"I hate it when you think you understand someone and then they just go and flip the world on its head. Don't they understand how confusing that can be?" -Harry Potter to Nymphadora Tonks, Christmas, 1995.
Harry let out a long breath as he stared at the Hogwarts Express. The train had always served as a symbol of a number of things for him. In his younger years it had meant escape from his relatives. A doorway into a whole new world. A glimpse of what a real magical family might look like as young witches and wizards as their parents and other family members cheerfully saw them off to school. The train truly marked the reuniting of him and his friends. Off to learn more magic and get a little taller. Most of all, it meant the return to the world that he belonged in. And now, it was finally time to return to the castle for another year of magic and threats on his life, though this year felt... different.
Different. That was certainly a good way to describe the way things had been. He took a couple steps to the side as a couple of young children came barreling through right where he had just been standing and closed his eyes, leaning against the brick wall at the back of the platform. It made no difference in the end. The platform and all the people on it were making his head fuzzy with all the magic. His time away from the castle would no doubt be greeted with a massive headache for the first day or so, if last winter was anything to go by. It was unlikely he'd need more than that to get accustomed to it though. He'd definitely improved with his abilities. It wasn't like the last time he was at the platform at all, when he could barely tell two people apart among the masses, only able to hone in on those he was intimately familiar with.
A sudden shift under his clothing drew his attention to the passenger who was now curling herself up around his left upper arm like she usually did. She gave him a slight squeeze, her question clear.
"Relax, we'll be getting on soon, no need to rush it," he muttered, eyes still closed. "Ron and Hermione aren't here yet anyway. We're pretty early."
His passenger settled to wait. Harry returned to his thoughts of the summer. So many things had happened- so many changes in his life, in such a short amount of time; and it really had all started in the most unlikely of places...
Xx~ Approximately two and a half months prior ~xX
Harry was sitting quietly on a bed, waiting in one of the rentable rooms at the Three Broomsticks for Narcissa Malfoy. It was a few minutes to noon and he had yet to sense anyone other than the regular patrons moving around the main room that were there for an early lunch or a small break from work. There were also a handful of people in the rooms as well, though they had been there when he arrived. His ability to sense magic around him had grown immensely over the school year, constantly put to work by the overwhelming presence that was the castle, but he never really had any opportunity or much dedicated interest to explore or refine it. He was far too absorbed in dueling and everything else. Now, out in the open again and certainly more at risk from attack after what had happened at the Ministry, the skill was considerably higher on his list of importance. In all honesty he was hard pressed to find a negative in the ability overall.
The teen idly conjured a piece of paper and began folding it into an airplane. Seriously, what on earth was he doing waiting for Draco Malfoy's mother in the Three bloody Broomsticks. There was a huge chance it was some sort of trap. As Lucius Malfoy's wife he figured that she would have been more than involved in her husband's work for the Dark Lord. The Order had all but confirmed that the Malfoy home was Voldemort's base of operations to begin with. Then there was the fact that Harry's plan had put Lucius in Azkaban, so it would make perfect sense for her to want some sort of revenge. And if that was the case then he wouldn't be surprised if Draco himself was leading the charge. The boy would no doubt be begging for his own membership to Voldemort's fan club regardless. Add the fact that he had arranged to meet the woman in a location that had its own anti-apparition ward and he was really just asking for trouble.
"Well at least the bed is comfy," he mused, tapping the paper airplane with his wand before tossing it in the air where it did figure eights endlessly. As he watched it fly about, a new person suddenly appeared in his senses accompanied with a burst that he had come to associate with the Inn's fireplace, likely indicating a floo in. It was interesting how the personal magic that came from everyone had a feeling of life to it. There was really no other way to describe it. Magic placed on non-living objects felt just that: non-living.
The person moved to where he had long since figured the bar was and stopped near the person he assumed was Rosmerta. A few seconds later the newcomer began walking back towards where the stairs to the upper levels were, which included a few private sitting rooms which could be rented out for a small price for parties or meeting, and mainly the rooms where people spent the night, which was exactly where he was. The person got closer and closer until he could hear the footsteps outside the door. He'd made sure that he was in the very first room so that he wouldn't be difficult to find. Canceling the spell on the paper airplane, Harry quietly moved to the side of the door and knelt there, pulling out his wand. There was a knock. Once, twice, then the door clicked open and swung wide. Narcissa Malfoy took one step forward before freezing, a wand tip pressed lightly into her stomach.
"Quiet," he said, looking up at her warily. "Give me your wand and go to the bed." She pulled out her wand from a sleeve and held it out to him, handle first, which he took, before she walked to the bed and sat down, facing him. Still keeping one eye on her, he closed the door, locking it with a tap of his wand and then putting his standard set of privacy wards he had become so attached to over the year over the room. "Sleeves up," he commanded. She quickly pulled up her sleeves to show they were completely clean. No Dark Mark. Not that that actually meant anything considering who she was.
"I swear I'm not here to harm you," she said quickly, replacing her hands in her lap. Leaning against the now warded door, Harry took a moment to take in the woman before him. She was certainly a far cry different from the last time he had seen her. She wasn't wearing any makeup and her expression lacked any of the aggression she'd shown on the platform. She also had her hood drawn back, allowing him to fully take in her features. If he remembered correctly from the Black tapestry she was around forty, though like most witches her age she didn't look it at all. Her skin was fairly pale, as though she rarely saw much sunlight, though it suited her. Blue eyes observed him somewhat nervously behind her dark bangs. Probably the most interesting feature she had was her two colored hair, a very dark brown capping the classic "Malfoy-blonde" that he knew so well. No doubt the blonde part was dyed or magicked. The Blacks all had hair as dark as their name... even Tonks when she wasn't changing it around like she usually did.
"...what?" said Narcissa, unable to contain herself any longer. She'd been fidgeting more and more as the silence stretched on.
"Ah, sorry," said Harry, twirling the woman's wand in his fingers. He was getting a minor unpleasant feeling coming from it, indicating that he probably wouldn't do too well casting anything with that wand. "Just thinking. I like your hair by the way."
"Uh, thank you." She looked a little thrown by the compliment but took it in stride. "Would- would I be able to get my wand back?" Harry raised his eyebrows. Was she serious? "I'll prove my earlier statement."
Harry shrugged and tossed her the wand which she caught. Looking up she found the tip of Harry's wand a foot away from her head.
"I'm waiting," he said flatly, though he really was just humoring her. What could she possibly do with her wand that would make him believe-
"I, Narcissa Malfoy, swear on my magic that I have no intention of harming Harry Potter in any way, nor am I participating in anything that may be intended to cause him harm. So mote it be." There was a small flash of light as the oath locked in.
Harry actually dropped his wand as he just stared at her, mouth slightly agape.
Magical oaths were, all in all, really fucking dangerous. Like one person Unbreakable Vows, though with a different purpose. As the price to pay became heavier, they in turn became stronger, and no one was ever willing to risk something so great. The weaker ones were easily broken and mistrusted in general, the strongest ones deadly and therefore avoided as a whole. The main problem was that they never went away. The woman before him had essentially sworn that she had no intent to harm him in any way whatsoever. That meant that for the rest of her life, if she ever intentionally tried to do so or involved herself in something that might, she would suffer the consequences for breaking the oath, the loss of her magic and consequently her life.
This was the reason that it was one of the first things taught to a magical child, to never swear on their magic or life, as they would be more likely to lose them both than not. It was something heavily impressed upon all Muggle raised witches and wizards. Murdering people is wrong. Magical oaths are wrong. Done and done.
"Well I certainly wasn't expecting that," he said, beyond shocked, sinking into a nearby chair after picking up his wand. He stowed it, not worried about his safety any longer. For her to have done that meant she was as desperate as it got. "You mind filling me in as to why I'm here in the first place?"
Narcissa tucked her wand away and brushed a strand of hair out of her face. She seemed to be bracing herself for what was to follow. "I need help."
"You need help?" Harry repeated, surprised.
"Yes. Recent events have caused things to become... a bit out of hand at home."
"By recent events are you talking about Voldemort coming into the open, or your dear husband being carted off to Azkaban?" he asked, ignoring the shudder at Voldemort's name. At this she looked at him angrily.
"You can't possibly imagine what has been happening lately, it's just- but you wouldn't know now, would you." Harry watched the woman trail off, frowning into her lap as she struggled with herself over whatever was troubling her. Eventually she let out a sigh and focused back on his eyes which were still watching in confusion. "Though I'd rather not do this, it would be better if I gave you a little background on my... situation."
Harry just shrugged. It was a lot like watching a one person performance where the person in question forgot half of the script. He could practically see her mind working over what to tell him and what to keep back. All in all he couldn't help but be intrigued.
"To begin I should tell you that my marriage with Lucius was one arranged by our parents, not due to us being interested in one another romantically," she began. "It's becoming less common these days, but with prominent pureblooded families it's still a fairly regular thing. We need to keep alliances strong if we are to survive after all."
"Your family married you off to the Malfoys for politics?" Harry was giving her a purely incredulous look. "Without any say in the matter?"
"Well I suppose I had some influence, but overall no it was in the best interest of the family," Narcissa shrugged. "It wasn't a bad deal after all."
"Are you upset for me?" she asked in amusement, her features lightening up for the first time since she'd arrived.
"I just don't like it." He shook his head. "Not important, continue."
"Yes, well I was actually quite happy with the arrangement at the time," she continued. "Lucius Malfoy was a respectable proper pureblood, if one with an ego problem, though most of the men I knew had inflated egos so it was hardly out of the ordinary. A number of years after we married I produced an heir." Harry snorted in contempt. "Yes I know of your opinions of each other, Draco absolutely loves talking down about you during the holidays."
"Whatever makes him happy," said Harry, shaking his head.
"After Draco was born things... changed," said Narcissa, her expression becoming duller. "Suffice it to say, I was not happy with how things were going. Still, regardless of how I felt I was there to give everything to my son."
"Well if you were trying to raise a clone of your husband then congrats," said Harry bluntly.
Narcissa just glared at him angrily. "You think I don't know this? The boy practically worships the ground his father walks. Do you have any idea what it's like to have your own child reject you as a parent!?" Narcissa let out a long defeated breath. "It was better when he was younger. Always eager to please his Mum and Dad, to make us proud of him. However once Lucius began giving him private lessons, ones I was not permitted to be a part of, he began changing. Slowly I lost my influence over him as his mother and became more of a housemaid in his mind, only one he calls Mother."
"That's..." Harry didn't really know what to say. So Malfoy's dislike of his mother came from the father. He'd known that Lucius wasn't a good person, willing to sacrifice others to achieve his goals. The man had attempted to kill not only an enemy's daughter, but as many Muggle-borns as possible in the process. It took a certain lack of morality for something like that. Still, Harry assumed that he loved his wife. But instead he'd somehow turned her only son against her. That was... cruel. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said finally.
Narcissa just let out a small, tired breath. "After years and years of it I just gave in. Emotionally it was too much to deal with, far easier to merely accept it." She gave herself a little shake, pulling herself out of whatever mood she was slipping into. Now wasn't the time for this. "Once the Dark Lord returned last year there was truly no hope of things getting better. Lucius has always been high in the Dark Lord's ranks, and Draco aspires to rise there as well."
"You've been living with a Death Eater for years and years, so why ask for help now?" asked Harry, considering what he had just heard. "I still don't know why you've come to me to begin with. Or why you're saying all this stuff."
"Nothing could be done before," she said at once. "That was just the way it was and I accepted it as life, but now... When Lucius failed his mission, costing the Dark Lord a great number of his strongest supporters, the Dark Lord was absolutely furious." Narcissa closed her eyes, her voice coming out much smaller. Quiet and frail. "I can still feel His wrath," she shuddered, holding her arms. "The Dark Lord's way of punishing Lucius, thought even if he knew I do not think he would care. Not for the reasons I wish." To Harry's confused look she continued simply, "I am his wife. What better target to take his anger out on?"
"I think the better explanation is that he's a sadistic wizard with problems," said Harry, scowling. "What do you want me to do to help you? It's not like I can just tell Voldemort to lay off, you know?"
"Draco will likely take the Dark Mark this summer," said Narcissa sadly. "I have done my best to dissuade him, to buy time by telling him to at least hold off until he graduates, but for all my efforts I have only alienated him from myself more. I fear that a day will soon come where I will be forced to either take the mark myself to stay in line, or accept my death. And the torture..." She drew herself up, her expression set. "I cannot live there anymore. I seek help from my family."
"Your- you mean Sirius," said Harry, suddenly understanding. Who else could she be talking about? Narcissa nodded.
"Cousin Sirius is the head of the family," she explained, speaking more rapidly, almost anxious. She took a breath before continuing. "He can shelter any member within it, even break marriages, though with penalty. It is a somewhat old law for pureblood families. Before when Sirius was in Azkaban there was nothing that could be done but with him currently out he can actually help me. It's one of the reasons I never considered this before recently."
"You want a divorce?" Harry's voice was fairly flat. This was what she was coming to him about? A divorce? "Can't you just do that yourself?"
"It's not that simple," said Narcissa impatiently. "There are things I know that prevent me from simply leaving with my life in tact. If any Death Eater had reason to believe that I was considering leaving I would be dead before the day was out. I am not important to them, only an accessory to a home that they have taken over completely."
"So then why not just go to Dumbledore?" said Harry. It seemed the obvious thing to do in this situation. "I doubt he'd do anything to you and the Order would keep you safe."
"No!" The sharpness of her voice make Harry's eyes go wide. "I want nothing to do with the Order. I want nothing to do with any of this. I just want freedom from this entire affair, and to that end I need this from my cousin." Her expression became solemn again, unconsciously pulling her arms in close. "Please, I do not wish to be tortured again. I only desire safety."
Harry let out a breath, looking away from the woman's eyes. He was uncomfortable enough without seeing someone who looked like that. "Alright, let's say that Sirius actually does help you out and you stay clear of the Order. Where would you go?"
"I, well, I haven't been able to plan that much ahead," she said nervously. "I haven't been at Malfoy Manor since I talked to you on the platform."
"Wait a second, you already ran away?" Harry just looked at her in disbelief.
