A.N.: I feel I'm about to get lynched. Anyway, hello, world. A million apologies for the huge wait. But guys, my Muse kind of died on me for a while there. Or, more likely, collapsed due to overwork. I fretted over work, I fretted of my Masters degree, I fretted over life, then I procrastinated and then my Muse offed herself. You can't even fathom how bad it was. So bad, in fact, I wrote a poem about it. You don't believe me?
I know that more than one of you may have believed me dead,
But it's not me who perished! It was my Muse, instead.
While I should seat down and type chapter after chapter,
I found myself almost insane about to climb a rafter.
For I have worked painstakingly ev'ry day this past month,
Until my brain abused declared simply one word; enough!
I tried to type, in my free time, as scarce as it has been,
But in the absence of my Muse, all I could do was keen.
Procrastination then became my constant one bedfellow,
Till in the end all I could do was close my eyes and bellow.
And though I could, in ev'ry truth, just type Snape looking haggard,
I stopped myself each single time 'cause, gods, I've got a standard!
With ev'ry single paragraph I felt I've let you down,
So I'd just stop and try again when I'd fought back my frown.
I typed each sentence many times, not only once or twice!
And e'en forewent rest and sleep, though I knew t'was not wise.
And all your reviews I reread, hoping for inspiration,
Though all I felt, in my despair, was some slight constipation.
For as my mind went over ev'ry review and ev'ry hit,
The more convinced I was, my new chapter was just- horrible, really.
I soldiered on, despite it all, trying not to blow a fuse,
All the time glaring at the screen, crying "Muse, je t'accuse!"
This chapter could be great or foul, though I pray it's the former,
I just hope you'll like reading it, while I cry in my corner.
Come on, laugh it out. I just want you to know that this poem is an hour of my life I'll never get back. Anyway, my Muse is back and so am I, with this guilt-driven, caffeine-induced monster of a chapter. It's ridiculous how many things happen in this one. I hope you have a great time reading it and don't forget to review!
Disclaimer; The tooth fairy hired mercenaries that wrestled the Harry Potter rights back from me after that one poker game. I don't own Harry Potter yet again. But I'm gathering troops to storm her castle and take them back. Who's with me?
SECOND FIRST IMPRESSIONS
"We are." Harry confirmed. "Be thankful for Sev balancing things out for you, Draco." A shrill, whistling sound echoed in the platform, signaling the train was about to depart. With the potions master's help, Ginny and Luna's trucks were loaded onto the train, the group of students waving Severus a temporary goodbye. Harry breathed in deeply as the train departed, trying to calm down, pushing back the wave of magic trying to scratch its way out his body. If this incident was any indication to how this term would go, he mused, he might just have burned down Hogwarts by June. He looked out the window in silent contemplation;
"Here's to hoping I won't." He muttered to himself, watching King's Cross fade away.
The five teens had barely managed to get comfortable in their seats when Hermione approached their compartment, knocking on the glass panel. Harry stood up and unlocked the doors, sliding them open. She looked around the compartment, taking in the assorted crowd, frowning slightly. Harry resisted rolling his eyes and cleared his throat, getting her attention back to him.
"Can I help you with something, Hermione?"
"We should head to the Prefects compartment." She explained, eyes flickering towards Draco, her frown returning for a split of a second. "It's on the first carriage and the meeting's about to start."
"Oh, that." Harry said, smirking as he ran his fingers through his hair; for a moment he had feared Adrian might have sent her to help stage an intervention or something equally ludicrous.
"Ready, Draco?" He asked, turning towards his brother.
"Might as well get it over with." The blond Slytherin declared, just as much unwilling to leave. Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say as Hermione frowned for a third time, eyes narrowing.
"It's a privilege to become a Prefect and a duty to the school that must be…" Harry raised a hand to interrupt her unable to resist rolling his time this time.
"It's alright Hermione, we understand, really." The green eyed wizard assured her, turning to glare at Neville, who was chortling from where he was lounged on his seat, one arm wrapped lazily around Luna, the girl appearing quite content to lean into him, head pillowed on his shoulder.
"I hate you, Longbottom." Draco voiced Harry's thoughts, making Neville laugh louder.
"Go on, you high and mighty Prefects!" Neville proclaimed dramatically. "Leave us unprivileged individuals here, anxiously awaiting your return." And he propped his feet on Harry's vacated seat, Luna muffling her laughter on his chest. Ginny was giggling at the spectacle while Harry sighed a long suffering sigh.
"No, I hate you, you don't understand." Draco repeated the sentiment dryly, his attempted scathing glare ruined by the upward twitching of his lips.
"No, I get it." Neville assured him smiling the widest grin in his arsenal.
"Harry, we're leaving!" Draco declared, imperiously exiting the compartment his robes flowing behind him as he walked, followed by the laughter of his family and friends.
"I'm surrounded by comedians." Harry stated, looking at Hermione earnestly. The girl blushed slightly under Harry's green gaze; the wizard in question smiled at her and then turned to smile even wider at the three people still in the compartment. "Be back in a few."
"We'll be here." Neville assured him. Harry nodded and walked to stand next to Draco, waiting for Hermione to follow them out so they could leave. The walk to the prefects' carriage was filled with small talk on Harry and Draco's side, mostly quidditch orientated, while Hermione spent the same amount of time, looking at the two wizards furtively, regarding their camaraderie with narrowed eyes. When they did reach the carriage, they found the Head Boy and Girl already there, alongside all the Hufflepuff prefects, most of the Ravenclaws and the sixth year Slytherin prefects, who Draco greeted with a wide smile and a wink. The two exchanged a confused look; they hadn't ever truly spoken to Draco besides the occasional greeting, the majority of Slytherins trying to steer clear -as discretely as possible, they were Slytherins after all, they had tact, thank you- from the children of widely known supporters of Voldemort. Neither side had ever tried to breach that gap, even as the years went by, and, as a result, Draco had never spoken more than a few sentences to the older prefects.
Harry smiled encouragingly at his brother and greeted everyone he remembered meeting before in the room by name, introducing himself to the ones he hadn't officially met. Draco was only too happy to follow his brother's example, effectively shocking everyone in the room. The meeting went as expected after that, rounds and responsibilities distributed equally to the twenty four prefects. They were given the password to the prefects' bathroom -Harry smiled at the memories of last year, mouthing cedar shower gel to Draco who tried coughing to cover his laughter- and the office allotted to them for meetings on the second floor of the castle. Their curfew, they were notified, was two hours later than the rest of the students' and Harry figured he could find ways to put those two extra hours and his rounds to good use; after all, having a legitimate excuse to snoop around the castle at night could only help with the Horcrux hunt.
Their meeting adjourned, Harry and Draco excused themselves and returned to their compartment just in time to catch the cart. Now armed with chocolate, the two newly minted prefects rejoined their brother and friends who had been, apparently, talking of animagi. Harry smiled thinking back on the day when Neville and Draco took the potion to find out their animagus form, should they have one. Ginny had joined them as all the witches of the Sisterhood were tested and trained, should they prove to have the potential. The green eyed wizard laughed lightly at the memory; Draco, who had easily caught up to his brother's train of thought, rolled his eyes and sighed, unable to stop a soft smile from forming on his lips. Just who hadn't been surprised of the results that day?
Ginny had turned out being a fox. Evy admitted that most Sirens that also possessed the ability of developing an animagus form turned out to take the shape of a fox too; their new history professor was a snow fox herself, and assured Ginny that she would help her every step of the way.
"I don't even know why Sirens turn out to be foxes, you see." Evy had explained. "One would have expected a songbird or something similar, but there you have it!" Harry had wondered ever since just how Ginny's ability as a Tamer would come into the mix in the long-haul; they would have to wait and see, was the general consensus. That animagus form, despite its seeming incompatibility with the inherent ability it was related to, was the least surprising of the day.
Draco had gone next, taking the potion with determination etched on his face, even as his eyes closed shut. When they opened again, his determination had been completely leeched from his expression, having been replaced by utter shock and confusion.
"C'mon, Draco, speak." Neville had urged his brother, trying to not project his anxiousness at the silent Slytherin. "It can't be that bad, can it be?" And he paused for a second regarding Draco, eyes widening. "Look, it's okay of you don't have an animagus form, who cares, really-"
"No, I have one." Draco assured him, managing a weak smile. "Just not one I expected."
"If it's one that unnerves you, you don't have to use it." Harry assured him, his hand falling comfortingly on his brother's shoulder. Slowly snapping out of his shock, Draco only smiled brighter, eyes crinkling at the corners as what had started as a soft smile soon turned into a grin and then into uproarious laughter.
"Unnerve me?" He asked, now practically vibrating with joy. "Are you kidding? I'm dying to see how certain people will react to it though!" And he started laughing freely again, Harry and Neville sharing a befuddled glance, despite smiling at their brother's happiness.
"For Merlin's sake, Draco," Severus had exclaimed, "what is it?"
"I'm a lion." Draco answered, stunning everyone to silence, chuckling again. "A white lion, to be specific." He elaborated. "Me! Can you believe it?" The stunned silence was prolonged for a few seconds longer until it was broken by Neville's enthusiastic whooping. Prolonged exposure to Gryffindors indeed, Harry mused, smiling fondly at the memory as he took his seat across Neville. Neville's form had been just as interesting and further proof that their whole family had a flair for the ostentatious.
"So?" Harry had asked his smug looking brother.
"I'm a bear." Neville had proclaimed, puffing out his chest, standing in his full height, as if he was instinctively trying to transform into his animagus form.
"Huh." The potions master had interrupted their scrutiny, nodded in comprehension. "It would make some sense."
"Because he seems to be ever growing?" Draco asked, cocking an eyebrow and finding himself on the painful end of an elbow to the ribs for his quip.
"Protective instincts a mile wide too." Harry interjected, not disputing his brother's explanation. "Mama bear." He added, smirking at Neville as the rest of their little group chuckled.
"Whatever. I'm awesome." Neville proceeded to inform them, laughing alongside his family as his proclamation set in.
"You know," Luna said, snapping Harry back to the present, "it's quite interesting that, while becoming an animagus is illegal unless you register, nobody cares to monitor the production and consumption of the potion required to start training. It's not like many people can brew it!" She added looking at Harry calmly; it was times like these that reminded the green eyed wizard that Luna was ridiculously clever and usually observed and understood much more than she let on. But before he could manage to even form the words to speak without giving out too much, Luna smiled comfortingly at him and turned to Neville, who was regarding her with wide eyes; and Harry was reminded why Luna observing and seeing probably more than she should could potentially only harm herself. She didn't have many friends but those who she did have? The girl cherished them. "My mother was one of those few." Luna added, leaving them all speechless. "I'm not saying that my parents have been encouraging me to complete my animagus transformation," she carried on, "but if they had, I would be able to tell you that my form would -hypothetically speaking, of course- be a bluebird." And she smiled wider at Neville's stupefied expression, kissing him on the cheek before shaking her head fondly.
"A bluebird?" Ginny asked, smiling even wider than her blond best friend. "You know, somehow, I can see that."
"Thank you." Was Luna's only answer. Neville looked at Harry, and then back at Luna, opening his mouth as if he was dying to say something before closing it again as if he had reconsidered, repeating the process a couple of times until Harry made his decision.
"You know, always hypothetically, I venture I'd be a wolf." Harry offered conversationally.
"I think that would suit you." Luna stated, after a few seconds of partially shocked, partially amused deliberation. "Always hypothetically, of course."
"I think I would make a decent fox." Ginny followed Harry's example with a wide smile on her face. "If nothing else, I'd fit right in, what with my hair and all!"
"I would be a lion." Draco stated, matter-of-factly, Luna's eyes widening marginally at the mental image. "Just for the pleasure of seeing the shock on people's faces." He admitted, smirking mischievously.
"And I'd be a bear." Neville proclaimed, hugging Luna little closer.
"Oh." Luna muttered, smiling up at the brown eyed Gryffindor. "Yes, I think that would suit you too." And then she smiled bright turning to all her friends. "You know, hypothetically, we'd all be breaking some serious laws."
"Well, as long as it's all hypothetical." Draco drawled, sending the occupants of their compartment to peals of laughter. Maybe, they should tell Luna, Harry mused. It's not as if they were keeping the secret from Voldemort any longer. And, most importantly, now there was Orbein. If things got too ugly, there was a place where Luna could be kept safe; although, Harry admitted to himself, as he got to know Luna better, he could see there was more to her than met the eye. The dreamy expression she always wore like a shield slipped and the girl under that was one that could hold her own at any battle, with the correct training. Maybe telling her would be just the right thing to do, even if only so her training could commence all that sooner. Neville, for one, Harry mused, would voice no objections. Wanting to broach the subject to his father first, Harry joined in the current conversation.
Ginny was speaking of Evy, explaining to Luna how she would be their new professor of History of Magic. After pondering a bit on how that would affect the attendance at class of the sixth and seventh years' students, the conversation turned, as was natural, to one Dolores Umbridge.
"I've read some of her articles," Luna said, her brow frowning in a mild disgust. "She isn't very fond of the muggleborn, or of the other magical races."
"She isn't very fond of anything," Ginny interjected, after a collective moment of thoughtful silence, "other than herself. And she uses herself as the measure with which she deems others worthy or not, unsurprisingly finding them lacking, I think."
"And now she'll be teaching at the greatest primary educational institution of the country." Harry mused.
"When Fudge said he was aiming for educational reform," Draco spoke, "what did you think he had in mind for her?"
"I don't, not for a single moment, believe Fudge could have come up with the idea of a reform by himself." Luna stated calmly and, taking the silence that met her words as confirmation enough, added; "So, what could Lord Voldemort," and closing her eyes tightly for a few seconds seemed to be her only adverse reaction to speaking the name out loud, Neville beaming with pride at her, "have thought when he called for an educational reform?"
"Taking power from Dumbledore?" Draco proposed, shrugging. This too, was one of the many subjects that had been discussed at Silbreith on the last weeks of the summer.
"And having a stepping stone into Hogwarts through the Ministry." Neville added.
