Title: Stand by You – Chapters 1-6
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry Potter/Hermione Granger
Genre: Canon Divergence, Romance
Warnings: Discussion of canon deaths, adult topics, brief non-explicit discussion of the potential for sexual assault.
Beta: PN Ztivokreb
Summary: Dumbledore seeks out someone to help Harry Potter with his parselmagic after the events of second year and it changes everything.
* * * *
“This year has been a very difficult one for us all,” Dumbledore began, “first, let me say that I’m pleased to have all of our petrified students returned to us. We’ve missed you and are quite thrilled with your recoveries!”
Harry glanced at Hermione, who was blushing due to the attention. She shared a look with the upbeat Colin Creevy who stood and bowed for the rest of Gryffindor.
“Second, I must tell you all that it is thanks to Harry Potter that our school remains open. He and Ron Weasley sought out the Chamber of Secrets, but due to the betrayal of the one adult they found to take with them, Harry was forced to enter Slytherin’s fabled chamber alone. Through great courage and the near-sacrifice of his own life—he fought both the spectral form of the Dark Lord known as Voldemort and a thousand-year-old basilisk. He won the day and saved young Ginny Weasley’s life. The dverger have come to take the basilisk on Mr. Potter’s behalf and render it appropriately as his spoils.”
Harry flushed under the scrutiny but didn’t lower his gaze. He wasn’t going to be ashamed of what he was anymore. This was why he had agreed to this ceremony and to the award he was about to be given.
“Mr. Potter was able to save both the school and Miss Weasley because he is a parselmouth,” Dumbledore continued. “When his gift was discovered—many of us were horrified, but for very different reasons. Most of you considered it a dark gift, and you mistreated him for it despite the fact that he’d never done a single one of you harm. In fact, it should be said that many of you are alive today because of the sacrifices Mr. Potter and his family have made on behalf of magical Britain.
“For my part, I was concerned for him and certainly gravely disappointed in how many of you treated him. When the Board of Governors insisted that I leave the school, I took the time on my hands to investigate parselmagic. I also researched to see what other great wizards in our world shared this gift. Most know of the Dark Lord’s misuse and abuse of Parseltongue.
“What we did not know, and what I was very pleased to learn, is that parselmagic is, in fact, the lightest gift magic can bestow on a witch or wizard. It is the foundation on which all healing magic is built on around the world, and in many other cultures, the parselmouth is revered for their healing magic and their great works on behalf of the Light. A parselmouth that practices light magic is capable of the most astounding acts of healing magic. I was stunned to watch a young man no older than Mr. Potter regrow a woman’s arm in Singapore.” He paused at the shock that announcement brought.
“In Japan, I met with a parselmouth who was by far the most learned man I will ever know. Master Ito will join us next year to undertake Mr. Potter’s training in parselmagic. He will also be available as a Healer in the infirmary when he isn’t consulting with St. Mungo’s. Mr. Potter’s apprenticeship with Master Ito is a great boon to magical Britain as he will be our first parselmouth healer in six hundred years.”
Gryffindor exploded with excitement, and Hermione hugged him tightly.
Dumbledore waited until the lions had regained control of themselves before he continued, “The most famous parselmouth in our own history was none other than Merlin himself. Godric Gryffindor was also a parselmouth, and from that prestigious line, our own Mr. Potter does directly descend. As much as Mr. Potter is the Heir of Gryffindor, he is also as of two nights ago the Heir of Slytherin through magical conquest—as he has met, battled, and defeated the blood heir of Slytherin three times in his very short life.
“What does this mean for Mr. Potter? To be the Heir of not one but two founders? Legally, it means a bunch of headaches involving the school endowment and the Board of Governors. With his victory in the chamber—he also became the Heir Regent of Gryffindor. This is a magical title, bestowed by Hogwarts herself upon him because he willingly and knowingly nearly sacrificed his life for the well-being of the school and the students within. This brave young man nearly died for you all—despite how you treated him, despite how you shied away from him after you learned he was a parselmouth, and despite how much you made him feel ashamed of the gifts magic had given him. He forgave you in those last moments in the chamber and fought on your behalf against basilisk that measured thirty-six meters in length and weighed over a metric ton.
“Even now, he sits among us, and he seeks nothing but your respect. I ask you all to stand as it is my great honor to bestow upon Mr. Harry James Potter the Order of Merlin, First Class for his service on behalf of our school and all of magical Britain.”
* * * *
Harry carefully stowed the wooden box with his award in it his trunk and tried to ignore the stares he was getting from everyone in his dorm room. “Guys. Really? I’ve been stared at enough today.”
Neville laughed. “Sorry, Harry, it’s just—you earned an Order of Merlin at twelve. You’ve set the bar pretty high for yourself with this one.”
“No joke,” Harry agreed dryly. He glanced at Ron and found him sullen. It wasn’t a surprise. His friend had been acting kind of ugly since they’d come out of the Chamber of Secrets. He sat back on his heels. “Dobby!”
The elf appeared immediately with an arm full of clothing. “Master Harry, I brings yous new clothes.” He dropped the stack of jeans, trousers, t-shirts, and dress shirts in the trunk. Snapped his fingers and two pairs of trainers in plastic bags tucked in beside his clothes. “Master Sharprock says that the rendering is going very well, and he’ll be sending you an accounting soon. He asked if you wanted boots made along with your vest and robe?”
“Yeah, that would be cool but…well, I’ll outgrow them. So maybe we could save some hide to make some more when I’m older?”
“Theys be spelled to allow growth, but yes I be telling him to save whole hide for your future use.” He pulled a black dragonhide wand holster out of an interior pocket of his robe. “For yous wand. Also, Dobby be liking the uniform. I have lots of pockets.” He pulled up his robe to show off a pair of black cargo pants.
Harry grinned. “I’m glad.” He strapped the holster onto his wrist and stowed his wand. Both immediately disillusioned. “Ready to go to Japan?”
Dobby bounced in excitement. “I sooo excited!”
“You’re going to Japan?” Ron asked dumbfounded.
“My apprenticeship starts in a week,” Harry explained. He pulled out a parchment and handed it to Dobby. “Okay, take that to Professor McGonagall and make sure to make arrangements to pick up my letter for next year when it’s convenient for her.”
“What’s in the letter?” Ron asked.
“Master Ito didn’t like my class selections for next year,” Harry explained. “He told me that divination was a foolish waste of my time, and unless I was prepared to be a liar, I was going to fail the course as I don’t have the gift. I get to keep care of magical creatures but only through my OWL year; unless I can justify it with the ability to heal magical creatures, which is apparently a pretty rare gift even for parselmouths. I had to add arithmancy and ancient runes, both of which I’ll eventually need in my work with him.”
“What will he teach you?” Neville asked before Ron could continue.
“Well, first he’ll teach me Parseltongue,” Harry said simply. “Right now, I can only speak it if I’m looking directly at a snake, which is very inconvenient and will prevent me from learning advanced parselmagic. Then he’ll teach me healing magic both as a wizard then as a parselmouth. I had to buy ten books for just this summer. He added five more for when we return to Hogwarts.”
“You’re going to study all summer?” Ron asked aghast. “How is that fair?”
Harry shrugged. “I signed an apprentice contract with Master Ito, and he’s my guardian now. At least I don’t have to return to my Muggle relatives. The Headmaster wasn’t so sure at first, but we all finally agreed that my parselmagic abilities are rare and valuable enough that training should begin as soon as possible. I have to learn how to protect it as well as use it.”
“Why do you need to protect it?” Dean asked curiously as he shoved the last of his things into his trunk and sat on it to close it. The boy always taxed the expansion charm to the limit.
“A wizard can lose his ability to heal with parselmagic if he performs dark magic. There are other ways the gift can be broken—severe emotional or physical trauma, for instance. I’ll go through a series of sessions with a mind healer this summer to make sure my mental defenses are sufficient to prevent that. I’ll also learn to defend my mind from exterior influence as part of that training. And I’ll meditate on my animagus form.”
“If you have one,” Ron cautioned with a fair amount of hostility. “Most magicals don’t, you know.”
“I have one,” Harry said with quiet confidence. “There hasn’t been a Potter in six hundred years that didn’t have the ability. Though many didn’t seek their form for one reason or another—it is a dominant magical gift in my family. Just like parselmagic.” He lifted his chin when Ron started to question him. “My father was a parselmouth. He hid it because he worried how people might respond; especially with Voldemort apparently having the gift as well. It was in my family grimoire which the Headmaster retrieved from my main vault for me.”
“That’s what you were reading last night?” Ron demanded. “Why didn’t you show it to me?”
Neville frowned at him. “Merlin, Ron, he can’t just go about showing people his grimoire. There are Family secrets and magic that are to be protected from anyone not in his family. He won’t be able to show it to anyone until he gets married.”
“Are you spending the entire summer in Japan?” Ron asked.
“All but the last two weeks,” Harry said. “We’ll return to Britain and Master Ito will settle into the townhouse that I own in Hogsmeade. He’ll stay there while I’m in school and come up to teach me as time allows. He’s not interested in living with a bunch of children.”
“You have a house in Hogsmeade?” Ron asked.
“I didn’t,” Harry admitted. “The dverger purchased it for me so Master Ito could use it. My parents sold all of their property but the cottage in Godric’s Hollow during the war, so I didn’t actually have a home of my own. My account manager said that my trust allowed for the purchase of a house as long as it is considered my primary residence. Though, the proceeds from the basilisk would’ve more than paid for a house if I hadn’t been allowed to use my Trust.”
“Will Master Ito become your Regent?” Neville asked.
“No, the Headmaster has agreed to continue those duties. Master Ito refused. He says British politics is a load of dragon dung and he’d have no part of it.” Harry grinned when Neville laughed.
“Why would Dumbledore act as a regent for you?” Ron asked.
Neville frowned. “Well, the House of Potter is both Noble and Ancient, Ron. Harry’s dad was the Earl of Gryffindor. I mean didn’t you notice all the talk about his sorting? Everyone expected him to sort the way he did because he’s the Gryffindor. Harry will be able to claim the title at fourteen. Though, he can appoint a Regent until his twenty-first birthday.”
“How do you know all of that?” Ron asked crossly.
“Because I’m the Heir of the House of Longbottom—which is also Noble and Ancient. I’ve been preparing to claim my title since my seventh birthday, Ronald.” Neville sent him a hard look when the redhead started to respond. “It is an honor and a great responsibility to stand for my family. I’m sure Harry feels the same way.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Even if I’m the last alive—I have a duty to all those that came before me to stand for them when the time comes. I’d like to think I can become a man my father would be proud of.”
“You already are, Harry,” Neville said quietly. “I mean…look at what you did. I can’t see how your Dad could be anything but proud of you. Probably furious for risking your life, but still very proud. I’m certainly proud to call you my friend.”
“Thanks,” Harry murmured. “Neville, that’s a really kind thing to say.” He closed his trunk and turned to Dobby, who popped back into the room just then. “So, have we got everything?”
“New clothes, new shoes, books, I give Professor Kitty yous note about classes,” Dobby listed off as he rocked on his heels. “Yous got gold for spending, I packs a trunk with proper English foods in case yous not like Japanese foods.” He patted his robe pocket as he said that. “Yous ask Miss Hermione to watch Hedwig?”
“No, I didn’t.” Harry stood and dusted off his knees. “Right then. Dobby you can take this trunk, and I’ll meet you at the front gate with the headmaster in thirty minutes. I’ll take Hedwig to Hermione now.”
“Oh, and your journals,” Dobby said and pulled out two slim books from his pocket. “Master Sharprock be handling the spellwork personally.”
“Thanks.” Harry took them and ignored Ron’s questioning look.
* * * *
He found Hermione in the common room, already packed and ready to head the train. He sat Hedwig’s cage on the floor in front of them. The owl tucked her head under her wing with a little pout. He’d had a long talk with her about his trip to Japan and how she would be staying with Hermione. Hedwig liked Hermione and agreed to stay with her—though she’d really wanted to go to Japan.
“Hey,” Hermione murmured. She closed her planner. “I was, well, I have a few things to catch up on.”
“I wanted to talk to you—about a couple of things,” Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Master Ito and I talked about my schedule for next year, and he told me that divination was useless to someone who doesn’t have a gift and it’s a complete waste of time to study for practically 99% of magicals. So, I dropped that class and picked up two more—arithmancy and ancient runes. I think you should probably think really hard about divination and how much it will burden you next year. If it’s a class you can’t actually succeed in unless you have the gift, then you are just setting yourself up to fail.”
Hermione stared at him, open-mouthed, for a few seconds before she frowned. “You’re…you’re absolutely right. I’d fail. Merlin, why would…I mean I could lie, I guess, and pretend I saw something when I didn’t, but it would be a horrendous waste of my time. Why didn’t I think about it like that before?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said ruefully. “I really didn’t either until Master Ito pretty much tore me a new one via an international Floo call for signing up for it. I’m going to be in Japan for the summer, Hermione.”
“Oh.” Her eyes went wide. “Then I won’t see you until September? That’s so far away, Harry—it’ll take a week or more to even get a letter to you.”
“Yeah,” Harry looked down at the books he had in his hand. “You see I had an idea about that. Gringotts gave me my account ledger. My account manager has a copy, and we can exchange notes about business matters in it. It also duplicates the transactions he writes up.” He handed her one of the books. “So, I bought these two journals and asked him to charm them so we can exchange letters through them. They were so thrilled with the idea and how much money they could make by offering it to other customers that they did it for free for me.”
“You did?” Hermione blushed. “Harry.”
“Well, I…did a lot of thinking while you were petrified, Hermione. I would sneak into the infirmary to talk to you at night. Most nights, in fact. I missed you.” He blushed and looked at the empty fireplace in front of them. “I missed you a lot, and it made me realize you were very important. I like you quite a lot, you see.”
“Oh.” Hermione bit down on her lip. “Like a best friend?”
“Well, you certainly are my best friend,” Harry said. “But you’re also…it’s just…well, no, I like you more than that. Like a girlfriend, but it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way.”
“I…” Hermione blew out a surprised breath. “Wow, Harry.”
“The basilisk bit me,” Harry said quietly. “I thought I was dying, and I would have if Fawkes hadn’t cried in the wound. The whole time I was dying, Hermione, all I could think was that I’d never get to see you again. You’ll always be my very best friend—no matter what you decide, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll think about it. You’ll always be my best friend, too.”
He smiled then. “Good, you’ll write me?”
“Absolutely,” she promised.
“Brilliant,” Harry said and relaxed on the sofa. “So, will you take care of Hedwig this summer?”
“Oh.” Hermione eyed the bird. “That’s why she’s all pouty?”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’m afraid so. I can’t take her with the portkey, and I’d be worried sick if Hedwig made that kind of trip on her own. I know you’ll take care of her. I trust you, and besides, this way she can take care of you, too. She’s good for that.” He checked his watch. “I have to go—I’m meeting the headmaster at the gates to take the portkey.”
“You’re not riding on the train?”
“No, I didn’t want to make the headmaster wait just because I’m sentimental about riding the train.”
Hermione nodded. “All right. Well, you’ll write me tomorrow or tonight? Whenever it will be for you? I want to hear everything.” She hopped up when he stood and hugged him tightly. “Be so careful and come back to me, Harry Potter.”
He took a deep breath, taking in the scent of her hair like he always did when she hugged him. “I will.”
* * * *
Harry told himself all the way to the front gates of the school that he was not disappointed in Hermione’s reluctance. She was a rational and careful girl. He hadn’t expected her to just throw herself in his arms and accept the change he proposed in their relationship without a thought. He put on a smile as he caught sight of the headmaster, Hagrid, Professors Flitwick, McGonagall, and Sprout. Madam Pomfrey was even waiting. He figured she wanted an opportunity to lecture him about safety again, but he didn’t mind. He knew she cared about him. In fact, the first night after the chamber, he’d woke up with a nightmare, and she’d held him—sung him back to sleep with a song about a little mocking bird.
He turned and stopped when he saw Hermione hurrying down the path to him. She threw herself in his arms the moment she reached him. He caught her and only managed to be knocked back a few steps.
“I am such an idiot,” she exclaimed breathlessly before she pressed her mouth to his.
He totally wasn’t an idiot, so he kissed her back.
“Really,” McGonagall exclaimed. “Miss Granger! Mr. Potter has a portkey to catch!”
Harry lifted his head and looked over Hermione’s flushed cheeks. “You know what’s awesome about this?”
“She can’t take points,” Harry said and tangled his fingers into her hair. She was still laughing when he kissed her again. He groaned when the Headmaster cleared his throat.
Hermione huffed when he set her away from him, shocked actually that she hadn’t even been on the ground that whole time and sort of irritated at the interruption.
“I know,” Harry said airily. “Not even an Order of Merlin gets a bloke any sort of leeway on goodbye kisses.”
Hermione bit down on her lip and tucked her hands behind her back. “Write me every single day.”
“Every day,” Harry agreed as he took a few steps back from her. “Take care of my girl.”
“Hedwig will be fine.”
“Yeah, take care of her too,” Harry said with a laugh as she felt her face heat with a blush. “Dobby!”
