Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter~ If I had, you'd know. And I'm pretty sure that the whole blood magic thing has been cooked up before in a Severitus! story I can't think of right now, so heads up. This story will take a few chapters before it manages to at least look a little remotely original, so bear with me.

The rewrite of Inheritance.

Plans for the future: This will not be an Overpowered!Harry, Dark/Light Lord!Harry, or a slash, or a het, or whatever else you can think of. No significant romance. And... I think thats it. Mayhaps.

Chapter One

'The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.'

Flora Whittemore

Harry frowned at his face, tilting his chin one way, then another, in quiet contemplation. He unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss the thought that he was worrying over something stupid, like some foolish teenage girl who had just realized a zit adorning her nose. Yet, despite this, he couldn't stop. Something was off; something wasn't quite right. He couldn't necessarily pinpoint the reason- was it his eyes? His nose? His eyebrows? Looking at each matter directly, he appeared normal, almost boringly so, in fact; and yet, upon giving up and sending the mirror one last, puzzled glance, his face looked odd once more. Almost...foreign.

"What are you doing to my mirror?" Petunia shrieked from the hall, hands on hips and brandishing a rubber spatula aversely. From the dough clinging to the rubber, and the scent in the air, Harry could tell she was baking something rich, dark, and generally unhealthy for her beloved Duddikins. Cursing himself for not paying attention to his Aunt stomping up the stairs, he left his face as a lost cause, facing his relative squarely. She was an unfortunate member of the peculiar class of people that had a startling, impossible resemblance to an animal, and the mix between horse and human had failed to give her anything attractive to boast about. The woman, all too aware of this, took her failings out on the neighbors and her sister's son, all of which had plenty for her to complain about. "Get out, get out! I don't want you doing any of your freaky stuff here!"

Sending her an exasperated look, he said, "I can't do magic outside of Hogwarts."

An outraged silence greeted his statement, and Harry inwardly sighed. Two taboo words in one sentence; Petunia was positively apoplectic. His relatives' stubborn rejection of all things magic was rather tiresome, though Petunia never got as bad as Vernon. That was a blessing, especially at times like these. "Out! Out!" She cried, pointing her spatula down the hall and towards the stairs, where the door waited patiently. Chocolate batter stuck to the walls with the motion; the woman didn't appear to notice. "I don't want to see you skulking about anymore today until Vernon comes back! Shoo!"

Without preamble, Harry left, heading down the street and off into the nearby park. He had learned from past experience that arguing with his relatives never went well; there was no way to win. Moody's threats had helped a little, and so he had free reign throughout the house, supposedly. Yet there was no secret as to where they wished he was- anywhere but in a ten mile radius of them. To make the tension worse, Petunia had been more nervous around him then ever lately, and usually found some excuse to get him out of the house until Vernon came home. Vernon had had a shorter fuse than usual, as well; they still hadn't gotten over the whole Dudley and the Dementors event, seeing it as a warning they had to take to heart, especially with the current state of the Muggle world. It certainly didn't help that the economy had put Vernon's job at Grunnings in a precarious position.

Not that he minded. He had more freedom this way, and he'd be leaving it all soon. Thanks to Dumbledore.

The Headmaster's letter had been an enormous cause for celebration. He'd be going free, finally able to be with those of his own kind, with those that thought in similar ways. He'd be among friends, among those that accepted him as he was. Only a few more hours until midnight. A piece of cake. One more rich and chocolaty than Petunia could ever make Dudley.

With a sigh, he approached the nearby playground, flopping down upon the broken swings. But the time between his freedom and the current time would be long and torturous, a long upward slog through mud and muck.

It would be the first time he'd see Ron and Hermione after the end of Fifth year and the chaos of the Department of Mysteries. He still hadn't told them about the Prophecy; still wasn't quite sure how. Everyone -here Harry scowled- in Wizarding Britain seemed to know anyway, despite Harry's and Dumbledore's silence on the matter- but he hadn't told them personally.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...

It would be dangerous. He had known for a few years that having friends would only put them into danger. But now, when the threat was real, and ever looming...

Harry leaned his head between his legs and stared at the bark chips that covered the playground. Pounded into nothing by the multitudes of children that had used the playground before he was born, they were more a layer of spongy dirt than wood chips.

But now, how could he ask them to let him rely on them? How could he, knowing full well the danger he was exposing them to? They had escaped the Department of Mysteries- barely. They had scraped past by the skin of their teeth, and, somehow, there hadn't been any lasting damage.

It could have gone worse, Harry knew. Hermione could have never woken up from Dolohov's spell. Ron could have been turned into a vegetable permanently by the brain-thing. Neville could have been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix. Sirius- Sirius had died. Because he had relied on his friends, he had hurt them- and his own pathetic power had not been able to save them. The Order had saved them. Had picked up the mess Harry had created and cleaned it up. Like he was some sort of baby they'd needed to save from it's own follies.

He loved Ron and Hermione more than anyone else in the world. Neville, Luna, the rest of the Weasleys- he had to protect them.

And that is why I must become stronger, he whispered to himself. For them, for their sake; to protect their existence and provide something powerful for them to lean upon.

He could do this. No one need die for me ever again.

XXXXX

"HARRY!"

A warm, bouncing bundle of brown hair took him by surprise. "Harry, it's fantastic to see you," Hermione said, taking a step back and looking him over. "Wow, and you're looking a lot better. Did you do something with your hair?"

The smile on his face became fixed. "Yeah," he said somewhat painfully. "I've had a growth spurt too-"

"That's fantastic!" Ron marched through the doorway, his face a suspicious pink. "I can now run to the press and tell them to stop putting out stuff on your potential dwarf relations."

Harry's jaw dropped. "They haven't actually been saying that, have they?" He asked in earnest, attempting to recall the Daily Prophet newspapers he'd gotten while at the Dursleys. Usually, it was no better than the stuff he wiped his arse with, and didn't bother with it- but- if they were printing such ridiculous things-

Ron grinned. "Well, maybe not," he admitted. "But I'm sure that it was on their idea list." He sat down on the bed with Hermione. "Fleur's downstairs, having one of those weird woman-fights with my mother, so I decided it'd be safer up here."

"Or they just caught you staring at Phlegm's arse," Ginny's voice came from the doorway. "Really, Ron, could you have been a little more obvious?" The suspicious pink flush to Ron's cheeks turned a deep, mottled red in his ears.

They chuckled. "Here's your breakfast, Harry," Ginny continued, dumping it on his lap. "Phlegm is Fleur," Hermione offered an explanation to Harry's confusion. "She and Bill have gotten engaged- bound to be married in the summer."

"Mum's positively apoplectic about the whole thing," Ron offered, attempting to redeem his dignity by offering his own tidbit of information. His ears continued to glow a rosy red. "Had a screaming match with Dad over it."

Harry allowed the conversation to flow over him, soothing old wounds and worries he hadn't known existed. They were here, and they were safe. The ecstasy of it made the time fly by, the news flowing over him; Tonks was feeling bad about Sirius; Percy refused to make good with the family; and Fred and George were doing fantastic in their joke shop.

Presently, Ginny left when Molly Weasley began calling for her, and she grumped her way down the stairs, leaving the Golden Trio behind to stare at each other, the mood of the conversation turning serious. Harry could see it, as if it were a thundercloud rumbling over the room. The war was suddenly very real and very present in a way it hadn't been when they'd been laughing with Ginny.

'I think they ought to know. You do them a disservice by not confiding something this important to them.' Dumbledore's words, spoken so softly in the Weasleys' shed the last night, returned to him. After the Headmaster had picked him up last night, he'd traveled with him by Apparition to meet the new Defense professor -Horace Slughorn- as well as talking with Dumbledore in the relative safety of the Weasley spider-infested broom shed, where he'd been told that Dumbledore wanted to take a greater hand in his education.

Harry was, to be honest, ecstatic about it. He was sure to learn all of the state of the art spells, all of the new ways to jinx and hex and-and- everything!

It was a wonderful opportunity. Such a wonderful opportunity that Harry couldn't help but think it was too good to be true. The lessons would help him protect his friends, surely, but why was Dumbledore offering them now, instead of offering them years before?