"I can't go back," Narcissa said softly. "You don't understand what this past year has been like. What it is like now. Being thrown into the first war was bad enough. I was young and foolish, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. None of us did. When the Dark Lord vanished I thought we finally had a chance at a real future, but he is back and that has all changed. The Dark Lord is much more ruthless, soulless almost. He has no trouble turning his wand on me for his enjoyment or in his fury, and and it pains me to say that my son probably wouldn't care. I would not wish this on any mother." She looked at him with a pleading expression. "All I am asking is that you speak to my cousin on my behalf. Please!"
Harry looked at her hard. Really looked at her. She was so nervous, so anxious, though she was doing her best to remain in control of her emotions. She looked tired. Worn out physically and mentally. And she was asking him for help, going as far as making it so that she would sooner lose her magic than bring him to harm. All to escape. He suddenly realized that he was turning the mirror over and over in his pocket.
Hermione was right, he really did have a saving people thing.
He pulled out the mirror and flipped it open, causing Narcissa to look at him curiously. Harry just smirked and said, "Sirius, I need you for a second." Narcissa's eyes went wide. Obviously she hadn't expected them to be that well in contact.
"Hey Harry, what's up?" said Sirius, scratching his nose a bit. "Everything alright?"
"Yeah, just having a chat with a friend," he said easily. "Do me a favor and end the Malfoy's marriage, will you? Oh and while you're at it you might as well strike good ol' Draco from the family line so he'll never inherit anything," he added as an afterthought. Sirius was just giving him a blank look.
"What on earth have you gotten yourself into this time?" he said flatly. "It's barely been two days since you got back."
"You know me, I like to keep things interesting," replied the teen, grinning. Suddenly his expression turned more serious. "I need you to do this for me, Sirius. It's important."
"I see..." The man regarded his godson for a few seconds in quiet contemplation. "Alright, I'll take care of it. Love screwing with good ol' Lucius. Anything else?"
"No, that's it," said Harry, shaking his head. "I owe you one. Thanks."
"Whatever, just keep out of trouble, would you?" He gave the boy a final nod before ending the link, tossing the compact onto the table with a loud groan. Remus, who was sitting close by with an open Prophet glanced over before returning to his article, grinning slightly.
"Harry being Harry?"
Sirius just put his head down on folded arms. "Harry being Harry..."
Back at the Three Broomsticks, Harry just shook his head, closing the compact and stowing it.
"W-well," Narcissa said after a minute of silence, straightening herself, "I should thank you for doing that so promptly for me. It takes a lot off of my mind, even if I'm now homeless."
"What about your personal things? Did you leave them?" he asked after a second.
"No I packed everything of mine in a trunk which is in my pocket," she explained, tapping her thin cloak.
"And you haven't been followed?"
"Not that I know of, why?" she asked, looking alarmed.
"There are a couple of people near the room who haven't moved at all since they got here. They must be waiting for something," he reasoned, having picked them up midway through their conversation. As they hadn't made a move he just let them go earlier, but he knew he'd have to deal with them eventually.
"How do you know?" said the woman at once, clenching at the sheets she was sitting on.
"Sensor," Harry replied absently, loosening himself up as he stretched. "Anyway, I suppose they finally noticed you stopped coming to the club meetings. You are a pretty big security risk I suppose."
Narcissa was on her feet now as well, wand out.
"We're trapped," she said fearfully, her voice almost at a whisper as she looked at the door. It was the only way in and out of the room. "I'd honestly rather go out fighting than be dragged back there for-" but she came up short as Harry moved very close to her, a frown on his face. "What- what are you doing? We need to escape!"
"Stand still for a second." Harry began passing a hand close to, but not actually touching, her body from top to bottom. He was focusing entirely on her now, his awareness of everything beyond the room vanishing. This was the current peak of his abilities.
"You said you weren't followed but it looks like they're here anyway. That means you've probably got something with a tracking charm on it. They aren't difficult spells to use. Yeah, earrings for sure and-" Harry blushed a bit as he double checked, "looks like your knickers as well. Man, that's just wrong. Clever, but wrong. I'll bet they're on the others you packed too. Maybe some other stuff as well."
"I'm not about to-" she started indignantly but Harry just overrode her.
"Relax, I'm not telling you to take them off! Just take the trunk out of your pocket and open it on the bed. Quickly," he added impatiently. "It looks like they're waiting for you to try and leave, but we can't trust that at all. They shouldn't know I'm here to begin with either and we can't let them find out." He paused for a second before smirking. "Maybe they think you're cheating."
Wearing a miffed expression, Narcissa put the trunk on the bed. Finished reinforcing the wards on the door, Harry hit the contents of the trunk and her with an overpowered Finite spell that would surely kill any spells that were placed on her and her clothing. As she reshrunk the trunk and put it in a pocket there was a bang from the door as someone tried to enter.
"Well now that they're blind to you they're clearly making their move. We'll need to hide. Not like we can both just pop away easily. I can ambush them easily after." Sadly their options in the small room were pretty limited.
"If it's a matter of hiding, I can manage that," said Narcissa.
Harry turned to her curiously only to find her midway through what was unmistakably an animagus transformation. Half a second later a thin, three and a half foot snake was sitting on the floor, staring up at him. Harry noticed that there was a dark spot on her triangular shaped head that stood out from her otherwise pale white body, which had darker ringlike bands running down it from head to tail.
"See?" she hissed.
"You could tell me these things before we're under attack," Harry hissed at her. However this actually gave him an idea. He'd immediately dismissed it because it wasn't just himself, not wanting to put the woman at risk of being badly hurt, but with something as small as a snake... "Climb up and hang on to me!" he said quickly, extending his hand down to her, just as the door gave a loud crack. "No time to explain, hurry!"
A moment's hesitation and she was up his arm, curling around it above his elbow. The door cracked again, buckling slightly inwards and making Harry curse. He'd only seen this done once but that wasn't about to stop him now. Gritting his teeth he spun on his heel, ripping through the Three Broomstick's ward, just before he felt his own wards collapse under the assault.
"What the hell was that!" hissed Narcissa in aggravation, half wanting to wring his neck. She was squeezing his arm enough that the teen was sure he'd have a mark there later.
"Apparated us… just outside the Hog's Head," Harry said slowly, leaning on a wall as if to catch his breath. "That took a lot out of me… Just give me a second…"
"Wait, we just apparated? You can apparate?" Narcissa shifted, resettling herself so that she was curled around his upper arm with her head able to rest on his shoulder. "You broke through the ward?" she said in shock.
"Sorry, I figured with you as a snake I might be able to get through the ward," he explained, still leaning against a wall for support. And Voldemort had made breaking the Ministry ward look so easy. Well, at least it worked here. Not like he was going to try it again any time soon. "Size matters with apparition. They should be wondering how you got away from them."
"Just don't do it again, that was horrible!"
"Relax, it'll be fine from here on. Just stay like that for now until I get us somewhere safe." Harry walked onto the street and right into the Hog's Head, making straight for the barman.
"How much to use the floo?"
The old man barely looked at him before resuming his task. "It's free. Your tip from last time covers it."
"Thanks." Harry grabbed a dash of the powder on the mantelpiece and tossed it into the large fireplace, turning the flames emerald green. "Leaky Cauldron."
Harry stumbled out of the fire in the Leaky Cauldron but somehow managed to keep on his feet, causing the animagus to hiss in amusement. Embarrassed, Harry took them into Muggle London, walking in between two buildings and apparating them immediately.
"You can talk now," said Harry to Narcissa, sitting down on the small bed in his room at Number Four. He had discovered that the protections on the small house really only amounted to the family based wards. He could apparate in and out, and no doubt portkeys would work too. As for the residents... It was the middle of the day and Vernon was at work. Petunia was out meeting with a friend, and Dudley was doing who fucking cared. He sure as hell didn't. Probably at that gym again, improving his ability to clobber things.
Narcissa moved out of his shirt and curled up in his lap."Well, I'll admit the second jump was much smoother than the first. Are we safe?"
Harry thought back to the schedule of Order members who kept an eye on the Dursley's house and nodded. Moody had been taken off the roster so there was no one who could see into his room from outside. Spreading out his magical awareness only confirmed that Moody wasn't there. He had a decidedly grisly feel to him. Continuing the thought of being safe, he again regarded the woman before him. The fact that she actually was able to enter the house through the wards and wasn't deposited on the street without a clue as to what was going on meant that she had no ill will towards him whatsoever. That in itself was shocking at a certain level, even after receiving her oath earlier. He didn't really have any experience with oaths before, but the wards around his home were a different story.
"Completely, you can transform back."
Narcissa moved to the center of the room and returned to human form. "Well, this room certainly was a lot larger as a snake," she said, looking around completely unimpressed. "Does a house elf live here?"
"In a manner of speaking..." Harry grumbled. Narcissa looked at him in confusion. "This is my room, soon-to-be Miss Black." Her look of confusion increased even more.
"Are you serious?" she asked incredulously. "But you barely even fit on the bed, and you're just sitting there."
"I hadn't noticed," he said in sarcasm, leaning back against the wall. Clearly he wasn't about to elaborate any more to her so she changed the subject.
"Why did we take the floo if you could apparate? Actually, better question, how are you able to use magic without being thrown out of school? As far as I know those letters are disturbingly fast to arrive."
"Well about the floo, I just felt like it," he said with a shrug. "As to the other thing, I'm special. Anyway, why don't you sit down," he gestured to the desk chair, "and we can get a few things out of the way." As Narcissa sat he said, "Now Miss Black-"
"Narcissa, Harry," she corrected before tilting her head to the side slightly. "If I may call you Harry, that is."
"Yeah that's fine," he said, waving it aside. "Narcissa, this is my aunt and uncle's house. They are Muggles, as is my cousin."
"I'd heard that you lived with Muggle relatives but I didn't really believe it," she said, still looking around the tiny room. "Are they really so poor? The other rooms must be quite small as well if you're living in this one." She was giving him a seriously confused look.
Harry let out a snort of mirth at the thought of the Dursleys not having enough money. His uncle supported the whole family by himself, and they still had plenty left over to travel and do "tasteful" things, as his aunt would put it.
"I'm sorry, that was pretty funny. Nice of you to think so highly of me though. As a matter of fact, no, the other rooms are all many times larger than this one. This room used to be a place to store all of my cousin's extra toys that wouldn't fit in his own room."
"Used to? Then where on earth did you-"
"Look, whatever you've likely heard about me is completely wrong, just leave it at that," interrupted Harry, annoyed with himself for where he'd led the conversation. It wasn't the woman's fault that she was sharp. "I didn't even know that magic existed until I was eleven."
Narcissa just put a hand to her forehead, muttering something about wizarding kind. It didn't sound endearing.
"Anyway, you're homeless," he continued, rather abruptly, making her wince a bit.
"Ideally I'd have liked to take refuge with the Black family, but obviously that won't work this time," she said looking somewhat forlorn. "I can't even remember where cousin Sirius used to live. I have enough money to rent a place for a little bit but certainly nothing that will sustain me for a long time. I haven't worked in a very long time as I've been managing affairs at Malfoy Manor."
"You never had any career interests?" asked Harry with a frown.
"Of course I did," she shot, offended at the implication. "But it wasn't like I had much choice about what I could do with the war going on and then having a child. I sort of fell into home located work. And I had my hobbies. The Malfoys always had plenty of gold for me to live off of, not that I was complaining."
"I'd imagine not," said Harry wryly. "What about looking to other family for help?"
"Andromeda would never take me in," she said at once. "We were on opposite sides of the war and hasn't spoken to me since Bellatrix openly began supporting the Dark Lord. I think she felt betrayed. Who else do I have but my sisters and cousin Sirius?"
"Well if I remember the tapestry correctly and what Sirius was telling me, you're related to the Weasleys." Harry let out a snort of laughter at the look on Narcissa's face. "Sorry that was too good to pass up."
Narcissa glared at him, but once again her anger was quick to leave, replaced by something sadder.
Harry's voice pulled the woman out of her depressing thoughts. He was watching her with some concern on his face. She gave him a weak smile.
"Would I be able to get something to drink?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah, that shouldn't be an issue," he said after a second, standing up and opening the door of the room. "Follow me."
They both escaped the cramped room and headed down the nearby staircase. Harry was relieved that no one had come home. The worst would be Vernon but he wouldn't be home from work for another few hours at least.
"Water?" Harry asked, walking into the kitchen to fetch a glass.
"Please," nodded Narcissa. She had stopped in the hall, looking at the wall which was positively covered in photos of who she assumed must be Harry's relatives. The bulbous man with the walrus mustache, his reed like wife, and their son who clearly took after the father when it came to his more dominant features. Quite the loving picture overall. It was also a pleasant setup, as the pictures were arranged in what appeared to be a sort of timeline, starting near the kitchen and working their way to the front door, jumping to the opposite wall and going right up the stairs. Narcissa was near the stairs again as Harry emerged from the kitchen sporting two glasses of crystal clear liquid.
"Where are you?" she asked, suddenly understanding what was so off about the entire thing. Seeing Harry made her realize he wasn't in a single picture, with the family or without. It was like he didn't even exist in this happy little history.
Harry's eyes flickered around the hall at the photos before he walked into a side room, scowling.
"Come on, we can sit on the couch," he said, as if he hadn't heard her question.
Her feeling of unease more apparent now, Narcissa followed him into an immaculately kept room filled with nice furniture, all in good taste. Her mind told her that she could probably get along with people who kept their home in such respectable condition, but her gut was fighting the thought tooth and nail.
They sat in silence for a while, drinking their waters while keeping to their thoughts. Narcissa kept giving Harry contemplative looks in between finding more "family" photos to look at on the mantelpiece and end tables. Harry on the other hand was feeling more and more regret about bringing the woman downstairs.
Continuing to demonstrate that her brain wasn't there for regulating her bodily functions only, Narcissa had asked about the one thing that Harry probably hated more than his relatives. The picture wall. Every Christmas, every birthday, every damned semi important day in their wretched lives, it was the family's constant reminder to him that he had no part in their existence and he never would. Vernon's idea, naturally, that Petunia didn't hesitate to support. As the years went on it only got larger, and year after year he'd lived in that cupboard under the stairs, the small grate on the door a dingy window to that unpleasant reality.
He should have just brought her the water upstairs.
"Is everything... all right?" Narcissa asked finally, unable to keep her thoughts to herself any longer.
"Well it's just..."
Harry gave the woman a flat look. "If you want to ask something then ask it. I don't like people dancing around me."
"Very well." Narcissa sat up a bit straighter. "Why aren't you in any pictures?"
"Because I don't belong there. Anything else?" he asked.
