Strange Visitors From Another Century
Chapter Twenty: Friends, Allies, and Enemies
So this is going to be a bit of a breather episode before things start heating up. Thank you again for all the reviews, favourites and alerts, and I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Just one note, we've started a hospital placement block at uni, and my shifts are little difficult. I don't know when the next chapter will be up, but I promise I will be as quick as I can. Thank you for your patience.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, and am not affiliated with Bloomsbury or Scholastic Inc.
Harry stared up at the stone ceiling and sighed. He'd been exhausted enough to fall asleep the second his head touched the pillow, but he hadn't stayed that way for very long. Memories of the previous day had combined with scenes from the graveyard, from the Chamber, from fighting Quirrell, and only the Silencing Charms he'd set up the previous night had kept him from waking the rest of the dormitory.
After that, Harry hadn't felt much like trying again. He couldn't talk to Ron, even if he'd really wanted to, and he'd ended up mentally running through the revision sessions Ravenclaw had put on for them. It still hadn't been enough to keep his mind from drifting inexorably back to the battle.
Harry thumped his head back on the pillow. He had done what he had to, the only thing he could do. Maybe people back home would think the worst of him, but things were different here. They understood. It didn't make everything better, but it did help.
Just not with the dreams.
Harry flung back the covers and rolled out of bed. Anything, even reading in the common room, would be better than staring at the ceiling for another hour. He grabbed a warm outer robe from the chest next to his bed, and padded silently from the room.
The fire in the common room had burned down to embers, and Harry was grateful for the thick rugs covering the stone floor. He prodded the fire back into life, and lit some of the candles in the alcoves around the room before slumping down onto the nearest sofa and rubbing his eyes. It looked like he would have to get Slytherin to put up more of those Dream Catcher wards. Bloodied bodies danced in his mind, and the memory of sightless eyes and a broken chest was suffocating.
"I didn't have a choice," he muttered. He had to keep believing that.
"Everything all right?"
Harry's wand was in his hand before he even knew what was happening. He spun round and William held up his hands. "It's only me."
Harry forced himself to breathe evenly and stuck his wand back in his pocket. "Sorry," he said shortly.
William shook his head. "No, it was my fault. I should know better than to sneak up on someone after a day like yesterday." He pushed himself away from the wall and sat down on the other end of the low couch. "Good reflexes though."
Harry shrugged. He knew the other boy was just trying to be friendly, but everything still felt too raw. William tilted his head to one side. "First time you've been in a battle?"
Harry glanced at him, but there was only sympathy in his eyes. He let out a breath and shook his head. "I've been in some fights," he mumbled. "Nothing as big as that."
"Same here," said William quietly. He stared into the crackling fire. "I was actually excited when Professor Gryffindor asked if we wanted to fight. We were too young before." He shivered. "Not sure I'd be so quick to volunteer again."
Harry let himself relax back against the cushions. "We all made it," he said. "Your friend…"
"Castor," said William with a nod. "Yeah, he's fine. Professor Hufflepuff is a genius. He was even at the feast." He snorted. "Course it'd take more than nearly being decapitated to keep him from his food."
Harry smiled. "I've got a few friends like that."
William grinned back at him. "I saw you yesterday, you know. Where did you learn to fight like that?"
Harry just about managed to keep his shrug casual. "Some of the people back home taught me, and Gryffindor and Slytherin have been giving us more lessons." He looked away. "We don't know how long we'll be able to stay here, so we're trying to make the most of it."
William frowned, but to Harry's relief he didn't press the matter. Instead he got up and wandered over to the magic-reinforced glass holding back the lake. "Well, we're glad to have you," he called over his shoulder. "You'll like Hogwarts. You know there might be Merpeople coming to live here? Professor Ravenclaw has been talking to them." He stared out into the black depths and shook his head. "That would be incredible."
Harry very carefully kept a straight face as he made his way over to join him. "Yeah, it would." He hesitated, but couldn't resist. "Do they have anything else in there? Giant squid or something?"
William blinked at him. "What's a squid?"
"Never mind," said Harry quickly. "Just something I saw back home once." He looked out into the water again. "I never knew they could do things like this." The one time he had been in the Slytherin Common Room he had been too busy hoping Malfoy didn't see through his disguise to pay much attention to his surroundings. Harry loved the Gryffindor Tower, but there was no denying that this was cool. William grinned.
"There's no place like Hogwarts," he said proudly. "You'll love it here."
"I already do," Harry admitted. "Everyone's been brilliant." Even Helena had relaxed since the battle. She had even smiled at Harry when she came over to talk to William at the feast the previous evening.
"Good," said William. His bright grin faded slightly, but his eyes had lost none of their wonder. "There really is no place like Hogwarts. Somewhere where we can all learn about magic in safety, without having to worry about who can see us..." He glanced back at Harry. "I'd do anything to protect this place. My younger brother will be starting here next year. He'll be safe." His cheeks tinged pink and he shook himself. "Ah, I'm probably sounding a bit stupid."
Harry shook his head. "I'd do whatever it took to keep this place safe too." That was what yesterday had been about after all. He wrenched his mind away from that topic. "So, do you think your brother will be in Slytherin too?"
"Not really," William admitted. "I'm pretty sure he's a Gryffindor through and through." He grinned. "But that's fine. Gryffindor is brilliant, and Alfred doesn't need me hovering over him all the time."
That attitude was so different to that of most siblings at Hogwarts that Harry had to smile. It was also very refreshing to see that the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin mirrored that of their respective Founders. Harry hadn't really expected anything else, but it was still nice to see. It also showed even more glaringly just how badly everything had gone wrong in the future.