He took a deep breath. No matter. He had to tell them. "The stuff in the newspapers- the whole thing about the Prophecy- is true." Harry blurted. It was okay, to tell them this; they wouldn't ignore the danger that came hand in hand with it and they might even realize it was safer for them to be farther away from him.

For a moment, silence reigned among the three occupants of the room, the only sounds coming from beyond the door, from the kitchen a floor below. Ron finally asked, confused, "I thought the Prophecy smashed?"

"Dumbledore had a second copy," Harry said, feeling like he was confessing some dark, dangerous secret. A burden he hadn't known about was being lifted from his shoulders; suddenly, the world didn't seem so insidious after all. "And we listened to it, after... after the Department of Mysteries."

It was out. He had said it.

And they continued to stare at him, as if at a loss for words. A great and terrible dread blossomed in his chest. The thing that he had been hoping for became the thing he most feared. Merlin- would they abandon him? Would they leave? Would the danger drive them away?

Hermione finally said, with a shuddering breath, "Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry."

Ron nodded. "I don't know what you're supposed to say in this situation," he admitted. "It's horrible. But saying these sorts of things won't make it all go away, will it?" At Harry's slight shake of the head, he nodded. "But I can say that we'll be by your side, always."

He had told them everything about the prophecy. And they continued to love him as he loved them, despite the dangers.

Relief left him dizzy; Harry could only nod his response. They seemed to understand.

And yet, something kept him wary, something kept him from entirely relaxing- the image of Sirius falling into the veil, into death's grasp.

It would be better for them, Harry knew, if they had backed away from me when I told them the prophecy. But they hadn't. And, if he were honest with himself, he would have most likely crumbled into dust without their care and support. He relied on them much more than they relied on him.

That, more than anything, placed them in harm's way. And, more than anything, he knew he would truly give up if they died. "It'll be really dangerous," he said, subtly attempting to scare them, to quietly give them an opportunity to go off and save themselves. He would not drag them into hell with him. Refused to.

"When have things not been dangerous?" Hermione and Ron grinned. "We've stuck by you this far, mate. A little thing like a prophecy doesn't mean anything to us!"

Harry made himself grin as well. "Alright. Thank you." He'd have to work harder to protect them if they didn't want to leave. But it was worth it- it was worth it, for them.

The Golden Trio smiled and laughed at each other, and the dark atmosphere lifted.

XXXXX

A week before September first rolled around, Harry and the Weasleys were being escorted to Diagon Alley by a full escort of Aurors. Eerily silent and serious, they marched in front and behind them, Ministry attire smooth and flexible, the more so for better movement. Harry found himself respecting a part of the Ministry- something that he had never thought possible, with the way he had been treated in the past. However, the escort only served to emphasize the sense of desolation that had spread through the streets. The folk that walked by did so in large groups, steps hurried and swift, faces haggard and eyes wary. The wind, when it bothered to blow, was cold and icy, as if it were made of Dementer's breath. Clothes were no guard against such a wind; Harry shivered and shared a glance with Ron and Hermione.

Voldemort's reign was sucking the life out of Diagon Alley. Windows of boarded up shops stared blindly across the street, yawning open like the maw of some terrific monster. Ghosts lurked in the corners and shadows of the buildings like dust, wisps of a time that had thought that Dark Lords were a thing of the past.

Harry shook his head. The real battles had not yet begun, and the Wizarding population had given up without a fight.

The group split up, with Hagrid -whom had invited himself along, apparently- taking Harry, Ron, and Hermione to Madam Malkin's and the rest of the Weasleys marching off in the opposite direction, headed by Mrs. Weasley. The Aurors left them to their shopping, taking up residence at the Leaky Cauldron. Hagrid stood guard outside the robe shop -Harry suspected it was simply because he couldn't fit inside the door- and the Golden Trio tumbled in, to find Madam Malkin otherwise preoccupied.

"...Not a child, in case you haven't noticed, Mother. I am perfectly capable of doing my shopping alone."

The sound of rustling robes was interrupted by a sharp 'ouch!' "Watch where you're putting those pins, woman-"

"Draco."

The suave voice of Narcissa Malfoy cut off anything else that Malfoy would have said. Harry watched with interest when Malfoy obediently shut his mouth, retreating into silence.

Until, of course, he noticed them in the mirror.

"If you're wondering what the smell was, Mother, a Mudblood just walked in."

Harry watched Ron draw his wand in response. "You say that again!" He cried, arm firm and strong despite Hermione's attempts to stop him. "You- you just dare to call her that again!" Harry frowned at the picture they painted, remaining a silent bystander. The familiar anger was just as strong as it usually was at the word, but- but he didn't want to fly up in his old temper tantrum. He'd learned what happened when he did stupid stuff and didn't think of the consequences. It killed people.

"Calm down, Ron," he said firmly, before turning to the Malfoys. "After all these years, you're still resorting to childhood taunts, Malfoy." He tsked. "What would your father say?"

"A lot more than yours," Malfoy snapped. "Really, Potter, can't you think up something more creative?"

"I should be saying that to you," Harry shot back. "Do you know how many times you have attempted to slight me using my parents, or lack thereof? Do you know how many times Voldemort has tried?" Uncomfortable memories sprang to mind. Stupid Voldemort. Ruining his life. "Perhaps you and the rest of your Death Eater friends should have a Harry Potter Insult Party where you try and make up creative ways to insult me."

Madam Malkin was on the verge of fainting. Sickly pale and muttering rather incoherently, she was the sheep caught between the battle of two different wolf packs. "I- A dangerous thing to say-" she mumbled, casting between the two parties.

"I see that being Dumbledore's favorite pet has given you a false sense of security, Harry Potter," Narcissa Malfoy cut in smoothly. "But Dumbledore won't always be there to protect you."

Harry narrowed his eyes at her. Tall, regal, with long blond hair, she and he were of a height, now. Her face was an expressionless mask, much like her husband's. She was beautiful, in an icy, distant sort of way- a sane version of her sister, Harry might have called her, if such a thing could have been possible. He ground his teeth at the thought of Bellatrix. "Dumbledore isn't here right now," he murmured, staring her down. She kept her eyes level with him easily. "What's stopping you? Fear? Don't you think it'd be nice to share a double cell in Azkaban with your pathetic excuse of a husband?"

Malfoy, enraged, attempted to leap off the stool and teach him a lesson. The robe he'd been trying on got in his way, and he tripped, his face turning an interesting shade of red while Ron laughed.

"Don't you talk to my mother like that, Potter!" Malfoy snarled, restrained by his mother's hand on his shoulder. "Just you wait-"

"Shush, Draco," Narcissa murmured to him. "It's alright," she said in a louder voice. "I expect Potter will be reunited with dear Sirius before I am reunited with Lucius."

Harry grinned, tauntingly. "Not if I have anything to do with it, Mrs. Malfoy."

Madam Malkin, sensing the sudden pause in conversation as Narcissa considered him with ice and something, Harry was astonished to note, like surprise, approached Malfoy and adjusted his sleeves for him with trembling hands. "I think that this left side can come up a little more, dear, let me just-"

Malfoy cried out. "Merlin, watch where those pins are going! Mother, I think we would be able to find a better seamstress at Twillfit's and Tattings."

Narcissa sniffed. "You're right, of course, Draco," she said contemptuously as she glanced at Hermione. "Now that we know what kind of scum shops here..."

Harry heard Ron choke beside him, but there was nothing they could do, with Narcissa there. She glided among them like an eagle in flight, just as graceful and a trillion times more deadly. Draco followed after, sniffing at them as he passed.

"Keep moving, Death Eater." Ron's voice hissed from behind him, looking almost, Harry fancied, like a snarling dog barely restrained by a leash that promised to break any coming moment. Draco's face closed in an odd way, adopting an expression of barely concealed disgust that reminded him forcefully of Lucius Malfoy. He continued forward, acting as if they were nothing but trash to be smashed beneath his shoes, and left with Narcissa.

Harry stared after them, something niggling at the back of his mind, something important that he could not grasp.

"Did you see the Malfoys?" Ron, king of the obvious, asked Hagrid once they left the shop, robes packaged into bags as light as a feather, thanks to Madam Malkin's magicking.