"Let's not forget how all this must look to the average wizard." Harry concluded. "Imagine you knew nothing of what had happened last June but what you've heard of from rumors, impressionable youth, the Ministry and the Daily Prophet. Who would you believe? Because that's what's happening right now; the only one that's spoken publically of Voldemort's return is Dumbledore. All rest is hearsay since, the moment he realized how the Ministry was reacting, Dumbledore asked for nobody else to take a public stand, quite possibly preferring to keep some of his own people in key positions inside the Ministry for the time being. Now, all the public sees is the Ministry trying to run damage control to the actions of a once great wizard that's started losing it in his dotage; Fudge appears to have held a strong, firm stand on Voldemort not being back, without having fired Dumbledore yet, showing he's trying to regulate the issue without being overly disrespectful. If anything, with how the Daily Prophet's been painting Dumbledore, Fudge is rather coming out as mellow and sympathetic."
"If one overlooks how the Ministry has been behind most of these articles anyway." Ginny said, pressing the heels of her palms over closed eyelids. "Fudge hasn't been this popular since the end of the first war."
"True." Neville stated, nodding in agreement.
"Do you think there's any chance the Ministry will change tactics any time soon?" Luna inquired.
"Not unless Voldemort does something so glaringly obvious and in such a public setting there could be no disputing his return." Harry rubbed his temples soothingly, all the while cursing the Minister inside his head. "Voldemort's supporters in key positions in the Ministry are ready to cover for him at any time and Fudge is ready to believe anything they say and willfully promote it publically, as long as he can carry on believing Voldemort's dead and buried."
"We won't know what hit us." Luna muttered, settling closer to Neville.
"We can only do our best to prepare for what's coming." Harry agreed, lips pressing together. "And hope Voldemort does something befitting his megalomania soon. Which is a prospect I hate, have I mentioned how much I hate it, lately?" He asked, turning towards his brothers.
"No more than a hundred or so times." Neville stated the very same moment Draco asked;
"Lately, as in today?"
"Ha-ha." Harry mocked, despite some genuine mirth at their attempt to lighten the mood. The train ride carried on in a relatively jovial atmosphere, the conversation revolving mostly around a few funny stories from the dragon shelter in Romania and what happened to the dragons after the first task, predictions of Umbridge's classes and a quick summary of the currently prevailing theory on the origins of magic, courtesy of Harry -who had read on the subject on his own and at his Ancient Magic course- and Ginny -who had made a point to ask Evy about it the moment she realized just how little their school curriculum had covered.
By nightfall, the train had already started slowing down, signifying their arrival at Hogwarts. Despite the rather bleak predictions for the coming year, Harry couldn't help smiling a little at the sight of the grand castle. A moment later, of course, Adrian passed by them, glaring at him with a passion, causing Harry to roll his eyes and soldier on to the carriages, leaving Draco and Neville glaring daggers at the back of his twin's head in retaliation.
"I honestly can't bother at this point." Harry stated, smiling ruefully, the very moment Neville opened his mouth to speak, probably to suggest some form of retribution for what Adrian had put his brother through during the past year.
"You should see how Percy's been acting lately." Ginny said, earning a commiserating look from Luna who had, apparently, already heard the story.
"Percy?" Harry asked, as the five teens climbed into the carriage that would take them to the school.
"Yes." Ginny nodded. "He's working at the Ministry, as you know, and he decided to take Fudge's side on everything." Silence fell inside the carriage.
"He what?" Draco asked, blinking owlishly.
"He didn't." Harry echoed the sentiment of all three wizards.
"But he did." Ginny assured them. "He'd been, apparently, getting more and more distant the whole summer and finally announced he was siding with the Ministry yesterday, over diner." Ginny smirked and shrugged; her family had always been a close knit unit. She had believed it would always remain so, despite the coming war. Perhaps especially because of the coming war. Percy's reaction still didn't feel real to her. "He tried to coerce me to side with him, now that, as he put it, I'm a member of the most esteemed coven in the world, to which I had to remind him that no, thank you, the Sisterhood takes no sides at any war." She grimaced. "He laughed, saying there is no war and I kindly answered that there would soon be one. He stormed out after that. Mom's taken it pretty bad." She added after a sort moment of silence.
"Ginny, I'm sorry, I had no idea." Harry muttered as the carriages started moving.
"How could you have?" Ginny responded, smiling humorlessly. "I hadn't told you. I needed some time to stomach it first."
"How's that going for you?" Harry asked.
"Right now it isn't going at all." The redhead admitted, shaking her head. "But you know what?" She asked, her smile turning a bit wistful. "Sort of dragging him home by force there is nothing I can do. He has to make his own decisions. I can't think for him. I just wish he'll stay safe." Then she frowned, looking at Harry apologetically. "And you really don't need to hear that from me."
"That's what friends are for. You've been hearing about Adrian for much longer." Harry pointed out.
"As it stands, I'd rather we talked about something else." Ginny admitted. Harry knew the feeling only too well.
"Hmm…" Neville hummed once before nodding, as if deciding on something, and turning to Harry. "My Gran thinks I should better start hanging out with, as she put it, the other Potter twin. Apparently, she distrusts the company you've been keeping."
"Goblins' gold!" Harry exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air, admitting surrender. Draco paled slightly, gaze lowering to the floor, hands balling into fists.
"That's what I said before reminding her that the company you've been keeping for the longest time is, basically, me and that, above all, should be indicative of our other friends." And he elbowed Draco playfully, the blond smiling slightly at him, the tension in his shoulders easing just a bit. "Then I informed her that I'd rather stick with the younger Potter twin and my present friends, thank you, and if she had any objections to that then she'd be at least a hypocrite as she's been urging me on being decisive and loyal to my friends since I was old enough to talk." Nobody smiled wider at him in the face of that proclamation than Luna.
"Sorry about that." Draco muttered.
"I'll punch you." Neville responded gleefully. Draco rolled his eyes and added;
"Thank you for the support though."
"What did you expect?" Harry asked in turn. "You're stuck with us, we've already told you as much. It's also lovely to see not only the Potters are a prejudiced lot. I do feel a bit less hopeful about the future of the wizarding community of this country now."
"If you find the subject distressing, we could always return to the lovely prospect of having Umbridge as a teacher?" Neville offered, making Draco snort in thinly veiled disgust.
"Our conversation topics are depressing already and the term hasn't even started yet." The Slytherin commented. "What a year this is shaping up to be!" The sarcasm in his voice was an almost tangible thing, naturally amusing Neville to no ends.
"Cheer up, Malfoy! This term might surprise you yet." The brown haired Gryffindor proclaimed, elbowing his brother playfully. "It can't be as bad as Mr. Pessimistic over there," and he pointed at Harry who huffed indignantly at the accusation, "makes it up to be, I'm sure."
As luck however would have it, it was.
If anybody had bothered to ask Harry for his opinion, he would have eagerly supported his theory of how gossip was the only thing in existence that traveled faster than light. He would have supported this theory by simply cocking an eyebrow and pointing at the entirety of the student body of Hogwarts -minus the, as of yet, unsorted first years- that had uniformly broken into whispering from the moment Adrian, Evy, Umbridge and -much to her displeasure- Ginny had stepped into plain view. The different compartments of Hogwarts Express and the fact that Evy had mainly been known to them through rumor and newspaper articles only fed the gossip mill especially about the two students and their new History of Magic professor. The fact that Evy was seated next to Severus and conversing quite animatedly with him -she had the same animated air about her Harry remembered from when she had passed on information about Andûn, so he guessed the subject to be history again- the potions master smiling amusedly at her, only served to intensify the whispering.
Umbridge was quietly talked of too, Harry noted, chortling loudly when, while passing by a group of Hufflepuff students, he heard a boy he vaguely remembered from last year's Sorting describe her as: "Wait, you mean that oddly bullfrogish lady in the bubblegum-pink taffeta-contraption is our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?" Making a mental note to award two points to Hufflepuff once the term started officially on account of excellent character judgment and highly imaginative descriptive abilities, he made his way to the Gryffindor table, saying his goodbyes to Luna and patting Draco on the shoulder. Draco winked at him and Neville and proceeded to sit next to the sixth year Prefects of his house, soon engaging them in what appeared to be a pleasant conversation.
The three Gryffindors took seats next to each other, chatting mostly about the OWL exams and Harry's experience with one already. Harry, of course, didn't miss how Adrian made a point to sit at the furthest seat available from him, lacking however the incentive and willingness to comment upon it and feeling decisively uninterested in actually doing something about it even more. The bubble of gossiping only intensified around them, at least until Ginny glanced around the table after a particularly loud comment and rolled her eyes -that had coincidentally been the reason for said comment- in exasperation.
"You know," she said in a clear, if somehow miffed tone, "being in the Sisterhood is something I take pride in and certainly nothing I'd wish to hide but pointing at me is plain rude." And she locked eyes with Lavender that had been doing just that.
"Hear, hear!" Neville exclaimed, Fred and George hasting to rise in her defense in their own, unique way, assuring everybody within hearing range that Ginny's now lilac eyes didn't take away from her glaring capabilities; and you wouldn't want to find yourself in the course of those, they concluded. That they were prepared to prank and/or hex anyone that made their baby sister uncomfortable may or may not have been implied.
At the other side of the table, Seamus appeared to be content with staring holes at Adrian, hailing the beginning of what Harry feared would become a blown out argument before the night was through. He recalled Seamus' mother worked for the Ministry of Magic and that had probably put him in a position to only hear the Ministry's slander concerning Voldemort's return. Just what they needed, Harry mused. Angry parents with their children's best interests at heart, making certain their offspring wouldn't even consider believing anything other outside the Ministry's directions.
And, while his heart screamed and hollered at the injustice of it all -proper preparation could be what saved their lives in the end and the Ministry was using their own parents to prevent them from having it- while he wanted to stand up and yell the truth at their faces, his dealings with goblins and his father's tutoring on relevant subjects urged him for a more diplomatic approach. Which was horrible, really, because such an approach called for a) a probable lack of cursing on his part -verbal or magical, who cared at this point?- and b) waiting to observe their actual actions before working out a suitable reaction. Waiting, of course, being the verb which marked the root of his problem.
Thankfully, no matter how much Seamus and Adrian seemed eager to scream at each other, the tension was broken by, surprisingly, Ron, who had noticed Hagrid was not amongst the teaching staff. Instead, his usual spot on the teacher's table was occupied by Professor Grubbly-Plank. His twin, Hermione and Ron started whispering frantically to each other, obviously knowing something more behind the reason of Hagrid's disappearance. Severus had mentioned that Hagrid was to be sent to his giant kin, to try and bridge the differences between them and their side. The green eyed wizard winced at the thought; Hagrid could appear scary to an outsider but he was one of the kindest souls Harry had had the privilege of meeting. Sending him to the giants, while it did look logical on paper, might not have been the best solution imaginable. Either way, Harry figured, as the door opened and the first years tripped into the Great Hall, Hagrid could take care of his self if needed be. The man kept those caterpillars from hell as pets, after all!
The buzz of talk in the Great Hall faded away. The first years lined up in front of the staff table facing the rest of the students, and Professor McGonagall placed the stool carefully in front of them, then stood back. The first years' faces glowed palely in the candlelight. A small boy right in the middle of the row looked as though he was trembling. Harry recalled, fleetingly, how terrified he had felt when he had stood there, waiting for the sorting that would determine to which House he belonged. Thank Merlin for his father being there! The whole school waited with bated breath. Then the rip near the hat's brim opened wide like a mouth and the Sorting Hat burst into song:
In times of old when I was new
And Hogwarts barely started
The founders of our noble school
Thought never to be parted:
United by a common goal,
They had the selfsame yearning,
To make the world's best magic school
And pass along their learning.
"Together we will build and teach!"
The four good friends decided
And never did they dream that they
Might someday be divided,
For were there such friends anywhere
As Slytherin and Gryffndor?
Unless it was the second pair
Of Huffepuff and Ravenclaw?
"My, the Hat has really put some effort to his song this year." Neville mused. "Ours didn't rhyme half as well!"
So how could it have gone so wrong?
How could such friendships fail?
Why, I was there and so can tell
The whole sad, sorry tale.
Said Slytherin, "We'll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest."
Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest."
Said Gryffindor, "We'll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name,"
Said Hufflepujf, "I'll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same."
These differences caused little strife
When first they came to light,
For each of the four founders had
A House in which they might
Take only those they wanted, so,
For instance, Slytherin
Took only pure-blood wizards
Of great cunning, just like him,
And only those of sharpest mind
Were taught by Ravenclaw
While the bravest and the boldest
Went to daring Gryffindor.
Good Hufflepujf she took the rest,
And taught them all she knew,
Thus the Houses and their founders
Retained friendships firm and true.
So Hogwarts worked in harmony
For several happy years,
But then discord crept among us
Feeding on our faults and fears.
"Does the song sound a bit longer this year or is it just me?" Harry asked, looking at his brother and Ginny in mild confusion. And has the song ever been so focused on how the Founders had been close friends before their fallout? Not that he disagreed with the sentiment, of course.
The Houses that, like pillars four,
Had once held up our school,
Now turned upon each other and,
Divided, sought to rule.
And for a while it seemed the school
Must meet an early end,
What with dueling and with fighting
And the clash of friend on friend
And at last there came a morning
When old Slytherin departed
And though the fighting then died out
He left us quite downhearted.
And never since the founders four
Were whittled down to three
Have the Houses been united
As they once were meant to be.
And now the Sorting Hat is here
And you all know the score:
I sort you into Houses
Because that is what I'm for,
But this year I'll go further,
Listen closely to my song:
Though condemned I am to split you
Still I worry that it's wrong,
Though I must fulfill my duty
And must quarter every year
Still I wonder whether sorting
May not bring the end I fear.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
The warning history shows,
For our Hogwarts is in danger
From external, deadly foes.
And we must unite inside her
Or we'll crumble from within.
"Go, Cap!" Ginny muttered, while Harry nodded in agreement. That was some enchantment on that old hat right there, he mused.
For ours is an age and era
Where great power works unseen.
And even those who're very close
Are much more than one might glean.
"Did it just…" Harry croaked, looking at Neville and Ginny in befuddlement.
"It did." Neville nodded, his own eyes widening as he surreptitiously looked around him for anybody that might be staring at his brother. A glance towards the Slytherin table and Draco's shocked expression -should his eyebrows rise higher they would become one with his hairline, Harry was certain- was enough to assure himself Draco had caught the insinuation too. Harry then turned to his father who was sporting the perfect poker face, while Evy stared, unblinking, at the Cap.
I have told you, I have warned you...
Let the Sorting now begin.
"Thanks awfully, mate!" Neville mumbled, clapping with more force than necessary at the song. "Perceptive little bugger."
