The Serpentine Subterfuge
Sequel to: The Pureblood Pretense.
Summary: Harriett Potter survived her first year masquerading as a pureblooded boy, but sinister forces are now moving through the wizarding world, and when something sinister starts moving through Hogwarts as well, Harry and her friends are pulled into another maelstrom—whether Harry likes it or not.
A/N: Here we are, back at the beginning. This story won't make much sense without reading the first book, just so everyone knows. For this book, I'm no longer going to mention the reviewers at the beginning of each chapter. I will instead answer the reviews in a pm or in the case of anonymous reviewers in a quick mention. That said, I'm behind on reviews like nobody's business, so I will try to answer all the reviews from the last chapter of pureblood pretense by the end of the week.
A/N2: Soo I went a little overboard on this chapter. Sorry! It's over 30,000 words, but I swear not all the chapters in this book are going to be so long or take so long to put out. I just had to get everything right this first chapter. As always, I don't own Harry Potter or Alanna the Lioness. Thanks for reading.
The Serpentine Subterfuge:
Sirius Black decided that his 33rd birthday party was going to be a pool party. Did he have a pool? No he didn't. Did he rent out a muggle pool or perhaps host the party at the house of someone who did have a pool? Of course he didn't.
Harry Potter, Sirius' niece, sighed heavily as she gazed down at what had once been a perfectly good, if admittedly unused, potions laboratory. The Black Family Potions Lab was now looking a lot like the Black Family Underground Tropical Getaway, and while Harry had never actually needed her uncle's lab, having a perfectly good one at her own house outfitted with everything she could ever want, she still thought it a sorry state of affairs when a potions lab was ruined to this extent.
"Cheer up, Harry," Archie, Harry's cousin and Sirius' son, told her as he stepped up beside her at the top of the basement steps, "You're always saying how labs need proper lighting."
Harry grimaced. Proper lighting indeed. Sirius had taken his inspiration from the Hogwarts Great Hall when designing his party grounds, and charmed the ceiling to look like an open sky instead of the dull grey stone it was made of. Unlike the Great Hall, however, the clear cerulean expanse with its golden sun beaming down on them was definitely not a sky to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom.
"It's supposed to be Aruba, I think," Archie said, squinting up against the bright sunlight.
"It's as hot as Aruba in here," Harry said, "If there were any actual ingredients around they'd be dried up and ruined in about ten minutes."
"Lucky you raided any salvageable ingredients when you were about seven, then, isn't it?" Archie grinned, "Though I don't think the ingredients would need to worry about drying out, as they'd be completely submerged in water as well."
Harry looked down into the basement lab, which was filled with about thirty feet of sparkling blue water, and smiled back ruefully, "It is a rather clever charm, I suppose."
"Why thank you, Harry," Sirius bounded up beside them, floating a cooler of drinks behind him, "It warms my heart to know that a potions enthusiast like yourself approves of my state-of-the-art improvements to the lab."
"You're welcome, Uncle," Harry hugged him briefly, "Happy birthday, Sirius."
"This is really cool, Dad," Archie said, "Are those treasure chests at the bottom of the pool?"
"Of course they are. What else is the Black Family gold good for?" Sirius swept by them and went down to where the water line stopped halfway up the stairs. He conjured a red floatation ring and secured the cooler inside of it snuggly before sending it away to glide across the homemade pool. "Remus helped with the spells to keep the water insulated, and of course James transfigured most of the rafts, but the ceiling was all me."
"Who did the temperature charms?" Harry asked.
"Lily," Sirius said, grinning, "Her birthday present to me was an entire day of quiescence. No arguing and no scolding, and she also agreed to help however she could with the party decorations." Sirius grinned unrepentantly, "I've got her rounding up the snakes as we speak."
Archie and Harry exchanged a look.
"Can the snakes swim?" Archie asked dubiously.
"That's what we're going to find out," Sirius said, clapping his hands together, "Now go get your swimsuits on, kids, the party is about to start!" He headed back toward the kitchen to collect the food and Harry and Archie retreated to Archie's room to change.
Examining her swimsuit-clad form in the mirror, Harry couldn't help but think that she was experiencing a level of novelty most normal almost-twelve-year-old girls really shouldn't feel. Her swimsuit wasn't pink or frilly, but it was so clearly a girl's bathing suit just by virtue of having a top that Harry felt awkward wearing it. She'd only been home from school a week and a half, and the idea that she didn't have to hide her sex was one she wasn't quite used to yet. She still got a mild shock every time she saw her bright green eyes staring back from her reflection, and there had been times when she forgot to respond to the name 'Harry,' but overall she was so glad to be home.
"You done staring at yourself yet?" Archie called from outside the bathroom door.
Harry opened the door, purely so that she could roll her eyes at him, not because she was giving in to his pestering, but the earnest look on Archie's face stopped her.
"What?" she asked, resisting the urge to shift self-consciously.
"You really have to stop doing that," Archie told her, "Staring in the mirror every chance you get is starting to get kind of noticeable. I think your parents are putting it down to puberty or something, but try not to look so surprised when you catch sight of yourself in every reflective surface, okay?"
Harry sighed, "Yeah, sorry. It's just weird."
"Yeah, I've been thinking about that," Archie lifted one foot to rub his other in a nervous gesture he'd perfected over the years, "I'm not sure we'll be able to keep going as we are for seven more years. How long will it be before one of the people who know you at school wants to meet both you and someone who actually knows what I look like at the same time?"
Harry nodded, "You're right. I'm working on it, sort of. I'll tell you after the party, okay?"
"Alright," Archie shrugged, "I figured you had something up your sleeve—you're the girl with the plans after all."
Harry thought to herself that she didn't feel very much like a girl with a plan, but Archie probably didn't need to hear that, so she smiled in what she hoped was a confident way and followed Archie back down to the basement.
The rest of the party guests, meaning the rest of their unofficial family including Remus, James, and Lily, were lounging about on the rafts James had transfigured when Archie and Harry finally arrived. Sirius had all of the snakes on his raft, and from what Harry could pick up from their disgruntled mutterings none of the reptiles were pleased with the situation. Sirius tossed Harry a bottle of sunscreen, and Harry glanced questioningly at Remus, not sure if Sirius was joking or not.
The werewolf shrugged from where he was lounging on his raft under an umbrella, "We're actually not sure if the charm gives off UV rays, so better safe than sorry in this case."
Archie laughed, "Someday when I'm a grown up I'm going to perform magic that I don't really understand, and no one will yell at me for it."
"Not on your birthday, at any rate," Lily muttered into her tropical beverage. Archie claimed a raft with an umbrella, but Harry picked a plain raft to sit on. She figured some sunshine would do her good after all those months practically cloistered in potions labs.
"Speaking of birthdays," Sirius said once they'd all settled in, clapping his hands together, "I know I've set the bar pretty high this year, but I don't want you two to think we aren't celebrating yours just as well when the time comes this summer. Is there anything in particular you want?"
Archie glanced over at Harry and then shrugged casually, "We'll think about it."
Harry nodded her agreement. She and Archie had been born just a few days apart, and as such always celebrated their birthdays together to save effort. It only made sense considering they invited the same four people. This year, however…
"You should invite some of your friends from school," Lily suggested, "It'll make a nice change to have other kids around the house."
Lily often said 'around the house' when she really meant in or around the three houses their pseudo-family frequented. Each house unofficially belonged to all of them in a way.
Harry coughed slightly, "I'm not sure who I'd invite. Most of my friends from America actually live in America, and it's a long way to come for just a birthday party. International floo is so expensive."
Not to mention, Harry thought wryly, that all of the people that 'Harry' knew in America thought 'Harry' was a boy.
"What about that Hermione girl you're always writing home about?" James asked, "She lives in England, with her parents the dentists, right?"
"Oh yeah," Harry said weakly, "Right. I'll see what she's doing the last week of July."
"What about you, Archie?" Sirius prompted, "It would only be polite to invite the Malfoy boy after his family offered you a life debt."
"And if Pansy Parkinson is anything like her mother Rose, I'm sure she's a lovely girl," Lily chimed in, "We'd love to have them, regardless of politics and the like."
Archie curled his toes nervously over the side of his raft, "I would like to invite them, but I'm not sure their parents would let them come. You know how it is with the dark purebloods. It's unlikely they'd send their Heirs off to a pureblood's home they aren't familiar with."
"Oh, right," Sirius said, looking disheartened. Harry winced. He was still feeling the rift she'd inadvertently caused between he and his son by not sending letters as often and as honestly as she could have. No doubt he was thinking Archie would resent him for making the Malfoy's and Parkinson's uncomfortable with letting their kids play at Sirius' house.
"It's no big deal, dad," Archie said cheerfully, "I saw them all year. I'd rather just spend my birthday with you guys like I always do."
"Still," Sirius said, though he looked a little more chipper, "A kid should have friends over for his twelfth birthday."
"What's so special about twelve?" Harry said idly, "We can have a big party when we turn seventeen or something."
"You just don't want party preparations to take away from your brewing time," Archie teased good naturedly, though Harry could see the slight relief in his eyes at the change of topic. Friends were a tricky subject when you were lying to and about them.
"Of course," Harry shrugged, "So what?"
"Careful there, Harry," James put in with a grin, "It's a wonder you made any friends at all this year with that kind of outlook."
"Maybe she didn't," Sirius flicked water at her from his raft as he floated by, "Maybe our Harry just wrote home about friends so we didn't worry, but really she's been hiding in the potions lab at AIM all year."
Harry shrugged, a smile tugging on her lips, "I guess you'll never know."
"You do look a bit pale," Lily said, pursing her lips, "You have been getting out, haven't you? James and I were surprised when you said you weren't going out for a Quidditch club this year."
"I just didn't think I'd have time," Harry said reasonably, "The Healer tract isn't exactly easy, and I'm keeping up with my potions work in my spare time as well. I want to be able to get a Mastery by the time I finish school."
"In which one?" Remus said, surprised.
"Both," Harry shrugged, "Though I'll always enjoy potions more."
"Then why did you decide on the Healer tract?" James asked concernedly, "If you want to gain a Mastery so soon, you should go into the potions tract. Don't you just have basic potions classes in the Healer tract?"
"There are a couple of advanced classes later on," Harry said, "Because a lot of Healing has to do with Potions, even if the Healers don't brew them personally, but there's actually another reason I decided on Healing." She glanced toward Archie very obviously and said, as apologetically as she could, "I've actually been learning Healing so I could teach it to Archie. It was his dream to go to AIM and get Healer certified, so I'm helping him make it come true."
There were exclamations from all the adults.
"Oh, Harry," said Remus seriously, "It's wonderful that you're helping Archie, but what about your dreams?"
"I've got it covered," Harry said firmly, "Frankly, I don't need to be in the Potions tract to gain a Mastery by the time I leave school. My potions studies are progressing rapidly, and if I was in the potions tract I'd probably be bored with the level my classmates were at. This way, I learn something I don't already know, which will be useful to my potions work anyway, and Archie gets to learn Healing too. He's really good, you know."
Sirius turned surprised eyes to his son, "You've begun already?"
"Yes," Archie said carefully, "Harry and I are about at the same level, actually, because Harry writes me letters with instructions and assignments, and we found copies of the textbooks in the Potter Library. I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to think I was ungrateful of the teachings I can get at Hogwarts—I'm not. I'm learning a lot at Hogwarts, and I'm glad you insisted I go there. I've made so many friends. This is just extra, so that I can follow my dreams no matter where I am."
"I think it's wonderful," Lily said, smiling at the both of them proudly, "You've both matured so much, helping one another and working so hard." She looked around at James, Sirius and Remus, "We've done a great job with these two."
"What are you talking about?" James sighed dramatically, "It's a disgrace!"
"Indeed," Sirius chimed in forlornly, "The next generation Marauders and they're doing extra studying for fun? Where did we go wrong, Prongs?"
"I blame Moony," James said sadly, "He gave little Fawn her first ever junior potions kit, and if she wasn't so far ahead she wouldn't have time to teach extra things to Pup, now would she, Padfoot?"
"I agree," Sirius said solemnly, turning his head toward Remus' raft, "Sorry old friend, but you've crossed an un-crossable line. Get him!"
Sirius and James moved as one and launched themselves onto Remus' raft. The werewolf barely had time to "oof!" before he and his attackers fell arms over ankles off the raft and into the clear, blue water. The three grown men sank thrashed about, wrestling in the water, and Lily ignored them with the ease of long practice, calmly sipping her drink and continuing the conversation as if there had been no interruption.
"Harry, I know you're rather advanced for your age, but are you certain you can learn all you need to without help? I was friends with a Potions enthusiast once, and I understand there are many things you can't learn from books," Lily said worriedly, "I think what you and Archie are doing is great, of course, I just want to make sure you've got everything figured out."
Harry nodded slowly, "Actually, I was going to talk to you and Dad about this eventually, but I guess I'll tell you now. I was thinking of participating in a couple of summer classes, to help me with my extra studies, you know? Would that be okay?"
Her mother blinked with surprise, "Summer courses? Where at?" She frowned at Harry a bit sadly, "You know most places in England discriminate based on bloodlines, and your father and I were really looking forward to having you home for the summer."
"I know," Harry said, ignoring the confused looks Archie was sending her, "I was thinking more along the lines of an owl-correspondence program." At Lily's skeptical gaze, Harry rushed on, "It's true that most of them aren't very reputable, but they'll take any student who pays their fees. I've found a really good one, I think, and I'd be able to do all of the work from home."
"I suppose extra classes never hurt," Lily said finally, "I'll talk to your father later tonight."
"Speaking of," Archie said wryly as the three men finally surfaced, all three releasing their Bubble Head Charms with loud popping noises. They climbed back up onto their respective rafts and collapsed in boneless heaps while Archie, Lily, and Harry watched.
"Who won?" Archie asked with interest. All three of the participants grunted and waved their hands around tiredly in a way that conveyed no coherent answers whatsoever. "Ah, conceding the battle to Aunt Lily then? Good choice."
After a collective groan went up from the men, Lily laughed and said, "Alright, enough of that, when are we going to have cake?"
Sirius jumped up, starting the snakes, who had just begun to dry off once more, up hissing again, "Right now!" He dove off of the edge of his raft and started swimming in long strokes to the basement stairs. Archie and James dove off after him, and even Lily decided to jump in and swim the distance to the 'shore.' Harry shared a look of agreement with Remus, who grinned and lifted his hands toward the water behind their rafts. After a moment's hesitation, the water began rippling, pushing against the rafts, and propelling them forward toward the exit.
"Hey Remus?" Harry said, watching the water lap against the rafts insistently.
"How do you do that? Magic without a wand, I mean," Harry asked, "And without words, too."
Remus tilted his head as he considered the question, "Well, wordless magic you'll probably learn your sixth or seventh year at school. It requires great focus, and usually a very good familiarity with the spell you want to cast. Wandless magic, on the other hand, is much more difficult. To do magic without a wand requires extremely good familiarity with your own magic, to be able to direct it without a medium."
"But anyone could do it, couldn't they?" Harry asked, thinking back to her first Flying lesson, when she'd slowed Neville down without her wand, or in Transfiguration that one time, when she'd turned the match into a needle without words, "As long as they had focus and determination, I mean."
Remus frowned slightly, "Well, in theory every witch or wizard has the capacity to achieve it, but in practice most never do. It's not something like apparition, which about sixty percent of wizards learn how to do just by practicing it long enough. Wordless and especially wandless magic requires something that most wizards never bother to gain; that is, it requires an understanding of magic that doesn't come from copying the correct incantations and wand motions until a spell works."
"You can do it, though," Harry pointed out. They were at the bottom of the stairs, but neither made to climb off their rafts just yet, "Did you learn it yourself, or did someone teach it to you?"
Remus smiled a bit, "Well, I picked up what I know from my post-graduate studies in magical theory, though I wouldn't ever claim to be proficient in it. I can work a bit with raw elements, which is the easiest kind of wandless magic to do. Magic is, for lack of a better word, freer in nature. The sense of wildness that magic has in the elements, like water and fire and such, allows for easier manipulation without a wand or staff. I couldn't try and move a chair, for instance, without a wand."
"What about a person?" Harry said casually, "They're made up of elements, aren't they?"
"Oh, no," Remus said seriously, "It's very difficult to use magic on another person without a wand—that is, if you're talking about a witch or wizard. Muggles, maybe, but wizarding folk have too much magic of their own—shaped magic, not wild magic like is found in nature. The other wizard's magic would interfere with wandless magic, which lacks the focus necessary to retain its properties when it comes into contact with shaped magic, which seeks always to shape new magic in turn. Does that make sense?"
Harry frowned, "Sort of. So the magic in wizards isn't the same as the magic in nature?"
"It starts the same," Remus explained, "Every magical core is born of wild magic, but as a child grows he or she develops a barrier of shaped magic, ordered magic, around the wild magic core, and that shaped layer is what interacts with the magic of the world. A wizard's magic needs order and shape in order to function properly; without it, his magic would simply disperse without purpose, without effect, whenever he tried to use it. Because of this, all magic used by wizards is ordered, structured in a way that keeps the magic from going wild, bound by words and wands. Without the words, and especially without a wand, which channels the shaped magic, spells are usually ineffective, because there is not enough willpower in the wizard to force the magic to keep the shape it needs to work."
Harry nodded slowly, "I guess that makes sense, but what if a wizard didn't have a wand, but was desperate or scared enough to make magic happen anyway?"
"Like a child's accidental magic?" Remus clarified.
"Sort of, but if the wizard isn't a child anymore."
