The sky was a light blue, and the large clouds drifted overhead without a care in the world – their forms were wild and if he squinted his eyes against the glare of the sun, he could just about make out the rough shapes of a few animals; a pair of clouds in the distance resembled the head of a dog, while another looked eerily like a large snake, peering down at him.
Between himself and the clouds, Familiars flew about, calling out in melodic trills, harsh barks, and high-pitched cries; he caught sight of Clara, soaring higher than any of the others as she looped around the very clouds he was looking at. Despite himself, he smiled – for all that changed, he could always rely on Clara to be a constant.
As suddenly as the thought had entered his head, he was reminded of the unprecedented changes that had occurred in the last few days; the castle had been almost unrecognisable – gone was the laughter in the corridors, and the loud conversations in the Great Hall. Now, it was as if the entirety of the castle was as silent as his own family's crypt.
When Dumbledore had announced the unfortunate death of Alison Hawthorne, the entire school had been shocked – Harry himself had chosen not to visit Hogsmeade, and his friends had likewise opted to remain at the castle, but they'd all heard the frightened whispers of an attack, they'd just assumed it was a local.
To have the Headmaster confirm it as one of their own, however, had surprised them all – Harry hadn't personally known the girl, and indeed, he didn't even know what she actually looked like, but he had still felt sad at the news of her passing, as violent as it had been. He only wished that it was quick.
Harry glanced to his left from his position on the bench, one arm tucked beneath his head as a makeshift pillow against the harshness of the stone and drummed his fingers idly against his stomach. Daphne and Hermione were sitting next to one another, each quietly reading their own books and lost in their own worlds. Tracey was fussing over Kiki, her Chinchilla that seemed to be getting larger and larger every time he saw it. Neville, oddly, wasn't really doing much of anything – he was just staring blankly ahead, Astoria tucked neatly up against his side as she combed her fingers through Piper's thick fur.
"Neville?" He asked, pushing himself up onto his elbows and looking at the boy – Harry frowned when Neville barely reacted, a twitch of his shoulder the only indication that he had even heard him. "You alright?"
Neville grunted non-committedly, but nodded regardless, finally blinking. "Just thinking." He said, at last; Astoria glanced between himself and the boy she was propped up against.
"That's a new one." Tracey sighed, in a forced attempt at some normalcy. A return to the way things had been – before fellow students were murdered in bold daylight.
Harry pinched his bottom lip between his teeth when Neville didn't so much as react to the friendly barb. He sat up properly, swinging both of his feet from the bench he had been laying on. "What about?"
"Just here." He said after a moment, finally turning his eyes to look upon the rest of them – a gentle gust of wind blew his loose hair around his shoulders, and Harry was privately thankful that he'd decided to tie his own up for the day. "It's a bit weird, isn't it?"
"What is?" Daphne asked, closing her book, and leaning back against the base of the tree she and Hermione occupied.
"Hogwarts." Neville shrugged the shoulder Astoria wasn't leaning against. "Think about it, right – all the stories we grew up on as kids; didn't really think it was the kind of place people die at. It's just… I don't know."
"It's a little surreal." Tracey admitted, and Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as she held Kiki to her chest, the little Familiar's nose brushing the underside of her chin.
"It's terrifying when you think about it." Hermione said, drawing her knees up to her chest. "I hadn't even heard of this… man before this year, and he's just killed one of us."
"I grew up hearing about him." Harry admitted, slowly, as he looked to Hermione. Out of the corners of his eyes, he caught the others nodding – they all had. "Never from Sirius or Remus though – Merlin, not even Arcturus. But you hear things, see newspaper headlines, that kind of stuff."
"Gran left a copy of her paper lying about one time – had nightmares about him for months after that." Neville admitted. "Sometimes I think it'd be better to be a Muggle-Born – ignorance is bliss, and all of that shite."
"You'd really rather be called a Mu-" Hermione stopped herself, and her eyes darted to his own – his body had stiffened on instinct, and it took a genuine effort to ease the sudden tension in his muscles. "-told," She continued, correcting herself. "That you have dirty blood?"
Neville shook his head immediately. "That's not what I mean." He said, rubbing the space between his eyes tiredly. "I'd just rather not know some of the worst parts about… well, this." He said, waving a hand to indicate the small courtyard they were in; other students were sitting in clumps on other benches, or on the grass, and no less than four Aurors were standing watch over them all, stone-faced and silent, their eyes darting everywhere all at once.
"Not the bloody half of it." Harry muttered, thinking back to when he was nine, and a fateful trip on the back of a horse along a cobblestone road. Involuntarily, his eyes drifted upwards, into the clouds once more, and the corner of his mouth twitched as Clara dove from the largest of the clouds above.
Her large wings were tucked into her sides, and orange-yellow flame trailed in her wake. When she was finally above the courtyard, her wings opened with a sudden snap, and she fluttered to a gentle landing at his side on the bench, her beady black eyes meeting his own, curiously. He grinned and scratched her under the chin with a finger and felt her pleasure ripple across their bond as her eyes fluttered shut, and her feathers rippled along her body.
"I don't know of any Muggle schools where students are killed – and we've had two in just as many years." Hermione continued, drawing his attention back to his friends. Clara shuffled onto his lap, and for once, he noticed she kept her talons from stabbing him – not that she did it often, but he was aware of his own Familiar enough to know that she occasionally liked to remind him who was the boss. "Not to mention having the equivalent of the Police stationed all around the school."
"I don't blame them, though." Daphne sighed, running her fingers along the single, large braid she had it styled in for the day – it was the first time he'd ever seen her style it that way. "If it were any other criminal, Amelia would be dragged before a Wizengamot inquiry for incompetence."
"She's not incompetent." Harry said, immediately, sitting up a little straighter on reflex, and his finger stilling for a moment too long, judging by the way Clara nipped at it.
"I know." Daphne answered with a roll of her eyes and a lopsided smile. "What I'm saying is, that if it were anyone other than Greyback, the Ministry would be looking to lynch someone. As it is, Greyback has successfully evaded the D.M.L.E. for years – there's a reason he's been able to do it so well."
"He sounds more like an animal than a man." Hermione shuddered. "Did you see the way Amelia looked when she came into the tower afterwards?" She asked, looking between himself and Neville. "I don't think I've ever seen her so worn out."
"She was pretty pale." Neville murmured, nodding his head slowly. Harry silently agreed – he had noticed the shadows in her eyes when she had knelt before him, recognised them, even. It was something that he had seen in those early years with Felix after the ambush; a haunting remnant that lingered in the back of their mind – he should know, it had been something he'd had for just as long, and only now revisited him in his lowest moments. After all, it was what the two of them had grown so close over, in a strange, almost twisted way.
Harry felt his face scrunching up involuntarily and took a deep breath before forcefully relaxing his facial muscles – it wouldn't be wise to travel down that particular road with his friends, never mind that he was sitting in one of Hogwarts' courtyards, surrounded by his fellow students.
But he couldn't deny that Hermione and Neville were right – they had lightly danced around the subject since that night, but he knew that neither of them had slept that night, and neither had the two Slytherins. Merlin, he suspected the entire castle hadn't slept a wink.
It had been the middle of the night when he had finally thrown off the covers of his bed and padded out of the door – he had meant to go and sit with Sirius, to feel the comfort and reassuring presence of the man while he could, but he hadn't gone any further than the threshold to the stairs.
It had been quiet, barely on the edge of his hearing, but he'd been rooted to the spot, unable to move because of the muffled sobs he'd heard coming from the Common Room itself; for the first time since he had first met her, he'd listened to Amelia cry, and Sirius softly whispering to her. At some point, he'd ended up on the floor, his knees tucked up to his chest, and his back against the doorframe – Amelia had always seemed unshakeable; he couldn't even remember her crying at Arcturus' funeral, but then he hadn't really paid that much attention anyway.
Amelia was… well, Amelia. She was a strong, powerful witch, and an even more powerful woman – to hear her sobbing was… strange. So, he had sat there until the sobs stopped; in his own, private way, it had been his own little show of support and solidarity – as much as he'd been able to offer, in any case. He doubted she, or even Sirius, knew that he'd heard, and he hadn't made a point of saying anything in the days since – despite it all, Harry didn't want them to know he'd heard the two of them.
In the privacy of his own head, both Sirius and Amelia seemed a little more… real. More human. More relatable.
Oh, he could relate to Sirius about most things, but the man had always been something of a giant to Harry. Some of his earliest memories at Blackwall were days spent playing with a large, shaggy dog that could turn into a man, and in those same memories, were nights filled with that same large dog, curled up in the corner of his bedroom, crying softly as it nuzzled his Stag plushie.
Still, there were other moments, other memories, where Sirius had always been larger than life – the aftermath of the ambush where he'd towered over the fallen, and the way he'd torn into his opponents with a startling ferocity. The first time Sirius had told him off; Harry couldn't remember what he'd done, only that Sirius had been furious with him, and had loomed over him like the Mountain Troll had in his first year. There were others, but they all painted the same picture – Sirius was… well, Sirius. His Godfather, his first and very best friend, and most importantly, his father.
Amelia had seemed the perfect woman for him – she was just as large and powerful as Sirius appeared; the two of them commanded respect by simply entering a room. In a strange way, he mourned the image he'd had of the two of them in his head, but he was glad that it was gone, if that made any sort of sense – which it probably didn't.
"This whole thing has been stressing her out." Harry said, at last. Daphne nodded in quiet understanding from the shadow of the tree. "She'll get him, though. No way he'd stick around here now; not with the Auror presence."
"There were Aurors at Hogsmeade though." Tracey pointed out. "They didn't stop him."
"That was a fraction of what's there now." Neville scoffed. "Besides, half the staff are just about ready to tear him apart themselves – you think Dumbledore's going to let him anywhere near Hogwarts and Hogsmeade now that he knows he's in the area?"
"The last person I'd want after me is Dumbledore." Daphne shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself, her book laid carefully on the grass beside her.
"I get that he's a powerful wizard, but why? Because of Grindelwald?" Hermione asked, frowning. "He's always seemed pretty nice – if a little mad – to me."
"It's… hard to explain." Tracey said, slowly, her eyes darting between himself and Neville especially. "He led the opposition to Grindelwald, sure, and he's… well, him now. But if half the stuff I've heard over the years about that war is true…"
"Don't look at me, Arcturus fought with him, but he never talked about the war." Harry shrugged. "I don't think anyone that was at that final fight ever really talks about it."
"Gran said Gramps was like that too." Neville shuddered, earning a scowl from Astoria when it caused her head to slip. Harry rolled his eyes and gestured for her to sit next to him – she moved so quickly, he thought she might have Apparated.
"Grindelwald sounded like Hitler. If a little less… extreme." Hermione murmured. "I can't imagine it was easy to beat him."
"It wasn't – not as bad as the Muggle war, but it was still pretty bad." Neville sighed. "Can't say I'd want Dumbledore on the lookout for me either, honestly. He's a bit of a myth to everyone, honestly."
"I think he's sad." Harry said after a moment of silence – even Astoria sat up to look at him, slightly confused. "I'm serious." He said, rolling his eyes at the disbelieving looks he was getting.
"He's nuts." Astoria said with a roll of her own eyes. "Everyone says so – even Nigel, and he's pretty nice."
"Be nice." Harry said, poking her gently in the side until she squirmed. "Seriously though – remember what I told you about the Mirror? Whatever he saw made him… I don't know… sad?"
"Kind of like how comedians often suffer from depression… yeah, I can kind of see it." Hermione murmured, shifting against the tree. "I mean, you've spent the most time with him out of any of us, so you'd probably know best."
"I haven't spent that much time with him." Harry sighed, rolling his eyes once more – this time even Clara looked at him in disbelief. "Right, can you stop that?"
"Not our fault you say ridiculous things, Potter." Daphne snorted, twirling the end of her long braid around a finger.
There was a quiet, collective snort of laughter shared between them all – the closest they had come to returning to something vaguely normal in the days since the attack, but it quickly disappeared on the gentle breeze that wafted through the leaves of the large oak they were all sitting under. In his lap, Clara trilled and nuzzled her beak against his jaw.
"How do you think they'll tell her parents?" Tracey asked, plucking at the grass beneath her idly. "I wouldn't want to be the one to tell them." She shuddered, tossing a few back into the grass while Kiki scrambled around her stretched out legs.
"I wouldn't, either." Daphne sighed, closing her eyes, and leaning her head against the trunk of the tree. "Maybe Dumbledore will do it himself – or the Minister himself."
Neville snorted, humourlessly. "Fudge wouldn't do it himself – it'll probably be the job of some Auror."
"Amelia will probably do it – if she hasn't already." Harry said in a quiet voice, recalling the muffled sobs from the other night.
"You think?" Tracey asked, cocking a single brow. "I'd have thought she'd be too busy to have the time – not that I'm saying that she wouldn't, it's just, well, you know…" She trailed off, lamely, waving a hand as if to enunciate her point.
The corners of his mouth twitched upwards, and he shook his head. "I know what you mean, but it's the kind of thing she'd do – she'd make the time."
"Did you see today's group?" Neville asked, tactfully steering the conversation in another direction as he leaned back on his elbows. "Pretty sure I saw a few members of the Wizengamot."
Harry frowned and pursed his lips – he hadn't actually seen the latest group of concerned parents; they'd been trickling in ever since it was confirmed to have been Greyback that attacked. Parents had been coming in from all over, and from all walks of life, well, the Muggle parents hadn't, of course, but all the magical ones had.