The elf appeared immediately. “Japan or bust!” Dobby exclaimed excitedly which made everyone who wasn’t already near laughter—laugh.
Hermione joined Professor McGonagall as the headmaster pulled out the portkey.
Professor Dumbledore pulled out a long piece of rope. “All right, my boy, this is an international portkey, and it certainly isn’t the sort I would recommend for first-time users like yourself. However, we’ll just have to make do. Poppy?”
Madam Pomfrey stepped forward with a small purple vial. Hermione wondered what the potion was called and resolved to ask later. “This will keep you from getting too sick, Mr. Potter.”
Harry took the potion and drank it with just a small grimace. “Yuck. I don’t even want to know what was in that.”
“You really don’t,” Madam Pomfrey assured. She straightened his collar and smoothed down the shoulders of his robes. “I can’t wait for you to come back and you can show me what you’ve learned. Make sure to remind Master Ito to send me a list of any potions he’d like to have on hand for his arrival or his work in the infirmary.”
“I will.” He smiled when she continued to fuss with his collar and tie. “Don’t fret, I’m going to be living with a Healer. He won’t let me get up to any nonsense while you’re not around to put me back together.”
She laughed and hugged him. “He’d better not.”
Harry turned to the headmaster. “All right, sir.”
“Normally, I would just instruct you to hold onto this and not let go—however, due to the length of our trip and the fact that this is your first time using a portkey I’m going to use a charm to stick your hand to the rope,” Professor Dumbledore explained as he pulled his wand.
Harry gamely wrapped his hand around the portion of the rope with a wide-eyed look in Hermione’s direction. She bit down on her bottom lip and just nodded. Honestly, portkeys were a complete mystery to her. Magical transportation hadn’t been all that interesting before but she really wished she’d at least looked it up so she’d know the mechanics.
“Now, my boy, the important thing about portkeys, much like Floo travel, is not to move while things are motion. If you move, you’ll be dumped on your bum.”
Harry grinned when McGonagall quietly tutted at the headmaster’s language. “Don’t let go. Don’t move until everything stops.” He frowned. “That works for Flooing? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me not to move in the Floo?”
“Floo travel is so commonplace that many magicals forget anyone could be new to it. Especially at your age, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said.
Dobby wrapped his hand around the rope beside Harry’s and just nodded when Dumbledore silently offered to spell his hand in place. “Dobby be going where ever his Harry Potter goes.”
He had the chance to hear a round of goodbyes, then magic swirled around him.
Hermione huffed as they disappeared. “Damn it.”
“Really, Miss Granger,” Minerva said fiercely. “What has come over you?”
She crossed her arms and frowned at the spot where Harry had been. “Harry told me he liked me like a girlfriend, and I’m such an idiot because I acted all stupid, and he ended up telling me to think about it!”
“Well, didn’t take you long to think about it,” Hagrid said cheerfully and laughed when she tried to glare at him. But she couldn’t be mad at him, so she just smiled as he waved and walked down to his cabin.
Minerva paused and put one hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
Tears swelled and spilled. “Oh, he almost died again, and I was petrified. What if I’d woken up and he’d been dead? He’s been so weird this whole week, too! Reading books I can’t understand, and he didn’t tell us about the Order of Merlin. And why would he like me like that? I’m bossy and plain and a know-it-all. And look at my teeth! And my hair! How can I compete with all those witches who are going to start chasing after him?”
“I think, Miss Granger, that you sell yourself short,” Flitwick said gravely. “Mr. Potter obviously does not care one wit about those other witches you’re worried about. You are the brightest witch of the age, and you’re very lovely in your own right.” He patted her shoulder and left her alone with McGonagall, Sprout, and Pomfrey.
“I can fix your teeth,” Pomfrey said without preamble. “I think you’re charming just the way you are, but if your teeth are damaging to your self-esteem, I will fix them.”
“My parents refused to allow me to use magic to fix them,” Hermione admitted. “I have to wait for braces when I’m older since I couldn’t go home for maintenance appointments while I’m in school.”
Pomfrey frowned. “Well, that’s just ridiculous. Come with me, we’ll fix them, and I’ll send a letter home. It was simply tragic, Miss Granger, how you fell down those stairs and busted your mouth open like that. Fortunately, for you, I had a full course in dental magics.”
“It was a real bloody tragedy,” Minerva agreed.
“We were just fortunate you weren’t more injured,” Sprout interjected cheerfully.
By the time they made it back to the castle, Flitwick was standing in the doorway. He quietly handed Hermione a book and hurried away. She flipped it over and smiled. How to be a Truly Charming Witch by Essie Myers-Daniels.
“That book used to be standard issue for all young witches,” Sprout explained as the four of them headed towards the infirmary. “It’s full of personal charms for witches—hair, cosmetics, beauty, skin health. It’s been out of print for more than a decade.”
Hermione opened the cover and blinked in surprise. Lily Potter was written on the inside cover. “Oh, this belonged to Harry’s mum.”
“Lily was apprenticing in Charms before she had to go into hiding. She was the last apprentice that Filius took. He was heartbroken by her death,” Minerva explained. “He must think a great deal of you to give you one of the books she left to him.”
“Oh, how do I thank him for something so…perfect?” Hermione asked.
“Filius is quite fond of Muggle music,” Sprout said. “He collects vinyl records. Unfortunately, going into the Muggle world is quite difficult for him.”
Hermione smiled. “There is a retro music store near my parent’s surgery.”
The international portkey was an absolute nightmare. I thought it would never end and I’m not ashamed to admit that I fainted shortly after I landed perfectly on my feet. I’m not ashamed because the headmaster apparently threw up, and Dobby was so disoriented that he couldn’t pop himself about for nearly a half hour.
Master Ito is a stern man with a sly sense of humor. I find that I like him quite a lot. He has his own house elf. Her name is Sora, which means “sky” in Japanese. Dobby is busy learning all sort of things from her and couldn’t be happier. You probably didn’t realize I’d bonded with him until the day I left. I freed him from Lucius Malfoy, and while Dobby was thrilled to be freed from the Malfoys…he needed a new bond to keep his magic healthy. I agreed because I had no idea that freeing him would end up hurting him more in the long run than his previous situation. An unbonded elf will eventually lose their magic and die prematurely.
The bond between a wizard and a house elf doesn’t have to be a form of slavery—it’s just that a lot of wizards treat it that way. I see Dobby as my friend, and I’m glad to say that he feels the same way. We’re going to have a great time in Japan. Tomorrow we’ll do some shopping for supplies, and I’ll look around for a present for you. I figure there has to be something in this country just as special as you are, and I intend to find it.
I miss you already.
Harry very carefully closed the book and sat back in his chair. He glanced up when his door opened and stood when Dumbledore entered. “Sir.”
“Sleeping potion,” Dumbledore explained as he offered Harry a small cup. “The time difference will be difficult to overcome without it.”
Harry nodded and took the potion. “Should I apologize?”
Dumbledore huffed. “Don’t you dare, Harry. I should be apologizing to you. I should’ve listened to you last year when you said you didn’t want to go back Privet Drive. I didn’t even ask you why—I’m an old fool for it. When I return to Britain, I will be paying those Muggles a visit. Mark my words.”
Harry winced. “I really didn’t know I was as bad off as I am, you know.”
“Poppy will be beside herself,” Dumbledore said.
“She couldn’t have known,” Harry protested. “Not without taking me to St. Mungo’s for a full examination by a team of Healers. Master Ito said it would take five Healers to perform the diagnostic charm he did on me with parselmagic. What kid gets one of those?”
“If any kid should have, it’s you,” Dumbledore said. “After the mess with the stone—I should’ve taken you to St. Mungo’s then, but I was trying to protect you from further scrutiny. Fudge didn’t want to believe the story, and he wouldn’t have believed you this time if we hadn’t submitted certified pensieve memories. I was quite furious with him for making you go through that, Harry. He had no right to demand such a private thing from you.”
“Well, I’m not going to let that git call me a liar,” Harry said. “I’ve had about enough of that to be honest, sir. I’ve had enough of a lot of things. And I owe you and all of the professors at Hogwarts an apology.”
“What do you mean?” Dumbledore asked gently.
“Whenever I did better in school than Dudley—my Uncle Vernon would hit me,” Harry said quietly. “I got used to underperforming. I was afraid to do well at Hogwarts because I didn’t know if the Dursleys would see my grades. Maybe they wouldn’t care, but I couldn’t risk it. Maybe I should’ve told you, but I didn’t so I had to suffer through it first year. Then I found out that they didn’t even understand the letter and grades the school sent home and honestly didn’t care how I did in my freak magic school. But the first time I did really well on a test, Ron was an absolute snot about it. That’s when I realized exactly how cruel he was to basically everyone and most especially Hermione.”
“And you stopped doing well again?” Dumbledore asked.
“I couldn’t help it really—it was a natural reaction to his behavior. It was hard, really, to dumb down my essays, especially because Hermione would read them and frown at me like she knew I was doing it on purpose. She never called me on it, though. Of course, I never had to bother in potions because it doesn’t matter how well I do in that class—I’ll never receive the grade I deserve.”
“Harry, I realize you and Professor Snape don’t get a long…”
“No, we don’t. Professor Snape is a bully,” Harry said bluntly. “He’s cruel, insulting, and he grades no one fairly but the Slytherins and probably not even them, because there is absolutely no way that Crabbe and Goyle are actually passing that course legitimately, but they both have higher grades than I do. The only one he doesn’t fail on purpose is Hermione because no one would believe it if he did. The rest of us are just stuck because our Heads of House aren’t going to interfere because of you, and you don’t seem to care that he demeans and insults us.”
Dumbledore stared at him in shock. “Harry.”
“I know, I know, he has your complete faith,” Harry said and rolled his eyes. “He has mine, too. I have every faith that he will continue to be a vicious git for the entire time that I’m at Hogwarts.” He left his desk and went to his trunk. It took him all of thirty seconds to find his potions essays. He brought the stack to his Headmaster. “As I said, I’ve never had to dumb myself down in Potions—he sees my name on an essay, and I’m automatically going to do badly.”
Dumbledore took the stack with steady hands. “I will review them.”
“You won’t like what you discover,” Harry said. “I have to wonder how many Potions Masters Britain has lost because Professor Snape is such a bully. Not everyone can afford private lessons like Neville gets.”
* * * *
Her parents had been clearly upset about her accident—more upset, she thought, that they hadn’t been contacted to deal with her mouth injury than anything else. Madam Pomfrey’s letter had been fairly explicit about the damage. Had she been forced to endure Muggle techniques for her fictional injuries, she would have been in agony for maybe days. She really didn’t know since she’d never had any sort of tooth replacement through Muggle dentistry.
They were also quite startled to discover that Pomfrey had replaced several of the teeth that they had filled and repaired over the years. Hermione had been unconscious during the procedure, so she hadn’t even known until she’d read the letter that Pomfrey had sent home with her. The witch had also repaired a cavity that Hermione had developed over the year and put a permanent health charm rune on one of her back molars to prevent further teeth issues in the future.
She’d spent half of the first day home getting x-rays because they hadn’t believed the letter. Hermione half thought they were kind of freaked out that magical healers could grow new teeth. Thankfully, she’d cut them off at the pass when they’d considered drilling into one of the new teeth to check out the structure. She’d told them off soundly and informed them that she was not a bloody science experiment. They’d calmed down after that and had stopped looking at her like she was a weirdo so Hermione still wasn’t quite sure what was going on in her parent’s heads.
She rolled over on her bed at the sound of a gentle chime and found the book Harry had given her was glowing slightly. She hopped up immediately and darted over to it. It was nearly nine at night in Japan as he was now eight hours ahead of her. Hermione wondered what sort of curfew Master Ito had given him.
She read his letter three times before she picked up her quill and inked it. Since the journal was made with magical parchment—she wouldn’t be able to use a regular pen, which was a shame, but Harry was worth the hassle. She considered sending Hedwig off to order a self-inking quill. The owl was sleeping off a night of hunting in her cage. Hermione had been worried at first about letting her go, but she knew she couldn’t keep the poor thing locked up all summer.
I’m sorry to hear the portkey was such a nightmare. I’ve read about them, of course, but nothing compares to practical experience. I’m glad that Master Ito met your expectations. You’re, after all, quite stuck with him.
Hedwig went hunting last night and came back without much of a fuss. She’s currently sleeping off her night of partying in her cage.
My parents are…a bit crazy to be honest, but it’s good to be home. They did tell me I could get a pet before I go back to Hogwarts this year, so I’m excited about that. I started my transfiguration essay this morning. I have some reading to do on it before I really get into it.
I…hope you weren’t embarrassed because I kissed you in front of the headmaster like that. It was just—after you left, I couldn’t believe I’d let you leave like that. I felt like such an idiot because I’ve liked you so much, perhaps since the middle of last year. And you were brave just to say it that way, and I totally messed it up. I was just so shocked that you returned my feelings that I didn’t know what to say.
So, just in case I wasn’t clear—I’d really like to be your girlfriend.
I miss you, too.
– – – –
I know I promised I would write you every day. However, upon arriving Master Ito performed a diagnostic charm on me to determine my overall physical health before beginning my training. The results were not good. I’m in fairly poor health, to be honest. You needn’t worry, please, because Master Ito assures me that he can correct all of my issues with a ritual, but the end result is that I will sleep for four days while my bones and organs are repaired.
I think you must suspect, but I never could find the courage to say this to you—my relatives abused me, physically and emotionally, most of my childhood. My kidneys and heart are functioning at a reduced capacity because of repeated periods of starvation, starting when I was very small. In fact, often the only meals I ate are the ones I was provided at school. I remember being hungry a lot before I started school, so I doubt my aunt fed me much then, either. Master Ito says that they would’ve killed a non-magical child with the starvation alone. He’s going to vanish a great many of my bones and regrow them—they have defects due to malnutrition and the physical abuse I suffered from my Uncle Vernon.
Fortunately, despite how they treated me, my parselmagic gifts remain hardy. Master Ito was very concerned that my ability to be a healer would be stunted or even outright destroyed because of how the Dursleys treated me, but that is, fortunately, not the case. The mind healer will start working with me after the ritual to shore up all of my mental defenses just to be safe.
Please don’t be very upset that I never told you. Until Master Ito and the headmaster forced a confession—I’d only ever told one person my whole life, and my Uncle Vernon had her fired from her job. She was my maths teacher in primary. I always loved math, and she knew how well I understood the material, so when I did badly on tests and homework—she asked me what I was about. I told her that if I did better than my Cousin Dudley, that my Uncle would hit me. She lost her job trying to save me, and I never saw her again. The Dursleys actually filed a restraining order against her and accused her of some very inappropriate behavior with me. After that, I couldn’t tell anyone and also, the other teachers wouldn’t even look me in the eye anymore. It’s like they knew that I was being hurt at home but were too afraid that Uncle Vernon would ruin them, too.
I’m pretty confident that even if you are very angry with me that you’ll still want to be my girlfriend. However, it wouldn’t hurt to wake up to a few assurances.
* * * *
Harry had played quidditch for two years and had showered with his year mates for the same amount of time, so he really didn’t have any body-shame issues in front of other wizards. When Master Ito ordered him to strip and lay down on the altar—he’d done so without much hesitation.
“Is this going to hurt, Master Ito?”
“Yes and no,” Hiro Ito murmured. “By the time it starts to hurt, you will be unconscious, and when you wake up—the pain will be long gone. The magic I will cast will be silent, as the most truly powerful parselmagic is done in this method. A method that is lost when one allows their gift to be damaged.”
“Will I be able to do it?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Harry, your mother’s sacrifice has protected you in some unique and highly magical ways nearly all of your life. I believe that sacrificial magic is the reason that your parselmagic has been sheltered from the treatment you received from the Dursleys,” Albus explained gently.
“And I concur,” Hiro said. “A mother’s love is like no other force on this Earth, and in this one area, you were truly blessed. Her love for you—it radiates in your magic even today.”
Harry relaxed on the altar content with that knowledge and feeling truly safe for the first time in longer than he’d ever want to admit. Magic swept over him in a thick rush, and he started to tingle all over. There was a little bite of something foreign and ugly in his scar. Then he knew no more.
* * * *
Oh, if I could drive, I’d drive to your relative’s house and just…oh, those horrible people! I don’t even know what I’m going to do them, but they’d better bloody watch out, because as soon as I have wand rights they are going to pay and pay and pay some more! As soon as you wake up, I want to hear all about your healing and how it went. I’ll be worried sick until you do!
My mother picked up the journal today and was quite startled to realize she couldn’t read it. She said it looked like a bunch of squiggles and ink smears. I had no idea it was protected that way, but it is brilliant. So, now I can tell you that Madam Pomfrey fixed my teeth! She sent home a letter to my parents saying I had an accident and she had to do “extensive repair” to my mouth. It was clearly the best fake accident I’ve ever had in my life.
In other news, the Weasley family won a contest and took themselves off to Egypt for the summer. Ron sent me a brief letter. He said he couldn’t send you a letter due to the distance. You know Errol is quite old. Then told me if I sent you a letter through Hedwig to let you know that he was going to Egypt. So, there you go, the prat is Egypt.
