The Snake Within
Harry woke up in his room at Grimmauld Place with a raging headache. It was the Christmas Day, but Harry didn't feel like celebrating. This whole year had been one disappointment after another, but somehow it had still managed to end up in an all time low for Harry. First Voldemort had managed to gain a new body in a resurrection ritual last June, after which Dumbledore had simply dumped Harry back at his relatives without any information about what was going on. And he had even made sure that Harry's friends hadn't as much as tried to tell Harry anything at all. For the sake of his safety, he was later told.
Then there had been the minor inconvenience of dementors trying to feast on Harry's and Dudley's souls - not that Dudley had much of a one. And later the ministry officials wouldn't believe anything what Harry was saying, but were rather trying to convict him for "unreasonable use of under-age magic", all the while the Wizading Britain's only major media outlet, The Daily Prophet, was declaring him "deranged and dangerous". And then, when finally the worst summer ever was over and Harry was able to return back to Hogwarts - the place he felt most like home in - the ministry had again decided to intervene, this time in shape of new defence teacher who was torturing Harry in name of "detention". Also most of the other students apparently believed what the Prophet had told them all summer.
But the real reason why Harry felt like he did wasn't anything above; the latest blow was Ron acting like Harry was a Dark Lord, or perhaps even The Dark Lord. You see, Harry had had a vision, or a dream, about being a snake and attacking Ron's father, Arthur Weasley in a hallway somewhere. As it happens, Arthur was then found in said hallway unconscious, bleeding from a snakebite. After that dream - or vision - Harry and the Weasley children had been evacuated from Hogwarts to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix in the Black family ancient home at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London, where they were to spend the Christmas holidays.
Normally Harry would have been happy to get away of Umbridge, Snape and the Slytherins to see his godfather Sirius, but the fact that Ron had distanced himself from Harry to the point that he had demanded and got a room of his own at the admittedly huge house, and the fact that every other Weasley seemed to act carefully around Harry too (even the twins were cutting down their usual twin-speak and pranks) made him feel uncomfortable to say the least. Sirius acting like nothing was wrong and trying to spread Christmas spirit to his guests served only to emphasize the insincerity of it all.
So, although there were a good sized pile of presents at the foot of Harry's bed, Harry couldn't find himself getting enthusiastic about it at all.
"Harry wake up!" came the voice of Sirius from the hallway "It's Christmas! You need to open your presents!"
"I'm awake, I'm awake" replied Harry weakly. Hopefully presents will get some sense in Ron's thick head, and the Christmas may yet be enjoyable, mused Harry. Although having your father in hospital after a near death experience would dampen anyone's Christmas spirit.
Harry got up, showered, washed his teeth, put some clothes on and started to open his presents. There were the customary book from Hermione (the book, 101 Offensive Spells and Curses and Their Counters, would probably make a good handbook for DA meetings, and Hermione had already marked most interesting chapters for Harry), assortment of candies from Ron (including Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans that Harry couldn't stand and usually ended up giving Ron), a new handmade jumper from Mrs. Weasley and another book about defence from the DA group collectively. Sirius and Remus had compiled a book called "The Best of Marauders: 17 Greatest Pranks and How to Replicate Them", completed with photographs extracted from pensieve memories.
Somewhat encouraged from the presents, especially the one from Sirius and Remus, Harry went down to the kitchen for breakfast, where rest of the people were already eating and conversing happily. The atmosphere flattened a little when Harry came in as Ron stopped talking at the middle of a sentence, but it was quickly recovered by Molly who came bustling to Harry and ushered him to the table.
"Eat up, dear, we have long day ahead," she said while loading Harry's plate with breakfast and pouring pumpkin juice in his glass. "We'll go to see Arthur at the hospital soon after we have eaten. Take some toast, I'll get the bacon ready in a jiffy."
The conversations around the table started again, although the fact that Arthur was missing from the table couldn't go unnoticed by anyone. Sirius had dressed in red robes and hat and was doing his best to lighten the mood, but Harry just couldn't share his enthusiasm. And how he had waited for his first real Christmas with Sirius around!
The breakfast was quickly over, and the Weasleys plus Harry started preparing for their trip to the hospital.