Harry shook himself and looked up. "Sorry, just thinking about home."
William tilted his head to one side, but after a moment of slightly awkward silence he launched into an animated discussion of what they could expect in their classes that day. Harry settled back into the chair and stared out into the water, and let himself relax.
The two of them talked for so long that some of the other students started to trickle in, and Harry found himself being introduced to the half of Slytherin that he hadn't gotten round to the previous evening. It was a good distraction; names flew in a flurry of Anglo-Saxon and Frisian and Welsh that Harry could barely keep track of. Many wizards had names most Muggles would consider odd, but a thousand years in the past things were even more bewildering.
His confusion must have shown on his face, for William clapped him on the back.
"You'll get used to it," he said cheerfully. "It's always a bit of a shock being surrounded by so many other people like us."
Harry managed a nod. A tall red haired girl, who had introduced herself as Sigrun, smiled at him. "Don't you worry," she said. "We take care of our own here." She glanced at William. "But if you don't hurry up then you'll be the ones explaining to Professor Slytherin why you're late on your very first day."
William scrambled out of his chair with a yelp. "Come on, Harry," he called over his shoulder. Harry choked down his laughter and followed. So much for the stuck up pure-bloods he was familiar with.
The two boys dressed at top speed and were indeed in time to join the other Slytherins making their way down to the Great Hall. Harry was slightly surprised when William bypassed the Slytherin table and headed instead for the Gryffindor one. At Harry's curious look he shrugged.
"No one's really strict about sitting with your house. It's expected during feasts, but otherwise we just go where we want."
Sure enough when they got to the Gryffindor table they found Ron sitting in between the twins, and looking rather pleased with himself. "Morning," he called. "Sleep all right?"
His blue eyes scanned Harry's face, and Harry shrugged as he took the seat opposite. "As usual." Ron's eyes narrowed, but Harry forestalled him by nodding to the boys on either side of him. "Castor, Pollux."
Castor threw down his knife and folded his arms. "I hate your brothers, Ron."
"Er…" Harry glanced at William for an explanation, only to find his jaw hanging slightly open. "What?"
"How did you tell them apart?" William demanded. "You only saw Pollux yesterday, and that was only for a few seconds."
"Ron managed it too," said Castor grumpily. "Spoiling all our fun."
Ron just grinned and popped another chunk of bread in his mouth. "There are twins in my family," he told William. "And they're big enough menaces that we had to learn to tell the difference."
Pollux shook his head mournfully. "I suppose your friend is the same?"
Harry snorted. "She definitely learned the trick."
William grinned at his friends. "Looks like you're going to have to come up with something new."
Castor's eyes narrowed playfully. "Is that a challenge? And pass the cheese."
William did so, and shoved the big dish of bread at Harry in the same movement. "You should eat up. We've got Ravenclaw first, and she work us hard."
"How do you know who we've got?" Harry asked. He could see Slytherin and the other Founders still at the Head Table. William smirked at him.
"Can't tell you all my secrets straight away, can I?"
Harry rolled his eyes, but the smell of the food set his stomach rumbling. He'd still been feeling too queasy to eat much the previous evening, but being surrounded by the teasing and laughter was soothing his nerves far more than his uneasy sleep had. Ron nodded approvingly and grabbed another roll.
"Wonder where Hermione is."
Harry shrugged, and Pollux looked up. "Probably got distracted." Harry and Ron shared a blank look, and he nodded. "You really need to see the inside of Ravenclaw Tower."
Castor and William both grunted agreement through their food, and Ron shrugged. "Well, she's not going to get lost at least."
"Helena will keep an eye on her," William assured him.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, quickly hid their grins and went back to their own meals.
Sure enough, it was another ten minutes before Hermione and Helena appeared. By that time Ron and Castor had moved into a very enthusiastic conversation about healing spells, and William and Pollux were distracting Harry from his food with tales of some of the pranks they had played during their five years at the school. Harry was left grinning at their creativity, but also biting his lip so as not to tell them about some of the things the Weasley twins had come up with.
"…and ten minutes later everyone in the hall turned into a chicken."
Harry laughed, but Helena scowled as she dropped down onto the bench next to him. "Did they also mention that Uncle Salazar had us cleaning cauldrons for a week afterwards?"
Ron choked on his drink. "You were involved too?"
William snorted. "It was her idea."
"You can't prove that," said Helena serenely. "Would you pass the bread please, Harry?" Harry did so, and nearly fell off the seat when she actually smiled at him. "Thank you."
"No problem," Harry muttered. Someone kicked him under the table, and he looked up to see Ron staring very innocently in the opposite direction. William looked between the two of them and grinned, and Harry turned quickly to Hermione.
"So what's it like in Ravenclaw?"
Hermione looked tired, but she beamed at him. "They've got their own library," she breathed. "All sorts of manuscripts I've never seen before. I could have stayed there all day."
"Told you," Pollux murmured.
Helena frowned at him. "It shows that she belongs there," she said firmly.
Hermione barely seemed to notice. Ron rolled his eyes and nudged her. "You might want to eat something. You know, if you don't want to go passing out on them."
Hermione sighed and took the roll he handed her. "I know, but there's so much to learn."
Harry smiled at the pair of them, then caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and twisted round to see Slytherin approaching. The Founder looked the little group over and nodded approvingly. "I see you are all settling in well."
Harry smiled at him. "I think so."
"Good." He focused on Harry and William. "Both of you have Transfiguration first, with the Ravenclaws. I strongly advise against being late."
"Would we really be late on our very first day back?" William asked.
"You tell me," said Slytherin dryly. "And I suppose you both wish to continue with Potions?"
