Disclaimer: J.K. is my hero! Deathly Hallows rocked! So, anyway, HP does not belong to me, etc.
A/N: WOO-HOO! I AM BACK! (ducks incoming vegetables) Please, don't hate me!
It was eerily silent on the grounds of Hogwarts that afternoon, except for the gusty November breeze howling through the Forbidden Forest, and the brisk chatter of a group of Ravenclaws just getting out from Herbology. Three Slytherin first years sat huddled under a large Beachwood beside the lake, detached from the small show of life. The group was unusually quiet, almost alarmingly so when one took into account just who they were.
It did not bode well to see Hogwarts' most dangerous duo, just after the famed Weasley twins, so solemn and unassuming on a day when the sun was shining, classes were over for the day, and the mountain of homework could wait until tomorrow. What might further cause the student population to speculate would be the open rift between Potter and Zabini and their newest cohort. A mere three hours after a spectacular disruption in Charms class, and the rumor mill was going wild. It wasn't everyday that one heard the naturally serious Theodore Nott shout in anger, or watched the ever-cheerful Blaise Zabini burst into sudden tears.
Harry really hadn't improved the gossip by petrifying Nott in a crowded hallway and dragging him out onto the grounds with Blaise in tow. They were just lucky that Snape had been otherwise preoccupied with terrorizing some Gryffindors, or they may have found themselves short a good deal of house points.
When he was finally released, Nott scowled at Harry from his seat on the ground, not deigning his ire worth vocal projection. Harry just looked back benignly, seemingly unconcerned by the twin holes being burned in his direction as he idly twirled his wand. Blaise glanced back and forth between the two before staring down at her wringing hands in an uncommon show of nerves.
"So," Harry said at last, drawing out the word as he waited for someone to start. "Anything you want to get off your chest, Nott?"
Blaise looked up hopefully from her fingers. Was he going to tell them now? Would he finally explain what was wrong so they could all go back to pranking, teasing, and causing general mayhem...?
Nope. He was still glaring. Blaise pouted in frustration.
"Are you sure there isn't anything you want to say...?" Harry wheedled. "I hear talking about your issues can be very therapeutic," he added in a knowledgeable tone.
Nott snorted and turned his attention toward the lake in an obvious dismissal. He watched as the water rippled, and caught the silhouette of the giant squid drifting by.
Blaise grit her teeth as neither boy spoke nor moved. Harry began to tap his wand against his leg in boredom.
Nott sighed loudly.
Blaise's right eye twitched.
The squid released a few bubbles that broke the surface.
"ARGH!" Blaise roared, fisting her hands into her hair. "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!"
Both boys flinched back as Blaise turned wild eyes on them, nearly foaming at the mouth. She lunged for Nott, who didn't manage to dodge in time, and grabbed him by the shoulders of his outer robe. She began shaking him as she screamed into his face. Harry could only sit back in shock and slight fear. Maybe he should leave Blaise to work out Nott's issues alone... He would be back at the castle in one piece by morning... probably...
"TELL ME WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!" Blaise demanded. Without giving him a chance to respond, she continued at full volume.
Harry was sure those Ravenclaws had sprinted the rest of the way to the castle. He wished he could join them.
"I- AM- YOUR- FRIEND!" Each word was punctuated by another jolt of Nott's head. Backward... and forward... and backward again... Blaise was going to sprain something soon. "SHARE- YOUR- PAIN!!!"
"Er- Blaise?" Harry interrupted hesitantly. "I think he's suffering a little more pain than he can share at the moment..."
Blaise came to her senses long enough to notice the dazed look upon Nott's face as her grip on his clothes was the only thing still holding him up.
"Oh! Sorry," Blaise apologized gruffly, releasing the poor boy at last.
Nott flopped backwards onto the grass, gasping slightly as he recovered. He finally opened his eyes, only to narrow them again in irritation as he found the other two looming over him in concern, in Harry's case, and controlled anger in Blaise's.
"It might help to talk," Harry prodded again, and then added in a lower tone, "before I have to restrain her."
The sound of Nott's teeth grinding in frustration was barely audible before he sat up in defeat and prepared himself for a rather trying conversation.
"Fine," Nott growled, "you want to know what my problem is? You want to know why I'm so upset? You want to know why Malfoy and his cronies TREAT ME LIKE A BLEEDING COCKROACH?!" His voice rose alarmingly at the end, ringing sharply into the empty air.