"But didn't you grow up here?" she asked in confusion.
"Since my parents were murdered, yeah."
"But that doesn't make any sense."
"No, it does, you just don't know what you're talking about."
They sat there in silence once more. Narcissa was torn between wanting to stay silent and reprimand him for being so snappish with her. She was saved the trouble of deciding however when the sound of the front door unlocking filled the room, closely followed by it opening.
"Dudley? Sweetums are you home?"
Harry just let out a tired breath, closing his eyes for a moment. Well fuck. She had to come back now, didn't she...
A few seconds later the woman appeared in the doorway, freezing at the sight of Harry and a complete stranger in her sitting room, both with glasses from the kitchen.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my house?" Petunia snapped at Narcissa, who blinked at the highly aggressive question. She stood slowly, her eyes narrowed slightly at the woman before her. Harry hadn't bothered to move, still drinking his water. Maybe he'd get lucky and Narcissa would curse her out of annoyance.
"I... found myself in a spot of trouble earlier and your nephew invited me in. Please forgive the intrusion," said Narcissa politely.
Petunia's eyes moved back and forth between Harry and Narcissa, clearly not happy with the former and distrusting of the latter. "One of them I take it," she scowled. Harry's lack of denial confirmed her suspicion. "You are not welcome here. Boy, you wait until your Uncle gets home. Bringing people inside the house. Especially one of them. He'll-"
"Do nothing to me, unless he wants me to put him in a hospital," Harry said coldly, not even bothering to make the threat subtle. He simply wasn't in the mood. Even a full school year away couldn't rid him of the bad taste in his mouth this place gave him, from its foul inhabitants to that damned wall of pictures. If anything it had only worsened. A couple days back and he was already debating burning it to the ground.
"Don't give me that," snapped Petunia. "We know you can't do magic outside of that freak school of yours or you'll be thrown out."
For the first time Harry actually grinned, showing teeth. "Well then if you think you're all so safe why don't you try something and find out?"
Narcissa watched wide eyed at the pair as they each attempted to stare the other into retreating. This was not something she'd ever expected to be witnessing when she woke up that morning. Eventually it was the teen that won, Petunia letting out a huff and continuing to the kitchen.
"I want that woman out of my house right now or there will be trouble!" she said loudly before shuffling about noisily. "I won't hesitate to tell Vernon either!"
Harry just clenched his teeth in frustration before turning back to Narcissa. "Sorry about her, she's not the most polite person to magicals. My Uncle and cousin are the same way."
"I... see," said the woman. "I should leave. Thank you, Harry, you've already done more for me than I expected. After everything my son and more importantly my husband have put you through..."
"I don't really get how you think you deserve to suffer at all from anything they might have done, but never mind. Come on." Leaving his glass, Harry walked back into the main hall towards the front door and turned to walk up the staircase, pausing when she didn't immediately follow him up. "What are you waiting for, let's go."
"But your Aunt-"
"Has absolutely no power here. That goes double for my Uncle. Yeah, you heard me," he called out, knowing his Aunt was listening to every single word they said. He turned back to Narcissa. "Things aren't what they used to be anymore. Either you adapt or you get crushed. Now come up."
Narcissa spared a glance at the kitchen before following the boy back to the second floor and into the tiny room they had arrived in. The moment the door closed she heard the sound of several locks sliding into place. Harry took out his wand and tapped the door twice before stowing it.
"The room is warded pretty heavily," he explained, sinking back onto the bed with a grunt. "I spent all of my first day back working on it. Every single one Sirius ever taught me. I know my relatives can't do much, but it still makes me feel better in the end. My Aunt is a passive aggressive coward. The type who becomes furious over something like if she knew that you were older than her, even though you look ten years younger than she does. Petty and shallow, she'll stew about and wonder how she can subtly make your life worse for it. It's my Uncle you have to watch out for. Sometimes his anger overrides his reason. Never let him get within three feet of you without a wand pointing at his face. Even then you might need to use it."
"Why are you telling me this?" Narcissa asked after a moment. She was clearly confused.
"Well, it's not like you'll be interacting with either of them, but you should know anyway if you're going to be staying here with me."
It took a good five seconds for the words to register in the woman's head, at which she jumped up from her seat.
"What? I can't stay here!" she exclaimed.
"I thought you said you wanted help from your family," said Harry, his voice matter of fact.
"Of course I do, but we've already been through that," she argued.
"We're related, didn't you know that?" Harry asked, now a bit surprised that she'd never thought of this. Purebloods were always neck deep in their family lines. "Second cousins. We're actually technically part of the same generation."
Narcissa gave him a baffled look before she was struck with remembrance. "That's right, Great-Auntie Dorea married a Potter. How did I forget about that?" she said. "Though I'd assumed she was struck from the family."
"Up until last summer I honestly thought that the only blood relatives I had were this lot," said Harry, jerking his head at the door. "And as far as they go, they're not my family."
"How could you not have known? Someone should have told you-"
"Yeah you'd think that, wouldn't you," Harry said in annoyance. "The life of Harry Potter is one of discovery like you've got no bloody clue. Anyway, totally not important, I've put it behind me. Mostly anyway. You've got nowhere to go and I'm not about to let you go off to get captured by the Death Eaters. You can stay with me."
"I appreciate the thought, but..." Narcissa looked around blankly. "No offense I'd rather take my chances on the street."
Harry just rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't blame you. I'm saying I've got a place for you to stay. But before I show you I need you to give an oath to keep my secret."
He had to protect himself, no matter how much he wanted to help her out. No matter how much she had been through.
"I, Narcissa Black, swear on my magic to keep Harry Potter's secrets. So mote it be. That works doesn't it?"
"You-" Harry just stared dumbstruck at the woman. Was she trying to frustrate him? If so it was working wonders. "I just meant about this, not all of my bloody secrets! That's for life! Everything for life!"
"Yes, I suppose so, isn't it?"
Grumbling, Harry got up and moved to a corner of the room where there was a plain looking trunk, hissing at it twice. "Come on I'll show you where you'll be staying." Trusting the woman to follow him, Harry led the way down a spiral staircase that ended in a small, blank room with an open doorway. Beyond it...
"Merlin's... beard," she said at last. "You live down here?"
They were in a small living room, about the size of the one in the Dursley's house. To the left was a wide opening to a kitchen area with a small dining table. At the back was a short hall that led to a couple of doors. The entire thing was quite cozy.
"Yeah I just got this trunk very recently, you're the only person who's ever been inside it apart from myself and the creator actually."
"But there are tents you can buy with the same amenities for a fraction of the price," said Narcissa, wondering at the reasoning behind the choice.
"Well apart from the fact that I don't want to have to put up a tent whenever I move the thing?" Harry just shrugged. "The only place tents look natural is at a camp with other tents. I don't go camping. I do end up living in rooms where a trunk wouldn't be out of place. Hiding in plain sight, if you must." He turned back to the room at large. "Anyway, it's fully stocked for living. You can take the bedroom and I'll just re-purpose the closet. Do you know expansion charms? I'm still working on space manipulation at the moment."
"I- you- what do you mean you're working on space manipulation, that's a seventh year special topic in charms," said Narcissa finally, unable to get a straight sentence out. Her mind was still slightly overloaded from the past hour in general and now this?
"Please, I know things seventh years wish they could do," said Harry with a grin, unable to keep a spot of arrogance out of his voice.
"Wonderful, a prodigy and he's humble," said Narcissa sarcastically.
"I'm joking. I can get the charms to work, but they don't last like they should so everything inside the space gets crushed. Pretty sure that isn't what's supposed to happen when they fail either... so yeah, I'm not about to sleep in a room like that. If you aren't good at them I'll take the couch. Come on I'll show you the room."
Narcissa watched him walk off for a second before putting her hand to her head and rubbing it slowly.
"I need a drink."
Narcissa Black woke to the soft sound of sizzling. The smell of bacon was clearly filling the room around her, as was what was unmistakably coffee. She sat up quickly, sheet falling off of her body as she looked about at an unfamiliar room. It took her a second to remember that she was in the home of Harry Potter, the very same boy who had taken her in the day before, refusing to let her go off on her own. Wasn't that sort of kidnapping? Still bleary eyed, she blinked and looked about, waiting for the room to come into better focus.
The bedroom was small by her standards, but significantly larger than the box that was the boy's in his relative's house. A desk, a closet, a dresser, a floor lamp, a side table, and a very comfortable bed, if her sleep was anything to go by, were all that decorated it. The bed was a mess of covers and pillows, as she had more fallen onto it as opposed to properly getting ready for bed. She was still wearing her clothing from the day before as well.
Getting up, Narcissa moved over to where her trunk was placed against a wall and gathered a fresh set of clothes before remembering that there wasn't a bathroom connected directly to her room like at the Manor. Inconvenient, but it would be a stupid thing to get worked up over. Pushing the bedroom door fully open, she made her way towards the bathroom, the sounds and smells of breakfast growing. She had half a mind to skip the shower, she was so hungry, but even a runaway Death Eater's wife needed to stay clean.
A room away, Harry heard the bathroom door snap shut followed by the eventually sound of the shower being turned on. Not for the first time he wondered at how convenient magic was simply regarding bathroom use. Conjured water, temperature control, vanishing of waste. Hell, even if you ran out of toilet paper you could always just magic yourself more. Yeah, magic was damn useful.
"You know, I haven't had a slice of bacon in a thousand years," bemoaned Godric from the sitting room, his voice clearly forlorn. "That smell... Do you have any idea what that does to me?"
"Considering you're a portrait? Not really," replied the teen with a smirk, looking back over his shoulder at the three Founders. They were all positioned above the fireplace, Rowena in the middle with Salazar and Godric flanking her. It was either that or suffer some sort of silly argument about which guy ended up placed in the middle over the other. Less of an actually offended situation and more of a best friends love screwing with each other no matter what era you're from. "And don't think for a second I believe that bull about you smelling the food. Did they even have pigs back in your time?"
"You know, for someone who was fairly polite when we first met, you've really let your hair down, so to speak," continued Godric.
"Looks brilliant, I know," said Harry, making the man laugh.
"Harry, who are you talking to?" asked Narcissa, coming out of the bathroom wearing a fresh set of clothing. It looked much more suited for lounging around a home than what she had been wearing the previous day. Then again, she wasn't exactly going anywhere so...
"Oh that's right, they were keeping out of your hair yesterday because you were feeling a bit off, though as you're staying here for the time being you should meet them." Harry gestured to the three large portraits on the wall above the hearth, his hand lingering to the one on the right. "Though I suppose it would make some sense to do him first. Narcissa Black, meet the head of your House."
"Lord Black?" she said in confusion, not recognizing him at all. Both Harry and the man laughed.
"I would guess from the way that Harry here introduced me, I think he means your other house." It took a second before her mouth was gaping.
"Salazar Slytherin!" she gasped, dropping into a deep curtsey that impressed Harry. How she managed to that without falling over was beyond him. "It's an honor."
"Lovely to make your acquaintance, Miss Black," said Salazar, leaning back in his seat slightly. "Harry briefly explained your situation. You have my deepest condolences."
"Ah, thank you," she replied, still clearly moving through her shock.
"You might have more of an inkling who the other two are," said Harry, now returning to their breakfast. It would be done in a minute.
"If he's Salazar Slytherin..." began the woman, her voice still colored with awe. "You must be Godric Gryffindor," she finished, pointing to the portrait to the left.
"In the flesh," Godric said with a bow and a flourish. "Or the paint, I suppose. And before you guess again..." He leaned in conspiratorially and put one hand up to cover the side of his mouth. "The lady to my left wouldn't like being mistaken for the fourth of us."
"Do be quiet, Godric," sighed Rowena, not even looking at the man. "I'm Rowena Ravenclaw, dear. A pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise..." Narcissa stared at them all for a count of five before rounding on the amused teen with two plates of food in his hands. "How in Merlin's name do you have them in your trunk?!"
"Found them at Hogwarts," Harry explained brightly, enjoying her reaction. He hadn't been able to tell anyone, after all. It felt wonderful to get it out to someone. "Room of Requirement and Chamber of Secrets. Speaking of secrets, thanks for keeping this one."
Narcissa just looked back and forth between all of them before letting out a ragged sigh. "Let's just eat, I can't think anymore."
"Seeing as you're not going anywhere anytime soon, could you do me a favor and hang onto this for me?"
Harry passed Narcissa an object, causing her to nearly drop it the moment it touched her skin.
"Is this your wand?" she said in shock, giving it an apprehensive look. "It feels… dangerous."
"Don't be like that, she's a good wand," he said fondly. "Yeah, keep it safe will you?"
"But- are you mad?" she asked finally, looking at the boy like he was crazy. Here he was, just giving her his wand.
"Well, this summer I want to try and develop my ability with wandless magic. It's pretty cool and damn useful in certain situations."
Apparently he wasn't done surprising her. Was he going for some kind of record? "You can do wandless magic?"
"Secret," he replied cheerfully, though he was very obviously making a cup from the table levitate slightly above his right hand. "I've gotten pretty good at doing stuff like this when I focus a lot, but I really want to get it a bit more second nature. Also I want to explore it and see its limits. Can't really do either with a wand on me. I feel like I'll cheat."
"You realize this is the most ridiculous idea ever, yes?" Narcissa said indignantly. Whoever had taught this boy sense had seriously fucked up somewhere along the line. "What if you're attacked?"
"Good point, but generally the greater the risk, the greater the reward, and I honestly don't have time for small returns on my training," said Harry, crossing his arms. "I'll rarely be somewhere that I don't have protection. Besides, you think I'm just going to go around with a sign on my back saying I'm not carrying a wand? People already know that I'm not a pushover from what happened in May."
"Unbelievable," muttered the woman. "You are the worst wizard ever..."
"My dear, you haven't seen the half of it," said Salazar with a laugh, causing the other two Founders to chuckle.
Bellatrix Lestrange let out a small breath as she took her seat. The past few days had been rather tiring with all the recruitment the Dark Lord had been having them do. It wasn't that she begrudged the work, but doing nothing but recruitment for weeks upon weeks had made her rather less than patient recently. Then they were approached by Fenrir Greyback. He'd apparently come to the conclusion that his 'people' were ready to assist the Dark Lord's movement. Her master had readily accepted, though she knew it was only to use them as tools. If the vision that her master sought after didn't include half-breeds then what made Fenrir think that his kind would be tolerated in the end? The man wasn't stupid, simply extremely aggressive and possessing a number of disturbing likes, most of them involving young children. And now he walked around Malfoy Manor as well when he wasn't out having fun.
