A/N 1: Many thanks to GreenThumbTarasova, my wonderful beta: you are an angel for going through this monster of a chapter in such a short time!
A/N 2: Apologies for the delay. I tried to repay with a really long chapter; I'm currently writing on the next chapter, but I'm not making promises for the next update. RL is being very busy.
A/N 3: Thank you so, so much for your continued support and your kind reviews. For the artistically gifted among you, please read the last A/N after the chapter.
Chapter 19: Cold Snout, Human Heart
Almost ten years as a teacher at this school and this was the first time Severus looked forward to a lesson that did not involve his NEWT classes. He would finally be able to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts to his students after having witnessed five teachers fail rather pitifully (eight if one counted the three pathetic excuses of Defence Against the Dark Arts professors he had been forced to endure during his own school years). Interestingly, he had quickly come to the realization that he was not the only teacher with that particular sentiment. Filius had approached him only hours after the entire ordeal with Quirrell and together they had prepared the proposal of joint classes to the headmaster. Together with Pomona and Minerva, they had handed in their veto at the very suggestion of letting a fraud teach at this school. Severus had never met Lockhart personally, but anyone possessing the faintest knowledge of the Dark Arts knew that his stories were greatly exaggerated at best and downright fabricated at worst. Reluctantly and only after the feast, the headmaster had agreed to let Filius and Severus teach until the end of the school year instead of only the first semester as originally intended. In fact, for the first time in the history of Hogwarts, they were on a trial period implemented by the headmaster and the Board of Governors. Becoming a teacher had not been and was not the Potions Master's preferred career path. However, preparing these classes with the former champion duellist had been both a challenge and a truly rewarding experience. The older wizard was a very gifted and experienced teacher and had made it very clear that he would not approve of any 'bullying, harassment or any other kind of unfair treatment of any student at this school if we are to work together, Severus'. He had also insisted on creating a very detailed plan that included the topics each school year should have learned by the end of each semester and an approximate duration for each subject matter. Severus had a similar plan for his classes but Potions was very strictly regulated and gave him little leeway to the imposed study plan until well after the OWL exams.
It had been rather dismaying to learn how little even the seventh years knew in terms of this subject, however. A shudder ran down Severus' spine as he once more called into mind whom the children had faced in the classroom. Thankfully, the Dark Lord had craved regaining his powers over tempting impressionable children into the use of the Dark Arts…
Severus entered the classroom where his and the Hufflepuff first-years waited for him. Unsurprisingly, Richard sat next to his best friend. Quite a few of his Slytherins regarded the Muggle with derision, but nobody said anything, which could be due to the Hufflepuffs, Miss Bulstrode, Messrs Zabini and Nott strategically positioning themselves around Richard; or simply the look of utter confidence on the older child's face displaying an attitude that shouted experience with messy fights and usually coming out of them on top.
"…how goddamn naïve you were out on the streets. Apart from those with real experience, you had no idea that bigger dangers loomed outside than Sullivan's scary face."
If Lily's son thought that Richard was naïve, what experiences had he personally gone through? Whatever it was, the boy was firmly placed to the teenager's right, shielding him from the Slytherins, exhibiting calm that would give any potential assailant pause.
"Our first lesson will take place in the Great Hall. Follow me," ordered Severus brusquely. Instead of obeying without question, Pansy Parkinson lifted her hand.
"Yes, Miss Parkinson?"
"What's the Muggle doing here?" she asked, her nose curled in disgust.
"Mr Potter's foster brother will accompany us for the next couple of weeks. As you know, if a student is faced with the kind of ordeal Mr Potter went through, it is well within their rights not to attend class and/or to have their family visit them for an extended period of time. Since Mr Potter has no siblings living at this school and his guardian is unable to visit, Mr Smith will be staying with us for now. I expect your utmost courtesy around our guest. If you disgrace your House with any disparaging comments, you will suffer the consequences." His warning brooked no room for argument and all students nodded. "Mr Smith, welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Today you will attend a class that teaches our students a form of self-defence. I strongly believe it will interest you." With these words, they made their way to Filius and the rest of the first years.
The Charms teacher was already in the room with the Gryffindor students (sans Longbottom brothers) and the Ravenclaw first-years. Quietly, Severus ordered his students to join the other children.
"We figured that we should have our first lessons together," began Filius enthusiastically. "Every month or so, we will have joint lessons, simply to make sure your progress is in fact synchronous."
That got the attention of several students: Mr Zabini and Mr Nott quickly turned their heads towards Severus followed by Mr Malfoy and Miss Bulstrode, while Miss Granger promptly lifted her hand, but it was Mr P…Ha… the boy who asked first.
"La hulà nac-rîm nèsha shonurùni niphkîlla-tèl, nashòr?"
Severus was not quite sure why Fillius let the boy speak his question in its entirety; it could be the fact that interruption was abhorred in goblin culture, or that the professor was thrilled to hear the first language he had ever learned, or the sheer enthusiasm on the boy's face making him look his age for once. Later in the staff room, after a ferocious game of chess, the Charms teacher confessed it was a mix of all three as he translated the exact wording of the boy's question.
"You are correct in your assumption, Mr Potter. There will be no new teacher in Defence Against the Dark Arts until your second year. The headmaster has agreed to let Professor Snape and myself teach for the remainder of this year."
It almost escaped his notice how Filius made a sharp hand movement, which in turn led to a bow from the boy that, Severus could swear, was meant to be an apology. Filius later explained to him that he had asked the boy before not to speak Gobbledegook in class and therefore asked him to 'cut it out', not harshly but firmly, which the boy had accepted immediately and in turn, Filius had accepted the apology indicating that all was well. It was truly astonishing just how quickly these messages had been delivered back and forth.
"In this first lesson, we will give you an introduction into the subject, then the individual lessons will begin," continued Filius. "Professor Snape is infinitely more eloquent than I am, which is why I am happy to let him continue from here." With this, he joined the students and sat down looking at the younger teacher with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. His lips twitching into what was almost a smile, Severus gave the speech he had prepared years ago.
"The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting the Hydra of Lerna, from which, each time a head is severed, two new heads sprout from the neck, fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible," he continued. The Dark Arts had been his refuge, the opportunity to take control in a situation that could not be controlled. It was both his solace and greatest foe and he would be damned if any of the children in front of him stepped into this trap with the foolish belief that they could control this power. "In order to fight them, you must be stronger, more cunning and ready than even Heracles who, on his own, would have been overwhelmed if not for the help of his nephew Iolaus. This class will teach you how to protect yourselves from the dangers of the Dark Arts in all their facets, from its most vicious to its most addictive and tempting. Use of the Dark Arts is forbidden within the walls of this school and surrounding lands. However, in order to learn, you must see. Professor Flitwick and I will first demonstrate what we hope to convey to you in your years at Hogwarts."
Filius rose; they had talked about it briefly and Severus had been surprised just how many rules of combat the former master duellist insisted on. With a wave of Severus' wand, all tables were moved to the side and Filius asked the children to assemble on the edge of the makeshift arena.
They faced each other. Upon Filius' sign, they began.
Harry tensed up. You could feel the power crackle in the room; it caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand up; the air around the adult wizards seemed to burn. The attack from the Potions Master was almost too swift to follow and Harry shifted between Char and his teachers, no matter how ridiculous (and pathetically useless) his actions would appear. The Charms professor was not even fazed. Nonverbally, his spell repelled the attack and retaliated no less powerfully. The wizards were too relaxed for the fight to be serious and the spells did not feel particularly dark. However, if any of them hit their mark, it would hurt. Despite feeling tense, watching them move was absolutely fascinating. Professor Snape was as quick as a snake, each flick of the wand precise, sharp and utterly devastating if Professor Flitwick did not match him for speed and even surpassed him in agility. Where the Potions professor was almost grounded yet flexible, the wizard with goblin roots took shahà to a new level. Goblins were shorter than wand-carriers and not very imposing regarding their physical appearance, which were two supposed disadvantages that had ultimately resulted in shahà, an entire branch of martial arts techniques based on redirecting the strength of an opponent's attack. The professor's training in shahà was obvious to the younger wizard who had learned a few tricks through simple observation over the years, but the teacher seemed to have adapted it beautifully to wandwork, always switching between a goblin's defensive moves while attacking in the wizard's way. The two teachers were rather matched in this setting, but this was a demonstration and both were holding back, so it was difficult to say who would win an actual confrontation. To be fair, Harry did not want to know.