"Yeh, but don' mind their lot," Hagrid replied. "Diagon Alley is too public to do anythin' out of sorts." He then shook his massive head and blinked at the Trio. "You wouldn' mind if we passed by Gringotts for somethin', righ'?" Hagrid asked, surveying them seriously. "And kept it a secret tha' we went?"

Harry could feel the excitement suddenly surge in the air. Something secret? "Of course," Harry and Ron said simultaneously. "Why are we going?"

"It wouldn't be a secret if I told you," Hagrid replied. "And you'll be waitin' in the lobby anyway!"

They subsided into a rather sulky silence as Hagrid led the way, across a couple roads and onto the main Diagon Alley, to where Gringotts, the Wizarding Bank of Britain, stood in all it's alabaster glory. From his previous visits to the Bank, he knew that the majority of the bank lay far underground, protected by powerful and ancient spells and curses protecting the riches of some of the Wizarding World's most prominent families.

They mounted the steps -as pristine as the day they were carved, despite the thousands of billions of feet that had doubtless stomped up and down them daily- and entered the Bank. The goblins ran an effective business and had made themselves a reputation of being honest, if extremely grouchy, hosts.

"I'd like to make a withdrawal, please," Hagrid boomed to a goblin. The goblin peered up at him and said, icily, "Do you have a key, Mr...?"

"Hagrid will do," the half giant stated. "Here it is-" he fished for his key and waved it in the air victoriously after a few moments of plumbing the depths of his pockets. "I would like to keep these three out here, if it were possible."

The Trio groaned in disappointment. "But Hagrid!" Ron exclaimed, "you want us to just wait out here for you?"

"Yeah, I do expect that!" He bellowed as the goblin led him away to another goblin, who took him down a hall, where he disappeared.

Left to their own devices, the Gryffindors found a place to sit and attempted to come up with ideas of what Hagrid was getting from his vault.

"I bet it's some weapon of Dumbledore's," Ron said, gesticulating wildly. "Something to destroy You-Know-Who with!"

Hermione pursed her lips. "Definitely not. It's probably an artifact of some sort that'll help us win the war. Not necessarily a weapon; but a tool, I think."

Harry watched the wizards and witches walk by, business as usual despite the war. Here, at Gringotts, Purebloods and Muggleborns and in-betweens walked by each other without anyone the wiser. Why did Voldemort vouch for the Pureblood supremacy cause, when he was Half-Blooded himself?

"Mr. Potter?"

A rough voice interrupted their conversation. Harry examined the newcomer curiously. A goblin, with the clich├ęd exaggerated nose and small stature, stood primly before them. "Are you Mr. Harry Potter?"

"I am," Harry replied cautiously. "Who are you?"

"My name," said the goblin imperiously, "is Griphook. If you'll come this way with me?"

He set off at a swift pace, leaving Harry sitting on his bench, perplexed. He glanced at Ron and Hermione before jumping up and following the goblin. His friends shuffled after him, until, at least, another goblin intercepted them and made them stop. Harry would have stopped, as well, but his curiosity egged him on, to the point where he followed the goblin silently to his study and sat down without a complaint.

"Now, you are here, I expect, because of the notice we sent to you roughly three weeks past?"

Harry blinked. "Notice...?"

The goblin frowned. "A notice was sent to one Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging as of August the 12th."

"Ah, I wasn't there, then," Harry said, as an explanation. "And I have not been there since a couple days before that time."

By the goblin's expression, this was obviously one of the more pathetic excuses he'd heard. "Whatever the case may be," he said, words carefully pronounced, "you are here now, and we may continue with the agenda."

Harry blinked at him, hopelessly confused. He wasn't quite sure what the agenda was, or why this goblin seemed to think he wasn't worth the dirt beneath his boots, but he hoped that it wouldn't take too long. He had to return to Hermione and Ron, after all, and see the twin's joke shop. It was supposed to be quite the fantastic place-

"Here are the contents of one Sirius Black's will in regards to you," said the goblin offhandedly, as if the document weren't important, as if it weren't the desires of someone dead only months before. Harry almost choked, staring at the paper in something akin to horror.

"What are you waiting for?" Asked the goblin irritably. "Read it already."

With hands a-trembling, he picked it up, feeling his fingers burn as they touched the paper. He opened it up and, swallowing, peered inside.

Rather anticlimactically, all that he found inside was a piece of parchment decorated with a messy scrawl. He slid it free and, implacably, his eyes were drawn to the script.

'I, one Sirius Black, do hereby claim the rights to the Houses of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black, as the master to every and all residences and artifacts of the family, and do hereby distribute thus properties upon my passing.

I name Harry James Potter as the sole heir of all matters and items and properties of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. May you use this newfound title and power better than I did.

For a moment, Harry blinked, seeing nothing else on the paper. He'd only been two lines in the entirety of Sirius' will?

Then his eyes focused on the words heir. "Sirius- did Sirius leave me everything?" He asked, uncomprehendingly, looking up at Griphook desperately for an answer. "Heir- what does that mean?"

Griphook stared at him as if he were the most stupid being in the world. "When the Master of a Line falls, it is left up to the Heir to take up the mantle of responsibility." At Harry's blank stare, he elaborated. "This means that he is responsible not only for the members of the family," continued in a suffering tone, "but that all property owned by the Line are his to control."

Harry continued to stare at him. "You mean-" he licked his lips. "You mean that everything of the Black family is mine?"

The goblin rolled his eyes. "Yes."

Sirius had left him everything he had owned. It refused to connect with reality- it remained only a fact, not a reason for emotion or celebration. The goblin, seeing that he wasn't going to interrupt any time soon, brought out a piece of paper from his desk. "The wealth the Black family owns is average as far as Pureblood families go," he said with a sniff. "If you find it advantageous to accept the inheritance, you will be able to receive legal emancipation as Master of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. This, in turn, would allow you to inherit any other potential birthrights that have been in status quo, waiting until you became an adult of Wizarding society."

"Wait! I want to accept it!" Harry said, aghast. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew that he didn't necessarily need to. Sirius had left him something- had left him the entire Black fortune, apparently. He was handing Harry the way to liberate himself from the guilt of his own death. "No, I need to accept it."

Griphook sighed in exasperation before asking, "Is that what you wish? To accept the role as the Master of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black?"

"Yes!"

With a flourish of parchment and quill, and a furious scritch scritch, his acceptance was made legal. "If you'll sign here, please, Mr. Potter."

Harry followed his instruction, feeling as if he were finally boarding the train that would take him to where he wanted to go. He'd been wandering blindly about the train station too much in the past; and someone had died because of a strange something that held him back. But now- now he was finally boarding the train, the train he'd stared at so wistfully across the years, and it would take him- well. It didn't matter where it took him, as long as it made him stronger, so that others could rely on him, instead of the other way around.

"Congratulations, Mr. Potter," said the goblin tonelessly. "As of now, you are the Master of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. Here is a list of all that is owned by the Black line, and, subsequently, you, as well as living members you are now responsible for. He handed Harry a folder an inch thick. Harry paled. "Wait-"

"You also," Griphook ignored him with embarrassing ease, "with the acceptance of this new title, have been granted legal emancipation in the Wizarding World. This will allow you to perform your duties as Lord Black more fully than if you were not recognized as an adult-"

"Wait!" Harry cried. "What is this?" He asked, motioning towards the folder that he'd laid in his lap. "It's heavy! What do you mean, 'members of the family' I'm responsible for? What duties am I supposed to do?"

The goblin gave him such an expression of annoyance that Harry shut his mouth. "The folder," he said, speaking slowly, as if to an exceptionally dumb child, "contains a complete list of all that is owned by the Black family. This includes manors, properties, artifacts, furniture, books... everything that is owned by the Black line is, in effect, owned by you. As Lord Black, you are also responsible for other members of the Black family. Their actions will reflect your presentation to the public." Yet another sigh as the goblin rummaged through his desk once more, opening and closing drawers until a soft 'Aha!' interrupted the whir and slam! of the desk. "In this book," the goblin dropped a very dusty, very old, very thick and heavy tome in front of him, "you will find all that a Master of a Line needs to know in order to represent, accommodate, and ensure the continued health of his or her Line."

