turn of the war.  The death count was high on both sides, and I was hoping for an end to the bloodshed.  I became uncomfortable with the part I was playing, developing poisons and truth serums, and I kept trying to keep your mother as innocent of all this horror as possible.  She knew Lucius was involved in some way, as was I, but I hoped to keep her out of it all.  I had lost Lily because of my ugliness, and didn’t want to lose Narcissa as well.  She never once judged me poorly, even though I was the cause of the rift between Lily and myself.

“Then, the unthinkable occurred.  I inadvertently led to the death of the one person who loved me most.”

“You killed Lily?” Draco gasped.

Severus shrugged negligently.  “I may as well have done so.  I was in a tavern eating a meal during a break from a potions conference, when I recognized someone who was very out of place there.  My curiosity was stoked, and I followed this person to a private room upstairs and listened in on a private meeting.  What I overheard would change the course of the war.  It was a prophecy, one detailing the possible downfall of Voldemort.  Of course, by this time, he had become so hated and feared that most referred to him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  That is the way you have no doubt heard of him.  This prophesy detailed one who could destroy the Dark Lord, and as a trusted follower I felt it my duty to report to him as quickly as possible.  The report was given, and I was praised and elevated to the head of his followers, and the power went to my head.”

Severus snorted in grim laughter.  “Then I learned that Lily had married my lead tormentor, that they were heavy into the resistance against the Dark Lord.  And she was also pregnant.  This fact made her and her husband targets according to the prophecy I had heard.  I was horrified, and I went to the Dark Lord to ask him to spare her, as a favor to me.  He promised only that she would not suffer.  As a favor to me.  I could not allow her to be killed.

“I went to the only person I could think of for help.  Albus Dumbledore was well-known for precipitating the downfall of the Dark Lord Grindelwald and was reported to be a leader of the new resistance against Voldemort.  I remembered him from school as a decent and trustworthy person.  I told him what I had learned, and how I learned it.  I begged him to help Lily.  I offered anything if she could be saved.  He asked me to spy, and to give testimony against my fellow Death-Eaters, and he would warn Lily of the danger.  It was all for naught; Lily was killed.  I kept my word, and gave testimony when the trials began, and Albus stood by me.  He offered me a job at Hogwarts, where I could teach and hope to inspire, and I can still experiment and create.

“I told you this in order to answer your query.  I also told you, so that you would know that your father was involved with the Death-Eaters from the start, and he drew me in easily because of my isolation and torment. My two main tormentors were Sirius Black, a cousin of your mother’s, and Lily’s future husband, James Potter.”

“Harry Potter’s family?” Draco gasped.

“The very same family, yes.”

“But you hate Potter,” Draco stammered.  “You bully him almost like his father bullied you.”

Severus grimaced.  “While I cannot explain it, I admit to the bullying, but I do not hate Potter.  He looks almost identical to his father, whom I despise even in memory, but his eyes are pure Lily all over again.  When I look into his eyes, my heart aches for the loss of my friend, my sister.  I relive the guilt for pushing her away.  It tears me up inside for the torment I gave her, and then I in turn torment him, and I hate myself all over again.  It’s a never ending cycle for me that I wish I could stop.  I would like very much to give him back his mother, and I cannot.  I would like very much to give you back your father, and I cannot.  The man who raised you was a Death-Eater.  He still is a Death-Eater.  I may not have had proof of his crimes, but I have no doubt that he did commit many.  He was marked for life by Voldemort, both figuratively and physically.  We were all given magical tattoos, Dark Marks, that were the symbol of Voldemort.  I bear mine in shame. Lucius always bore his proudly.  Please, for your mother’s sake, do not become him.  Do not become like him.  Wear no mark for any man.  Do no action that you cannot be proud of.  Do not become like me.”

 

 

Chapter 3: A Telling Reaction

Draco sat stunned as he processed what he had just heard.

His father, the kind, loving but stern man who raised him, was a murdering Death-Eater.

His godfather, who swore to love and protect him, was a Death-Eater.

Was his mother a Death-Eater as well?  She certainly knew about it, knew about his father.  Were her hands clean of evil-doing?  How could he ask that?  Could he ask that?  Potentially, he could ask, as apparently this was a day of receiving truths.

“Does my mother bear this mark?” Draco asked boldly.

Severus was aghast.  “Merlin, no, Draco!  Narcissa was never, ever involved with the Death-Eaters or the Dark Lord.  Her sister, Bellatrix, however, was.  The whole deal made her quite insane.  Of course, the insanity was helped on by jealousy.  Bellatrix fancied herself in love with Lucius, but the Dark Lord “strongly suggested” that she marry Rudolphus LeStrange instead of pursuing her love.  Lucius was ignorant of this, and genuinely fell in love with your mother.  He sheltered her from his dark dealings as much as he could in the early years of their relationship.”

“How much does she know?  How much did she know?”  Draco desperately needed those answers, and Severus understood that.

“She knew enough to be afraid,” Severus answered honestly.  “She knew that Lucius was involved with the Dark Lord even if she didn’t know how deeply.  Asking me to be your godfather was her idea, but she made it seem like Lucius thought of it.  She knew I had no real taste for killing, bribing, and torture, and that I would do my best to keep you from it.”

Draco frowned slightly.  “Mother has been a bit clingy the past year.  Would you know anything about that?”

Severus sat back in his armchair.  “There have been rumors of the Dark Lord’s return.  These rumors have been going round the ranks of former Death-Eaters for close to ten years, but they are louder and more insistent now.  There were unfortunate events that occurred during your first and second year that made the rumors seem more likely.  I have heard no facts, but then I had pulled away from the ranks shortly before Lily was murdered, and never revived any relationships in that area after the trials.  Your aunt would surely have me murdered as a traitor if she were not locked securely in Azkaban at the moment.”

“I remember second year well enough,” said Draco.  “The Chamber of Secrets was supposedly opened.  Was that the Dark Lord?  Did He actually open it?”

Severus frowned.  “Not…exactly.  A student, Ginevra Weasley, was in possession of, and possessed by, a magical diary.  The bound Spirit-Memory of the Dark Lord was contained within.  Her body and voice were used to open the Chamber.”  Severus scowled at the memory of that period, and of the arguments the teaching staff had with the Headmaster over what to do.  “Your father was the person who gave her the diary.  How he was so commanded I do not know.”

“What was it that occurred my first year?”

Severus arched an eyebrow at the inquisition.  “Professor Quirrell was apparently personally possessed by the Dark Lord himself.  He attempted to gain possession of an artifact that was purported to have the ability to make the Dark Lord whole again.  He failed, and the actual Dark Lord was not heard from again.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was killed,” Severus said stiffly.  “I don’t really have any details on that.”

“But you are certain that my father gave a possessed diary to the Weasley girl?” Draco asked hesitantly.

“Of that I am very certain,” Severus said gravely.  “Narcissa told me as much as she knew, and your father’s former house-elf, Dobby, pretty much confessed to overhearing Lucius’ plans for it.  The house-elf is currently ensconced in the Hogwart’s kitchen, not quite in the school’s employ.  Your mother also corroborated the story when she offered to secretly pay for treatment for the girl in reparation.  There was fear of serious mind damage due to prolonged exposure to the Spirit-memory.  The treatments were quite extensive and beyond the family’s ability to pay.  Narcissa felt it was partially her responsibility to see to the girl’s care.”

 

Severus watched Draco closely.  While his eyes widened dramatically at the mention of the house elf, the boy seemed to withdraw into himself.  What if he had driven the boy away from him?  Draco was his only chance at redemption.  Severus had no children of his own, and for several reasons, was unlikely to ever have children of his own.  He needed to further himself from his dismal past, and showing Draco a more hopeful future was the best way he knew to do that.  The worried, pensive look on Draco’s face told Severus that the boy was working his way through what he had heard.

Soon enough, Draco raised his head and directed a calculated look at Severus.

“Do you think my father was one of the Death-Eaters that staged the attack at the World Cup?”

“It’s certainly possible,” Severus conceded.  “If he has somehow been getting information about the return of the Dark Lord, he may have been part of the attack.  He certainly has never mentioned anything to me about it.  I was never given opportunity to give testimony against Lucius during the trials after the first war, so he has no reason to doubt my loyalty or friendship.  Your Aunt Bellatrix, her husband and his brother were tried and found guilty, also without my testimony.  Your father may not have been aware of my spying, or what led to it.  He never really was aware of my friendship with Lily.  If he had been, he surely would have told the Dark Lord, and I would have been forced to use that past friendship against her and her spouse.”

“Father said he was imperiused, and tortured, and forced to do what he did back then.”  Draco seemed to be trying to convince himself of at least partial innocence on the part of his father.

“Imperiused?” Severus scoffed.  “No, Lucius was a very willing participant.  Tortured and forced?  Yes, I am sure he was.  All of the Dark Lord’s followers were tortured.  Fear was his main weapon.  We were all tortured, by both physical and magical means.  He used his most devout followers to torture those he felt were wavering in their support.  Bellatrix was exceptionally talented at torture.  She was most feared after the Dark Lord himself.”

Draco looked up imploringly and said, “If the Dark Lord returns, father would want me to join up when I’m older.”

Severus nodded in agreement.  “The Dark Lord would insist upon it.  Your father provided much support, both with his ministry contacts and with his personal wealth.  All of the top-level Death-Eaters gave much monetary support.  The LeStranges gave almost their entire family fortune.  The Black family gave much as well.”

“Sirius Black’s family were supporters?”  Draco was aghast.  “How was he a friend of Potter’s?”

Severus’ mouth curled in distaste.  “Sirius was the black sheep of the Black family.  He personally never supported the Dark Lord or his ideology.  His great-grandfather was against the Dark Lord as well, which is why the entirety of the Black fortune was not lost in the war.   Sirius’s younger brother, however, died in service to the Dark Lord and the family withdrew from the public eye after the trials were over.”

“I don’t want to become a Death-Eater.  I don’t hate anyone enough to want to do that.”

“It is my sincerest wish that you never do.”

Draco suddenly hunched lower into his chair, and he whispered, “I used that word.  Mudblood.  I said that to Granger once, and she didn’t even know what I meant, and I felt sick for days afterward.  I don’t even know why I said it, but the whole Quidditch team was there and it just came out.”

“When was this?” Severus asked calmly.

“Second year, after I made the team.”

“I do know first-hand how words can hurt.  I do not wish to see you turn into that sort of hateful person.”

“Father berates me because of Granger,” said Draco belligerently.  “She’s brilliant, and so much better than me in some subjects, and she was never part of this world.  Father tells me that pure-bloods are supposed to be so much better, and I believed him my whole life.  Then I came to school and met Granger, and she’s muggle-born and no-one ever told her she shouldn’t be as good at magic as pure-bloods.  I’ve been wondering what went wrong for four years.  I’ve been wondering if my father just may have had it wrong.  Then I would see how badly pure-bloods are treating muggles and muggle-borns, and the fear they caused at the World Cup.  How can people who do that be considered better than others?  And you’re not pure-blood, and you’re still one of the best people I know.  Godfather, I’m just so confused.”

Severus sighed.  “There is good and bad in all people, Draco.  Look at my father.  Look at James Potter and Sirius Black.  I did nothing to deserve the bullying other than to be different.  They were not even the worst in their circle, because there were two other members of their clique.  Peter Pettigrew, who was a simpering sycophant who did anything to please Potter and Black just so they would not turn on him, and Remus Lupin, who watched what they did, and did nothing to stop them.”  When Draco’s eyes widened, Severus nodded.  “Yes, the same Lupin that taught briefly at Hogwarts.  In school, he was a prefect, and he ignored all of that behavior.  Muggles fear what they do not understand, Draco, and there have been many cases of muggles attacking witches and wizards; even killing them long ago.  The Dark Lord used these attacks as justification for torture and murder.”

Draco seemed to absorb that information for a moment before asking, “You are still very close to my mother, aren’t you?”

“I am,” said Severus seriously.

“Do you think she will talk to me about this?  About what she knew or what she knows about what is going on now?”

“We can only ask her, Draco.  I know she would want better for you.  She may tell you much.  Or she may not know much at all.”

“Can you contact her?”

“If that is what you wish,” Severus agreed, “I’ll send a message.  She can tell your father she has to run an errand.  We can have her here tomorrow for lunch.”

“Thank you,” replied Draco with some relief.  “I’d like some time to think, if you don’t mind.”

“You may use my guest-room.  We’ll have a late supper.”

 

 

Draco lay on the bed in the guest-room, tears of fear and frustration coursing down his face.  He knew, somehow, that he could still trust his godfather.  The telling of his own personal story proved that.  There was no way he would have told Draco as much as he did if he wasn’t trying to show he was trustworthy.  Draco also knew he could not trust his own father.  The man made it possible for a young girl to be possessed by a mad man, or rather by the spirit of a mad man.  Students were hurt badly when the Chamber opened.  Draco had pretended to be almost proud of the Chamber opening, like most of the older students in his House, but he really felt that it was a lucky thing that no one was killed.  It was his father’s fault, and Draco was wondering what else went on around him that was the fault of Lucius Malfoy or others like him.  Were the Dementors on the school train last year his father’s fault?  Did Lucius Malfoy manage to get Professor Quirrell possessed?  Did Lucius, in fact, somehow force those Gryffindors to torment Severus in school in order to turn Severus to the Dark?  Draco’s thoughts were tormented; surely his father did not have that much power, especially when he was younger.  But could he trust his own mother?  She knew a bit about what was going on, Severus said so.  Did she know everything?  Could she give him any information at all?  Was she part of it?  Exhausted from stress and worry, Draco fell into a restless sleep.  His dreams were punctuated with Death-Eaters in black robes and masks, chasing him from all directions.

 

 

Severus used an anonymous General Post owl to send a message to Narcissa, inviting her to dinner and a very important conversation.  Severus and Draco passed the day in the study reviewing potions ingredients and cross-contaminants.  Better to be using his brain than to wallow in worry.

Narcissa arrived at four-o’clock, dressed for shopping and looking care-free.

“Hello, Severus,” she said, kissing his cheek lightly.  “How are you this fine day?  It was so kind of you to invite me to dinner, but I am confused as to why you had to be so sneaky about it.  Lucius wouldn’t mind my coming.”

“I didn’t want him to know you were with me here, especially now.  We have much to discuss, you and me, and there is someone here who needs your assistance desperately.”

“Severus?” Narcissa frowned at her dear friend.  “You’re so sad just now.  You know I’ll help in any way that I can.  Let’s go inside now.”  Narcissa wrapped both of her arms around one of Severus’ and leaned her head briefly on his shoulder as they walked from the Aparation Point in his front garden.

“Yes,” Severus said as he led the way into the house. “We’ll be eating in the sitting-room, as the dining-room is not fit for human occupation just as yet.  My notes have overtaken the table.”

They walked through the house to the comfortable sitting-room, and were met with a set table and Draco.

“Hello, mother,” he said shyly.

“Draco, what are you doing here?”  Narcissa’s widened eyes were the only betrayer of her shock.

“I needed help.  Uncle Severus was the only one I could think of to help me.”

“Your father and I would have helped you,” she said as she sat beside her son, reaching for his hands.

“The last person I want help from is father,” Draco said haltingly.  “I am, however, hoping you can help me.”

If Narcissa was shocked by Draco’s announcement, she never let it show.  She merely sat straighter in her seat and said, “Well, then, let us eat this finely prepared meal, and you can tell me what this is about.”

 

They ate in silence, with Narcissa shooting a questioning glance at Severus only to receive a short shake of his head in response.  After dinner, Draco and Severus cleared away the dishes, allowing Narcissa to compose herself, and then they all sat again in the comfortable room.  The silence for a while was almost deafening, and then Severus spoke.

“This, mainly, is about what occurred after the Quidditch World Cup.  You were there, were you not?”

Narcissa wrinkled her nose daintily.  “Actually, I was not; not for the entire evening, at any rate.  I had a horrible headache earlier that day, and as the game progressed, all of the yelling and flashing lights and horrible singing only caused it to grow worse.  I left immediately after the final play, because I wanted to be with Draco for that wonderful memory, but I’m afraid I did not give a favorable presence to anyone I met there.  I was in severe pain for the rest of the night.  I had to call upon a private healer in the middle of the night.”

“But you are aware of the Death-Eater attack that night?”

Narcissa’s eyes widened in realization.  “I read about it, yes.  I was horrified.”

“Mother,” Draco said clearly, “Uncle Severus told me that father was an active Death-Eater before I was born.  Was he involved in the attack?”

 

Narcissa sat stiffly, shocked at her son’s words.  It was as if her worst nightmare had come true.

“Draco,” she said after a moment, “I never wanted you to know.  I had hoped, after the Dark Lord seemed to disappear, that it was all over.  You had a normal childhood, away from all of that awfulness.  We kept you away from old acquaintances and business associates that might mention it in passing.  There was no indication that anything more would come of it.  I lost two sisters in that war; one to insanity and prison, the other because she could not bear to see me become part of that world.  I lost a dear cousin to death from service to that Dark Lord.  I lost another cousin, one who was like a brother to me, to prison due to service to the Dark Lord.  You were all I had that was good, and I hoped to put the darkness behind me.”

“Actually, Narcissa,” said Severus stiffly, “you did not lose Sirius Black to service to the Dark Lord.  I only found out at the end of the school year, but Black was apparently never a Death-Eater.”

“But… they imprisoned him,” said Narcissa confused.  “They said he caused the deaths of the Potter Family.”

Severus’ lip curled slightly.  “Apparently they were wrong about that.  I don’t even think he got a fair trial—or even a trial at all.  He was simply put into Azkaban based on flimsy evidence.  That he was able to escape last year only shows that he was not guilty of that crime.  Surely he would have been driven mad from remorse while in prison if he had been guilty.  The Dementors would have seen to that.”

“Wait, what?” Draco interrupted.  “I thought you told me that you caused the deaths of the Potters.  What did Sirius Black have to do with anything?  And is that the same Black that bullied you in school? The prisoner that escaped from Azkaban and supposedly went after Potter?  What kind of school am I attending?”

Draco was aghast.  He was supposed to be safe at school.  He was supposed to not have a racist maniac for a father.  Now more than ever, he needed answers and a plan to move forward in his life.

“Uncle?  Please, how is this supposed to be helping me?”

“Draco,” Severus sighed, “there is so much more to the story I told you yesterday.  What happened to Lily may have been my fault, but I did seek to protect her.  I went to Dumbledore for help.  He insisted that Lily and her family go into hiding with a secret-keeper to keep them all safe.  As it turned out, they were not safe there at all.  Their secret-keeper betrayed them to the Dark Lord, and it was widely assumed that the secret-keeper was Sirius Black, who was James Potter’s best friend. This was not, in fact, the case, as I learned at the end of last term.  When he escaped Azkaban, Black was not hunting young Potter to ‘finish the job’, as it were.  However, he was Harry’s godfather, and he should have put the boy’s best interest first.”

“So Sirius wasn’t the secret-keeper?”  Narcissa’s voice held both hope and despair, and Severus’ heart broke a little for his friend.  No matter his personal feelings toward Sirius Black, the man was a favorite cousin of his dear friend, and he wanted very much to give her back her family.

“No, Narcissa.  That honor went to another of James’ close friends.  Peter Pettigrew was secret-keeper.”

“But Sirius was accused of killing Peter in anger after the Potters were killed,” Narcissa said with a small frown.

“Pettigrew is alive,” sighed Severus, rubbing his forehead with a weary hand.  “At least, as of June of this year, Pettigrew was still alive.  If Black has since found him again, that may no longer be the case.  I learned of the deception when I attempted to capture Black and return him to the Aurors.  Unfortunately, not only did Pettigrew escape again, but Dumbledore forbade anyone from giving the information about his existence to the Aurors.  Dumbledore also facilitated the further escape of Black before he could have been taken into custody.  I may despise the man, but nobody should be imprisoned without a fair trial.”

“Dumbledore seems to be still allowing unsavory activities at the school, Severus,” said Narcissa carefully. “Are you certain that I shouldn’t transfer Draco to Durmstrang for his safety?”

“Were you to do that, I could no longer watch over the boy.  When did you realize that Lucius was being contacted by Death-Eaters again?”

Narcissa sighed, and looked troubled.

“There was a dark presence around the manor the year before Draco started school,” she said cautiously.  “Lucius would seem to be in a walking fog for days, and then he would be back to himself.  I would hear him talking to himself in his office, and I thought that it was just difficult business making him short-tempered and vague.  Maybe I only hoped it was just business.  I took Draco to the South of France for several months before the term began, and when we returned, all was well again.  Then, just before start of term of Draco’s second year, Lucius began receiving strange owls at all times of the day and night.  He became agitated and short-tempered again, starting arguments with long-term associates for no discernible reason.  I even learned that, while shopping for school supplies with Draco, he started a fight with Arthur Weasley in Flourish and Blotts.  In public!  It was so unlike him, Severus, but it was so reminiscent of his behavior during the war.

“And then I learned of what happened with the Chamber of Secrets and the possession of the Weasley girl, and I was horrified!”  Narcissa wrung her hands in despair.  “I started spending more and more time with Draco, if only to make sure Lucius didn’t spend any time alone with him.  I was afraid, and I am so sorry that I didn’t contact you.  I even attended that horrible World Cup, and you know how I hate watching sports when I’m not supporting my own son.  I remember very little of the whole ordeal because of my pain.  I do remember briefly meeting young Harry Potter in the company of the Weasley’s.  He has Lily’s eyes; it was very striking.”

“Then the rumors of the Dark Lord’s re-emergence may not be unfounded,” Severus murmured in dismay.  “This has been going on for several years, at least.  What did the healer tell you about your head-ache?  I know you have never been prone to them.”

Narcissa inclined her head thoughtfully. “It’s odd, Severus, that you ask that.  Healer Scopes said he found traces of a modified Incapacitus Potion in my system.  I had no idea how that would have happened.  He gave me an antidote, and I was feeling better immediately.”

“Is it possible that Lucius dosed you in order to keep you from attending the game?” Severus asked.

Narcissa’s eyes widened.  “Well, of course it’s possible, but why would he do that?”

“Perhaps he was planning to meet someone unsavory at the game, and didn’t want you involved.”

Narcissa frowned.  “We were sitting in a Ministry box, with the Minister of Magic, Auror Crouch, and several other officials.  If Lucius were meeting with unsavory characters, he was in poor company for it.  He even held his tongue with Arthur Weasley.”

 

Draco sat and watched the interaction between his mother and godfather with fascination.  It was clear they were close.  He wondered how he could think Lucius was the person Severus was connected to, when there was such ease in the affection between Severus and his mother.  When that last question was asked, he tuned back in to the conversation.

“Mother, had father ever harmed you in the past?  As part of his Death-Eater dealings?”

Narcissa sighed.  “Oh, Draco, I wish I could tell you that he kept me away from all of that, but it simply isn’t true.  There were long stretches of time when our manor was largely occupied by Death-Eaters during the war.  They would use me as a way to keep your father in line, threatening to do me grievous harm if Lucius did not perform as expected.  When I became pregnant with you, I left for France, and did not return until you were almost two-years-old.  I feared losing you due to torture.  My sister was especially fond of casting Cruciatus at me.  She was so jealous of my marriage to your father.  Her rabid fanaticism is what drove my older sister, Andromeda, away from home.  Andi married a muggle-born, and Bellatrix hated them both.”

Draco swallowed deeply and asked, “If the Dark Lord returns, will my father want me to join up with him?”

Narcissa raised one haughty eyebrow as she regarded her son.  “Lucius may want it, but I refuse to allow it to happen.  I’ll leave, and take you with me.  We’ll go so far away that we’ll never be found.  I’m no slouch with investments myself, you know.  I have quite the fortune that your father knows nothing about.  He’ll not take the only good thing to come of my marriage.”

“You seem so happy all the time,” Draco said doubtfully.

“I loved your father when we married.  When he asked my father for permission to court me, I was beyond thrilled.  The early years of our relationship, Lucius flattered me, and complimented me, and gave so much of himself.  But his involvement with the Dark Lord grew, and he could not hide it from me after a while.  We have been distant for quite some time, Draco.  I was only treated as a pretty ornament by the other Death-Eaters.  Bellatrix tried to hold it over me that she was one of them, as if that were any good thing.”  Narcissa wrinkled her nose, which brought a small smile to Draco’s face.  “I refused the Mark, and told your father that I wanted no part of it.  He adored me long enough to get an heir.  He’s had many lovers, and I had my secret investments.  If I had only known that Sirius was innocent, I would have tried to protect him.  I don’t necessarily understand Severus’ total animosity toward Sirius, but they were the two best friends that I knew in childhood.  Sirius turned away from the Pure-Blood Purists in our family and gave me the courage to do the same.  It broke my heart a little when Severus joined.  I couldn’t repair the hurt he felt when his friendship with Lily Evans broke, and then later it seemed that Sirius had turned against his friends as well.”

“Did you have lovers as well?” Draco asked.

Narcissa shook her head.  “No, Draco, I did not and I do not.  Marriage vows mean a lot to me.  Your father could have forced me to make a magical Marriage Vow, but he did not.  In return, I decided to remain faithful, even if he did not.  I, at least, could be a bigger person in this relationship.  As it is, I’m very glad I turned to making money as solace.  If the Dark Lord is returning, he will no doubt call upon your father to use his money and influence to support the Purist Movement once again.  If your father becomes as much a fanatic as he once was, he’ll completely use up the Malfoy coffers, and there will be nothing left for you and your future.”

Draco winced and wrinkled his nose.  “I don’t want to be like him, mother.  He always taught me that we were better than all the rest of the wizards and witches that surrounded us.  I want to be better than him.”

Narcissa smiled and reached for Draco’s hands, holding them tightly in her own.  “Then you will be.  Draco, I only want the world for you.  I want you to have the best education, the best business opportunities, and the best spouse.  But most of all, I want you to have the best outlook on life.  You can’t have that if you spend your life oppressing people who are different than you.  We need somehow to surround you with a better sort of people.  Some of your friends are, frankly, deplorable.  The Crabbe and Goyle boys are idiot sons of idiot sycophants.  They will never amount to much, and I know you can attract better friends than that.”

“Father always approved of them as friends.”

“Yes, well, your father also approved of torturing muggles in the drawing-room before tea.  In the past few years, his judgment has been rather suspect, don’t you agree Severus?”

 

 

Chapter 4: Behind the Scenes

 

Severus asked Draco to repair to the kitchen and prepare tea before Narcissa had to return to her shopping trip.  As he left, his mother began to speak lowly, and Draco paused just beyond the doorway.

“Oh, Merlin, Severus, how did I allow this to happen?  How could I have allowed such evil to come so close to my son?  And why did he come to you and not me?”  Narcissa was very shaken, almost near tears.

“Draco came to me because he did not know for certain of your involvement.  Of course, he didn’t know of my involvement, either.  He was seeking escape, or acknowledgment of non-involvement.  He was afraid, Cissy.”

“He was afraid of his father,” Narcissa replied baldly.  “If I was stronger, or a better judge of character, he would not know that fear.  I should have never married Lucius.  I should have left Lucius years ago.  My own father knew nothing of Lucius’ Purist leanings.  He disowned Bella because of her beliefs and actions.  He went into hiding to keep Bella from taking his fortune and giving it to the Dark Lord.  I thought he died, and I thought he died thinking I was part of all of that.”

“You found him, then?”

Narcissa sighed in relief.  “Yes, I found him just before Yule of Draco’s first year at school.  Lucius thought I was on an extended shopping trip in Spain, so my absence was not noticed.  Severus, it was such a relief to see him again.  He’s safe, and he’s healthy.”

“Does he know anything about the return of Voldemort?”

“I don’t think so.  We really only talked about Draco. Father never got to see him or know him.  I had photographs and recordings and school records to show him, but beyond that we did not talk about much else.”

“You are still in contact, yes?”

“Of course I am.  He’s my father.  He’s been helping me build a home away from Lucius, just in case.”

“I should think ‘just in case’ has arrived,” Severus said dryly.

“Yes, of course.  I’ll write to him this evening. He will be so relieved to learn of Sirius’ innocence.  I wish I knew how to contact him.  Father could no doubt find a way to help him.”

“If you think time in Azkaban has changed that horrible man,” Severus sneered, “you are wrong.  When we encountered each other this past spring, he was still a hateful, prejudiced asshole.  He wanted to prove his innocence, of course, but he still took time to torment me.”

“I have no doubt you tormented him first, Severus,” Narcissa countered.  “You have festered that wound for a long time.”

“He tried to have me killed, Cissy.  One does not forget something like that.  We may have been childhood enemies, name-calling and taunting each other, but nothing like that warrants attempted murder.”

Narcissa huffed in annoyance.  “I could have killed him myself for that, but I honestly do not think he thought the whole thing through that thoroughly.  He would never have actually killed you back then.  He was an angry adolescent, not a killer.”

“Yes, well, Dumbledore obviously thought as you do, as he was more than willing to order me to forget the entire ordeal as he swept the incident away as if it never happened.  I learned not to fully trust that man after that.  When he failed to totally protect Lily, my trust in him was broken totally.”

“And yet you stay at Hogwarts, teaching, even though you don’t have to.”

“Hogwarts offers me some protection from those who see me as a traitor to Wizardkind.  I am only able to publish and invent under an assumed name because of my status as a Death-Eater.  I may have put it all in my past, but as you know, many others have not.”

“I also know that you carefully watch over my son, for which I am truly grateful.  Do you also watch over Lily’s son?”

“Young Potter is a continuous torment to me.  He may have Lily’s eyes, but he is as arrogant and obnoxious as his father.  He also gets away with way too much at the school and is under Dumbledore’s protection to the fullest.  Much to my annoyance.”

“I never understood your animosity for Lily’s son.  I should think you would want to be close to him.  At least you should want to be a sort of mentor to him.  Even though you and Lily parted not on the best terms, you should be treasuring the ability to be this close to the last part of her.”

Severus cleared his throat.  “Oh, I so wanted to be.  After Lily was killed and her son was sent to live with her sister, I went to Petunia.  I was concerned about the welfare of the child.  That horrible woman informed me that a ‘freak’ of my nature should never have contact with the boy and that she and her husband would raise him ‘properly’ without the freakishness.  I realized then that leaving the child there was a mistake, but Dumbledore would not hear of moving him.  Once he became a student at Hogwarts, I was looking forward to finding out if he inherited any of Lily’s natural ability.  Once I laid eyes on him, however, I only saw the resemblance to his father and I felt such hatred and annoyance.  The boy tries my patience every day.  He is irresponsible and lazy, and is allowed to slide by because of his supposed fame.”

“Severus,” Narcissa said carefully, “that isn’t like you.  You’re strict, but very professional.  You have never ‘hated’ anyone, least of all a child.  And most certainly not Lily’s child.  This isn’t right.  You need to be checked over.  I’m going to contact Healer Scopes.  He’s very private, and very good, and has no connections to Lucius at all.  There is something wrong with you for you to have this attitude to a child you had never met before.  I know you enjoy your reputation as a difficult teacher who gives no advantage to poor students, but this is beyond even that.”

 

Draco continued on to the kitchen, all the while considering what he overheard.  He had a grandfather that he had never known.  That almost made sense, if the man had to go into hiding to avoid his crazy daughter.  His Aunt Bellatrix did not sound like anyone he ever wanted to meet.  How could one sister hate another so badly as to torture her over a missed romance?  If Lucius Malfoy had any sort of feelings for Bellatrix, surely he would have courted her instead of his mother.  From all accounts, that woman was unbalanced even then.  And was Severus acting out of character with Potter?  He had always treated Draco well in class, and he never suffered fools lightly, but he did seem to really not like Potter.  Draco hoped this healer of his mother’s could help, if that was the case.  But he needed to fix that tea, and let his mother compose herself, and then maybe they could all pretend he was not in the hallway eavesdropping.

 

 

Healer Scopes was a small, owlish man with rather large eyes and fluttery hands.  This made sense, as he arrived at Spinner’s End in his eagle-owl animagus form.  They allowed Draco to be present during the examination, for which he was grateful.  Severus was the one positive male in his life, and Draco wanted to make sure all was well with him.  The examination was fairly straight-forward: the healer looked into Severus’ eyes, mouth, nose and ears, he used several odd instruments to take what Draco hoped were vital readings—taking quick-quills notes all the while—and then he began walking around Severus’ body, casting light spells Wandlessly.  Finally, he reached into his bag and produced a purple-green potion vial and a crooked wand with leaves still attached.  He handed the vial to Severus, who accepted with a raised eyebrow.

“I do not recognize this potion.”

“It’s not a potion, Professor Snape.  It’s water, from a glacier-fed well in what is now known as Iceland.  It’s very mineral-rich, highly magical, and shall taste bitter and metallic.  Please drink it.”

Severus swallowed the water quietly, wincing slightly at the taste.  It must have been very bad for a Potion Master to react to it.  The healer began to walk slowly around Severus, casting silently with the strange wand.  After he had made a full circle, Severus began to glow Purple-Black all around his body.  There was also a sickly green glow over his chest and a bright red shadow over his eyes.  Healer Scopes cast one more Revealio Clarificus loudly, and all of the glowing became brighter, and the shadow grew deeper, and a low buzzing sounded from all around Severus’ body.

“Well, Professor Snape,” said Healer Scopes in a clipped tone, “you have been very soundly jinxed.   The work is exemplary, absolutely untraceable.”

“What is the spell-work?” Severus asked as he studied his reflection in a dirty mirror.

“The shadow over your eyes is a See-Me-Not spell.  The color indicates that this spell is intended to hide something, not physical, but perhaps emotional.  I have no idea how this was modified, but cancelling it will require some great deal of work.  The spell over your chest area is a compulsion spell.  The color indicates a compulsion to anger or hatred.  This will be easiest to dispel.  The full-body spell-work is most interesting, however.  You seem to have been continuously subjected to a long-range, long-term obedience spell.  There are spells and potions to cancel this spell, which will have to be used hourly for no less than forty-eight hours.  I can give you the recipes, which I’m sure you’ll have the talent to brew, but I doubt you’ll have the ability.”

“Why do you doubt my ability to brew this potion?” Severus asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, I don’t doubt your actual ability,” Healer Scopes clarified.  “I doubt your earnestness.  If someone were controlling you over a long period of time, which they no doubt are, I should think that one of the compulsions would be to NOT want to find a cure.  If Mrs. Malfoy had not contacted me directly, I have no doubts at all that you personally would have never sought a medical diagnosis even if you had suspected that you needed it.  Also ideally, the person casting the spell should be the person to brew the potion.  You should not attempt to cast upon yourself ever, as you well know.”

Severus grimaced.  “I apparently need to find someone I can trust to do this, and very quickly, as I am due back at the school at the end of the week.”

Healer Scopes hummed as he returned his wand to his case.  “I do know of a Healer-Potioner that is very discrete and trustworthy.  I work with him often.  Shall I send a message while I prepare the Dis-Spells for your other, ahem, ailments?”

“Yes, please.  My Floo is secure for calls.  Who is this other healer, if I may ask?”

“My mate and partner, Professor Edgerton Mills.  He is rather well-known in potions circles in regard to memory recovery potions.”

Severus looked impressed.  “Yes, I have heard of him.  His reputation is a good one.  I had hoped to meet him one day, but not exactly like this.”

“No, I suppose not,” Healer Scopes laughed.  “I’d advise you to have a seat and relax as much as possible, but do not eat or drink anything else just yet.  I also cannot dispel my diagnostics just yet, as Edgerton needs to see what he is working against.”

Severus looked at Narcissa and Draco and motioned them closer.

“The two of you should leave.  I know Lucius only expects you to be shopping today, and Draco should be on his way as well.  He certainly has been here long enough to have received advice on a Potions project.  I shall send word once everything is finished.”

“Thank you Severus,” said Narcissa kindly.  “You know I shall worry over you otherwise.  Draco, please go directly home and to your room, and I shall see you in a few hours.  We’ll plan our trip to Diagon Alley for school supplies, and while we are shopping we can further discuss how to protect you while at school.”

Draco turned to his godfather, and, after glancing at the healer, offered his hand in farewell.  “Thank you for taking me seriously.  Thank you for offering to help.  Good luck with whatever healing you need.”

Draco flooed back to Malfoy Manor, and the relative safety of his room and books.

 

 

The end of August came quickly.  Draco spent his time revising his summer school assignments and creating a special Potions assignment.  Severus felt that, after the subterfuge of Draco’s original letter to him and his own subsequent healing, having Draco do independent research on the potions used to heal him would be a convenient cover if Lucius questioned the visit or found out about Draco’s contact with him.  Lucius never brought the subject up, however, and only mentioned schoolwork in regard to the purchase of Draco’s supplies.  Lucius seemed very distracted and agitated, and was relieved when Narcissa offered to take Draco shopping.

Draco knew his mother had been in contact with Severus since the healer’s visit, but he was careful not to ask while in the manor.  Once they were strolling along Diagon Alley, he did not hold back.

“Have you heard from Godfather recently?”

Narcissa nodded. “Oh, yes, very recently.  We write to one another twice weekly now, as it seems most important to keep in close contact.  He is doing well while preparing for the upcoming term.  There seems to be some sort of big To-Do going on there this year but he was not at liberty to give me details as of yet.  As to the results of his treatment, Healer Scopes declared him free of hexes, jinxes and spells, although he still is not sure what the compulsions were for or how long the major spell was cast over him.  It’s most disturbing, and I do not like the idea of my dear friend being abused in this way for so long.”

“Have you given further thought to my school situation?” Draco cautiously asked.