The Weasley's had been the first – he hadn't met Molly and Arthur more than once or twice, he was sure of that, but even he knew to get out of the way of a Molly Weasley that was concerned for her children; she'd damn-near torn the portrait of The Fat Lady from her hinges, something the painted woman was still complaining about.
There had been a regular cycle of parents entering the Gryffindor Tower, and from what Tracey and Daphne had said, the same had been happening in Slytherin and the other houses. He knew both Amelia and Sirius were regularly checking in on Susan in Hufflepuff, which he knew she appreciated – she'd said as much when she'd sat with them for breakfast that morning; she had said it reminded her of when Amelia would tuck her in when she was little.
Sirius had stayed on one of the large sofas in the Gryffindor Common Room that first night, and he'd been up and about by the time Harry had showered and dressed – Harry hadn't missed that Sirius' wand hand kept twitching. Since then, he'd taken to sharing a room with Remus; the two of them had been prowling in the Forbidden Forest in the evenings, checking the Wards that ran through it, and prowling their old territory from their school days, just on the off chance that Greyback was hiding in there. All of it was approved by both Amelia and Dumbledore, of course, and it made Harry's skin itch with the desire to join them; he knew Sirius was spending the time as Padfoot – a little protection for himself should they actually stumble across Greyback – and it just made him want to get on with his Animagi ritual all that much sooner.
But that wouldn't be for another year, at least. Sometimes, it felt like time stretched on forever; a feeling that Sirius and Remus liked to remind him would vanish when he got older, and then he'd have no time at all.
"Malfoy and his lot were in yesterday." Daphne grimaced, scrunching up her face in disgust. "Made a right show and dance about it all in the Common Room."
"More of one than either of the times you beat the piss out of him." Tracey grinned, throwing Harry a wink, and Harry had to look away, lest anyone see that he was trying not to grin. It had been hard to feel any kind of sympathy to Draco following the ambush outside the Duelling Club.
He'd felt guilty about their first altercation since it had happened but having been jumped by the blonde ponce and his friends, that guilt had quickly evaporated. Personally, he'd rather forget the whole thing and just get on with his life, but he knew there would likely come a time when something would be said – by either of them; he knew his own temper, after all – that couldn't be taken back.
Maybe the two of them would grow up – they could even be friends. Nothing was ever certain, but he doubted it. Draco was the spitting image of his father, and he had made some decisions in the past that Harry took very personally.
"I'll have you know I helped." Neville sniffed before flashing a toothy grin. "Felt pretty good."
"Boys." Hermione muttered, rolling her eyes. "All fists and egos."
"Exactly, Hermione." Daphne said, nudging her with her elbow and a wink. "Primitives, the lot of them."
Astoria shifted against him, and Harry wrapped his arm around her, while his other trailed his fingers idly through Clara's plumage on her breast. "Piper tried to pee on him last week. He got a treat for it." She announced, suddenly, though Harry could hear the quiet pride in her voice.
"That's brilliant." Neville snickered, flicking his eyes skyward, and for a moment, Harry genuinely believed Neville was picturing it. "You think we could teach Clara to do that? Or do you reckon it'll just burn everything to ashes?"
"She doesn't piss fire, Neville." Harry snorted, rolling his eyes, though he couldn't say that the idea was totally without merit. Maybe he could bribe her to do it…
"Don't even think about it." Daphne said, wagging a finger between the two of them, causing Neville to pout like a wounded puppy. "It's not a terrible idea, but the two of you would still find a way to mess it up."
"It's kind of Slytherin, actually. I'm almost proud." Tracey sighed, holding a hand to her chest, and wiping an imaginary tear from her cheek.
"It'll just escalate things between them all the more." Hermione said, attempting to be the sole voice of reason. "And I for one, don't intend to see either of you in the hospital again for as long as we can manage."
"So, what was Malfoy actually doing?" Harry asked, offering a quick, apologetic half-smile to Hermione.
"Oh, just posturing – making sure his Perfect Heir was fine, obviously." Daphne answered with a roll of her eyes. "There was about as much affection in it all as can be found in a morgue."
"I threw up in my mouth a little." Tracey grinned, pinching her fingers together before her face as if to show the actual amount. "Montague was the worst though – wouldn't stop droning on about beasts and detestable elements of society."
"He sounds charming." Hermione muttered, tucking a leg beneath her, and smoothing out her skirt – it had a strange effect of drawing Harry's eye, and he tried not to notice the pleasant shape of her legs, or how they looked so smooth. "I wonder if I'm part of that detestable element of society."
"That's a suckers bet." Neville snorted, laying back on the grass and folding his arms behind his head as a makeshift pillow. "Bet even Harry's on it – Jumped-Up Half Blood that he is."
That was enough to draw his attention from what little he could see of Hermione's legs, and for what felt like the hundredth time in the last half-hour, Harry rolled his eyes once more – if he kept doing it, there was a very genuine concern he might actually pull one of the muscles. "My family had their own kingdom while Montague's were still herding sheep. Self-righteous prick." He grunted, ignoring the quiet snickering of the youngest Greengrass at his side who was playing with her hair, pulled over a shoulder.
"Has Sirius said anything?" Hermione asked, cocking her head at him, curiously.
"About any of it, really. The families coming to visit, the attack… you know."
He shook his head. "No – I get the feeling he doesn't want me sticking my nose in; you know, the whole 'let us adults handle it'. I saw him and Moony go into the forest last night, though. I think they'll be going again tonight."
Everyone gave a collective shiver at that – there was a very good reason as to why the forest was forbidden; even with the Acromantulas removed, much to Hagrid's dismay, there were still plenty of creatures within its dark depths that wouldn't think twice at ripping someone apart. The only real safety within its claustrophobic, shadowy, acreage, was within the territory of the Centaurs, and even that wasn't guaranteed.
"You think they'll find him in there?" Daphne asked, quietly, into the following quiet. She folded her legs and drew them up to her chest, resting her chin on her knees. She looked… frightened; an emotion that he hadn't been sure Daphne could actually feel.
"I almost pity him if they do." Neville murmured. "I'd almost forgot how scary the two of them could be."
"Not to mention the whole, y'know…" Harry glanced around at the nearby groups of students. "Werewolf thing. Pretty sure Moony considers the Forbidden Forest as his territory. If there's a squatter on it… well, that won't go down too well."
"Moony will kick his arse!" Astoria cheered, breaking the tension almost effortlessly. Despite how young she was, really Harry was hardly any older, but he felt it sometimes, he often found himself surprised at just how… carefree and enthusiastic Astoria could sometimes be.
He idly wondered if that phantom brother of his, the one he had imagined all the way back in first year, would have been similarly happy as Astoria. While he would certainly define himself as happy, he couldn't bring himself to be as open and carefree with it as the youngest Greengrass.
Astoria's elbow stabbed his ribs sharply, and he found himself blinking down at the young, dark-haired girl, who was doing a rather intimidating impression of her elder sister. "I think I broke Harry." She said, her eyes flickering to the rest of the group.
Harry shook his head and lightly pinched the shoulder he had his hand resting on, which earned him a sharp finger in the exact same spot on his ribs that she had only moments before assaulted. "Careful, Harry – keep that up, and you'll find yourself on your arse on the Duelling Platform." Neville grinned from his position on the grass, his hands holding up his head as he strained to look at the two of them without actually getting up.
"Again." Hermione, Daphne, and Tracey chorused, breaking into a quiet fit of giggles as they all glanced at one another. Astoria smiled at him in a way that Harry imagined predators often smiled right before they launched themselves at their next meal.
"Nonsense, I've got Clara to-" Clara beat her wings twice and launched herself into the air above them, and quickly disappeared among the towers of the castle. "Traitor." He muttered, glaring at the spot in which his Familiar had disappeared from sight. He made a mental note to hide her treats when he returned to his room.
"Don't feel too bad, Potter – at least yours listens to you. Occasionally." Tracey snickered as she absently scratched Kiki under the chin; the Chinchilla was leaning back so much in an attempt to provide as much chin to scratch, that Harry momentarily marvelled at how it hadn't yet fallen backwards.
"Yeah – yours doesn't randomly disappear." Neville muttered, grumpily. "I swear Trevor does it on purpose, stupid, bloody toad."
"Or have half the castle attack it, for some unfathomable reason." Daphne sighed, rolling her eyes. "I'd say I pity Weasley, but I simply detest his attitude too much to care."
"He's not usually so…" Hermione trailed off, at a loss for the right word – Harry caught the way her brows pinched together, and the way she pursed her lips as she wracked her brain. "Confrontational." She said, at last.
"Speak for yourself." Tracey snorted. "He called us," She said, flicking a finger between herself and Daphne back and forth. "Filthy Snakes in first year."
"You should hear him sleep." Neville grunted, rolling onto his side. "Snores louder than Harry."
"That's ironic." Harry shot back, indignantly. "Coming from you of all people."
"If it's all the same with everyone else, I'd rather not imagine Weasley sleeping, thanks." Daphne grimaced. "Now that brother of his – Bill, I wouldn't mind picturing." She added, a sly smirk on her face.
"Which one is that? Wait, how have you even seen him?" Tracey asked, evidently confused on both accounts. Harry shared a shocked and confused look with Neville for a brief moment.
"Wizengamot – he sometimes attends with his father. His father's the heir, and I suppose with Arthur being as old as he is, and Bill being an adult, they're both learning together. Besides, Bill is probably the least Weasley… well, Weasley there is."
Harry could remember Bill Weasley from his own time with the other heirs to the various families; Bill had always been polite and friendly when they had briefly spoken, and everyone always had something nice to say about him – he imagined that Bill would be quite the Lord one day. The last time he'd seen Bill though, must have been over a year ago – he'd been handsome, and had long, shoulder-length hair that had been tied back into a ponytail. He could vaguely recall a single earring with a fang dangling from it, that strangely, he could have quite imagined on Sirius at that age, even though he knew Sirius had never had a piercing.
"Methinks someone has switched places with Daphne when we weren't looking." Neville said, chuckling when Daphne swiped the back of her left hand at him, playfully. "Alright, alright." He managed, still snickering, despite her continued assault. "You're still the same cold, heartless, witch you've always been!"
"And don't you forget it, Longbottom." Daphne sniffed imperiously, sitting a little straighter and smoothing out a wrinkle in her uniform trousers that hadn't been there. Neville rolled onto his side and propped his head up on one hand, while he combed through his hair with his fingers with the other.
"It feels a little strange, doesn't it?" Hermione asked, her own smile fading away. "This – it's all a bit… normal, wouldn't you say?"
"I'm trying not to think about it." Harry murmured, shifting uneasily on the bench. "Not that it's working, mind you." He added, glancing back up at the sky in a poor attempt to spot Clara again; it always brought him a little comfort, despite the fact he knew she was on the other side of the castle, happily perched atop the tallest tower.
"Sometimes I think normal helps." Daphne shrugged, pursing her lips; Harry's eyes flickered to the girl, and he found himself nodding, almost instinctively. Normal had helped him at all of the worst moments he could remember – even after his brush with the Dementors, he had wanted to just… carry on, get on with his classes, spend time with his friends, read a book. "That's what Andromeda says, anyway." She added, as if the words of Harry's favourite unofficial aunt were the writ of the Gods themselves.
He grimaced as he shifted once more on the bench, before huffing out a sigh and slowly easing himself to his feet, much to the protest of Astoria. "I think I'm going to go back and get started on that essay for McGonagall. I've already lost feeling in my arse."
"You chose to take the bench." Tracey reminded him in a sing-song voice. "You reap the consequences." She added, sticking out the tip of her tongue.
"I'll come with you." Hermione said, getting to her feet and brushing the loose blades of grass from her shins before scooping up her book and clutching it to her chest. "Can't have you writing a better essay than me."
Harry grinned at the cheeky she threw his way, while the others just groaned good-naturedly. "I pity anyone who ever gets better grades than those two." Daphne sighed, plucking at the grass distractedly. "Their reign will be so short lived, it'll barely be worth mentioning."
"We're not that bad." Harry said with a roll of his eyes. "I'll see you later – maybe tomorrow, actually. Are we sitting with Hufflepuff tomorrow?" He asked, beginning to walk backwards to the large alcove that led into the castle. Daphne, Tracey, and Neville all nodded, and just as Harry offered a final wave, he caught Astoria moving to take position next to her sister, and Neville flopped onto his back, his arms and legs spread wide.
"Tomorrow should be nice." Hermione offered, quietly, as they began their trek back to Gryffindor Tower. "I don't think we've ever sat with Susan before."
If Harry had pockets, he'd have tucked his hands into them, so he settled with clasping his hands comfortably at the small of his back; a habit, he knew, that he'd picked up from Arcturus over the years – the thought almost made him smile, and forget that little ache, almost like a pulled muscle, that would surface each time he thought of the man. "She has her friends." He shrugged. "But it'll be nice, I think. I enjoy spending time with her."
"She's different to how I thought she'd be, honestly." Hermione continued, nodding distractedly. "You know, after everything last year."
"She apologised." Harry shrugged. "Besides that, she's almost like family now; hard to imagine Blackwall without her. It's a little odd, to be honest."
"In what way?"
"Well, for most of my life, it was just the four of us: Arcturus, Remus, Sirius, and well… me. Even having Amelia around can be a little weird at times."
"Do you miss it?" She asked, quickly stepping around a rushing first year Slytherin boy that turned a corner a little too quickly. "When you're here, I mean."