Harry nodded, despite the two of them having already discussed it. He really wanted to see the expression on Snape's face when he saw how much his basic technique had improved. William looked torn. "I want to get it right," he insisted. "I'm sure it'll all fall into place eventually."
Castor and Pollux exchanged a very sceptical look, but Slytherin just nodded. "Very well. You will be joining the Gryffindors after Transfiguration then."
He eyed Harry for a moment, but Harry kept his expression as bland as possible. He'd had enough of people worrying about him yesterday. Slytherin's eyes narrowed slightly, but he just nodded to them and moved off in the direction of Sigrun and her friends. Harry stared at his food for a few minutes, before giving up and pushing his plate away.
"We should probably get going."
William shook himself and looked up. "Oh, yes. Come on, I'll show you where the Transfiguration class is held." He stood and turned to Hermione and Helena. "Will you be accompanying us?"
The girls exchanged a look, and Helena nodded. "We might as well."
"This is going to be fascinating," said Hermione. "I haven't done any Transfiguration for a while."
"I'm surprised you've done any at all," Helena admitted as they left the hall. "Though I really shouldn't be, considering what you showed us yesterday." She glanced at Harry. "It was very impressive."
Harry managed a small smile. Impressive wasn't exactly the word he would have used, but at least Helena had finally warmed up to them. Hermione caught his mood, and promptly drew Helena into a discussion about what they could expect from her mother. Harry shot her a grateful smile, and then realised that it was unusually quiet. Harry quietly dropped back a few paces and coughed.
William jumped slightly, and his pale cheeks flushed. "Sorry. I was thinking about something else."
Harry waited, and sure enough William continued after a moment's hesitation. "I'm not very good at Potions," he confessed. "Everyone says I should just concentrate on my other studies, but I don't want to just give up on it." He brown eyes flashed as he looked at Harry. "I know that I can do it. I just need to work a bit harder."
Harry frowned as he considered that. Hermione was much better at this sort of thing than he was. "What does Professor Slytherin say?" he asked finally.
William shook his head. "He probably hates having me in the class, but he's never said anything. You saw him earlier, as long as I'm willing to learn, he's willing to keep teaching me."
There was pure respect in his voice, and Harry had to smile. "I'm not too bad at Potions," he said hesitantly. "Maybe I can help?"
William blinked, then his face broke into a bright smile. "Thanks, Harry. I appreciate that."
Harry just shrugged slightly awkwardly, and was very relieved when Helena rescued him. "And here we are." She pushed open the door and the four of them trailed inside.
They were the first students there, but Ravenclaw was already sitting at her desk. She looked up at their approach and smiled.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you," said Hermione. "But I didn't realise you had a complete set of Archimedes' principles. I've only been able to find the last three, and even they were incomplete."
Ravenclaw quirked an eyebrow at Helena, who rolled her eyes. "She did get some sleep," she confirmed. "Gaius and I saw to it."
"I wasn't the only one," Hermione protested. "Annis and Seward were as interested as I was."
"And we got them sorted out too," said Helena easily, as she sat down in the second row.
William leaned in to Harry. "Ravenclaws."
Harry grinned. At least some things would never change. He sat down next to Hermione and nudged her. "So you like it then? Ravenclaw, I mean."
Hermione's indignant scowl faded into a smile. "I really do. It's nice to be around people who are as interested in some of the same things as me."
Harry nodded. He and Ron did try, with varying degrees of success, to be interested in what their friend was doing, but talk in the Gryffindor common room rarely revolved around Archimedes' principles. They had always known that Ravenclaw would have been a good fit.
"What about you? What's Slytherin like?"
William was deep in conversation with Ravenclaw and Helena, but Harry still lowered his voice. "It's been fine so far. They're nothing like back home."
Hermione snorted. "Of course not. Professor Slytherin would never stand for that."
It was a mark of how far they'd come that neither of them had the slightest doubt about that.
Hermione's eyes suddenly gleamed. "Can you imagine what Snape would say if he ever found out that you're a Slytherin?"
Harry had to laugh at that image. "Probably have a stroke. Malfoy too."
"And wouldn't that be a shame."
As they talked, more students began to trickle in. Some of them Harry recognised from Slytherin, others he'd seen only briefly at the fest the previous evening, but they all bowed respectfully to Ravenclaw as they entered, and they all looked genuinely excited to be there. William glanced round as the door closed and hopped off the desk to scramble into the seat next to Helena as Ravenclaw straightened up.
"Welcome to Transfiguration," she said crisply. Hermione let out a soft contented sigh, and Harry bit back a grin. For now, everything was right with the world.
Harry was very relieved that Ravenclaw had been so insistent on them revising all their fifth year material. The class started with Vanishing mammals, and only got more complicated from then on. Hermione, of course, managed without any problems, and so did William and Helena, but Harry still found himself a little shaky. It was exasperating, considering his father had been so good at it, but Harry was forced to admit that it didn't look like he had inherited that particular aptitude.
"You need to concentrate complete on what you're doing," Hermione told him, as he stared down at a wriggling mouse tail. "And you're trying to force it."
"Quite," Ravenclaw agreed. "But that is a much better attempt."
Harry smiled at them both and tried again, and by the end of the session he was feeling reasonably confident with the exercise. Naturally that was the moment when Ravenclaw announced that they would begin Conjuration in the next lesson. That would be something to look forward to.
"What do you have now?" Hermione asked, as they followed the rest of the students out of the classroom.
"Potions," said William promptly.
Helena winced. "William..."
Helena sighed and shook her head. "Never mind." She glanced at Harry. "Good luck."
