Another chapter for you guys.
Apologies for the delay in posting. FF has been acting up the past few days.
The final day before the Christmas holidays had finally arrived, and Harry, just like the rest of the students, was eagerly anticipating a respite from the daily grind of Durmstrang.
Although he was looking forward to the festivities, his own excitement could not compare to Eleanor's.
For the past fortnight, the girl had been almost unbearably invested in the holiday, resulting in some growing rather irritated with her.
The final straw for Lucinda had been when Eleanor had let off a glitter bomb in the common room and the vampire had been covered from head to toe in the sparkly substance.
Harry and the others had been amused, but Lucinda had not seen the funny side and had banned Eleanor from anything Christmas related for the rest of the day.
The thought still brought a grin to Harry's lips.
"Something funny, Potter?" the vampire asked, raising an eyebrow in his direction.
"Nothing at all, Princess," he replied causing the girl's nostrils to flare.
She had given up chastising him for his chosen moniker for her, but Cain had only dared used it once when he learned of it.
Harry didn't know what Lucinda had done, but the werewolf had kept his distance from the irate girl for a while.
Lucinda hummed, shooting Eleanor a warning glare as she removed the box of tricks she kept her festive items in.
"I wasn't going to set any off," Eleanor huffed.
"Good," Lucinda replied, doing her utmost not to smile.
Harry believed she had secretly enjoyed Eleanor's exploits since the beginning of the month. Not that she would admit it, of course.
"Are you packed?" Harry asked her.
Lucinda nodded as she patted the pocket of her robes.
"I can't wait to be away from you all."
"You're a terrible liar," Harry sighed. "You'll miss us when you're at home, sleeping upside down in a shed, or wherever you live."
"I do not sleep upside down!"
Harry waved her off dismissively as he finished packing his own trunk.
"One of these days, Potter, you're going to push your luck to much," Lucinda warned, though there was no hint of malice in her tone.
"And then what?" Harry asked curiously.
Lucinda narrowed her eyes at him.
"Maybe you'll find out," she said airily, giving him a smile that made him shudder. "Are you almost done?"
"I will be in a moment. Bloody hell, what's the rush?"
Lucinda smiled once more.
"I've decided that I'm going to introduce you to my mother," she informed Harry. "We will see how cheeky you are then."
Lucinda nodded as she licked her lips.
"She will make a meal out of you, Potter."
Harry looked towards Eleanor who merely shrugged.
"It was nice knowing you, Harry."
He had looked in the wrong direction for assistance, and he cursed under his breath.
"Before you meet your maker, I'm sure my mother would appreciate meeting you first," Eleanor continued.
Eleanor shrugged once more.
"Why not?" she asked.
"What is this, try to intimidate Harry day?" Harry asked no one in particular.
"My mother is a very sweet woman," Eleanor defended.
"Mine isn't," Lucinda added.
Harry could only shake his head, relieved that Ana, Cain, and the others had already left.
He didn't know how many more sets of parents he could face in one day.
"I'm done," he declared after he had finished packing his trunk.
With a tap of his wand, he shrunk it and placed it in his pocket; finally allowing himself to feel excited for his time at home.
"Come on then, let's get to the courtyard," Lucinda urged, threading her arm through his and leading him out of the corridor.
"I can walk by myself," Harry protested.
"You can run too," Lucinda pointed out. "We can't have that, can we?"
Eleanor took him by the other arm before he could reply, and Harry resigned himself to being escorted, hanging his head and eliciting a bout of laughter from the two girls.
"One for the gallows," he called sombrely.
"Stop being so dramatic," Lucinda snorted. "You will be fine."
Harry said nothing else but looked up as he felt the icy wind blowing through the front doors, carrying the voice of the dozens of people gathered in the courtyard.
He smiled as he caught sight of Cassiopeia standing off to the side, and the woman shot him a questioning look.
Before he could respond, however, he was pulled in another direction entirely by Eleanor who was waving enthusiastically at a woman who she shared little resemblance to.
Harry never would have guessed the short brunette was her mother, but Eleanor was pulled into a tight embrace, leaving Harry half-free from his escorts.
"Mother, this is Harry," Eleanor introduced him before he could plan his escape.
"It's very nice to meet you, Harry," Eleanor's mother greeted him, shooting her daughter a questioning look.
