To a Man I Once Knew

A/N

Another chapter for you guys here.

As some of you would have seen, I have uploaded the prologue for my next story, so do go and check it out.

TBR

For the second time in only a few days, Minerva woke to find herself in a strange bed, and wrapped around Harry, her head resting on his chest as she listened to the steady beating of his heart.

This hadn't been her intention when she had taken her leave of The Three Broomsticks. She had envisioned that she and Harry would talk, but as she arrived at his door and he answered it to greet her, she couldn't find the words she wanted to say.

Instead, she had all but thrown herself at him, hoping her actions would convey the message, that he would understand her without the need for talking.

Looking back, perhaps it wasn't the best approach, but in the moment, there was no way Minerva could have stopped herself even if she wanted to.

It wasn't simple, wanton lust that fuelled her need for him. That, of course, was there but it was so much more, feelings she didn't quite understand or know how to vocalise.

Maybe she should have tried harder, but she had crumbled, whatever boldness that had been instilled within her whilst talking to Augusta having escaped in the fleeting moment it had taken to apparate here.

It was as though she had come and left her senses and sensibilities behind.

Minerva sighed gently against his chest.

As irritated with herself as she was, she couldn't not enjoy the simplicity of this, of being entwined with him, and the world beyond these four walls being forgotten for a time.

Why couldn't life always be this way?

Perhaps one day it would, but there was so much standing between then and now that it was hard to imagine it being.

"Is this the part where we go our separate ways and continue like nothing happened?" Harry asked.

Minerva slowly looked up at him, and though he was smiling, there was no humour in his eyes.

In them, she could see a dozen questions, ones he was fighting the urge to ask, and in truth, it hurt to see him this way.

He wouldn't say it, but it was hurting him too; the uncertainty, the not knowing where they stood, and what would become of the friendship they'd shared for so many years now.

It scared Minerva to think of it, to know they couldn't go back to what they once had.

A part of her wanted to more than anything, the same part that the fear she felt had been born from. The other part of her wanted to surrender to whatever it was she felt for him, for there to be more than they'd had before she had so recklessly fallen into him.

No, there was no way back to what they had, and the only choice was to continue on the path they had begun to tread.

As much as it scared Minerva, the thought of walking it with him abated her fear somewhat.

Emboldened once more, she shook her head and kissed him, not in the way she had when she arrived at his room in Hogwarts, nor last night.

This was different, tender, gentle, and with all the vulnerability she felt.

She had never felt so exposed, and yet, when he pulled her closer to him never so safe either.

It was contradictory and as confusing as it was welcoming.

"No," she whispered as she pulled away. "I don't think we can really do that, can we?"

Harry swallowed deeply.

"If that is what you want…"

Minerva pressed a finger to his lips, not wanting to hear the words he was going to speak pass them.

As vulnerable as she felt, she knew that Harry felt the same.

It was difficult to associate the man he had become with the boy she had met five-years-ago, the very same one who had never been shown care, who had lost almost everyone he held dear before being thrown into a world he knew so little of.

Harry's life had been a cruel one that lacked anything resembling love or compassion, and with everything he had done, it was difficult at times to remember that. Even for Minerva who knew him better than any.

"Don't say it," she almost pleaded. "Don't say that we can go back to what we had when we both know it's not possible. I was wrong the other morning at Hogwarts, but I was scared, Harry, I still am."

"Scared?"

Minerva nodded.

"Our friendship, everything you've done for me, I don't want to lose that," she replied. "I've always been scared that if we took this step that it would ruin everything, that you wouldn't be my friend anymore."

Harry shook his head.

"This doesn't mean that we're not friends. There is nothing that could happen that would ever stop us being friends. That was what came first between us, even if it hasn't been what most would call conventional."

Minerva snorted.

The friendship they'd built had been anything but conventional.

They'd experienced so much together, from the very night he'd arrived and found her practicing her transfiguration, to the years that followed leading to where they found themselves now.

"I'm sorry," she said sincerely.

"Sorry?"

"For being the way I was after the first time," Minerva explained. "I wanted to share this with you, and I wish I could say that I hadn't thought about what it might do to us, but I had, and I still did it anyway."

"We did it," Harry corrected. "I could have put a stop to it, but I didn't."