“Of course I have,” Narcissa replied haughtily.  “I feel that, especially since your godfather has been healed, Hogwarts is the best place for you.  It’s close to me, and Severus will be more able to watch over you.  I do have concerns about that crowd you like to hang around with, however.  As I told you before, the Crabbe and Goyle boys are not really suitable friends for you, if only because of their combined lack of intelligence.  I’d rather not have you dragged down this close to your OWL year.  That horrible Parkinson girl troubles me as well.  Her mother was a gold-digger, as was her grand-mother, and her father was high in the Death-Eater ranks.  I do not want someone like that thinking she can get close to you for any reason.  Your father had thought to enter into a marriage contract with her father, but I told him you were way too young and may yet meet someone more suitable after Hogwarts.  So far, he has decided to agree with me.  Frankly, I would rather you not associate with any children of Death-Eaters, or former Death-Eaters, while you are at school, but that shall prove to be unavoidable.  It would be far better if you would foster friendships with other students that are more suitable.  I know there is severe house rivalry at school, but really, there is no reason to avoid students in other houses.  I may have been in Slytherin, but I had many friends who were in Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.  I wasn’t close to any Gryffindors, but that had more to do with my cousin than anything else.  Sirius was the only Black in the history of our family to be in a house other than Slytherin, and he was a bit defensive about it.  He and I got together often, although I never told Severus, but we kept our conversations light.  After your father began courting me, Sirius cut off all contact.  Perhaps I should have taken that as a hint, but then I wouldn’t have you.”

“For what it’s worth,” Draco said dryly, “I’m glad you had me.  Are there any people you think would make worthy friends?  Perhaps it is time I changed my contact list a bit.”

Narcissa pondered the question for a moment before replying, “Well, as far as Slytherin is concerned, because you know those people the best, the Zabini and Knott boys are far better choices.  Their families were neutral in the War, and they still avoid the social spot light.  The Brocklehurst girl is fine, too, although not as a romantic interest.”

Draco wrinkled his nose.  “No worries there trust me.”

Narcissa smirked at her son.  “Well, then, there is the Diggory boy in Hufflepuff.  He’s in Sixth or Seventh year this term, but would be an excellent friend.  He also plays Quidditch.  Roger Davies in Ravenclaw also plays, and is quite intelligent.  His mother and I attend several social clubs together.  But please try to expand your friendships beyond that silly sport.  There is more to life.  I only wish Hogwarts still had the same social clubs as it did when I was a student.  There were clubs for all interests, from Astronomy to Muggle Film Entertainment—which was great fun to study.  We were afforded a chance to make friends of all houses, regardless of social status.  Your father, of course, never approved.”

Draco shrugged slightly.  “Well, I doubt I can start any sort of Muggle Film club at school, but I shall endeavor to make new friends, even outside of Slytherin.  Perhaps I can convince Godfather to allow a Potions Club.  That would attract students with the same interest as me, and they wouldn’t probably be idiots.”

Narcissa smiled encouragingly.  “That sounds like a wonderful idea, Draco.  But perhaps not this year, as Severus indicated something huge happening at the school this year.”

“Well, perhaps I’ll just have to make a few new friends, and we’ll all convince him to start a Potions Club.”

 

 

September First found Draco boarding the Hogwarts Express with determination.  He would start this new term with a fresh attitude.  He had a letter from his godfather to read on the train, hopefully with news about his healing and whatever was going on at the school.  He had written to his godfather about getting new friends and hopefully putting the Purist fools behind him.  Severus agreed that the change would be good for him.  Draco also had a new wardrobe for after classes.  His mother stated that a new start required new clothes, but he really didn’t understand that.  He figured it was a female thing.  While seeking out a compartment as far from his usual place as possible, he wondered how best to begin travelling this new road he was on.  He had written to Blaise Zabini and Theodor Knott a few days prior and arranged a meeting on the train.  But he thought another meeting would also be beneficial, so he had also written to Hermione Granger.  He simply explained that he wanted to talk, would prefer to do it alone, but would agree to meet with her and anyone of her friends as long as Ron Weasley was not one of them.  While Draco figured anyone else that Hermione was close to would allow him to talk with her without interrupting or being horribly obnoxious, Ronald Weasley would not.  Draco even offered to invite one of the train chaperones to the compartment for the chat, as long as Weasley was not there.  She had agreed to the meeting, setting the time at ten o’clock in the morning.  She would come to his compartment at the front of the train.

Draco found an empty compartment in the second car of the train.  As he usually sat near the back of the train, this was a marked difference for him.  He had also arranged for Knott and Zabini to sit with him, so he made sure the compartment was clear of first-years.  He stored his truck away on the upper rack, sat on a bench, and opened his godfather’s letter.

 

Dear Draco,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I do hope the rest of the summer passed well for you, and that your independent potions project has progressed nicely.  We shall review your progress the morning after your arrival at school.  Your mother has informed me of your decision to make new contacts, and with whom, and I do approve.  Proceed carefully with the girl, as her friends are volatile and unpredictable.  As for the young men in your house, they are a good choice.  I shall do what I can to make your break as clean as possible.

As for what I can tell you of this coming term, the Headmaster has arranged a major event to co-inside with classes, so the year shall be quite busy.  Of major note, we shall be hosting two other magical schools and a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.  I do not know anything about the students and teachers from these other schools, but I do know quite a bit about the new professor.  His name is Alestor Moody, and he is an ex-Auror.  He may also be a slight bit mad, as he was cursed a lot during the war as he rounded up Death-Eaters.  He trusts no one, confides in no one, and will be very suspicious of you and many other Slytherin students.  He will be especially suspicious of you, as he thought your father should have been found guilty during the trials in the last War.  If he approaches you, let me know.  He won’t trust me, but he won’t act against you if I am near.

I am still learning about my former affliction, but I may have more information by the time we meet at school.  I look forward to seeing you again and learning how the rest of your break went.

Severus

 

By the time he finished his letter, he was joined in the compartment by Zabini and Knott.  They stored their trunks and changed into their school robes.

“I must say, Malfoy,” said Theo Knott when he sat down, “I was rather surprised to hear from you last week.”

“Yes,” agreed Blaise Zabini, “as was I.  What’s going on with you?”

Draco relaxed into his seat near the door and crossed his arms across his chest.  “Let’s just say I had a bit of a wake up this summer.  I must speak frankly, and I need to know a few things first.  I know the two of you aren’t stupid by any means.  What are your opinions of the Purist movement?”

Blaise Zabini looked positively mortified.  “Um, Draco, my family is neutral.  Well, my mother is, and all of her husbands so far have been.  She doesn’t really put up with all that Pure-Blood is Better talk.”

“Yeah,” said Knott slowly, “my family stayed out of the last War totally, but my mother gets this really disgusted look whenever she reads something about Pure-Blood power in the Daily Prophet.  My father doesn’t talk about it much, but I think someone tried to recruit him while he was in school.  He refused, of course, but I think it made him angry.”

Draco sighed deeply.  “You have no idea how glad I am to hear that.  You know, of course, what happened after the World Cup game?”  Both boys nodded, so Draco continued.  “I think my father may have been part of that.  For most of my life, all I heard was that Malfoys are better than others, and I believed it.  Then I got to witness that attack.  I’m not going to lie: It frightened me terribly.  I don’t want to be like that, and I think if my father has his way, I’ll be joining the Purists.  He doesn’t broadcast his Purist beliefs, but I have recently come into the information that he was an active Death-Eater, despite what he says.  There are rumors of the Dark Lord returning, and I want no part of it.”

 

The three boys sat talking all morning.  At one point, Pansy Parkinson appeared at the compartment door, but Draco pushed her away.  He explained to the other boys that he wasn’t interested in a marriage match with a Death-Eater’s daughter, and especially one who was digging after his family’s money.  At five minutes to ten o’clock, Draco explained that he was going to receive a visitor, a surprising visitor, and that he had more explaining to do.  They would be welcome to stay as long as they did not insult his guest.  They agreed just as a knock on the door announced Hermione Granger and Susan Bones of Hufflepuff.  The two girls, along with Draco, were house Prefects, and their meeting was just before the Prefect meeting.  Draco figured the timing was chosen to give Granger an excuse to get away from her housemates without argument, even though the Weasley boy was also a Prefect.  Ronald Weasley was a mostly lazy boy, and didn’t really take his responsibilities seriously.  He would probably stroll into the meeting very late and berate Granger for not bringing him even though he knew the time and place of the meeting himself.

 

“Alright, Malfoy,” said Hermione defensively, “I’m here.  What did you want?”

Draco took a deep breath before stating, “I wanted to apologize.”

Hermione regarded him with one raised eyebrow. “For which thing?”

Draco shrugged.  “Probably for everything.  Look, we have a few minutes, can you both sit a while.  This may take some time.  And, no, this isn’t a trick or anything.  I meant what I said about having a chaperone here.  Professor Sinestra is on the train today, and we can call her here if you want.”

Hermione nodded. “Alright, then let’s do that.  I may want a reputable witness for this anyway.”  Hermione opened the compartment door and asked a passing student to send the Professor to them, and then she sat next to Susan and waited.

 

A moment later, the Astronomy Professor entered the compartment and sat among the students.

“Go ahead, Malfoy,” Hermione said, waving a hand at him, “tell me what you wanted.”

Draco nodded and took a breath.  “Alright, first I want to apologize for being an arrogant prat to you since we started school.  There really is no excuse for it, other than I was a spoiled brat who should have known better.  I had never met a muggle or muggle-born before you, and I have been dealing rather badly with the fact that you are so intelligent and talented.  I was taught from the cradle that I was supposed to be better, and you showed up at Hogwarts just as smart as me.  You are quite arrogant as well, and I guess I felt that the fact that you were raised by muggles meant you had no right to be.

“Secondly, and most importantly, I want to apologize for calling you that horrid name in second year.  I realized later that you probably didn’t understand the insult, but I did and I should have known better.”

Hermione grimaced, her mouth twisting into a sour expression.  “Actually, Ron was quite vocal in informing me what that word meant.  And it is a horrid name.”

Professor Sinestra spoke: “What did he call you, Miss Granger?”

“He called me Mudblood.”

Draco winced.  “And I am truly sorry for it.  I was sick for days afterward.  I may have been taught that Malfoys are superior, but I was never taught to behave like that.  My mother would have been horrified.  And I recently learned that someone very close to me is a half-blood, and he’s one of the best people I know.  He really tore into me when I told him I used that word to you.”

“As well he should, young man,” Professor Sinestra sniffed.

Draco nodded.  “Yes, ma’am.  I deserved it.  You see, Granger, some things have been brought to my notice lately, and I realized that I need to turn my life around.  The Death-Eater attack at the World Cup brought things to a head for me.  I am better than that, and I do not want to become like those Purist arseholes.  Um, pardon my language, Professor.”

Professor Sinestra smirked at him.  “In this instance, I think I shall overlook it.  It was very commendable of you to speak to Miss Granger like this today.”

“I agree, Malfoy,” said Hermione, almost reluctantly.  “And I will think on it a lot, I promise.  I’ll have to see more proof of change before I agree to forgive you.  But you were right not to want Ron here.  He never would have let you speak.”

Draco sighed.  “All I ask is that you consider forgiving me.  I have much to make up for, but apologizing to you was probably the hardest part, so I figured to get it out of the way before school.  Weasley won’t ever accept that I want to change, no matter what proof he has, so thanks for coming without him.  Now, I believe we have a Prefect meeting to attend.  Perhaps you girls should show up first, without me.  I don’t want to make things more difficult for you.”

 

 

 

Chapter 5: Plotting Ahead

 

After Hermione and Susan left the compartment, Professor Sinestra turned to Draco and asked, “Just how far are you willing to go to turn this new leaf, Mr. Malfoy?”

“As far as I need to.  I want to put as much space between myself and my father’s ideals as possible.  I can only do so much right now to become my own person.  When Hermione Granger walked in here with Susan Bones, something quite sad occurred to me:  Susan and Hermione are friends even though they had different upbringings and are in different houses.  My mother had many friendships during her school years that she has maintained her entire life.  My father had business acquaintances and simple toadies.  I don’t have any friends like my mother had, and I never have, even within my own school house, and with present company I am trying to change that.  I carry my father’s name, and for better or worse, I also carry his face.  I have no intention of turning into an exact copy of him.  Already, I’m headed in that direction, and I have discussed this with my mother in detail in the weeks before start of term.”

Professor Sinestra nodded.  “You may not be aware of this, but your mother is one of my dearest friends.  We met as children on holiday in France, and kept up correspondence during our school years even though I was not a student at Hogwarts.  She has kept me aware of goings on in her life from the time of her marriage until the time you were to become one of my students.  If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to come to me.”

Draco smiled in relief.  “Thanks you, Professor.  I have a feeling that this coming year will be trying for me.  I wonder, could you please pass along a few messages to some students while on your rounds.  There are others I should like to speak with privately before we arrive at Hogwarts.”

Sinestra nodded again and stood.  “I have to make a pass along the passage before the Prefect meeting.  Why don’t you write out your messages, and I’ll stop back here after the meeting.”

“Thank you.  I’ll get right to that.”

 

Draco retrieved parchment and quill from his trunk, along with his school robes, and set to write invitations to meetings.  He kept in mind the students that his mother mentioned to him in Diagon Alley, and he considered who he could see fostering life-long friendships with.  He wanted to put as much distance as possible between himself and his father’s Death-Eater past/present as possible, but he needed to make friends that had the same goals as he did.  Popularity was not really important to him, because right now he was very popular—just not for the right reasons.  He needed to make quality friends with sensible people; people who were not interested in his family name or money vaults.  He turned to the two sensible people that shared his compartment.

 

“Theo, you have friends outside of Slytherin.  Not to sound like too much of an idiot, but how did you choose them?”

Theo Knott laughed sharply.  “Honestly, Draco, I have no idea how you can ask that and not sound like an idiot.  I knew a lot of our fellow students from basic primary school, but you were home-schooled, so that’s out.  I guess I know some of them because of my parents, but that doesn’t necessarily work for you either.”

Draco sighed and rubbed his forehead.  “Perfect.  Thanks to my insulated childhood and Purist-obsessed father, I know exactly how not to make friends.  My mother was right:  I need to be around a better class of people.  I just need to figure out which ones.”

Theo hummed softly.  “Well, Draco, Granger is a good choice.  I mean, she doesn’t have a lot of friends—and we only see her around Potter and Weasley—but she is friendly with students from each school house.  She seems to enjoy intelligent conversation and earnest study habits. What, besides being a non-Death-Eater, do you value in a friend?”

Draco’s brow furrowed as he thought about his personal goals.  “Well, I’d like to attempt conversation that I don’t have to explain every bit of.  I’d like to spend time with someone who wasn’t making designs on my fortune.  I’d like to pass time with people who have their own opinions, and not those handed to them by their parents.”

Theo snorted.  “Good job you started with us, then.”

 

Blaise Zabini spoke for the first time, a pensive look on his face.  “What are your real interests, Draco?  I mean, do you plan on working right after school, or continuing your studies?  What sections of the Daily Prophet do you read first?  What music do you listen to?  You shouldn’t just pick friends because they’re against everything your father is for; otherwise you’ll be palling around with Weasleys.  The twins are pretty wicked, but the girl is a simpering Potter fanatic and the boy in our year is a complete idiot.  I know you enjoy Quidditch and potions and Bach.  So figure out what else you like and find other people who like those things, too.”

Draco bit his lip softly.  “I had suggested to my mother that I could get a group of students to beg Godfather into starting a Potions Club.”

“That’s not a half-bad idea.  Not the begging Snape part, but the starting a club part is good.”

Draco sighed.  “Yes, but not this year.  I received a note from Godfather that mentioned some big doings at school this year, as well as a possibly troublesome new teacher.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that a group of students couldn’t meet in the library or on the grounds for study sessions and discussions.”

 

In the end, Draco wrote notes to Cedric Diggory and Heidi Macavoy of Hufflepuff, Terry Boot and Roger Davies of Ravenclaw, and (against his better judgment) Fred and George Weasley of Gryffindor.  He thought, as he sealed the notes with wax but no family crest, that he might regret those last two.  But Zabini was correct; the Weasley twins were wicked.  They were wicked smart, wicked quick Quidditch players, and wicked clever with their pranks.  They also did not suffer their younger brother much at all.  If they agreed to a meeting, and if they took him seriously and didn’t hex him too badly, their tentative friendship could be promising.  The notes were short and very simple, with charms to keep anyone not mentioned from reading them.  They read:

 

Dear _____________________

Please show this note to no-one else.  This is not a joke.  I have a personal apology to make, and would like you to take me seriously.  If you are interested in what I have to say, please come to my compartment at the front of the train sometime before we reach Hogsmeade Station.  Feel free to bring a chaperone if you feel you cannot trust me alone, but this is not a trap.  I only hope to make amends and start anew.

Sincerely,

Draco Malfoy

 

Draco hoped that delivery by a Hogwarts Professor, and not one that was usually associated with him personally, would instill a small bit of trust and that at least one or two of his targets would show up.  After he passed the notes to Professor Sinestra, Draco changed into his school robes and headed to the Prefect meeting, where he studiously ignored a glaring Ron Weasley and a simpering Pansy Parkinson.  He took notes on expected behavior and collected his duty schedule, and then he returned to his compartment and began a spirited discussion with Theo and Blaise about their summer Potions reading list.  While the other two boys weren’t as serious about potions as he was, they all took their studies quite seriously.

Draco found himself enjoying the trip to school for the very first time.  He was not sitting with Crabbe and Goyle, who couldn’t carry a conversation between the two of them.  He wasn’t dodging Pansy Parkinson’s advances, which had gotten bolder with each passing year.  He wasn’t expected to lead a bullying attack on unsuspecting first-years, or on over-suspecting Gryffindors.  Draco sat and wondered if it could really be as easy as this.  Could he make friends on his own terms and sustain relationships based on common interests and not his father’s influence?

He knew there would be conflict in the Slytherin Common Room.  He was basically changing his entire way of life and people would want to know why.  He’d been telling Pansy for two years now that he wasn’t interested in having a girlfriend.  He told her he was more interested in getting used to school.  He told her he was too busy studying to put effort into a relationship.  He told her he was too young to be thinking about a relationship of any type.  She never seemed to hear him, and he had to wonder if his father was promoting a marriage union with her father.  The basic fact was, beyond being way too young to be betrothed; he simply wasn’t interested in girls.  At least, he wasn’t interested in girls romantically.  At all.  They simply left him cold.  That fact was something Pansy Parkinson really didn’t want to hear.

As for Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, well, their friendship was something Draco’s father encouraged for very basic reasons:  They were large and they were easily led, just like their fathers.  Draco had come to see them almost as hired muscle rather than friends.  They never seemed to have their own thoughts or interests, and they rather seemed to enjoy starting—or at least finishing—fights.  Draco constantly found himself assisting them with schoolwork so that they wouldn’t fail their classes, but he had never once heard either of them voice plans for their future.  He spent the most time around the two of them in the past three years, and he had no idea what they aspired to beyond Hogwarts, and he was certain that he would be leaving them behind after OWLs the following year, because they would most definitely not be passing many of their classes.  Draco himself was considering a Potions Mastery, or a Healing Mastery, as both fields would challenge his mind and broaden his social circles.  He knew his godfather could offer more options for either career and he would be talking with Severus once the term officially began.

 

Shortly past one o’clock, after Draco, Theo and Blaise finished their lunch and put away their potions books, the compartment door opened to reveal Pansy Parkinson.  She was alone and very perturbed.

“Why aren’t you sitting with us, Draco?’ she simpered.  “I miss you.  We haven’t had any private time at all.”

Draco barely refrained from rolling his eyes.  “No, we haven’t had ‘private time’, Pansy—because I do not want private time with you.  I’ve been constantly telling you this, but you don’t seem to listen.  I had hoped that removing myself from the usual seating arrangement would finally give you the clue.”

Pansy frowned and tried to reach out to him.  “Drakey, darling, you don’t mean that.  We are so meant for each other.”

“Merlin, Draco,” Blaise said, barely stifling a laugh, “I didn’t realize how hard your life truly was.  Have you been dealing with this since first year?”

Draco huffed.  “Since before first year, actually.  Pansy apparently entered puberty very early and has been trying to dig her claws into me since we were eight or nine years old.”  Draco turned to face the now red-faced girl and said clearly, “Pansy, go away.  I don’t want to deal with you, and I seem to have other visitors here that I need to speak with now.  I’ll have to deal with you later.”

 

Pansy flounced off in a huff, not even taking notice of the students standing in the aisle.  Blaise and Theo did notice, however, and offered to leave them alone for their discussion.  Draco merely shook his head.

“No need to kick you two out of your own seats if we can all fit in here.  You know most of what I’m going to say anyway, so you might as well stay.”   Draco invited his fellow students into the compartment, and they all arranged seating so that they weren’t too crowded.  Surprisingly, all six invitees actually showed up, even the Weasley twins, who looked more curious than mischievous.

“Alright, Malfoy,” said Terry Boot as an introduction, “is this a Quidditch thing or something?  Because I don’t really play, you know?”

Draco flushed and rubbed a hand along the back of his neck.  “Ah, no, Boot, it’s not a Quidditch thing going on here.  Actually, this is a kind of reverse intervention.  I read about muggle therapy and interventions over the summer.”

Fred, or was it George, Weasley asked: “What’s an intervention?”

Draco took a bracing breath.  “An intervention is a therapy technique where friends and family members gather around a troubled person and tell him all of the reasons he needs a mind-healer to stop bad behavior and get his life together.”

Weasley looked skeptical.  “Okay, interesting.  But we’re not your friends or family.”

“No,” Draco sighed, “that’s why this is a reverse-intervention.  You all are, despite lack of proof, people that I admire for many reasons.  I don’t have many friends, and I need to work on that drastically.  I’m not begging you for friendship, but I have apologies and explanations, and I figured I’d start big right away with it.  If I fail to make an impression with all or any of you, at least I have a chance of succeeding with someone else later.”

The Weasleys looked at each other and smirked.  “Alright, let’s hear it.”

Draco shot a look at Theo and Blaise, and took a deep breath before speaking.  “Okay, we all know what happened at the Quidditch World Cup.  If we weren’t there, we at least read about it in the news.  I saw it, up close and personal, and I won’t lie—it scared me.  My whole life, my father told me how much better Malfoys are than anyone else.  He didn’t outright tell me to torture or kill those that were beneath me, but he implied that associating with lesser wizards would be a waste of my time.  I was home-schooled by the best tutors that money could buy, but never was I allowed to make friends because I would risk meeting the wrong sort of people.  And I toed the Purist line along with my father, even though I never really believed it myself, because it was what my father wanted.

“And then I watched those hooded and masked monsters torture that family of muggles at the World Cup.  And I realized that that was what my father was grooming me for.  And I realized that I did not want that to be my life.

“My mother was aware of how my father was.  She knew he followed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, even if he said he was forced and Imperiused.  She protected me as much as she could, taking me on extended vacations and shopping trips out of the country, but she could still see my father digging his hooks in.  I parroted his beliefs all too well.  Merlin, second year I even called Granger a Mud-blood, and it made me sick for days afterward.

“I’ve been talking with my mother and godfather, and they confirmed all of my worst fears about what my father had planned for me.  We started to plan for how I could break away and become my own person.  Atoning for my past behavior was at the top of the list.

“So, to Fred and George Weasley, I say:  I’m very sorry for my attitude toward you and your family in general.  Your family has love and honor in spades over what my family has, and I am a bit envious of that.  You were obviously raised to appreciate everyone you meet in equal measure, and that is a lesson that I need to learn.  To Terry Boot and Heidi Macavoy, I say:  I’m sorry I stood by as others in my house belittled your studiousness and earnestness.  You obviously take your studies very seriously and were raised to work for what you get out of life.  Many Slytherins were raised to believe that we would receive without effort, and that is something that I know to not be true.   I can use your example to better my life through honest work.  To Cedric Diggory and Roger Davies, I say:  Thank you for showing how good sportsmanship can take you farther in life than just the Quidditch pitch.  I see how you treat everyone around you fairly, and how easily you blend with students from all houses, and I understand that this is how I need to behave if I want to succeed in life.”

The other six students all gaped at Draco, and his face reddened quickly at the stares.  He appreciated that they all stayed silent and allowed him to speak his piece, but he wasn’t finished, so he took another calming breath and said, “Honestly, if I could pick and choose better, life-long friends, I could not choose better than those in this train compartment.  Attitude, intelligence, wit, and humor have worked so well for you, and I am not so set in my ways that I can’t change for the better.  I don’t expect anything from you—well, actually, I expect the Weasleys to hex the hell out of me for being a total prat for the last three years—but I do thank you for hearing me out.  If you do need clarification of anything I have said, feel free to ask.  I owe so many apologies, and may have left some things out of this one.”

As the six visitors rose to leave, Fred and George stepped forward to speak.  “We’ll want a private word with you later.  I’m sure you know what that’s about.”

Draco frowned for a moment before he remembered the incident involving Ginevra Weasley.  “Oh, yes, I know.  I’ll tell you what I can, but I really have no information on that.  I was totally unaware of that until a few weeks ago.  I do have an idea of where more information can be found.”

One of the twins nodded abruptly.  “See ya ‘round, then, Malfoy.  Don’t expect a hex anytime soon.  Maybe after we talk next.”

 

 

Draco managed to avoid Pansy after they arrived at Hogsmeade Station, and he and his new friends found an empty carriage for the ride to the castle.  As they climbed into it, they were joined by the Weasley twins.  Draco was briefly worried, but Fred/George (he really was going to have to figure that out) smiled and settled in the seat next to Blaise as George/Fred sat on the other side of Theo.

“We figured you wouldn’t mind…”

“If we joined you on this trip.  You seem to….”

“Trust these fellows, and we have questions….”

“That we’d really like answers to before we reach the school.”

“It would go a long way toward making us trust you.”

Draco frowned at the two ginger boys.  “You do realize that is quite annoying, they way you speak?”

“Part of our charm. Now, what do you know…”

“About what happened two years ago?”

Draco paused for a moment, thinking about what he actually knew.  It wasn’t much, as he didn’t really talk about this with his mother.  He figured now was the best time to tell all that he knew about everything.  If these fellows were going to help him turn his life around, then they needed to know about what was coming.

Draco cleared his throat.  “This trip up to the castle is not long, so I’ll be quick.  What happened two years ago, when the Chamber of Secrets was opened, was my father’s doing. At least partly.    He was ordered, by someone—somehow—to give a cursed diary to your sister.  I don’t even know how he got the instructions, or how he made his plans.  I do know this diary held the Spirit-Memory of a very young Dark Lord, and this memory possessed your sister, causing her to open the Chamber and attack those students.  It seems, at least according to my mother, that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is trying to come back.  She told me that Father has been acting oddly for some time, just like he did during the last War.  This is why she has been trying to keep me from him.  He has always planned for me to follow his footsteps as a Death-Eater; has practically promised me to the Dark Lord.  My mother has been making plans to separate herself from Father, to keep me and her safe.  That Death-Eater attack at the World Cup was as much a shock to me as it was to you all, but I recently found out that my father may have been part of it.  This is why I’ve been trying so hard to make this change.  I honestly do not want to be part of that life.”

“So, why pick on Ginny?” asked Twin One.

Draco shrugged.  “Honestly, I have no idea.  He never really liked your father or your family.  He felt that you all weren’t ‘pure’ enough to be pure-bloods.  He made the transfer in Flourish and Blotts, and that may have been pure chance that we met your family there.  Or perhaps not, as he never really volunteered to take me for supplies before.  I was told that he started that fight with your father as a distraction, so perhaps he planned that whole meeting.  I do know that my mother felt responsible for the whole thing.  She made sure your sister received treatment for the possession.”

“Huh.  And we were told…”

“That Ginny went on a Witch’s Retreat.”

Draco shook his head.  “Look, I don’t like your younger brother.  I think he’s an idiot.  But I have nothing against your sister, and I’m sorry she was hurt.  I hope she wasn’t permanently damaged, because I have no idea what that kind of possession can do to someone.  Plus, she did horrible things, even if she wasn’t in control, and that is going to stick with her.”

“She seems okay.  She was really strung out at the end of the year….”

“But she seems fine now.  She’s even more hung up on Harry now.  Maybe she thinks he’s the one who saved her.  Again.”

Draco rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, well, so do me a favor and keep my mother’s name out of it.  If she’s really planning to make a break from my father, she won’t need the publicity.”

“Are you planning…”

“To make a break as well”

Draco scowled.  “That is truly annoying.  Look, I can’t completely distance myself from my father right now.  I live in his home when I’m not at school, and he keeps a close eye on me.  At least I know why my mother has been taking me on such long trips every break.  And I don’t know what her plans are, so don’t bother asking me that.”

 

As the carriage slowed near the gates of the castle, the twins turned toward each other, communicating silently.  Before they climbed out of the carriage, Fred/George smiled at Draco.

“We’ll be keeping an eye on you.  It all sounds good now, but snakes rarely change their scales, do they?  Keep it clean, and we’ll back you.”

 

Draco was smiling as he walked into the Great Hall for the Start of Term Feast.  The train trip wasn’t so bad.  He avoided Pansy for the most part.  He possible made some friendly contacts that he could be proud of.  He still didn’t know what to do about Crabbe and Goyle, and he needed to figure that out soon.  They shared a dorm, and he’d be in close quarters with them tonight.  They might not have figured out yet that he was avoiding them, but they would notice soon.  Draco still didn’t know where their loyalties lie, or even if they had any—they could be puppets just like their fathers.  He at least had until the end of Feast to think of something.  Right now, he had something better on his mind.

Draco had finally figured out how to tell the Weasley Twins apart.

 

 

Chapter 6: The Great Reveal

 

Severus watched as the students filled the Great Hall for the Welcome Feast.   The potion regime he had undergone had left him unsettled.  The potions washed his magical aura completely clean, and when next he encountered the Headmaster he felt unknown dread.  He fully acknowledged that he did not fully trust Dumbledore after the older man had failed to protect him as a student and failed to protect Lily from The Dark Lord after Severus warned of the pending attack, but he had never felt ill when in the presence of the man.  His emotions were erratic as students filled the tables.  He was dismayed to discover that he held almost no hope for his Slytherin students.  They quietly but animatedly discussed the events of the summer, and most looked excited at the prospect of the Dark Lord’s return.  Surely their parents told them they would have a place in whatever dark future they imagined would come.  When Gryffindors began to filter into the Hall, the disgust he normally felt was notably absent.  He found himself nodding ‘hello’ to some of the more intelligent Lions, and forced himself to stop.  Suddenly a cold wash of awareness ran over Severus when the Headmaster looked his way: Albus Dumbledore was the cause of his magically induced ailments.  He could feel compulsions being pushed his way from the direction of the Headmaster, but after Severus had received treatment and cure, he had built up his magical shields to prevent anything like that from happening again.  Was this what happened every year at the start of Term?  Did Dumbledore place new compulsions each year to overlap the old ones, or did he sense the compulsions were no longer there?  Severus looked at his goblet in askance and called a house-elf to him silently.  When the creature appeared under the table at his knee, Severus requested a new, clean goblet and water pitcher from his own quarters, to be placed discretely and quietly so as not to alarm the headmaster.  Filius Flitwick, the Charms Professor, raised an eyebrow at him, but he said nothing.  Severus would not risk being dosed with potions that he apparently could not sense or identify.  He made a mental note to write to Healer Scopes and Narcissa about his revelation.

Three noticeable Gryffindors walked past his seat, and he almost smirked at the conversation he overheard.  His godson had apparently made his move on the train and was minutely successful.

 

“I still don’t understand why you couldn’t sit with us the whole time on the train, Hermione.  You could have helped me and Harry with our homework,” grumbled Ronald Weasley to the female in the trio.

The girl rolled her eyes and squared her shoulders.  “You should have finished your homework at home, Ron.  That’s why it’s called ‘homework’.  And I told you, Susan and I had some important things to discuss.  Or did you really want to be involved in our ‘girl-talk’?”

The Weasley boy blanched visibly, and shook his head.  The dark-haired boy who followed them laughed out loud, then looked at the Head Table and sobered.  Severus did not feel his normal revulsion at seeing the Potter boy.  He felt only longing for his old friend, long lost to him.  He would rectify this slight done to the boy.  If it were within his power, Severus would protect the boy and hopefully make the rest of his time at school more bearable.

 

*********************************************************

 

Draco seated himself as far from Pansy Parkinson as possible at the Slytherin table.  Blaise Zabini and Theo Knott sat across from him, effectively blocking Crabbe and Goyle.

“What are we going to do about those two?” Theo asked softly.  “They looked so lost, just now.  They do look to you for leadership, Draco.  You may be able to pull their heads out of their asses, if you try hard enough.”

Draco shuddered.  “I don’t relish the idea of them following me about all year and reporting back to their fathers, that’s for certain.  It’s bad enough that the Weasley twins will have eyes on me constantly.  At least as far as they’re concerned, I aim to do no wrong.  In fact, there are several pressing matters I want to deal with once we’re back in the dorms.”

“More letter-writing?” Theo asked with a smirk, and Draco laughed in response.

“Yes, Theo, more letter-writing.   At least one more, and it’s a very important one.  I came upon some information several weeks ago, and I want to bring it so someone’s attention.  I’ll have to be every inch the Slytherin about it, though.  Sneaky and ambitious is the way to go with this.”

Theo shrugged.  “If it keeps Pansy away, I’ll help you be sneaky and devious.”

 

The new first-years flowed into the Great Hall for their sorting.  Draco wondered if he ever was that young and nervous.  Any student sorted into Slytherin this term was a possible spy against him, and yet Draco was considered a leader in his house.  The healing that his God-father underwent this summer gave him hope.  When Severus learned that he was under the influence of strong and severe Compulsion Charms and other spell-work, Draco was almost relieved.  He had always had a difficult time reconciling the loving God-father with the hard-nosed and distant teacher that he saw every day.   Compulsion Charms would have gone a long way to explain how someone normally so caring could be un-feeling and harsh to the students he was supposed to be coaching into adulthood.  Both Severus and Draco were now under the impression that perhaps there were compulsions over their entire House.  The dormitory was a likely target for such charms.  Certainly students would be influenced at home, but not every student was the product of a Death-eater.  Severus himself indicated that there were half-bloods and muggle-borns in his house, carefully hidden by themselves and Severus so that they would not become targets.  Draco would never ask for those identities and put them at risk, but he was curious if those students were prejudiced toward other houses as badly as Draco once was.

 

Once the sorting was completed, the Headmaster stood and informed the whole party that announcements would be given after the feast.  Then the tables filled with all sorts of foodstuffs and beverages.  Draco reached for his goblet of pumpkin juice when movement from the Head Table caught his eye.  Severus was shaking his head slowly, and Draco put down the goblet and told Knott and Zabini not to drink.  A nervous House-elf Draco had never seen before appeared near Draco’s knee under the table.  It was holding a pitcher and goblet and offered them to Draco.  Quietly Draco requested two more goblets and surreptitiously replaced the utensils on the table in front of him and his classmates.

“What was that about, Draco?”

Draco shook his head.  “I have no idea, Blaise, but I’m not taking any chances.  The water looks good, don’t you think.  At least the food is safe.”

 

**************************************************

 

Draco fairly stumbled into the dormitory after the Feast and announcements.  The Tri-Wizard Tournament was a huge deal.  And he was going to witness it up close and personal.  The new professor was also quite a shock.  God-father was right; this Moody fellow bore watching.  Draco did not like the way the man looked at him.  And his disdain for Severus was apparent.  Draco would have to be very careful around the man.

There was a letter from his mother waiting for him when he arrived in his dorm-room.  Draco dressed in his pajamas and drew the curtains around his bed and settled in to read this letter and perhaps write one of his own.

 

My Dearest Draco,

I hope this letter finds you well and settled in for another advantageous term at school.  I just know the knowledge you acquire there this year will benefit you well in the coming future.  I have received permission to visit you on the campus in one week.  I have valuable information for you regarding your Potions extra-credit work.  Severus shall be joining us for this discussion, of course.  I have included a message here from a “secret admirer” for you.  Nothing romantic, so don’t fret about that.

Well wishes to you,

Mother

 

Curious, Draco opened the next folded parchment and read:

 

Draco—

I hope this finds you well.  You do not know me, and for that I am ashamed.  For matters beyond my control and yours, I had to remove myself from your life before we ever met.  Your mother, however, has only recently found me and told me all about you.  She is very proud of the boy you are and the man you shall be.

I am your grandfather, Cygnus Black.

Your father most likely thinks me dead.

I should be grateful if you allow him to continue in this line of thought, as he did much in the past to make it a truth.

Your mother has informed me of your decision to break from Lucius’ ideals, and I whole-heartedly approve.  I have made efforts to find you a strong ally in your endeavors.  As part of this effort, I have procured a secret home nearby to you.  It is under the Fidelus Charm, and soon you shall be made aware of its location.  I hope we can soon meet and create a strong familial bond. 

You are my future, Draco, you and your mother.  I hope to make it a successful future.

Cygnus Black III

 

Draco sat back against his pillows and considered the letter.  Once he learned that he did have a living grandfather, he was looking forward to meeting the man.  His mother had indicated that her father was against the Purist movement, and had gone away to keep from being hunted by Death-eaters.  This man could make possible a true break from his father.  Draco could hardly wait to meet him.

 

*******************************************

 

Healer Scopes:

I write to you to ask for assistance in a matter of great urgency.  I have located the origin of my past troubles, and I fear that the spells and charms may have extended beyond me and into my sanctuary.  I would ask for Warding assistance to prevent any further incursions into this sanctuary, and you and your partner are aware of what I must guard against.