- O -
St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was the primary medical institution of Wizarding Britain. It treated all kinds of wounds, countered every type of curses and healed various diseases. On the Christmas Day the reception hall was full of families coming to visit their relatives in the long term observation ward, and bringing in children who had been a little bit too enthusiastic when playing with their new toys. There was a reason why brooms had warnings against giving them to children under eleven, but then Quidditch was a hugely popular sport and all those magazines were full of stories how this and that international Quidditch superstar had caught his first snitch at the age of five. Now that Harry thought about it, there were probably stories about how he had done it when four.
The receptionist was a middle aged witch with her hair up on a neat bun, and she showed them to the right direction. Arthur had been moved from the "Magical creatures and Animals" ward to monitoring at the sixth floor after the biggest threat from the poisoning was over, and a quick trip with elevator later and after a while of searching for the right door Harry and the Weasleys were next to Arthur's bed. Arthur was smiling, although one could clearly see that he was still somewhat pale after his ordeal.
"Nice to see you all, and happy Christmas," came Arthur's greeting when they were all in. "Good to see you too, Harry, I heard it was your quick reaction that saved my hide last week."
It didn't take long before Harry excused himself from the room. He was feeling more than a bit outsider, as the others were still uncertain how to relate to Harry's vision. And Arthur was their family, after all. Harry wandered around the corridors looking for a bathroom, when someone shouted for him.
"Hey there young man! My name is Gilderoy Lockhart! You want to have my picture autographed?"
Harry was shocked. So this was where Lockhart went after he had accidentally obliviated himself at the Chamber of Secrets.
"Oh, you have found a new fan, Gilderoy!" a new voice came behind Lockhart. "He is such a dear, you know, always ready to cater for the needs of admirers," the nurse explained to Harry.
"Lets get back to your room, Gilderoy, you can sign one of those new postcards you had made last month."
Harry was left alone at the corridor, wondering about what had happened back in his second year. Sure Lockhart had been an idiot and a total fraud, but still losing one's sanity was a bit extreme as far as punishments go. But he didn't have much time to wonder before he was woken from his thoughts by a familiar voice calling his name.
"Harry! What are you doing here?" Neville asked. He had just come out of the elevator with his grandmother, an imposing looking old lady named Augusta Longbottom.
"Neville? I was visiting Arthur with the other Weasleys. They are still with him, and I wanted to give them a bit privacy. But what are you doing here?"
Neville looked down. "I came to see my parents," he said quietly.
"Oh. What's happened to them?"
"Nothing," Neville replied. "They've been here as long as I can remember." The last sentence was barely audible, and Neville's grandmother supplied explanation as she noticed that Neville wasn't up to it.
"They were tortured into insanity by Death Eaters shortly after the downfall of Voldemort. Dumbledore told them it was safe to come out of hiding as Voldemort was no more, but the Lestranges and Crouch junior were still free. Neville was saved only because he was staying with me that night."
Harry didn't know what to say. It was perhaps even harder to grow up knowing your parents were alive but insane and visiting them regularly than it was to be a genuine orphan.
"Well," Harry said, when he finally found his voice. "I'm sorry to hear that. But don't let me keep you from your visit."
"Nonsense!" countered Augusta with a voice that allowed no objections. "You will come with us. Frank and Alice were very good friends of your parents. They visited each other regularly while they were hiding under the fidelius charm, and if I remember correctly Alice was Lily's matron of honour when she married James."
As Harry didn't have anything else to do, and the Weasleys seemed to take their time with Arthur, he simply shrugged and followed the Longbottoms to a private room with two beds. Once there Harry looked from sidelines as Neville gave his Christmas greetings and tried to communicate with his unresponsive parents, while Augusta was holding a supporting hand on her grandsons shoulder.
Eventually they left the room, Neville holding a piece of wrapping paper his mother had given him. Once they were back at the elevators, Augusta turned around and addressed Harry.
"It was good to see you, Harry. Neville has so few friends and they don't really come visit often, and the manor feels so empty with only us two and the elves around. You must come to celebrate New Year with us, you can bring the other boy, Ron Weasley was it, with you as well".
Harry looked at Neville, who looked somewhat startled at his Grandmothers invitation and also happy at the possibility of having friends around during holidays.
"I'll see if I can get there," replied Harry. "Ron's mother can be extremely protective about her children, and sometimes it seems that she sees me as one as well. But if I can I'll be there, thanks for the invitation."
