Questions/Fears Concerning:

Nitpicking—If you nitpick, how did you get through the original Harry Potter books? Did you keep a notebook beside you to jot down every tiny bit that bugged you? Did you mail it to JKR? Is it even possible for you to enjoy any story at all? Now, don't confuse what I'm saying, I really like intelligent critiques and questions about things I've done with the characters/plot, but questioning me over things I've already explained and (in my view) justified just wastes everyone's time.


Part 26: Moving Pieces

It was July 30th.

Tomorrow was Harry's birthday.

Talk of it had begun the day before, thanks to Remus, and now Pomona, Poppy, and Albus were orchestrating a party for both Harry and Neville. Susan and a few other Hufflepuffs had been invited, and though Draco was mentioned, Severus admitted it may not be wise to include him due to recent events. As much as it pained him to exclude his godson, the reason he had to was clear. The last thing the Malfoy family needed was close access to Harry Potter, even if it was through their son. The Dark Lord would expect them to tell him and be prepared to act on the opportunity. He would not respond well when he discovered they hadn't.

Severus made a mental note to himself to tell Draco of his reasons. The boy would understand if kept informed.

The party would be held at Hogwarts, as it was the most secure location to host it and because everyone had sure access to it (unlike the Flamel's home).

The Flamel's would not be attending, but they had assured Albus that they would be holding a private party for Harry in the near future, just the three of them. Severus was pleased, knowing Harry deserved to experience some semblance of family and that he would get it through the Flamels.

Severus shook his head as his thoughts moved on.

Sirius Black would be coming to the party.

The man had apparently recovered enough to leave St. Mungo's, at least for the party, and was well on his way to making a (nearly) full recovery. According to Remus, he was still the Black they all remembered — which meant he was still immature, stubborn, and rash.

Oh joy.

Severus was not looking forward to seeing him again, but knew it was unavoidable. However, as he thought about it more, his grimace morphed into a smirk. Black was certainly in for a surprise with Harry. And how would he respond to learning that his godson looked up to old 'Snivellus'?

Hmm, perhaps seeing Black would not be so painful after all.

O o O o O

Harry was excited. The Flamels had informed him of the party the day before. He had already gotten Neville a present and decided to give it to him at their party. It was a Herbology book from the Flamel library. Nicholas had been kind enough to copy it for him.

Unfortunately, the Flamels would not be attending the party. They valued their privacy and felt it best for no one to know who Harry was staying with — thus, they would remain at the cabin. He understood their reasoning, and after their promise of a private party with just the three of them, Harry was happy to let things be.

The other thing he had learned was who would be there. He was happy Susan and a few other Hufflepuffs would be there, including Cedric Diggory, Hannah Abbot, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Ernie Macmillan. He was disappointed Draco wouldn't be there, but understood the Malfoys' current position. He also knew a few professors would be there, including Professor Snape. However, of those attending, the person he was most curious about was Sirius Black, the man who was apparently his godfather.

Nicholas and Perenelle were upfront with him. As things stood now, Sirius Black was not well enough to be anyone's guardian; however, if/when he recovered, Harry would be allowed to choose who to stay with.

Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that, but, if the Flamels' expressions were anything to go by, they hoped Harry would remain with them. Harry's heart had swelled at coming to that conclusion.

"Ready, Harry?" Nicholas asked, entering the room.

"Yeah," he answered, Neville's gift under his arm.

"I've temporarily connected the floo to Albus' office. Just say 'Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts, yellow socks'. The last part is the password. It's very important. Albus will have a portkey for you to return."

"Okay."

"Have fun, Harry, and Happy Birthday," Perenelle said with a hug.

With that, Harry smiled and took a handful of floo powder before doing as Nicholas had said, vanishing in a flash of green.

O o O o O

Severus stood in the back corner, content to simply watch.

Dumbledore, Flitwick, and Madam Longbottom were talking by the table stacked with gifts (for Harry and Neville). Minerva, Poppy, and Pomona were chatting by the cake, no doubt discussing the latest fad in witch apparel. Neville, Susan, Hannah, Justin, Ernie, and Cedric were with Harry on the far side, waiting for the time to open presents and to eat cake while playing 'pin-the-tail-on-the-cat'. Lupin and Black were near another corner, Lupin no doubt there to hold back Black in case he tried to ambush Harry.