She headed down the corridor with Hermione. William looked momentarily downcast, then shook himself. "One day," he muttered. "Come on, Harry. Professor Slytherin teaches down in the dungeons."
The corridors were a lot less busy than Harry was used to, and getting down to the dungeons didn't take nearly as long as normal. William pulled a face as they made their way down the steps. "It's always freezing down here. I never really understood why we can't have lessons in normal classrooms."
"I think potions need a stable environment," Harry offered. "You know, no drastic atmospheric disturbances or temperature changes."
William blinked. "Atmospheric disturbances?"
Harry could have kicked himself. "Er, it's what someone back home used to call changes in the air, like when it feels different before a storm."
"I see," said William slowly. "I've never heard of that. I remember Helena saying something about needing to be careful around potions, but not like that." He shot Harry an appraising look. "You must have some very good teachers back where you come from."
Harry winced. William had seen how much magic they knew already, he didn't need any more clues that there was more than everyone was saying. The other boy was studying him with definite curiosity, but when Harry opened his mouth to offer some sort of explanation he found his mind completely blank.
"They do show considerable promise."
Relief flooded Harry, and he spun round. "Professor. I didn't see you."
Slytherin raised an eyebrow. "How many times-"
"I know," said Harry quickly. "Pay attention."
William grinned at him. "You've been getting that too, I see."
"You are Slytherins," said Slytherin dryly. "It is expected." He stepped to the side and gestured for them to enter the classroom. "I trust I will see improvement over the coming year."
"Yes, sir," the boys chorused.
Harry found himself taking his usual seat out of habit, but was distracted by his new friend's clear unease. "You'll be fine," he said quietly.
William shot him a small smile, then jumped as Castor dropped into the chair next to him. The Gryffindor clapped his friend on the shoulder. "So, how long is it going to be before you blow up your cauldron?"
"You don't know that he's going to blow up a cauldron," Harry protested. His new friend was definitely beginning to look worried. Castor raised an eyebrow.
"I've got five years precedents," he shot back. "Just you wait."
Harry scowled at him, but William just shook his head. "He does have a point," he muttered.
Castor glanced between the two of them, and his grin faded. "Well, we'll keep an eye out. Who knows, this year might be better."
William didn't look convinced, but at that moment the door closed with a firm snap and Slytherin stalked lost them to the front of the room. All sounds of talking died down immediately, and he favoured the room with a small smile.
"Welcome to your first Potions class. We will begin with a review of the Dreamless Sleep Potion we covered last year."
Harry listened intently as Slytherin went over the steps of the potion, but he couldn't quite suppress his growing unease. He had managed to avoid his teacher's concern at breakfast, but he was under no illusions that that state of affairs would last. It wasn't that he was trying to avoid Slytherin, and he knew the man only wanted to help, but everyone had already spent too much time fussing over him.
He was right. Harry was in the middle of trying to explain to William why they couldn't immediately set their cauldron on full heat when there was a soft footstep and Slytherin came to a stop by their table. A single look sent William scurrying to collect ingredients, and then Slytherin fixed Harry with a piercing look.
"How bad were the dreams?"
Harry ducked his head, cheeks burning, and then realised his reaction had given his head of house the answer. Slytherin let out a very faint sigh. "I will attend to your dormitory." There was a slight pause before he continued. "Do you wish to continue with Occlumency?"
Harry's head snapped up. "Of course I do! I need to learn." He hesitated, then looked his teacher straight in the eye. "If that's all right?"
Slytherin's expression softened. "Of course. Come to my office after dinner tonight."
Harry nodded, then shuffled to the side to let William dump an armful of ingredients on the desk. The boy looked between them and attempted a grin. "Don't worry, Professor. I'll try not to blow him up."
"You won't," said Harry firmly. "Now, we'd better make a start on those leeches."
He caught a small smile from Slytherin as he turned to speak to Castor, and Harry had to smile as the warmth of the approval flooded through him. At least Slytherin did care about what was going on in his head. It was more than half the adults back home had ever done.
They worked quite happily for the next twenty minutes. It was easily the most relaxing lesson Harry had ever had; Slytherin paced about the room, offering advice and encouragement to Gryffindors and Slytherins alike, and there was a steady murmur of voices as their classmates worked together. The students surrounding them shot a few wary looks in William's direction, but the Slytherin followed Harry's directions to the letter, and by the time Harry went to fetch the Doxy wings for the next stage, he was feeling as relaxed as he was ever likely to be in a classroom.
One glance at his cauldron when he returned, though, had Harry reconsidering. The potion was fizzing wildly, and smelled strongly of liquorice. William frowned and opened his mouth, but before he could say anything there was a sharp crackle and Harry threw up a Shield Charm an instant before the cauldron exploded. Shards of cauldron bounced off several other hastily raised charms, and someone had the sense to vanish the mess of potion before it caused any more chaos.
William just looked at him and ran a sheepish hand through his hair.
From behind him, Harry heard Slytherin let out a very faint sigh.
Fortunately, it looked like William had only needed to get it out of his system, because he didn't melt, blow up, or otherwise destroy anything else for the rest of the lesson. That may have been because Harry was checking and double-checking everything that even went near their cauldron, but it was progress, and William was still grinning when they made their way up to the Great Hall for lunch.
"That could have gone worse."
"Could have fooled me," Castor muttered. He glanced at Harry. "Thank you for not letting him kill us all."
Harry shrugged. It hadn't been too different to working with Neville back in first year. "He wouldn't have killed us. Knocked us out maybe, or dyed our skin purple..."
