Thanks to Thobeobo for beta-reading this chapter.
I do NOT own Harry Potter or its universe. All rights go to JK Rowling and her publisher.
"It was good to see yeh, James, Lily," Hagrid said. "It's been too long since the last time yeh visited."
"Sorry about that, Hagrid," James replied stiffly. He was still mad at Hagrid letting slip information that had directly led to Evan going after the Philosopher's Stone and Voldemort. "Busy with work and all, I'm sure you understand."
Hagrid nodded, "Just make sure yeh make time for yerself, yeah? Don't get too busy."
"Of course," Lily smiled, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. She was even more furious with Hagrid than James was, but she was far less forgiving than him. "Thank you for escorting us, Hagrid. I'm sure we can go the rest of the way on our own."
Hagrid beamed before lumbering off, Fang at his heels.
Lily's smile faded at once. "I love Hagrid, but…"
"It'll be hard to forgive him for this," James finished. "We could've lost Evan because he doesn't know how to keep quiet about these kinds of things."
"Dumbledore promised to talk to him," Lily reminded him. "Hopefully it helps."
James sighed. He hoped so, too. It was bad enough that Harry wanted nothing to do with them, ignoring any and all letters they sent in the hopes of hearing something from him; if Evan had died going after that bloody Stone… James wasn't sure he and Lily would've been able to cope.
It had broken them both to read the Daily Prophet article a few days ago that detailed how Harry had been taken in and adopted by the House of Black, severing any ties he had to his birth family, aside from blood, but Lily was living proof that blood didn't make a family. Petunia still had a lot to answer for, and Lily hadn't spoken to her sister once since that visit a year ago.
It wasn't all Petunia's fault, though. Much of the blame rested solely with James and Lily. It was them who had neglected to visit their son over the years—their son. There was no excuse for that and it had taken a toll on them both, knowing that they had failed as parents.
"Hey," Lily said softly, slipping her hand into his as they walked into the castle. "There's no point in thinking of what ifs. All we can do is accept our mistakes and do our best, moving forward."
James gave a weak smile. He appreciated the sentiment, but it was far easier said than done. He had never felt so defeated before. That he had abandoned family like that sickened him, made him wonder just what kind of man he had become.
His mother would have murdered him.
But Lily was right. He had to try.
"Lemon drop," James said as they approached the gargoyle statue, which leapt aside and revealed the hidden staircase behind it.
The door to Dumbledore's office was already open, with the man himself and Snape waiting for them.
"How is he?" Lily asked without preamble.
"Happier than ever," Snape answered tonelessly.
James would have preferred Snape to sneer it or something; anything but that emptiness. It felt as if he'd been punched to hear it spoken of so blankly, as if it were a fact being taught in class instead of the mental state of a living person.
"He will be starting his detentions with me tomorrow evening," Snape went on. "We will be focusing primarily on helping him control himself to avoid repeating past occurrences."
James's eye twitched, as did Snape's lips. He had known what kind of reaction his word choice would get—even after all these years, he still kept up their rivalry. Sure, Snape wasn't nearly as violent as he had once been, keeping it to just verbal jabs and taunts instead of attempted hexes and curses, partially at Lily's request, but James doubted Snape's animosity would ever truly die.
Not for the first time did James regret his actions as a schoolboy, that he hadn't done more to help Remus keep Sirius in line during their later years before graduating.
He only prayed that Harry and Evan weren't repeating history, as it appeared they were.
"Thank you, Severus," Lily said, speaking for both of them, though James still nodded at Snape.
"There is still the matter of where Harry would have learnt those specific spells," Dumbledore said, drawing their attention to him. He sat behind his large desk, looking down in thought. "There are some that could have been found in the library here, but a couple of them…"
"Have you found out anything?" James asked Snape.
"Nothing," Snape said without blinking. "He maintains that he read about them, and I'm inclined to believe him. It didn't appear as if he was lying."