The Charms teacher's hand gave a near-undetectable sign and the attacks and counter-attacks ceased immediately.
"What have you recognised?" asked the tiny wizard, his cheeks flushed from the exercise (and possibly from sheer delight over this sparring session).
Several children spoke up, mentioning jinxes, charms and curses they had recognised. Blaise received two points for having recognised Resilite, a shield charm from which curses were bounced off, and Hermione received three points for recognising the combined use of the Impediment Jinx with the Banishing charm, spells they would not learn until their fourth year.
"Will the kids learn how to move like that?" asked Char with a grin, looking both amazed and thrilled by what he had seen.
"Good observation, Mr Smith," praised the Potions professor dryly. "Though I must admit to being impressed that you managed to observe our footwork when instead you could have watched magic in its most active form."
"I just followed Harry's lead, sir," the 'as usual' was heavily implied causing Harry to glare at his brother.
"We will teach some means of self-defence and proper stance for sure," said Professor Flitwick. "But it won't be our primary aim. Has anybody else noticed anything?"
"You were sparring, not fighting. Also, I don't think you used any dark magic," said Theo, frowning.
"Precisely," smiled Professor Flitwick. "This was a demonstration of how duelists train. There is no need for the greeting formalities, which are only used during actual tournaments. While it shows you how fast you need to be to not be harmed, this is not what we need to protect you from," the tiny professor explained further. "Professor Snape, if you were so kind as to demonstrate how a dark wizard would attack?"
The wizards moved further away from the children. Without the hint of a warning, the taller man attacked, viciously. Professor Flitwick was clearly on the defensive from the moment the second demonstration started. As threatened earlier, each counter from the shorter wizard was returned with a more devastating attack. The children were huddled together; even Draco Malfoy, who often liked to lament about the irrational stance Hogwarts had regarding the Dark Arts, looked positively frightened. This time, the teachers fought more seriously, though to Harry, it still felt nothing like the shorter yet crueller and more vicious interaction he had observed between Professor Snape and Quirrell. Still, it was clear what the Charms teacher meant by claiming that Professor Snape's attacks were not benign. All of a sudden, a curse cut through the older man's shields and he was propelled through the air, losing his wand as he landed hard on the ground. Several children gasped, Harry grabbed Char, and looked for his friends, ready to get the hell out if this got out of hand.
The Potions Master's lips formed a triumphant smirk as he summoned the other teacher's wand to him. Familiar heat surrounded Professor Flitwick and Harry turned his head just in time to see that a handful of goblin rune charms were thrown at the supposed victor. Keen reflexes had Professor Snape freeze the pebbles mid-air.
"karid-sharà," whispered Professor Flitwick commanding the pebbles to break. Smoke engulfed the taller wizard. The split second this diversion offered was enough for the goblin-born wand-carrier to stand up and throw a second handful of rune charms, which he immediately commanded to break. A pressure wave summoned by the goblin pebbles had the Potions teacher stumble back, and Professor Flitwick's long fingers were pulled back in a mock-grabbing gesture. The wand flew back into his hand. The fight was over. The entire class erupted into applause. Professor Snape looked surprised before his face resumed a neutral expression.
"What do you think we wished to show with this demonstration?" asked Professor Flitwick.
"If all else fails and your life's on the line, play dirty," said Harry quoting a rule Sharon had taught him. A broad smile was the half-goblin's reaction.
"Correct, though I would have called it 'Don't give up even if the situation looks hopeless.' Has anyone recognised the magic used here?"
"Nelîma y Shki Shelîm or Shki Shelîm's Tears, the rune pebbles you threw at Professor Snape."
"Correct," replied Filius. "Now, we will not teach you this form of magic, but as Professor Snape said, if you only use the barest minimum of defence skills, you will lose. Our goal is to teach you the most important tools but also to encourage you to be creative. This was an unexpected trick up my sleeve. During your time at Hogwarts, we hope that you find yours. Professor Snape has used many dark spells for which there are no known counters." Many of the children looked scared. "This is not to frighten you. Chances are that you will never be faced with dark magic… that you will never have to suffer from an attack by someone that wishes you harm." It was interesting to see their reactions. Most children believed him unquestionably, but Mr Potter's brother and the boy himself looked sceptical, which not surprising considering what Mr Potter had already experienced in this very castle.
"Have you recognized any spells, on mine or Professor Snape's part?"
He felt Severus' gaze on him. They had spoken about this before. The younger children would not know to be silent regarding their parents' attitude to dark magic, which could be described as liberal at best for some of the families they came from. However, there was a difference between speaking positively about dark magic and showing your children how it was done; it was another matter entirely if they were also asked to stay quiet about it.
One particular example was Mr Nott. His face was as carefully blank as Filius had ever seen on an eleven-year-old. He had definitely recognised some of the magic Severus had used, but was wise enough not to say anything. Thankfully, Mr Malfoy, for all his openly liberal opinion regarding the use of the Dark Arts, an attitude undoubtedly nurtured by his parents, seemed not to recognise any of the spells. Ms Bulstrode had recognised one of the shield charms he had used; Ms Bones named another. It would be interesting to see the older children react to this particular part of the lesson. Nobody spoke, but given their facial expressions, Mr Nott, Mr Crabbe and Ms Greengrass looked like they knew more than they were willing to admit. One shared glance with Severus assured him that the Head of Slytherins had noticed that as well. He glanced over at Harry whose eyes had narrowed; the quick glance between Filius, Severus and Mr Nott indicated that he had observed their increased scrutiny of his friend; he was obviously not too fond of it. Harry did not address his friend immediately, but Filius did not doubt that the boy would share his observation with Mr Nott. They would obviously have to tread carefully unless they were willing to not only lose Mr Nott but Mr Potter as well. That option was not acceptable.
"What?" whispered Char in his ear when they returned to their classroom.
"Later," muttered Harry. Something was up. Both teachers had suddenly focused on Theo, and the eleven-year-old did not like it one bit. The only people under similar scrutiny had been Daphne and Crabbe, followed by Malfoy, Goyle and Pansy. He would ask Theo later.
"You don't look particularly happy," whispered Blaise in his ear. Harry had felt rather than actually noticed the boy's arrival; the underage wizard could be incredibly sneaky if he wished to be, though not quite as sneaky as Theo who often seamlessly merged with his surroundings. "It was a good lesson."
"It was," confirmed Harry immediately. "It's probably nothing."
"Don't worry about it," said Theo shadowing him. He sounded strangely hesitant. "We'll talk later, okay?"
"Sure," he agreed, not wishing to make the closed off wizard even more uncomfortable.
"Hurry up," ordered Professor Snape. Their group consisting of the four boys brought up the rear, while Susan, Millicent, Hannah and Eloise were only a few paces ahead of them. The rest of the children were practically running in a fruitless effort to keep up with the Potions Master's swift strides, his cloak billowing out behind him.
"Mr Potter, unless you wish for Mr Smith to learn how to clean out cauldrons you will obey," barked the adult wizard when they did not listen immediately.
Not foolish enough to test the man's patience, the boys started running too, with a wry grin on their lips. The man had obviously enjoyed this lesson if he was kind enough to warn them before handing out detentions.