Ugh, Harry, you’re lucky to have missed the train ride to London, to be honest. He was such a git about you and how you’ve kept secrets from him. Apparently, he assumes he has the right to know every little thing about you. He went on and on about how you kept your title a secret from him. Except, that’s stupid—everyone knows you are the Heir to an ancient and noble house. I knew that before I even met you. How could Ron not know? He grew up in the magical world. Then he complained about you changing your courses—like he has the right to tell you to go against your mentor’s instructions!
Also, he was quite put out by the fact that you were granted an apprenticeship at your age. Most magicals don’t get that kind of opportunity during school, but it has happened. Professor McGonagall started her apprenticeship in Transfiguration during her sixth year at Hogwarts under the Headmaster, no less. Professor Snape was the same—he apprenticed under the previous Potions Master starting in his fifth year. Your situation is not without precedent. Your mum was already Flitwick’s apprentice when she left Hogwarts, and your Dad must have done one while he was in school, as well, since he achieved his mastery in transfiguration just six months after he graduated from Hogwarts.
Oh, but you know all of that, and I’m just rambling. I’ve been reading about apprenticeships in a book I borrowed from Professor McGonagall. I asked a few questions about yours and how they would impact your OWL and NEWT examinations. Apparently, you’ll be able to take your OWL in Healing Magic during your fifth year. Which I think will be extremely interesting for you.
Also, I had a long talk with Professor McGonagall about my electives next year, and I did go ahead and drop divination. She says it is a very wooly subject and that it wasn’t quite a good fit for my rational mind. Her way of saying that it would’ve been a very frustrating experience for me. I’m keeping Muggle studies, though I probably don’t actually need it. I do, however, need to take the OWL, so I have to take the classes. I think Muggle-born and Muggle-raised students should get to take the OWL without the class requirement. Most jobs in the Ministry require at least an OWL in Muggle studies, did you know that? It’s not actually something they advertise—another way to keep Muggle-borns out of good jobs, I think. Well, I’ll show them.
I’m rambling on because I’m worried. Oh, and of course I still want to be your girlfriend. Don’t be silly – I have much more expansive nagging rights as your girlfriend, and I’m not giving up those for anything.
Also, the kissing was very nice.
* * * *
Harry woke with a groan. A firm hand pushed him back down on the bed. “Be still.”
“You,” Hiro sighed. “You’re going to be a great deal of trouble. Albus warned me, but I did not believe him. I am a fool.”
Harry opened an eye and pursed his lips. “What did I do?”
“You…you managed to somehow survive for over ten years with a bloody Horcrux in your head,” Albus snapped. “I’ve never seen the like!”
Harry opened his other eye and caught sight of Albus Dumbledore pacing back and forth at the end of his bed. “Are you blaming me, or are you simply astounded by my pure brilliance?”
Albus snorted. “It’s a toss-up really. And honestly, your witch! My boy, I would have much preferred you’d waited several years to get yourself one of those. She took the Knight Bus to Hogsmeade yesterday and marched up to the castle and got my own phoenix to bring a note to me!”
“What? Why?” Harry struggled to sit up. “Is something wrong? Is Hermione hurt?”
“Lie down,” Hiro admonished. “Your witch is fine. It’s been six days since the ritual.”
“Oh.” Harry huffed. “I told her four.” He glanced across the room and saw his journal glowing a bright gold color. “I’m such an idiot.”
“I take it the two of you have connected journals?” Albus said amused. “I opened it—it was gibberish. I tried to take the protections off of it and was stunned unconscious.”
“It was quite amusing,” Hiro admitted. “Until your witch delivered a howler via phoenix fire.”
“Hermione sent a howler?” Harry asked perplexed.
“Yes,” Albus said dryly looking over his glasses at Harry. “I’ve been warned that the shores of England shall never be safe for me again if Miss Granger’s Harry Potter is harmed in any fashion with my shenanigans.”
“I like her quite a lot,” Harry confided. “She’s just the best thing in my life. I don’t know how I got so lucky.”
“I did send a note back letting her and Minerva know that the healing was more strenuous than expected and that you were all right except for the unconsciousness,” Albus said amused. “Do take the time to write Miss Granger, Mr. Potter. Even Fawkes was irritated with me due to her obvious distress.”
“What’s a Horcrux?” Harry asked.
Dumbledore grew pensive, and Hiro Ito exhaled sharply before sitting on the side of the bed. “Something I believed to be more a horrible myth until it was forced from your body by Master Ito.”
“It’s really bad, then?”
“It is the most evil magic that I know of,” Ito said. “So evil, in fact, that to create a Horcrux forever damns your soul. It requires the murder of another magical person—not a killing in self-defense, but the murder of an innocent in cold blood. It involves methodical planning, as the horcrux ritual can only be done on certain days in the calendar, and it must be approached with great care.”
“Like Halloween,” Harry surmised. “I suppose he meant to use my death to create a Horcrux and when the killing curse rebounded—one was made.”
“Yes, that is our theory,” Dumbledore said. “And instead of going into the object he’d chosen for a vessel, the Horcrux which is a portion of the caster’s soul, sought refuge in you. Fortunately, even in this, your mother’s sacrifice protected you, and it was confined to the open wound of your scar.”
“That’s why it hurt when I was near Voldemort first year,” Harry said with a nod. “Okay. So, a fragment of his soul. How many times could he do this in theory, and why would he do it?” He frowned. “Wait, was the diary a Horcrux?”
“You tell me,” Dumbledore said. “I’ve viewed your memory of it, but you were there. Think back to how it felt in your hand before the chamber when you had it and how it reacted when it realized you had the power to destroy it.”
“It was…sentient,” Harry murmured. “It bargained and manipulated. It played on Ginny’s insecurities and my fears. It tried to make me sympathize with it by showing me how alike we were, which meant it somehow was able to gain access to our thoughts. An enchanted object wouldn’t have that kind of power. Certainly wouldn’t have that level of awareness, right? It genuinely feared for its life. But…Tom Riddle wasn’t as corrupted as the Voldemort I met in my first year, so perhaps the diary was one of the first he made? He was fifteen or sixteen in the memories he showed me. He was that age when he manifested himself in the chamber.”
“If it was the first, it represented half of Voldemort’s soul,” Dumbledore said quietly. “As to how many times he could’ve done it—I don’t know. Hiro and I have been working on the theoretical implications of it. My boy, I feel I must tell you something that will change…a great many things.”
“Does it have to do with why he tried to kill me in my first year?” Harry asked. “And why the diary was so fascinated with me?”
Harry sat up and pulled some pillows up behind him. “Okay, lay it on me.”
“Oh, lad,” Albus said sadly. “I would give up my magic to protect you from this. Please know that.”
Harry stared at him in shock. “Well, if it’s that bad, sir, I’d like you to hold onto every bit of magic you’ve got. I might need it.”
Albus grinned at him. “Right.” He walked across the room and picked up a stone bowl which he brought back to them. He placed it carefully at the end of Harry’s bed. “Before you were born, a prophecy was made about the one that would defeat the Dark Lord. Part of this prophecy was heard and passed on to Tom. He acted on it, and in the aftermath, two families were attacked. Yours and Neville Longbottom’s. He was born on July 30th while you were born on July 31st.” Dumbledore tapped the pensieve, and a professor that Harry had rarely seen, but knew to be the divination teacher, appeared above it.
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …”
Harry took a deep breath and swallowed. “So, it’s a real one?”
“It was authenticated by the Department of Mysteries shortly after it was made. It could’ve been decades before the prophecy became active, but Voldemort acted on it without thinking and marked you his equal.”
“He obviously didn’t hear that part,” Harry said with a frown. “So maybe that’s why I survived the Dursleys.”
“What do you mean?” Hiro asked.
“Well, you seemed quite shocked at my medical history,” Harry said. “And I remember several times in my childhood when I felt certain that I would die and was genuinely surprised when I didn’t. It says either must die at the hand of the other—well, my mother’s sacrificial magic protected me that night preventing the prophecy from being fulfilled. Had I actually been responsible for Riddle’s banishment that night then the prophecy would’ve been resolved. It could also be why Quirrell couldn’t seem to kill me no matter how much he tried. He might have been carrying the spirit of Voldemort on the back of his head, but he wasn’t actually, physically Voldemort. It is a very literal interpretation, but it fits the facts.”
Albus blew out a surprised breath. “He must never hear the full prophecy—he would be unstoppable if he thought himself practically immortal.”
“I have to kill him,” Harry said softly and bit down on his lip. “But…that’s…I really wanted to be a healer.”
“You can be,” Ito said gently.
“Aren’t there oaths about not harming others?” Harry asked. “There are in the Muggle world, and they don’t even have magic to enforce them.”
“There is more than one oath a healer can take,” Hiro began. “I worked as a hit wizard for many years for the International Wizard’s Council, Harry. Additionally, no one would expect you to take an oath that would prevent you from defending yourself, your family, or even other innocent people. As your mentor, the most I would ever demand of you is an oath to never perform dark magic. I’d not like it if I wasted all these years training you only to have you violate your gifts with such foolishness.” He held up a hand when Harry started to speak. “It is not an oath you can make until you understand what dark magic truly is. I will tell you when it is time for such an oath. I believe you will be quite surprised.”
The journal chimed and started to glow like a small sun.
“Merlin,” Albus muttered. “Do write your witch.”
* * * *
Harry Potter! You’d better wake up very soon, or I’m going to the ministry with Professor McGonagall, and we’re going to get a bloody portkey to Japan! Then they’ll all be sorry!
Harry chewed the end of his quill as he considered her big letter then her little note. He really hadn’t meant to worry her like that. He figured it was best to start with an apology.
I’m so very sorry I worried you. Master Ito and Professor Dumbledore woke me up about an hour ago. I was allowed a light meal, and once I ate, they brought my journal to me so I could write to you. I didn’t tell them about the journal, so they didn’t realize you’d be waiting for me to respond, or one of them would have found a way to contact you.
Congrats on shocking the headmaster—I don’t expect he’s gotten a howler delivered via phoenix fire ever in his life. He appeared quite chagrined by the entire experience. I bought you a book on mind magics. It’s not your gift for this trip, but more for the defense for your brilliant mind that I’d like you to think about. The discipline is called occlumency—and learning it will help you protect your mind, control your magic, and improve your memory.
Now, for a surprise! If you turn to the back of the journal, you’ll see a door. If you open it, you’ll find the back of your journal is actually a little box—a dimensional space like in your trunk. It’s not very big, but it’s big enough to pass small objects and books. The book is small, but if you hold your hand on it and say the password “Aristotle”, it will expand to the right size. This won’t be considered underage magic.
Also, since I’m still confined to a bed (just for the rest of the day), I had Dobby pick a flower for you. He used his magic to treat it so it’ll never die. Master Ito assures me that a proper wizard always apologizes with flowers.
I miss you,
He quickly opened the back of his journal and opened the door. It was nearly as large as the book itself. He put the miniature book he’d bought for Hermione inside and laid the pink and white Lotus blossom on top of it. He closed it and sat back as the magic of the journal worked.
Dobby was seated in a chair beside his bed with a book in his lap. He’d taken to the task of improving his vocabulary and speech with a great deal of seriousness. He’d confided in Harry that in the two hundred years he’d served the Malfoy family that no one had ever wished him to improve himself just for the sake of it. Learning new tasks to serve his family was one thing, but what Harry had requested was unprecedented.
He picked up the book that he’d been assigned and settled back to read. Harry had been surprised that his first subject was going to be Dark Arts. But now he was beginning to understand that he really didn’t have an idea what the Dark Arts were.
Albus cast a wandless cleaning charm on his glasses and sat back in his chair. “At times, I’m reminded quite horrifically that I can be wrong.” He looked around at the professors. He’d summoned them nearly two weeks earlier than he normally did and most of them were curious but unconcerned.
“Albus?” Minerva questioned. “Has something happened?”
“Yes.” Albus steepled his fingers as he considered what to say. “Tippy.” A stack of parchments appeared in front of him. “This represents the potions essays for every single student at Hogwarts for the past six years. What many of you might not know is that as headmaster, I have the ability to recall the tests and essays of every student at any time. This is a favor that Hogwarts does all of her headmasters. None of you are above my oversight.” He stared pointedly at Severus Snape. “I spent a good portion of June, and most of July reviewing essays from all of the classes taught at Hogwarts. I was startled to realize, Severus, that you don’t use the anti-cheating charm on any of the essays or tests of students in your own house.” He flicked out his wand, performed the charm and the stack in front of him divided into two piles—one glowing an angry red. “These are all from Slytherin in case you are wondering.”
“I see my faith in my own house was misplaced,” Severus said coolly.
“Indeed, my boy, it surely was.” Albus inclined his head. “Further, I took the liberty of reviewing every single essay written by a Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff for the past six years. The results were extremely irritating!”
“As I’ve told you many times, sir, some students are unteachable.”
“Yes, you have said so,” Albus agreed. “I’ve taken the opportunity to correct all of the essays of returning students and assign failing grades to all the assignments that were cheated on. You’ll be pleased to note that Hermione Granger and Harry Potter are now tied for first place in your upcoming third-year potions class.” He smiled at the sour look that crossed the man’s face. “Mr. Goyle and Mr. Crabbe will be repeating second year entirely as punishment for the extreme amount of cheating they’ve done since they began Hogwarts. They’ve been warned if it happens again they will be expelled. Mr. Malfoy has been placed on academic probation for cheating on five assignments and will spend the first half of his third year in detention. He will not be eligible to play Quidditch until after he has completed his OWLs. I’ve already informed his father of his stunning lack of ambition and cunning. I offered to re-sort the boy, but that offer was declined.”
He banished the copies with a flick of his wand and swirled his wand to reveal the large book in front of him that he’d kept hidden from them. “Now, let’s discuss the point system how it’s been made a petty, vicious little game that has nothing to do with house pride and achievement. Severus are you aware that it is against the school bylaws to take points from a student for breathing too loud?”
Flitwick snorted. The newest addition to staff, Remus Lupin, bit down on his lip and focused on his tea.
* * * *
“I once told Harry Potter that I had faith in you,” Albus said conversationally as Severus followed him from the staff room. “He repeated that back to me this summer along with his own faith in the fact that you would continue to treat him with contempt the entire time he was at school here.”
“He’s a spoiled, attention seeking brat,” Severus snapped. “And really! You know the role I must maintain for fellow Death Eaters. I can’t imagine the Floo call I’m going to get from Lucius over this.”
“I’ve decided that I don’t care,” Albus said blithely. “I made a mistake in overlooking your petty behavior. I also have ignored the opinions of others on the matter for far too long. As to Harry Potter—he grew up unloved, unnoticed, and neglected to a criminal degree by his Muggle relatives. Spoiled? The first present he ever remembers receiving came from Hagrid. Attention seeking? He didn’t even know he was famous until he entered our world and he loathes it.”
He turned to face Severus just short of the gargoyle leading up this office. “Do you know what the first spell he asked to learn from his mentor was this summer?” He glared at Severus when the man huffed. “It was a glamour charm. A parselmagic glamour charm so that he could hide who he was in public. Master Ito refused and rightly so. It’s people like you, Severus, who’ve made him fear the rest of the magical world. You’ve made him ashamed of who he is. You’ve made him ashamed of Lily’s sacrifice on his behalf.”
Severus paled. “I…”
“No. I’ll hear no excuses from you. I viewed his memories of his potions lessons. From the first day, you threw his fame in his face and then proceeded to question him on second-year material, then made sure he knew you thought he was stupid for not knowing the answers. You told me once you sought redemption and that you made a mistake joining Tom Riddle. You swore to me that it was your love of Lily Potter that brought you to me. I can’t see how you can claim to love a woman only to turn and hate her only son the way you do. Do you think she would be pleased with you? Do you think, for a single moment, she would tolerate the way you’ve treated him since you set eyes on him? I have to think she’d put you out of your misery once and for all,” Albus snapped. “You think on that, Severus. You think about how you’ve betrayed and dishonored Lily Potter since her only child set foot in this castle.”
Severus leaned against the wall—shaking and obviously sick. “Albus.”
“You’re a brave man, Severus but you are also a cruel one. I suppose some of that blame can be laid at your mother’s feet, but not all. You’ve never made an effort to be a better man than you were raised to be. That changes—you’ll treat my students with respect, and that includes Harry Potter, or you can leave. Redemption requires change and growth. It requires you to forgive yourself and others for their mistakes.”
“Sir.” Severus’ fingers clinched on Albus’ robe sleeve. “Neglected to a criminal degree?”
“Long periods of starvation. Petunia only fed him when she had no choice.” Albus paused. “And his uncle…” He paused. “I’m not sure I can trust you with this, Severus. Not after what I’ve come to know about your treatment of the boy. He thinks of you as an enemy.”
“His uncle hit him,” Severus said. He closed his eyes. “Merlin, how could Lily’s sister allow that? I knew they weren’t close but…Albus, I swear on my magic that I will never use this information against Harry Potter, so mote it be.”