"Sometimes." He answered, his eyes catching those of one of the Aurors stationed throughout the school; he was a large man, with ebony skin, and a tall, broad-shouldered stature – if it weren't for the darting of the man's golden eyes, and the steady rise and fall of his chest, he'd have thought him carved from rock. It took him a moment to refocus his gaze on Hermione. "I imagine in the same way you miss your family."
Hermione nodded slowly at that and pinched her bottom lip between her teeth – Harry found his eyes focusing on the way her lip pillowed around her teeth, and for the briefest of moments, he wondered if they were as soft as they looked. He shook his head distractedly; as the year had gone on, he'd noticed more and more about Hermione, and his thoughts had always drifted into that strange, new, unfamiliar territory.
His heart thudded a little quicker in his chest, and he fought the urge to rub it self-consciously; he imagined, quite unrealistically, that if it beat any harder, Hermione might just be able to hear it, and then drag him off to see Andromeda in the hospital. Then what would he do? Die of embarrassment, he was sure.
The girl next to him bumped her shoulder into his arm – when had he grown so tall that their shoulders weren't level anymore? "You alright there, Harry?"
"Fine." He croaked, awkwardly clearing his throat. "Just realising how much taller than you I am now."
"Not that much." She scoffed, scrunching her nose at him – his stomach clenched uncomfortably, and for a panicked moment, he thought he was about to shit himself, only to sigh in relief when the sensation passed.
"Might have to start reaching those top-shelf books for you at this rate." He grinned, wrapping his arm around her shoulders, and pulling her into his side. It was a sudden and spur-of-the-moment thing that he could never quite remember doing with Hermione before. He had certainly done it with Astoria before, and with Neville, but it had never quite felt like it did with Hermione.
She let out a small squeak noise, but soon started laughing, even as she lightly swatted him in the chest as they continued down a corridor. He'd long-since undone the buttons on his doublet and untucked his tunic beneath it; the draft of the corridor felt refreshing and caused the material of the doublet to flutter about his hips as they walked. "Harry!" She admonished, but there was no heart to it. "I could have tripped!"
"The future Lord Potter, glorified book picker for Hermione Granger!" He continued, dramatically resting the back of his free hand to his forehead. "Oh, just what will the Wizengamot think?"
"That you're far too over-dramatic." She replied, giving him a playful jab to his ribs with a finger – how was it that everyone always managed to get the exact same spot? "Besides, I'm more than capable of getting my own books." She sniffed.
"Too right." He agreed with a solemn nod. "Speaking of books – have your parents decided yet? About Rosestone and the Cup?" Harry asked, feeling his chest tighten again when he glanced down at her; she hadn't stepped away from him yet, and had somehow managed to half-rest her head against his shoulder as the two of them walked.
"Well…" She began, pursing her lips, though she couldn't hide the lop-sided smile that she was trying to break through. "They said yes." She said at last, breaking into a full grin. "With provisions, of course."
"Such as?" He asked as they reached the bottom of the Grand Staircase; he removed his arm from around her shoulders and tried not to grimace at how cold it suddenly felt. He resisted the urge to rub it.
"Obviously they can't have me gallivanting off somewhere on my own. So as long as there's an adult around, they'll be happy. I haven't told them about Greyback yet, though – I'm not quite sure how they'd react."
"Let me get my head around this one – they're fine with a Basilisk roaming the halls and petrifying students, but draw the line at wanted criminals?"
"You didn't tell them about Ruhxu, did you?" He asked in a deadpan, stopping half a step above her, and levelling her with an equally deadpan look. She squirmed under his stare, a faint crimson tint to her neck and cheeks.
"Not in so many words…" She mumbled. "Look, all of these dangerous things might be half-normal to you, but to Muggles…"
He held up his hands and turned to keep climbing the stairs. "Yeah, yeah, I know – it's not that normal for us either, honestly. I just have the worst luck, apparently." He scoffed. "I think it's Sirius's influence, honestly."
"That… I can actually believe." Hermione hummed and offered him a little grin. "So, what's the plan for Rosestone then? How much do I need to pack?"
"Just for a night or two. The castle itself is fairly big, but I don't think we'll be going into the nearby city – I don't think we could keep you away from the library, honestly."
"I'm not that bad."
Harry stepped onto the landing of the fifth floor and raised his eyebrows at the girl. "Last week you forgot to eat all of Saturday because you were reading about Neville's family. I nearly had to set Astoria on you."
Hermione brushed past him with a sniff, and he couldn't help the little grin that tugged at his mouth. "It's not my fault he has such interesting ancestors. He's linked to The Great Heathen Army, Harry! Muggles can only speculate on some of what happened with what we can discover, but there are documents here that-" She paused, and Harry barely kept himself from walking into the back of her. "I'm doing it again, aren't I? Rambling."
Shrugging a shoulder, he said, "I don't mind. Wouldn't be you otherwise."
Hermione glanced over her shoulder at him, and for a moment, they were silent; there were no other students on the staircase, but in that moment, he felt as if he were under some sort of intense scrutiny from every direction. It wasn't unpleasant, however – in fact, he liked it, in a strange sort of way. A pleasant tingle of magic danced along his spine that made him shiver. "That's sweet." She said, quietly. Hermione was only a step above him, and so he barely had to tip his head to look at her.
She was closer than usual, thanks to her impromptu halt on the staircase, and she was only half-turned to face him, but there it was again; the blood pumping in his ears, his heart hammering in his chest, his hands felt clammy, and his back felt like it had broken out into a sweat. It wasn't too dissimilar to how he felt before a fight, be it with Felix and Sulyard in the yard at Arpton, or when he'd beaten the snot out of Draco and his friends.
With a pop, it seemed the world came back into focus – he hadn't even noticed it fading out, and the two of them broke eye-contact quickly, clearing their throats and looking at anywhere that wasn't the other. Harry waved a hand pitifully toward the top of the staircase. "Maybe we should, uh-"
"Yes… yes! Homework. Essays. Transfiguration." Hermione breathed, shaking her head, and blinking rapidly. "Education. That's the one."
"So, uh… after you?" He offered, weakly, chuckling as he self-consciously rubbed the back of his neck. When had the stray hairs at the nape of his neck gotten damp?
"What? Oh – right… walking." She blinked one last time and seemed to perform the action of climbing the stairs out of reflex rather than any actual desire to move. Kind of like a puppet, actually. Maybe he was just tired – that was it, he was tired.
The two of them continued up the stairs in silence, though Harry continued to sneak furtive glances at Hermione every few seconds – the air seemed thick with a tension that he couldn't quite define, and there was a significant feeling of… something that had remained unsaid. Perhaps Daphne had been right all these years, and he'd taken one-too-many blows to the head.
In the early evening light, the brown of Hermione's hair was tinted gold, and when she glanced in his direction, smiling shyly, he could spot little flecks of amber around the edges of her iris'. Despite everything that had happened; despite the terror that lingered among them all in the aftermath of Greyback's attack, Harry realised that he didn't want to be anywhere else – he was… happy, strangely enough.
And what a guilty feeling it was; a realisation that came with a small frown on his face as he turned his eyes down to the polished, stone steps. Alison Hawthorne's friends were still heartbroken over the loss of their friend, Ravenclaw was still in a state of shock, and that said nothing about how her parents must feel, and here he was, feeling happy.
His stomach churned uncomfortably at the realisation, almost as if his body were reacting physically to the guilt that had now settled into the depths of his stomach. For the first time in a long time, he felt conflicted; on the one hand, he enjoyed spending his time with his friends – he could be himself, he could laugh and joke, and just be Harry. He enjoyed his time with Hermione especially, something that was becoming more and more clear as the year went on.
Eventually, the two of them arrived at the top of the staircase, and the portrait of The Fat Lady was the only remaining thing between themselves and the comfortable, if boisterous, Common Room. Already, just on the edge of his hearing, he could just make out the loud laughter of Fred and George; for saying that the Common Rooms were supposed to be secrets from the other houses, Gryffindor wasn't all that hidden.
"Flobberworm eyes." Hermione said as the two of them approached the portrait – The Fat Lady peered down her crooked nose at him, and Harry merely offered a sly wink in return. The portrait had been less than pleased with him ever since Cadogan had evicted her at the end of their last year.
"Hang on – Harry!" Sirius's familiar voice called out, and Harry spun on his heel. Jogging from down a nearby corridor, which coincidentally led directly to Dumbledore's office, were both Sirius and Remus.
A grin was on his face before he could even question it, and he wrapped his arms around Sirius' middle the moment he was close enough, breathing in that familiar scent – behind him, Hermione enthusiastically greeted Remus. He felt Sirius press a kiss into his hair and finally stepped back, only to grab Remus after a surreptitious glance for any onlookers.
"What are you two doing up here? I thought you were going back to Blackwall and coming back later?" Harry asked, glancing between the two men once he finally released Remus.
"And how did you know I was planning on coming back this evening?" Sirius asked, cocking a single brow while Remus covered his mouth with his hand in a far too casual manner.
Harry opened his mouth to answer and stopped short, realising his mistake – Hermione giggled, and he fought the urge to glare at her, the traitor. "Uh, lucky guess?" He offered, weakly, wincing as his voice cracked.
"Nice try." Sirius chuckled, his eyes crinkling in the corners. His eyes flickered between himself and his bookish friend for a moment. "Hermione, would you mind if I borrowed Harry for a moment? It'll be quick."
"I guess," She sighed after a moment, her finger on her chin. "Just bring him back in one piece please, I need him to get the books off the top shelf for me, he did volunteer." She smiled, though he suspected from the look she was giving him that he'd be questioned about it when he returned. She offered one last wiggle of her fingers in a parting wave, before stepping through the portrait. The Fat Lady huffed.
Sirius wrapped an arm around his shoulders and he found himself led to an alcove halfway down the corridor both of the adults had just come from; there was a little stone bench on either side of the tall, arched window with plush, crimson cushions. Sirius directed him to one, while he took the other – Remus continued standing, his arms folded across his chest while his head swivelled regularly back and forth, checking the corridor for anyone approaching.
A sudden feeling of seriousness settled over Harry's shoulders, and he tried not to shiver under the feeling of it. Had something happened?
"What's wrong?" He asked, glancing between the two men. "Nothing's happened, has it? Everyone's alright?"
"Nothing like that – we just need to have a little chat with you." Sirius said, his voice low. "We just came from a meeting with Dumbledore, and we have a favour to ask of you."
"Anything." Harry said, immediately, sitting a little taller.
"Where's the map?" Remus asked, licking his lips, nervously. Harry noted the way he shifted his weight from foot-to-foot. "You brought it with you this year, yes?"
"Of course – it's on my bedside table. Never used it though."
"We need you to." Sirius said, reaching over and clasping his hand. "I assume you know we've been out in the forest?"
"You're not as subtle as you think you are." Harry grinned, a little cheekily, if only to try and assuage his own growing anxiety. "Have you found him?"
"Nothing yet. So far everything looks how it should – even Moony's been happy, in his own way." Sirius shrugged. "But that isn't to say we won't. I need you to keep an eye on that map, make sure everyone in the castle is who they say they are – if you see Greyback's name appear on that piece of paper, the first thing you do, is you get Dobby to take you straight to Blackwall. Do you hear me?"
Harry nodded and nervously wet his lips; he could feel the blood rush from his face, and when he took a deep, steadying breath, it trembled past his lips. "I do." He murmured, his eyes flicking back and forth between the two men. "But what about the two of you? If Dobby's taking me, how're you two going to get out?"
"We'll find a way, pup." Sirius said, smiling softly and shuffling from his seat – he crouched on his knees before him, scooping his limp hands up in his own larger, calloused paws. "But your safety is our priority – do you understand?"
"And Hermione? The others?"
Sirius paused a moment, a strange look in his eye that Harry couldn't quite define. "We'll send Dobby for her and the others the moment you're safe. Does that sound fair?"
Harry nodded mutely and glanced up at Remus, who was simply smiling sadly down at him; his arms still folded across his large chest. "We'll do our best to make sure everyone else is alright – Andromeda, your friends, and any other students we come across."
"But this is Greyback!" Harry tried, his voice sounded strained, and he forced himself to look down at his feet. All of a sudden he felt like a small boy again, and he hated it.
"Which is why we're taking these steps – Amelia already has Dobby watching you wherever you go."
"He's not as subtle as he thinks he is either." Harry muttered with a fond smile. "I caught him hiding behind a set of armour earlier today – his feet were poking out."
Remus chuckled, and Harry felt a little better. "Bless him."
"If for whatever reason Dobby can't get you out of the castle, you use Clara, alright? Keep her with you at all times unless she needs to eat."
"I can barely get her to behave most of the time, Sirius – I think she's the only thing that hasn't gone after Scabbers so far; you really think I'll manage to get her off Ron's rat if she suddenly feels like a snack?"
"She'll listen to you – she always does when your safety is concerned." Sirius said, kissing the back of Harry's knuckles affectionately. It was bothering Harry how… well, how serious Sirius was being. "Hedwig too, but she can't take you back to Blackwall."
"She's not at the castle, anyway." He shrugged. "She's delivering a letter to Neville's Gran – I let him borrow her."
"That was thoughtful of you." Remus said, ruffling his hair – Harry huffed as he felt a few strands fall out of the leather tie. "Augusta will appreciate it, I'm sure."