The rest of the lesson was absolutely fascinating. Defence Against the Arts teacher Snape was an entirely different creature than Potions professor Snape. He enjoyed every minute of teaching this subject, reminding Harry of how well the Hufflepuff students that took NEWT Potions spoke of him, constantly calling the man 'hard but fair and brilliant' and the best preparation one could get if you were interested in a career in Potions. Harry was finally willing to believe them. He had very soon learned to respect (and fear) the wizard, but he had always thought him to be a barely passable teacher for first-year students. The professor still had little patience for stupidity, but he was more relaxed in this classroom setting than Harry had ever seen him.
In the evening, Severus was exhausted, but at the same time, he felt almost proud. The children had been attentive and interested, and it was so much less hazardous to have them practice spells than wondering how, in the name of Merlin, some dunderheads were capable of weaponizing magically inert potion recipes. It would be an impressive skill if it were not his duty to make sure the children survived the school year. Their first defence classes had been a success, at least in Severus' mind; he would have to talk with Filius about the potential involvement of Madam Pomfrey to teach some basic healing charms. The Great Hall was rather full when he sat down for dinner. Yet again, the House tables were entirely ignored. In fact, while two of his prefects were sitting with the Ravenclaw sixth-year prefects at the Slytherin table, deeply engrossed in a conversation, Johanna Barton sat at the Hufflepuff table talking to a group of fourth-year students. The cause of it all was assembled at the Gryffindor table together with the patron saints of chaos, more commonly known as the Weasley twins.
He wondered if Theodore had already spoken to Mr Potter, but he doubted it. The boy seemed too tense to have given some necessary explanations; Severus was certain that the boy's worries were for naught: if Harry Potter was able to forgive Severus Snape for having been a Death Eater, he would forgive his friend for the choices his parents had made (and dearly paid for). Focused on the children, he suddenly spotted an owl landing next to Lily's child.
"Ah," said the headmaster with a thoughtful expression on his face. "Remus has written to Harry."
The fork slipped through Severus' fingers and fell onto his plate with a clank.
"I beg your pardon, Albus? Remus Lupin has written to Mr Potter? Does Mr Potter expect a letter from him? That being said, does he even know who Remus Lupin is?" asked Severus, rather irate with the older wizard.
"Of course, he does. Hagrid and Minerva have both told him about James Potter and his friends."
The Potions Master turned his head to look at the gamekeeper and the Transfiguration teacher.
"You told him about Black?" asked Severus, incredulous. Hagrid looked resolute.
"Yes, I did. He's not fond of secrets. Black's betrayal is known. Everybody knows, seemed unfair for him not to. Thought it better comin' from a friend."
Severus could not fault the half-giant for that. He was right. Still, he did not have to like it. The boy would be better off not knowing just how ill his father had chosen in regards to his friends, but then, Severus thought with no little amount of self-loathing, Lily's choices had not been much wiser. His thoughts turned pitchblack all of a sudden causing him to almost miss the conversation between Minerva and the headmaster. The Head of Gryffindor supported Severus' skepticism, stating that, while it was good to have informed the boy of Black's betrayal, having Lupin contact the boy out of the blue was not beneficial for him.
"Minerva, surely you know by now that Harry has proven to be remarkably resilient. Hearing from his father's closest friend will not upset him," countered the headmaster calmly.
"His father's closest friend rots away in a prison cell in Azkaban," hissed Severus coldly before bringing the conversation back to the matter at hand. "I cannot believe we are having this conversation. The boy barely trusts us as it is, and he has known us for…" He cut himself off. The boy's eyes were on them with the letter in his hand. He had obviously realised that he was being observed. Richard also looked over, his face just as blank of a mask as the boy's. He leaned in and whispered something to the boy who shook his head and whose gaze was on Filius as he turned his left hand, extending thumb, index and middle finger slightly to show his open palm, while ring and little finger were slightly curled. Filius immediately responded by lifting and turning his right hand so that the back of his hand first faced the boy then himself. Again, the boy responded by moving his horizontally lifted index and middle finger across his lips, little and ring finger again curled.
"He wishes to talk me at my earliest convenience," said Filius calmly and rose from his seat.
"For now, yes." There was no room for discussion. Professor Taylok frowned and proceeded to say something that made Filius stiffen marginally before he walked towards one of the side entrances reserved for teachers. Mr Potter rose from his seat, the letter tightly secured in the boy's left hand. His brother grabbed his forearm and there was a brief discussion. Ultimately, the older boy remained seated, though he did not look particularly happy.
"Is there a problem, Taylok?" Minerva asked, her lips thin and her expression severe. She had obviously noticed the tension between their old colleague and the history teacher as well and cared for it as little as Severus.
"I merely expressed my doubts that Filius," he did not sneer the name but the way he said it made Severus want to order the goblin to use Filius' formal address, "would be able to give Mr Potter a proper assessment, especially since you seem to know more about the matter at hand," Taylok commented further looking at the headmaster, Minerva, Hagrid and Severus.
"Actually," countered Minerva promptly, "he is possibly the only person in this room capable of giving a factual, neutral assessment of the letter. He was their teacher, yes, but he was not close to them."
Taylok bowed to her, but did not voice his thoughts; a clear sign of respect for the deputy headmistress but not the professor in question. Severus would have to talk to Filius about this.
I would like to apologise for not writing to you sooner. Professor Dumbledore wrote to me in September, but I felt that it was prudent to let you settle into Hogwarts first before you receive letters from strangers.
I knew your parents very well. Your father was one my closest friends and I loved both very dearly. Hearing of their demise broke my heart; it was a loss I could hardly bear. Their death was devastating and I am ashamed to admit that I was not there for you as I should have been. Thankfully, your aunt Petunia stepped up where I could not. As brave as her sister, she did not hesitate to raise you as another son. I had every intention to visit you, but again, tragedy struck before I was able to overcome my own shortcomings. Despite my cowardice in your early life, I hope you will believe me when I say that if I had any inkling that you were still alive, I would have looked for you. When Albus told me of your survival, I was overjoyed.
I would like to get to know you, Harry, if that is what you want. Your father used to call me 'Uncle Moony' around you, and while I am perfectly aware that as of now, I have neither been an uncle nor a person worthy of being nicknamed by you, I hope that I could become that man in the future.
It was a good letter for a start; the question was what Mr Potter thought of it.
"What's he like?" asked the boy once he noticed that Filius had finished the letter.
"Gentle, kind, patient… even when he was a young boy. Always willing to help others, yet he mostly kept to himself. He was secluded up until he befriended two of the most outgoing boys I've ever taught: your father and Sirius Black." There was no way of sugarcoating this; Sirius Black and James Potter had to be mentioned in one go when it came to their time at Hogwarts. Everything else would be an incomplete account of past events.
Mr Potter nodded thoughtfully before he said firmly, "I'm not going to leave my family to live with this man." His expression was resolute, but Filius easily saw the specks of fear in them. He had seen that kind of fear and heard these words before, uttered by children from less than ideal homes who had the good fortune of being taken in by better families but who were absolutely terrified of the prospect of having to return. This did not bode well with Filius and he needed to address this to Minerva, Pomona and Severus. Logically, he knew that Mr Potter had to have been sheltered in foster or group homes, termed 'orphanages' to this day, but… a human orphan was not necessarily orat, one of the Forgotten as lamented amongst the goblins. However, looking at the terrified yet unyielding boy in front of him, Mr Potter must have been one of the Forgotten for long enough to leave its mark behind, which was a painful thought. Filius, though loved and supported by his parents, had spent enough of his life on the outskirts of both wizarding and goblin society to truly feel for those who did not fit, especially the orat.
"Mr Potter, there is no reason why you should be separated from your foster family. Surely, this is not Mr Lupin's intent either," he tried to assure the boy.