When Harry opened his mouth to ask for clarification, the goblin held up a hand. "Everything you need to know is in there. If you have questions after reading it through, I will be of service." His tone made it very clear that it would be in his best interests if he found all the information he needed in the book.

Reluctantly, he dragged the tome closer. It was titled 'Masters and Their Responsibilities,' by one Yen Cachett, and rather looked like something that Hermione would enjoy reading.

It was his turn to sigh. If only he could let his friends help him! The idea was tantalizingly attractive, yet deceptively so. No, no; he could not allow himself to waver now! He had already boarded the train! "Alright," he finally, reluctantly said. "Thank you."

"There are still things we must discuss," Griphook said reluctantly. "As you have become a legal adult, you can now inherit everything that has been waiting for you to turn of a legal age."

Harry gulped. More surprises? More unseen consequences?

"The Potter methods for inheritance," began the goblin, "work in a much different manner than the Black line's. The Heir must either reach the age of seventeen and obtain their inheritance then, or file for independence with the Ministry. As you have obtained emancipation from simply accepting the role of Lord Black, you are free to assume all responsibility of the Potter line as well."

"What does that mean?" Harry asked suspiciously.

In response, the goblin snapped his fingers, and another inch-thick, unassuming folder lounged on the desk. "In this folder you will find everything the Potter line owns, much like the folder on the Black properties that I gave you." He sighed, as if he were an unfortunate soul damned with the duty of caring for a very stupid child. "There are no restrictions upon these titles other than the Black title." He talked swiftly, so that Harry could not interrupt him with a question. "In order to keep the Black inheritance, you must be politically active, else it will pass on to the next, most eligible male- which would, most likely be, one Lord Malfoy, with the marriage between one," he peered at a paper on his desk, "Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy."

"What!" Harry shook his head frantically. "I don't understand! Why is this so complicated? What do you mean, that if I'm not politically active, I'll lose the Lord Black title?"

"Just what I said, Mr. Potter."

"No- I mean- what defines politically active?"

The goblin snapped his fingers once more, summoning an enormous logbook that covered the room in the old, musty smell of very old and well loved books. "For the Black family, this means that the Lord Black must use the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black's Wizengamot chair in the Ministry of Magic."

For a full minute, Harry opened and closed his mouth like a fish, completely and utterly gob smacked. "I..." he said weakly. "I have a seat in the Wizengamot?"

Now Griphook had resorted to glaring at him. "Yes. You would known that if you had read the folder I'd given you. The Potter family also holds a seat in the Wizengamot, but it has been left unused for quite some time."

Harry stared at the mound the folders and the book made on his lap. They seemed to be spitefully suffocating his legs, cutting off circulation, squeezing his veins shut. The weight was nothing, however, to the one he suddenly felt on his shoulders.

In order to remain on the train going forward in life, he was going to be thrust into the world of Wizarding politics, which was greatly infected by the ever-looming shadow of the Dark Lord Voldemort. Merlin- it might as well be in the palm of his hand, with how he pulled the strings of the public so easily.

It wasn't fair!-

But no. Thinking like that wouldn't get him anywhere. He was doing this to cleanse himself of his guilt for Sirius' death, and to learn how to rely upon himself. It's a perfect opportunity, Harry told himself sternly. Stop acting as though it were a curse.

"There is one more thing, Mr. Potter," the goblin began, looking as if he had to pull his teeth out to say it. "Your parents left you a letter, to be given to you when you received the Potter inheritance."

Harry shook his head. "This isn't some great conspiracy plot, is it? Give little Harry Potter a bunch of surprises and responsibilities and then laugh at him after he falls for it all?"

Griphook's lips were the only thing that moved. "Of course not, Mr. Potter." Harry gazed at him cautiously, realizing he had insulted him. "Gringotts prides itself on being a neutral party in the Wizarding World, and to be focused on protecting the money of our clients and to help them in other relative matters."

He stood up, snapping his fingers. A pale yellow envelope appeared in his hand, which he offered to Harry promptly. "The contents of this letter are strictly personal, and are up to you to share or distribute," he said coldly.

"Turn left when you leave. Follow the hallway until you reach the main Bank lobby. Thank you for your business, Lord Potter."

Harry left, the letter clenched tightly in his fist. He'd had enough surprises for the year.

XXXXX

Lady Fate, of course, failed to agree with him. After he'd retreated to his room in the Weasley's, long after everyone else had fallen asleep, he stared at the little yellow envelope. A part of him wanted to open it. Another part of him wanted him to burn it.

Yet another part of him wanted him to wake up Ron and Hermione and tell them everything, everything that had happened, all the weird changes, his fear for the future, his new responsibilities, Merlin- tell them everything, dump it all on their laps, and make a decision with them.

Nevertheless, a stronger part of him demanded that he learn the lesson that Sirius' death represented -that he shouldn't rely on anyone else before he knew that he was strong enough to have them rely on him- and to continue as he had been. Harry nodded, squaring his shoulders, sitting up taller on the bed. He was on the train already. No backing off. No stops or buying a new train ticket.

Decisively, he tore open the envelope, letting it fall to the bed, forgotten in favor of the letter itself.

'Dear Harry,' it read,

If you are reading this, then it is more likely then not that we are gone. I cannot imagine how the life you have led has been spent, but I hope that you have been happy. I'm sure that Remus and Sirius have been taking good care of you. More loyal friends you may never meet.

However, this letter was not written for pure good-wishing, Harry. Indeed, I only hope that you will be able to understand what we did, and why we did it.

You are not James Potter's son. I loved James, I do love him. I will forever do so. Yet, it became clear, when you were born, that James was not the father. A few months into your life, you looked nothing like us. And it was obvious that that drunken night I spent partying and celebrating with my friends a few months earlier carried a secret more significant than I expected.

I told James my suspicions, and he helped me hide your true face with a blood ritual.

You must understand why we did this, Harry. James' family, while fine with allowing their son marry a muggleborn, would never settle with having a bastard child that was not even related to them as the heir to the line. So we hid the evidence, and you were born a few weeks premature. The ritual will begin to fade when your magic reaches its maturity, which is usually around the age of seventeen. This secret will have died with us, and now lives on with you. Whom you decide to tell is up to you.

I know not whom your true father is, what he does in life or what he is like.

If you are interested in finding this man, an Ancestry potion would give you his name. We would have done it earlier, but such tests are dangerous on children. Now, however, you can do the test without any issues. The ingredients for the potion are easily accessible at an average apothecary- the funding for the potion can be found in your vault. Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts and someone we expressly trust, should have the key if you have not been given it already.

The existence of this letter, and therefore the secret contained within, has not been disclosed to anyone. No matter who your blood father is, James and I will always love you. James is your father, if not by blood than in law, and if you decide to seek this man out, then do so. It will make no difference to us. Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, our greatest friends, will support you no matter what if you decide to tell them.

With Love,

Lily and James'

The train doors slammed shut behind him.

XXXXX

Harry floated through the next day feeling as if he'd spent the night doing everything but sleep.

Which, unfortunately, was rather correct.

He hadn't been able to sleep after reading his parent's letter. The thought of who he actually was sent tingles of excitement and terror down to his very toes. That he had been living a lie his entire life had, somehow, not hurt him as much as he had thought it might. True, he had felt betrayed in some half-formed, ill-defined way, but the feeling had been fleeting as the excitement coursed through him.

The winds of possibility had breathed new life into his hope for a family- which, he had realized soon after reading the letter, had never truly died, but faded slowly into the background. He could be anyone- anyone at all! A long lost relative of the Weasley's, Dumbledore's nephew... anything was suddenly possible, and he loved it.

For a time.

And then reality had slowly, painfully settled in.

His family could be anyone, yes. But there were thousands of people out there, of different backgrounds and beliefs. His father could be a Dark wizard- how Voldemort would love the irony of that- or he could be dead- or, even worse, he could be someone who would only use Harry's reputation to make himself look better.

"Bye, Harry," Hermione said, looking at him concernedly as she and Ron dragged their suitcases away. "We'll find you once the Prefect meetings are over."