He needn't have worried. It appeared the mutt was content to just stare at his friends' boy.

Severus wondered how long Black's stupor would last though.

"Time for presents!" Dumbledore declared, motioning everyone to the table and conjuring two chairs for Harry and Neville.

Severus inwardly rolled his eyes at the old man's enthusiasm as the rest of the children crowded around the table and most of the adults moved to stand a few paces behind. Severus, however, remained where he was. He could see just fine and didn't feel inclined to be any closer to Black than he had to be, or anyone else for that matter.

The gift opening went on, Harry and Neville both receiving items of usefulness and pointlessness. They received a few books, plenty of candy, and a few other items.

Severus had given Harry a book called, 'Medical Potions' and Neville, 'Vital Herbs for Vital Brewing.' Both boys were clearly ecstatic and thanked him profusely before remembering his 'no gushing' rule. Although he was the only professor who gave them gifts, he was not concerned with 'showing favoritism' as he made his expectations abundantly clear. To put it simply, Harry and Neville's peers would want no gift from him, for fear of displeasing him in not meeting his high standards.

Black glowered at the books but said nothing, no doubt thinking his gift would blow Snape's out of the water.

Thus, Harry opened the next item.

It was a Nimbus 2001. The gift itself wasn't a surprise, nor who it was from. What was was Harry's reaction to it.

Harry's eyes didn't glow as brightly as most would have expected from a boy his age when he removed the wrappings; granted, the last time Potter had ridden a broom was the day Draco had almost lost his life. Fortunately, Severus was certain no one save himself noticed this, especially when the other children began 'ooo'ing over the expensive gift.

"Thanks, Mr. Black," Harry said politely as Cedric practically drooled over the elite broom.

"Please, Harry, just Sirius, not that I'm that serious of a person," Sirius quipped with a large smile.

Severus tried not to roll his eyes but failed. Fortunately, no one was looking at him.

"Your father was an excellent Quidditch player. I wouldn't be surprised if you follow in his footsteps. You'll be able to try out for your team this year," Sirius continued.

"Maybe," Harry agreed, but Severus could tell his heart wasn't in it, even though it was clear he had been touched upon hearing about James.

From there, the present opening thankfully finished and the cake was brought out.

"Hey, Dobby!" Harry greeted as Dobby and two other house elves came out, carrying a gigantic cake between them.

Severus wondered if there was any icing left in the world after the creation of the cake before them. The elves had clearly outdone themselves.

"Hello, Master Harry, sir!" Dobby eagerly greeted while balancing the cake with the other elves onto the table. "Dobby hopes Master and his friends like the cake!"

"I'm sure we will, Dobby, it looks great," Harry answered, causing Dobby and the other elves to beam.

With cake came more mingling that Severus skillfully avoided, although he was not averse to eavesdropping, especially as Black and Remus approached Harry when the party was nearing its end.

"I hope you enjoy your new broom, Harry," Sirius began, a little awkwardly. "I know some might consider it a bit much, but considering how many birthdays of yours I've missed. . . ."

"I think it's brilliant. Thanks for it again," Harry said, glancing at Remus who was beside Black.

Neville and the other children were either getting ready to leave or politely giving Harry and his Godfather a moment.

"It was my pleasure, Harry," Sirius said with a smile.

Severus wondered if Black knew he was staring stupidly at the boy. Probably not.

"You look so much like James, you know," Sirius commented offhandedly. "Except for your eyes. Lily's eyes."

Harry shuffled uncomfortably, understandably feeling awkward.

"Well, Remus tells me you were sorted in Hufflepuff," Sirius continued, no doubt realizing how he was making Harry feel and deciding to change the subject. "I'll admit, I'm a bit surprised that James' son is a 'Puff."

"Many people are," Harry said with a shrug. "But I told the hat to put me in the best place for me, and it was Hufflepuff."

"So how is Professor Sprout as a Head of House? She wasn't a Head when I was a student here."

"She's great! I'm glad she's my Head of House," Harry said.

Severus wondered why he didn't comment on the lessons she was giving him about magical control. Ah, well, it was the boy's business.

"Is she your favorite professor then?" Sirius asked, interested.

"Well, I do like the way she teaches a lot, but my favorite professor is actually Professor Snape."

