ccli. summer's end

Summer waned with predictability, though every day crept by like a Thestral with a broken leg for Harriet.

Slytherin allowed for minimal downtime at the Tor. What time she did get to herself, Harriet spent trapped in her room, having had one too many close calls with the other resentful residents. Mirthcut and Bonespell had formed an alliance or come to an agreement, and both were keen to either make her look like a fool, discredit her in front of her Master, or see her fall into a very deep ditch. When not in her room, Harriet was with Slytherin studying or listening to him drone on like a particularly dull documentary—a documentary that wouldn't hesitate to cuff her about the ears if he thought she needed the reminder to listen. He taught her about runes and the fundamentals of magic, taking full advantage of the Tor and the equipment of its master runecrafter. The Sangforts hovered in the background all the while, strangers in their own home.

Every minute in the house sank into Harriet like teeth biting harder and harder, fangs grating against her spine, piercing her neck. She couldn't relax. Hugh struggled with breaching the wards, so letters between her and her friends were sparse. Livi and the golems provided a measure of company, but she worried Slytherin would overhear her speaking Parseltongue and investigate. Harriet refused to talk with Snape or appear friendly, conscious of the eyes that followed her wherever she went. She tried concentrating on her work, and it left her stressed and annoyed more often than not.

Slytherin didn't allow Harrie to see him casting very often. He pushed her into a mock duel two or three times, always without warning and always in the dead of night. The duels never lasted long, only long enough for Slytherin to see if Harriet had grasped the material—though Harriet did everything she could remember every second spent at the end of his wand. That was why she was there, after all. She would learn Slytherin's weaknesses, and she was determined to figure out something before summer ended.

Unfortunately, Harriet didn't find anything of value. She did, however, have a great deal of information about runes shoved into her skull, and she applied them in her everyday spellcraft, suddenly conscious of how different strokes of the wand invoked different symbols, how incorrect motions damaged the intent or slowed how the magic flowed. She'd sit at her desk in her borrowed room when she couldn't sleep and start experimenting with new ways to cast spells and how matching the wand's motion to a certain rune changed it. Once or twice, a fire resulted from her midnight experimentation, but nothing else of note went wrong.

She hated when Slytherin taught her something useful or clever. It made her feel bad for using it.

Her Master said nothing about Hogwarts the closer September crept, ignoring her tentative inquiries about school supplies or going bloody home. Harriet's nerves twisted with every brush off until she felt like an absolute wreck, worried he'd keep her there indefinitely and she'd die buried under a mountain of dusty, dry books on bloody runes. However, on the morning before September first, Snape woke Harriet at dawn and told her to pack. Slytherin had finally released her and hadn't had the patience or good manners to come tell her himself.

Harriet didn't care. She could have jumped for joy as they set off from the Tor, and its eerie, menacing silhouette fell at their backs, Snape sweeping along the path at her side. It vanished into the morning mist, and they continued alone through the forest, Harriet's shoulders loosening for the first time in a month as she dragged her floating trunk behind her.

"I'll be returning you to your merry band of misfits in Diagon Alley," Snape told her, breaking the quiet. "I assume Slytherin will inform you of your intended schedule after the Welcoming Feast, but don't put it past him to do so that evening. His hours are unpredictable."

"Yeah, I know." She'd spent more than one night trapped at a desk while Slytherin lectured by moonlight, the night hours ticking by.

"Don't forget the apprenticeship cords with your uniform tomorrow. He will take it as an insult if you do."

Harriet grunted in acknowledgment.

"Have you so thoroughly regressed you've resorted to speaking like a Neanderthal? One would think you more capable than that."

Color filled Harriet's cheeks as she huffed, glaring up at Snape's pale profile. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and smirked. It struck Harriet that he'd been trapped in the same limbo she'd been in, and though trying to imagine Snape relaxing was like trying to imagine what a troll does on holiday, she knew he must relax sometimes. He must be pleased to be leaving.

"Are you coming too? Er, shopping, that is. In Diagon?"

