My Italian II teacher said lots of words that I liked in class today, so I wrote a story to accommodate them. I translated all of them at the bottom.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of all the books, but not the copyright and/or franchise.

Harry slumped into an unoccupied armchair in the Gryffindor common room and waited for the rest of the seventh years to arrive. He knew it wouldn't be long, because McGonagall had posted signs announcing a meeting just this morning, and he was only a few minutes early.

It was only the third week of school and Harry was already tired. It had been a hard decision, but he, Ron, and Hermione had decided to make up the year of school they had missed running from Voldemort and searching for horcruxes. On the bright side, Harry had almost all of his classes with Ginny, so they were getting to spend a good deal of time together. On the down side, the seventh year course load was harder than Harry had expected it to be. He had even heard that the meeting they were being subjected to now was going to be related to academics. He really didn't have any right to complain, though, since he knew that the work they did this year would determine what kind of job they could get in the years to follow.

The common room quickly filled with Gryffindor seventh years, and Harry quirked a slight smile as Hermione, Ron, and Ginny made their way to the chair he was sitting in. They exchanged greetings and settled down as McGonagall stepped through the portrait-hole entrance and cleared her throat.

"Good afternoon, seventh years. I hope you all are enjoying your final year at Hogwarts?"

A few loud whoops from a couple of the more rambunctious students gave way to laughter from the general group which died after a few moments.

"Good, good. Now, the reason I called the meeting is to address an assignment that is being given to all the seventh years. As some of you may know already, many jobs in the wizarding world require essays as part of their application to be hired. This is true for nearly all Ministry positions, and is also true for those wishing to join the Auror program."

A bit of grumbling broke out at this—complaints along the lines of "what has that got to do with the people who don't want a job at the Ministry?". The muttering died down, though, as McGonagall cleared her throat sharply and let her glare sweep the room.

"Rest assured I understand that not all of you plan to work in the Ministry or become Aurors. These are not the only jobs that require essays—Gringotts and St. Mungo's also usually require essays. However, this is beside the point—informal essay writing is an important skill to learn for people in any walk of life, and as such you will all be writing a five foot essay on a person that has influenced you."

There was a much louder protest at this announcement—the last thing any of the seventh years needed was more homework. But despite their protests, McGonagall plowed on mercilessly.

"The essays will be due two weeks from today. You may ask any of the professors for help if you so desire, and I will be glad to read over any of your final drafts before you turn it in. You're free to go."

And with that, McGonagall turned and ducked out of the portrait-hole and back towards her office.

Perched on the arm of Harry's chair, Ron huffed, obviously annoyed.

"Merlin, why do we have to do this? I'm horrible at writing essays…"

"Well of course, Ron, Professor McGonagall should cancel the assignment just because it's a bit beyond your skill. What was she thinking?" snipped Hermioine, smiling slightly.

Harry laughed at the sulky look on Ron's face. As he made a retort to Hermione's slight jab, Harry tuned the two of them out and turned his attention to Ginny.

"So, who do you think you're going to write about, Ginny?" he asked with a smile.

"Oh, I don't know. I guess I'll write about Mum or Dad. Something easy." Ginny shrugged lightly, then grinned at Harry. "Who are you going to write about?"

Harry frowned slightly. "I don't know. That's something I'm going to have to give some serious thought to." He cocked his head to the side for a moment as though thinking, then shrugged and stood abruptly. "Well, we have some time before dinner…" He glanced over at Hermione and Ron, who were still bantering good-naturedly with each other. He turned back to Ginny with a suddenly sly look on his face. "Want to go find an unused classroom somewhere and burn some time?"

And the look on Ginny's face told him all he needed to know about that.

Much later that night, when Harry had turned in to bed, he stretched out on his back and thought for a bit instead of going straight to sleep. He was pondering the essay McGonagall had assigned them. They had found out at dinner that the entire seventh year class, and not just the Gryffindors, had been given the same essay topic. Harry decided that now was as good a time as any to decided who he would write about.

He had plenty of people to choose from, of course. Anyone from Dumbledore to Hagrid to even Voldemort would have been fair game. Harry even briefly considered writing about Snape—they had never gotten along, of course, but now that he had died and Harry knew the truth about the older man's life, it was easier to divine lessons and warnings that Snape had tried to give him throughout his school career. But something kept Harry from seriously considering any of these choices. A vague memory, locked away in the back of his mind, a remnant of his relatively unpleasant childhood. For a moment, though, he paused to really remember.

He had been only seven years old at the time, a little slip of a kid who was constantly bullied by his cousin and had long since figured out that his guardians didn't love him. He was, however, nothing if not level-headed, and by this point in his young life had gotten over it. He still wished for a long-lost relative to come rescue him, but until then he figured dealing with the Dursley's was tolerable, at the least.

It was the middle of October, and seven year old Harry was running as fast as he could away from his fat cousin and his friends. He launched himself over a wire fence and dove behind a big dumpster just in time for cousin Dudley to decide he didn't feel like fence climbing as much as he felt like going home and getting Harry in trouble with his parents. Harry sat still behind the dumpster until he felt sure that Dudley and company were gone, then slowly stepped back out into the back alley he had fled to. He glanced up and down it, looking for something interesting to delay his going home for the day, and was about to abandon finding a good excuse to stay away from home when he turned for one last look down the alley and realized a dragon had appeared.

