Unbeta'd. Sorry about that, but will be sorted asap. Enjoy!
This is my last pre-written chapter, but I'll try not to leave it too long before the next one.
Griffin tracked Harry down later that day, knowing that he had a break coming up. Abunai would be following along in a while with their 'super-secret thingy' as the idiotic man had dubbed it. Before that he wanted to show Harry his own surprise.
He found Harry coming out of the room that was used exclusively by him and Snape for their 'sessions' and as normal Harry looked like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, and then forced to run a marathon.
It upset Griffin to see his friend so worn out, but he also knew that the sessions were having a positive effect on him. Inch by careful inch Snape was opening the can of worms so Harry could deal with them individually, and refused to move on until Harry was once again in a calm state of mind.
Already they had been able to start discussing what had happened when Harry's alter took control that night and although the progress was excruciatingly slow, what matter was that there was progress.
Griffin swept forward and alighted on Harry's shoulder, secretly pleased when he felt more muscle than bone beneath his talons.
"Ah, Griffin," Harry greeted with a tired smile. "How is everything?"
"Fine Harry, an' how was your session?"
Harry ran a hand through his newly cut hair, ruffling it further but the cut was designed for such treatment and pulled it off well. He dropped his hand to his side and gave a long sigh.
"You know I don't really care for it but I do see the point of them. I just wish I didn't feel like I'd been run over by a two tonne truck every time."
"How about we go an' find Lily? That always cheers you up."
Harry's smile was a bit livelier this time.
"Good idea, let's do that."
They set out, Harry stretching out his senses and found Lily playing in the garden a few minutes later.
She had changed out of her nightgown into a pair of denim shorts and a graphic t-shirt. Her bare feet, knees, hands and elbows were covered in grass stains as she sat cross-legged on the lawn, picking wildflowers and singing to herself. She made quite the picture and Griffin could almost feel the love pouring from Harry at the sight of her.
Griffin himself was very fond of Lily and he'd met her when they were both back at Diagon Alley. She had passed his shop several times when sent to buy groceries and had always stopped to say hello to him and talk about her day. She had always struck him as a kind-hearted child therefore he couldn't have been more pleased when she had been brought into their little family.
Even now, with a different face, she still exuded the same sweet aura and brought kindness forth in people who thought they had none.
Harry called her name and she looked up, face glowing when she saw who it was before she bounded up, sending wild flowers everywhere and flung her arms around Harry's waist, burying her head in his stomach.
Harry laughed softly - something Griffin was proud to say was becoming a more common occurrence, especially around Lily – and gently untangled her arms, explaining that he needed to breathe before sitting down on the grass, prompting her to re-take her place.
He then gathered up the scattered wild flowers and presented them to her as a small bouquet which she giggled over and clutched to her chest.
"Now then, how did your lessons go today?" Harry asked.
"They went okay, but some of them are really boring!" Lily dramatically sighed, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation after carefully placing the flowers to one side.
"I know some of them are boring but you do need to learn this stuff, Lily," Harry explained. "Just be thankful that you don't have Professor Binns teaching you; now he is the epitome of boring."
Lily laughed, having heard about Professor Binns before from numerous sources and looking forward to finding out if he was as famously boring as described.
"By the way," Harry continued. "When you left the parlour this morning to go and get dressed, you didn't see Draco at any point afterwards?"
Lily suddenly looked far too innocent and all it took was Harry raising an un-amused eyebrow at her for her to break down laughing.
"I saw him when I left my room to find Mr Snape. He was acting very silly and kept on saying that it wasn't his fault."
"I see," was all Harry said.
Griffin had to take Lily's word for it as he hadn't seen the blond since his dramatic exit that morning.
"Did he get into more trouble?" Lily asked in a way that would have seemed concerned to most bystanders, but Griffin and Harry couldn't miss the mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Not really, he was just teased a bit and panicked."
Lily looked a little disappointed.
The three of them settled into small talk about their day and soon a natural lull fell in the conversation; Lily playing with her wild flowers, Harry stretched out in the grass enjoying the warmth of the sun and Griffin grooming his feathers.
"I've got somethin' I'd like ta show you two," Griffin announced, still focusing on his feathers. Harry and Lily perked up, intrigued.
"Ohh," Lily cooed excitedly. "A surprise?"
Griffin finished and dipped his head in a jerky nod. Lily clapped her hands eagerly.
"It's something I was hopin' I'd achieve before we went to Hogwarts, but I wasn't sure if I'd manage it, so I didn't tell ya. But I've finally succeeded an' feel confident in showin' ya."
Harry sent Griffin a quite look that said they would talk about this more later while Lily began to bounce in her excitement.
"Show us! Show us!" She squeaked.
Griffin, always obliging, closed his eyes and concentrated. A moment later he felt a strange shiver run through his limbs and from Lily's gasp knew he had been successful. He opened his eyes and stretched his new body, still finding it rather odd to be on all fours and to no longer have feathers.
Suddenly there was a gentle hand running down his back and it felt glorious. Griffin pushed up into it and felt a peculiar rumble start in his chest.
"You make a very handsome cat, Griffin," came Harry's slightly surprised voice. "I can't say that I was expecting you to turn into one though."
Griffin turned towards him, confirming that the hand currently stroking him was indeed Lily's.
He'd already looked himself over in a mirror to make sure he didn't have any feathers sticking out if his head or anything, so knew what he looked like; sleek, unusually large and pitch black with gold eyes. Rather handsome, he thought.
"I wasn't really sure that I'd be a cat, but I'd hoped."
Harry frowned while daring to reach out to run a finger over Griffin's head.
"Care to explain?"
"Okay. I'm a little hazy as it's been so many years since me mam told me this story. Anyway, my species was said to 'ave been created to serve the old god, Odin, as his spies an' we would whisper our knowledge into 'is ear. People started to become suspicious of ravens because of that though, so Odin blessed us with the ability ta bind ourselves to a being of magic an' share their power, boosting our own, which gave us the ability ta transform into different creatures. Well, creature as I've only 'eard 'a one raven that managed to transform into more than one form. Anyway, it's all an old story, but the bit about sharin' our partner's power to boost our own is true. That's why that ceremony thing 'appened when we first met, an' why I've said that I'll die when you die."
Griffin trailed off for a moment as Harry had grown adventurous with his exploration of Griffin's new face and had scratched behind his ear, producing the most delightful sensation. Harry gave a light chuckle when he realized that his ministrations had sent Griffin into a sort of bliss-induced haze and lifted his hand away which Griffin was both upset and relieved by.
"Right, eh, yes. So I was saying about sharin' yer power. Right. Okay, normally once a raven 'as bonded with their chosen it takes 'em quite some time to achieve the transformation. It's a little like learnin' ta become an animagus. By the way, how's your trainin' goin' in that?"
"It's coming along slowly."
"Right, right. So, normally it takes a few months to a few years, dependin' on the amount o' power that can be shared. I mean, we need ta take enough ta boost our own, so we can achieve the transformation, but we mustn't take enough for there ta be any difference in your spell castin'. It's literally like takin' a thin film off the top, that's all. However, you're not like any normal magic user an' yer power is far above the norm, so I was able ta achieve this much quicker, which was what I was hopin' for. Turnin' up at Hogwarts is going ta be difficult enough for the two of ya, add a raven to the mix an' you might be considered so unusual it would be foolish not ta spy on you. However, turn up with a cat an' that's one less thing to worry about standing out about, an' I can do some good spying for ya too."
Griffin trailed off. While this had been the perfect opportunity to show Harry and Lily his transformation, it had also been the change to confirm to Harry that he was accessing his power. Given Harry's repugnance to being used, especially unknowingly, he couldn't deny that he was more than a little nervous.
Hesitantly he glanced up at Harry who was gazing out at the forest, expression pensive. Lily carried on stroking his short fur, marvelling at how soft it was.
After a long, drawn out moment Harry finally spoke.
"That is quite a marvellous achievement, Griffin. Well done, it will help us draw a little less attention. I had assumed that the ceremony had to be done for traditions sake more than anything else, but it makes sense that it was for further purposes. I admit to not being surprised. I did think that you had to have some sort of access to my power as you are able to telepathically speak to me even though my Occlumency shields are up. And you can always find me as quickly as any vampires here, even though you do not have their senses," he looked at Griffin then and the raven/cat almost let out a sigh of relief as his eyes were warm and open; he had forgiven him. "I guess I'm trying to say that it's fine."