"Quite." Harry agreed, hoping the Cap's words wouldn't cause him any undue trouble. From the way, however, Seamus was glaring at Adrian once again, he felt somehow reassured at how the final verses of the song could be misinterpreted. The Sorting carried on, with the students of every House applauding for their new members.
It was only after the last student was sorted and the food served that Nearly-Headless Nick went around explaining how the Cap, staying all year-long at the Headmaster's office as it did, probably heard a lot of what went on in there. And it was present during the basilisk ordeal, Harry realized; no wonder it knew so much about what went on at Hogwarts. Maybe he should take initiative and try talking to the Cap? It was doubtful that it would provide him with any information, as the last time they'd spoken -in his own Sorting- the Cap had made a point of stating it didn't share information. Still, a try couldn't hurt.
"I can't wait for Dumbledore to introduce Evy." Ginny said, looking towards the staff's table. Evelyn had shrunk as far away as it was polite from Umbridge -who seemed intent on conversing with her- almost falling onto Severus who looked on the unfolding scene with mild amusement.
"Do Professor Snape and Princess Evelyn really know each other?" Fred asked, following his sister's gaze. A brief silence fell across the people close enough to overhear the question, before more questions rose to fill it.
"They know each other?" Lavender asked, eyes glinting.
"What do you mean they know each other?" Dean pondered.
"How?" A fourth year girl whose name Harry couldn't recall wondered.
"They met each other at the Minister's ball over the summer." Ginny stated calmly before turning her gaze steadily towards her fellow Gryffindors.
"What, that's it?" Lavender queried eagerly. "C'mon Ginny, you must give us more than that!"
"I surely must not." The redhead responded, lilac eyes intent on the older girl; Lavender froze at her seat and Harry found himself fully appreciating the effectiveness of Ginny's glaring. The Weasley twins had been absolutely right, it seemed. "Evy is my sister." Ginny carried on, undeterred, her voice taking on an authoritative tone; whether it was part of the package of how she glared at people or her Siren gift shining through, Harry couldn't tell. "And I will neither talk behind her back nor allow others to. If, however, you feel the absolute need to know more about her or Professor Snape, all you have to do is ask them." She added, smiling kindly. The terrified silence that followed her suggestion lasted, so, considering that conversation over, she returned to her wild cherry cheesecake.
"Evil as ever." Harry commented when the table around them tentatively returned to the standard level of chattering -with the glaring exception of the still petrified Lavender- Neville chuckling over his apple juice.
"Yes, well, constant vigilance and all that." Ginny responded, truly smiling for the first time since the platters were filled. A couple of minutes later the plates disappeared from the table and Dumbledore stood for his customary speech.
"Well, now that we are all digesting another magnificent feast, I beg a few moments of your attention for the usual start-of-term notices," said Dumbledore. "First years ought to know that the forest in the grounds is out of bounds to students -and a few of our older students ought to know by now too." And if only you knew, Harry mused.
"But it's such a charming forest." Neville mumbled next to him, chuckling pleasantly.
"Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four hundred and sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr. Filch's office door. We have had three changes in staffing this year. We are very pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will be taking Care of Magical Creatures lessons; we are also delighted to introduce Professor Umbridge, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher." The applause was polite, even if a bit hesitant, most students staring at the excess of pink on their new Defense teacher. "And finally, a very warm welcome to her Highness, princess Evelyn of Norway, who will be taking over the History of Magic lessons." This time the applause was uproarious, not only because of Evy being who she was and thus a novelty the likes of which nobody had expected so soon after the Triwizard tournament, but also because her teaching History of Magic meant Binns wasn't. Evelyn smiled and waved at the students before turning to Severus and saying something that had the potions master chuckling and shaking his head fondly at her.
"Bloody hell." Ron muttered a few seats across Harry causing him to smile even wider.
"Tryouts for the House Quidditch teams will take place on the-" Dumbledore continued only to break off, looking inquiringly at Professor Umbridge. As she was not much taller standing than sitting, there was a moment when nobody understood why Dumbledore had stopped talking, but then Professor Umbridge said, "hem, hem," and it became clear that she had got to her feet and was intending to make a speech. Dumbledore only looked taken aback for a moment, then he sat back down smartly and looked alertly at Professor Umbridge as though he desired nothing better than to listen to her talk.
Other members of staff were not as adept at hiding their surprise. Professor Sprout's eyebrows had disappeared into her flyaway hair and Professor McGonagall's mouth was as thin as Harry had ever seen it. Severus was leaning on his left hand that he'd propped up on the table, rolling his eyes once before massaging his temples, just as he always did when preparing to fill out the tons of paperwork the Ministry or Gringotts demanded for pretty much everything. Evy was looking at the pink clad woman with the same vaguely polite and completely devoid of feeling expression -that she had admitted to having perfected at an early age- that signified she was tuning out everything while appearing as politely interested as possible.
"Thank you, Headmaster," she simpered, in a high-pitched grating tone, "for those warm words of welcome!"
"Well, bugger everything." Neville muttered eloquently, one eyebrow cocked as he peered at Umbridge. "Just when I thought I couldn't dislike her more."
"Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!" She smiled, revealing very pointed teeth. "And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!"
"You were saying?" Harry asked his brother, grimacing at being talked to as if he was a five year old. A quick glance around him was enough to tell he wasn't alone at his thoughts.
"I stand corrected." Neville acquiesced.
"I am very much looking forward to getting to know you all, and I'm sure we'll be very good friends!" Students exchanged looks at this; some of them were barely concealing grins.
"I may cry." Ginny quipped dryly while Umbridge carried on with her speech, resembling a toad all the more every time she cleared her throat.
"The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance. The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the Wizarding community must be passed down through the generations lest we lose them forever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished, and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching." She added, her tone now much more business-like and to the point, her words sounding rehearsed, her voice losing some of that simpering quality.
"Oh, look." Harry stated unimpressed. "Thinly veiled racist speeches already and we've not even had a single class of Defense Against the Dark Arts yet."
"Is it some sort of record?" Ginny asked, turning her glare towards Umbridge. "Do we keep track? Arrange prizes?"
"We could. Only if pranks are admissible as prizes, however." Harry offered, cocking an eyebrow at his own trail of thought. He did have some good ideas from time to time if he said so himself, and, judging by the fact the only-slightly-disturbing glint in Neville's eyes that was mirrored into Ginny's, he wasn't the only one to think so.
"It is with such conviction that I and others like myself," she carried on, looking pointedly at Evy, "have chosen to join the teaching staff of this historical establishment." As it turned out, being compared to Umbridge -and found similar- was probably the only thing that could have snapped Evy out of her personal bubble of active disregard at what was being said. She frowned at the older witch and, assuming an expression of affronted disgust, turned her gaze towards Severus. The potions master shrugged, because, really, what could he do to stop Umbridge's delusions? Evy's expression shifted from affronted disgust to hurt betrayal, folding her arms over her chest, her stance promising retribution, causing Severus to move his hands in a placating motion, trying to convey that he absolutely neither believed nor indeed supported the notion of any similarities existing between the two women. Evy proceeded to nod swiftly and Harry didn't need Legillimency to read "and don't you forget it, mister!" between the lines.
Harry, somehow belatedly, realized that, since he was able to observe the silent conversation between Evy and his father, rationally so could the whole school. And, though neither the potions master nor the newly minted history professor seemed to care, most of the student body -and, in fact, even part of the staff, including the Headmaster himself- smiled and giggled at the display. Umbridge, who was perhaps the one person unable to see what exactly was going on behind her back, as she was addressing the student body, paused her speech confused, looking around her for the source of the spreading merriment. Her confusion only escalated when, upon finally turning her gaze towards Evy and Severus, she found both looking at her calmly, their expressions the picture of innocence, as if they had been riveted by her speech all along.
"Well," she muttered, before clearing her throat to carry on, "hem-hem, as I was saying… Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation is required."
"The more she talks," Ginny said, "the less I like this educational reform and I didn't care for it to begin with." Harry nodded, his eyes narrowing. He had been present at enough talks with the goblins, he had been taught well over the years by his father too, and he could easily recognize the message Umbridge was trying to convey here. Behind all the flowery speeches and pretend cordiality was a warning -no, not a warning, a statement- of how things would be from that moment on in Hogwarts. The Ministry had given her the right to intervene to pretty much everything from the sound of it. And though most of the students around the Great Hall had stopped paying attention altogether, the complete silence that was only reserved for Dumbledore's speeches having dissolved into giggling and chattering, Umbridge plowed on, aware that the people whose attention she was trying to captivate were listening. Indeed, all the teaching staff was now paying her the utmost attention, all of them sporting various expressions varying from worry to fury and many combinations of the two.
"…because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgment. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."
"So, basically," Harry concluded, applauding -albeit slowly- as Dumbledore had indicated they all should at Umbridge's speech ending, "what she said is that the Ministry intents to oust what disagrees with them and mold everything they can't be rid of as they see fit."
"He leaves nothing to chance this time around, does he?" Ginny asked, not bothering to specify who he was.
"I'd say." Neville agreed, frowning. "And if that whole speech -and the entire bloody educational reform- isn't an error of judgment that will be recognized as such in the fullness of time, I don't know what is." It took the sudden noise eruption around them to realize Dumbledore must have dismissed the school.
Harry said his goodbyes to Ginny and his brother and approached a surly looking Hermione so they could lead the first years to the Common Room, what most considered an additional chore that had fallen to them as the youngest Prefects of their House. Nodding at Draco, as he prepared to do the same, he made his way towards the seventh floor, smiling at the first years who managed to gather their courage and ask him, bright-eyed, about the Firebolt. He would talk to Draco later as their shifts somewhat coincided; Harry was to patrol the dungeons -he had conveniently volunteered for that as Prefects patrolled away from their Houses' common rooms to avoid favouritism and nobody wanted to patrol the dungeons as the hallways there got quite cold and dreary during the autumn and winter months- and Draco was to patrol the Great Hall and the first floor of the west wing.
Back to the present, however, remembering how lost some of his fellow students as first years who had never set foot at Hogwarts before that night had been after his own sorting -and since those specific first years had managed to take his mind off Umbridge and her speech even for a few moments- he decided to explain a bit about how the stairs worked and where their classes were located. The children -even the Muggleborn ones that had never heard of Quidditch and the Firebolt or the Triwizard tournament for that matter- seemed to be hanging from his words, Hermione sending an unsure smile his way -a vast improvement from the glares he'd been receiving from her for the past year or so- and, as they stepped foot on the seventh floor, he explained how the passwords system worked.
"The current password is Mimbulus mimbletonia." Upon seeing their mostly confused expressions, he smiled kindly and added; "It's a magical plant. You'll learn all about it at your Herbology class, rest assured. Now this," he said as he smiled and bowed courteously at the painting hanging in front of them, "is the Fat Lady. She has graciously guarded our Common Room for centuries and has suffered the mischievous natures of generations of Gryffindors, including myself." And he winked at the first years who giggled at the display and then giggled even more as the Fat Lady exclaimed;
"Mr. Potter!" Her face reddening as she coquettishly batted her eyelids at him from behind her lace-and-feathers-adorned fan.
"My lady." Harry bowed at her once more before giving the password, leading the first years into the Common Room, letting them marvel at the sight for a few seconds before speaking once more. "Now, if you have any questions during the year you may address Hermione, myself, or any other Prefect. If you find yourself lost in the castle…" and at some panicked reactions he smiled softly and added, "as most of us do, at some point; why, I remember that one time I took a wrong turn and found myself-" he made a show of looking at Hermione and closing his mouth abruptly as if just remembering he was a Prefect and so was she, "you know I'd better not mention where I ended up. Just know I really wasn't supposed to be there." The first years, along with some of the older students that had been listening into the conversation, laughed, even as Hermione glared at him, probably for promoting mischief or something similar -it wasn't as if he was going to mention trying to walk off his annoyance and ending up in the Forbidden Forest a breath away from dragon cages to first year students!- so he carried on. "As I was saying, don't hesitate to ask older students, teachers or even the ghosts and paintings for help. That's all; you had better go to your dormitories to get situated and rest." He added, channeling his inner Minnie; he thought the house elf would have been proud could she see him right then. "Welcome to Hogwarts and welcome to Gryffindor."
The first years bid the two Prefects goodnight somewhat timidly but with much more ease than when they had greeted them at the Great Hall. Harry's good mood somehow dissipated as the younger students walked away from him and towards their dormitories as instructed. Those children would find themselves in the midst of war soon, he remembered, sullenly congratulating his mind for not allowing him even that small respite from reality. Not that it would do any good. Hermione looked at him strangely, opening her mouth but unable to ask what she had been meaning to as Ginny approached them, that glint in her eyes once more.
"You've just made Minnie very proud, Mr. Potter." That, at least, managed to elicit a smile from Harry.
"I do try, Miss Weasley." He responded, looking around for his brother. "Hasn't Neville returned yet?" He asked, wondering if he had, perhaps, taken the opportunity to spend some time with Luna.
"Seamus ran up to the dormitory in a fit and Adrian with Ron followed him not five minutes ago, your twin looking the part of an extremely angry raincloud." Ginny explained. "Neville followed after them just in case." As if by magic, the clattering and cursing that wafted from the fifth-years' dormitory proved the prudence of Neville's decision. Harry exchanged one disturbed glance with Ginny before hasting towards the ruckus. What he found once opening the door of the boys' dormitory had him staring. Dean was helping Ron stand up from where he lay sprawled on the floor, one hand pressing over his left eye that was already starting to bruise while, in the middle of the room, Neville was holding Adrian and Seamus -who were glaring at each other still- from their shirt collars, looking unimpressed. Adrian was missing a few buttons from his shirt while Seamus sported a split lip and Harry looked at Neville in utter befuddlement.
"What in bloody hell happened?" He asked, still unable to process the scene.
"Words were exchanged, insults were thrown around liberally and then this one," Neville said, shaking Adrian who glared at him poisonously, "lunged at this one." And he shook Seamus too for good measure. "Then Ron tried to stop them but someone," and here he looked at Seamus meaningfully, "socked him in the eye." The shorter boy glared at him too and looked away from both Neville and Adrian, trying to express his annoyance. It didn't come out half as dignified a move as he intended, considering he was still held by the scruff of his neck like an overgrown, misbehaving kitten. "Then I intervened before they could reach for their wands and then you walked in." Neville explained. Still not understanding the cause of the fight, Harry nonetheless appreciated magic's choice of dubbing his brother's animagus form a bear, seeing how he easily kept the two still somewhat struggling teens away from each other.