"He's one of my friends," the girl explained.
The woman nodded, her gaze shifting towards the vampire who was still holding his arm.
"This is Lucinda," Harry explained. "She is my bloodthirsty, vampire mistress."
Eleanor giggled, and Lucinda swatted his shoulder.
The girl was much stronger than she looked, and Harry rubbed the afflicted area as he scowled at the girl.
"Vampire mistress?" Eleanor's mother asked confusedly.
"Harry is just being silly," Eleanor sighed. "He does that a lot."
"I see," Eleanor's mother acknowledged, seemingly breathing a sigh of relief. "I thought…"
"You should never take him too seriously," Lucinda urged. "He has a habit of saying things just to shock people."
"I will remember that," Eleanor's mother said amusedly as she eyed Harry. "Well, it was nice meeting you both. Come on, Ellie, your grandmother is waiting."
Eleanor's eyes lit up, and she threw herself into Harry's arms briefly.
"I'll see you soon," she gushed, taking her mother's hand before the woman activated the portkey.
"That girl is mad," Lucinda murmured. "Come on, it's my mother's turn now."
The grin she sent his way left Harry feeling unsettled, but he allowed her to lead him towards where a tall, pale woman was waiting a short distance away.
There was no mistaking the relationship between Lucinda and her mother.
They were almost identical in every way from the pale skin, black hair, and eerily read eyes.
"Mother," the girl greeted the woman as they reached her.
There was no affection in her tone, nor was there any warmth coming from the older vampire.
"Lucinda," the woman greeted her daughter before her eyes came to rest on Harry. "And who is this?"
"This is Harry, I mentioned him in a few of my letters."
Harry's gaze shot towards the girl, though she ignored him.
"Ah, of course, Harry Potter," the woman murmured. "Yes, what a curious tale you have to tell."
Harry swallowed deeply as he frowned, noticing a similar habit Lucinda shared with her mother.
"Do you all do that?" he blurted. "Lick your lips all the time?"
Lucinda looked horrified by the question, but her mother grinned almost amusedly.
"We do," she confirmed as she leaned forward until she was only an inch or so from his ear, "but only when we get the sudden urge to feed."
Harry shuddered, and the woman laughed heartily.
"How many times do you get the urge to bite me?" he asked Lucinda.
"Only a few times a day," she answered casually. "Don't worry, I won't," she assured him. "I couldn't imagine living forever with you hanging around."
"I don't know whether to be relieved or offended," Harry murmured.
"It is a compliment," Lucinda's mother explained. "We only get those urges when we are fond of someone."
Harry smirked at Lucinda who would undoubtedly be blushing if such a thing was possible.
Instead, she shot him a warning glare, almost daring him to pass comment.
"I'm not so fond of him," she denied.
Her mother hummed sceptically.
"Well, say your goodbyes," she instructed.
"Bye," Lucinda said shortly.
Harry offered the girl a nod.
"I look forward to our next meeting, Mr Potter," Lucinda's mother offered cordially. "Until next time."
The two vanished in a puff of smoke, and Harry simply stared at the space they had been standing wondering if he could learn to do that without becoming a vampire.
"You've made an interesting friend," the voice of Cassiopeia broke into his thoughts.
"I have," he agreed. "It looks like I have a few presents to buy."
"Do vampires celebrate Christmas?" Cassiopeia questioned.
"I don't know," Harry answered thoughtfully.
Cassiopeia shook her head.
"Nevertheless, you should be careful of the girl and her mother," she urged. "Vampires are dangerous creatures, Harry. They are not like us."
"They're not," Harry acknowledged, "but different can be a good thing. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't have come here," he reminded her.
"You are playing a very dangerous game, Albus," Gellert warned. "What were you even thinking allowing him into the school?"
"I didn't know until it was too late," he explained sadly. "Now, I must find a way to be rid of him."
Gellert hummed unhappily.
"The stone is safe?"
"He cannot get to it," he assured him. "Only someone who wishes to take the stone but not use it can retrieve it."
Gellert nodded appreciatively.
"That is quite the piece of magic," he mused aloud. "However, there is still the problem of the Dark Lord possessing your foolish professor. What ae you going to do?"
"I don't know, I am unsure of how to confront the situation."
Gellert nodded his understanding.