There was a beat of silence between the three of them; Sirius remained on his knees before him, staring at their conjoined hands, and Remus remained where he was, though one hand now sat on his hip while the other rubbed thoughtfully at the stubble running along his jaw. Harry glanced between the two of them, his eyes narrowed.
"When was the last time the two of you slept properly?"
Sirius snorted and looked up at Remus; the two of them shared a look that Harry couldn't quite decipher, and then both pinned him with the same expression of bemusement. "Little ironic, coming from you, isn't it?" Sirius asked, his voice a little scratchy. He shook his head for a moment before continuing. "It's been a long few days. Remus still has to teach, and I'm getting some rest during the days, in between my usual work. It's alright, we can both manage – you just make sure you're getting enough sleep."
"Well now that you've told me to keep an eye on the map for Greyback, I'm sure I'll just doze right off now." Harry huffed with a roll of his eyes. "Really put my mind at ease, you know?"
Sirius lightly flicked him between the eyes, and for a brief moment, Harry went cross-eyed as he attempted to follow the finger, only to scrunch his face up and rub the spot a moment later. "That's for being cheeky." Sirius smirked, patting his knee. "Come on, up you get – I'm sure Hermione misses her boyfriend."
"I'm not her boyfriend." Harry sighed with another roll of his eyes, though he got to his feet, nonetheless. "I thought we had this conversation last week."
"Yes we did." Sirius nodded, solemnly. "And it's my duty to tease you about it until you're old and grey."
"I never said anything about you and Amelia, though!" He protested, and he attempted to make it sound dignified, but even to his ears, it sounded little better than a whine. "Don't you laugh." He scowled, snapping his head in Remus's direction; the man just held his hands up in mock-surrender. "Surrounded by bloody traitors today." He muttered under his breath as the three of them began meandering their way back to the Gryffindor portrait.
"One day you'll thank me." Sirius said, clapping him on the shoulder and giving it a little squeeze.
"Prank your balls off, more like." Harry continued to grumble under his breath, resisting the urge to kick one of the flagstones. All too soon, the three of them arrived before The Fat Lady, and Harry grumbled the password, silently thankful that the woman actually opened for him this time. He turned to look at the two men who were standing a little way away, at the top of the stairs. "What time will you go out tonight?" He asked, that feeling of anxiety already pooling in his stomach again, despite the last few, teasing moments of their conversation – the weight of it felt like lead.
"We're going now – catch a few hours of daylight while we can. Dumbledore knows." Remus said, nodding and pressing his lips together in a sympathetic, if tight, smile. "It's what we were discussing."
"Be careful?" Harry asked, the fingers of his left hand flexing nervously on the gilded frame of the portrait door. "Promise?"
"We solemnly swear." Sirius smiled, flicking his finger over his heart like he used to when Harry was little. "Now, go on, and remember what we said. I'll come by and check on you later."
Harry sucked in a deep breath through his nose and nodded, forcing his feet to move through the entrance to the Common Room and close the portrait behind him.
When he finally turned and made his way through the Common Room, passing by Fred and George with a polite nod, pointedly ignoring the bag of offered sweets they waved in his direction, he noticed the various students of his house dotted throughout the room.
There was Oliver Wood, huddled closely with Angelina as they watched a playback of a Quidditch game, though Harry couldn't make out who it was that was playing; he caught Seamus and Dean playing a game of Monopoly with a few Muggle-Born first years, and various others dotted throughout the room either reading, or scribbling away at essays.
Hermione, he sensed, with a little searching with his magic, was in the common room he shared with the other boys. He hurried up the stairs two at a time before ducking into the room. Hermione had her legs tucked beneath her on the two-seater couch, her fingers worrying the hem of her skirt.
Harry's eyes briefly tracked the movement, and his mouth suddenly felt a little dry. He shook himself, a little more than he meant to, and somehow managed to pull his attention away from her anxious fiddling and dropped into the seat next to her.
"Is everything alright?" She asked, immediately. Her eyes were wide, and her bottom lip was pinched between her teeth again.
"Yeah." He breathed, forcing himself to look anywhere but Hermione – he focused on the fireplace opposite him. "Sirius and Remus just asked me to do something, is all."
"Can I help?" She offered, twisting in the seat to look at him a little better. "I mean, I assume it's to help them with Greyback, right?"
"Pretty much." He admitted, scratching at the back of his neck. He huffed a tired sigh and rubbed at his face a moment later. "I'm worried about them – going into the forest. What if they find him?"
"They'll be alright." She said, quietly. She leaned against him then, tucking her head against his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his own. She clutched it to her tightly, and while Harry had never considered his arm to be anything like a stuffed toy – for that's exactly how she was currently treating it – he couldn't deny that he was… comforted, by the action.
"You don't know that." He said, regardless, his own, genuine fears taking voice far easier than they had when he'd been with Sirius and Remus. "Hermione, Greyback massacred over fifty Aurors at the start of September."
"But it's Sirius – and Remus. If there's anyone that stands a chance, it's those two." She reasoned, giving his arm another firm squeeze. "Remus is the best teacher we've had, and we both saw them duel last month at the club."
That was true – and the memory of it all still made Harry's insides all giddy. It had been spectacular – he had seen the two of them fight before; he'd even sparred with them at Felix and Sulyard's insistence over the years, but nothing had come close to the display they'd put on for the members of the Duelling Club.
When Harry was younger, on that fateful stretch of cobbled road, he'd been too pre-occupied with everything going on around him to take in what Sirius and Remus had been doing – he knew they were both powerful and expert fighters, but to see the two of them go back and forth, countering one another so effortlessly…
Would he be able to fight like that one day? He loved his sessions with both Sulyard and Felix; though he'd be the first to admit that he preferred his sessions with his favourite guard. Felix had a way of teaching him both the theory and the practical applications of the spells in the same breath – everything he said just… stuck. There was a thrill to it all that he just couldn't get anywhere else.
Surprisingly, it had been Remus that had won the bout between the two of them – to the cheers of everyone watching; even some of the teachers that were helping had clapped and cheered along with them, while others had simply exchanged small handfuls of coins. "That's true. Still…"
"It's alright to be worried, you know." Hermione whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. "Just means you're human, like the rest of us."
"I think I've proven over the past few years that I worry more than the usual, expected amount." He scoffed. "Between making sure you were safely out of the catacombs with the whole Quirrell thing, and all of that stuff with Ruhxu…"
"Which I'm thankful for." She smiled, softly. "But you need to stop worrying so much – or you'll be grey before you're fifteen."
"Damn, I was trying for fourteen. You really think it'll take a whole extra year?" He sighed, throwing his head back and resting it against the cushion as he looked up at the high ceiling.
"Daphne's right, you can be an arse sometimes, Potter." She grumped, gently poking him in the side. "So, what was it?"
"Hm?" He hummed, rolling his head to look at her. "Oh – the favour. He asked me to watch who's in the castle – make sure he doesn't sneak in or anything."
Hermione frowned, sitting up as she did so. As he watched her, he thought he could see the dozen or so questions fly around inside her head. "Wait – how on earth would you do that? You can't be everywhere all at once… can you? No, surely not, that'd be impossible, but-"
"Hermione." Harry chuckled, that strange, funny feeling fluttering in his chest and stomach. "I'll show you." He grunted as he pushed himself to his feet, and he held his hand out to help Hermione to her feet, though he idly noticed that he didn't release her fingers when she did, eventually, stand. Neither did she release his, something that made the feeling a little more intense.
He half led, half dragged her to his bedroom door, flicking his fingers and sending a little burst of magic to the lock, and shouldered it open. It was neat and tidy, like always, though that had recently become more because of Dobby than himself – he kept things neat, because having his room a mess would simply stress him out, but the differences between his upkeep and Dobby's was subtle.
Harry would often leave his stacks of books – some required reading for his classes, while others were either his own, personal research, or books of fiction – here and there, bookmarked for him to later come back to. Dobby had taken it upon himself to arrange them by progress and by relevance to whatever it was he was doing that particular week.
His wardrobe didn't escape Dobby's meticulous organising either; Harry had simply filled it with his clothes – neatly, of course – but Dobby, the wonderful little House Elf, had organised it by colour, and by his favourite items. He didn't deserve Dobby, truly.
"I still can't get over how tidy your room is." Hermione mumbled, turning on the spot as she closed the door behind them – their fingers disentangled, and he fought the urge to reach out and grab her hand again.
"It's mostly Dobby." He shrugged, wandering over to his bedside table. "I like a neat room, but he takes it a little further." Harry grabbed the piece of parchment, sliding it out from beneath the mirror.
"What's that?" Hermione asked, appearing at his side – she perched herself on the edge of his bed, folding her legs at the knees and tucking her hands beneath her thighs; probably to stop herself from fidgeting.
"It's a map." He shrugged, stelling in beside her and opening the folded parchment out – it remained blank, however. "My dad and the others made it when they were at school; I don't know if I told you or not, but this was my dad's room when he was here."
Hermione blinked and looked around the room, her lips slightly parted. "You never mentioned it – not to me, anyway." She whispered, and after a moment, her attention returned to the worn parchment in his hands. "But there's nothing on the parchment."
"There isn't. Fred and George have either Sirius or Remus's old copy; I can't remember which – I think it was Remus that gave it to them. Pretty sure Sirius has his to keep an eye on me."
"Can't imagine why he'd need to do that." Hermione teased, bumping his shoulder.
"Alright, alright." He grinned. "It has a password on it, in case it ever got confiscated by Filch." Harry continued, flicking his wand into his hand, and pressing the tip to the centre. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
The effect was immediate, and Harry felt his magic tingle slightly – it was the first time he'd ever actually activated the map; Sirius had shown him years ago, but for some reason, Harry had always found a reason not to open it.
It would always still be there the following day, and it had almost become second nature to tell himself that he'd do it tomorrow, or the day after, or next week. It had been easy to fall into that routine, but now… now, he thought he understood a little more why he'd been so hesitant.
The tingling sensation of his magic continued to travel down his spine, and he felt gooseflesh appear on his arms beneath his sleeves; he felt warm and cold at the same time, and he couldn't help but feel both anxious and calm – it was a strange, paradoxical mix of emotions.
It was the lingering imprint of his father's magic.
It called to him, in its own, private way. He could feel the magic of Sirius, Remus, and sickeningly enough… The Rat. He shook himself and focused his attention on the way the ink grew and spread across the page, forming words and a large picture of Hogwarts in the background.
"Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs proudly present: The Marauder's Map." Hermione read aloud, leaning over him to better look at the parchment. "Harry, this is incredible!"
"You should see the rest of it." He murmured, scowling at one name in particular. He opened it quickly, and felt the tension fall from his shoulders as the name disappeared – the less he had to put up with that name, the better.
He tried not to think about just what he'd do to the man if he ever got his hands on him; Sirius and Remus wanted to rip him apart just as much, and normally he would simply submit to their judgement – like he had with Arcturus and his murder. But he couldn't.
Wormtail was the reason his parents were dead. He had led Voldemort to the cottage in Godric's Hollow – he had been the Secret Keeper for their Fidelius, and he had been there when Voldemort had killed his father. Not an ambiguous, in the general area kind of been there, either – he had physically been in the fucking room.
Sirius had never told him, of course – but he'd heard him and Arcturus talking about it just before his first year. The two of them had been in Arcturus' study, and Harry had been passing it when he'd heard the name – all these years later, and the search was still on-going. One day they'd catch up to the piece of shit, and when they did…
"Is this the Great Hall?" Hermione asked, snapping his attention from the spiralling thoughts that lingered in his mind – he forced himself to breathe in deeply, calming himself as best he could. He could smell Hermione's shampoo, and the faintest hint of parchment that always lingered around her. "Are these the people actually in it?"
"It is – Sirius said it's linked to the Wards of the castle. Moony did the Charm-work, Dad did the security spells, and Sirius did the art-work." He smiled, tracing his fingers idly along the inky splotches on the page. "Sirius liked to draw when he was younger."
"He's talented." Hermione murmured, tracing her fingers to a familiar courtyard. "Look! There's Daphne, Tracey, Neville, and Astoria!"
"It shows everyone in real-time." He nodded. "They used it to avoid teachers when they were doing pranks."
"Of course they did." She harrumphed, next to him. "A amazing, innovative piece of magic, and they used it to prank." He could practically hear the gears turning in her head, theorising all of the applications the magic in the map could be applied to.
"This is how I'll keep an eye out for Greyback – if he enters the castle, I'll see it. Look, there go Sirius and Remus now." He said, pointing at the two names at the edge of the page, just as they disappeared toward the Forbidden Forest.
"Wait," Hermione said, suddenly, sitting upright and spinning to face him. Harry darted his head back at the sudden close-proximity. "You've had this the entire time we've been at the school?"
"Uh, yeah?" He answered, dumbly.
"You had this last year?"
"Yes?" His voice cracked, and he fought to supress the wince.
"Harry James Potter!" Hermione scolded him, suddenly, slapping him on the arm – forcefully, but not enough to actually hurt. "We could have spotted Ruhxu in no time at all with that bloody thing!"
"Hey, I was a little pre-occupied, if you'll recall!" He cried, holding his arm up in a futile attempt to defend himself. "Between thinking I was going insane and you ending up in the hospital!"
Hermione stopped suddenly, and Harry noticed the increasing rosiness of her cheeks. "Yes, well." She coughed, awkwardly into her hand. "Still, it should have been your first thought – not gallivanting around the castle and poking at things with a sword."
He shrugged. "It worked."