Albus watched the oath settle. “If Harry hadn’t been magical, he would’ve never survived to even go to primary school. By the time he was five years old, his uncle had broken both of his legs. His magic healed him because his aunt refused to take him to a doctor. Healer Ito vanished twenty-seven bones in his body and regrew them in July because of poorly healed breaks and microfractures that weren’t going to ever heal on their own due to malformed bone growth. Probably a result of getting Skelo-Gro last year without structured healing in place. The starvation—he had the heart of a fifty-year-old Muggle. His stomach was damaged, his liver and kidneys were functioning so poorly that within twenty years they would have failed completely. He already had the beginnings of arthritis in his knees and hands from the work they forced him to do.”
“Hiro Ito is a talented and dedicated Healer,” Albus said. “By the time Harry returns to us, he will be well both in mind and body. He’s had mind healing treatments almost daily since we went to Japan. Harry mastered occlumency in just a few days with a transference ritual from Master Ito. I’ve never seen anything like that. The boy has a full defensive landscape complete with a forty-meter basilisk on guard.”
“I don’t even have a full landscape,” Snape protested.
“Neither do I,” Albus admitted. He paused and inclined his head. “I thought I would go to Privet Drive this afternoon. How would you like to stretch your legs a little bit?”
Snape frowned. “I’d rather go by myself. You won’t let me have any sort of fun if you’re there.” He paused. “But there is something far more…reaching that I could do to make amends with Potter. Something I should’ve done long ago, but I chose to remain silent. I don’t know if I’m ashamed of it, but I’m beginning to regret it. I can see how things would’ve been different for Harry if I hadn’t kept my mouth shut.”
Albus motioned him to follow, and the gargoyle slid open for them. “Am I going to be furious with you, Severus?”
“More than you currently are?” Severus asked dryly.
“Hmm, I’m not angry, my boy, I am extremely disappointed in you. Though, I did make it clear to Lucius that I audited the entire school. He can’t blame you for my actions nor what is to come. He’s furious, of course, and will surely try to plot with you to ruin me. But mostly, he thinks I’m getting revenge for what he did last year with the diary.” Albus shrugged. “I rather enjoyed putting that git in his place, so I can’t say he’s entirely wrong. I also used Harry’s proxy, with the boy’s permission, of course, to replace Lucius on the Board of Governors. Augusta Longbottom is quite thrilled with the opportunity to piss off all of those arseholes as much as possible.”
“Maybe I’ll just close my Floo for the year,” Severus said wryly. He sat down in a chair and steepled in his hands. “I have several excuses for my behavior, but once you hear this, I’m sure they’ll be obvious. No one ever asked me, not even you, so I told no lies on this subject. I just failed to speak. Mostly out of that petty revenge you brought up earlier.”
“I’m listening,” Albus said.
“I’ve been keeping up with the news. Currently, I’m trying to prevent Fudge from stationing bloody dementors around the school to catch him.”
“He’s not a Death Eater,” Severus said quietly. “The Dark Lord learned the Secret from Peter Pettigrew. I’m not sure if that is because he had Black write down the address for him or if he, in fact, was their Secret Keeper.”
Albus’ aura flared. “Are you bloody telling me that you let an innocent man suffer in Azkaban for twelve years?”
“I don’t know,” Severus said. “He wasn’t put in Azkaban for betraying the Potters. Failing to be a proper Secret Keeper is not a criminal offense, Albus. He was put in Azkaban for murdering Pettigrew and thirteen Muggles. I assumed that matter was settled at his trial. I will say this, and I’d stake my own life on it—Harry Potter has nothing to fear from the Sirius Black who was placed in Azkaban. That bastard would’ve cut off his own head before he’d harmed his godson, but Merlin knows what being in that prison for twelve years has done to him.”
* * * *
Remus went weak at the knees. He’d have sunk to the floor if the headmaster hadn’t caught him. “Oh, that’s oh…oh Merlin. No trial?”
“No trial,” Albus confirmed grimly. “Barty Crouch, Sr. is currently in ministry custody. When Amelia Bones and I went to his house to discuss the Black case with him—we found he had his son hidden in the house under the Imperius curse. Apparently, his wife took Barty, Jr.’s place at Azkaban shortly before she died.”
Remus looked briefly at Snape who was staring at his hands, fingers trembling slightly. “There’s more?”
“Harry Potter was abused by his Muggle relatives nearly his entire life,” Albus said quietly as he led the werewolf to the sofa. “Starved, beaten, and emotionally degraded to such a degree that it is an utter surprise he’s not a budding Dark Lord himself.” He drew his wand when Lupin growled low in his chest. “Don’t make me stun you, Remus.”
He held out his hand, and Severus put a calming potion in it which Albus offered to Lupin. “Take it. We have much to discuss, and I need you calm. I need your help saving Sirius Black’s life.”
“He’s really innocent?”
“His wand was in evidence,” Albus explained. “We’ve checked it—the last ten spells were banishing charms.” He cleared his throat. “Sirius is the one that pulled the Potters out of the house, Remus. The last time he used his wand was to take Harry from the wreckage of the cottage at Godric’s Hollow.”
“How did you not know he never had a trial?” Remus demanded. “You’re the Chief bloody Warlock!”
“I wasn’t at the time,” Dumbledore snapped and took a deep breath to calm down. “I’d been asked in August of that year to attend the ICW representing Britain. I wouldn’t become Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot until January of 1982. A position I took after a decade of refusing with the sole purpose of hiding and protecting Harry Potter. I had no choice but to bully my way through the ministry and the Wizengamot to keep Harry from being claimed by Narcissa Malfoy due to his tertiary blood relation to the Black family.”
“How did this…why did anyone start questioning?” Remus asked, his voice subdued with grief.
“When I returned from Japan, Severus took me aside and told me that he didn’t think Black was a threat to Harry because he wasn’t a Death Eater and never had been a Death Eater.” He held out a hand when Remus turned to glare at Snape. “The Death Eater trials were held in private Wizengamot sessions, Remus. Why would Sirius break out now? What would make him escape Azkaban to come here to Hogwarts?”
“A threat against Harry,” Remus said. “The thing with the basilisk was widely published. The pictures in the Prophet of the snake and Harry receiving the Order of Merlin…it’s why I’m here, after all. The very idea he faced that alone. When I read his account and went to the ministry to review the extensive pensieve photos of the chamber and his fight with that snake, I’d never been so ashamed in my entire life. I left James’ boy here by himself for two years. Had I come last year when you asked, that fool Lockhart wouldn’t have been in the position to actually make things worse for Harry down there. I was so bloody selfish, Albus. I never asked about him. I never asked to see him. I wallowed in my own self-pity. And now this? While I was working in my brother’s bookstore in Paris—Harry was being starved to near death.” He shuddered. “I’m more monster than I ever believed myself to be.”
“You couldn’t have known,” Severus said. “He’s been in here two years, and none of us figured it out. We still wouldn’t know if it hadn’t been for his mentor performing that physical. He certainly wasn’t ever going to tell anyone. I was in a position to befriend him, to gain his trust through his mother. Lily was my dear friend, and I bullied her child because he looks like James.”
“You bullied Harry?” Remus demanded.
“More so than any other student in this school, and I’m not kind to any of them. I can’t afford to be kind to any of them—the Dark Lord is not gone, and preserving my role as a spy has never been more important,” Severus said. “It’s expected by the remaining Death Eaters that I hate Harry Potter—he is responsible for our Lord’s banishment. But I could’ve handled it differently. I couldn’t tell him the truth then, but I could’ve…been kinder to him in private. I could’ve found some way to make him not fear me the way he does.”
Remus rubbed his hands over his worn face. “I’m no one to judge you. You never hurt him, did you?”
“Of course not,” Severus snapped. “I’d never physically abuse a child.”
Remus stared at the floor. “Right. Does Harry know?”
“Oh, yes,” Albus said with a sigh. “He threw quite…a fit. Healer Ito had to physically restrain him, I’m afraid. Fudge almost pissed himself at the amount of accidental magic Harry unleashed when he was informed that the ministry wasn’t going to announce his godfather’s innocence.”
“They aren’t going to announce it?” Remus demanded. “What if someone kills him? Or he gets hurt because some overzealous auror tries to capture him?”
“Fudge changed his mind,” Albus said. “He really had no choice. Harry marched out of the ministry, straight to the bank, and bought the Daily Prophet and the Wizarding Wireless.”
Remus snorted. “That’s just…that’s just the sort of thing Lily would do.” He rubbed his mouth. “The fit is all James, but buying the two avenues the ministry would use to try to use against us…brilliant.”
“Speaking of,” Albus said dryly. He walked across the room, plucked a wireless device from a shelf and brought it to his desk. He turned it on, and music played for a few seconds then an announcer came on. “It should be about that time.”
“That was the Weird Sisters. My in-studio guest confessed to me just a minute ago that he doesn’t quite get wizarding music and wishes that the wireless network played Muggle music, too. Well, considering my studio guest is now our boss around here—that is just the sort of thing you can expect in the future,” the announcer said cheerfully. “It’s my pleasure to introduce the Heir Regent of Gryffindor and future Earl, Harry James Potter.” The man laughed. “He’s glaring at me but he should gets used to such titles now, don’t you think? Thanks for coming today, Harry.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Jordan.”
“Now, you’ve just returned from Japan. A bit early as well, I understand? You were not to return until the third week of August.”
“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Harry said. “I came to know something pretty horrible actually. So, I returned to Britain just shortly after my birthday. Fortunately, Healer Hiro Ito, my mentor, was able to return to Britain with me so my training will continue almost as it did in Japan until school starts.”
“You’re here with us today to make a statement to the public.”
“Justice is the best word to describe it. I’d like to talk to your listeners about Sirius Black, and the night my parents were murdered.”
“If you’re sure,” the announcer said quietly.
“It is really no longer a choice, Mr. Jordan.” Harry cleared his throat. “Master Ito said I should prepare for what I should say so I have some notes here.”
“Take your time. I assure you, Harry, that everyone is ready to hear what you have to say about that night. Our world is listening.”
“Right. The first thing I want to talk about is the Dark Lord, who murdered my parents and tried to kill me. He was born Tom Marvolo Riddle, and after he left Hogwarts, he would have his followers call him Lord Voldemort. Tom Riddle is the bastard child of a Muggle and a squib named Merope Gaunt. This half-blood wizard would come to lead a pro-pure-blood movement here in Britain because he hates who he is. He hates that he grew up in an orphanage, unwanted and feared by his Muggle peers. He is responsible for the extinction of twenty-two ancient pure-blood lines, traditionally light and dark families alike, in Britain thanks to his blood war. His actions caused the murders of upwards of four thousand magicals of all blood lineages, not because he wanted a better future for our country, but because he is a psychotic wizard without a redeeming quality in his corrupt soul.
“The rest of the world acknowledges magic as a gift, and it is rare that anyone outside of Britain even asks if a person is Muggle-born, half-blood, or pure-blood. It is a non-issue because most understand the nature of magic and that it cannot be controlled. It is not anyone’s place to determine whether or not someone should have magic. Magic herself makes that choice, and to disrespect it is blasphemy.”
“Now, that he gets from his mother,” Severus muttered.
Harry cleared his throat over the wireless. “I realize that might upset some of your listeners—those who are so wrapped up in their own pride and family histories that they were blind to Tom Riddle’s ambitions and his sick vision of the future. There are mind healers at St. Mungo’s who would surely help you deal with the trauma of being led so astray. I urge you to contact them.
“Tom Riddle came to Godric’s Hollow on October 31, 1981, to murder me. I was fifteen months old. Thanks to mastering occlumency, I have vivid memories of that night. He came into our home, led there by our Secret Keeper, a man named Peter Pettigrew. Peter was supposed to be one of my Dad’s best friends. He was supposed to protect my mum and me with his own life, if necessary, by guarding the secret of our home. This wasn’t a failure on his part but a deliberate betrayal. Peter Pettigrew is a Death Eater. I say is because I had a dverger soothsayer scry for him and the man still lives.
“Tom Riddle killed my father first. I didn’t see it, but I heard it. They dueled for thirty-six minutes while my mother tried to break the anti-portkey ward that Riddle erected as he arrived. She ultimately failed in that despite her magical talent and power, she was no match for a wizard who had spent decades corrupting his magic with dark art rituals. In the last minutes, before my father fell to Tom Riddle, my mother created a sacrificial ward. When I showed the memory of it to Headmaster Dumbledore and Master Ito, they agreed that they’d never seen anything like it. My nursery vibrated with her magic and her love.
“When her bonding ring fell to dust from her finger, she started to cry, but she kept…drawing runes all over the room with her magic. Finally, she drew a single rune on me. The Futhark rune—Eihwaz—this rune would eventually become the scar I’m famous for to this day. It took Riddle nearly a half hour to break down the transfiguration defenses between the first floor and the second. My parents had done a great deal to protect their home from invasion. That time allowed her to finish the ritual that would save my life at the sacrifice of her own.”
“Let’s take a break, lad,” Jordan murmured. “Rejoin us in five minutes.”
Remus slumped in his chair as an advert for Flourish and Blotts began. “You’ve seen the entire memory?”
Albus nodded. “We were stunned when Harry retrieved it. After he found out that Sirius was innocent, he meditated for hours to find it.” They listened to several more commercials, then Joseph Jordan came back on the air.
“We’re here this afternoon speaking with Harry Potter about the events leading up to the banishment of Tom Riddle aka Dark Lord Voldemort. Harry if you’re ready?”
“Yes, and thank you for the break. Tom Riddle blasted the door to my nursey open—he was injured. I was surprised to see that in the memory. I certainly didn’t understand it as a toddler. But he was hurt, one arm was hanging so limp that it looked boneless. He had open wounds on his face and chest. His clothes were ripped to shreds. My dad must have put up more of a fight than Riddle ever expected. He…tried to bargain with my mother. I don’t know if it was because he was exhausted or if he had other reasons for wanting to keep her alive. She stood in front of me and told him—ordered him to kill her instead of me. He agreed. I don’t think he even saw the magical contract between them settling. But it is visible in my memory which I’ve made available to the ministry.
“He cast the killing curse at her, and the runes around the room began to glow with her magic, and they sort of…started to fall. They all came to me, disappeared into my body like flowing water. Her magic just streamed into me. That’s the only way I can explain it. Tom Riddle pointed his wand at me, and I can’t say why because I have no emotional memories of this as a toddler. It’s a very static memory in my head if that makes any sense. I just stared back at him. Then he cast the killing curse, and the room was filled with a bright green light.
“Peter Pettigrew is the next thing I remember. Just his face. The headmaster had to tell me his name when we viewed the memory together. Pettigrew was screaming at me—crying really—and screaming that I would pay for what I’d done to his Lord. In the background, I hear another man’s voice—shouting my parent’s names, my name. Pettigrew picked up Tom Riddle’s wand, and he turned into a rat. Then there was a dark-haired man, he picked me up. He’s crying too, and rocking me and promising me everything will will be okay. It was a promise that man wouldn’t be able to keep to me through no fault of his own. Shortly after, I was taken from him, and he would spend days hunting for Peter Pettigrew.
“When he found Peter Pettigrew—Pettigrew would commit an act of mass murder and frame my godfather, Sirius Black, for the crime. My godfather, so sworn through magic and blood adoption, would be thrown in Azkaban without being interviewed, without a trial, and there he would sit for nearly twelve years before he escaped. We know this because both Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew’s wands were recovered from the scene. My godfather’s wand was last used to literally pull me from the wreckage of my parent’s house in Godric’s Hollow, and Pettigrew’s wand was used to destroy the street they were on when Sirius caught up with him.”
“Sirius Black is innocent,” Joseph Jordan repeated in disbelief.
“Lord Sirius Black, the pure-blood Earl of Blackmoor, languished in prison with dementors for eleven and a half years. Put there by the zealotry of Barty Crouch, Sr. and ignored thereafter by a people so relieved to be free of Tom Riddle and his reign of terror that no one even cared if my godfather was actually guilty. As the Heir of the House of Black, I filed suit against the British Ministry of Magic before the International Confederation of Wizards for the unlawful incarceration of my legal third parent, Lord Sirius Orion Black. I further charge them with the torture of my godfather through the use of dementors.
“Cornelius Fudge ordered my innocent, illegally incarcerated godfather kissed on sight shortly after his escape from Azkaban. Therefore, I have also filed complaints with the ICW concerning the government ordered and sanctioned attempted murder of my godfather. Should he come to harm in the days to come, I will use every legal remedy I can to make the British Ministry of Magic pay for their crimes against my family and me. And let me be clear, to all of you, Sirius Black is my family. He is the only real family I have left in this world thanks to Tom Riddle. His safe return is all I ask of the people of Britain. Help me bring my godfather home so he can receive the care he needs to recover from his experiences in Azkaban.
“Sirius, if you’re listening—the following people have sworn to me on their magic to offer you sanctuary until Albus Dumbledore can retrieve you: Ragnok, the Chieftain of the Dverger Horde, you can go to any branch of Gringotts on this planet and be granted immediate sanctuary. Healer Castius Arnou at St. Joan’s in Paris, he is a student of my mentor, Master Hiro Ito, and I trust him without question. Madam Augusta Longbottom of the House of Longbottom offers the Lord Black sanctuary on any Longbottom property in Europe. Madam Amelia Bones, the Director of Magical Law Enforcement for the British Ministry of Magic, also extends her hand to you and has sworn to guard your life with her own should you come to her. Healer Stephanie Prince at St. Mungo’s in London has made way for you there if you’re in London. Finally, if you are already close to Hogwarts come to the gates, Hagrid is waiting there for you. You have every reason to fear you’ll be thrown back into jail, but I’m asking you to trust me like my parents trusted you. These people have made their promises to me, and I believe in them.