"Why?"

Minerva was curious.

She wanted to know the reason Harry had allowed it to happen just as much as she had.

"Because it felt right," he answered honestly. "Because this feels right, and as strange as it should probably feel, it doesn't."

Minerva smiled at that.

She had considered how awkward things could become between them before she'd acted on the urges she felt, but it was nothing of the sort.

Being with Harry like this, as unfamiliar as it was, didn't feel wrong nor did she feel like it had been a mistake.

It did feel right, and Minerva didn't want it to end.

"What happens now?" she asked.

Harry frowned lightly, as uncertain as Minerva felt when pondering that very question.

"What would you like to happen?" he returned.

"I don't want this to stop," Minerva answered thoughtfully, "or for things to go wrong."

"Then let's make sure that doesn't happen," Harry suggested.

"How? We can't just forget this, and I don't want to."

Harry chuckled as he shook his head.

"That's not what I'm saying at all, but not everything has to change right now, does it? Before anything else, we are friends, and as long as we keep that in mind, whatever else happens can do so naturally. We don't have to make any decisions, but we can't just ignore this."

"So, we see how things go?"

"It sounds so dismissive when you say it like that," Harry murmured. "No, we don't just see how it goes, but we don't force it either. I'd like for this to work, to see if it can, but I don't want to put any pressure on what we already have."

"Me either," Minerva agreed. "Does that mean I can still call you a stupid prat?"

"You'd do that anyway."

"I would," Minerva replied with a grin before kissing him, "but it means I get to do this too," she added softly. "I quite like doing both."

Harry rolled his eyes at the woman before smiling.

"This is what I meant," he pointed out.

"I think I can work with that."

"Speaking of work," Harry sighed, "it's almost eight. Don't you have to be in class in thirty minutes?"

Minerva's eyes widened before she jumped to her feet as Harry laughed amusedly.

"Where are my clothes?"

Harry shrugged.

"Some might be here, others could be downstairs."

Minerva huffed, blowing her messy hair out of her face, and smiled warmly at him.

"What are you going to do today?"

"I'm going to see if there are any worthy investments to make, and then I'll decide the rest after. Are you coming back tonight?"

"Maybe," Minerva replied as she put on her underwear and looked for the rest of her discarded clothes. "Where are my robes?"

"I have no idea," Harry replied carelessly. "You took them off, you find them."

Minerva narrowed her eyes at him.

"You're such a stupid prat," she grumbled, hurrying over and giving him a final kiss before taking her leave of the room.

She managed to find her robes and shoes scattered around the living room, and with a wave of her wand, she was dressed and her hair much more presentable.

Still, if she didn't hurry, she would be late, but as far as she was concerned, it would be worth it if she was.

The last thing she wanted to do was leave, and she had to fight the urge to climb back into bed with Harry.

She had a class to teach, and the world wouldn't simply come to a standstill because she wished it would.

Her lessons would continue, and soon enough, Harry would be back on the continent fighting the war, something she didn't want to think about until the very second she had to watch him disappear once more.

(Break)

Dear Arcturus,

I have been so frightened since hearing of your injury, and barely slept until I knew that you were okay.

You worry me, Archie, and being home knowing you are there is difficult. I am terrified that I will read of your death in the newspaper, and I don't think I could handle it.

Mother is also worried, as is father who had hoped that we would be married already.

Marriage can wait for all I care, I just want you home where you belong, where I know that you are safe.

I am so enormously proud of you and miss you more with each passing day.

Please thank Lord Potter for saving your life for me and tell him that I am grateful.

Yours always,

Melania

Arcturus read the letter several times, savouring each word.

Had he not chosen to come here after the death of his father and Perseus, he would be a married man now, and life certainly wouldn't be what it had become.

Still, things had been different since he'd joined Evans' group.

For the first couple of days since he'd returned, the other men had been cautious around him, some even suspicious of his presence, and then it had suddenly stopped.

They'd seemingly accepted him, and whatever reservations they had were gone.

Arcturus understood why they would feel this way.

All of them had seen Cassiopeia fighting for Grindelwald, and most would have witnessed what occurred between his brother and Lord Potter the night both were killed.