Harry forced himself to smile. From the look on Hermione's face, he hadn't done a very good job. "Alright," he called. "See you then."

Left to his own devices, he found himself hiding in a compartment by himself, carefully hiding his face from anyone that peered inside, looking for the Boy-Who-Lived or their friends. The Daily Prophet's articles on his status as the 'Chosen One' had not done anything to help him escape the public's eye- had, somehow, increased it to a point that it was suffocating to walk about in.

And, to think... if he admitted the fact that he didn't know the identity of his father, it'd be an even greater scandal than ever before, and, if he did ever find his real father... the Daily Prophet would cover every single moment of it.

Did he want his relationship to begin like that? If it happened?

No, no, he didn't.

But, much to his misfortune, he'd reached his magical maturity a year earlier than he was supposed to- the blood ritual James and Lily had performed on him was wearing off before his seventeenth year.

Thus, Harry found himself facing a problem he wasn't quite sure on how to fix; how was he going to hide the changes? People were going to notice, soon, that he looked...odd, not normal. Who could say that they might not have noticed already?

Fear froze his lungs. It'd be so much easier, whispered a voice in his ear, if you allowed yourself to tell Hermione and Ron... to ask for their help... Yet the voice, Harry knew, was only his mind taunting him, not a thing that could seriously make him deviate from his path anymore. He simply had to think clearly, rationally- he needed a spell to hide things. Okay. That would be... a Charm? Probably? He could look it up when they got to Hogwarts.

See? He told the voice smugly. I'm already relying on myself!

The opening of the compartment door interrupted his thoughts and, looking up, he met the warm brown eyes of Neville Longbottom. Behind him, a girl with long hair and large, misty eyes was easily recognizable as Luna Lovegood.

"Come on in!" He called, patting the seat next to him. "There's space."

The two piled in, placing their luggage upon the rack and sitting themselves down. "How are you guys?" He asked, shifting to be able to look at them better. "Do anything interesting over the summer?"

Neville immediately smiled. "I got a new wand," he said proudly, brandishing it. "Gran thought I deserved it, with what happened in the Department of Mysteries."

"The Quibbler has been selling more than ever," Luna offered her own tidbit to the conversation. "Do you think we'll still do the DA meetings this year?"

Harry frowned. "Well," he began hesitantly. "There isn't much reason now that Umbridge is gone, right?" Nor, Harry thought, would I be able to get stronger as easily if the meetings were to begin again. It had been a rather unconscious decision on his own part that he was going to spend much of his extra time practicing spells and magic, and wouldn't have much time to devote to something like the DA.

"I liked the DA!" Protested Neville. "It was fun."

Luna nodded in an odd, spacey sort of way. "I enjoyed the meetings, too." she said. "It was like having friends."

Harry suppressed a rising bubble of awkwardness and said neutrally, "maybe. I'll think about it."

The rest of the train ride passed relatively quietly. Neville and Harry's visit to Slughorn's compartment was boring and tedious, but the time afterwards saw Ron and Hermione join them, returning from the Prefect meeting. The ambience was comfortable, and Harry found himself looking forward to the time where he would be able to show them that they didn't need to worry about their lives so much anymore. He had a debt to them, a debt that was long and large and enormous; but he would fix it, because he could not live with himself if he did not.

XXXXX

School began with one day of novelty, of asking old friends how they'd been and how their summer was, before falling into a pattern of bored resignation customary to school.

Well.

Almost.

Harry huddled beneath his Invisibility Cloak, warily watching Mrs. Norris pad her way silently down the hallway. Filch, damn the man, wouldn't be too far behind- and the book that he'd managed to steal from the Forbidden Section of the library would be found to be missing, and the security of the library would be raised- which, Harry thought, he really didn't need.

He held his breath as she marched past, her footsteps the only sound in the dimly lit hall. She never paused, and she never looked back. Harry slumped with relief and heaved a sigh, glancing at the book in his hands. Rather boringly, it was only titled Glamours, without an author or a name on it. But it was probably what he was looking for- finally. Just in time, too- Malfoy had laughed at him for getting a nose job over the summer, yesterday.

With a bounce in his step, he emerged from his hiding place to meet the bloodshot eyes of Filch.

For an eternity, he stared back, shocked, horrified, before Filch broke the eerie silence that so often swept through the halls of Hogwarts. "Is someone there, Mrs. Norris?" He asked, waving his lamp. Harry's heart jumped into his mouth when he thrust it forward, into his face. "There is!" He cried. "I see your shadow, you cowardly rat!"

Harry's body didn't wait around for his mind to catch up. He flung himself out of the hallway and into the nearest doorway, pressing himself as tightly as he could into the wall, struggling to control his pounding heart.

Filch and his cat lurched by, the light of the lantern moving swiftly down the hallway, until Harry watched them turn a corner and disappear.

Harry slumped to the ground, relief making him go slack. He was safe. He'd done it. Sort of. The book was his, but he wouldn't be able to steal from the library as easily to find books for heritage potions.

With a shrug, he made to stand up and head off to Gryffindor Tower, yet something large, faintly glowing, and nostalgic held him fast. He turned around and faced the room.

Merlin. It was- it was the Mirror of Erised, just as it had looked in his First Year.

Just as he had, so many years ago, Harry tremulously approached the Mirror, feeling his throat constrict. Would he see-

As before, he appeared in the mirror, much larger, now, the changes casting foreign shadows across his face. And yet, despite it, despite the fact that he wasn't their son, Lily and James Potter stood by him, silently comforting, silently supporting him. He checked behind him to see-

-but no. It was a lie. The Mirror of Erised only showed dreams and desires. Not the truth. Harry shook his head and fled for Gryffindor Tower. Why was the Mirror back? When had it returned to Hogwarts? How had it returned to Hogwarts? What was it doing there?

Yet another mystery he'd try and solve by himself, later. For now, however, the sky was lightening, and he had a glamour he desperately needed to finish.

Harry had never been the smartest kid in the class. He'd always relied upon Hermione for help when something difficult came by- she was the true brains of the school. She, Harry knew as he looked at himself desolately in the mirror, would have been able to help him. The book made no sense. He needed answers swiftly and immediately, but the stupid thing kept on going on long winded rants about some obscure sort of magic- it was as if the author couldn't keep to one topic, and had some disease of the mind that made him ramble.

And yet, he couldn't simply give up. Giving up would mean- would mean that he would lose the family he might be so close to getting.

So he stood in the Gryffindor boys' bathroom, staring at his reflection resolutely. "Celodere," he said, firmly, waving his wand in a spiral motion. He frowned as nothing happened. His hair still looked too manageable, his nose was too straight, his eyes were too bright, his body too tall -Hermione called it a growth spurt- and his skin too pale.

"Abstrudo," He tried again, keeping the image of the old Harry in his mind. The book had said that this glamour would not work if the image in his mind was too weak. He hadn't wanted to use it -when had his mental prowess ever shown itself to be exceptional?- but it was worth a shot.

And, amazingly, it worked on his first try. He gaped as his face suddenly twisted, becoming an unnatural blur, as if someone had taken an eraser to his face. It was all he could do to keep the spell going, to keep the image of his face in mind- he felt nothing, but the aesthetic effect of the spell was stomach churning.

It took only a moment, and his face and body had subtly changed, to where he was the good old Harry once more.

He nodded to the Harry in the mirror. So what if he would be living a lie? He was protecting his potential family this way and learning how to stand on his own two feet. Killing two birds with one stone.

Grinning, he took his morning shower and hid the book underneath his bed. Life wasn't so bad after all.

XXXXX

While the library ended up being officially covered in wards, so that the librarian would know every single person whom entered all sections of her library, Harry's success with the glamours after only a few minutes of practicing kept him cheerful all throughout the day. Even Defense Against the Dark Arts, which Snape had finally convinced Dumbledore into allowing him to teach, hadn't been able to destroy his good mood.

Snape, Harry recalled, had gone on for an inordinate amount of time about the Dark Arts. Not only that, but he had baited Harry in front of the entire class- attempted to force him to do a nonverbal spell, despite the fact that he hadn't ever done it before- and then had had the temerity to assign him detention!