- O -
Back at the Grimmauld Place Harry sought out Sirius. Something he had heard from the Longbottoms troubled his mind. He hadn't known that his parents had been good friends with the Longbottoms, and he wanted to know more. There was so much he didn't know.
But the main thing was the similarities between the fates of his and Neville's parents. They were both of similar age, they had both had a baby boy at nearly the same time (with Neville being only one day older) and apparently they had both been hiding under fidelius charm as per Dumbledores recommendation.
"Hey Sirius, could we talk for a bit," Harry asked as Sirius was decorating the second floor sitting room with Christmas lights and mistletoes.
"Sure, pup," Sirius replied while climbing down from the stool he was using to hang Christmas lights to the walls. "Who's the bird you need help with?"
"What? No, no this isn't about any girl, Sirius. I wanted to ask something about my parents."
"Oh... Well, anyway, ask away" answered Sirius with a slight disappointment, but still eager to help his godson with whatever bothered his mind.
"You see, I saw Neville and his grandmother at St. Mungo's, he was visiting his parents who are there at the permanent spell damage ward after being tortured insane at the end of the last war."
"Yes, Frank and Alice. I heard about them from Remus. My lovely cousin Bellatrix' last job before going to Azkaban," Sirius growled the last bit.
"Yeah, well Augusta told that they too were hiding under the fidelius charm at the same time as my parents, and their stories sounded so similar that I wondered if it was how usual for couples to go hiding near the end of the war."
"Well, I always figured it was about them getting you and Neville that caused them to go hiding, but now that you put it that way it sure does seem to be a bit off as far as things go. I mean, there were other people with newborn children too. The Abbots, the Bones, the Lovegoods, Weasleys... Well, the Bones were killed, but that was only after your and Neville's parents had gone hiding, so it couldn't have been their reason for hiding."
"That's what I thought too. There's also the fact that apparently it was Dumbledore who was behind them going into hiding, or at least Dumbledore was the one who convinced the Longbottoms that it was safe to come out after Voldemort was gone."
"Now that is perfectly understandable. They were all active members of the Order during the war, and Dumbledore was the leader and the obvious choice to go for advice."
"Oh. maybe I was just grasping for something more. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe I just hoped that there would have been some kind of reasonable explanation to why my parents died the way they did, but I guess that's the way war is. Nothing makes any sense."
"Yes, well... Let's talk about something happier, it's Christmas after all, and you should be celebrating like all the other kids, not brooding about wars. Now, tell me about the girls at the school. What are they like?"
Harry groaned. He really didn't want to talk about this, but it was still good to see Sirius getting back to shape and being more optimistic about things in general.
- O -
Three days later the Order of the Phoenix was called together in their first meeting since the attack that saw Arthur hospitalized. The Weasley patriarch had been released the same day, but he was still weak from the poisoning. Voldemort's snake had been, not surprisingly, a magically enhanced one, and the venom had been a particularly nasty piece of work to heal. Mrs. Weasley was hovering all over her husband making sure that he didn't overexert himself, and Mr. Weasley was weathering the attention with long practised patience. There really wasn't anything to deter Molly Weasley when she had set her mind onto something, and trying would only be an exercise in futility, something Arthur didn't feel like doing just for fun.
The children had been ushered upstairs away from the kitchen that was used as a meeting room, but that only meant that they had to sacrifice some of their comfort laying in awkward positions at the second floor landing to get close enough to the kitchen door to get the extendable ears, a product the Weasley twins Fred and George had been able to create using some of the funding Harry had provided them the previous summer, into position for eavesdropping.
Sirius had detected their activities earlier, but he didn't seem to mind too much. Instead he was somewhat proud that the twins were continuing the noble pursuit of the Marauders, and the fact that they had went through the trouble of inventing new tools for their trade in itself meant that in the eyes of the old Marauder that they had earned any information they might be able to get. Not that the Order really ever talked about anything really important or sensitive during the meetings.
So, as Dumbledore was calling the meeting in order, Harry, Fred and George were listening in on the extendable ear, that was stretched to the limit to cover the distance between the kitchen door and the second floor landing of the stairs. Ron had elected to stay in his room, being still vary of Harry. Harry had gotten used to Ron's attitude at this point, but it was still hard for him to see the first friend he had ever had to be like that.
"You really should figure out a way to extend the range of these ears of yours," Harry said, having managed to get the twins surrender the hold of the earpiece. "Maybe even do some research on wireless ones."