"Would not," William muttered under his breath, but his bright smile rather ruined the effect. He waved to Pollux and Ron, and began to make his way through the crowd to the Hufflepuff table. "This year is going to be great."
Pollux raised an eyebrow at them. "It went well then?"
William clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Seems our new friend is a bit of a Potions prodigy."
Harry felt his cheeks heat up, but Ron covered the moment by choking on his lunch. "Wish our teacher back home could hear that," he spluttered. "He hates Harry."
"He hates everyone," Hermione corrected, as she dropped into the seat next to him.
"Yeah, but Harry most of all."
William shook his head. "Well, he must be a complete idiot. You should ask Professor Slytherin to go and have a word with him."
Ron's expression turned dreamy. "That would be brilliant."
"It would also never happen," Harry reminded him. "Anyway, how was Herbology?"
Ron shot him a look that told him quite clearly what he thought of his subtlety, or lack of, but he followed the subject change. "It was great. Professor Hufflepuff showed us these little weed things that blossom at noon and midnight and can be used to make burn salves."
"And to help rashes and general skin irritations," Helena added, from Hermione's other side. She shrugged. "It was as interesting as Herbology can be, I suppose."
Harry glanced at her. "You don't like Herbology?"
"Not particularly," Helena admitted. She spooned a healthy portion of stew into her bowl and passed the dish to Harry. "As much as I love Aunt Helga, I've never really had the knack for growing things. I'm much better at using them."
"That sounds like the opposite of one of my friends back home," said Harry. "He can grow anything, but Potions is his worst subject."
He picked up his spoon, but abruptly found himself no longer feeling hungry. Thinking about Neville still made him think about how he had led him, and Ginny and Luna, into danger and then abandoned them to the Death Eaters. He tried to force the thought away, brooding over something he couldn't change was pointless, but it still left a sour taste in his mouth.
"You must miss them."
Startled, Harry looked up to find Helena watching him closely, her dark eyes curious. He shrugged. "I worry about them," he said quietly.
Helena nodded, but didn't say anything, and Harry found himself continuing. "I love Hogwarts, but it feels wrong that I'm safe and learning all this stuff when they can't." He poked idly at a piece of turnip. "I wish they could be here too."
"It must be hard," said Helena. She glanced down the table to where their friends were talking. "I worry when they go home. I know I shouldn't, but these are dangerous times."
Harry grimaced. "I know. I don't blame you."
Helena gave him a small smile. "Is there no way they could join us?"
Harry just about suppressed a snort. "It's complicated."
Helena raised an eyebrow. "I see." She studied him for a moment. "Do you know how long you will be staying?"
"Not yet. As I said-"
"It's complicated," she finished.
Harry shrugged again. "We just want to learn as much as we can."
Helena looked at him for a long minute, then she nodded slowly. "Well, we can certainly help with that." She glanced at William and smiled. "And maybe we can learn from you too."
Harry smiled back. "That sounds good to me."
The rest of the meal passed quickly. The four students were easy to talk to; they teased each other with the familiarity of people who had known each other for years, and Harry, Ron and Hermione were quickly drawn into the group. Helena was more open than Harry had yet seen her, and between her dry comments, William's over the top antics, and the twins' bickering, the rest of the break seemed to fly past.
William was still teasing Pollux by the time they left for their joint Hufflepuff/Slytherin duelling session. Harry would have been quite happy catching up with Ron, but there was a mischievous gleam in his friend's eyes that left Harry eyeing him warily.
Ron raised an eyebrow at him. "So what's up with Helena?" he asked quietly. "She ignores us for weeks, and now she's all friendly?"
Harry shrugged. "She's seen what we can do, and she's seen that we care enough to help. That changes things. She's really not that bad."
"And you still like her."
Harry could only shrug again. The only girl he'd ever been attracted to was Cho, and while Helena was easily as pretty as her, he didn't know her well enough for anything else, and that was without taking the whole time travel mess into account.
"What do you want me to say?" Harry muttered. "Look, she's starting to warm up to us, and I think she could be a good friend. That's all, all right?"
Ron eyed him, but nodded. "If you say so, mate." A slight smirk crossed his face. "Reckon it can't go worse than Cho, at least."
Harry elbowed him in the ribs, and he held up his hands with a grin. "Just saying."
"Oh, shut up." Ron's grin widened, and Harry firmly changed the subject. "Wonder if we'll be using weapons this time."
"Probably not," Pollux called back over his shoulder. "Professor Gryffindor wants us to be fully proficient in magical duelling before he lets us anywhere near anything extra, and Professor Safdar's even worse."
"Can't imagine why," said William cheerfully.
"Don't look at me," Pollux protested. "That rule has been in place since long before we started here."
They turned off the staircase down towards the Armoury, and Harry found his unease rising. He had enjoyed their Duelling sessions, and he had been good at them, but that was before he had killed someone. The idea of fighting anyone so soon after that was not a pleasant one.
Harry forced that thought away with a scowl. The situation was completely different, he wasn't using that wand, and neither Gryffindor not Safdar would let anything really bad happen.
Besides, they needed all the experience as they could get. Holding their own against foot soldiers was one thing, but the only person Voldemort had ever feared was Dumbledore. Harry was a very long way from their level.
The alarm in Ron's voice had Harry throwing up a Shield Charm automatically, but the force that exploded against it still sent him staggering back. Safdar lowered his wand and folded his arms.
"Your situational awareness is abysmal."
"What the hell was that?" Ron demanded. "You could have hurt him!,"
"Then he should not have walked into a Duelling session with his head in the clouds," said Safdar flatly. "Unless he also plans to do so in actual combat, in which case merely getting hurt will be the least of his worries."