How was he supposed to get stronger if he spent the time scrubbing the floors of the dungeons?

Potions, however, headed by Slughorn, was less painful then he had imagined it to be. In fact- Harry grinned to himself- it had been the exact opposite of painful. He had borrowed a book from an old cupboard and had gotten an easy Outstanding on his potion with help from the Half-Blood Prince.

And, thus, it didn't matter to Harry that the forbidden section was impossible to get into, now; he had found the heritage potion in his potion's book- and, even better, it didn't take too long to make- only a week.

All that mattered, then, was getting the ingredients.

Because of the impossibility of visiting an apothecary without drawing up some suspicious questions, Harry was forced to pick from two possible victims; Severus Snape and Horace Slughorn. They both, Harry knew, had their separate potion ingredient stores, and they both had their different personalities.

And that, Harry thought, was why he was going to steal from Slughorn.

"Good luck, Harry." Said Hermione as she and Ron watched him leave the Common Room for his detention. "Don't let him get you down."

Harry waved and shut the door behind him. He patted his pocket to make sure his Invisibility Cloak was on him -he never went anywhere without it, anymore- and set off trotting towards the dungeons. Despite it being early September, the air was chilly, and the temperature continued to drop as he hurried down the stairs and into the dungeons, where he felt his hands turn to large blocks of ice.

He wasn't quite sure how he was going to steal from him, but he knew that he was going to, somehow. A chance would come up or something.

Forcing a somber expression onto his face, he knocked on the door.

"You're late, Potter," he heard Snape hiss from inside. "Get in."

Harry spent the next hour or so mindlessly scrubbing desks. Despite it being hardly half a week into the school year, Harry found himself suppressing shudders of disgust. What did some people do to their desks? It shouldn't be possible for one desk to have grown a green fungus all along the bottom; it shouldn't have been possible for another to have half of it's leg broken off.

He was up to his elbows in nameless amounts of muck, his fingers raw from attempting to scrub a suspicious looking red stain from the tabletop without magic, when the door slammed open. Harry watched with interest when he recognized McGonagall. "We have another situation, Severus," she said, urgently.

Immediately, Snape was on his feet and marching towards the door. He seemed to remember Harry at the last moment and spun around to face him. "Clean up, leave."

Harry blinked owlishly after the two adults. Curiosity demanded that he follow them to see what happened; Snape's potion stores demanded that he raid them and run.

On the spot, he decided to do both.

He fled to the little cabinet that Snape always kept locked and muttered, "Alohamora," keeping an ear out for returning Defense teachers. It sprung open at his insistence and he blinked through the ingredients that Snape had collected. Newt's eyes... essence of nettle... Belladonna... He grabbed more than he thought he'd need and relocked the cabinet, hurriedly stashing the potions stuffs into his pockets and threw on the Cloak. Snape wouldn't notice if he didn't clean everything. Right?

Harry found Snape and McGonagall only with a Point Me charm and very swift legs. He caught a glimpse of them hurrying into the Infirmary and ducked inside before McGonagall shut the door behind them.

"I'm not quite sure what's wrong with him, Severus-" McGonagall began, speaking in a rushed, worried voice. Harry stared at her, and then attempted to peer around her at the figure she was standing over. Madam Pomfrey bustled over with a vial of blue liquid in her hand and went to the other side of the bed, pulling her patient towards her.

"Come now, Albus," she said in her best matronly voice. "Drink it, swallow it down."

Albus... Harry couldn't suppress a gasp. Dumbledore was the one, laying prone on the bed?

"The Calming Draught won't help," said Snape, whom was standing at the foot of the bed. "Give me the potion he really needs."

Pomfrey stared up at him in shock. "But Severus! You know what that potion does better than anyone here! It kills him-"

"If we do not give it to him he will die as he lays." The Slytherin's voice was nothing more than a hiss. "If you have any better ideas, share them! Else do it."

McGonagall left the bedside and retreated into Madam Pomfrey's office, to return with a vial of disgusting-looking muck, much like the Polyjuice Potion he and Ron and Hermione had made back in their Second year. Harry moved as she took Dumbledore from Pomfrey and set him up on her lap, like one might do a child. Harry choked. Now that he could see him-

Dumbledore looked dead. His face had been written upon by old age's impartial pen in the space of a few hours, it seemed. Hadn't he just seen him at the evening dinner?

But no, Harry realized, staring down at him. No, he hadn't seen him. Dumbledore had been absent from dinner for the past two nights. Even, perhaps, for the past two days.

Where had he gone? What had happened to him? Why had he gone? The questions vanished form his mind when he saw his arm. The entire limb, instead of simply the hand, was covered in a filthy disease of sickly black. Yet, as he watched, the black surrendered slowly, to reveal the pale flesh of an old man.

The tension slowly leaked out of the room as the darkness faded from the Headmaster's arm, as his face turned a slightly normal flesh color instead of a pasty white. "He'll yet live," said Snape, his eyes dark. He hadn't moved from the foot of the bed.

Madam Pomfrey snarled at him with surprising ferocity. "Not if he continues to use that potion, Severus!"

McGonagall sighed. "Poppy, calm down. You can't yell at Severus for saving the Headmaster's life. It is the Headmaster's decision with what to do with his life, and we are simply the ones that have been selected to help."

Silence reigned for a time in the Hospital Wing. It was of the sort that crashed against his ears in deafening waves.

Dumbledore was dying?

It was a long while before anyone moved. McGonagall was the first to stand up. Her face, Harry spied, was that of a woman whom felt the world on her shoulders. "I'm off to sleep," she said. "Perhaps all three of you should do so, as well. Don't forget to lock the door, Poppy, and to place a glamour on him so that he looks like a student." She motioned to Dumbledore and then marched out of the Wing, looking as if she wouldn't mind if she had a couple of Death Eaters to duel to ease her stress.

Snape left soon after her. Harry followed him, more slowly, and listened to Madam Pomfrey as she locked the door behind them.

Dumbledore was dying?

Surely he had heard that incorrectly. Surely his ears had misinterpreted everything. Surely this was a bad joke.

'Dumbledore can't die!' Harry wanted to scream into the dark hallways of the peaceful, sleeping Hogwarts. 'He's the bastion of the Light!'

The darkness laughed uproariously.

XXXXX

Harry sat morosely in Myrtle's bathroom, staring at the snake on the faucet without really seeing it. The broken mirrors threw his reflection back at him spitefully ten times, a hundred, a thousand; a little boy too pathetic to be able to rely on himself- forever a parasite to other people, people who would die because of him.

The minute he had gotten back to Gryffindor Tower he had woken Ron and Hermione and told them everything he'd seen in the Infirmary. They'd listened to him, eyes quietly serious, mouths and chins set, and told him, 'let's talk to Dumbledore about it.'

And, thus, they would go tomorrow night, after classes ended. They'd march up to Dumbledore's office and tell Dumbledore they knew- they knew that he was dying, and wanted to help him.

Yet Harry couldn't help but think that he'd failed his friends yet again. He'd pulled them into a potentially dangerous situation without thinking; what if Dumbledore accepted their help, and let them go off on missions for the Order or something similar? It would be Harry's fault if they died, because he had been the one to get them involved.

In the first serious situation that had happened, he had immediately gone to the comfort and strength of his friends; immediately burdened them with his issues, like some child would their parent, and left them to deal with it. Harry shook his head sharply. No, no! He was on the train already- why did he keep going back?

He stood up, shaking his head. Sitting in the bathroom, moping like Moaning Myrtle, won't fix anything, he told himself sternly. Stop acting like such a baby.

The cauldron he'd borrowed from Slughorn stood on an old toilet seat, hidden in the stall. Water simmered inside, quiet and clean. He'd been forced to choose the abandoned girl's bathroom as his place to brew the heritage potion. When he'd gone to the Room of Requirement, it had refused to open for him, no matter how much he thought or paced or focused. And, thus, he had ended up following Plan B- to swear Myrtle to secrecy and use the bathroom as he and Ron and Hermione had done so many years past.

Just as he was going to add the first of the ingredients he'd stolen from Snape, however, the sounds of footsteps echoed through the bathroom.