"Can you guarantee it?" asked the Hufflepuff first-year coldly.
"As I do not know the extent of Lily and James Potter's will regarding your guardianship upon their demise, I cannot guarantee it, however it is highly unlikely. First of all, he is not your blood relative, second of all, even if there is a will from your parents I do not believe his name will be on the list. Third, and most importantly, the Remus Lupin I knew as a boy and a young man would never wish to take you from a place you so obviously do not wish to leave. If, against all odds, he decides to do so, be assured that the four Heads of House will be there to support you. There is no harm in writing to him."
"nashòr-daìo." The boy's shoulders relaxed visibly. Filius nodded in acceptance, looking at the child fondly.
"Is there anything else on your mind, Mr Potter?"
"No, sir," was the quick, insincere reply. A second later, the boy laughed, a strange, broken sound. He bowed to give his apologies to an elder; it was a perfectly executed, formal bow. "A lot of things happened lately, sir. I'm… dealing with it."
"I see," Filius nodded in understanding. "I know that I'm only repeating myself, Mr Potter, but if you ever wish to talk, do not hesitate to contact me or anybody from the staff, really."
"Except for sgrafur Taylok, correct?" Far too perceptive eyes met his.
"He's an honorable, wise goblin and protecting his students is his calling, Mr Potter," said Filius neutrally doing his best not to give anything away.
"Sir, he's not Sacùr Y Anà, don't get me wrong, but he likes his neat little boxes: human children with humans, goblin children with goblins. He has no interest in seeing those two boxes mixed. His teachings will make the children from wizarding families realise that not everything is black and white, but he does not promote actual, true mingling of cultures. He treats me fairly, don't get me wrong, but he does not like me, and I have seen how he looks at you. He despises you."
Filius saw no reason to lie and sighed, "I have told you of my heritage, haven't I? Well, goblin society was not too happy with my parents' union either."
"I figured as much, sir," said the boy, a rare expression of distress flickered across his features before it resumed a more neutral air. "It just seems… cruel, is all. We can't help who our parents are; we shouldn't pay for their mistakes. In this case, it wasn't even that, was it? They just fell in love."
A memory of his mother on her deathbed overcame him where, more than a decade ago, she told her only child and her husband that she did not regret a single thing, but that, for Filius' sake, she should have done more to protect him from the bigotry he had been forced to face. He also remembered the expression on his father's face when she passed away.
He really needed to write to his father more often.
"Yes, they did, Mr Potter. Unfortunately, a union between a goblin and a witch or wizard is against the law of either species, though thankfully the term 'bestiality' was removed from either code of law in the fourteenth century when the debate of 'beast' and 'being' officially began."
Wide eyes stared at him, "'Bestial...' Seriously, sir?"
Despite his maturity, Filius could not forget that he was talking to a child. He would not go into detail on the terms he had grown up with such as 'cross-breeding' and 'unnatural desires' or, his personal favorite, the assumption that his parents' union – a relationship between two consenting adults of sound mind – promoted 'unseemly interspecies conduct between beings and beasts'.
"Nobody ever claimed that goblin-wizard relations were easy, Mr Potter," was all he said on the matter. The boy just nodded solemnly in return.
"Then I guess it's a good thing that we are here to make people understand that there is a lot we can learn from both cultures."
"Absolutely, Mr Potter."
"Unfortunately, that does not tell me whether or not to reply to Remus Lupin's letter," lamented the boy with a half-hearted grin. "Reaching out sounds like the way to go, though. Even if it's not going to improve on goblin-human relations."
"Probably not, but I approve of the idea. If you feel uncomfortable, though…"
"I'll let you know."
"kiel-daìo," Filius thanked his student. This time, the boy bowed in return, though there was a certain irony twined into the short movement to convey his awareness that the roles should be reversed. That boy really knew his bows.
Or he would turn out to be a very sarcastic young man, one day.
Dear Mr Lupin,
Thank you for your letter.
I am quite grateful you waited for a few weeks before sending it to me. It gave me time to form relationships with people whom I could ask about you and your relationship to my parents.
While your apology is noted, there is no need for it. Your friends died, you grieved. I understand that. From what I hear, my time with my aunt and cousin was quite idyllic though short. Everything that happened after was completely out of your hands and there is no need to apologise for that either. I was considered dead; in fact, from what I was told, I have yet to be completely 'resurrected', which is at least a bit funny if you think about it. In a way, I am part of the living dead, so, according to Muggle lore, I am either a zombie or a vampire. Do you happen to know what I would be in Wizarding lore?
I am quite curious to get to know one of my father's best friends, and in return, my father, so I am quite happy with this exchange of letters.
On Char's last day at Hogwarts (and less than a month before Christmas break, so Harry's sadness was within manageable levels), there was a big commotion during breakfast because of the return of the Longbottom brothers the night before as Harry had learned from Hermione a few minutes earlier. The dark-haired boy took a moment to give a nod to Lacius who sat down by Seamus and Dean, before Harry jovially waved at Neville, who waved back enthusiastically before he settled down between Hermione and Ron the latter of whom practically radiated protectiveness.
That was a very positive yet unexpected development, but then, these three certainly bonded over what happened that night, and their personalities matched well. Neville was loyal, soft-spoken and needed people to bring him out of his shell, while Hermione was good at encouraging others while simultaneously needing some emotional support. In turn, Ron viewed neither of them as rivals, and would therefore support them without question, while his blunt ways would force the other two to stand up for their beliefs.
An owl landing between Harry and Char interrupted his thoughts. He glimpsed at the envelope, saw his name and thanked the owl before removing the official-looking letter from its leg.
Dear Mr Harry Potter,
Hearing of Auror Alastor Moody's treatment of your person was a matter of great consternation for my office. Please note that this kind of conduct is unacceptable, was put on Auror Moody's record as 'use of unnecessary force' and has been punished with a ban from fieldwork for the duration of at least two months.
This office further offers you the possibility to press charges against Auror Moody if the already issued punishment is insufficient.
Auror Alastor Moody is a long-standing and well-respected member of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. He was sent to Hogwarts to apprehend Quirinus Quirrell and an entity we suspected to be He Who Must Not Be Named, which was verified only after their arrival in Hogwarts. While capable of taking witness statements, Auror Moody is usually on the very forefront of dealing with some of the most dangerous individuals on Earth, and as such, has a history of forgetting to apply diplomacy where needed. Regardless of how much we appreciate his sacrifices, he has done you unnecessary harm and as such, it is well within your rights to press charges.
Given Ministry records, your guardian is a Sister Augustine of St Mary's Orphanage and it remains unclear whether she has knowledge of our world. According to the Statue of Secrecy, we cannot inform her of Auror Moody's conduct. We encourage you to brief her on the subject matter, so that you can act to the best of your knowledge.
Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Harry put down the letter, his eyebrows furrowed. Char was reading the letter over his left shoulder.
"Er… Susan? D'you have a second?"
"Sure, what is it?" asked the girl to his right. Wordlessly, he handed her the letter.
As she read it, he could see her face fall a little.
"What is it?" asked Harry.
"Auror Moody was the one who chased you?" she queried in return. He had told her, Hannah and Eloise as well as his Slytherin friends what had happened between their visits, which had greatly upset Susan, who – as a natural consequence of her aunt's position – could not understand why the Aurors had chased after Harry. He had only told them the bare minimum of his interrogation with Neville's father for obvious reasons. They knew that the conversation had not ended on a high note (which Theo apparently thought was absolutely hilarious, almost quoting Char by saying that the conversation could have gone worse…if he had tried to hex Auror Longbottom, for example; the elbow to his and naturally Blaise's side provided by Millicent had been a very welcome reaction) and they knew of his escape attempt thanks to Char.
