Harry followed Dumbledore down toward the Great Hall, anxiety building up in his chest. He had never really liked crowds as a child, and since the Dursley had never wanted him to be seen, he'd never really gotten the opportunity to get used to a lot of people until Hogwarts. And Hogwarts wasn't the best place to get used to crowds because Harry was constantly either stared at because he was the Boy-Who-Lived, because he lost the house a few hundred points, or because he was believed to be a rampaging liar or Mudblood hater. Of course, his own very recent experiences with Death Eater attacks led to his hate of attacks.
As was normal when a few hundred were packed into a singular room together, the noise could be heard long before Harry reached the Great Hall. His grimace must have been visible because he heard the headmaster chuckle.
"Not a fan of crowds, I take it?" Dumbledore asked lightly.
"Not quite," Harry said with a somewhat bitter smile. From the corner of his eye, he saw Dumbledore peering at him curiously but he simply eyed up the open doors that they were approaching.
"I'll be sitting at the Head Table with you then?" Harry questioned, his shoulders tensing as he felt eyes following him.
"If you so wish," said Dumbledore. "You're welcome to take any seat you wish. We tend to move around as we please."
Harry nodded and let his faux blue eyes sweep the hall and he immediately slammed down his Occlumency barriers and Occluded his mind as he caught sight of familiar face after familiar face. Flashes of various students dead and maimed whirled through his mind and he closed down those thoughts quickly, his expression revealing that. His face was now a mask of indifference though he knew his eyes were dark with a mix of pain and grief. A buzz of magic crackled under his skin and he took a few moments to settle it.
Many of the professors were staring at his curiously and Harry could see the connection they were making in their minds to his likeness to Sirius, who was currently absent, along with Remus.
"Where are Remus and Sirius?" Harry asked lightly, taking the offered seat next to the man. McGonagall was on his other side with Sprout and Flitwick near her. Snape was glowering at him from a few seats down from them for some reason and the Astronomy, Arithmancy, and Ancient Runes teachers were sitting near him, along with Madam Hooch. There was another professor that Harry didn't recognize sitting near them that made Harry curious, along with the fact that he couldn't see Hagrid. Was Hagrid not the Care of Magical Creatures professor, then?
"I believe that—" Dumbledore started before he was cut off.
"Jamie!" Harry's eyes flicked toward the entrance where Sirius and Remus were entering. Sirius had a large grin on his face and Remus was rolling his eyes, trailing a little behind him. Both were smiling at him, which made him feel a little warm. They had only spoken once, and that had only been for a few hours, but it was nice that they seemed genuinely happy to see him.
"—answers your question," Dumbledore finished, faintly amused.
"Professors," Harry drawled as they approached him. Sirius and Remus swiftly took up the two seats next to him. Snape was now full-on sneering in their direction while Harry felt more people's eyes on him, probably comparing his features to that of Sirius's.
"Oh!" Sirius said, perking up from where he sat right next to him. "You're attending, then?"
Sirius looked proud of himself, and as much as Harry appreciated them looking out for his well-being, he did not appreciate that they had gone behind his back about it. And he was going to make that clear from the very start because he intended to become closer to the two. Therefore, he simply raised a brow in Sirius's direction and began plating himself some dinner calmly. After a few seconds of silent treatment, Sirius had shrunk into his chair minutely and both him and Remus looked someone guilty.
"I generally don't like it when people betray my trust, Sirius Black, and go talking behind my back," Harry said lightly, putting a slight emphasis on the word betray. It was a subtle reminder of what Pettigrew had done and it had the desired effect. Both Sirius and Remus winced. "Nonetheless, I appreciate the fact that despite barely knowing me, you brought it upon yourself to look out for my wellbeing. So, I thank you for that."
Harry could now feel many of the staff's eyes on him, assessing him, but he simply continued to cut up his food and take small bites of it. After a few seconds, he placed his fork and knife down and turned to Sirius and Remus.
Remus was the first to apologize. "I'm sorry," he said genuinely. "We had no right to reveal the things you had confided in us about. In all honestly, we did just want to help you." Harry inclined his head and turned to Sirius, who looked a tinge paler than normal. Harry felt a pang of regret for bringing up Pettigrew and his part in his parents' subsequent murder, but he wanted to make it clear that he was not okay with snitches (of the tattletale variety, of course).
"We were in the wrong," Sirius said seriously. "And while I apologize for revealing personal details about your past, I won't apologize for asking Dumbledore to ask you if you wanted to go to Hogwarts."
Harry looked at him. The apology was short but sincere, and since Harry knew that his Sirius wasn't typically inclined to make apologies, he felt gratified. He also felt that although Sirius didn't apologize for going to Dumbledore, that was the best apology he was going to get.