Yes, a tiring few days.
"Something bothers you?"
The soft words had her out of the seat in a second, her head bowed in submission to the man who spoke them.
"No, Master, I am fine." She hadn't even heard him enter the room.
"Bellatrix," the man continued, his voice having a hint of amusement in it, "you cannot hide things from Lord Voldemort. Tell me what it is."
"Apologies, Master, I am... frustrated," she replied finally, raising her head enough to look him in the eye, though still keeping her head bowed slightly. The red irises stared back unblinkingly. "Thanks to the others I've been saddled with nothing but mundane tasks that are a waste of my talents. I should be fighting your enemies, not coddling new recruits."
"Yes, the others..." Voldemort looked out at the rear grounds of the Malfoy estate. "Unfortunately it will take is quite a while to be able to recover them. Not that they are important enough to risk a breakout of Azkaban for, but the fall of the prison is one of our main objectives in the long run. It is a pillar of power for the Ministry." He cleared his throat slightly before continuing. "Regarding what you said, I must say that I agree. You are wasted on what you are doing. It will not be for much longer though. Soon we will have others take over and I can return you to the battle you seek. In the mean time you will have to settle for our duels. Unless..." The man turned back to her. "You do not find them to be enough?"
"No, My Lord," she replied quickly, shaking her head. The Dark Lord nodded and returned to looking out the window. He often did this when he was thinking. She actually had another question for him, but she didn't want to disturb-
"Something else on your mind?" he asked, as though reading her thoughts.
"Yes." Bellatrix paused for a moment before continuing. "I was wondering how your research was progressing. I believe you were close the last time I asked."
"That's right, I didn't tell you." Voldemort turned, now giving her a smile. "I have completed it. It only needs a volunteer."
"That is excellent news!" she said, rather excited now. "Master, please allow me to be the subject for your test. You've worked endlessly on it recently and I-"
"As I've said before you are far too valuable to me to risk on an experiment, however certain of its success I may be."
"There is no one greater than you regarding such things," she said, undeterred. "I have no doubt the new mark will work as you've planned."
"Bellatrix… do you wish to be of use to me?"
"I-" Bellatrix cut off as her eyes found her feet. "Of course I do, Master."
"Then bring me your nephew. He wants to be like his father, does he not? Then we shall test his loyalty with this."
Draco Malfoy was laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling in thought. In all honestly it wasn't something he did much. Usually during the summer he had everything planned out for him by his father. From the moment he arrived home for the summer to the night before his return to the castle, his father had something arranged. Unlike those other pathetic students at Hogwarts, he was being tested and honed in his magic year round. The only thing he hadn't actually begun yet was dueling. He had the knowledge, just not the practice. It was one of the reasons he'd been no match for Potter when he and his friends had been attacked in Hogsmeade. The Gryffindor had simply been in more fights than him. A long time of begging had finally gotten his father to agree to him begin the dueling a year early, this summer instead of the following. But as fate decided, it wasn't to be. His father was in Azkaban with the other ten Death Eaters that had been caught. That blasted Order of the Phoenix! And Potter-!
He took a deep breath and let it go, cooling his temper. They would both be dealt with in time, by his direct involvement if it was possible. No one messed with his father like that and got away with it. Not only that, but his mother hadn't been home in days. She'd forced him to fully rely on their House Elf to eat, among other things. Where on earth had the woman gone?
The boy sat up quickly, hand halfway to the wand on his bedside table before he saw who it was.
"Aunt Bellatrix, I've asked you to knock before," he said in annoyance, not really meeting her eyes as he pushed himself to the edge of the bed. He wouldn't admit it, but the woman scared him. Apart from the handful of old stories from his mother, she was not painted in a very sane light. The few times he'd interacted with her said otherwise, but he really didn't trust her for a second. The one thing that he did know was that she was obsessed with the Dark Lord, and she wouldn't hesitate in killing him if the man ever ordered it. Not that such a thing would ever happen. After all, he was destined to become greater than his father, Lord Voldemort's greatest lieutenant.
While Draco let his ambitions run away with his mind, Bellatrix leaned on the door frame, watching the boy in mild annoyance. As much as she cared about everyone in her family, there was no second way to look at it. Draco was a pompous little shit, spoiled rotten by her conniving brother in law. It was actually amazing that despite how similar the two men were, Draco was but a shadow of his father in all but ego. This was mainly why it bothered her that her master would even give the child the time of the day, forget about the opportunity to test out the new mark. At least Lucius had talent.
"Follow me," she continued, turning her back on him. "The Dark Lord summons you."
Bellatrix said nothing and instead began to lead the way through the large manor to where Voldemort had come to residing. The sooner they got this over with the sooner she could back to doing something useful.
They walked in silence, the only sound coming from their footsteps as they walked through the long halls. Ever since the majority of the Dark Lord's inner circle had been captured the manor had been eerily quiet, with only Wormtail and herself being left as people who lived there full time. Her sister, Narcissa, had also been around for all of May, but she'd gone missing a number of days before and reportedly vanished in the Three Broomsticks right under the noses of those the Dark Lord had out to bring her back.
According to her master, Narcissa was on the run from their movement, though for what reason Bellatrix had no idea. She'd even left her son to his own devices, though in all honesty she didn't blame her for that one. As long as Narcissa stayed safe, Bellatrix supposed it would be alright, however even she wasn't blind to the fact that her sister was a huge security risk for them. What if the Order had their hands on her? This was why at present she was to be killed if unwilling to return the next time anyone saw her. Hopefully she'd come back without a fight. It would be rather depressing to have to kill her favorite sister.
"We're here," said Bellatrix, stopping suddenly so that Draco almost walked into her. "Mind what you say or it may be the last thing you do."
"Understood," Draco gritted out of clenched teeth.
Bellatrix knocked thrice before pushing to door open to a large sitting room with a warm fire lit at the opposite end in the hearth. Lord Voldemort stool close by to it, watching the flames. The reflected light made his eyes glow ominously.
"Thank you, Bellatrix," said Voldemort, turning to face his guest. And it was his guest. Despite being in the home that for all intents and purposes belonged to the blonde boy, it was the boy himself who was the guest here, a fact not lost on the nervous teen. "I'm glad you could join me, Draco. Have you heard anything from your mother?"
"No, My Lord," he replied quickly, unable to look away from the man's eyes. Voldemort gave the strangest impression of looking through him, instead of just at him. "Not since during the school year. Do you know where she is?"
"Unfortunately, no," answered the Dark Lord, holding his palms up in an empty gesture. "She is on the run with nowhere to go. A danger to the cause, with what she has picked up over the past year. You will tell me if she attempts to contact you." It wasn't a request, it was a command.
"Yes, My Lord," Draco said at once. "Was there," he paused as Voldemort met his eyes once more. "Was there something else you needed from me?"
Voldemort considered the boy for a moment before turning back to the fire, frowning slightly. "I will tell you the truth, Draco, one of the less fortunate things about a movement like this is that it is often filled with people who are only strong in their radicalism. People who think to the extreme, willing to do the necessary for their beliefs, but have fairly little else that makes them stand out."
"I don't understand-"
"Power," overrode the Dark Lord, making Draco snap his mouth shut at once. "They lack the power to change anything. This is why they flock to one such as myself. I believe you'd agree that I have what they seek."
Draco tried to speak but couldn't manage anything. Instead he settled for a nod.
"Yet this is a problem for us. People like you and I who are above those smaller than us. We require their service to better us all, and how can they be of use without the power to inflict change. So that is what I wish to give them. Power."
"B-but My Lord," began Draco hesitantly, looking confused. "What about the Dark Mark? Doesn't it give your followers power?"
In response, Voldemort smiled. A couple of steps brought him within reach of Bellatrix who had been watching them in silence. Wearing short sleeves, her Dark Mark was easily visible against her skin. Voldemort took hold of her arm and brought the Mark into better light, passing a finger close enough to brush the fine hairs on her arm, but not actually touching the arm itself. At this point Bellatrix, whose breath had quickened at his approach, was looking away, her face flushed from the contact. How often in her years serving him had he simply touched her, nothing else?
"The Dark Mark was actually not what I'd been aiming to create. Think of it more as a fortunate side product, rather than a final product. However, I was pulled away from my research during the first war and decided to leave it as it was. The Mark can be extremely useful as is."
He suddenly pressed his finger down on the Mark, causing it to go jet black as Bellatrix collapsed to her knees with a gasp.
"Ma- master..." she breathed, unable to get much sound behind her voice. Though nowhere near the level of the Cruciatus Curse, pain was still moving through her body, incapacitating her.
And it was over, the Dark Lord releasing her, and letting her slump to all fours, panting heavily.
"You see Draco, it is a bit more than just a way to summon my followers," he said, as if he hadn't just tortured his most loyal for a few seconds. "There are other benefits that are less easy to demonstrated, but it still lacks what I mentioned earlier. Power."
"And the new Mark does that?" he asked, almost eagerly.
"No, it simply gives you power," corrected the Dark Lord. "The Dark Mark will still be used on all of my followers, but this new Mark will work with it. Only the most capable will receive it. The gift is useless otherwise. Are you willing?"
"Then brace yourself."
Finally regaining her footing, Bellatrix frowned as Draco began screaming in agony. The original Dark Mark had been refined so that the process was quick and fairly pain free. The new one however... clearly not so much. At least the process for both was relatively short. Listening to the boy screech was wearing thin on her already.
"It would appear that it worked." Voldemort nodded for a moment before returning his attention to his newest minion. "Heed my words, boy," said Voldemort, his red eyes cold as he looked down upon the young Slytherin, arms pulled in tightly against his body. One bore the Dark Mark while the other the new one, a small, inch long snake with its fangs exposed. Unnoticed by all, the snake's tongue flicked out and back, as if tasting the air around it. "The Serpent's Mark is an incredible gift. One I have been developing for many years. It will remove limits your body imposes on itself, more than enough to break anyone you desire to. However, it comes at a price. The serpent will grow as you use it. Do not let it reach your heart. That is all I will say."
"I'll use your gift wisely, My Lord," whispered Draco, his breathing still ragged from the earlier pain.
Harry hesitated for a few seconds as he reached the front door of 12 Grimmauld Place. Sure he'd talked to his Godfather the day before, but there was just something... He sighed, shaking his head. Might as well just brave it. A turn of the door handle and the teen was inside, looking around at the considerably more welcoming entrance than had been there a year ago. Now if he could just-
Without warning Harry was blindsided by a huge black dog who knocked him easily to the floor before licking his face a few times. Fortunately he was able to get his senses back enough to cover his face and prevent the onslaught from continuing.
"Do you have any idea how disgusting that is?" he groaned as the animagus backed up and returned to human form, laughing uproariously.
"Of course I do, why do you think I do it?"
"Mut..." Harry muttered, about to pull his wand before remembering that he didn't have it on him. Yeah that was going to take getting used to. "Clean this up will you?"
Sirius however was already waving his wand, returning him to a blissful, dog drool free state. "Sorry, Harry, it's just been a while, you know?" He reached down and helped the boy to his feet before pulling him into a quick hug.
"It's alright, New Years was a while ago." Though they had obviously seen each other back in May, not to mention talked through the mirror at least once a week, they really hadn't spent any quality time together since the winter holidays. Unfortunately, Sirius was back to staying inside full time as the security in the area was so much higher what it was before. Voldemort's return had brought a lot of change over the past month, good and bad. "So, got anything for me?"
"You know it," nodded Sirius, leading him down to the kitchen. "I've been waiting for you to come here to say much. I've got some really good dirt this time."
"Something's finally happened with Fudge I take it," said Harry slowly.
Sirius glanced at him over his shoulder before chuckling. "You can be pretty sharp when you want to."
"It's really the only topic I haven't heard a single thing about since the Ministry attack," explained Harry. "Process of elimination in a way."
"I suppose if you put it like that..."
"So is he getting the sack?"
Sirius grabbed a couple of butterbeers from the fridge and passed one to Harry, opening them both with his wand. The kitchen was empty other than them. "No he isn't. He's resigning."
"He- really?" Harry was honestly shocked. His opinion of the Minister had gone through some pretty radical changes over the year. In the end, he seemed nothing more than a greedy, easily influenced, and somewhat illogical man.
"Cornelius Fudge is many things, Harry, but he is not a fool," said Sirius, knowing the boy's opinion of the man. "He isn't an inherently bad person either."
"But- after everything he's put you through!" argued Harry. "Fudge led a crusade trying to hunt you down! You had to eat rats!"
"Which I'm very annoyed about and honestly would rather forget," Sirius replied dryly. "But he isn't the reason I went to Azkaban and I don't blame him for it. I'm honestly more ticked about him placing Dementors at the school than anything he's personally done to me. Fudge might have become very comfortable with his job and unwittingly fell to corruption, but he still cares about the people he governs. So he's stepping down to let someone who's better suited to being Minister than he is take over. He'll probably remain in some position or another though."
"I was wondering," began Harry. "How close was he to Lucius Malfoy? Do you know?"
At this Sirius actually looked a bit put out. "Lucius was Fudge's closest adviser for nearly his whole term as Minister. I'd imagine his betrayal and what that would have meant this whole time really dealt a blow. I know it's not quite the same, but even after I found out that Peter betrayed us and ended up in Azkaban I still felt awful about it for ages. No one can easily deal with stuff like that."
"Yeah..." Harry let out a sigh, staring at his drink in thought. "So who's replacing him?"
"No idea," said Sirius with a shrug. "Actually the whole resigning thing is still a secret as well. Keep it under your hat, yeah? People will find out about it when it's time."
"Don't worry, you know I don't repeat anything we ever talk about." Harry finished his butterbeer with a quick swig and tossed the bottle over his shoulder. The bin near the wall hopped about in its place a bit before jumping to the right a foot and chomping the bottle out of the air, waddling back to its original place to enjoy the snack. "So what else is new?"
"Well, you knew about the purge right?" asked Sirius with a frown, scratching his chin.
"Ministry spent all of May after the attack cleaning all Death Eaters out of the place," nodded Harry, his voice becoming a bit monotonous. "Some fought back and killed, some escaped, most in Azkaban. Count was at... thirty?"
"Thirty-five," corrected Sirius. "Did you know that Fudge was the one who instigated it?"