Nonetheless, it didn't explain why they had changed their minds overnight, though Arcturus suspected Charlus had something to do with it.

He snorted at the thought of the man.

They had arrived at Hogwarts the same year with him being sorted into Slytherin as was expected and Charlus into Gryffindor.

As it had been between the Blacks and Potters, there was no outward animosity between them, but the same couldn't be said for the houses.

The relationship between the two groups of students had been tense at best during their first couple of years of schooling, and outright volatile at others.

It wasn't until Charlus had approached him during third year with a proposal to put an end to the hostilities did things settle between the houses.

With Arcturus's influence with the Slytherins, and Charlus's with the Gryffindors, they'd managed to broker a peace of sorts.

Friendships didn't blossom by any stretch, but the common, ugly incidents ceased and the tension within the castle lifted.

Ever since then, there had been a level of mutual respect between Arcturus and the Potter heir.

When the odd incident did occur, they would meet to discuss it, and take steps to ensure such a thing would not happen again.

That was until Evans arrived at the beginning of sixth year.

In the space of a single welcoming feast, the peace had almost been undone by Malfoy, who as Arcturus now knew, would have gotten himself severely hurt had he dared drawn his wand when prompted by Evans.

However, sixth year could have been much worse.

Evans had dealt with the Slytherins that had attempted to harm him in his own way, and though Arcturus would have preferred a more peaceful approach, he couldn't blame him.

The fault was with Malfoy and the other fools who could not accept they were out of their depth with the half-blood.

A part of him wished they would dare antagonise him now as they once had.

Evans, as a boy had not been one to cross, and now as a hardened man, Arcturus wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

"Something funny, Arcturus?" Charlus asked as he entered.

The Black lord had been chuckling to himself at the thought, but he shook his head.

"Just thinking about when Malfoy tried to intimidate Evans."

Charlus released a deep breath.

"That could've gotten ugly for Abraxus," he replied.

"We should have let the moron have it," Arcturus declared.

Charlus nodded.

"We didn't know what Harry could do then," he pointed out, "or that he was related to the Flamels."

"True," Arcturus conceded. "Maybe one day Malfoy will try again?" he asked hopefully.

Charlus chuckled amusedly.

"I doubt it. Even Malfoy isn't that much of a berk."

"Shame," Arcturus sighed.

"A letter from home?" Charlus asked curiously.

"From Melania."

Charlus frowned, surprised.

"Macmillan? Two years above us?"

Arcturus nodded, unable to hide his smirk.

"The very same."

"Are you and her…?"

"Next time I go home, I'm marrying her."

Charlus offered him a sincere smile.

"Well, congratulations, I'm really pleased for you," he replied. "Wow, Melania Macmillan."

Arcturus laughed at how taken aback Charlus was.

Melania had been admired by many of the other boys from all houses at school.

She was rather quiet for the most part, a real beauty, but Arcturus had gotten to know her beyond stealing glances at her from a distance.

They had bumped into each other in Diagon Alley after he'd left Hogwarts, and he was much more surprised than Charlus was now that she seemed to take an interest in him.

This was before she knew he was the heir of the Black family, so Arcturus was left in no doubt that she liked him for who he was and not what he would be.

If anything, she had become wary when she learned of his position, the prospect of being the next Lady Black quite daunting for the young woman.

Even now, she was still getting used to the idea.

Members of her family had married into the Blacks, but not for several generations, and none had come close to being married to an heir let alone a lord.

The Macmillans were a well-thought-of family but were considered to be leagues below the Blacks in social standing.

To Arcturus, it mattered not.

He would choose who he'd marry, and his mind had been made up for some time now.

"What about you?" Arcturus asked curiously. "Have you got a future bride lined up?"

Charlus rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly as he shook his head.

"No, not yet," he answered.

Arcturus was no fool.

He knew that there was something between Charlus and his sister, though he thought that had been long since forgotten by the Potter lord after what had transpired between Perseus and William.

Evidently not, and though Arcturus was overly protective of Dorea, she could certainly do much worse than the man standing before him.

Not that he would intervene or push the two together.

It was not his place to do so, and if he was honest, the prospect of Dorea marrying anyone did not sit well with him.