Uh-oh . . . this was about to get very interesting.

Severus remained as he was, hoping against hope that Black would not look his way. He didn't. He was too gobsmacked.

Remus didn't seem surprised by Harry's choice, but he was looking at Sirius worriedly.

Hmm, so the former wolf had not forewarned his friend, Severus mused.

"Snape?" Black managed.

Harry nodded, misreading Black's expression as one of confusion rather than shock. "He's brilliant. He's Head of Slytherin and teaches Potions. He's the one who gave me the medical potions book and Neville that book on vital herbs. He's helped me a lot. He's why I got into parselmagic and he also helped me get Coral, see?" he said as Coral poked her head out from his sleeve. Harry suddenly paused, and Severus was able to conclude that Coral had said something to him.

Fortunately, before the situation could spiral out of control, Dumbledore took that moment to approach Harry. Severus wasn't sure if he was relieved or annoyed.

"Ready to go, Harry? Your caretakers are waiting," he said.

"Yes, sir," Harry said, giving Black a peculiar look before giving him a parting nod. "Good bye, Sirius and Professor Lupin."

"Bye, Harry," they said, though Sirius seemed to be on autopilot.

As Harry was guided away by the Headmaster, Sirius looked to Remus while Severus continued to appear aloof and oblivious to the recent discussion. He watched Harry say goodbye to his friends before they departed.

"He's not what I expected," Sirius admitted as Harry left with Dumbledore.

"I had tried to tell you," Remus said.

Sirius frowned, his eyes sharp with revulsion. "But . . . Snape?"

Remus didn't say anything at first, but turned his eyes to Snape, who fortunately wasn't looking at them — though he could feel eyes on him. Remus straightened his back, coming to a decision.

"He's done a great deal for Harry, Sirius, even saved his life. I think it would be in your best interests to accept that and not try to do anything foolish. I can't say I know Harry very well, but I do know he is extremely loyal to those he cares for. He is a Hufflepuff after all. I think it's time to put aside old grudges."

It took everything Severus had not to start at overhearing Remus' declaration. Since when had the weary man grown a backbone and talked such sense in a 'this-is-how-it-will-be-or-you-will-regret-it' tone?

Keeping his feigned attention elsewhere, Snape was really tempted to glance over and see Sirius' face, but he decided not to risk it. Besides, his imagination was sufficient.

O o O o O

Harry kept pace with Dumbledore who had kindly shrunk his gifts and placed them in a single pouch for him.

This day was by far one of the best days of his life, even with the slightly confusing encounter he had just had with his godfather. This was the first birthday party he had ever had and the fact more people had come than he had expected just made it better. And although he still wished Draco could have come, it had been a nice surprise to see Susan and the others.

"So, Harry, how are you enjoying your time with the Flamels?" Dumbledore asked as they came to the gargoyle in front of his office.

"I like it there a lot. Did Nicholas tell you? He's helped me lift a forth of my block!" Harry said, beaming.

"He told me you had made some progress, but did not elaborate, but one forth? Splendid!" Dumbledore said, quite excited for Harry. "It certainly makes my gift to you even more fitting."

"Gift, sir? You didn't have to. You've already let me and Neville have a party here and—"

"Nonsense, my boy, I want to. Besides, I've had the item in my possession for over a hundred years and haven't used it in nearly a century. I want it to see some use again, and seeing as you're the only person I know who would truly benefit from using it. . . ."

That got Harry's attention, just as Dumbledore knew it would.

"What is it, sir?" Harry asked.

"I'll show you," he said, leading the way up the staircase when the gargoyle moved aside.

Harry followed close behind, Coral sticking out from his sleeve, just as curious as they entered the office.

"This, Harry, is a Modus Cube."

Harry stepped forward, looking at the object now held in Dumbledore's old hand.

It was a clear glass cube with odd little sparkly gears and springs suspended within and strange glowing bubbles floating around its center.

"I was given this when I was in my fourth year of Hogwarts. I had been having some minor problems with overpowering my spells — such as casting a warming charm in my dorm room during winter and setting my bed's curtains on fire. Well, the current headmaster preferred to avoid any further accidents, so arranged this to be placed in my possession." Albus smiled at the memory as Harry tried not to make his amused smirk too obvious.