Severus Snape, Potions Master, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

 

*****************************************************

 

Dear Narcissa,

I am looking forward to your meeting with great trepidation.  I do not know what you shall be bringing with you, but I have found the source of my ills.  The Headmaster, the man I allowed to keep me from prison and to employ me in effort to right all of my wrongs, is the man who placed the charms and potions against me.  Since these are charms that I could not identify or guard against, I can only guess as to the purpose.  For some unknown reason, Dumbledore wanted me to feel a great animosity toward Gryffindor House in general, and certain students in particular.  You can probably guess as to their identities.  Tonight I felt no great anger toward that House during the Feast, but I noticed slight pinging against my own magical aura.  I do not think he noticed my freedom from the compulsions, but he was certainly attempting to layer some other spells upon me.  I think, but cannot be sure, that he placed wards on my House in order to foster ill will between Slytherin House and the rest of the student body.  It is the known children of Death-Eaters that are the targets.  I am beyond angered at this prospect.

Severus

 

**************************************************

 

The first day of class passed uneventfully for Draco so far, but now he had Care of Magical Creatures—and it was never his favourite subject.  Oh, he needed to understand the creatures that he might work with as a Potioner or Healer, but Hagrid wasn’t the best instructor, and his fascination with dangerous creatures was a bit worrying.  Certainly Draco may have played-up the Hippogriff attack last year, but he wasn’t actually expecting to get hurt.  The magnificent creature was totally intoxicating, but Crabbe and Goyle had distracted him from following proper guidelines.  Hell, he hadn’t even heard the proper procedure.  Draco wondered what lie in wait to attack this year.

He didn’t have to wonder long.  The Blast-Ended Screwts were horrible!!  Fire on one end, and a stinger on the other.  Draco spent the entire lesson trying not to get scorched, so he could possibly be forgiven for not noticing his former co-horts, Crabbe and Goyle, plotting against Potter and Company.  When Goyle’s wand arm raised in an attack toward Granger, Draco only thought to stop the spell.  He drew his own wand and shot a stunner at Goyle, disarming him and attracting the attention of Professor Moody, who was walking nearby.  Of course, Moody totally badly reacted.  The deranged-looking man walked to Potter and asked if Draco’s spell had hit him.

“No sir, he missed.”  He missed? Draco did not miss; he hit Goyle squarely in the shoulder, just as he intended.  And Draco was fairly certain that Potter had seen what had happened, but before anyone could say anything, Moody turned on Draco and Transfigured him into a ferret.  The process was the most painful thing he had ever felt.  He squealed and tried to run away, confused and sore, and Moody began to bounce him in the air, hitting first the ceiling and then the floor—over and over again.  Until McGonagall happened upon them and made Moody stop.

Angered, she asked what was about, and Potter spoke up for the first time.

“Goyle was going to hex Hermione,” the dark-haired boy said earnestly, “and Malfoy stunned him.  Then Professor Moody thought Malfoy was attacking me, and he turned Malfoy into this ferret.”

“That ferret is a student, Professor?”  Professor McGonagall’s face was red with fury, and all of the students stepped back away from her.

The elderly ex-Auror merely snorted.  “Aye, and he deserved it, too.  Sneaky one, this is, tried to hex Potter from the rear.”

“He did not, Professor,” Potter protested.  “Honestly, Malfoy stunned Goyle when he tried to hex Hermione.  I swear it.  I would never make that up.  Can’t you check his wand or something?”

“I most certainly shall,” McGonagall snarled.

Professor McGonagall quickly re-transformed Draco, and seize Goyle’s wand.  Casting a quick revealing spell, she uncovered the hex Goyle was about to use.

Turning to a stunned Draco, she proclaimed, “To the Hospital Wing, Mr. Malfoy.  Do tell Madame Pomfrey what happened, so she may check you completely.  Report to me for a note to your next class.  Mr. Goyle, you are with me.  We shall see what your Head of House has to say about this.”

Moody scoffed incredulously.  “As if the likes of him would do anything to punish one of his Snakes.”

“Professor Moody,” said McGonagall archly, “we do not transform students.  At all.  For any reason.  We have detentions for punishment.  We take away privileges as punishment.  We do not use Transfiguration.  You could have seriously injured the boy.  And he wasn’t even in the wrong here.”

Moody leveled a gaze at the woman but did not back down.  “That may be, but the apple don’t fall far from the tree.  That one’s a bad one, you mark my words.  That Head of House isn’t any better.”

McGonagall raised one eyebrow as she stared at the new professor.  “Professor Snape is a well regarded and respected instructor in this school, and you shall not disparage his character, especially in front of students.  You also do not punish students for things they have not yet done.  I shall be speaking to the Headmaster about this.  Now, students—off to your next class.”

**

Draco was thoroughly checked over by the Medi-Witch.  He didn’t have any lasting damage, but his dignity was almost beyond repair.  At least until he arrived back in Slytherin dorms, and he was confronted by Knott and Zabini.

“Brilliant the way you stopped Goyle just then, Draco,” Blaise said, slapping him on the shoulder.  “Too bad about the ferret thing.  Moody is horrible.  I’m glad you warned us to watch out for him.”

Draco frowned at his friend.  “I don’t know, Zabini, you may have nothing to worry about from him.  Your father isn’t a Death-eater, like mine is.”

“No, my father is dead, and my mother makes grown wizards weep.  Still, it was a good job you did, not letting Granger take that hit.  I don’t know what she was ranting about, but she normally pays better attention to her surroundings.  Potter saw it, though.  That should help your credibility a bit.”

“Yes, well, I’ll be sitting carefully for a while.  When we study for our Animagus forms, I totally hope I get a dragon or hippogriff.  Rodents are definitely out for me.”

 

**

His potions class remained his favorite, of course, with Arithmancy a close second.  He really wasn’t looking forward to this DADA class this year, with a slightly insane former Auror with a grudge against him teaching the class.  At lunch he overheard the Weasley twins extolling the virtues of said teacher.  It didn’t make Draco any more eager to take the class.  On the other hand, his offer of friendship to select other students seemed to have paid off.  He received smiles in the hallways between classes.  Diggory and Macavoy sent a message inviting him to a Quidditch pick-up game since the house games had been cancelled for the year.  Susan Bones asked to study with him for Arithmancy, which sent Pansy Parkinson into an epic fit.

Draco sat at the long table in the Great Hall watching other students eat their lunch.  From his vantage point, he had a clear view of Potter, Granger and Weasley.  Weasley the younger was wildly estimating his own chances of becoming an Auror while Potter watched amused.  Granger looked over at the Slytherin table and caught Draco’s eye.  She winked at him, and Draco felt that maybe all would be well between them.  He would need her on his side if he was going to try to get to Potter.  Draco sighed, and went back to his own lunch.  He had a feeling that he would need the fuel to deal with what was to come.

**

It was official: Moody was insane.  Teaching the unforgivable?  In a schoolroom?  And the Headmaster had approved it?  Oh, sure, watching Weasel’s reaction to the spiders was amusing, but watching the effects of the curses?  Not so much.  It was horrible.  Draco recognized the Imperious from the World Cup—all of those wizards wandering around looking like their brains had been disconnected.  The killing curse was abrupt and definite.  A flash of green light, and it was all over.  No time to regret.  No time to run.  Just over.  The Cruciatus Curse was, in Draco’s opinion, the worst.  Causing pain upon pain, unending and uncompromising.  And if the look on Longbottom’s face was anything to go on, Draco wasn’t the only one in class that thought this one was the worst.  So, that’s what Death-eaters did.  They horrified and attacked people, and cursed them with these Unforgivables, and they tried to kill off anyone they felt inferior.

And Lucius Malfoy wanted Draco to become one of them.

Draco was grim-faced as he left class and walked toward the Great Hall for lunch that day.  Knott and Zabini were also rather quiet next to him, and they settled into their seats with little appetite between them.

“That’s what your father is on about?” asked Blaise quietly.

“So it seems.  I mean, you can kill with any spell, not just Avada, and you can cause pain with hexes and spells and jinxes other than the Cruciatus.  So they were about torturing and enjoying it.”  Draco shuddered.  “I can’t stand it.  I have to get away from him, and I have to do it before this Tournament starts and Father starts hanging around here like he owns the place.  I need to talk to God-father.  And maybe my mother.”

“Draco, you know we’ll stand with you, right?”

“Thanks Zabini.”

 

Draco looked over at the Gryffindor table and watched the Weasley Twins chatting with their friend Lee Jordan.  As if sensing his glance, they turned toward him and each raised an eyebrow.  Draco gave a slight nod to signal that he wanted to speak after the meal, and they nodded.  Draco rose from the table and walked into the corridor and entered an empty classroom.  He had always found it odd that there were so many unused classrooms in this castle.  Perhaps there used to be many more students or many more subjects taught.  He supposed he’d never know.

The Weasley Twins followed along shortly, without Jordan, for which Draco was grateful.

“What’s up, little Slytherin?”

“How have your DADA classes been going?” Draco asked promptly.

“Why do you want to know?”

Draco shrugged.  “I want to know what’s in store for me.  I know you heard what he did to me the other day.”

“Bouncing ferret…”

“Very interesting.”

“Granger said you saved her from…..”

“A hex gone bad by big, bad Goyle.”

Draco shrugged again.  “Yeah, well, I told you I was changing my ways.  Now that I’ve sort of seen what a Death-Eater can do, I’m even more serious.”

The eerie twins looked at each other, silently communicating.  Then they looked at him again.

“Right, well now….”

“Ole Mad-Eye is really, really mad.”

“But you knew that already.”

“In the next few classes….”

“He’s going to really put it to you.”

“What do you mean?” Draco asked nervously.  “What is his going to do?”

“He’s going to curse you.”

“Not just you, though.”

“Everyone in class.  The Imperious Curse.”

“He wants to see if we can break it.”

“Nobody has, yet.”

Draco just stared, horrified.  That man was truly insane. There was no way this was sanctioned.  Draco almost laughed.  For one brief moment, he had actually thought—‘wait until Father hears about this.’  Well, knowing what he did now, his father would probably think it was an excellent idea.

“Well,” Draco said finally, “thanks for that.  I have some thinking to do.  I can’t let this man get to me.  In his own way, he’s worse than my father.”

Draco did a quick look outside the classroom, and left, heading back to his dorm to get ready for his next class.  His mother, and possibly his grandfather, would be here in a few days, and he could let her know what was going on.  He hoped she was farther into her plans to distance herself from the Malfoy name.  If she was successful, perhaps it would ease the way for Draco.  One thing was certain here:  Potter would not have an easy time this year in DADA.  Draco remembered stories about what Potter ‘heard’ when Dementors were near him last year.  For that—for making Potter relive the moment of his mother’s death—Draco was sorry that the Dementors were ever at the school.  He wondered how Potter would react to the Imperious Curse.  The boy did not strike Draco as being as weak-minded as Weasel, but he wasn’t very assertive.  Draco himself was beaten-down by his father, so he felt he might easily fall under the influence.  What would Moody do to him?

Perhaps the awful Professor would leave him relatively alone, if only because of the ferret incident.  Surely his god-father would be watching over him.  Perhaps McGonagall as well, since she was so incensed at the transfiguration.  Nevertheless, he would have to shore up his mental shields before his next class.

On the way back to the dungeons, Draco heard Potter’s voice behind him, along with Granger’s.  There seemed to be an argument going on, but Draco couldn’t be fussed to listen.  He didn’t need Potter on his mind while he was meditating.

He remembered clearly meeting Potter for the first time.  Draco didn’t know who he was at the time, but the scruffy-haired boy in Madame Malkins’ shop definitely drew his attention.  His bright green eyes were so kind and shy, and Draco only wanted to be his friend.  Potter had haunted his dreams ever since.

When Draco discovered his attraction to males at the tender age of twelve, Potter featured greatly in his innocent fantasies: They played Quidditch together instead of as rivals.  They helped each other in Potions class.  They walked through Hogsmeade Village together.

Now Draco dreamed of holding Potter’s hand.  He dreamed of innocent kisses.  He dreamed of much more.

Draco didn’t think he had a chance of making any of those dreams come true, but he at least wanted to try for friendship.  And now Draco had information about Potter’s own God-father, and his mother may be able to find the man.  Draco needed to get this information to Potter, but the boy would never believe him.  Perhaps Granger could help.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7: Trials and Tribulations

 

Finally came the day Draco had come to dread.  Moody announced that the Headmaster wanted him to test the Imperious Curse on the students, to see which among them had the mental fortitude to withstand it.  What he was really trying to test was the capability to throw off the Curse.  So far, the deranged Professor had caused Lavender Brown to imitate a squirrel, Ron Weasley to kiss a rather large spider (to the amusement of everyone except Granger), Dean Thomas to hop around the room singing the National Anthem, and Pansy Parkinson to bark loudly and pick her nose.   Draco’s turn was next, and he was nervous but determined.  He calmly stood by his desk as Moody raised his wand toward him and shouted:

Imperio!”

A slight wave of nausea whipped through his body, and a fog settled into his head.  Dimly, he heard:

“Stand on your head.”

And Draco bent slightly at the waist, knees tucked and arms forward.  And he thought to himself:

“Why?  Why should I do this?”

Stand on your head!

No, I don’t think I should.’

Stand on your head!

No, definitely not doing that.

 

And Draco fell forward, and seated himself—hard—on the floor.

“Well, well,” sneered the Professor, “so the son of a Death-eater can toss off the Curse.  I’ll be keeping an eye on you, boy.  Longbottom, you’re next.”

 

And Neville Longbottom proved that under the Imperious Curse, he was a gifted and dexterous gymnast.  This was possibly the longest class Draco had ever been to in his entire history of student-hood.

 

***********************************************

 

The day of his mother’s visit arrived, and Draco’s position in Slytherin House was once again secured.  After that one noted DADA class, when Draco was one of two students able to throw off the Imperious Curse—of course, Potter was the other—his fellow snakes once again looked to him as ‘prince’ of his house. Crabbe and Goyle began again to follow his lead, and Zabini said that that may have been for the best.  If Draco could lead by example, and turn away from the Purist movement, then maybe they could save a few more of their fellow students.  Draco had his doubts about that.  Crabbe and Goyle between them couldn’t muster up an original thought, and they were very entrenched into their fathers’ beliefs.  Still, today Draco was possibly going to meet his Grandfather.  And he was always happy to see his mother.

But first, he had to deal with the Headmaster.

 

“Mr. Malfoy,” Headmaster Dumbledore simpered, eyes twinkling madly, “I do hope you understand how unusual it is for us to allow students to leave the grounds this early into the term.  Your mother told me this was a family emergency, and that is the only reason I am permitting this excursion.  Your Head of House shall accompany you, of course.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Come along, Mr. Malfoy,” Professor Snape ordered.  “Your mother shall not be kept waiting.  I’ll keep him in line, Headmaster, don’t worry.”

“Of course you will, Severus,” said the old man happily.  “Have a good day.”

 

And with that small dismissal, Draco and Severus Snape left the castle for Hogsmeade.  Draco was relieved to be going, but his God-father looked rather grim.  Considering all that happened before term started, Draco completely understood the grim.  Half-way down the path to Hogsmeade, and out of sight of the castle, Severus took hold of Draco’s elbow and apparated him away from their ‘intended’ designation.  The duo landed in the Aparation point just outside of Gringott’s Bank in Diagon Alley.  Draco tried very hard not to look surprised at this deviation from their plans.  He followed Severus into the bank where he was greeted by his mother.

“Draco, darling,” Narcissa said with a kiss to his cheek, “it’s so good to see you.  I do hope school is going well so far.  Severus, I have that ‘aid’ you requested.  Shall we go into the conference room?”

Draco kissed her cheek and offered her his arm, and they followed a goblin into the depths of the bank, to a private conference room.  Once inside, they were met by Healer Scopes, Professor Mills, and an older, dark-haired man with stark, aristocratic features.

“Draco,” said Narcissa as she touched his shoulder, “this is my long-absent father, Cygnus Black.  He hopes to be of assistance with our break from your father.”

Draco offered his hand in greeting.  “Sir, it’s good to meet you.”

Draco could see bits of his mother in the man’s face—she clearly had her father’s eyes and cheekbones.  When the man smiled at him, the resemblance was more pronounced.  Suddenly Draco wished he could have witnessed his mother’s smile more often when he was growing up.

Severus walked across the room to confer with the two mystical healers.  Their faces were tense, and Draco hoped the two men could be of assistance to his God-father.  He turned back to his mother and grandfather, and gave them all of his attention

“Draco,” said Narcissa proudly, “I have been working with my father to gain personal and financial freedom for many years now.  When I was pregnant with you, Lucius and my sister, Bellatrix, were faithful followers of the Dark Lord, and my mother was deeply involved with the Purist movement during the First War.  My younger sister, Andromeda, married a muggle-born wizard, and my mother and sister washed their hands of her.  My father stayed close to her and her husband, and that close relationship allowed him to go into hiding when the Dark Lord gained most of his power.  Lucius did his level best to end my father’s life, in order to overtake his personal fortune.  Once my mother passed, Bellatrix became obsessed with giving Father’s money to her Dark Lord.  I was the oldest child, and would have inherited everything had he died, so Lucius tried to keep me well in hand.  Lucius forgot how headstrong and willful I was—which is a shame, because that was what attracted him to me in the first place.

“I vowed Lucius would never turn my child toward the Dark Lord’s path, so I tried my best to keep you from him while you were growing up.  Once the Dark Lord was destroyed and you were in school, I went searching for my younger sister and my father.   I was lucky enough to find both healthy and hearty.  Andromeda had one child, a daughter, who went to Hogwarts as a Hufflepuff and is now an Auror.  I have been in close contact with my extended family for many years now.

“After Severus revealed what he knew about the innocence of my cousin Sirius—a friend I greatly admired as a young child—I went to my father to see if we could be of assistance to him.  Sirius had already managed to escape from Azkaban, though I’m not sure how.  He needs my help now, to prove himself innocent in a fair trial.  My father and I are going to send a veiled message to Sirius.  We have ways to contact him, even in hiding.  Father wants to bring him here, to stay in his new home, so that he may learn to be free again. We have legal counsel for him, through the ICW, and he will stand a fair trial.  I understand that he is the god-father to one of your school-mates.  This boy will need Sirius as much as Sirius needs him.  Father is also willing to aid me in obtaining a divorce from your father, if I deem it necessary.  Is it necessary, Draco?”

 

Draco had managed to keep his expression clear through most of his mother’s declaration, but this brought the shock completely to the surface.

A divorce.  A clean break.  A new future for a cousin Draco had never met. ( Two cousins, actually, as one was apparently a recent Hogwarts graduate that Draco had never met.)  Was it necessary?  Draco knew that if he was going to be free from his father, then first his mother should be completely free from the man.

“Mother, I think a divorce is very necessary.” Draco smiled at the relief on his mother’s face.  “But I want to divorce him, as well.  Once you’re free from him, once and for all, I want to be free as well.  I want to renounce his name—distance myself totally from his influence.  I want to be my own man, mother.  As much as I can be before I reach the age of majority”

Cygnus smiled brightly.  “I am so happy to hear you say that, my boy.  Now, let’s chat a bit about you.  Allow me to get to know the bright young man your mother told me about.”

 

******************************************************

 

Severus calmly explained what he thought was going on in his dormitory.  While he didn’t want to think that the Headmaster would target a mass-compulsion onto a small group of students at a school, such a thing would certainly explain why only the children of known Death-eaters would be so antagonistic toward muggle-born students.  Of course, if there wasn’t a compulsion on his dormitory, then the parents of said students were doing well in indoctrinating their children in the Purist movement.  Severus did explain that his own compulsions were placed, probably during his own status as a student, by Albus Dumbledore himself.

A man Severus was supposed to have trusted.

A man who ‘helped’ Severus during the trials by offering testimony of Severus’ character and position as a spy.

A man who believed Severus was completely under his thumb.

And Severus was so pleased to prove that wrong.  He was no longer under the magical influence of Dumbledore, and he definitely felt no undue loyalty to the man.  His childhood hatred was fed and nurtured, and it caused Severus to lose the very best friend he ever had.  Now he only had the child of that friend to watch out for, and if helping the boy grow up safe and strong meant that he had to deal with a childhood nemesis, then so be it.

 

**********************************************

 

October rolled in cold and stormy, and soon it was time to welcome the visitors from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.  Draco was restless with anticipation.  His mother had originally wanted him to attend Durmstrang School, but his Father vetoed the idea, wanting to keep Draco close by.  So this was a terrific opportunity to meet students from other schools, and Draco wanted to try and enjoy it.  So there he stood, in the wind and rain, beside the Black Lake, looking for a sign.  Any sign.  It didn’t matter, because no one was sure what they were looking for.  The Headmaster didn’t seem to know how the delegates from the other schools were arriving.

Finally, a child’s voice shouted, “There!”, and everyone looked toward the moon, hanging low in the sky.  A smallish object hovered in the sky, growing larger and larger as it drew closer to the school grounds.  It was a carriage.  A huge, size-of-a-house, light blue carriage, drawn by gigantic winged horses.  Draco briefly thought that Hagrid would be ecstatic to see those animals, and then the carriage landed.  A blue-clad youth climbed out of the carriage and lowered the steps, and an enormous woman climbed out and approached Dumbledore.  Draco had never seen anyone like her.  Dumbledore offered to allow her and her students to go into the castle to warm themselves, and then the Hogwarts students remained to await the arrival of the Durmstrang delegation.

And then the sound of rushing waves came from the Black Lake, and everyone turned to face the water.  A huge whirlpool appeared in the center of the lake, and then the mast of a ship came through the center of the whirlpool.  The ship rose and glided toward the shore of the lake, then a huge anchor dropped and a gangplank lowered to the shore.  A group of young men wearing thick, shaggy coats descended, followed by a tall man in a silver cloak.  The man had a dark, haunted look about him, and Draco noted that Severus looked very unhappy to see him.  This was someone from his God-father’s past, and Draco was willing to bet that he was a dark part of the past.  Draco was pleased, however, to note that one of the young men from the ship was Victor Krum, a star Quidditch player last seen catching the Snitch in the World Cup.  After the dark man greeted Dumbledore, all of the students were finally allowed to re-enter the school and get out of the cold.  Everyone filtered into the Great Hall and settled at their usual tables.  The Beauxbatons students were seated at the Ravenclaw table, and the Durmstrang students were seated at the Slytherin table.  Draco was pleased to note that Krum was sitting near his usual seat, so Draco prepared to introduce himself.  After all, Quidditch players should stick together.

 

*************************************************

 

The announcement about the Goblet of Fire was met with excitement.  It was genius, really, to have a magical object choose the Champions.  Draco had a bit of fun listening to his new friends talking about entering their names when the day came.  Cedric seemed almost troubled about the decision, but he was quickly convinced that he would make an excellent Champion for Hogwarts.  The Weasley Twin’s plotting was also amusing, and while Draco was certain that they didn’t stand a chance of cheating the age line, he looked forward to watching them try.

Classes, in the meantime, kept Draco very busy.  He remained able to resist the Imperious Curse, and his God-father had begun training him in Occlumency in order to shore up his mental defenses.  Draco was exhausted at the end of every day.  Letters from his grandfather were a huge morale boost.  His mother would be announcing her petition for divorce shortly before Yule.  Draco was preparing to take his grandfather’s name and leave behind Malfoy forever.  It would be a wonderful Yule gift for both his mother and him.  His grandfather was also working diligently to officially ‘free’ his cousin Sirius Black.  Draco didn’t know much about the man.  He knew Sirius tormented his God-father when they were both students at Hogwarts, he knew Sirius was the best friend of Potter’s father, and he knew that Sirius was framed for leading the Dark Lord to the Potters and having them killed.  Oh, and Draco knew that his God-father hated Sirius.  Considering the fact that Sirius may have tried to kill Severus, Draco hardly blamed him for the hate.

Still, Sirius was important to Potter, and Draco really wanted to be Potter’s friend, so he had to figure a way to let Potter know that Sirius was going to be tried and freed.  He smirked to himself as he readied for bed.  Back to the “letter-writing”, he supposed.  Blaise would be amused.

 

 

Hogwarts students lined the halls outside the Great Hall watching Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students file in to place their names into the Goblet of Fire.  With each piece of paper introduced, a spark of flame flew from the top of the Goblet.  Finally, Several Hogwarts students approached the Goblet.  Draco cheered as Cedric Diggory placed his name into the Goblet.  He would definitely be rooting for Cedric to become Hogwarts Champion.  Then came the Weasley Twins, carrying vials of an age potion.  They downed the potions, crossed the age line, and popped their names into the Goblet.  There were the usual sparks, then an odd popping sound, and then the Twins were forcibly thrust out of the age line, both wearing rapidly growing white beards.  Within seconds, they rivaled Dumbledore and the crowd erupted in laughter.  Draco waved at them as they walked away to the infirmary, and they smirked back at him.  He met up with Theo and Blaise and they entered the Great Hall for breakfast, trailing behind Potter and Granger and Weasley.  Draco couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, even though they spoke lowly.

 

“What do you hear from ‘Snuffles’, Harry?” asked Hermione in a not-so-quiet whisper.

“He’s coming here soon,” Potter replied, glancing around them for eavesdroppers.  “He said he has a surprise for me.  A good one, but he won’t tell me what.  He said to keep an eye on the Prophet.”

“I do hope he’s being careful.  The Ministry is still trying to catch him, and I’m sure they are on high alert with this Tournament going on here.”

“Hermione, I’m sure he’s laying low.  The last thing he wants is to go back to that awful place.”

 

Shrugging, Draco walked around them to sit near Krum and eat his breakfast.  He figured it may have something to do with Sirius Black, but he couldn’t figure the ‘snuffles’ reference.  He just decided that Gryffindors were weird.

 

******************************************

It was an odd quintet gathered outside the Great Hall just before dinner, three Slytherins and two Hufflepuffs talking about Cedric’s chances of becoming Hogwart’s Champion in the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  There was quiet ribbing and joking from Zabini and Macavoy, but Draco knew that if Cedric was granted that honour, he would be greatly supported.  He was a quiet kind of hero; honest, academically driven, athletic, and trustworthy.  Draco was happy to now call him friend.

“Well, it’s time to go in now,” Cedric said as he squared his shoulders.  “Wish me luck guys.”

“You don’t need luck, Diggory,” said Draco earnestly.  “We’d be lucky to have you.”

 

****************************************

The noise had died down, and students at all four tables were talking about the three Champions chosen by the magical Goblet of Fire:

Victor Krum of Durmstrang

Fleur DeLacour of Beauxbatons

Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts

 

It was all rather exciting, and Draco and Theo were debating who to support loudest, Krum—who was becoming a new friend from afar—or Diggory—who was a new friend they’d see every day in classes and hallways, and no one really noticed the Goblet sputtering and spouting flames again.  Draco looked up as Dumbledore approached the artifact, and a new piece of paper flew out into the air.  Dumbledore caught it and read:

Harry Potter

 

Draco looked to the Head Table and met Snape’s eye.  His godfather looked positively gob-smacked.  This was not good at all.  Somehow Potter got his name into the Goblet?  No way!

Then Draco caught sight of Potter as he stood shakily from his table and walked to the front of the Hall.  The boy was stunned.

And scared.

He didn’t do this.  Draco was sure of it.

Someone else, someone who possibly wanted to do some great mischief, put Potter’s name in that Goblet.

Given Potter’s history of being hunted by Dark wizards, Draco was almost afraid for the boy’s life.

 

When everyone in the Great Hall was buzzing around confused and conflicted, Draco took the chance to sneak out.  He needed to send a message to his grandfather.  If Potter was in some kind of trouble, he’d need more help than Draco could give.  He met his godfather in the passage to the Slytherin Dungeon.

“What would it take for an underage wizard to get his name submitted into that Goblet?” Draco asked cautiously.

Snape looked shocked but resolute.  “Very powerful magic.  More powerful than a student of your age would be capable of.  As much as it seems that Potter longs for the spotlight, I am certain that he did not do this.”

“No, I don’t think so, either,” Draco agreed.  “I’m writing to Grandfather Black.  He’ll need to know so he can tell Sirius Black what has happened.  I want to help.  I need to help, somehow.”

“As much as I loathe the man,” said Severus peevishly, “I agree that his support here is needed.  We’ll find a way to get him into the Castle.  I’ll set up a privacy ward on my Floo.  I don’t know how far his trial has gotten, what with the Minister being so involved here with the tournament, but I know the Wizengamot will see justice done regardless of the publicity here.”

“Potter will need friends,” said Draco, troubled.  “I doubt Weasley will be much support now.  He’s more shallow than any Slytherins.  The twins, however, will be supportive I think, once they get over the shock.”

 

**************************************************

 

Sunday morning found Harry Potter sitting by himself at the Gryffindor table.  He seemed to shrink away from his housemates, and Ron Weasley was giving him cold glances through breakfast.  A large brown Barn Owl glided through the magical window and landed in front of the miserable boy.  It offered a leg holding a letter, and flew off as soon as Harry accepted it, not even bothering to accept food.

The front of the sealed letter simply said:

Open When Alone

 

That was easy enough, as he really didn’t feel like company at the moment.  He left the table without eating, as his appetite left him after his name flew out of the Goblet the night before.  Harry walked out to the Black Lake and sat under a tree.  He opened the letter to see who may have sent it, but it was unsigned.  Sirius would have signed it, so it wasn’t from him.  Harry sighed.  He could really stand to hear from his godfather right now.

 

Dear Harry—

I have some information you need to know.  It’s not about what happened last night, but I believe it may offer you some comfort.

Sirius Black is an innocent man.

You may not know the name, but he is very important to you, and when you were a small child, he was falsely imprisoned and kept from you.

There is a motion ready to see him officially cleared of all charges and to clear his name under the law.

If you do know who this is, and you know how important he can be to you, take heart that he’ll soon be able to stand by your side and offer you support.

Take heart.

You do have friends.

 

The short letter wasn’t signed, but the information rocked him to his soul.  Sirius was getting a trial.

That must be the news he had hinted at in his last letter.

For the first time since the announcement of the Champions, Harry felt lighter in spirit.  Ron was being a prat, and Hermione was spreading herself thin trying to keep the peace, but someone took the time to send him some good news when he needed it.

When he was called to come into the Castle for the Weighing of The Wands—or whatever that was—Harry felt marginally better.

 

*********************************************

 

“Do you know what the First Task is, Severus?” Draco asked one evening after dinner.  It was a habit of his to visit with his godfather in the evenings to go over schoolwork and any other concerns the boy might have had.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Severus replied, “but the whole point is to show education, talent, bravery, and cunning.  I expect the tasks will be somewhat dangerous, as there have been serious injuries and deaths in the past.”

Draco scowled.  “I’ve notice Hagrid looking a bit shifty lately.  Well, more so than usual.  I saw him whispering to Harry after class today.  I think he’s going to tell Harry what he’s in for, but I’m not sure how.”

Severus smirked.  “Any help the boy can get at this point is good.  I fear that he’s in way over his head.”

“Have you heard about the trial?”  Draco glanced at Severus to gauge his reaction.

Severus winced slightly before schooling his expression.  “Your mother has contacted me with the information that the Wizengamot has found in favor of Sirius Black.  It will be reported in newspapers all over Europe tomorrow.  However, I doubt that the Daily Prophet will report this, as it seems to be more concerned with the Tournament and the ‘Youngest Champion’.  Rita Skeeter seems to be set on hyperbolizing young Potter’s woes thoroughly.”

 

*******************************************

 

Dear Harry—

You probably will not hear about this, because of the reporting being done about you and the Triwizard Tournament.

Sirius Black has been legally vindicated.

He has been proven innocent.

In the enclosed article from  The Informed Magical, a newspaper in Spain, France, and Portugal, Bartemius Crouch Senior had placed Sirius Black, Heir to the Noble and Ancient House Of Black, in Azkaban Prison without a trial, under suspicion only of the murder of thirteen muggles in a public venue.  Proof was given that Peter Pettigrew faked his own death by killing the muggles and framed Black in his stead.  Testimony was given of Pettigrew’s guilt and proof that he is in fact still alive.

Aurors are looking for him now.

Black’s title has been re-instated.  It may take a while, but he’ll be once again recognized as a Peer of the Realm.

I imagine he’ll want to tell you all of this himself, but I felt you could use some good news now that you have the First Task to look forward to.

A Friend

 

Harry read the letter and gave a deep sigh.  This was good news.  Very good.

After finding out about the dragons, Harry could use some good news.  And now he knew why Sirius hadn’t written in a while.  Harry wished he had someone he could share the news with.  Ron still wasn’t talking to him.  Hermione still was trying to make Ron see sense.  His whole House still thought Harry had somehow managed to sneak his name into the Goblet.  He was being considered both a hero and a villain.  He was glad to have a friend.

 

Chapter 8: Handling The Truth

 

“I really don’t know how to take this.  On one hand, he seems like a decent guy; shy a bit, sense of fair play.  Then there’s the whole ‘cheating to get into the Tournament’ thing.”

 

Draco looked closely at his new friend as they walked along the grounds outside of the castle, and he sighed.  Oh, well, he might as well try to set a few things straight.

“You don’t seriously think he did that by himself, do you Cedric?” Draco asked.  “He’s not a scholastic slouch, but he’s no magical powerhouse either.”

“What do you mean?” Cedric asked, confused.

Draco huffed impatiently.  “You didn’t see how scared he was when his name popped out of the Goblet.  I did.  Theo and I were watching the Gryffindor table, trying to see the Weasleys’ reactions, and everyone over there was talking about how lucky they were to have you as Champion.  Everyone including Potter.  They know you from Quidditch, so they know you’re a straight player.  Then the Goblet snapped and popped and flared up again, and out shot that name, and Potter went dead pale.”

“It could have been shock that the trick actually worked,” Cedric hedged.  “I know Fred and George probably would have been shocked if their trick had worked as well.”

“I don’t think so,” denied Draco.  “I had a chat with my god-father about that.  The Goblet of Fire is like Excalibur; a highly sophisticated magical object that is impervious to intent, or some such.  It means that only someone really powerful could make it think there were supposed to be four contestants instead of three.  And honestly, Potter isn’t that powerful.  Snape and I figure that whoever did this, they didn’t do it for a good reason.”

“Why do you figure, then?”

“I told you about my father and his connections to the Dark Lord,” Draco said, reminding Cedric of his personal vow to change his ways.  “Potter supposedly vanquished the Dark Lord way back when, and I think maybe someone is trying to get back at him in some sort of sick revenge.  There have been major injuries in past Tri-wizard Tournaments, even deaths, so it’s not hard to imagine that at his young age, with not even four years worth of magical training, he’ll get hurt a bit.  Maybe killed.  Snape said Potter tried to get out of it, tried to back out altogether, but Dumbledore wouldn’t allow it.  He said something about magical contracts and laws and that the only way Potter could back out would be to cancel the entire thing.  And there’s a lot of money and prestige involved here, and Fudge and the ministry can’t allow themselves to be seen as backing out now, what with everything else going on.”

“What else is going on?” Cedric asked, interested.

Draco reached into his school bag and drew out his copy of The Informed Magical and the article about Sirius Black and the disgrace of the British Ministry of Magic.

“That’s why Bartemius Crouch isn’t a judge anymore,” Draco told the older boy.  “He’s being held for misconduct.  Fudge is being questioned in regards to the old trials, and Azkaban is under review to see if there are other prisoners that were imprisoned without trials.  I think Potter should be pitied rather than scorned.  I don’t think he wanted to be in this at all, and he’s not prepared for it.  There were age restrictions for a reason.’

Cedric looked thoughtful for a long moment.  “He did warn me about the dragons in the first task.  That was thoughtful and rather brave, considering we’re competing against each other.”

“Dragons!  Seriously?”  Draco was stunned.  “Are those people insane?”

“They did warn us that the Tournament would be dangerous.  Dragons are dangerous.”

“Yeah,” said Draco faintly, “and if they’re starting with that one, how much worse is it going to get?”

“You’re right, Draco, maybe Potter is to be pitied.  Maybe I’ll offer to go over spell work with him.  I do have more training than he does, and we do have Hogwarts pride to think about.  So,” Cedric said, to change the subject, “who are you taking to the Yule Ball?  There’s plenty of time to find a great date.”

Draco’s mouth twisted as if he’d bitten into something bitter.  “I know who I’m not taking.  Parkinson has been hounding me again, and I feel I might retch all over her at any given point.”

“Not into Parkinson?” Cedric asked wryly.

“Not into females, period.  Parkinson just repels me for other reasons.  The fact that her family is dark as pitch doesn’t help.”

Cedric shrugged.  “So take Heidi Macavoy.  She’s not into anyone here at Hogwarts, and her boyfriend can’t be here because his family is having a huge reunion in Australia.  I bet she’d look great in dress robes, too.  And you can talk Quidditch when you aren’t dancing.”

Draco nodded thoughtfully.  “That’s true.  It would drive Parkinson mad if I asked her, and I actually like Heidi.  Also, it’s good that she has a boyfriend and won’t be getting any ideas about me.  I’ll ask her after dinner.”

“Good, I’ll let her know to wait for you in the Great Hall so she doesn’t wander off.  She needs a chance to get all girly sometimes.”

“Who are you going to ask?”

Cedric coughed.  “I was thinking about Cho Chang.”

“She’s very attractive,” Draco agreed.

Cedric laughed.  “She’s one heck of a Seeker, too.”

 

********************************************

 

Dear Harry,

I just found out about the Dragon task.

I think the people in charge of this Tournament must be insane.

I also think you must be really nervous.  I want you to know that I support you.

I know that these anonymous letters may be frustrating for you, but I do want to be your friend.  This is the best way I know how to do that at the moment. 

However, if you want to write back to me, use this owl for replies, as your own owl is very distinctive and I’d not want anyone to notice her flying to me.  This owl is Irving.  Odd name, I know, but he was a gift from my Grandfather, and that man is very odd himself.

 

I do know some things you should be made aware of.  They involve Sirius Black.  They may be hard to hear, but honestly you should know about him before you meet him.  I have no doubts that he shall arrive to witness the First Task, as you should be very important to him.

If you decide to trust me, reply to this letter.

If not, it won’t matter.  I’ll still be your friend.