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"Not really, I only saw him once or twice. Auntie Amelia speaks very highly of him, is all. He's quite brilliant, one of the best Auror the department has ever had. He's quite close to the Longbottom family, so Neville might know more. Having him chase after you must have been quite scary, though. Wasn't it?" Worried, she caught his gaze. He said nothing, given that he did not want to lie, but then he truthfully added, "He apologised, though. That counts for something. Cop… Law enforcement does not tend to do that. Thanks for telling me, though." Wishing to change the subject, he asked her about her plans over Christmas break, which apparently consisted of an annual, big family dinner on Christmas Eve and a smaller celebration on Christmas morning which consisted of Susan's little sister Anne, Susan, her parents and her aunt Amelia, a tradition that dated back to his friend's earliest memories. After he told her of his plans over Christmas (going home to his family), they left the table for their classes, but he first made his way over to the Gryffindor table.
"Neville," he raised his voice to make sure he was heard. Ron, Hermione and Neville, already on the way out, stopped and turned as one.
"Harry!" Neville exclaimed. "It's so good to see you! How're you?"
"I'm okay, thanks. How about you and Lacius?"
The other boy's smile wavered, "We're… getting better. Lacius is… he's scared, you know?"
"Yeah," Harry confirmed softly. "I know." Then, he switched topic, "Listen, I've got to talk to you. Susan told me you know Auror Alastor Moody…" Before he could continue, Neville's entire face lightened up like a Christmas tree.
"Uncle Alastor is the best!" said the Gryffindor. "He's a good friend of my father and my favorite uncle. He always tells us stories about what happened to him. He was also very pleased to hear about the stories you told us, Harry, especially the Gringotts story, but he was especially fond of the Order of Chaos, though I could not tell it as well as you did. Nevertheless, he thought it was great."
Surprised, Harry looked at Neville, "You told him these stories?"
"Yes," chattered Neville excitedly. "Uncle Alastor likes telling stories, but he also enjoys listening to the ones he doesn't know." It was so rare to see Neville so open and enthusiastic about anyone and Harry did not have the heart or intention to cause Neville any grief.
"Sorry," apologised Neville, obviously having noticed and misinterpreted Harry's silence. "Uncle Alastor is one of my favorite people. He's always patient and kind… in his way, at least. What do you need to know about him?"
Harry smiled gently, "You already told me everything I needed to know."
As he walked away with Char right beside him, his brother put his arm around Harry's shoulder squeezing them gently to nonverbally indicate that he agreed with him.
Dear Madam Secretary Bones,
(I hope this address of your title is correct. Susan was not quite sure.)
Thank you for your letter, which I appreciated very much. After careful consideration, I have decided not to press any charges. Instead, I have composed a letter, which I ask you to forward to Auror Moody.
Please let me know whether or not that is possible.
Amelia smiled. Susan had told her a lot about that mysterious, mature boy she considered a friend. Though wondering what the boy had to say to Alastor, she kept her curiosity in check and dutifully as well as gleefully forwarded the letter to Alastor. She attached a note that summarized the boy's decision.
She kept the letter.
Dear Auror Moody,
As you have noted correctly, my experience with law enforcement is long and not very positive. Meeting you has been a strange break in a long stream of generally unpleasent experiences. I will be honest: you were terrifying and I will avoid being chased by you at all cost in the future. Nevertheless, your subsequent apology was unexpected, unusual and has since been accepted. It has also come to my understanding that Neville appears to genuinely like you and he is a good judge of character. As such, there is no need for further punishment in my opinion.
I can imagine that being confined to a desk for eight consecutive weeks is unpleasant enough as it is for a field agent.
On another note, if I may ask, you mentioned my father during our brief conversation in the Infirmary. Would you mind telling me more about him?
If yes, I look forward to our correspondence. If not, then no hard feelings.
Thoughtfully, Alastor put down the piece of parchment he had dutifully screened for curses. If the boy's experience with Alastor was unprecedented in terms of dealing with law enforcement, then what could he say? He certainly never had dark wizards write to him before (other than cursed letters and death threats lazed with hexes).
Imagine my joy to have received your reply and to note that you have inherited your mother's wicked sense of humour. Your father may have been a bit of a jokester in his youth, but your mother always beat him when it came to the application of dark humour.
Given the nature of your letter, I gather you would appreciate to receive a clarification of your comment on vampires and zombies.
Contrary to Muggle folklore, vampires are their own species. It is not possible for a human to become a vampire. Their bite will kill you, or may temporarily turn you into a creature that is neither alive nor dead, but you will not become a vampire yourself. In that form, you cannot survive for a long time either, unlike the vampires who may live for centuries. They are also considered 'beings' according to the Ministry of Magic Classification. As opposed to that, zombies – as they dwell in the south of the United States of America and Haiti – used to be human, were heavily drugged and badly hurt before they were 'resurrected' according to old Haitian wizarding traditions. They can be identified by their rotten smell and greyish skin. They can certainly be considered Undead.
As neither of these definitions applies to you, calling you 'undead', 'zombie' or 'vampire' is incorrect and I will refrain from doing so. However, I do hope that these dreadful bureaucratic matters are taken care of soon. Let me know if I can help you in any way. Also, if such mental images are too disturbing for you or if they scare you, please let me know and I will find lighter topics to touch on.
I do believe that I have many things to apologise for, but I thank you dearly for giving me absolution for my shortcomings.
You wished to get to know me, and in extension also your father. Well, what would you like to know? My own story is not very interesting, I am afraid. My favorite meal of the day is breakfast, specifically continental breakfast with black tea, toast and, if I particularly wish to indulge myself, freshly baked croissants. Not very English I fear, but full English breakfasts tend to me feel queasy. I was reasonably gifted as a student at Hogwarts though I never quite reached top-level the way your parents have. I have many interests, some of which include specifically the dangers and benefits of magical creatures and how to identify and defend yourself from dark creatures.
Your father, James Potter, was a great and courageous man with a big, far too generous heart and a brilliant head on his shoulder. He was loyal and thought it to be a desirable character trait. He would have been thrilled to have his boy in Hufflepuff, therefore… after lamenting that you decided not to go for Gryffindor. That is not a reprimand, please do not mistake it as such, but your father was a stubborn and proud man from a family of Gryffindors and he would have wished you to be in his House and then later supported you to whichever House you were sorted. Lily would have been very happy to see you in any of the Houses, but she would have supported your sorting earlier than James, I must say. Personally, Hufflepuff contains character traits I value highly, such as dedication, patience, loyalty and fair play, and I congratulate you on being selected for such a grand House of Hogwarts.
Reading through this letter again, I realise how little I have told you about them and myself, but there is so much I hardly know where to start. Do you have any particular questions you wish to have answered?
Harry folded the letter and smiled a bit. The man was right; there so much to ask. He was glad that he was spared the counter questions for the time being.
For now, Harry had classes to attend (Snape would not appreciate his distraction during Potions), but he would take his time to write down all the questions he had always wished to know about his parents.
He might also approach Hagrid and Professor McGonagall.
Just to be safe.
Mr Lupin seemed okay, but that was only via letter and based on a former teacher's assessment of his character as a student at Hogwarts. He would ask Hagrid, Professor McGonagall and perhaps Professor Snape for their opinion. Given he had known (and disliked) his father, Professor Snape must have known Mr Lupin when they were in school. Children were better judges of character than adults, whether they were 'Other' or not; and Professor Snape was scarily good at reading people.
Given that I am confined to a desk due to my misdemeanour upon dealing with you, I decided to reply to your letter, which lacked any of the necessary security measures. Please refrain from sending me such letters in the future.
Only you can read the letter I sent in return as the parchment only responds to your personal, magical signature, which is on record thanks to our analyses down in the Stone Chamber.
Harry's heart skipped a beat, but the Auror had obviously anticipated his reaction.