"Anyway, what you do is cast any spell you wish on or at the cube. Simple dueling spells can even be cast, as the spell's affects will be essentially canceled when it comes in contact with the cube."

"Then what happens?"

"The cube will light up, and, depending on the reaction, it will tell you if you have over or under-powered the spell. Here, go on and cast something. Anything you wish," Dumbledore prompted as he placed it on the corner of his desk.

Harry blinked, before obediently pulling out his main wand.

:Ooo, try that one we found last night. Stupify!: Coral said, excitedly.

:But I've never cast that one before: Harry stated.

:Well, more reason to try it now, then: Coral reasoned. :Besides, it is a simple dueling spell. The book said so:

:Expelliarmus is simpler: Harry pointed out.

:A little boring though: Coral retorted.

:Alright. If it'll make you happy: Harry said, not seeing Dumbledore's amused expression.

Dumbledore did understand parseltongue, after all. Voldemort had made such knowledge necessary.

"Whenever you're ready, Harry," the Headmaster motioned kindly.

Harry nodded, biting his bottom lip as he recalled how to wave his wand for the spell and what the book had suggested one should do for the first attempt.

"Stupify!" he shouted.

A bright red beam shot from his wand, and he had to fight to stay on his feet and not get pushed backward. It struck the cube, but instead of blasting the cube off the desk, the glass shape sucked it up like a sponge and didn't move an inch.

Suddenly, the gears and springs began spinning erratically and the bubbles bounced off the cube's walls before gravitating toward the center and shaking. It only settled after Dumbledore placed his hand on it.

"Well, I'd say if you had hit someone with that stunner they would have been out for at least the rest of the day," the Headmaster stated.

"So I overpowered it, I gather?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Just a bit, but when fighting for one's life, overpowered spells are usually for the best, unless it's a spell that requires very precise control or you're in a drawn out battle."

"Have you ever had to deal with something like that?" Harry asked, unable to fight down his curiosity.

"Yes. Many transfiguration spells need a great deal of control, and using them in duels is a tricky thing, but very useful. As for needing to conserve one's energy in a fight, a few times, but that was a long time ago, before Voldemort."

Harry nodded slowly at that, trying to imagine such a battle.

"Well, now let me show you how to read this," Dumbledore said, refocusing after a moment and pointing to the top inner spring. "You always want this one to stay stationary. If it vibrates, that's alright, but if it twirls, like it had this time, you overpowered your spell by a factor of at least three. The two springs below this act the same way, but twirl if you've overpowered by a factor of two or above one, depending if one or both move. Remember, it depends on how controlled you want to get at a particular spell. There's only a few spells you want to always get exactly—not under or overpowered—so don't wear yourself out trying to get every spell perfect. It's unnecessary. However, as an exercise, to improve your overall magical control, these springs can come in very handy. The two below these tell you if you've underpowered the spell. They work the same way as the others, though the factors are one half and one quarter instead of three, two, or above one. Follow?"

Harry nodded, already seeing the benefits of this peculiar item.

"Now, the bubbles. These tell you how concentrated your magic was in the spell. For example, Wingardium Leviosa requires your magic to be more concentrated than in Lumos. This is partly why wand movement is so important in the levitation charm. It allows your magic to keep its 'density' as it travels to the object you've targeted. I won't go further into the theory, as it gets a bit complicated, but that's the heart of it. With your Stupify, the bubbles gathered toward the center a bit. This is to be expected, especially for someone at your level. Your magic was thick enough in the spell to solidly hit a target several meters away — I'd say three dozen — but it would be easily deflected by an opponent's shield, such as the charm, Protego."

"How do I affect a spell's density?" Harry asked.

"Well, there is a great deal of debate about that. It's slightly different for each individual, but I've found emotion, intent, and focus have a great deal to do with it. You'll need to experiment for yourself to see which affects casting more for you. Nicholas should be able to help you with it. Perenelle may also have some suggestions. She thinks differently than I do."

"Thanks, sir. This will definitely help me."

"It was my pleasure, Harry. I'm glad that it will be of use to someone again," Dumbledore said.

Harry smiled, before his thoughts strayed elsewhere.

"Is there something on your mind, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"No, well, yeah, I suppose," he admitted as the Headmaster continued to wait. "Well, I was just wondering, I mean, I know it's not really my business, but . . . I was wondering if you're okay after . . . what happened."