Harry blinked in surprise before giving his godfather a flat look. "Okay, I get it, he's not a complete loss. He's still an idiot."
"That he is," agreed Sirius. "I'm actually looking forward to seeing where this all goes. The new person might give me a way out of my predicament too."
Harry smiled at the thought. "That would be great."
"We'll have a drink together the day it happens," said the animagus, raising his butterbeer before downing the rest. The bin happily received the empty bottle with a nice crunch.
They continued to chat for a while about various things, most having some relation to Voldemort. The Dark Lord hadn't wasted any time once revealing himself to the public. While the recruitment of basic Death Eaters was always ongoing, his most notable recent achievement was the alliance of Fenrir Greyback. Greyback had finally managed to bring nearly all the migrant werewolf packs under his rule, and now felt it appropriate to begin his quest to turn the world. It was actually quite fortunate that Voldemort for the better part controlled the feral man. Without it Britain would likely be suffering from an extremely rapid increase in werewolf attacks, rather than the somewhat higher rate they were dealing with instead.
"Hey Sirius," said Harry, deciding to change the topic once more. "How close were you to your cousins?"
"You mean Andromeda, Bellatrix, and Narcissa?" he asked in surprise, not expecting the question. How often did Harry ever want to know about the Black family to begin with? And it wasn't like he ever was bursting to talk about it. "Not very close. They were all a bit older than me so we never had any interest in spending time together at family gatherings." He gave Harry a curious and somewhat suspicious look. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm just curious," he said quickly. "I mean I talked with Bellatrix for a while and Andromeda is Tonks' mum, not to mention Narcissa being Draco's. It's a bit of a split, but I feel like the Blacks cared a lot about family ties. Did you at least see them often?"
"All the time," Sirius said with a nod. "Summers and other holidays mainly, but during those times I was dragged around a lot as a kid. I probably spent the most time around Narcissa though, as she was closer to my age than the other two." The animagus leaned back in his seat slightly, raising his eyebrows at the boy. "You know about the thing you asked me yesterday... I found out something interesting."
"Was there a problem?" Harry knew that Sirius was taking this in a direction he didn't want to go in, but he still needed to know if there had been an issue.
"No, everything was fine," said Sirius, shaking his head. "Draco is out of the family and the only Black sister that still has her marriage is Andromeda."
"That's good, I-" Harry paused as he realized exactly what Sirius had said. "You ended the Lestrange marriage as well?"
"I figured why not?" he replied with another shrug. "Maybe it'll ruffle Bella's feathers a bit and I love pissing off her husband- well, ex-husband now. But that's not what I'm talking about. I found out something interesting last night from Snape. He said that Narcissa ran away from the Death Eaters. Voldemort's actually put out a hit on her. Kill on sight."
"Really?" Harry was giving Sirius his best surprised expression, though he knew it wasn't really working. "That's really odd. Did Snape say why?"
"Well, from what he said it sounds like Narcissa was being tortured by Voldemort out of anger for Lucius' failure in May. A couple of weeks of that and it was too much to handle."
Harry was giving Sirius a curious look. "But if it was going on for that long why do you think she didn't just run earlier?"
"It goes to show how much control Voldemort has over those who are around him, even if they don't know it. She was probably more afraid of trying to leave than just sticking it out." He paused for a second before leaning in a bit in his seat. "Harry... you know you can tell me anything, right?" the man said suddenly, dropping all pretenses. He was giving Harry a serious look.
"Sirius, honestly, there's nothing to tell," Harry assured him, completely straight faced.
Sirius stared at him for a second longer before breaking the look with a chuckle. "Alright, kid, whatever you say. You think I can't recognize mischief when I see it?"
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," said Harry, now also grinning. To his great relief, the kitchen door opened behind them for a moment, but instead of the person entering the room she instead quickly retreated the moment she saw who was sitting inside, closing the door with a snap.
"Sirius, I'll talk to you later," said Harry quickly, jumping out of his seat and darting after the girl.
"Sure, sure..." Sirius just shook his head as he watched Harry go, the door swinging behind him. "James, sometimes I feel like that boy of yours is a thousand times the trouble you could ever be." He grinned and summoned another butterbeer, putting his feet up. "Thanks for keeping things interesting."
Meanwhile, Harry was climbing the stairs to the third floor where Tonks had her room for when she was visiting HQ. He had absolutely no idea why she was trying to avoid him, but the fact that she'd literally run off at the sight of him was seriously bothering him. Fortunately she didn't have anywhere to go and he could sense her above in her bedroom. She must have made a beeline for it.
Arriving after a little bit, Harry knocked three times to no reply. Another three received similar results.
"Tonks? Everything alright?" he called through the door, one hand on it as he narrowed his focus before himself. The door felt like the wood it was, no magic on it at all. So there was no way she couldn't hear him. He raised his hand to knock again but paused as the latch clicked, the door cracking enough to show an eye and brown hair.
"Maybe another time, Harry, I'm not feeling up to a visit," she said softly.
"...Nym, let me in."
They stared at one another for a minute before the woman sighed heavily and opened the door so that Harry could enter. She locked and silenced it behind him. The room was, quite literally, a disaster. It looked like Tonks had tried to clean up with magic. The main issue was that there was clothing all over the place. The bed was completely unmade, books on the floor in various places... just mess. Tonks sat on the bed in silence.
"Don't tell me you've been living in this?" Harry half asked, half scolded, reaching down and picking up a shirt.
"No I did this a while ago. I've been staying at my place, obviously," she added. "Haven't gotten around to cleaning it up."
Harry took another look at the woman before dropping the shirt with a sigh. He made himself comfortable on a chair only partially covered in stuff. "Alright, out with it. What's bothering you? You actually ran away from me, albeit unsuccessfully. How did you even think that would work to begin with? I can find you anywhere."
Their eyes met for a moment before Tonks' moved to her lap. Harry was stumped. The last time they'd seen each other was the night of the attack back in May and nothing bad had happened between them. Sure they had a bit of an emotionally turbulent relationship overall, but that never really caused any issues in the end. So what-
"I'm sorry, she was my responsibility that night but I let her get away from me," blurted out Tonks. Harry just looked at her in confusion.
"Who are you-?"
"Bellatrix Lestrange," she elaborated. "I saw her and I just snapped. I dueled like an amateur."
"Against her?" Harry leaned back in his seat, thinking of the middle Black sister. "I doubt it, Nym. If you were dueling like an amateur then you'd be dead. You're too good to duel like that anyway."
"You don't understand!" she snapped. Her voice dropped in pitch but was no less intense. "I saw her and I got... I got so angry. I went straight to one of the darkest spells I knew and misused it like an idiot. If Sirius hadn't been there I'd have been dead."
"Well I'm... really, really glad you're not," said Harry simply. He'd no idea how close she'd come to that day being her last. "Is this what's been bugging you so much? Were you afraid I'd be upset with you for some reason?"
Tonks just shook her head. "No... that was something that's just been on my mind and I wanted to apologize for it." She gave a humorless snort of mirth, glancing at him before returning her gaze to the side. "What you're seeing right now is four months of really out of control worrying."
"Worrying? What for?" Harry asked, absently flicking articles of clothing into a growing pile with wandless magic. Tonks seemed a little spaced out as she watched the feat, not responding. Four months? But that would put them all the way back to February...
Oh yeah. That.
Tonks and he hadn't had a single conversation about their involvement with one another since Valentines Day weekend all the way back in February. But now the moment she'd reminded him of it he was blushing pretty hard.
"You're still worrying about that? I told you it was fine. Why would now be any different?"
"A lot can change in four months, Harry," replied Tonks stubbornly. "Especially what we think about the things we've been through. I'm sure you've changed your mind about going after the stone back in your first year, am I right?"
"That was four years ago, not four months!"
"My point," said Tonks heavily, "is that people's' views change over time. I was afraid that the next time you saw me you'd be regretful. I've been really nervous about seeing you again." She sighed, giving him a small glare. "It's not like I could get someone else to test the waters for me, you know?"
"Well here I am, four months later, telling you I don't regret a thing. Feel better?"
"Of course not! You should regret it!" Tonks retorted.
Harry narrowed his eyes at her. "Sounds like the only one who really has regrets here is you."
Tonks blinked in shock, though be it from the accusing tone his voice had taken or the statement itself it didn't really matter. They both led to the same place.
"No I don't!" she exclaimed. "The problem with me is that I know I should as well! That whole night... I should have regrets, you should have regrets, neither of us do, why doesn't this bother us as much as it should?!"
Harry just sat there as Tonks let out a sort of groaning roar of frustration before she collapsed back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Feel better now?" he asked calmly, grinning at the woman.
"Much better, thanks," she replied, equally as calm. She let her head roll to the side so that they could see one another. "...you're sure?"
"Nym, I'm sure."
"You have no idea how much stress you just got rid of. My whole life I thought I was a secure individual and then one night with Harry Potter ruins it." Tonks honestly looked forlorn. "I used to be so much more in control of my emotions before I met you."
"I think you'll be alright," chuckled the Gryffindor, now returning his attention to the pile of clothing he was creating.
"I know, I know." Tonks pushed herself up into a sitting position to properly watch Harry work. "You've certainly gotten better at that since I last saw. Have you been practicing a lot?"
"Not really," he said, trying to fold a shirt wandlessly and failing miserably, he was barely moving them into the pile without trouble. "I figured out how to manipulate stuff a while ago so it comes pretty easily. Still only when I'm totally calm though. I think the best I can still do in a duel situation is summon my wand back if I lose it."
"Not that that isn't dead useful, but no one is saying you have to be able to duel without a wand," pointed out the metamorph. "Can you even do something you'd use in a duel? Like a disarming charm or stunner?"
In response Harry held up his hand and pointed it at Tonks' chest. "Stupify." Tonks flinched slightly, but Harry seemed unconcerned. Absolutely nothing happened. "No luck at all, it doesn't work like that. Though to be honest I think I'd feel a bit silly throwing around spells from my hands. Do you know much about wandless magic?"
"Just that it's not taught or generally used," she answered. "And what I've seen a couple of people do, obviously."
"Well from what I've researched and tried, you can't actually cast spells," Harry explained, miming the action with an imaginary wand. "That's why it's been let go so much. It's an uncommon skill but still basically useless to anyone who could do it to begin with. The types of spells that do seem to work are special types. They act almost instantly without needing that little shot of light."
"Hence why they're called 'Instantaneous Spells'." Tonks rolled her eyes. "First year magic theory, Harry, tell me something I don't know please."
"Well if you want to act like that then you tell me about them," said Harry, disgruntled.
"Not much left to say," responded the girl, sticking her tongue out at him. "They all suffer from the same issues that other 'enchantment' spells do. The more magical the target, the less effective they are. That's why no one tries to banish their opponent right off the bat, the spell just breaks or gives them a small push. Or levitate people for too long."
"Very good, Miss Tonks. Five points to Hufflepuff," commended Harry in his most McGonagall way.
Tonks couldn't help but laugh. "Anyway, what does that have to do with wandless magic?"
"Uh, not much actually." Harry quickly dodged a pillow that was chucked at his head. "Wandless magic suits those spells much more easily but I just don't know why. Especially when the vast majority of all spells are ones that we project to make work. Wouldn't the other way around make more sense?
Tonks folded her arms. "I guess. But how are you going to do it?"
"That's simple." Harry gave her a very satisfied look. "I'm going to do everything until something works."
Tonks just slumped back on the bed with a ragged sigh. "Whatever, let's just go somewhere. It's been ages since you last bought me something."
Now it was Harry's turn to be giving the deadpan look. "You really are one of a kind, you know that?"
"Please, you love it."
Harry shook his head and made his way out of the room, letting his back hide his grin.
July first dawned bright and sunny on the Dursley's house. Within came the soft sounds of the table being set and the not so soft sounds of Vernon complaining about a coworker who was receiving a pay raise for, in his own humble opinion, no damn good reason. Petunia had been a bit put out lately as her garden didn't have quite the shine that it usually did during the summer. It must have been the soil. The rain wasn't like it used to be either. Everyone knew about how it was becoming more acidic as the years went on. And there was no way that is had anything to do with the fact that her worthless nephew hadn't spent a millisecond working in the beds himself this summer.
Speaking of said nephew, none of the Dursleys had seen hide nor hair of him since the day he'd made his quite plain threats to Petunia. From what she could remember, he and his freak guest had returned to his room and never come out. That was over two weeks ago. She figured they must have left somehow, else they'd surely be dead. It wasn't like the boy had come out to get any food or water. Not even to wash up. Vernon had attempted to break down the door after a couple days had gone by but it only got him blasted into the opposite wall with the flimsy looking door unmarked. It bothered them all for a while until they realized that it was like their problem truly had disappeared. The next couple of weeks that followed were the most relaxing the family had ever had. It was almost like they'd just had their little Dudders all over again. A perfect family of three.
Of course, to the Dursley's unknowing disappointment, Harry was not only alive and well, but oddly happy. The summer had already put itself on the top of all the others simply from his improved living conditions. The lack of his relatives was really improving his mental health in general. However, the biggest source of positivity in his life currently, to his great surprise, was the woman who he was now living with.
They'd never really come to a formal and mutual agreement about Narcissa staying there, but Harry hadn't been willing to let her leave the safety of his home, particularly after what Sirius had said, and she didn't have anywhere better to go so it just settled. It seemed normal at first, Narcissa doing her own thing and keeping herself occupied while he did the same, until after about a week in he returned home one night well after midnight, finding the woman awake and in the sitting room. Waiting to make sure he got back alright, apparently, complete with a scolding for staying out too late; one that he took with a befuddled expression. He always had plans for the day so he needed to make sure he was well rested after all, right? And that was how it was left, Narcissa retreating to her room to finally turn in.
Following that, their interaction increased. Usually over dinner, Narcissa always asked him how his day went, not hesitating to scold him if he ever gave a lackluster recount of the day's events. Not that he could blame her. Being cooped up in the flat must have been dreadfully dull after living in a manor for years. So he did his best to talk to her as much as he could whenever he was around. Eventually it stopped being because he felt guilty and instead became something driven by mutual interest. Narcissa Black was a wealth of information about the magical world as seen from a pureblood, complete with a dislike for Muggle things in general that he was having fun trying to poke holes in. She in turn was doing her utmost to catch him up on anything and everything he would have learned had the Potters been able to raise their son in the politics that the family line was steeped in. Some of it was useful, some of it wasn't. And then they would argue, the Founders either joining in or sitting back to enjoy the show. Oh, and there was stuff like this, too.