"But what caused it?"
"He's having a go at me Mam!" Seamus yelled.
"He was what?" Harry asked, looking at his twin in disbelief. "Why would you do that, Adrian?"
"It's not my fault she's stupid enough to believe every word the bloody Ministry says about me!" proclaimed Adrian at the top of his voice. Harry paled as Seamus tried -and failed- to attack his twin.
"Don't you have a go at my mother," snapped Seamus. "Let me at 'im, Neville!"
"No, I can't see me doing that." Neville stated, his muscles straining to keep the two boys from each other but not budging.
"Enough!" Harry exclaimed, pulling out his wand. Seamus ceased his assault attempts immediately and even Adrian paused to glare at his twin. "Adrian you were raised better." Harry stated, glaring back at his twin; insulting people's mothers would do nothing good for him.
"Of course, that's the issue here!" Adrian fumed. "Me being insulting! Not Voldemort returning and the Ministry trying to cover it up! But of course, you'd take their side, wouldn't you?" Adrian asked menacingly, his face getting redder. "You've been chummy with Fudge and Death Eaters lately, haven't you? You've made which side you'll be on the coming war quite clear!" The silence that followed was absolute, if one excepted Adrian's rugged breathing. Or the ringing in Harry's ears for that matter.
"You know, Adrian," Neville spoke, his tone so dark it almost took Harry's mind of his twin's accusations, "I'm of a mind to curse the living daylights out of you, just for what you said." And he pushed Adrian back, sending him tumbling on his bed in disgust. Even Adrian himself suddenly seemed taken aback; if it was because of Neville's actions or because he regretted his accusations, Harry couldn't tell. Neville let go of Seamus too -the teen scampering backwards in his haste to get away- before tidying his robes, probably to have something to do with his hands that didn't include punching Adrian or reaching for his wand. "But," Neville added, looking at the still frozen Adrian, "you're not even worth the trouble." Adrian sneered at that, his eyes squinting.
"You know, I have been expecting Harry's actions," he stated, his words obviously aiming to wound, "but not yours. You being your parents' son and all, I would have never thought you siding with-" He never managed to complete his sentence as the bed hangings from Seamus' bed, that had probably become dislodged during the scuffle and had fallen towards Neville's bed, suddenly burst into flames where they lay next to Harry's feet. Harry swiftly cast a fire extinguishing spell, closing his eyes shut and clenching his jaw as he tried taking deep breaths to calm himself. Of all the cheap shots, how did Adrian even dare to mention Neville's parents?
"What the-" Dean started to say only to be interrupted by an annoyed sounding Neville.
"Damn it, I need those fire seeds!" Harry opened his eyes to find his brother making a show of pushing back the scorched curtains for his open trunk -and he hoped he hadn't damaged any of Neville's belongings- and reaching in for the open fireproof pouch he used to keep fire seeds in. "Only four left." He muttered before turning to Adrian. "I do hope you're satisfied." He stated drily, retying the pouch -the very pouch he always double checked was well tied and secure and untying it so fast surely must have taken some serious slight-of-hand- and placing it back into his trunk.
"And I hope you like detention." Harry stated, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "This Friday at eight, after class, with Professor McGonagall; I'll make sure to explain to her exactly why you've been given it." He added as Adrian went paler than a ghost.
"You can't-" Adrian tried to utter.
"You'll find that I can." Harry interrupted him. "Prefect and all."
"Thanks for that, Harry." Seamus said, looking at Adrian smugly.
"Not exactly why I did it, though Adrian had no right speaking as he did about your mother." Harry said, looking at the blond Gryffindor. "Last term, after the Triwizard tournament, I asked you to listen to what the Headmaster had to say without prejudice." That obviously came as news to both Adrian, who hadn't been dismissed from the hospital wing at the time, and Ron, who had been at his friend's side. "I'm going to say that again and ask you to remember that, during the last war too, Voldemort had tried reaching into the Ministry."
"You're asking us to believe in what Dumbledore says?" Seamus asked, this time thoughtful if still hesitant.
"I wouldn't presume to tell you what to think." Harry answered diplomatically. "Just to examine all you hear, from every source, before making a decision." Seamus didn't answer verbally; he just shared a look with Dean and nodded once. Adrian, observing the exchange, huffed and scrambled on his bed, pulling the curtains shut around him. Harry sighed tiredly at his reaction and repaired Seamus' bed hangings silently before returning them in their proper place. Neville, looked at him concerned for a few moments before moving towards Ron, looking at his swiftly closing eye and casting a quick healing charm at it.
"That should do it." He muttered as Ron rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Listen, Neville, don't take what Adrian said to heart, alright?" The redhead said. "He's been under a lot of pressure lately and-"
"No amount of pressure justifies his actions." Harry spat coldly, almost daring Ron to keep up with his defense of Adrian.
"I… just…" Ron sighed and turned towards Neville. "Look, I'm sorry that-"
"It's not you that should be apologizing." Neville stated walking towards the door. "I'm heading to the Common Room for a while. Coming, Harry?"
"I have my rounds, still." Harry answered, gladly following his brother out the room. They walked silently, unable to discuss what had happened under the eyes of most of Gryffindor House, but Neville placed his hand on his brother's shoulder comfortingly. Harry, who thought he wasn't the one that should be comforted at that point, smiled tiredly at Neville.
"Quick thinking back there." He said.
"Meh, I'm awesome like that, what can you do?" Neville asked, his own answering smile much wider than his brother's.
"So full of it." Harry teased, his expression fond at Neville's obvious efforts at distracting him.
"Adrian's full of it." Neville clarified. "Adrian's full of a lot of things actually, most of them unsavory. I'm just awesome, honestly."
"Quite right." Harry agreed. They reached the bottom of the stairs to find Hermione waiting for them.
"And I don't give a fig about what he says." Neville assured his brother, looking him in the eye until he was certain he had understood him. "I don't care enough for his opinion to have it affect me." Harry nodded once, using his brother's assurances as s shield to fight back his fury.
"Is everything alright?" She inquired. "We have to start our rounds."
"We'll live." Neville answered, nudging his brother slightly towards the Common Room's entrance.
"We will." Harry agreed, nodding at his brother before following Hermione out the Common Room, smiling sadly at Ginny as he walked by. Hermione seemed to want to ask him what had happened but Harry, not even wanting to think about it, declared he should be heading towards the dungeons and hightailed towards the Grand Staircase. He walked down the steps like an automaton, snapping out of his numbness only upon reaching the, now empty, Great Hall where Draco waited. It took the blond Slytherin a simple gaze to realize something had gone extremely wrong in the half hour since he had seen his brother.
"What happened?" He asked in concern.
"Would you mind skipping the beginning of your rounds and follow me to Sev's office? It's one of those things I'd rather only repeat once." Harry admitted.
"We still have ten minutes before we have to start our sounds anyway." Draco stated and followed Harry back into the dungeons. Since Harry was, in fact, the only patrolling prefect at these halls, they reached Severus' office without any difficulties. The potions master answered the door in a matter of seconds, having expected the visit after Umbridge's speech, his expression darkening as he laid eyes upon his son.
"This isn't about Umbridge." He stated as he stepped aside to let the teens enter his office. To Harry's mild surprise, Evy was already there, seated at the chair Severus usually kept by his desk, now pulled close to the fire, holding a mug of tea. Her wide smile faded the moment she noticed Harry's disposition and she hurried from her seat towards him, tea abandoned at the coffee table by the fire.
"Are you alright?" She asked softly, stopping a few feet from him, making an effort not to crowd him. Her obvious attempt not to fret lifted Harry's spirits enough to find the strength and walk towards his armchair by the fire and plop himself on it.
"I almost set the dormitory on fire." He stated and then proceeded to explain why and how as they gathered around him. "And then," he said finally, rubbing circles at his temples, "I gave him detention with McGonagall and warned him I'd explain just why I did so. Which I'm going to, trust me."
"Great Morgana." Evy whispered, seating back at the corner of Severus' desk. "I had gathered things weren't going well between the two of you but I'd never…" and as words failed her, she turned towards Severus who was seething at the corner, next to a dumbstruck Draco.
"Adrian's taken it too far." The potions master agreed, his voice colder than ice. "Giving him detention was the right thing to do. I just wish I had a more permanent solution for his pettiness."
"If he doesn't stop any time soon," Harry said grimacing, his anger still simmering just beneath his skin, "the solution will include burn treatments." He breathed in deeply. "He just makes me angry. So angry, almost every time he opens his mouth and… it didn't use to be like this." He admitted, sagging back into his chair helplessly. He had no idea how to salvage his relationship with Adrian; he didn't even know if, even after the war -should they both make it- he would be willing to try.
"He's a moron." Draco stated. "A complete and utter imbecile and if he thinks what he's been through justifies treating people like dirt maybe I ought to curse him more often."
"You don't need to get in trouble because of him." Harry stated.
"No, listen. I've been there; I've been under pressure and I've lashed out." The blond Slytherin explained. "But I didn't want to be like that, I could tell it wasn't a good place to be and the moment somebody took the time to show me there was another way to go about it, I took the chance. And I'm not even saying I'm good at it and I'm still adjusting, but Harry; you've been giving Adrian a way out for years now. If he wants to still go around being a prick, it's his choice and you're going to have to deal with him accordingly." Three pairs of eyes bore into the young Slytherin, his face blushing faint pink under their scrutiny but he didn't back down.
"You're right." Harry agreed, feeling some of his tension ebbing away. "And you're great at well, not being a prick and all." He added, a little bit awkwardly.
"Thanks." Draco responded, just as awkward.
"Yes, well," Severus said, smiling at the two boys, Draco is right. "If Adrian doesn't understand he has to change his attitude, ignore him. And if you think I'd be better to avoid him altogether, then do that."
"It might come to it." Harry conceded with a frown. "Though it does feel a little like running away."
"Don't think of it as running away." Evy proposed, having stayed silent so far, allowing Harry a few moments to breathe. "Think of it as taking practical measures to avoid setting his robes on fire." That managed to elicit a soft chuckle from the teen in question.
"Thank you, Evy." Harry said before looking at the blonde witch questioningly, a glint returning to his eyes. "And I hope my sudden brooding session didn't interrupt anything?" He asked, smirking at his father who promptly rolled his eyes.
"Oh, yes." Evy answered, causing both Draco and Harry to exchange a startled look, having been given the only answer they weren't expecting. "An escape plan." Neither did they expect that to be the explanation.
"From what?" Draco asked tentatively as Severus chuckled.
"My first lesson tomorrow." She explained, causing both Harry and Draco to join Severus in his chuckling. "It's no laughing matter!" Evy protested, folding her arms over her chest even as she too smiled. "I'm terrified! The only reason I haven't made my escape yet is because my first class is with the fifth year Gryffindors and, I figured, I already know two of my students in that class and Neville and you have already been subjected to my half-crazed history related monologues and don't hate me yet, right?" She asked looking at Harry, her eyes so wide and pleading, he found himself folded in two from laughter, clutching his sides as he tried to breathe.
"You'll be great." Draco assured her, wiping a few tears from his face. "We love your half-crazed history related monologues."
"We really do." Harry offered.
"And I have the joy of saying I told you so, sooner than I thought I would." The potions master interjected, looking very pleased with himself.
"Oh hush, you." Evy deadpanned, now smiling widely.
"And let it be said that I just knew this was going to be the term from hell." Harry added. "Even if I hadn't calculated Umbridge's input at the whole mess."
"You understood what she meant with that speech, I presume." The potions master spoke, not even bothering with forming his thoughts into a question.
"With the summer we've had?" Draco asked rhetorically.
"I had expected Fudge would put her here to monitor things for the Ministry," Harry admitted, "but having her downright declare her intentions of changing what she deems needs change? I did not predict that."
"If it makes you feel any better," Evy said, smiling ruefully, "neither did I."
"Fudge has reached such a level of idiocy," Severus said, "he's started confounding Seers. Brilliant."
"This Seer," Evy pointed at herself, "is going to have to visit Umbridge's office soon."
"You want to see the room so you can skry it later on?" Harry asked, intrigued.
"Not much of a use watching Umbridge move in a white background." Evy explained. "Which is why I will need to take an extensive tour of the castle too."
"I could show you around." The potions master suggested, making Evy smile at him and Harry exchange a grin with Draco. "You think if you see enough of the castle you could start skrying for the horcruxes?" Severus asked thoughtfully.
"Would if I could. I have been trying to do so after looking at those pictures at the book back at Silbreith." Evy admitted. "But the drawings aren't good enough. Perhaps if I had a memory of the object I could skry for it. But I can't do much with only a location."
"I don't think anybody has seen the Cup since it was stolen half a century ago and the Diadem since the Founders' era." The potions master said.
"Speaking of Ravenclaw's Diadem," Harry spoke, thinking of a certain Ravenclaw, "I've been meaning to talk to you about Luna."
"Luna Lovegood?" Severus asked, recalling the reserved fourth year Ravenclaw. The girl was brilliant and Neville was besotted with her, if memory served him well.
"Ginny's best friend, that Luna Lovegood?" Evy asked, earning Severus' attention; he hadn't been aware of that tidbit of information.
"And Nevile's girlfriend, yes." Harry confirmed.
"She's also crazy smart." Draco interjected, having an inkling on where Harry was heading, remembering their conversation earlier that day on Hogwarts Express.
"And an unregistered animagus to boot." Harry concluded, watching Evy and his father share a startled look.
"An animagus, you said?" Severus asked.
"A bluebird, from what I gathered." Harry confirmed. "And a person we can trust with access to the Ravenclaw Common Room."
"You're thinking of telling her." The potions master guessed, nodding thoughtfully.
"Well, Voldemort knows already. It's not as if he'll be hunting down any of us for that secret." The green eyed wizard argued. "And if he starts attacking openly, Luna would have been one of the first I'd have taken to Orbein. But therein lies the crux of the matter; she's smart and a powerful witch."
"I'm aware." Severus stated, nodding in agreement, having observed the girl flying by his lessons with ease, undeterred even when he was still assuming his big bad bat from the dungeons persona.