“Two hours ago, Amelia Bones ordered the aurors to stand down. The dementors have returned to Azkaban. The Wizengamot has declared you innocent, and I have the proclamation in my hand, as I sit here speaking. If you can’t or won’t come to anyone I’ve named—I have a house in Hogsmeade. Master Ito and I will be returning there shortly and there we will stay until school starts. Please…just please stop running and trust me.” There were a few seconds of silence.
Jordan cleared his throat noisily. “Right, well, our Floo is lighting up, and my producer tells me that people are calling in offering Lord Black sanctuary. Harry, is there anything else you’d like to say at this point?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Peter Pettigrew is a rat animagus. As the Heir of the House of Black, I am offering a hundred thousand galleon reward for his capture. Please don’t bring every rat you find to Gringotts. There is a charm to confirm whether or not you’ve found an animagus. He is dangerous and a Death Eater. Please don’t be foolish. Stun any rat you see on sight, test it, and if you find Pettigrew – deliver him into the hands of the Chieftain Ragnok. The reward money is already in a vault. You’ll be handed a key, no questions asked. Thank you.”
* * * *
In Egypt, Arthur Weasley calmly drew his wand and stunned Scabbers.
Harry unfolded himself from the Lotus position as Master Ito entered the room with a man he’d never met but had vague memories of. He smiled. “Moony.”
“You remember me,” Remus Lupin said cautiously.
“A little bit,” Harry said and put his fingers together to demonstrate how much. “Hagrid gave me a photo album at the end of my first year. You’re in it, and I’ve retrieved memories of my childhood all the way back to my first birthday party so far.” He held out his hand to the man and smiled when Remus took it in a firm shake. “The headmaster says you’re teaching this year?”
“At least as long as the curse will allow me,” Remus said ruefully.
“Well, I can see how being a werewolf might interfere a little bit but that can be worked around if they are careful with your class schedule and we get you squared away with Wolfsbane. Also, Master Ito knows how to make those runic bracelets the US have started making for their werewolf population.”
Remus’ mouth dropped open.
Hiro Ito snorted. “He meant the curse on the defense position at your school, Harry, not his affliction.”
“Oh.” Harry blushed. “My apologies. That was terribly rude of me.”
Remus huffed. “It’s just I don’t encounter many people who don’t have a real problem with it. How did you even know?”
“He can feel it,” Hiro explained as he guided them both out onto a balcony and towards a tray of tea. “Sora has prepared an afternoon respite for us. And, of course, I can make you a bracelet if you’d like.”
“Bracelet?” Remus asked. “I’m afraid you both have me at a loss.”
Harry sent his mentor a pointed look. “I told you they were stunningly uninformed, sir. I didn’t walk around behind you with my mouth hanging open in shock for a month just to be entertaining.”
“It was very entertaining nonetheless.” Hiro hummed under his breath. “I should get the documentation together, and we can write an article to publish in your paper.”
Harry grinned and set about making a production of his tea that involved too much sugar and milk to even be considered tea when he was done. “Sounds like a plan.” He turned to Remus. “A magical researcher in New York formulated a rune sequence that prevents the werewolf transformation entirely—it’s a very elegant solution to a rather horrible situation. Some wizards and witches in the US have even managed to use to the bracelet to assume a wolf form outside of the full moon, like an animagus of a sort.”
“Harry, send Dobby to Gringotts with a note. Tell them I’ll need two ounces of refined but uncharmed mithril and fifteen by five square inch of the basilisk hide. It’ll be our project for the week. You can work on the runes yourself—see what your magic tells you about the sequence and see if we can’t refine it—tailor it to our new friend, Remus.”
Harry nodded. “Sounds good.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t afford to pay for…” Remus trailed off when they both sent him the same irate look. “Thank you for your work on my behalf.”
Harry grinned. “It’s always good to make new, gracious friends, isn’t it, Master Ito?”
“Very good,” Hiro agreed and smirked at Remus when the wizard just shook his head. “Now, you have something to say to Harry, so I’ll leave you both to it.”
“You can stay,” Lupin said hurriedly.
“Harry is quite mature, Remus, despite his recent and certainly justified episode at the Ministry of Magic, and can handle the business of forgiveness like a proper young man should,” Hiro touched Harry’s shoulder and left them without another word.
Harry sipped his tea before speaking. “Did you know the Dursleys hit me?”
“No, I didn’t even know you’d been placed with Petunia. Albus refused to discuss your location with anyone for obvious reasons. Your safety was very important.”
Harry nodded. “If you’d known…would you have left me there?”
“I’d probably be in prison for murdering them in their sleep,” Remus admitted roughly.
Harry offered him a sly grin. “In the right circumstances, I would’ve been willing to help you hide their bodies.” He relaxed when Remus laughed. “Look, I get that you feel guilty and I understand why, but you didn’t do anything wrong. The headmaster trusted my Aunt to take care of me. She failed to be a decent human being. She failed at a lot of things, and one day she’ll pay for it in ways that she can’t yet imagine with her small mind and her petty little ideas about what it means to be normal.”
Remus nodded. “You’re terribly well-adjusted to have gone through what you have.”
“I always knew they were the ones that weren’t normal,” Harry said. “Master Ito says I’m a survivor, but more importantly, that even today so many years later, that my magical core literally vibrates with my mum’s magic. I can touch it now when I meditate, and that’s just about the next best thing I’ve discovered lately. The best thing is kissing my girlfriend. That’s really awesome.”
Remus laughed. “Well, at least you have your priorities. What’s her name?”
“Hermione Granger. She’s first in our class, and even the professors call her the brightest witch of the age. It was her, really, that saved me in the chamber. She figured out what was down there. I would’ve died if…well, I would have died. Her research literally saved my life before I even encountered that snake. I’d considered inviting her here for the rest of the summer, but they tell me that Sirius could be in really bad shape. I’d hate for her to get hurt by accident.”
“Most people don’t survive Azkaban sane, cub,” Remus murmured. “We might not get him back.”
“I know,” Harry said simply. “But we’ll take what we get and make the most of it. I’ve already been in contact with mind healers all over the world through Master Ito’s healing conclave. If we can get him back, then we will. If we can’t—I’ve arranged for him to be placed in a private hospital in Paris. He’ll be as comfortable as we can make him without allowing him to hurt himself. I don’t want to put him in another prison, but I have a duty to him—to protect him if he can’t protect himself.”
“He’s an animagus,” Remus blurted out. “I haven’t told anyone else, and he never registered.”
Harry inclined his head. “Yeah, that explains his travel patterns and his land speed. I have the dverger scrying for him, you see. They put him fifty kilometers from Hogwarts early this morning. We think he’s physically well enough to apparate short distances, but he’s…mentally aware enough not to attempt long distances.”
“Do you know if he heard your broadcast on the wireless?”
“He was in Diagon Alley when I was on the air. We picked yesterday because he was near Gringotts. That he has an animagus form, explains a few things. His account manager owes me two galleons—he bet me that Sirius would come into the bank.”
“But you think he’ll come here,” Remus surmised.
“If he broke out to protect me; it stands to reason that he would come to me if he knew where I am,” Harry said reasonably. “There are no aurors in Hogsmeade, right now. I threatened to leave the country if they posted any. Fudge tried to order me to lure Sirius to the ministry for an evaluation.”
“I hope you told him to kiss your arse.”
“I went with go fuck yourself, but I think the impact was the same.” Harry grinned when Remus burst out laughing. “You should’ve seen the headmaster’s face. He was obviously torn between laughing at Fudge’s sputtering or lecturing me for foul language.”
* * * *
Harry woke from a dead sleep. The wards were vibrating…not with a violation but a gentle little ping to let him know that Sirius had finally arrived. He threw off his covers and darted out of his bedroom, down the hall, through the kitchen, and jerked open back door even as his guardian made his way down the stairs from the third floor where the dverger had arranged an entire flat per Harry’s instruction.
“Harry,” Hiro snapped. He caught the boy by the arm before he made it across the patio.
“But he’s here,” Harry said and tried to tug a free.
Hiro pulled Harry back into the house and cupped his face with a careful hand as Remus came into the kitchen. “Remember that long talk we had about you not taking risks with your mental well-being?”
Harry flushed and averted his gaze. “Yes, sir.”
“Your heart is so big,” Hiro said gently. “You want your godfather to be whole and safe and sane. You want it so much you’re willing to take it for granted that he’s exactly that. But what if he isn’t and he hurts or attacks you?”
“It would break your heart,” Hiro finished for him. “You and I both know, better than anyone, that you couldn’t handle that kind of emotional trauma or rejection with any kind of skill.”
Harry nodded, his eyes wet with unshed tears. “But he’s here.”
“Yes, he is,” Hiro said and looked toward Remus Lupin. “He’s in the garden.”
“He came all this way for me,” Harry said. “He broke out of Azkaban for me. No one has ever…I mean…not since my parents…” He took a deep breath and swiped the back of his hand over his eyes. “I have to go out there.”
“I agree,” Hiro said. “He did come all this way for you. He might not trust Remus as yet, and he doesn’t know me. Now, you know about his animagus form. The memory that Remus shared with us showed you exactly what to expect if he’s in his dog form.”
“The biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my life,” Harry said. “A grim.”
“Now center yourself, go back to your room and get your wand, you silly boy,” Hiro chided.
Harry flushed and sighed. He marched back into his room and snatched up his wand. When he returned, his guardian and Lupin were lingering in the doorway. “All right.”
“Don’t be afraid to stun him,” Remus said. “He’d never forgive himself for hurting you. He…loved you with everything he was the moment you were born. If you hadn’t looked just like James, I would’ve questioned your parentage.”
Harry stepped out onto the patio, it was just a quarter moon, so there wasn’t a lot of natural light in the garden. He lit the lanterns as he stepped off the stone surface of the patio and crossed over the neat patch of grass that lead out into a magically expanded garden. He stopped just a few feet into the path and sat down on the bench there. It was pretty tall, so when he slid all the way back, his toes just brushed the grass underneath.
He felt more than saw his godfather—moving around in the shadows as Padfoot. Remus hadn’t shared the reason behind their names, but he was looking forward to finding out. His father had never mentioned that he’d named his own animagus form Prongs—at least not in the family grimoire.
“I had the dverger arrange this garden for my mentor. He had a big garden in Japan, and it was very relaxing for him. I figured that giving him a bit of home during his time in England was the least I could do since he was giving up so much time to train me.” Harry remained still as the dog moved out of the shadows and slowly walked towards him. “The big wisteria tree in the back came from Japan.
“Remus said you’re Padfoot when you’re like this,” Harry said conversationally. “I’m already meditating for my animagus form. Master Ito says I shouldn’t be surprised or horrified if my form turns out to be a snake. His own form is a Malaysian pit viper. Personally, I’d rather be something that can fly. I love to fly on my broom.” He inclined his head towards the house. “Remus is inside. He’s got an apology complex, so I expect you’ll be guilted all over for hours like I was. Though, honestly in your case, it might be years.”
The dog snorted and walked forward until he could rest his head on Harry’s knee.
Harry hesitantly reached out and touched Padfoot’s head. “I really hope you aren’t insane, but if you are—that’s okay. Remus said you weren’t playing with a full deck of cards before you went to Azkaban so if you’re a day trip into Crazytown, I won’t be surprised.” He rubbed the space between Padfoot’s ears thoughtfully. “I remember you, you know. More than just that night. I remember you singing to me and reading books. The toy broom—you bought that. It was obviously my favorite first birthday present. It would be the last present I would receive…well until my eleventh birthday when Hagrid bought me an owl. Her name is Hedwig. She’s with my girlfriend right now or maybe on her way to me. I told them I would be coming here to stay until school started. Once we get you settled in and healed, I figured I might invite Hermione. She’s my girlfriend, except we were together for a whole entire minute before I had to take a portkey to Japan.”
He flicked the dog’s ear when he snorted again. “Shut it you, you don’t get to have an opinion about my relationship until you’re on two legs instead of four. Anyways, Hermione. She’s just about the best thing I have in my life and has been since first year. She’s pretty, but she isn’t full of herself like other girls and very smart. The smartest witch of the age some say. If she hadn’t figured out that I would face a basilisk in the chamber—I would’ve probably gotten myself killed. It was her research that made all the difference. I like her a lot and after the basilisk bit me and I thought I wasn’t going to make it—all I wanted in the world was to see her.”
Padfoot whined. “I went straight to the infirmary as fast as I could, and she was still petrified, but I sat by her bed until Madam Pomfrey noticed me, then she made me get in a bed of my own, but she was nice enough to put me next to Hermione. I’m glad Hermione was petrified for that part—because I had horrible nightmares that night. I wouldn’t have wanted to her to hear more of that. I bet you have nightmares. That’ll be one of the things the mind healer works on. Now that you’ve finally arrived—I’ll be bringing him here as long as you aren’t a total whack job.”
Sirius transformed at that point, kneeling on the path in front of Harry—filthy and exhausted. “You’ve your mother’s sense of humor. It’s not a good thing.”
Harry smiled. “And her eyes.”
“And her eyes,” Sirius agreed. He sat back on his heels. “I heard you…on the wireless. Tom at the Leaky Cauldron was playing it to a packed house.”
“You’re way too big to have hidden in the Cauldron,” Harry said. “Unless…can you disillusion yourself in your animagus form?”
Sirius nodded. “I really am a grim. A magical animagus. They aren’t as rare as some people seem to think. Even McGonagall is actually a breed of kneazle instead of a non-magical cat.”
“Remus is inside.”
Sirius nodded. “I smelled him…you and another man as well. Your teacher?”
“Yes, Master Ito. He’s a very gifted healer,” Harry bit down on his lip. “You know—I can feel how sick you are. It’s one of the first things Master Ito taught me—to take notice when my magic identifies an illness in those around me. You have several bone fractures, one break, the beginnings of a lung infection, and you’re magically exhausted.”
“I apparated a few times,” Sirius admitted. “I wanted to be here as fast as I could.”
“You could’ve been here two days ago,” Harry said. “Did you watch me leave the Wireless offices in Diagon?”
“Yes,” Sirius nodded. “I almost…but there were too many people. I didn’t want you to get hurt if anyone didn’t believe I was innocent. It was too dangerous to approach you then, and I thought about the bank, but it was too close to the ministry.”
Harry nodded. “That’s why I offered you Paris as well—just in case being out of the country felt safer.”
“I came back here because it was late and I could feel the heat coming from behind the house. I figured you had some sort of environmental ward back here. I didn’t expect a full-blown garden,” Sirius said wryly.
“Master Ito and I were informed the moment you crossed the ward boundary at the front of the house. The dverger put war wards on this place,” Harry explained. “Are you ready to come inside? You must be starving.”
“I could eat,” Sirius admitted.
Harry didn’t move. “You know Master Ito is a parselmouth.”
“So are you,” Sirius said. “Your dad was, too. His parents snuck him out of the country the summers of fifth, sixth, and seventh years to study with a parselmouth healer in the US. I mean, literally snuck him out. I spent half the summer before our seventh year pretending to be him with the help of a dverger -made glamour. Your grandmother was worried sick that someone untrustworthy would find out about his gift.”
“So, you won’t act like an idiot around him?” Harry continued. “He’s important to me, and he’s already encountered quite a bit of crap since coming here. I’d rather he not have to deal with it in the home I’m providing for him here.”
“I won’t be an idiot,” Sirius promised. “I’m rather hoping he’ll consent to heal my leg. I broke it four days ago.”
* * * *
Harry was relegated to supervising Dobby in the kitchen. It hadn’t been a surprise. Master Ito was particular about some things, and objectivity was chief among them. Harry didn’t have the experience or the maturity to work on someone so important to him. Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore had been called in after they’d finally gotten Sirius to come in the house.
Dobby eventually got tired of his interference and popped away with the tray. Harry retreated to his room, sat down at his desk and opened his journal to reread Hermione’s last letter to him.
The Weasleys returned early from Egypt, and of course, Ron immediately invited me to the Burrow. I know he sent you a letter as well but that you declined to join us. I would really much prefer to stay with you in Hogsmeade than here at the Burrow so…please let me know when I can Floo over. Hedwig will be on her way to you soon. She was quite good about traveling in the cage to the Burrow.
I went to Diagon Alley and bought a cat. His name is his Crookshanks. He likes Ginny, hates Ron, and Ron has a new pet, but he won’t discuss what happened to Scabbers. There is something pretty significant going on with the whole family actually. When we were shopping in Diagon Alley for school supplies, Mrs. Weasley, while always frugal, didn’t ask for used books like she normally does. Ginny, Ron, and the twins were also kitted out with some new clothes. Not an extravagant amount, mind you, but nice things that I’ve never seen them get before.