Jumping, he threw his Cloak over him, to have his heart leap into his mouth when he came face to face with one very angry, very pissed off Severus Snape.

Harry didn't move. Didn't breathe. Didn't do anything. Snape was looking through him, surveying the bathroom, the stall that held Harry's still-warm cauldron.

"I know that you're here, thief." He called, turning in a careful circle. Harry remained desperately frozen, hoping beyond hope that Snape would depart and leave Harry with the mess he'd made of his nerves. "I put tracking spells on all the ingredients and their containers. I am no Gryffindor, to be stolen easily from."

Harry allowed himself the merest inhale of breath, if only to satisfy his burning lungs. Snape's wand suddenly whipped in his direction. "Petrificus Totallus!"

He ducked in just enough time. The spell slammed into the wall, bringing Myrtle wailing from her toilet pipe. Upon seeing Snape and his wrath, she paused and began sinking back into the stone of the floor.

"Hold it!" Snape snarled. "You! Ghost! Do you know of anyone that uses this bathroom for a potions lab?"

Myrtle stared at him, eyes big and round, only the upper half of her body visible above the floor. Harry took advantage of Snape's diverted attention and made sure that his Cloak covered him completely. He hugged his Potions book to his chest as if it were his only friend and glanced desperately at the darkness of the hall, visible through the open doorway. If only he could make it there- past Snape, somehow-

Merlin was he in trouble. Merlin was Snape scary when he was thoroughly angry. Merlin how he wished Ron and Hermione were there to help him.

The last thought made him stiffen. No- he could not rely upon them any longer- he had to stand by himself. He could escape Snape. Yes- had he not thwarted Voldemort himself six times before? All he needed was some luck and the right opportunity to show itself.

"Tell me, ghost!" Snape snapped, leveling his wand at her. Myrtle reared back as if it were a snake. "I know that someone has been using this place!"

Myrtle shook her head, frantically, yet remained silent. Snape surveyed the girl's bathroom with angry eyes. Harry willed himself not to shrink into the nearby wall when his dark eyes passed over him. "It does not matter- worthless ghost- I will catch him anyway-"

The girl suddenly went ramrod straight and shot herself up out of the floor. Harry jumped at the sudden motion, and Snape whipped back towards her. "You- You-" Harry could have kissed Myrtle. She was getting into one of her great temper tantrums. Forsaking caution for swiftness, he crouched down low and scurried past the wall, holding his breath as he passed by near Snape and Myrtle.

"-hateful man! That you would call me worthless, me, a ghost, who can't affect the physical plane? That you would flaunt your mortal life to a poor immortal ghost like me!"

Harry fled through the entrance and ran without stopping until he reached Gryffindor Tower. There, he threw his things under his bed and flung himself under his covers, reapplying glamours be damned.

He'd had enough for one night.

XXXXX

The gargoyles that stood sentry before the Headmaster's study stared at the Trio's attempts to visit Dumbledore impassively. They'd been listing off candy names for the past twenty minutes without success; after having said everything from lollipops to Skiving Snack Boxes, Ron was ready to head back.

"We're not even sure if he's out of the Infirmary or not," said Ron. "He hasn't been at the Head Table."

Harry shook his head. "I checked before going to lunch today," he replied. "There wasn't anyone there."

They each shared a nervous glance. Hermione said hesitantly, "Perhaps we should come another day?"

"Another day for what, if I might ask?"

Harry leapt out of his skin before realizing the voice wasn't Snape's. He turned, meeting the blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore. He looked a lot better, Harry realized. More... alive. The memory of the old man on the bed returned to him.

That they were the same man... it was almost impossible.

But no, there was his cursed hand, blackened and dead, and the skin too pale to be healthy. His eyes seemed to be the only thing that shone about him, suddenly.

"We wanted to talk to you," Hermione was saying. "Is this a bad time...?"

Dumbledore gave them a grandfatherly smile. "No, not at all. Come in." He passed them, saying, "Airheads."

Ron groaned. "That was the password? Merlin, I had no idea that that was a candy!"

Hermione smiled and rolled her eyes, despite the seriousness of their mission. "That's because it's Muggle, Ron."

Harry chuckled, following Dumbledore up the spiral staircase and sitting down with the rest when Dumbledore bid them to. After offering them some lemon drops, he twinkled at them merrily. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

A slight awkward silence fell over the Trio. Hermione and Ron looked at him for help, and Harry felt his pride swell. There- they were looking to him for help. They were relying on him. "Well..." he began. "I saw you, Sunday," he confessed honestly. "And I became worried. You're the leader of the Light; if anything were to happen to you..."

Dumbledore stopped twinkling at them, his face suddenly becoming more somber, as when he talked of Voldemort. "I had hoped that you, of all people, would not find out," he said. "This is not information that should be publicly discussed."

"We would never-"

"I know that, Harry." He said. "Yet things slip with even the best of intentions." A pause.

Harry took advantage of it. "We wanted to help you, if we could," he tried. "Why did you disappear from the school? What did that to your hand?"

Dumbledore's blue eyes pierced him through, leaving him feeling as if he'd been hung up to dry. Harry shut up immediately. "That, my boy, will be addressed in the lessons I will give you this year."

He blinked at the unexpected turn of events. He had been wondering when they would begin, yes, but... Beside him, Hermione gasped. "Lessons?"

"Yes," the Headmaster said simply.

"When will they begin?"

The elder in front of them nodded his head, as if to himself. "I will contact you when I can, regarding them." And then he smiled, asked them how they were enjoying the year, and had them on their way to the Gryffindor tower long before they realized that they hadn't gotten any answers.

"He said that he'd tell you later, while you were doing lessons..." Hermione said uncertainly, as they said their goodnights for the night in the Common Room. "So, perhaps, then...?"

Harry nodded. "Must be."

"Man, I can't wait to hear what he teaches you," Ron said, as they marched up the stairs. "I bet it'll be tons of powerful jinxes... can you imagine how you'll be able to prank Malfoy with them?" He chuckled. "Night, Harry," he called, as he headed to bed.

"I'll be there soon," said Harry as he moved towards the bathroom. "Night."

XXXXX

Inside the loo, he stared at himself in the mirror.

He'd have to do it, he knew.

Snape had a tracking spell on his potion ingredients that Harry hadn't suspected. The longer they were held in Gryffindor Tower, the more likely Snape was to become suspicious of him. He had to move them to a place where only he could go- to a place where Snape wouldn't be able to find them, no matter how he tried.

But could he do it?

His reflection stared back at him, his nose too straight, eyebrows arched to a foreign degree, his skin too pale, his eyes too bright. Yes. He could do it.

For the sake of a family, even if it were the slimmest chance... yes.

After reapplying his glamours, he threw his Cloak over him and, taking the ingredients with him, returned to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

The school was eerily gloomy, with the shadows climbing the walls in unnatural patterns, as if they had twisted their forms to seem the more sinister for passersby. Hogwarts, Harry decided, seemed to adopt a new sort of personality in the night. What was friendly and supporting in the light became frightful and sinister in the dark.

Despite himself, Harry couldn't help but a tremble of fear as he passed through the silent passageways. He was alone, without the comfortable bodies of Hermione and Ron nearby; he wasn't powerful, no matter how he told himself he was going to change that; and he had an insane Dark Lord hungering after his lifeblood with too many followers all too willing to do his dirty work for him. Only the most foolish person in the world wouldn't be afraid.

Not that it helped.

When he reached the girl's loo, he stood in the entrance and strained his ears as he could not his eyes, searching, almost desperately, for anything that would alert him to the presence of anyone untoward.

And then fear rushed him forward- for what if Snape realized his ingredients were changing locations, and came to investigate? On a whim, he checked the stall, and found his cauldron, laying where he had set it, cold and untouched. He picked it up with him and felt a sharp ping in his hands. Somehow, he sensed a ward being disrupted.

If Snape hadn't been coming already, he'd be hurrying over now.

Cursing, Harry fled to the sinks, finding the snake-adorned one almost immediately.

'Open,' he hissed, focusing on the image of the snake.