Honestly Yours,

A Friend

 

Harry folded the letter and put it in his pocket and looked around the Common Room.  Spotting his target, he made his way carefully across the room.  People were still treating him with suspicion.  He tried not to bring attention to himself as he sat gingerly in the chair near his usual squishy sofa.   He leaned forward a bit, so as not to be overheard.

 

“Hermione, may I speak with you privately for a moment?”

Hermione looked up, startled.  “Of course, Harry.  Here, or somewhere else?”

Harry looked around the common room and grimaced.  “It’s really private.  Do we have time to go to the library?”

Hermione cast a quick Tempus charm and said, “We have a little bit of time.  Let’s take homework so it won’t look odd.”

Harry nodded absently.  “Yeah, okay.  Just so you know, I really don’t need your help with homework.  I finished that Transfiguration essay yesterday, and I just finished my Potions essay.”

Hermione looked at Harry with narrowed eyes.  “Do you want me to look at them?”

“I don’t want to take advantage,” Harry declined. “I just need some advice, about something private.  Not even about the Tournament.  But Ron’s being a prat, and I don’t want him to overhear.”

“Alright, let’s go.”

 

The duo walked down the stairs and through the corridors to the library.  Madame Pince glanced at them when they entered and gestured toward a large time-glass on the counter.  They had an hour before they would have to leave.  They made their way to a back table, far from any other studying students, and sat close to each other so they could talk quietly.

“What’s going on, Harry?” Hermione asked anxiously.  “I’m so sorry that I’ve been distant lately.  I just don’t want to upset Ron any farther.”

Harry scowled at her.  “So you just pull away from me when I need a friend?  Because in case you didn’t notice, I have a lot of stress now.”

Hermione looked close to tears and she lowered her head.  “I’m so sorry.  I don’t know what to do, Harry.  Ron’s got a horrible temper, and the two of you were my only friends, and you’re so much more understanding.”

“I’m not, though, Hermione,” Harry scoffed.  “I don’t understand why my name came out of the Goblet.  I don’t understand how Ron can claim to be my friend one minute and be totally hostile the next.  I don’t understand how you can claim to support me when you’ve basically pulled away from me to keep Ron from getting angry at you as well.  None of this is my fault, and none of it is fair.”

“I’ve really mucked this up, haven’t I?” Hermione sobbed.  “What can I do to make it up?”

“You can try to actually be a friend.  I need some advice, and even though you’ve been a sorry friend lately, you’re still the most level-headed person I know.”

“Okay,” Hermione sniffed and composed herself.  “Tell me what has been going on, besides the obvious.”

 

Harry reached into his pocket and withdrew three well-read letters.  He passed them over to Hermione and began to explain about them.  “I got the first one the day after the Goblet of Fire ceremony.  The second came a couple of days later.  The last one came today, at breakfast.  Hedwig isn’t pitching a fit about them, so she doesn’t mind that a strange owl is giving me mail instead of her.  This person claims to want to be a friend.  I’ll be honest here, it sounds really good.  He or she sent the news article about Sirius like they know who Sirius really is.  But they don’t know that I’ve met him or know him.  And they seem to know some things that Sirius hasn’t told me.  And maybe I could meet this person, but why have they kept their identity secret?”

Hermione didn’t even look up from reading one of the letters.  “Well, they could be a Hufflepuff and don’t want to be seen supporting you instead of Cedric Diggory.  And you and I could have known about Sirius’ trial if we’d gotten subscriptions to other magical newspapers.  I’m sure Sirius was going to tell you.  He was probably planning to visit and tell you in person, as a surprise.  I should look into news subscriptions, because obviously the Daily Prophet is biased toward our Ministry and isn’t giving whole information.”

Harry pulled the letter from Hermione’s hand.  “Focus, Hermione.  Should I write back?  Should I offer to meet?”

“Well, you should definitely write back.  That way, you can tell them that you want the information they seem to have, and you can tell them that you want to be friends.  As for meeting, maybe you should find out how they know about Sirius first.  Maybe this person could be trying to get under your skin, to throw you off your game before the first task.  Did you actually find out what that was?  Because that would be cheating.”

Harry sat back and crossed his arms defensively.  “If Hagrid telling me is cheating, then the other Headmasters were cheating as well, because Hagrid told Madame Maxime, and Master Karkaroff was sneaking around there as well.  The only thing I could figure to do that was even remotely fair was to tell Cedric, so he would know as well.”

Hermione’s eyes widened.  “Oh, yes, well I suppose that if everyone else was cheating, that was the only fair thing to do.  What is the Task?  Is it horrible?”

Harry wiped a hand over his eyes and moaned softly.  “It’s dragons.  Big, scary, ugly, not-at-all-Norbert dragons.  I think for once, all of the Champions are on the same page:  We’re scared spitless.”

Hermione reached to hold Harry’s hand.  “What are you going to do?”

“No idea,” Harry sighed.  “I thought I’d consult some friends, get some advice, pray really hard.  You know, the usual.”

Hermione offered a small smile.  “Well, here’s some advice from me, your friend:  Write back to your anonymous pal and tell them you would like the information they have.  Do it now so we can go visit Irving in the Owlry before curfew, since Hedwig doesn’t seem to mind.  Then get some good sleep tonight and try not to dream about dragons.  Since you have your assignments finished, I’ll look them over while you write the letter.  Might as well make myself useful.”

Harry smiled and handed Hermione his essays, then he pulled out parchment and a self-inking quill and started to write.

 

Dear Friend,

Thanks for sending me the article about Sirius Black.  I have decided to take subscriptions with other Wizarding newspapers, so that I may become informed about the Wizarding World outside of Britain.

Also, thank you for sending me letters at all.  With everything happening this year, I have felt alone and in need of a friend.  If you have seen me at all, then you know that the person who was supposed to be my best friend has pulled away from me.  My other best friend just had to be reminded that Ron wasn’t the only one who needed her.  So, yeah, I’m glad to have you, whoever you are.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m a bit doubtful.  I don’t know you.  I don’t know your motivations.  So, I would like to hear the information you say that you have for me, but I’d like to wait a while before meeting.  Allow me time to consider your information and the possible motives for it.

But please don’t think I’m not grateful, because I am.  Very much so.

Your Soon-to-be Friend,

Harry

 

After Hermione read and approved the letter, the two hurried along the path to the Owlry to deliver the letter to Irving, and to give pettings and treats to Hedwig, just because.  Then they quickly made their way back to Gryffindor Tower before their time was up.  Ron barely looked their way as they entered through the Portrait passage, and Harry bid Hermione good-night and went up to bed.

 

*********************************************

 

Draco was getting ready for bed when his Barn Owl flew into his dorm room through a secret window.  Draco had never questioned the placement of the window, but Severus seemed to think it would be important that Draco could receive mail from his mother and Grandfather at odd hours of the day.  This was the first time Draco had received a letter from a non-family member, and he was cautious as he read it.  It wouldn’t do for some people to find out that he was corresponding with Potter.

Satisfied that he understood the meaning of the missive, Draco finished dressing for bed and fed Irving owl treats while he thought about his reply.  He knew that ideally Potter should receive the reply at the morning mail delivery, but he could write it now and keep Irving with him in the dorm.  He amended that after seeing the way the owl was eying the secret window.

“Go on, now, and hunt or whatever.  Come back here early, before breakfast, because I’ll have another letter or two for you.”

The bird flew away unseen by Draco’s dorm-mates, and Draco commenced to writing.  This letter would take lots of thought and tact.  Draco was often long on thought and short on tact, but he knew a possible friendship hinged on this letter.   If Potter was ever to fully trust him, he had to believe that Draco meant no harm.

As per his usual habit, he began his letter with:

 

Read this Alone

 

*******************************************************

 

Harry sat in History Of Magic ignoring Hermione’s hints that he should take notes.  He had received another letter at breakfast, and it was rather thick.  He figured that if he allowed her to read it when he was finished, she’d let him copy her notes.  Of course, she’d let him copy anyway, but he’d be fair to her because she really was trying to be his friend while Ron was being a royal prat.  He carefully opened the parchment envelope and held the letter under his desk so that it couldn’t be seen.  Ron tried hard not to look interested, and Hermione glanced his way with a question in her eyes.  Harry met her gaze and showed her the envelope, knowing she would recognize the handwriting.  She nodded and he began to read.

 

 

Dear Harry,

Please know that I understand your point about meeting in person.  I too am nervous about meeting.  I fear that I am no one that you would want to know.

That being said, I have some necessary but possibly unwelcome truths that you should know.  I mean no malice in this, but as it all came as a shock to me, I know it will come as a shock to you.  I know that Sirius Black, who has been publicly proclaimed innocent, will want to meet you, especially since you have found yourself entered as Champion in the Tournament.  It has been made public record that he is your god-father, although since you don’t really read the most reputable news sources, you may not know this.

This is kind of a big deal.

He could offer to house you as his kin, so you wouldn’t have to go back to the muggles who raised you.

He could make you his heir, if he doesn’t want to have children of his own, which would make you heir to two Ancient and Noble houses.

He could offer to personally instruct you in magic away from the school.

But you should not just decide to trust him because of this.  People have many facets, as you should know by now with your friendships with Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger.  Sirius Black was accused of betraying your parents, but was also accused of murder.  The trial transcripts, which are also listed in several papers, show that the main accusation was for the murder of Peter Pettigrew and the residual killing of thirteen muggles in a street explosion.  There was secured testimony that Pettigrew is in fact alive, and methods have been put in place to locate him.  Pettigrew was the one that caused the explosion that killed the muggles.

I’m telling you this so that you know that Sirius Black, the man, was innocent.  But people don’t always change for the better, and Sirius Black, the Hogwarts Student, was not a nice person.   Trust me in this, I know and understand cruelty, and for reasons I do not understand, Sirius Black was a particularly cruel child, especially to certain people.

He bullied, he teased, and he tormented, but because his main target was a person you have no love for, you might not see this as a problem.  As I have said, I cannot explain why this behavior existed.

I do know that Sirius Black came from an Ancient and Noble house, but his side of that family was famously dark.  His mother, paternal uncles, and brother were all supporters of the Dark Lord ‘V’.  For whatever reason, Sirius turned his back on the Purist Movement and the Dark Lord, and for that reason alone his grandfather Arcturus Black 3rd never removed him from the family will, and Sirius was able to inherit the title and fortune that belongs to the House of Black.

Maybe it’s because he was raised in a Dark family that he was a cruel child.  Maybe he couldn’t escape that history.

I know you’ll have a chance to ask him, because if I were him, I’d not be able to stay away as you compete in the Tri-wizard Tournament.  He missed your whole life, so he won’t want to miss this.

If you want answers, more detailed answers, seek out Severus Snape.  I know you don’t get along with him.  I know he’s done you no favors up to this point.   But he knows Sirius Black from childhood.  His memories may be biased, but he will tell the truth if you ask for it.  Afterwards, talk to Sirius and compare notes.  I think you should know as much about the ones who want to care for you as possible.

Yours Always,

A Friend

 

Well, that wasn’t ominous at all.  And Snape?  Seriously?  Why should he trust anything that man had to say?

But then, there were a lot of things Harry didn’t know.  Professor McGonagall always had a bit of a sour look on her face when his father was mentioned.  Harry had to face the fact that maybe anything he knew now might be severely white-washed.  If he had to talk to Snape to get even a hint, it might be worth a thought or two.

Maybe.

After he survived the First Task, if he survived it.

Or maybe he’d let Hermione read this letter and get her take on it.

And now, Harry was really curious about his unknown friend and how they knew all of this.  They said they were someone Harry might not want to know.  What did that mean?  Who did that mean?  Right now, Harry was almost wishing that he didn’t know Ron, and Fred and George were still teasing him a lot.  Maybe the teasing would stop after the First Task.  Or, if he failed, maybe it would worse.  Harry barely stopped himself from banging his head on the desk.

He took out a piece of parchment and started writing before he changed his mind.

 

Dear Friend,

You have given me a lot to think about.

I think I need to meet you, now, or soon.  Before the weekend.  I need my head on straight for the First Task, and you have raised more questions for me.

I need to know how you know these things.  Besides from the newspapers.

I’ll leave my wand with Hermione if you promise to leave yours behind as well, and we can meet after dinner.  I’m sure we can find an empty classroom.

Harry

 

                        *****************************************************

 

At dinner, Harry was not surprised to see Irving arrive with a letter, even though there was rarely mail delivery during the evening meal.  As he was sitting beside Hermione, they read the note together.

 

Harry,

Have Hermione and Susan Bones act as ‘wand holders’ for us, and we can meet in the second classroom in the Charms corridor.  I’ll come alone; no tricks.

I promise.

 

Hermione stood from the table and crossed to the Hufflepuff table to speak with Susan.  Susan looked bemused, but she agreed to the meeting.

Harry looked around the Great Hall, trying to see if anyone was closely watching him, and then he nodded definitively.  That was as good as he could give, as Irving had flown off after delivering the note and stealing a chicken wing.  Harry and Hermione finished their dinner slowly, so as not to rouse suspicion, and they met Susan at the door.

 

“I’ll tell you what; you two go into the classroom after Harry surrenders his wand to you, and I’ll wait in the hall to take mystery guy’s wand before we enter.  That way, there is no awkwardness with people deciding whether or not to hex each other.”

Hermione smiled at her friend.  “That sounds good, thanks Susan.”

“Not a problem, Hermione,” Susan replied with a smirk.  “I have a feeling this is going to be a learning experience.”

“Do you know who this is?” Hermione asked in surprise.

“Oh, I don’t know, but I have a suspect in mind.  I think maybe you do, as well.”

 

Hermione puzzled this over as they walked up the stairs to the Charms hall.  By the time they arrived at the classroom, Hermione remembered the odd conversation on the Hogwarts Express, and the hex intervention after Care of Magical Creatures.  She almost smirked at Harry when he handed over his wand, but she didn’t want him to think she was hiding things from him.

She wasn’t, really.  She and Susan may suspect who was writing to Harry, but until he arrived they didn’t know for sure.

So she took Harry’s wand, and they sat to wait.

 

Chapter 9:  Handling The Truth Part Two

 

Harry and Hermione had been in the empty classroom for only a few minutes when Susan’s voice carried into the room, telling someone to ‘wait just a moment’.  Then she popped her head in.

“Okay, he’s here.  Have you handed over your wand?  Because I have his.”  She waved a wand in her left hand and Hermione showed the two she was holding.

“Okay,” Susan said with a grin, “then do you mind if I stick around in here?  I have a feeling this is going to be interesting.”

Harry shrugged.  “If it’s okay with him, I guess so.  You aren’t going to gang up on me, are you?”

“No, but I think I can learn some things here about tolerance and getting along with people.  I want to see if you learn it, too.”  Susan turned back to the hallway and opened the door further.  “Okay, come on in.”

 

Susan walked into the classroom proper, followed closely by Draco Malfoy.  Harry shot to his feet, reaching for a wand he no longer held.

“No way!!  This is not happening!  What kind of trick is this?”

“It’s not a trick, Potter,” Draco said with a sigh.  “Go, on, and open the window.  I can prove it.”

 

Hermione shrugged and opened the classroom window.  A large brown Barn Owl flew inside and landed on Draco’s shoulder.

“Hello, Irving.  Thanks for coming.”  Draco stroked the bird’s wings, and Irving nudged at Draco’s chin, and then flew over to land on Harry’s shoulder.  “I told the truth about him, too.  Irving was a gift from my maternal grandfather, so we can correspond without my father knowing.”

Harry gaped at the blond even as he absently stroked Irving’s soft chest feathers.  “Why did you write to me?  Why tell me all of those things?”

Draco shrugged.  “I guess my attitude underwent a long change after the Quidditch World Cup.  If you think you were scared there, imagine the impact on me—knowing that my father was probably one of the people torturing those muggles?  I thought I was raised to be a better man, a better wizard, and a better aristocrat than all of that—than all of you.  But in reality, my father wanted me to be groomed to be a follower of the Dark Lord.  He’s really planning for the return of the Dark Lord.  And he really hates you.  And you’re just a kid, like me.  I don’t want to be a slave to a sick psychopath.  I don’t want to kill or torture people.  Way back before we started school, I met you in Madame Malkins clothing store, all I wanted was to be your friend.  That worked out spectacularly.  I guess, I figured I’d try again.  Offer an olive branch, now that horrible stuff is happening to both of us.”

 

Hermione placed her hand on Harry’s arm, to calm him down.  “Harry, Draco sent me a note to meet him on the Hogwart’s Express on the way to school.  I didn’t trust him, so I asked Susan to go with me.  He apologized to me, for calling me those horrible names.  He explained his attitude change.  Then, he stopped Goyle from hexing me after Care class.  I wasn’t paying attention.  You weren’t paying attention.  Draco didn’t have to do anything, but he did.  And look what thanks that got him: Moody turned him into a ferret and bounced him around like a toy.  And after all of that, he took the time to send you letters of encouragement because you got entered into a Tournament you didn’t want to join.  Give him a chance and hear him out.”

“Alright,” Harry conceded. “I’ll hear him tell me about how cruel Sirius was in school.  How do you know about that, Malfoy?”

Draco sighed.  Way to start with the hard questions.

“Can we sit?  Because this is a long story, and it’s not entirely mine to tell.  So I can only tell you what I over-heard.  Since my mother was involved, I know that the conversation wasn’t made up to fool me or anything.”

 

The four students sat in a circle around a long table in front of the classroom, Harry facing Draco with Hermione and Susan on either side.  Harry figured that since he had experience with his cousin, he’d be able to tell by watching if Draco was lying.  He did notice that the girls kept the wands well out of sight.  Finally, Draco seemed to be ready to speak.

 

“Okay, this whole thing starts after the World Cup, so I will get to the Sirius Black situation, but you have to understand how I got to where I was when I learned all about it.”

“Fair enough,” Harry nodded.  “It’s early enough that we won’t be out after hours.”

Draco sighed.  “Right, so the World Cup scared the life out of me.  What I saw, what we all saw, was nothing I wanted a part of.  And I knew I couldn’t go to my father about it, because he was there and was probably wearing one of those masks, and I wasn’t sure if I could go to my mother.  She wasn’t there that night, because she was ill all day and left right after the game.  So I wrote to the only adult I thought I could trust: My godfather, Severus Snape.”

Harry snorted.

Draco rolled his eyes.  “Look, I know he’s no fan of yours—and I can tell you why, but you’d best get that from him instead—but he’s always been there for me when my father was distant.  It turns out that he’s my mother’s friend from school, not my father’s.  So I wrote to him that I had some hard questions that I wanted answered before term started.  And he took time from preparations to host me and answer things he probably didn’t want to think about.  Like the fact that my father was—and probably still is—a Death-Eater.  Like the fact that he is a former Death-Eater.  He called my mother to his home to help me out, and I learned how much she went through to keep me from my father’s influence.  She pointed out to my godfather that his behavior lately—like in the last four years—is very different from when they were younger, especially toward you.  Did you know that he was your mother’s best friend when they were very young children, before they came to Hogwarts?”

Harry gaped at Draco.  “You have got to be kidding me!  There is no way that my mother’s best friend would treat me the way he does.”

Draco huffed.  “I think that has more to do with your father than your mother.  Severus told me that your father and Sirius Black would bully and torture him when they were kids.  They’d gang up on him, and your mother was Severus’ only ally.  She’d stick by him, and she even went so far as to avoid your father totally because of how he treated Severus.  Then, one day they took it too far, and Severus said something unforgivable to your mother out of frustration, and it ruined their friendship.  He still mourns that.

“What I overheard him tell my mother, when they asked me to leave the room and make tea, was that Sirius Black tried very hard to kill Severus.”

“What?!?”

“You’re kidding!”

“Holy Cow!”

All three students erupted at once.  Harry jumped away from the table and began pacing furiously around the room.  Hermione sat, dumbfounded, her mouth gaping like a fish.  Susan kept glancing between the two of them.  Certain that Harry was too furious to speak, Hermione asked, “Do you know how he tried to kill Professor Snape?”

Draco shrugged.  “From what I managed to over-hear, He tried to trap Severus in an enclosed space with a transformed werewolf.  My mother, who is Sirius’ cousin, tried to insist that Sirius never really meant to kill Severus.  But then Severus said that was possibly worse, because then he was being set up to be turned, and then the werewolf would be blamed for attacking an innocent person, and Sirius would walk free.”  Draco trailed off when he noticed the twin stricken looks that Harry and Hermione wore.  “I take it from the looks on your faces, you might know who this werewolf was?”

Hermione nodded.  “Yes, Professor Lupin, who taught DADA last year, is a werewolf and was a close friend of Harry’s father James and Sirius Black, along with Peter Pettigrew.  But to use such a good friend as Professor Lupin to attack Professor Snape, it just doesn’t make sense.”

“Cruelty amongst children often doesn’t make sense,” Draco said confidently.  “Look at how I treated you all, just because my father told me you weren’t worth my time or energy.  I bought into it all, and I’m all the worse for it.  Severus told me how he was raised: poor, abusive and drunk father, absent mother.  Your mother, Potter, was his only friend.  They studied together.  They played together.  Severus knew that your mother’s sister was hateful of magic, and he was solace to your mother as well.  But when they got to Hogwarts, they were separated into different Houses, and could only spend time in classes or the library.  He was still poor, and Slytherin House was as mistrusted then as it is now, if not worse, and the wealthier students picked at him.  He said he could ignore it when he could spend time with his friend, but some students were worse than others.  I’m guessing Sirius was one of those.”

Harry finally stopped pacing.  “But, if he had managed to get Snape bitten, Remus would have gotten the blame, not Sirius.  Why would he do that?”

“Well, if he’s coming here for the First Task, ask him.  If Severus made it all up, then you’ll have the truth and I’ll have to eat crow.  But Severus was upset by a lot of things that day, and my mother had to send for special healers to de-spell him and de-contaminate his body from excessive potions–and not potions he used himself. He was drugged and spelled, for a long time.  Compulsions stuff, to make him act a right prat to certain people.  And I trust you won’t spread that about the school.”

“No, of course not,” Hermione said quickly.  “Susan, are you still of the opinion that Draco is being truthful and honest?”

“Oh, Hermione, if you aren’t sure by now, then whatever I say isn’t going to convince you.  I think Draco is being very forthcoming.  And I believe him about everything, but it’s not me he has to convince.”

Harry nodded and sat down across from Draco.  “Okay, I believe you.  Last year, when I first met Sirius, he was pretty awful about Snape.  He really acted like he hated him, but he never had a good reason for it.  Just said Snape was Dark.”

Draco shrugged carelessly.  “Well, Severus was extremely gray.  After he lost his friendship with your mother, he went looking for other acceptance and found my father and the Dark Lord.  He is a former Death-Eater; he admitted it to me.  And he told me how he was turned off by it when he learned that the Dark Lord wanted to kill your parents.  Again, it’s not my story to tell, but I’m sure he wouldn’t lie about it if it were important.  He seemed really angry that he was being compulsed to hate you, because of his friendship with your mother.”

Harry looked at Hermione and smirked sadly.  “Great, another stress for me.  First I’m in that Tournament somehow.  Then, Ron’s a prat because I’m in the Tournament.  Then I’ve got to face a dragon in only two days—with only my wand to help me.  And now, my god-father, who just regained his freedom from false imprisonment, might be a sociopath.”

Harry banged his head against the table three times, before Draco reached out to stop him.

“Don’t damage yourself too much, Potter.  I can’t take away all of your stress, but I’m confident that you can beat that dragon.”

Harry looked up at him doubtfully.  “And how exactly am I supposed to do that?”

Draco rolled his eyes.  “Potter, I’ve seen you fly.  I’ve flown against you on the Pitch.  You can totally out-fly a large, ungainly dragon.”

“Uh-huh, and that helps how?”

Draco nodded toward Hermione and said, “You can have your wand, right?  Well, what’s to stop you from using your wand to summon your broom?  Then you have your best tool at your side.”

Hermione brightened immediately.  “Draco!  That’s fabulous!  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”

“Yeah,” interrupted Harry, “but Hermione, I don’t do the Summoning Charm very well.  We’ve only just begun to study it in Charms class.”

“I’ve been doing it for two years, Potter,” said Draco confidently.  “I’ll help you.  I bet we can get permission from our Heads of House to study after hours.  We’ll have you up to par in time for the First Task.”

“Really?” said Harry, surprised.  “I would have thought you’d be supporting Cedric Diggory.  You have been spending time with him lately.”

“Yeah, I have,” acknowledged Draco.  “And I do support him.  But you’re a Hogwarts Champion, too.  I talked with Cedric about this, and he’s good with me supporting you both.  It’s all about Hogwarts Pride, you know.  I’ve been taking my mother’s advice and finding a better sort of friend.  I’ve been cultivating friendships with Diggory and Heidi Macavoy from Hufflepuff, Zabini and Knott from Slytherin, Davies and Boot from Ravenclaw, and the Weasley Twins.  I’d like very much to add the occupants of this room to the list.  I want to surround myself with quality people, high quality people.  I don’t need to be dragged down by my father anymore.  Look, Potter, I need good friends, and you need good friends.  The more, the merrier, right?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry conceded.  “I know I need someone to keep that horrible reporter from me, that’s for certain.  And I’ll need support in getting straight answers from Sirius when I see him.  And, yes, extra study help would be great.  And I have a feeling you won’t flake out on me like Ron did.”

Draco wrinkled his nose.  “No, I won’t.  Now, let’s use Irving to send messages to Severus and McGonagall and get permission to practice spells after hours.  We can’t allow that dragon to get the better of you.”

“Oh, boy, “said Susan breathlessly, “I’m really glad I was allowed to stay.  This is better than those Witch Weekly romance and intrigue stories!”

 

******************************************************

 

Permission to train was given, and the foursome found themselves joined by the Weasley Twins.  Harry half-expected Ron to join, but George (or was it Fred?) informed them that Ron said that paying attention to Harry would only feed his ego.   Fred (or was it George?) seemed confused by that because Harry didn’t have much of an ego, unless it came to his flying, and then it was well-deserved.  Harry was one heck of a flier, and he was hoping that talent would help him win the First Task, or at least survive it.  Fred and George had had loads of success and experience with the Summoning Charm and they thought it would be great fun to help their new friend teach their old friend how to perform it.  As it turned out, Hermione was not very good either, and she took the learning experience for what it was to her—a way to improve her grades.

By the time they left their appropriated classroom on that Friday night, everyone in the group was able to summon books, pillows, and occasionally each other, from across the room.  They asked Professor McGonagall to escort them outside of the Castle so they could practice at a larger range, since Harry would be shooting for distance to retrieve his Broom from the Quidditch locker room, far away from the enchanted stadium set up for the First Task.  Once they had proven that they could all perform the spell successfully, Professor McGonagall suggested that perhaps inter-House study sessions would be beneficial to all classes and not just Charms.  Harry almost felt bad for not telling her the real reason for the study sessions.  But then again, he wasn’t supposed to know about the First Task just yet.  And since the Twins never asked the ‘why’ question, they didn’t know either.  They just wanted an excuse to impart mischief after hours legitimately.  Thanks to Fred and George, Susan could now both Summon and Repel actual people at long distances.  Since she had complained about unwanted attention from a Sixth Year boy in Hufflepuff (not Cedric, but Draco would be sure to tell him about it), this talent would serve her well.  Hermione was happy to have helped Harry a bit, since she was at a loss about how to do so, and happy about completing the Charm, but she was sad that Ron still seemed to think Harry had planned this whole debacle to gain more attention.

While they practiced and practiced the Summoning Charm, Draco informed them all about his (and Severus’), suspicion that someone wanting to harm Harry had placed his name in the Goblet.  This disturbed Hermione, but Harry didn’t seem too surprised.  When Susan asked about how Harry could be so casual about it all, Harry took time to tell everyone the story of the Philosopher’s Stone, and Professor Quirrell’s possession by Voldemort (Harry was still the only one there who could say the name with no cringing) and his subsequent death when the man grabbed his arm.  He also explained why he had to stay at his relative’s house over breaks, because of a Blood Charm protecting him through his mother’s sister.

Draco’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  “This is the same sister that hates all magic and all magical people?”

Harry snorted.  “Well, yes, since my mother only had one sister.  And yeah, she hates me, but she allows me to live there.  She knows about the protection on the house, so it’s to her benefit as well.  I’m sure if any Death-Eaters came for me there, her family would be in danger as well.  She’s cruel but not stupid.  Well, not about that, anyway.”

And that’s when Fred and George chimed in with the “Rescue Harry from the Barred Room” story.

“Potter,” said Draco lowly, “you do realize that you’re being abused in that house, right?”

Harry stared at his shoe, not making any eye contact.  “It’s not ideal, but it’s all I have.”

“That’s not right,” Draco implored.  “You need to get out of there.  They’ll kill you if the Death-Eaters don’t.  I mean, really, you’re way too much underweight.  They lock you in a small room, so you’re deprived of daylight.  They force you to act like a house-elf and work for your keep.  I bet there is money going to them for your upkeep, and you aren’t getting any benefit from it.”

Harry’s eyes shot up to meet Draco’s.  “Why do you think that?  All I ever hear about is how much it costs them to keep me.”

“Harry, the Potter family was very prominent and wealthy.  I looked it up with my Grandfather, because I could never understand why you always looked like a pauper.”

Harry slowly shook his head.  “I have a small account a Gringott’s Bank, but that’s for school.”

 

Draco looked at Harry carefully.  The dark-haired boy didn’t look like an idiot.  Could he really not know?  “Harry, once the First Task is over, and after you’ve spoken to Black, I’d like to get you together with my grandfather.  I think you need to learn all about your family, and the Histories of Ancient and Noble Wizarding Families is his favorite hobby.  I’d almost put large amounts of Galleons on a bet that your family is being paid somehow to care for you, and that they’re cheating whatever system is paying them.”

Hermione looked thoughtful.  “Draco, could your grandfather tell me why such an advanced society as ours still uses slaves?”

Draco gaped at her.  “Slaves?  Wizards don’t use slaves, Granger.”

“What about House-elves?”

Draco snorted indelicately.  “Oh, I’m not getting into all that with you now.  Let me write to him, and explain that there is much ignorance amongst my new friends, and maybe I can persuade him to help you all understand the Wizarding world a bit better.”

Susan perked up.  “Can I come, too?  I’d love to learn the history of the Bones family.  Most of my relatives were killed in the last Dark War.”

 

On that depressing note, the group broke up to return to their dorms.  Hermione and Harry were tense with anticipation of the Tournament the next day.  The Twins were quietly contemplating the oh-so very serious discussions they had taken part in over the last two nights.  They were now convinced that Draco Malfoy meant everything he had told them on the Hogwarts Express and in the carriage on the ride to the school.  And if he was serious about leaving behind his father’s Dark life, he was going to possibly need body-guards.  Smart body-guards, not like the two over-large and under-developed lackeys he used to hang around.  Fred and George were sure they were up to the task.

 

*************************************************

 

The morning of the First Task was over-cast and breezy.  The thrumming in the Great Hall was excited and anticipatory.  Hogwarts students chatted loudly over their breakfasts, and were making plans to sit with their friends in the stadium.  Many students wore buttons that proclaimed “Potter Stinks”, which were Pansy Parkinson’s brainstorm.  Cedric Diggory sneered at each one he saw.  He showed an apologetic face to Harry, and Harry understood that Cedric neither approved nor endorsed the badges.  Harry had no appetite that morning, but resolutely sipped his pumpkin juice, absently listening to Hermione talk about who-knows-what.  Just as he was preparing to leave the table for some blessed silence, Irving landed on the table in front of him.  Hermione stopped talking, and Harry reached for the note as he fed bacon to the owl.

“Irving has some white feathers on his wing,” said Hermione pensively.  “It looks like he’s spending time with Hedwig.”

“Well,” said Harry guiltily, “as I haven’t seen her as often as I should, I’m glad she has friendly company.  I think I’ll spend some time with her after this whole deal is over.  I do miss her.”

 

Dear Harry,

My grandfather has agreed to meet with you sometime next week.  He said you should have time to gather your thoughts and recover from the First Task before he submerges you in long family history.

I have also spoken to God-father about what we talked about.  He was annoyed that I mentioned it to you, but not angry, and he’s agreed to tell you anything you want to know about that situation.  Preferably this afternoon, after the First Task.  Sirius should be here by then and you’ll want his point of view as well.

I’ll grab Zabini and Knott, and we’ll sit as close to Hermione as possible to view your endeavors.  You have my support.

A Friend

 

“Well,” said Hermione as she finished reading over Harry’s shoulder, “he’s consistent, that’s for sure.  Of course, signing a letter that could be spied upon at this table is not a good idea.  I’ll ask Susan to sit with me, so his presence won’t look odd.”

“Good idea,” agreed Harry.  “Keep a look-out for Sirius as well.  If I’m going to be speaking with Professor Snape, I’d like him to be with me.  The Champions are gathering.  I should go.  Wish me luck?”

“Of course, Harry.  Good luck, but I don’t think you’ll need it.  I have confidence in your ability here.  All of that training we did was not for nothing.”

Hermione gave him a quick hug, and then Harry went to meet the other Champions by the Front Entrance.

Neither student noticed a large beetle flying over the Gryffindor Table at that moment.

 

Chapter 10: Handling The Truth, Part Three

 

The crowd of students walked briskly to the stadium, all hoping to get excellent seats.  Draco, Theo, and Blaise were joined by Heidi Macavoy and Roger Davies, and they chose seats behind Hermione and Susan.  Ron Weasley was sitting with them, much to Draco’s annoyance, so Draco could not speak to Hermione without causing a scene.  Susan looked back at him in sympathy before turning her attention to the Task Field.

Ludo Bagman, the official announcer of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, was calling attention to the First Task, and the first contestant.  After explaining that each Champion had to avoid the “obstacle” and retrieve the Golden Egg to complete the Task, Bagman introduced Cedric Diggory as the first contestant.  Draco and his friends cheered loudly, drawing scowls from Ron Weasley.

Cedric’s obstacle was a large silvery-blue Swedish Short-Snout.  It waved its huge leathery wings in agitation and spit blue flames in Cedric’s direction as the boy cautiously approached.  The build-up was almost agonizing; everyone was tense while Cedric tried to locate the Golden Egg, and then it became apparent that he finally did.  He turned to his side and waved his wand at a large rock, Transfiguring it into a large dog, then set it loose toward the dragon.  Girls all around Draco squealed in dismay as they instantly forgot that the animal was just a rock.  Once the dragon was sufficiently distracted, Cedric made a run for it, making for a grab at the Egg.  As he had it in hand and turned to run for the exit, the dragon lost interest in the ‘dog’ and fired hot, blue flames at Cedric, burning him badly along his arm and back.  Cedric was caught at the exit and carried to the Med-tent for treatment while Ludo Bagman extolled his triumph in the Task.

The Swedish Short-Snout was corralled by Dragon Handlers, and the nest was cleared away for the next Champion.  A Welsh Green and her nest were placed in the enclosure, and Bagman announced Fleur DeLacour as the next contestant.   Her approach was very different from Cedric’s; she simply cast a Sleeping Charm at the dragon, and when it drifted off, she quietly stalked to the nest and grabbed the Golden Egg.  Unfortunately, as she was walking away, the dragon gave a sleepy snort and caught Fleur’s skirt on fire.  The startled girl quickly summoned a spout of water from her wand, and hurried to the exit.  She was the quickest, so far, but there were only two contestants left.  Draco was anxious to see how Harry performed, but he would have to wait a while longer.

After the Welsh Green was taken out of the enclosure, still sleeping and quite peaceful, a bright red, spiked dragon was brought into the enclosure.  It had smooth scales and bulging eyes, and looked very angry.  Draco hoped that Harry wouldn’t have to face this monster, and was relieved that Victor Krum was announced as the Champion for the Chinese Fireball.  It immediately began spouting mushroom shaped flame-balls, clearly irritated at being in front of so many people.  Victor paused, clearly thinking about what to do.  Since Krum was a renowned Quidditch player, Draco half expected him to summon a broom like they had convinced Harry to do.  Instead Victor raised his wand and shot a Conjunctivitis Curse at the dragon, which served only to irritate it further.  The dragon stomped and danced around the nest, crushing several of its own eggs before Victor ran in to grab the Golden Egg and the dragon was subdued by the Handlers.

After that bit of excitement, the crowd had a bit of a breather while the Dragon Handlers cleared the angry and injured dragon and her remaining eggs from the enclosure.  The dragons kept getting larger as the Task progressed, and Draco wondered which breed Harry would have to face and how big it would be.  Draco was confident that Harry would be successful in retrieving his Egg, but he worried about possible injuries.  As he waited for the last Champion to take his place, movement to his left attracted his attention.  Looking over, Draco noticed a rather gaunt, dark-haired man moving to sit between Hermione and Ron Weasley.  He heard Hermione squeal softly as she greeted the man.

“Sirius!  I was wondering if you’d make it in time!”

“I got here in time to see the DeLacour girl go,” the man rasped, “but I was too far away to get a good seat for Harry.  He didn’t go first, did he?”

“No, he’s last.  So you’ll be in time to see him.  We’ve worked hard on his technique for this, so I’m excited to see how he does.”

Ron looked questioningly at her as Sirius asked, “Who worked with him?”

Hermione leaned closer to the man and whispered, “Just a few new friends.  Things have been tense lately with Ron, and I don’t know how he’ll react to the fact that his own brothers, and Draco Malfoy, were helping Harry when Ron himself was acting like Harry was an attention-seeking idiot and stopped being Harry’s friend.”

“Harry deserves better than that,” Sirius whispered back.  “Draco Malfoy, huh?  That a new thing?”

“Very new,” Hermione agreed, “but it’s good, though.”

Sirius Black looked around him, then spotted Draco and friends sitting one row behind.  He nodded in acknowledgment and Draco nodded back.  Draco knew from letters that Sirius had been growing closer to Draco’s mother and grandfather during the legal proceedings, so he figured Sirius would know that Draco was pulling away from Lucius’ influence.