James bit his tongue to avoid making a comment he already had once before, questioning whether or not it had been Snape who provided Harry with the Dangling Jinx and Toenail-Growing Hex. Those were very specific from their own time in school, being two of Snape's own creations, but Snape had insisted firmly that he would never share them with another after seeing how they had been turned against him when they were students.
"Then where?" Dumbledore asked, more to himself than the room. He looked up at them. "I am also concerned with how quickly he has advanced, compared to his peers. Already I hear rumours that he was able to conjure a perfect Shield Charm to protect himself and a fellow student from the Cornish pixies during Professor Lockhart's first lesson."
James winced. Evan had written them a letter about that, though he hadn't mentioned anything about a Shield Charm or who had cast it. It was entirely possible that it went unnoticed in the chaos that had been unleashed in the classroom, though.
"A perfect Shield Charm at twelve years old?" Lily asked, frowning. "How?"
"He would have had to practice it quite thoroughly, and with instruction," Dumbledore said. "I don't see how it's possible for any student to have managed a spell of that manner without help."
"But who would've helped him?" James asked.
"I am afraid that I don't know." Dumbledore stood and walked over to the black cabinet where his pensieve was kept, then stirred the silvery memory within using the tip of his long wand. "My first guess would have been Quirinus Quirrell, but with his being a servant of Lord Voldemort, I believe it more likely that he would have attempted to kill Harry before helping him with advanced magic."
Lily flinched and tightened her grip on James's hand.
"Could it have been Professor Flitwick?" she asked. "It's Charms that Harry's good at, right?"
"Filius has already denied giving Harry any extra assistance. He was quite impressed to hear of it when the rumours reached the staff," Dumbledore said with twinkling eyes. "This, I am afraid, is an answer we can only get from Harry himself, and if he has refused to tell Severus, then it is doubtful he would be willing to share with anyone else."
That was worrying. If it wasn't one of the teachers giving Harry help with advanced magic, then it would have to be one of the older Slytherins, but which one? There were several who were children of accused or imprisoned Death Eaters, and it was possible they wanted to use Harry as a weapon to hurt others, most likely Evan. But that was a questionable theory, at best, considering they had already been informed that Harry only spent time alone or with Daphne Greengrass, and almost always in the library, where he could be watched by Madam Pince.
"Let us know if you learn anything," James said. "Harry may not be legally ours, or even a member of House Potter anymore, but he is still our son."
"Of course," Dumbledore agreed amicably.
"Watch him for us?" Lily requested, looking at Snape with pleading eyes.
He stared back, his face void of any emotion.
Lily smiled sadly as she turned to leave the office.
While James knew that he and Snape would never get along, Snape and Lily had once been best friends, and it pained her that they were no longer as close as they were as children. She had never forgiven him for his actions, but she was willing to give him a chance, she had admitted to James a few years ago. With her other friends dead or gone, Severus was really the only one she had left from their school days, so James had decided to try and let bygones be bygones for her.
After everything that had happened in the last year, it was the least he could do.
Besides, being friendly was hardly a concession if it meant he could be closer to Harry. James didn't think he would ever be called family by Harry, but that was fine. He just wanted to be part of his son's life, to be there for him now, to attempt to make up for everything.
He owed it to Harry to try.
Krios was woken up far too early on Saturday morning by an overly excited Draco, whose grin was so large it looked almost manic. He was dressed in green robes instead of his usual black, so Krios had an idea of what was going on before Draco even spoke.
"Come on!" he said, tugging Krios's arm. "It's time for Quidditch!"
It took a great deal of effort to avoid groaning, but somehow Krios managed. Had he known that his promise to watch Draco's first practice of the year would involve waking up at seven-thirty in the morning on a weekend, then he would have told Draco to go stuff himself. He had made the promise while most of his focus was on his book instead of the rambling, one-sided discussion about Quidditch, and only to get Draco to shut up so he could read in silence.