"You were a mess, from what I've heard!" She cried, throwing her arms up in the air. "If this," she waved a hand at the forgotten map that now lay across his bed. "could have prevented that…"
"I'd have still been a mess." Harry sighed, rolling his eyes. "I was worried about you – that's why I wasn't sleeping. I couldn't."
He'd admitted that without quite thinking about the consequences. It had always been something that had been left unsaid between their friends – something obvious, but unspoken, as if saying it aloud would somehow alter things; not that he had any idea how things would change. Sirius and Remus knew, of course – especially after they'd found him beside Hermione, and he'd removed the Glamour.
"I-" Hermione began, though her jaw snapped shut immediately after that single syllable was uttered. She was on her feet, her eyes wide, and her hands trembling at her side – not much, but enough for Harry's eyes to notice. He watched as she breathed in through her nose, deeply, like he had only a few minutes before. Was she angry? "I don't want you to worry about me like that." She said, eventually – her voice was even; too even.
"You're my friend." He shrugged a single shoulder, his fingers tangling with each other in his lap. "I'll always worry. Don't tell Daphne though, she'll think I've gone soft." He grinned, weakly – Hermione didn't so much as twitch.
"We all know you're soft." Hermione said after a long, drawn-out moment, her shoulders losing the tension that had been there since he'd blurted out that little confession – though Harry couldn't quite work out if it was a good or a bad thing. "It's why we keep you around. We all prefer Neville, really."
He caught the little, subtle twitch of the corners of her mouth, and breathed a little easier; he had no doubt that it was going to be something Hermione wanted to talk about later – she always wanted to talk about that kind of thing – but for now, they could carry on just like they always had.
"I knew it." He gasped, clutching at his heart, and falling back on the bed, careful not to land on the map. "You only keep me around because my hair is prettier than his."
"I don't know…" Hermione hummed, tapping a finger to her lips as her eyes lost their focus. "He has those wavy brown curls, and his hair just looks so glossy."
Harry pushed himself back up and glared at her for a moment. "Alright, Daphne's been a terrible influence on you."
"The best of terrible influences." Hermione grinned, setting herself down beside him on the bed again. She bumped him with her shoulder; because of the filtered sunlight from his window, and their close proximity, Hermione's freckles seemed more pronounced than they usually were. Was he just imagining that, or was it something that he'd never quite realised? "I will concede that your hair is very pretty, though."
"You're just saying that." He grinned at her – their knees were touching, and his eyes flickered down to look at them for a moment. He was wearing his usual uniform trousers, of course, but Hermione was still wearing her skirt – when he'd been looking at her legs earlier, out in the courtyard, he'd thought how soft and smooth they looked; now, in his bedroom, alone, a small part of him wanted to reach out and see if he'd been right.
His fingers twitched, but he made a conscious effort to remain still. So great was the effort required, that he thought he might just break out into a sweat from the effort. Hermione tucked her head into the crook between his neck and shoulder – her hair smelled of mint shampoo, and a stray, windswept strand tickled his nose. "I am." She sighed, happily. "Neville is definitely my favourite."
The two of them remained that way for a while, the only obvious sign of any passage of time the slowly setting sun beyond the window. "I'm worried." He said, finally.
"I know." Came the soft, whispered reply. Hermione tucked his right hand between her own, caressing her thumbs over the back of his hand like it was Crookshanks nestled in her lap instead. "It'll all be alright – you'll see."
"I hope so." He breathed, his eyes glancing to the tapestry on the far wall – Arcturus smiled back at him, and Dorea blew him a kiss. "I just wish I was out there with them, I guess."
"You're not one for letting others do things." Hermione huffed, though he could detect her amusement. "It's both incredibly endearing, and impossibly frustrating, you know."
"I blame Sirius."
"You can't use that at every possible opportunity to explain your desire to rush off into danger." She muttered, poking him in the thigh. "It's cheating."
"It's sound tactics, is what it is." He said with a short nod, scrunching his nose as more of Hermione's hair assaulted his nose. "I just…"
"I know." Hermione said immediately, squeezing his hand reassuringly in her lap. "I know how you think – but it won't be long until you're a little older, and then, I'm sure they'll let you go with them."
"Do you think they'd have let my Dad go with them?"
Hermione sat up and twisted her body to look at him; her eyes were sad, and her lips were pressed a little more tightly together than they usually were. "I'm sure they would have – in fact, I'd bet that he'd have been the first one out there looking. He sounds like he was a remarkable man, in the end."
"I like to think so." He breathed, his eyes flickering to the book of his mother's photographs and the pictures of himself and his father, asleep on the sofa in Godric's Hollow. "Greyback wouldn't have a chance with Sirius and my dad out there looking for him. The Marauders would sniff him out in a heartbeat."
Hermione grinned, her tongue pressed against the back of her teeth, and poking out the sides a little – something that, once again, made his stomach feel strange. "Remus would set the trap, Sirius would bait him into it, and I'm sure your dad would kick his arse."
Harry blinked a moment – briefly imagining the two Animagi and Moony pulling it off – but reeling from the casual use of profanity. "I take back what I said earlier – me and Neville have been a terrible influence."
"You have." Hermione nodded, solemnly. "And it's 'Neville and I'." She added, winking at him playfully.
"Yeah, yeah." He grumbled, forcing himself to his feet – he turned and held his hands out to Hermione. She took them with a pleased smile, but didn't release them immediately; instead, after a heartbeat, she quickly wound her arms around his waist and pulled herself against him.
For a moment, he didn't quite know what to do – he'd experienced plenty of hugs from Hermione over the time that he'd known her, and throughout the past year, she'd even semi-regularly kissed him on the cheek. Eventually, his body responded of its own accord, and he wrapped his own arms around her – this hug felt different to the others; it felt more. What that was, he couldn't say, but it helped to settle his worry, and his building anxiety.
In the silence of the room, their gentle breathing the only noise within the confines of the large brick walls, Harry's eyes trailed to the map, which continued to lay ominously on his bed, the ink slowly moving about on the faded parchment as it tracked the denizens of the castle.
He knew all sorts of things that it was capable of, thanks to both Sirius and Remus over the years, but they could wait until later. "Come on." He said, giving Hermione one last squeeze. "It'll be time to eat soon, and if we don't get down there now, we might get stuck near Weasley."
"You're terrible." Hermione sighed, though she stepped back with a little smile, her left hand quickly entwining with his right, as she began to back towards the door, pulling him along. His feet moved of their own accord, and a small, private smile threatened to spread itself across his lips. "He's not that bad."
It was several hours later, and the sun had long-since fallen beyond the far mountain across the lake, when Harry found himself lying atop his bed, his legs crossed at the ankles, and his wand gently twirling between his fingers.
Every now and then, he would halt his absent-minded twirling, and scratch at his head with the tip of it – if anyone could see him using his wand to rid himself of an itch in such a way, he was sure that he'd never live it down, but he wasn't focused on the potential ramifications of that.
Instead, his eyes were entirely focused on the parchment that floated before him, bobbing gently in the air, as he methodically moved throughout the castle, checking over it section-by-section, despite the growing heaviness of his eyelids.
A direct result of the wonderful meal that Dobby had supplied him with.
It had been a dish of tubes of pasta stuffed with sausage meat, and covered in a delicious tomato sauce and cheese – it had been one of the heavier meals he'd had in recent months, but Gods it had been delicious; so delicious, in fact, that he'd had not just a second helping, but a third as well!
Dobby, he knew, was ecstatic that his food had been so well received, though Neville had joked that if Dobby kept on making the dish, they wouldn't be able to get him out of the Great Hall's huge doorway.
Idly, Harry's free hand fell to his stomach, which, thankfully, was no longer as bloated as it had been only a few hours before. He stifled a yawn, and privately had to admit that Neville was likely right. If Dobby continued to make the dish, he'd be larger than some of the Lords he'd had to deal with over the years, and that wouldn't do at all.
He swiped his wand at the parchment, and the map obeyed his commands, changing the spread of the ink to display the Hufflepuff Common Room – he could only see two names, sat side-by-side: Susan and Isao, her friend. They weren't moving, so he assumed the two to simply be talking late into the night.
He didn't know much of Isao; beyond the scant interactions he'd had with the younger boy here and there over the course of the year. He seemed polite, and quite friendly once you got past the neutral, indifferent expression he often wore when wandering around the castle. At the very least, he was glad that Susan had a good friend.
The tip of his wand swiped through the air once more, and this time, Harry found himself staring at Gryffindor Tower; there were only five people in the Common Room tonight: Romilda Vane – a first year, Nigel Wolpert – another first year, Ginevra Weasley – a shiver ran down his spine as The Chamber of Secrets flashed through his mind, Mathew Higgins – from his own year, and Richard Mab – Cormac's brother. Romilda, Nigel, and Ginny were sitting together, while both Richard and Mathew were on the other side of the room, similarly sitting together in one of the alcoves.
He swiped again, and this time, he saw his own name staring back at him. The map displayed his room perfectly, though it didn't show any of the furniture of any of the rooms – something that had foiled some of The Marauder's plans in the past. Above his room, however, was a proud stag, reared up and kicking its legs playfully.
Beside it, where Neville's own name was emblazoned, was the image of a large, shaggy, black dog with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. Harry tried not to laugh, though a small, private chuckle whispered its way across his lips. A large, half-crescent moon hung above Remus' old room, where he assumed Seamus was busy snoring into his pillow.
Slowly, Harry's eyes fell upon the image of a rat, wiping its whiskers, sat. He glared at the image and felt a tingle of his magic dance along the surface of his skin from his agitation.
He was about to look away when something caught his eye – at first, he dismissed it as one of the simple safe-guards that the map held in the chance that its password was broken; in the event that the map fell into the hands of any of the staff, or, Merlin forbid, Snape, it would show the creators of the map in different areas of the castle to where they actually were. But that didn't make any sense, because none of the other three were anywhere on the map – he'd gone through the entire castle!
Harry sat up sharply, his breath coming in short, quick, pants as his adrenaline spiked. His fingers flexed along the handle of his wand, and on his free hand, arcs of crimson magic danced along his fingertips.
He scrambled to his feet and rushed to the door – Clara let out an indignant squawk from her perch. He was still dressed, though admittedly he wasn't wearing any shoes, and he'd long-since pulled his hair loose of the leather tie that it had been in all throughout the day. Pale moonlight spilled into the common room he shared with the other boys, and the fireplace crackled quietly with the warm glow of the fire.
He rapped on the door with his knuckles quickly, and, he realised with a wince, a little too loudly. There was a noise beyond the door, and the muffled sound of someone cursing as they tripped over something, and then, finally, the door was pulled open.
Ron had obviously been on the verge of falling asleep, and had quite clearly been woken with a start – his thick, red hair was stuck up in half a dozen different directions, and his skin was slightly more pale than usual. He wore nothing over his torso, and his pyjama trousers had fallen a little low on his hips.
"Potter?" He slurred, rubbing his eyes tiredly with the heels of his palms. Harry tried to peer past the other boy's shoulder and look into the room but couldn't quite manage it. "What do you want?"
"I, uh-" Harry began, his words catching themselves in his throat. He cleared it, thinking it might help, but instead found himself anxiously shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I thought I heard someone – in your room, I mean. Everything alright?"
Ron looked at him as if he'd grown another head. "Heard someone? Are you going mad? There's just me in here. Look, I'm tired; I don't have time for this – I'm going back to bed."
"Wait!" Harry called, slapping his hand on the wooden door as Ron went to close it. Ron's face began to turn puce. "Are you sure? There's no-one in there with you?"
"Well, there's Scabbers, but he's in his cage – now, seriously, piss off!" Ron snapped, closing the door in his face. Harry rocked back on his heels for a moment before shaking his head. He glanced around the room, and saw Dean looking at him, confused, from his bedroom door.
"Everything alright?" Dean asked, frowning. "You two good?"
"Yeah, everything's fine – just thought I heard something." He answered, distractedly. He fought the urge to chew on a fingernail, like he did when he was younger; it always got a scolding from Arcturus though.
"If you're sure. You look a bit pale."
"Long day." Harry smiled, tightly. "I was probably just imagining things."
"Alright, well, let me know if you need anything. See you in the morning, Harry." Dean offered, waving a hand tiredly as he went back into his room and closed the door behind him.
Once he was sure Dean had gone to his bed, he glanced over his shoulder, where he could feel Neville watching him from his doorway, and felt some of the tension wash from his shoulders. His best friend beckoned him with a jerk of his head, and before he knew it, Harry was already halfway to the door.
Inside Neville's room, Harry quickly glanced around – there were a number of potted plants on a shelf by the window, and a large habitat for Trevor on another on the far side of the room. On his bedside table were framed pictures of his parents, and various photographs with himself and Daphne from their childhood.
Had he really smiled like that when he was younger – had Daphne?
Before he knew it, he was holding one photograph in his hands, his fingers lightly tracing over the moving image with an almost reverent delicacy. "I didn't know you had these." He murmured, glancing over his shoulder as Neville closed the door with a quiet, rattling thud, before returning his gaze back to the picture.
"Kept them since Remus took the photo." Neville shrugged – he was dressed in a loose, baggy tunic that hung down to his knees, and a loose pair of trousers that bunched around his ankles; like Harry, his hair was loose, and fell messily over his shoulders.
"We look happy." He said, at last.
"Just before you went off to Arpton for the first time." Neville nodded, appearing at his side and gently peeled the picture frame from his fingers. "Things changed after that."