A large, horrible dragon was brought into the enclosure; it was black with bronze horns and a bronze-spiked tail and huge yellow eyes.  Draco recognized this one from his research; the Hungarian Horn-tail—considered to be one of the most dangerous breeds.  It figured, with Harry’s luck.  Draco could only hope that Harry held his composure.

Harry entered the enclosure after he was announced, and he immediately raised his wand and shouted “Accio Firebolt!”

And then he waited.

And waited.

And finally a loud screeching filled the air as the broom hurtled through the air from the direction of the Forbidden Forest, and stopped dead in front of Harry, waiting to be mounted.  Voices around Draco rose, and the excitement grew in the crowd.  All of the students were aware of how well Harry could fly from watching the Quidditch games.

Harry mounted the broom and shot high into the air.  He circled the enclosure for a bit before diving close to the dragon.  The dragon lunged at him, but he moved quickly away.  Harry dove again, and the dragon spit a long burst of fire at him, which he managed to dodge, but he got no closer to the Egg.  Harry made another pass, and dodged another flame, but the spiked tail swung around and clipped the boy’s shoulder.  Draco groaned in sympathy as Harry made a higher pass over the dragon, trying to goad it into leaving the nest.

After flying around a bit more, Harry finally ‘convinced’ the dragon to chase after him.  Once it gave chase, Harry dove quickly toward the nest.  He was a blur as he grabbed the Egg and flew toward the exit before the dragon noticed what he was doing.  The crowd erupted in cheers and Bagman began shouting about Harry’s cleverness on the broom.

Hermione turned around and beamed at Draco, thrilled that their coaching was successful.  Draco smiled broadly back at her.  Ron scowled at the both of them.  Sirius turned and finally spoke to Draco.

“Cousin, it’s good to meet you, officially.”  Sirius nodded his head in acknowledgment.

“It’s good to meet you as well, cousin,” Draco said, returning the nod.  “My mother has told me much about you.  As has my grandfather.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

“You helped Harry with that?”  Sirius gestured toward the enclosure, where handlers were clearing away the Horn-tail.

Draco shrugged, as if to play down any effort he made.  “Several of us had a few study sessions, and the Summoning Charm was something we worked on.”

 

There was no way Draco was going to let on that he and Hermione knew ahead of time about the dragons.  Nor was he going to indicate that he gave Harry the idea of flying in the Task.  Draco didn’t need to impress this man with his own cleverness.  Draco only wanted to be close to Harry.  If Sirius Black was going to be a close influence over Harry, then Draco would have to show how much he cared and not brag about his own accomplishments.

 

Finally, Harry and the rest of the Champions were led to the center of the now empty enclosure to receive their scores.  The five judges were Dumbledore, Madame Maxime, Master Karkaroff, Ludo Bagman, and someone who looked like Percy Weasley.  Draco raised an eyebrow at Hermione, and she explained, “Percy works for the Ministry.  He’s standing in as judge since Bartemius Crouch is out.”

Sirius growled at the mention of Crouch, and Draco smiled at him in a supportive way.

 

Most of the judges’ scores seemed fair, but Karkaroff gave Harry an extremely low score after he refused to penalize Krum for the destruction of the dragon eggs.  He appeared agitated that Harry chose to fly, and Krum did not.  Harry gamely shook hands with the other Champions, showing fair play and sportsmanship in the face of such unfair judging.  Krum looked pleased with Harry’s reaction.

Finally, the students were free to leave and enjoy the rest of their day.  Hermione stood and took Sirius’ hand, pulling him toward Harry.  Ron tagged along behind, looking hopeful that he could work his way back into Harry’s good graces.  Draco and his crew followed along, but they were heading toward Cedric.  The older boy was all smiles as his friends approached him.

“Great job on the Transfiguration, Cedric!” Heidi shouted as she threw her arms around her fellow Hufflepuff.

“Thanks Heidi.  I was so scared.”

Draco smirked.  “I’d have been more worried if you weren’t scared.  Those beasts were horrible, and we were way back in the bleachers.  You were up close and personal.”

 

They chatted for a bit, until Ludo Bagman called the Champions back into the prep tent for further instructions.   As Harry left, Draco heard Hermione tell him, “We’ll be waiting here for you, so you can go to your appointment.”  Draco wandered over to them after he bid his friends good-bye.  He stood next to Sirius, preparing to announce his presence when Ron spoke harshly to him.

“What are you doing here, Ferret?  You aren’t wanted.”

Draco’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at the attack.  “I’m going to speak with my cousin for a bit, not that it’s any of your business.”

“Who?” Ron scoffed.  “Sirius?  He knew us first, so I doubt he’ll be interested in talking to you.”

Sirius looked upset at the outburst.  “Actually, Ron, Draco’s family was responsible for my trial and freedom.  His mother and I are cousins and we were very close as children.  I was looking forward to getting to know Draco.”

“Why do you want to know him?” Ron sneered.  “He’s nothing but the son of a Death-Eater.  I bet he’ll be getting his mark before long.”

Hermione gasped in shock and dismay.  “Ron, I think you’d better go back to the Castle now!”

“Why?  I want to talk to Harry.”

Hermione took a deep breath to calm herself.  “I’m not sure Harry wants to talk to you right now.  And he has someplace to be very soon.  You can talk to him in the Common Room.  But you should leave now, because you’ve upset Sirius.”

Ron looked at Sirius, really looked, and noticed that the man was getting angry.  “It’s probably Malfoy that’s upsetting him.”

“No, Ron,” Sirius growled, “it’s you that’s upset me.  Your attitude right now is very bad, and it reminds me a bit too much of a former friend of mine.”

“Fine!  I’ll leave!”  Ron spun and pointed his finger angrily at Draco.  “But this isn’t over, Ferret.  You’re too Dark to belong here, you’ll see.”

Ron stormed off in a huff, and Hermione looked apologetic.

Sirius held out a hand to her to stall her coming words.  “Don’t, Hermione.  Don’t apologize for Ron’s behavior.  It won’t matter coming from you.  You can’t apologize for someone else because it’s meaningless.  Harry wrote to me about how Ron treated him after he was announced as Champion.  I just figured there was a minor bit of jealousy involved and they’d move past it.”

Hermione shook her head sadly.  “Ron just seems to get worse.  When we were helping Harry learn the Summoning Charm, Fred and George Weasley came to help, but they said Ron told them that helping Harry would only feed his ego.  Like Harry ever had an ego to feed.  He’s been down-trodden since First Year, because of his family, and he was so grateful to have real friends.  And now one of his friends has turned from him because of jealousy.  It’s so stupid!”

Before Sirius could move, Draco draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a hug.  “Harry’s lucky to have such a smart friend,” Draco said softly.  “Ron doesn’t know what he’s missing, but I have a feeling he will soon.  We’re much better quality of friends for Harry.”

Hermione hugged back, and gave Draco a kiss on the cheek.  “You’re right.  We are so much better for Harry.  So, Sirius, how have you been since your trial?”

 

The three stood chatting for a few minutes, until Harry came out of the prep tent and joined them.

“That was very uninformative, let me tell you,” he said, tossing his golden egg from hand to hand.  “At least I have until February to figure this thing out.  Where’s Ron?”

“He left,” Hermione said in a clipped tone.  “I’m sure he will have some choice things to say to you later, but I promise to be there to cushion the confrontation.”

“Um, okay, thanks Hermione.  Well, I have someplace to be right about now.”  Harry turned to his god-father.  “Sirius, I’d like you to come with me, because I have questions that you can help answer.”

“Of course,” Sirius said, concerned.  “Anything wrong, Harry?”

“Possibly.  But I’m sure we can work it out.  But I’m going to warn you, you aren’t going to like this.  And it’s going to be confrontational.  But I deserve answers, and I want the whole truth.”

Harry asked Hermione to take his Golden Egg back to the Gryffindor Common Room and to keep it safe, and then he turned and led Sirius away from the stadium.

They walked as they talked, Draco trailing along behind them, and Sirius looked mildly confused as they entered the Castle and went toward the dungeon.

“What kind of answers are you looking for, Harry?” Sirius asked, intrigued.

“I want to know more about you, and my father.  I’ve recently learned a few things, and I’d like some clarification.”

Sirius smirked.  “I’m always happy to talk about your father.  He was my best friend.”

“Yes,” Harry said quickly, “so you’ve said.  And Professor Lupin, too, right?  All very close friends all through school.”

“Yes,” Sirius replied with a sad smile.  “Unfortunately, there was also Peter Pettigrew, the little rat.  They were like family to me.”

“Its funny how family can mean one thing to some people,” Harry said sadly, “and something different to others.  For instance, my family is horrible.  Draco’s family is only half-decent.  Ron’s family is wonderful, but he doesn’t appreciate them.”

 

They arrived in the dungeon, near the Potions classroom and labs, and Draco knocked on a non-descript door further down the hall from the classroom.  The door was opened by Severus Snape, who frowned when he saw who was waiting in the hall.

“Black.” Severus sneered.

Sirius sneered in return. “Snivellous.”  He turned to face his god-son.  “Harry, what is going on?”

“Stop it, Sirius,” Harry said, scowling.  “I told you, I want answers.  I think I deserve them, and I can get them here.  May we come in, Professor?”

Severus opened the door fully and stood back to allow them entry.  As he closed the door behind his visitors, he closed his eyes in desperate prayer.

 

********************************************

 

Severus got his three visitors settled in his sitting-room before he turned to Harry.

“I understand you have questions.  I shall endeavor to answer to your satisfaction.”

Sirius laughed darkly.  “That’ll be the day.  You never ‘endeavor’ to do anything to anyone’s satisfaction.”

Harry looked very crossly at his newly-vindicated god-father.  “Sirius, you’re here because I have questions for the both of you.  But first, Sir, I would like to know what you can tell me about my mother.  Draco told me you were her friend.”

Sirius scoffed and snorted, but Harry and Severus both ignored him.  Severus sighed and sat back into his chair.

“I grew up in a very poor neighborhood near your mother’s family.  There was a common park, and we met there as children during our Primary School days.  I attended the same muggle school as Lily and Petunia, as my father was a muggle.  He was a drunk and a gambler, and he was mostly unemployed, and the friendship your mother offered me took me out of the house and gave me a sense of freedom.  I first noticed her when we were around eight-years-old.  She was in the park, crying and hiding because she had performed accidental magic and feared her family would hate her.  By the time I convinced her to return home, Minerva McGonagall had visited her parents and informed them of the Magical world.  Lily’s fears were mostly unfounded.  Her parents were thrilled that their daughter could be part of something so wonderful, but Petunia hated the fact that she had no magic.  Her jealousy grew into hatred as the years passed, and Lily and I learned to depend on each other for support.

“We were so looking forward to attending Hogwarts together.  It was one place my father could not touch me and Petunia could not harass Lily.  My mother worked in an Apothecary in Diagon Alley, and she secretly bought both of us copies of ‘Hogwarts, A History” so we could learn about the school we would attend in our Eleventh Year.  We would meet in the park and read passages to each other.  Once we were here, however, we were sorted into different Houses, and could not spend all of our hours together as before.  We settled for studying together in the library or out on the grounds when weather permitted.”

“You were abused as a child?”  Harry frowned in concern.

Severus grimaced.  “My father had a habit of either gambling away his meager earnings or drinking them, and he hated the fact that my mother refused to use her magic to better his life.  She gave up a possible career as a Potions Mistress to work for the Apothecary when they married, and having me also meant that she could not easily return to that craft.  My father resented her for it, and took much of his anger out on me.  The beatings began in earnest when I began to show definite Magical ability, around age five or so.  He had been out of work due to a work accident when I was three-years-old, and it was under his care that I spent most of my days.  Going to school was solace to me, and I studied a lot to keep up grades so that I could leave my father behind.”

“You knew that Aunt Petunia wouldn’t want me, didn’t you?” Harry asked softly.

Severus snarled.  “When I found out where you were placed, I was furious.  I went to the house, but was repelled by the wards Dumbledore placed.  I resolved to do my best by you to honor my friendship with your mother.”

“Well, that part didn’t work out, did it?” Harry scoffed.

Again, Severus gave a heavy sigh.  He glanced warily at Sirius Black, mentally weighing how much to reveal to the boy.  He was certain that the man would make his life miserable, but Harry truly deserved to know.

“I recently discovered that I had been nefariously potioned and hexed, probably from the beginning of my employment as Potions Master here at the school.  A Compulsion Charm, as well as a few other hexes, were placed on me to cause me to hate certain people.  You were the main target, apparently, but Gryffindor House as a whole was a central target.  When you were away from the school and distanced from me, I would be filled with concern for your welfare.  But when I would approach the Dursley’s home, to see if I could visit with you, I would feel strong antipathy toward you.  I sought help in dis-spelling the curses and hexes before school began this term, and began to take care with the food and drink that I ingested.  I have covered myself with Magical Shields, to prevent such curses from landing again.  When I saw you on the night of the Welcome Feast, the only thing I felt was longing and regret that I allowed you to be mistreated—and that I mistreated you myself.”

Harry nodded.  It certainly wasn’t the oddest thing he ever heard.  “Draco also told me that you lost the friendship with my mother during school.”

Severus shot a malice-filled glare at Sirius, and carefully considered his answer.  There was every indication that the boy would refuse to listen to anything disparaging of his god-father.

“I was unkempt and a bit slovenly as a new student here.  I was placed in Slytherin House because the Sorting Hat could sense that I wanted to better myself and leave my father behind.  That sorting could have been seen by some to indicate a certain darkness about me.  I was intelligent, a trait I shared with Lily, and I had a unique talent with Potions—also the same as Lily.  Rumors spread that I studied Dark Magic at home, before school, and I had much pride so I did not refute the rumors.  A few of the wealthier students took it upon themselves to harass and bully me, almost as a sport.  James Potter was one such person.  He and his merry band of followers would haunt me between classes, tossing spells and jinxes at me as some sort of practice for inventing hexes.  Lily would always take my side, and she would spend a great deal of time with me, so my Gryffindor tormentors wouldn’t try too hard to harm me.

“Still, the torment was a bit much.  I made a few friends in the other Houses, mainly because of my intelligence and study habits.  You may be surprised to know that I still have many of those friendships.  Narcissa Black was one such friend.  She knew how close I was to Lily, and she understood the restraint I held in not returning the hexes sent my way by Lily’s friends.  But James Potter grew emotionally interested in Lily, and when he decided to ‘show off’ for her in a barbaric courting display, I was often the target.  He never understood that as her surrogate brother, she would always side with me.”

Severus heaved a sad sigh.  “In our Fifth year, during our OWL exams, the stress was particularly high.  I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings as I left the castle for the fresh air near the Black Lake, and I was quickly cornered by Potter and his cronies.  They cast a nasty little jinx my way, in order to embarrass me in front of as many people as they could, in order to amuse themselves, and my ire grew.  Lily rushed to my defense, once again, but in my frustration I lashed out at her.  I broke her heart.  She turned to James Potter after that, and she and I were never again close.  It was that break that led me down a very Dark path, and I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Sirius scoffed.  “Oh, please, you were always Dark!  Dark as pitch, and Lily was too good for her own good and she never saw how bad you were!”

Harry stood. “Shut up, Sirius!”  He turned to Snape.  “Can you prove it?  That last part, at least?  Can you prove that my father caused you to ruin your friendship with my mother?”

“I can.  Have you ever used a Pensieve?”

“No, sir.  What is it?”

“It is a devise used to magically view memories.  Mainly it is used for personal reflection, as a tool for meditation, but the Wizengamot also uses a Pensieve to view memories as part of testimony in trials.  I have one.  I’ll allow you to view my memory of that day.”

“Like that’s not going to be biased,” Sirius huffed.

“You can always show your own memory of the day in question, if you’re so concerned that I won’t be giving Potter the truth.”

“Maybe I will,” Sirius huffed.

 

Severus went into another room and returned after a moment with a large stone bowl covered in runes and filled with a milky, smoky substance.  He placed it on a low table, then raised his wand to his own forehead and whispered a spell.  A thin, silvery thread attached to the wand, and Severus drew the wand and thread away from his head and placed it in the bowl.  The silvery thread mixed with the smoke, floating to the top of the bowl, then dancing around.

“All you have to do is lean into the Pensieve, and you’ll be able to ride along with my memory-self during that event.  It will seem like viewing a television program.”

“Can Draco come, as well?”

“I, um, I suppose so.”  Severus seemed disconcerted at the request.

Draco gave a small smile of understanding.  “Don’t worry, God-father.  I won’t hold anything I see against you.  And you already told me about what happened.”

Harry looked at Sirius.  “Are you coming as well?”

“I don’t think I need to see it again to be reminded of how much of a prat he was in school.”

“Alright,” Harry shrugged.  “But you were invited, don’t forget that.”

 

Harry stood beside Draco, and they both leaned into the Pensieve….

And they were transported to the Great Hall, filled with desks and students furiously writing in examination books.  Draco looked around carefully, and then nodded to the left of the room.  Harry focused on a younger-looking Severus Snape, who was gathering his papers and handing in his exam book.  Harry also saw his father—remembered from the Mirror of Erised—and Sirius Black, also much younger.  He started to follow these two people until Draco nudged him to remind him why they were there.

YoungSeverus had gathered his notes and quills into a bag, and was walking swiftly toward the front entrance of the castle.  He was involved in reading what might have been notes from the test he had just finished, and several people moved out of his way as he wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking.  Once on the grounds, YoungSeverus headed toward the Black Lake, still nose-to-parchment with his notes, and Harry and Draco followed.  Suddenly, from behind them, they heard a loud “Levicorpus!”, and YoungSeverus was lifted and flipped upside-down in front of what appeared to be half of the student population of Hogwarts.  His dark robes drifted down over his head, and his graying shorts were exposed for all to see.  He struggled to cover himself, but it was almost impossible from being upside-down.

Harry could see the anger and frustration building in a boy who was only a year older than Harry was now.  He heard voices and laughter, and turned to see his father, Sirius and Peter Pettigrew laughing and joking about the quickly-reddening boy in front of them.  Remus Lupin was there as well, looking uncomfortable but doing nothing to stop it.  An angry red-haired girl stomped up to James Potter and demanded that he release Severus, and Harry realized that must be his mother.  She was beautiful, and had the most amazing bright green eyes.  James backed away from the ire of the red-head and reluctantly released the hex as YoungSirius explained that they were just having a post-exam laugh and that ‘Snivellous’ deserved it because he was a prat.

YoungSeverus straightened his robes and gathered his fallen things.  He stood quickly and yelled that he needed no assistance from a ‘Jumped-up Mudblood’.  They could all see the devastation roll across Lily’s face.  YoungSeverus’ face grew even redder in humiliation, and he ran away toward the castle.  Harry was grim-faced as he withdrew from the memory.  He gathered his composure, and without looking at Sirius he addressed Severus.

“Please, Sir, Draco also mentioned that Sirius tried to have you killed while in school.  When was that, and could I perhaps see that memory as well?”

 

Sirius sputtered in dismay as Severus replaced the first memory into his head, then withdrew another silvery thread and placed it into the Pensieve.

“This was during Sixth year, one year after the memory you just viewed.  I was trying to repair my relationship with Lily, and was certain that James was up to something evil.  I thought I had an inside track on uncovering the ‘something’, because I overheard Black here talking about a secret meeting.  I was set to follow to gather the information, all the while not knowing that Black was setting me up.  I do understand your need to see this, but I would not wish this pain upon anyone.”

“Thank you, Sir.  Would you mind if Draco came along here as well?   I could use a friend here.”

“Oh, I’m going, too,” announced Sirius.  “I don’t trust this man not to twist anything to his favor.”

“That is fine, Sirius,” said Harry calmly.  “I expect I’ll have questions for you after this anyway.”

 

This time, there were four viewers leaning into the Pensieve….

…and appearing just outside of the Castle, on the path to the Whomping Willow.

YoungSeverus was not even trying to be stealthy, rushing across the school grounds to find whatever nefarious action he had imagined going on this evening.  Harry looked up and made note of the bright, full moon.  When they reached the Whomping Willow, somewhere Harry was quite familiar with, YoungSirius stepped out of the shadows.

“What are you doing here, Snivellous?”

YoungSeverus drew himself up to stand against his tormentor.  “You and Potter are up to something.  I know it, but Dumbledore won’t hear anything about it.  I’m here to get proof.”

“Well, then, allow me to show you.  It’s right in here…”  YoungSirius used a broken tree branch to press the knot that stopped the Willow from Whomping, and a dark passage was revealed.  Everyone could hear growling and snarling from the passage, and it grew louder as it grew closer.

“Go on, Snivellous,” YoungSirius taunted.  “In there’s what you want.  Don’t let me stop you.”

YoungSeverus made to enter the passage when a crashing from behind them all made them turn around.  James Potter was running toward them, followed closely by Albus Dumbledore.  Briefly Harry was amused by how much the Headmaster looked the same, before James’ words sank in.

“What the hell are you doing, Sirius?  What is Severus doing here?”

YoungSirius shrugged carelessly.  “Snivellous wanted to know what we get up to every month.  I was just giving him what he wanted.”

“Have you lost your mind?” YoungJames seemed to boggle at his friend.  “He could be killed!”

“No great loss, if you ask me,” YoungSirius growled.  “One less Dark Wizard.”

Dumbledore re-activated the Whomping Willow and pulled YoungSeverus away from the closed passage.

“Please come with me, Severus.  I’ll explain everything to you back in my office.”

They moved away from James and YoungSirius still arguing, and the memory faded.

 

Shaking and panting in anger, Harry threw himself into a chair and lowered his head into his hands.  “How could you be so horrible, Sirius?  You told me how great my father was, how great you all were.  You lied!  That wasn’t great!  I have to think that if my cousin Dudley could do magic, he’d have done all of that to me!”

Sirius was visibly shaken at Harry’s words.  “Harry, we were kids.  It was all harmless pranks.”

Harry’s eyes bugged out as he glared at his godfather.  “Harmless!?!?  That wasn’t harmless!  You bullied him in front of the whole school!  He could have been killed!”

“He was nothing to us, Harry,” Sirius entreated, hands held out in front of him.  “We didn’t know any better.  James was so into your mother that he would do stuff just to get her attention, never mind that it was bad attention.  Snape was beneath us socially and was an easy target.  And really, I wouldn’t have let him get hurt badly.”

Harry scowled.  “So it never occurred to you that your best mate, Remus, would have taken the blame if Snape had gotten bitten?  That you would have been blameless, but Remus could have gone to jail, or been executed?”

 

Sirius looked positively stricken.  But Harry continued, standing.  “And you did it because you thought he was beneath you?  That he didn’t matter?  Well, congratulations, Sirius, how very Dark Wizard of you.   Because, let me tell you, someone who thinks I don’t matter, that I’m  beneath the social norm, entered my name into the Goblet of Fire, possibly hoping to get me killed!  Just like you did.  And as for you just ‘being kids’, well, I’m almost as old now as you were then, and I certainly don’t feel like a ‘kid’ right now!”

Harry took a deep breath and turned toward Severus.  “Thanks for answering my questions, Sir.  I reckon I have a lot to think about just now, so I’ll be going back to my dormitory.  At your convenience, I’d like to talk to you more about my mother, if it’s not a problem.”

Severus was almost stricken numb with shock at Harry’s defense of him.  “It will be no problem.  Draco, please walk back to Gryffindor Tower with Mr. Potter.”

The two boys left Severus’ chambers and walked in silence across the length of the castle.  When they reached the Portrait of the Pink Lady, Draco made to take his leave.

Harry reached out and grabbed Draco’s arm.  “Draco?  Thanks, for everything.  You were right, there were things I didn’t want to know, but I needed to know them.  And thanks for being a friend.”

Draco smiled at Harry.  “I kind of know all about that sort of betrayal.   And I do care about you.  We’ll talk later.  And we’ll study together often, I promise!  Go study that damned Egg and get your head together.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll talk to Hermione,” Harry said, then he moaned in distress.  “Ah, crap!!  I forgot that Ron wants to make nice again.  I really can’t handle this right now.”

Draco smirked.  “Buck up, Potter.  You’re stronger than you know.”

 

 

Chapter 11:  Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

 

When Harry left with Draco and Sirius to head to the dungeons, Hermione went back into the castle to get some studying done.  She gathered her books and bag, and set out for the library, and was so intent on planning her Charms essay that she nearly missed the giggles directed toward her along the way.  Once she entered the library, the reason for the giggling became apparent:  the latest ‘Early, Special Edition’ of the Daily Prophet was spread along several tables in front of the library.  Hermione had ceased her subscription to the paper, since she figured it to be no better than a supermarket tabloid recently, but she figured this edition would give report to the First Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament that was held this just a short while ago—very fast, if not particularly accurate, so she lifted a copy to take to her usual study table.  And there, on the front page, was the cause of the giggles:

Secret Under-age Romance for Tri-Wizard Champion—by Rita Skeeter

The short but lurid article was filled with tripe about how ‘Muggle-born Brain-Child’ Hermione Granger was leading young Harry Potter down a garden path of vague promises of true love while consorting with “other wizards”.  Hermione noticed that the “other wizards” were not named, but her “consorting” was widely reported—and detailed!  Hermione huffed in great annoyance and strode to the section of the library that housed legal texts.  She was almost certain that there were Wizarding laws about libel and slander, just like in the muggle world, and when she found out how they worked, she would make Skeeter pay!

 

Hermione was elbow deep in quills, parchment, and texts when the Weasley Twins and their perpetual pal, Lee Jordan, found her, still fuming and muttering under her breath.  Seeing possible amusement, they approached her table.

 

“Hermione Granger, what….”

“Has you in such a tragic state?”

“Surely no mere essay….”

“Is worth all this bad language?”

Hermione looked up at her visitors.  “Have you seen the Prophet?”

“It’s out already? We…”

“Had no idea.  What’s so bad…”

“In that rag?”

 

“Rag is right,” Hermione snarled.  “Look at this mess!  I hate to think how Harry is going to react to this.  I can’t believe this paper has gotten this bad.  I stopped taking it during Sirius’ plight, since all the real news was found in other papers.”

The twins carefully took the mangled paper from Hermione’s hands and read the torrid story, eyes growing wider and wider with each word.

“Well, they’ve painted you….

“In a very poor light.  What did you…”

“Ever do to that reporter?”

 

“I’ve never met the woman!” Hermione choked.  “And I don’t appreciate being referred to as a harlot!  I’m fifteen-years-old!  I’ve never even held hands with a boy!”

 

The teen-aged boys chuckled at her ire, but sobered when she leveled a glare at them.  “This is almost as bad as the Harry Chronicles that the Prophet puts out in the summertime.  I’ve never been so glad that Harry can’t receive the paper at his Aunt’s home!”

 

The Twins looked confused.  “What are the Harry Chronicles?”

 

Hermione looked stunned at the question.  “Surely you’ve seen them?  Every week when school is out of session, there’s a story about the ‘real life’ of the Boy-who-lived.  As told by ‘someone who was there’.  Like any true friend of Harry’s would tell those stories to anyone.  And I know the truth about much of it, and those stories are totally blown out of proportion!”

 

“Hermione, our mum thinks the Prophet….”

“Is a useless piece of parchment.  She won’t allow….”

“A tiny piece of it in the Burrow at all.”

 

Hermione frowned.  “How do you get your news, then?”

 

“Through the Wizarding World Wireless radio.”

“It’s excellent news from all over the Wizarding World….”

“Not just in Great Britain.  And they have….”

“Informed debates when a story is in question.  Oddly….”

“There is hardly ever a report of Harry Potter at all….”

“In the summer or during school terms.”

“Maybe you should show us.”

 

Hermione’s eyes narrowed in concentration.  “Is there someplace we can be alone—well with not as many people around, at any rate?”

Lee thought a bit, and then responded.  “Our dorm room should be empty right now.  The two other sixth-years were outside the greenhouses when we passed them.  Let’s go there.  Since my father is a reporter for the WWW, I don’t much read the Prophet either.”

 

Hermione gathered her notes, filled with information about Wizarding Libel laws and how to sue a negligent reporter, and the foursome walked back to Gryffindor Tower.

Once in the Common Room, Hermione paused at the foot of the stairs and said, “Wait for me here while I gather the papers, and we can go to your room.  Of course, this will probably just add to my horrible reputation.”

“Hermione, anyone who really knows you….”

“Won’t believe all of that dung.  And if they ask us….”

“We’ll send them to Angelina and Alicia to get settled.”

 

Hermione sighed in relief.  “Thanks, guys.  I’ll be right back.”

 

Just as Hermione strode up the stairs to the Girls dormitory, Ron Weasley walked over to his brothers.  “What’s going on, guys?  What are you doing with Hermione?”

“Some extra studying, Ronnikins.”

“You want to join us?”

 

Ron’s face screwed up in distaste.  “Yuck!  I’d rather try to enjoy the rest of the day.  I’m waiting for Harry.  Have you seen him?”

 

“We rather thought that Harry….”

“Was too much of an egotist for you these days.  Why….”

“Are you waiting for him?”

 

Ron tucked his hands into his trouser pockets and shrugged.  “I figure it’s time we got an apology out of the way and got back to being best mates.  Not too soon, either, since Malfoy the Ferret was waiting for him after the Task today.   He tried to get real cozy with Harry’s god-father, too.  Harry needs to get back in with the people who can do him the most good.”

 

“And you think that would be you, is that right little brother?”

 

“I’ve been his friend since first year.  We belong as friends.”

 

“Well, Ronald, then I hope you finally have your attitude adjusted.”  Hermione bounded back into the Common Room with her book bag in hand.   “Because your current attitude is incredibly poor.”  Turning to the older boys, she asked, “Are you ready to go over these papers?”

 

“Absolutely, Hermione.  Follow us please.”

 

Fred (or maybe George) led the way up the spiral staircase to the Sixth-year dorm, and opened the door, yelling “Lady Present!”  in case there were any wayward fellows about unclothed.  They had the room to themselves, and George (or possibly Fred) sat on his bed and reached for Hermione’s bag.

 

“Okay, let us see….”

“What all the fuss is about here.”

 

Hermione bit her lip briefly before handing over her bag. “I only clipped the stories and dates of publication.  They’re written by Rita Skeeter, and they read like a soap-opera or teen drama.  Oh, you’ve never heard of those.  Anyway, they started around the end of June after our first year, and they appeared once a week for five weeks until almost the end of August.  She calls the series of stories ‘Portrait of The-Boy-Who-Lived’.  It’s just sickening.  They start with descriptions of how Harry floundered in the Wizarding World after being raised by muggles.  It’s pathetic how she exploits Harry here.  Then, at the end of the first summer, before school started, she starts talking about what happened when Harry went after the Philosopher’s Stone, and there are almost accurate details—like someone overheard us talking on the train back to London.

“The second series begins with Harry’s ill-fated trip to school and the crash with the Whomping Willow.  Oh, and how horrible Harry was treated at his relative’s home between school terms.  There’s loads about how Harry flounders in classes, which is so untrue because Harry is basically a good student.  The third series is all about Harry and the Chamber of Secrets, and that whole mess with Gilderoy Lockhart.  It’s the shortest series so far, but then we had the World Cup to deal with and the Death-Eater attack, so maybe the paper was busy.  It’s so harsh and exploitative, all of it.  And it’s supposedly all reported to Skeeter by ‘a close friend of the Boy-Who-Lived’.  Like that’s likely, because all of Harry’s friends know how much he hates that name.”

 

As Hermione spoke, all three boys spread the clippings between them and read avidly, passing them back and forth.  By the time their discard pile was finished, Lee Jordan was depressed and the Weasley Twins looked outright furious.

“What?” Hermione asked, troubled.  “What is that look for?  I know these stories are horrible; that’s why I never showed them to Harry.  I mean, he has a right to know about them, and I’m sure someone will mention them, but I worry about how he’ll take it.  He has a lot of stress right now, and I really don’t want to add to it.”

 

“Hermione, we don’t exactly know how to say this….”

“But there is one person who could have done this thing….”

“Because he mentions things here that only George and I are aware of.”

“And somehow, he got a load of spending money every year….”

“For doing errands for neighbors across the village.”

 

Hermione gasped in shock.  “You don’t think Ron did this?  Seriously?”

 

“Hermione, Ron’s never volunteered to help the neighbors, ever.”

“And he’d never tell us who he was running errands for.”

“And the only people who ‘rescued’ Harry from that barred window were me….”

“And me, and Ron.”

 

Hermione was horrified.  “But why would he do this?  Why would he sell sensational stories to a rag of a news paper?”

 

“Well, he’s always going on about how much money Harry seems to have.”

“And how popular and famous Harry is.”

“Mum always says how polite Harry is, because he’s so shy around her.”

“And Dad is always talking about how much fun it is to talk to Harry about muggle things.”

“And Ginny practically moons over Harry all the time….”

“Like he’s her personal hero.”

 

Hermione wrinkled her nose.  “And Ron’s been acting so jealous since Harry’s name popped out of the Goblet of Fire.  Oh, Heavens…Harry’s going to have kittens when he finds out!”

 

“Well, then,” said Lee, speaking for the first time, “We just have to make sure we tell him before anyone else does.  If some idiot from another House gets to him, especially after his performance today with that dragon, he’ll be in a bad way.  Where is he, anyway?”

Hermione jumped up from her seat and began pacing furiously.  “He’s off getting some hard answers about his parents and Sirius Black.  He’s talking to Professor Snape about how Sirius and Harry’s father most likely bullied other students when they were at school together.  I’m sure he’ll be on a foul mood when he gets back.  And Ron is waiting to make friends again.  This is not going to go well at all.”

 

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.  Hermione, you stay here with me….”

“And I’ll go down and distract Ron with a chess game, because he can’t resist those….”

“And Lee will keep a look-out for Harry.  When he comes in….”

“Lee will intercept him and get him up here where we will—as gently as possible….”

“Show Harry the articles and tell him about our suspicions of Ron.  We’ll have to keep him calm….”

“Because Harry dear has quite the temper, as we all know.”

 

All agreed to the plan, and Lee and Fred (or maybe George) left the dorm room, leaving Hermione and George (possibly Fred) to gather together the news articles and plan on how to break the news to Harry.

“Do you know,” said Hermione, bemused, “this is the first time I’ve seen you alone without your twin?”

The lone Weasley looked at Hermione and grinned.

“Feeling a bit frisky, you little minx?”

“No, goodness no!”  Hermione laughed.  “You really aren’t my type.  Neither one of you.  No offense meant, of course.”

“What is your type?  Brainy and bookish?”

Hermione flushed.  “No, not really.  I mean, I’d love to spend time with someone smart, so we’d have lots to talk about.  But you and your brother are really smart, as well.  I mean, you’d have to be, to think up those tricks and pranks that you come up with.  I just want someone a little more serious than you two act much of the time.”

The red-haired boy regarded her for a long moment before speaking.

“We joke around a lot, Gred and me, but mainly it’s a manner of deflection.  We like that people underestimate us.  We get away with a lot.  But we hate to disappoint our mother, and she thinks school is very important.  After our first year, we made her promise not to tell anyone about our real grades.  She might not agree with our life plans, but she knows we aren’t idiots, so she agreed.  She acts all exasperated at us all the time, and tells everyone that we’ll never amount to anything if we don’t wise up, and then she bakes us special cookies as rewards for our grades.  Nobody else in the family knows except for Dad, and we share the cookies so he’ll never tell.”

Hermione cocked her head to the side as she studied the lone twin in front of her.  “What are your life plans?  I’m really interested.  I mean, I know Draco Malfoy talked to you both on the train to school, so he thinks you’re important to his own reformation.”

Feorge shrugged.  “We want to open a joke shop.  Tricks and treats, potions, portable spells, trick candies, stuff like that.  We want to do loads more than Zonko’s offers.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in realization.  “That’s why you were testing the Canary Creams in the Common Room?”

“We tested a Tonne-Tongue Toffee on Harry’s piggish cousin when we gathered Harry for the World Cup.  Dad had a hell of a time getting the stupid muggle to allow him to help fix the oaf.  We knew from Harry’s description of the boy that he’d pick up and eat any candy he could find, so we ‘accidentally’ dropped one in the drawing room when we popped in to get Harry.  Ole Dudley’s tongue swelled up like and grew like a pink snake.  Dad sorted him out, though.  More’s the pity about that.  It shut him up quickly.”

Hermione giggled.  “I bet it did!  But wasn’t it dangerous?”

“No, not really.  We fixed the formula so it would wear off within an hour.  Gred and I test on ourselves before we test on others.  It wouldn’t be responsible otherwise.  We want to make people laugh, at themselves or their friends or family, but we don’t want to hurt anyone.  Once we know something is safe for us, we look to test on others.  Dad tested the Canary Creams for us if we promised not to tell Mum.”

Hermione giggled more, then she gasped.

Feorge grew concerned.  “What?  What happened?  Did you choke?”

“No,” Hermione gasped.  “Tell me, which twin are you, really?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because you have a small mole under your left ear, and your brother doesn’t.”

The lone twin grinned.  “I knew you were smart.  I think Draco may have figured it out, but nobody else has.  Not even family.  My voice is also a bit deeper, but you wouldn’t notice that unless we were together.  I’m Fred.  For real.  I won’t lie to you, now that you’ve figured it out.  The only person to know for sure is Mum.”

Hermione grinned.  “I won’t tell anyone, I swear on my honour!”

 

*************************************************

George bounced into the Common Room from the staircase and rounded on his younger brother.  “Ronnikins!!  I need a study break!  Come play chess with me!”

Ron glanced suspiciously at his sibling.  “You guys never want to play with me.”

“Only because you’re obsessed with the game.  Feorge is still going over those papers with Hermione, determined to find the answer to some mystery or another.  My eyes were crossing.  I need a diversion.”