There is no need to panic. After you climbed the walls of Hogwarts with no hesitation, moving a brick of stone is practically nothing, though I am curious to know what you did with it and how you managed to defend yourself against a dark wizard like Quirrell who was influenced and advised by Lord Voldemort. For you to answer this question properly, I have attached a stack of parchment to the parcel, which is enchanted so that only I can view its content.
Also, be careful of mentioning any potential attachment I may have to the Longbottom family in future letters. It is too risky. Constant vigilance, Potter! It is important, otherwise you and the ones you love could come to harm. Especially considering that, after having come into close contact with an entity as dark as they come, willingly or not, a target has now been put on your back. You must exercise extra caution.
There is no harm to speak of those that already left us.
I knew your parents as allies fighting against the onslaught of Lord Voldemort. Beyond that, I hardly knew them. They were brave and had the misfortune of having grown up during a war, and they could not pursue any careers as the war was at its heights when they finished school.
I helped train them in combat, because their Defence Against the Dark Arts classes did not prepare them properly for what the other side could do to them. They were both very gifted and learned quickly. That is really all I can tell you about them. As they were more than thirty years my juniors, there was little to bond over beyond being on the same side in a terrible war. I respected them. Your mother's kindness is what comes to mind in particular. She was always very calm under pressure, and would have made an excellent healer one day, a career that held her interest, but then she had many interests. I met your father as a brave, young man who had left his wild days behind, but given his friends' occasional reactions, that was a rather recent development.
That is really all there is I can tell you about them.
If you have any additional questions, do not forget to use the parchment I sent you.
"What's up?" asked Neville as he walked next to Harry from their Potions class.
"Your uncle's a strange man."
Dear Mr Lupin
Thank you for elaborating on vampires and zombies and to reassure you, no, your information did not frighten me.
I doubt there is much you can do on the matter of bureaucracy, but thank you for the offer.
As far as questions are concerned, I have decided to talk to Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Snape and to Hagrid first. Professor Snape's reaction was by far the most interesting one. He did not say much, though I knew from hints provided by Mr Filch, that he was less than fond of my father, and in extension, you.
All he told me was to ask the following question:
- What did the aftermath of your first flying lessons, the aftermath of the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin Quidditch game in your second year, the train ride from Hogwarts to London in your third year, your final Potions exams in your fourth year and the aftermath of your Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL exams (a term he was kind enough to explain to me) in your fifth year have in common?
- What happened in the night of May 14, 1974?
I am quite curious to hear the answer to both questions. He does not like or trust you, and I have the distinct feeling he would be quite content never to see you ever again in his life, but he has also made clear that he does not believe you wish to cause me any harm (though such an answer had to be actively sought from my side). I am by no means naïve about Professor Snape's nature, but his hatred of you is too striking not to explore further from my side.
Hagrid's, Professors Flitwick's and Professor McGonagall's opinions of you are much more positive. From my conversations with them, many questions emerged. Today I will ask two lighthearted and two difficult questions. I will start with the lighthearted ones:
- What do you do for a living?
- What were my mother's and my father's favourite stories?
As for the difficult questions, I believe they must be obvious:
- Where were you during the war?
- Tell me about Sirius Black
I guess I should have asked questions about their favourite subjects (my mother loved Charms and Potions [provided by Professor Flitwick]; my father preferred Transfigurations above all else [Professor McGonagall]; both belonged to the best in their year [Hagrid]) and their favourite foods and colours, but while those questions Thought they are important, they will not provide me with the answers I need.
Harry read through the letter a second time, was satisfied with the improvement he had made on his ability to write in this first semester and folded the letter. It was not even six o'clock in the morning yet, and all his homework was finished. He figured neither Mr Lupin nor his next correspondence partner would appreciate if he neglected his education in order to write to them. He took another piece of parchment and began to write.
Dear Auror Moody,
Thank you for replying to my letter. Let me start by appreciating your honesty. Normally, adults tell me to be more trusting and they refrain from scaring the living daylight out of me (in person as well as via letter correspondence). Your mistrust of, well, everything, is rather refreshing.
Let me also tell you that you might want to consider letting Neville know that your association with him should be kept under wraps. When I first asked him, he did not mince his words to make clear just how much he adores and admires you.
That being said, you asked what happened with the brick of stone, but as you know, everything happened so fast that night, I cannot tell you for sure. Furthermore, surely, you do not need a child to tell you how they employed self-defence against an adult. I did not come out of that fight unscathed, and I have no wish for a similar experience in the future.
Thank you for telling me what you know about my parents. It is good to know that my mother wanted to become a healer. What I do not understand is how they supported themselves in those years between graduation and their deaths. Do you?
After folding the letter, Harry noticed that he still had time to finish the last and most important one of the three messages.
Before I begin with what's happening on my side, how is everyone? I know I'll see them soon, but it suddenly feels like it's going to take three years instead of weeks before I come home.
How're the little ones? It's been getting colder. Are they doing okay?
Things here at Hogwarts are… interesting.
Before you panic, let me tell you that I am well. Very well, in fact. There are no nightmares, new or old ones to haunt me (not worse than usual, anyway). I learn new things about magic everyday. Since your visit, my friendship to Susan, Hannah, Eloise as well as Blaise, Millicent and Theo has strengthened in a way I didn't believe was possible in such a short time. I trust them and they, specifically Theo, have proven that they trust me in return. They guard my secrets and they are always there to make sure I never feel alone. Telling them, admitting, where we come from, was the right call. Sometimes I feel like I have it all wrong: it's not that those with parents are Others; there may be things they don't understand – that I don't want them to understand, to be honest – but that does not prevent them from being supportive or compassionate, or understanding things that I don't.
I'm not sure what to think of the grown-ups, though. Professor Snape (I'm starting with him, because I know he's the one you're most curious to hear about) is true to his word: He leaves me be. He doesn't try to make me talk about anything, but when I have a question, he listens and provides proper answers. He's also still recovering from Quirrell's attack, his movements are stiffer than they were before; I imagine that he's still healing. He appears to be healing in other ways, too. Apparently, he's started to interact a lot more with the other Heads of House compared to before. Some of the older kids noticed that, anyway. I guess Hogwarts staff approves younger colleagues that nearly sacrifice themselves to protect their students.
Now, Professor Flitwick is the one I get the most. He's kind, he's fair, he's proud and he reminds me of Nilràu Natruk, though there is a lightness of heart to him that I've never seen in Natruk, at least not since I've known him. Sgrafur Taylok despises him; he looks at him the way some of the Others from the neighborhood looked at us: like we don't belong. I'm sure Sgrafur Taylok is an honourable goblin, otherwise he would not have been asked to represent goblin kin in Hogwarts, but his preconceptions of Professor Flitwick anger me. Thankfully, my interactions with him are limited to History class.
Professor Sprout is another story. She avoids me whenever she can; she's not unfriendly, but she seems… unsure? I don't know. I think she lets other Heads of House deal with me. It's not a problem, but the other Hufflepuffs are very fond of her, so they don't get that we just don't click, I guess. I'm fine with it, though. She's a nice lady, but I don't know how to talk to her. Professor McGonagall is easier. She's tough, she's lost people, and she's always willing to talk to me whenever I have questions; especially about my parents. Apart from Professor Snape and Professor Dumbledore, she knows most about my past, but she doesn't mention it either, thankfully. I don't want to talk about the headmaster. I haven't seen him since that night, and I'm glad about it.
Now, apart from the usual players, you won't believe whom I'm corresponding with: Auror Alastor Moody, the scary copper, who chased after me. I'm pretty sure his boss, Susan's aunt Amelia Bones, made him respond to my initial letter. She told me I could press charges, but turns out, the copper is close to Neville and Susan also spoke highly of him. Besides, I guess he apologised before anybody really forced him to. He's not an arse, at least. Very honest and not hesitant to tell me the hard truths, even if they're scary. Still… it's strange being friendly or somewhat civil with a copper, even by letter. I'll see if he responds to my next letter. I doubt it, though.