"Thank ya, Harry. I was worried you would think less of me.\
The three of them spent several enjoyable hours out in the afternoon sun, Harry somewhat relishing the time he had off so he could spend more time with Lily, as Kurai, whose lesson would have been after his break, had had to return to Sanctum to check on the artefacts. Lunch was brought out to them; both Harry and Lily getting a fine choice of food and Harry having his usual cup of blood. They spent time feeding pieces of chicken to Griffin who was getting more and more comfortable with his new form.
Harry was watching as Griffin discovered the joys of having his stomach scratched by an eager Lily when a shout from the manor brought his head up.
Abunai was waving to them as he jogged across the lawn; delight clear on his face and expensive, strangely-styled robes flapping about him as he hurried.
"There you are, Harry!" he cried, finally reaching them and flopping down amongst them.
"Yes, here I am," Harry answered cautiously, a little suspicious as Abunai never wanted him for anything ordinary.
Abunai seemed content to just bask in the sun for a few moments before reaching forward and flicking the tip of Lily's ear with a quick finger, making her yelp before sending him a glower.
"Is there something you wanted?" Harry egged him on, wanting him to leave if he didn't have anything important to say.
"Ah, yes that's right!" Abunai said brightly then started to dig around in various pockets. "Now, where did I put it? I'm sure I-" he cut off suddenly, having spotted Griffin and sat frozen, one hand half tucked under the collar of his robe, an incredulous expression on his face.
Lily giggled at the sight he made and it seemed to break his trace. He then leaned in very close to the cat; so close they were almost nose to nose, and stared with narrowed eyes. Griffin stared back, easily mastering the 'unfazed arrogance' look most cats wore. Finally, Abunai spoke:
"Yes?" the cat answered and Abunai almost jumped out of his skin, causing Lily to go from giggles to a full-bellied laugh.
"Well thanks ever so much for the warning," Abunai huffed, quite put out. "I had no idea you could do that yet."
"To be fair I only managed a fell transformation earlier today an' Harry had to be the first to know."
"Fine, fine," Abunai grumbled. "You still could have told me you were practicing though. I've known a few bonded ravens in my time and I could have helped."
"That would have defeated the purpose of my learnin'. We're supposed ta do it alone."
Abunai rolled his eyes.
"You ravens and your stickling to the rules."
Grffin gave a quiet growl, tail swishing back and forth.
"Wasn't there something you wanted ta show, Harry?"
Abunai looked blank for a moment before revelation spread across his face and he renewed his search, digging once again though his pockets.
"That's right! This'll hopefully be the last surprise sprung on you, Harry. No, wait. I think there's one more. Oh, where is it? Ah ha!"
Carefully, he withdrew his hand, fingers closed around something. He held his arm out and Harry and Lily drew a little closer. Once he was sure he had their full attention he opened his hand, revealing what was resting on his palm.
"A trunk?" Harry queried.
Abunai set it down in the grass and with a wave of his hand it enlarged: it was about the same size as Harry's old trunk but made of much finer material and looked subtly more expensive. Then Harry noticed the nameplate and ran his fingers over it.
"I was just going to change the name on my old one. You didn't have to do this," he murmured, eyes still fixed on the delicately carved script on the gold nameplate: 'Mitsuho and Sayuri Himura'.
"Will this be big enough for the both of us though?" Harry asked glancing up at Abunai who exchanged a slightly superior glance with Griffin.
"Open it," Abunai suggested and Harry did so. It was empty and sturdy looking, but nothing really surprising. Harry raised a questioning eyebrow at Abunai who was now almost beside himself with smugness.
"Pop something in there and then close it," was all the white haired man said.
Somewhat hesitant Harry did so, placing one of Lily's wild flowers on the floor of the trunk before closing the lid. Abunai then stepped forward and held a hand over the intricately designed lock.
"Velieris meus verum insquequo dico ego. Duos."
The lock itself was a simple key hole, but the metal around it was artfully patterned in several widening circles, the first and second largest of which now spun before stilling again.
"Now, open it again,"
With a bemused expression Harry did so and blinked at the bottom of the chest where the flower had been, but it was no longer there. Harry took a moment to think and shut the lid.
"You've made one of those chests with more than one infrastructure."
Abunai fairly levitated in his excitement and Griffin looked haughtily proud, laying himself out on the grass smugly.
"You got it right on your first guess! Well done, indeed."
Harry shrugged, a little uncomfortable with the praise.
"Well, it's only because I've seen one before," he tried not to think back on it, knowing it had been only a short while after Cedric; noble, innocent Cedric had been murdered. "Although that one had lots of different locks and keys."
"Ah, yes," Abunai said, calming down much to Harry's relief. "That is the more easily accessible version, although they're still frightfully expensive. Most people, in fact, don't know that there's another option and these are very rare, around ten times more expensive, and you have to remember that mouthful of a spell Then to top it all off you have to be above average in terms of power to be able to lock and unlock them. Because of that the more accessible version was more widely used and these fell by the wayside and were forgotten," he rubbed a hand a little sadly over the highly polished wood. "The fact is that these are much more secure; they can be coded in to your magical signature so they'll only open for you and a couple of others if you so choose, whereas with the other type anyone who had hold of the keys could open them."
Harry could barely push down the rising memory of the real Crouch's withered form locked away in his own trunk; trapped in there for an entire year.
"So," Abunai continued, unaware of Harry's mental struggle, "I had this old thing lying about and Griffin and I decided to spruce it up for you so it could be of use. Do you like it?"
Harry managed to nod, managing to push away the memories entirely and appraised the handsome trunk. It really was very fine.
"So how many compartments does it have?" he asked. Abunai grinned.
"Ten so far and we can add more. Most of them you can do with as you like, although I suggest letting Lily keep her things in the first compartment as that is the one it reverts to when closed and she won't be able to manage the spell. This way she'll be able to access her things if you aren't there. However, what I really wanted to show you was this."
Backing up, Abunai held his hand out and said the spell again, but this time adding 'quattuor' to the end instead of 'duos'. The four widest circles surrounding the lock spun before stopping and Abunai threw open the lid.
"What do you think?"
Harry peered over and was somewhat unsurprised to see, instead of a small box, a ladder extending down and stopping a few feet above a stone floor. From the angle he was at Harry could see the room extending quite some way back before his vision was obscured. It looked far bigger than the room Crouch had been imprisoned in.
"Isn't it? It's a complete living quarters complete with duelling room and a spare bedroom. There's also paintings in there that are attached to paintings in my private quarters and office as well as Kurai's, Severus' and Lucius and Narcissa's individual studies as well as private sitting room. More can be added as well."
Although Harry knew that Abunai was the head of the Council, the most highly valued healer in Sanctum and several hundred years old, his light-hearted nature still made it hard to take him seriously. Then he'd go and do something like this and a person would be left feeling a little foolish.
"This," Harry began, "is amazing. Thank you, you didn't have to go to all this trouble."
Abunai waved the thanks away.
"Oh, think nothing of it. It's a splendid trunk that I let go to ruin, so it was nice to fix it up with Griffin and finally see it get put to proper use."
Harry was a little overwhelmed. Even after all the weeks he had been with them he still was not accustomed to their generosity and expected it to come crashing down at any moment.
"You've all done so much for us, for me, and we haven't been able to give anything in return."
The older vampire seemed shocked, as though the thought had simply never occurred to him.
"Harry, we did this because that's what families do: we watch out for each other and don't need thanks because we know if the situation is ever reversed that you'll do the same for us. That's what family is."
There was a strange pressure behind Harry's eyes and when he spoke it felt as though there were a lump in his throat.
"You-you all consider us family?" he gestured to himself, Griffin and Lily, who were silently watching.
Abunai cocked his head to one side, the sun catching his hair and making it glow.
"Of course we do, Harry; we think that of all of you. Vampires are always taught to look out for their own as we are so persecuted by the other species, but it went beyond that only a short time after meeting you. Did you think that Kurai and I, who both hold very high positions in the city, would just spend the entirety of our summer with you if we didn't care?"
"I assumed that you felt that keeping an eye on me was important. There's that prophecy you spoke about and, well, this," Harry gestured to his collar glumly. "I figured that I was considered too dangerous to be left to my own devices. That's what Dumbledore would have done, so I guess I just figured that you were thinking along the same lines."
Abunai pulled himself forward over the grass, heedless of the stains it left on his fine clothes, so he was face to face with Harry. Harry almost thought he'd grip his hand, so earnest was the look on his face, and was relieved when he didn't.
"We are nothing like that blind old man; too consumed with playing the game to remember that the pieces he so casually puts in harm's way have thoughts and feelings. I'm sorry none of us made it clear any earlier, but we do genuinely care about you and want you to be safe," he leaned back a little and let out a light laugh, "which is sometimes rather difficult considering who you are. You would not believe the amount of stress you've caused Kurai, who says he's never met anyone so prone to being caught up in the worst situations."