Harry was finding it very hard to meet Dumbledore's eyes now, for whatever feeling embarrassed about asking what he felt was a rather personal question.

"Why don't you tell me?" Dumbledore asked, moving back to sit on one of the side chairs and motioning Harry over as he set the Modus Cube back on the corner of his desk.

Harry approached slowly, not exactly sure what Dumbledore was saying.

"I was hit here," Albus said, pointing to the uneven dent at the edge of his brow, edging his hairline. He saw no reason to sugar coat his recent injury. The boy knew more than most of what had happened that night and he felt being honest and straightforward was better than trying to dance around what had happened to him. "Dr. Price went in to get the bone fragments here," he continued, tracing where they had cut for the surgery, which was up and forward along his temple to above his brow — Madam Pomfrey had taken care of healing it afterward, as well as charming his hair back.

"'Doctor'? So you didn't see Healers?"

"No, I went to a muggle hospital. Professor Snape and the others felt the muggle world was a better place to seek treatment, as they have more experience in healing severe internal trauma. They were right. Muggles have remarkable equipment."

"So you had an MRI or a CT scan?" Harry asked as Coral lifted her head.

Dumbledore blinked, a bit surprised by the question and impressed Harry knew of the machines.

"A CT scan. It was how they knew where the bone fragments were. It also helped them decide how to go in. The scan showed a detailed version of the inside of my head, you see."

Harry nodded, deep in thought.

"You have that look again. What are you thinking now?" Dumbledore asked, amused.

"Well, I was just wondering what the doctors would see if they gave the Longbottoms a CT scan," Harry said simply. "I mean, when I tried to see what was wrong with them at Christmas, I got a lot of flashes of their nerves and the inside of their heads. They have a lot of scar tissue and it was really hard to make out specifics, partly because I didn't know what I was being shown. I've done a little bit of research, and some of it makes sense now, but to be honest . . . I'm still a bit lost."

"Hmm, I too wonder what the doctors would be able to determine . . ." Dumbledore admitted thoughtfully. "Perhaps I could arrange something with Dr. Price in the future, although I'll need to get Augusta's permission first, of course."

Harry nodded eagerly. "Neville would be so happy if they could go to Dr. Price, and maybe if I was shown more detail of what's wrong with them, I could fix it!"

Dumbledore smiled sadly. "We'll see, Harry. Don't get your hopes up though. The Longbottoms have been hurt for a very long time. Even with your amazing abilities, some things cannot be repaired."

Harry sobered quickly at that and nodded. "Yeah, I know, but . . . it doesn't mean I can't try, right?"

Dumbledore nodded softly, privately amazed by the boy's unwavering desire to help with every ounce of his strength.

"Well, Harry," Dumbledore said after a moment, most of his seriousness gone. "Would you be so kind to give me your diagnosis of my recovery so far? I must admit, although I trust Dr. Price, having a second opinion would be of some comfort."

"Sure, sir," Harry said, bringing his hand up and gently placing it at the Headmaster's temple.

Muttering parseltongue under his breath, images quickly flashed in his mind's eye. From the point of entry, he could make out four trails of developing scar tissue. He correctly assumed these were caused by the bone fragments. Two were superficial and ended at very small globs of scar tissue surrounded by slight bruising of the brain. The third ended a bit beyond that. He could also make out faint evidence of Dr. Price's handiwork, areas recovering from the necessary invasive procedure. As for the last trail, it ended behind his right eye and had noticeably more healing left to do. The surrounding tissue, particularly at the bottom and front of where the fragment had stopped, was a mixture of recovering brain matter, scar tissue, and tiny pockets of blood and bruising. Despite all of that, he saw nothing that sent up red flags or caused him to pause in concern or worry. Everything looked as well as could be expected, considering what he knew about brain injuries and his healing intuition. There was very faint swelling still present (which was no surprise) but overall it was a positive testament to the capabilities of muggle doctors.

Having digested the images, Harry recounted them to Dumbledore.

"Extraordinary," the Headmaster said, never growing tired of seeing evidence of Harry's superb parselmagic.

"Um, do you want me to try to heal what I can?" Harry asked.

"Hmm, if you wish. Dr. Price is confident I can heal well enough on my own now, but your assistance would be appreciated, if you're comfortable."