"This Quirrell must be killed," he decided. "It is the only way to end the possession."
"I feared as much," Albus sighed.
"It has always been your weakness," he pointed out. "Even if it is to save the lives of many, you refuse to take a single one. The world should be grateful that it will not be down to you to kill Voldemort."
Albus hung his head ashamedly and Gellert felt a stab of guilt for the jab.
"How is Harry?" Albus asked hopefully.
The question brought a sly grin to Gellert's lips.
"He is doing remarkably well," he informed his old friend. "Would you believe that he has quite the inclination towards the Dark Arts?" he added as he leaned back in his chair.
"The Dark Arts?"
"Cassie received a letter from his professor asking how much coaching he'd had in the subject before attending," he explained. "She had only just begun tutoring him in the Black family magic, which as I'm sure you're aware, is unique in nature."
"The Black family magic?" Albus asked worriedly.
Gellert chuckled amusedly.
"He will be the Lord Black," he pointed out, "and it will prove to be useful when he eventually meets Voldemort, as will everything else he is studying at Durmstrang. The boy is shaping up to be quite the wizard, even if he does have a tendency to get himself into trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Nothing nefarious," Gellert assured him. "Cassie received another letter explaining that Harry had intervened when one of his peers was being bullied by an older student. He dealt with the situation rather amicably."
Albus seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
"So, he stands up for others?"
Gellert huffed irritably.
"He is a fine young man, very different to yourself, but strong and will have the tools he will need to survive what he will one day face. I would urge you to not judge him if you are ever to meet. He will not thank you for it."
"I will bear that in mind," Albus murmured. "I am pleased to hear he is doing well. Is he happy?"
"He is," he replied. "Cassie has surprised me with how fond of him she has become. The woman would protect him with her life if needed. And from what I have heard, she means the world to the boy. When the time comes, he will bring any to their knees who may wish her harm, and those he considers friends."
"Has he made many?"
"I believe so," Gellert said thoughtfully. "He has of course been placed with the students that are not purebloods, but from what I do know, he prefers it. He has made the acquaintance of a werewolf, a vampire, a half-elf, and even a boy whose mother is a hag."
Albus seemed to be alarmed by the revelation, and Gellert laughed at his expression.
"I thought that you would be happy that he is not prejudiced towards those that many would see as lesser."
"I am," Albus replied quickly. "I just find myself unsurprised. His parents were close friends with a werewolf."
"Then perhaps he is more like them than I had led you to believe."
"Perhaps," Albus acknowledged. "James was a brilliant wizard, and quite the character. He often found himself in trouble for his mischievous ways."
"Harry is very much the same," Gellert sighed. "What of his mother?"
"Lily was a very bright witch, excellent with charms and potions, but always stood up for what she believed in. She could be a stubborn woman but was one of the kindest I have met."
"That sounds like Harry too. Maybe he got the best of them both."
"I like to think so," Albus whispered, offering Gellert a questioning look as he frowned.
"I see you did not take my advice and send him the wand."
"I did not," Albus confirmed, "but he does have the cloak."
"The cloak?" Gellert gasped as he stood.
"It has been in the possession of the Potters since Iolanthe Peverell married into the family, and it is where it belongs."
"And what of the wand?"
Albus released a deep sigh.
"I will pass it to Harry when the time is right," he assured Gellert. "I do not believe it would be best for it to be in the possession of one so young when it could be taken so easily."
Reluctantly, Gellert agreed with the man.
"See that you do, Albus," he warned. "It truly could be the difference between life and death for the boy, and I will not have that on my conscience."
"Nor would I," Albus replied sincerely.
Cassiopeia watched as Harry finished wrapping the last of the presents he had bought for Pansy. The girl would be spending Christmas Eve with them, and she knew that Harry had missed her dearly.
The presents he had purchased for his other friends had already been sent. Something he had done from the post office in Bulgaria where they had done their shopping.
It was rather endearing to see this side of the boy who was, more often than not, quite serious in his ways. But as he finished the final touches to his work, the smile that graced his lips was unguarded, free of all the things Cassie knew plagued him.
"Is that the last of it?" she asked.
Harry nodded as he piled the gifts next to the Christmas tree.
"I even got Lord Parkinson something for looking after the family accounts."
Cassiopeia nodded approvingly.