He broke down giggling for a few seconds, no doubt picturing a normally composed Kurai harried and rushing about frantically. He managed to calm himself and looked up, fondness shining in his eyes.
"Harry, you are like a little brother to me, and to Kurai as well. To Narcissa and Lucius, you are a second son. To Severus and Draco, you are harder to place but no less precious and I have no doubt they will do anything to keep you safe while at Hogwarts. You are family, plain and simple, and you will always be welcomed with open arms," he then peeked around Harry to where Griffin and Lily sat entranced. "And that goes for you two as well."
Abunai genuinely seemed shocked when Lily started to sniffle and rushed over to her, completely mystified as to why she was crying, missing that although she wouldn't have been able to understand the whole conversation that she would have no problem comprehending 'you are family.'
The wailing girl clambered onto his lap and enfolded him in a grateful hug, leaving damp patches and snot all over his shoulder which he paid no mind.
Griffin then bumped up against his elbow, purring, which deepened when Abunai untangled one arm from Lily to pet him.
Harry simply watched them, relieved that Lily and Griffin were able to openly show the depth of gratitude he felt towards Abunai; towards all of them really.
Then Abunai gave him such a helpless look that Harry had to let out a little laugh before pulling himself to his feet and going over to calm Lily down.
Sometime later, once Lily's face had been cleaned of tears and Abunai was no longer as flustered, Griffin had curled himself up in Harry's lap, delighted that he could do so, and was dozing in the warm sun. Harry slowly ran a hand down his back, marvelling over the softness, when a sudden thought occurred to him.
Abunai raised his head from where he had been helping Lily bind her flowers into a ring, making a type of crown.
"Was I right in hearing you say that there would be one more surprise earlier?"
Abunai finished attaching the two ends together and placed the circlet of flowers on Lily's head.
"Did I?" he attempted nonchalance.
"Abunai," Harry warned and the other man tried his best to look innocent, which was remarkably effective.
"We have a guest coming to dinner."
Harry was instantly on guard, remember what had happened the last time a 'guest' had come to the manner. Abunai was quick to catch on thought and was even quicker to reassure him.
"No, Harry, I promise it's no one like that. While you may be surprised when you see who it is, I can assure you that this person is not someone to worry about."
Harry felt some of the tension leave him, knowing that Abunai would have no reason to lie. Dinner was still a few hours away as well and it would be pointless to spend the rest of the afternoon worrying; which then reminded Harry of something else.
"Do you have the time?" He asked and Abunai pulled out a fine pocket watch from the depths of his robes.
"It's nearly half past three."
"I see," Harry rose to his feet, carefully distributing a sleepy Griffin to the ground.
"Lily, it's almost time we left for our Tae Kwon Do lesson. Come along."
Lily, looking forward to seeing her favourite martial arts siblings again, shot to her feet and hurried a few steps before halting and turning back, impatiently bouncing in place as Harry turned to Abunai and Griffin.
"Thanks for fixing up the trunk for us, both of you, it really is lovely."
Abunai waved a hand.
"Think nothing of it! I'll have it sent up to your room so we can go over the spell later. That okay?"
Harry nodded and turned back to Lily, holding out his hand and feeling the same feeling of warmth when she grabbed hold of it without hesitation and led him across the lawn and back into the manor.
As they made their way up to their rooms to change Harry remember that this would be the first time they would be going to their lessons in these forms. He had warned Ardra and Brann about it all last time but he was still a little worried over how the Quinn siblings would react. After all, while they both knew about magic they hadn't, to his knowledge, actually seen any done.
The two reached their quarters and slipped inside, Lily heading to her room and Harry to his.
As he headed to the wardrobe where his uniform should be hanging he marvelled over the fact that this set of rooms, in this fancy manor, were more of a home to him than anywhere had ever been. With the Dursley's there was no contest and while he had loved his room at Hogwarts it hadn't been 'his' as he'd had to share it with four other boy. To actually have not just a room but a set of rooms that he had been explicitly told he could do with as he liked still caught him off guard from time to time, but in a wondrous way.
Calmer now he finished the intricate knot for his belt and pulled it tight before heading into the living room to wait for Lily so he could do hers.
Sure enough a few minutes later the tiny girl traipsed out of her room holding her white belt in her hands. Harry took it from her and repeatedly wrapped it around her waist before looping one end underneath it all then tying it off.
Finished Harry stood and gave Lily the once over, making sure she was presentable, before he headed over to a table resting against the far wall. There was a simple wooden box placed upon it, most likely intended for jewellery, but he opened the lid and pulled out a small Buddha statue. Then he walked back over to Lily and crouched down so she could easily touch it. Once she was he muttered the activation charm and the portkey came to life and pulled them away to the dojang where Ardra and Brann would be waiting for them.
Severus gave a relieved sigh as he finished off the last of his notes before closing the ledger and placing it in a small cabinet only he could open.
Harry's mental state was complicated and it led to him being exhausted for hours after their sessions while trying to plan out his next approach. So far he felt he had barely scratched the surface, but it was good to see that the boy was doing a little better. Severus now believed that Harry would be able to cope with being back at Hogwarts, whereas he had been unsure before.
As he reached for his first year lesson plan there was a knock on the door.
"Enter," he called and the door opened to admit Kurai.
"Severus," the older man greeted.
"Kurai, I take it everything was well in Sanctum?"
Kurai nodded, moving to stand by the window and gazing out, keeping his back somewhat to Severus.
"Yes, everything was well. The artefacts have all been stored safely and there is a small team being assembled to study them which I will keep you updated on."
"Much appreciated," Severus decided he didn't need to stand on ceremony and opened up his lesson plan.
He, like all the other teachers, was heading back to Hogwarts tomorrow to prepare for the coming year and he wanted to be sure he was as organized as possible as his pride didn't allow for anything less.
"Maya said she would like to see you again soon," Kurai announced and Severus quirked an eyebrow as he wrote.
"Indeed? Well I suppose an evening in her company is not the worst thing that can spring to mind."
"This is a regular occurrence between the two of you?"
"It has been going on for some years, yes. Whenever we are both available, of course, which is quite infrequently."
There was a strange edge to Kurai's voice that made Severus glance up at him. The man looked no different, at least from the back, but something gave Severus pause.
"What exactly is it you think Maya and I do?"
"I do not think it is any of my business what one of my captain gets up to in her personal hours."
"And you think what I get up to in my free time is?"
Kurai let out a scoff.
"That is of no interest to me as well as none of my business since you are not part of the army. I care little of what you do in your own time."
Severus fought down the sudden flare of temper, carefully placed his quill down and rose from his seat, heading over to the window and stopping within a few paces of Kurai.
"Do you really think that? If you do, you are making a remarkably poor show of it. One might even think that you do care somewhat as to what I do with my free time."
Kurai visibly bristled and Severus decided to push a little further.
"Did you really come in here to tell me about the artefacts?" he purred. "Or did you come in here to reproach me for my apparent choice in bed partner?"
Finally the other man spun around, eyes blazing molten gold, and one hand tightly gripped Severus' wrist.
"I would be careful with your words, Severus," Kurai silkily murmured, "for they sound very close to an accusation."
While he knew the other man was older, more experienced and stronger than him, he also knew that he was honest to a fault when it came to battles, and preferred clean fights. Severus however had no qualms with fighting dirty and using every trick in the book, so he was not intimidated. Rather he felt an almost electric thrill run down his spine, washing away the clinging cobwebs of exhaustion.
"Then I apologise for it was not meant to sound like an accusation, it was meant to be one."
The fingers tightened around the fabric on his wrist and pulled him a little closer.
"Be careful, little snake," Kurai warned darkly, but all Severus felt was elated.
"So you were not trying to accuse me of sleeping with your best captain? Did I misunderstand the context of the conversation?"
"No, I was trying to ascertain if my suspicions were correct, for if it is true then I would feel duty bound to warn her on her choice of …partner."
"How so? Is it because I'm not one of you pure breeds? That I'm a turned mongrel? Or is it because you don't approve of spies and prefer running at your enemy over a battlefield with your sword swinging, rather than creeping through the shadows to knife someone in the back?"
Besides in battle Severus didn't think he'd ever seen Kurai look more animated; his face twisted into a snarl, distorting the three scars on his cheek, with his eyes glowing in his fury. He made for an impressive and terrifying sight and it was no wonder that he was the general of the army – most would probably flee on seeing a face like that, but Severus was not like most and so he took a step towards that fearful face, bringing them almost nose to nose.
"I'm waiting for your answer, General," Severus whispered, feeling the others breath on his face.