"Okay," Harry said, lifting his hand with Coral once again with a soft smile. "I'll just focus on the bruising. I don't think I can help with the other things, and I wouldn't want to mess anything up in trying."

"Very good, Harry."

Only later would Dumbledore think back and wonder about the wisdom in allowing Harry to heal such a delicate injury, but at the time he felt no unease in agreeing to let Harry try. And even later, when he would question himself, he would be unable to say he should have acted differently or that it had been a bad decision.

And so Harry did his best to alleviate the swelling and bruising that was left. It was a strange undertaking, but he stowed away everything he was learning to perhaps later assist the Longbottoms. He took care of as much of the bruising as he could, but he didn't want to cause too much change at once. He wasn't sure if accidentally causing any of the scar tissue to move would damage anything, and he already knew he had minutely affected blood flow in some areas. There had been no blood clots, but relieving even the tiniest bit of pressure (due to a bruise/swelling) on an artery/capillary had an impact on the surrounding area.

Pulling his hand back, Harry and Coral found Dumbledore reclining back in the chair with his eyes closed, breathing slowly.

"Thank you, my boy. Didn't know I was feeling a dull constant pain until it vanished. Such a pleasant relief now that it's gone."

Harry smiled. "You're welcome, sir."

Once Dumbledore had recovered, or rather gotten used to his improved condition, he retrieved Harry's portkey and Harry returned to the Flamels.

O o O o O

Mr. Lee, former werewolf and active member of the International Confederation of Wizards, took a seat by his coffee table and lifted his pen.

He had just returned from a meeting at the ICW. It had been the last meeting of the summer and the first Albus Dumbledore had attended since his duel with Voldemort.

The representatives were quick to applaud their Head's determination and resolve, and quickly condemned the actions of the Dark Lord and his followers. It was actually more than what Mr. Lee had expected, but it unfortunately amounted to nothing.

Even though their declaration and kind words toward Dumbledore and the Ministry were a surprise and a pleasant difference from how they had handled the last time Voldemort had caused terror, Lee knew the ICW would do nothing more—not unless more nations were under threat or the Statute of Secrecy was at serious risk.

Mr. Lee scoffed at that. Despite what the politicians said to convince the public and themselves that the existence of magic was not in danger of being discovered by the muggle world, the Statute of Secrecy was. in. danger. And regardless of anyone's attempts (including himself and Dumbledore) in convincing the majority of the ICW that Voldemort was not only a threat to Britain but one to the very existence of the magical world, it fell on deaf ears.

Oh, the members nodded at the troubling words and gave supportive comments and words of condolences for Britain's suffering, but nothing more. Apparently, the little they had done (agree Voldemort was a bad man) was enough for them.

Mr. Lee sighed. Anyone could say an act was evil and condemn it all day long, but that never stopped the assailant from continuing. It didn't save lives. Although acknowledging wrongdoing was the first step, it should not end there. There must be follow through, there must be commitment and a willingness to use necessary force — and with Voldemort, force was necessary.

Mr. Lee had his sources, and he refused to turn his back on the one he and so many others owed their undying allegiance to — Harry Potter.

And so, this was why he was lifting his ink pen and setting its tip to paper. It was why he had contacted his allies. It was why he had warned his family.

He was going to provide unconditional aid.

The time of twiddling one's thumbs was over.

O o O o O

Severus closed his eyes as he sat down and swirled a calming draught around in his glass.

It was 2 am on September 1st.

Voldemort's wound was fully healed, but the Dark Lord was now suffering from an 'unknown' ailment. Of course, Severus knew it was an infection caused by the debris still in the mad man's body, but he couldn't say that. No, he had lied to the monster's face, claiming he wasn't certain of the cause yet, but that he suspected the initial treatment of his injury (carried out by Bellatrix) might be involved.

He had left the room, promising to get to the bottom of it as he strained to keep every trace of emotion completely buried as he heard Bellatrix whimper behind him.

That had been the night before last, but it was not what was currently on his mind.

He could feel something was coming. Voldemort was planning something. Something horrible.

He had just returned from Yaxley's Manor after attempting to 'help' the Dark Lord get to the bottom of his illness.

During his visit, Voldemort was strangely collected, despite his fever and constant discomfort. As he cast the diagnostic spells, Severus could feel Voldemort's magic pulsing in anticipation, and Severus knew from experience it was never a good sign.