Combine all that with the missing Scabbers, I’m left with the conclusion that the Weasley’s might have been harboring Peter Pettigrew by accident, and after your announcement on the wireless, which went international by the way, they turned him in for the reward money.
Ron has a very pretty tawny owl about half Hedwig’s size, and he named him Hugo. I suppose it’s an okay name for an owl, but he mentioned that he thought he might name his son that. Ugh.
I’ve not told him that you and I are dating. I figured that was a piece of news we should deliver together. He’s been pretty weird lately and made a few comments about how nice my teeth look. He also said it was great that I was FINALLY doing something proper with my hair. I nearly punched him.
I did buy a charmed brush in Diagon Alley, actually, that calms all of my bushiness quite a bit. I asked the witch that owned the store if she thought it would work with your hair, and she laughed. She said that your hair was a family trait, and nothing was going to make it manageable unless you chose to wear it long and keep it tied off or braided. Not that I mind, I think your hair is uniquely you, but I figured you’d be interested in my brush, so I asked on your behalf.
I think it’ll be weird to see you without glasses—that usually only happens when you’ve done something foolish on your broom and gotten hurt. I am glad that Master Ito was able to repair the spell damage to your eyes. I’m quite upset that it never crossed my mind that it might have been the cause of your bad vision. I’m sure Madam Pomfrey was quite put out with herself as well.
I bought three books at Flourish & Botts about parselmagic and its history, all written for those ungifted like myself. One was very informative and full of great information. It was originally published in Japan, actually, by a member of the Ito family. The other was rather a light read, written, I think, for children, but it provided a lot of general information and a great reading list for further education opportunities on the subject.
The third was absolutely infuriating. I read one chapter, went back to the Alley, and returned it to Mr. Flourish personally. I might have caused a bit of a scene in the shop, to be honest, but I was so angry! It was full of lies! A book! It was horrible and contrary to everything I know about the subject—both what I’ve learned from you and from books. It said that all parselmouths were born inherently evil. It went so far to say that they were probably possessed by a demon in the womb!
Well, by the time I was done Mr. Flourish had apologized to me for selling me such an inaccurate and biased book, removed all the copies he had from the shelf, returned my money, and gave me credit for his store towards my next purchase.
As you know, I’m not one to hold a grudge—so I bought four more books. One of them was a book written by that healer you mentioned on the wireless—Castius Arnou. It’s about the benefit of parselmagic healing to society and how important it is to nurture and protect those born with the gift as soon as that gift is discovered. It is proving to be a fascinating read! I gave Mr. Flourish a list of books I’d like to read this year on healing talents around the world—different kinds from faith healing to hands-on healing. I never knew that stuff was actually possible, but in the frame of magic, I have to give it a shot, right?
I spoke at length with Professor McGonagall about Muggle studies again, by the way. She agreed to let me do an independent study for the course so I can take the OWL without sitting in the class for the next three years. She said you could do the same because she doubts either of us would have a problem passing the OWL. There is an OWL prep-text for the independent course. I purchased one for each of us. I hope you don’t mind!
Can’t wait to see you!
Harry touched her name and shook his head. He’d sent a note off to Hogwarts shortly after reading her letter the first time to ask McGonagall if he could sign up for the independent study as well. Master Ito thought it an elegant solution to the problem and insisted that Harry pass along his praise to Hermione when he wrote her next.
Harry picked up his self-inking quill and nibbled the end briefly before beginning.
It’s late, so I know you won’t read this until the morning. I’m sorry I didn’t respond yesterday after your letter. Frankly, I’ve just been a nervous wreck over Sirius and have been since I returned to Britain. I threw such a fit in the ministry that I…well, apparently, I damaged the building structurally with accidental magic.
I’m really mortified now, but at the time I was so furious at Minister Fudge that I could’ve torn the whole building down. Apparently, the Head Unspeakable with the Department of Mysteries was in his office, six floors underground, and felt the building shaking. He sent me a note letting me know he’d be interested in meeting me after I take my OWLs as long as he still has a building to have an office in. Master Ito thought that was very funny. I did take the time to send notes to each department in the ministry apologizing for my accidental magic outburst and offered to replace anything that was broken beyond repair. So far, no one has taken me up on my offer.
Sirius arrived about an hour ago. He’s severely malnourished and there are a few physical injuries. But I’m happy to report that he had a conversation with me that was entirely coherent. So, I don’t think I’ll have to lock him up in a hospital for his own good. Master Ito has confined him to the Hogsmeade property for the time being, and we’ve locked down our wards. Now, no one can enter unless he or I personally invite them in. Your Floo password will work, but you won’t be able to bring anyone with you when you come. We’ve already adjusted the wards to include Crookshanks. Master Ito was quite impressed that you knew to send a few of the cat’s hairs to be added to the wards.
Healer Arnou will be here in the morning and will make the decision as to whether or not we can have guests in the house. I miss you like crazy and if you can’t come to me—I’m going to ask Master Ito if I can come to the Burrow for the day. I want you here with me because honestly, I’m not all that thrilled with you staying with Ron. His family is great, but he’s terrible to you on a regular basis. I bet he’s already yelled you about the homework he hasn’t bothered to do.
I’ve spoken to Master Ito at length about the relationships I have with people at Hogwarts, and he agrees that my friendship with Ron has not…served me, and it most certainly has not served you. I’m so very sorry, Hermione, for every single time that I let Ron get away with abusing you verbally. It won’t happen anymore. I want to be a person you can be proud to be with. And I must be a man that my parents would be proud to call their son. I can’t be that for you or them if I let people like Ron Weasley mistreat you because of their own insecurities. I know that’s not the kind of man my mum would want me to be.
I can’t wait to meet Crookshanks, and thank you for the information about the independent study for Muggle studies. I think that’s a great idea and an excellent way around a foolish rule. Professor McGonagall sent me information back, and I can’t see how we’d have a problem producing one twenty-inch essay a month to fulfill the requirements for independent study. You could do that in your sleep. Master Ito said your solution was elegant.
I’m not surprised that you’re reading up on parselmagic but I am…genuinely humbled by your very passionate defense of me at Flourish & Botts. I received a personal letter from Mr. Flourish where he apologized profusely for even offering that book in his store. He also sent out letters to the four other people who had bought the book, letting them know how biased and inaccurate it was. He was relieved to report that all four customers returned their book to the store, and each picked out a different book to replace the book in question.
Your faith in me never ceases to be a source of great comfort. I want you to know that you’re important to me and I know this new turn we’ve made together might not go where we want it to go. No matter how our romantic relationship works out—I really hope we can always be friends. That’s not to say that I’m not going to give our new situation every effort, because I’m all in on that front.
I do have a small confession of sorts—I honestly don’t know what was wrong with your teeth. You keep bringing it up so it must have been extremely important to you, so I don’t want to…I’m at a loss. I even asked the headmaster about it, and he just smirked at me, actually. He genuinely smirked at me. Master Ito says it’s perfectly okay to ask for guidance when I’m confused, so you’re just going to have to spell that out for me.
I can hardly wait myself!
PS – The Weasley’s did, in fact, catch Peter Pettigrew. It’s not going to be announced that he was both Percy and Ron’s pet rat. Ron’s been told to tell people that Peter killed Scabbers and tried to take his place over the summer after Sirius escaped. The family doesn’t need the embarrassment and political strife that would come from unknowingly (and stupidly) harboring a Death Eater for nearly twelve years. Honestly, how could they think that a rat would live that long?
Hermione laughed as she finished Harry’s letter and frowned briefly over the postscript before schooling her face.
“What is that book, dear?”
Hermione looked up and found most of the Weasley clan, including Bill, staring at her. “Oh, it’s a connected journal of sorts. Harry and I both have one. He asked his account manager at Gringotts to charm them so that we could exchange letters over the summer since he was going to be so far away. I write in it, and whatever I write —shows up for Harry a few minutes later. There is also a dimensional pocket in the back so we can exchange small items. He sent me several books from Japan that way, and a lovely lotus blossom from Master Ito’s garden.”
Ron frowned at her but just huffed and returned to his food.
Bill cleared his throat. “You mean…that’s like connected account ledgers?”
“Yes, that’s what Harry said…that it worked like his account ledger from the bank,” Hermione smiled. “It’s brilliant, really. I think it will be really popular, especially for families with children at Hogwarts.”
Bill laughed and shook his head. “I doubt it. I don’t even want to estimate how much gold Harry spent on those two journals.”
“They did it for free,” Hermione interjected before Ron could say anything. She could see the angry little storm practically brewing over his head. “They said it was a gift for giving them the idea. They are going to start offering connected journals of this kind to their customers in the future at an economical price. Harry and I were their test case, I guess. I did write a letter to his account manager detailing how well it worked and listed a few ideas that might make it work better. He wrote back and thanked me for the ideas and put a consultant fee in my vault for the use of the ideas.”
“Oh,” Bill said. “What were your ideas, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Well, the journal will glow if there is new content, but that’s all. If it is in a bag or a trunk—it might not get noticed for days, which is okay for non-emergency situations, but there should be a way to convey an urgent message. So, I suggested a rune or charm that could activate an audio notification that would go off until the book was opened by the owner to use for emergencies. I also suggested that they connect multiple journals for families but allow for a master book – one that the parents could keep and receive all communications.
“I used your family as an example. What with Charlie in Romania and you often in Egypt—the others at Hogwarts, your parents would have to have seven different books, one to connect to each of you. It just seemed more efficient if your mum and dad had one book and that they could direct communications to the appropriate family member. Which also made me think that you might like to write to each other privately as well or send a letter to everyone at once if you wanted. So, creating a set of eight journals that could communicate individually with each other, based on user preference, and do mass announcements or whatever just seemed a reasonable next step in providing private, secure family communications.”
“They paid you for that?” Ron asked. “I mean…it doesn’t seem like much…just an idea that might not work at all.”
“I provided the theoretical research and the charm required to make it work,” Hermione admitted. “I sold the spell to Gringotts.”
“For how much?” Ron demanded.
Hermione sighed and wouldn’t have answered at all, but she was suddenly so annoyed at him. “Ten thousand galleons and three percent of the profits worldwide on the use of the charm. The headmaster negotiated the contract for me.” She glared at him. “I also requested a set of journals for your family so I could give them to you all for Christmas.”
“Oh, Hermione, that is a very lovely gesture,” Molly said and hauled her out of her chair for a hug. “Thank you so much.”
Hermione accepted the hug with a laugh and glare in Ron’s direction. “What, Ron?”
“It’s just mad that you made that kind of money for a single spell.”
“No, it’s not,” Bill said as he sipped his tea. “Spell crafting is a very lucrative business, and the dverger never pay more for something than it is worth. The only amazing part of that entire situation is that she’s thirteen years old.” He saluted her with his cup. “That’s really great, Hermione. Dad was telling me earlier how brilliant he thought you were.”
“She’s first at Hogwarts,” Molly bragged. “She’ll be Head Girl, I have no doubts.” She patted her again. “Now, is there anything you can share from the journal about Harry’s studies?”
Hermione sat down and opened it up. “Let me…just let me look? He wrote me almost every day while he was in Japan and sometimes twice since he’s returned to Britain.” She opened it to the beginning and scanned through the first few letters. “Master Ito did some personal healing for Harry first. Harry doesn’t need glasses anymore. Apparently, he had spell damage from being hit by the killing curse, and that’s why his vision was so bad.” She bit down on her lip and. “Oh, this is pretty interesting and a bit funny:
Master Ito has a giant bloody snake in his garden! He sent me out to meditate, and I was sitting on this large flat rock in the middle of this big box of sand he calls a zen garden, when this snake the size…Merlin, it must be twenty-five meters long and as thick as my actual body…came out of the grass that leads out to the beach and started talking to me.
Of course, the last time I saw a snake even close to that size, it was trying to eat me! I screamed…in a quite unmanly fashion…and fell off the rock. I don’t know who laughed hardest—the snake, Master Ito, or Headmaster Dumbledore. It’s been three hours, and they are still laughing at me. All three of them!
I’m including a picture of Dai, the snake. His name means ‘large or vast’. Which is rather a bleeding understatement, if you ask me.
Dai is a magical anaconda and is an adult specimen of his species. He is venomous, but Master Ito assures me that he won’t bite me and, moreover, thanks to having been bitten by the basilisk in the chamber—I’m now immune to every snake venom in existence, magical or not.
Dai has threatened to sleep in my room. I’m going to move my dresser in front of the door and cast a ward. I swear!
Exhausted and honestly, kind of sore! That sand was hard!
She pulled three pictures from the page and offered them to Molly. “They were in the box in the back, but I found if I press pictures to the journal pages that they’ll stick with no problem. Harry said they showed up in his copy as if they were just part of the page. He couldn’t pull them out.”
Molly huffed at the first picture. “I’d ward my door, too. Arthur look this giant snake!” She smiled at the second picture. “Oh, well, Master Ito’s garden is certainly beautiful, and Harry looks so healthy.”
“Master Ito is a very talented healer,” Hermione said neutrally. She wasn’t going to tell them what Harry said about his health. That was his own business.
“Who is this house elf?” Molly asked.
“Oh, that’s Dobby. Harry freed him from the Malfoy family,” Hermione explained. “He insisted on bonding with Harry. It’s kind of a relief to know that someone is taking care of Harry because I know he’s in dire need of a minder.”
Molly nodded her agreement. “They look like they are having fun.”
Hermione watched with an eagle eye as the pictures made the rounds at the table and were returned to her. She put them carefully back into the journal one by one, then turned through the pages. “I tend to ramble when I write letters, so a lot of these pages are me going on and on about one thing or another. I dedicated one entire letter to buying Muggle music for Professor Flitwick.” She found another that wasn’t too personal to share.
Today Master Ito did a transference ritual for me. His entire conclave arrived to participate. There are three hundred and twenty-six wizards, and he said I would not be considered for full membership until I’m at least fifty years old. Each member of the conclave worked individually and together to help me create a mental landscape to act as part of my mental defenses.
Protecting my parselmagic abilities from emotional trauma and mental invasion is super important if I want to work as a healer or if I want to cast parselmagic silently. The most important part of creating a mental landscape is not using a real location. I chose the fictional location of Helm’s Deep. The second book, The Two Towers, remains my favorite of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, so it seemed the best place to start for me.
I created an intricate maze between the entrance of the valley and the entrance to the keep which I built into the side of a mountain and I populated the maze with several guardians. I’m able to maintain it all the time while I’m conscious. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to master it while I’m asleep. Master Ito says that level of protection might not be possible for me until I’m an adult.
Tell Hedwig I miss her!
“That’s a stunning accomplishment,” Percy murmured. “What is this Lord of the Rings he mentioned?”
“Oh, it’s a series of fantasy fiction books written by a man named Tolkien. I actually have them in my trunk so if you wanted to borrow them, you could,” Hermione offered.
“I’d like that actually,” Percy admitted. “Thank you.”
“Anything fun, or did he just work and study?” Ron demanded.
Hermione frowned at him. “Well, he learned parseltongue through a transference ritual which apparently was really exhausting, and he defined his own personal dialect which is the next step in casting parselmagic. He also refined his magical senses so that he can tell when someone is injured or sick just by touching them.”
She returned her gaze to the journal and flipped through several letters silently before picking out another that wasn’t private.
Thank you for the watch. It’s great, and I’ve already had a hand for Master Ito added so I can keep an eye on him. I was really amused to see both hands for you and Hedwig already on it. Dobby, of course, insisted on being added and he said he would add Ron when we return to Hogwarts. It says something that a mediwitch made it by NAME onto my watch. I’m sure Madam Pomfrey will be thrilled to know. I like how it has a face for the time as well.
It wasn’t very subtle, by the way, that you also made sure to include a third face for my school schedule. That was some rather blatant but charming nagging on your part. I’ve included a couple of letters in the box to send out, if you don’t mind?
This has honestly been the best birthday I’ve had…well, it’s right up there with my eleventh when Hagrid rescued me from the Dursley’s when they went crazy over my Hogwarts letter, and we ended up in a hut on an island in the middle of nowhere.
Dai let Master Ito know today that he wasn’t all that interested in giving up paradise for the Scottish Highlands, so he’ll be staying here in Japan with one of Master Ito’s former apprentices. I can’t say I’m not relieved. That snake and I don’t get along at all—he’s always trying to scare me and often succeeding.
Master Ito gave me a firebox for my birthday and inside it is an elemental viper—a fire serpent. She’ll probably hatch in the fall, October or maybe November. I can’t wait to meet her! If I’m very lucky, she will bond with me and become my familiar. I’ve already named her—Rowena.
I was worried that Hedwig wouldn’t react well to her, but Master Ito assures me that my bond with Hedwig, while not one of a familiar, will ensure that Hedwig and Rowena get along without issue. He told me that as a parselmouth, I am unable to fully bond with any magical creature outside of snakes. He’s never achieved a familiar bond though he admits he only tried once. I did start to wonder last year when our bond seemed to stall. The book I read on familiar bonding seemed to indicate that during my second year with her that we’d develop a full bond, but it didn’t happen. It’s relieving to know why, and to also know that accepting a familiar won’t hurt Hedwig.