Julius had continued to do an excellent job over the years, something that she and Harry both appreciated.
"What did you get him?" she asked curiously.
"A weekend away for him and Lady Parkinson on the French Riviera. I think they will enjoy that."
"They will," Cassiopeia agreed. "What about the others?"
Harry had been rather tight-lipped about what he had bought for his school friends, and he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Well, I had to look into what would be suitable gifts," he explained. "I didn't want to unintentionally offend anyone. Vampires can be quite prickly, and I wouldn't want a clan after my blood."
"That could be problematic," Cassiopeia acknowledged. "Or a werewolf pack."
"Are elves dangerous?"
Cassiopeia frowned thoughtfully as she pondered what she knew about the rather elusive race.
"If they are attacked, they can be very dangerous," she replied, "but they rarely leave their lands unless it is of the utmost importance. Have you ever seen one anywhere we have been?"
Harry shook his head.
"No, I can't say that I have. Ana is the only one I've met."
"And will likely be the only one you ever will," Cassiopeia pointed out.
Harry nodded his understanding.
"What did you get the girl?"
Harry smiled as he began to explain, and Cassiopeia found herself impressed with the thought he had put into the gift.
Ana was grateful for her time away from the rather dreary fortress of a school and had been enjoying her time back in her natural home within the trees, rivers and enormous lake only a short distance away.
It was serene here with mostly the pleasant sounds of birds and flowing water to wake up to.
Still, she missed her friends, but there truly was no place like home.
"Inanna, this was just delivered for you to the Elder Tree," her mother announced confusedly as she entered the room.
"For me?" Ana replied.
Her mother nodded as she handed over the wrapped package with a note attached.
"It's from Harry," she explained.
I know that you don't really celebrate Christmas, but I wanted to get you a gift anyway.
"Harry?" her mother questioned, pulling Ana from her thoughts.
"He's a friend of mine from school," she replied as she opened the box and looked curiously at the tube of metal within.
Inside, was another note and she removed it before reading.
The man I purchased this from assured me this was made by a race of elves that no longer exists and is thousands of years old. I do not know how true this is, but the magic feels like nothing else I have ever come across, and much older than what I experienced during my visit in the Ancient Greek tombs with my aunt.
I thought it should be returned to your kind, at least.
Once more, Ana was pulled from her thoughts by her mother who gasped as she removed to tube that began to glow eerily at her touch.
"Is that Ithilmar?" the woman whispered. "It is," she added as she pointed at the prominent, unfamiliar runes that had formed.
"What is Ithilmar?" Ana asked confusedly.
"It is a metal that was once used to forge weapons and many other things," her mother explained, her eyes not leaving the tube. "The secret on how to forge it has been lost for centuries, and none has been mined since the tribe of Dwarves that did so were wiped out."
"So, it is rare?"
Her mother nodded slowly.
"It is perhaps the most valuable thing an elf can possess," she informed her. "What you hold there, many would give everything they own for, and more. How did your friend find this?"
Ana could only shrug.
"Harry has a tendency of doing things you wouldn't believe," she snorted. "He probably has no idea how big a gesture this is."
"Big enough for Illarion to wish to meet him."
"Really?" Ana asked.
Illarion was the leader of their people and had only ever left the forest twice in his many centuries of life. He was mistrustful of people, even her father who had chosen to live amongst them with her mother.
"Yes," her mother confirmed. "What a curious little friend you have made. I too would like to meet him."
With that, her mother shot a final look of reverence towards the metal tube before taking her leave of the room, and Ana's own gaze shifted towards it too.
It was light but felt strong in her hand.
What she would do with it, she knew not, but evidently the gesture that Harry had made was more worthy than the boy could understand.
Ana allowed a smile to grace her lips.
It wasn't the monetary value of what she held that had elicited the response, but that Harry had taken the time to find such a thoughtful gift for her, even if he didn't truly know how thoughtful it was.
His transformations at school were somewhat easier than being at home, but they were still deeply unpleasant experiences, nonetheless. With the pack, there was always a tension in the air the week leading up to the full moon, something that created many fights amongst the werewolves.
Many here had been turned involuntarily, Cain and his parents included, but being snubbed by wizarding society meant they had little choice but to find a pack to live with for their own safety.