Arcturus had grown to like Charlus who had proven himself to be a good man, but no matter what he did, it would never be enough.

It was petty, but Dorea was the most precious thing in the world to him and handing her over to anyone to take care of her was not something he could envision himself doing.

One day, he would have to face the prospect, but not until he was completely certain.

Was Charlus Potter that man?

Arcturus had to concede the possibility, but that didn't mean he would take it easy on him, even if they were becoming close friends.

Then again, if Dorea decided he was who she wished to be with, Arcturus knew he would not get a moment's rest until he agreed.

He could never say no to her.

"Well, I'm sure there's someone out there for you," he replied, his lips tugging upwards in a grin.

"Maybe, but let's get this war over with before any of that," Charlus suggested. "Are you ready to train?"

Arcturus nodded as he put his letter away and retrieved his cloak.

"More work on the patronus?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so," Charlus replied with a smirk, "but I'm sure we can get some duelling in too."

"Great, another day of being put on my arse by you," Arcturus grumbled amusedly.

Charlus laughed.

"Just wait until Harry gets back. He'll have us both on our arses."

"Well, at least it won't just be me."

Charlus clapped him on the shoulder.

"You'll learn a lot from him," he assured Arcturus. "The rest of us have."

Strangely, and going against everything Arcturus had been told about purebloods being superior wizards, he was looking forward to it.

Anything that would get him home in one piece to his fiancé and sister would be worth enduring.

(Break)

Gellert observed the small scar on his right cheek he'd received courtesy of Charlus Potter. Had he not had such a keen sense of when a spell was heading his way, he could have lost his head.

Potter would pay for it when the two met again. Gellert would cut him down the same way he had the boys' father.

"I'm afraid it will remain," the healer sighed. "Whatever curses grazed you was an unpleasant one."

Gellert nodded.

He'd already suspected his skin had been permanently damaged, but there was little he could about it now.

Besides, he had much more important things that required his focus other than a strip of puckered flesh.

"How are the men progressing?" he asked Hans who had arrived to give him an update.

"We are ready to launch our attack," the man informed him. "The men will enter Madrid first, followed by the Pyromancers."

"Excellent work," Gellert praised. "I see no reason to wait. You have my full blessing to proceed when you return."

Hans smirked as he stood.

"Will you be joining us?"

Gellert shook his head.

"Not this time, Hans. I have complete faith in your ability to lead this phase of our plan."

"You will remain here?"

"No, I have another matter to attend to, but Cassie will be here should you need her."

Hans nodded.

"Spain will be yours in a matter of hours," he vowed as he left the room.

When the man was gone, Gellert peered at his scar a final time before apparating away and arriving in the much colder climate of northern Austria.

He hadn't been to Nurmengard since imprisoning the ICW force that had attempted to take Bulgaria, and he felt it was high time to check on them to ensure his protections were working as intended.

The prison was silent as he entered, and as he made his way through the winding halls, he was content that it appeared to be functioning as intended.

Within the occupied rooms, he could see the men that were housed here, each of them very much alive, but little better than muggles.

By now, they would be able to feel none of their own magic, sapped by the wards that fed on it so hungrily.

Gellert paused as he reached the cell containing the only female.

The woman was pale, her eyes glassy as she merely stared at the wall ahead and were it not for the slow rising and falling of her chest, he would think that she had somehow perished.

No, she was very much alive but was merely existing, all but stripped of her magic.

In here, she was little more than a common muggle, and though she would recover if she was ever released, she would never forget her experience here nor the helplessness she felt.

Satisfied that all was well, Gellert headed back towards the exit, reminding himself that there were dozens of other cells that had yet to be filled.

(Break)

It had been nothing but a productive day for Harry, and as odd as it was living a normal existence even if only for a few hours, it was a welcome reprieve from all the fighting he'd been doing since leaving Hogwarts.

When Minerva had left, he'd scoured the morning edition of The Daily Prophet, looking for any further investments he wished to make, and found what he knew would be a profitable venture for him to pursue.

Already he'd sent a missive to the lady seeking funds for her range of confectionery that included Pepper Imps and Ice Mice, both products having been exceedingly popular amongst the Hogwarts students of his time.

Still, he was wary about too many of his investments becoming sweet-based, but as long as they proved to be profitable, Harry didn't mind.