"Thank you," he said with a small but genuine smile before it turned into a mischievous grin, "And no need to be so Sirius!" Both Remus and Sirius stared at him for a few seconds in disbelief before the latter let out a bark of laughter akin to a sound his Animagus form would make.
"Did you just make a name pun?" Remus asked, still looking slightly shocked. Harry wondered when the last time someone other than he and Sirius had made a pun on Sirius's name.
"No," said Harry, not bothering to hide the obvious lie as he smiled innocently. Someone nearby groaned and Harry ignored them. "I think we have a conversation to finish, though," Harry continued. Sirius and Remus stared at him blankly and Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Had they forgotten what they were talking about a few days ago?
"Our discussion on wandless magic and runes?" The two Marauders had matching expressions of 'O' on their faces.
"What's this about wandless magic and runes?" a squeaky voice asked. Harry leaned past Dumbledore to look at Flitwick, who was peering at him curiously.
"We were discussing how Jamie didn't know any of the theory before learning wandless magic," Sirius cut in with a grin. Harry shot him a sharp glare as everyone nearby looked at him in curiosity.
"You didn't know any of the theory?" Flitwick asked in shock and intrigue. "I saw how you levitated those plates without a second thought! You must have a very good handle on your magic."
"Or just had a good teacher," Harry shrugged.
"Did you?" Remus asked curiously.
"No," Harry admitted grudgingly. "I taught myself. My school was attacked, remember?"
They were silent for a few awkward moments before one of the professors Harry didn't know inquired, "What school was it?"
"A private school," Harry said calmly but firmly. "That's all you need to know."
After another few awkward moments, Harry turned toward Sirius and Remus and inquired about their classes. He wanted to know if they were currently going over anything that he didn't know so he could study ahead.
"We have the first and second years doing a lot of simple jinxes and hexes that can partially immobilize someone," Remus began to explain. "Such as the body-bind curse and the leg-locker curse. There's also the tripping hexes, and of course, a few of the simpler jinxes and hexes like the slug-vomiting hex."
Harry's face turned into that of disgust as he remembered how Ron's wand backfired in second year and he was forced to vomit slugs. Remus and Sirius, and a few others laughed and sympathized with his expression. Harry was sure he wasn't the only one who had first or second-hand experience with the hex.
"I suppose that's one way immobilize someone," Harry admitted before musing aloud, "And the colour of the spell could easily be mistaken for the Killing Curse, it's similar enough that you'd be able to miss it if you're in the middle of a serious situation. Even if you don't hit someone with the curse, it's useful in a duel. You can either distract someone long enough to follow-up with a stunner in the direction they dodge or you can immobilize them easily. I know silent casting is covered in sixth year, but most don't know how to do it well and tend to revert to whispering, wording, or saying their curses. And you can't exactly do a spell properly if you're vomiting slugs."
Many of the surrounding professors were looking at Harry with appraising glances. "What?" Harry asked at the somewhat shocked looks Sirius and Remus were giving him. He gestured to himself and said, "Honorary Defence professor, remember?"
"'Honorary Defence professor'?" Dumbledore asked him.
Harry nodded shortly but kept his expression closed off. "I ran a sort-off Defence club at my old school before…" He cut off with a grimace that wasn't completely fake. Fat lot that did to help everyone survive.
Remus, most likely knowing where Harry's thoughts had turned, piped up. "I never really thought of using the Slug-Vomiting hex like that in a duel. Most of the duels we run here are small practice tournaments instead of battle reenactments, so we're not exactly throwing around lethal spells."
Harry sent him a somewhat disapproving look. "There's a war going on," Harry pointed out. Remus inclined his head, showing that he understood what he wasn't saying. "How much do you discuss dueling tactics in your classes? I know there's the curriculum you need to cover for their annual testing, but most of that you can assign for reading. Theory can only do so much. I know you two probably have more experience than me, but I'd be willing to point out more helpful or out-of-the-box options."
Sirius and Remus nodded slowly. "The upper years mainly get dueling tactics," Sirius admitted.
"What year?" Harry couldn't help but ask.
Harry frowned. Some of his students in the DA had been third years.
"Do you think we should go earlier than that?" Remus asked with a frown.
Harry thought over what to say. On one hand, dueling tactics won't really mean much for the lower years who barely know a collection of spells, but on the other hand, many of the first and second-year spells can be used in pretty creative ways if only people knew how to use them. You may not be able to take someone out permanently with first or second-year spells, but you could distract someone long enough to get away or until help came.