Others here, however, relished being what they were, and enjoyed nothing more than purposely placing themselves in populated areas days before they transformed.
During that time, they would identify potential victims, and target them in their wolf forms.
Cain did not enjoy that aspect of his culture, and though his parents did not join in with this practice, they did not speak out against it.
Fenrir Greyback, however, was their best bet for safety, so Cain did understand their reluctance, and he couldn't say that he was not cared for by the other members of the pack.
Even Fenrir would check in on him from time to time and had encouraged his parents to send him for schooling.
Still, he knew how the world viewed his kind, even those that did not wish to be what they were.
Having seen how others lived, Cain realised that he did not want to be a werewolf. He didn't want to become a monster, but he also knew there was nothing he could do about it.
He frowned as an owl landed outside his window and began gently tapping on the glass.
Curiously, he opened it, and the bird offered his leg where a scroll had been tied.
Unravelling it, he read the familiar scrawl of his friend, one of very few who was not a werewolf.
Sorry I missed you before you left.
Have a good holiday.
Cain rolled his eyes at the given nickname from the boy. Harry had the habit of giving them to his friends, and no matter how many times he was warned not to, he never relented in using them.
If anything, he did it even more.
Even Lucinda had given up chastising him for it.
Attached to the letter was another piece of parchment, one that made the breath hitch in Cain's chest, as did the second note written at the bottom.
One day, I will find a way that I can be with you at your worst, but for now, this will have to do.
I hope it helps as much as I believe it will.
The gift was a monthly supply of the Wolfsbane potion that would be delivered to him and the others whilst they were at school.
Cain had heard of it, and many werewolves whispered of it when Greyback wasn't around, but it was too expensive to brew or purchase.
He could only stare at the declaration as his eyes welled with tears.
This gift wasn't just for him, but all of the two dozen or so werewolves at Durmstrang.
It must have cost Harry a fortune, but more than that, it truly was the thought that went into the gift that counted.
Harry cared enough to think of them all and had ensured that their transformations would be that much more tolerable.
Cain had never experienced the emotions that he was in this moment.
It was overwhelming, and he could only laugh through his tears as he held on to the piece of parchment for dear life, shaking his head at gesture.
Lucinda had returned to the coven with her mother, had finished all of her homework within the first few days of doing so, and had even begun reading ahead in the subjects that she had really taken an interest in.
Although she had human magic, and she thrived in many of the branches, she felt herself drawn more to the obscure magics she had been able to sample during her evening classes with her fellow vampires.
She knew that she would be naturally drawn to blood magic, a subject that was on offer to all students but studied very differently by her kind.
The humans would explore their own blood and unlock the capabilities it possessed, but Vampires were focused more on the life force of magical creatures that roamed the earth.
It was a fascinating topic, but it was Runic Studies and the Dark Arts that had piqued her curiosity.
As a creature of darkness, she had quite the talent for the branch, even if Harry seemed to have an even more natural affinity for them.
Harry seemed to be talented at almost everything he tried and would likely become an exceedingly gifted wizard in the years to come.
Lucinda wasn't jealous.
Harry would one day perish whilst she would live on century after century.
If anything, she admired the boy for his work ethic and talent, even if he did have a tendency to push his luck with her.
Still, the thought of him brought a smile to her lips.
She wouldn't admit it, but she had grown rather fond of him.
He judged no one for what they were and took a genuine interest in her culture.
Harry was just one of the rare, good people her mother sometimes spoke of, but there was no ignoring the other side to him.
He carried a lot of anger and hatred towards those that had wronged him, and when he thought that no one was watching or he allowed himself to become lost in his thoughts, it was possible to get a glimpse of his inner-most turmoil and emotions through his blazing eyes.
Nonetheless, Lucinda did not hold that against him.
Anyone whose parents were murdered in front of them as a babe would carry it with them wherever they went.
A knock on her bedroom door sounded, and Lucinda adjusted her hair before answering it.
"Is this handwriting familiar to you?" her mother asked the moment she did so.
"Harry," Lucinda whispered, reaching for the missive the boy had sent.
Her mother grinned as she held it out of reach for a moment before handing it to her when Lucinda glared in response.
"No, not fond of him at all," her mother commented amusedly. "What does Mr Potter have to say?"