For a moment, Kurai's expression changed to something else, no less fierce, and he seemed to sway forward the tiniest fraction before his eyes cleared and he pulled back.
"It is none of those. I am aware that your profession leaves you in a much higher area of risk than most. I simply did not want a repeat of what happened to Captain Durram."
Slightly softened by those words Severus pulled away too and they were no longer invading the others personal space.
"That was a tragedy, but are you really so certain that I am to die so quickly? Do you have so little faith in me?"
Kurai gave him a long look; so deep and penetrating that Severus almost found himself shifting uncomfortably under it.
"No, I have the greatest faith in you, Severus. But even the most skilled spy will at some point fail if they keep doing it for long enough. You play the most dangerous game for you are not just a double agent, but a triple one, infinitesimally increasing the risk of you being caught and I have to admit that worries me. I meant no disrespect."
Severus tried to pull away, only to be halted when he realized Kurai had yet to release his wrist. Kurai seemed to realize it at the same time and let go immediately before clenching his hand and bringing it tightly to his side.
Severus did what he had intended to do in the first place and made his way over to the drinks cabinet. Selecting a fine whiskey and dipping momentarily into the ice bucket he poured the liquid into two glasses, picked them up and made his way back over to Kurai, the ice clinking gently with every step. He offered Kurai one of the glasses, which the man took.
"You could have simply asked me, you are aware. You normally approach everything so straightforwardly so I don't know why you attempted subtlety this time."
"Situations like this are often best dealt with delicately," Kurai answered while staring into his drink, swirling it back and forth in the glass.
"But you know you don't need to be like that with me, nor Maya; especially Maya actually. Why didn't you just go up to her and say 'hey, Maya, are you doing the nasty with Severus?' Or something along those lines. I'm sure she'd find it most amusing."
Kurai goggled at Severus, apparently startled that words such as 'doing the nasty' could come from his mouth, leaving Severus feeling infinitely smug and wondering if he should use more coarse language around the General just to get a reaction out of him.
Kurai gave a slight cough before sipping from his drink.
"That did not really occur to me. I preferred the idea of confronting you on the matter first."
Severus arched an eyebrow.
"Is that so? Well then, let me assure you that Maya and I are most emphatically not engaged in any type of sexual relationship."
Kurai gave no obvious reaction, but Severus keen eyes noticed a slight loosening of the shoulders.
"You say emphatically," Kurai said, looking at Severus inquisitively. "Is the notion of a sexual relationship between yourself and Maya so far from a possibility that you are that sure of it?"
Severus took a long sip of his drink, wondering how best to answer. Then again, Maya had been in the army for several centuries with Kurai as her commanding officer, and if the man hadn't noticed by now then maybe it was best to be blunt. Maya wasn't exactly subtle.
"Well, I can allow myself to be that confident because the only way Maya would ever sleep with me would be if I were to change gender."
Kurai actually looked surprised.
"You surely can't have missed the way Maya drools over all the female recruits, or the way she dropped on her knees and asked Narcissa to run away with her at the Annual Midwinter Ball last year, or the way-"
"Stop, please," Kurai raised a hand weakly. "I admit I am not the most informed when it comes to personal matters with my soldiers, but I am shocked that I was unaware of Maya's preference for this long."
Severus could not suppress his smirk.
"You do seem to be remarkably obtuse on certain things, my dear General."
His smirk vanished when Kurai pinned him with a sharp gaze.
"Oh yes? Well I certainly did not miss you only telling me Maya's preferences over the idea of a relationship between the two of you. What of yours?"
Severus felt his mood sour again.
"I have no wish to speak of my own desires."
Kurai persisted though.
"You've outed Maya to me, so you must say something of yourself. She will never forgive you otherwise."
Severus glared but Kurai did not waiver and the potions master let out a little hiss of irritation before beginning.
"I swore to myself that I would never lie with a woman again after Lily was killed. So, when I feel the need I chose a man."
Kurai seemed very interested in this revelation and took a step closer.
"None of these men ever lasted?"
Severus gave a derisive snort.
"None of the men lasted longer than the morning after; they were all one-night stands," he fixed Kurai with a hard glare. "So let me make this clear before you go assuming things again: I will never sleep with any of your soldiers and I will never allow myself to become emotionally involved with someone again. Lily was my one and only, I have no room for another."
He whirled around and slammed his glass on his desk, so involved in pushing his rage at being forced to talk about Lily down that he completely missed the way Kurai seemed to slump in on himself for a few moments, eyes dimming, before straightening again.
"I see I have vexed you. I should not have pushed. I apologize and will take my leave."
Severus saw a pale hand in his peripheral place a barely touched glass next to his own, before hearing the soft footsteps across the floor and the door opening and closing. There was a long pause before Severus heard Kurai begin to make his way down the hall.
After waiting several minutes Severus let out a long stream of profanities and with a snarl downed the remainder of his drink.
While Lily would always hold a special place in his heart, he could no longer deny that she wasn't the only one in there; Kurai seemed to be working his way in inch by inch and it infuriated Severus.
He couldn't really pinpoint when it had started as he had been so consumed with the loss of Lily for so many years. Maybe it had been as early as when Kurai had first approached him about their monthly spars and had literally dragged him kicking and screaming out of the pit of depression he had fallen in. It had definitely started with him respecting the man, and then it had grown from that point on to where he valued Kurai's opinion above all others. However it was only after this past summer that he realized that what he had thought was respect and friendship had evolved into something more. He couldn't say it was love, but it was heading in that direction and the only love he had to compare it to was his short-lived, tumultuous relationship with Lily, after she had broken off her engagement with James for keeping secrets from her.
The irony hadn't been lost on Severus, who had known that it had been James' fear of Lily leaving him, that kept him from telling her what he really was. But in doing so he had driven her away just as completely and into Severus' arms. Then the attack had happened and they had awoken, turned, with a sobbing James, grim Sirius and contrite Lupine before them. That had been the end of Lily and Severus' relationship, although Severus had known that even when they were together, Lily had never loved him the way he had hoped she would.
So, with only that comparison it was no wonder Severus found himself resisting the idea of falling in love again.
That and Kurai had been absolutely right: spies did not live long lives, not when they were as heavily immersed as Severus was. He knew far too much about the pain of losing the one you cared about, so why, if there was even the smallest chance Kurai felt the same way towards him, would he put another through that?
As absorbed as he was in his increasingly depressing train of thoughts he didn't notice how much time had passed until the clock on the mantle chimed and he realized he was late for Draco's lesson.
Trying to shake the lingering images of bright red hair and green eyes fading into dark hair and gold eyes, he locked the door behind him and hurried down the corridor, his mood foul. Poor Draco wouldn't know what had hit him.
Harry and Lily appeared back in their quarters; the former catching the latter as she stumbled slightly over the suddenness of a lower floor from the one she had been on moments before.
A house elf that had been clearing out the fireplace squeaked in shock, banged its head, gave a hurried bow of apology and disappeared with a crack, causing Harry to frown, remembering the state Dobby had been in when he had first met him. At some point he was going to have to sit down with the Malfoy's and have a long talk. Unfortunately tonight could not be the night.
Their last lesson at the dojang before returning to Hogwarts had been very enjoyable with both Brann and Ardra teaching the both of them and setting up some very interesting drills and exercises. They had ended their long session with a thirty minute spar leaving both Lily and Harry exhausted and red faced.
"Okay," Harry said glancing at the clock. "We have a couple of hours before dinner, so do you want to share a bath?"
Lily squealed over the idea and rushed off to change out of her sweaty uniform. Harry went at a slower pace to his own room to pick out some clothes and pull off his own sweaty uniform, before wrapping himself in a robe and making his way to the bathroom where Lily was waiting impatiently. She had already turned on several of the taps to their pool-like bath.
Just like the prefects bathroom at Hogwarts the bath was full to the brim in a much faster time than should be possible with such a hug tub, filling the room with steam, a pleasant scent and golden bubbles, which were Lily's favourite.
Just before she jumped in Harry checked the temperature, still paranoid over horror stories he had heard growing up of children getting their feet and legs terribly burnt from stepping into too-hot water, even though he knew it was charmed to never rise over a certain temperature. In his opinion it never hurt to be sure.
Content with the temperature Harry stood back and let Lily cannon ball in, getting him soaked in the process, but didn't have the heart to reprimand the laughing girl as he put down his wet clothes and stripped out of his sopping robe.
When Lily, who had grown used to bathing with others during her time at the orphanage, had first asked him to bathe with her he had refused. Panic squeezing his chest at the thought of another being, no matter how young or innocent, seeing him naked. He had agreed to stay in the bathroom to help her given how deep the tub was, but he drew the line at joining her, and tried to ignore her upset face for more than a week before he broke down and talked to Snape about it in one of their sessions.