"She could be invaluable with some training, especially should something happen to the school." Harry explained. "Most students seem to be content to listen to their parents and steer clear of any war related nonsense." He carried on, rolling his eyes in exasperation at his wording, even if it had been an actual quote from what he had overheard from Lavender talking to Parvati. "Should we need to, one more student prepared to act could make the difference between evacuating the school and suffering needless casualties. As far as the Horcruxes are concerned, I still maintain that on Voldemort's first move in the open she can hide at Orbein. As we are now, we could use her while searching the school; she's bound to be less noticed by Dumbledore, at least, or by Umbridge. Luna's very good with flying under the radar like that."
"You've thought this through." Severus pointed out, looking at his son carefully. "And truly, at this point, I don't believe it could do any damage. But," Severus cautioned, "you have to explain to her, before you reveal anything major, that she'll be risking her life. If she'd rather not do it, you'll not pressure her. I know you wouldn't," Severus stated, interrupting his son before he managed to do more than open his mouth to protest, "but I needed to say it."
"And we need to warn Neville and Ginny first." Draco suggested with a smirk. "Let's shock as few people as possible." A few more details on when and where they would tell Luna -Sunday at seven, after Harry had sneaked back in from Orbein at Severus' office- and Draco and Harry had to be off, already half an hour late for their rounds. Harry spent the remaining one hour and a half of his patrol trying to get his still occasionally flaring temper under wraps. Still, he found himself wishing for his sword or his hammers and anvil back home as he climbed the stairs to the seventh floor. Anything to blow up steam. He smiled instinctively to the Fat Lady and walked through the passage and into the common room to find Neville and Ginny still waiting for him.
"It's not that we were worried." Neville offered by the way of a greeting.
"He was worried." Ginny stated, nodding in confirmation.
"'Cause you weren't." Neville countered, cocking an eyebrow at her.
"I was slightly concerned." Ginny admitted, Harry chuckling at their interaction.
"I'm hanging there." He reassured them. "Do you care to hear what you missed?" And he led them towards the still lit fireplace, casting a few strong silencing and protective spells around them for good measure, as he set to explain what he had proposed about Luna. Their reactions were more than favorable if he was to judge by Neville's brighter-than-the-sun smile and the impromptu hug from Ginny. They left the common room together, Ginny saying her goodnights as they reached the staircases for the dormitories.
"Harry," Neville said, just before they entered the room, "just, thanks."
"Don't mention it, Nev." Harry said, smiling at him even wider despite the punch on the shoulder. They fell to their beds soon thereafter, the wear and tear of the day finally kicking in. Harry was blatantly ignoring his twin's bed where light was still coming from behind the curtains as he tried to settle on his mattress. "Two points to Hufflepuff," he muttered as his eyes drooped close, hoping the next day would dawn better than the last.
To the next day's defense, it did start better than the last one. That, of course, didn't mean it carried on like so.
For one thing, Adrian was still asleep when Harry rose from bed, so any awkwardness that might have been had there was prevented. And he found himself heading towards the Great Hall smiling widely, alongside Neville, mostly due to Fred and George's notification on the Common Room's notice board;
GALLONS OF GALLEONS!
Pocket money failing to keep pace with your outgoings?
Like to earn a little extra gold?
Contact Fred and George Weasley,
Gryffindor common room,
for simple, part-time, virtually painless jobs
(WE REGRET THAT ALL WORK IS UNDERTAKEN AT APPLICANT'S OWN RISK)
Then, when they received their timetables, Harry couldn't help but smile. Even if the fifth year was OWL year and everybody knew that only meant studying until you dropped, he could never recall a more pleasant Monday. They started with History of Magic and then double Potions with Slytherin, followed by Ancient Runes and double DADA with Hufflepuff. Well, Harry thought, as he filled his plate with pancakes, Defense Against the Dark Arts did mean Umbridge, but it was still the same class. How bad could she make it be?
"Great Monday this year." Neville said from his right, smiling down at his program. "And look, Herbology tomorrow!"
"Hey Harry!" Fred and George echoed, plopping on Harry's left.
"Fred, George." Harry greeted them, smiling as he recalled their notification. "So, are you on the market for lab rats?"
"Do mine ears deceive me?" Fred wandered, looking at Harry in mock confusion. "A prefect that does not deem it necessary to reprimand us for offering mildly hazardous jobs to minors?"
"Just do try not to cause any irreparable damage." Harry cautioned, knowing fully well the twins tested their more dangerous contraptions on themselves and that they routinely asked for his father's advice with the more complicated of their products.
"Yes, sir!" They chorused, saluting Harry in every seriousness. And that was when they caught sight of their timetables.
"Ooh, OWL year." George crooned.
"That's gonna hurt." Fred added wisely.
"We'll soldier on." Neville replied, chortling still. "Besides, our program seems nice so far." He added and passed his timetable to Fred's expecting hands.
"What are you talking about, mate?" He exclaimed. "You're starting with History of Magic."
"With Professor…" Harry paused and considered what Evy's title would be now, on account of her not truly having a last name. "Well, with princess Evelyn. Much different than Binns, I'm sure."
"I'd say!" George agreed, sneaking a look at Evy who had just arrived at the staff's table, receiving a generous cuff around the neck for his efforts, courtesy of one Neville Longbottom.
"Watch it, Weasley!" The younger Gryffindor cautioned.
"Anyway, we've got Potions next and then Ancient Runes." Harry pointed out. "Then, of course, we have Umbridge, but how much can she really mess up Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
"Good point there." Fred admitted. "You know," he added, looking at his twin for a few seconds before carrying on, "we were seriously considering not returning for our NEWTs. We're goin' freelance either way, so it seemed a tad redundant."
"Mum had been pressuring us though." George explained. "So, we sent a letter to professor Snape." Harry, who had heard about a letter being sent but not of its contents, as it was Fred and George's personal lives it concerned, nodded, urging them on. "He said that we were quite capable already to follow the line of work we'd chosen and he was certain we'd be great at it. He also said that, should we decide not to return for out seventh year, he would support our decision and help should we need it. He did however advise that a NEWT in Potions would make it easier to gain Ministry approval for testing our products and establishing patents. He was right ya know; we looked into it."
"'Course he was." Fred added. "D'you know professor Snape is the only adult that didn't look at us weird or told us to try a different carrier path? He's also the only adult that ever offered to provide help. Well, I say the only adult," Fred smirked, "but you're emancipated so you kind of count."
"Kind of thank you." Harry deadpanned, smiling at the twins.
"Yeah, well," George said, smiling widely himself, "things have been looking up lately! We may prove his faith in us right after all."
"I have no doubt you will." Neville stated. "You guys are geniuses when it comes to pranks."
"Nev's got the right of it." Harry agreed.
"Man, I wish our parents had half the faith you have in us." Fred said, picking at his eggs.
"Just go out there and do what you want to do." Harry passed on his father's advice. "The rest will follow."
"Anyway, enough about us!" Fred exclaimed. "Any idea what you two esteemed gentlemen would like to be after you graduate? You have career advice this year after all!"
"I would like to -act surprised, please- do something related to Herbology." Neville stated without pausing to think. "Maybe in correlation with applications to potions?"
"I do have a thought or two. I already do have a very lucrative occupation, you know." Harry admitted, smiling mischievously. "You'll just have to wait and see."
"Of course." George said, nodding his head grimly. "What'll you be then alongside a broomstick designer? Novelty dragon sculptures' maker? So life-like your robes are on fire?" Harry chocked on his pumpkin juice, clutching his sides as he coughed and laughed, Neville trying his best to hit his back amidst his own peals of laughter.
"Goblins' gold, George!" Harry exclaimed when he managed to catch his breath, looking at the unrepentantly laughing redhead. "Are you trying to kill me?"
"Wouldn't put it past him." Ginny commented, seating herself next to Neville. "Good morning."
"And how is our baby sister this delightful morning?" Fred asked, pointing at the dim, grey skies depicted on the magical ceiling.
"Not chocking on my breakfast yet." Ginny retorted, Harry chuckling at her quip.
"Heartless." He stated, pointing at her accusingly. "Heartless on top of evil, Miss Weasley."
"My virtues are piling up." Ginny agreed. The breakfast continued jovially, a quick talk with Angelica -the new Gryffindor quidditch captain- concerning the coming tryouts on Friday afternoon concluding it, Harry and Neville walking towards the Slytherin table where Draco was just finishing up with his breakfast just as Adrian, Hermione and Ron entered the Great Hall. Seeing his twin only reminded him of having to talk to professor McGonagall about his detention, but Harry refused to let that thought mar his otherwise perfect morning thus far.
"Good morning, guys." Draco greeted them, waving goodbye to the older prefects he had been talking to as he followed his brothers out of the Great Hall. His first class was Charms, meaning he could walk with them all the way to third floor before continuing towards Flitwick's classroom. "So, anything new?"
"Other than Neville being ecstatic about us telling Luna?" Harry asked. "No, not really. Well," he amended, "the Weasley twins are running slightly dangerous product trials on students, but that's about it."
"That and Harry apparently having an idea about what he wants to do after school's over." The way Neville had said the word idea made it sound like something potentially dangerous albeit exciting and Harry couldn't help but smirk; his brother was completely right.
"He's smirking." Draco noticed, pointing Harry. "Why is he smirking, Nev?"
"I don't know!" Neville exclaimed, just as eager to listen to what Harry had to say.
"Well, I've been thinking," Harry explained, "that I wouldn't want to have all that magic I've been learning simply sitting around useless. I know I will carry on with my broomsmithing. I'm really looking forward to that actually. And there's something else I've been considering; I'll just have to run it by Dad first, clear up a few things."
"I was thinking-" Draco started, only to blush pink and cut himself short. "Never mind, it's stupid."
"I couldn't say, haven't heard it yet." Neville pointed out. Draco breathed in and started speaking again.
"Malfoys haven't actually worked for some generations now, you know." He explained. "We meddle a bit with politics, sure, but the family money comes mostly from investments and leasing the family properties. It's been going quite well for us; lots of properties. Real estate for the wealthy, my father calls it." Draco said, grimacing distastefully. "I hate it. I mean, I could easily hire a goblin for that and I'd probably make more profit than before. So I've been thinking; I'd like to become a Healer."
"I don't think that's stupid at all." Harry proclaimed with utter certainty. "I think it would suit you perfectly."
"And you're very good at Potions and Herbology. And Charms, come to think of it, and those are the main prerequisites for becoming a Healer." Neville added.
"I, well, you think I could do it?" Draco asked, hopefully.
"Of course we think you can do it, Draco!" Neville exclaimed, Harry nodding in absolute agreement. "Don't be daft!"
Having reached the third floor, they bid Draco goodbye till Potions, the Slytherin smiling at them widely and demanding a detailed narration of how their first lesson with Evy would go, walking to Charms with a spring in his step.
They entered the History of Magic classroom first, looking around them in wonder. Evy had redecorated; gone were the dreary, dusty furniture, laden with yellowed doilies. Now the walls were lined with bookcases filled not only with books but with various artifacts. On the left side of the classroom where an assorted clutter of pieces of armour used to be, now stood a case filled with selves where rolled up maps lay, labeled and ready to be used. And on the far right corner of the room, where once only an oversized fern stood, the bare space was now dominated by a full armor made of metal and what Harry recognized as dragon scales, built for someone at least three times as tall and wide as Hagrid, the horns of the helmet almost touching the tall, arched ceiling. The curtains had been pulled open -they had been replaced too, Harry noted, the tattered blue velvet swapped for golden-cream raw silk- and the morning light, dim as it was that day, gave the room a cheery glow.
"Good morning!" Evy exclaimed. "How do you like the room?" She asked, arms wide as she motioned at the changes.
"It's amazing!" Harry offered, making sure to claim the desk closest to Evy's for himself and Neville.
"You can't even tell it's the same classroom!" Neville agreed, nodding lively.
"Oh, good, 'cause it was a bit…"
"Horrible?" Harry asked, making Evy smile and nod.
"Blimey!" Sounded from the classroom's entrance, Ron having just stepped in and caught sight of the armour. The general reactions were quite similar as the fifth year Gryffindors filled the room, their attention divided between their new professor and the classroom.
"Good morning, class!" Evy greeted them once they were all seated. "My name is Evelyn, and I'll be taking over the History of Magic lessons from now on, in the place of Professor Binns. I'd like to start with a roll call, if you wouldn't mind." She said, smiling widely, pulling out the parchment with their names, memorizing faces to go along with them. "Good, now, before we begin, I see you've been looking around the classroom; if there's anything you'd like to ask, don't hesitate." And Hermione's hand rose.
"Ehm, Professor…" and she froze, blushing, stumbling upon the same problem that Harry had at the Great Hall. Thankfully Evy, who had dealt with that issue in the past, smiled reassuringly.
"Professor Evelyn or just Professor will do just fine, Miss Granger." She assured her.
"Professor, what is that armour?" She voiced the question of the entire class who was now hanging from Evy's lips.
"A giant's armour, worn by Gautung the Ruinner during the third giant wars." Evy explained. Ron's hand flew in the air faster than Harry could blink. "Yes, Mr. Weasley?"
"Is it real, then?"
"Very real." Evy answered, watching her students exchange stunned looks between them. "As a matter of fact, with the exception of a few replicas," and she pointed at two porcelain urns near the entrance of the room, "most of the artifacts in the room are authentic." Parvati was the one who raised her hand this time. "Miss Patil."
"Did you find all of them?" The girl asked, eyes wide as saucers.
"I was a member in some of the expeditions where many of them were discovered, yes." Evy stated. "Some I salvaged from various corners of the world and this one," she pointed with her thumb over her shoulder at the huge armour in the corner, "I may have won at a mahjong game against a smuggler."
"Wicked!" Ron exclaimed, the excited whispering that followed her proclamation and the wide eyed astonishment in which the whole class regarded Evy only cementing his proclamation. Harry and Neville bumped fists in victory as Evy smiled fondly at them.
"Now, to start the actual lesson," Evy spoke, complete silence falling in the classroom, "I would like to ask you a question; why do you think it's important to study History of Magic?" Her students looked at each other worriedly and Evy chuckled. "Don't worry, there are no wrong or right answers to this question. Also do forgive me for laughing but I imagine this," she said pointing at the faces of her students, "is the exact panicked look I gave my own professor when he asked that very same question on my first Archeology lesson." A few relieved smiles later, Seamus raised his hand.
"Yes, Mr. Finnigan."
"Because learning of the past prevents us from repeating the same mistakes?" Seamus asked, blushing a deep red at Evy's answering smile.