Ron drew himself up, ears blazing red, but Harry caught his arm. "No, he's right. It was stupid." He turned to their teacher. "Sorry, sir."
Safdar held his gaze for a long moment before giving a curt nod. "Don't let it happen again." He swept back towards where the rest of the class were waiting, and Harry let out a breath. The man's teaching style was very different from Gryffindor's, but he made a good point. There was a time and place for worrying about the future, but one of their most demanding sessions wasn't it.
Like Ravenclaw, Safdar seemed to think they needed to brush up on their skills after the break, though he was slightly less harsh towards the students who had fought the previous day. Still, within a couple of minutes everyone had been paired off and Harry and Ron had moved back towards the other end of the room for some more space. Harry could feel his friend's eyes on him as they waited for the signal to begin, and sighed.
Ron just looked at him. "You sure you want to do this?"
"Yes," said Harry firmly. "We need as much practice as we can get."
Ron nodded ruefully and raised his wand. Harry did the same as Safdar's voice cracked through the room.
Harry was moving before the command even fully registered. "Expelliarmus!"
Ron only just got his Shield Charm up in time, and by then Harry had used a Stunning Spell as cover to dart to the side. From the new angle Ron was momentarily vulnerable, and Harry brought his wand round. One spell to crack ribs to incapacitate and enable him to be easily disarmed, and another to ensure he couldn't get up...
Horrified, Harry wrenched his mind from that idea. "Expelliarmus!"
Ron's wand landed in his hand, and for a moment Harry could only stare at it. Where the hell had all that come from? He'd never thought like that before, not even when he was actually fighting properly.
"Nice one, Harry."
Harry looked up to find Ron grinning ruefully at him. "I swear you've gotten faster since last week," he called. His grin faded slightly. "Hey, everything all right?"
"I'm fine," said Harry shortly. There was nothing wrong with him. Ron's eyes narrowed, but Harry didn't give him the chance to interrupt. "Ready to go again?"
Ron sighed, and caught the wand Harry tossed him. "Guess so."
He immediately launched into a flurry of spells that varied in speed and intensity enough that Harry had to seriously concentrate on dodging and blocking, but mere seconds later he saw an opening. A whispered spell, and Ron yelped as the Stinging Hex caught his leg. His knee buckled, and a second later his wand was once again flying through the air. Harry caught it and frowned at his friend.
"In a real duel I could have taken your leg off."
Ron pushed himself up with a grimace. "Yeah, thanks for that."
"I'm serious, Ron."
If he'd used even a simple Reducto then Ron might never have walked again. And then, when he was on the ground, it would have been easy to seriously injure, or even kill him.
Harry didn't want to think about that, but ever he simply couldn't help it. Sparring had been fun before, but now all he could see was just how easily a simply mistake could have devastating consequences. Even looking around he could see gaps in William's defences, and patterns to how Pollux dodged, that anyone could exploit.
Harry felt sick. He was supposed to be training, but all he could think about was how easy it would be to kill or cripple his friends.
He was incredibly grateful when a drawling voice from the doorway interrupted those thoughts.
Harry spun round to see Edmund leaning against the wall by the door. The older man pushed himself upright and stalked towards Harry. "So yesterday wasn't just a fluke."
Harry realised his hands were still shaking, and clenched them into fists. "No," he ground out. He could feel Ron's anxious gaze on him, but Edmund merely inclined his head.
"We really must arrange that duel," he said. "I think it would be most educational for the both of us."
Harry could only stare at him, but Safdar grunted. "Would certainly teach you something," he muttered. "You finished disrupting my class now, Baron?"
Edmund drew himself up. "I wish to speak with you."
"Then come back when I'm done," said Safdar curtly. He turned back to Harry and Ron. "Are you ready to continue?"
Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could do this. He had to do this. "Yes, sir." Ron's eyes narrowed, but a warning glance kept him from protesting. Safdar nodded.
"Let's get to it, then."
Harry took his place at the other side of the room again, but he couldn't help glancing after Edmund. The Baron was watching Safdar with a slightly mocking smile, but even as Harry frowned he turned and stalked from the room.
Harry frowned after him. Edmund hadn't done anything wrong, but there was something about him that made him uneasy. Duelling him was going to be interesting if nothing else.
Harry sighed, and put Edmund from his mind before Safdar hexed him for not concentrating again. He could worry about Edmund later.
Harry wasn't in the mood for talking at dinner. Ron and Hermione knew him well enough to leave him in peace, and their new friends followed their lead, but there were still enough concerned looks thrown his way that it was a relief when the time came for him to meet Slytherin for Occlumency.
Slytherin's office door was ajar when he got there, and when Harry peered inside it was to find his teacher adding the contents of three different vials to a bubbling cauldron.
"One moment, Harry," he called, without taking his eyes from his work. "This is the delicate stage."
Harry took a step closer and squinted at the potion. "Is this the one that tells you if someone's untrustworthy?"
Slytherin spared him a quick smile. "It is indeed. And why are the timings for this particular step so important?"
"Because if you add the salamander blood after the mandrake tears then you end up with sludge," said Harry promptly. "And if you don't add the powdered Runespoor eggshells within two seconds of the tears then whoever you're dosing won't be able to answer any questions because they'll be dead."
The potion turned vivid purple, and Slytherin shot Harry an approving look. "You have been paying attention."
Harry felt himself flush under the praise. Slytherin always had something brewing in his office, and unlike Snape, he'd been only too happy to answer Harry's questions. Under his patient tutelage, Harry found himself enjoying Potions more than he ever had in his life. Slytherin waved his wand over the potion, then moved away from the table.