Snape, although he had been told nothing of the events at the start of the summer, took the notion of Harry being terrified of being seen naked without even a hint of judgement, whereas he would have leapt on it before. He had reminded Harry that there was a real possibility of him having to at least shower with others on his return to Hogwarts, whereupon Harry almost had a panic attack.
After helping Harry calm down, Snape also mentioned that it was the norm in Japan for people to bathe with each other, and anyone with a basic understanding of the culture might become suspicious of his reluctance. He suggested that trying it with Lily first would be an excellent way to get over the instinctual panic; Lily was one the only person who could repeatedly touch him without giving him flashbacks so it stood to reason that if there was anyone he would feel safe about being naked in front of it would be her. Seeing the logic and not being able to bear Lily's upset face any longer Harry decided to give it a try.
At first it had been difficult. Lily, being as young as she was, saw no problem in staring at him and asking him about his tattoo and numerous scars, to which Harry had sputtered and stammered and had given no real answer. As she had been free to take hold of his hand or wrap her arms around him whenever she liked she also saw nothing wrong with running her fingers over his tattoo and tracing the individual scales that wound across his back and over his shoulder. As the last person to touch his ink had been Dudley, Harry had almost leapt from the water, only managing to stop himself when he saw her fascinated expression. There was no maliciousness or judgment in her eyes and that was what got him through their first bathing experience.
After that it got easier until he thought nothing of Lily resting herself against his chest as they talked or when he washed her hair. She liked to wash his too and, apart from a couple of times when he had got shampoo in his eyes, he on the whole found it very relaxing.
Lily would always regale him with stories of her life and friends at the orphanage or make up epic sagas that she would act out with the help of the bubbles. Harry enjoyed listening to her, although every now and then he would be forced to take part, and so they built up a routine of sharing a bath at least once a week, building both Harry's confidence and their relationship with each other.
Presently Harry let himself slip into the warm water with a sigh of relief, already feeling the water work its own special type of magic and loosen his muscles.
Cupping his hands Harry raised them to run some water over his head, catching himself reaching further than he needed to, still searching for hair that was no longer there. He let himself have a brief moment to sulk, remembering the way Ardra had burst out laughing upon seeing him and explaining, once she had calmed down, that with his new face coupled with his hair he looked like a J-rock star.
Confused as to what she was talking about and ignoring Brann's desperately shaking head he asked her to explain and thus Harry was introduced to the world of J-rock, of which Ardra was a huge fan, which then led on to Japanese actors. For his crime of asking, he had to put up with being called 'Oguri Shun' by her for the rest of the lesson. He still didn't know who this Oguri was as Ardra had only explained that he was a Japanese actor and that he was 'adorably cute, trying to be all hard'. Harry didn't quite know how to handle that so chose to ignore her as much as possible, which was difficult considering she kept on trying to take his picture.
Hoping that he'd run into no girls like that at Hogwarts, Harry dunked his head under the water and came up to Lily shouting: "thar be the Kraken, mateys!"
Draco rubbed at his sore head as he made his way towards Harry and Lily's rooms. Severus had been particularly brutal earlier and he thanked his stars that he had been born a vampire so was able to handle much more and heal faster than a human. He was also grateful that Severus had only let his temper in a duel get the better of him now, after weeks of intense practice on Draco's part, as he might not have been able to survive it earlier on. In a way Draco supposed he should be properly appreciative, as it had shown him just how far he had come and how proficient a dueller he was becoming, but he still felt a little too bruised to do that just yet.
Knocking on Harry's door and receiving no reply Draco cautiously pushed open the door, a little worried after casting his senses out and finding both Harry and Lily inside the rooms.
"Harry?" he called out, but there was no reply.
He stepped inside glancing around, smiling slightly over how lived in the quarters now looked. Lily's toys were strewn about everywhere, along with books and parchment that Harry had been using.
Splashing from the main bathroom caught his attention and he glanced towards it before hearing Lily's exuberant laugh from behind the closed door.
"Look at this, Lily, you soaked my clothes," Harry's voice gently chided.
"Sor~ry!" came the sing-song reply before the door burst open and a damp Lily barrelled out wrapped in a big, fluffy towel, only to freeze when she spotted Draco lounging elegantly across one of the sofas.
"Lily, you really have to be more careful-"
Harry appeared in the door with only a towel wrapped around his waist, wet clothes gripped in one hand, and Draco felt his mouth turn dry.
Harry had filled out under the strict care of Severus and no longer looked like a stiff breeze would blow him away. Instead a combination of good food, rich blood and daily exercise had him looking still a tad too slim but, now Draco could appreciate, very nicely toned; the water droplets on his skin were doing a good job at showing that off.
The tattoo and numerous scars were a surprise though. Draco remembered back to a few days ago when Kurai had detailed out exactly what the spell would do in one of the combined lesson Harry and Draco shared. Kurai had made a throwaway comment about not changing Harry's body so the spells magic could focus entirely on his face, so this was genuinely Harry's figure he was gaping at.
Harry was clearly startled at the sight of the other boy and clutched his wet clothes to his chest, covering himself as much as possible.
"What the fuck? Don't you knock anymore?"
Draco lifted his eyes from where they were trying to peer around the clothing, realizing that it went beyond being merely surprised for Harry to swear in front of Lily. The grey eyes he encountered were burning with rage, but there was something about them that made Draco believe that the anger was stemming from fear.
Too stubborn to leave his comfy seat, but not wanting to upset Harry any further Draco did what he could and turned away, covering his eyes.
"I did knock, for your information, but you didn't hear. Look, I'm sorry, okay?"
He was tempted to drop his hands when he heard Harry snarl from just behind him but forced himself to keep them up. It was very disconcerting. His instincts were screaming at him that there was a very powerful and dangerous being directly behind him and to react defensively to protect himself, but he had to show Harry that he genuinely meant no harm.
"You think 'sorry' is going to cut it? Merlin, Draco you can't just barge into somebodies room just because they don't answer."
"Onii-chan," came Lily's worried voice, and Draco remembered the lengths Kurai had had to go to, to get her to remember that phrase. Now she preferred using it over Harry's own name, which technically was the point, but Draco was digressing. "Please don't get angry."
"Lily, go and get changed. I need to talk to Draco. I'll try not to get angry, I promise."
There was a long pause then the soft shuffle of small feet over the carpet and finally to door to Lily's room opened and closed.
"Keep your head turned away and your hands covering your eyes," Harry growled and Draco gave a nod, not daring to speak for the moment. There was the soft murmur of a spell and then some rustling, indicating that Harry was now pulled on his dry clothes. Then Draco heard Harry make his way around the sofa and seat himself on the one opposite.
"You can open your eyes."
Draco did so and tried to ignore the slight flicker of disappointment on seeing a fully clothed Harry sitting across from him. His feet were still bare though and it presented a strangely revealing image, as though Harry were showing Draco another side of himself.
The blond was further shocked when, instead of sitting properly as he had often done before, Harry tucked those bare feet up to rest beside him, making Draco flash back to that one intimate moment in the library only yesterday.
He was distracted from his thoughts by Harry taking several deep and calming breaths, pausing between inhaling and exhaling. He did this several times before finally opening his now calm eyes.
"I'm sorry I got so angry with you just now. I was caught off-guard on seeing you in here."
Draco jumped in, seeing his chance.
"I'm sorry too, Harry. Really I am. Does it help if I explain that I was a little concerned; you didn't answer when I knocked, but I could feel that you and Lily were in here. You've never not answered before and I'm afraid I jumped to some conclusions and overstepped my boundaries."
Harry's face softened slightly and Draco gave an internal sigh of relief.
"Well, I guess I should be glad that you've got my and Lily's best interests at heart. Just please, in future, if anything like this happens again and we're simply in the bathroom excuse yourself and come back at a later time."
"I can agree to that," Draco said, then leaned forward, a conspiratorial light gleaming in his eyes. "Now, would you mind telling me about that fine tattoo?"
Harry's expression closed like a book.
"What's there to say about it? I have a tattoo. There."
Draco though was not placated so easily and smirked.
"No, I mean when did you get it? Why did you get it? And did my eyes deceive me or is it a dragon?"
Harry was quiet for some time, apparently going over the pros and cons of telling Draco before he rolled his eyes, sighed and gave in.
"Fine. Yes, it is a dragon. I just liked the design, okay?"
Draco gave his best 'oh, really?' look and Harry let out an exasperated snort.
"The whole world doesn't revolve around you, Draco. Just because I got a dragon doesn't mean you had anything to do with it."
"Oh, I beg to differ," Draco purred finally making Harry crack a smile.