"I honestly think that once the first years know a couple of spells, that they should be taught dueling," Harry admitted. Many of those listening to their discussion had raised brows in surprise. "I know they'd barely know any spells, but there are ways to apply them creatively. Take Winguardium Leviosa, for example; it was one of the first Charms I was taught in school. It may not be a Defence spell, but you could use it on someone's pant leg to trip them up. Of course, you could use the tripping jinx or the jelly-leg jinx or another jinx for that, but with Winguardium Leviosa you can actually dictate, to a certain extent, in which direction someone will trip—"
"—So you can send a stunner or a body-bind in that direction," Sirius finished for him, nodding along with Remus, who looked thoughtful.
"That's not exactly fair dueling," Flitwick pointed out from where he was listening to their conversation.
Harry simply raised a brow at the Charms professor and dueling champion, and quoted something he'd heard once, "'All is fair in love and war.'"
"Touché, Mr. Evans," Flitwick said with a smile, inclining his head. "I can tell that we're going to have quite a few interesting discussions this year. That example of a charm for dueling was quite unconventional. Do you have any other charms that could be used for dueling?"
Flitwick's eyes were glinting much like the goblins he was related to. Goblins may generally be thought of as greedy for money, precious metals, and jewels, but they were also greedy for knowledge. There was no wonder why Flitwick, who was a quarter goblin if Harry remembered correctly, was in Ravenclaw.
"Aguamenti," Harry said immediately, "followed up by a freezing charm. Another simple way to trip your opponent up. If they don't trip immediately, you can just cast Tarantellegra at them to make them dance on the ice. An over-powered tickling charm does wonders, too. Have you ever laughed so hard that your ribs hurt and you could barely breathe?"
Many people winced at the thought. Laughing was fun, but when you were laughing so hard that your sides hurt and you couldn't stop it, that could easily be used as a form of torture. And Dumbledore pointed that out.
"That would be considered torture," he said with a disapproving frown.
"It'll hurt less than the Cruciatus," Harry pointed out bluntly, making a few people wince. "Though you may point out that since the pain is localized in one area, rather than on your whole body, it could make it worse, especially since you'll have difficulties breathing. But it should only be used long enough to distract your opponent to stun or bind them. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind causing my enemies a little pain if they're trying to kill me."
Harry's eyes flashed as he said the last sentence and he couldn't help the small smirk that pulled at the corner of his lips. Death Eaters deserved a little pain for all the pain they caused. He had no qualms about dealing it out, too.
"Anyway," continued Harry, shaking his head. "I'm just pointing out different dueling tactics that all years can use, but particularly the children. The first and second years are at a distinct disadvantage because you don't get into really difficult and truly useful spells until third year so they'd need all the help and out-of-the-box thinking they can get. Plus, it'll distract anyone trying to hurt them long enough for them to either escape or until help comes."
"Do you think that the younger years will be targeted?" Dumbledore asked with a frown. Harry raised an eyebrow at him.
"The Muggleborn and certain half-bloods, yes," said Harry blandly. Dumbledore simply inclined his head, understanding his point. The twinkle in his eyes had diminished at the topics Harry was currently discussing with the rest of the staff, but Harry couldn't help but not feel guilty. Dumbledore did not want the children involved in the war, but they already were. They weren't necessarily going to fight now, but they may have to eventually.
But that's why you're here, isn't it? Harry told himself. To fight for them.
The discussion about various non-Defence spells that could be used in a duel continued and Harry chimed it on occasion but listened to what the other professors were discussing. Apparently, all of them were quite enthused about the possible set of spells that could be used to incapacitate an enemy. Sirius and Remus were discussing how to bring this up in their classes, which made Harry smirk on the inside. His influence was already spreading.
Not long after, Harry looked up and spotted Hedwig flying toward him. He blinked, not having realized that she had disappeared. Lifting an arm for her to perch on, Harry asked her, "What have you got for me, girl?"
Hedwig simply hooted and lifted her leg toward him. Harry untied the small note and handed Hedwig a piece of the ham on his plate while conjuring a small dish of water for her to drink out of before she could stick her beak in his goblet. The owl had formed a habit of drinking out of his goblet which Harry wanted to squash. Harry may love Hedwig, but he didn't know what was on that beak of hers, especially when she went out hunting.
Turning over the small note, Harry smirked as he saw that it was from Rosmerta. "I told her she'd need my help," he murmured to Hedwig. The owl simply ruffled her feathers and knicked another piece of ham from his plate. "Sure, help yourself," he told her, rolling his eyes. Hedwig did so while somehow managing to appear haughty. He snorted.
As he opened the note, his attention turned away from his plate and to the words Rosmerta had written. He frowned deeply.