"Well, duh," Blaise answered matter-of-factly.
Slightly put out, Nott lowered his eyes to the ground and began ripping up blades of grass. He continued in a more reasonable tone, "I guess... it's because of my parents."
Harry frowned, thinking of Malfoy's remarks earlier that day...
"...Of course, I suppose it wouldn't matter one blood traitor to another..."
"...I'm not surprised. Cowardice does run in the family, after all..."
"...I see Nott's finally found someone else to fight his battles for him. Like father like son, eh? She won't last long either..."
"You know how our house is all about pureblood loyalty, and all that rot?" Nott stated more than asked.
"You mean... like Voldemort?" Harry whispered, eyes hardening.
Nott couldn't hold back the flinch most wizards gave at the hated name, but he nodded all the same.
"Are there really that many supporters in our house?" Blaise asked with slight worry in her voice. "I know they're all anti-Muggle bigots, but-"
"You'd be surprised how many Slytherins have parents who were once Death Eaters," Nott said. "I know that some, like Lucius Malfoy, Draco's dad, managed to weasel out of a prison sentence by claiming they never joined of their own free will-"
"-and then there's Crabbe, Goyle, Jugson in sixth year, his pal Avery, Rookwood's father is even in the Ministry-"
Harry was starting to feel a little less safe about his dormitory. No wonder so many of the older years were always sneering at the 'Boy-Who-Lived.' And all this time, Harry had just assumed it was his penchant for trouble that kept him on their bad side...
"-and then there's-" Nott paused, glancing at Harry, before he gave Blaise a searching look. "Well, there are several others..." he trailed off.
Without noticing the odd expression on Nott's face, Blaise asked, "So, what does that have to do with you?"
Nott's eyes purposely avoid hers for a moment. Then he glanced directly at Harry, as though bracing himself, and said, "My father was Death Eater, as well."
You could have heard the sound of a pin drop in the silence that followed.
"What?" Blaise gasped.
Harry simply narrowed his eyes and waited to see where Nott was going with this. There was obviously more to the story. Why else would the Slytherins treat him so horribly if he was just like them?
"It happened while my mother was still pregnant," he began, staring at the growing pile of shredded grass as though he weren't really seeing it. "My father was pressured into joining the Dark Lord's ranks, like most Purebloods were at the time. He didn't really have a choice. I suppose some part of him also supported their ideals at the time because he certainly wasn't allied with Dumbledore's lot.
"My mother didn't really want anything to do with the war; she simply wanted to survive it. She never approved of my father's choices, either, but wasn't the type to argue against her husband. It went on like that for a while, my father doing the Dark Lord's bidding, and my mother just waiting for his return while in the care of the house-elves. Then something changed.
"My father began to receive more dangerous missions, the kind that involved more hands-on work, like attacks on actual Wizards, rather than just baiting a Muggle every now and then. He was ordered to raid the homes of people who were openly opposing the Dark Lord. I doubt my father reveled in the amount of blood he was forced to shed. He wasn't quite as far gone as some Death Eaters who took the title a bit literally..."
Harry and Blaise listened with growing horror as Nott spoke. This really was the first time they'd gotten such a blatant description of the days when Voldemort reigned. It was one thing to hear about a Dark Wizard defeated by Harry Potter; it was quite another to hear of his exploits described in such detail.
"My father couldn't handle it anymore. Just imagine being told to murder children simply because of their parents' stand in the war... And then to come home every day, to your pregnant wife, knowing just how much innocent blood was on your hands..."
"What did he do?" Harry asked in a hushed voice. He had a feeling this story was about to get a whole lot worse.
"He tried to run," Nott answered, letting out a bitter laugh at just how foolish such an action was. "He should have known better- hell, maybe he did- but no one just quits the Death Eaters! Once you've been Marked, you're in it until the day you die.
"After only a week of ignoring the summons, they came to my parents' house. My father told them to leave, said he was giving up, and even promised to stay out of the Dark Lord's way! His old friends didn't care for that much. They blasted down the door and tortured my father for his impertinence.
"My mother came downstairs when she heard the commotion. She screamed and begged them to stop. Of course, they didn't listen, only laughed. Then she tried to fight them off- my pregnant, meek little mother, who couldn't even argue against my father, tried to take on a bunch of Death Eaters! They disarmed her easily, and she could only watch as they tortured my father for hours...