"Shut up, will you? Look, I technically got this before I was legal so let's keep that quiet," it was Draco who let out a snort this time.
"There's a surprise," he drawled and Harry shot him a playful glare before continuing.
"Basically what made me the most interested in getting one was that I read about the spells that can be worked into them and it struck me as a good idea."
At this Draco perked up in interest. While it was possible to have spells implanted in the tattoo – the Dark Mark being a prime example – it was a very painful and expensive process and few tattoo artists could do it well enough to implant any spells of actual substance.
"So," he asked eagerly, "what did you get?"
Harry gave an infuriatingly mysterious smile.
"Let's just say it's my failsafe and leave it at that."
"No, let's not leave it at that. Tell me, dammit. I demand to know!"
Harry unfolded his legs and stood, keeping the same vague smile on his face as he headed towards Lily's room.
"You can demand until you're blue in the face and I still won't tell you," he called over his shoulder. "I need to check on Lily, take that time to have your sulk."
With that he knocked on the door and waited until Lily's voice from within called for him to enter before opening it and disappearing inside, leaving behind a very vexed Draco.
"You've spent too much time around Severus," the blond grumbled as he settled down to wait.
Time passed and Draco picked up one of Harry's book and began to leaf through it, stopping whenever a word caught his eye, before continuing to flick through the pages. He had to say that Japanese history was some pretty heavy stuff.
Eventually the door to Lily's room opened and the pair stepped out, Lily dressed in comfortable jeans and a jumper with her hair neatly pulled back into a simple ponytail. Altogether she looked much happier than she had when she had gone in.
She made her way over to Draco and simply looked at him for a moment before slapping him on the arm.
"What was that for, brat?" Draco snarled. It hadn't hurt but it was still the principle of the thing.
"Don't upset Onii-chan again," Lily huffed, arms akimbo and looking deadly serious. Then, her piece spoken she marched over to a colouring book that had been left on the floor and flumped down. She glanced at him one last time, shook her head in a long-suffering way, then picked up a vibrant pencil and began to colour.
"Well," Draco drawled as Harry seated himself next to him. "That sure told me."
Lily blew a raspberry at him and he had to smother the urge to send one back at her. She really could irritate him like no other.
"She just trying to look out for me," Harry said soothingly and Draco had to grudgingly agree.
"Anyway," Harry continued, a sly smile slipping across his face. "Are you feeling better after this morning? You were quite upset when you ran out of the room. Does Fahmida really scare you that much?"
Draco could feel the colour draining from his face and he found himself wishing for any excuse to come to mind so he could leave the room, but his mind remained traitorously blank.
"Me? Scared of Fahmida? Whatever gave you that idea?" it might have sounded more convincing if Draco's voice hadn't broken when saying Fahmida's name.
Harry pressed a finger to his chin in thoughtful, and fake, consideration.
"Well, let's see. It might have been when you warned me not to get her angry, or it might have been the fact that you looked like you were going to faint from the moment she entered the room, or maybe you running away like a hippogriff was chasing you. Honestly, I really don't know what could have possibly given me the idea."
Draco gave a mock glare and leaned towards the other boy, poking him lightly on the arm.
"Alright wise guy, you've made your point. Fine, yes I'm terrified of her and Kioni too, but if you ever saw either of them, Merlin forbid at the same time, in a rage you'd understand why."
Harry gave a short chuckle and looked at Draco with warm eyes.
"I'm sure they are very formidable, but seriously, you have to tell me what happened."
Draco was very tempted in that comfortable moment to just relax and lean in so their shoulders touched as he shared the epic tale of how he brought Fahmida and Kioni's wrath down upon him.
With the firelight flickering, casting a warm light, the darkness outside the window, Lily happily colouring on the carpet and Harry's soft gaze on him the idea was so very enticing. But a glance at the clock told him that he didn't have the time, and no matter how much Draco cursed the clock hands they would not halt in resolutely cutting the seconds away.
"I really would love to tell you, and I promise someday I will, but right now if we don't head down to dinner we're going to be late."
Harry made a slightly disappointed face before rising from his seat and catching Lily's attention.
Draco rose as well, wishing that he could have more moments with Harry like the one they had just shared and the one in the library the day before:
He hadn't meant to fall asleep. He didn't think either of them did, but the revelation about Lily's adoption had been so emotionally exhausting for Harry that he had dozed off in mere minutes. Then Draco didn't have the heart to wake him and he was warm and comfortable so he'd let himself doze off too.
When Draco had woken as few hours later he found that they had shifted position a little in their sleep: he was now more stretched out on his back and Harry was still fast asleep virtually on top of him, wrapped snugly in Draco's arms.
After a brief, muddled moment before working out that he really wasn't dreaming Draco had spent some time simply looking at Harry and thinking over how much their relationship had changed in such a short time.
Finally Harry had stirred of his own volition and his eyes had slipped open, gazing blearily at the pattern on the back of the sofa before becoming more aware of his surrounds and working out exactly what sort of position he was in.
Draco had kept himself relaxed and breathing even, not wanting to stress Harry any more than he was probably stressing himself in that moment. The other boy tensed and Draco expected him to spring away in panic, but then Harry had surprised him:
Instead of jumping away, Harry had fisted the fabric of Draco's top and taken several long, calming breaths before slowly looking up and meeting Draco's gaze. There was a pause.
"Hey," Harry finally whispered.
"Hey," Draco answered.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep."
Draco had let out a soft laugh, feeling it rumble around his chest which Harry was half-covering.
"Neither did I. It's fine; we've both had a long day."
Harry had nodded thoughtfully in agreement, his chin rubbing against the fabric of Draco's top.
"We ought to find the others and tell them about the adoption being fake."
Draco couldn't help the reflexive tightening of his arms, but as soon as he felt Harry tense he forced himself to loosen them again.
"In a minute. Can we just …stay like this for a while?"
That hadn't been what he had been intending to say at all. What on earth had happened to 'that's a good idea, let's go'? Before Draco had a chance to properly lay into himself Harry surprised him yet again by nervously nodding his head. It was too good to be true and Draco had to check.
"Really? Are you sure?"
Another nod, less hesitant this time.
"Alright, you can get up any time you feel like, okay? I won't stop you."
The response Harry had given was to press his face down into Draco's chest and let out a long, tired sigh before letting his eyes slip closed again.
Draco didn't know how long they had lain like that, with Harry dozing and Draco staring into space, letting his mind drift from one Harry-based thought to the next. At some point one of his thumbs had started to rub soothing circles on Harry's back.
Eventually though all good things must come to an end and Harry stirred again.
"We really should go and find the others now."
Draco had known he wouldn't be able to get away with another selfish request and had wordlessly untangled his arms from around Harry.
The other boy had given a little shiver before carefully manoeuvring himself off Draco and standing, stretching so several joints cracked.
Draco had stood as well, really at a loss on what to say and had watched as Harry had taken several steps away from him, trying not to give in to temptation and pull him back into their warm little hidey hole away from the rest of the world.
Harry had paused before stepping around the bookcase and had half turned back to him, just enough so that Draco could see the blush rising in his cheeks.
"That was nice. Thanks," was all he had said before hurriedly vanishing around the corner leaving a bemused Draco standing there, gazing at where he had been.
The grin that had split Draco's face shortly after had made his cheeks hurt.
He had to fight the smile that now wanted to spread across his face as he accompanied Harry and Lily down to dinner, but then he forcefully reminded himself who was joining then for the meal and the grin slipped away.
"Harry," the other boy glanced at him to show he was listening as they made their way through the halls. "I need to explain who it is that is joining us for dinner tonight."
"Abunai did say that a surprise guest was coming," Harry said as they began to ascend the stairs.
"Yes, that's right. The person joining us is the only other vampire at Hogwarts beside Sev and I. And now you, of course."
That caught Harry's interest.
"There's another vampire? Student or teacher?"
"Do I know them?"
"Not really. As far as I can tell you probably know them by sight and their name, but otherwise I've never seen any interaction between the two of you."
They paused outside the closed dining room door where they could sense everyone within, along with a new presence.
"You're not going to tell me, are you," Harry said flatly and Draco grinned.
"Not when they're just on the other side of the door. I want the pleasure of seeing your face when you spot them."
Harry gave him an exasperated look before reaching forward and opening the door, ushering Lily in first before following closely behind.
Draco stepped in, pulling the door closed, and spotted the mystery guest across the room with their back to them, engaged in a conversation with Severus.
At the sound of the door all eyes turned on the trio, including the visitor.
"Well, well," came Harry's calm voice. "Blaise Zabini. I can't say I'm surprised."
Harry genuinely wasn't shocked to see the Slytherin year-mate standing across the room from him.