Little Harry supposed it was a dragon—it looked a bit like the dragons in the story book that sat on the shelf of his second-grade classroom. It was tall enough to tower over Harry (although that wasn't saying much, really), was covered in silver scales, and had a long snout with smoke curling out of the nose holes. Harry and the dragon stared at each other for a moment, each simply taking the appearance of the other in. Harry was quietly thinking that Dudley must have hit him harder than he had thought the other day, because he was seeing things that didn't exist. The dragon was quietly thinking that he should not have let himself become distracted right before teleporting somewhere, because this was most definitely not his second cousin twice removed's cave, which had been his intended destination.

The dragon was the first one to break the silence. "Che fai, bello?" he inquired with mild curiousity. He had never seen a human child before, after all, and he wouldn't have imagined one this small would be allowed out of the sight of its parents alone.

Harry, with all the eloquence typical of a seven year old, responded with a confused "What?".

"Che fai—oh. I see. What are you doing?" the dragon repeated, realizing mid-sentence that this little human was like his third stepcousin on his mother's side—not Italian.

Harry blinked up at the dragon. "I'm standing here." Then, as an afterthought, "I'm Harry. What's your name?"

The dragon shifted so that he was sitting on his hind legs. "Mi chiamo—sorry, forgot—I am usually called Balauro."

Harry smiled. "That's nice. You're awfully nice, you know."

"Grazie." the dragon smiled back. Harry didn't have to speak Italian to understand the thank you.

"It's just too bad you're not real," the little boy continued with an air of slight disappointment. "You're much nicer than any of the real people I have to put up with most of the time."

Balauro blinked in honest surprise—the boy didn't think he was real? How strange. Or, really, how sad… He pondered the little boy for a moment. Maybe all this kid needed was a little prompting. After all, it was a shame for a sweet kid like this not to experience neat things like, well, dragons. He would just challenge the kid a little, then, and pop out to his original intended destination. Yeah, that would work. He focused back on the child in front of him, who was currently staring at him with a look of equal parts awe and unhappiness. Balauro cocked his head to the side. "Credi?" he asked innocently.

"What?" Harry asked again, obviously confused. "What does 'credi' mean?"

Balauro laughed. This was some kid. "Credi, bello. Pensi, si?" And with that, he disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

Harry stared at the spot where a dragon had been standing not two seconds ago for a long moment. Then, he turned, climbed back over the fence, and began a long walk home.

The next day, he would enlist the school librarian's help in discovering what language the dragon had been speaking. They would discover together that it was Italian, and the friendly librarian would help Harry translate the few words the dragon had spoken, although he would lie and tell her that he had heard the words on the telly.

Even though Harry firmly believed that the dragon had simply been a hallucination, he clung to the one memorable phrase that the figment of his imagination had provided—"Credi?". He held on to it all the way until his eleventh birthday, when he discovered that he was a wizard. That day the question faded to the back of his mind, where it had laid undisturbed for eight years. Now, though, a nineteen year old Harry Potter remembered it, and smiled, and decided that it wasn't so hard to believe that a talking dragon existed in the world.

And then he knew what he would write his essay about.

Two weeks passed, and Harry had no problem writing his essay and even turned it in a few days early, to Hermione's shock and slight chagrin. So it happened that when all the heads of house got together to have a mass grading session, Harry's essay happened to be on top of the Gryffindor stack that Minerva McGonagall was preparing to dive into. As the teachers began their arduous task—Sprout let out a disgusted "Oh, my first one would just have to be on Gilderoy Lockheart" right as Slughorn laughed loudly and wondered aloud how many essays they read would be about Harry Potter—McGonagall curiously delved into Harry Potter's essay. She had expected it to be on Dumbledore or Sirius Black, really, but the actual topic surprised her. The farther she got into the paper, the more confused she became. Why would Potter write about an imaginary dragon?
When she reached the conclusion, however, her breath hitched unexpectedly, causing the other professors to glance up at her in surprise. Realizing their attention had been turned to her, she read aloud the last paragraph of Potter's paper.

"When I was seven years old, an imaginary dragon asked me a question that changed the way I viewed the world. It was simple—one word—credi. His language was Italian, the question: 'Do you believe?'. From that moment forward, every time my family spurned me, every time a cruel child mocked me, every time anyone told me I wasn't worth the oxygen I was wasting, I heard my dragon's voice—Do you believe? Did I believe? Through all my trials in the wizarding world, the question floated around in my subconscious. Do you believe? I've finally figured out the answer to that question. Through all my pain and all my joy, I have found the answer. I can do the unthinkable, I can see the unrealistic, I can comprehend the unbelievable. I was supposed to write about a person who has influenced my life, and I cannot think of anyone better than the dragon who taught me my most important lesson about myself—the secret of my very soul."

McGonagall took a deep, tear-stained breath, and read the last sentence.

"I believe."

END

Translation notes:

Most of these were explained in-story, but I'll go over them anyway.

Che fai: What are you doing

bello: masculine for beautiful. used as a term of endearment

Mi chiamo: my name is, or literally translated: I am called

Grazie: Thank you

Balauro: dragon

Credi: Do you believe

Pensi: Do you think. I got really mad at this one because I wanted to say "think about it, yes?" and couldn't make my brain function well enough to figure out how to write it. so instead I just used this word.

Si: yes