Lucinda said nothing as she opened the note, a frown marring her features as a necklace spilled to the ground.
Before she could grab it, however, her mother retrieved it, holding it between her long, pale fingers as she inspected the jewellery.
Lucinda's eyes widened as she noticed the shape, and she vowed to herself that she would bite the boy the next time she laid eyes on him.
"A crown?" her mother enquired.
Lucinda swallowed deeply as she turned her attention to the note.
I didn't know what kind of gift you'd like, but I thought you'd appreciate it this.
You're probably promising to hurt me in some way when we are back at school, but just look into the pendant before you do.
It reminded me of you when I saw it, and I just added my own little touch to make it more personal.
Lucinda frowned, her anger already fading at his words.
Harry had a way of infuriating her as easily as he did in calming her.
It was frustrating, but something Lucinda had grown used to since knowing him.
"He says to look into the pendant," she murmured.
Her mother was already doing so, wearing an expression of surprise.
"What is it?" Lucinda asked.
"Look into the red stones," her mother whispered as she handed her the silver chain, licking her lips hungrily.
Lucinda held it up to her eye, her gaze sweeping across the stones, her skin tingling as a familiar smell filled her nose.
"It's a constellation," she declared when she saw the formation of stars within.
Her mother nodded.
"That's not the important thing," she pointed out. "The stones, they are formed from his blood. He has given you a promise of protection. It is quite the vow. The constellation denotes the family that is protecting you…"
"The Potters," Lucinda acknowledged, only to be taken aback by the sudden serious look her mother gave her.
"No," she denied. "The constellation only brings one family to mind, one even more prominent than the Potters in Britain."
"Who?" Lucinda asked curiously.
"The Blacks," her mother said thoughtfully. "Harry must somehow be the future Lord Black."
The woman fell silent as she pondered her observation, and though Lucinda did not fully understand the significance of it, she had heard of the Black family.
There wasn't a person in the magic world that hadn't.
They were among a few families so prolific that their names were whispered and held with respect, even amongst the vampires.
The Flamels were perhaps the most recent edition to that exclusive list, the Blacks and Slytherins predating them considerably, but even more so was the name Peverell, the three brothers that had bested death and been rewarded by the deity that couldn't harvest Lucinda's kind.
"He will be Lord Potter and Lord Black?" she asked.
Her mother nodded.
"And with it, he will become an exceptionally influential man," she mused aloud. "With what he achieved as a babe and the prominence of his blood, he could well become more than most can begin to anticipate. It will be interesting to watch him."
Her mother left after making the rather ominous comment, and Lucinda looked upon the necklace once more, still deciding whether or not she was going to bite the boy when she saw him next despite what he might one day become.
"He truly is quite the thoughtful boy, isn't he?" Gellert asked.
The former Dark Lord felt a sense of pride in the boy he was coaching, albeit unknowingly to all other than himself and Cassiopeia.
It gave him hope that Albus was indeed wrong to be concerned about the Horcrux that dwelled within Harry.
None suffering the ill-effects of the vile influence of such magic could show such compassion.
"He is," Cassie agreed. "I believe he will make a fine lord."
Gellert nodded his agreement.
"I am inclined to agree, however, it is Christmas Day," he pointed out. "Go and spend it with him before he is away until the summer."
"His little friend is there," Cassie snorted.
"And so should you be," Gellert returned. "In case you haven't noticed, my dear, you are all the family he has. He thinks more highly of you than any other. If what he has done for those he knows for such a short time is astounding, imagine what he would do for you."
Cassie shook her head.
"There is nothing I want from him," she murmured, "just to see him live."
Gellert smiled at the woman.
When she had first broached the subject of fostering the boy, her focus had primarily been on ensuring the continuation of her family so that it would not be absorbed into the Malfoy line.
Now, she didn't make such comments, only wishing Harry well and to live s happy, fulfilling life.
"I suppose I had better go home," she decided, eliciting a nod of agreement from Gellert.
"Enjoy your time with him," he urged. "You will miss the boy when he's gone."
Cassie narrowed her eyes at the man as she left, though there was no hint of malice or irritation in the glare.
She truly had grown fond of the boy, more than she would ever likely say, but Gellert could see it.
He always could seemingly read the woman's thoughts.