"A great question, there!" More hands were raised after that, Evy pointing at each student to hear their answer; soon, the whole class was getting involved in the conversation.
"Because we can see how the magical communities were formed?" Neville asked.
"Because the cultural evolution of each magical community can be seen even today?" Lavender suggested.
"Because History of Magic," Harry said, "is more than buildings and battles or even witches and wizards, isn't it?"
"Correct, Mr. Potter." Evy affirmed in the silence Harry's question had left in its wake. "History of Magic does teach us how the magical communities came to be, how they fought and how they interacted amongst them and with the other magical races. But it also teaches us how Magic itself came to be, how we, the witches and wizards of today, came to wield it." The astonished silence continued and so did Evy. "Now, I've heard from various sources that your experience with history lessons had been a bit, shall we say lacking. So, in a bound of optimism and against advices I've been given, I believed it couldn't possibly have been that bad." She said. "So, yesterday, I asked Professor Binns to give me the same lecture he was preparing for you today."
"Why?" Asked Seamus automatically.
"Another great question, Mr. Finnigan." Evy answered, assuming a lost, terrified look that had even Hermione giggling. "I sat through the whole lecture, I think. At least, that's what professor Snape said when he came by to collect me; apparently, I was staring at the wall, practically unresponsive. I understand that was the common reaction to history classes at Hogwarts?" She asked, getting some very fervent nods and even more laughter. "And that was how I came to realize, you weren't joking; does any one of you recall ever being taught anything but goblin revolts?"
"There was a bit about giant wars in our second year, I think." Hermione offered.
"About the first giant wars and their implication to the second goblin rebellion, to be exact." Harry stated, nodding at Hermione in agreement.
"Great Morgana!" Evy exclaimed. "Nothing else?" The class collectively shook their heads. "I know this is your OWL year," she begun after some deliberation, "so I can't take the time I would like to and cover all lost ground but we're going to start from the very basics, at least the part of what you'll need for your exams, and move from there. And I promise you I'll do my best to help you along the way because I know this is a difficult year for you. Ideally, I would have you love History just as much as I do. Since I know that's most probably impossible -considering my interest for history has been described as ranging from passionate to manic- I will, at least, do my best so that you can kick some serious butt at your OWLs." The smiles that spread around the classroom were blinding, Hermione practically vibrating at her seat. "Now," Evy said, "let's talk about the many myths surrounding the birth of magic…"
And so started the most interesting lesson of History of Magic at Hogwarts in living memory. Evy moved through the material swiftly, making sure she was understood before moving on, adding a few funny myths here and there to make the theoretical parts flow easier. When the bell rang, the whole class was buzzing with excitement, saying their goodbyes to Evy with wide smiles disregarding the rather large homework that came hand in hand with OWL year, Neville and Harry giving her thumbs up and winking as they vacated the room for the third year Ravenclaws. Evy smiled brightly back at them as they joined their classmates in the hallway.
"Unbelievable." Ron was muttering. "I remember history. I enjoyed history!" He sounded quite scandalized at that realization. "It's like Potions from last year all over again."
"Professor Evelyn is wicked!" Dean exclaimed, Lavender nodding in agreement next to him. "And now we got Potions?" He assumed a look of complete befuddlement. "Are Mondays going to be enjoyable this year?" He asked, exchanging borderline terrified glances with Seamus.
"It's very satisfying to see she's dedicated to helping us with our OWLs!" Hermione exclaimed. "Professor Binns didn't even seem to understand what I was saying when I asked him about the exams last term! And she makes the subject sound so interesting! Not that it isn't interesting, of course…" Harry and Neville smiled at each other and hurried towards the dungeons, eager to share their news with Draco and Severus before the class started.
"That went extremely well." Neville commented.
"I'd venture! No more pinching myself to stay awake throughout history lessons!" The raven haired wizard exclaimed, startling a group of third year Ravenclaws that were heading towards the History of Magic classroom themselves.
"You'll love the new professor!" Neville informed them, making them smile tentatively as he followed Harry to the Great Staircase. Ten minutes later they found themselves at the potions lab, a slightly out of breath Draco waiting for them by the door.
"From your smiles I gather it went well?" He asked.
"It was amazing!" Neville exclaimed, not for the first time that day.
"Wait until you see the giant armour." Harry informed him, grey eyes widening.
"The what?" He asked as they entered the lab.
"The giant armour." Harry repeated.
"Startling, isn't it?" Severus asked, smiling at his son as he went to greet him. "Worn by Gautung the Ruinner, I believe?"
"Yes!" Neville exclaimed.
"Wait, an authentic giant's armour?" Draco asked, his eyes widening even more when his brothers nodded in the affirmative.
"I believe she has you started on some basic theory?" The potions master asked. "Good," he carried on at their positive nodding. "It was about time history was taught properly at Hogwarts." The classroom slowly filled, the Gryffindors still buzzing with excitement from their history class.
"Thank, Merlin." Severus stated, looking at them. "Usually, when I have a class with students that have just come from History of Magic the first fifteen minutes are spent in shaking the poor souls from their stupor." The Gryffindors laughed in agreement with the Slytherins smiling in hope.
"I don't think you'll be having that problem anymore, Professor." Lavender volunteered, blushing as she addressed the potions master.
"Now, why couldn't they replace Binns when I was still a student?" Severus asked, folding his hands over his chest and frowning at the unfairness of it all. "Half of my classes with professor Binns, well, half of the classes with professor Binns I can remember, can only be classified as an out-of-body experience." This class didn't appear as it would be short on laughter either, Harry noted.
"Only half of them, professor?" Neville asked, looking honestly surprised.
"Well, during the other half I was either asleep or actively doodling on the blank margins of my history book." Severus admitted, amidst more laughter. "I've kept that history book." He informed them, Harry laughing freer that all of them since he had actually seen the book in question. "I'll have you know, that book is a masterpiece. Now, before we start today's lesson, I would like to address the dreaded subject of your OWL exams. You're going to hear it from every professor of every subject you're studying and now it's my turn. Let me explain how the OWLs in Potions work; you have the theoretical part and the practical part. The practical part is going to be brewing a potion you'll be taught this year. The theoretical part, however, will include questions encompassing the entire body of potion theory we've covered since the first year."
"Oh." Blaise Zabini sounded from the second row of benches.
"Yes, oh." Severus agreed. "Now, I know that it's a lot of theory. And, even if I have no doubt that, with proper revision, you could ace those exams as you stand, I can also vividly recall just how ready I was to transform the entirety of my potions books into smoked ham and fling them into the Black Lake in hope the Giant Squid would eat them during my fifth year." The laughter that followed was only met with an unrepentant shrug of Severus' shoulders. "Fifth year is tough, don't judge. So, to prevent such plots from cropping up," he said and waved his wand, one of the cupboards at the far back of the lab opening and what appeared to be leather bound notebooks flying from inside, landing in front of the bewildered students, "I'm giving you these." Harry, who had seen the same notes collected for distribution last year, smiled widely as his classmates opened their notebooks.
"Are those notes on-"
"The basic theories and ingredients we've worked on since your first year, yes." Severus carried on from where Hermione had trailed off. "Now, these notes will not cover what you have to study for the practical part of the exam, for which you'll have to read from your current book, just to be clear. What they will do, is help you organize your revision and make it easier for you to locate and reread past years' material without panicking over your old books and notes." Hermione clutched the notebook to her chest, a look of pure worship on her face that was mirrored on more normal levels on the rest of the class.
"Thank you, professor." Dean offered for the entirety of the class.
"You shouldn't have to thank me for doing my job, but I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless. Besides, sane students mean fewer exploding cauldrons, so it's a win-win situation." Severus responded, smiling lopsidedly. "Now, onto today's lesson; before we start, a few words on a couple of ingredients you haven't worked with before…"
"I love Mondays." Seamus exclaimed as the class walked out of the potions lab and towards the Great Hall, Harry staying behind with Neville and Draco to talk a bit with his father, going over the details for how he'd leave for Orbein on Saturday. Lunch break, unfortunately, brought about the talk with McGonagall regarding Adrian's detention. The Transfiguration professor, who looked indignant at Harry proclaiming he had given a detention already and to his twin of all people, quickly grew somber as he explained the situation to her.
"I see." She said, her lips forming that thin line. "You did well, Mr. Potter." And, having nothing else to say on the subject, Harry bid her good bye and left for his Ancient Runes class. After a rather pleasant lesson -and yet another ominous talk of OWLs- time had finally come for defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry would lie if he said he wasn't dreading the class. As it turned out, he had every reason to.
Umbridge had made absolutely clear, just how she was planning to teach during the coming year. There would be no practical spellwork. There would be no deviating from the program she had set. If that meant they would be casting the needed curses for the very first time during their exams, then so be it, she had decreed. And then Adrian had made the mistake to stand up and yell Voldemort's return at her. Something which, on the one hand, was quite admirable, Harry admitted. On the other hand, extremely counterproductive; Adrian openly supporting Dumbledore and screaming Voldemort's return from the rooftops would only undo the Headmaster's efforts to shield him as much from the Ministry's witch hunt as possible. And Umbridge, who knew that as well, only delighted in handing him his very own punishment to carry to professor McGonagall himself. She let them off the moment the bell rang, at least, but not before asking, kindly as you please, to keep her informed should someone else started speaking nonsense of Voldemort's return.
"And the worst thing is," Harry spat later that night, seating in front of the fire at the Gryffindor common room, "she has every right to forbid us from casting spells during her lessons. As long as the Ministry supports her, she's free to teach according to her own preferences and the law will support her decisions."
"Then there's something wrong with the law." Ginny said, rubbing her eyes tiredly.
"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do to fix it." Neville stated, reaching the same conclusion Draco and Harry had during their rounds later that night. Harry nodded, writing down the final lines to the conclusion of the uses of moonstone for his potions homework. "And it was such a great Monday too." He added mournfully.
The next day dawned even rainier but, thankfully, Umbridge-free. Breakfast was a quick affair, the students that had had a class with Umbridge last day glaring at her from a distance. The woman in question, wearing that ridiculous fly-looking velvet bow on her head again, was talking to an unimpressed Evy until Severus, who could probably feel the history professor dying a little on the inside, walked towards them and excused her from that monologue, claiming she had promised to help with a manuscript he had stumbled upon for a potion he was working on. Evy was more than willing to scamper off the Great Hall, gulping down her coffee and apologizing profusely and quite untruthfully to the pink clad witch while she and Severus made a run for it.
Harry was shaking his head fondly at them even as he headed towards Transfiguration with Neville. Professor McGonagall greeted them with talks of OWLs and Vanishing spells, stating their paramount importance for the exams. Harry and Neville smirked at each other; they had had a good deal of practice with vanishing spells, mostly due to dealing with the remains of the huge cockatrice nest they had discovered in Orbein. And, even if they hadn't used that specific incantation before, Harry managed it with his first try, earning Gryffindor ten points and Neville with his second, earning a wide smile from the Transfiguration professor. Hermione, slightly miffed at being outdone and Adrian, were the only other two students that had managed to successfully cast the spell and, as a result, the four of them where the only ones excused from homework that day.
Next on their schedule were Charms and summoning spells -with more talk of OWLs- and afterwards double Care of Magical Creatures with Slytherin. Professor Grubbly-Plank had brought Bowtruckles to class, the wand-tree guardians seeming unimpressed by the gathered crowd, interested only to the wood lice they were being fed. Their homework for the day was a detailed sketch of the creatures, with all their body parts catalogued, something Harry, Neville and Draco had started working on before the lesson was through, taking advantage of actually having the creatures in front of them instead of hoping to get everything right from memory and the rudimentary drawing on their books later on. Harry had been used to quick and accurate sketches due to his broomstick designing and Neville due to his Herbology studies even outside Hogwarts. Draco, on the other hand, flew seamlessly through his very detailed drawing because;
"Some of us are simply talented, Longbottom."
It was only after the class was through and Draco was accompanying Harry and Neville to the Greenhouses on his way back to the castle when they heard the crying. Sharing a confused look, the three boys walked towards the source of the sound, wands drawn, only to stumble upon a very unexpected scene. The one crying was a little girl, a Slytherin student, probably a first year, if Harry could hazard a guess. The girl was crying into her hands, sitting under a large willow tree and, with her hands wrapped around her, was a Gryffindor girl Harry recalled from the first year group he had led to the Common Room. The Gryffindor girl's name was Martha Eaton, if memory served him well.
"Is everything alright?" Neville asked, snapping the attention of the two girls towards them. They both looked startled and ready to bolt, even if Harry could bet the Slytherin girl would be barely able to see where she was going, tears still streaming down her eyes.
"We're… we're fine." Martha stuttered, pressing even closer to the other girl.
"I find I don't believe that." Draco said, his voice soft. "Annie, would you like to tell me what's wrong?" The Slytherin girl, now identified as Annie, looked at Draco speculatively and then at Harry and Neville with something akin to shock in her eyes.
"Martha, look at me." Harry intervened, seeing Annie wasn't inclined to speak. "I did tell you you could ask for help, should you need it and you seem to need to. Would you mind telling me what is wrong?"
"'s just…" Martha muttered, looking back at the greenhouses. "Annie and I are from the same village, y'know, and we've been best friends since ever. And we got into different Houses and we didn't mind but…"
"Some older girls told me that I can't be friends with a Gryffindor." Annie explained. "And I paid them no mind but today we had double Herbology so I went to work with Martha and this boy from my year said I'm a blood traitor and that Martha's a-" she paused, looking at the girl next to her apologetically.
"He called me a Mudblood." Martha mumbled, looking at her feet, tears gathering in her eyes.
"And he said," Annie continued, "that I'd better watch my back if I kept going like this and so should Martha and it's so unfair!" The girl exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks again as she stomped a foot on the ground, stunning the three wizards. "Martha and I are friends, why can't we be friends?"
"Hey, now," Neville said, walking towards the girls and kneeling carefully in front of them, Harry and Draco following his example, "whoever said you two can't be friends, is a moron." He stated, startling the two first years enough to stop crying and look at him.
"And I would like their names, actually." Draco said, eyes narrowing. "Being in different Houses means you have different personalities, but you already knew that." Draco explained. "That doesn't mean you can't be friends though." The two girls looked at him confused and the blond Slytherin turned a desperate gaze towards his brothers; how was he supposed to deal with two crying, prepubescent girls?