"Severus," Voldemort hissed.

"Yes, my Lord?" Severus asked after turning to retrieve a pain relieving potion.

"Children's magic is naturally neutral and very adaptable. It is why in times of old, certain . . . rituals were implemented. I do believe it is time for such power to be utilized again, yes?"

"You, my Lord, have the means to do all that you wish and more. I am honored to be a witness," Severus answered smoothly.

Voldemort grinned.

Severus closed his eyes, the implications of Voldemort's words slamming violently into his gut. Whatever his plans, the Dark Lord already had access to a number of children — children he felt expendable.

And, what was worse, Severus didn't know where the children were being kept.

Severus' hand stilled, the liquid in the glass sloshing up and over the rim as he mentally committed himself to a course of action.

O o O o O

The final weeks of the summer had passed quickly, and Harry could hardly believe he was already on the train.

The Flamels' had kept their promise and had held a private birthday party for him, just the three of them. It had been more than anything Harry had expected, and not because it was glamorous or grand. It had been quiet and personal, a time Harry would treasure for the rest of his life. He had never felt so cherished or loved by anyone before. He wondered if this was what being a family meant.

Sirius Black had written to him a few times, and though he had replied, he honestly didn't know what to say to the man. He seemed nice enough and genuine, but relating to him . . . that was a challenge. Harry just didn't see the attraction to Quidditch. Sure, it was a cool game, and he liked watching matches, but the level of clear obsession Sirius had with it was just beyond him. He could also tell in the man's replies that Sirius was having trouble in relating to his 'hobbies' — not to mention that he never mentioned Professor Snape. So, the difficulty went both ways. He wondered if it would get better.

As for the Modus Cube, he and Nicholas put it to good use, stabilizing his power output and improving his overall control of spells as Perenelle kindly critiqued her husband's teaching methods and Harry's methods of focus. This eventually caused Perenelle to teach Harry how to duel in the last two weeks of summer, which Harry enjoyed immensely. Meanwhile, Nicholas promised Harry to begin teaching him Alchemy during the holiday break.

Harry could hardly wait and found himself thinking of a place other than Hogwarts as his home.

"Hey, Harry," Neville said, entering the compartment with a blond girl.

"Hi," Harry said, glancing at the blond girl in question.

Her plain black robes marked her as a first year, and her dreamy eyed look made her appear even more lost than he had felt when he had entered the wizarding world last year.

"Oh, this is Luna Lovegood," Neville introduced. "She seemed a bit. . . ." He trailed off, not sure how to complete the sentence without potentially insulting the girl.

"Hello, Harry Potter. Neville was kind enough to escort me away from the Minisic Flubsies. They gather at the tracks of magical trains and can suck you under, you see," she said simply.

"Er, hello. Feel free to sit. I got enough candy for all of us," Harry said, risking a 'is she serious?' look at Neville.

Neville shrugged and took an offered chocolate frog as Luna sat beside him.

Moments later, Draco, Vince, and Greg arrived.

"Hey, Draco," Harry said, already offering sweets.

"Hey," Draco said, plopping himself next to him as Greg sat beside him and Vince on the other side of Neville.

They barely glanced at Luna. She seemed unbothered.

"Good summer?" Draco asked after a bite.

"Excellent," Harry said honestly. "Best I've ever had."

Draco seemed a little surprised. "So no trouble with your relatives?"

"Oh, I don't live with them anymore," Harry said, realizing very few people knew he had been placed with new guardians. "I live somewhere else now, but I can't say where or with who, sorry."

Draco and the others blinked — though Neville had learned of this at the party.

"Well, that's good. They are magical at least though, right? And they're nice?" Draco asked.

"Oh, they're definitely magical, and they're very nice. You know, I think . . . well, I think they might want to make my living with them permanent," Harry said happily.

"That's great, Harry," Neville said.

"I'm glad Dumbledore saw sense and sent you to a better place," Draco said with a firm nod.

Harry decided not to bring up the fact he had been kidnapped, taken to Voldemort, and attacked by a werewolf, and that that was why he had been placed with new guardians. He was fine with that incident not being public knowledge, and it just wasn't important anymore. So much had happened since then.