"We will leave that for two hours," he said. "Then two drops of Kneazle blood every six hours for the next three days and it will be finished."
Harry shook his head. "No wonder Professor Hufflepuff's always complaining that you don't sleep enough."
Slytherin settled himself in the armchair next to the fire and raised an eyebrow. "Harry, I don't think you of all people can accuse me of not sleeping enough."
Harry winced. He had really walked into that one. He slumped into the chair opposite Slytherin's and picked at a loose thread at his cuff. "It hasn't been that bad in months." Ever since their first night in the past, in fact. Slytherin nodded.
"I have already set wards in your dormitory. And on Ron's, Hermione's, and those of everyone else who fought yesterday."
"Thanks," said Harry quietly.
Slytherin held his gaze for a long moment, before nodding. "You are welcome. Now, are you ready to begin?"
Harry straightened up. If Slytherin wasn't going to ask about his feelings then he certainly wasn't going to bring it up. "Yes, sir."
The next hour passed in a blur. They were both confident in Harry's ability to block an attack he knew was coming, but maintaining constant shields were proving more of a challenge. Eventually Slytherin sat back.
"Well, you have a much better grasp of the basics, at least," he said thoughtfully. "I will have to test whether you can keep it up outside of these lessons."
Harry eyed him. "Does that mean you're going to start testing me during Potions?"
"An enemy won't give you warning first," Slytherin reminded him.
Harry nodded ruefully, then paused. "You're not just going to be testing me during Potions, are you?" Slytherin just smirked and he sighed. "Yes, sir."
Slytherin's face softened. "You have improved a great deal. I highly doubt you will have the same problems with your dreams as you did before."
"Thanks," said Harry quietly. That was something at least. No more leading his friends into traps for him.
He fell silent, seemingly content to keep an eye on his potion while he stroked a sleeping Zith, and Harry found himself the most relaxed he had been all day. The room was comfortingly familiar after so many lessons, and that combined with Slytherin's steady presence left Harry with the rare feeling of being perfectly safe.
It was that feeling that left him wanting to talk.
"I was afraid of hurting Ron today."
Slytherin nodded, but gave Harry the space to continue at his own pace. "I wouldn't have. I didn't lose control or anything. I just... It was so easy to see how I could really hurt, or..." He trailed off with a shiver. Slytherin sighed.
"That is how you must think in a duel," he said gently.
"I know, but it was Ron."
Slytherin leaned forward. "I understand, Harry. Godric and I both do. But you would never hurt the people you care about."
The absolute conviction in his voice almost made Harry smile, but there was something else. Something that had lurking in the back of his mind ever since they had first suspected there would be an attack. "They're not going to stop, are they?" he asked. "The Order...they're going to try again."
His voice was quite calm, but his eyes were chips of ice. Harry waited, and after a moment his teacher continued, "He was there, at the battle. Their leader. He didn't fight, but he was there." His hand clenched on the arm of the chair. "He was watching us. Testing us."
Harry felt sick. It was all too easy to imagine Voldemort in this leader's place, watching them, learning their weaknesses, planning where to strike... He wrenched his mind away with a shudder. "What are you going to do?"
"Godric and I will speak to some old contacts," said Slytherin softly. "Rowena will try to See what lies ahead. We will all prepare as best we can." He sighed and looked away. "We will everything we can to keep you all safe."
Harry nodded. It took only a second to come to a decision. "I'll help. I'm pretty sure Ron and Hermione will too."
A sharp eyebrow shot up. "Even after everything that has happened?"
Harry looked away. "I don't want to kill anyone," he said quietly. "But if it means keeping people safe..." He took a deep breath and looked back at his teacher. "I want to fight. I want to help."
He trailed off, but Slytherin's eyes softened in understanding. "Thank you."
Harry just nodded. He still didn't know if he could kill again, but he could fight. He could still defend his friends, new and old.
He was going to have to when they got home, after all.
Slytherin stirred and straightened up. "You should get some rest. Tomorrow will be another long day."
Harry didn't need telling twice. He rose to his feet and dipped his head to his teacher. "Good night, sir."
"Good night, Harry."
Harry smiled and let himself out. Whatever might happen in the future, he wouldn't be facing it alone.
He had only gone a few paces down the passage though, when a voice made him jump.
"There you are."
Harry spun round to find himself face to face with Myrddin. "Are you talking to me?"
His voice had gone a little higher than usual, but it wasn't every day the most famous wizard in history wanted a chat. Myrddin made a show of looking around the deserted corridor, and Harry winced. "Right."
Myrddin smirked and fell into step beside him. "Not lost, I hope. The castle can be tricky."
"I've noticed," Harry admitted. "It took a lot of getting used to." Even after five years he was still learning more. He was pretty sure the dungeons had changed since yesterday, but considering he had never gone further than the Potions classroom and Snape's office before that might be normal. Myrddin hummed in agreement.
"I can imagine."
He didn't say anything else, apparently quite happy to wander wherever Harry went, and Harry couldn't help eyeing him. "I don't mean to be rude," he said. "But did you want something?"
Myrddin shot him a look of such innocence that Harry was immediately on guard. "I like to get to know the new students. Unless it's a bad time of course, but you didn't seem busy."
"I...yeah, I'm not," said Harry warily. "It's fine." He had no idea what was going on, and he should probably be flattered considering who he was talking to, but there was a gleam in the older wizard's eye that set every instinct tingling.
"Excellent." White teeth gleamed in a sudden razor sharp smile. "So tell me, what is it like being a man out of time?"
Harry nearly fell over. "W-what?"
"I imagine things have changed a great deal in a thousand years," Myrddin continued blithely. "It must have been difficult to adapt. The food alone must have been a shock, let alone the magic, the weapons..."