"Well, accidental magic works because a child's magical core hasn't fully developed the secondary layer of shaped magic yet. Because their magic does not have a stable form yet, when the magic manifests itself forcefully it does so without the constraints that adult wizards need to make their magic work for them," Remus said, "For an adult, accidental magic like that is very rare. Only an unstable magical core could produce such a result, I believe."
Harry chewed her lip thoughtfully, "Okay, thanks Remus."
"Of course, Harry," Remus said, smiling, "I do enjoy our conversations, you know."
"Me too," Harry smiled back, "Let's go get some cake before it's all gone."
They made their way to the kitchen in silence, Harry thinking hard. In light of Remus' information, things were making a bit more sense. The reason wizards had primary and secondary layers to their cores must be because of the way their magic worked. The true core would be the wild magic. As Harry thought about it, most if not all of the true cores she had seen when she was helping cure the sleeping sickness had been elemental in nature. Fire, water, air, earth, or some variation therein. The outer layer of the core would then be the ordered magic, given more stable shape to allow the witch or wizard to utilize their magic in everyday life.
And her spontaneous bursts of magic from her first semester at Hogwarts could be explained by the fact that he core was still unstable at that time, like Remus said. She hadn't had a working wand, the magic in her core was unusually high, and if her core had still been a bit unstable or underdeveloped, that would explain the accidental magic she exhibited.
Or would it? Was it possible that her core was really underdeveloped then, when just a few months later Snape told her she had overdeveloped her magical core in her efforts to suppress her magic manifesting? She didn't know. She also didn't know why so many people spoke of magic like it were an unruly pet, to be forced to act a certain way, or a bar of clay, to be molded into the shape a wizard wanted. Harry had started out that way, of course, but as soon as she realized how much energy she was wasting trying to browbeat her magic into submission she'd changed her tune. Why didn't other people just get along with their magic? Or maybe they did, and they just spoke in terms of forcing the magic to do something out of long habit.
What about that time in Snape's office, though? Harry still hadn't figured out that, though she tried not to think about it much. From what she now knew of Legilimency, it was nothing like what she'd done at that time. She'd somehow felt everything Snape was feeling, and made him feel what she was feeling, just by wanting it and concentrating on it. That didn't seem like accidental magic, because it wasn't really done out of fear or great need, and it also didn't seem like the kind of wandless, wordless magic Remus had described as possible, because she wasn't familiar with either her own magic or the magic that she'd been performing at that point. She still wasn't sure what she'd even done, come to that.
All in all, she still didn't understand a lot about the way magic worked, but she supposed she had enough to be getting on with.
Luckily, the horde had saved them two slices of cake apiece (singing was forgone in favor of just eating the cake already), so Harry and Remus joined their family at the kitchen table and dug in.
When everyone was finished, Sirius cleared his throat and placed his napkin down pointedly on the table, sending meaningful looks at James and Lily, who in turn sent uneasy looks toward Harry and Archie, both of whom looked to Remus questioningly. The werewolf sighed in turn and gestured toward Sirius, who, upon having everyone's attention once more, began speaking.
"Normally I'm not one to tarnish occasions involving cake with serious talk, though of course if people want to talk about me, who am I to—" Sirius broke off as Lily kicked him under the table, "Yes, well, anyway, Harry, Archie, you two are already aware of what the S.O.W. Party has been most recently planning, are you not?"
"The new anti-muggle blood legislation," Harry said.
"Including the Marriage Law," Archie added, "Which makes it so that halfbloods can't marry anyone except purebloods."
"That's right," Sirius said, "And you also know that it was tabled after the sleeping sickness was cured, because Dumbledore's faction, which was against the laws, was supported so strongly." They nodded, so Sirius continued, "What you don't know yet is that the legislation is undergoing revisions while it is tabled, and from what Frank Longbottom has gleaned, it's going to be even nastier the next time it's up for ratification."
"Worse?" Archie frowned, "How?"
"Well, for instance there's talk of adding a clause that prevents a halfblood from turning down an offer of marriage from a pureblood," Sirius said. Lily pursed her lips angrily, but didn't say anything, and James took her hand comfortingly.
"But surely if they make it worse, it'll get even less support," Harry said, "Maybe if they get too carried away it won't pass at all."
"Maybe, though you have to remember that halfbloods are only about 25% of the population, muggleborns much less than that, so the majority of witches and wizards simply don't care either way," Sirius said tentatively, "And maybe the Sow Party has got something worse than the sleeping sickness up their sleeves."
Harry blanched. What could be worse than comatose children?
"We don't know for sure that they were the ones behind the sickness," Remus said cautiously, "It could have been very inconvenient timing."
"But you don't think so," Archie said, looking from face to face, "You think they'll do something next year to make Dumbledore look even worse, and that they'll push the laws through after that."
"So we have a year before they possibly get approved?" Harry asked, thinking of all she would have to do in that year. She needed to read the laws carefully and see what they would forbid halfbloods from doing career wise. Usually the Potions Guild didn't allow the government to interfere with them, but then again they were a bunch of stuck up sexist snobs, so who knew if they'd recognize the new legislation or not.
"Worst-case scenario, yes, we have a year," Sirius said.
"But, Harry," James said quietly, "We don't want to you ever be put in a position like this law if trying to force you and others like you into."
"Are you going to fight the law?" Harry asked, "Isn't it against the ICW Equality Accords or something?"
"We are going to fight it, though the Equality Accords generally only recognize sex, race, and personal beliefs to be possible sites of illegitimate unequal treatment," Lily said, "But the thing is, Harry, we want you to be protected in the event that the laws do go through somehow."
"How is that possible?" Harry asked, confused, "Everyone knows I'm a halfblood."
"Oh, little Fawn, we'd never ask you to try and change or hide who you are," James said, reaching across the table to ruffle her short hair comfortingly.
"There is a loophole, of sorts, in the legislation," Lily said, "Particularly the laws related to the Marriage Law. If a halfblood is already…spoken for, then they cannot be claimed by another pureblood."
"So, you want me to find a husband before the laws go into place?" Harry asked incredulously. No way could she pick a pureblood to marry within a year.
"No, Harry, of course not," Lily said gently, "In fact, you won't have to marry anyone. We've been discussing it, however, and the best option at this point is to have you engaged to someone—not with the true intent to marry, just to make you off limits to other purebloods, if that makes sense."
Harry bit her lip, "And I suppose this would be a very long engagement. Since I'm so young, of course."
"Of course," Remus said, a smile tugging his lips, "No one could expect you to marry for at least another, oh, six or seven years."
Archie began to smile too, "Oh yes, you wouldn't want to rush into anything, especially before you come of age."
Harry grinned, "Okay, so I get a pretend engagement for the next six years, and surely by the time I'm seventeen we'll have either repealed the laws or I can find someone to marry for real."
"Yes, exactly," James said, "Are you okay with this? We just want you to be as safe as possible."
"I'm okay with it," Harry said, "Archie?"
Archie laughed at the surprised looks on the adults' faces, "Well of course, who else would put up with you for six more years?"
Harry flicked a small bit of icing from her fork to Archie's cheek, but he just laughed and wiped it off unrepentantly.
"So you two are really all right with all of this?" Remus asked, looking tentatively relieved.
"Well don't get us wrong," Archie said, glancing at Harry and wrinkling his nose, "It's totally gross, and if I really did have to marry her I'd probably move to Japan."
"Archie!" Sirius admonished, grimacing.
"Likewise, I assure you," Harry sniffed, her lips twitching as she spoke, "I couldn't ask for a better brother, but a boyfriend…yeah, Archie's not exactly my type."
"You have a type?" James asked, turning alarmed eyes on her.
"What? No, of course not, Dad. I hate boys. I was just using a figure of speech," Harry said, smiling innocently at her father.
"Oh, good then. Yes, Harry, boys are evil," James said, nodding judiciously.
"So predictable," Remus muttered.
Lily smacked her husband upside his head, "Don't forget who it was that proposed to me the first time when he was eleven."
"That was different," James said, highly offended, "I loved you."
"You didn't even know my name at that point!"
"Love is not hindered by the mere absence of a name," James said airily.
"Or an absence of brain cells, apparently," Sirius added.
"You really don't like any boys though, do you, little Fawn?" James turned his pleading gaze on her, and Harry sighed with exasperation.
"Oh please," Sirius scoffed, "Isn't it obvious that living with the Marauders has ruined her for any other man?"
"I'm sure you didn't mean that as creepy as it came out, Sirius," Lily muttered, shaking her head.
"So anyway," Harry said before the conversation could deteriorate further, "Do we need to sign a betrothal contract? I mean, just telling people we're engaged won't be enough, will it?"
"You'll definitely need a contract," Remus said, "I'll talk to the goblins at Gringotts. They should have some templates we can choose from, and alter if necessary."
"Yes," Lily said, "We need one that is binding until their seventeenth birthday, but which doesn't require chastity or exclusivity of the prospective bride and groom."
"Eww, Aunt Lily," Archie said.
"You'll thank me when you're older," Lily smirked.
"It should appear to be a loose but seriously intentioned contract," Remus said thoughtfully.
"With a clause for unsuitability that comes into play at seventeen, so that neither of them can break the contract before they are of age, to keep people from trying to break them up uselessly, but so that they can break it at seventeen if one deems the other unsuitable," Sirius added. He was well versed in pureblood laws and customs.
"What are possible grounds for unsuitability?" Harry asked.
"All kinds of things," Sirius said, waving a hand negligently, "If need be we'll make something up, but the point is that a clause like that puts the power to dissolve it in your hands, though not until you're both seventeen."
"That sounds good," Harry said "This should solve the problem of the Marriage Law, at least for now."
"There's more," Lily said, "If the laws go through, a lot of things—jobs, housing opportunities, magical insurance and that sort of thing—will be out of reach for muggleborns and halfbloods. The only good thing is that if a halfblood is married to or betrothed to a pureblood, then the restrictions don't apply to them."
"So by being temporarily engaged to Archie, I have the legal benefits of a pureblood?" Harry said incredulously.
"Yes," Sirius said, "This means that from the moment the laws go into effect, provided you sign the contract, you will for all legal purposes be pureblooded."
"We're not ashamed of our blood," Lily said firmly, "But we don't want bureaucrats standing in the way of your dreams, Harry."
"Unfortunately this doesn't apply to Hogwarts," James said carefully, "Most schools are run separately from the government, and the Hogwarts board of governors wrote the pureblood-only restriction into the school charter independently from the Ministry of Magic's stance on blood status."
"That's okay, Dad," Harry said, smiling to show she wasn't upset, "I'm really okay at AIM. I have friends, and I'm learning Healing, which means Archie is learning it as well. The engagement will be enough to make sure I can get a job. Thank you guys, Mom, Dad, Remus, Sirius, and especially you, Archie. Thank you for doing this for me."
"You deserve it, Harry," Remus said simply, "You and Archie deserve every chance you can get. I know both of you will do extraordinary things one day."
"Besides," Archie said, pulling Harry's second piece of cake toward him with a winsome smile, "What's a secretly-fake betrothal contract between friends? You weren't going to eat this, were you?"
Harry shook her head, though she had, of course, been planning to eat that. What was the loss of a little cake when compared to the enormous gain that was her family? She forgot sometimes that other people were looking out for her too, and that she didn't have to do everything alone, or work out the whole future on her own. She didn't at all mind the reminder.
The next afternoon Harry found Archie in the Potter Library. Archie looked up as she entered, toting a bag of books with her, and put a bookmark in the medical journal he was reading through.
"What's up?" Archie asked, taking in Harry's determined face.
"I need you to tutor me in Healing, if you have time," Harry told him, plopping her books down on the Library table Archie was sitting at.
"Yeah, sure," Archie said, "I thought you said you were caught up, though."
"I am, at least in practice," Harry said, sitting down, "But I don't understand the theory behind what I'm doing."
Archie gave her a strange look, "How do you perform it in practice if you don't understand the theory?"
Harry grimaced, "My magic is weird."
"Explain," Archie said, raising his eyebrows, "Or do you just mean how it was acting out a bit around Christmas?"
"Not that," Harry said, "Though I guess it starts with that. Not long after school started up again, I came to a kind of accord with my magic. It stopped doing things I didn't want to do, or not doing things I wanted it to do, and now it's almost like magic comes too easily to me."
"What do you mean?"
"I can perform almost every spell I try on the first attempt," Harry whispered, leaning closer to Archie so they wouldn't be overheard, "Everything from Potion imbuing to Healing bruises—as soon as I ask my magic to do it, it just happens. That's not normal, is it?"
"It doesn't sound normal," Archie admitted, "You sure you're not just a super genius or something?"
"Definitely not," Harry said, "It's not that I easily understand everything I try to learn. It takes me as long as it would take anyone else to learn theory and remember things. I study theory vigorously to comprehend it all. But actually doing the magic…it's like breathing. I just imagine it happening, ask my magic, and it happens. I'm pretty sure I don't even need to know a spell for something for it to work, though of course I don't just throw the magic around without learning the spells first if I can help it."
Archie grinned, "You're like a classic superhero, Harry. Always so afraid of what you can do, determined not to abuse it."
"It isn't fair if I just do the magic without understanding it," Harry said, frowning, "It's like I'm taking advantage of it, and cheating with it."
Her cousin sighed, "Harry, it's not cheating in any way I can see. So you're really good at magic. So what?"
"It's not that I'm good at magic," Harry protested, "It's that my magic is good at…magic…if that makes sense."
"Not really," Archie said wryly, "So you're still sure of the idea that your magic has a mind of its own, and that your magic is the one responsible for doing all the, well, magic you do?"
"Yes," Harry said firmly. She didn't care what other people said. Her magic was separate from her, independent and an entity in its own right. She could feel it.
"Hmm," Archie scratched his head in thought, "Is that how you cured the sleeping sickness? Because I know you already explained it, but it didn't make much sense to me."
"Sort of," Harry said, "It wasn't that I asked my magic to cure the sickness though—I'm not sure asking it something that vague would work anyway. I just asked the other kids' magical cores to let me into their minds, so that I could help them take down the mental barrier."
"And Snape and the others told you that no one else can do what you were doing?" Archie checked.
"That's what they said," Harry nodded, "It seems strange to me, because it doesn't feel like a great new skill I have. It's natural. Easy."
"Can I try?" Archie asked.
"I suppose so," Harry said slowly, "I'm not sure what will happen though."
"I trust you to stop things if something really strange happens," Archie shrugged.
Harry hesitated, not wanting to hurt Archie unintentionally. On the other hand, she couldn't imagine anyone getting hurt doing what she'd done. It was so simple, and somehow beautiful. Archie would be fine. Harry trusted her magic now.
She took a deep breath and said, "I'm going to forge a connection between our magical cores, okay?"
"Whatever you say," Archie grinned.
Harry retreated into herself, looking inward to the place where her magical core rested in her gut. The familiar ball of fiery, writhing snake-like strands of magic greeted her inner eye, and Harry projected her consciousness toward that place within her until she felt her avatar manifest itself just outside of her magical core. She requested a strand from the outer layer of her core and directed it to shoot out toward the nearest magical core—Archie's. She felt the connection twang to life, and asked in her real-world voice, "Can you feel that?"
"Yes," Archie breathed wonderingly, "It's like a tug to the gut. What is it?"
"It's the connection. The place you feel that tug coming from? Turn your mind to that place and concentrate on seeing it, on feeling it, and on taking yourself to it," Harry said with her physical voice.
There were a few moments of silence, then Harry felt something brush against the connection between their cores tentatively. Harry smiled and sent her consciousness streaming along the connection until she reached the source of the experimental prodding. She looked around and, spotting Archie's avatar shifting uncertainly by his magical core, waved at him. He waved back, staring at her.
"You have long hair," he said, "Do I have long hair?"
He twisted around as if he could see the back of his head and Harry smiled, "No, you don't. I think I have long hair mentally because I associated my long hair with my girl self, my real self. To you it was probably just a hairstyle, so the cut assimilated into your consciousness more easily."
"Sure, Harry," Archie laughed, "So this is my magical core?"
They turned to look at it. The core was shrouded in soft blue mists that curled and swirled in a slow, playful pattern as they watched.
"It's kind of cool," Archie said.
"Let's get closer," Harry said. She walked forward until she could feel the cool air of the mists against her skin. "Will you let us in?" she asked the core. The mists began parting immediately before them, and Harry could hear the sound of running water up ahead.
Archie whistled, "Magic really just does whatever you want it to."
Harry shrugged, "Come on, I want to see your true core. It sounds like water."
"Water?" Archie moved forward through the swirling blue mists with her.
"All true cores seem to be pretty much elemental," Harry told him, "At least that's all I've seen. Water, fire, lightning, wind, or some variation of an element, like metal or magma."
"What's yours?" Archie asked.
"Fire," Harry said, "Look."
The mists parted completely and they could see Archie's true core. It was like a river, or more closely a babbling brook, but it flowed in a circle, forming the sphere-like shape that most cores took on. The water was a pretty cerulean blue and flowed lazily around and around the core, cool and tempting. Archie reached forward to touch it, and laughed with delight at the first touch of his hand to the moving water.
"It feels like magic," he said happily.
"It is magic," Harry smiled.
"I mean that I feel this when I do magic," Archie said, plunging his other hand into his magical core as well, "I just never realized what it was until now." He stayed there, up to his elbows in his magic's stream, until he took a deep breath and let it out on a peaceful sigh, "I feel better all of a sudden. Relaxed and soothed, and almost rejuvenated, you know?"
"Yes, my magic does the same for me," Harry said.
"So now what do we do?" Archie pulled his hands away reluctantly, marveling at how they were completely dry.