"You've never had to explain anything to me before, and you don't have to now. Is everything alright, though? You look… tense."
Harry paused and bit his bottom lip anxiously, picking at the soft flesh with his teeth. He blew out a breath and put his hands on his hips and began to pace the room slowly. "Sirius and Remus asked me to keep an eye out for Greyback on the map."
"Okay… You've never used it before though, so that's not what's bothering you." Neville sat down on his bed, his back against the headboard, and a single knee pulled up to his chest as he continued to watch Harry pace around the room.
"I saw Pettigrew on the map."
"Impossible." Neville said, immediately, shaking his head. "You sure it wasn't one of the features?"
"Positive – none of the others are on the map; I just spent the last hour going over every last inch of the castle looking for Greyback; I've even got it set up to alert me if the name appears."
"Where did you see him then?"
"Ron's room; it showed two names: Ronald Weasley, and Peter Pettigrew." Harry said, coming to a stop and holding up a finger for each name. "But the rooms aren't big enough that a grown adult could-"
Harry paused, the words coming to a sudden halt on the tip of his tongue. A dozen pieces suddenly clicked into place within his mind; a grown man couldn't hide in a student's room, but an Animagus could!
"Scabbers!" He snarled, his fingers curling themselves into fists as the realisation came to him. "Pettigrew is the fucking rat!"
Neville was on his feet immediately, a hand gripping each of his shoulders as he trembled with barely contained rage. He'd lived alongside the piece of shit for years, he'd watched Ron bring him to the Gryffindor table, and he'd always felt uncomfortable whenever he would make eye contact with the rodent.
It wasn't an aversion to the animal itself, but to the wizard that it secretly was. It explained so much – Ron had mentioned how old Scabbers was, he had been Percy's before Ron had him, and neither had ever managed a Familiar Bond, and Scabbers was missing a toe; just like Pettigrew would be missing a finger.
"I have to tell Sirius." He said, his sudden anger leaving him, only to be replaced by a cold fury; he would tell Sirius, and then he'd avenge the betrayal of his parents. "I have to tell him now."
"Harry, wait! Gods, just hang on a minute!" Neville said, shaking him. "You can't reach Sirius right now – he's out in the forest with Moony, remember? He'll be out there as Padfoot!"
Harry grimaced and nodded reluctantly; Remus would have reverted to his baser instincts, allowing the wolf to emerge – he'd be a dangerous combination of man and beast, a combination, it was rumoured, that Greyback maintained at all times, unless it was a full moon. Sirius would be in his Animagus form for his own safety, not only from Greyback, but also from Remus.
He snarled and ran his fingers through his hair roughly and spun out of Neville's grip, flinging his arms into the air. "Then what am I supposed to do? Wait?"
"Yeah." Neville shrugged. "You can't do anything else right now."
"I can kill the fucker!" Harry snapped, pointing a finger at the wall that separated their two rooms. "I've got a perfectly good sword in there, and a Phoenix."
Neville scoffed and folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow. "You go in there swinging a sword, and you'll kick up a storm that won't disappear until you're dead – you think any House will think kindly of someone who barged into another kids room, swung a sword around and killed their pet rat? Think, Harry!"
"Why am I getting told to be patient by you of all people?"
"Because I care about you, you thick twat." Neville grunted, and Harry felt immediate shame. The anger was still there, simmering just beneath the surface, but the shame outweighed it – he had caught the brief look of hurt on Neville's face, even if his words weren't entirely unfounded.
Neville had always been his best friend, his staunchest supporter, and in their own, private way, his big brother, even if it was only a day. "I know." He breathed, rubbing his forehead tiredly. "I know. I just… I can't let him get away if it is him."
"He won't get away." Neville said, confidently. "Because we're going to be in that room out there, watching that door all night; then, in the morning, you can tell Sirius and Remus and figure out a plan."
Harry watched as Neville began moving about his room, tugging on a pair of boots, though the laces were only lightly tied; he watched as Neville snatched up his wand, and briefly hesitated over picking up the sharp, Mithril axe that, like Harry's own weapon, hung on the wall.
It was made entirely of the rare metal, and was remarkably elegant, all things considered. The shaft was wrapped in fine, dark leather, and a similar loop of the material hung limply from the bottom. The head was thin, but the blade was large and curved, and all along it, runes and pattering had been carved into it. He'd never seen Neville use it, though he knew he could – Neville had begun to learn how to fight around the same time he had.
"Go and grab the map, I'll see you out there – I'll set up some chairs to watch the door."
And so, the two of them settled into their vigil throughout the night; Neville settled himself closest to the door to the rest of the tower, and Harry took up position closest to Ron's room – at one point, Clara joined the two of them, and settled atop a large wooden beam that ran the width of the common room.
Clara quite clearly understood his distress, and in the back of her mind, he could feel her dark, obsidian eyes staring a hole through Ron's bedroom door. He had been tempted to get her to enter Ron's room and remove the rat but thought better of it.
Currently, he held the advantage – Pettigrew had no idea they knew he was Scabbers, and that his days were nearing their end, one way or another. If Harry didn't perform the deed himself, then he would be turned over to the Ministry, where he would either be given a Dementor's Kiss, or pushed through The Veil, an artifact of execution that he'd only heard passing references to.
A part of him wanted to do it himself; not only for the justice it would bring his parents, but for the reputation it would bring him with his own Bannermen. He was nearing the age where he would ascend to the title of Lord Potter, something that he was becoming more and more aware of that he didn't have the usual experience or achievement of his predecessors.
His House was in the most precarious position it had ever been in, and if he wasn't careful, everything his family had worked for, and achieved over their long history could all be for naught if he allowed it to fade into history. He refused to allow that to happen.
But, if he could apprehend, or deliver justice to the one that had led to the deaths of the previous Lord and Lady Potter, even if it wasn't their official title, it would go a long way to settle the nerves of many of the Nobles sworn to him.
It was this internal battle that allowed the night to pass as quickly as it did – he spent much of it leaning forward in the wooden chair, his elbows on his knees, and his sword, safely within its scabbard, clasped between his hands, the tip gently resting on the wooden floorboards, where Harry would spin it idly. In the peripheral of his vision, the map continued to float, a single name out of over a thousand the only one he currently cared about.
That wasn't to say he hadn't maintained his vigil with Greyback – one of the other functions of the map had been to single out a lone name, to tie the map to a thread of his magic and allow it to covertly alert him should that name appear within the parameters set. Sirius had told him they'd often used it to track Snape over the years; now, it was put to use to alert him should the words Fenrir or Greyback appear in the ink.
The sun eventually rose, Clara disappeared to hunt, her own hunger mirroring his own, and the two of them took turns in preparing themselves for the day; he regretted that he hadn't managed to get any rest or sleep, but he'd managed just fine before, and he'd do just as well now. Though, when he caught sight of the bags under his eyes in the bathroom, his hair wet and hanging limp around his shoulders, he resolved himself to sneak a potion from Andromeda before breakfast.
She would demand to know why he was up all night, but she'd relent – she always did.
With his uniform on, and his hair dry, he traded places with Neville, and resumed his position by Weasley's door – his sword had been returned to his room, though his dagger remained tucked into its sheath in his boot, a comfortable, reassuring pressure against his ankle.
"How're we going to keep an eye on him during the day?" Neville asked, emerging from his room, freshly showered, and dressed. His hair remained a little damp, where the drying charm hadn't quite worked, though it mattered little when put into the bun that Neville had styled it into.
"Dobby!" Harry called, smiling at the Elf when he appeared.
"Master Harry bes calling for Dobby, sir?" The Elf asked, hopping from foot-to-foot excitedly. "How may Dobby serve?"
Harry dropped to a knee and placed a hand on one of Dobby's thin shoulders – Dobby had filled out in the time that Harry had been bonded to him; no longer did Dobby's skin look as if it barely clung to his bones. Instead, healthy muscles twitched beneath his fingers, and the dull, waxy sheen of his skin had been replaced with a warm, light pink flush. "I need you to keep an eye on something for me today, alright?"
"But Dobby must bes keeping an eye on Master Harry." Dobby said, wringing his hands worriedly. "Dobby promised the Mistress Black."
"I'll watch Harry today, Dobby." Neville offered. "Won't let him out of my sight – I promise."
Dobby's shoulders lowered slightly at that, but it was still several long seconds before he finally nodded, relenting. "What can Dobby do?"
"Do you know Scabbers? Ron Weasley's rat?" When Dobby nodded, his large, impossibly green eyes blinking, Harry continued. "Well, I need to make sure he doesn't go anywhere – I think something might not be right with him. Can you do that for me?"
"Of course, Master Harry, sir! Dobby will just arrange the final preparations with Master Harry's food and then get right to it!"
Harry nodded with a relieved smile, and pushed himself back to his feet, just as Dobby disappeared with a crack. "I'll feel better with Dobby looking over him – all kinds of dedicated, that one." Neville said, clapping Harry on the back. Harry nodded, absently, though his eyes continued to drift back to the door.
"I don't like the idea of leaving him, knowing he's in there." He said, rolling his lips between his teeth. "It doesn't feel right."
"I can imagine – if I knew Junior, or any of the LeStrange's were in there, I'd be trying to kick it down myself." Neville sighed. "But Junior and Bellatrix are dead, and the LeStrange's are in Azkaban, with only Dementors to keep them company. He'll get what he deserves, Harry, but you need to be downstairs when they get back, and if the others wake up and we're here watching… They'll know something is up."
"You're right." Harry sighed, flicking a finger, and calling the still-floating map to his hand. He quickly folded it up and tucked it into the bag that hung from his shoulder – the one downside to the map was how it was too large to fit into a pocket. "Come on, we should see if Andromeda's still on duty by the time we get to the Hospital Wing."
"You think if I bat my eyes enough she'll let us have a potion with no questions asked?"
"From you? No – from me? Maybe." Harry grinned, though it felt forced and uncomfortable. The two of them made their way to the door; Neville passed through it first, and for a moment, Harry paused on the threshold, and glanced back to the doorway between himself and the traitor. Part of him felt like he was making a mistake, while another argued that this way, he would retain the advantage. The worst part was that he didn't know which was right. Neville called his name, and with a click, he closed the door; whatever the consequences, he'd deal with them when they came.
The two of them hurried out of the tower, and down through the castle – it was a little early for the other students to be up and about, but they still passed the occasional early-riser, mostly the upper year students that had their OWLs or NEWTs to prepare for in the coming months.
And, as had been the norm since the murder of Alison, Aurors were stationed along each and every corridor, either wandering up and down it at a slow, methodical pace, or standing in clear view of another of their colleagues; Amelia really wasn't taking any chances.
The two of them made it to the Hospital Wing in short order, and when they slipped through the heavy doors, Harry spotted Andromeda and Healer Dew talking quietly at the far end of the room. Andromeda was the first to notice their presence, her magic no doubt recognising his own on instinct; like he was always able to tell when Neville, Daphne, Tracey, Astoria, or Hermione were around.
"Should I be worried with the two of you appearing here so early?" Andromeda asked, clasping her arms before her, and cocking a single, dark, brow at the two of them. Beside her, Healer Dew smiled that familiar, lopsided, playful grin that always seemed to be on her lips. It was little wonder why she was a favourite of half the school, particularly among Gryffindor.
"We just came for a Pepper-Up Potion; neither of us slept much last night." Harry smiled, attempting his most charming smile. Healer Dew snorted behind her hand, and he figured it had failed spectacularly.
"And why didn't you sleep?" She asked, stepping up to him and taking his chin in her fingers and tilting it up so he could look her in the eye. "Up to mischief again?"
"It was my fault." Neville said, quickly, clearing his throat nervously. "Trevor's been looking a bit worse for wear lately, and Harry offered to help keep an eye on him. You know how he is, bleeding heart and all that."
Harry glanced at Neville, genuinely surprised at how easily the lie had slipped off of Neville's tongue. He caught both Andromeda and Healer Dew peering at Neville with narrowed, suspicious eyes, but neither of them said a word against it. "You've been spending too much time with Remus; gentle and kind he may be, but there was a reason he came up with the excuses for their mischief, and not Sirius."
"Is that a compliment?" Neville grinned, cheekily, and Harry had to fight the urge to laugh. The façade on both Healer's broke then, and Andromeda gently patted Neville on the cheek, and Harry didn't miss the slightly dazed eyes and subtle flush on his best friend's face.
"Don't push your luck too much, young man." Andromeda tutted, wagging a finger in Neville's direction, and lightly tapping Harry on the tip of his nose. "You both get one potion, but there won't be another until the end of term – am I understood? No more all-nighters, no matter the reason."
"Yes Healer Tonks." The two of them intoned simultaneously; it was a well-practiced routine, and for a brief moment, Harry was reminded of all the times Andromeda had gently reprimanded the two of them for one accident or another over the years; Don't climb on the Whomping Willow; What have I said about cannonballs from your brooms; No, you're not allowed a pet dragon, and if I find one in the house, neither of you will be able to sit comfortably for a month.
Andromeda nodded, apparently satisfied with their practiced affirmation, and Healer Dew disappeared into a side room, only to reappear a moment later with a pair of thin vials clutched between her fingers, the thick, violet liquid within them sloshing about lazily against the sides. She offered the two of them the vials, and with a quick glance at one another, the two of them uncorked the vials, brought it to their lips, and threw their heads back.