“Do you have your pieces with you?” Ron asked as he moved away from the sofa he was sitting on.

“And a board.  Do you have yours?”

“They’re in my bag, here.  Where do you want to play?”

“Over here, away from the door.  It’s too crowded over there.”

 

The two brothers set up the chessboard, drawing attention to themselves.  The Gryffindor students all knew how good a player Ron was and they had never seen one twin without the other.  Soon a small crowd surrounded the players, blocking the view from the entrance portal, and giving Lee Jordan cover to grab Harry once he appeared after his meeting.  The game was full on, with neither player giving advantage, when a rather haggard Harry entered the Common Room.  Lee jumped out of his chair and met Harry before anyone noticed that he had come into the room.

“Harry, mate, good show on the Field of Battle!  But we have something rather important to show you.  And it’s not going to make you happy.”

Harry groaned.  “Great.  One more thing to upset me.  Just tell me, Lee, is it a real doozy or a minor one?”

“It’s huge, mate.  Really huge.  So huge that your girl, Hermione, has been keeping it from you for a long time so you don’t blow your top.”

Harry scowled.  “She’s not my girl, and define ‘long time’.”

Lee frowned apologetically.  “Like since after your first year at school.”

“Hermione has managed to keep a secret from me for that long?  I’m impressed.”

Lee nodded and began to usher Harry toward the staircase.  “Yeah, let’s go meet her before Ron notices that you’re here.  He’s been waiting for you.”

“Right.  I’m not really in the mood to deal with him right now.”

Lee laughed humorlessly.  “You’ll be in even less a mood to deal with him after this, trust me.”

 

Lee led Harry to the spiral staircase, pushing Harry ahead of him.  Once Harry had rounded the first turn and was out of sight of the Common Room, Lee let out a sharp whistle to alert the older Weasley, then Lee led Harry to the Sixth-year dorm.  Three moves later, and Ron had won the chess game, and his brother announced that he needed to get back to his studies.  He walked away and up the stairs, and Ron had no idea that Harry had already returned.

 

**********************************************

 

Harry faced Hermione, Lee Jordan, and the Weasley Twins, and took in their grim faces.  He sighed deeply.  “I just had a very trying experience.  And I flew against a dragon in order to obtain a very shiny conundrum.  My brain is almost fried, my stomach is upset, and I’m dead on my feet.  My best friend is turning into my worst enemy, and my worst enemy is trying to be my best friend.  So, really, anything else you have to throw my way is just icing on a very bitter cake.  Just get on with it.”

“Well, it’s nice to see that ….”

“You have such good attitude about this.”

Hermione cleared her throat.  “Harry, really, I knew about this when it started.  I know you wouldn’t know about it because you couldn’t receive the Daily Prophet at home.  Honestly, it’s a miracle that nobody has mentioned it to you by now, but maybe they all figured you knew about it and gave your permission.  Some people, even in Gryffindor, still buy into the fame-finder thing, so it almost stands to reason, but I didn’t want to upset you.  I was going to tell you, but then the World Cup issue happened, and the Tri-Wizard thing, and it all slipped my mind until today.”

Harry gaped at his friend.  “Hermione, what are you on about?”

Hermione thrust a stack of newspaper articles at him rather gracelessly.  “These.  There are two-years worth.  Nothing from Third year or about Sirius or anything like that.”  Hermione handed the articles to Harry, who sat on the floor and began to read.  He only made it past the first four before he tossed them aside.

“So,” Harry growled, “someone is making me out to be some kind of attention-seeking fool.  Great.  And that actually explains why Rita Skeeter is so interested in making such a deal out of me.  Yeah, this is upsetting, but not as tragic as you’re making it seem.”

“Actually, if you’ll notice….”

“These articles quote a ‘close friend’ of yours.”

“And our little brother, Ron, has recently come into a lot of spending money….”

“Which he claims he earned doing chores and errands for neighbors in the summers….”

“And we all know how much Ronald Weasley loves to do chores.”

Harry blinked.  “Wait.  What?  Do you mean Ron talked to Rita Skeeter?  About me?  For money?”

 

Harry stood and began pacing.  “He’s always been jealous of me.  He never took me seriously when I said I hated the fame.  He thought I was kidding when I told him that I’d give anything to have what he had.  Oh. My. God!  He sat there, all broken-legged in that shack with Sirius and Lupin and heard how Peter Pettigrew betrayed my parents and got them killed.  He acted horrified that someone who claimed to be a friend—a close friend—could turn like that.  He. Sat. On. The. Train. To. London. Beside. Me.  And told me how lucky I was to have loyal friends!”

Hermione glanced back and forth between Harry and the Twins, worry and dismay covering her face.  This was her Harry.  He was one of her first friends.  He liked her when everybody else thought she was just a bossy, know-it-all busy-body.  Because of Harry, Hermione felt confident enough to talk to people outside of Gryffindor House.  And Harry was hurting and angry.  She jumped up and flung her arms around the dark-haired boy.

“Oh, Harry!  I’m so sorry.  I should have told you after that first summer, after you finally made it to school.  I just didn’t want to upset you after the Flying-car thing, when you were so upset already.  And it was so easy to forget about the stupid articles when classes started and they weren’t being published anymore.  And the whole Lockhart business and the Chamber—It just slipped my mind again until the first new story appeared, and by then it was summer and we didn’t talk at all because I was in France.  What can I do?  How can I make this better?”

 

Harry stepped back, cupping her shoulders in his hands.  “I’m not mad at you Hermione.  I’m disappointed, but I understand how you could get distracted.  You didn’t talk to any reporters, did you?”

“Of course not!” Hermione declared, indignant.  “Goodness, I respect you much too much for that!”

Harry smiled in relief.  “Well, then, isn’t that the whole point?  If Ron did this, then it basically proves that he doesn’t respect me.  If he did it for money, it proves he wants that more than he wants my friendship.  And if he’s wanting so much to be my friend again, then it means he only wants more fuel for the stories.  But that’s only if he did this.  We have no proof.  And I just learned the hard way that proof is needed.”

“We could always hold him down….”

“And beat it out of him.  Or we could….”

“Catch a spider and threaten him with it.”

Harry laughed.  “Thanks for those ideas, but I really doubt he’d be clever enough to lie about it.  We can always just ask him.  I want to know, though, how come you guys didn’t mention the articles to me?”

“Oh, well, we don’t get that paper.”

“Mum thinks it’s just a good bottom liner for the owl cage.”

“Our news comes either straight from the Ministry through Dad….”

“Or from the WWW radio news casts.”

Harry sighed softly.  “Oh, right then.  Well, let’s ask him after dinner, because I think I’ll need food and energy to deal with that conversation.”

As the five teens marched out of the Sixth Year dorm toward the Common Room and dinner plans, Lee Jordan asked, “Did you really say your worst enemy was becoming your best friend?  You have got to tell me about that.”

************************************************

 

Interlude: The Dungeon

 

After the chamber door closed behind Draco and Harry, Severus Snape quickly drew his wand and whirled on his remaining ‘guest’, shouting ‘Petrificus Totalus!’ and immobilized Sirius Black.  He lowered the petrified and angry man to the floor and divested him of his own wand before speaking.

“I don’t particularly care what you think of me for doing this.  That boy had a right to know just what you and his father are capable of.  And I’m not claiming to have changed sides overnight, but I have undergone several major adjustments and one of those is in how I treat and care for Harry Potter—the son of my dearest friend.  You don’t have to believe me.  I know you won’t anyway.  But I assume you trust your cousin, Narcissa, and her father, who fought so hard to see your name cleared.  Go to her, and talk with her and her healers.  I assume you know Healer Scopes and his partner Edgerton Mills?  They are the ones who diagnosed and treated me.  Talk with them.  Then perhaps you should consider your actions from here on out.  Everything you say or do to Young Potter will be closely scrutinized by the boy.  He’ll want to know that people can mature and grow and put idiocy behind them.  Are you going to keep acting like an ass or are you going to show how mature and caring you can be? Now, I’m going to call up Narcissa on the Floo, and toss her your wand.  I want you to go to her now and think about what went on in this room.”

And so he did.

 

 

Chapter 12: Interludes

 

Sirius And Remus

 

Staggering, stunned and disconcerted, Sirius practically fell through the Floo into Cygnus Black’s drawing room.  His head was swimming and his heart was troubled.  He had fought for his freedom, and finally won it.  He was meant to reunite happily with his godson, rejoicing in victory.  Instead, he was confronted with a very unhappy Harry.  A Harry that was frightened, and angry, and defensive.  And a defensive Harry was very confrontational.  Sirius was forced to relive parts of his childhood that he wasn’t really proud of, and he saw it all through the eyes of his abused godson.  From all accounts, Harry knew a thing about bullies and being bullied, and he absolutely hated that his own father seemed to be no better than Harry’s Uncle or cousin.  And Sirius also deserved to be painted by that same brush.  He needed to regroup, to gather his senses a bit, and figure how to fix this trouble between him and Harry.  He really needed help with this.  Walking into the warm kitchen, Sirius began plotting a letter to Remus Lupin.  That man had been a good friend in childhood, and had stood by Sirius during his trial.  Hopefully Remus could help him salvage his relationship with Harry before too much damage was done.

 

*************************************************

 

“So this is Cygnus Black’s secret home.  It’s very nice and understated.  Cozy.”

Remus Lupin stepped through the Floo and turned slowly, taking in the Drawing Room.  Soft, comfortable furniture sat in a small grouping near the fireplace.  Bookshelves lined one wall, and the other walls were covered with pale wallpaper and light artwork.  Family photographs, mostly out of date, littered tables in the corners.  Finishing his perusal, Remus looked at his newly-freed friend, and smiled.

“How can I help you Sirius?  Your letter practically dripped despair, and that should not be the case since you are now free from that trumped-up murder charge.”

 

Sirius sighed and dropped into a cozy armchair.  “I was a horrible child while at school, and it has come back to haunt me.  Remus, I need help.”

Remus blinked at his friend, stunned.  “That sounds rather ominous.  Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

 

Sirius called for tea, and the two men sat in over-stuffed armchairs to the side of the fireplace.

“This is going to take a bit of time to get out, since I’m both pissed and mortified.  And I may choke, as Snape is involved, so bear with me.”  Remus nodded into his teacup, so Sirius sat back and began his tale.  “I managed to make it to the stadium in time to see Harry fly against a dragon for the First Task.  I thought my heart would jump from my chest, I was so terrified.  But he was brilliant, Remus.  So much like James.  Afterward, I had a chance to chat a bit with Hermione whilst waiting for Harry to finish with the judges, and Draco Malfoy was lingering about, which I thought was odd.  What was even odder was Ronald Weasley acting proprietorial about me, like I existed for him alone.  Of course, he didn’t know about the trial, or about Cissy’s help, so he wouldn’t know that I would want to get to know my younger cousin and see what kind of young man he was turning into.  Once Harry joined us, he made it clear that he had somewhere to be, and that he wanted me there with him so he could get some ‘straight answers’.”

Remus frowned.  “What was Harry looking for?”

“He wanted to know about his parents.  At least, that’s what I thought he wanted to know.  Draco led us into the dungeons and Snape’s private quarters.  Harry had, it seemed, heard some things about James and me, and how we acted toward Snape, and he wanted to hear all about it.  And Snape had a Pensieve, so Harry got to see his version of how things were.”

“Were his versions the truth?” Remus asked dryly.

Sirius frowned.  “I don’t know what Harry was shown to start with because I didn’t go into the memory the first time.  Harry was fairly angry when he came out.  Then Harry asked about the time I tried to have Snape killed.  I have no idea how he even heard about that.”

Remus stared at his oldest friend.  “The time you tried to have him killed?  When was that?”

Sirius took a deep breath, and then released it in a soft sigh.  This was not going to be pleasant.

“In Sixth Year, I found Snape following us on a Full Moon night, and I tricked him into following under the Whomping Willow.  James and Dumbledore got to us just before he went in.”

 

Remus went pale.  “Was I at the other end of that passage, Sirius?”

Sirius nodded.  “You know you were.  Harry was livid.”

Remus slammed his fist against the arm of his chair before standing and beginning to stalk around the small room.  “Harry was livid?  I’M livid!  Do you have any idea what could have happened?  He could have been killed!  I could have killed him! ME!  Sirius, what were you thinking?”

Sirius slumped in his chair, utterly dejected.  “After all this time, I have no idea what I was thinking.  But that’s what Harry asked me, and I don’t think he liked my answer.  He was pissed that I could have gotten you blamed for harming Snape.  He was pissed that James and I were bullies in school.  He said that I was no better than whomever it was that put his name in the Goblet for the Tournament, because he has a good chance to get hurt or even killed.  I know I treated you badly in school, but I could really use a friend now.  I need to fix this.”

 

Remus sat quietly, calming himself and warming his tea.  After a while, he sat forward and regarded his old friend.  “When I read that Harry had become entered and chosen as a Tri-Wizard Champion, I honestly feared for his safety.  There were supposed to be failsafes to keep this from happening.  He’s much too young and inexperienced for this competition.  And this is only the most recent concern I have.

“You haven’t been able to read the Daily Prophet much, but for the last few years, during the months between school terms, the paper has been running a story series called the ‘Harry Potter Chronicles’.  These stories give details of Harry’s life at school since he’s been at Hogwarts, as told by ‘a close friend’.  The Harry I met last year would never have given anyone permission to tell these stories.  He’s much too private for this.  Since I’m not really close to Harry, I have not had a chance to gauge his reactions to this, but I can’t see how he’d be happy about it.  Yes, I’m upset about being used in one of your plots against Severus.  That could have gone badly for everyone involved.   But you’re older now, and supposedly more mature.  Now is a good time to see if you can learn from your mistakes.  Did Severus seem to be acting in malice when he showed these memories to Harry?”

 

Sirius considered that for a long moment.  “No, he seemed reluctant.  He wasn’t happy to see me, of course, but he didn’t deny my presence.  He also told Harry that he would be available to answer questions about Lily whenever Harry wanted.”

Remus hummed.  “It seems to me that Severus has turned in a new direction where Harry is concerned.”

Sirius conceded to that.  “He did mention something about compulsion spells and potions even he couldn’t detect.  I don’t know much about that.  Cissy might, though.  Perhaps we can ask her later.  For now, I have a very angry Godson.  He’s the only family I have, Remus.”

 

Remus grimaced.  “Yes, I know.  You may have to make nice with Severus.  And you’re definitely going to have to think long and hard about how you acted in school.  Harry should have had the chance to grow up with you.  He should have known you from infancy.  But he didn’t get that chance.  So he has to get to know you now.  I know he’s happy to have you in his life.  The fact that he took time to write letters to you during the summer shows that he wants to know you.  You’re the only link to his father that he has.  And right now, he’s realizing that neither his father nor you were the nicest children.  Since his own childhood hasn’t been that pleasant so far, he needs to see that people can grow and improve.  Your lasting animosity toward Severus is not going to serve you well here, Sirius.  Let us talk with Narcissa and see what she can tell us about Severus, and determine if we can all work together to improve your relationship with Harry.  And we can also work to make sure Harry survives this Tournament.”

 

 

 

Gryffindors

 

There was a small debate about public versus private confrontation.  Fred and George were all for Ron getting all sorts of humiliated, while Hermione still felt the burdens of friendship.  Harry, however, remained a very private person.  That was the main reason those articles hurt so much.  So, in the end, two owls were sent that night before curfew: one, to “The Informed Magical”, with subscription payments for both Harry and Hermione, and the second from the Weasley Twins to their parents, detailing the articles and their suspicions of Ron’s involvement.  The group decided to wait until they heard from or saw the Weasley elders before confronting Ron.  All told, Harry could really just use a good rest after a very stressful and involved day.

The next morning, Hermione met Harry at the stairs before breakfast to inquire about his meeting with Snape.  Harry indicated that he’d spend a long time telling her all about it later, as Ron bounded down the stairs behind them.  Fred and George trailed closely after, and directed their younger brother away from Harry and into the Great Hall for breakfast.  All four teens were waiting desperately for the morning mail, two of them at least expecting a Howler or two.  But the mail brought nothing more than the new newspapers for Harry and Hermione.

Sighing deeply, Harry knew he’d need to speak with Ron eventually.  Gathering his things, and his erstwhile bodyguards, Harry rose and walked toward the front entrance, gesturing toward Ron to follow him.  He walked toward the edge of the Black Lake, where he spent many a day doing homework and chatting with friends, and sat beneath a tall willow.  Ron followed along slowly, garnering interest from fellow Gryffindors, who were well aware of Ron’s treatment of Harry since the Naming of the Champions.  Many students from Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth years, followed at a discreet distance, curious about the coming confrontation.  Harry eyed the crowd warily, willing to concede that he’d get no privacy at all while the Tournament was ongoing, so he’d just have to deal with it.  What Ron got, he’d likely deserved.  Harry pulled his bag into his lap and removed the collected articles, and then he rose to address the gathered crowd.

“How many of you receive the Daily Prophet at home?” he asked his fellow students.

Soft chuckles erupted around him.

Harry rolled his eyes.  “Of course, most of you do.  I don’t, because I live in a Muggle house, but most of you live in Magical households.  The Daily Prophet is a part of your lives.  So, how many of you have spent the last few summers reading these tantalizing stories about me?”

There were a few uncomfortable looks, and then Lavender Brown spoke up.  “I read them the first year, but when you never mentioned them at school at the start of the next Term, I figured that you didn’t have anything to do with them.  I stopped reading them then, because if you didn’t give the ‘Okay’ for it, then I wasn’t going to invade your privacy.  I mean, you’re one of us; you’re our friend.  And those articles are kind of invasive, aren’t they?”

Murmurs of assent rose amongst the students, and Harry smiled a bit.

“Thanks for that, Lavender.  At least I know that in Gryffindor House, my privacy means something.  I’m sure students in the other Houses haven’t ignored their curiosity.  Which begs the question: who gave the information to the reporter for the articles?  The articles all mention a ‘source close to’ me, which intimates a friend of mine, and all of my close friends are in Gryffindor House.  And most of you don’t know about anything that I do away from Hogwarts.  And I know for a fact that Hermione, whom I spend most of my time with here, had nothing to do with the articles. So…..that leaves who?”

Ron jumped up, agitated.  All present turned to look at him, and his face flared in a furious blush.

“So what if I told someone a few stories?  You’re really popular, and people are really curious.  But you never talk about anything.”

Harry lifted an eyebrow at Ron and said sardonically, “I don’t talk about anything, Ron, because I have nothing to say.  There is nothing good for me away from Hogwarts.  The best parts of my life are here, and the people I care about—the people who care about me—are here to see it all.  But you just didn’t tell tales out of school, Ron, you apparently got paid to do it.  How much was my privacy worth to you, Ron?  How much was my friendship worth to you?”

Suddenly uncomfortable, the small crowd began to disperse, muttering furiously amongst themselves.  Whatever else happened today, nobody in Gryffindor House would look at Ron Weasley the same way again.  Ron watched his fellow students walk back to the school, leaving him with an angry Harry, Hermione, and his brothers.

“You don’t get it,” Ron spat at Harry.  “You get everything.  You’re popular, and talented at Quidditch, and rich.  And people really like you.”

 

“And what, Ron?” Harry asked dryly.  “You thought you’d get to be popular by telling the whole world about my private little hells?  Do you really think I wanted everyone to know about the whole Philosopher’s Stone deal?  Or about the Chamber of Secrets?  Those things, those ordeals, were not a fun time for me, Ron.  Neither was that Grand Escape from Privet Drive before Second Year.  If I had wanted the whole world to know that my Muggle family hated me enough lock me in my room, I would have told them.  They were, after all, my stories to tell.

“The fact that I didn’t tell anyone should show how much I wanted to keep it all to myself.  Or to keep it to myself and the people closest to me.  But you took that choice away from me.  You told those stories, from your point of view, and you did it for a profit.  And after you totally spurned me at the beginning of this Tournament, I have to wonder if you were seeking to apologize only to gather more stories to sell.  That’s not friendship, Ron.  I wonder if you even know the meaning of the word.”

Flushed with anger, Harry dropped the papers on the ground and turned to leave.  He had never been so disappointed with anyone in his life.  Considering the people in his life, that was truly saying something.  During his speech, Harry had lost focus on the world around him.  So he totally did not notice when all of the students left the area for the safety of the Castle, and he also missed the arrival of Arthur and Molly Weasley, who had the distinct pleasure of hearing all about the ‘Harry Potter Chronicles’, and Harry’s reaction to them, and Ron’s involvement.  As angry as Harry was, his fury could not match the fury that settled on the faces of Ron’s parents.  Harry nodded to them, said ‘sorry about that’, and walked away toward the Owlry.  He desperately wanted to send a letter to Sirius.  He needed a friendly and calm presence right at that moment.  He felt the air stir along his right side, and he turned to face Hermione, who approached cautiously.

Harry smiled at her and extended his hand, and she returned his smile.  Hand in hand, they climbed the stairs to find Hedwig, and Irving, and began to compose letters.

 

 

Slytherins

 

Draco, Theo, and Blaise were sitting in the library, chatting about the First Task.  This was the one place they could guarantee that Pansy, Goyle, and Crabbe would not follow.  For one thing, Pansy could not come up with an excuse to be near them when there was no schoolwork present.  For another, Draco honestly believed Crabbe and Goyle couldn’t find the library on their own if their lives depended on it.

“Potter’s flying is frankly incredible,” Blaise exclaimed softly, mindful of his location.  “I mean, you watch the Quidditch games and you see some talent, but against a dragon?  Incredible!”

“Thank you, Blaise,” Draco said dryly.  “I fly against him enough.  I don’t need to feel bad about it now.”

Blaise shrugged, totally unapologetic.  “Sorry, Draco, but I doubt you can stand a chance in your next match.   Once a guy beats a dragon, a mere Seeker is no trouble.”

“Ha. Ha. Ha.”

 

Movement in the corner of the library caught Draco’s attention.  A small gaggle of females, notably Beauxbatons and Hufflepuffs, were clustered near a reading center at the back end of the library.  They were quiet in tone, but loud in presence, and they were all focused on a set of shelves at the rear of the room.  Draco looked over to the shelves and saw Victor Krum, searching for a book and trying to appear smaller than he actually was.  He kept nervously glancing at the crowd of admirers, and hunching into himself.  Draco excused himself to his friends and walked over to Krum.

“Pardon me,” Draco said as an introduction.  “I don’t know if you remember, but I’m Draco.  I sat next to you at dinner when you arrived.”

Krum inclined his head in greeting.  “Yes.  I remember you.”

“I was wondering if you’d perhaps like to join me and my friends at our table.  It’s positively calm and estrogen-free.”

Krum smiled for the first time since Draco had seen him.  “I vould like that, thank you.”

Draco looked at the shelves behind Krum and asked, “What book are you looking for?  I may be able to help find it.”

“I am researching for the Second Task.  I am trying to find pictographs of eggs and egg-shaped objects, so that I can figure this out.”

Draco’s eyes widened and he rocked back on his heels.  “Oh, well, the visual guides are over here, but do you really think you’ll find a Task clue in there?  Wouldn’t those golden eggs have been specifically created for the Tournament?”

Krum shot a look over at the group of girls, and Draco smiled.  He reached to touch Krum’s shoulder and guided him over to his table.  “Of course, the library is supposed to be the quietest place around here.  This is Theo Knott and Blaise Zabini.  We are not, strictly speaking, fans of yours.”

Krum smiled at that, and relaxed even more.  “They follow me everywhere.  I cannot study.  I cannot exercise.  I cannot find peace outside of the Durmstrang ship.  And after the First Task, where I did not do so vell, I cannot find peace even there.”

Theo frowned.  “You didn’t do so badly.  We watched the whole thing, you know.  I mean, it’s a bad deal about the broken dragon eggs, but that could have happened to any of the Champions.  I mean, DeLacour put her dragon to sleep, and Diggory’s dog could have caused a major catastrophe.  So you did really well.”

Krum scowled.  “I did not fly.  Headmaster Karkaroff is most displeased vith this.”

Draco snorted softly.  “Yeah, well, that may be my fault really.  I know Potter doesn’t have the magical skill or experience that the older Champions do, so I suggested that he go with the one strength that he does have.  Left alone, he’d have panicked and suffered.  I really couldn’t have just sat there and watched a classmate burned to death for public amusement.”

Krum barked in laughter.  “Did you all know about the dragons beforehand?”

A blank look dropped onto Draco’s face.  “No.  That was a very closely guarded secret.  From everyone.  Especially the Champions.”  Draco smirked.  “Really, we’re not picking favorites here.  Hogwarts does, for whatever reason, have two Champions.  Loyalties here are divided.  I would just like to see everyone have a fair shot.  So, now that honesty is on the table, how are you finding our hospitality?”

Krum shrugged.  “Your Headmaster is wery odd.  The students are wery…friendly.  Some more than most.  The weather is tolerable.  Everyone here sees me as celebrity.  They stare at me in awe.  It is tiresome.”

 

Draco nodded.  “I was at the World Cup.  You flew spectacularly.  Ireland had the better team.  Now that that’s out and in the open, what say we all take a long walk around the lake, and you can revel in the company of some fine fellows who want absolutely nothing from you?”

“I accept your offer.”

 

 

Staffers

 

“Severus Snape, you are not yourself lately.  I know we are often at odds here, but I like to think we are more than colleagues.  You can talk to me, you know.’

Severus looked up to find the Deputy Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, standing over him as he reviewed lesson plans in the Staff Room.  “Minerva, I honestly do not doubt your sincerity.  But I really have no idea how much I can trust you.  I would like to confide in a colleague for a change, but your loyalties may not be mine.”

Minerva frowned in concern, ignoring the slight against her.  “You have been troubled since before the start of Term.  I noticed.  Pomona noticed.  Filius noticed.  Certainly Albus has noticed, although he may never say anything.  This Tournament has taken much of his attention.”

Severus gave a bitter laugh.  “This Tournament is nothing good, I fear.  I am sorry that I have worried the staff.  Some…things have come up in my personal life—yes I do have one.  I am working through it, difficult though it may be.  I shall endeavor to not allow this to interfere with my work.”

Minerva softened her expression.  “Severus…I do hope you shall consider me a friend.  When you do need me, if you do need me, I shall be there for you.  You do have much of my loyalty.”

Severus inclined his head slightly in acceptance.  “Thank you, Minerva.  I shall consider that.”

 

 

Slytherins Again

 

Pansy was annoying on a good day.  This was not a good day.   So her laughter was especially grating to Draco.  She was standing in the courtyard near the Care of Magical Creatures class, a small group of Slytherin girls with her, and they were talking softly into their hands.  Every now and again, one would look up and glare at Hagrid, who was busy setting up for his next class.  Then they would begin chattering again, into cupped hands.

Hermione walked up to Draco and asked, “What are you looking at?”

Draco nodded to the Slytherin girls.  “Does that seem odd to you?”

Hermione watched for a moment, and then said, “It almost looks as if they’re talking into a Muggle Recording device.”

Draco’s eyes narrowed as he watched the girls, then his Seeker’s eye found something odd.  A large insect…no, a beetle.  Hovering near the girls.  “I think I need to speak to my Godfather immediately after class.  I think those girls were speaking to a recording device of a sort.”

 

********************************************

 

Draco stayed behind after his Potions class and waited for Severus to look up from his desk.  “Godfather, is there a way to catch a small Animagus?  A very small one?”

Severus frowned at the boy, who was making no sense.  “Draco, what are you on about?”

“This morning, I found Parkinson and her cronies chittering away near Care class, and they seemed to be totally up to no good.  I’ve seen this before, around school, since the Tournament began, and every day after, a snotty article appears in the Prophet.  Today, I noticed a large beetle hovering near their cupped hands while they talked, like they were attempting to be secretive.”

Severus raised one eyebrow.  “And you surmise that this beetle is perhaps a tiny Animagus?  A…reporter, perhaps?”

Draco shrugged.  “It’s only a theory.  But we all know how horrible Skeeter is about Potter.  It’s something to look into, I think.”

Severus nodded.  “I think perhaps, you may be right.”

 

 

Changes13:  Beginning Beautiful Friendships

 

Draco had been spending a lot of time in his Godfather’s quarters since the first task.  At first, it was a safer place to hide from his Housemates while doing schoolwork.  Now he was enjoying the personal entertainment of watching his Godfather patiently try to tolerate his cousin, Sirius Black, and Sirius’ friend Remus Lupin.  The two men had taken to dropping through the Floo after the dinner hour every evening since that horrible confrontation with Harry after the First Task.  Watching Lupin periodically dive between the other men in an effort to keep them from hexing each other had proven so distracting that Draco was behind on his Transfiguration homework, and was in danger of having to approach Hermione Granger for assistance.  That wouldn’t be a hardship, as she was slowly becoming a coveted friend to him and his new Slytherin best-buds.  She had a good head on her shoulders, and was finally beginning to understand true friendship.  There was some nasty business with Ronald Weasley the day before, and while Draco hadn’t been able yet to question the Twins about it, it was bad enough that their parents came to the school; that much Draco knew.

Right now, though, the ‘discussion’ between Sirius and Severus had turned to the topic of Harry’s home situation and his place in Wizarding Society.  And the deplorable fact that, as of the moment, Harry had no real place in Wizarding Society.  And what should possibly be done about that, and by whom.  Draco could tell that the two men were finally coming to a common understanding, and that a total truce might finally be reached.  A truly historic occasion, Draco was sure.

 

“Pardon me, Godfather, but if I might make a suggestion?” Draco interjected cautiously.

 

Severus turned his full attention to the blond, causing both of the other men to do the same.  “By all means, Draco.”

 

“Well,” said Draco as he faced the imposing trio, “the Yule Ball was officially announced today, and all students from Fourth Year and above were informed that they could attend.  And the Champions were informed that they were required to attend.  I know for a fact that Potter has no clue about Wizarding Etiquette, or our formal dancing, or our formal way of dress for such occasions, or the History of the Yule Ball at Hogwarts—especially since the school hasn’t actually hosted one in almost a century.  My Grandfather had offered to instruct Potter, at Potter’s request, about his family history and Noble and Ancient Houses and such, and Hermione Granger has made inquiries about learning about Wizarding customs and society.  Why don’t you, Sirius, and my Grandfather have an informal instructional session somewhere at the Castle?  You can teach Potter and Granger the dancing parts, and you can all answer questions that they might have about society and customs.  And this could serve to show Potter that you are willing to get along and work together, especially for Potter’s own sake.”

 

Remus looked thoughtful.  “That is an excellent idea.  However, if I know Harry—and I do, slightly—he will have several hangers-on who will also request instruction, not only Hermione Granger.  Perhaps Severus could appropriate a classroom for a weekend, and we can all be of service?”

 

Severus frowned.  “That would only work if we used the Potions Classroom, Lupin.  Lord Cygnus Black is still thought to be out of the country at the very least, and possibly dead at the very most, and I would not want to give Lucius Malfoy the pleasure of having that man as a target right now.  Cygnus and Narcissa have done everyone in this room a great service, and I’d not repay him in that manner.  I can secure my Floo with privacy and secrecy charms, and I can do the same for the classroom, as this is at the discretion of the Professor in charge of those domains.  The tables in the classroom can be moved to provide a dance floor, but I do admit to not personally being properly schooled in Traditional Wizarding Ball dances.”

Sirius snorted indelicately.  “Don’t worry about that part, Severus.  Before my mother tried to cast me out of the family, I had quite a stuffy Traditional upbringing.  Dancing, Etiquette, Courtship—hell, I even learned Muggle fencing for some horrible reason.  All very upper-crusty, as Harry would say.  But I’d like to be rather selective about who will be here for this tutorial.  I also don’t fancy serving up my Uncle to a Death-eater.”

Draco smiled as his plan fell together.  “Well, then, why don’t I send Irving on a little errand, and try to flesh-out a guest list?”

 

****************************************************

 

Harry, Hermione, and the Weasley Twins were sitting together in the Gryffindor Common Room, having a rather spirited discussion about the Society for Promotion of Elvish Welfare.  Hermione had been trying to convince the boys that House Elf slavery was appalling, and they should boycott (a term the Weasleys had never heard before) all House Elf services until they could all be freed and paid a living wage.  Before things could get heated, Irving the Owl swooped through the window and landed on Harry’s knee, offering a neatly-labeled letter.

George breathed a small sigh of relief.  “Oh, thank Merlin for that!  Whose owl is that, Harry?”

Harry shot a quick glance across the room toward Ron, who was seated well away from everyone, but clearly trying to listen in.  “It’s from A Friend.  He’s been kind of giving me pep-talks since my name came out of the Goblet.  Supportive when I needed it, you know?”

Hermione slid closer to Harry to read the letter over his shoulder, and Fred (or possibly George) asked casually, “Does this ‘Friend’ happen to be tall, blond, and dungeon-dwelling, by chance?  Could be the same ‘Friend’ that approached Gred and me on the train on the way to school, and offered a hand in friendship?”

Hermione casually nodded.  “He did the same to me and Susan Bones.  He and Harry use Irving here as a go-between, because everybody here knows what Hedwig looks like.  What does it say, Harry?”

Harry cleared his throat and lowered his voice, and began to read:

 

“Dear Harry,

A short while ago, I told you that my grandfather had offered to instruct you about Ancient and Noble Houses and Wizarding Customs.  As the Yule Ball approaches, your Godfather has agreed to join him and my Godfather in a weekend of instruction in Wizarding Customs, Family History, and Traditional Dancing, so that you can be better prepared to represent yourself at the Yule Ball.  As it would be quite boring for just you to attend, I am asking you to list other friends that you have who might be interested.

As always, this must be kept secret, as my Grandfather is not supposed to be anywhere near Great Britain right now.  Send Irving with the names as soon as possible.

Always,

A Friend”

 

George (or was it Fred) hummed softly.  “You know, McGonagall is supposed to be teaching us how to dance, so we don’t disgrace Gryffindor House.  This sounds like much more fun.”

Hermione agreed.  “Yes, and there is the potential to learn so much more than dancing.  ‘Friend’s Grandfather’ is supposedly an expert on the Noble and Ancient Houses, as genealogy is his hobby.  I bet he can tell Harry loads about the Potter family.  I’m definitely interested in this.  Harry, what do you think?”

Harry carefully re-read the letter.  “I think I’d rather dance with Sirius than McGonagall, that’s for sure.  But who else should we ask?  Who can keep a secret?”

Hermione looked thoughtful.  “Susan Bones can.  And she did say she wanted to learn about her family.”

“Our Girls can,” said George, possibly.  “I’m taking Angelina to the Ball, and Feorge is taking Katie Bell.  We need to learn to dance properly with each other anyway.”

Harry frowned.  “Maybe we should let it go at that, then.  Not too many people, to keep it safe for everyone.  And maybe I could get suggestions about who to ask to the Ball.  Normally I’m not too comfortable around a lot of people, and I don’t want to go with some fame-seeker.  That would make a stressful night even worse.”

 

Hermione looked at her dear friend and said softly, “Why don’t you just ask Susan?  She likes you, but isn’t interested in you as a boyfriend.  And she definitely won’t give any interviews to nosy reporters.”

Harry’s brow wrinkled briefly.  “I’ll think about it.  Let’s reply to this, so we can let Friend get everything set up.”

 

****************************************************

 

“Excuse me, Professor McGonagall,” Harry requested from the doorway of the Transfiguration classroom.  “Could I speak with you for a moment?”

The older witch turned to her oft-troubled student and smiled gently.  “Of course, Potter, come in.  What can I do for you?”

Harry stepped into the room and tucked his hands into his trouser pockets.  “It’s about those dance lessons this weekend.  I’d like permission for myself and a few other Gryffs to skip out on that, if I could.”

McGonagall frowned, thinking of the mandatory lessons she was giving her Lions before the Yule Ball.  “Which students, and for what reason?”

Harry stammered, “Um, me, and Hermione, Fred, George, Angelina, and Katie.  Um Susan Bones is asking Professor Sprout if she can join us as well.  You see, Sirius Black, my Godfather, has offered to teach us the Traditional Wizarding Ball dances, kind of as a way for him and me to spend time together and get to know each other.  Um, Professor Snape is offering space in his classroom as Professor Sinestra will be instructing the Slytherins in their Common Room.”

McGonagall brightened at the news.  “Well, now, this is unusual, but it’s not a horrible request.  As you won’t be taking half of my potential students, I shall grant the request.  And Potter, congratulations on having your Godfather back in your life.”

Harry smiled.  “Thank you, Professor.”

Before he could leave the classroom, McGonagall called, “And, Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I am truly sorry for what transpired between you and Ronald Weasley.  Because I am so frequently busy during the time between Terms, I usually only peruse the paper headlines, and listen to the Wizarding Wireless Network for the news.  I had no idea about those articles, or I most certainly would have told you after the first summer.  During the Yule Ball, Mister Weasley will be at home with his parents, as they and I felt it would not be fair for him to attend either the Ball or the in-House festivities arranged for the students not attending the Ball.”

Harry slouched a bit in discomfort.  “Yeah, that situation was messed up.  Thanks for that, Professor.  Have a good night.”

 

*****************************************

 

During breakfast of the first ‘Lesson Day’, Harry, Hermione, and the Weasley Twins sat together at the table end closest to the entrance of the Great Hall.  They were waiting for Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson to join them when the morning mail owls arrived.  While everyone around them were eagerly reading the Daily Prophet, seeking news about the Tri-Wizard Tournament or the fashion updates for the Yule Ball, Harry and Hermione were gaping at a Page-Two headline in the Informed Magical.  Seeing their stunned faced, Fred reached across the table and snagged Hermione’s paper.  The story was not hard to find; dead center, with large letters:

 

Daily Prophet, Reporter Sanctioned By IWC for Ethics Violations

 

The story that followed detailed the deplorable acts of invading the privacy of a minor Wizard for the supposed entertainment of the mass public, and the fall of Rita Skeeter, who was an unregistered Animagus and who used her Animagus form of a beetle to spy in order to gather questionable information for her ‘news’ stories.