The second that Draco had told him that the other vampire was another student he had started to compile a quick list of all the students he could think of that were, in his eyes, a possibility. Zabini had been near the top of the list.
Blaise made his way across the room to them, handsome face set in a serious expression, stride long and graceful. He stopped before them and held out one mocha hand.
"Potter," he said in a smooth baritone, "if I hadn't been told beforehand, I would have had no idea it was you. You even smell different."
"You actually took the time to familiarize yourself with the way I smelled?" Harry asked sceptically, but took the hand in a sign of peace.
Zabini gave a lazy grin.
"Well, with all the antics you always seem to get up to it seemed the sensible idea to memorize it, so whenever I smelled you coming I could turn and head in the opposite direction."
Harry chuckled and then looked down as Lily tugged on his hand, her eyes wide and a little star struck as she looked up at the Slytherin.
"Zabini, this is my adopted daughter, Lily. She will be going by the name Saiyuri while at Hogwarts though so please call her that."
Zabini offered his hand to her with a light smile and she reached forward and tried to shake it as firmly as she was able.
"Such a strong grip," Zabini looked impressed and she beamed at him, proud. "I'm sure you and I will become great friends, Saiyuri," he continued and Harry noted the softness in his eyes. He'd heard that Zabini had a much younger sibling, so he was probably used to dealing with children around her age. Lily seemed delighted anyway and quite taken with Zabini if the way she fervently nodded her head was any indication.
Zabini focused his attention back on Harry again.
"Mrs Malfoy and Professor Snape just explained to me the complications of your return to Hogwarts. I admit, I didn't know you had it in you to be so cunning, Potter," they smirked at each other. "So, what is the name you will be going by while there?"
"Mitsuho. Mitsuho Himura."
"Mitsuho and Saiyuri Himura. Well, that will take a bit of getting used to," Zabini said lightly, rolling the names around in his mouth as though sampling a wine he couldn't make up his mind about.
"Well, I don't care if you start calling me cupcake," Harry shrugged. "Just make sure you don't call me Harry or Potter."
"I'll make sure of it, although I might not be able to pass up on the 'cupcake'," then Zabini cut his eyes over to Draco in a teasing manner. "Unlike some people, I can be subtle."
"Knock it off, Blaise. You know I have an image to maintain."
Zabini quirked his eyebrow.
"Really? It has nothing to do with the fact that a certain former Gryffindor can make you ridiculously competitive?"
Draco sent Zabini an almost disgusted look and turned his nose up, as those the mere idea was beyond ridiculous. Lily giggled and Zabini shot her a devious wink.
"It's good to see that young mister Malfoy is not only teased by myself."
Harry and the others turned to see Fahmida closing the door behind her, and the others in the room moved forward to greet her.
"I trust everything has gone well?" Narcissa asked as she stooped to kiss the smaller woman's cheek.
"There were some initial difficulties, but I am quite delighted with the result," Fahmida reassured as she patted Snape and Kurai on the arm and then reached up to ruffle Abunai's hair (who had to bend down for her to do so).
"Blaise," she smiled warmly and the boy stepped forward with an answering grin. "It is lovely to see you again. I simply wish you would all stop growing!"
He pulled up her hand to drop a kiss on it.
"I will endeavour not to grow another inch then."
She chuckled and patted his cheek.
"Always such good manners with you," then her eyes slid over to where Draco was trying rather uselessly to hide himself behind Harry. "I'm happy to see they can be taught to some, at least."
Draco actually hissed and Harry rolled his eyes before stepping forward, almost causing Draco to fall, and pushed Lily gently in front of him.
It was good to see that some of Lily's training was starting to pay off as she bowed her greeting and Fahmida indulged her and bowed back before reaching forward to enfold the girl in a hug, making Lily giggle.
"Now, Harry," she turned to Harry and he nodded by way of greeting. She returned the gesture and he was grateful she didn't reach forward to touch him like she had all the others. "I believe I have something for you."
From a purse she had tucked over her shoulder she withdrew a long, slim box and handed it to him. It was a soft purple with a blue ribbon wound around it, sealed in place by a wax crest that Harry recognised as the official seal of Sanctum. Carefully he broke it off and unwrapped the ribbon before opening the box.
Everyone crowded in a little closer to see.
There, on a bed of fine purple velvet, was his new wand: it was longer than his old one and a little slimmer, giving it a more elegant appearance. Strangely though it was made of two different types of wood, twisting and wrapping around each other so tightly they blended together as one, perfectly. There was a soft, reddish sheen to both, but otherwise their colours were quite different, yet the juxtaposition was complimentary to each other.
"I'm afraid Kioni and I simply couldn't agree on which wood to make it out of, then we found when we mixed your blood in that the two couldn't be kept apart. They could have been used alone without hindering you, but when we found that we could use them both together, well, it would have been foolish of us to pass it up."
"So what are the woods it's made from then?" Harry breathed while carefully reaching into the box and picking the wand up.
As soon as he did his whole body was filled with a rush of warmth and familiarity, as though a much-loved friend had returned after a long time away and they had picked up exactly where they had left off.
Softly glowing, gold, transparent fish swum from the tip of the wand, weaving their way through the air much to the delight of everyone and causing Lily to dash after them and follow them about the room.
"Lovely, simply lovely," Fahmida chuckled. "It is made from the woods that Kioni and I first thought would suit you – cherry and ash. I believe it is one of the most powerful wands I have every created and definitely the first one combining two different types of wood. All wands are unique, but I pride myself on this one being particularly so."
Harry waved his wand and felt the rush of magic leave it at his direction. The fish, which were swimming just below the ceiling now, burst into a beautiful shower of falling gold sparks that vanished harmlessly as Lily cooed over the display. It had felt as natural as breathing and only now that he had a comparison could he tell how much his old wand hadn't fitted him.
"It's perfect. What do I owe you?"
Fahmida shook her head.
"That has already been taken care of, dear. No need to worry."
Harry quickly glanced around and caught Snape just starting to look away while everyone else was still admiring the fading sparks. This would be something that would have to be discussed at a later date.
A house elf entered the room and announced that dinner was ready, so they all made their way to the dining room, breaking off into two groups to converse – the adults together in one, and Harry, Draco, Zabini and Lily in the other - and sat down to a fine meal.
Harry spent the time getting to know Zabini a little better and going over what he had covered in his training so far. Zabini had several very helpful suggestions, especially when it came to Draco's lesson, making said teen glower at him across the table.
Zabini was also sure to include Lily in all their conversations and Harry was becoming more and more impressed with how Zabini handled her.
Harry realized looking back now, that he'd never had a problem with Zabini, unlike all of the other Slytherin's in their year at one point or another. Zabini had, as far as Harry could recall, kept mostly to himself, although he and Draco would usually pair up in classes, and Harry had heard whispers that the Zabini's had firmly declared themselves natural in the war. He guessed that meant that neither of Zabini's parents had been ordered to plant themselves as spies in Voldemort's ranks or in the Ministry and had simply preferred to stay away from the humans mess.
It was somewhat refreshing to be starting a friendship, or what he was hoping would shape up to be one, with one of the few people in the wizarding world who didn't seem to want anything from him.
The evening progressed well, with Zabini telling Harry and Lily stories about his family and Harry didn't miss the small look of wonder when the other boy first started talking about himself when he realized he didn't need to hold anything back. After that it was like a dam had broken and Zabini's rich voice filled the air with tale after tale, most hilarious and involving his little brother.
Once they had eaten, they all moved to relax in a sitting room for a while with after dinner drinks, Lily slurping her hot chocolate as she sat next to Zabini and asking him question after question. He indulged her until her eyes were drooping and she was starting to sway back and forth and then Harry carefully scooped her up and took her up to bed. She managed a feeble wave over Harry's shoulder and a mumbled demand for Zabini to come back again to see her soon which Zabini agreed to and by the time Harry had reached their room she was fast asleep.
He used his new wand to transfigure her clothes into sleeping shorts and a t-shirt, before tucking her in and incanting a soft spell that sent bubbles of gentle violet light drifting about the room, the wizarding equivalent to a night light, before dropping a soft kiss on her head and making his way back downstairs.
Fahmida and Zabini were starting to say their farewells by the time he reached the room and he realised he was genuinely sorry to see them go.
Fahmida sent him a smile he thought he'd only ever see in picture books illustrating the perfect grandmother, once again being respectful enough not to touch him, before she departed.
Zabini, not being so aware of the situation, put his hand out politely for Harry to shake and Harry only gave the slightest hesitation before clasping his hand around Zabini's own and giving it a firm shake.