"Wireless?" one of the twins, who Harry guessed was Fred, asked.
"What do you mean by wireless?" George added, mirroring the interested expression on his brothers face.
"Well, without this stupid string," Harry answered. "That way we wouldn't need to lay on the floor, and there would be nothing coming out of the door for Tonks to trip on."
Fred and George shared a meaningful look that told Harry the next version of their eavesdropping device would probably be, as Harry had said it, wireless.
"Good thinking there, Harry my friend," Fred said.
"Yes, absolutely splendid idea. It's a shame we don't have more than this year at school with you, or we could have made a prankster out of you yet!"
"Shh! Quiet, I think they are finally getting to the point," Harry whispered, concentrating on the voices from the kitchen. They had finally got over the initial greetings and were starting to talk business.
- O -
The kitchen of number twelve, Grimmauld Place had been chosen as the meeting place for the simple reason that it had been the only room big enough that had been cleaned of all kinds of nasty creatures and dirt when the first meeting had been held in the house. It also had a nice atmosphere, unlike the formal dining room or the large ball room, which were the other large enough rooms that had been considered. Possibly because the kitchen had not been used regularly by the Blacks but mostly by servants and house elves, and thus lacked the usual décor of annoying portraits of pureblood supremacist and stuffed heads of different kinds of more or less sinister creatures stuck on the walls with permanent sticking charms.
"I call this meeting of the Order of the Phoenix to order," Dumbledore called, raising his hands to silence the idle chatter that the members were engaged at: Christmas greetings, gossip about close and distant family relatives the members shared and had met during holidays, arguments about comparative strengths and weaknesses of different Quidditch teams. "The first point on today's agenda is the recent incident at the ministry. It seems that the news of the enemy being after the item in the Department were, in fact, correct, and that he is starting to actually act in favour of getting it in his hands. As you no doubt have heard, Arthur was attacked by Voldemort's snake while in guard duty at the Department."
There were nods all around the table, accompanying shudders from hearing the feared name. This had been the first injury the Order had suffered during this war, and the members were starting to wake up to the actual dangers of what they were doing.
"Now, it is of utmost importance that the enemy doesn't gain possession of the item, so I propose we continue guarding. I also wish to stress that even though the position is deep underground in the Ministry, one must not let their vigilance drop," Dumbledore continued.
"Is there any way we could transfer the item to a better location?" Mad Eye asked. "The corridor isn't exactly the most defensible position, and the Unspeakables are getting more and more suspicious that there's something going on on their Department."
"I am afraid that we can't move the item even if we wanted. The magic protecting it is of most effective type," Dumbledore answered.
"But surely not effective enough to stop you?" Professor McGonagall asked. "If even you couldn't take it out of the Department, then surely there shouldn't be any need to guard it at all, should there?"
There were accepting nods all around. It was widely known that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard in the world. In fact he was the only one Voldemort had ever feared.
"I fear that Voldemort wouldn't have nearly as much trouble acquiring this item as I would," Dumbledore admitted, starting to get a bit agitated about the inquires. He really didn't want to let the knowledge of the prophecy to get on the wild. There would be tremendous pressure on Harry, and Dumbledore really didn't want to pile any more weight on the boy's shoulders.
"What exactly is this mysterious object, anyway?" Sirius asked. He had noticed some of the agitation on Dumbledore, and as he himself was confined in the Grimmauld Place he wanted at least to know what was going on.
"I'm sure the Headmaster would have shared that information already, if he was going to," Snape answered. The greasy haired potions master had clearly been waiting for an opportunity to provoke Sirius. "And I fail to see any reason why you," he stressed, "of all people, would need to know anything. All you do is play housewife while the others risk their lives on the field."
Sirius shot his most threatening look at Snape, who simply responded with his well practised sneer.
"There's no need to fight between friends," Dumbledore interrupted, before either of the two had time to do anything more than glare at each other. Sirius snorted on Dumbledore's choice of words.
"But I believe that Severus is right. The information is exceedingly sensitive, and the way I see it, the fewer people know about it the better."
The members were nodding uncertainly and looking around the table at that comment. Sure, there were information that was better not shared too freely, but somehow it would be easier to prepare for guard duty if you knew what it was you were guarding. But Dumbledore was in charge, and no one was going to question his authority on the Order missions.