"Just like I projected my consciousness toward your magical core, you're going to do the same for mine," Harry said, stepping backwards from Archie's core and turning to move back toward the connection. The mists swirled back into place behind them, and when they reached the outside of the core once more Harry held out her hand, "Come on, I think I can pull you along with me."
Archie moved forward and took her hand without hesitating. Harry concentrated on moving back toward her magical core, but also on tugging Archie's consciousness along with her. They floated together through the connection and came out at Harry's core safely. Archie looked around with interest, examining the churning outside of Harry's core from different angles.
"Interesting," Archie said, "Your core is much more restless than mine is. The surface is moving faster, I mean, and I can feel the energy output even though I'm not very close to it."
Harry blinked with surprise. Now that she thought about it, compared to Archie's softly flowing stream and gently curling mists her magical core looked rather violent. It seemed as though the coils of magic on the surface, which so reminded her of snakes or ropes, were thrashing about mindlessly, constantly in motion, wildly shifting and twisting with abandon. In fact, thinking back over the other cores she'd come into contact with, she couldn't think of any that had moved as fast as her magical core moved. Even the core that was lightning surrounded by storm clouds hadn't seemed so restless and unpredictable, and though she had encountered a core that was a tornado at heart, and had been moving pretty quickly, the winds had all been blowing the same way, in a circle, ordered. Her magic looked rather a mess in comparison, as if it had the barest seeming of order to hold it together.
"I suppose you're right," Harry said, "But try doing what I did to your core, so we can see if the adults were right."
"I don't know," Archie looked dubiously at the ball of roiling fire-snakes before him, "My magical core wasn't nearly so intimidating."
Harry frowned, "I know it looks sort of wild, but it feels like the warmest, most comforting fire, like a snug blanket or like Dad's most worn-out cloak." She put her hands to the core and felt the immediate tug as the coils wrapped around her wrists and fingers. They bathed her with light and Harry felt content, supported and protected, as well as energized and confident. She looked back, but Archie had not come any closer. She could tell he was struggling not to pull her back from the fire.
"I know it's strange, Arch, but remember when you pulled your hand back from the stream of magic and it wasn't wet? That's because it's not real water, just like this isn't real fire. It's just magical energy, manifesting as an element because of its affinity with the wild magic from nature."
"Magic can be just as destructive as fire," Archie pointed out, but he moved forward nonetheless, "So how did you make my mists move out of the way?"
"I didn't make them move," Harry said, "I asked."
"Okay," Archie approached her magical core determinately, "Hi, Harry's magical core. I'm Archie, a good friend of Harry's." The core seemed to pulse toward him with interest, so he went on, "Would you mind moving out of the way? I'd like to see what Harry's magical core looks like underneath all this…lovely ropey stuff. I promise not to—ouch!" He jerked his hand back and hissed in pain, "It bit me!"
Harry whipped her head around to stare with confusion at her core, which was sure enough retracting a coil back toward the surface. It must have snaked around Archie's other side where Harry couldn't have seen it and zapped him or something. She glared at it, "Why'd you do that? He's my friend!" Harry turned to Archie, who was rubbing his hand irritably, "I'm sorry, Arch, I didn't know it would do that."
"It's okay, Harry," Archie said, "This is probably why other people don't try and do what you did to cure the sickness. I'm also starting to think you weren't exaggerating about your magic. It's sneaky."
"I thought we were getting along fine now," Harry sighed, "Does it still hurt?"
"Yes, but not as much. I think it was just warning me off," Archie said.
"Sorry," Harry said again, "I guess Snape was right about this at least. Good news is he had a legitimate reason for not believing me about it. Bad news is I'm officially a freak of nature."
"There are worse things to be," Archie said with a brittle kind of cheerfulness, "Let's go back to my magical core. I have a feeling if I put my hand back in my own core's river it will heal right up."
Harry forced a small smile, still feeling horribly guilty for hurting Archie, "Trust you to have a magical core that heals things."
"Better than a magical core that burns things," Archie teased. He closed his eyes and projected himself back along the connection to his core, and missed the pained flinch Harry gave at his words.
Is that true? Harry wondered as she broke off the connection between them, Is fire really only good for burning things?
When they got back to the Library, Archie shrugged off the incident as a failed experiment. He began going into the theory behind the Healing she'd been learning, teaching her faster and less painful applications of that theory in practice all afternoon. Learning to Heal properly, not just asking her magic to knit this and repair that without understanding what was happening, was tedious and mind-numbing work, but it made her feel that maybe a person's magical core didn't define them. If she could do good things, soft things, as well as scary destructive things with her magic, then the element at her core didn't really mean anything. Did it?
Harry went looking for her father in his study the next day to see if her mom had talked to him about the owl-correspondence classes she wanted to take. It was essential to her plans for the future that her parents agree to the classes, to throw off suspicion for the next part of that plan. She needed a reason to seem busy over the summer, because she was going to be very, very busy if everything worked out like she hoped.
Her dad's study looked more like a broken toy shop, because it was where all the products for the Marauder joke line were born. James, Remus, and Sirius were always moving in and out of the study in their free time, depending on who was working on the latest and greatest pranking tricks at the time. She found her dad hunched over something she couldn't see in his hand when she walked cautiously through the door. Her caution was justified by the number of times she'd walked into a demonstration of a new product, and this time was no exception—though it was certainly more literal than usual. She only took one step in the door before she ran smack into an invisible barrier of some kind and was repelled backwards onto her butt rather rudely.
James looked up and grinned apologetically. He reached over to snag a remote control off of his desk and clicked it twice. "You can come in now," he said, "Sorry about that."
Harry rubbed her backside ruefully, "I can't tell if that was an item from a new prank kit or your Auror's kit, Dad, but it definitely works."
Her dad laughed, "Doesn't it though? It's a remote-controlled mobile barrier. Sirius and I designed it. The joke it that you plant this on someone," he held up an ordinary, two-holed button, "And when you're out of the barrier's range, you activate it. It's completely invisible, but it repels anything with a magical core, so basically any witch or wizard, away from the button if they come within five feet of it. Imagine, you put this in your friend's pocket, turn it on, and anyone who gets five feet from him is knocked backwards instantly. It looks like he's the one doing it, but he can't control it because you've got the remote. Pretty funny, huh?"
"What will you call it?" Harry asked curiously. She could think of a few other uses for such a button.
"The Barrier Bubble Button?" James suggested, "Hmm, maybe Lily will have some ideas—she's good at naming things. Anyway, did you come here for something?"
"Yeah, did Mom ask you about me taking owl-correspondence courses over the summer?" Harry asked.
"She did," James said, setting the button and remote in a desk drawer absently, "I think you work way too hard, but I'd definitely get the worst parent of the year award if I forbid you from educating yourself when that's what you want to do. Just take the gold you need for the classes out of the account we set up for you when you started school last year. We'll consider it an educational expense just like textbooks for AIM and potions ingredients."
"Thanks, Dad," Harry stepped forward to hug her father tightly, "I really appreciate it."
"Hey, no problem," James said, wrapping his arms around her just as firmly, "You're my little Fawn, and if you want to change the world with a cauldron, well, I think that's just as good as changing it with a wand. In fact it's more impressive, because everyone uses wands, but not many people can brew like you can."
Harry looked up at her dad in shock. He almost never complimented her potions work. She knew it was a left over from he and Sirius hating Severus Snape all those years, and by default viewing everything associated with his school rival with distaste, so she'd never blamed him for not supporting her quite as much as Remus and Lily had. For him to say this though…
"You're really okay with it?" she asked seriously, "I know it's not what you and mom were best at in school, but I really can't imagine myself doing anything else."
"Of course I'm okay with it," James said, smoothing her hair down reflexively, "I'm sorry I haven't been more involved in the past. I half-thought that you were only so interested in potions because it was the only magic you could do without a wand. I sort of thought once you went to school and learned about all the other kinds of magic, you'd get bored of potions, which you already knew so well, and become more interested in learning new kinds of magic. It was silly of me, though, and I can see now that it means much more to you than an interest or a hobby. If you need anything to help you reach your Mastery, just ask, okay?"
"Okay," Harry smiled, not a little smile, but a big, bright one, and leaned up to kiss her dad on the cheek, "You're the best dad ever."
"I know," James grinned, "And don't tell anyone, but you're my favorite daughter."
"That means a lot to me, Dad," Harry said solemnly.
They shared another smile, and then Harry stepped back.
"I'm going to sign up for the courses I want to take, then," she said, "Thanks again, Dad."
"Thank your mother, too," James called after her retreating form.
"I will," she promised, and she closed the door behind her.
Phase One: complete success.
Harry went in search of her mother and found her in the kitchen, charming the placemats different colors.
"Harry, is that you?" Lily smiled as she looked up from her work, "Oh good, come here and tell me what you think. I'm tired of the old pattern, but I can't decide on a new one."
Harry walked over to the table and looked at all the patterns Lily had laid out on it. Mostly they leaned toward blues and greens. She guessed her mother must really be tired of the old one, which had been a deep burgundy.
"I like this one," Harry said, pointing to a pale blue pattern with bronze flowers dancing along the edges, "The dishes are bronze, so it won't clash."
"Good point," Lily tilted her head, twirling a strand of her beautiful red hair around her finger, "That one it is, then." She waved her wand and turned all the placemats on the table to match the pattern Harry had picked out, and then tucked the wand in the sleeve of her robes. "So what's up, Harry?"
"Just wanted to thank you for talking to Dad about me doing extra school work this summer," Harry smiled gratefully and Lily patted her cheek.
"Of course, dear. What classes were you—" Lily was cut off by the kitchen door being flung open suddenly.
Archie came bounding into the kitchen, dusted with enough soot that Harry thought he probably hadn't bothered to brush himself off after coming through the floo.
"Harry, are you in here? I just got a—oh, hi, Aunt Lily," Archie faltered at the sight of the older woman, "How are you today?"
"I'm just fine, Archie," Lily said, crossing her arms over her chest and staring the boy down, "And what exactly has you running so excitedly into my kitchen?"
"Oh, um," Archie glanced anxiously at Harry, "I just wanted to tell Harry something."
"Something that you can't say in front of your dear Aunt Lily?" Lily asked reproachfully.
"Of course not, Aunt Lily," Archie said, laughing weakly, "I just didn't want to take up your free time with something so trivial. I know how hard you work during the week."
"Well, now I'm curious," Lily said blithely, "So tell us what's so exciting."
Archie swallowed, "Okay, sure. Well, I got a letter today from my, uh, friend Draco. He's invited me to a party next month, and I just wanted to tell Harry about it so that she could help me find something to…wear."
"You wanted to ask Harry, our Harry, for…fashion advice?" Lily repeated skeptically.
"Hey," Harry put in jokingly, "I didn't do so bad on those placemats, did I? Besides, you know Archie's learned everything he knows about fashion from Sirius. He might go in purple pinstripes if we don't help him."
Lily laughed, "Well, when you put it like that."
"Yep, I'm hopeless," Archie said, nodding, "You'll help me find something, won't you guys?"
"Of course," Lily said, "May I see the invitation?"
Archie took a gilded square of parchment from his pocket and handed it over. Harry leaned in to read it as well.
Arcturus Rigel Black
Is cordially invited to
Annual summer garden party
Mr. Draco Malfoy
Will be celebrating his twelfth year on this date
Floo and Apparition coordinates enclosed
Harry raised her eyebrows, but it was Lily who let out a shocked gasp.
"The Malfoy's Summer Party? You've been invited to this, Archie? Oh my, that's really unexpected," Lily ran a hand through her hair as she gave the invitation back to Archie, "The Malfoy's must be taking the life debt they owe you much more seriously than we'd anticipated."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, "It's just a party invitation."
Lily shook her head, "No, this is a formal invitation to a formal dark pureblood party. In the past, select light-sided families also received invitations, but since the Split no light family has attended a dark pureblood event, and vice-versa. Society is supposed to be completely separated at this point except for those families that remain neutral, of course."
"But since they made Archie a Malfoy in name until the life debt is fulfilled, Archie is considered to be a dark pureblood as well as a light pureblood, socially speaking," Harry said, understanding suddenly why Lily was so surprised, "The fact that the Malfoy's actually invited him to the event as if he were a dark pureblood means that they're sticking by their words and treating him like a Malfoy, ignoring the fact that he's the son of a light-sided pureblood."
"Yes, exactly," Lily said thoughtfully, "I suppose it probably helps that you were sorted into Slytherin, Archie. People will be less likely to put up a fuss if you go. If you were Arthur Weasley's son…well, let's just say it would be a different story."
"If he goes?" Harry said, slightly alarmed, "He has to go. Surely it would be really rude to refuse. It is Draco's birthday party."
"Uh, yeah," Archie said, "I really do want to go. Do you think Dad will let me?"
"I'm not sure," Lily said, "I'll invite everyone over for dinner tonight and we'll discuss it, okay?"
"Okay," Archie said.
Dinner that night was an awkward affair.
"I don't like it," James said, stabbing a carrot rather violently with his fork, "Sending Archie into the hornet's nest, that's what it is."
"Darling, it's an extremely public event. No one would try anything in the open like that," Lily said soothingly, "Archie will be perfectly safe there, I'm sure."
"Maybe," James allowed reluctantly, "But you can't be too careful with dark purebloods."
"It won't be all dark purebloods," Remus pointed out fairly, "A lot of ministry officials are invited every year, and those aligned with the ministry tend to stay out of light and dark politics by remaining neutral."
"All my friends will be there," Archie said tentatively after a pleading look from Harry, "It's Draco's birthday celebration after all, and Pansy, Theo, Millicent, and Blaise will probably all go."
Sirius toyed with his vegetables while he thought, "I don't want to keep you from your friends, Arch, I'm just worried about sending you by yourself, surrounded by political enemies, where I can't help you if you need it."
"Is it so different from sending him to school in the Slytherin dorms?" Lily said tentatively, "Those children are all dark purebloods, but Archie's made good friends of them."
"It's not the same as letting him go unchaperoned to a gathering of adult, fully-fledged dark witches and wizards," Sirius said apologetically, "There are teachers at school to watch out for trouble, and kids aren't nearly so ingrained in their prejudices and hatred as adults are."
Harry thought it was time for her to speak up, "Weren't we just the other day saying it was too bad Archie couldn't have his friends over for his birthday, because we didn't think their parents would trust our families to look after their Heirs? Now we're doing the same thing. Trust has to start somewhere, doesn't it? Why can't we be the bigger people, and trust that Archie's friends will watch out for him? Flint will probably be there, and Archie has known him forever. We can trust him to look out for Archie at least."
The part about Flint was a complete lie, as he wasn't exactly the protective older brother type, but Harry thought the rest of it was actually a good point.
"Archie also admitted he didn't really need to see his friends, because he's seen them all year," James protested somewhat half-heartedly.
"I said I didn't need to have my friends with me on my birthday," Archie corrected, "But that doesn't mean Draco should have to spend his birthday without one of his best friends because my family doesn't trust me to take care of myself."
"It's not that we don't trust you," James said quickly, "It's them we're worried about."
"How can we ask them to trust us if we don't trust them?" Archie said firmly, "It's like Harry said. If we want to tell ourselves we're different from the dark purebloods, then we have to act differently. Let me go as a gesture of goodwill, if my going to my best friend's birthday party has to be something political."
Harry took a bite of potatoes to hide her smile. Archie was really persuasive when he wanted to be, and he wasn't afraid to play dirty in a debate, like insinuating they didn't trust him and playing the 'kid who just wants to go to his friend's party' card.
Sirius sighed, "Do you promise not to make friends with any politicians?"
Archie whooped and Harry smiled victoriously.
"I promise," Archie said immediately.
"Then I guess you can go, but you're taking the emergency portkey," Sirius said firmly.
"Good idea, Dad," Archie said happily.
Harry spoke up before anyone could change their mind, "If Archie gets to go to his friend's house, I want to go see Hermione that day, too."
"That seems fair," Lily said, looking bemused at Harry, "You could have asked anytime if you wanted to go and see her, though."
"I want to spend time at home first," Harry shrugged, "But by July I'll probably want to see Hermione."
"Well, that's settled then," Remus said cheerfully, "Sirius this lobster is delicious, did you add something to the sauce?"
Harry and Archie shared a smile across the table. She would have to remember to get Archie something really awesome for his birthday this year.
Archie interrupted Harry's studying Occlumency in the Black Library the next day and dragged her outside to the courtyard. The snakes hissed their greetings and Harry stroked a few of them absently while Archie geared himself up to talk.
"Harry," he said finally, "I've been thinking, about everything, and I'm a little worried."
"Okay," Harry said, "I can't blame you for being concerned about what we're doing, but what exactly are you worried about?"
"It's just, this whole deception could be so easily unveiled as soon as someone really looks," Archie said, sitting down in the grass and plucking some of it absently, "I feel like it's only been successful so far because no one would think to look for such a deception."
"In a way, you're right," Harry said, "A lot of this depends on the fact that no one would expect a halfblood to ever dare to do what we've done, and they definitely wouldn't except a pureblood to help a halfblood, which is the only way this could work. Even so, that hasn't changed. It was always true, so why are you worried now?"
"Before we were anonymous. No one wondered if Rigel Black was all he seemed, because why wouldn't he be? But now you've cured the sleeping sickness. You've said Professor Snape, one of the smartest men I've ever heard of, has taken an interest in you. The Malfoy's owe you a life debt, for Merlin's sake." Archie brushed a curious snake away from his robe sleeve impatiently, "Now that people are looking, what if they notice something's off? Maybe we can get through this summer without anyone in our family getting suspicious that we only want to meet our friends on the same days, but the next summer? And the one after that? And what about the school year? How long can you keep pretending to be me—to be a boy? You're going to start your girly changes soon. And do you really think no one at AIM in seven years will hear that Harry Potter is a girl? All it would take is one person, one person who sees us both at school and not at school, and from there everything else is obvious."