Harry grimaced at the taste; it was bitter and tangy and had an awful aftertaste that made him worry for a moment that his entire face was about to collapse in on itself. Neville, likewise, was suffering from the experience, only he shifted his weight to each foot for a moment and shook his hands anxiously. "Tora's tits, that's vile!" Neville gagged, scrunching his eyes tightly.
Andromeda cuffed him over the back of the head, and Harry had to bite his lip to prevent himself from snickering. Neville knew better than to curse – especially mentioning Tora – in front of a Healer, let alone a devotee to that particular Goddess. "Less of that, young man." She said, lightly tweaking his ear. "Come on, off you go – get some food in those bellies."
Harry gave the woman a quick, tight hug, which earned him a gentle kiss in his hair, and before the two of them knew it, they were out of the Wing, and retracing their steps back to the Great Hall. Every few corridors, his thoughts would inevitably return to the Animagus that had been living in such close proximity to himself for the last few years, but then Neville would say something, and he would be forced to return to the present.
When they finally did arrive at the Great Hall, they did so just as Susan appeared; her hair was loose and flowed about her shoulders in cascading waves. She had a smile on her face, and there was a noticeable bounce to her step. "Harry! Neville!" She grinned, quickly rushing over to the two of them and wrapping her arms around their necks. "You're up early; what's the occasion?"
"We'll tell you later – have you seen Sirius?" Harry asked as Susan stepped back, tilting her head to the side. "It's important."
"Not yet, no – he usually nips in and gets a quick bite to eat though. Wait," She paused, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "you didn't come from Gryffindor Tower – you came from the Hospital Wing! Merlin's balls, Harry! It's the first thing in the morning!"
"Hey, I'm perfectly fine!" He shot back, a little indignantly. "We stopped to get a Pepper-Up, that's all!"
"Pulled an all-nighter." Neville shrugged. "Not to be pushy, but I'm pretty hungry."
Harry rolled his eyes and gave Neville a playful shove through the door; Neville stumbled a step or two and glared in his direction for a moment before making a point of straightening his doublet and coat as the three of them made their way to the Hufflepuff table. "So," He began, leaning over and lowering his voice so only Susan could hear him. "What's got you so happy this morning?"
"Oh, just this and that." She answered, mysteriously. "Can't I just be happy?"
"Normally yes, but now I'm a little concerned for my safety."
"Oh, come off it." She laughed, sliding into the bench – more and more students were appearing in the Great Hall as the castle roused itself, and more than a few curious Hufflepuffs looked in their direction. "I just had a good night, is all."
"Fun chat with Isao?" Harry asked, innocently, as his food appeared before him – hard boiled eggs and soldiers, all steaming wonderfully and making his mouth water. He quickly poured himself a goblet of orange juice and settled himself once and for all.
"How do you know I was talking to Isao last night?" Susan asked, her tone guarded and suspicious.
With one hand, Harry fished the parchment from his satchel and held it up for her to see; though he made sure it was carefully blank. He dunked a piece of toast into the first egg before he popped it into his mouth. "Sirius told me to keep an eye on the map; that's why I need to talk to him – Remus too."
"Why not ask the Twins? Why do you have to do it?" Susan asked, the earlier cheerfulness a distant memory as she began to mix honey into her porridge. Across from him, Neville was busy tearing into a plate of sausage, egg, and an assortment of other foods. "The Twins have their own map; Remus', right?"
"Think they trust 'Arry bit more'n Fred 'n George." Neville managed around half a mouthful of sausage, though he was quick to swallow. "Sorry, really hungry." He cringed, embarrassed.
Harry simply smiled but nodded at what Neville had said. "Pretty sure that's the gist of it, and you know how those two are about the map. They use it for sneaking about, but barely ever use it outside of that."
At that moment, the three girls arrived in the hall simultaneously, and Harry found his eyes immediately drawn to Hermione. For a brief, blissful moment, he forgot about Pettigrew and Greyback, and he forgot about his conversation with Susan and Neville; there was just his pretty friend, who immediately turned in his direction, smiled widely, and waved her hand. Neville clicked his fingers in front of his face, and Harry snapped back to reality. "Merlin, you're gone." He heard Susan mutter under her breath – he elbowed her gently in the side.
"Shut up." He hissed under his breath, smiling the entire time as Hermione slid into the spot at his other side, while Daphne and Tracey took up position either side of Neville, who looked suddenly nervous.
"What did I do?" Neville asked, warily; both girls were smiling sickeningly sweetly at him, and Tracey went so far as to wrap an arm around his shoulders and rest her chin on the back of her hand as she blinked up at him.
"Why Longbottom, anyone would think you're scared of us." Tracey purred, flashing a toothy smile, and wiggling her eyebrows.
"Perish the thought." Neville muttered, dejectedly.
"We just thought we'd balance the table out a little; Potter has a girl either side of him, why shouldn't Neville, hm?" Daphne said, airily, the corner of her mouth twitching. "But," she continued. "Now that you mention it – I just thought to remind you of our little wager?"
"Bollocks!" Neville groaned, pushing his plate of food away and resting his head on the table. "Forgot about the fucking bet – ah, Hermione!" Neville cried, jumping suddenly before reaching under the table to rub his shin.
"Don't curse then." Hermione said, acting as if, for all the world, she hadn't just nailed Neville's shin with the toe of her shoe. "It's uncouth."
On Harry's other side, Susan was giggling into her porridge, and even Harry was finding it difficult to think about Pettigrew and not simply enjoy the moment. "Yeah… uncouth." Harry added, grinning as he dunked another piece of toast. "You should know better, Neville."
"Kiss my-" Neville began, only to halt and warily glance in Hermione's direction; the two Slytherin's snickering and organising their own plates of food. "Forget it." He sighed, defeated.
"So, what's this bet?" Susan asked, waving her spoon absently between the two Slytherin's and the lone Gryffindor.
"Our Nev'," Tracey began, lathering her toast with strawberry jam and hooking a thumb at the Gryffindor, who moaned pitifully into his folded arms on the table. "Here thought it'd be smart to make a bet with the two of us. Idiot has to do our Herbology homework until the end of term."
Harry winced – he knew Neville loved the subject, but even he had a line. "How'd he lose?"
It was Daphne that answered, rather smugly, as she popped a large grape into her mouth. "Thought I couldn't break Parker. Folded like a deck-chair."
"Oliver? Why?" Hermione asked, cocking her head as she absently stirred her spoon into her yoghurt. "And why are you doing Tracey's homework if the bet was with Daphne?"
"Oh, it started with just Daphne, but he did a double-or-nothing." Tracey grinned, proudly flicking her hair over one shoulder.
"So, what did you do?" Susan asked, quirking an eyebrow as she placed her spoon on the edge of her bowl.
"That would be telling, Miss Bones." Tracey winked, reaching for a bowl of fruit. Harry rolled his eyes – if there was something that he could count on, it was Tracey being, well, Tracey.
He tuned out of the conversation after that, content to nibble at his food as his eyes swept the hall for any sign of Sirius and Remus; every now and then, he would catch Hermione glancing at him out of the corner of his eye, and he'd offer a small smile, but his thoughts continued to wander back to the rodent in Gryffindor Tower.
His fingers flexed, involuntarily, as he imagined, for the hundredth time, just what he would do to the man when he confronted him. Would he hesitate? Could he go through with it, or would he hand him over to the Ministry? He liked to think he'd have the courage to do either, but a small part of him, the part that was still that little boy hiding behind that rock, thought it would be best for Sirius to deal with him.
But that wouldn't serve him in the future. His Bannermen would think him weak, or worse, a puppet of House Black – not that he made any effort to hide how much he cared for and respected Sirius, but there would come a day – approaching far too quickly for him to be comfortable with it – when he wouldn't be able to hide behind him anymore; he wouldn't be able to rely on Sirius to make decisions for him.
All his life, for as long as he could remember, he had wanted to be just like Sirius and Remus; besides Arcturus, they were the largest influences on his life, and he doubted his life would have gone half as well as it had if he hadn't been placed in the custody of Sirius after his parents' murder.
No, he had to stand on his own two feet; he had to start to become the Lord he would inevitably be, and that meant dealing with Pettigrew himself. The question that remained was where he would deal with Pettigrew; in Britain, he could execute him with very few questions asked – Pettigrew was already deemed guilty over a decade ago, but he was fairly limited in the method of execution. It would be a private thing, something that only himself and a handful of men and women would ever know for certain had happened, and, most likely, it would still take place within the Ministry of Magic.
On the other hand, if he returned him to Arpton…
At Arpton, Harry would have to invite all of his Bannermen, and it would be a spectacle; not for the pleasure of it – his food threatened to make a second appearance at the thought of killing someone, even if it was necessary – but to make a statement.
Here be the traitor to my House; behold the fate of all who would break bonds of fellowship and loyalty.
The words rattled around in the back of his mind, and his lips twitched as he mouthed the words to himself. It would take a week and a half at the very least for the Bannermen to arrive, and seating would have to be arranged in the Courtyard, but the castle would be able to hold them all and their escorts. Maybe if he sent Clara with a message to Felix and Brandon to begin preparations…
A commotion at the far side of the room snapped his mind back to the here and now, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he caught sight of both Sirius and Remus; the two men looked a little worse-for-wear, stepping into the room with rumpled, if not outright torn clothing in Remus' case. Students turned to look at the two of them, and more than a few shied away from the cut on the side of Remus' face – no wonder Sirius remained in his Animagus form.
Harry scrambled from the bench, briefly registering the surprised calls of his name as he weaved between groggy and startled students – his satchel bag, which he had hastily thrown over his shoulder, flew threw the air behind him and caught other students in the thighs with heavy thuds, a staccato of curses followed after him.
"Sirius!" He called, causing the man to turn and face him, a plate half-filled with eggs and bacon balanced precariously in one hand while the other hovered an inch from a plate of hash browns. Now that he was closer, Harry could see the effect that his night-time patrolling of the forest had taken on him.
Sirius was pale; more-so than usual, and his dark hair, which had been tied back neatly when he had last seen him, hung limp, and matted about his shoulders. Dark rings circled his eyes, and his lips looked dry and there was a cut on the right-side of his bottom lip – if Harry had to guess, he suspected that not all had been well between Moony and Padfoot last night, even if it hadn't been a full transformation on the Werewolf's part.
"Sirius, we need to talk – now." Harry said, his voice lower as he came to a halt before the two men; nearby students turned to look in their direction, whispering to one another. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Draco and his boys whispering to one another while casting surreptitious glances at the three of them.
"Sure, come on. Coming Remus?" Sirius nodded, immediately and made for the same door the two had emerged from. The man nodded, and offered a small, if tired, smile to Harry, which he returned.
The door led to a small corridor with three doors running its length, two on the right, one on the left – Sirius ducked into the far door on the right, and once both himself and Remus were through it, closed the door with a reassuring click before turning to face him.
"So, what's the matter?" Sirius asked, falling into a plush, nearby chair, and running his fingers through his hair. Remus took a seat next to him and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, stifling a yawn.
Harry hesitated for only a second, pausing only long enough to suck in a lungful of air and wet his lips with the tip of his tongue. At his sides, his hands flexed, curling, and uncurling themselves in some pitiful attempt to rid himself of the nervous energy that had suddenly appeared.
This was it; the accidental culmination of a search that had spanned the globe, had involved hundreds, if not thousands of men and women, and lasted well over a decade. And it was about to end with three simple words.
"I found Pettigrew."
"I can have an entire platoon on hand to provide security, given recent events." Amelia said, her voice echoing slightly in the high-vaulted, conjoined rooms that made up the Headmaster's office. As Harry glanced around the high walls, his eyes settled on the familiar image of Rowena Ravenclaw, peering down at him and the assembled adults curiously.
For the second time in as many days, Harry found himself squirrelled away with both Sirius and Remus, though this time, it had absolutely nothing to do with the rat living in the room next to his; a plan had already been formed to catch the rodent in the coming weekend, but now…
Now, everything seemed to be happening on the bloody weekend.
He had been half-buried in a book in the back of the Library with his friends when both Cai Griffin and Luna Lovegood, as well as her personal, friendly shadow, Arlo Reyes approached the five of them; truth be told, Harry had been so caught up in his reading, he'd neither seen, heard, or sensed the approaching students, and it had taken Neville thwacking him across the head with a piece of parchment to get his attention.
The commotion had earned them all the ire of Madame Pince and her support staff – brought on alongside the new professors at the start of the year – and they'd all been subject to her fierce glare. When the woman had disappeared, Luna and Cai had approached him formally, while Arlo remained a few steps away, his cat Familiar at his feet, a bemused, if confused expression on his face as he took the scene in.
When he'd seen the first inclination that it was an official conversation, one that would involve his House, rather than his opinion on one of Luna's elusive creatures, or Cai's simple checking up on him, a cold sensation of fear and dread had made its presence in his gut known. There were very few reasons either would approach, in public, with official House business.
His mind had whirled with a dozen or so possibilities, each wilder and more outrageous than the last; he'd thought a Lord had died, but no, he'd have been alerted directly to that; perhaps a plague had broken out in his lands; or some fool had declared open war for the first time in generations…
In the end, it had been none of them, and yet, the result was even worse than he could have expected, though for entirely different reasons. His Bannermen, though he liked to think they were well-meaning and genuinely concerned for his safety, had the audacity to summon him to a meeting.
Privately, he fumed at the idea – it was no less than an insult, no matter how well intentioned, for a Vassal Lord to summon their Liege. While he was beholden to keeping them happy, despite their vows of loyalty and fealty, he called them; he summoned them; not the other way around.