"So it is concluded that we stay on guard on the department, and increase our vigilance," the headmaster continued. "Now, on to the next point. Has anyone anything new to report? Kingsley, Nymphadora, could you tell us first about what the Auror force has heard and seen."
Tonks bristled as the headmaster mentioned her hated first name. She had repeatedly asked him to not to do so, but Dumbledore seemed to ignore her completely. As Tonks was fuming, her partner Kingsley Shacklebolt told the order what little news there were from the DMLE: director Bones was prepared to err on the side of caution but as the minister was still in denial she didn't have funding or permission to actually do anything. After Kingsley every other member also relayed their information, and at the end it was Snape's turn to tell them the latest from Voldemort himself.
"The Dark Lord is still gathering his forces. There have been very careful inquiries made to different pureblood families that are considered neutral at the moment, but it seems that he wants to first acquire what we are guarding at the Ministry. All of his other plans seem to hang on that single piece, and he doesn't want to make himself known before his plans are ready to be executed."
"That's good," Dumbledore said. "Now, the final point of concern is Harry's apparent connection with Voldemort. Severus, I want you to teach him to protect his mind against any further visions."
"What!" the potions master yelled. "You want me to teach the brat occlumency? He has no aptitude for anything like that, he is simply too arrogant and likes himself too much, just like his father."
"Now, Severus, it's of utmost importance that he learns to protect himself, even though his vision proved useful in saving Arthur. I'm afraid that Voldemort might try to use the connection for his own purposes," Dumbledore explained. "And you are the best suited to teach him."
Now it was Sirius' turn to be angry. "You can't mean that! Harry and Snivellous hate each other, there's no way Harry could learn anything from him! Why don't you teach him yourself?"
"I'm sure the headmaster has more important things to do than waste his time trying to instruct some brat," Snape said, sneering. "And I don't see you being able to do much either, you mangy mutt."
"Calm down you two," Dumbledore said, raising his hands again. "Harry learning occlumency is very important, but I can't teach him myself. I have my reasons that are not open to discussion here. Professor Snape is the only choice, he is one of the best occlumens in the world, and I trust he and Harry can put aside their differences for this important goal."
Dumbledore looked around as Sirius and Snape were still glaring at each other. "That was all. I call this meeting to close. Have a good new year, and keep your eyes and ears open for anything that might prove useful," he said, raising up from his chair.
The members of the Order started to leave, discussing what they had heard in the meeting.
- O -
That night Harry was laying in his bed, thinking over what he had learned that day. Something kept nagging in his head that it all had something to do with him, and Harry was angry that Dumbledore was trying to keep him in the dark.
He says he just wants to keep me safe, but how safe can I be when Voldemort seems fixated in killing me? And why is he so damn persistent about it? Sure, it must be embarrassing for a Dark Lord to not to be able to kill a defenceless baby, but still, that was my mothers doing, not mine.
And now Dumbledore is keeping secrets from the Order too. He wants to keep them in danger without even knowing what it is they are guarding, Harry thought. And it's not like there was any danger that some of them might tell Voldemort what it is, as he already knows! Or he wouldn't try to get his scaly hands on it in the first place.
And what could it be? They say that it's something Voldemort didn't have last time, but from what I've heard, he didn't really have much trouble dealing with the ministry idiots and the Order in the last war. He was pretty much steamrolling everyone at the time he came after me.
Harry opened his eyes.
He. Came. After. Me. What was it that I heard from the dementors? My mother screaming Voldemort to not to kill me, but to kill her instead, and Voldemort asking her to step aside... as if he really was after me, not my parents. Bloody hell, don't say this too really has something to do with me! Why me? All I've ever wanted is to be normal, is that really all too much to ask? And now Voldemort is focusing all his attention in getting some kind of super secret weapon just to make sure he can get rid of me. Yey, and all I'm told is that I should stay safe and not do anything. While the ministry is doing everything they can to discredit me and get my wand snapped...
And Dumbledore! He knows exactly what is going on, but he doesn't tell anyone. Instead he insist on keeping his secrets and just telling people what they need to or must not do. As if he thought everyone else were just children that needed to be kept safe!
Harry turned over, trying to sleep. It was remarkably hard to try to calm down when you had just realized that the most powerful Dark Lord in a few centuries was hell bent in trying to personally end your life, going as far as putting all his other plans on hold to get the final piece he needed to do so.