Krios regretted that greatly, right now.
"Breakfast first," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes as he rolled out of bed.
"Of course." Draco looked scandalized that Krios would imply otherwise. "Flint and the others are already heading up to the Great Hall. We'll meet them there."
"Great, now get out. I'll be in the common room in fifteen minutes."
"If you aren't, I'm sending Crabbe and Goyle to get you," Draco threatened, glaring.
Krios snorted. Those two were probably still sleeping like boulders, so he very much doubted Draco would be able to wake them up anytime soon.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he said. "Fifteen minutes."
Draco nodded, shooting one last narrow-eyed look over his shoulder as he left.
After a quick stop in the bathroom to freshen up, Krios dressed himself in casual robes, grabbed his bookbag, and headed out to the common room, where Draco was impatiently waiting, broom in hand.
"Did you really stop to do your hair?" he asked.
"Coming from you, of all people?" Krios retorted. Regulus's mother would have found a way to torture him from all the way in London if he had neglected to make himself presentable, regardless of the fact it was early in the morning on a weekend. He was fortunate, at least, that he could control his hair quite well, as a metamorphmagus. It had only taken him a couple hours of practice to do it with little effort, having only ever attempted to change colours before.
Draco scowled. "Whatever, let's go."
By the time they got to the Great Hall, however, the rest of the Slytherin team had finished eating and wanted to head out and start their practice, each of them holding their broomsticks—brand new Nimbus Two-Thousand and Ones, courtesy of Lucius Malfoy.
Draco glared at Krios like it was his fault they were late for breakfast, which it kind of was, but Krios didn't feel at all guilty about it as he grabbed some food for himself. It was Draco's fault for making him keep his promise instead of just heading out with the rest of the team.
Krios didn't understand why Draco wanted him there, though. The most likely reason was that Draco wanted to show off a bit, but he could do that at Malfoy Manor any time he wanted to.
Figuring it out wasn't worth thinking about the weird way Draco's mind worked, so Krios didn't bother.
Despite the sun being up, it was still freezing outside and mist hung low over the grass. Krios pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders, glad he'd had the foresight to bring it. Despite that, it was a beautiful morning, and he was happy to be back at Hogwarts.
As much as he had enjoyed his summer with the Blacks, it wasn't quite the same as life at the castle.
"Oh, great," Marcus Flint muttered. He was a large seventh-year who looked more inclined to punch someone than use his wand. "The Gryffindors are already here."
"Good thing you expected that," Graham Montague said, smirking. He was also quite large, but Krios knew from last year that he was very talented on a broomstick, able to maneuver it in a way that didn't seem possible with his size.
One of the scarlet-clad Gryffindors caught sight of them and rocketed to the ground, staggering slightly as he dismounted his broom. Three more followed him.
"Flint!" the first bellowed. "This is our practice time! We booked the field! You can clear off now!"
Marcus grinned trollishly. "Plenty of room for all of us, Wood."
Krios was more amused than he should've been. He would love to see the two houses that conflicted the most attempt to share the Quidditch field with no teacher supervision.
"What's he doing here?" Evan Potter spat as he and the Weasley twins, Fred and George, joined their captain in confronting the Slytherins. He was glaring at Krios. "Black isn't on the team."
Krios snorted. As if he wanted to spend his time dodging Bludgers; he got hurt enough as it was during his duelling lessons with Bellatrix.
The Gryffindor Chasers ran over to join them. All three of them were girls, contrasted by the blatant lack of any on the Slytherin team. None of the girls looked happy about the Slytherins' presence.
"I booked the field, Flint!" Wood said, his face red with rage. "I booked it!"
"But I've got a note here from Professor Snape," Marcus argued, still grinning. "We need the field to train our new Seeker, make sure he's ready to play in November."
"New Seeker?" Wood repeated, distracted. His eyes fell on Krios, who shook his head.