"They even hit her with the Cruciatus a few times, just for their sick amusement. They finally killed my father, when there wasn't much left anyway, and left my mother sobbing over his body-"
There was quite a large pile of pulverized grass beneath Nott's shaking hands now. None of the three first years noticed, too busy trying to understand all they were hearing.
"The Aurors finally showed up, far too late to actually do anything. My father's funeral was short (just another faceless name for the Prophet's obituaries), and my mother went to live with her aunt in France. She had me a few months later, and the healers were worried there would be complications, but I was fine in the end. My mother, though, has never been the same according to my great-aunt. I wouldn't know. She does act a little odd sometimes, as though my father's still around, like he's only gone on a trip somewhere. Her memory isn't so good, either. They say it's all a side-effect of the Cruciatus and the overall trauma of the event..."
Blaise's face crumpled and she placed a hesitant hand on Nott's shoulder. He sighed, but let it stay.
"Well, that's really all there is. I'm sure almost anyone with ties to the Death Eaters has heard about my father's cowardice, and that my mother is a nutter," he hissed angrily.
None of them said anything for a moment. Then Harry's eyes met Blaise's over Nott's head, and he nodded at the unspoken message. 'Might as well share after Nott spilled his guts like that...'
"I guess you know all about my family," Harry said, then chuckled weakly. "Probably more than I do, actually, with all that 'Boy-Who-Lived' nonsense. But I'm sure I could let you in on a few things the textbooks have missed out on..."
Nott glanced up in interest.
Harry took in a deep breath. "Well, did you know that Blaise and I live in a Muggle orphanage?"
The other boy's gobsmacked expression was all the answer they needed.
"What?!" Nott was aghast. "They left Harry-Bloody-Potter in an orphanage? Why didn't they leave you with a wizarding family, or something? I mean, just about anyone would have taken you in without a moment's consideration!"
"Yeah, right," Harry scowled, less than grateful to the nameless wizards who would have jumped at the chance to adopt a celebrity. "I was supposed to be with my Muggle relatives, actually." He didn't bother to elaborate. Harry refused to even think about the Dursleys.
"That's right," Nott muttered to himself. "I had heard about that… But then, why don't you still live with them?" he asked in confusion.
"Let's just say that my aunt and uncle aren't exactly... magic-friendly... and leave it at that," Harry answered evasively.
"And that's how he met yours truly!" Blaise jumped in with an extra dose of cheer to clear the heavy atmosphere. The tension seeping out Harry was nearly palpable, and she caught his grateful glance from the corner of her eye.
"I've been at St. Margaret's since I was about..." Blaise paused, "two, I think. Don't remember a thing about my own parents, but I don't mind so much anymore. I mean, I'm happy with my life, and I've got my best friends here of course-" Blaise threw an arm around both Harry and Nott, who had gone rather still all of a sudden.
"I do wonder who they were sometimes," Blaise added in a wistful tone, "especially now, since they could have been a witch and wizard! But... they must have died a long time ago, since my files- the ones Harry and I stole from the caretaker's office- say that I was brought in by social services, and I've still got my last name, after all..."
Harry bestowed a look of sympathy on Blaise, which she purposely ignored. She could be as tight-lipped about her past as Harry sometimes, and it had never occurred to him that Blaise might be curious about her parents these days. It made sense, though. Blaise could very well have been of magic descent, even if she did somehow end up in the care of Muggles after her parents died. Harry was basically in the same predicament, after all.
On Blaise's other side, Nott seemed uncomfortable with the new information about both of his friends. It wasn't only the shock that they came from an orphanage, which shouldn't have been surprising when they were both orphans and knew little to nothing about Wizard culture... But hearing Blaise talk about her family as if she knew nothing... It made Nott want to speak up, but a part of him sealed the words in his throat before they could do irreparable damage to the cheerful girl.
"Well, Zabini..." he started, unsure of where take the conversation.
"Blaise," she interrupted.
"You should call me Blaise," she reiterated. She held up one finger as though preparing for a lecture. "We are friends, after all-"
Her tone hinted toward pain if he disagreed this time.
"-so you should call us by our first names! C'mon, you know you want to..." Blaise grinned cheekily and pulled Harry over so suddenly that he nearly fell into her lap. Then she pointed to each of them and said slowly and deliberately, "After me now, H-A-R-R-Y... and B-L-A-I-S-E..."
Nott seemed unamused, especially when Blaise turned her finger on him and declared imperiously, "And you shall be-"
"Theodore," he interrupted before she could name him something ridiculous, as someone of Blaise's standards was apt to do.