Thoughts were racing around in Harry's head. About his parents that had died because of him. About himself. About why in the hell a Dark Lord would find it necessary to personally kill a one year old baby. On the other hand, it's not like sanity ever was a strong point for Dark Lords, Harry thought grimly.
He thought about how his existence put everyone around him in danger. He thought about Hermione. About Sirius. About Ron. Well, Ron at least seems to have realized that I'm dangerous to be around, seeing as he hasn't even asked me to play chess with him during the whole holiday. Maybe it's all for better, he thought.
Finally Harry thought about Cho, feeling somewhat guilty that she crossed his mind only after all those other people. But now that he thought about it, he wasn't really sure what it was that he felt about Cho. He had had a crush on her since third year, but after she had cornered him in the Room of Requirements and kissed him under the mistletoe, crying, he wasn't really sure if he should continue with her. Hermione had been right, she hadn't got over Cedric yet, and was seeking some kind of support from Harry. And Harry really didn't feel like he was up to supporting anyone at the moment. More like he needed the support himself.
And now that Ron was distancing himself from Harry, Harry had one less person supporting him. Not that Ron had done much supporting anyway, now that Harry really thought about it. He had helped Harry to keep up the illusion of normalcy, but it hadn't changed anything about the undercurrents of bizarre circumstances that followed Harry everywhere he went. Just like now, when those circumstances had once again swept Harry away with them, Ron was gone, not trying to support Harry.
No doubt he will eventually come back with the chessboard, when things have calmed enough around me, Harry mused, not little cynically.
Now that he really thought about it, he really only had Hermione to rely on. Sirius was a fugitive, and that severely limited what he was able to do. The professors didn't want to take him seriously. Like McGonagall who had repeatedly dismissed his worries when he had tried to reach for her support. Or Dumbledore, who would come all grandfatherly and eyes twinkling when he was laying in the hospital wing after yet another near death experience, offer some cryptic words of encouragement and say that Harry wasn't ready yet to carry the weight of knowing what the hell was going on. And then award some ridiculous amount of house points in the end of year feast, as if those would make Harry feel any better about staying yet another summer with the Dursleys.
I really need to make some more friends, was Harry's final thought before darkness finally got better of him, and he fell asleep.
- O -
The last few days before New Year went fast for Harry. He had spent most of the time browsing through the extensive library in the Grimmauld Place looking for any references about the department of mysteries. Harry was determined that whatever it was that was in there was something that would eventually be used against him, so he really wanted to know beforehand. He had survived in the graveyard last summer only by luck and coincidence, and he really wanted to be better prepared when the next time would inevitably come. Unfortunately the Blacks didn't really have any books on the inner workings of the ministry in their library, and Harry doubted any public recruiting brochures would contain the information he wanted either. Not that he had access to said brochures either.
Ron had continued to keep his distance from Harry, but Harry had seen him getting impatient as he had no one to play chess or exploding snap with. And Harry spending much of his time in the library didn't really encourage Ron to come seek his company.
Harry had also talked with Sirius about everything that had happened during the term. Sirius had agreed that it was important for Harry to learn to protect his mind, and had also grudgingly agreed that Snape probably was the most qualified teacher for the job if Dumbledore himself wasn't willing or able. He had also given Harry a book on occlumency from the library, so that Harry could learn at least the basics before subjecting himself to Snape's most likely limited mercies. Harry had also told Sirius about his plans to visit the Longbottoms on New Years eve, and Sirius had seen no problems with that.
So, as the evening of the New Years eve came closer, Harry was up in his room getting ready for the visit. He had asked Sirius about what to expect from such a visit, and when Sirius had learned that Harry didn't have any clothing apart from his muggle hand me downs - which weren't really suitable for visiting anywhere - and school robes, Sirius had immediately started searching the house for proper clothing. And after a rather lengthy argument with Kreacher Harry was proud second owner of Sirius' younger brother Regulus' robes from the seventies. They weren't really of the latest fashion, but the quality was fitting for the heir of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, and they were definitely nicer than anything else Harry had. Buying new clothing was added to Harry's growing list of things to do.
- O -
"It's good to see you here, Mr. Potter," Augusta Longbottom greeted Harry as he was dusting his robes after stumbling out of the fireplace. "There are all too few visitors at the manor these days, and it gets awfully quiet with only Tippy doing her chores around the house."