"Well, I'm rather surprised over the fact that I've actually had a very enjoyable evening," Zabini began, looking dryly amused. "It appears we have quite a lot in common, including reining a certain someone in when he gets ahead of himself."
At this they both turned to Draco, making the blond splutter out denials looking quite outraged.
"I feel this could be the start of a good partnership," Harry mused as they turned back to each other, both pointedly ignoring Draco. Zabini hummed in agreement.
"I suppose you'll have to call me Blaise then."
"And you Mitsuho, or Harry if we're in private."
"Wonderful. Well then, I suppose I'll see you next on the 1st."
"I would think so. Lily will be happy to see you again."
Zabini's face softened.
"And I'll be glad to see her. It was a pleasure, Harry."
"The pleasure was all mine, believe me."
Zabini nodded, gave Draco a friendly punch on the shoulder and left the room with Narcissa, who would never be a poor enough host not to accompany a guest out, Lucius having already left with Fahmida.
"You know, I don't think you'll have any problem fitting into your new house," Draco mused as he moved to stand closer to Harry.
"And what house would that be?" Harry goaded, already knowing the answer.
"Don't give me that, we all know you're going to end up in Slytherin. Right, Sev?"
"Indeed. I have a pretty penny riding on it with Minerva," Snape glided over to join them.
"McGonagall? She knows about me?"
Snape gave him a flat look.
"Well, given that she's the deputy headmistress and in charge of all new students, of course she does. While we haven't had a new student join the school as old as you for many decades she will still be charged with ensuring you are settled and get sorted into the correct house."
Harry felt his stomach drop. Having to do the Sorting Hat once had been bad enough, but to do it again in front of everyone was a sickening thought. Snape however seemed to sense this.
"You will be sorted in private before the official sorting so Lily won't be caused any undue stress."
Harry let out a sigh of relief and Draco nudged his shoulder lightly in support.
"So what time are you leaving for Hogwarts tomorrow?" Draco asked Snape.
"I'll be heading off just after breakfast, so I'll have time to go over all of your exercises for the coming week without me."
Draco sagged slightly, pushing his weight a little more against Harry.
"C'mon, Sev. You've all been working us like crazy these past few weeks. I'm burned out before the school year even begins. Have some compassion, and give us time off."
Snape quirked an imperious eyebrow, looking vaguely amused at Draco's plea. Harry did secretly agree with him although he wouldn't voice it – he was exhausted. The none-stop lessons and the nightmares that engulfed him whenever he slept left him feeling washed out and hollow. He never complained though because he felt like he'd finally got his head out of his ass. He was done being selfish, resisting and petulantly complaining all the time – it only ever seemed to end him up with a body at his feet. This was his lot in life and he needed to grow up and accept it so he could keep those he loved as safe as possible. So yes, he was as burned out as Draco, but he wouldn't admit it.
Snape however seemed to pick up on his internal agreement as his attention instantly snapped to Harry and remained there for several long moments. Harry met his gaze and said nothing.
Finally, Snape's eyes appeared to almost soften, the black warming and the eyebrows smoothing into a less sever expression.
"I will consider it," was all he said, much to Draco's delight, before he bade them goodnight and left the room.
Draco turned to Harry, a victorious smirk proud on his face, but just as he was opening his mouth Kurai was suddenly there.
"Harry," the General barked. "Your lesson with me starts in five minutes. I'll go on to the room to prepare."
"Yes, sir," Harry sometimes found he had to stop himself saluting. He was unsure of what response he would get from the sever man if he did, but it most certainly wouldn't be pretty.
"I haven't really had a chance to hang out with you today," Draco sighed as Kurai left the room. His arm was still pressing against Harry's shoulder, a warm reassuring weight, and for a moment Harry let himself indulge and leaned into it before pulling away.
"We have a lesson together tomorrow. You'll have me all to yourself then, so try to contain your excitement."
Draco shook his head, amused.
"One day I will figure out how you hid all that sarcasm from your little Gryffindor's. Their heads would have popped at the mere idea of you being sardonic."
"You'll never know," Harry taunted, trying to fight down the smile he could feel tugging at his lips as he started to head towards the door.
Draco laughed warmly, all rich baritones that still shocked Harry; the idea that he could do something to make that amazing sound come from the Slytherin's lips still new to him.
Harry closed the door behind him, leaving Draco and Abunai to their lesson. Of which would probably be in that very room since Abunai was looking as though he were in a particularly lazy mood, if the way he was draped over one of the sofas was any indication.
As he headed down the corridor Harry couldn't deny the fact that (besides Lily, obviously) Draco, along with his parents, Kurai, Abunai and even Snape were working their way into the small group of people he considered precious.
And maybe that wasn't a bad thing.
It was an impressive room: obviously old and rich with the moulding and the stunning Renaissance painting covering the entirety of the ceiling. However, it was starting to decay a little, as though the owners had let it fall by the wayside over the past decade. Bookshelves lined the wall, crammed ungracefully, books packed in every inch of space. Even then there wasn't enough room, so many were stacked in tottering piles on the floor. One wall was lined with windows, but the thick wooden blinds on all of them had been closed tightly, barely letting in any light, dust dancing on the thin beams. The floor was tiled and in the centre there was a huge crest, an owl sinking its talons into a winged serpent against a shield with the words 'Per cacciare il sangue nero è il nostro dovere' emblazoned underneath.
Aside from the bookshelves there was only one other piece of furniture in the room which was a simple but large desk. A figure was seated behind it, head bent, studiously focused on the paperwork spread over the top of it.
There was a sharp knock on the door.
"Enter," the figure called without raising their head.
The door swung open and a woman stepped inside. She was black, slightly above regular height and verging on reedy. Her hair was shaved close to her head, and all of her features were sharp and thin. She was neither stunningly beautiful nor ugly. All in all she was average, but there was something in the way she held herself that drew the eye. The word 'charismatic' fitted her to a tee.
"Insegnante," the woman said, her voice strong and confident. "I am here for my briefing before I leave."
"Ah, yes, indeed," the person at the desk agreed, head still bent over their paperwork. The woman took that as permission to walk further into the room until she halted in front of the desk, back straight and head high.
"It is all official?" the seated figure asked.
"Yes, Insegnante. All the paperwork has gone through, they cannot go back on their word now."
Silence fell for a few minutes aside from the scratching of pen across paper. The woman remained still, staring resolutley ahead, unfazed by the quiet.
Finally the figure in the seat reached the end of the paper, raking out a large, looping signature before setting the pen to one side and picking up a stamp. One quick press had a copy of the crest on the floor decorating the page and then it was all put to one side. The figure looked up for the first time and simply stared at the woman for a while.
"This will be your second solo mission?"
"You did exceptionally well on your first, so I expect the same level of dedication on this one. Am I clear?
"You understand I am obligated to tell you that going on this mission means that you will have no backup if things go South quickly. You will only have yourself to rely on. Having said that, though, there is a team being assembled that will be put in place within an hour of your location. Any correspondance will go through them. While you must try not to compromise their postion, they will be able to back you up on any containments if you can give them enough warning. Do you understand? "
"Good. Now then," the figure reached over to shuffle through some papers before withdrawing a file and opening it.
"Has there been anything new to report on the preliminary assessment?"
"No, Insegnante. It is believed that the area is currently vacant of maledetto, showing that our initial idea seems the most likely to be correct."
"I see," the figure leaned back, stretching and letting out a contented sigh as their back cracked. "Now, I know that the chase can be invigorating but you must remember that this mission does have two sides to it: you are not just searching out maledetto, but also those with potential to join our cause. If anything, the latter is actually slightly more important with the way things stand right now."
"I understand, Insegnante, and I will not forget."
The figure in the chair stood.
"Well, then you have your orders. There is nothing left for me but to wish you good fortune on your task. You do us proud, young Cercatore. Dismissed."
The woman smiled, snapped off a smart salute and strode from the room. Her bags were already waiting for her in the hall outside and she barely broke her stride to pick them up as she continued through the vast building.
She passed several others, some of whom stepped to one side and saluted her, and others who merely nodded, as one equal to another.
Eventually she turned into a courtyard which was dominated by the large, lit firepit at its centre. Four guards surrounded it and all straightened and saluted at her appearence.
"Tenente," one greeted, stepping forward smartly. The woman nodded and set her bags down before withdrawing her wand and shrinking them, then pocketing the tiny bags. Then she stepped forward, ready.
The man who had spoken dipped his hand into an open bag he had attached at his hip.
The guard nodded and withdrew his hand, floo powder trailing between his fingers as he threw it on the fire.
With a roar the flames turned green and the woman nodded her thanks, the guards all saluting her once again in return. She stepped forward into the flames, the thrill of the inevitable hunt already filling her.