Hermione flipped to the next page so no one would realize she’d skipped two paragraphs in that letter. Though all anyone would see was two large paragraphs of scribbles. None of them needed to hear about how he missed her. That was their private business. She frowned at the next letter. “I don’t think I can share anymore.” She closed the book.
“Why not?” Ron demanded crossly.
“He found out that his godfather was innocent the first week of August,” Hermione said. “He talks about retrieving the memory of Tom Riddle murdering his mum a lot. It’s not…something I think I can share. I don’t have the right to.”
“You’re quite right,” Arthur agreed when Ron started to speak again. “It was traumatic enough listening to what he said over the wireless. I think he’s already told practically the entire magical world all that needs to be said about that night.” He glared pointedly at Ron, and the youngest male Weasley huffed then started stuffing his face again.
The silence lasted for just a few minutes before Ron pushed aside his plate and glared at her. “Why didn’t Harry give me the journal instead of you?”
“You’d have to ask him,” Hermione said. “Though really, he’s been back in Britain for days, and you haven’t written to him once. Not even when I sent Hedwig back to him, so maybe he realized it wouldn’t be very useful to give it to you.”
“I want to read yours.”
“No,” Hermione said and met his gaze unflinchingly. “It’s private, Ron, and moreover, you can’t actually read it. No one can read it but me. The Headmaster tried to remove the privacy charms from Harry’s because he didn’t know what it was, and it knocked him unconscious.”
“He’s my best mate,” Ron argued.
“He’s mine, too, Ronald,” Hermione shot back. “My very best friend, actually, and he trusted me with some very personal information. I’m not going to betray him by telling you or anyone else the private things he said. It’s not right, and it’s not the kind of thing a friend would expect me to do. He’ll tell you what he wants you to know.”
“Right,” Ron said sarcastically. “Did you know about the Order of Merlin before the headmaster announced it? Did you know he was going to Japan before the last day of school? He practically ignored us both that last week of school, Hermione.”
Hermione carefully closed the journal and placed her quill on top of it. “He almost died, Ron. He was, in fact, dying when Fawkes chose to cry in the wound the basilisk fang left in his arm. Without that intervention, both Harry and Ginny would’ve died in the Chamber of Secrets.” She glanced at Ginny, who made a soft sound of distress. “Tom Riddle was using your sister’s magic to resurrect himself for the love of Merlin! Even with Fawkes’ tears and Madam Pomfrey working on him—Harry could barely move the day after the chamber, he was so exhausted.
“The poison damaged him significantly, and you’d know that if you’d bothered to read the articles in the Prophet on how dangerous basilisk venom is. It’s corrosive like an acid. Had Fawkes delayed at all—that venom would have dissolved Harry’s organs long before the poison itself would’ve had time to kill him. I can’t even imagine the emotional trauma that must have been, and obviously, you haven’t even bothered to consider it at all. So what if he didn’t tell either one of us immediately what was going to happen. It was his personal business, and it was a very important decision he had to make for himself.”
“He could’ve asked what we thought about him going off to Japan,” Ron protested. “He didn’t even care how that would effect either one of us.”
Hermione stared at him, shocked. “Ron, Harry’s choice to apprentice with Master Hiro Ito is life-changing. How it impacted you or me or anyone else at Hogwarts was and should’ve been the least of Harry’s concerns. He made a career choice—a choice to develop a familial legacy that is not well thought of Britain. He’s not only learning an important and life-saving trade in this world—he’s going to face daily challenges from people who are so ignorant they will consider him dark for a gift he was born with. A gift that has been with his family for a thousand years. I remember what you said on the train, you know. You’d better not say that utter tripe to Harry. He doesn’t deserve that from someone claiming to be his friend.”
“I’m his friend,” Ron said hotly. “And I’m allowed to think it’s a bad idea! He should’ve ignored it, and maybe people would’ve forgotten he could even do it. It is a dark gift. Some of the most terrible dark arts are parselmagic.”
“Oh, that’s not even remotely true,” Hermione snapped. “The darkest magic is actually black magic, and that isn’t parselmagic.”
“Whatever, Hermione, you don’t know everything,” Ron rolled his eyes.
“She’s still learning,” Bill allowed. “But she’s right about that. Black magic is one of the darkest magical arts on this planet. Parselmagic doesn’t even come close to that standard. In fact, there are only two rituals in parselmagic that are even classified as dark arts. I won’t discuss them with you children, that’s how dark they are, but the two rituals are just as dark but not as powerful if they are performed by non-parselmouths.”
“How do you really know that?” Ron demanded. “It isn’t like any of us can even understand what they are saying.”
Bill glared at him. “Ron, I’m a parselmouth, and I assure you that I’m not a dark wizard.”
Ron paled. “You’re what? How is that…that doesn’t run in our family, Bill? That’s just impossible.”
Arthur cleared his throat. “Both Bill and Charlie chose to go through a Familial Rites after they turned seventeen. This ritual will activate dormant magical gifts. Bill’s dormant gifts included parselmagic while Charlie turned out to be a beast speaker—he can speak with any magical creature, including snakes. Both of these gifts are part of our family’s history as we are a cadet branch of the Gryffindor family, Ronald. It stands to reason that you might have inherited the dormant traits as well. The twins are both capable of becoming parselmouths. They’ll make a choice themselves when they turn seventeen as to whether or not they want that magic woke in them.”
“How do you even know that? Is it dormant in me?
“The twins were tested on their fifteenth birthday. You’ll be offered that opportunity after your fifteenth birthday as well.”
“I don’t want any part of that,” Ron said stubbornly. “So, don’t bother.”
Molly huffed as she stood and left the table. “Enough of that, Ronald. You’ll be tested just like everyone else! It’ll be part of what helps you choose a career.”
Ron frowned at her. “Percy, were you tested?”
Percy looked up from his book and raised one snotty eyebrow. “Of course, I was, Ronald.”
“And your gifts?” Ron demanded.
Percy sighed and closed his book. “I’m a natural occlumens, and I’ll develop mage sight. Both gifts will be made available to me after the I participate in the rites which I will do just before I return to Hogwarts. I’ve also discovered post testing that I have an animagus form. I’ve yet to determine if I will go through that process.”
“Oh, what’s your form?” Hermione asked.
Percy smiled at her genuine interest. “A raven.”
“That’s totally brilliant,” Ginny exclaimed.
“You could ask Professor McGonagall for private lessons,” Hermione suggested. “If you’ve already discovered your form—then you aren’t far from being ready to try the transfiguration itself. I read two books this summer on the process, and I’m meditating on my form.”
“Any luck?” Percy asked.
Hermione frowned. “Honestly, I’m not sure. Harry explained his visions and mine are really different.”
“It’s not a surprise, dear,” Molly said. “After all, it’s doubtful you have the same animal form, such things are reserved for soulmates. Each animal form would approach their witch or wizard differently. When I searched mine out—she was quite shy and elusive. It took me over a year to even get her to come out of the shadows.”
“Did you ever see her full form?”
“I’m a fox,” Molly said proudly. “I never finished the process, of course. My transfiguration skills were always my weak point, you see. I still think about finishing it.” She brought a cake to the table and started to cut it. She put down a piece in front of a stunned silent Ron who began eating out of habit. “Now, what have you seen so far?”
“Well, I’m sitting in the dark,” Hermione admitted. “And there is something moving around me—big, and the air is very warm. I see her…in the darkness but she blends in with it…sometimes I see her eyes.”
“How big?” Bill asked.
“No clue really.”
“You see her eyes,” Bill started. “Is she even with you? Are you eye to eye?”
“Sometimes but I get the feeling that’s because she’s lowering herself down to my level,” Hermione said. She closed her eyes and thought about it. “Her eyes fairly close together. They are to the front of her head, so she’s a predator of some sort. Her head is weird, and I only get hints of it. Sometimes there is wind and the air is warm.” She opened her eyes.
“Well, that’s outstanding work for just a few weeks of meditation,” Bill said. “If you end up needing the animagus potion to take the final step—let me know, and I’ll arrange it through the bank.”
“Thanks,” Hermione said and went back to her journal. Then Mrs. Weasley set a second piece of cake down in front of her. “Hmmm, Mrs. Weasley?”
“It’s for Harry,” Molly said pleasantly. “Put it in your little box, dear. I put a preservation charm on it.”
“Oh, great,” Hermione said and gamely flipped to the back of her journal. She opened the door and wasn’t surprised when Ginny and her mother both peeked inside. There was a white blooming lily already in the space, so she carefully removed it then placed the cake inside.
Molly picked up the flower but then frowned. “Well, I was going to put this in water for you, but it seems to be sealed with magic.”
“Dobby seals them for me,” Hermione explained with a blush. She took the flower back from Molly with a small smile. “So they don’t die. Harry says it’s kind of horrible to pick something so beautiful then just let it die.”
“Has he sent you a lot of flowers?” Ron demanded.
“Yes,” Hermione said defiantly, “he has—a lotus flower, a cherry blossom, an orchid, white and blue roses. Dobby brought me a special case to keep them in when they returned to Britain. It’s in my trunk.”
“Isn’t that kind of inappropriate?” Ron asked.
“No, it’s not,” Hermione said firmly. “It’s not inappropriate at all.” She turned to Molly. “Right?”
“Of course not, dear, it’s a lovely thing to do. I wish all of my sons were as thoughtful as Harry,” Molly said and tapped Ron on the back of the head again as she gained her seat. “Now, Hermione, dear, tell me about your classes this year.”
“I’m taking the standard courses, and I’m adding arithmancy, ancient runes, and an independent study in Muggle studies. I’m also going to ask Madam Pomfrey for an independent study in healing,” Hermione explained. “I’ve been reading a lot about it this summer, and I’ve been considering my career options.
“The healing field is much more open to Muggle-borns, of course, and there are all of these lovely programs for studying abroad and working abroad after I leave Hogwarts. I was thrilled to learn that there is a Healers Without Borders. The Muggle version does great work all over the world in impoverished areas. I think the work would be extremely rewarding so I figure I could take a course with Madam Pomfrey to see if it suits me. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, which is a Muggle healer, so I think they would be really proud of me if I could still follow that dream.” She paused when she realized that Ron was frowning at her—the darkest one of the day so far, which wasn’t great considering it was just lunch time. “What?”
“I don’t know why you bother with all that studying. You’ll stay home with the kids after you get married anyways.”
She blinked at him. “Pardon me? My mother didn’t stay at home with me, and plenty of witches work. I fully intend to.”
“No wizard is going to want to marry you with that kind of attitude,” Ron said, and his mother poked him hard. “Mum!”
“I stayed home with you children because I wanted to,” Molly snapped. “I could’ve taken a job out of the home easily. I have a mastery in Potions, Ronald. In fact, how do you think your father and I put you all through Hogwarts? I sell potions to the apothecary and St. Mungo’s, and I have for years. Two different potion labs have approached me and offered me very good jobs since Ginny started school, but I’ve declined them since I’m used to working for myself. I happen to think Hermione’s plans are very admirable. She’s an attractive, brilliant, kind, thoughtful, generous, and hardworking witch. Any wizard would be very, very lucky to win her heart.”
Hermione smiled and blushed. “Thank you, Mrs. Weasley.”
“I meant to say that your teeth look great, dear,” Molly said. “I know your parents were against magical intervention. How did you get around it?”
“Madam Pomfrey sent them a letter home saying I fell down the central staircase,” Hermione admitted and bit down on her lip when Molly snorted. “I know that I should feel bad about them being lied to, but I can’t make myself.”
“You’re magical,” Molly said firmly. “An easy, painless solution was available for your problem, and they let their own…fear of magic impact the health of their daughter, Hermione. Don’t feel guilty. I wouldn’t.”
Hermione nodded and sighed. “I told Harry I got my teeth fixed and he finally wrote back and admitted he had no idea why I’d need to get my teeth fixed at all.”
Ron snorted. “Right, who could have missed them?”
Ginny huffed and glared at him. “Maybe Harry isn’t a shallow little git like you and likes Hermione just the way she was! Besides, they weren’t that much bigger than her other teeth. They just seemed that way to her because she was focused on them.”
Hermione nodded. In retrospect, they hadn’t been that much bigger than the rest of her teeth, but that wasn’t how she felt about them. “My cousin Brenda called me Beaver all the time.”
Ginny frowned. “We could send her a cursed letter.”
Hermione grinned. “We’d probably get in trouble.”
“Not if we charmed it to destroy itself when she put it down,” Fred interjected. “And a little charm so she doesn’t even notice that the letter is gone.”
“You’re not sending a Muggle girl a cursed letter,” Molly said sternly. “No matter how much she deserves it.”
Hermione grinned at her. “I wouldn’t let them, Mrs. Weasley. I always figured I’d hunt her up and curse her personally once I had wand rights. Some things just need a personal touch, you know?”
“I do know,” Molly said in agreement. “After I graduated from Hogwarts, I paid a visit to this witch who’d chased Arthur around during our seventh year. She knew we were betrothed and didn’t care. I fixed that.”
“I was considering keeping a list of people who wronged me,” Hermione admitted.
“Well, I must ask that you not do anything to damage Ron permanently,” Molly said instantly.
“I’ve never done anything to Hermione!” Ron denied.
Hermione stared at him in shock. “You berated and bullied me the first two months that we knew each other—to the point that I was ready to ask to go home. I was so upset that I spent a full day in a bathroom crying and was nearly killed by a troll because of how you treated me, Ron.”
“It’s not my fault you were a nightmare,” Ron said. “Besides, I did go after you.”
“Because of Harry,” George said. “You wouldn’t have gone after her by yourself.”
“No one else even mentioned her,” Percy said, abruptly entering the conversation. “Thanks to you, Ron, she’d isolated herself from the rest of the house out of fear that rest of us would treat her like you did. We didn’t even know she wasn’t in the tower. Her own roommates couldn’t get her to talk to them. I was instructed by Professor McGonagall to keep an eye on her after the incident with the troll because Headmaster Dumbledore was very concerned that Hermione was going to give up and go home. It’s bad enough how Slytherins treat the Muggle-born. She should’ve had a haven in her own house. You pretty much single-handedly made sure she didn’t those first few months. Even Harry didn’t stand up to you over it. I asked him, once, why he let you get away with all the crap you say. You know what he said to me?”
Ron glared at him. “What?”
“That thanks to his Muggle cousin he’d never been allowed to have friends before, so he puts up with your bad behavior because you were the first friend his age he ever made.”
“Whatever,” Ron said. “You don’t know him, Percy.”
“I’d wager you don’t know him very well either,” Fred said with a little smirk. “Else you wouldn’t be so confused about why he spent the summer exchanging diary entries with Hermione and sending her flowers from halfway around the world.”
Hermione bit down on her lip to keep from laughing.
Harry was in the midst of enjoying a very good piece of lemon cake when Master Ito, Remus, Sirius, and Healer Arnou joined him on the patio. “Hey.”
Ito stared at the cake. “Where did you get that? Dobby made a chocolate cake.”
“Mrs. Weasley sent it through Hermione’s journal,” Harry said. “It’s outstanding.”
“It looks it,” Remus admitted. “She makes the best food. I always thought she should open a restaurant.”
Harry nodded his agreement. “Agreed. It’s the best. So how are things?” he asked pointedly.
Arnou hummed under his breath. “You can invite your girlfriend over, but no one else. The Headmaster assures me she’s a mature young woman, so I don’t see how she could be stressful for Sirius. In fact, she might be just the right sort of stimulation he needs.”
“She sent a Howler via phoenix fire,” Ito reminded.
“I’d have done it, too,” Remus admitted. “Even you said she had every reason to be concerned, and the lack of information would have made you quite upset as well.”
Harry watched the byplay amused as he finished his cake and opened up his journal. He’d saved her letter for after the cake so his attention wouldn’t be divided, and the cake had looked too good to pass up.
Ron is such an arsehole! I mean, honestly! A genuine arsehole! I’m going to go back to bloody Crawford if I can’t come to Hogsmeade. Don’t get me wrong, please, I realize how important Sirius’ recovery is, and I’d never want to interfere with that. I’m just afraid I’m going to murder Ron, and I already sort of promised his mother not to permanently damage him.
I told him about my spell and how I sold it to the dverger, and he acted like I didn’t deserve the gold for what I’d done, or worse, that I was lying about it. He’s such a prat. He saw the lily you sent me, thanks it’s beautiful just like you said they were, and he said that it was inappropriate for you to send me flowers. I don’t get that. Even if you weren’t my boyfriend, I see no reason why you wouldn’t be able to send me flowers, and Mrs. Weasley said it was very thoughtful.
Anyways, Hedwig left this morning with a package from the Weasleys—birthday presents I’m to assume. I didn’t ask. I imagine you’ve got a cake in there. I saw her baking two cakes yesterday, and we had the lemon one for lunch. Stands to reason that the red velvet cake is for you. It looked great. Try to save me a piece if I get to come.
Frustrated with Ron and totally missing you like crazy,
Harry frowned and closed his journal. He turned to Remus. “Ron doesn’t know that I asked Hermione to be my girlfriend.”
Remus nodded. “You mentioned that.”