As with the other companies he had invested in, he would be a silent partner.

Overall, the day had been a good one, though Harry's mood had certainly darkened after he'd visited the grave of Gabriel Moody.

He'd wanted to pay his respects to the man, and though he had witnessed his death for himself, Harry had not been prepared for the sobering experience of coming upon memorial to his former commander.

As much as his spirts had been lifted by his delving into his moneymaking hobby, his return to the reality of the world had dampened them once more.

Even worse was when he'd arrived back in Godric's Hollow and instead of returning to his house, he headed towards the church, and into the adjoining cemetery.

There, he found himself stood in front of the grave belonging to William Potter, as he had the day the man was buried.

Harry released a deep breath as he shook his head.

It seemed that no matter what he did, his family would be plagued with loss whenever a Dark Lord surfaced. His own parents had been murdered by Voldemort, and William by Grindelwald.

Had Charlus endured a similar fate?

Harry knew not, but what had happened would not come to pass again. He would ensure that neither Voldemort nor Grindelwald ever got the chance to harm anyone in his family.

Watching William in his final throes of life had been one of the worst things Harry had experienced, and as he looked upon where the man had been laid to rest, without thought, he reached for the ring around his neck.

Attempting to use the stone to speak with his great grandfather had certainly crossed his mind over the past months, but Harry didn't know what he would say to William.

The truth?

He swallowed deeply at the thought.

If he were to be granted a chance to speak with him, it would only be used to tell William who he was and where he'd come from.

Now, however, was not the place to do so.

Already Harry could sense someone else was in the graveyard, so any potential summoning of whatever apparition William Potter would be would have to wait.

Glancing over the gravestone a final time, Harry turned and headed back towards the exit, stilling as he recognised the other person that had arrived shortly after him.

Only a short distance away was Albus Dumbledore, holding a bunch of flowers as he stood before another set of graves in the public burial area.

Had he followed Harry here?

Harry shook his head.

No, the Dumbledore he had once known would have, but not this man.

He wasn't so interfering, nor would he try to intrude on Harry whilst in a place like this.

It did beg the question, however, of what the transfiguration professor was doing here?

"It appears that we both have a lot on our minds today," Dumbledore commented as he approached.

Harry looked towards the gathering of graves the man was staring at so intently, each bearing his surname, the last of which was of a girl who had died at a very young age.

"It appears so."

The two of them stood in silence for some time until Albus broke it, looking towards Harry, his eyes full of sadness.

"I fear that I have been a disappointment to you since you arrived," he sighed. "For that, I can only apologise."

Had Albus said this to him before he'd gone to war, Harry would have likely agreed, but so much had happened in the years that he'd spent here.

"No, it's not you that has been a disappointment, Professor. It was me and the expectations I had of you when I arrived," he replied. "You're not the same man I knew, the same one who had lived so many years and experienced so much. My expectations were unfair."

"The man I was," Dumbledore murmured. "What kind of man was I, Harry?"

Despite the anger Harry had felt towards Albus for keeping the prophecy from him, he smiled at the memories he had of the eccentric man.

Though it had been Dumbledore who insisted Harry not reveal too much of the life he'd once lived, it was him now asking, and Harry realised that it mattered little what he said.

It was unlikely things would go the way they had now, something he had come to terms with.

"Looking back now, I'd say you were annoying most of the time," he chuckled. "You spoke in riddles that no one except you could understand, but you did so much for me. When I saw you here, I suppose I looked to you to fix my problems as you always had. I was wrong, and for that, I apologise."

Albus was taken aback by his words, but accepted the offered hand readily, his eyes twinkling as they always had.

"Apology accepted, Harry," he said sincerely. "You were just a boy when you took your unfortunate journey through time, and I was too cautious of changing things when what you needed was someone to turn to. You have grown into a remarkable man, Harry, and I couldn't be prouder or you, or grateful for that matter."

"Grateful?"

Albus smiled sadly as he nodded.

"You've made it no secret that you believe it should be me putting an end to Gellert, and for better or worse, I have done nothing," he added as he turned to look at the grave of the young girl once more. "I met with him recently in the hopes there would be nothing left of the boy I remember."