From where he had hidden behind the larger Slytherins as they approached the field, Draco stepped forward, a nasty smirk on his face.
"Malfoy," Evan almost snarled.
"Good morning, Potter," Draco said cheerfully, his eyes glittering. "Lovely day for flying, isn't it? It's a lucky thing, too, we need to test out our new brooms."
All seven of the Slytherins on the Quidditch team held out their broomsticks. The handles were all highly polished with their brand and models in fine gold lettering that gleamed in the morning sun.
Krios had tested out Draco's a couple days before term started, and it was an experience unlike anything he'd ever had before. It was a quality broom, that was for sure, but with how he flew, Draco thought he stood a chance of making the Quidditch team next year, when Marcus would be gone.
"Nice, aren't they?" Marcus said carelessly. "Draco's father was very generous."
The Gryffindor team didn't seem to remember how to speak. They were all gawking at the expensive brooms, especially the Weasley twins and Evan.
"Incoming," Adrian Pucey muttered, his lips twisting into a smirk.
Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom were running across the field.
"What's happening? Why aren't you playing?" Weasley asked Potter. He looked at the Slytherins, particularly Krios and Draco. "What are they doing here?"
"I'm the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley," Draco bragged.
"He dragged me along," Krios said, shrugging.
Draco glared at him while the other Slytherins snickered.
"We were just telling your friends here," Draco said, turning back to Ron and Evan. He casually waved around them. "Lovely day for testing out some new broomsticks, eh?"
Weasley stared at the Slytherins' brooms, open-mouthed.
"Maybe the Gryffindor team could raise some gold and get new brooms, too," Draco continued. "You could probably raffle off those," he added, sneering at the twins' ancient-looking brooms. "I doubt much would come of it, though; I don't think they're fit to keep in a closet"
The Slytherin team roared with laughter. Krios just shook his head, smiling.
"I'm surprised Potter hasn't gotten them all brooms already," he said. "Oh, wait, I forgot. The Potters only care about themselves. Everyone else can bugger off."
"That's not true," Potter growled. He stepped forward, but the twins held him back.
"They care about you," Granger said. "You're a Potter, too."
Krios glared at her. "Nobody asked your opinion, Granger. Stick to licking books, why don't you?"
"Don't talk to her like that," Weasley snapped, raising his wand.
"Lookie here, boys," Draco sniggered. "The blood traitor's defending his little mudblood."
There was an instant uproar. Marcus dove in front of Draco to stop Longbottom and Weasley from jumping on him.
"How dare you!" one of the Chasers shrieked.
"You'll pay for that one, Malfoy!" Weasley yelled. "Eat slugs!"
A loud bang echoed around the stadium. A jet of green light blasted from Weasley's wand, then ricocheted off Krios's shield and reflected back at him. The spell struck Weasley in the stomach and launched him backward onto the grass.
The Gryffindors crowded around him at once while the Slytherins howled with laughter.
"Ron!" Potter yelled. "Ron, are you all right?"
Weasley opened his mouth, but instead of words coming out, he belched up slugs that dribbled onto his lap. The Chasers leapt back at once, and Weasley's older brothers grimaced. Nobody seemed to want to get near Weasley, never mind touch him.
The Slytherins doubled over, clutching their broomsticks for support. Draco fell to the ground, banging the grass with his fist. Krios smirked, feeling rather pleased with himself.
Longbottom and Potter hauled Weasley to his feet and started dragging him away. Granger followed, shooting a scathing look over her shoulder. They were joined by a fifth figure, this one much smaller than all of them, who had something bouncing against his chest.
"Oh, look," Krios said loudly. "Potter's cameraboy is following them. Think we could get him to give us copies of those photos?"
"Sod off," one of the twins snarled while the other gripped his wand so tightly his knuckles whitened.
The Slytherins pulled themselves together enough to draw their own wands. Luckily, the Gryffindors were smart enough to realize this was a fight they wouldn't win, and they set off to the locker rooms, their practice over now that their Seeker was gone.