"Harry, don't make me say it again."
"I think you've made it clear to me that I don't make you do anything."
"Harry." Her voice was getting rather warningly.
"You don't hear me making a fuss when it's you," he argued back.
"Oh come on! They're carrots for crying out loud! Help me out here!" he called back to the Founders, two of which were trying and barely succeeding at containing their mirth. This wasn't the first time in recent days that a similarly silly event had taken place.
"May as well get it over with," called Salazar, receiving an agreeing nod from Godric.
"I'd rather not incur the wrath of the mighty," he said. "It's us who sit with her all day, not you."
"Unbelievable," muttered Harry, looking back at his plate. There they sat, staring back at him with their orangeness. "Two Founders of Hogwarts, ladies and gentlemen, absolute cowards." He gave one final defiant look at Narcissa before letting out a large sigh. "Alright fine."
"Thank you," said the woman, giving him a bright smile as she took his now empty dinner plate. He'd decided to get it over with and put the entire potion, albeit a small one, down in one go. "I don't know why you made such a fuss this time, every other time we've had carrots you ate everything without complaint."
"Well yeah, but... I, uh..."
Narcissa paused in her cleaning to turn to face the boy. He actually looked rather embarrassed.
"What is it?" she asked, her voice tinged with curiosity. She was watching him with her head slightly to one side, wand still pointed behind her at the plate that was getting scrubbed by a soapy dish sponge. Her sleeves were pushed up to her elbows and her hair tied in a loose bun, which was rather amusing as the odds of her getting wet at all from the magical cleaning were practically zero.
"Well, you cooked all the other times."
Narcissa watched him in silence as his words settled over her before turning back to the sink, continuing her cleaning.
"Should I stop making carrots then?" she asked after a few seconds.
"Ah, no, it's alright," he said quickly. Considering the frequency they made it into her dishes, she must enjoy eating them. "They're growing on me. Slowly..."
"Well if you insist," she replied. Looking back over her shoulder she continued, "Isn't the Headmaster supposed to be visiting you tonight? It's nearly six now."
"Yeah, at seven," said Harry, glad at the change of subject. He made to grab the empty glasses they'd been using but they both danced out of his reach and flew over to the sink as well, Narcissa waving her wand over her shoulder as she watched him, still smiling. Instead, Harry took to leaning against the table with his arms crossed. "I'm trying to decide whether or not to meet him inside or out."
"Inside? You don't mean here do you?" asked Narcissa quickly. Cheerfulness gone, she now looked considerably worried.
"No, of course not," assured the Gryffindor, shaking his head. He still didn't fully understand her fear of the Order, but he'd promised to keep her safe and accepted it. "You're the only one who will ever know about this trunk so long as you are taking refuge here. I was referring to inside the Dursley's house or not."
"Does it really matter?" Narcissa stretched for a moment before moving the now clean dishes to the drain board. Yes she could use magic but doing something like that would be overkill. She was only cleaning up for two after all.
"Well as much as I'd love to skip out on seeing my relatives I'm still half tempted to make them suffer through Albus Dumbledore being in their home, even if it's only for a minute. You know how much they hate everything to do with magic."
Narcissa blinked for a moment at the thought before grinning in a most malicious way.
"Inside. It definitely has to be inside."
"Now who in the ruddy hell could that be?"
Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley all looked towards the direction of the front door which had just been knocked on twice. It was distinct over the soft sound of the detective program that had just started started on the television. The knocking came again, not insistent, but not lazy either.
"Aren't you going to get that?"
The Dursleys' heads all turned as one again, though this time it was to doorway that connected the room to the dining room. Harry Potter, the boy who had been blissfully gone these past weeks was standing there like he did it every day.
"Honestly, what ever happened to the ever polite Dursley family," he continued, looking at them all with mock sadness. "I guess I'll go get it."
"Boy! Get back here!" shouted Veron, immediately going after him into the dining room. Harry, however, was nowhere to be seen. Not a moment later the sound of the front door unlocking and opening reached all of their ears.
"Professor Dumbledore, good evening," said Harry the grandness of his voice making them all picture him bowing in respect. "Did you travel well?"
"Good evening to you as well, Harry, and thank you it was most agreeable," came a new pleasant aged voice. "Might I be able to come in for a moment?"
"Of course, everyone is in the sitting room," replied Harry, shutting the door behind the Headmaster. "By the way... nice suit, Sir."
"I'll admit I do enjoy putting on things like this from time to time," the man admitted, passing Harry to go the the sitting room. The emergence of Albus Dumbledore to the dumbstruck Dursleys was as priceless as it could get. After all, to a group of people who wouldn't even speak the word 'magic', Dumbledore was the most wizardly looking man alive, even with the suit. Tall, old, and with an immensely long and white beard, his black Muggle attire clashed horribly with the blatantly wizardish pointed hat he was sporting. Honestly all he needed was his wand out and it would complete a perfect picture.
"Tea, Headmaster?" asked Harry from behind him, ignoring the sputtering that Petunia was going through. Vernon actually looked like he'd been frozen on the spot. Dudley was just trying to merge himself with the armchair he was sitting in, clearly to prevent a clean target to his backside.
"Unfortunately we do not have the time," replied the man, looking from face to face. "I had originally wanted to make a statement to your relatives, but it would appear that it is unnecessary. You seem to be doing well enough."
"I've always been good at adapting," said Harry with a shrug.
"Very true. Come, Harry, we must be off. Petunia..." Dumbledore's word made the woman look up at once, their eyes locking for a second before the man broke off and headed out of the house. Harry raised his eyebrows at the clearly frightened look on his aunt's face before he followed, shutting the door behind himself.
"You know, I'm surprised that he didn't say anything," said Harry after a second, glancing back at the house. "So unlike him and his really loud habits."
"Ah, that is because I hit him with an Impediment Jinx the moment I entered the room. As you know, against a Muggle magic is quite powerful with no internal magic themselves to resist it, and I'm certainly not an average wizard either," explained Dumbledore, making Harry's eyes go wide. He'd never even seen it. "He should be coming out of it right about-"
"-now," finished the Headmaster with a small smile. "In any case, time for a small adventure, yes?"
It was a little odd, walking down the street with the tall, bearded wizard. Harry was still trying to get past the conflicting messages Dumbledore's crisp suit and blatantly wizard-looking hat were giving off. Honestly who did he think he was fooling?
"I would remind you to stay on your guard but I believe that you already are," said Dumbledore with a smile. He of course had his hands in his pockets, as if that was his way of being prepared for an attack. "Of course, I do not believe we will be attacked at all today."
"What makes you say that?" asked Harry in curiosity.
"You are with me."
"Ah, good point." Dumbledore, despite his old age, still was quite the duelist, as Harry had personally witnessed. It was no wonder that Voldemort still tread lightly around him, even with their apparent power gaps. When they reached the end of the street Dumbledore came to a stop, looking around. The street was completely deserted. Families in the nearby houses were likely sitting down for a late dinner or something of the like. In this neighborhood they were as cookie cutter as the houses themselves.
"This should be fine. I doubt we will be interrupted. You already are familiar with side-along apparition?" he asked, holding out his arm. Harry nodded and grabbed tightly to his arm. A moment later which he was pulled along through the incredibly tight feeling that accompanied apparition. A second later they were standing in a neighborhood that he didn't recognize at all. About to ask where they were something else occurred to him and he turned to Dumbledore in interest.
"You didn't make a sound when you did that," he said impressed. Even when one was apparating it was fairly easy to detect the sound it made, as it lingered in the air for a moment. "Same thing when we were dueling together in May, but I figured I missed it under the sounds around us. I haven't met anyone else who could apparate without making some kind of crack or pop."
Dumbledore smiled down at Harry. "Indeed it is an invaluable skill, though difficult to master," he said. "Who else do you know who apparates silently?" But Harry was gone.
"Me," he said from behind the blinking man. Dumbledore turned to face Harry, his eyes twinkling behind the half moon spectacles. "I worked damn hard to get rid of that annoying pop."
"Quite the pleasant surprise," he said happily. "You will find it to be incredibly useful to come and go without making a sound."
"Yeah I know," agreed Harry with a nod. "So where are we anyway?" They were in a deserted village square with a war memorial at the center surrounded by a few benches.
"This is Budleigh Babberton," answered Dumbledore, setting off in a seemingly random direction with Harry hot on his heels. "It's a quaint little village with a single wizard in temporary residence. Not many people move about in the evening as well so it works out for us."
"If we aren't trying to be noticed then wouldn't it be easier to move after dark?" asked Harry.
"Indeed it would," nodded Dumbledore, "however, I decided to add a second part to our excursion tonight, and I am hoping for a little light when we go about doing it. You may consider it a sneak peek to our coming sessions."
"When are those going to begin anyway?" Harry was giving the Headmaster a somewhat accusing look. "You said we'd start during the summe."
"Apologies, Harry, I did say that. Now that it is the summer, instead of early May an hour after Voldemort's public return, I can say for sure that they will be happening over the next two months. Everything I wish to inform you of will be told by the time you start your sixth year." He smiled down at the teen before lengthening his pace slightly, making Harry jog a little every now and then to keep up. "Now, put it out of your mind. We have a different task at present."
"We're here to persuade an old colleague of mine to come out of retirement and return to Hogwarts. I had originally been planning to do this later in the summer but I figured it would be good to get it out of the way. He also has a habit of taking off without notice so it would be safer to do it while we know where he is."
"Er, isn't it a bit late for a visit though?" asked Harry. The Dursleys, as they had shown, were loath to receive visitors after a certain reasonable hour, one of the reasons that Harry had more than supported it. Not that the Dursleys were really the type of family that he'd normally look to as an example. Harry was pretty sure that visiting hours for wizards at the Dursleys' was some time between never and not fucking likely.
"It shouldn't be an issue," said Dumbledore unconcernedly. "Left here, Harry." They continued walking up a street lined with dark houses. "I wanted to ask you, now that Voldemort is in the open once more and certainly feeling rather radical in his emotions, has your scar been hurting lately?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head. "My scar hasn't hurt once since the Dementor attack last summer." Harry walked past Dumbledore as he stopped moving, regarding the teen with a frown.
"Not once?" he asked, clearly surprised. "I would have thought after you stopped taking the potion... I believed it to be helping with that problem at the time," he continued at Harry's confused look. "Apparently I was mistaken."
"It's really weird to be honest," said Harry, shaking his head. "I mean it used to hurt when practically anything with Voldemort was going on, you'd think being connected to him in some weird way would make it worse. I mean he even managed to connect to my mind at one point, but even then I was fine. The days before the Dementor attack were the worst by far and then nothing? I think something must have happened."
"Voldemort has always excelled when it came to mind magics," said Dumbledore, tugging at his long beard slightly in thought. "You have given me much to think on, Harry, though we must put this aside for now in light of our current objective." They continued down the street.
"About that, sir, I don't really know why I'm here," said Harry honestly. "I mean he's your old friend, right?"
"Oh I'm sure we'll find a use for you," said Dumbledore evasively, the smile now back on his face. They continued on, talking lightly about the state of the Ministry. Fudge had formally declared his aim to resign just the day before, making a speech about the Ministry needing someone more prepared to deal with their current issues. The new Minister would be elected in and begin work fairly soon as well, though there was only rumors about who that could possibly be.
"Sir, is the house we're going to the one after this one?" asked Harry suddenly, wand in his hand.
"Why yes it is, how did you know? Oh-" now that they were a little closer Dumbledore saw what Harry had noticed: the front door was hanging off its hinges. He was now holding his wand in his hand as well, though Harry never saw him take it out. "Stay close Harry." They carefully made their way up the walk and flanked the doorway. Harry nodded to Dumbledore and they both entered rapidly, wands up.
They were in a small entrance way that fed directly into a narrow hallway.
Dumbledore's wand tip lit, illuminating the hall. They could see that a door was open further down. They carefully made their way to the door and entered the sitting room where a scene of total destruction met their eyes. There was an obliterated grandfather clock immediately in front of them, clock gears and pendulum like spilled innards. A bit further in was a piano, keys strewn across the floor. Broken chairs, coffee table, and torn pillows were scattered about, with a spectacularly destroyed chandelier lying in the center of it all. Dumbledore raised his wand higher to illuminate the walls and Harry could clearly see something that looked like blood glistening on them.
"Not pretty," said Dumbledore grimly. "Yes something horrible has happened here."
"Maybe," said Harry, wand fixed on an overstuffed armchair off to one side, "we should ask the guy pretending to be an armchair."
Dumbledore looked at Harry in surprise. "You knew?"
"He's the only solid magical thing in here apart from us," said Harry, now keeping an eye on Dumbledore but still his wand trained on the armchair. "You obviously knew too."
"I'll admit, I was enjoying the suspense," Dumbledore conceded, walking over to the armchair. He gave it a light prod with his wand.
"Good evening, Horace."
Harry blinked. The armchair had suddenly become an enormously fat, bald, old man with a walrus like mustache and a maroon velvet jacket that was thrown on over a set of lilac silk pajamas. The tip of his head barely reached Dumbledore's chin. Overall not what he had been expecting.
"Did you bring an Auror with you or something, Albus? I thought he was going to blast me for a moment. Looks a bit young though now I'm thinking of it..." Harry brightened immensely at the compliment, scratching his cheek in embarrassment. "Anyway, what gave it away?"
"My dear Horace, if the Death Eaters really had come to call the Dark Mark would have been placed over the house," said Dumbledore. "Of course, we would have found a body and not an armchair then. I'm personally glad we got the armchair."
"Bah, well I wouldn't have had the time anyway," said the man, rubbing his head. "Not like I know the spell to begin with. I was just putting the finishing touches on my upholstery as you were coming in the room. Illusions work better in layers after all, difficult as they are..."
"Would you like a hand cleaning this up?" offered Dumbledore.
"I'll get it," said Harry quickly, making them look around at him. "I was kind of expecting a fight so I've got a little energy to work off." He twirled his wand for a second before making a large sweeping motion with it, sending a widely overpowered Reparo at the room. At once everything began reconstructing itself, though with enough sound to wake the neighborhood. Harry quickly followed it up with a silencer. "Blimey that was loud," he said, rubbing his ears, and walking over to the two wizards. They were both regarding him with different expressions.
