Back at Hogwarts, things were happening fast. Amelia Bones had talked the minister into seriously meeting with the Hogwarts Board of Governors about the recent events, and they were making some changes at the school. A new wizarding traditions class was going to be introduced, starting first as an extracurricular class before transitioning to a required class for all students to take once, and the material for Muggle Studies had been updated. Because of the wide-spread rumors about a curse on the defense position that had been further substantiated by Quirrell's disappearance, a curse breaker had been called in to investigate. A curse was found and removed and a retired auror had been hired for the position. Professor Binns had been let go from his teaching position and relocated to the library, for the rare student who wanted to ask him questions. Professor McGonagall had tried to convince the board that Professor Trelawney was an incompetent teacher and should be removed, but her connection to Cassandra Trelawney was too strong for her to be successful. And there was also the fact that there was no one competent enough in Great Britain to do better.
After the meeting with the Board, Madame Bones and Professor McGonagall had disappeared into the headmaster's office for half an hour. The members of the board speculated quite seriously about what they were doing with the headmaster, but since there were no screams of pain, Lucius Malfoy's guess was wrong. He was quite disappointed about that.
All in all, Lucius was very pleased with the changes that the school had gone through. The new wizarding traditions class would help to indoctrinate the new mudbloods into the proper culture. A competent defense teacher would drastically improve the scores of the students, and it was satisfying for him on a personal level since it removed the stain of the Dark Lord from the castle. It was just a shame that they hadn't managed to remove that fraud Trelawney.
Inside the headmaster's office, Albus Dumbledore sat at his desk, his head resting in his hands, his long white beard trailing across the desk. On the desk, right in front of him, was a list that Madame Bones had left.
Had he really let things get this bad? Yes, he realized that sometimes he went overboard with his manipulations, but still . . . they were necessary, right? The outcome was all that mattered in the end. It mattered little the pawns that were trampled underfoot. After all, sometimes sacrifices had to be made, for the greater good. The Greater Good. Was that really what he thought? Was he really no better than Grindelwald? He had good intentions as well, long ago. Maybe Madame Bones was right. He let out a deep sigh before lifting his head up and glancing over at Fawkes, sitting on his perch beside the desk. "What do you think, Fawkes? Have I gone too far?"
Fawkes tilted his head to the side and trilled sadly. He spread his wings and flew to the door, perching on the frame. He trilled again, gesturing towards Albus with his wing.
Albus frowned slightly. "What are you trying to say, Fawkes? That was mainly a rhetorical question. You weren't meant to actually answer it."
Fawkes glared at him. It was surprisingly intimidating.
"Leave? For good? No, I don't think so. I still have enough support to make it too difficult for them to try and force me out. And after all, I am the only one who knows what Tom is capable of. No one else can understand him enough to stop him. I am meant to end it, with Harry Potter at my side. They may have moved Harry Potter out of my reach, but I will still do the best I can on my own. No one else can do it. I have to. No, I haven't gone too far. I've done only what is needed. They would understand, if they knew what I do.
"No, I'll continue as I always have. They will understand, in the end."
Fawkes glared at him, flying back to his perch and turning around to face away from Albus.
"But perhaps I will take a short break away from the school. Madame Bones has been pushing for it, anyway. People will think that I am taking a short sabbatical because I've been overworked, and I can search for Tom. Yes, I think I will. A compromise, perhaps."
Harry stood nervously outside the door, his hands clutching tightly to the hem of his shirt. He felt a hand touch his shoulder and looked up. Daniel smiled gently at him. "It'll be fine, Harry," he said reassuringly. Harry took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
There was a half-hearted growl from inside the room. "Come in." Harry opened the door carefully, poking his head in. Standing out in the hallway, Daniel could hear a moment of silence, and then a gruff, "Potter. Don't stand about in the hall."
Harry opened the door completely and stepped inside the room. Snape motioned him closer.
"Well? What do you want?"
"I- I just wanted to tell you that- that I- well, I wanted to tell you get better soon." he wrung his hands even in his shirt hem even more, starting to stretch it out."
Snape raised an eyebrow sardonically at him. "Get better? Potter, to put it bluntly, I most likely won't. While magic can do many things, there are some that it cannot. Like restoring my mobility, or correcting your eyesight." He smirked. "I would have thought that the Great Harry Potter would have known about that."
At this, Harry looked at him indignantly, forgetting his uncertainty. "Why do you keep saying things like that! I didn't know anything about the wizarding world until Hagrid knocked the door down!"
"Really?" Snape raised a brow. "How did you not? Who has raised you?"
"My aunt. Aunt Petunia."
"What." his gaze grew cold. "Whose brilliant idea was that?"
"Andromeda said that it was Headmaster Dumbledore."
"But he should not have been allowed to make those decisions about you."
Harry shrugged, his small face stoic. "Well, it's too late to change things now. And now Daniel and Jean said that I can live with them. They said that they're going to try and adopt me, so they'll be my parents."
For a moment, a conflicted look flashed across Snape's face before he nodded. "Congratulations," he said gruffly.
"Thanks," Harry said softly. "Anyway, I was wondering if maybe you could tell me about my mum, since you used to know her."
Snape snorted softly. "Why in Merlin's name would you ask me that?"
Harry reached carefully into his pocket and pulled out a photo and handed it to Snape, who looked at it carefully, his face blank. "I found this in one of my mum's journals, in their vault. And Andromeda said that you used to be friends, when you were in school together." He looked earnestly up at Snape with big green eyes. Snape hesitated, trying to look away from Harry's tear-filled eyes. "Are you doing that on purpose?" he asked gruffly.
Harry said innocently, "Is it working?"
"Fine, yes, whatever," Snape grumbled. "Yes, I used to know your mum, we grew up near each other."
"Really?" Harry's face brightened.