"You did?" Harry asked, surprised by the revelation.

"He was still very much the same, Harry, the same charismatic and brilliant person I met when I was younger than you. I wanted to believe he had lost his way, but alas, he is still the Gellert of my youth, only more determined and without me to temper his more visceral urges."

"You loved him," Harry stated.

Albus did not deny it, but it was clearly something he did not want to speak about.

"I wish I could do what you once expected of me, Harry. I wish I could confront him and put an end to what he is doing, but the last time we fought…"

The man pointed a trembling finger at the grave of Ariana Dumbledore.

"Your sister?"

Albus nodded.

"What little life she lived was difficult," he murmured. "She was not a well girl, and her bouts of accidental magic became volatile, so much so that there was no hope of her attending Hogwarts. Things only became worse, and then my father ended up in Azkaban when she was attacked by a group of local muggle boys."

"He went after them?"

"It was out of character for him," Albus sighed. "He was such a calm and gentle soul that wouldn't hurt a fly, but he lost his temper that day and he died in Azkaban after being in for a few years. I suspect the news of my mother's passing was the catalyst for his own death."

"Bloody hell," Harry muttered. "So, you were left to look after your sister?"

"I had plans that were now thankfully derailed because of it," Albus explained. "Gellert was not pleased by my decision to remain at home with my siblings."

"Siblings?"

"Ariana and my brother Aberforth. He has already been today," he revealed, nodding towards the grave of Percival Dumbledore where another bunch of flowers had been placed.

It was the anniversary of the man's death which explained what the transfiguration professor was doing here.

Harry hadn't known that Dumbledore had a brother, and when the man spoke of him, it was with sadness.

"Gellert came to try to convince me to leave with him, and Abe lost his temper. A fight broke out between them, I intervened, and Ariana…"

Albus choked back a sob and Harry gave him a comforting squeeze of the shoulder, not needing him to finish the sentence.

Dumbledore's sister had been killed during the exchange.

"I have many regrets, Harry, and I fear I will only add to them by not acting, but I don't think I can. Despite everything that happened, I cannot face him like that, and certainly not to kill him. I have seen enough death of those I care for."

For the first time since arriving, Harry felt that he understood the man standing before him, and the one he had left behind.

How had he managed it before?

It was probably the most difficult decision Albus had ever made, and it was no surprise to Harry it took him so long to finally confront his former friend.

For all of his brilliance and talent, Albus was just a man. Harry knew that now and felt irritated with himself for how he had once seen him.

"You don't need to do anything, Professor," he assured him. "You're an educator, someone who should be in a classroom teaching. Not on a battlefield. My whole life has been spent being prepared for war even if I didn't know it. I could never have imagined being where I am now, but I'm here. I will put an end to Grindelwald."

"I don't expect you to do that, Harry," Albus murmured in response.

"I know, but I will anyway. Besides, I think with me being here, it was always going to come down to me and him. Too much has happened for that to be avoided."

Albus chuckled humourlessly.

"I suspect he is most displeased with you. You're a brave man, Harry and among the best I have ever met."

"I learned from a man I looked up to, even if he was an irritating arse most of the time. Now, instead of moping around here, why don't we stop off in the pub and drink to those no longer with us? I think you could use it as much as me."

Albus nodded gratefully.

"Muggle or magical?"

"Muggle," Harry answered. "I'll only be gawped at if we go anywhere else."

"Your reputation certainly precedes you," Albus said with a grin. "You planted a seed, and it is finally blossoming and bearing fruit."

Harry shook his head as he sighed.

"You're being annoying, Albus. Maybe you're not as different as I remember," he grumbled as he led the laughing man out of the graveyard.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but am I truly so different?"

"Come to think of it, you're not. I suppose some things don't change. Would the most desirable gift to you be a pair of socks?" Harry asked curiously.

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing, forget I said anything," Harry snorted amusedly, revelling in the look of confusion Albus sent his way.

(Break)

Tom had watched Dumbledore leave the castle earlier in the evening, and without the man here to watch over him, he had taken advantage of the time granted to visit the Astronomy Tower where he hoped to speak with the Grey Lady once more.

At least once a week, he would make the journey from the dungeons to the seventh floor to do so in an attempt to work his way into the woman's good graces.