Blaise made a face at that, and even Harry shook his head negatively.
"No way! That's so... proper..."
"It's my name," Nott said dryly.
"No!" Blaise thought for a moment before gaining a look of enlightenment. "Your name is... Theo!"
"Theo...?" Harry repeated, testing the name out.
The newly dubbed 'Theo' sputtered, "W-what? Absolutely not-"
"Yes it is!"
"Don't argue with me! The Great Blaise has spoken!"
"The Great Wha-"
Harry glanced between the other two. Blaise had both arms crossed over her chest stubbornly, in a familiar stance that Harry recognized as inarguable. Poor 'Theo' just looked well and truly lost in the conversation, as though wondering how it could have spun so completely out of his control.
"Back off, Theo, or I'll-"
"My name isn't-"
"-turn your hair PINK again!"
"You wouldn't dare-"
"I'm warning you-"
"Oh, you're warning me-"
"Yes, I am, Blaise-"
Harry rolled his eyes. At least one thing was back to normal; those two were incorrigible… Suddenly, he caught sight of a familiar bird approaching over the lake. "Look, it's Hedwig!" Harry pointed out, and if it distracted the bickering first years, then all the better.
Blaise dropped her hands from where they had been inching up Theo's throat, and the oblivious boy turned his head to glance up at the sky with the other two.
Sure enough, a brilliant speck of white was traveling across the grounds, growing closer to the group with every sweep of her wings.
Theo watched the owl approach curiously. "Isn't that Pot- I mean, Harry's owl?"
"Yeah," the aforementioned boy answered absently. "I wonder what she wants?"
He raised one arm in an impromptu perch as Hedwig descended. The owl landed gracefully, her talons digging into the sleeve of his robe as she folded her wings.
"Hey, girl," Harry greeted, as Hedwig nibbled his ear affectionately.
"Oh, she's got a letter!" Blaise pointed towards the scroll tied sloppily to the owl's leg.
Harry unrolled the scrap of parchment and allowed his eyes to scan over the familiar writing.
"It's from Hagrid," he announced without looking up.
"The Groundskeeper?" Theo asked. "What does he want with you two?" His voice took on a wary tone. "You haven't done anything stupid, have you?"
"No!" Blaise scowled, offended. Then she paused in thought and mumbled, "Well, not yet, anyway..."
"It says he wants us to come down to his hut as soon as possible..." Harry trailed off, gripping the letter tightly. "He wants to show us something..."
Both Harry and Blaise gulped. Anything Hagrid found interesting tended to leave emotional scars. After all, Fluffy and the trip into the Forbidden Forest had both ended as a near-death experience. They highly doubted Hagrid was looking for a simple chat about Nicolas Flamel. The idea of another slavering, three-headed pet sounding very likely.
Theo watched their skin take on an unhealthy hue as the two exchanged a frightened glance.
"Am I missing something...?"
Harry accepted the chipped teacup with a pleasant smile, holding that same polite grin as Hagrid set a small platter of rock cakes in front of him as well. The furniture gave a noticeable groan, and Harry imagined that the crack in the old wooden tabletop had stretched just a few more jagged inches…
Blaise sat on his left, nursing her own piping hot tea, and trying to ignore the sagging muzzle buried on her lap, a long string of sticky drool oozing down her school robes. Theo took up the chair on Harry's right, looking rather out of place as he stared around the cluttered wooden house with barely concealed disdain. Sometimes Harry forgot just how Pureblood the other boy was. He held back a snicker as Theo took a dainty bite out of one of proffered cakes. His jaw froze mid-bite in an expression of pain. He carefully placed it back on his plate, and Harry took note of the miniscule indentations of teeth that had barely made it past the rock-hard crust.
Harry pushed his own saucer away and met Hagrid's beetle-black gaze. "So, what did you want to show us, Hagrid?"
"Ready to spill the beans on Flamel?" Blaise hinted, while making a futile effort to shove Fang off her lap. His tail thumped happily against the floor as he continued to drool.
Hagrid scowled at the girl. "Now wha' did I tell yeh about tha-"
"Don't worry, Hagrid," Harry hurried to placate him, "she was just kidding!"