"Tonight is turning into quite the learning experience for me, Harry," said Dumbledore after a second. A surprising amount of control, not to mention silent. Of course, he'd known that Harry was well beyond his year in magic after the duel in May, but it was different to see it in such a calm environment. The Headmaster couldn't help but look more and more forwards to their upcoming meetings.
Unaware of the silent scrutiny, Harry just rubbed the back of his head. "I tend to break a lot of things when I train. Probably the second most used spell I know."
"Oh, do forgive my rudeness," said Dumbledore at once. "This is Harry Potter. Harry, allow me to introduce my friend and colleague, Horace Slughorn."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Slughorn," said Harry, shaking the man's hand. "Oh looks like the blood is still there," he added, looking at the walls. "I guess it needs a cleaning spell? That's not from a person, right?"
"No it's dragon blood," said Slughorn, waving his wand at the walls. The blood seemed to be sucked right off them and flew into an open flask that he had pulled from somewhere. "And there's no way I'd ever use a cleaning charm on this. It's my last bottle. Prices are sky-high at the moment." He walked over to the newly fixed seating area and flipped on a lamp, filling the room with a warm glow. Dumbledore let his wand light go out. "And to end this before it starts, no," he shot at Dumbledore, who was looking back innocently. "I see what you're trying to do here but it won't work. We've known each other for far too long, Albus."
"I suppose we could have a drink at least?" asked Dumbledore, moving to take a seat. "For old time's sake?" Slughorn glanced at Harry for a moment before forcibly looking back at Dumbledore.
"Alright, just one drink." While he busied himself with getting the pair of them drinks, Dumbledore motioned for Harry to take a seat by the fireplace which Dumbledore lit with a flick of his wand. After handing a glass to the Headmaster with a grumpy expression, Slughorn sank into the sofa with a grunt. "Sorry, boy, all I have is the strong stuff."
"No worries," said Harry quickly, waving it away.
"So, how have you been keeping, Horace?" Dumbledore asked.
"Not so well," he replied instantly. "Eyesight is on the go. Can't move like I used to. Knees are beginning to creak all the time and my back... Well that's to be expected after all. Old age, you know how it is."
"And yet you moved remarkably quickly to prepare such a welcome for us in such a short time," said Dumbledore, taking a sip of his drink. "You couldn't have had more than three minutes."
"Two actually," said Slughorn, and Harry could tell the man was pleased by the compliment. "I didn't hear the Intruder Charm go off and I was taking a bath at the time."
"Is that what it was?" asked Harry in interest. He thought something had brushed the back of his mind a little before they had made it to the right house. "Five houses out? That's a pretty sneaky spell."
"You're pretty sensitive to notice something like that," said Slughorn, looking impressed in spite of himself.
"I've been exposed to some pretty, uh, extreme bits of magic over the years," said Harry with a shrug. Killing Curse to the face, blood based wards, Voldemort's undead spirit passing through his chest, basilisk venom running through his veins (well the venom was magical at least), time travel, Dementor's kiss, the diadem, freakin' parallel universe jumping... the list went on and on. He gave in involuntary shudder. It was a miracle he wasn't dead.
"Quite so," said Slughorn, pulling himself away from Harry with an almost painful look. "In any case, the fact remains that I'm an old man, Albus. A tired old man who's earned the right to a quiet life and a few creature comforts."
"You're not nearly as old as I am, Horace," said Dumbledore wryly. Slughorn just shrugged. "So tell me, are all your security measures for the Death Eaters' benefit or mine?"
"What would they want with a retired old fogey like me?" Dumbledore actually let out a small laugh, giving the man a pointed look. Slughorn just let out a defeated sigh. "I've barely given them the opportunity to try," he said tiredly. "Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be out here when they could knock on your front door out of the blue saying join or die? I don't stay in one spot for too long. Move from Muggle house to Muggle house. The owners of this place are away on holiday."
"It sounds a rather tiring existence for an old man looking for a quiet life," said Dumbledore. "If you were to return to Hogwarts-"
"No way in hell, Albus. I've heard rumors of the chaos that happened at the end of last year while you were "absent". You think I need that kind of calamity?" They both looked over as Harry snorted in laughter.
"Sorry about that, the school should be back to normal now that Umbridge is gone," he said. "The Weasley twins are gone too, I imagine it'll get a bit tame actually."
"I will miss them dearly," said Dumbledore with a nod. "Exceptionally bright, if lacking in certain academic drive. Still there is nothing-" Dumbledore cut off as a distinct gurgling emanated from his stomach. "Excuse me, Horace, but if you could point me...?"
"Back into the hall, last door on the right," he replied. Not a second later and Dumbledore had swept away, leaving the other two in silence. They sat there for a minute before it was finally broken.
"I know why you're here..."
Harry raised his eyebrows at the man. "Well that makes one of us. Dumbledore just brought me along for the ride I suppose."
"And you don't find it a bit odd for the Headmaster to be taking a student on an excursion?" Slughorn posed, looking skeptical.
"Well I would," began Harry, "but I'm not exactly a typical student. Enough insane stuff happens to me you could write a whole series about it. Instant best seller."
At this Slughorn let out a bark of laughter, downing the remainder of his drink. He set the glass down next to a folded Prophet. "I read the paper about your duel. Sensational doesn't even begin to describe it."
"You and the rest of the country," muttered Harry, rolling his eyes. "I'm pretty sure it's impossible for me to have a completely normal week."
"You weren't afraid?"
"Of him. Dumbledore was with you yes, but you still dueled him, not to mention Lestrange." Slughorn was giving him an unreadable look. "Didn't it scare you? By all rights you should have died."
"Scared?" Harry repeated in amusement. "Though I wasn't really thinking much about being afraid at the time I assure you I was one hundred percent not happy to see that guy. If I never saw him again it wouldn't be soon enough."
"So what are you going to do about it?" asked the man. "All this 'the next Albus Dumbledore' nonsense that the Prophet has been spewing has made you out to be Britain's up and coming hero, after all."
"First of all, if the Prophet is nonsense then why even talk about it? And to answer your question I'll fight back. What else can I do?" said Harry.
"You could always-"
"Run?" finished the teen. He shook his head. " It might make my life longer by a little bit, but I'm not willing to get even a second if it's at the expense of those I care about." Harry let out a breath and unclenched his fists. "Sorry, I can get a little passionate when I talk about that kind of stuff. I'm sure it'll work out in the end though. Life will be pretty good after I take him down, you know?"
Now Slughorn was giving him a shocked look. "And you think you can actually do it? When so many older and more experienced witches and wizards have failed miserably? When Albus hasn't ever been able to?"
"Pretty much," said Harry with a shrug. Okay, maybe he was being a little bit overconfident here with a splash of dishonesty. But seriously there was just something about this guy that made him want to be over the top. "Anyway forget about it, talking about Voldemort kills conversations pretty easily."
"Ah... yes." Slughorn had winced fairly badly at the name. "Was there something you wanted to ask me?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded. "You used to teach at Hogwarts? Professor Dumbledore mentioned it earlier before we showed up."
"Yes I taught Potions for over fifty years as a mater of fact. Head of Slytherin," said the man with obvious pride. He clearly enjoyed his work.
"Wow, that's a long- wait a second, Potions?" Harry was giving him a confused look. "Not Defense?"
"Defense?" repeated Slughorn, looking affronted. "You couldn't pay me enough to teach that class. I've never had any liking for the Dark Arts, nor the teaching of their defense. No, potions has always been where my talents lied, not to mention where my passion was."
"Well if that's the case then what made you stop?"
In response, Slughorn got to his feet and walked over to the mantelpiece. He picked up a picture and, after looking at it for a second, tossed it to Harry who caught it. "This is a picture of my favorite Potions class. All seventh years taking their NEWTs."
"Hang on..." Harry was looking at the waving students only to see a girl with bright green eyes and a shock of red hair. "This is-"
"Yes. One of the last years I taught was your mother's." Slughorn gave a sad smile. "She was the best student I ever had."
"You knew my mum?" he asked, now much more interested in what Slughorn was saying.
"Knew her?" Slughorn actually looked amused. "Of course, I did. You'd be hard pressed to find a person who knew Lily Evans and forgot about her even a little. All of her professors have fond stories I'm sure. Filius always toted her as his shining star. But above all potions is what was in her blood. Even after she stopped pairing with Severus in class she was still at the top of her class."
"Wait a second," cut in Harry, now looking back at the photo. Sure enough, there was Snape, the only student who wasn't waving. Instead he was leaning against the back wall with his arms crossed and occasionally glancing to his left where a few students down his mother stood. "Are you telling me my mum was better at potions than Snape?"
"Don't get me wrong, Severus is a genius when it comes to brewing," said Slughorn at once. "In fact he's probably a bit better than your mother was, but their areas in the art were fairly different, not to mention their entire personalities. Severus was a solitary boy who preferred to work in silence, his movements impeccable and efficient. Always finding better ways to do something solely from intuition. Every brew a masterpiece. Lily, on the other hand, was simply an inspiration to be around. Her ideas, many of which likely came from her being Muggleborn, inspired so many projects, and she ran circles around the methods that classical potion brewers have been using for centuries. Both had intrinsic understandings of ingredients and the right mix of imagination and intelligence to be able to puzzle out how any two separate parts might interact. As a team they were limitless."
"That... actually sounds really nice," Harry said, smiling slightly at the photo. It kind of reminded him of how it was whenever he was teaching someone in the DA something that they were particularly good at. They were excited and eager to learn more, which translated back into him the desire to continue meeting that level. It was a nice circle.
"It was," agreed Slughorn. "And that is why when I learned of her death that I couldn't continue teaching. I ended up leaving that Christmas. And people celebrate that day. Still celebrate it..."
Harry was taken aback at the disgust contained in his voice. It reminded him of the past Halloween, when he'd unleashed his anger to Daphne about how people treated that day.
"I appreciate it," he said finally, nodding his head in thanks. "But my mum would probably hit you with something if she could, you know? If you liked teaching that much, I mean. Sticking to the past isn't going to do anything for you."
"That she would," Slughorn said with a small chuckle. "You're pretty wise for your age."
"You think I moved on because it was the wise thing to do?" Harry frowned deeply. "Sometimes you don't get a choice about the matter."
The man's expression became more somber. "I suppose you would be one to understand such things, wouldn't you." When, he wondered, had this conversation gone from elder and younger to that of peers. Those who had the same grief. It was odd, but the boy before him really wasn't that at all. And Slughorn could tell he was going to go far. It wasn't his confidence per say, nor his skill, which he'd showed. It was just... something.
"Yeah, I look to the future. Like when I put Voldemort six feet under for what he's done to my parents, among others," Harry continued, punching his palm with a fist. The sound seemed to reverberate through the entire room with a sort of weight. "He's had it coming for a long time. That goes double for his goons."
Yes, far indeed.
"My sincerest apologies," came a voice from the side of the room. Dumbledore was standing there with a hand over his stomach. "I really have no idea what I must have eaten but with luck I won't ever have the misfortune of doing so a second time." He looked at his friend with a small smile, though it was certainly laced with some regret. "Horace, I'm sorry that you're so set on your decision, but of course I will respect your choices as I always have. It was very good to see you, and thank you for the drink as well."
"Wait, I- you're leaving?" said Slughorn, hopping to his feet and looking back and forth between him and Harry.
"Yes, I do need to get Harry home after all," said Dumbledore. "Please stay safe until we are next able to meet, will you? Come along, Harry."
"Yes, Professor," said Harry obediently, walking over to his side. "Mr. Slughorn, it really was a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for telling me about my mother. I don't get those kinds of stories often, especially since the person who knew her best is a bit of a stick in the mud about these things."
"O-of course," replied the man, seemingly still caught off guard by the sudden departure.
With that Harry was herded outside by Dumbledore who muttered a, "Don't worry, I'll explain in a moment," after which they began walking back to the street, though at an arguably slower pace than any time earlier that evening. They barely made it to the front gate when Slughorn came bursting out of the front door.
"Wait! Albus, wait you fossil!"
Slughorn came to a rest a few feet away from them, panting heavily. His only change in appearance now was the addition of a pair of slippers that matched everything else he was wearing.
"Horace, is there something wrong?" asked Dumbledore.
"I'll- ah blast it, I'll do it," said the man, finally standing up and giving him a glare. "I'll come back to teach. Merlin knows I'll regret it, but there you have it."
"Marvelous!" exclaimed the Headmaster, clearly delighted. "You may relocate to the castle at your earliest convenience. Feel free to bring whatever you like, as always."
"I'll want a pay raise too," said Slughorn flatly.
"A discussion for another time, Horace, but thank you." Dumbledore gave him a small bow. "Now we really must be off. I've borrowed Harry for a bit longer than I'd originally promised."
"Very well, off with you then," said Slughorn, making shooing motions at them. "Oh, and Harry..."
"Yes?" He turned to find the man already making his way slowly back up the walk.
"It's not Mr. Slughorn, it's Horace. Do remember that, will you?"
Harry exchanged blinking expressions with the Headmaster before grinning at the retreating man's back.
"Sure thing, Horace."
"Excellent job, Harry," said Dumbledore, beaming at him as they walked back down the street. "Simply stupendous."
"I don't really know what I did," said Harry, still a bit baffled by the whole exchange.
"You showed Horace what he stood to gain by coming back to Hogwarts, something that I couldn't do as well because he's already so weary of me," explained the Headmaster. "Additionally, you also got a very good friend of mine possibly moving forward from something that I know has been heavy on his heart for a number of years. As his friend I sincerely thank you."
"It's just..." Harry looked at his feet for a moment before meeting the Headmaster's eyes. "I've never seen someone other than me so upset over the celebrations at Halloween. I've only ever gone to the feast for Ron and Hermione."
"I don't know if I've told you this before, but you have a remarkable ability to help those along with their issues, simply by speaking with them. It speaks to your character deeply."
"I- thanks, Professor," said Harry softly, smiling slightly.
"Of course. Now to explain my friend, you will find Horace is much like a large hungry spider," continued Dumbledore, waggling his fingers to help with the picture. "He sits at the center of an immense web and does his best to maintain it by forming strong bonds with not prominent people, but people who will become prominent. This comes with the benefit that they usually remember him and send him gifts out of fondness and thanks. As such, he's lived a very cozy lifestyle. One that he is very wary of relinquishing for anything else. However, he has a true passion for teaching and seeing the young grow. As teachers we all remember the students who've affected us the most, and outliving any of them is a tragedy none want to endure. For him, that was your mother."