"Is it?" Harry said, taking Archie's hand to stop him from ripping up more grass, "Is it obvious? Or does it only seem obvious to us, because we know exactly what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've been thinking about things too," Harry said, "And I've got a few things worked out. There are several major problems we're going to face, but I've got a plan to address each of them, okay? First is the problem of our lives as home and our lives at school being noticeably different. What if one of us got our picture in the paper? Either our friends from school or our parents would immediately know something was up. This would be easier if we were twins instead of just cousins who sort of look alike, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, I guess if we looked the same it would be easier to trade off personas," Archie said, frowning.
"Then that's what we have to make happen," Harry said, "I've been toying with the idea for a while, and this summer I'm going to start experimenting. I want to create a potion that will…blend our appearances, sort of, though not equally. It's hard to explain, but it would be semi-permanent in theory and it would allow us to look exactly alike in the end, which would mean that if someone saw us out of our usual context we could still get away with our pretense. I'll explain it further once I get it more figured out, but if the potion works it would also solve the problem of me starting to look noticeably feminine in a couple years. It would blend out physiques in a way that made me look more masculine. I'll give you the full write up later, but suffice to say it would go a long way toward helping our plan work."
"Okay, you're the potions girl, so I'll let you handle that," Archie said, shaking his head, "Just so long as I don't actually have to become a girl."
"No, too many people know you as a boy at AIM already," Harry waved him off, "But that's okay. The second major problem comes if somebody finds out, right?"
"Yeah," Archie agreed, "If they figure out what we've done, you'll go to Azkaban."
"Yes, if they find out that Harry Potter took your place at Hogwarts, I'll go to prison," Harry said, "But if they find out any other possible combination of the truth, everything will be okay."
"I have a back-up plan," Harry said, smiling slightly, "That's why you've been so worried, I think. The only thing this plan was missing is a plan B, to make sure that even if something goes wrong, we're still okay."
Archie nodded thoughtfully, "Security would be nice. So what's the back-up plan?"
"It's horridly complicated," Harry said cheerfully, "Feel free to be impressed. There are several phases to the plan. In the first phase, I enroll now in an owl-correspondence school. Wait, don't interrupt," she said to Archie's skeptical looks, "Just listen, it will all make sense. Mom and Dad think I'm enrolling in summer classes, but they've given me leave to pull the money for the classes out of my school account, which draws directly from their main vault, meaning they won't know or care how much money goes toward tuition as long as the goblins are sending it to the correspondence school they've approved of."
"So you're not just taking summer classes?" Archie guessed.
"I'm enrolling as a full-time student," Harry said proudly.
"You're sort of already a full-time student," Archie pointed out.
"Exactly. I'm not going to actually learn anything from the owl-correspondence school," Harry explained, "I can learn way more at a real school like Hogwarts. I'm just going to receive the materials in the mail, pretend to learn them, and send the assignments and tests back to get credit for the work. Since I'm already learning everything at Hogwarts, doing the assignments will be cake, but I'll have records saying that Harry Potter has been home schooling herself since she was eleven, get it?"
"Sort of," Archie said slowly, "So if someone finds out I'm at AIM taking your place and wonder where you are, you can say you're home schooled."
"Yes, but that's not enough," Harry went on, "Because our parents and anyone who knows our parents will know that I am not, in fact, home during the school year. That's why I'm going to answer this."
Harry reached into her pocket and pulled out the worn advertisement from the Daily Prophet she'd been carrying around for a few days. She smoothed the creases and handed it to Archie, who read over it with mild bewilderment.
"It's an ad for an apothecary," he noted, "They need a basic potion brewer."
"Yes," Harry said, taking the ad back and stowing it in her robes once more, "I'm going to apply for the position tomorrow, and if I get it I'm going to use the money to buy an apartment."
"An apartment?" Archie stared at her.
"Well, rent one anyway," Harry said, "I'll take a really cheap place out in my name, pay the rent on it during the school year, and if Harry Potter has an apartment and a home-school record while Rigel Black is at Hogwarts how can they be the same person? Especially if no one finds out that Rigel Black is a girl, and if the potion works then the minute we're caught I change back to my real appearance and Rigel Black disappears!"
Archie was silent for a whole minute, "Disappears? Will people buy that?"
"I actually got the inspiration from Marcus Flint," Harry said, grinning, "When he realized I wasn't you I thought we were done for, but he didn't immediately think—oh that must be Harry Potter. Of course he didn't. He thought I was just some random halfblood who you got to take your place so you could go to AIM. Why does Rigel Black have to be you or me? He doesn't. He'll just vanish if anyone figures out the truth, and Harry Potter will have been there all along, home-schooling herself in a little apartment so that her cousin Archie could take her place at AIM and fulfill his dreams of becoming a Healer."
"That's…really brilliant," Archie breathed, "If we're found out, I get a slap on the wrist for pretending to be you—it's not a serious crime to pretend to be a halfblood, and I'll just pay a fine and have all my records as Harry Potter transferred over into my name. Rigel Black, the real criminal, can't be punished because he doesn't exist."
"And we have complete plausible deniability. Better yet, our family has plausible deniability," Harry said earnestly, "You say that you did ask someone to take your place at Hogwarts—a pureblood from somewhere on the continent who was too poor to afford the tuition himself. You offered to pay his way if he pretended to be you at Hogwarts so you could go to AIM without your dad knowing. He wasn't on the list for Hogwarts because he isn't from Great Britain, and you don't know who he really is. You definitely thought he was a pureblood though, so you can't be blamed as an accomplice to blood-identity theft. Our parents can honestly say they had no idea you were in America and I was being home schooled, and that they don't know who Rigel Black is either."
"It's practically air-tight," Archie admitted, letting out his breath with a whoosh of air, "But you know it's going to be nearly impossible to pull off. You can't take money for the apartment from your account because it's clearly not an educational expense, so you'll have to come up with the money solely through working. But if you're going to be completing home-school assignments and experimenting with an entirely new potion…I don't see how you'll have time for all of this in one summer."
Harry just smiled, "You'd be surprised how many things I can juggle at once. This past year has been excellent practice. Brewing is easy and I can set my own hours. I'm not actually learning anything, just completing busy work for the owl-school, which leaves me plenty of time for experimentation."
"Well, you sound pretty sure," Archie said, relaxing back into the grass at last, "If you need any help, you know you only have to ask. In the mean time I'm going to try and find a way to make money too, so I can help pay for the apartment that neither of us will actually be living in." He smirked, "At least our utility bill will be cheap."
"So we're agreed on this cover story?" Harry asked, "When we get the plan in place, as soon as one of us is found out, the other has to be ready to implement the back-up plan. As long as both Harry Potter and Archie Black are accounted for when the game is up and Rigel disappears, it'll be next to impossible for anyone to prove anything for sure."
Archie agreed and they shook on it. Archie then went to read up on Occlumency, since all of their work would mean nothing if someone just plucked the secret out of their heads, and Harry went to enroll herself in owl-school.
The next day Harry told her parents she was going to Diagon Alley to pick up a new order of potions ingredients. This was a common occurrence for Harry, who went through potions ingredients like nobody's business when the mood struck her, so her parents just reminded her to use her school account to pay for them (if it was an educational expense they could write the galleons off in their taxes), and asked her to pick up a new pot of floo powder while she was out.
Harry flooed into the Leaky Cauldron and set off down the familiar street to the apothecary she usually frequented on Diagon Alley. It wasn't the apothecary that had advertised for a brewer, but she really did need to pick up an order of ingredients that had come in, so she stopped there first.
The man behind the counter perked up as she walked in. He was large and burly, with curly brown hair pulled back into a messy ponytail. He wore an apron that bulged at the pockets from being stuffed with various things he picked up around the store throughout the day and never bothered to put back down again. She had never seen him when he was anything less than jovial, and sure enough he smiled broadly as his warm brown eyes caught sight of her and called out in a cheerful manner, "There she is; I knew I'd be seeing my favorite little customer today!"
Harry smiled back and closed the door politely behind her so that she sunlight didn't get into the shop too much. Certain ingredients could be rather sensitive to sunlight, and though those ingredients were always kept away from the doors and windows, it never hurt to be careful.
"Hello, Mr. Tate," Harry said, approaching the counter, "It's good to see you too."
"Always too polite, Miss Potter," Mr. Tate wagged a finger at her good naturedly, "I have your order though. Got it just this morning and I just knew you'd be here to claim it before the day was done."
"You know me too well, Mr. Tate," Harry said, smiling slightly, "I despair of ever surprising you."
"That's one of the things I like about you, Miss Potter," Tate chuckled, "Surprises are only interesting for the young."
"Were there any troubles with the order?" Harry asked.
"No, no," he reached under the counter to pull out a well-packaged box, "Everything came in just fine. I double checked on the soil for the flitterbloom like you asked, and the greenhouse we order it from was very helpful. They gave me a list of the components, which I included with the rest of the order for you to look over when you get home. They did tell me to tell you that the formula for their soil has a magical patent, so don't try and reproduce, blah blah you get it."
"Yes, thank you," Harry grinned, "I'm not going to be entering the soil market at this time."
"Is this all you're picking up today?" Tate asked as he rang up her order.
"You sell floo powder here, don't you?" Harry asked, looking around.
"We have the generic brand," Tate shrugged.
"That'll work," Harry said, "Can you ring it up separately? I'll pay for the floo in coin, but I have to pay for the ingredients—"
"With your school account, I know, Miss Potter," Tate smiled kindly, "Sure thing."
He rang her up and Harry paid, putting the floo powder into the box of ingredients to make it easier to carry.
"Anything else I can help you with today, Miss Potter?"
"Actually, could you give me directions to the Serpent's Storeroom?" Harry asked.
Mr. Tate frowned cautiously, "Is there an ingredient you're having trouble finding, Miss Potter? You know I'd order anything you want, no need to go all the way over there."
"Oh, no, Mr. Tate," Harry smiled, "I'm not taking my business there, I assure you. Everyone knows the best ingredients come through Mulpepper Apothecary. I found this in the paper, though." She pulled out the notice from the paper and showed it to Mr. Tate.
"Oh, looking for a summer job, are you?" Mr. Tate said, looking a bit more relaxed, "Well, I guess I can see how this would appeal to you. The Serpent's Storeroom, though…it's not exactly a place I'd like to be sending you, Miss Potter. The shop's okay of course, but the location…"
"I understand, Mr. Tate," Harry said, "I just really need the money for a personal project I'm working on. I'll be very careful, I promise."
"Alright," Tate huffed, "I suppose it's not really that far into Knockturn alley. You go straight there and straight back to Diagon Alley, okay, Miss Potter?"
"I will," Harry promised.
"Good," Tate said, "You know where Knockturn alley branches off from Diagon Alley?" Harry nodded. "Well, when you turn down the alley, go past Borgin and Burkes to the first alley that intersects Knockturn's main alley. Turn left and the Serpent's Storeroom is the first shop on your left. It has a dark red sign with black letters and the Staff of Asclepius on the window."
Harry smiled gratefully, "Thanks, Mr. Tate. I'd hate to wander around looking for it."
"No kidding," Tate sighed, "Well, best of luck Miss Potter. In fact," he reached over and plucked a business card from its holder on the side of the desk, "Take this and tell that sourpuss Edgar Krait that Caleb Tate recommends you."
"Really, Mr. Tate?" Harry blinked in surprise as she took the card automatically, "Thank you very much. I promise I'm a good brewer, so you won't be wasting your recommendation."
Tate laughed jovially once more, "Oh, Miss Potter, nothing spent on you is wasted, be it time or ingredients, that much I know."
"Thanks again, Mr. Tate," Harry picked up her package, "I'll be by sometime next week to make another order I expect."
"Looking forward to it, Miss Potter. Good luck on your job application."
Harry smiled once more and put the box of ingredients under her left arm so that her right would be free to open the door—and more importantly free to draw her wand should it become necessary. If nothing else, she had learned a pretty mean shield charm that year, no thanks to Professor Quirrell.
Knockturn Alley was everything she'd ever heard it was. Dirty, creepy, smelly, and dark, shadows lurked everywhere, though it was the middle of the day. Harry walked calmly but purposefully down the alley, staying to the middle of the road where there was at least a semblance of afternoon light. She passed Borgin and Burke's and turned left like Mr. Tate had told her, and sure enough there on her left was the gloomy Serpent's Storeroom Apothecary.
Harry didn't linger in the little side alley long. She entered the shop and paused for a moment to adjust her eyes to the incredibly dim lighting. There was a counter to the left, raised up on a platform that would give anyone standing behind it a very good view of the narrow aisles of stock to her right. There were also mirrors positioned all over the shop, and Harry thought a shoplifter would be hard put to get away with anything in here. The aisles closest to the door held what looked at a casual glance to be the cheapest of ingredients, with more expensive, more rare ingredients sold in the middle aisles. The aisles at the back held competed potions in decorative bottles.
Harry turned toward the counter and took in the man sitting behind it, counting armadillo scales into a jar. He was tall even sitting down and had thick blonde hair slicked back from his face. His frame was thin, but hard, like a habitual fighter's would be, and he had a scar along his jaw line that disappeared into the collar of his plain lab robes.
"Are you Mr. Krait?" she asked as she reached the counter. Because it was elevated, she felt at a distinct disadvantage looking up at the man behind it.
"Who asks?" he drummed his free hand on the counter as he spoke.
"I do," Harry said, thinking it would be best to get straight to the point with this man, "I'm here about the brewing job. Has the position been filled?"
"No it has not," the man, who she assumed was Mr. Krait, said without even looking up from his scale counting, "But I don't see what my staff shortage has to do with a brat like you."
"I am a potions brewer," she said.
"Says who?" Krait grumbled absently.
"Says Mr. Tate," Harry said shortly. Krait finally looked up at her with eyes that were an earthy green. "He recommends me," she added, pulling out the card Tate had given her and passing it over. Mr. Krait took the card and threw it into the trashcan behind the counter without ever taking his eyes away from her face.
"What can you brew?" Krait asked, leaning over the counter as if he could inspect her brewing ability by staring down at her intently enough.
"If I have a recipe?" she shrugged, "Probably about anything you'd need me to. I assume you brew all the top-level potions yourself."
"Hn," Krait grunted, "Sure you can. Look, this ain't grade-school cooking lessons, got it? You can't just add the ingredients together and stir if you want to—"
"With respect, Mr. Krait, I know how to brew," Harry said evenly.
Krait raised an eyebrow, "Can you consciously imbue? And if you say 'what?' to me I swear I'm gonna kick Tate's ass into next week for sending you over here."
"I can," Harry said.
"What's the highest level potion you've ever brewed?" he asked, looking only a little less dismissive.
"Snowhit Draught," Harry said, it was definitely the hardest thing she'd brewed, requiring both the most concentration and the most magic.
"Not bad," Krait rubbed his chin, "If you're not lying, that is."
Harry opened her mouth to speak but he waved her silent.
"Tell you what, kid. I'll give you a list of potions and a crate of my bottles. You buy the ingredients, brew and bottle the potions, and bring whatever you finish back here. I don't care which potions you make. I need them all done sooner or later, so just brew whichever you think you can," he drew out a remarkably thick tube of rolled up parchment from a drawer behind the counter and handed it over, "I'll pay you by the bottle, thirty percent laboring fee guaranteed for you. If it takes you ten sickles to make one dose, you'll get thirteen sickles from me, with a bonus if it's magically grueling. I'll sell them at two galleons to cover the bottle and make a profit, and if your potions sell good enough you get an additional bonus. Any questions?'
Harry unrolled the stack of parchment he'd given her and saw that the first sheet was a list of potions and the rest of the sheets were recipes. "How much of each potion do you want?"
"Don't care," he said, "If you can only brew one of those potions, bring me back a crate of that."
Harry nodded and said, "Give me two crates of bottles."
Krait fixed her with a stern eye, "You run off with those bottles and I'll hunt you down, kid."
"Understood," Harry said, though she wasn't sure how he expected to do that without ever having asked her name.
Krait glanced around the store to make sure there were no customers before ducking quickly into the back to fetch the crates of potion bottles. Harry stacked the crates and added her box of ingredients to the top. Next time she thought she ought to bring Archie with her, as walking down Knockturn Alley with her hands full was probably not a good idea, but for now she just walked as quickly as she could back to the relative safety of Diagon Alley.
Harry didn't relax fully until she was back in the Leaky Cauldron. She set the crates briefly on the ground while she tossed some floo powder into the grate, and soon enough she was back at the Godric's Hollow house, storing the crates and ingredients in the potions lab that she had unashamedly claimed as her own despite it technically belonging to her mother. Lily didn't use the lab nearly as much as Harry did, and most of the actual ingredients in the lab were Harry's, though her mother had bought the cauldrons and equipment.
She went to replenish the floo powder supply with what she'd bought and stopped by the kitchen to pick up her mail on the way back to the lab. Her parents usually left owl post on the kitchen counter, and Harry smiled as she spied a thick letter from Sphinx Correspondence School of Magic with her name on it. She took the letter down to the lab with her and slit it open with her finger as she claimed a metal stool.
She skimmed the contents. It was a basic introductory letter, followed by the first year learning curriculum and a syllabus spread out over the next ten months. Harry would be cutting that down to two months. Her goal was to finish the first year's curriculum by the end of the summer, so that she wouldn't be distracted by it during school, when she would be completing Flint's assignments as well as her own, and also so that no one at school would catch her doing the work. The whole point of doing this was that the correspondence school was something Harry Potter did that Rigel Black did not.