"Exactly." Harry decided to intervene. "Take the three of us, for example; Nev and myself," he said, pointing at Neville, "are Gryffindors while Draco over here," and he nudged his blond brother with his elbow, "is Slytherin. But we're still best friends."
"You are?" Annie asked, looking at them in wonder.
"You bet!" Neville exclaimed. "Even if we're in different Houses and have different characters. Draco, for example, is fussy."
"Yes." Draco agreed. "And Harry's a brooder and Nev's a complete fusspot."
"All true." Harry agreed, nodding sagely at the now giggling first years.
"But nobody's gonna stop us from being best friends!" Neville concluded.
"Really?" Martha asked in turn.
"And you know," Harry added, "Nev's girlfriend is a Ravenclaw and she's our friend too. Why shouldn't you be friends?"
"Quite right you are, Mr. Potter." A voice sounded from behind a the large rosebush the three teens had been kneeling next to, making them jump in shock, reaching for their wands. Professor Sprout walked from behind the rosebush, looking at them with a proud smile.
"Well, I suppose you two," Harry addressed the two girls, "already know Professor Sprout, Head of Hufflepuff."
"And undercover ninja assassin." Neville interjected, rubbing circles over his still racing heart.
"With all due respect Professor," Draco spoke to the chortling Herbology teacher, "but what are they teaching you in Hufflepuff?" The two girls were now laughing openly, causing professor Sprout to nod at the three wizards in complete approval.
"I followed after Miss Anders and Miss Eaton due to that skirmish during class." She explained. "And I've sent Mr. Rolland to professor Snape already; I will not tolerate expressions of the like in my greenhouses." The immediate nod the three wizards gave only made her smile wider. "Now, if Mr. Malfoy could walk Miss Anders and Miss Eaton to the castle, I'd be much obliged."
"It would be my pleasure." Draco assured her. "My ladies," he addressed the two giggling girls, bowing primly, "to the castle we go. Have a good lesson." He said to Harry and Neville.
"You too, mate." Neville wished him turning his attention to the first years. "And remember what we told you."
"Also, should you need help-" Harry spoke.
"Ask a prefect or a teacher." Martha parroted his words from last night with a smile.
"Exactly." Harry agreed.
"And before I forget," professor Sprout interrupted, "ten points to Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy and ten points to Gryffindor each, Mr. Longbottom and Mr. Potter, for promoting inter-house unity." Harry and Neville shared one last grin with Draco before heading to the greenhouses alongside a cheerily whistling professor Sprout. But, while a cheery atmosphere was prevailing at Hogwarts, a certain letter that had been sent by the Deputy Headmistress of the very same school had just arrived via owl at the Potter Manor, having the direct opposite effect at its occupants.
As things were, the one that received the letter was in fact Rosie the house elf, as neither Mr. nor Mrs. Potter had yet returned to the manor. So, as she did with all the letters received, she placed it on a silver tray, by the fire, where it waited for the lord and lady of the house's return. An event that did not occur until ten in the evening, when a tired Lily Potter and an exasperated James Potter flooed in, followed by the later's two best friends. And it was one of those friends that noticed the envelope first.
"Oy, James." Sirius Black called from where he had collapsed on the sofa. "Is that the Hogwarts seal on that letter?"
"What letter?" James asked.
"I'll get it." Lily offered, snatching the much discussed letter from the pile and opening it. "It's from Minerva."
"What's so important she couldn't wait until Saturday to tell us?" Remus questioned. "Lily?" He asked alarmed as he watched his usually levelheaded friend blanch and fall back to the armchair in what looked like pure shock.
"Lily, what happened?" James asked, running to his wife in fear. "Is it Adrian?"
"It is Adrian," she confirmed, "but not for the reasons you think."
"Is he hurt?" James asked, needing to hear he wasn't.
"He got detention."
"That's," Sirius began tentatively, looking at his two friends for support, "not the worse think could happen, we got detentions all the time and Minnie never did-"
"Harry gave it to him." She clarified.
"Why?" James asked, confusion etched on his face. "If it has something to so with Malfoy, I swear-"
"Cut it, James." Sirius warned, James flinching at his cold tone. The dog animagus was feeling more and more protective of his young cousin -and admiring of his even younger godson- and he was finally prepared to take a stand for them, even to one of his two oldest friends if needed be.
"It's not about, Draco." Lily assured him. "Apparently, Harry walked in on a fight between Adrian and a boy named Seamus Finnigan," the three wizards nodded, remembering the sandy haired Gryffindor, "fighting about Voldemort's return. Mr. Finnigan's mother works at the Ministry, from what I can see." Lily explained, making Sirius wince, pretty much understanding how that fight would have gone down. "Things devolved into a fistfight and Ron got hit trying to separate them, only for Neville to succeed. Minerva asked a Dean Thomas that was present during the incident and he said that's when Harry walked in; Neville explained what had happened -Adrian had apparently said something not so kind about Mr. Finnigan's mother," another wince, this time from Remus, "and Harry told him that he had been raised better than that."
"And he gave him a detention?" James asked, not completely disagreeing with his younger son's decision, even if he found it a bit extreme for the circumstances.
"Not for that." Lily gulped before she read on. "Adrian was enraged that all Harry had to say was reprimanding him for insulting Mr. Finnigan's mother and accused him of siding with Voldemort in the coming war."
"Ruddy hell!" Sirius exclaimed. "If I was Harry I'd have cursed him, never mind the detention."
"How could he say such a thing?" Remus wondered, hiding his face in his hands in abject misery while James stared numbly at his wife.
"It wasn't Harry who reacted at the insult." Lily said, sounding detached, resorting simply to reading the letter aloud, lacking the strength for further commentary. "Mr. Longbottom who, according to Mr. Thomas, was up to that point bodily preventing Adrian and Mr. Finnigan from assaulting each other, pushed Adrian backwards, claiming he would have cursed him for what he'd just said but he would rather not waste his time fighting further. Adrian then said that, while he had expected his brother's actions, he had never thought Mr. Longbottom would side with the Dark Lord, insinuating he was a disgrace to his parents."
"For Merlin's sake!" James exclaimed, mirroring Remus' reaction, taking off his glasses to rub at his eyes tiredly.
"And that's when Harry gave him the detention." Lily said, throwing the letter to the side, not even willing to look at it.
"From all the low blows…" Sirius commented, shaking his head in disbelief.
"We have to do something." Remus stated. "Adrian's acting out all the time, lately; you saw how he was during the summer."
"And do you remember what Harry said at the station?" Sirius asked, that conversation not having left his mind since last June. "That he had talked about him leaving home with Adrian and they had agreed it would be for the best? We never asked exactly what Adrian and Harry talked about."
"I don't think it was Adrian's fault that Harry decided to not return home for the holidays." James stated darkly.
"Enough with blaming Severus, James." Sirius countered tiredly. "How would we really know what kept Harry away from home? We hardly know anything about him."
"This isn't the point of this conversation, Sirius!" James exclaimed.
"Maybe it should be!" The dog animagus cried out.
"I think we should deal with Adrian, first-" Lily tried to support her husband's opinion.
"What else is new?" Remus asked gold flaring in his eyes. "I think Sirius and I should leave you to talk about this." The werewolf said, rising from the couch and throwing a handful of floo powder in the fireplace.
"No, James," Sirius said, siding with his werewolf friend who disappeared in a burst of flames, not looking back, fists clenched in anger. "Remus is right. I don't want to fight with you but you keep forgetting you have two sons. You need to remember that before it's too late." And he followed Remus out the Potter Manor, leaving the startled Potters behind, thinking that, perhaps, that conversation had been already a few years too late.
Landing in the fireplace at Remus' apartment, Sirius tried to make a quick assessment of the situation. There was no question in his mind that Adrian's foul temper had somehow played a role in Harry not returning to Potter Manor, even though he knew not the extent of its significance in said decision. The fact that James and Lily still preferred turning a blind eye to that problem piled on top of all the slights against his godson throughout the years; he had been going over the past fifteen years in his mind, thinking back on all the times they -and here he guiltily included himself- had opted on leaving Harry behind in favour of doing something with or for Adrian. How could they ever have been so presumptuous to believe Harry wouldn't eventually do the same and leave them behind? And how could he, especially, Sirius berated himself, think that? He who had left his whole family behind too on account of their actions?
"This can't go on, Sirius." Remus said, pouring himself and his friend a glass of firewhiskey. "Adrian needs boundaries and Harry…"
"Harry probably wants nothing to do with any of us by now." The dog animagus supplied. "And I, for one, won't blame him if that's the case. Gryffindor's ghost, but how many times has he alluded that Draco staying over during the summer means he's practically run away from home? And to have Adrian calling him a Death Eater because he's given the boy shelter?" Sirius took a generous gulp from his glass. "Not to mention James' reaction. You know, from all of us, I thought he'd get it. Didn't he do the exact same thing for me, after all?"
"James's been looking for a scapegoat, Sirius." Remus explained. "Voldemort's back, Adrian is acting out and Harry's drifted further away from the family than ever before. He just doesn't know whom to blame."
"Himself?" Sirius asked. "All of us?" He carried on, pointing at himself. "Harry didn't wake up one day and decided it'd be about time to leave his family. And Adrian's been pushing him away just as well. For Merlin's sake, Ron is closer to Adrian than his own twin! How did that happen?"
"I don't know, Siri." Remus answered, falling back onto the sofa. "And I don't think we can change it now. Only Adrian and Harry can and you know which one of them is the more unwilling party."
"Right now both of them." Sirius stated, sighing as he eyed the door to Remus' office. "Say, Moony, could I borrow a quill, some parchment and your owl?"
"Must you ask?" Remus enquired. "Why though?"
"I'm writing a letter to Harry." The dog animagus explained. "I don't know if it's too late, but I won't wait any longer to try breeching the gap between us. He's my godson, Remus." He said, looking at the werewolf pleadingly.
"Tell him I said hello and that, should he need any help, I'm here for him too." Sirius smiled and dashed towards the office, determination oozing from every pore. The letter was written, scrapped and rewritten, finally to be sent in the small hours of the morning and delivered first thing on Wednesday over breakfast at the Gryffindor table. The letter that arrived first, as it stood, was one directed to Adrian by his parents. It only took one swift cursory eye from the elder Potter twin after he opened it to turn a sickly shade of grey and stare at his twin with undisguised hate.
"You really did it, didn't you, traitor?" Adrian hissed, approaching Harry in fury. "You gave me a detention!"
"I told you I would." Harry sneered back.
"You're supposed to be on my side!" Adrian spat, not caring about who was watching. The saddest thing, Harry thought, is that he still didn't understand how that worked.
"Funny thing; so are you." He countered, having the satisfaction of seeing Adrian storming out the room, Hermione and Ron hot on his heels. Chancing a glance towards the staff table, he found his father nodding in agreement, Dumbledore looking troubled and Umbridge calculative and quite pleased. And people should really stop reaching conclusions about my person when they haven't got all the facts, Harry mused. A large, brown owl cut his ruminations short, landing in front of him, extending one leg so Harry could untie the letter fastened there. Allowing the owl a few pecks of cereal before it flew back, Harry looked at the letter in confusion. A confusion which only intensified as he read the name of the sender.
"A letter from Sirius?" Neville asked as Harry showed it to him and Ginny. "How comes?"
"Dunno," Harry admitted, opening it and letting the other two Gryffindors read it over his shoulder, a smile etching on his lips as he read along. "Would you look at that?" He wondered, smiling at the parchment. "What say you we show this to Draco too?" Harry asked Neville who easily nodded in agreement. The brown eyed Gryffindor waved at Draco, catching his attention easily, pointing at the entrance of the Great Hall. Immediately understanding what the meant, he rose from the Slytherin table Ginny leaving to meet with Luna for double Charms, carrying for her a message from Neville to meet after lunch break.
"Is Adrian causing trouble again?" Draco asked, hand on the pommel of his wand.
"No more than usual." Harry assured him. "Read this though." He said, handing him the letter from Sirius. Draco read it through, smiling disbelievingly the further down he went.
"And tell my cousin," he read out loud, "if he's not already reading this lines over your shoulder, that my house is always open to him should he have need for it and that I'm at his disposal should he ever feel the need to commiserate over the more intolerable members of our family." He looked at his brothers, grey eyes twinkling. "Do you think he means it?"
"I have never heard Sirius utter a word he didn't mean." Harry assured him. The remaining three days of the week passed mostly uneventfully; despite his ever darkening mood, Adrian was determined to avoid his twin at all costs and, since Harry was continuing with his practice of studying at the library rather than the Common Room, the hours they spent in each other's presence were thus further lessened. Ginny and Luna had joined the three teens at the library for studying, Luna only sending them a bewildered glance on Thursday afternoon, when Neville finally mentioned to her how they would meet at the Great Hall on Sunday at seven -they figured mentioning Severus' office from the get go was probably inadvisable- as they wanted to talk to her about something important. The fact that the Ravenclaw didn't ask what it was and instead chose to trust her friends only cemented Harry's belief that telling Luna could only benefit them.
Before he knew it, it was time for Quidditch tryouts, where he secured his spot on the team, Ron becoming their new Keeper and completing the team. On Saturday morning, after a very swift breakfast, he made his way towards the Dungeons were his father awaited.
"Minnie will be waiting for you at Silbreith." The potions master explained. "If you need to return to the school immediately, she will contact you." Harry nodded in understanding.
"And Dad," he said, pulling out a parchment from his robes, "Neville asked me what I wanted to do after Hogwarts and, well," he trailed off, looking at the parchment in his hands, "I've been thinking about this." He said and pushed said parchment to his father's hands. "Take a look at it while I'm at Orbein?" Severus nodded, looking at the parchment curiously and Harry, feeling anxious as it was, grabbed a handful of floo powder and threw it into the flames. "Silbreith!" He exclaimed and he was gone.
Ghaith was saddled and waiting for him by the stables and Harry had already made it to Andûn by the time the student body at Hogwarts was just finishing with breakfast. The goblins were eager to show him all the work they'd been doing and Harry got to appreciate how the town was shaping up. With the last week's rains the river that passed through the town had filled out but the goblins had seen to that, the railings on the riverbanks and the bridges holding up perfectly. While at Andûn, Harry couldn't help but overhear the Ministry of Magic was still trying to slither its way into Gringotts. And, even if the vault that connected the bank to Orbein was secure, its existence known only to Nagnok and president Melvoz who -even if not bound by contract- would rather take secret to their graves than take away their people's only certain escape route, he realized suddenly that his normal vault wasn't.