The most unexpected thing that happened was the letter from Remus Lupin. I'm still not sure what to think, to be honest. Professor Snape hates him, the others like him, and… I don't know; he seems okay, I guess. I can't judge someone from letters alone. I'll wait and see. Perhaps meeting him in a safe place, like my old hunting ground in London, will sway me in one or the other direction. If he doesn't turn out to be trustworthy, I'm confident he won't be able to follow me if I want to leave.
If anybody had told me that I would communicate voluntarily with so many grown-ups, I would have declared them insane up until starting at Hogwarts.
See you soon,
The next day was the first day since the whole correspondence with Mr Lupin started that he received no letter. When he received no letter the day after, Harry decided that he had probably scared the man away with his very blunt questions. It was better that way anyway. If the wizard could not handle these questions, he definitely would not be able to handle Harry's answers (not that he would offer those even if asked). He would not get into another quid pro quo game with an unknown entity; Professor Snape had been more than enough, thank you very much.
Instead of that, he spent the next days revising everything he had learned this semester and also, with recommendations from Professors Flitwick and Snape, he checked out a couple of books on Defence. He would need to expand his set of 'tricks' if he wanted to stand a chance against the dangers apparently lurking in the Wizarding world. Thankfully, he had company: Susan had joined enthusiastically, followed by Millicent, Blaise, later by Theo. Eloise and Hannah were not too far behind either. Neville's more hesitant participation was worth its weight in gold, because Auror Moody had taught him quite a few things. Ron and Hermione, never far away from Neville since his return, joined as well.
When there was no letter on the second night, he decided to write to a brother who had to be anxiously waiting for his letter. He took their notebook, opened it and wrote an almost identical message to the letter he sent to Char, but he also asked about Professor Flitwick and what Professor Taylok's problem was with him. He had noticed increased tension between his new teachers lately, just like he had noticed that the Daily Prophet seemed to be focusing a lot on goblin issues lately, which included a truly incredible, slanderous article from Skeeters stating that 'goblin-friendly staff' had been in charge the night of the attack (read: Professor Flitwick) and that it was suspicious that goblins were present for both incidences (correctly connecting the break-in at Gringotts with what happened at Hogwarts; the only thing she actually got right). So, he asked Kertak about that, too. He further asked him what to do with Mr Lupin and what he knew and thought of Auror Moody; whether he was fair with goblins or not. Once he was finished, he made his way down to the kitchen and sought out Trinky. He felt a bit bad for only seeing her twice since the attack, especially in the face of her delight and continued worry since that time he introduced her to Char.
"Harry Potter!" a high voice squeaked as soon as they entered the kitchen. Within the blink of an eye, Harry had an armful of very worried, overly protective elf in his embrace.
"Trinky," he wheezed when her arms strengthened their already remarkable grip, which effectively cut off his air supply. "Lungs… Necessary for oxygen."
She profusely apologised, then asked how he was doing and whether he should already be out of bed before she proceeded to order him to eat more. She also said that the Shri had told them he was in trouble and out of their reach, though they had not been able to say why. They could not reach him, which had distressed them quite a bit.
"Who are the Shri, Trinky?" asked Harry.
Trinky's big eyes widened even more, "Elven kin, Harry Potter, just… elven kin."
She did not say the whole truth, but Harry let it slide, though his curiosity was peaked. Did those belong to the elves that did not show themselves to humans like Nilràu Natruk had mentioned? Instead of further questioning her, he decided to introduce Char.
Char had fascinated the elves. Given how attuned they were to magic, it had thrilled them to meet a being 'completely void of magic. Full of light and heart, this one, but no magic…at all'. Char in return had spent hours letting himself be shown around in their kitchen, seeing their magic. They would have kept him and Char would have gladly stayed (so much food!), but at some point, Harry and Char had to leave.
Despite how much he had neglected them, the elves were very happy to see Harry and the boy swore to always take his time to meet his hard-working friends down here as well. He should probably make sure that his friends down here were properly introduced to his other friends at Hogwarts.
He also decided to make or buy something for them over Christmas. He thanked Trinky profusely for making sure the notebook ended up in Kertak's hands. Trinky would get something extra nice for Christmas, though he had no idea what.
"Trinky, what do you do when you're not working?" asked Harry out of the blue.
"Not working, Harry Potter, sir?" Confused eyes looked at him.
"Off work. Leisure time. What do you do on your days off?"
"Days off? House-elves don't have days off."
The ending of Calà's Heart came to mind unbidden.
The sun bid goodnight and Calà lit a fire,
which would shine for her kind sire, and their child.
It was a moonless night yet the stars shone bright.
Calà looked out into the shadow, yet she saw the meadow,
the grass, the lake, and there, just at the very edge, the mighty tree.
A teardrop fell unheard and still onto the sill.
She may be content, but she was not free.
Closing her eyes, she opened her heart.
In her mind, she danced under the oak and the bark.
"Trinky," he whispered quietly. "I'm sorry."
"Whatever for, Harry Potter, sir?"
How could she not know?
"For taking you away from the oak and the bark."
He did not know what he expected; denial perhaps, claiming ignorance or genuinely not knowing what he was talking you about. What he did not expect was a very kind smile.
"Oh, Harry Potter, sir," she replied just as softly. "We wouldn't even know how to dance anymore."
Somehow, that statement made his eyes sting. "That makes it even worse."
Trinky's hands gently enclosed his, "Do not worry about us. We is content."
"But you aren't free."
"Perhaps not," said Kryka, the oldest elf in the kitchen. It was then when Harry realised that all eyes were on him. It was as if he had told the end of Calà's Heart out loud. "But then, is anyone?" He had no idea what to reply to that question.
Later, after they distracted him with much more lighthearted comments, Harry left the kitchen with a heavy heart and deeply in thought. The letter from Mr Lupin, which was delivered by Hedwig later that night, was a more than welcome distraction.
While your questions made me reflect on the past more than I expected from your second letter, I also remembered that your father was not one to mince his words, either.
Let me address the questions in the order they were asked:
- What did the aftermath of your first flying lessons, the aftermath of the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin Quidditch game in your second year, the train ride from Hogwarts to London in your third year, your final Potions exams in your fourth year and the aftermath of your Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL exams (a term he was kind enough to explain to me) in your fifth year have in common?
The history between your father and Professor Snape is long and bitter. Both committed various injustices over the years. The bitterness also stemmed from mutual jealousy as they both competed for the friendship of Lily Evans. I am not sure if Professor Snape mentioned it to you, but he was quite close friends with your mother when they were younger, but a disagreement in their fifth year destroyed whatever fondness was left from their earlier childhood. However, I am ashamed to say that, during the events Professor Snape mentioned, your father attacked or harmed him without provocation. There is no justification for any of your father's actions during either of these instances. Your father was a good man, but in his earlier years, having grown up as an only child of rich, elderly parents who had given up on the idea of having children, he had grown up in a rather idyllic and wealthy home with little understanding or compassion for those lacking in either. As a result, he had a tendency to mock those less fortunate than him. It is and was quite inexcusable, and to my shame, I must admit that I never stopped him. Thankfully, as he grew older, he stopped doing so and became one of the most compassionate souls I ever knew. To this day, I regret never asking him whether he felt bad for some of his actions in his earlier school years. Knowing him, cherishing him as a great, loyal friend, I believe he did.
- What happened in the night of May 6, 1974?
Oh Harry. I hoped to see you before you ask me to reveal my own dark secrets, but then, it is only prudent that you know. I am a werewolf.