He gave her a look Harriet translated to mean, "Are you daft?"

"Slytherin has requested my immediate return."

"What—again?" she sputtered, heart sinking. "You've only just left."

"Yes, well. We can't all go galivanting off with our nitwitted friends."

They reached the Apparition point, and Snape extended his arm, staring off into the trees. Harriet paused before gripping his wrist, feeling warm, thick wool under her fingertips, thumb curling into the extra fabric. He jerked—and they twisted in Apparition, squeezed by the pressure until they reappeared in a burst of hazy, early morning sunshine and London smog.

Harriet sighed in relief as she took in the sight of Diagon Alley. It was already busy with Hogwarts students and their families rushing to get their supplies last minute, and being in the presence of normal witches and wizards filled her with a gentle, familiar comfort. It was odd to describe them as such, especially when she could see a bloke strolling by with a goose in a backpack, but after an interminable month at the Tor, Harriet reveled in the company of people not constantly at one another's throats.

Snape lowered his arm, and Harriet realized she hadn't let him go. She quickly did so, murmuring an apology.

"Harriet!"

She turned her head in time to see Hermione—hair Charmed a lighter color, bound in a plait—sprinting through the crowd, followed by Elara with her long hair released from its usual bun, colored a mousy brown. Harriet stepped off the Apparition pad to greet them, grinning when Hermione squished her in a tight embrace. Elara looped an arm around them both.

A man came over as well, smiling, a bloke with a mustache Harriet didn't recognize. She opened her mouth to question why he was encroaching on their space—when he reached out to tug the hood of Harriet's summer cloak into place, winking.

"Good morning, petit oiseau."

She blinked—then grinned, allowing Mr. Flamel to tuck her fringe behind her ear.

"It is good to see you well. You are well, oui?"

"I'm good. Better, now. Thanks."

"Come. The others are waiting. We 'ave much to do, and not enough time to do it in. Let us go, girls."

Hermione and Elara loosened their grip enough to let Harriet breathe and step back, bumping into her trunk.

"Oh, do not worry, we shall have that sent to your home…." Mr. Flamel wiggled his fingers, and the trunk transferred to his care, floating toward him.

"Are you ready?" Hermione asked. Harriet started to nod, then stopped.

"Wait, I need to—."

She turned her head back to the Apparition pad, intending to tell Snape—something. She didn't know what she wanted to say, maybe a thank you, maybe a wish for him to get back to Hogwarts soon, but the Apparition pad was empty, leaving a blank bit of stone in an otherwise unremarkable alley. The lingering smell of pine remained, if only in Harriet's imagination.

Snape had disappeared.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Harriet answered, distracted. She let Elara take her hand and tug her toward the alley's entrance. "Yeah, I'm fine."

xXx

It was perhaps inevitable Harriet would get lost.

To be fair, much of the day passed without incident, and Harriet kept close to the adults in their large group—which included all of the Weasleys, the Longbottoms, Sirius, Remus, and the Flamels. She had no intention of getting separated and avoided even the slightest hint of a maroon robe or cloak by sticking close to Mrs. Flamel or Sirius. Keeping tabs on the group proved easy with the Weasleys, following the sea of flame-red hair.

After lunch, everyone started to splinter off on their own. The twins wanted to go to Zonko's and Longbottom went with them, his parents trailing behind. The Weasley parents went to the apothecary to pick up their large order, and Remus went to the cobbler for a new pair of school shoes commissioned for Harriet and a pair of Elara's in for repair. Though they didn't say as much, an afternoon chasing older teenagers up and down the crowded district had worn the Flamels out, and so they found a table outside a trendy new cafe serving drinks popular abroad and bid the others to finish their shopping.

"One hour," Mr. Flamel told Harriet and her friends, holding up one finger. "Une heure. We will meet you at the bookshop, oui?"