 

By the time Angelina and Katie joined the small group, Susan Bones and Hermione were giggling madly at the end of the Hufflepuff table, and Harry’s copy of the newspaper had made it to the Head Table, where Severus Snape was seen to almost be wearing a smile.

Almost.

 

Soon, the small group was headed for the dungeons, having received the blessings of their Heads of House.  Harry wandered closer to Susan as they climbed down the dungeon staircase.

Tentatively, Harry asked, “If I don’t prove to be a disaster on the dance floor, would you do me the honor of attending the Yule Ball with me?  I am required to attend, and open the dancing, and I’d like to have a stunning partner.”

Susan actually blushed.  “Did Hermione tell you to ask that way?”

Harry grimaced.  “Um, no.  Was it bad?”

Susan smiled shyly.  “It was very sweet.   Surely there ‘s someone special you want to ask instead?”

Harry offered a wry look.  “Susan, seriously, there is no one I want to ask more than you.  With you, I know there is no pressure, and that you’d want to go with just Harry, not The-Boy-Who-Lived, or the Tri-Wizards Champion.”  He lowered his voice even further, and said, “I’m not even certain if I like girls all that much, to be honest, so going as friends will work best for me.”

Susan leaned over and kissed Harry’s cheek.   “I’d love to go as your friend, Harry.  And I’ll be sure to tell my muggle boyfriend that I had a nice time at our Formal that he couldn’t take me to, but I was with someone who respected me and treated me nicely.”

Harry blushed slightly.  “Yeah, I can definitely do that.  Thanks, Susan.  Now let’s hope I’m not hopeless as a dancer.”

 

They were met at the doorway to the Potions classroom by Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy.

 

“Before we enter for this endeavor,” Snape began sternly, “I must stress once again that the identities of those within must remain a secret.  If you cannot keep this secret, you shall return to your own House Common Rooms and continue your instruction there.  I would have you all make a Magical Vow, but young Malfoy insures me that you can all be trusted.  Do not prove him wrong.”

 

Assuring the Professor that they could, in fact, be trusted, they all entered the newly cleared classroom and faced their ‘instructors’ for the weekend.  Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were at least familiar faces to the young people, and Hermione smiled widely at the sight of her former DADA teacher.  Draco’s mother, an ethereal blonde with aristocratic features, stood next to an older gentleman who wore a bemused expression.  The family resemblance was clear, the cool grey eyes and crooked smile that filled Draco’s visage settled easily on his mother and grandfather.

“When I offered to answered questions about family lineage, Draco,” said the older gentleman, “I was hardly expecting such a large group.”

Draco blushed.  “I apologize, Grandfather.  These are new friends of mine, and they are eager to learn as much as possible about some of the old families.  I thought that we could fit as much instruction as possible into this short time.  Mainly, the Gryffindors are here to learn formal dancing, as it has fallen out of practice in our education at Hogwarts.”

The older man frowned at the news.  “Yes, shame about that.  I attended Beauxbatons myself.  Formal classes in dance, etiquette, and courtship never fell out of favour there.  I believe the best way to conduct the weekend would be to offer dance lessons this morning, until a lunch break.  Then we can split our groups, with the dance-only students leaving for the Great Hall for the meal, and then returning here after the dinner break for more dancing.  We can also have dance practice tomorrow after the lunch break until the dinner hour.  The rest of the time; this afternoon and evening, and tomorrow morning, I can answer questions about family lines and formal Wizarding culture for those who request it.  Does that seem fair for everyone?”

The students nodded in agreement, as the Gryffindor students acknowledged a need for study and homework that weekend.

Sirius clapped his hands and stepped forward.  “I think the best way to go about this is to demonstrate various dances in their entirety, and then break down the steps slowly so you can all see the proper holds and foot positioning.  Cissy and I shall demonstrate, as we both had the misfortune of learning this practically from infancy.  Also, as it is proper to offer all ladies a chance to dance with prospective suitors during a ball, I think it would be best if you switched partners often during instruction.  That way you won’t get caught being used to only partnering one person.  Everybody moves differently during a dance, even when performing the same steps.  It’s rather like flying; everyone has their own style.  Does that seem fair?  Right, so let’s get the music started.  We shall begin with a simple waltz.  After that, we shall demonstrate the Wizarding variety, which has more flair than the Muggle waltz.”

 

A wave of his wand had soft music playing in the classroom, and Sirius held his hand out toward his cousin, who glided gracefully into his arms for the dance.  The pair moved flawlessly, as if partnered often even though they had been separated by long periods of time. It was clear that they both enjoyed dancing, and Draco was mesmerized by the smile on his mother’s face.  He had never witnessed his mother dancing with his father, though he thought they had to have done.  The Malfoys were famous for hosting huge Yule parties and Midsummer Balls.  Lucius often used those occasions to further his contacts with other influential wizards for business and personal gain.  Draco was not often allowed to attend those gatherings, due to his age, but he did remember seeing his mother dance with Ministry Officials the few times he could attend.  Never with his father, though.  Perhaps Lucius was so far involved with the Dark Lord that he pulled away from the pure enjoyment of life that dancing with his wife could give.  Or perhaps, and more likely, it was the fact that Lucius was so often abusive of Narcissa that he couldn’t even put on a show of affection in public.

All too soon, the lunch hour arrived.  All students present had managed passable dances, and Harry was relieved that he wasn’t actually horrible.   Draco partnered Susan and Hermione the most often, but that was logical as Katie and Angelina wouldn’t normally be asked to dance by a Slytherin.  The Weasley Twins proved to be as talented with dancing as they were with potions, and mirrored each other perfectly on the dance floor.  The older Gryffindor students left for the Great Hall, promising to be back after dinner for more dancing.  As they left, they were chattering about their luck at having such good lessons, and debating on whether or not Professor McGonagall could successfully teach their Housemates as well.  Harry, Hermione, and Susan joined Draco in setting up a table for their own lunch when they heard Professor Snape call for a Hogwarts House Elf to bring the meal.

Hermione huffed in annoyance.

Cygnus looked up at the noise.  “Miss Granger, what seems to be the problem?  Are you not ready to eat after so much activity?”

Hermione scowled.  “It’s not that, sir.  It’s just, I was raised Muggle, and I suppose Muggles have a different way of seeing servitude and slavery.  I just can’t understand how wizards and witches can treat other living beings so badly and then claim to be superior.”

Cygnus’ brow furrowed in confusion.  “And to what slavery and servitude are you referring?”

Hermione gaped at the older man.  “House Elves!  They are kept as slaves and treated badly, and we just use and abuse them and discard them like they’re nothing!”

Cygnus’ eyebrows raised in shock.  “I don’t understand, I’m afraid.  Wizards do not abuse their House Elves.  At least, decent and proper wizards do not abuse their House Elves.  There are, I admit, bad apples in every bunch, but to those families sanctions are given and House Elves are frequently removed and re-housed.  Why do you think they are slaves?”

Hermione frowned again.  “Well, aren’t they?  They cook our food and clean our rooms, and they don’t get paid or take vacations, and they are treated absolutely horribly!”

Seeing Harry’s discomfort, Cygnus addressed the boy.  “Perhaps, Young Potter, you can clarify the issue for us?  Miss Granger is most upset, and I’m not sure why.”

Harry cleared his throat.  “You see, sir, I think it all started at the World Cup.  There was a House Elf in our box, holding seats, but she was obviously afraid of heights.  And the seat-holder never showed up to relieve her of her duties, so she sat there during the whole match scared to death.  And later, when the Dark Mark was fired, that same House Elf was found in the woods near where Hermione and I were hiding, like she ran away from the whole mess.  But Mr. Crouch—you know, Bartemius Crouch, who locked up Sirius?  It was his Elf, and she had my wand, like she stole it from my pocket while in the box during the game, and that was the wand that was used to conjure the Dark Mark.  Mr. Crouch was furious; even though the other Ministry officials said that the elf couldn’t use the wand and that she probably only found it on the ground.  But he was so mad, and he said he was going to give her clothes, or something, and she was crying and screaming and pulling her ears.  It was really horrible.”

Harry sighed as he slouched into his chair.  “And the other day, when we were sneaking food from the kitchens after the First Task, we saw that same Elf there, and she was depressed and drunk from Butterbeer.  The other Elves were avoiding her, and Hermione got really upset.”

The atmosphere in the classroom chilled greatly.  It was obvious that what Harry had told them was most upsetting.

Finally, Cygnus cleared his throat gently and said, “Miss Granger, please allow me to explain, as much as I can, about the plight and lifestyle of the House Elf.  I hope to allay your fears about their treatment, because they are truly treasured by the majority of Wizarding families.”  When Hermione reluctantly nodded in agreement, Cygnus said, “House Elves are lesser fae.  This does not mean that they are inferior beings.  The Fae, otherwise known as Fairies, have many different races.  Greater Fae, like Light Fairies, Dark Fairies, and Goblins, are highly intelligent and powerful beings.  Goblins, in fact, are the only Greater Fae that keep in contact with humans in any form.

“The majority of Fae departed from this world long ago, with the last sighting of a Dark Fairy in Ireland in 628 CE.  The magical energies in our world were no longer sufficient to support them.  Magical creatures, even magical humans, need the magical aura to survive.  We all have our own magical core that regulates our own power, but this was not so with the Fae; they fed directly from the natural streams of magical aura that encompass the Natural World.  The strain on the magical aura was so great that the Fae departed onto another Magical Plane in order to not destroy the very world we live in.  Unicorns, centaurs, dragons and the like do not use the magical aura in the same way, so they chose to remain in this plane.

“Minor Fae, or Lesser Fae, are creatures that, while intelligent and powerful in their own right, have a dependency on the life-forces of other magical creatures.  Trolls, acromantulas, kelpies, and such as that are all lesser Fae, and they actively feed directly on the bodies of magical creatures.  When the Fairies left this realm, they realized that they would not be able to functionally support the Elves. For them to even try would be a drain on their own magical cores, because the plane they retreated to couldn’t support symbiotic lives.  House Elves had to find a way to live here, on this plane, without the Fairies to protect and support them.  So they formed symbiotic relationships with wizards and witches.”

Cygnus watched as Hermione processed the information.  “The relationships are complex, Miss Granger.  A magically strong and talented family can support many Elves, while a magically weak family cannot support even one.   Family size does not matter, nor does ancestry or wealth.  Magical strength of a family is comprised of the strength of each member of the family.  House Elves basically feed their own magic from the strength of the family.  Our strength of character—our morality, our emotional health, our empathy—this all impacts the House Elf.  A happy, prosperous family will support many happy Elves.  Hogwarts houses and employs several hundred, as this is a happy place of learning with strong magical cores living here at all times.  The only time in history that this school did not house Elves was during the Great Upheaval in 1643, when the Burning Times and witch-hunts caused the school to be abandoned for a short time.  Those House Elves either perished or found safe homes elsewhere in the world.

“A magical family cannot abuse House Elves, Miss Granger, simply because their happiness affects our happiness.  And while it seems as though they are slaves, a House Elf truly and literally lives to serve.  They are so involved in our lives that our welfare in intrinsic to their survival.  In the horrible rare instances where a House Elf is mistreated, a ritual is performed to transfer custody.  Even when a wizard is maladjusted and corrupted, and their lifestyles are out of balance with the magical aura, the House Elf will serve in order to survive.  To take away their work, their employment, is to starve a House Elf.  The mentioning of ‘clothes’ is actually a Closure ritual.  This is a very rare procedure wherein a magical person, not just a Family Head, but a blood-borne member of a Family, performs a cleansing ritual to release a House Elf from a family in hopes that the Elf can find a more suitable family to serve.  This ritual is dangerous to both wizard and Elf, because during the ritual the cores of both parties are entwined.  There is a strong flare of empathy, where the wizard experiences every magical and emotional pulse that the Elf has ever had during service, and the Elf experiences all of that from the wizard’s perspective.  The ritual can be draining and very dangerous, and rarely a House Elf has perished during this ritual.  If this Elf you saw was depressed and drinking to relieve the depression, then this ritual was performed by someone who was corrupted on a basic level, and the Elf had to empathically live this corruption.  She must be found and healed, Miss Granger,  and then a new home must be found for her immediately or her life is in danger.”

“But sir,” Harry said, “There was an Elf who tried to help me in my Second year, who I freed with clothing.  He said he could only be freed by being given clothes, so I gave him a sock.”

Draco cleared his throat.  “You’re talking about Dobby, right?”

Harry nodded.  “He was mostly annoying, and tried to keep me from coming back to school for that term.  He even used magic in my Uncle’s house and got me blamed for it, and sealed the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ so I couldn’t board the train.  But when I saw how your father yelled at him, I knew I had to do something.”

Draco grimaced.  “Yes, well, I saw him here at school, and wondered what he was doing here.  I contacted Mother about it, because it seemed like Dobby was trying to help you, but was only hurting himself in the process.  He’s a silly Elf, but I always liked him.  You couldn’t free him, though, because you aren’t a member of the Malfoy family.  Mother sent me the ritual to separate him from the Family, because she couldn’t perform it either.  Dobby was born into the Malfoy family, so the ritual had to be performed by someone born into the family.  Merlin knows Father wouldn’t do it, and if Dobby was helping you then he was definitely going against Father.”

Harry frowned.  “Yeah, at the end of the whole thing, I think Lucius would have cursed me and killed Dobby.   I know Dobby did protect me from your father directly, because the man did try to curse me.”

“The ritual was difficult.”  Draco leaned against his mother as she wrapped an arm around his shoulders.  “I was a wreck.  Dobby was mostly pleasant, but he was often in Father’s way and got kicked around a lot.  And he knew he was disobeying when he tried to help you.  I had to live all of that mental mess in my head to do the ritual.   Mother took me to the South of France to a Wizarding spa for a month so I could recover.   I wonder where Dobby found to work after it all?”

Harry frowned.  “He didn’t.  Find a place, I mean.  He said he wanted to be free, so he’s not with another family.”

“Oh, dear,” said Cygnus, distressed.  “That is not good at all.  This Elf must be bonded into a healthy family or he is in danger.  His magic will burn out and he will die if he is not housed and cared for.  Do you think he is still around?”

Harry’s expression cleared.  “Oh, yes, he is.  He’s taking care of Winky, here in the Castle.”

Hermione looked devastated.  “I never knew.  I wanted to free all the House Elves in Hogwarts because I thought they were slaves.  I mean, you never see them, and then in the kitchen they were falling all over themselves to serve us.  They were almost manic about it.”

Narcissa smiled gently at the girl.  “Happy and healthy elves often act that way.  They want to share their happiness in the best way they know how, and they often love with food.  Because you were not raised in the Wizarding world, you had no way of knowing.  Now, the best thing we can do is find that poor Elf and find her a household to be happy in.”

Harry called for Dobby, and requested the Elf bring Winky to them so they could offer care.  While everyone ate, Cygnus and Remus sat and quietly questioned the Elves about their lives now.  Draco watched Harry, who was trying valiantly not to listen to the query.

“Have you worked out that Golden Egg yet, Potter?” he asked after swallowing a bite of food.

Harry looked up, startled.  “Um, no?  Honestly, I figured out that it has a hinge, but when I open it there’s this horrible screeching that comes out of it.  So I’m perplexed.  I have time, so I’m trying not to let it get to me.”

Draco hummed softly in thought.  “Maybe you should bring it down here tomorrow.  More minds to go over it, you know?”

Harry looked skeptical.  “Maybe.  I know Sirius wants to help if he can, but this is kind of my deal as a Champion, you know?  I can’t let everyone do the work for me.”

Draco smirked at him  “And while I appreciate that Gryffindor mentality, the Slytherin sentiment would be to get as much of an advantage as possible.”

Harry smiled but kept shooting worried glances toward Cygnus and Remus.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  Right now, though, Winky is looking really bad.  I think we should go over there to help her.  And maybe help Dobby as well.  Maybe Sirius has need for a demented House Elf?”

Draco frowned.  “Dobby was never really demented, you know.  I remember him caring for me when I was really young.  Then he got ‘promoted’ to my father’s personal Elf, and he went a bit wonky after that.  Knowing what I do about my father now, I’m not really surprised.  And since Dobby kept hearing about the ‘Famous Harry Potter’ all over the place, it’s no wonder that he fixated on you.”

Harry scowled and crossed his arms over his chest with a huff of annoyance.  “I still hate all that tripe, you know?  I hate the fame.  I hate people thinking things about me that aren’t true.  It all really bites.”

 

******************************************************

 

Sirius Black was both fascinated and horrified at the state of Winky—former House Elf of Bartemius Crouch, the man who imprisoned him falsely without trial.  The poor creature was swaying back and forth, clinging to a bottle of Butter Beer as if her life depended on it, and staying in her seat only because Dobby the Elf was holding her by the shoulders.  It was obvious that the strain of the Closure Ritual had done a great deal of damage.  The little Elf was an emotional wreck, mumbling about her ‘Mister Barty’ and how he couldn’t care for himself now that Winky was gone.  Whatever was going on in that man’s head, it had to have been truly horribly corrupt to do this much damage to such a loyal servant.  Sirius barely heard her drunken ramblings, as he was thinking about any House Elves that the Black Family possibly still had in employ.  He had been incarcerated for twelve long years, and his brother was long dead, as were his parents.   Narcissa would not have immediate access to any Black Elves, and Bellatrix was in prison (and good riddance to her), but he wasn’t sure if Andromeda could support Elves with her husband or not.  So, when Winky mentioned ‘Young Master Barty’ being in trouble lately, Sirius tuned back in to listen.

“Bartemius Crouch Jr. was in Azkaban with me,” Sirius said softly.  “In fact, he died there several years ago, and was buried on the grounds outside the prison.  So I don’t understand how he could be trouble now.”

Noooooooooooooo…,” Winky moaned.  “Young Master is not being dead and buried.  Master Barty be bringing him home to me after Mistress gets very ill.  Winky is taking care of the Young Master all this time.”

Sirius turned to Severus and snapped, “Snape, is there a sobering potion that is safe for House Elves?  We need to get her to make sense.   Crouch’s wife died around the same time as Junior died in prison.”

Severus frowned and turned toward his private work space.  “I’ll see what I can find.  This is most disturbing indeed.”

 

 

Chapter 14:  Moving Forward, Looking Back

 

The lunch meal was long forgotten, and Susan Bones had quietly dismissed herself from the classroom, quickly figuring that whatever was happening had nothing to do with her.  She promised to be back for dancing and etiquette lessons later.

The rest of the group moved quickly and quietly into Severus’ living quarters for a level of more privacy and comfort.  Winky and Dobby were given a large armchair to share near the fireplace, which had been Floo-locked to prevent unwanted entrances.  Harry and Draco both sat near enough to Dobby to offer physical support if the Elf needed it.  Both boys had held a fondness for the odd Elf, and were now determined to make sure the Elf found a new and safe household to be bonded into.

Severus entered the room after several long moments, carrying a vial containing a bright green potion.  “This is a mild Sober-Up Potion, mixed with Pepper-Up and a small dose of Veritaserum.  I realize we’ll need the creature sober and alert, but we also need the whole truth of her situation.  I dislike forcing truth from Elves, but in her state, mourning her dismissal, she may still hide pertinent information.”

Dobby took the vial from Severus quickly.  “I be giving it to Winky, Professor Sir.  Dobby knows you only wants to help.”

The potion was quickly slipped into Winky’s empty Butter Beer bottle, and she was convinced to down the entire draught.  Soft grey mist filtered from her ears as the Pepper-Up went to work, and her eyes immediately cleared, then clouded over as she sobered and went under the effect of the Veritaserum.

Sirius was chosen to question the distraught Elf, since he knew more about the Crouch situation than the others in the room.  “Winky, do you know where you are?”

Winky swayed in her seat slightly.  “Winky be at Hogwarts.  Winky be a bad Elf, and is tossed from her home.”

Sirius choked back a distressed sob.  “Winky, we don’t believe you are a bad Elf.  Nobody thinks you are a bad Elf.  Why do you think that?”

“I not be keeping Master’s best secret,” Winky said, eerily monotone.  “I be letting Young Master get away from me.”

Sirius looked up to find that Cygnus was using an Insta-quote Quill to take detailed notes of the inquiry.  “Winky, how did the Young Master come to be in your care?”

Winky struggled a bit, clearly trying to fight the Veritaserum, and then began to speak. “Mistress got real sick, and she begs Master Barty to take her to Bad Place to say good-bye to the Young Master.  Mistress does not going to live for long.  Mistress begs Master to trade her for Young Master, so Master Barty gives them Polyjuice in the Bad Place.  When Master leaves to come home, Mistress is left behind and Young Master is coming to me.  But Master Barty keeps him potioned and stupid, so he cannot get away.  Winky gives Young Master all her love and care, but he still looks half-dead.  Winky asks for little treats for Young Master.  We go on walks around the park and picnics in the garden.  Master Barty has an invisibility cloak for Young Master to wear, so nobody can see he is with Winky instead of in Bad Place.  Young Master seems to be getting better, so Winky asks for big treat for him.  Winky asks Master Barty to go to Quidditch game, because Young Master loves Quidditch so much.  But Master Barty says Winky has to keep close to him at all times, and Winky is so afraid of heights.  But Young Master stayed under his cloak in the high box and we watches the game.”

Winky shuddered under the influence of the potion, but Dobby encouraged her to keep telling her story.  “Late at night, Young Master gets away from Winky.  Then the bad Deathmen come and scare everyone at the camping.  Winky leaves out of her safe tent to try and find Young Master, but Winky can’t see him for all the smoke and people.  And the Dark Mark goes up into the sky and Winky is so scared.  And then Master Barty has found Winky, and he knows Winky has lost Young Master.  And he sees Winky with a wand, but Winky cannot use a wand.  Winky finds it in the bushes, but Master Barty is so angry.  And at home, he gives me Clothes.”

Winky began weeping in earnest, and Dobby wrapped her in a hug to comfort her.  Sirius sat back, stunned.  “Winky,” Sirius asked softly, “how did you come to be at Hogwarts?”

The devastated House Elf sniffed loudly.  “I be following Young Master’s magics.  His magics is being strong here, so here is Winky.  Young Master may still need his Winky!”  And she dissolved into tears once again.

“Merlin’s Beard!” Sirius exclaimed, rubbing a weary hand over his eyes.  “I have no doubt that she’s telling the truth.  So this means that Barty Crouch smuggled his Death-Eater son out of Azkaban, and left his dying wife in his place.  And if that’s the case, and he fought off the potions that Crouch kept him dosed with, then that means there’s a dangerous Death-Eater roaming about.  From all accounts, House Elves can sense the magic of their families, even from far distances, so that they can go to them when called.”

Severus frowned.  “Suddenly Mister Potter’s inclusion into the Tri-Wizard Tournament seems so much more sinister.  Certainly a high-ranking Death-Eater would want to see harm to the boy who vanquished the Dark Lord.  Having a Death-Eater at this school is…a horrible prospect.”

“So, someone really is trying to kill me?” Harry asked weakly, and Hermione immediately wrapped her arms around the boy.  “I’m not just being paranoid?”

Sirius stood and pulled Harry into an embrace as shock settled onto the boy.  “Harry, we’ll not let anything happen to you.  I only just got you back.  I won’t lose you now.”

Harry laughed sadly.  “How do you plan to keep anything from happening to me?  Accidents happen all the time during these Tournaments.  I know, because Hermione made me read the history of the Tri-Wizard.  People have died, and there would be no way to prove it wasn’t an accident.  Look at the freaking dragons!!  This whole thing is crazy!”

“Well,” inserted Remus, “we need to get Cygnus out of the Castle, so that his secret remains just that.  Then we need to tell the Headmaster about this little development.  There are security measures that he can install here at the Castle to keep unwanted visitors from suddenly appearing.  Fortunately, you have an ex-Auror here at the Castle teaching, so he can be of use.”

Sirius huffed.  “Yes, well, before we bring Moody into this, I want to place a magical Tracker on Harry.”  Sirius straightened, and drew his wand.  “I have great misgivings about Moody, but they’re all personal.  The man knew me when I was an Auror, and he never questioned my supposed guilt or imprisonment.  He may have once been good at his job, but too many curses have left him slightly deranged and manic.  And I don’t doubt he’s still trying to see me as a threat.  There is a Tracking Spell, developed by my Great-Great-Grandfather, which will allow me to keep track of Harry.  It’s undetectable magic, so even the great Moody will not be able to sense it.  But if anyone tries to take Harry from the school grounds, I’ll know immediately, and I’ll be able to Apparate directly to his side.  This way, I’ll know he’s safe from abduction at least.  And as I plan to attend the Yule Ball and all the other Tournament Tasks, I will be here to provide another level of protection.”

“Before you cast that spell,” interrupted Severus, “is there any way you can key it to other people?  You can’t be here all the time, and you certainly cannot attend his classes with him.  At least I am in the school in an official capacity.”

Sirius looked at Snape, and considered the request.   “I can’t key the spell to you, but I can teach it to you and you can cast your own Tracker.  With two Trackers, there will be extra security.  But only with Harry’s permission.”

Both men looked at Harry for consideration.  The boy looked flustered and pale, but eventually he nodded.  “This will at least keep someone from taking me?  What about Portkeys?  What about simply knocking me out?”

Sirius grasped Harry’s shoulder.  “Harry, nothing is perfect.  If it were, you’d never have been entered in this contest at all.  But this is powerful blood magic.  Not Dark, don’t look at me like that.  Not every member of the Black Family is Dark, and the proof of that is in this very room.  But this Blood Tracker spell will over-ride even the anti-apparition wards at this school, so if the worst does happen and you are taken for nefarious purposes, I—and Snape—will be right behind you and by your side immediately.  We won’t allow you to be harmed.”

“Alright then,” Harry agreed.  “I do trust you.  And I know you’ll do your best to protect me.  So, do it.  Both of you, because Professor Snape is right—you can’t be here all the time.”

Sirius nodded and turned to Severus.  “Right, then, Severus come with me and I’ll teach you the spell.  I hope that, because you claim Lily as a sister in magic, this will work for you.  Blood Magic is annoyingly specific sometimes.”

 

****************************************************

 

Half an hour later, Harry was sufficiently and successfully spelled, Cygnus and Narcissa were safely through the Floo, and Hermione and Harry were on their way back to the Gryffindor Common Room.  It was decided that the adults would take care of informing the Headmaster of this most recent discovery, and that the rest of their scheduled dancing lessons would be cancelled for the day.   Hermione would tell Susan at dinner, and Harry would spend the rest of the evening getting used to the slight tingle that the spell left on his skin.  He also pondered his Golden Egg some more.  He didn’t open it again, because nobody needed to hear that screeching, but he looked for patterns on the outer layer.  He found none.  The surface was smooth.  Harry’s thoughts were smooth and carefree for once as well.  Sirius had agreed to take in Winky and Dobby, to give them a safe home.  At least he needn’t worry about Dobby’s desire to be a free Elf killing him.  And poor Winky would have a home, and would hopefully heal from the damage done to her by her former Master.

Now Harry only had to worry about an escaped Death-Eater possibly trying to kill him by way of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  He supposed it was a creative method of revenge-murder if nothing else.  Harry also pondered Draco’s actions at the end of Second Year.  Actions that Harry knew nothing about since he was pre-occupied with surviving a Basilisk in the sub-sub-sub-dungeon of Hogwarts Castle.  Draco risked his own mental health to perform a ritual to free the Elf that tried to save Harry.  That meant that, indirectly at least, Draco tried to help Harry back then as well, even if the other boy didn’t know it.   The thought of that made a warm glow settle in Harry’s chest.

 

***************************************************

 

Being both a Slytherin and a Malfoy meant that Draco knew how to keep secrets.  So he did not tell Theo and Blaise what happened after his informal dance lesson.  He wanted to, desperately.  If ever Draco needed to talk about what was happening, now was the time.

Draco was only now forging new alliances; friendship all his own, created not out of ambition but out of respect.  He had his mother by his side, and was beginning to know his cousin Sirius and his maternal grandfather Cygnus.  He was well on his way to making a place in this world without his father’s influence, and he felt freer for it.

And now, Draco was able to see proof that he was a better person.  Dobby, a House Elf that had cared for Draco—a House Elf that Draco took great risk for—was now in a better home and guaranteed survival.  And Draco made that possible.  Maybe he had more in common with Potter than he ever knew.  A ‘saving people’ thing.  He could get used to the feeling of being a good person.  Tomorrow, he would talk to Potter—no, Harry.  He must get used to calling him Harry.  They would talk about saving Dobby, surviving a Death-Eater, and figuring out the Second Task.  Draco would invite Harry, and perhaps Hermione, to spend Christmas with him and his mother in his Godfather’s rooms.  He could at last feel right about befriending Harry.

A warm glow settled in his heart.

 

***********************************************

 

By lunch time the next day, Harry and company were well-enough proficient in Wizarding dancing that they did not fear bringing disgrace to Gryffindor House.  The Weasleys and their dates went off to the Great Hall once again, profusely thanking Sirius and Narcissa for teaching them so well, and thanking Professor Snape for hosting the event.  Since the promised Family lineage lessons were actually going to happen today, Susan Bones stayed for lunch in the Potions classroom.  Harry had taken Draco’s advice, and brought the Golden Egg to the meeting, hoping to allow Sirius and Remus to look at it.

Hermione, however, had withdrawn into herself after the older students left, and looked rather ashamed.  Draco approached his new friend cautiously.  “Granger, whatever is the matter with you today?”

Hermione turned wide, tear-filled eyes to the boy.  “Oh, Draco.  I feel a right idiot about the House Elf thing.  People keep telling me how bright and intelligent I am, and I do have the test scores to prove that.  But how could I have been so stupid about this very important thing?”

Draco awkwardly patted her on the shoulder.  “I wouldn’t worry about it.  You can’t help a bit of ignorance.  When you registered as magical, and the representative from Hogwarts came to your home to talk with your parents, it’s not like they could think of every little thing to tell you.  If you were never around House Elves, you had no reason to know about them.  And you’re right, they are pretty much invisible.  It’s a trait of a good Elf.  They give service, but they don’t attract attention.  You would have learned about it later, I know that for a fact.”

“How do you know?” she asked, confused.

Draco smirked.  “I asked my mother about it, before she Flooed away last night.  In Sixth-Year Charms, and also History of Magic, the students are taught about House Elves and how they are integrated into families.  So, in two more years, you would have learned pretty much what Grandfather told you yesterday.  So basically, you’re now two years ahead in your studies.  That should make you feel better.”

Hermione laughed.  “Thanks, Draco.  That helped a bit.”

Draco smiled and relaxed into his seat.  “So, now that that is out of the way, do you have any prospects for the Yule Ball?  Any dashing wizards waiting in the wings to sweep you away?”

Hermione blushed and ducked her head.  “Um, no, not really.  I know Neville has asked Ginny, but no one has approached me yet.”

Draco bumped her shoulder with his own.  “I wouldn’t worry.  It’s still early days yet.  There is plenty of time, and I know several boys who are interested.  They might be prats and wait until very late, but they are interested.  So you should have Dress Robes ready just in case.”

Hermione brightened.  “Oh, I do.   I have a perfectly lovely outfit.  I can’t wait to wear it, and if nobody asks me, I’ll just go to the Ball by myself!”

Draco laughed with her and pulled her out of her chair, and the duo joined everyone else on either side of a long table, and they began passing dishes of food to one another.  Draco was happy to see how relaxed his mother was, sitting beside her beloved cousin.   He was also happy to see that Sirius and Severus had not raised wands to each other at all.   Perhaps working together on that Tracking spell made it easier for them to get along?

After the meal, Cygnus dragged out a small satchel and seated himself across from Harry.  “So, young man, I hear you have questions about proper Wizarding life?  Or perhaps about your family?  I don’t have all of the answers, of course, but I may have some.”

Harry smiled brightly at the older man.  “Really, sir, anything you can tell me would be nice.  I mean, Sirius can tell me about what my father was like, and Professor Snape knew my mother when they were children, but I have a severe lack of family history.  All my life I was told that my father was a drunken bum who killed himself and my mother in a car accident and left my Aunt to raise me, and left my Uncle to foot the bill.  Then, all of a sudden, I’m a Wizard, which only explained some small accidents that I had as a child.”

Cygnus grimaced.  “Firstly, young man, you are the very wealthy Scion of an Ancient and Noble house.  You are not only a member of Wizarding nobility, but you shall, upon reaching your majority on your seventeenth birthday, inherit the Lordship that your family holds as a Peer of the Realm.  One of your ancestors was knighted by Queen Victoria after he saved her life in 1843.  So that tripe about ‘footing the bill’ for raising you is just that: tripe!  In all likelihood, your relatives have been receiving a monetary allowance for your care, and that is something you should look into with the Goblins at Gringott’s Bank.  If your relatives have been stealing from you since your infancy, you should be made aware of the fact.”

“I’ll be looking into that at once,” Sirius growled angrily.

Harry looked at Cygnus with wide eyes.  “I know about my school vault, sir, but I was never made aware of any other money.”

Cygnus shook his head sadly.  “Oh, Mister Potter, it’s not just money.  The Potter Heritage and Legacy includes property, and land, and a library.  It has shares in Wizarding and Muggle corporations, both in Great Britain and on the Continent.  It has a family history that spans from beyond the time of Hogwarts’ founding.  From my research, I have found that your family reaches back into one of the most famous Wizarding Legends of all time:  The Deathly Hallows.”

Harry sat stunned and pale.  For a long moment the boy didn’t even breathe.  Finally Hermione spoke up.  “Perhaps, sir, just a few highlights, if you don’t mind?”

Cygnus cleared his throat and smiled wryly.  “Of course.  I’ll start at the very start, with Agatha Marie Peverelle marrying James Arthur Potter in 1289.  Agatha was the last daughter of the Peverelle family, and that is the family thought to be the possessors of the Deathly Hallows.  That story is actually a popular fable told to Wizarding children, but all legends are based in some sort of fact, so I’ll get you some research for this so you can read it at your leisure.

“Now then, in 1438, Harrigan Ignotus Potter was already a wealthy man when he moved his family to the New World to try to escape the Witch Burnings in Europe, and he changed the family name to Potts.  You may well still have distant, very distant, family in America.  The Potters returned to Great Britain in 1732, and Christopher James Potter joined the International Confederation of Wizards as High Mugwhump in 1812.  Harrison Wellesley Potter saved Queen Victoria from an assassination attempt, and was knighted for his efforts.  In 1920, that same man began heavily investing in Muggle industrial companies to help rebuild after the first World War, and I am certain you may still hold shares in some of those lasting companies.

“As for Wizarding investments, in 1926 Ignotus Potter and Mariscopo Black put forth the start-up money for a broom company, Cleansweep, and ran that business under the name ‘Ollenton Brothers’.  That company still manufactures high quality racing brooms to this day.  In 1943, Harrigan James Potter was part of a militia group that fought against Gellart Grindewald and his purist movement, ultimately ensconcing him in his own prison in Nurmengard.”

Cygnus saw the awe-struck expressions on the faces of the students at the table and sat back in his chair, offering, “I do have quite a bit of research here for you to peruse at your own pace, Mr. Potter.  I’m afraid it’s quite detailed, but I am a researcher at heart.  So, how’s that for ‘highlights’, Mister Potter?”

Harry closed his mouth with a soft ‘click’.  “That’s….quite a lot, actually.  It’s rather a lot to take in.  And really, I’d rather none of this information leave this room.  If my family is famous, and richer than I want to think about, then knowledge of that will only feed rumors about me.  I really don’t need more of those.”

“I quite agree, Harry.”  Sirius paced across the room.  “Most of your classmates who come from old Pure-Blood families will likely know about the Potter Family’s Noble status and your notable wealth, but if you’ve been humble and withdrawn all this time, they’ve possibly noted that you don’t want attention for it.  I’ll be going to Gringott’s in the morning to seek answers about your family accounts and investments.  I don’t know who was in charge while I was in prison, but I should be able to take over as your Godfather, with your permission.  I’d like to try to take care of you for once; to do things in your favour rather than against you.  If your accounts have been abused or compromised, I’ll want answers.”

Harry heaved a sigh of relief.  “Oh, yeah, please.  Honestly, I have no idea what to do about that.  I’d like to not worry about that sort of thing at my age.”

 

********************************************

 

While Susan was conferring with Cygnus Black about the Bones Family, Harry approached his former DADA teacher.  “Professor Lupin, might I have a word?”

Remus looked up with a smile.  “You may call me Remus, Harry.  I’m no longer a teacher here.  What can I do for you?”

Harry shuffled his feet slightly.  “I was wondering if I could use your fresh ears?  It’s the Golden Egg from the First Task.  It’s supposed to have a clue for the second task, and I’d like—well, not help exactly.  But a fresh look at it.  I don’t want to wait until the last minute with this, and Draco suggested I be a bit Slytherin and get all the advantage that I can.”

Remus chuckled softly.  “Well, if it won’t be considered cheating, I’ll take a look.”

Harry huffed and rolled his eyes, and pulled the golden egg from his school bag.  “I doubt cheating is an issue, honestly.  Remind me to tell you about the First Task.  Anyway, the Egg is huge, and hinged, but when I open it, it makes this horrible noise.”   Harry opened the Egg, and a loud screeching filled the air.  Harry promptly shut the Egg.

Remus leaned forward, cocking his head to the side.  “Harry, let me hear that again, please.”  So the Egg was once again opened, and then promptly closed.  “That sounds like Mermish, if I’m not mistaken.”

Harry’s face twisted in confusion.  “What is ‘Mermish’?”

“It’s the language of the Mer-folk.  There are Mer-folk living in a colony under the Black Lake.  I’d suggest that if you want to find out what it means, you might listen to it under water.”