Harry looked around. The Longbottom ancestral home was very different from the Black one in London. There were large windows showing surrounding countryside, and the last rays of setting sun were flowing freely into the large, beautiful foyer illuminating various paintings and an ancient looking suit of armour standing in one corner with warm light. Even with the impressive size and imposing décor the place had distinct feeling of home in it, something what the clinically clean home the Dursleys owned never had. Harry couldn't help but feel jealousy towards Neville for what he had here, even if he too was an orphan like Harry.
"Thank you for your invitation, Lady Longbottom," Harry said, bowing slightly. Sirius had reminded that the old woman was strict with tradition, and as this was Harry's first time visiting an old wizarding home, he couldn't help but feel a little bit scared about it all. Petunia had drilled Harry about manners when she had hosted her tea parties where Harry had been forced to serve, but those were completely different type of people.
"Please, there's no need to be so formal. Potters and Longbottoms have been friends for generations, there's no need to end that tradition now. You can call me Augusta."
"Thank you, Augusta, I'll try. And you can call me Harry," Harry answered, noticing once again a bit of information about his family he hadn't known before. A slight tinge of guilt about how he had more or less ignored Neville during his years at school washed over Harry, as he followed Augusta further inside the large house.
"It's been a long time since these halls last saw parties the sort they were built to witness," Augusta told Harry as she led Harry towards dining room, nostalgia heavy in her voice. "The last time was the wedding of dear Frank and Alice, and even that was shadowed by the war. But the sixties, now that was something completely else! Jonathan, my husband, your grandfather Charlie and old Abe Malfoy ruled the wizarding Britain between the three of them and everyone who was anyone attended the parties we threw each on our turn", she continued.
"What!" Harry blurted, "My grandfather was friends with a Malfoy?"
"Well, more allies than friends, really," Augusta replied. "We had common goals, politically. Abraxas was no where near as extremist as Lucius is, in fact he was rather liberal. The war against Grindewald and the Germans really opened many eyes about the threat muggle wars posed to us, and we were working for better integration between our worlds. Kind of like hiding in plain sight. It was Charlus who established the regular contact between the muggle Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic. The Potters have always had good contacts in the muggle world."
There was a silence as Harry thought about this new information about his family. He wondered why no one had bothered to tell him about any of it before. All he knew was that his father was a prankster and looked like him, and that his mother had green eyes. He knew nothing of his family's history.
"Of course, that is the same sentiment Voldemort seems to have, that muggles are a threat," Augusta broke the silence quietly. "His solution is just completely different..."
They arrived to the dining room, where the house elf had already made the table. Aroma of delicious food was hanging in the air.
"It all ended when Abe died in early seventies. Lucius inherited everything, and our alliance fell apart. His death was deemed to be of natural causes, but now after seeing what it meant politically and what came of Lucius one wonders if Voldemort was really behind it. Abe's death and the fall of our alliance was really one of the main reasons the last war went as badly as it did. The government was polarized, and no compromises could be made. Dumbledore was leading his 'light side' coalition, but his idealism and wish to control and regulate everything was simply too much for the more traditionalist families.
"But let's not talk about war and history. New Year should be celebration of future. Neville! Come now, Mr. Potter is here!"
- O -
The dinner was excellent. It was more delicate and lighter than the homely fares Mrs. Weasley cooked at the Grimmauld Place, but equally as tasty. They had some wine with the food ("Nonsense!" Augusta said when Harry had tried to decline. "A young gentleman like you should learn to appreciate a good wine!"), and although Harry thought the drink bitter the experience was none the less pleasant.
The discussion had covered many topics from school to politics, and Harry was ashamed to admit that he really knew next to nothing about the wizarding world, apart from the little he had seen in Diagon Alley and small fractions about goblin rebellions he had been able to commit to memory during history lessons. He also realized that he really hadn't been much of a friend towards Neville during the years, and swore to himself to try and correct that situation when school started again.
Eventually the discussion reached the ongoing school year, and what was happening in Hogwarts.
"I heard from Neville that you have formed some kind of secret study group to learn defence in absence of a competent teacher, am I correct?" asked Augusta.
"Umm..." replied Harry glancing towards Neville, not knowing what Augusta's position was about the ministry regulations, and not really wanting to take too much credit of the DA.