She would finish the assignments for the first units that weekend. For now, Harry was ready to brew. She unrolled the list of potions Mr. Krait had given her with an expression that was nearly gleeful. Thankful that no one was around to see her childish excitement, she read over the list carefully.
Agnes' Ageless Agent
Dreamless Sleep Potion
Gasnik's Gastric Solution
Westfield's Wart Remover
Harry raised her eyebrows at the list. Most of it looked like what you might find in any witch or wizard's medicine cabinet. She smiled a bit at her foolishness. What had she been expecting, deadly poisons? Of course he wouldn't give recipes for poisons to a kid, even if he did sell them in the open where anyone from the ministry could pop in and see.
She glanced over the crates. There were two dozen bottles in each crate, meaning she could make three bottles of each of the sixteen potions if she wanted to fill the crates. Unfortunately, one cauldron usually made about 5-6 doses of a potion, so she didn't have enough bottles to make a cauldron of each potion on the list. Instead she would pick eight potions to start with and make a cauldron of each. She would try the second half of the list once she got more bottles.
She started with Blood-Replenishing Potion, something she knew a lot about but had never actually tried brewing. After treating her cauldron with the necessary oil, she got to work hand-filtering the raw dragon's bile she kept in a tightly sealed container to prevent leakage.
Blood-Replenishing Potion turned out to be easier than she was expecting it to be. In fact, she found herself almost bored as she waited between steps, probably because she was so conditioned from the last semester to be making as many potions as possible at one time. She finished stirring the last turn and checked the final result against the recipe's description. It was a rusty red the consistency of water just like it was supposed to be, but Harry felt a vague feeling of unease about the potion still. Thinking it was probably that she hadn't imbued enough magic after all, she reached out with her senses to re-forge the connection between her core and the potion once more to double-check. Through the connection, however, she knew immediately that the potion was magically speaking complete. In actuality she thought she'd put a bit too much magic in the potion, though of course that wouldn't hurt a blood-replenisher.
Still, something wasn't right. She reached out with her senses to look over it again, and this time she noticed something that surprised her considerably. The current connecting her core to the potion was telling her that the Blood-Replenishing Potion was complete magically, but incomplete physically. That had never happened before—not after she'd finished the recipe at any rate. What did it mean? Had she skipped a step? She sharpened her connection to the potion, trying to figure out what the magic was telling her. It was like the potion knew what was wrong, if only she could understand. She checked the recipe. She'd completed every step perfectly, that much she was certain of, and yet there was a problem. Though the potion looked to her eyes to be all right, to her magic it felt as though it were a puzzle that had come with a piece already missing, so even though she'd used all the pieces, the picture wasn't quite right.
It was the recipe, she realized with dawning incredulity. The recipe itself was wrong…or, maybe not wrong, but incomplete ever so slightly. Not enough to change the appearance of the potion, but enough that it irked her magical senses. Harry shook her head agitatedly. Honestly, what fool of a Potions Master had come up with this recipe? Bonagage? Professor Snape had never given her a recipe that was less than perfect. Harry supposed she could write to Snape and ask for his recipe for Blood-Replenishing Potion, but something was telling her she could figure it out herself. She just needed to think.
It felt like it needed more of something, Harry mused, concentrating her senses on the different layers of the potion. Everything mixed just fine, but if there was just a bit more of…something, it would mesh completely. Harry frowned, reaching with her senses further into the potion and sort of magically poking around. It almost felt like it needed more bloodroot, but that couldn't possibly be right. The bloodroot was in perfect proportion to the vervain, which had to stay at a constant 3:1 ratio with the hypericum flowers. She couldn't change the number of hypericum flowers because it had to be a prime number, and the next prime number after 13 was 17. If she added 4 more hypericum flowers she could need 12 more vervain leaves, which would make the amount of bloodroot needed way too much. She needed a tiny bit more bloodroot, not a whole additional bushel.
So it couldn't be the bloodroot. And yet it was. The potion felt like it needed more antiseptic, and also something that would bond the dissolving St. Stewart's Bane with the Hypericum flowers more closely. Bloodroot did both of those things, but it was too potent. Adding even the tiniest bit more would upset the whole potion. Harry blinked suddenly. It was so obvious. Hadn't she thought all those months ago when she was helping Percy with his Potion Fusion homework that feverfew was pretty perfect for a Blood-Replenishing Potion? Harry smiled victoriously, she didn't need to substitute feverfew for bloodroot though, she needed to add feverfew to the bloodroot. Both would play pretty much the same role in the potion, but feverfew was three times weaker than bloodroot, and adding it wouldn't mess with the ratios of the other ingredients. In addition, feverfew kept platelets from clumping. The only reason it hadn't been in the Blood-Replenishing Potion already was probably because bloodroot was so much stronger and easier to cultivate.
Harry hurried to her A-F storage cupboard and dug out the jar of ground feverfew from the bottom shelf. A pinch was all it took, and after a few stirs the potion felt…satisfied, for lack of a better word, to her magical senses. Harry grinned and broke off her connection to the potion gently, then ladled it carefully into six of Krait's stasis bottles. She labeled each one, and after cleaning her cauldron and preparation materials she put a check mark beside Blood-Replenishing Potion on her list, feeling more self-satisfied than she had in weeks.
Harry spent the rest of the night brewing. Out of the eight recipes she tried, five of them were ever so slightly off, needing more of one thing or less of another, and one of the recipes was so blatantly wrong she was sure it had been copied incorrectly. Honestly who would put ginger leaves in a Mind-Sharpening Potion? While ginger was a mental stimulant and energizer in the right mixtures, its properties came from the root and stem, not the leaves. In addition, besides the fact that the recipe called for the Chinese variety, which was much less potent than the African variety, the juice in the ginger leaves would have interacted with the rosemary seed oil and caused severe and likely permanent long-term memory loss. Harry immediately guessed they'd meant to write thirteen ginkgo leaves, which came from the Chinese Maidenhair tree and were known to improve memory functions.
She noted each change she made to the potions diligently, in case Krait should ask, and by midnight she had filled and labeled every bottle in the two crates she'd been given. Harry felt better than she had in weeks, despite the late hour. She had forgotten the joy of brewing just for the sake of making a potion. Too often in the past year it had been about making the grade, impressing Professor Snape, or saving students' lives. Sure, she was technically brewing for money, but she wasn't worried that if she messed up she wouldn't get the money. She was confident in her ability to produce enough potions to satisfy Krait, and she could try as many times as she needed to on the off-chance that she couldn't brew a potion right the first time, which hadn't happened often since she'd gotten the hang of imbuing. Harry could brew at her own pace, her own impetus. She could choose how long to brew, what order to brew the potions in, what changes to make until she was satisfied with the potions, and no one would say anything about it. It was freeing, relaxing, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Before going to bed. Harry drew up a schedule that would allow her to finish the first year's worth of owl-correspondence schoolwork in the nine weeks she had left of the summer. The program was self-paced, though the recommended timeframe was ten months on and two months off for each school year. She was given a list of books to read, most of which overlapped with the textbooks she already had for Hogwarts, and each of the six core subjects (Charms, Transfiguration, History, Defense, Potions, and Astronomy) had five units per semester. She would in theory learn the first five units for each class, take her midterms, then learn the next five units for each class and take her finals. In actuality, Harry would complete the mandatory work for the first five units, take the midterms, then do the mandatory work for the second five units and take the finals. There wasn't much she'd really need to learn.
When she started each unit, they would mail her a series of worksheets and suggested activities for each class to help her learn and understand the material. These worksheets and activities were entirely for her own benefit. Harry wouldn't be completing any of them. Instead, all Harry would be doing was writing the required research essay for each unit in each class. It was open-topic, as long as it pertained to the course, and the quality of her research essays would determine one third of her course grade for each class. The midterm and final made up the other two-thirds of each grade. That meant for Harry to pass her first year of owl-school, she had to complete six research essays per unit, or 60 essays in total, and take twelve exams. Her goal was to write six essays each week, taking a week off each for the midterm and finals, and finishing the first-year curriculum in eight weeks. That gave her an extra week to relax and prepare for her second year at Hogwarts.
While she was writing about an essay a day, a feat she had no trouble imagining possible considering the essay requirement for a first-year in the owl-school consisted of a mere 10-inches and two outside sources, she would also be brewing every day. Looking over the list of potions she was given, she averaged the cost of brewing a cauldron of them to be about three or four galleons each, meaning that each dose averaged about eleven sickles each. That meant she'd be getting about fifteen sickles per dose from Krait. That was a 96-sickle profit per crate, about five and a half galleons.
She figured she could rent an apt for about 60 galleons a month, so she would need 570 galleons to cover the whole school year. That meant she needed to brew about 103 crates of potions that summer, or roughly 12 crates a week. That was doable if she brewed two crates a day.
However, that was only true if Harry was truly eating the cost of the potions she'd be making herself. Simply put, she was not. When her parents had set up an educational-expense account for her at Gringotts, it was with the understanding that she would charge all her potions expenses to that account. Her parents were incredibly wealthy, something she tried not to take for granted, but something that meant that they would not even notice the increase in her expenditures as long as they continued to come from apothecary orders and the like. So because she was buying the ingredients with her parent's money (she mentally argued that she was technically learning a lot by brewing all the new potions) and putting all of the 20-galleon reward per crate toward her private housing fund, Harry actually only needed to brew enough for thirty or so crates all summer.
So she was not, to be honest, overly concerned with the amount of work she'd taken on over the summer. Harry planned on having plenty of time for her experimental brewing, not to mention hanging out with Archie and her family and completing her Hogwarts summer work as well. By the time her mother came down to yawningly tell Harry to get her butt in bed, Harry had everything about her summer plans figured out. All she had to do was put them into motion, and really, what could go wrong?
The next day Harry went back to the Serpent's Storeroom with her crates of potions. Archie had left early that morning with Sirius and James to go to Zonko's and check on the Marauder joke line sales, so Harry went to Diagon Alley alone again, though she kept a careful eye out for any suspicious characters on her way from the Leaky Cauldron to the dingy little shop.
Mr. Krait was busy with a customer when Harry entered the shop, so she stacked the crates behind the counter and waited patiently for him to finish showing a stooped old witch with a hacking cough where the antimony was stored. Mr. Krait came back to the counter and saw Harry standing there. He stopped in front of her, crossing his arms and setting his feet apart as he looked her over. He was so tall she had to lean her head back a bit to look at his face.
"Well, I won't pretend I'm not surprised to see you here," he grunted, the scar along his jaw line flexing as he worked his mouth, "I half-expected to never see you again. What are you doing back so quick? Lost my bottles, have you?"
Harry shook her head, "No, sir. They're behind the counter. I'm here to pick up more bottles, and to collect my payment for these, unless you pay at the end of the month."
Krait's eyebrows shot upwards toward his slicked back blonde hairline. He strode around the counter and hefted the crates easily up onto its surface. Krait scanned the labels in the crates and shot her a look, "You made eight potions yesterday? Eight different potions?"
Harry refrained from saying 'Obviously.' Barely.
"Yes, sir," Harry said instead, keeping her tone on the respectful side of stating something readily apparent, "I thought it would be a waste to do all sixteen when I didn't have enough bottles to hold all the doses."
Krait shot her a look that clearly said he caught the implied lip and didn't appreciate it. The Potioneer sighed and said, "I don't know what to think of this, kid." He gestured to the crates of potions on the counter. "If I didn't know Potions Masters were a bunch of stuck up swobs with the collective sense of humor of a rotting toadstool I'd think someone was playing a practical joke on me."
Harry thought at that moment that it was probably best that Krait didn't know who her father and godfather were.
"I mean," Krait rolled his shoulders as if he was working out a kink, "I just gave you these recipes yesterday, and somehow you have viable examples of eight? Ignoring the fact that it usually takes a brewer at least a week to work the kinks out of a recipe they aren't familiar with, most of these potions require upper-medium levels of magical energy to be imbued in them, and Dreamless Sleep is enough to knock the average wizard on their ass for a good four hours alone with the level of magic required to fuse the ingredients. You're what, ten? No way you have the magical core necessary to make all these potions in 24 hours."
Harry thought that was a bit unfair to assume, but Krait wasn't finished.
"Plus," he said with an incredulous snort, "Making Pepper-Up and an Invigoration Draught would use about a pound of Piper betel. Who the heck has that much betel just lying around? Your parents own a greenhouse or something?"
"No," Harry said honestly, "I just brew a lot of potions. Our cupboard is well stocked."
Krait narrowed his eyes, "Well-stocked my ass." He sighed deeply, "In spite of the fact that I think this is an elaborate set up, it remains that the potions are here and you didn't steal my bottles. I'll test these later on, and you can come back when I do my books at the end of the week for your payment."
"Can I take more of your bottles with me today?" Harry asked, choosing not to comment on the rest of the man's ridiculous theories.
Krait grimaced, "Sure, why not."
Harry took that as an invitation into Krait's back room and quickly grabbed three crates of empty bottles. She was almost to the door when Krait called her back.
"Wait, kid," he snapped his fingers at her imperiously and she paused, lifting an eyebrow inquiringly. He pulled out a sheet of parchment from a drawer and brandished it at her, "You'll have to re-do the Mind-Sharpening Potion. I discovered a clerical error in the recipe this morning that would have rendered anything you produced with it useless. It was my fault, so I can cover the costs of the ingredients if you want."
Harry shook her head, not moving to set the crates down and take the parchment, "No need. You're talking about how it read ginger leaves instead of ginkgo leaves, right?" Krait blinked, but nodded, "I corrected for it when I made the potion."
Mr. Krait put the recipe back in the drawer, shaking his head, "Alright, kid, just do whatever you're going to do then. I'll pay you at the end of each week for whatever you've brought in."
"Thanks, Mr. Krait," Harry smiled sympathetically at the man, "See you tomorrow."
Krait sighed, and waved her from the shop.
Harry shook her head, grinning a bit at the silliness of adults. No imagination. You present them with something even mildly unordinary and they immediately seek complicated explanations or assume they're being tricked rather than accept that they didn't know everything after all.
Harry made her way slowly down Knockturn alley with her three crates balanced steadily before her. The extra crate made it a little hard for her to see ahead of her, but by walking slowly in the middle of the alley she was visible enough that the other witches and wizards saw her coming and skirted around her. She was almost past Borgin and Burke's when trouble came, from not before her, but behind.
A dirty hand grasped her right bicep harshly and yanked her sideways into the shadow of a building's overhang. Harry gasped and hauled her weight against the movement, tilting the weight of the crates to the left as well to help counter-balance her accoster's pulling. The man who'd stopped her just pulled harder and brought another hand up to fist in her robe collar and keep her from twisting away. The potion crates were dislodged and fell to the alley with a dull thud that didn't stop anyone else in Knockturn from ignoring the situation that Harry was rapidly finding herself in. With her hands now free, she struck out at the man and tried to push him away from her. She could see him clearly now. His hair was as long as any pureblood's, but ratty and crusted with something that flaked. He was broad-shouldered and slightly overweight, with hands like meat hammers and eyes half-lidded with a violent disorientation, making her think he'd been drinking. When his grip on her collar and arm proved too strong, Harry lashed out with her feet, using the guy's hold on her to keep her upright as she pushed off the ground and kicked him with both feet as hard as she could. Her right leg was a little high from being turned more toward her attacker, but her left foot got him square in the groin.
The man doubled over clutching himself, his mangy hair falling into his face and his grip slackening instantly. Harry thrust herself away from him and backed quickly toward where the crates had fallen. She reached for them up hurriedly, thanking Merlin for the foam packaging that encased each bottle in the crates and would have, she hoped, prevented any breakage from occurring. She had the crates stacked, but before she could pick them up a hand clawed at her nape, jerking her off of her knees and up, until she was dangling with her toes just scraping the earth in front of her very pissed off attacker. His dark hair swung forward into her face and she could see every rip in his tattered black robes. His breath was foul with something sickly sweet and his teeth winked at her like yellow stars from behind the heavy, graying beard around his mouth.
"You'll pay for that one, brat," he wheezed into her face, "I'm gonna—"
But whatever he was going to do, Harry never found out. At that moment a fist came from over Harry's shoulder and struck the man in the face before either of them could blink. Her attacker went reeling backwards from the blow, his hand falling away from Harry's neck, and Harry dropped toward the ground like a stringless puppet. Just as she should have landed hard on the ground, an arm caught her firmly around the middle and towed her backwards into a muscled chest. She blinked, her equilibrium thrown off by the events of the last several seconds, and craned her head back against her captor's robes to look up into his face. With the way things were going it would be some other shady, smelly guy who was only fighting off the first man so that he could sell her organs on the black market himself.
And yet, she thought as she caught sight of the guy she was being held against, no face that handsome would ever need to sell a spleen to make a living. Bright hazel eyes glanced down at her above a straight nose and a strong jaw. His teeth were even, she noted as he grinned briefly at her before turning his attention back to the man sprawled out on the alley dirt, and his face was lightly tanned, as though he occasionally worked in the sun but didn't bask in it. He was young, too, she realized when he spoke. His voice had an easy, pleasing quality to it that set her nerves instinctively at ease.
"I need you to stand behind me," the guy said softly into the top of her head, "That won't keep him down for long, and when he gets up I need you to be standing somewhere you won't get caught up in the fight, okay?"