He had taken the news with a strained politeness, and he knew that Cai felt guilty and awkward in equal measure; it had been written all over his face from the pained grimace, to the hesitant, halting way the message was conveyed. Luna, however, he found he couldn't find fault in – her father had passed over his inheritance, and it had been her uncle that had asked for her to relay the missive.
Luna was a sweet girl, one that he had increasingly wished would continue just as she was for the rest of her life. He knew, from personal experience, that it was all too easy to have that carefree, wide-eyed view on the world irreparably changed, and not always for the better.
For himself, it had been when he had been helpless on that well-travelled, cobblestone road with spell-fire zipping all around him, and small impact craters had erupted all around him as he'd raced for cover. It had been when he had stared into the lifeless, remaining eye of Clara Appleton after half of her skull had been blown off.
Perhaps it had been for his own sake, more than hers, that over the course of the year, he'd agreed far more quickly than the others when Luna had offered to show them some of her creature friends; Hermione had obviously been torn between being polite and outright disbelief; Tracey, ever the lover of creatures both Magical and normal, had agreed almost as quickly as he; Daphne had agreed with a resigned acceptance, while Neville had been oddly quiet and inquisitive. Susan had once joined them, though she'd spent far more time talking with Tracey than looking for any Dabberblimps and Gulping Plimpies.
He'd thanked both Ravenclaws and politely excused himself. Naturally, he'd immediately called Sirius using the mirror, and, as it had been after classes when he'd been approached, he'd gone off in search of Remus too, quietly muttering to himself as his friends had struggled to match his quick strides.
No more than an hour later, he found himself in the office of the Headmaster, his friends lingering just outside in the ante-chamber, where he could feel them; Hermione was pacing.
"The messages were to meet at The Three Broomsticks, correct?" Remus asked, running a finger along the underside of his chin thoughtfully; he was leaning back in his chair, with his legs crossed at the knee – his foot had been bobbing for the past five minutes.
"And we're sure it's going to be there?" Sirius asked; his voice was tight and strained, a feeling that Harry was all too familiar with. Except for himself, there was only one other person with an equal desire to grab Pettigrew, and that was Sirius himself – while they hadn't informed Dumbledore as to the presence of the man, he knew Sirius was as frustrated as he was that there may be some delay in finally apprehending the fugitive.
It was, after all, House business.
"That's-" Harry began, only to be cut off by Amelia, who stepped away from the far window; she'd been leaning against the stone masonry, staring out across the dull, miserable grounds of Hogwarts – it had been raining all day, and didn't look to be letting up any time soon.
"It could be a diversion; the letters could have been forged, or the men that sent them held hostage; we can't trust anything for now. I can mobilise the Three-two-seventh and have them act as a preliminary guard, maybe have the Forty-First provide recon of the surrounding area."
"It's-" He began again, annoyed at the thought that she had questioned the validity of both Luna and Cai; as annoyed as he was with their families, he considered them both his friends.
"It could be true – some of the Lords may genuinely wish to speak to Harry." Remus said, shrugging a shoulder. His eyes darted to Harry, and he didn't even bother to try and hide his frown and growing frustration. "Something wrong, Harry?"
"Oh, I can speak now?" Harry snapped, glaring at the adults in the room, earning disapproving frowns from each of them.
"Harry…" Sirius began, warningly. "Watch your tone."
"Seriously?" He sputtered in disbelief, throwing his arms out and slumping back in his chair. "I've been sat here for the past hour while you've damn-near slandered the integrity of men and women that are sworn to me."
"We're merely concerned with your safety, Harry." Dumbledore said, from behind his large desk – Fawkes' eyes had been trained on him ever since he had walked into the room. "With the recent attack, we simply wish to ascertain as to whether or not it really was their family members that sent you these messages. I can guarantee your safety -as much as I am able – within the castle, but Hogsmeade?"
"This is a little over the top, don't you think?" Harry scoffed, waving his hand at everyone in the room; Sirius was glowering at him in a way that suggested they'd be having a discussion as to what was, and what was not, appropriate when it came to his safety. Harry made sure to hold Sirius' eye as he added, "Unless, there's something I've yet to be informed about – you know, so that I can make my own decision when it comes to my safety."
"Harry, with the attack last weekend, we just-" Remus began, his patient tone beginning to grate on his already strained nerves.
"Bollocks!" Harry snapped, narrowing his eyes at the man. "Look, I appreciate you looking out for me, seriously, I do – but this message was conveyed to me through Cai and Luna; don't you think they'd both know better than anyone if something was wrong with the letters they received?"
"People aren't always as perceptive as they like to think they are." Amelia said, arching a brow in his direction and folding her arms across her chest – her hip was cocked, and he recognised the look on her face as the one she often wore right before she gave Sirius an earful.
But he could care less at this point – he was frustrated, his magic was already itching just beneath the skin for him to do something about Pettigrew, and now this whole mess could throw that plan out the window. He needed justice for his parents, he needed Pettigrew, alive or dead, he didn't give a shit, just so long as he had him.
"You're frustrated – believe me, I know," Sirius began, slowly walking over to him from his spot before the slowly flickering fire. "We don't want to lose sight as to what's important, but right now, we need to make sure that this isn't another ploy of Greyback's to grab another student."
"We still haven't found any evidence of him in the Forest, though, granted, we didn't go out last night, and likely won't have the chance to continue the search until after the weekend." Remus admitted, glancing apologetically in Dumbledore's direction. "Sirius and I were running out of steam; a few days rest and we'll be back at it."
"Understandable, my boy." Dumbledore said, gently. "Still, I appreciate what you've managed thus far."
"My department appreciates it too." Amelia added, stepping behind Remus' chair and patting him affectionately on the shoulder as she slowly paced around the room, her office heels clicking dully on the wooden floor. "But we're letting ourselves get distracted – what do we know about Lovegood and Griffin?"
"Lor-" Sirius began, but Harry impatiently cut him off.
"Lords Griffin and Lovegood are good men; Lord Griffin was the Lord chosen to inform me over the summer that my Bannermen are concerned about my safety here at Hogwarts. Lord Lovegood, while he chooses to remain out of the public eye where he can, is an honourable man – less eccentric than his brother, and a powerful wizard."
"Xenophon regularly has contact with Harry; while House Lovegood is smaller than most of the Potter Vassals, they've always been some of their strongest supporters." Remus added, shifting in his chair, and making it creak ominously. "He's a good man."
"His brother, Xenophilius, is an eccentric and the father of Luna." Amelia hummed. "We sometimes get Aurors called out for trespassing when he goes on one of his 'expeditions'. He's harmless though, and I have to admit, Luna does seem like a sweet girl."
"I can assume, then, that Cai Griffin was sent here with a duty to watch over you?" Dumbledore asked, peering over his spectacles at him, an amused smile twitching at the corner of his lips beneath that large beard. Privately, Harry detested the idea that he may one day have a similar beard and resolved to keep any facial hair he may ever decide to have neatly trimmed and groomed – like Sirius had his, when he left it as a full beard, and not the moustache and goatee combination he would occasionally style it in to wind Amelia up.
"Yes." Harry admitted, uncomfortably. "I'm not the biggest fan of it."
"Harry can be a little stubborn." Sirius huffed, meandering behind Harry's chair, and placing both his hands on his shoulders, his fingers idly drumming as he paused. "I'm not sure if that's my fault or James'."
"We're getting away from the subject at hand." Amelia sighed, closing her eyes, and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Forged or not, trap or not, the messages were clear – Harry's Lords, fictional or otherwise, expect him in Hogsmeade this weekend. It's Thursday today, and I need an actionable plan."
"I think mobilising your platoons is your best bet, honestly; I would suggest Black or Potter Men-At-Arms, but that would violate the Hogwarts Charter, and we can hardly hire any private security contractors at such short-notice." Remus shrugged, and Harry heard Sirius huff impatiently behind him, and had to fight the urge to squirm. Normally, Sirius' presence would calm and soothe him, but his magic felt just as prickly as his own did; evidently, Sirius was as agitated as he was, though he seemed to be doing a better job at keeping it in check.
"I think avoiding violating the charter would be in everyone's best interests." Dumbledore hummed, steepling his fingers together and pursing his lips. "I would offer some of the staff, but most, outside of the Defence department, have little, or no experience in combat should a fight occur. I try to employ teachers, rather than soldiers, I'm afraid."
"That's fine – the platoons should be enough." Amelia said, and Harry found himself sucking on his lips and pinching them between his teeth.
"Wasn't enough before." Harry murmured, quietly – Sirius had wandered out from behind him sometime during Dumbledore's comment about teachers and soldiers, and had gone to pour himself a goblet of water from a decanter on a nearby table; he froze at Harry's comment.
"What did you just say?" Sirius said; somehow both a whisper and a booming, thunderous voice at the same time.
"I said, two Auror platoons weren't enough the last time Greyback faced them, so why the Hell would they be enough now?" Harry snapped, glaring between the adults. "Oh come on, it was the worst kept secret at the start of the year – fucking Weasley told me about it on the first night!" He continued, waving a hand absently at the door, as if it would reveal the red-headed boy.
"You don't-" Sirius began, his face slowly darkening.
"Don't what, Sirius? Understand what's going on?" Harry scoffed, rolling his eyes as he sat forward in his chair and turned his eye on Dumbledore. "Would you be having a meeting with the head of the D.M.L.E if it were any student but me? I'm not as stupid as I look."
"I don't think now is the best time to discuss this, Harry." Remus said, both of his brows raised, and the familiar, reprimanding look on his face that Harry knew all-too-wall from his early years at Blackwall, like when he ran into Arcturus' study without knocking.
His chest ached with the memory of the man – if there was ever someone needed in a discussion like this, it was Arcturus; he always told Harry everything he needed to know. Sirius and Remus could be a little… overzealous with their urges to protect him.
But was it even up to them anymore? Sirius was his Godfather, and, for all intents and purposes, his father – James Potter was just stories, and a half-dozen hazy memories that lingered on the edge of his perception thanks to the Dementors. Remus was his favourite uncle, and the one that always had an answer for any problem he faced, but in the time that Harry had attended the school, he'd come up against no less than three life-threatening situations that he hadn't been able to ask anyone for help with.
The first had been the Mountain Troll, and consciously or not, he'd killed it. It had opened his skull like an over-ripe fruit, but he was still breathing; he'd won. Then, there had been Voldemort and the gauntlet of obstacles that had preceded the confrontation; he'd been outmatched and at the mercy of whatever Voldemort had become, but, once again, Harry was still breathing, and he'd won. Finally, and most recently, there had been Ruhxu, the largest Basilisk on record, and a dangerous creature from the moment it was born. With the help of his friends, he had discovered what the Ruhxu was, where she was coming from, found the entrance to The Chamber of Secrets, and he had been the one to slay her, as regretful of that fact as he now was.
He was still breathing.
He had still won.
How did they not understand that? Or were they just seeing the little boy he sometimes felt; that boy that would have nightmares and cry out in the night as his magic flared uncontrollably as he dreamt about spell-fire, cobblestone craters, and a single, vacant, unblinking eye?
"Greyback wants me." He said, looking directly at Amelia; he knew by the way she flinched, almost imperceptibly, that he was right, and something settled over the nape of his neck; it wasn't something physical, or even magical in nature, but he could feel its presence, nonetheless. It almost felt like guilt, in a strange, abstract sort of way.
Those Aurors had been killed, trying to apprehend a monster that wanted him dead. Alison had been killed, for whatever reason, because Greyback was sending a message; to him or to any of the adults in the room, he didn't know. The countless bodies that had no doubt accumulated throughout the year as Greyback came north were dead, in a distant sort of way, because Greyback hadn't managed to kill him.
It was all bullshit, he knew, but still, the thought wormed its way into the back of his mind and wouldn't shift. He felt a strange combination of righteous anger on the many, many victim behalf, as he did sorrow and regret. He could have done absolutely nothing to change their fate, but still, he wondered if perhaps he could have.
Wishful thinking was all it was; at the time, he'd had no clue, and he would have been in Hogwarts regardless – it was hardly like he could have gone out and faced Greyback himself.
"Greyback doesn't want you." Sirius tried, in his own way, Harry knew, trying to protect him, even if it was from the truth.
It didn't matter; Harry knew now what he'd privately suspected since January – little comments here and there, rumours whispered within the Great Hall, and speculative articles published in The Daily Prophet, and the other dozen magazines and newspapers that students bought and ordered.
Something within him snapped; he didn't know if it was his patience, or simply his frustration with the whole thing. He was sick and tired of people trying to protect him, of people not giving him all of the facts – especially when it came to his safety and the safety of those around him.
He leapt to his feet, the chair toppling over behind him with a loud crash, and the familiar crack of splintering wood. "Stop lying to me! Seriously, did everyone in this room forget just what I've gone through these past few years? I killed a Basilisk last year for fuck's sake! Tell me the truth – now." Harry snapped, his voice booming in the sudden quiet of Dumbledore's office. He needed to hear it, outright, and from their own lips. Each and every single one of the adults in the room froze; even Dumbledore, who had half-risen from his chair, froze, half bent over the desk.
His shoulders rose and fell with each frustrated breath, and as he glared in Sirius' direction, he noted the familiar faint wisps of blue magic swirling along the corners of his vision. "I said," he repeated, lowly – he barely recognised his own voice. "Tell me the truth."