The moment they were gone, Krios's smile vanished and he grabbed Draco's robes, pulling him close.
"What the hell were you thinking? Do you have any idea what your mother's going to do to you after that rubbish? You sounded like bloody Walburga!"
Draco's already pale face somehow became even whiter.
"That's only if they hear about it," he said quickly.
"You think they won't?" Krios challenged. "Potter's going to go whinging to someone, and they'll get Professor Snape involved, and he'll tell your parents. There's no way they don't hear about this."
Krios released his grip and stepped back, giving Draco a cold look.
"Besides," he said, "if you have such a problem with mudbloods, why am I here?"
"But you're not—" Draco paused and winced. "You just act so different to the likes of them. It's hard to remember sometimes…"
Krios didn't bother responding to that. He turned on his heel and headed back to the castle.
He was prevented from entering as Professor Snape stepped out, looking vaguely surprised to see him there instead of, well, anywhere else.
"Getting some fresh air?" Professor Snape said in a droll tone.
"Something like that," Krios replied shortly. "I was just heading to the library."
"Don't get so caught up that you forget your detention with me tonight."
Krios fought the urge to roll his eyes. "I won't, sir."
Professor Snape nodded before heading off in the direction of the Quidditch field. Krios doubted word had already reached him of what had just happened, so he was probably just going to watch Draco and make sure he deserved to be on the team, despite the practice he had done with the team over the summer. It was fortunate, for Draco, that Malfoy Manor had enough space to do that.
Arriving at Professor Snape's office for detention after dinner, Krios found that there was a space in the middle of the room that had been cleared out. Professor Snape stood in the centre, watching him.
He sat down on the floor, and Krios hastened to join him.
"To start with, I want you to practice your meditations. Calm your mind, control your emotions."
"I've been wondering about that," Krios said. "What's the difference between what you've been having me do and Occlumency? I mean, they both need me to control my thoughts and stuff."
"Close, but not quite." Professor Snape was silent for a moment, then explained, "The meditations you've been practicing are connected to Occlumency, but they are not the same. You have only been controlling how you react to what you feel, tempering it so that you do not put yourself or others at risk if you lash out magically when your emotions are pushed to extremes.
"Occlumency requires you to take that control and apply it in defence of your mind. You can practice controlling yourself without Occlumency, but you cannot defend your mind unless you are able to manage your emotions properly. The more capable you become at maintaining your calm in stressful situations, the stronger you will be in using Occlumency.
"With the Dark Lord attempting to return to power so soon, and clearly having something planned for you, it is essential that you learn this. We cannot afford for your mind to be an open book. All those whom he takes an interest in are taught Occlumency specifically so they can carry out his tasks more efficiently and with less chance of failure. It is how so many were able to avoid Azkaban."
Krios nodded, understanding. Professor Snape had admitted to him, behind Regulus's back, that there were several real Death Eaters who had claimed innocence, using the Imperius Curse as a defence. He hadn't named any of them, though. In Professor Snape's opinion, it wasn't something Krios needed to know unless it became absolutely necessary, which it wouldn't be unless the Dark Lord returned.
"Now, back to your task," Professor Snape instructed.
Taking a slow, deep breath, Krios closed his eyes. He went through the process that had been taught firmly and relentlessly, focusing only on ways to calm his mind and body. Each time he did it, it was easier to do the next time. Soon, hopefully, he would always be able to remain at peace.
Right now, though, he was still too angry at Draco to do it properly.
He barely heard Professor Snape's robes ruffle, but before he could even open his eyes, he felt the attack on his mind.
The memory of what had happened on the Quidditch field replayed, but then it moved on to his duelling sessions with Bellatrix, practicing the Shield Charm again and again until he could cast it perfectly. From there, it went back further to his first lesson with her. Krios watched as he shattered the bone in her leg, then the memory changed.