“So, he found out I’ve been sending her flowers and told her it was inappropriate. Is that inappropriate? I mean if we were just friends like he thinks?”
“If it were a witch I wanted for myself, I’d think so,” Sirius interjected as he stretched out on a lounger near the table.
Harry huffed. “Ron does nothing but insult her most of any day.” He frowned moodily at his journal.
Hiro regarded him silently for a minute. “Don’t sit there and brood, Harry. Floo to the Burrow and bring your witch over here if that is your wish. But before you do, you swallow this little temper you’ve got brewing. If Ron is interested in Hermione—it is certainly through no fault her own.”
“Maybe I should get her,” Remus interjected. “Molly and Arthur know me, so they’d allow me to take her and bring her here. You said she had a pet? I could apparate them here instead of going through the Floo.”
“I’m perfectly capable of being civilized,” Harry protested quietly.
“Looking at you right now,” Remus began carefully. “I have no problems believing you killed a thousand-year-old basilisk.”
“I thought we all agreed not to discuss that while I’m fragile,” Sirius complained from his lounger.
Harry eyed his godfather, who looked five thousand times better than he had the night before. He hadn’t been given any real information about the healing regimen that they’d designed for the man, or the fact that Healer Arnou had installed himself semi-permanently in the room next to the one they’d given Sirius on the second floor.
“You’re far from fragile, so don’t poor-mouth,” Remus admonished.
“Yes, yes, do quickly get over your unfortunate vacation at Club Azkaban,” Harry said dryly. “We have plans for the Yule break.”
“You’re really not funny,” Sirius said mournfully as everyone else laughed. “Neither was your mother. She was just evil. It’s so disconcerting to realize you got that instead of one of her many lovely qualities.”
Harry started to respond, but the wards pinged gently in his mind, and he shared a concerned look with Master Ito. Though before he could get up, a very large orange cat ambled out of the house followed closely by Hermione. Harry barely had time to stand before she was throwing herself at him and bursting into tears.
He cast a horrified glance at the rest of the wizards in his company, and every one of them, bastards all, beat a hasty retreat back into the house.
* * * *
Hiro Ito opened the front door of the townhouse and regarded the young wizard waiting patiently at the ward boundary. He inclined his head and walked down the six steps and onto the sidewalk. “Hello there. Can I help you?”
“Good afternoon, my name is Bill Weasley, and my parents sent me here to make sure that Hermione Granger made it through the Floo.”
“Yes, though she is in quite a state. You may enter.”
Bill stepped off the street and onto the sidewalk at that point. “The dverger did a great job with your ward package. I was prodded away three times before I realized what was happening, and I forced myself to stop moving away from the house.”
“The dverger are fond of young Harry—they think him quite a fierce warrior due to his single-handed defeat of a basilisk,” Hiro explained. “The sword he used is dverger made and originally belonged to a distant ancestor of Harry’s. The dverger family of the original maker has gifted the sword to the Potter family for eternity—sacrificing all claim to it. I understand that it is a big deal among the dverger.”
“It is a very big deal,” Bill said as he followed the older man up the steps. “I have Hermione’s trunk. She apparently was so upset she grabbed her cat and ran through the Floo before my parents could stop her. I took care to make sure all of her things were properly packed.” He pulled the trunk from his pocket and handed it to Hiro as they entered the house. “She’s, of course, welcome to come back but considering the circumstances, Ginny doesn’t think she’ll want to. If she can’t stay here—I’m willing to take her back to Crawford to her parents.”
“She can stay here. We were just discussing how to bring her here when she came through the Floo,” Hiro said. “Harry has been quite lonely without any of his friends this summer, so I said she could spend the final two weeks of August with us before they return to school. Unfortunately, Lord Black requires peace and quiet so I can’t invite your younger brother over as well. Albus has assured me that Miss Granger is a very mature young lady who follows the rules as they are set down for her.”
“My parents are quite fond of her, and my brother Ron wouldn’t be allowed to come here even if he were welcome,” Bill admitted with a sigh. “He was quite…out of line with Hermione. I’d like to see her if that is at all possible.”
Sirius, Remus, and Castius were all lingering outside of the kitchen door when Hiro and Bill found them.
Remus shook his head. “Harry brought her inside and is trying to get her to have some tea and tell him what is wrong. She just keeps bursting into tears.”
“Hmmm,” Hiro hummed under his breath and pushed past them. They all followed along his wake. “Good afternoon, Miss Granger, welcome to Potter’s Den. Would you care to tell me why you arrived so abruptly?”
Her bottom lip quivered. “It’s very nice to meet you, Master Ito, I’ve been really looking forward…” She trailed off and started to cry again.
“Enough,” Hiro said firmly. “Calm yourself and tell me what has upset you so much.”
She took a deep breath, grew quite pale, and rubbed her face with trembling fingers. “I was in the upstairs bathroom. Ginny and I had de-gnomed the garden for Mrs. Weasley, so I was quite a mess, and I wanted to shower.” She accepted tissue when Remus handed it to her. “After I showered, I was using my brush to dry my hair because I wanted it dry before I put on my shirt. And I was mostly dressed, you see, when he just walked in…he just walked in on me. And I thought he made a mistake, so I yelled at him, and shoved him out and shut the door. Except…when I was finished dressing, I went and found him and demanded that he apologize.” She huffed. “He refused. He said…” Her expression went stormy, and her aura flared.
“Young lady, I will stun you! You are far too old to indulge a fit of accidental magic,” Hiro said sharply, and he pointed his wand at Harry who looked furious and hissed, “As for you, don’t you dare lose your temper. That’s not how you help someone you care about deal with a problem.”
Harry nodded abruptly and picked up Hermione’s hand. He laced his fingers with hers and visibly relaxed. “Just say it, Mi. I’m sure Bill will make sure Ron is appropriately punished for his invasion of your privacy.”
She closed her eyes. “Ron told me it didn’t matter if he saw me undressed. Because I was Muggle-born, and everyone knows that Muggle-born girls are slags.”
“That’s ugly,” Harry said mildly, despite the way his eyes went dark and hard with temper.
“But not an uncommon opinion among young pure-blood men of certain families,” Sirius said. “Though I’m rather surprised to hear it come out of a Weasley’s mouth. Arthur wouldn’t have raised a son to think like that.”
“Ron said I was a slag. And since I was staying with him for the summer that I was basically his practice girlfriend, so he should…he should be able to look at me all he wanted and even have sex with me if he fancied.” She frowned. “So, I punched him as hard as I could, four or five times, grabbed Crookshanks and came here.”
Sirius snorted. “And she’s the calming influence Dumbledore said could come to stay with us? The future Head Girl?”
Hermione blushed and huffed. “I’m going to be an amazing Head Girl!”
“Of course, you are,” Harry said and glared pointedly at his godfather who shrugged.
“Her right hook is already a thing of beauty,” Bill said seriously. “She broke his nose and knocked out two of his teeth.”
“Her hand?” Hiro asked.
“She has minute fractures on three fingers, but her magic is so hyperactive that she hasn’t noticed the pain, yet,” Harry said. “I haven’t cast anything on her, sir.”
“I know you wouldn’t,” Master Ito said.
“Very well, Miss Granger, come with me, and we’ll fix your fingers.”
Hermione hopped right up. “Great. Will it be parselmagic? I’ve been reading about it all summer. I have lots of questions. Can I ask questions?”
“You can ask questions.” He paused at the doorway. “You may ask five questions.”
“Total or just today?” Hermione asked, clearly horrified.
“Today,” Hiro said with a laugh and guided her out, Castius trailed along behind him.
Harry watched them leave with a frown and turned to stare at Bill Weasley. “We haven’t really met, but Hermione mentioned you in a letter earlier in the week. She said you’re a curse breaker?”
“Yes, I work for the bank. I’ve heard about you as well,” Bill said. “Thank you for saving my sister’s life.”
Harry flushed and nodded. “You’re welcome. Ginny…well she’s like a sister to me.” He turned his head and stared out the double doors that lead to the patio and the garden, his jaw tight with fury.
“Has Ron expressed opinions about Hermione like this in the past?” Bill asked.
Harry shook his head but didn’t look at them. “No, of course not, if he had today wouldn’t have been the first time he’d gotten punched in the face for it. I don’t know what could’ve brought it on.” He frowned. “I mean…well…is it because he was mad about those flowers? Hermione told me that Ron thought they were inappropriate. That’s just a stupid thing to get mad about.”
Bill sighed. “Except, it really isn’t it, lad. I mean they mean something to the both to you and Hermione? So that’s not stupid.”
“The first one was an apology—I promised to write in four days, but it ended up being so long between times because I had to go through a healing ritual. She got so worried that she used the headmaster’s phoenix to send an international howler.” Harry shook his head. “Apparently it was heard for five square kilometers, and she told the headmaster that he would never be safe again in Britain if he’d hurt me with his shenanigans.” He turned to them. “Did you know that if a Muggle hears a howler, it sounds like thunder? Well, apparently one delivered via phoenix fire sounds like the wrath of God or something.”
“I knew about the thunder thing but not the impact of having a phoenix deliver one.” Bill sat down at the table. “You and Hermione are dating, I assume.”
“Yeah, I mean, that’s the plan, but it’s new and weird, and we haven’t told Ron. I left for Japan literally a minute after she agreed. She said that we should tell him together, but after this, I don’t…I don’t think I can be friends with a wizard that thinks like that about any witch, much less Hermione. She didn’t deserve that from him, Bill. It’s just ugly and cruel, but that’s sort of par for his course when it comes to her. Was it just me, or did it sound like she really had no choice as far as he was concerned?”
“It wasn’t just you,” Remus said quietly. “That’s exactly what it sounded like. The implications of that are more than just ugly. Even among Death Eaters, rape was extremely uncommon. It is very dangerous to do anything that could make a witch’s magic lash out.” He winced when Harry flinched. “I’m sorry, cub, surely that’s not what he intended.”
“He walked in on her hoping to find her undressed while the rest of the family was outside,” Bill said quietly. “My father has my mother in her potions lab brewing a truth potion so that they can get some real answers out of him. He lied about what happened between them, you see, and told Mum that Hermione just attacked him without warning. The only problem with that is that Percy witnessed most of the altercation when Hermione confronted him about spying her on the bathroom. He was about to interfere when she, in Percy’s words, ‘went at him like a Muggle prizefighter’.”
Harry sighed. “Right. Is his nose fixed? Could I go over there and break it again?”
Bill started to protest and then shrugged. “Well, we do owe you a great debt. I guess letting you kick Ron’s arse wouldn’t be entirely out of line.”
“Wait,” Sirius said. “Didn’t you get that awesome looking cake from Molly?”
Harry considered that and shook his head. “I can’t let my love for Molly Weasley’s cake get in the way of breaking Ron’s nose…I mean he sexually harassed my girlfriend and attempted to undermine her authority over her own body. That can’t be acceptable.”
“That’s very nice of you, Harry,” Hermione said as she entered. “But please don’t. If Mrs. Weasley decides to cut me off on the cake front, you’re going to have to become my dealer, so I’d rather you didn’t do anything to put your own access in jeopardy. Besides, I totally demonstrated my authority—all over his face.” She rummaged through the cooling cabinet then and came out with the chocolate cake Dobby had baked. The elf popped right into the kitchen. “Hi, Dobby.”
“Did Miss Hermione want some cake?”
“Yes, a very large piece of cake,” Hermione said. “I had my dignity affronted today, and I deserve chocolate.” She let him take the cake from her and sat down at the table. “And some milk, please.”
“Just how naked were you?” Harry finally asked.
She huffed. “Not naked enough to suit Ron, I imagine. I was wearing jeans, and I’d put on my bra. Since I can’t use magic during the summer—I can’t use a support charm, or he’d have seen a lot more than that.”
“A support what?” Harry asked.
“Never you mind, lad,” Sirius said. “Some things are just none of our business.”
Hermione bit down on her lip as the cake was set in front of her. “You don’t actually wear an athletic cup when you play quidditch, right?”
“No, there’s a protective charm….” He trailed off. “Wait, you mean none of the girls at Hogwarts wear bras…at all.”
She scowled at him. “Lord Black is right, Harry. Some things are just none of a wizard’s business.”
“Not even Lavender?” Harry asked, rather wide-eyed.
She grinned suddenly. “The charm holding up her rather busty attributes sure put the rest of us at ease about using it.” She held her hands out in front of herself when Sirius raised an eyebrow. Then Harry reached out and pulled her hands out just a little more, which made his godfather snort with laughter.
“Miss Granger,” Remus said with a sigh. “I’m going to be teaching that young woman this year!”
“Well, you certainly won’t have a problem figuring out who I’m talking about, Professor Lupin,” Hermione said cheerfully. “You are Professor Lupin, right? Harry mentioned you in a letter. I’m really looking forward to watching Healer Ito make your bracelet. How long have you been a werewolf? Have you been to any of the enclaves in France? I heard they’re really nice.”
Harry eyed her. “Master Ito cast a cheering charm on you, didn’t he?”
“Yep, he said it would make me feel better, and I agreed that I needed it,” Hermione said as she prepared her next bite of cake. “He also suggested I have some chocolate cake and unlike you, I have no problems following a healer’s instructions to the letter.”
“Keep sassing me, and I’ll make you wait until next week to see the library.”
Hermione shot him a look. “Look at you, cockblocking yourself before you’re even old enough to get laid.”
Harry stared at her in horror and huffed. He stood up and stalked out of the kitchen. “Master Ito! You made this cheering charm way too strong!”
“Personally,” Sirius confided as he readily accepted a piece of cake from Dobby. “I find you rather charming like this and do call me Sirius.”
She nodded and concentrated on her cake for a few minutes. After she’d polished off a significant portion of it, she slowed down and focused on Remus. “So, I suggested to Master Ito that we might try to figure out how the DADA position is cursed so you don’t end up possessed by an evil dark wizard, or worse, end up like Lockhart.”
“Lockhart was just memory charmed,” Remus reminded her.
“Well, if they fix him,” Hermione began, “he’s going to wake up and be the same bald-faced liar he always was. At least Professor Quirrelmort was spared that.”
“Professor Dumbledore says that death is just the next great adventure to a well-organized mind,” Harry said as he returned. “Besides there are worse things than death.” He dropped down beside Hermione and eyed her. “Right?”
“Shut it,” Hermione said with a laugh.
She huffed as Harry promptly launched into the story of the night they found the three-headed dog. By the time he repeated her parting shot, both Remus and Sirius were in tears with laughter.
“I’m kind of horrified by the things you kids get up to at Hogwarts,” Bill admitted.
Hermione shrugged. “A Gryffindor has gotta do…the most foolish thing possible with as much as bravery, luck, madness, and style as required.” She finished the last bite of her cake in the wake of Bill’s disbelief and turned to Dobby. “Your cake is just great Dobby. Can you make a lemon cake? It’s my favorite.”
“With cream cheese frosting,” Dobby said with a nod.
“You’re my favorite house elf, ever,” Hermione declared and a little wide-eyed.
* * * *
Harry hesitated in the doorway of the room that Dobby had created for Hermione on the first floor. She was to the back of the house in one of the most heavily warded parts of the property. There were intent wards layered six deep just on the hallway leading to her room. The library was situated between their rooms and they each had a private entrance into it. The front part of the house had formal dining, a rec room, and a formal salon. Guest rooms were on the second floor while Master Ito’s private quarters were on the third.
“Do you like it?” Harry asked. “Dobby picked out the furniture and stuff, so if anything doesn’t work, he can take it back to the vault and bring you a list of other items available.”
“It’s lovely,” Hermione whispered as she ran her fingers over the light oak surface of her desk.
“This bedroom suite was created for Addison Potter when she was sixteen. It’s rather old fashioned, but I thought the style would appeal to you.”
“How old is it?” Hermione asked as she sat down on the full-sized canopy bed, complete with lacy white curtains.
“Hmm, five hundred years or so?” Harry asked. “My mum had it marked in the vault to pull out if she ever had a daughter.”
Hermione turned to him with a bright smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, the rest of the furniture is rather masculine but this—she thought was fit for a girl, so Dobby brought it up to me. Of course, she left some other rather humorous notes on other pieces of furniture. She had quite a lot to say about the equipment that came from the dungeon of Potter Keep before it was destroyed in the early 1800s.”
Hermione laughed. “I bet she did.”
“A lot of that stuff is actually entailed in my estate, and I can’t get rid of it.”
“You could probably put it on display in a museum, let them borrow it forever. It would still legally be yours, but you wouldn’t have to store it in a vault,” Hermione suggested. She turned to him. “You’re taller.”
“Yeah,” Harry admitted.
“The Dursleys damaged you quite a bit then,” Hermione said. “Well, that can’t go unaddressed.”
“It’s my understanding that the Headmaster and several other professors at Hogwarts have undertaken a campaign of terror in Surrey since he found out what they did to me. They even let Snape go there in the middle of the night. He cursed them all with nightmares—my nightmares actually. Every time I have one for the rest of my life—my aunt and uncle will have it with me, and the curse won’t let them tell anyone about it.”
“That’s…oh, that’s brilliant,” Hermione admitted. “Absolutely brilliant.”