Small talk surfaced soon after, and Luna was introduced to Draco and the others. They didn't talk about Voldemort or anything remotely as serious. Instead, they were content to talk about the fun things they had done during the summer and what they were looking forward to that school year. Before they knew it, the train began to slow and it was time to get off.

As the year before, Hagrid was calling the first years to him, and the Prefects were gathering the rest of the students to head to the carriages.

Harry and Neville stayed together while Draco, Vince, and Greg joined the rest of the Slytherins. However, Harry and Neville were soon joined by Susan and Hannah.

"This way," a red headed, Gryffindor Prefect called, leading the way to the carriages waiting for them.

"What are those?" Harry asked suddenly, staring at the creatures in front of the carriages as Coral stuck her head out to see.

"What?" Susan asked.

"Those shriveled horse things in front of the carriages," Harry said, pointing. "Don't tell me you don't see them."

:I can see them, Harry: Coral assured.

"I don't see anything," Hannah said as Ernie and a few other Hufflepuffs came up.

"I see them, Harry," Neville said. "But I don't know what they are."

"See what?" Ernie asked, looking around in hopes of seeing what they were talking about.

"You guys can't see them?" Harry asked, confused.

The people around had stopped, and it was causing quite the traffic jam, so much so that a Prefect came over.

"What's going on here?"

It was the red headed Gryffindor again. Harry thought his name could be Percy — maybe?

"What's pulling the carriages?" Harry asked, slightly exasperated now.

Percy raised an eyebrow, confused. "Nothing pulls the carriages. They're spelled to move as far as I know."

"No, there's these horse things with bat wings," Neville said, stepping up. "They're in front of all the carriages."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you—" he began, only to stop when two other Prefects came up, one Hufflepuff boy, one Ravenclaw girl.

"Something wrong?" the Hufflepuff prefect asked.

"These two say there's creatures pulling the carriages," Percy explained.

The Hufflepuff sighed and the Ravenclaw looked at Harry and Neville with pity.

"Oh, you poor things, to be able to see such beasts at your age!" the Ravenclaw said. "Though, considering . . ." she continued, glancing at Harry's forehead. Fortunately, she was smart enough not to complete that sentence.

"What?" Percy asked, dumbfounded. He was ignored.

"They're called Thestrals. Only people who have seen death can see them," the Hufflepuff explained.

"Can you see them?" Neville asked.

"No, I haven't seen anyone pass, but I know Thestrals are real. I fell into one in my third year. Fortunately someone who could see them explained to me what I had touched. They're gentle creatures, just generally feared because of the . . . death thing."

Harry nodded slowly. "Thanks for telling us what they are."

"No problem, now let's get to the castle before they start dinner without us," he said.

Getting into the carriage, Harry looked out the window and looked at the castle. Neville got in beside him while Justin, Ernie, Hannah, and Ernie followed in after.

"I wonder who else can see them," Susan said, causing Hannah and the others to speculate.

"If you don't mind me asking . . ." Ernie began, looking to Harry and Neville once they began moving. "Who did you guys . . . see . . . ?"

"My granddad," Neville answered softly.

Harry continued looking out the window, wondering what he should say, if anything. He knew who he had seen die. Greyback.

He could feel the others looking at him now, waiting for him to answer. He closed his eyes.

"It's okay, Harry. You don't have to say," Susan said.

Ernie blanched, suddenly assuming the one Harry had seen die had been his mother. "I'm sorry, Harry, I shouldn't have asked. I was stupid."

"It wasn't my mum," Harry muttered, unable to stomach allowing them to think that. "It was . . . someone else."

That, of course, got their undivided attention, their previous hesitance gone.

"Who?" Hannah breathed.

Harry swallowed, knowing he had to say something now. "I don't care to say, but believe me when I say no one will miss them," Harry stated. "Don't talk about this to anyone. It happened this summer. Dumbledore and the Ministry know, but I don't want it in the Press. Besides, with Voldemort, they have enough to report on."

"Of course, Harry. We promise," Ernie said.

O o O o O

A/N: Sorry this part took so much longer than normal, and sorry for worrying a few of you. I've just been very busy lately, and put that on top of yet another writer's block. . . . Hopefully things will be a bit calmer now. Thanks for all of your kind reviews, they help a great deal and assist in smashing through writer's blocks.

Next part, True Colors, is under construction.