The slow fracturing of the party left Sirius alone in charge of Ronald, Ginny, Hermione, Elara, and Harriet, and uptown in Diagon Alley fairly exploded with people cramming themselves into the streets and lanes, mothers wrangling in excited children, vendors eager to sell to the harried crowd. Harriet tried not to wander—but she only prolonged the inevitable.

"Fuck," she hissed to herself, standing at the threshold of Flourish and Blotts, having lost sight of Elara's long, expensive cloak and Ginny's red hair. She assumed they'd gone inside, but the store was overflowing with parents getting textbooks, and they could have gone back out to wait. "Fuck! What is this, an annual tradition?"

Rather than letting herself be pushed back, Harriet grasped the door frame and remained rooted in place.

"Oi!" a wizard behind her complained, shoving at her shoulder. "Yer blockin' the way, there!"

"Bugger off," Harriet snapped in reply. She whipped her hood down, the heat too much to suffer in the crush of bodies, and she hoped to see better and reveal where her family had gone. Fine hairs stuck to her cheeks with sweat, and she impatiently swept them back.

The whispering started.

"That's the one from the paper, innit?"

"The nutter—."

"Can you believe what she said—?"

"Why did the Ministry let her out—?"

"Killed that boy, mark my words—."

People turned, judgmental stares scouring Harriet's skin as she stood, frozen, a wider and wider space opening around her.

"Wild tales about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—."

"Who does she think she is? She's no Longbottom—."

"Should keep her in Azkaban for our safety—."

"I don't want Oliver going to a school with children like that—."

The whispering increased to a haze of vicious buzzing like wasps descending on her head. Logically, Harriet knew people would form their own opinions regardless of her trial's resolution, but she had hoped such a negative assessment would be the minority. However, it seemed her absence from the Wizarding world for the last month had only exacerbated rumors.

"—arriet!"

Her hands bunched into fists at her side, and she couldn't bring herself to lift her head. She needed to move. She needed to get out of such a busy spot, away from the center of attention—but why weren't her feet moving? What was wrong with her legs?

"She killed that boy—."

A flash of green light, ugly as pond scum, Ravenclaw blue fluttering in the evening air as a body fell—.

"Harriet!"

A hand touched her arm, and Harriet jerked, looking up. At first, all she saw was red hair, but it wasn't a Weasley. The Slytherin third-year Gabriel Flourish stood in front of her, wearing a tentative smile and a dark green apron around his waist.

"You—you can come this way," he told her, gesturing into the shop. "Over here."

Harriet forced herself into motion, and the crowd grumbled as she was led past them. Gabriel walked over to the long counter, opening the thin, golden chain hanging across the entrance bearing a sign reading "Absolutely no customers." He paid no mind to that and insisted Harriet step through into the quiet, cluttered backroom. The tiny space was stuffed to the rafters with crates and boxes and books in the middle of being unwrapped and processed, and Harriet didn't have a clue if actual furniture lurked somewhere underneath the mess. Gabriel insisted she could have a seat on a stack of mummy encyclopedias.

"Are you okay?" he asked once she was seated with her elbows leaning on her knees. She hadn't realized how loud it'd become until the noise dimmed behind the warded door. "You, um, were looking a bit lost?"

Harriet wiped at her dry mouth and looked at Flourish, a red blush rising behind his freckles. "I'm all right," she told him. "I lost my godfather out there."

"Mr. Black?"

She nodded, and Gabriel turned to the room behind him. Only then did Harriet see a younger boy with the same shock of red hair peeking at them from behind a teetering stack of flora magazines. He definitely wasn't old enough for Hogwarts, and if she had to guess, Harriet would say he was six or seven.

"Everett," Flourish said. "Can you go find Mr. Black out on the floor?"

"Who's that?"

"You know who I mean. Mr. Black, Sirius Black. You've seen his picture in the newspaper and on mum's telly."

"You mean the murderer?"

Coming from someone else, Harriet would have taken that question as a snide remark, but Everett Flourish sounded bloody excited. Gabriel just looked embarrassed, scratching at his cheek.

"You know we told you he didn't do anything, twit. Go find him, please."