Harry found herself nodding automatically, though she personally thought the better option would be to leave before the man picked himself up off the ground. Her defender's arm around her waist loosened and he nudged her gently until she moved behind and away from him. She backed up until she stood over where the crates still sat on the floor of the alley and watched, a bit transfixed, as the guy who was helping her settled into a relaxed fighting stance and the man who'd tried to grab her stumbled to his feet.
Her protector looked about sixteen or seventeen. He was taller than she'd realized, though not quite as tall as Mr. Krait was. Probably he was about 6 foot. He was certainly taller than his opponent, who stooped awkwardly and growled before launching himself at the younger man. The young man simply turned around the other man's attack, using one foot to trip the man up and slamming an elbow down into the small of his opponent's back. The older man crumpled again to the ground, but instead of trying to stand he fumbled with his robes until he brought out a thin but sharp-looking dagger and swiped it toward the hazel-eyed guy's ankles. The young man jumped over the knife and aimed his landing to be directly on the knife-wielder's wrist. A cracking sound Harry was all too familiar with told her the man's wrist was broken. The knife fell from an unresponsive hand and the younger man, who was standing with his hands in his pockets as if he'd done nothing more arduous than kick an errant soda can to the side, nudged the knife out of his opponent's reach.
He needn't have bothered, Harry thought, as the man who'd originally attacked her was now curled up around his wrist, rocking and cursing sloppily at them. Her savior turned around and walked over to her, his face so relaxed Harry thought perhaps he often strolled down notoriously dangerous alleys and beat slovenly characters into the dirt. He tilted his head curiously at her while she looked him over just as curiously through lowered lids. His hair was a dark brown that would have been unremarkable if he wasn't so generally good looking. He was built like a dancer and moved like a street fighter, all wiry muscles and agile grace. The lines of his face weren't rugged, but neither did he have the delicate look most of the pureblooded families favored.
He leaned a bit closer to Harry, as if he were about to impart a secret, and said, "All right there, lad? I'm not complaining or anything, but usually this is the part where you thank a body for helping you out."
Harry flushed slightly, both because she had been rude to stand there staring after he'd saved her, and because he, like many others, had mistaken her for a boy. She supposed it was the short hair. Of course the plain black robes she favored for their resilience against visible stains didn't help gender her to the casual eye either.
Deciding to let it go, she said, "Thanks for your help."
The guy laughed lightly and ruffled her hair, "Plain-spoken little thing, aren't you?" Harry finally looked up to glare reproachfully at him and he did a double take, murmuring, "Would you look at those eyes?" Harry blinked, taken aback at the blatant observation, and resisted the urge to reach up and pull her bangs into her eyes nervously. He turned and lifted the stack of crates she'd been neglecting and held them easily with one arm, "Where were you headed, then?"
Harry frowned slightly, "There's no need to escort me or carry my things. You've done enough already."
He smiled easily down at her, "Headed to Diagon Alley, I bet," he said, putting his free hand on her shoulder and propelling her slowly toward the mouth of Knockturn alley, "I'll walk with you. I think it only fair I know the name of the person I just yanked from the jaws of death."
Harry had no choice but to walk along next to the older boy, who was seeming stranger to her by the minute. "You don't know he was going to kill me," she pointed out, "He might have only wanted a kidney."
The boy laughed, "Very true, I suppose you really don't owe me anything in that case."
Harry grimaced, "Sorry. I meant to say thank you again, and my name is Harry."
"I'm Lionel Hurst, but everyone calls me Leo," he told her.
Harry glanced up at him out of the corner of her eye, "So you make a habit of patrolling Knockturn alley, Mr. Hurst?"
He favored her with a look of his own, "First of all, don't ever call me Mr. Hurst again. It's Leo. And I could ask what a sprout like you was doing in that alley as well, but it looks to me like you were coming from the same place I was going." He gestured to the crates, "Krait take you on as a messenger boy or something?"
"Something like that," Harry said, "So you were headed to the Serpents Storeroom? Why are you escorting me in the other direction?"
"Truth?" Leo turned to look her in the eye, "I'm not sure. There's something about you, though, and when I passed your little predicament my magic was suddenly screaming at me to sit up and pay attention. Never felt anything like it. I figure there's got to be a reason, so maybe if I stick by you long enough I'll figure it out."
Harry shrugged uncomfortably, "Well you've got until the Leaky Cauldron, but how do you know you weren't supposed to help out the other guy?"
Leo laughed again, "My magic hasn't turned on me yet."
"You talk about magic like it's sentient," Harry said cautiously.
"It is," Leo said without pause, "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Harry smiled to herself. Leo was strange, but she liked the way he thought. "What were you going to the Serpent's Storeroom for?" Harry asked curiously, "A potion?"
"The Apothecary doesn't sell any potions I couldn't make myself. I was actually picking up an order for my father," Leo said, "He's too busy with his research to pick them up personally."
Harry turned surprised eyes to her companion, "Is your father Malcolm Hurst? The—"
"The Aldermaster of the Potions Guild, yeah," Leo said, a bit embarrassed.
"Oh," Harry said, blinking, "I was going to say the man who wrote the introduction to the most recent edition of Moste Potente Potions, but he made Aldermaster? That's great." Harry really should follow the politics of the Guild more closely, but it didn't interest her as much as the potions work did.
Leo looked down at her with surprise, "That's right, he did write that a few years ago."
"Yes, I got a copy of it for my eighth birthday," Harry said, smiling a bit, "The introduction was the best part of the whole book. Mostly it was poisons with incredibly unlikely ingredients and one decent recipe for Polyjuice Potion."
"I think I remember my father saying something similar," Leo said with a grin, "You're a rather unexpected person, Harry No-last-name."
"Thanks, I guess," Harry said, "So do you go to Hogwarts?" It would be a disaster if he did, though she didn't remember seeing him around the castle.
"I'm home schooled," Leo said. "My father tutors me in Potions, and everything else I pick up where I can. I'll be taking the NEWTs next May, so I guess I'm what you'd call a seventh-year."
Harry let out her breath slowly in relief, "Interesting. Are you going to pursue a Potions career?"
"Probably," Leo said, though he didn't look at her while he said it, "I learn the other stuff because my mother insists, but there is nothing more interesting than potions that I've found so far. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up the greatest Potions Master of all time." Leo winked at her cheerfully.
"If you say so," Harry said politely. They'd reached the Leaky Cauldron and Harry held her hands out for the crates, "Thanks for your help, Leo. Sorry to take you away from your errands."
"Not at all," Leo said, "Although…I fear I've failed in my original objective. You've learned much more about me than I have about you. Still, something tells me we'll meet again soon." He handed the crates to her carefully, "In fact, I intend to see to it."
Harry looked up with surprised wariness while taking the crates in hand, "And how could you possibly ensure such a thing?"
"Why, by following you home, of course," Leo said mildly. At her look of utter alarm he broke into a laugh and shook his head, "Kidding, of course, my young friend. Instead, I shall insist upon accompanying you the next time you attempt to traverse the streets of Knockturn alone."
"Won't that get a little inconvenient?" Harry asked dryly.
"Nothing in the name of friendship is inconvenient," Leo declared, "Besides, I'm at the Serpent's Storeroom a lot picking up and dropping off for my father. It won't be any trouble to schedule my next trip with yours."
Harry wasn't convinced, "Unless you're next trip was going to be tomorrow—"
"Tomorrow it is," Leo smiled winningly, "Shall we say the Leaky Cauldron at noon?"
Harry blinked, "Really, Leo, there's no need. I can bring someone else next time to—"
"I would be grievously insulted if you did, Harry," Leo said solemnly, his bright hazel eyes shining with mirth beneath his short brown hair, "See you tomorrow."
He walked off down the alley before Harry could accept or decline. She sighed, shifting the crates of bottles awkwardly. What a strange man, she thought, then frowned, Or is it that I've been around subtleties and intrigue so much that I don't appreciate straightforwardness anymore?
Either way, she was determined not to pay any heed to Lionel Hurst's declaration, yet somehow the next day she found herself ready to go to the Serpent's Storeroom at almost exactly noon. Leo met her as she flooed into The Leaky Cauldron and took her now-full crates from her immediately.
Harry just gave up trying to talk him out of it, instead thanking Leo for the help. He laughed as if she'd said something delightfully funny and they'd kept up a casual conversation—mostly about Leo, since Harry didn't really want to talk about her complicated life—all the way to the apothecary. No one bothered them in Knockturn, though Harry, without the crates to distract her, noticed they were getting several curious glances from other people in the alley. This wouldn't be unusual in Diagon alley, since shoppers were often curious about other people as they went about their business, but in Knockturn people generally made it a point not to be too interested in one another. Harry supposed Leo did sort of stand out. His personality, the way he moved and gestured, was like a bright ball of light in the gloomy street, but she had the strangest feeling that they were staring at her because she was with him.
They reached the Serpent's Storeroom and Harry held the door so Leo could maneuver the crates into the shop. Krait looked up from his accounting books and his eyebrows shot upwards when he saw them there.
"What's this then, Leo?" Krait grinned with an incredulous sort of humor, "Slummin' as hired muscle today?"
Leo set the crates down carefully, and spoke slowly in response to Krait's joking question, "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Edgar. You know I'm always happy to help out my friends. It seems young Harry here ran into some trouble on the alley yesterday with a drunk. I couldn't have that, could I?"
Harry glanced at Leo in surprise. His voice was as light and pleasing as ever, but there was a deadly serious quality to it that she hadn't heard even when he was fighting off that thug the other day. More surprising was Krait's response.
"Of course, of course, your—ah, Leo," Krait looked a bit flustered and glanced at Harry awkwardly as he spoke, "So, Harry's a good friend of yours, is he? Good, good. I'm sure he won't run into any trouble with you by his side."
Leo flashed even, white teeth in a playful grin, "Your faith in me is heart-warming, Master Krait."
"Yes, well, so you've got the potions then, Harry?" Krait turned to the crates and began checking the labels.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, not knowing what was going unsaid between them, but letting it go for the time being, "The other eight potions plus extra Calming Potion, Dreamless Sleep, Blood-Replenishing, and Pepper-Up, since those are the four you sell most often."
Krait looked at her with mild surprise, perhaps wondering when she'd taken the time to notice that his shelves were always a bit low on those four in particular, "Good, good. Is this the pace I can expect all summer?"
Harry nodded, "I don't see any reason for it to fall off."
"In that case, wait just a moment," Krait grabbed a sheet of parchment from under the counter and began scribbling.
While he wrote, Leo captured Harry's attention with a curious, "So you run bottles for one of Krait's potion brewers, Harry?"
Harry hid her amusement with a polite smile, "Indeed, Mr. Krait hired a new brewer just a few days ago, and I've been in and out of this shop every day since."
Krait made a badly disguised choking noise, but didn't look up from his scribbling.
Leo glanced at him curiously, but turned back to Harry almost immediately, "This new brewer sounds like a lucky find if he brews twelve potions in one day."
More like one morning, Harry thought wryly. She'd settled into an easy routine in the past couple of days. In the morning she brewed, making three or four cauldrons an hour by brewing simultaneously at several stations. In the afternoons she did her owl-school essays, and in the evenings she experimented until her eyes started crossing. She took meals with her family and so far none of them besides Archie even knew she'd landed a summer job. They just thought she was brewing for fun like she always did, and her parents were at work too much to notice her frequent comings and goings.
"I'll tell him you said so," Harry said.
Krait snorted, but simply thrust the parchment he'd been writing on at her. It was a list of potions. "If I'm going to be getting this many potions a day, I may as well diversify my stock a bit. Tell my brewer," he rolled his eyes a bit at this, "To find recipes for these twelve potions and alternate between these and the original sixteen I gave him, alright, kid?"
"That won't be a problem," Harry assured him. In truth she was glad she'd have a more interesting selection to brew from. Maybe if she made enough of these she could convince Krait to take on even more potions. Of course, she supposed it would depend on if people showed any interest in buying the potions.
"Good," Krait grunted, "You know where the empty bottles are."
Harry nodded and rounded the counter to duck into the storeroom, but Leo beat her there.
"How many do you want?" he asked with a friendly grin.
Harry hesitated. If Leo was carrying them, she could probably take four. The problem was that if he wasn't there the next day, there was no way she could carry four crates of full bottles back to the Serpent's Storeroom on her own. She didn't know how to ask him without being presumptuous though. When he raised an eyebrow at her dithering, Harry blurted, "Four." If he wasn't there the next day she would just make sure Archie came with her to help her carry.
"Four it is," Leo hefted the requested number of crates without batting a lash. They bid good day to Krait and headed, once more, toward Diagon alley.
Over the next few weeks, Harry brought potions to the Storeroom every weekday, deciding to skip weekends and concentrate solely on her experimental brewing and spending time with her parents. And every day Leo was there at noon to meet her, taking the crates and walking her to the Apothecary and back. Harry might have been more uncomfortable with it had Leo known she was a girl, but as it was she accepted that the older guy just had a strange and rather proprietary interest in her friendship. She was still mostly silent about herself when they conversed, not because she didn't trust Leo—it was almost impossible to distrust such a person—but because she wasn't sure which details of her complicated life she could reveal.
Should she be Harry Potter around Leo, and tell him she went to AIM and wanted to be a Healer? She couldn't tell him she was home schooled, too, because when she disappeared in the fall it would be a little obvious she was lying. And she certainly couldn't be Rigel—Rigel had grey eyes, not the green Leo often told her he admired. So Harry just kept her personal history to herself, and Leo respected that and never pried beyond jokingly remarking that he didn't even know her last name every now and then.
On July 14th, Harry told Leo not to expect her the next day, the first break in their unspoken arrangement.
"Is your brewer taking a day off?" Leo asked with surprise, "The way you run these potions back and forth I'd have thought he never takes a break."
Harry smiled a bit sheepishly, feeling rather guilty that she'd been lying to Leo about who was really brewing the potions she delivered every day. Still, he probably wouldn't believe her if she told him, so she let him keep his assumptions, "Actually, I have to go visit a friend of mine tomorrow, so I can't deliver the potions. I'll probably have twice as many the day after tomorrow to make up for it."
"Ah," Leo said sadly, "I was afraid you might have other friends."
Harry scowled up at him good-naturedly. She'd relaxed quite a bit after seeing the older boy every day for weeks.
"I'm just messing with you," Leo looked as though he wanted to ruffle her hair, but had his hands too full of crate to do so, "See you the day after tomorrow, then."
"Yeah, see you."
On the day of the Malfoy Garden Party, Harry and Archie Polyjuiced as one another before the sun even hit the horizon. Harry would be wearing Archie's best summer dress robes, which were just a bit too small for him now that he'd grown over the summer. Lily had wanted to get Archie new robes for the party, but Archie said firmly that the robes he had would do just fine. Though the robes were snug while she was Polyjuiced, as soon as it wore off they would fit her just right. Archie was Polyjuiced as her, and dressed in a pair of muggle basketball shorts and a baggy T-shirt, so that he would look normal going to Hermione's when he changed back to himself. They'd both told their parents that they wanted to go to Diagon alley that morning, Archie to pick up Draco's present and Harry to get a hospitality gift for Hermione's parents. They assured their parents that they would simply floo to their respective friends' houses after they completed their purchases.
In reality, they were going to floo to Diagon alley, collect their packages from behind the bar where Harry had asked old Tom to keep them the day before, wait in an alley in muggle London for the Polyjuice to wear off, go back to the Leaky Cauldron, and floo to the Malfoy's and the Granger's—who had connected their house to the floo just a week before—from there.
All in all, it was terribly complicated. Still, Harry and Archie were very good at complications by that point, so the plan went off without a hitch, unless one counted Sirius pulling Archie aside and telling him to use the emergency portkey if someone so much as looked at him funny.
Harry took a few minutes to duck into the bathroom and put in her grey contacts before flooing to Malfoy Manor, and when she emerged she was Rigel Black, ready to socialize with the dark pureblood elite. Or at least ready to hand Draco his gift and hide in a shadowy corner for the rest of the party if it came to that.
She waved goodbye and good luck to Archie, and stepped into green flames and roiling soot.
She came out sprawling at the other end of the floo connection. Rigel mused that she really shouldn't have expected the floo to be any more forgiving to her just because she was going to the Malfoy's party in her cousin's best summer robes. Luckily, the only one to witness her most ungraceful exit onto the dark green hearth rugs was the house elf waiting by the fireplace, clearly stationed there to direct people flooing in to the gardens.
The house elf approached her and snapped its little fingers at the soot covering most of her robes. It vanished, and Rigel sent a grateful smile at the elf, "Thank you."
The house elf's eyes grew wide and frantic, and Rigel looked at it with mounting concern. The house elves at Hogwarts hadn't been nearly so taken aback by politeness.
"Good wizard is being too kind to Dobby!" the elf near-wailed, wringing its hands and hopping from foot to foot agitatedly, "Dobby is not to be thanked. Dobby is not knowing what to say."
Rigel nodded in understanding, "That's alright, Dobby. Do you know where I'm to put my birthday gift to Draco?"
Dobby nodded so violently his bat-like ears flopped to and fro, "Dobby is knowing. You is to bring it to the gardens, and you is to place it on the gift table as you leave the house. Dobby is showing you."
The elf bowed deeply and motioned for Rigel to follow him. Dobby took her through the corridor from the reception room to a drawing room with large glass patio doors that stood open to let in the fresh air and sunlight. Dobby motioned her through the doors and onto a beautiful white stone patio. At the bottom of the patio steps was a large table piled with gifts, and beyond that the gardens began. Walking down the steps, taking in the view, Rigel could honestly say that she had never seen anything more magnificent in her life. The Gardens, and indeed she would need to capitalize them in her head from now on, sprawled out like a despoiled emperor before her eyes. They began simplistically, short hedges and flower beds interspersed with tables and chairs, open expanses of lush green lawn, and the occasional stone statues. This was where the main party would be, Rigel guessed. There was already a multitude of guests milling about in their summer best. The hats on the ladies alone were works of art, looking right at home among the lovingly tended flowers and trees.