Harry had very little care for the gold inside his vault. Even if his status as a master Alchemist ensured he would never need fear poverty, the true treasures of his vault were Nicholas' books and those were going to be moved to Orbein library's new wing on the last day of September. But there was the issue of funding the war effort. Of feeding and sheltering all the refugees he was building Andûn for. It was with thoughts like those that he found himself in his new alchemy lab at Orbein. Producing gold was a tricky business but certainly nothing as complicated as producing mithril. And, even if an ounce of mithril would go a long way at covering the expenses that would crop up during the war, there was also the issue of it limited trade value. Mithril was rare and so valuable, Harry was certain nobody would be ready to part with the amount of gold of an ingot's worth during the war. And while he had no scruples giving it away for less than its actual worth, he couldn't picture Voldemort not noticing somebody was selling mithril ingots. The same went with large precious stones and jewelry. Which only led him back to gold, the natural currency of the wizarding world.
The problem with gold, as Harry saw it, was that it would have to be produced in large quantities, specifically with not knowing how long the war would last. During the first war, the prices had gone up even for the most basic products and lack of production had led to even more overpriced imports. That had gone on for three years and the country's economy was practically brought to its knees, saved only by the fact that Gringotts had escaped mostly unscathed; that was a mistake Harry couldn't see Voldemort repeating.
The young alchemist was confident in his ability to produce gold but the quantities they would need for the war would have him slave at his lab for months on end, time he wouldn't have, time he didn't have even now. The only way known to Alchemists for mass producing gold had gone down to history as the most known cautionary tale of their trade; the world at large knew it as Midas' Touch. To the alchemists it was known with a different name. Harry could recall the day Nicholas had first talked to him about Midas' Folly, about the Alchemist King of old that had been so blinded by his thirst for gold, he ended up ruling a dead kingdom and meeting his end by the very thing he loved above all others. And, no matter how you looked at it, Harry thought, having your skin and organs -especially the lungs which was what killed Midas in the end, before the gold could claim his heart- turn into gold, literally chocking on the precious metal, wasn't the way he wanted to go.
The ritual Midas had used had been lost with the mad King who had wished for everything he touched to turn into gold and, even if it existed still, Harry wasn't certain he'd dare to read it, wouldn't like to go on with his life with such a burden in his mind. But, if a madman had managed to create such a ritual, surely there should be a shortcut to producing gold? Pulling out the ingredients he needed and his favourite hammer, Harry lit up the forge at his lab, realizing that, even thinking of improving a process he hadn't completed in years would be imbecilic on his part. And even while he knew he had to return to Hogwarts soon, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Three hours later he was drenched in sweat and his muscles were complaining but he was looking at a small pile of golden ingots glimmering at the firelight. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and looked over his notes.
The ritual used in producing gold -if the two short lines spoken at the very end of the process could be called that and not a slightly lengthy spell- was easy and familiar. Maybe if it was spoken at the beginning of the process instead? The answer to that question, Harry found, ducking swiftly beneath a bench twenty minutes later, was; the base metal would explode. One more hour later and he got the same answer to the question; but what if you cast the ritual in the transitioning stage? Disgruntled, Harry headed to the only bathroom that actually worked in the whole castle for a quick shower, before returning for one more inspection of Andûn and heading for Silbreith.
The key, he thought, to the whole process would probably lie into rephrasing the ritual. Easy to say, Harry mused; after all it was only a millennia old ritual used by alchemists since before recorded history. Snorting at his own thoughts and knowing he was going to try either way, Harry flooed back to Hogwarts from Silbreith around five, leaving his father's empty office and heading straight for the library where Neville and Draco were waiting for him.
"So," Draco whispered the moment Harry sat down, "how fares Andûn?"
"The goblins are miracle workers." Harry assured them. "They're a little ahead of schedule even. Andûn's coming along great and, I was thinking, maybe you could come with on the last Sunday of September to see it delivered."
"Taking sneaking out of school to new levels, I see." Neville muttered, smiling at his brothers. "That of course means yes."
Harry didn't manage to catch his father until the very next morning, Severus waiting at his office like the day before. The potions master was holding the parchment Harry had given him in his hands, looking at it rather than his son with a soft smile.
"You know," Severus stated, looking up at Harry, chuckling mirthfully, "wizards and witches usually wait until they're well in at least their eighties before even considering applying for the Order."
"I have a greater experience with rituals than they do though and would you look at the initiation process?" Harry asked just as jubilant as his father unrolled the parchment in his hands.
The Order of Paladins, as its full name was, had been established by the first Great Gathering of the magical kingdoms -the forefather of the International Confederation of Wizards where it now organically belonged to- in the early ninth century. It was consisted of witches and wizards of great magical prowess that served as the higher mediators and peace keepers of the international community. The Order had been even called to fight once, at the end of the Second Feudal War, effectively ending it. And though them fighting was always the last measure, some had been hoping that they would be called to act against Voldemort, thought they were never given the chance to. Most importantly, however, the Order was free of the confines of the Ministries governing the countries each member came from. They had clearance to do research at any country of the Confederation and access to the projects in progress at the various Departments of Mysteries, even if they were bound by the same magical contracts as the Unspeakables regarding what they worked on. There were only ten members in the Order to date and all of them had become members at ages over eighty, as Severus had said. It was a prudent move to make, considering the initiation ritual could only be taken once in a lifetime but Harry was prepared to chance it.
"If it doesn't work, I can always simply carry on with my broomsmithing." Harry explained. It wasn't as if being a member of the Order was a full-time job. The ten members met four times a year unless called upon and were carrying on with their lives and careers outside of the Order. As a matter of fact, the very president of the Order, Jabari Nwosu, happened to be a Healer when not occupied with the workings of the Order. "I figured I should complete training in a Higher Academy before I undertake the initiation ritual and I was considering studying Curses and Wards. Not necessarily Curse-Breaking, but, I thought, I don't know what type of projects there are in the Department of Mystery so-" Severus laughed, interrupting his son.
"I don't doubt that, should anybody make it to the Order in their twenties, it's going to be you. And I agree you should graduate from a Higher Academy first, because no matter what happens you might eventually tire of broomsmithing, or might need a break from it, you never know." The potions master stated. "If it's advanced magical applications you want to study, then I'm with you. I think it would suit you impeccably."
"You don't think me foolish for wanting to try for the Order?" Harry asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I'll pretend you didn't even ask that." Severus stated, smiling proudly at his son who took the opportunity to hug him for all he was worth.
"Thanks, Dad." Harry muttered, his chest feeling incredibly lighter not that he had shared his thoughts with his father, as it usually did.
"Whatever are you thanking me for?" Severus asked, smiling at Harry. "Now, you should go and check on Andûn. Don't forget you have to speak to Luna this afternoon."
The day passed relatively swiftly for Harry, walking around Andûn to direct the goblins where he saw fit and jumping out of the way of the small explosions in his alchemy lab. When he returned to Hogwarts, feeling more relaxed than he had all week, despite the imminent conversation with Luna, he found Neville in the exact opposite mood.
"He's been like that for the past hour." Draco explained as he and Harry observed Neville walking up and down Severus' office, checking at his watch every two minutes or so.
"Have you tried getting him sit down?" Harry asked.
"I thought he'd curse my head off when I tried." The blond admitted.
"What if we put her in danger?" Neville wondered out loud, looking at the flames in the fireplace. "We will put her in danger!" He realized. "What are we doing?"
"We will tell her give her the chance to choose, Neville." Harry reminded him. "And having her train with us will have her in less danger when the war starts, don't forget that." Neville nodded, that thought seemingly grounding him. A few minutes later, the flames in the fireplace turned green, Severus stepping out of the flames, carrying the Pensive he had left to retrieve fifteen minutes ago.
"Is he still at it, then?" The potions master asked, now slightly concerned for the mental health of the young Gryffindor. Being met with two identical shrugs, he decided to leave Neville to his muttering and go through the memories they were going to show Luna instead. Thirty minutes later, exactly at five minutes to seven, Neville froze abruptly mid-step, looking at his watch in fear.
"We… we should get going." He said, stumbling at his own words.
"It will be fine." Harry assured him, clasping his shoulder.
"What is she wants nothing to do with me afterwards?" Neville asked, brown eyes wide and pleading.
"You're talking madness." Draco offered. "Also, if all else fails, do that eye thing you just did." Harry snickered as Neville's eyes widened even more, confusion added to the mix.
"What eye thing?"
"You don't want to know." Severus muttered, still not over being accused of possessing a puppy eye expression, shuddering even as he thought of the term.
"You're a natural anyway." Harry assured him, pushing him out the door. They walked towards the Great Hall, Neville dragging his feet as if he was heading to his execution. Whatever colour he had left on his face vanished completely the moment they actually walked out of the dungeons and run into Ginny and Luna waiting for them.
"Hey, Luna." Neville mumbled, looking at his feet.
"Is what you want to tell me so bad?" Luna asked gazing at her boyfriend in concern. "You wouldn't need an audience to break up with me, would you?" That was enough to snap Neville out of his nervousness, eyes panicked as they bored into Luna's.
"Breaking up with you?" He asked, compulsively moving forward to hug her. "Why would you say that, don't ever say that!" And then he kissed her.
"They're going to be just fine." Ginny whispered, walking towards Harry and Draco.
"Yes." Harry agreed. "I foresee these two making me feel uncomfortable through many, many years of public displays of affection."
"So does Evy, coincidentally." Harry thought he heard Ginny mutter, though he couldn't tell even with his hearing, as the girl had already moved further down the corridor to give the couple some semblance of privacy, smiling all the while.
"Nev, Luna?" Draco asked, his voice somewhat sheepish. "You're in the Great Hall." Seeing how his polite reminder didn't do the trick, Ginny smiled impishly and walked back towards them, Harry observing her curiously.
"Hem-hem," she cleared her throat, imitating Umbridge so accurately, Neville and Luna jumped back from each other in terror. Harry and Draco couldn't help the laughter that bubbled forth, Luna and Neville joining them when they realized exactly what had happened.
"That was some trick." Harry told Ginny.
"Thank you. I think it goes well with the whole evil vibe I've got going for me." She stated, smirking.
"Shall we?" Draco asked, still chuckling at Neville who nodded in agreement.
"Why are we going to professor Snape's office?" Luna asked, walking towards them.
"How did you know that's where we're going?" Draco asked, four sets of eyes looking at her in confusion.
"It's just that you three," she said, pointing at the three boys, "came from the dungeons while I know the Gryffindor common room is in one of the castle's towers. It's improbable you were there to pick up Draco from the Slytherin common room, considering you asked we meet at the Great Hall which you'd have to pass by to go to the dungeons. Even if Draco had needed to pick something up I doubt you'd have followed him all the way to the common room since the rest of the Slytherins would probably not take too kind to two Gryffindors hanging about in its vicinity, let alone finding out where exactly it's hidden, making it locical you'd have stayed here and wait for him. Additionally, considering it's Sunday, logic dictates you were already hanging out together, further excluding the Slytherin common room, probably getting everything ready for whatever you need to tell me. The potions labs are locked on weekends and you said you wanted to go somewhere private to talk so, unless you sneaked into one -doubtful since the potions labs are locked with actual charms while regular classrooms aren't so you would have picked one of those- professor Snape's office is the only other room that could cover the prerequisites for a private conversation." They blinked at her slowly. "You also just confirmed it." She concluded, looking at Draco, blushing under their attention.
"You know, what we're about to tell you?" Harry said after a few moments of shocked silence.
"I'm so glad we're telling you." He stated.
"Also, that was brilliant." Ginny added, smiling encouragingly at her best friend.
"Also, you're brilliant." Neville piped, throwing a hand over her shoulders, pulling her close as Harry led the way to the dungeons. He knocked on his father's office, Severus opening the door and letting them in.
"I'll be at Evy's office." He informed them, having agreed that it would be better if the four of them explained things before he and Evy entered the picture. "Call me when you need me." Harry nodded and Severus left, closing the door behind him, sending a kind smile towards Luna.
"Before we tell you anything," Harry began, the moment Neville led Luna at the sofa, "you have to know, finding out what we're about to tell you could put you in danger. Or rather, hanging out with us, me mostly, to be specific, will probably put you in danger. Telling you what we're about to tell you might help you be better prepared, for what's about to come. It's all going to make better sense later on, but please bear in mind that we four," he said, pointing at himself, his brothers and Ginny, "find ourselves into dangerous situations more times than the average Auror."
"Whatever you want to tell me," Luna said, "has something to do with Voldemort and the coming war." Harry nodded. "I have already decided I'll fight him. Even if I wasn't Ginny's friend-"
"Best friend." The redhead interjected, the girls smiling at each other.
"-best friend," Luna agreed, "or Neville's girlfriend, I would still fight. And I've already figured you're hiding more things than you show still." She addressed Harry. "You did get chosen for the Triwizard Tournament last year after all; that means you've either been training or are extremely powerful magically. Or both." She said, cocking her head to the side slightly. "I think we've all already admitted to being illegal animagi so-" And Neville started laughing, kissing Luna on the top of her head, muttering something about her being a genius and himself extremely lucky.
"Alright then." Harry agreed. "Let's start this from the beginning." He leaned carefully against his father's desk, smiling slightly apologetically at Luna for the barrage of information that would follow. "My name is Harry Potter. And one Halloween night, when I was one and a half years old, I banished Voldemort." Luna blinked rapidly as Harry breathed in and jumped into explaining what he could, his brothers and Ginny interjecting here and there, showing Luna a few memories in the pensive when he thought it necessary.
"I wasn't expecting that." Luna admitted, hands thrown around Neville as he held her in support.
"Nobody ever expects that." Draco assured her. "We surprise people; it's how we operate."
"So, basically, six people are handling the war preparations for the whole country." Luna carried on.
"And a few dozens of goblins." Harry added. "Though they will be obliviated later on." He frowned, trying to think of something to add in the face of that observation. "We did build a town though." He pointed out.
"And you're hunting down pieces of Voldemort's soul, two of which are hidden in Hufflepuff's Cup and Ravenclaw's Diadem."
"So, maybe we're a little bit crazy." Neville admitted, looking at her tentatively. Luna blinked once, twice and then smiled widely.
"As luck would have it, so am I." She stage whispered, evoking a relieved chuckle from her boyfriend.
"Well then, Luna Lovegood," Harry said, claiming the attention of all four teens, "welcome to the family."