Everett needed no more convincing, and he shot off out the door, green apron strings trailing behind him.

"Sorry about that," Gabriel said, the red color creeping from his face down his neck. "He doesn't mean anything by it. He just, well, he remembers all the papers about Mr. Black a few summers back, and he thinks it's interesting."

"It's fine," Harriet assured him. "Sirius will probably get a kick out of it, honestly."

They shared a laugh, and when Harriet coughed, Gabriel rushed to the tea service set off to the side by the sooty hearth, tripping over a rug. Harriet accepted a cup of lukewarm Earl Grey and thanked him, and he blushed pure scarlet.

Is he well? Harriet wondered with a furrowed brow as she sipped her tea. He's awful red.

"So, you work here? I'm guessing from the name you're related to the owner?"

"Yeah, that's my Da. He lets us pitch in and help in the summer rush for extra pocket money. The Flourishes have owned the store for a long time. I'm—well, my Da wants me to take over when I'm older, I guess. But I dunno…."

In the silence that followed, sounds from the main part of the shop loomed larger, reminding them of the crowd still waiting out there and the cruel, slithering whispers that would come out like snakes from the shadows when Harriet went back out that door.

"You don't deserve them saying that stuff," Gabriel told her, his tone miffed. "That's not on."

"People are going to have their opinions no matter what," she responded. "I shouldn't let it get to me."

"It's still not fair. People are—daft. We knew you didn't hurt Terry. We never doubted you."

Harriet's lips twitched in a half-hearted smile. "Thanks, Flourish."

He nodded and shuffled his feet, fussing with his apron. He opened his mouth twice as if to say something, but only a short, choked noise came out.

"All right?" Harriet asked.

"Erm." Flourish tensed and played with his fingers. "Can—can I get your books?"

She blinked. "My books?"

"While you wait. Your books. For—for school. For fifth-year, with Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures?"

"Oh. Sure?"

Like his brother, Gabriel darted out of the room, leaving Harriet more than a little baffled as to how he'd known about her schedule and electives. She thought little Everett would come back with her family before he did, but barely a minute passed before Gabriel returned to the backroom, followed by an older, graying wizard carrying Harriet's texts.

"Free of charge," Mr. Flourish said as he pressed the books into her hands. She stuttered a refusal, but he insisted. "For saving my son's life. Please, you've given me a gift worth much more than any book is worth. It's a crime what the Ministry has dragged you through. An absolute crime."

Harriet flushed but accepted the texts with a weak thanks. She had saved Flourish's life, hadn't she? He and his mate Walt Murton. She'd tugged them away from the Hungarian Horntail—before Slytherin blasted it into mincemeat with Dark magic.

"It was—." Not nothing. Grabbing Gabriel and Walt had been instinctual, and it wasn't nothing. It was something, but she didn't have the words to say what. "You're welcome. I'm—I'm glad Gabriel wasn't hurt."

Mr. Flourish smiled. "Thank you, Miss Potter."

He bagged her books, and Harriet bid goodbye to the Flourish family when Everett returned. Outside the room, Sirius looked irritated but too relieved to chastise her. Elara and Hermione glanced at one another, and Hermione let out a peeved huff, handing over a Galleon. Ginny glared as she forked over two Sickles.

"We had a bet," Elara explained with a smug smirk as she pocketed the coin. "I said you would get lost at least once in the afternoon. Weasley said you'd get lost in the morning, and Hermione said you'd not get lost at all."

"Honestly, Harriet, we need to get you a bell…."

They exited the shop, Harriet saved from the continuing commentary by sandwiching herself between her friends, arms weighed down by the paper sack loaded with books. It was only once they were outside and on their way to find the Flamels and the Weasleys again that Harriet thought upon what Gabriel Flourish had said. Her memory caught on one word in particular.

"We knew you didn't hurt Terry. We never doubted you."

What had he meant by we?


A/N:

Gabriel: *trying to confess undying love and hero-worship.*

Harriet: *wondering why Gabriel looks like he might be ill*