The faucet began to glow, sending shadows dancing and writhing across the ceiling as if in celebration. It began to spin and slowly succumbed to the earth, exposing a large pipe.

Harry stared into the yawning darkness, feeling as if, for some reason, he were taking a leap of faith, or some other grand act. But that was stupid, wasn't it?

He shook his head. He didn't have a choice, did he? So he jumped, jumped into the darkness, and held his breath and hoped that nothing untoward would be waiting for him in ambush.

For a moment, there was nothing but complete and utter darkness, and the wind. It ran fingers through his hair and quested through his clothes, leaving him feeling vulnerable and helpless; and then he was free, free to slam into a pile of old dead rat skeletons and stone. Harry gazed about him, and then glanced up, noting the soft light he saw so very high above him. 'Close,' he hissed, loudly, his heart thundering in his ears. If it didn't, and the opening yawned open for Snape to topple down...

But it closed with the merest whisper of fallen dust, and Harry turned, satisfied, to the passageway he and Ron had traveled together through in their Second year. "Lumos," he murmured, staring intently to the shadows ahead. The light paved the road ahead of him, revealing nothing more but more slime on the walls and more gloom. Shuddering, he turned to the cauldron in his hand and shrunk it, placing it in his pocket with the stolen ingredients.

The tunnel was as silent as a grave, a sense of deathlessness permeating through the air. Harry felt as if he were walking in a place that, despite the eons, would never feel the passage of time, nor the petty politics of mortal man. It was as if he were in a place that lay unconnected with the world, and only he, as a Parselmouth, had been able to access it, to transcend the planes of the mortal.

He passed the old basilisk skin he dimly recalled being there, looking untouched and pristine, the same poisonous green, the same gigantic size. The hair on the back of his neck lifted as he left it behind, having the uncomfortable feeling that he was inviting an enormous predator to attack him.

And then, suddenly, he found himself face to face with a great, looming pile of rocks. With chagrin, he realized he'd forgotten that the Chamber of Secrets had had a cave in, because of that idiot Lockhart.

Yet, as he was already this far...

Harry waved his wand. "Depulso!"

A large part of the rocks vanished as if they'd never existed. Repeating the performance a couple of times until he was able to pass through the tunnel without clambering over piles and piles of rock, Harry moved forward, wishing more then ever before that someone like Ron or Hermione were with him. Even if they were unconscious, or gibbering in fear, or screaming at him for whatever reason- some company would be nice.

But he was being stupid, he knew, and he ignored his desire and met the true end of the passage, a solid wall of stone endorsed with two great, entwined serpents, their emerald eyes glittering with something more than simple beauty.

"Open," Harry hissed once more, feeling a great pulsing, nameless excitement echo throughout his being as they opened at his command, revealing a long, dimly lit cavern that stretched into eternity and never stopped. He stepped out into it, eyes wandering to the carcass of the basilisk. It lay where he had slain it four years previous, its eyes clouded by defeat, its body broken by its submission to death.

Harry shuddered as it stared at him almost accusingly and averted his gaze. Everything was as he had remembered. The gigantic statue of Salazar Slytherin, the serpentine columns; Harry felt that, if he looked swiftly enough, he'd catch a glimpse of Ginny Weasley laying at Slytherin's feet, dying as Tom Riddle sucked the life from her-

He closed his eyes. Perhaps he had made the wrong decision, in coming here. Yet turning back felt like the greater sin than moving forward; it was as if the Chamber of Secrets had just begun its judgment of him, and that succumbing to his feelings of unease would only result in his untimely death or 'disappearance,' as no one would find him down here.

Well.

Unless Voldemort decided to be uncharacteristically sentimental and visited the place, he'd never be found.

He shivered and walked forward, staring up at the great statue. How many of Slytherin's descendants had stood where he was now, looking on their ancestor? What had they thought, what had they felt? Had they all agreed with his blood supremacy mantra? Had any other Parselmouth, other then a Slytherin, visited the place, as he was?

Harry sighed and drew out his cauldron from underneath his pocket, unshrinking it and placing it upon the stone floor. A problem presented itself- how was he to get water, in which to make his potion?

He flushed, and the stare of the great statue seemed to turn disapproving. A charm that Flitwick had been teaching them- Aguamenti? came to mind.

Giving it a shot, he waved his wand and muttered the words. Water gushed from his wand and sloshed to the floor. Harry grinned and filled his cauldron before lighting a small fire beneath it. "Three medium sized leaves of Belladonna...two thimblefuls of 'essence of nettle'...bubotuber puss... and four dried leaves of the Chinese Chomping Cabbage," he murmured to himself, sliding the required ingredients out of his pockets and setting them near his cauldron. The Chamber was wet, and cold, and Harry felt as if he were being incessantly watched, but- but he felt, somehow, impossibly, that it was okay, because the Chamber of Secrets was somewhere where he belonged, as if something inside him clicked with the place.

Harry shook his head. "Tempus," he murmured, stretching his limbs. That was a stupid thing to think.

The resulting time made him gasp and leap to his feet. It had taken him a complete four and a half hours to do a few simple steps. The sun would be rising in a few more hours.

He yawned and applied a stasis charm to his heritage potion and dared to glance about the chamber. The eyes of multiple snakes glittered back, smirking, jeering, laughing at him and his attempts to begin relying upon himself. Harry drew himself up and glared back at them.

They snickered and did not care.

XXXXX

His days began to follow a simple pattern.

During the day, Harry devoted himself to pretending that he wasn't hiding anything from his friends. He lost to Ron at chess and masqueraded doing his homework with Hermione. The professors were only too willing to help with this; six years, apparently, meant six essays to complete each night. Hermione lectured them on the benefits of time management, but Ron and Harry hadn't been listening to her for six years; weren't about to, in fact. Grades had never really mattered to them as they did to Hermione.

At night, however, he took great care to sneak to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom at random hours of the night -just in case someone saw something suspicious one night and visited the same time another- and to slide down the pipe into the Chamber of Secrets, where he would check on his potion and add whatever ingredients necessary, under the gaze of the silent stone carvings that seemed more sentient than healthy for anyone.

Then he'd force himself to take out his book on glamours and read it.

The glamours he used now, he'd come to realize with some chagrin, were horribly weak. Not only did they last for only a few hours, but they could be destroyed with a simple Finite Incantatem. The book had an entire section of it devoted to Anchoring- which, Harry had finally concluded, was applying glamours to a magical object and making them permanent- but not only was the author displaying an uncanny knack for having long-winded and dry explanations, but he used big words that Harry didn't understand. The book was slow reading, and Harry chaffed at the pace, thinking of another book lurking beneath his bed. He had other things to do, other things to read.

The third Tuesday of the year found Harry deep within the bellies of the school, standing above his almost complete Heritage Potion.

"...and a dosage of the person's blood," he murmured, reading the Prince's book on the floor as he stood above it. Taking a silver knife from his pocket and mentally apologizing to Hermione for borrowing it, he slashed into the meat of his palm. The potion didn't specify how much blood; it'd be better to be safer than sorry.

Pain lanced through his arm and he struggled not to cry out. Really, Harry? he taunted himself as he watched red drip into the potion, turning it a blinding white. Endured the Cruciatus and Voldemort touching your scar and you can't deal with a little cut? Pathetic.

Harry watched the potion, uncertain. The book and the Half-Blood Prince hadn't said what to do after he'd applied his blood; had seemed to think it would be obvious. Under his gaze the cauldron began releasing an abnormally large amount of steam, and- Harry couldn't suffocate a small gasp- began to form distinct letters.

Lily Potter

Something inside him he hadn't known was tight relaxed. Despite the contents of the letter his folks had sent him, he'd been afraid somewhere, deep inside, that Lily wasn't his mother either, and that her sacrifice had been for a boy that wasn't even of her blood. His doubts had been proved false, and he couldn't help but grin.

This was so exciting! It was like finding a new Harry beneath the old, like fueling an old dream, long forgotten since his entrance into the Wizarding world- Merlin, a family-

And then the steam coalesced into another name, and Harry couldn't contain his excitement; his hands shook as he cradled his cut arm and daubed it with his sleeve, he shuddered and gasped and hoped-

Tom Marvolo Riddle Junior