It had been only a little less than six months since Pansy had last seen Harry, and in that time, he seemed to have changed considerably. He looked older, more focused than ever, and even carried himself differently.
Whatever he was doing at Durmstrang was having a positive impact on the boy.
It wasn't as though he had ever been lacking in any way, but he was more self-assured now, confident, and Pansy was truly pleased for him.
Despite her wish for him to have joined her at Hogwarts, she couldn't deny that he was in the right place.
"So, Draco spent most of the day as an ass?" Harry asked amusedly.
Pansy nodded, laughing at the memory.
"I wish I could say that he learned something from it, but he hasn't," she sighed. "He's still unbearable."
Harry hummed disapprovingly.
"He will get what he deserves one day, as will his father."
Harry had never made any secret of his disdain towards the Malfoys, nor any other that had followed Voldemort.
As far as he was concerned, they were just as responsible for the death of his parents as the Dark Lord had been.
"How is Hogwarts anyway?" he asked curiously.
"I like it," Pansy declared. "It's clear to see why it is considered one of the best schools in the wizarding world. The Professors are al amazing at what they do. Even if Binns is boring, he knows his subject."
"And you study all your subjects until sixth year?"
"We pick additional ones at the end of second year, and if we do not perform well enough in our OWLS, then we are unable to continue with them for NEWTs."
"That makes sense," Harry murmured. "We study everything until the end of second year, and then the professors decide if we are talented enough to continue with them moving forward."
"That makes sense too," Pansy replied thoughtfully. "Our schools are so different."
"They are," Harry agreed, "but Hogwarts sounds good, apart from prats like Malfoy."
"You must have some too."
Harry frowned as he nodded.
"More than a few," he acknowledged, "but they leave us alone for the most part, and if they don't, they will learn to."
Pansy did not doubt his words, but Harry didn't comment further as he handed her a wrapped package from a pile below the Christmas tree.
"Enough about school and open your gifts," he urged.
Pansy smiled as she accepted the present and nodded for him to do the same.
"Harry, you shouldn't spend so much gold on me," she chastised as she held up the potions kit he had brought her.
The silver cauldrons alone would have cost a fortune, and everything else in the set likely matching them in value.
"I have more gold than I will ever be able to spend," Harry said dismissively. "Why wouldn't I spend it on my friends too."
Pansy smiled at the boy.
"Have you made a lot of friends?"
"A few," Harry confirmed. "Cain is a werewolf, Lucinda is a vampire, and Ana is a half-elf. There are others, but they're the ones I'm closest to."
"Girls?" Pansy questioned.
Harry nodded as he handed her another gift.
She didn't know why she felt a pang of jealousy at the revelation, but it was a feeling Pansy could not ignore so easily.
"What about you?"
"Well, all of the first-year Slytherins stick together," she explained. "It's the easiest way to survive the scorn from the other houses. Daphne, Tracey, and Millie are okay, and you know all about Draco. Theo and Blaise keep to themselves mostly, but Crabbe and Goyle are stuck to Draco's side."
"Like simple bodyguards?"
Pansy giggled as she nodded.
"They are quite simple."
Harry snorted amusedly and held up the leather bracelet adorned with the silver wolf head Pansy had bought for him.
It had reminded her of Harry when she saw it in Knockturn Alley, so she had gotten it for him.
"A wolf?" he asked. "Not a snake?"
Pansy shook her head.
"You're more like a wolf," she replied. "You're a leader, kind to those you see as your family, and quite terrible to your enemies."
Harry smirked as he nodded.
"I suppose that's true," he conceded.
Pansy offered him a smile as they continued opening their presents, and when the last had been divested of its paper, she pulled him into a tight hug.
"I've missed you," she whispered.
His grip around her tightened.
"I've missed you too," he replied as he released a deep breath. "We will have the summer, and we can do this every year," he promised.
Pansy smiled once more as she nodded.
"I'll hold you to that, Harry."
She would, and she had no doubt that Harry would keep to his word.
He was her first and best friend, and there was no amount of distance or any other that could change that.
She hoped he felt the same, and though he had never given her a reason to doubt him, it worried her that when he realised his worth in the world, that he would perhaps move on.
No, that wasn't Harry.
Pansy knew him better than any other, and he would not simply abandon her.
No matter what happened, Harry would be her friend for life, and for that she would always be grateful.