Dumbledore let out a small sigh. "What I'm getting at, Harry," said the Headmaster, patting the boy's shoulder, "is that while Horace may appear at times to be a shallow individual he is anything but. I hope you will remember that."
"I will, Sir."
"So he'll be teaching Potions then?" Harry asked.
"Indeed, as he said, Defense Against the Dark Arts is not something he'd ever teach, let alone go near."
"Aha!" Harry exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at the bearded man. "So you weren't actually in the bathroom. I thought that was odd."
"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about," said Dumbledore innocently. "As I was saying, Professor Snape will move over to the Defense position instead." This caused Harry to look at Dumbledore in surprise.
"Really? I always thought that you were doing your best not to give him that job," he said.
"It goes a little deeper than that, but Severus has always been one of the best potions masters I've ever known, not to mention extremely young, and it is much more difficult to replace him as a potions teacher than find someone to fill Defense for a year."
Harry scratched his chin and grimaced. "Well, I'm sure he'll be happy for the good news. Can't say the same for the rest of the school though."
"I wouldn't be worried," said Dumbledore with a small grin. "Severus is well acquainted with the Dark Arts. He will surely bring something to the class that many could not."
"I'll say," said Harry, his imagination going wildly out of control as he pictured Snape torturing students who pissed him off. It was actually probably a blessing that he had been teaching a class that did not consistently require the use of a wand. "Actually, it sounds kind of interesting. Ah, don't tell him I said that!"
Dumbledore chuckled softly. "Professor Snape is a highly accomplished wizard, Harry, I'm sure you'll learn a lot." He looked up at the darkening sky and nodded. "Now, if you will take hold of my arm once more, Harry, we have one more place to visit."
Once again they were swept away in the whirl of apparation, depositing them a moment later on a dirt road flanked by thick hedges. The road stretched out of sight behind them and was lost at a curve a little further on. The evening sky was clearly beginning to darken, but with the sheer openness of where they had arrived there was still a great deal of light, much brighter than where they had just been certainly.
"Where are we now, Professor?" asked Harry, turning to the man, but Dumbledore did not answer, instead making his way down the road in silence. Not really understanding what was going on, Harry kept close, absently rubbing the holster of his wand. He'd taken it back from Narcissa at her insistence. Dumbledore would obviously be displeased if he found out he didn't have it. Besides, he had no idea at the time what they would be doing. It was just for the night though. The moment he returned he'd be giving it back to her.
As they followed the curve of the road, it suddenly sloped downwards showing them a quaint view of a village tucked away between two steep hills. At last Dumbledore stopped.
"This, Harry, is Little Hangleton. The location of the old Riddle House."
"Riddle? You mean Voldemort?" asked Harry quickly. He was still looking down at the village. Particularly at the church and graveyard, easily visible from where they were standing. It made him feel uneasy for some reason.
"No, not Voldemort," corrected the Headmaster. "I am referring to his father Tom Riddle Senior. Unfortunately, Tom Riddle Junior was raised in an orphanage."
"That's what he said..." Harry's voice trailed off as he was struck with memory. At Dumbledore's look he shook his head slightly. "Sorry. The night he returned he told me he was raised in an orphanage because his father left his mother and she died giving birth to him. That night in the-" He stopped suddenly, putting two and two together. "Professor, is Voldemort's father buried in that graveyard?"
Dumbledore blinked at the question. "Well, yes I would assume so. I admit I have never personally checked."
"No wonder that place gives me the creeps, it's where Voldemort came back using the ritual. I've been there before."
"Ah, yes, I'd forgotten," said Dumbledore. "He needed his father's bone, you said. Worry not, Harry, the village is not our destination tonight."
"Well then where are we going?" he said impatiently. "You know I don't like surprises, Headmaster."
Dumbledore chuckled and began walking again. "Quite. We are visiting the house that Voldemort's mother was raised in. It is a little outside the town."
"Voldemort's... mum?" In all honesty it seemed impossible for the man to have had one.
"Do not forget, Voldemort is no less human than either of us," reminded the Headmaster. "It is my purpose to get you look at him as you would any other. A person with desires, hopes, and ultimately flaws. It will help to understand his motives, and his actions, not to mention being the right thing to do."
As the road curved back to the right, Harry could make out a small break in the hedge to his right, a ragged path winding beyond it to what looked like a group of trees. It was difficult to make anything out from where they were in the dimming light. Dumbledore motioned for him to follow as he took the path, now taking them away from the road. While they waked the Headmaster continued talking.
"As Tom Riddle Sr. was no doubt a Muggle, that would have made his mother, Merope, the witch in the equation. Her surname was Gaunt. Though unlikely, have you ever heard of the family?" Harry just shook his head. "The pureblooded Gaunt family was one of considerable wealth until the last handful of generations where it was squandered away, leaving the family to poverty. They were obsessed with maintaining the purity of their blood, and as a result there was a good deal of inbreeding between first cousins. While the Blacks and some other pureblood families have done so rarely, no family did it to the extent the Gaunts did. As a result, the final generations of the line were steeped with instability. Another notable fact about the Gaunt line is that it is has ancestry in both the Slytherin line as well as the Peverells, though the second of the two is more for my own interest than history's sake."
At this Harry perked up in interest. Voldemort had already made it clear that he was descended from Salazar, but the Peverells as well? "Was this before or after the Deathly Hallows?" he asked in curiosity.
At this Dumbledore stopped, turning back to regard Harry in surprise. "I really must stop thinking that each surprise you present me with tonight must be the last, as every time I do you hand me another. Where did you learn of the Deathly Hallows, and their connection to the Peverells?"
"Well, uh..." Harry cast around wildly for something to say. 'Oh a you from an alternate reality told me about them' wasn't exactly something he could just say. Well, in all honesty Dumbledore would likely be the only person to believe him. Still it was a piece of information he wasn't ready to share yet. "Last Christmas I went to Godric's Hollow on my own. I found Ignotius' grave with the marking on it and got Hermione to do some research for me. You know how she can get..."
"Indeed I do," said Dumbledore fondly, thinking of the girl. "Though I doubt that was the only grave you found that day."
"Uh, no it wasn't." Harry looked off to the side, taking in the hills and the grass. "I left flowers on them both. Figured you were probably busy."
It took a second for Dumbledore to understand what Harry was talking about before he smiled sadly. "Thank you, Harry. I have not been back there in many years." He turned and continued making his way down the path. The copse of trees they were approaching seemed rather ominous. "To continue where you asked, it was not before or after but during. Cadmus Peverell was the one to join the line. Of course, in the end that is neither here nor there. Our objective is one purely born of investigation, though I have reason to suspect we may be fruitful in our endeavor."
"So we're looking for something?" Harry queried. He made to ask something else but stopped just before they passed the first tree. He suddenly realized that it wasn't just a bunch of thickly layered forestry but that there was a house wedged in there somehow. The crooked, potholed path they had been walking was actually the front walk. Dumbledore was looking at him knowingly.
"Ah, so you can feel it," he said mysteriously. "May I ask when your sensory abilities began showing themselves? Unless..." he paused, still considering Harry with a contemplative expression. "The Dementor attack?"
"Yeah... good guess," said Harry, only half listening. This place... "Professor, this place is cursed."
"I assume our conversation distracted you sufficiently, though I'll admit that it was not easy to detect this initially for myself as well." Dumbledore stepped forwards, wand now out. "Stay close, Harry. There is no telling what dangers await us."
"Why would someone want to live like this? I doubt they ever got daylight in there with all those trees like that," observed Harry, his wand out as well. Not only that, but overgrown nettles surrounded much of the walls, moss covering the other exposed parts. Even the roof had clearly seen better days with missing chunks of tile so that the rafters were clearly visible. The house was no doubt deserted now. "Man this place is a mess."
"Of course, there hasn't been anyone living here for many many years," said Dumbledore. "But I doubt that it was in much better condition back when it did. The Gaunts were reclusive, and if you'll recall me saying, very poor. I actually have a memory that I wish for you to view when we begin our meetings regarding this very place and it's inhabitants. It will help you make better connections."
They had finally arrived at the front door. There was a solitary nail sticking in the old wood, what looked like old bones at its base.
"Those are snake bones, Harry," Dumbledore explained softly, now examining the door closely. "The Gaunts spoke in Parseltongue as often as they did English."
Using his wand, the Headmaster tapped the door twice, causing it to flash dimly and open. Immediately blackness seeped out of the opening, like a dark fog bent on consuming them. Harry made to jump back but Dumbledore had grabbed his arm, pulling him close while waving his wand around them swiftly. A softly glowing bubble formed around them, the fog breaking against it and moving beyond, leaving nothing but death in its wake before dissipating.
"Hmm, considering the feeling we've both been getting from the house I was honestly expecting more," commented Dumbledore, waving his wand a few more times at the opening. "There are a great number of other enchantments to prevent entry by other means, but it appears we are safe going through the front door." The bubble vanished, leaving Harry feeling very exposed. He knew he was well out of his element here, without the tools or experience to deal with such a place. He had no idea how he would have dealt with the black fog if Dumbledore hadn't reacted so quickly.
"You know I tend to try avoiding saying things like that," said Harry slowly, following him carefully inside. "Usually whenever I do things-" Suddenly the door slammed shut behind him, sealing them inside, the clear feel of a powerful anti-apparition ward coming into effect. Certainly not one he wanted to attempt breaking through. "-get worse," he finished.
"No matter, Harry, all traps have ways to be disarmed," Dumbledore reassured him, moving about the large room without much concern. "It would appear that the main purpose was to lure intruders inside. But if that is the case then what follows? Death or discovery? This is the true question we must concern ourselves with."
"Well we aren't dead yet," muttered Harry, to which the older man agreed.
"Discovery it must be then. Look around, Harry. Trust your senses."
Harry shook his head at the man's calm. Trust Dumbledore to remain unwavering in the face of what could already be certain doom. Instead he looked around at the room. It was a combined kitchen and living room, clearly a wizard's home from the lack of anything electrical. There were also two rooms off the main one, one likely a bathroom and the other a bedroom. Everything was evenly coated in a thick layer of dust.
"What is that?" he said finally, somewhat frustrated. "I feel like it should be right in front of us."
"Oh, but it is," replied Dumbledore, looking at the small table positioned in front of the seating in the center of the room. "Remind me to help you refine your sensory skills, as they will be invaluable to us in the near future."
"Sorry I'm much better with living magic... you were saying?" posed Harry, looking down at the blank table. There was nothing remarkable about it at all.
Dumbledore however tapped it with his wand in a number of places, clearly trying different patterns before something clicked and a hidden drawer popped out of its side. Within it was a small jewelery box, clearly for a ring.
"The ease of which this has been makes me believe that it was his intent for whoever made it this far to find this," he frowned, placing the box in the center of the table. "The ward that is trapping us inside is also tied to whatever is in this box, which is without a doubt what we are seeking. Though we cannot dismiss the large possibility that it is a fake, and this entire affair has been an elaborate trap. That would be most unfortunate."
"Professor, maybe we should wait-"
"Caution is certainly agreeable, Harry, however without taking the risk we may never achieve the prize," interrupted the man. "You will understand my reasons soon enough."
"The prize?" Harry stated, incredulous. When had Dumbledore ever been so reckless? "Wait-"
But Dumbledore opened the box before he could continue, revealing its contents to them both. All at once Harry was nearly overwhelmed with a feeling that he could never mistake for anything else. It was the exact same as the diadem, that mutual calling, the unknown connection he seemed to have with the object and the indescribable desire he had to reunite with it. The point blank sudden exposure nearly put him over the edge. But he was different than he used to be. While before he might have just reached out and grabbed it, unprepared to deal with the temptation, now he was in control of his body and mind, if just.
"Professor, stop!" Harry barely was able to grab Dumbledore's wrists as the man picked up the ring without hesitation, entranced. He was clearly trying to put the thing on, staring at the stone intently. "Get a hold of yourself! Professor!"
"It's real..." Dumbledore's voice was faint, but in the silence of the room it was still easy to hear. "It's actually here. I've finally found it."
"Professor Dumbledore drop the ring!" shouted Harry, trying to make the man relinquish his prize without touching it. He knew what would happen if he touched it. On that note, how was Dumbledore holding it without going through what had happened with him and the tiara? Luna had been knocked unconscious from grabbing it for merely a second! There was no way that it could be anything different. This feeling... It was impossible!
Dumbleldore's hands inched closer, his pointer finger extended and ready to receive the ring. He seemed entirely focused on it, uncaring of the one who was impeding him. Was there a compulsion on the ring itself? It seemed likely given how the Headmaster was acting. Just how strong was that enchantment?
'Shit I know I'm going to regret this!'
Gritting his teeth, Harry pushed himself directly at the man, knocking him back into a chair as his hands went askew. In that moment Harry let go of one wrist and grabbed at the ring, snatching it from the Headmaster with all the speed he could muster.
And then he screamed.
A/N: Real quick, about magical oaths... it's a bit of a tricky topic. Very "win button" mechanics, but I like the idea of such a thing existing. It fits my world's magic well. All it needed was a proper price to balance it. Love it or hate it, they exist.
PS: No, Narcissa was not married though a contract. That bit of fandom has no place here. Harry won't find the classic one arranged to Daphne stowed away in Gringotts. Arranged marriages however, hell yeah that makes sense for an inclusive bunch of paranoids. I'm doing my best here to paint a conservative yet modern wizarding society here, and just because they have magic doesn't mean their society should be much different from that of Muggles. I mean they're both human at the core and have the same needs, basic to complex.
Other than that it was a fun one to write. Couldn't help but keep the line where Dumbledore says they're probably safe from attack because he's fuckin' Dumbledore. Made me crack up in the book, still does here. Hmm, wonder who I'm going to make Minister. Spoiler: IT'S NOT AMELIA BONES. Seriously why is that the go to? It's like taking the Secretary of Defense and assuming you'd be great as the President. Haha, President... yes my friend (you know who you are), you and I are laughing at this little inside joke that we will enjoy in a future chapter. Everyone else, don't worry about it =P
Please review, fave, follow! The whole shabang! I would love to hear what you think of the summer so far. Your support thus far has made this experience an absolute joy, so keep it up and I'll be doing my best to keep you all satisfied with new chapters.