Beyond the party grounds, however, the hedges grew taller and more intimidating. Trees went from elegant miniature bonsais to silent branching giants, strewing their delicate petals wherever the wind pleased. The flowerbeds became the path boundaries, and Rigel imagined it wouldn't take much to be lost in the great natural maze.
She had just barely set her gift, a small square box wrapped in dark green paper, on the table when she was grabbed by the shoulder and turned around abruptly. It was Draco. He looked resplendent in silver-trimmed white robes, and not even his royally annoyed expression could detract from how radiantly he shone even among the gardens and the throngs of beautiful people.
"I can't believe you!" he fumed, thumping her in the arm with her other hand to show just how put out he was, "You disappear on the train without saying goodbye, no letters all summer, and then you just show up at my birthday party like—like—well, how could you?"
Rigel extracted herself carefully, "I did say goodbye."
Draco batted her words away, "Barely."
"And it's not like the invitation had an RSVP on it," Rigel pointed out.
"Still, you're supposed to send an acceptance," Draco sighed, "Honestly, don't you know anything?"
"Apparently not," Rigel said, a bit sheepish, "So is it alright that I'm here anyway?"
"What? Of course! You're my best friend," Draco said, "Speaking of, Pansy's going to kill you. Come on."
So saying, he pulled her off to the left side of the party lawn, where Rigel could see most of their year mates lounging in the shade of an elaborate gazebo. There were many exclamations and admonitions at her approach.
"We haven't heard from you all summer."
"I'm surprised you showed your face after that stunt on the train."
The last was from Blaise, who winked at her as he said it to soften the censure a bit. Rigel looked toward Pansy, who was sitting in a seat next to the middle seat, which must have been Draco's. She hadn't said a word, and was pointedly looking anywhere except at Rigel. Thinking back to when they'd first become friends, back when Pansy used the silent treatment to correct Rigel whenever she did something wrong, Rigel approached her friend slowly, sinking down to her knee beside Pansy's seat. When Rigel put her hand on the arm of Pansy's chair, Pansy couldn't ignore her anymore and looked down at Rigel with reluctant amusement.
"I do like my boys on bended knee," Pansy said, her lips smiling ever so slightly.
"How about begging for forgiveness?" Rigel said teasingly, "I've behaved rather dismally."
"Abominably," Pansy agreed.
"And I feel terrible about it. I was so busy with my summer work I somehow forgot to pay homage to the very lady who makes the summer sun so warm and the days so beautiful," Rigel said, gazing with pitiful regret at Pansy, "My only shred of hope is that surely a lady so kind and grand as she who makes the moon grow round could find it in her bountiful mercy to forgive one so lowly and sorry as I."
"She who makes the moon go round?" Millicent snorted, "That's class-A stuff right there."
"I'm making this up as I go," Rigel said.
"It shows," Theo told her plainly.
Rigel stood up with deliberate dignity, "Well, I can see when true poetry is not appreciated. Pansy, am I forgiven?"
Pansy sighed and shook her head sadly, "I fear we've a long way to go with you, Rigel. But yes, you are forgiven for your unconscionable rudeness."
"Thank you," Rigel said, looking around them, "Is there somewhere I can pull a chair from?"
"Don't bother," Draco said, "Now that everyone is here we'll be expected to mingle." In silent agreement, Millicent, Theo, and Blaise rose to find their parents. Crabbe and Goyle ambled over to the food table, and Rigel just blinked at how quickly everyone had dispersed. "Don't worry," Draco said, looping his arm through Pansy's and gesturing for Rigel to walk on his other side, "We'll see them when we get around to their parents. For now, there are about a million people I'm supposed to introduce you to."
"Me?" Rigel said, taken aback, "I'm not sure I really should—"
"Of course you," Draco said firmly, "This is your first social appearance as an honorary Malfoy. Everyone will have heard by now, and if we don't introduce you around it's like we're ashamed of you."
"Besides," Pansy said, leaning forward a bit to speak past Draco's shoulders, "This will be an excellent opportunity to spread your political wings."
"I'm not sure I have a set of those yet," Rigel said, but her protests fell on selectively deaf ears.
A half hour later Rigel was sure she'd met everyone at the party. She'd met Blaise's beautiful mother, Theo's flirtatious father (who wouldn't stop hitting on Blaise's mother long enough to do more than smile politely at Rigel), and Millicent's impressively upright parents as well. She'd met people she'd only read about in the newspaper, and people she'd never so much as heard of before. She'd been introduced to so many people that there couldn't possibly be any strangers left in wizarding Britain. And yet there were. Just as she was being guided over to yet another person just dying to meet 'that darling boy who'd cured the sleeping sickness,' she was saved by the sound of an echoing violin, which was the signal, Draco told her excitedly, for him to start opening his gifts.
Draco's parents beckoned him with generous smiles and Draco walked quickly over to the gift table where they were waiting.
Pansy laughed at their friend's enthusiasm, "I got him a specialty servicing kit for competitive broomsticks. What did you get him?"
Rigel shrugged, "Just something I thought he'd enjoy. Nothing too serious. I'm going to get some water, do you want anything?"
Pansy shook her head, not looking away from where Draco was smiling and unwrapping a large, oblong present with snitches printed on the paper. Rigel left Pansy to her viewing, but she didn't go to the refreshment table, instead, after making sure no one was watching her, she slipped behind a tall row of hedges and set off to explore the gardens.
Rigel wanted a moment of peace and quiet in between the endless rounds of introductions to people she couldn't care less about. She had yet to meet a single Potions Master, after all. Mostly the guests were Draco's friends' parents and Ministry officials. She also didn't want to wait around on tenterhooks for Draco to open her present. She didn't like watching other people open gifts she gotten them. Either they'd hate it and would awkwardly pretend not to for her sake or they'd like it and she'd feel uncomfortable with their gratitude. It was best to occupy herself with something else, and she had been itching to explore the gardens since she'd laid eyes on them.
The hedges were even more imposing up close, when she was surrounded by them. Rigel wandered for a bit, aimless in where she was going but paying close attention to where she'd come from, so that she could find her way back out again when she thought it had been long enough. She was about to round a neatly groomed corner when she heard voices and stopped, suddenly realizing that the gardens may not have been as secluded as she assumed. Clearly, others had skipped out on the present opening as well.
Harry asked her magic to muffle the sounds of her footsteps and promised herself she'd look up a real spell that dampened sound when she got home. She began walking carefully back the way she came, not sure the magic would hold up if she actually snapped a twig or something, but stopped again when she heard the word 'Hogwarts.' She knew she really shouldn't, but she was curious, so she crept just the tiniest bit forward to catch the rest of what the speakers were saying.
"—sure you'll find Hogwarts to be anything but dull in the coming year," the first voice said smoothly. There was something about that voice that Harry recognized but couldn't place, like something from a commercial she'd heard over the Wizarding Wireless.
"A pity. With all the excitement of last year I had hoped for a year of peace—relatively speaking, of course." That voice Harry knew instantly. It was Professor Snape.
She found her feet moving forward without her really thinking about it, and soon enough she was able to shift ever-so-slightly around the edge of the corner hedge. She didn't though. Rigel was not one to stick her neck out into unfamiliar situations so foolishly. Instead, she reached down and quietly pulled out the timepiece Archie kept in his robes. He'd insisted Rigel take it with her, and the gold backing was reflective enough to serve her purposes. She angled the side of the watch around the corner and used it as a rudimentary spying glass, squinting against the glare to try and make out who Snape was talking to.
"Oh, Severus, I'm afraid you aren't nearly old enough to bemoan the folly of today's excitable youth," the first voice said. Rigel could almost make the speaker out in the shiny metal mirror. He was tall and had thick dark hair, but he was standing with his back to her, facing Snape.
"I'm sure you would know, sir," Severus said dryly, prompting the other man into an appreciative chuckle.
"Why ever do I let you stay in that dreary old school all year, Severus? I forget how entertaining you are when you're away so long, you know," the first man leaned toward Snape conspiratorially, "I think the others are too afraid of me to make jokes."
"I can't imagine why," Snape drawled.
The first man laughed again, "Yes, exactly, Severus, exactly. So, tell me of this boy of yours. Lucius has been most disappointingly unforthcoming."
"He's not my boy, I assure you, sir," Snape said in a neutral tone.
"Come now, Severus, I know how little you think of the most recent generation. If you've taken an interest in one it can't be without reason," the man said, and though his words were still teasing there was now a harder edge to them.
"Oh, the boy is talented," Snape said, "There's no doubt about that. He is one of a kind, if I may be so trite. I was merely clarifying that the relationship between the boy and I is not the surrogate father bond you might have been hoping for. He is my student, and I know of him only what any teacher knows of their students."
"I am not interested in his favorite color," the first man said dismissively, "It is precisely the sort of talents a professor would be aware of that I seek to discover. Already the boy has done what no one else could do, and yet I am told he has no magical presence to speak of. How can this be, Severus?"
Rigel was feeling more uncomfortable the longer she listened. She just knew the first voice was familiar, and it was seeming more and more as though the student they were talking about was her, as vain as that thought undoubtedly made her. If it was her they were talking about, she didn't know if she should be offended that Snape spoke so distantly of her or grateful that he wasn't as eager to divulge information about her as he could have been.
Snape took a careful breath before saying, "Perhaps you should discover that for yourself, sir."
Before Rigel could blink, Snape's wand was out and pointed at the other man—no, not the other man: her! Snape had sensed her presence somehow and was about to reveal her to his companion. Rigel went to snatch her hand back from around the corner, but before she could do so the spell Snape had sent from his wand wrapped around her wrist like a lasso and dragged the rest of her abruptly out from around the hedge. The spell-rope tugged at her again to jerk her toward Snape and she stumbled forward a half step. She yanked futilely at the spell for a moment, but soon realized the folly of resisting, especially considering she was already well and truly caught out. She sighed and walked the rest of the way to Snape's side of her own volition, tucking the pocket watch away as she did so.
Rigel opened her mouth to apologize to Snape but snapped it shut again when she finally got a good look at his companion. It was Riddle. Leader of the Sow Party, notorious muggle hater, the genius politician himself, and here she was caught red-handed eavesdropping on his conversation with her professor. Rigel groaned internally. Way to keep a low profile.
Snape set a heavy hand on her shoulder, squeezed hard enough to let her know she'd probably be getting one heck of a lecture from him later on, and said, "Mr. Riddle, this young man is my student, Rigel Black. Mr. Black, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Riddle."
Rigel bowed as deep as she dared with Snape's hand still digging into her shoulder, "One thousand apologies, Mr. Riddle. In truth I recognized my Professor's voice from a distance and was curious to know just whom he was talking to. I had not realized it was you until this moment."
Riddle took his time looking her over. There was something all-too knowing in his gaze, as if he knew a great secret about the world but was too polite to mock you for your ignorance. When she had fully straightened once more, he said, "Curiosity is a wonderful thing in one's youth. I hope yours was satisfactorily appeased."
Rigel blinked with surprise into Riddle's handsome face, "I'm afraid that as the offended party to my wrongdoing you are too kind, Mr. Riddle. Please, let me know what it is I can do to atone for such impertinence."
"So polite," Riddle murmured, "I can see why Severus likes you. Don't be so quick to owe me a debt, though, Mr. Black. I tend to collect them rather abruptly."
"A possibility that should have crossed my mind before I stuck my ears where they weren't invited," Rigel said evenly, "As it is, I can only hope you allow me the chance to redress this mistake as soon as I am able."
"Well, how about right now?" Riddle said, deceptively amiable. At Rigel's cautious nod, he went on, "Since what you were trying to steal from us was truths we were perhaps not prepared to tell you, that is what I shall ask for in return, sound fair?"
"Many things sound like what they are not," Rigel said vaguely, "Would you clarify your request, Mr. Riddle?"
"Very well, Mr. Black," Riddle said plainly, "How long were you listening to us?"
Rigel thought, "Perhaps two and a half minutes."
"Then I will ask you questions for two and one half minutes, and you will answer them as if you were having an unguarded conversation with someone you trust," Riddle said, smiling a bit at her, "Does that seem to be a fair trade to you?"
Rigel said, "It is for you to decide, of course, but yes, I do think that is a fair compensation, sir."
"Then let's begin," Riddle said, "And believe me when I tell you that I will know if you are lying to me." Rigel nodded, and Riddle asked, "Was it you who cured the sleeping sickness?"
Rigel frowned, "Nothing that seems to me to be so impressive, though I am told that others are unable to recreate my methods. The sickness was impenetrable from the outside, but from the inside it merely needed to be disrupted. I entered the other children's minds by means of their magical cores, and proceeded to direct their magic to destabilizing the barrier until a Legilimens like Professor Snape could enter the mind and clear the sickness out for good."
Riddle tilted his head thoughtfully, "And this ability to pass through others' magical cores does not interest you at all?"
"Not really," Rigel shrugged, "My only interest is in potion making."
Riddle looked unconvinced, but changed topics, "Why is it, Mr. Black, that you have no magical presence? I was not able to sense you around that corner at all, though it seems Severus was."
"I recognized his Occlumency shields at the periphery of my senses, not his magic," Snape offered tonelessly.
"I'm not sure what you mean by magical presence, Mr. Riddle," Rigel said honestly.
"Most wizards, children especially, have an aura of magic that leaks from their cores and tints the air around them with a taste of their magic. If one is adept at reading these auras one can tell a lot about a wizard by the way his magic feels around him," Riddle explained curtly, "You, however, have no aura to speak of, Mr. Black, and since you are not a squib I would like to know how that is."
Rigel thought for a moment, "Can one suppress the magic they leak, stop it from leaking, I mean?"
"If one is purposely dampening or controlling their magic, yes," Riddle said.
"Then my guess is that I am unconsciously suppressing any magic that would normally leak out. I have a very tight hold on my magic," Rigel explained, "One of the reasons I learned to imbue potions consciously so quickly was because I was incapable of imbuing them unconsciously. My magic simply does not emit itself unconsciously."
"Interesting," Riddle commented, seemingly to himself, "Tell me, Mr. Black, what are your political leanings?"
Rigel fumbled at the non sequitor, "I haven't any, sir. I'm afraid politics don't interest me much."
Riddle laughed, "You're lying, Mr. Black, but I suppose as my minutes are up it is within your rights to do so."
"You are too kind, Mr. Riddle," Rigel murmured.
"Kind is one thing I am certainly not, Mr. Black, though you should pray you never have to verify that statement firsthand," Riddle said, "Now, I think young Draco will be quite put out with me if I keep his friend from his party any longer. Let's adjourn to the front lawn, shall we gentlemen?"
So saying he began walking at a brisk yet refined pace through the hedge maze, Snape and Rigel at his heels. Rigel risked a glance up at her Professor's face, but his features were too blank to give anything away. When they reached the party grounds Rigel saw a couple of house elves clearing away wrapping paper and Draco looking around the throngs of guests with a slight frown on his face. His eyes lit upon their group coming out of the taller hedges and his eyes grew wide and a tad bit concerned. Feeling guilty, Rigel waved discreetly to him, smiling to show that everything was all right. Her friend came toward them slowly, as though approaching a muzzled bear.
When he reached them, Draco bowed deeply to Riddle and nodded respectfully to his godfather. "Good day, Mr. Riddle. Hello, Uncle Severus. Do you mind if I steal Rigel away for a while?"
"I wouldn't dream of denying you a request at your own party, Mr. Malfoy," Riddle said, smiling in a way that Rigel supposed would be considered charming, "It was interesting to meet you, Mr. Black."
"I'm sure I was the least interesting participant in our conversation, Mr. Riddle," Rigel bowed politely once more, "Thank you for the company, and for keeping me from getting lost in Draco's intimidating hedge maze."
"The pleasure of the company is mine, Mr. Black," Riddle said, nodding to her, "I trust we'll meet again soon."
"It will be as you say," Rigel said, "Good day, Professor Snape."
Snape inclined his head, "Mr. Black."
Draco bowed once more to Riddle and then practically dragged Rigel away from the older two men.
"You really can't be trusted for even five minutes, can you?" Draco muttered as he towed her to where his parents were standing, "Honestly, I turn around and you're strolling through the Gardens with Riddle like you don't know what the man does for a living."
Rigel chose to ignore that comment, thinking she hadn't really had a lot of choices besides give Riddle whatever he wants so he doesn't get angry and run for the hills.
"Get any good presents, Draco?" Rigel said, changing the subject.
"Yeah," Draco said, rolling his eyes, "Yours. I love it, which you would have seen first hand if you'd stuck around to watch me open it."
"Oh," Rigel said, "Good."
She'd gotten Draco a potion for his birthday. It was a variation on the Weightless Draft, and she'd made it because sometime in early February, Draco, Rigel, and Pansy had had a long conversation about what wandless superpower they'd want if they could pick one. Pansy had wanted telekinesis and Rigel said she would like to be invisible, but Draco declared he wanted to be able to fly without a broom. So Rigel had set about creating a potion that would let him do that.
The Weightless Draft did pretty much what its name implied, making the drinker weigh very little. Unfortunately, gravity still acted on the drinker perfunctorily so you couldn't fly with the Draft unless someone on a broom was holding your weightless form in the air. Rigel had wanted to make the potion into a sort of self-regulated Wingardium Leviosa, so that one could not only float with it, but control their movements as well. The potion had turned out to be surprisingly easy to tweak. Instead of changing the ingredients in the potion, she had changed the kind of magic she imbued into the potion.