Snape hesitated before responding. "Yes. And I introduced her to the wizarding world."
"Can you tell me about her?" Harry asked, his eyes wide.
For a moment, Snape looked as if he would say no, but he glanced at Harry's desperate face and relented. "Fine. I suppose that I could." He gestured at the chair next to the bed. "Sit down, Potter. And keep still," he warned. "I don't want to see you fidgeting."
"Oh, I won't," Harry said, his eyes bright. "I'll be as still as I can."
"See that you do," Snape warned. "Now, the first time that I met Lily, she was on the swings with her sister. . ."
"Do you think Professor Snape agreed to talk to Harry?" Hermione asked her mother curiously. They were standing a few hallways away from Professor Snape's room while Daniel and Harry went alone.
"I don't know, Hermione," Jean said. "But they've been gone awhile, so I would think so."
"Good." she said. She glanced around the hallway. "I'm bored."
"Be patient. Remember, you said that you wanted to come with Harry."
"Yeah, but I thought I'd be able to talk to the Professor. This is boring."
"Well, we are in a hospital. I'm sure someone else would enjoy a visit. Didn't you mention one of your yearmates who is also here? Maybe they're as bored as you are and would like a visit."
Hermione stared at her aghast. "Mum, it's Malfoy, he hates me and Harry."
"Maybe you just need to give him another chance." Jean smiled at her encouragingly.
"Fine," Hermione sighed. "Let's go visit Malfoy. But if we get kicked out, then I'm blaming you," she warned.
. . . . .
Draco Malfoy looked up from his book. "Granger?" he said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Harry's here visiting Professor Snape," she said awkwardly. "So I thought I'd visit you to see how you're doing."
Draco stared at her, then rolled his eyes. "As you can see, I'm still alive. Now get out."
"What happened to you? No one really seemed to know."
"I was brutally attacked by a troll, what do you think happened?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know that, but what happened to you? How were you hurt?"
"Well, I won't bore you with the technical details, as I'm sure you would not be able to understand them, but it's a defense mechanism common in magical children, where their magic senses that they are in danger and acts to protect the child. Sort of similar to accidental magic except much more powerful. Since the best option for my survival was to play dead so the troll wouldn't notice me and attack, my magic sent me into a coma. I just woke up a few days ago."
"Oh. Ok. What are you reading?" she moved closer, tilting her head slightly so she could see the cover.
Draco quickly set the book down on the bed in front of him, hiding the cover. "I thought I told you to get out."
"Yes, but I'm ignoring you," she responded.
He rolled his eyes again. "Yes, I can see that." He finally acquiesced and held the book up so she could read the title.
"Quintessence: A Quest," she read aloud. "That's a good one."
"You've read it before?"
She nodded. "Of course. Andromeda gave it to me for Christmas."
"One of your muggle friends?" he sneered. "How'd they get it?"
She glared at him. "Andy's not a muggle, she a witch, and she's Harry's cousin. Andromeda Tonks."
"Oh, wait, you mean that Tonks woman?"
"Do you know her?" Hermione asked. "She's really helped us out. I think she's awesome."
"I think she's related to my mum somehow," Draco replied. "I've heard her talking about her before. She married a muggle, or something like that."
"A muggleborn. She married a muggleborn. His name's Ted. I've met him, he's really nice."
Draco rolled his eyes. "If you say so, Granger."
"So how was your Christmas?" she asked cheerfully, sitting down on the chair by the side of the bed and swinging her legs.
"You're here just to annoy me, aren't you."
"Yep! And I won't leave until you talk to me. How was your Christmas?"
"My Yule was very good, thank you for asking."
"You don't celebrate Christmas?"
"Christmas is a filthy muggle tradition."
"Well, that's rude of you," she said in a hurt tone.
He shrugged slightly. "But true."
"Whatever. How was your Yule then?"
He snorted. "Granger, I'm stuck in this hospital room all the time and I can't leave. How do you think it was?"
"Not very good then. My Christmas was very good, thanks for asking."
He sighed, sliding down deeper into the bed. "Will you just go away?"
"Are you going to go back to school after school?"
"Not that it matters to you, but the mediwitch said that I should be able to go back next school year."
"So not after the Christmas break."
"But then you'll be behind in your classes."
"It doesn't really matter that much," he said, "Since I was already ahead when this school year started. So when I go back next year I won't be behind at all."
"Oh. Why are you ahead?"
"Because I'm a pureblood and thusly am better at everything."
"You are not superior to me just because I'm a muggleborn!" she huffed, standing up from her chair.
"Oh, are you leaving? Thank Merlin."
"You are not better than my just because I'm a muggleborn."
"If you want to continue in your delusion, then go ahead."
"Fine, then, I will."
"So you are leaving?"
"Yes, I am. And I'm not going back to Hogwarts, so good riddance to you and all the other idiots there. I tried to be nice, but you always insist on being rude to me."
"Wait, you're not going back to Hogwarts? Did they finally realize that you don't belong there?"
"We're moving to France."
"We? Wait, is Potter leaving?"
He sneered. "I doubt he speaks French. He can barely speak English as it is."
"No, but I do, and I can teach him."
"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. "Good luck in France, thanks for visiting, now get out."
Ron sat at the Gryffindor table by himself, his head slumped down. All he had wanted was to be Harry's friend, to be admired and honoured and not be in his brother's shadows. He had been a good friend to Harry, he had, but all it had taken was one simple mistake, one moment of misjudgment, and Harry had dropped him. He glared at the table in front of him. He'd prove them all wrong. He could be great without Harry Potter. He would be the best student Hogwarts had ever had. He would surpass all of his brothers.
This chapter has taken me forever to write. I've rewritten it four or five times already, and I'm not entirely satisfied with the way it turned out, but here it is anyway.