She seemed to be relaxing around him more and had even greeted him with a smile this evening, though the front he put on was a maudlin one.

"Can I tell you something?" he asked, his tone tentative and full of worry. "I'd rather it didn't go any further, but I need to speak to someone about it, and you're a good listener."

She nodded, eying him curiously.

Tom had purposely been careful what he divulged to the woman, but he needed for her to open up to him, and she was exceedingly guarded, often stopping herself from revealing too much mid-sentence.

Still, he needed to appear reticent and in need of reassurance.

"Can I trust you?" he whispered pleadingly.

The ghost was taken aback by his demeanour.

"Of course," she replied sincerely. "I wouldn't betray you, Tom. I have learned…"

She stopped speaking once more and though it irritated him, Tom smiled gratefully.

"Okay," he sighed nervously, prompting the little adder hidden up his sleeve to emerge. "Hello, my friend," he hissed.

The diminutive snake replied in kind, stretching up, its tongue flickering to taste the air around his face.

The Grey Lady said nothing, her ghostly eyes widened in shock.

"Y-you're…" she stammered.

"Please, you mustn't tell anyone," Tom begged, hugging the snake closely to his chest.

"No, no," the woman placated gently. "It took me by surprise, but I should have known. You look like him."

"Like whom?"

The Grey Lady shook her head, her reluctance to speak showing once more.

"Forget it," Tom mumbled, turning away from the woman, only to shudder as he felt her hand pass through his forearm as she attempted to stop him.

"Tom, wait," she requested softly.

He did so and turned to look at her with the most pitiful look he could muster. It was one he'd mastered as a small boy and managed to guilt extra portions of dessert from one of the women who worked in the orphanage for a short time.

When Mrs Cole found out, she'd been furious, and Tom hadn't seen the other woman again.

The ghost offered him a sad smile.

"It is painful for me to speak of them," she explained, "and learning who you descended from is a shock, but not a bad one. Salazar was always kind to me, even after I shamed my mother."

"Was he your professor when you were a student here?"

"He was, but I wasn't just a regular student," the Grey Lady huffed. "My mother was one of the founders."

Tom feigned the same shock the ghost had shown only a moment prior.

"A founder's daughter? I-I didn't know."

"Not many do," the woman muttered to herself, "but your secret is safe with me, Tom. Salazar looked out for me when my own mother was too busy to spend any time with her own daughter," she added bitterly. "The least I can do is return the favour for his heir."

"His heir?"

"You speak his language, and you have no older siblings?"

Tom shook his head.

"Then that makes you his heir."

Tom swallowed deeply.

"I don't know what that means."

"Very little in this day and age to most, but there will be those that flock to you because of it, those who will do whatever they can to ingratiate themselves to you."

"But, I'm only a half-blood."

The ghost waved his words off dismissively.

"That means less than you think, especially when you have a connection to such a prestigious family," she pointed out.

Tom shook his head.

"I don't want anyone to know. Slytherin is not remembered well."

The woman smiled sadly once more.

"Okay," she agreed, "but you can still come to me for help with anything you need."

"Why would you help me?"

"Because I made many mistakes in my life, and I would like to make up for them," Helena explained. "You came here and spent time getting to know me, just like Salazar, and you had no clue who I am. You're a kind boy, Tom, and I'd like to help you, and maybe one day, you could help me in return."

"Help you?"

"All in good time, but for now, you should rest. It is rather late, after all."

Tom nodded his agreement, faking a deep yawn before he waved to the woman and smiled brightly at her.

He left the tower, his grin falling as he celebrated internally, knowing he had the woman exactly where he wanted her.

Whatever secrets she held about Hogwarts would soon be his.

A sense of smugness filled him at the thought of how he had broken the woman down and Tom chuckled to himself.

Best of all, she had no idea that she had been masterfully manipulated, something that Tom had learned long ago that he was rather good at.

The only people that seemed to have seen through him were Dumbledore and his assistant, but they were nothing.

Despite their irritating habit of watching him closer than he would like, he progressed still, and soon enough, he would know the castle better than any. With a little luck, Tom would discover the entrance to the chamber of secrets where he would inherit whatever his ancestors had left behind.