He glanced at Harry, only to have to stop and retrace his steps as he realised Harry had frozen in place several seconds ago. "Is your head injury still affecting you, or is this just shock?"
Harry could only gape at him. "I don't know what you're taking about," he managed.
"Oh, we don't need to go through all that, do we?" said Myrddin impatiently. "It's as obvious as that scar on your head, and besides, Salazar already confirmed it."
Harry blinked. "What?"
Maybe he was being a little slow, but even for him this was bizarre. Myrddin wrinkled his nose. "I know you're more eloquent than this," he complained. "But if you are confused as to how I know that you and your two companions have travelled through time, well, you just don't fit."
That was enough to snap Harry out of his shock. "Right. Thanks. That makes perfect sense."
Myrddin waved a hand. "You don't feel like you belong. Your magic, everything about you... I can't understand how nobody else can feel it. Then again, none of them can feel the wards either," he added. "And half of them don't even notice dragons until they're breathing fire at their faces, let alone something that requires a modicum of subtlety, so I suppose I can't really complain."
Myrddin opened his mouth, but Harry held up a hand. "Let me get this straight. You can somehow feel that we don't belong in this time period? By our magic?"
The wizard shrugged. "I'd explain it, but the last time I tried to do that Rowena ended up hexing me, and I'd rather not do that again."
"Right," Harry muttered. When they said Merlin was the greatest wizard of all time, this hadn't been exactly what he had imagined.
"It must be difficult," said Myrddin quietly. "Especially with everything else you have to deal with."
Harry stared at him for a moment before the penny dropped. "You know about that too? Is there anything you haven't figured out?"
Myrddin held up his hands. "Actually, that part Salazar did tell me," he admitted cheerfully. "He thought I might have some ideas."
Exasperation warred with hope, before Harry gave up. "And do you?"
This time Myrddin just shrugged. "Possibly. I need to liaise with Helga. She knows much more about what the human body can take than I do." His eyes glittered in the torchlight, and Harry found himself taking a step back. "But such an abomination cannot be allowed to continue."
Harry froze. He'd gotten used to Slytherin and Gryffindor, and even Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, looking dangerous, but he'd never seen anyone go from playful to downright homicidal that fast. It was even more startling than when Dumbledore did it. Myrddin muttered something under his breath and looked away, and when he turned back the slightly manic grin was back in place.
"So we'll fix it," he continued. "There's not much Helga and Salazar can't solve when they put their heads together." He pulled a face. "Rowena's helping too, but she's got her own project."
Harry just nodded. He didn't quite trust himself to speak just yet. Fortunately, Myrddin didn't seem to need an active conversational partner. "Of course, we can hardly blame her. Time travel...No one's ever thought it possible." His eyes turned dreamy. "The things we could learn if we could learn to control it fully..."
Harry had a sudden mental image of Myrddin being able to travel hundreds of years back and forth at will and just about suppressed a shudder. "I'll settle for just getting home," he muttered.
Myrddin nodded. "I understand. Though I expect you will have some explaining to do."
"Understatement of the century," Harry said with a snort. Just convincing everyone that they weren't insane or hoodwinked would be a nightmare, and that was before they started rewriting history. "No one's going to believe us."
"But you're going to try anyway?"
Harry shot him a confused look. "Well, yeah." He started walking again, more for something to do than out of any real desire to escape the conversation. Myrddin matched his pace in silence, and eventually Harry shrugged. "They think Slytherin's an evil, bigoted murderer," he said quietly. "And they think that Hufflepuff was weak and useless, and they get loads of other stuff wrong too. It's not right." Maybe it wasn't anyone's fault, but that didn't make it all right, and Harry wasn't going to let it continue.
"I know they won't believe us quickly, and some of them are too thick to ever listen, but we're going to try."
Myrddin stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "I am very glad to hear that." His stare turned appraising. "They've certainly made an impression on you."
Harry snorted. "They've done more for me than almost anyone back home ever did," he said flatly. He stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I know what I'm facing now. No one's tried to hide anything, or lied to me. They helped us work out was happening, and they're helping us fix it."
And not just their Duelling sessions. From Gryffindor building Ron's confidence to Ravenclaw encouraging Hermione's studies, and Hufflepuff's unconditional support and Slytherin understanding... They had helped them for no other reason than that three students needed help. Even Slytherin, who would have been perfectly justified in resenting them for their prejudice, had helped Harry through his fears and self-doubts with a patient compassion and understanding that Harry could still hardly believe.
"You're really going to miss them, aren't you?"
Startled, Harry looked up. Myrddin's smirk had faded to a small smile, and his hazel eyes were very gentle. Harry swallowed. "Yes," he said quietly. "I will. We all will."
All of them, and perhaps Slytherin the most of all. Even the thought had Harry's stomach twisting uncomfortably. He had Sirius back home, and Lupin and Hagrid and the Weasleys, but over the last couple of months he had come to trust the Founder almost as much as he did Ron ad Hermione. The idea of losing that support was not a pleasant one.
"I see," said Myrddin.
That was all he said, but something in his voice had Harry frowning. "What?"
Myrddin grinned, and all traces of seriousness were gone as quickly as they'd arrived. "What?"
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. That approach was never going to work. Before he could think of an alternative though, Myrddin clapped him on the back. "Well, this has been most illuminating, but I'm afraid I really must be going."
"Keep your spirits up. Do your homework. Eat three good meals a day. I'll see what I can find."
With that he turned on the spot and Disapparated.
Harry stared at the spot where he had been standing, then up and down the deserted corridor.
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