Augusta read Harry's reaction immediately. "Don't worry about the ministry decrees, I wholeheartedly support your efforts," she said. "To be honest, I was proud when Neville told me about it. You see, Neville has been terribly shy, and putting more effort on studies can never hurt anyone."
"Ah. Yes, of course. We do have this study group, but it's really not so much. And it was Hermione's idea in the first place."
"Don't try to play yourself down, Harry!" Neville interrupted. "I've learned so much from you. You're really better than any previous defence teacher, well, perhaps excluding Professor Lupin. And Hermione's great, but she could never teach us like you do. All she could come up with would be reading and then more reading."
Harry looked down. He really wasn't good at taking praise. The years with Dursleys had left Harry with an inferiority complex, and then receiving massive praise from the wizarding world about things he hadn't done didn't really help either. Quidditch was the only thing Harry thought he was genuinely good at, although all those suggestions about Harry taking up professional career after school were in his mind totally out of question. He wasn't that good.
"None the less", said Augusta, "I'm happy that you're doing it. Neville has found so much more confidence during this year that I can't but think that your club has something to do with it. And as a Longbottom has always stood by a Potter, it's good to see Neville keeping up with the tradition too."
"Huh?", asked Harry, showing once again his exceptional skill as conversationalist. "I heard you mentioning something about it earlier, but I've never heard anything about it."
"It's not really that well known outside our families," Augusta explained. "But the tradition goes back to the late 18th century, when Hadrian Potter was trapped inside the Gringotts bank with Francis Longbottom during the infamous Nine Hour Rebellion. No one really knows what happened inside, but they were the first ones to come out after the bank opened it's doors again. Hadrian was awarded Order of Merlin soon after, and we Longbottoms have ever since been allied with Potters."
"Oh. How come no one has ever bothered to tell me about these things? I know next to nothing about my family, only that they were pure-blood. And it's not like that really mattered to me."
Augusta looked at Harry with a look mixed with astonishment and embarrassment.
"Well, that's wrong, too," she said. "The Potters were never a what you would call a pure-blood family. Sure, your father James and his father Charlus were pure, but they were more of an exception than a rule with the Potters."
Augusta took a little pause, considering what to say before continuing.
"The Potters are a bit of a curious case in the wizarding society. They are an ancient family with roots all the way back to the Roman era, and some say they even have some claim to the Gryffindor name. But they have always been very liberal about marrying muggle-born, half-blood and even muggle women into the family.
"And about learning the history of one's family, most old families have portraits that teach the children about their family history. I know that Charlus had many in the Potter Estate, but I don't know what has happened to them. James never moved in after Charlus died in 1979, as Lily preferred living in Godric's Hollow where she could simply walk out of the front door and mix in with people, both wizards and muggles. And when I once visited the Potter Cottage there after the Ministry had declared it a historic monument, there wasn't anything left there."
Harry was shocked. Not only the only thing he knew about his family history was false, but there were possibly at least two homes that he owned. One had been abandoned almost seventeen years ago, and the other had been declared a historic monument by the ministry. And someone had taken all the furniture and other stuff from his parents' home. His list of things to do was growing rapidly, and he didn't believe he could make it during the holidays. And Dumbledore would probably insist him not to do it, for his safety.
Harry wasn't ready for any more shocks, so he guided the discussion towards safer topics. He learned that Augusta didn't really follow the Quidditch league, but had supported Falmouth Falcons alongside her husband in the sixties, and that Neville was rather fanatic about Puddlemere United, even though he didn't really want to get involved in arguments held in the Gryffindor dorms. He learned that Neville had found his green thumb at home, and that the Longbottoms had large greenhouses right next to the manor, with charms keeping the temperature and lighting conditions ideal for plants from different regions of the world. He also learned that the sweet sherry served with dessert wasn't his cup of tea any more than the wine had been, but that it too was apparently an essential part of being a real English gentleman.
Finally the year had ended and the new one begun, and it was time for Harry to get back to Grimmauld Place. Neville and Augusta accompanied Harry to the fireplace, where they said goodbyes.
"It was nice to have you here, you should come back again sometime," Augusta said, shaking Harry's hand.
"It was my pleasure, Augusta. It's nice to see more places, my experiences are so limited, that every change to break from the routine is welcome.
"And see you in the train, Neville!"
"You too, Harry."