"What's wrong?" Sirius asked in concern, not trying to peer over Harry's shoulder. He had learned his lesson about delving into his personal business, it seemed.
"Rosie needs help back at the pub," he said, a scowl fitting on his face. "A group of kids that tend to come in after work and cause a mess decided it was a good idea to let loose a bunch of fireworks in the pub and managed to half-burn it down because they were wet-start so the usual charms didn't work. I'll bloody kill them if any of my stuff has been damaged. They're bloody adults, they should know better."
"You called them kids," Remus said, blinking. "But you're a kid."
Harry smiled humourlessly. "I haven't really been a kid in years," he snorted. "Those group of 'young adults' come in acting like first years and always leave a mess behind to clean up. I know it doesn't take long with magic, probably ten seconds tops, but I like to do it without magic. I think I'm going to go down there and take a strip out of their hide before putting them to work."
Harry was quite sure that smirk that crawled across his face was sadistic. It was, admittedly, a bad trait he'd picked up after dealing with Death Eaters after seeing the aftermaths of their attacks both first-hand ad via his connection with Voldemort, but he didn't necessarily care. As far as he was concerned, the Death Eaters will get what he deserved.
Standing, his plate disappeared (due to the house elves overhearing, Harry assumed) and causing Hedwig to hoot indignantly as she had been picking at his food. She flapped her wings and jumped to his shoulder, a little put-out.
"Try not to kill them," Sirius said, obviously amused as he, too, stood and clapped a hand on Harry's free shoulder, causing him to cringe a little at the touch. Harry was simply not used to touch that wasn't meant to harm him, but he felt a little warm at the platonic action from his godfather-who-didn't-know-he-was-his-godfather.
Sirius removed his hand at the slight flinch but thankfully didn't call attention to it.
"Let us walk you out," Remus suggested.
"I won't," Harry said to Sirius about the troublemakers and nodding to Remus and following him around the table and down the middle of the hall. Harry's smile was most likely still a little sadistic if the students' reactions to him were saying anything. They were all looking at him wide-eyed, including many of the upper years and almost all of the younger years. "They may initially refuse to help with the repairs, but when I'm done with them, they'll be begging to help. Without their wands."
"Oof, manual labor," Remus said, joining in on the banter. He was just as amused as Sirius, it seemed. "Tough."
"It'll teach them a lesson," said Harry seriously even though he was still smiling. "I'll resort to painful methods if I have to."
Sirius simply raised a brow and Harry shrugged.
"Stinging hexes are quite painful if a little overpowered and leave quite the sting," he said simply. "And the best part is that they don't usually leave long-term marks unless super overpowered. And I don't want to harm them enough that they can't work effectively."
They were out in the entrance hall at this point and so Remus casually asked, "Personal experience?"
It took Harry a few moments to decide whether or not to answer him. Eventually, he commented, "My childhood wasn't the best" and didn't say anything else.
He'd let them connect the dots on their own, eventually, but he didn't want to give out so much information if their relationship didn't turn out how Harry hoped.
Remus inclined his head and so did Sirius. Harry admittedly didn't know much about his godfather's past, only that it hadn't been good, but he suspected that they were more similar to one another than he originally thought. It made his heart ache for the man who had died to protect him.
They walked down the trail that lead to Hogsmeade quietly, simply thinking about things. When they got to the gate, they all stopped.
"I'm looking forward to having you in classes," Sirius said. Remus nodded and Harry smiled at them.
"I look forward to attending, though, admittedly, I'm not sure how much I'll learn from you," he admitted. "I've been doing a lot of research this past few years."
"You're Defence club," Remus nodded. Harry nodded since some of the research had been for the DA and he had already revealed a lot about himself today.
"Are you going to start classes tomorrow?" Sirius asked.
Harry shook his head. "No, Dumbledore gave me a list of the classes to see which ones I want to take. I'm going to test into any of the classes I want to take and someone will draw up a schedule for me. I won't have to attend any of the classes if I don't want to, though, and I'm not even sure this is what I want to do. I have enough time to study on my own to take my N.E.W.T.s at the Ministry."
They both frowned a little but nodded, knowing that it was his decision in the end.
"Well, Jamie," Sirius said with a grin, "good luck with your ass whooping."
Harry smirked as Remus smacked Sirius's shoulder.
"You two better head back up to the castle before you're late for any of your classes," Harry smirked. "It would be terribly embarrassing to be late to your own class."
Remus shook his head in amusement. "We'll see you later, Jamie," he said kindly. "Come on, Sirius."
Harry watched them leave for a few moments before drawing up his hood and heading back toward Hogsmeade. His heart tugged a little as he turned his back on his family who didn't even know him and Harry vowed to protect them.