Usually when Rigel imbued a potion she asked for magic straight from her core to flow into the potion through the connection. This time, Rigel shaped the magic before it left her core, working from what Remus had told her about wild vs. shaped magic and theorizing that if one could imbue formless wild magic into a potion to mesh ingredients together then one should be able to imbue shaped magic into a potion, not to help stabilize the ingredients, but to add properties to a potion that the original ingredients didn't have. So when making the Weightless Draft, Rigel asked her magic to shape itself like it would when performing the Levitation Charm, then imbue that shaped magic through the connection into the potion on top of the unshaped magic that the potion itself needed to mesh. In this way, the final potion would when drunk act like a combination of weightless and levitation magic. Since the shaped magic had melded with the neutral potions magic, it would no longer be Rigel's spell, instead acting as if Draco had cast the spell on himself, making him the one in control of the magic. Also, being imbued in the potion would make the magic last longer than the intent of the spell, so Draco would in theory have about two hours of flying time with the potion. To be safe, she'd written that he not use it longer than one hour.
Draco just shook his head, "Come on, you have to thank my parents for having you, okay?"
Rigel nodded, "I can do that."
They waited until the Malfoy's had moved away from the guest they were talking to, then approached them.
"Draco, darling, you've found our wayward Mr. Black," Narcissa said, smiling down at Rigel genially, "Are you finding the party to be diverting?"
"Only by virtue of your attendance, my lady," Rigel said, bowing over Narcissa's hand gallantly, "I must beg your pardon for not notifying you of my intention to attend today's gathering, and thank you and your husband for putting up with me all afternoon."
Narcissa laughed and waved her words away with an airy hand. Rigel noted that Narcissa was probably where Draco had picked up that habit.
"Not at all, Mr. Black," she said graciously, "We were relieved to see you'd decided to come. Draco particularly enjoyed your thoughtful present if the look on his face was indication enough, didn't you Draco?"
Draco flushed a bit at his mother's teasing, "I already told him, Mother."
"I own you have my curiosity piqued, Mr. Black," Mr. Malfoy spoke up, "Where did you acquire such a potion?"
"He made it himself," Draco said immediately, "I recognized his handwriting on the label."
"Indeed, I should have clarified," Malfoy inclined his head toward his son in acknowledgment, "Where did you come across the recipe for the potion you gifted my son? I have never before heard of such a potion."
Rigel tilted her head, "I guess I invented it. Though really I just made a few changes to the Weightless Draft."
Malfoy frowned, "Is it safe for my son to ingest?"
"Yes, sir," Rigel said, "I tested it myself several times, with no complications or side effects other than a slight disorientation not unlike when one returns to dry land after gaining sea legs."
"If you say it is safe, then we trust you, Mr. Black," Narcissa said, "After all, you are as good as family now."
"My wife is right," Malfoy said, smiling a bit in apology, "And in that vein I don't believe you've met everyone here, Mr. Black. Allow us to rectify that."
Rigel summoned a smile with difficulty and followed Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy to a nearby group of people whom, she was shocked to discover, she had not in fact yet been introduced to. Joy.
The Malfoy's knew everyone, as one might expect given that they were the hosts, but it wasn't just that the Malfoy's knew their guests' names. Every time the Malfoy's approached someone new, they would give Rigel a little tidbit of information about the person. So-and-so owns this Quidditch team and sometimes cheats on his taxes. Such-and-such a person works for their father but sells his secrets to his father's competitors to cover his gambling debts. By the time they'd gotten around to the Parkinson's again, Rigel knew more things than she'd ever wanted to know about complete strangers. Thankfully, the Malfoy's and the Parkinson's appeared to be good friends, so Rigel wasn't privilege to any uncomfortable secrets about Pansy's family. Instead, they chatted amiably about what one another had been doing over the summer and what their plans for the fall were.
All too soon they were interrupted by a couple of Ministry officials on the Wizengamot. Rigel wasn't paying much attention to the elderly witch and wizard, instead choosing to stare out over the expansive gardens, wondering what it must be like to live with so much space.
Something glittered at the corner of her eye and Rigel twitched, turning to look for the source. She couldn't see anything, so she turned back to the view she'd been taking it, but—there it was again. A shimmering at the edges of her vision that sent shards of discomfort into her brain. She rubbed her forehead and looked toward where she'd caught the glare but once again the subtle light disappeared the moment she looked for it. The next time Rigel caught sight of it in the corner of her eye, she didn't move. Instead she focused on her peripheral vision to try and see where it was coming from. When she pinpointed it, she swiveled her head around in alarm.
It was coming from the glass of punch in the elderly wizard's hand. Rigel stared at it for a moment, but couldn't see anything immediately wrong with the drink. She turned her head slowly until she could see the glass only in the corner of her eye, and sure enough it took on a very distinctive mother-of-pearl sheen.
Rigel turned to the wizard and interrupted his conversation with Mr. Parkinson rather rudely, "Sir, is your drink alcoholic?"
The wizard drew himself up abruptly, peering down at her forbiddingly, "I beg your pardon, young man?"
"Excuse me, sir, but it's very important," Rigel said quickly, "Is that drink you're holding meant to be an uninhibitor?" She asked because sometimes Nimue's Breath, which she suspected was in the elder man's punch, was added to a drink as a relaxant, and she didn't want to jump to conclusions.
"Certainly not, you impertinent child," he said, disgruntled, "I do not partake of alcohol or anything of the like."
"There is no alcohol being served at this party, Mr. Black," Narcissa added tentatively, looked confused and a bit worried.
"Then, I would strongly suggest you don't drink that, sir," Rigel said firmly, ignoring the disdainful looks she was receiving from the guests who could overhear their conversation.
"And who are you to suggest such a thing?" the man said dismissively, "I don't see anything wrong with this drink." So saying he leant close to sniff experimentally at the liquid in his glass.
"No, don't—" Rigel started, but it was too late. He'd inhaled.
A pleased, dreamy look overtook the old man's face, "You see? Nothing wrong with this drink. It's my favorite, you know. He brought the cup to his lips to take a sip, but Rigel darted forward and clapped a hand over his mouth, trying to wrest the cup away from him. The older wizard was strong despite his age, however, and fought back, struggling away from Rigel and toward the drink in his hand, panting and gasping as he attempted to get at the liquid that Rigel knew was calling him so urgently.
The guests around them gasped in shocked disapproval, some demanding that such an impertinent child be removed from the party at once. Rigel ignored them.
"Someone help me," she gasped out, still struggling to keep one hand over the drugged wizard's lips and the other over the top of the cup, all the while keeping her face turned away from the drink, lest she inhale the fumes herself, "Get the cup away from him."
Just when she was certain no one was going to help her, Draco was there, using both hands to pry the cup out of the old man's grip, and then Pansy was taking control of the cup, holding it far away from her own nose while Draco and Rigel together managed to hold the elderly Wizengamot member back from diving after it. It was at this point that Mr. Malfoy stepped in.
"Clearly something has affected Mr. Ogden," he said, loudly and clearly enough that his voice carried over the noise of the excitable guests, "We will deal with it presently. In the mean time could I invite the rest of you to view our newest addition to the hedge maze? Narcissa?"
Narcissa immediately took charge of the curious guests, herding them easily to a different part of the gardens to give Mr. Ogden a little privacy while her husband sorted everything out. Most of the guests left agreeably, content to gossip about what they'd already witnessed, and those that stayed behind were understandable: Mr. Malfoy, Pansy's parents, and the elderly witch who had been accompanying Mr. Ogden.
"Mr. Black, allow Mr. Parkinson to take charge of Mr. Ogden for the moment," Mr. Malfoy said curtly, "I would like an explanation."
"As would we all," a smooth voice interjected. Rigel looked over to see Mr. Riddle, closely followed by Snape, making their way toward their group from the direction of the back patio.
"Mr. Riddle," Malfoy nodded respectfully, "There seems to be a little trouble with Mr. Ogden's drink. Mr. Black was just helping us sort it out."
"Were you, Mr. Black?" Snape did not look terribly surprised, "Why is it that you are always in the thick of things?"
"I've no idea," Rigel said blandly. She handed Mr. Ogden off to Mr. Parkinson, who was looked at her very intensely, and crouched down to retrieve the small knife she carried in her boot for harvesting potions ingredients. Moving slowly and non-threateningly—she really didn't want to startle any of them into cursing her—Rigel ran the blade of the boot knife along her left wrist, just deep enough to draw a line of blood. She sheathed the knife just as quickly and strode over to Pansy with her wrist outstretched. To Pansy's credit, she didn't flinch away or make a face in disgust at the bloody appendage coming her way. Instead Pansy looked at her with concerned determination, and held the goblet out for Rigel to drip her blood into the drink.
Almost immediately, Ogden shook himself and slumped back into Mr. Parkinson's grip.
"What?" he gazed around him in a lost sort of way, "What happened?" He spotted Rigel accepting Pansy's handkerchief to staunch the shallow wound on her wrist and spluttered, "You—you—what did you do?"
"From the looks of things, saved whatever was left of your life," Snape said sardonically. He took the cup of ruined punch from Pansy and brought it to his nose, inhaling deeply. Snape immediately moved the glass away from his face and said, "Nightshade. Without the masking agent to cover to smell it is quite apparent. Not even a bezor would have saved you had you been unfortunate enough to ingest even a drop of this mixture."
Rose Parkinson put a trembling hand to her mouth and reached out to clasp Pansy with the other, "Masking agent?" she repeated questioningly.
"Nimue's Breath," Draco said quietly. Everyone turned to look at him and he flushed a bit under the scrutiny. His father in particular looked mildly surprised that he had identified it, "It was nullified by having blood spilled over it, but when active the flower causes logical thinking processes to shut down, encouraging the victim to happily drink whatever poison the flower's scent is covering. Is that correct?"
Rigel smiled slightly, remembering that she had dictated one of her essays on the flower out loud in front of Draco once.
"It is, Draco," Snape said, "Well spotted. And quick thinking of you as well, Mr. Black, for spilling blood over the glass before Mr. Ogden could be further affected by the Nimue's Breath."
Rigel nodded and turned to Ogden, who was leaning heavily on Mr. Parkinson still, taking in everything said with a kind of dazed wonder, "Forgive me, Mr. Ogden for behaving so rudely before. When you told me the drink was not meant to be a stimulant I was afraid poison might be involved. I did not mean to alarm you, nor accost you, sir."
Riddle seemed almost sardonically amused, "Too polite," he muttered to himself.
Ogden shook his head at Rigel slowly, "No, young man, it is I who must apologize for not taking you seriously from the start. I might have saved myself a good deal of embarrassment if I hadn't sought to smell the drink and ascertain the truth of the matter myself. It was foolish of me. I know the dangers of Nimue's Breath, and it should not have been left to a child to appraise me of the threat."
"Yet he did," Riddle commented. Rigel turned to see him contemplating her over the rim of his own glass, "How interesting that a boy your age is so attuned to assassination attempts."
Rigel glanced at Draco and Pansy, who were looking at her with sympathetic understanding.
Pansy spoke up tentatively, "Rigel has been especially sensitive to the possibility of goblet poisoning since the events of last Halloween, Mr. Riddle."
"Pray, enlighten those of us who were not present for the events you refer to, Miss Parkinson," Riddle requested.
Pansy looked troubled, and glanced at Rigel questioningly. Rigel smiled in encouragement, so she said, "The pumpkin juice in Rigel's goblet at the Halloween feast was replaced with corrosive acid. Rigel very nearly drank it, and ever since he checks everything he drinks for tampering. I'm not surprised that Rigel out of all of us noticed the poisoning first."
Rigel blinked. She hadn't known that Pansy watched her so closely. She did check everything she drank, but she did so discretely—or so she'd thought.
"But who would want to kill you, Tiberius?" the elderly witch asked in a shaken tone of voice.
Ogden shook his head, "I don't know, Griselda, but I do know that I owe this young man a great personal debt." He turned to Rigel, "I am Tiberius Ogden, child, elder of the Wizengamot. Thank you for the service you have rendered me today—I shall not forget it. A life debt is owed to you and such a debt is yours to claim."
"It's an honor to meet you properly, Mr. Ogden," Rigel said, bowing slightly, "I am Rigel Black, and the service you speak of was merely my duty, one wizard to another."
"Well, I disagree," the older witch replayed, setting a hand on Ogden's arm, "I am Griselda Marchbanks, also an elder of the Wizengamot and Governor of the Wizarding Examinations Authority, and you have saved the life of my oldest friend. I now formally consider myself to be an equal party in the life debt just incurred. If you do not claim it from Tiberius, you must claim it from me."
Rigel bowed once more, "A pleasure to meet you, Madam Marchbanks, but truly I require no payment for such an act."
"Nonetheless you shall one day receive it," Marchbanks said firmly. She looped Ogden's arm through her own carefully, "Now, I think it wise if Tiberius and I retire from this lovely party. Mr. Malfoy, we will not blame you of course for this unfortunate incident, but we will have your word as a gentleman to investigate the matter thoroughly."
"Of course, Madam Marchbanks," Malfoy bowed to the elder, "Everything that can be done to discover the perpetrator of such a crime against one of my guests will be. I will send you a copy of the report."
"Please do," Marchbanks said, "Come, Tiberius, let's get you home."
The elders left and there was a moment of silence in which Rigel thought to herself that she was really racking up life debts a little too quickly. She hadn't the faintest idea what she would do with them all.
"Well," Mr. Parkinson said, moving to put his hands comfortingly on his wife's shoulders, "That was a bit more excitement than I had counted on for the afternoon, but I suppose one must learn to expect the unexpected at your parties, Lucius."
Mr. Malfoy frowned the slightest bit, "We can only be grateful to Mr. Black that the excitement did not turn tragic. As my wife would say, an attempted murder is good gossip; a successful murder is poor security. It seems our debt to you is compounded, Mr. Black."
Rigel winced, "Please don't, sir. I acted instinctively, not for any perceived gain. Can't we pretend this didn't happen?"
There were many raised eyebrows in the group.
"A life was saved here today, Mr. Black," Rose Parkinson said softly, "Why would you want to pretend otherwise?"
"I just meant I would appreciate it if my involvement were kept as quiet as possible," Rigel said, swallowing against her dry mouth.
"We can say Uncle Severus saved Mr. Ogden, can't we?" Draco said suddenly, "After all, Father, if Rigel's dad hears about how close Rigel was to what happened today he might not allow Rigel to come back."
Well, thought Rigel, that much was certainly true.
"While I do not seek to deny young Mr. Black the credit, perhaps it would be best if his name was kept out of the official report," Snape said shrewdly, "Whoever was responsible for poisoning Ogden's drink may seek retaliation for the foiled plan, and as a target I am better suited to handle any attempts at revenge."
Rigel did not like Snape putting himself on the line for her sake, but accepted that it was his right to do so. "Thank you, sir," Rigel said, "Also, would you mind if I took the poisoned drink with me when I leave today?"
Snape raised an eyebrow and Mr. Parkinson frowned openly, but it was Pansy who asked, "Why?"
"I'm sure Professor Snape could neutralize the poison and dispose of it easily," Rigel said, "But I have spilled my blood into this mixture willingly. I would not like it to fall into unfriendly hands accidentally."
Riddle quirked an amused grin, "What would you know of blood magic, Mr. Black?"
"Just enough that I would prefer to dispose of the mixture myself, Mr. Riddle, if no one has any objections," Rigel said evenly.
Snape nodded and pulled a flask from the holster he wore beneath his outer robes. He tipped the liquid in and corked it firmly before handing it over to Rigel without ceremony. Rigel nodded her thanks, tucking the flask away carefully.
The adults went off to gather the rest of the guests back from the hedge maze and Draco, Pansy, and Rigel went back to the now empty gazebo to say their farewells. The party was nearly over in any case, and Rigel had to meet Archie in Diagon alley to take the Polyjuice once more before going home and switching back.
Pansy hugged Rigel and said, "You'd better not go the rest of the summer without writing."
Rigel smiled, "I promise you'll hear from me before the train at least. I don't know if I can see you guys in person again though, I'm really busy this summer."
"Just don't get into too much trouble before the fall, okay?" Draco hugged her briefly, "You're entirely too apt to find yourself in the middle of every problem that comes your way."
"No promises for that one," Rigel said, "But trouble or no trouble, I'll see you two in September."
"Yeah," Draco said, "Thanks for coming, Rigel, even though you didn't answer the invitation properly."
"Thanks for being my friend, Draco, even though I'm so socially inept," Rigel said.
Pansy laughed, "We'll make you into a gentleman someday, Rigel Black, though I really must talk with you about how one properly advises another about an attempt on their life."
"I must have skipped that chapter in Etiquette for all Occasions," Rigel rolled her eyes.
"I'll send you an updated copy for your birthday," Pansy sniffed.
They laughed, and bade farewell.
When Rigel went over the day's events that night as she waited for sleep to claim her, she couldn't help but shake her head with bemusement. The summer was only half-over and already she was looking forward to the break she'd get in the fall. Compared to the last few weeks, an uneventful school year would make a nice vacation.
Provided it was uneventful, of course.
[end of chapter one].
A/N: About the currency, one galleon is supposed to be about 5 pounds or about 7.35 US dollars. So if an apartment in America is about 500 dollars a month, I figured that would make a cheap apt in the wizarding world about 60 galleons, or about $441, about 300 pounds. Make sense? Thanks for reading!