 

**********************************************

 

Once again, Draco found himself in the library, hiding Viktor Krum from his admirers.  For once, though, both young men were actually doing schoolwork.  Draco was finally finishing his Transfiguration homework, and Krum appeared to be working on advanced Runes.  The gaggle of schoolgirls still hovered in the periphery.

“So, Krum,” Draco asked absently, “who is the lucky girl that you’re taking to the Yule Ball?”

Viktor looked up from his parchment.  “I have asked no one.  The girls here seem rather eager to be with me, but they are only here for my name.”

Draco nodded sagely.  “I have a friend with that same problem.  Hey, I have an idea.  Do you know Hermione Granger?  She’s friends with Harry Potter?”

Krum actually blushed.  “I have seen her around.”

Draco smirked.  “She’s a really level-headed sort of girl.  Very intelligent.  She’s also kind of shy.  I bet if you asked her to go with you, she’d say yes.  She’s not the type to simper about and gush over how famous you are.  And she’s totally not a Quidditch fan, so she won’t go on about that all night.  I bet you’d have a good time and decent conversation with her.”

Krum’s expression brightened.  “Do you perhaps know where she might be found?”

Draco pondered for a moment.  “About now?  She’ll be headed to the Great Hall for a study session for Ancient Runes.”

Viktor gathered his parchments and quills, and stood from the table.  “Thank you, Malfoy.”

 

 

Chapter 15:  All Bad Things Must Come To an End

 

Interlude: December 12

The Floo in Professor Severus Snape’s private quarters flashed green and activated, expelling a slightly agitated Sirius Black.  The two men, after agreeing that the welfare of young Harry Potter was more important than a long-lasting childhood animosity, had begun to work well and co-operate with one another.  They had not quite reached friendship status, but they no longer were trying to kill each other.

 

“Severus, do you think you can slip away with me for a few hours this evening?  I need to investigate something away from the school, and I want someone I can trust to either prove or disprove the findings.”

Severus raised one eyebrow as he regarded the other man.  “I shall have to inform the Headmaster if I am leaving the school grounds because I cannot leave my students unsupervised.  Where will we be headed?”

“Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey,” Sirius sneered.  “I want to check over these so-called ‘Blood Wards’ that are supposed to protect Harry during his life at Petunia’s home.  Given what he’s told me of his home life, they can’t very well be much protection, and I want proof of neglect so that I can lay claim to Harry as his Godfather and move him in with me.”

Severus sighed.  “I haven’t really been able to get close to the house.  The Compulsion spells on me prevented me from getting too close, or I’d feel the ire and resentment toward Harry that haunted me during School Term.  Let me visit the Headmaster’s office first.  I’ll tell him that I was called to Gringott’s about an ingredient purchase that I need to handle in person immediately.  I’ll meet you in front of the bank, and we can go from there.”

“Good.  I’ll delve into one of my private vaults for some rare potion ingredient for you, in case he checks your story.”

**

There was a loud pop, much like the backfire of an older automobile, as two dis-illusioned wizards apparated onto Privet Drive.  The house was lit brightly in one room, presumably where the elder Dursleys were watching the evening news program.  Both wizards drew their wands and began casting silent diagnostic and revealing spells, both moving away from each other as they circled the property.  When they met at the back of the garden, their faces were grim.  Nodding to each other, they once again apparated, this time back to Gringott’s Bank where a private meeting room was waiting for them, along with an IWC Lawyer and a Goblin War Mage.

Once the door to the chamber was closed and sealed, Philip Desmain, IWC Family attorney, opened his briefcase and removed several parchments and glass vials.  “Lord Black, what were your findings?”

“I found a poor attempt to protect my godson,” Sirius growled.  “I’m sure Professor Snape can verify, there were wards on the property.  They were set mainly to mark the presence of Harry Potter.  Nothing more than that.  Petunia Evans Dursley and her husband could starve, beat, and misuse Harry, and no alarms would sound.  They could kill the boy, and as long as they buried the body on the property, the wards would still register his presence there, and no alarms would sound.”  Sirius paced the room in his fury.  “Harry told me they held him in a cupboard under the stairs for his entire life, until he received his first Hogwarts letter.  Then they moved him into the junk bedroom, for fear that they would be investigated.  Of course they never were.  Harry’s cousin Dudley would routinely beat and batter him and the parents did nothing to prevent it.  In fact, they rather encouraged the abuse.  Harry was left underfed, unless he got meals at the public school he attended.  He only saw a medical practitioner if the school workers made notes that he needed it.  He’s been wearing the same glasses since he reached puberty, for Merlin’s sake!  And those so-called protection wards never so much as went off once the entire time he’s been there.  And from all accounts, Dumbledore never once looked in on him to see if he was surviving at all.  Harry even told me he begged to be allowed to stay at the school during the summers, only to be told that it was safer at his Aunt’s home.  And now we know that isn’t true at all.”

“I’ll need you both to provide copies of the memories of the property scans you performed, for official record,” said Desmain, offering the crystal vials.  “I’ll also need sworn testimony of any proof of abuse you may have witnessed.  I’ll be able to use medical records as proof of neglect, if it can be shown that he was beaten or malnourished.  With those records, I’ll be able to compel an IWC hearing, and we’ll be able to force the Muggles to testify under Veritaserum about their conduct in the rearing of the boy.”

Severus spoke.  “I do know that Petunia Dursley, as the physical custodian, refused to allow our Mediwitch to do any deep diagnostic medical work.  Poppy Pomfrey was only permitted to heal surface damage that was inflicted at school, either from sports activities or class accidents.  Harry has never, to my knowledge, been examined by a qualified Healer or Nutritionist.  I did notice that he was rather small for his age, but I was ‘compelled’ to do nothing about his care or welfare, no matter how much I may have wanted to.”

Desmain nodded brusquely.  “In that case, I’ll also be able to have an IWC Healer examine the boy during the hearing.  This may be tragic, but ultimately it will help your case, Lord Black.  I thank you for your assist, Professor Snape.  Lord Black, we’ll meet here again tomorrow to conclude your business with the Goblins.  I would like to have this custody case in hand by the beginning of the New Year.”

“Ahem,” interrupted IronShield, the War Mage, “if I may, there is more information that you both need before approaching the IWC courts.”

Sirius turned to the wizened goblin with curiosity in his eyes.  “Is this pertinent to my argument?”

“Oh, yes,” hissed the goblin with a toothy grin.  “It is very pertinent, as this may make your plea for guardianship obsolete.”

Sirius pulled out a chair and sat heavily.  “Alright then, let’s hear it.  Any information I have that will enable me to keep Harry safe is good information.”

“Very well,” said IronShield.  “In regards to this tournament that Mr. Potter was entered into, there are various safety clauses imbedded into such Magical Contracts, especially when Enchanted Objects are used to validate such contracts, and the Tri-Wizard Contest is no exception.  One of the safety clauses involved here is the verification that all competitors are legally adults, which in regards to the Wizarding community means that all competitors are at least seventeen years of age.  Those safety clauses were imbued into the object at the time of Enchantment, and became a permanent part of the magical construction of the object.  Were any of those clauses disrupted in any way, the object would crumble into pieces, as the Enchantments would be completely voided.”

Sirius frowned at the goblin. “What does that mean?  How would that affect my petition for custody of Harry?”

IronShield again grinned.  “It means, Lord Black, that when Mr. Potter’s name came out of the Goblet of Fire, he was magically acknowledged as an adult.  The Goblet may have been fooled somehow, but the Enchantments were never broken.  The Goblin Nation is prepared to announce that Harry James Potter was emancipated as an adult at the time of his inclusion to this tournament, and is therefore no longer obligated to remain in the abusive custody of his mother’s family.  Should Mr. Potter decide to have you act as Regent to his Legacy until he finishes school, the Goblin Nation will stand behind you.”

Both Sirius and Severus stared at IronShield in stunned amazement.

 

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

 

Interlude: December 18

 

Sirius Black, Cygnus Black, and Remus Lupin sat along a long conference table in Gringott’s Bank, across from Philip Desmain, Goblin War Mage IronShield, Goblin Rookwise, the Black Family account manager, and Goblin Sharpclaw, the Potter Family account manager.  Grim expressions were settled on all faces, but the Goblins were especially aggravated.

“Were it not for the Family policy of having two separate names for male children born into this Ancient and Noble House, the betrayer would have emptied and absconded with all of the Potter wealth, and left the boy-child with nothing to his name!”  Sharpclaw was visibly shaking in anger, spittle flying from his mouth as he spoke.  “Because of your incarceration, Albus Dumbledore was able to name himself as Magical Guardian of Harry James Potter, and he was able to act accordingly to take possession of the Gringott’s vaults in that name.  I have a long detailed list of his transgressions against the Honour of Gringott’s, beginning with emptying the base account and investing only enough to pay for the schooling of the boy-child.”

“Well,” said Sirius, “I had thought James was being an idiot when he named his son, but now I’m thankful for it.  It’s a good thing the Potter family kept that little policy private from even their closest friends.”  Sirius sighed.  “So the account under the name ‘Harry James Potter’ was emptied and divided?  How was it dispersed?”

 

Sharpclaw snarled.  “Roughly two-thirds of the account holdings were simply placed in Dumbledore’s personal account.  This was approximately 500,000 galleons, as well as a small personal library.  Fortunately, none of the books involved were of the Potter Family history, nor were they particularly valuable, but they were all entailed.  From the other third, a home was purchased at Number 7 Magnolia Court, a dividend of 50,000 pounds-per-year was paid out to Vernon Dursley—presumably for the care and feeding of the boy-child, and a small investment account was created to provide for the schooling of the boy-child.

“From the larger portion, Albus Dumbledore was able to acquire a large magical library, with many rare books that had been found in an estate auction thirteen years ago, a cottage off the coast of Wales—called Shell Cottage—was purchased, as was the entirety of the Village of Godric’s Hollow.  Also, a bride-price was proposed for a Miss Ginevra Molly Weasley, as was a marriage contract for when both children reached their majority.  Dumbledore has not, as yet, signed the contract, so the boy is safe from this union.”

Sirius sighed.  From all accounts, Harry barely saw Ginny Weasley as a sister-figure only.  He’d be so upset to learn that Dumbledore was planning to marry him off to the girl against his wishes.  Of course, Harry wasn’t going to be pleased about any of this.

“I’ve not yet informed Harry of his emancipation, but if he accepts me as Regent of the Potter Legacy, what am I looking at defending, property-wise?”  Sirius directed the question at Sharpclaw, but it was the War Mage IronShield that answered.

“All properties belonging to the Potter Family, ‘PotterHouse’, Potter Manor, and Lily’s Keep, have been in disuse and disrepair, but they can easily become inhabitable.  None of the Potter House Elves survived the slaughter of James and Lily, and they were all mourned by the Goblin Nation.  The Potter Magical Library and Art Collection have been undiscovered and untouched deep under Gringott’s Bank, in several high-security vaults.

“Fortunately, Albus Dumbledore discounted how important, intelligent, and invaluable Lily Potter was.  Perhaps he only saw her as a Muggle-born witch who was lucky enough to marry into an Ancient and Noble House, but he never asked about any legacy she may have left behind.  To that end, Lily Potter’s private vault has remained untouched, with exception of the interest gathering.  The boy-child would be considered extremely wealthy with only that to his name, and it is listed under the name Evans Prince.  This legacy contains a large Potions Library, a large Transfiguration Library, several musical instruments—both magical and muggle—and a sizable art collection.  There is also a Pensieve, and a large collection of memories, all labeled.

“There is also a trust fund, bequeathed to any Potter male heir, from Penelope Whistlett, James Potter’s grandmother, and a small account that held only James Potter’s Auror salary.  These are also cataloged under Harry Potter’s Magical Name.  Since you will be handling all accounts and investments, of which there are many, I assume you will also be handling the settling of Lily Potter’s Last Will and Testament?”

Sirius swallowed deeply.  “I, um, yes?  I wasn’t aware that Lily had a Will.”

IronShield, who had become quite proprietorial about Harry’s care for some reason, said, “There are but three bequests: 1), that her son, Harry, be kept and raised happily by his Godfather; 2) that all properties save one go to her son; and 3) that this small chest go to Severus Snape, ‘Provided that he has proven one day to have removed his head from his ass.’

Sirius and Remus laughed.  “Yeah,” said Sirius, “I’ll see that he gets it.  It’ll make a nice Christmas gift for him, I think.  And his head is most definitely out of his ass.”

IronShield grinned.  “Now that you know what is at stake, are you prepared not only to take Regency and physical custody of the boy-child Harry James Potter, but also to defend that which was stolen from him?”

Sirius straightened in his chair, a mean smile on his face.   “Oh, yes, you bet I am.”

 

****

 

At the beginning of the Yule Ball, before the champions made their ‘Grand Entrance’, Draco and Heidi Macavoy took over a large table near the bandstand.  They sat with Theo Nott and Blaise Zabini, who were escorting Daphne Greengrass and Sarah Fawcett, but they were also saving seats for their new friends who were amongst the Tri-Wizard Champions.  Draco was impressed that the Headmaster had secured the Weird Sisters to play at the Ball, as popular music wasn’t often heard at formal events.

The decorations were nice, if a bit fanciful, and the Great Hall looked as if it were encased in ice.  The enchanted ceiling was clouded and icicles dripped from sconces high on the walls.  Draco and his friends chatted amicably about nothing until Headmaster Dumbledore announced the arrival of the Tri-Wizard Champions.  The band provided a small fanfare, and the large doors at the head of the room opened.

Cedric Diggory led the march, with lovely Cho Chang on his arm.  He was followed by Fleur DeLacour, escorted by a nervous-looking Roger Davies.  Draco smirked and remarked to Heidi about the Quidditch Theme that seemed to be going on.  Heidi giggled, and then gasped in surprise.

Viktor Krum entered the room, arm in arm with a vision from Heaven.  Hermione Granger looked nothing like she had the last Draco saw her.  Her hair, usually bushy and in disarray, was sleeked back and held in an intricate knot.  Her dress was a lovely periwinkle blue, with a sweet-heart neckline and long, flowing hem.  But it was her smile that drew most of Draco’s attention; Hermione was beaming!  Viktor looked so proud to be her escort, and Draco couldn’t blame him.  Then Draco’s attention was redirected to the doorway, and in walked Harry Potter, nervously escorting Susan Bones.

If asked later, Draco could honestly not tell what Susan was wearing.  His eyes were on Harry and Harry only.  The bottle-green dress robes brought out the jade of Harry’s eyes, and the stark white of his formal shirt made his smile seem so much brighter.

Draco felt his heart give a stutter as Harry glided past their table to begin the opening dance.

He was in so much trouble.

 

Shaking his head, Draco turned to face his table-mates.  They were all, even Fawcett and Greengrass, smirking at him, like they knew what had had his attention.

 

Yeah, he was in trouble.

 

*****

 

The camaraderie of their table was garnering all sorts of attention.  Draco was laughing with Cedric and Viktor as they discussed various Quidditch plays and tried to describe them to Harry.  Hermione and Susan formed a girly bond with the other females there, even though Heidi was obviously more interested in the Quidditch talk.  The Weasley Twins wandered over a time or two after the food was cleared, and everybody was trading dancing partners as if they had been friends for years.

As the Yule Ball took place on December 21, Draco hesitantly invited Harry and Hermione to join him and his mother and grandfather on December 25 for a Christmas celebration.  He had a feeling that Harry would be happy to come, because Sirius would be there, but Hermione was an unknown.  He knew she’d not be going home to her own parents, and he really was beginning to enjoy her company.

Hermione smiled shyly at the invitation.  “I’d really like that, Draco.  But I won’t be able to come until around lunchtime, because I already promised the Weasleys that I’d be at the Burrow for Christmas morning.  I’ll be Flooing to their home with the twins and Ginny tomorrow.  I know Ron is an idiot, but there may still be hope for him, and the twins are friends now and his parents have been really good to me.  I’ll arrange to Floo back to Hogwarts after breakfast.”

 

Draco accepted her decision easily.  “That’s fine, then.  I can meet you in Godfather’s office just before lunch, and we can Floo from there.  You might need a break from Ronald by then, anyway.”

 

Susan excused herself to the ladies’ room, and Sarah and Daphne followed, so Draco dared Harry to ask Madame Maxime, the large Beauxbatons Headmistress, to dance.  Harry gamely stood, but in retaliation dared Draco to invite Professor McGonagall to dance.  Hermione and Viktor laughed at them as they went to claim their respective partners, but Draco merely smiled as he noted the lone Press Representative, from The Informed Magical, watching them and taking notes.

Fortunately the band was not playing one of their more riotous numbers, and had settled into a simple waltz.  Professor McGonagall was surprised by his invitation, but she happily offered Draco her hand and he escorted her to the dance floor to the amusement of Professors Flitwick and Sprout.  Glancing over her shoulder, Draco watched as Harry gingerly led Madame Maxime around the dance floor, both looking remarkably graceful even if they were oddly matched.

“I’ve been watching you this Term, Mr. Malfoy,” said McGonagall as they danced around the floor, “and I wanted to tell you how impressed I am at how you’ve turned yourself around.”

Draco blushed at the praise.  “Thank you, Professor; I’ve had a great motivation.  After this past summer, the last person I want to emulate is my Father.”

 

After the dance, in which neither Harry nor Draco tripped-up their partners, the duo returned to their table to find Hermione comforting an upset Susan.

“What happened?” Draco asked, concerned.  “Is someone giving you a hard time for hanging out with Slytherins?”

“Oh, no,” Susan declared, “it’s nothing like that.  My friends know that none of you would ever hurt me, even if some of your Housemates are gits.” Susan looked at Harry.  “Ginny Weasley is here with Neville Longbottom, did you know?”

Harry nodded.  “Um, yeah, he told me he was going to ask her.  He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he wanted to come with someone he knew.”

Susan wrinkled her nose a bit.  “Well, she caught me in the loo.  She told me all about how she said she’d come with Neville because you were being too shy to ask her.  Then she complimented my dress, sort of, and made a comment about how she thought I cleaned up okay for a Hufflepuff.  Then,” Susan took a breath.  “Then she told me not to get used to your attention, because once the stress of the Tournament was over, you were going to go back to her where you belonged.  And if I had any ideas of tonight meaning more than you feeling sorry for me, then she would make sure I learned my place.  It was really odd.  She was so sure that you were going to be her boyfriend.  Are you sure you don’t really like girls?”

Harry blushed furiously.  “Um, not really. No.  And even if I had had any romantic notions about girls, I have never given Ginny any indication that she was more than a friend to me.  Not even that, really, because I’ve never spent any time with her away from the Common Room.”

Susan sighed.  “Then perhaps you should really make sure she knows how you feel, because she was really ugly to me.”

Harry nodded and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck.  “Well, I’ll talk to her after the Ball, if she’s still awake when I get back to the Common Room.  I don’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas, but I can’t allow her to treat my other friends like that.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not going to the Burrow tomorrow.  I’d hate to have to put up with Ginny and Ron like that.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I’m not really threatened, then,” said Susan.  “I mean, I have a perfectly lovely boyfriend outside of school.  And I’m really enjoying being your friend, Harry, but that’s all I’ll ever be for you.  I am glad that we got Colin Creevy to take photos before the Ball, though.  I can’t wait to show them to my Aunt Amelia when she comes to watch the Second Task.”

 

****

 

Draco gallantly escorted Heidi back to the door of the Hufflepuff Common Room, and kissed her on her cheek.  “I had a great time, Heidi.  Thank you for coming with me.”

“I had a good time as well, Draco.  You’re not a bad guy, you know.  We should get together a pick-up game some time.”

“I’ll look into it, Macavoy.  Have a good Christmas.”

 

****

 

The next day, Draco headed to the Great Hall for breakfast humming the music to the waltz he danced with McGonagall.  He hadn’t had a chance to speak to his godfather the night before, but from all accounts the dark man looked rather perturbed when Draco spotted him coming in from the gardens.  Draco thought perhaps Severus had been spending the majority of the Ball shooing canoodling couples out of hidden nooks and broom closets, and that would put a dour expression on anybody’s face.  Upon entering the Great Hall, Draco spotted Harry sitting alone at the end of the Gryffindor table, flipping through an owl-order catalog.

Draco sat beside him on the long bench, looking around the Great Hall, which no longer looked magical and icy.  “Sorry to see this place looking so normal again, eh, Potter?  Last night was a real spectacle.”

Harry looked up at Draco.  “You don’t know the half of it, Malfoy.  I had a talk with Ginny last night.  Or rather, I had a talk at Ginny, after the Ball.  I told her that Susan told me about their confrontation.  Ginny didn’t seem very impressed.”

Draco raised an eyebrow.  “No longing looks of guilt?”

Harry grimaced.  “More like looks of pride.  She told me that she was glad that Susan got the message, and that she wasn’t a threat to Ginny’s relationship with me.  I told Ginny that there was no relationship with me; that I only considered her a friend and nothing more, and she had no right to tell my other friends to leave me alone.”

“And how did she take it?   Not well, I suppose?”

Harry sighed.  “Ah, no.  She told me that she was promised to be married to me after school, and that was what would happen.  She’s under the impression that I’m the deluded one, because I told her there was no such promise.  I’m really glad I’m not at the Burrow right now, but I feel badly that Hermione is  I hope the twins can prove to be a buffer for her, but I just know Ginny and Ron are going to make her feel badly and out of place, and she doesn’t deserve that.”

Draco frowned into his teacup.  “Well, we can make it up to her when she comes back.  My mother and Grandfather aren’t planning anything spectacular for Christmas, but a quiet family gathering with them and your Godfather should be good.”

Harry hummed in agreement as he chewed a piece of toast.  Swallowing, he asked, “Is Snape going to be there?”

“I suppose so,” Draco said.  “Is that going to be a problem?”

 

Harry quickly shook his head.  “No.  I’m hoping I can get him to tell me more about my mum.  Everyone here, even the professors, tell me all about my father, but Snape is the only one who knew my mother really well.”

 

Draco pointed at Harry’s catalog. “Have you chosen gifts for everyone on your list?”

 

Harry laughed.  “Not even remotely.  I’ve chosen something for Hermione, and I suppose I should get something for Ron, even if it’s just something small.  He was my first friend, after all, so I thought I’d get him some Chudley Cannons merchandise.  And I know it seems silly, but I wanted to get something for Dobby and Winky.  I didn’t get anything for Snape, though, because I have no idea what to give him.”

 

“You’re giving him a second chance.  I think that’s enough.”

 

****

 

Draco and Severus trailed behind Harry and Hermione as they Flooed from Hogwarts, and the two friends were still talking as they stepped through the Floo into Cygnus Black’s Drawing room, and the adults on the receiving end of the Floo exchanged bemused looks.

“I mean it, Harry,” exclaimed Hermione, “something is seriously wrong in that family.  I mean Fred and George are okay, and Bill and Charlie seem to be rational adults, but Percy is a right nut!  He spent the whole morning bemoaning the fact that he has a new boss at the Ministry because Mr. Crouch is getting ready for a trial.  And he actually said he didn’t see how what Mr. Crouch did was so wrong as long as it got a lot of Death-Eaters off the streets.”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, Hermione, and he also put innocent people in prison with his fanatical ways.  You didn’t mention anything about what Winky said, did you?  I mean, you didn’t let on that Crouch helped his Death-Eater son escape Azkaban?”

Hermione huffed, offended.  “Of course not, Harry.  I actually spent a very uncomfortable couple of days trying not to get too much notice.   Ron was still being a prat, and he kept trying to corner me to force me to agree that he had a right to earn money any way he could.  And Ginny!”  Hermione groaned.  “Oh, Harry, she’s so convinced that you’re going to marry her.  And Mrs. Weasley even said that there’s plenty of time for you to choose a wife and Ginny would be a good choice because you already know each other.”

 

Harry frowned.  “But I don’t know her, not really.  Her first year here, she spent the whole time being mortified if we were in the same room, or being controlled by that diary,  and after that, I’ve been a bit busy trying to survive and getting to know my Godfather.  I know you, and I thought I knew Ron, but look how that turned out….”  Harry drifted off when he realized that everyone in the room was staring at them.  “ Oh, hello, everyone.”

Sirius laughed, and grabbed Harry in a hug.  “Happy Christmas, Harry!  Happy Christmas, Hermione!  Why don’t we have our lunch, and then we can do gifts and talk about what’s bothering all of you.”

Draco hugged his mother, and shook his grandfather’s hand, and then he turned to greet Remus.

“It’s good to see you again, sir. I hope you’re doing well?”

Remus smiled and shook the boy’s hand in greeting.  “Very well, thank you Draco.  Tell me all about the Yule Ball, because the newspaper is soft on details.”

Actually, the newspaper, The Daily Prophet, was incredibly light on details.  The Board of Governors for Hogwarts decided, after the Rita Skeeter scandal, not to allow any Prophet reporters access to Hogwarts for the remainder of the Tournament.  They did allow that the Prophet could purchase stories from other news sources for re-print, for readers whose only source of news was the Prophet.  As for Yule Ball coverage, there was the bare minimum.

The Informed Magical, however, actually had a reporter on site.  Trudy Verhoven, the Society Reporter, wrote a charming story (without photos due to privacy issues), detailing the decorations, food, and music, and extolling how the values of Inter-School co-operation were truly in effect, with three of the four Champions sharing a table, and the fourth dancing with everyone who asked.

 

Lunch was casual, with dishes being passed in every direction around an enlarged table in the cozy dining room.  The food was good, but there was clear tension coming from several of the persons seated in the dining room.  Hermione and Harry were stressed about the drama caused by the Weasleys.  Severus was rubbing his left arm distractedly.  Sirius was frowning into his coffee, thinking about his ‘gifts’ to Harry.

Finally Cygnus called for everyone to move to the Drawing Room and the cozy fire for the gift exchange, and he asked Severus to stay back for a moment.  “Something is bothering you.  Please, Severus, tell me what it is.”

Severus began to roll back his shirt sleeve.  “My Dark Mark seems to be making reappearance.  I cannot think why this is happening, but I fear the worst.  With Crouch Junior out and about somewhere near the school, and Peter Pettigrew also being on the loose, I fear they may be trying to bring back the Dark Lord.  I thought I had put that part of my life behind me.  I knew I’d always be marked, but this mark more than ties me to the Dark Lord.  It was his way of controlling the Death-Eaters.”

A clearing throat drew their attention to Sirius, who stayed behind to be nosy.  “I wasn’t going to mention anything until after gifts, but I came across something from Lily whist at Gringott’s.  She left a bequest for you, in the event that you turned your back on the Dark.  I’ve already seen it, because I wanted to make sure in no way could it harm Harry.  I think you should have it now.”  Sirius presented Severus with a small wooden crate.  Severus opened the lid and beheld a worn journal, two Potions texts, and a glass vial containing a silvery mist.

Sirius pointed to the contents casually.  “The journal is Lily’s.  It was something she began working on when she discovered she was pregnant.  I didn’t know then what it was, but she spent a lot of time in her lab before they had to go into hiding.  I checked it out after receiving it from Gringott’s.  She was trying to find a way to completely remove the Dark Mark.  She finally succeeded just before Harry was born.  I think she wanted her ‘brother’ to be in Harry’s life, should he ever be needed.  The Pensieve memory shows her processes, and the journal details the potion needed and where to find the ingredients.  We won’t let the Dark Bastard have you again, Severus.  I’ll need you to help me with Harry.”

Severus stroked the crate gently, a small tear appearing in his eye.  He brushed it away, and nodded to Sirius.  “Thank you, Black.  I’ll give as much help to Harry as I can.”

 

****

 

The gift exchange was small, for all that the people involved barely knew each other.  Hermione received books, of course, as it was a good fail safe gift for her.  The topics ranged from House Elf history to Wizarding Ritual customs, and were well received by the studious girl.

Harry presented Sirius a gold pocket watch with a small bell watch-fob.  “It’s a freedom bell, to celebrate that you aren’t in prison anymore.”

Narcissa presented Draco with a thick file of parchment.  Draco was stunned to see that it contained a formal copy of her petition for divorce from Lucius, citing spousal abuse, potential child abuse, and claims that Lucius was always a loyal Death-Eater and that Narcissa feared for her life and the life of her child.  Also in the file was the arrest warrant for Lucius Abraxus Malfoy, dated four days prior.  Narcissa explained that, with the testimonies of both her and her father, International Aurors from the IWC and Aurors from the British Ministry of Magic, surrounded Lucius in his Ministry offices, and caught him unawares.  They were then able to question him under Veritaserum without giving him a chance to take the antidote, which was how he was able to lie during the Trials long ago. Lucius was found to be, in fact, guilty of Hate Crimes, guilty of his attack on Ginny Weasley, guilty of the Muggle attacks at the World Cup, and guilty of spousal abuse.  Narcissa had been granted the divorce—and a substantial monetary settlement, which she placed in trust for Draco.

“Well,” said Sirius, “As long as this has suddenly turned serious, I have my gift to you Harry.  But first, I need to speak with you privately and I need a drop or two of your blood.”

“Why do you need my blood?”

Sirius took a breath.  “I need it to cancel the Blood Wards on Petunia’s home.  They aren’t much, actually, but with them cancelled Dumbledore will not be able to keep track of your presence while not at school.  We have a lot to talk about, and I’ll need you to remain calm because some of this stuff will blow your mind.  Do you want to do this now, or wait until everyone leaves?”

Harry glanced around the room to see the people that were becoming important to his life:  Hermione, who had stood by him as a true friend.  Draco, who was proving to be a steady presence in his life.  Narcissa and Cygnus, who had gone above and beyond duty to see that Sirius received a trial and was freed of the unjust charges.  Even Severus Snape, who was not as much of a git as Harry had thought.  This year was proving to be exceptionally challenging for Harry, and everyone in this parlour had stood by him and offered support in one way or another, showing themselves to be his true family, of choice if not blood.

“I think,” said Harry finally, “that everyone here could probably hear what you have to say and give decent advice if needed, so we can talk here if you don’t mind.”

Sirius nodded grimly and led Harry to a pair of armchairs near the brightly-decorated tree.  “I went to Gringotts a few days ago in an attempt to build a case for taking custody of you away from your aunt and uncle.  I only really had the information that you provided about blood wards and protection, so I needed to investigate for myself.  Firstly, Harry, you have to know that I get no pleasure in telling you these things, and they’re going to be difficult to hear.”

Harry nodded grimly and Hermione moved to take a seat on the floor at Harry’s knee, leaning against his leg to offer support.

Sirius was aware that the attention of everyone in the room was on him and Harry, so he collected his thoughts before speaking.  “My first duty was, of course, to check the veracity of those wards.  I think anyone looking at you can tell that you had a rough childhood, and if those wards were as strong as you were led to believe, then Albus should have been notified of your physical condition while you were growing up.  So, either he ignored those notifications, or those wards were for shit.

“As it turned out, the second option was true.  While there were wards on the home and property, they ended at the property line, and they only indicated that you were, indeed, on that property.  If you had broken a bone, no warnings would send alarms.  If you were ill, no one would be notified.  And if you stepped off the curb in front of the house, it was registered that you were not present, but your physical condition was not noted.  As I so succinctly informed the ICW attorney working with me, your aunt and uncle could have killed you one way or another, and as long as they buried you on the property, the wards would not send an alarm.”

Narcissa gasped in horror and Hermione’s grip on Harry’s leg tightened, but everyone else’s reactions were rather muted.

Harry felt numb.  “So, all that mush about the Blood Wards on the Dursley house keeping me safe was just a bunch of lies?  Why would Dumbledore lie about that?”

Sirius shrugged.  “I’m not sure, but by allowing you to believe it, he maintained control over your life to a certain extent.  There’s more, if you think you can handle it?”

Harry nodded and reached to grab Hermione’s hand.  “I can handle it, but you might want to make sure there’s chocolate available.”

There was general soft laughter that broke much of the tension in the room, but Narcissa actually did call on Dobby to request a pot of hot cocoa for Harry.

Sirius waited until the happy Elf delivered before continuing.  “Dumbledore, it seems, made himself quite comfortable with your inheritance after your parents died.  He somehow managed to seal your father’s will, preventing it from being read, and that alone would have proved that Pettigrew was secret keeper and I was innocent.  Then Dumbledore absconded with a vault in the name of Harry James Potter and bled it almost dry, keeping a few valuable artifacts for himself and leaving you only enough money to get through school.”

Harry almost jumped out of his chair, but Sirius placed a hand on his arm, keeping him seated.  “Relax, Harry.  Dumbledore didn’t completely ruin you or your Family Legacy.  The Noble and Ancient House of Potter had some obscure policy of double-naming their children, and Dumbledore was not aware of this.  Neither was I, as a matter of fact, but that only means that every other part of your inheritance was held in trust under your Magical Name, and I’m not going to tell you what that is right now.  It’s nobody’s business but yours, so if you want to share that information, I’ll let you do that at a later date.”

Harry relaxed and sipped the cocoa that Hermione handed to him.  “Okay, right.  Thanks for that.  But there’s more, right?”

Sirius sighed.  “Yes, there’s more.  There was a proposed bride-price and marriage contract for Ginny Weasley, which Dumbledore filed as your magical guardian but did not sign.  I expect he figured he’d have time to talk you into thinking it was your idea.  I had it torn and burned, and I’ve got the ashes all packaged up if you want to send them to Molly Weasley, as hers was the other name on the contract.  I’ve not spoken to Arthur, so I don’t know if he knew about the contract or not.”

Harry sighed and slumped down in his chair, drinking deeply from his mug.  Sirius looked around the room and found various expressions of anger and frustration on the faces of the other occupants.  “Harry,” he said after a moment, “there’s one more thing, and it’s a big one.”

Harry rolled his head to the side to see his godfather more clearly.  “What more could there possibly be?”

Sirius cleared his throat.  “Well, it’s about the tournament and the Goblet of Fire….”

Harry scowled.  “What now?  We already know some nutter Death-Eater put my name in there; what more is there?”

Sirius sucked in a quick breath before responding.  Harry was angry, but he had every right to be.  Right now, it was safe for him to be angry, because he was surrounded by people who weren’t trying to hurt him, steal from him, or marry him off.  But classes would soon be resuming, and Harry would have to face Dumbledore and the Weasleys.  After his trial, Sirius was offered the services of several Mind-Healers, mostly due to the conditions he experienced in Azkaban, and the exposure to the Dementors, but also because of the righteous anger he felt at being denied free access to his only remaining family.  Perhaps Sirius would introduce Harry to his own personal Mind-Healer; they boy could probably use the positive attention.

“Harry,” Sirius said after the boy seemed to calm, “it was explained to me, by a Goblin representative at Gringotts, that the Goblet of Fire is a highly magical Enchanted Object.”

Harry grimaced.  “Yes, I know.  They told me that, too.”

Sirius nodded.  “Well, did they explain that certain safety measures were added to the Goblet during its Enchantment all those centuries ago, and that one of those safety measures was to insure that nobody who was underage could be entered into the Tri-Wizard Tournament?”

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “I think Dumbledore said something about setting an age line, and that the Goblet could not be fooled, but we all know that it could be because how else was I entered?”

“Right, well…that’s not quite right, Harry.  The Goblet obviously could be Confounded by a highly magical person, but those safety protocols were still in effect.  Basically, when the Goblet accepted you as a Champion for the Tournament, it announced that you were now a legal adult.  And when Dumbledore and Minister Fudge demanded that you be forced to participate rather than cancelling the Tournament and doing a recall, they legally acknowledged you as an adult under the constraints of the Tournament rules.”

Sirius shrugged as everyone in the room vocally reacted, some in amazement, others in outrage.  Harry, however, merely stared at his godfather, mouth agape.

“What…um, what does that mean? Exactly?” Harry asked.

Sirius smiled wryly.  “Well, it means that the Goblet of Fire actually emancipated you.  With the verification of the Minister of Magic, you are now legally an adult, even if he didn’t mean it that way.  In the larger scheme, it means that you won’t ever have to return to the Dursley home.  The Goblin Nation has vowed to back you as an emancipated minor, granting you status as a legal adult despite your age, and the ICW attorney thinks this will work in your favor.  You need to choose a Regent to oversee your investments, properties, and Wizengamot votes, but you are now free to practice magic outside of school without getting into trouble—and you can choose which of the Potter properties you want to have as a new home.”

Harry’s eyes widened as the implications finally hit him.  He was free!  Well, he was still locked into the competition, but he was free from the Dursleys.  “So, I get to choose who takes care of all that stuff until I get out of school?”

“Yes,” Sirius answered warily.

Harry laughed.  “Of course I choose you, Sirius!  Who else might have my best interests in mind?”

Sirius exhaled sharply in relief.  “This isn’t all of it, you know?  This is just the main stuff that you needed to know.  We still have a lot to go over before classes begin again.”

Harry nodded, seriously.  “But we have a bit of time, right?  So maybe things will be okay.”

 

 

Cast Pictures:

Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)

Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory)

Sirius Black (Gary Oldman)

Severus Snape (Alan Rickman)

Cygnus Black (Christopher Lee)

 

3 thoughts on “Changes We Have Wrought

  1. Loving it, really! You had me a little ‘confunded’ at first as you didn’t really involve Harry in the story for the first five chapters or so. I’m not certain he was even named to that point but once or twice, so I wasn’t sure you were going to involve him at all. It made this story very compelling coming into it from Draco’s POV and naming and involving loads of people all around Harry, but not Harry himself. Clever and intriguing. I do so hope to read the rest of this some day. Having Cygnus on their side, the ICW, and the Goblins, as well as the ‘blood tracker’ should give us all a really good ride. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Like

  2. Je viens de basculer sur ton blog pour pouvoir lire la suite de cette aventure que tu as commencé à posté sur AO3. Je suis sur des charbons ardents pour la continuité de cette histoire! Je l’attends avec impatience!

    Like

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