Theo took a gulp of tea to hide his snort. Harry and Blaise could use a few lessons in subtlety. No wonder they couldn't get anything about that Flamel person! They were such Gryffindors sometimes…
Blaise felt a sudden urge to kick Theo under the table. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do… Now, if only she could get the dog off of her legs…
Her attention was drawn away from Fang, fortunately for both he and Theo, when Hagrid started poking around by the fireplace. She had noticed that he seemed preoccupied by something while setting out the tea. Blaise could see an old cauldron hanging over the fire at the moment. She wondered if Hagrid was trying to cook something… Blaise shuddered. She hoped he wasn't expecting them to eat it.
Harry happened to notice the black cauldron as well, although for an entirely different reason. He had sworn for a moment that he could hear a broken hissing coming from somewhere in the cabin, and yet, Sneak had definitely stayed behind at the castle. The cold weather had made him irritable as of late, and the snake had refused to leave Harry's bed, not even for the cleaning house-elves.
There is was again! Harry glanced around, first under the table, and then at the rafters. There had to be a snake around there somewhere… And then Harry realized that the sound was originating from behind Hagrid, just as the giant man stooped over to stir up the dwindling flames.
"Hagrid, what's that over there?" he finally asked.
Hagrid straightened abruptly, nearly knocking his head on the mantle. He rocked forward on his toes awkwardly, and flushed behind his bushy beard. It was the sort of guilty grin that you would expect to see on a child who had just broken into the cookie jar and gotten away with it. It was the kind of glee that Blaise herself had displayed after finishing her Charms essay- the one she had picked up off the common room table and signed her name to. It was the sort of expression that made Harry worry.
"Well, yeh see…" Hagrid stalled, fiddling nervously with a pair of oven mitts. "I got it off a bloke in the pub down in Hogsmead- won it in a game, actually! He was awfully sportin' to give up such a prize, and I've wanted one as long as I can remember…"
"Yes, but what is it?" Blaise interrupted impatiently.
Hagrid gave her a wide smile, not at all put off, and lifted the small cauldron off of the fire. He tilted the rim just enough to give the others a good look at the contents, specifically the shiny black egg inside.
"An egg?" Harry frowned, having never seen one so big. 'Or quite so active,' he thought, as it shook around a bit, tapping against the iron walls very much like a fussy baby in its crib.
As Harry peered at the wiggling egg, Blaise and Theo left their seats to get a closer look. Blaise was daring enough to poke the black shell, flinching from the heat it put off. Theo just stared into the cauldron with a dumbfounded expression on his face. He jerked away with a little shriek as his mind caught up with what he was seeing.
"What?" Blaise also jumped, startled when the boy started to back away from the innocent-looking egg.
"IT'S A BLOODY DRAGON!" Theo told them, a hysterical pitch in his voice.
"Hagrid!" Harry gasped. "That thing's an actual dragon?"
"Yep!" he nodded emphatically, the same excitement as before in his eyes. "The lil' fellow should be hatchin' any time now!"
"Hatching?" Blaise repeated faintly.
"Hagrid, you live in a wooden house… How are you supposed to raise a fire-breathing dragon by yourself?" Harry pointed out the rather obvious fact. He hoped Hagrid would see the light now, so they could put this entire business out of the way before it got out of hand.
No such luck.
"Well, I was sorta hopin' you two would help me out," Hagrid said hopefully. "O' course Theo here's more n' welcome to join in!" He said this as though it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and quite the treat for the boy.
"Um, actually…" Theo had somehow backtracked all the way to the front door by now, and was trying to make a quick exit while he had the chance.
"He'd be delighted!" Blaise cut off whatever excuses he was about to make.
"What!" Theo squawked.
Blaise managed to maneuver herself right beside him so that she could speak without Hagrid overhearing. "If we're going down, you're going with us!" she whispered in a menacing tone. Raising it to a normal decibel, she added, "That's what friends are for, after all!"
Theo groaned. Really, he was starting to prefer enemies.
Finally, the chapter is done! It's a little short for me, but I just wanted to post something.
Coming next, according to our favorite Slytherin Trio:
"A dragon? Is Hagrid insane- Wait, forget I asked."
"Do we really have to get involved? Or rather, do you two have to drag me down with you?"
"Screw the dragon, it's almost Christmas! I've been a very good girl, Santa Clause!"
"Are you kidding?"
"Did you say something, Theo?"
"Erm- Oh, would you look at that! Better hurry, or I'll miss the train!"
"You're not staying?"
"Nah, just try not to get into too much trouble while I'm gone, guys."
"Oh, come on, what could possibly happen?"