Suddenly he was staring up into the malicious face of Dudley Dursley.
And then he felt pain.
Dudley had hit him.
Harry reeled back and slammed into something hard behind him; whatever it was had been very solid, so it couldn't have been the carpet. His vision blurred and his head pounded. His glasses were gone now, knocked off his face from the hit, lost somewhere else in the room.
He heard someone laughing, but couldn't see them. Something wet was on his face; tears or blood, he didn't know. But he didn't like it. He hated the weakness he felt.
Glaring at the blurry face of his cousin, Harry embraced the desire to hurt him, as he had done so many times before. Dudley cried out and grasped his freshly-broken arm, bursting into tears before he turned and fled to the comforting arms of his mother.
"That's it, boy!" bellowed a furious voice Harry knew all too well.
Another burst of pain flared across his side, then everything went dark.
Harry opened his eyes. He was laying on a cold stone floor. Someone was speaking to him, but he couldn't identify them. All he wanted was to close his eyes again and accept sleep's embrace. He felt so tired; he wanted to rest.
"Krios!" the voice said, clearer this time.
'That's right,' he thought. He was Krios, not Harry. He hadn't been Harry in a couple weeks. He wasn't anywhere near the Dursleys. He was safe.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
"I believe I may have gone too deep into your memories," Professor Snape said, helping him sit up.
Krios let out a grunt, hoping it conveyed his confusion.
"I thought you were ready for it," Professor Snape said. "It appears I was wrong. You have overcome some of what you've been through, but there is still much to work on."
"The memories haven't ever felt that clear before," Krios mumbled.
Professor Snape's face darkened.
"The more traumatic ones tend to be easier to remember," he said quietly. "It will take time and effort, but I know you are capable of moving past them."
Krios just nodded, too tired to do anything else.
"Drink this," Professor Snape ordered, handing him a glass of orange liquid. "Invigoration Draught."
As the potion ran down his throat, Krios felt his energy return to him.
"That works fast," he muttered, looking at the glass.
Professor Snape's lips twitched.
"Let's try again," he said. "This time, of course, you will be allowed to prepare yourself."
Krios nodded stiffly. He hadn't much appreciated the half-second warning before, and only because he had been paying attention. He was too used to Bellatrix trying to hex him when he seemed distracted to not have heard Professor Snape's movement, but it wasn't fast enough to brace himself.
When he was ready, they continued until the memories Krios had been forced to relive messed with his emotions so much that he was incapable of calming himself enough to focus. Professor Snape had decided there was no use in trying more, at that point, so they moved on to something to help him relieve that anger.
A mock duel.
At least, that was what they were calling it. In reality, it was just Krios firing any spell he could think of for as long as he could while Professor Snape defended himself and prevented the destruction of anything important, which was almost everything on the other side of the office.
"I think that's enough for tonight," Professor Snape said when Krios paused, breathing heavily. "We can continue another time. It might be for the best if you take a couple of days to rest."
"Yes, sir," Krios agreed, not at all disappointed.
Professor Snape dismissed him with a wave.
Krios left the office as quickly as he could. He desired nothing more in that moment than a nice shower and hopping into bed.
He froze, however, as a voice echoed in the corridor. It was unlike anything he had ever heard; a voice filled with ice-cold venom that made him shudder.
"Come… come to me… Let me rip you… Let me tear you… Let me kill you…"
Krios listened hard, straining his ears, but he couldn't tell where it was coming from. He looked around, but saw nothing that could make such a sound.
"Kill… Let me kill…"
He stayed there for several minutes, waiting, but the voice didn't speak again.
The Slytherin common room was empty when he got there, which was a good indicator of how long he had been in 'detention' that night. Krios headed straight to his room, changed into his pyjamas, and slipped into his bed, where he stared blankly at the canopy above him, wondering.
What kind of snake was capable of making a noise like that?
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