Harry gasped. He knew very little about them, only what Kertak had said at some point ("Poor, poor souls. It is a terrible condition that I would not wish on any wizard or witch. Goblins do not become werewolves, but the infection usually kills us unless the bites are immediately treated. Werewolves in their moonstruck form tend to hunt humans rather than goblins, however. Without the full moon, they are human like any other: some good, some bad"), but it was shocking revelation. That Wolfsbane Potion he mentioned sounded like a true marvel. The man further told him of the night Sirius Black's taunting had nearly killed Professor Snape and how his father had interfered just in time.
I guess you may not want to finish this letter, but let me answer the rest of your questions nevertheless.
- What do you do for a living?
It is very hard for people like me to acquire steady jobs. I always wanted to teach, but no Board of Governors in their right mind would ever accept me as a teacher. I do very odd jobs here and there, but as soon as my condition is known, I usually need to look for new occupation. Recent and upcoming regulations make it more and more difficult to find work. After school, your father was kind enough to support me financially. These days, my income is steady enough, so that I can live from it. I am sorry this answer is not as lighthearted as your question.
- What were my mother's and my father's favourite stories?
That is an excellent question. Your parents were both avid readers. Your mother was utterly engrossed with the book Watership Down by Muggle author Richard Adams when it came out. I remember her reading and talking about it for ages. I believe it remained one of her favorite stories as she grew up. Other than that, we did not talk much sbout stories, I am afraid. James loved everything that could be found between two covers, as long as it contained pages and a story. He did not read nearly as much as I make it sound, however, given there were so many other things he deemed to be more important, but once his nose was in a book, it was difficult to remove him from it. Among his favorite stories were the Song of the Selkie and Beware the Living Shroud written by Ugaine Udale and Flavius Belby, respectively.
- Where were you during the war?
I was helping my friends trying to prevent Lord Voldemort from destroying everything I had come to cherish. There is not much more to say. Wars are cruel and they aged us more than normal life ever could. We had to grow up very quickly, but then, from what I know and have read so far, even without fighting an actual war, I think you will understand that.
- Tell me about Sirius Black
Once upon a time, Sirius Black was one of my closest and dearest friends. I loved him as fiercely as I loved James. He was my brother and I was blind that he had turned into a monster. I have tried to find the moment his loyalties shifted, but I cannot be sure. Was it because I let him taunt others, especially Severus? Did it happen after he ran away from his family to live with James, or was that kind of mindset already given to him years earlier? I do not know, and while a part of me wishes to have the answers, I am not sure if I could bear it once I do.
I hope I could provide you with the answers you need and I also hope that I did not scare you away.
"Has your uncle written another letter?" asked Susan kindly, having noticed his expression, which Millicent had named his 'Harry trying to figure out an adult' look.
"Yeah," muttered Harry in reply. The man had been much more honest than he could have expected. No wonder he had taken his time with his reply. This letter contained hardly any platitudes, only cold, hard facts and Harry was grateful for it. If Lupin wanted something from Harry, this was not the way to go about it.
Still, he had a few things to think about.
Given how you asked, it won't surprise you to hear that Luke had a hard time sleeping lately. He... The nightmares were pretty bad and we decided it's best for Luke, Grey, Sara and me to share a bedroom for the time being. His dreams subsided after that, but we're all really looking forward to your return. Sara's barely spoken of anything else.
Harry flinched at that. He had been so busy, he had started to miss his family less and less as he had immersed himself into the world of wizards. It had been a constant ache, but not this glaring hole it had been in the beginning.
Other than that, I don't have a lot of news. Well, the results from the contest are back: I won third place, which came along with a hundred (!) pound voucher for art supplies and a trip to the Slade School of Fine Art. Pretty nice, though I wish it was just money not a voucher.
You chose good people, you always do, but it's good you see it too. I'm glad they're there for you when we can't. Snape's good people, too. I've only seen glimpses of the rest, but Flitwick seemed like the right person to have in your corner. Same for Professor McGonagall. The thing with Sprout will work out, too, guess she didn't have to deal with too many like you: unbroken ones, you know. I feel like the spirited ones with bad pasts end up in Slytherin, at least that's the impression Snape gave me.
Now Moody is a different story… I'm laughing, you know, because who'd have thought that Harry, my brother, would become penpals with a copper? Don't get me wrong, I support it, though that particular one's scary as hell. But it's strange 'cause you hate them, much more than I ever did, much more than even Grey. He's scared of them, but you despise them. It's good to see you don't conflate the incompetence of guys like Cline with the okay ones.
Be careful with the Lupin guy, okay? Meeting him in London sounds like a good strategy (though make sure Kertak's nearby when you do!). I know you won't ever be confident in your judgment of him until you haven't at least met with him once.
Talk to you soon. I'll be waiting for you.
Before he questioned his choices yet again, Harry wrote a short letter to Mr Lupin… or Remus.
First, let me thank you for your honesty. I appreciated it. Second, perhaps I am ignorant due to the way I grew up, but you being a werewolf is not a deterrent for me to get to know you better.
Your last letter gave me a lot to think about, which is why I will refrain from saying anything on these matters for now.
The reason I am writing to you already is a simple one: Christmas break is coming up. What would you say if we met in front of the Leaky Cauldron in London (Non-magic side) on December 31 around 11 o'clock?
It would make future communication much easier.
Trinky personally delivered the notebook one evening to the Hufflepuff Basement. Her answer on how she did it was cryptic at best ('Wizards delivers everything through air. It's fast, sirs, I grant you, but Earth is faster if you know where to look'). Harry took the opportunity to introduce her to his Hufflepuff friends. Eloise was particularly delighted with her.
He read Kertak's message once he was in the dorm when his peers were already asleep.
Filius Flitwick is a very complicated matter that should better be discussed when we meet face to face, which will happen soon.
While I wish to tell you more about the current political climate, I would be lying if I said I knew what was happening. There are furious voices asking for reparations for the Daily Prophet's unsubstantiated claims, others call for tolerance and patience. It is difficult to say what the outcome will be. However, the matter is serious enough to call together a meeting of the second highest caste this spring, which rarely happens. As a member of the common caste, I may not say more, but Nilràu Natruk sends his regards and would like to let you know that the thirty-six rukàl will meet on March 6 next year.
My own studies are going well and I am glad to hear that you have made progress in the world of wand-wielding. In fact, I am quite curious to hear more about what you have learned.
In regards to Mr Lupin, I think it is good to proceed with caution while keeping an open heart. I fully trust your instincts; they will not lead you astray. As for Auror Moody, he is known as a fair soul: harsh and relentless, but he acts with little prejudice against non-human magical beings or creatures. His only prejudice has and will always be against those who were suspected or were proven to have allied with Him Who Must Not Be Named. I fully support you corresponding with him; it is good to have an ally like Auror Alastor Moody.
I am looking forward to seeing you soon.
In two days, the train leaves for London and I can barely sleep; I keep tossing and turning in my bed. I cannot wait to be home.
Tell Char and the others that I Iove them.
Have you written another letter to Bones? She decided to soften my punishment on grounds of 'good behaviour', which is a first. If you did, I need to know what your motives are. If you did not, well, many thanks to whoever extracted me from this boring hell called 'desk duty'.
Honesty is an honourable trait that should be employed whenever it is wise to do so. Mistrust of strangers is a necessity that most people will never truly understand, but I am glad to hear that you do. The thing with honesty is, however, that I am good at recognising falsehoods. You lied to me just like you lied to another auror that interrogated you. While lying to law enforcement cannot be abetted, I approve of your lack of trust in a virtual stranger. Keep it up, Potter!
Thank you for telling me about the behaviour of our mutual acquaintance. I will talk to them.
As far as I know, your father's inheritance supported them financially after they left Hogwarts. I do not know about your father's future dreams, but he was a very gifted wizard who would have grown bored doing nothing, but then that was before you were born. Given how he talked about you, he may have decided to raise you, so that Lily could pursue her dreams. Others will know more about that.
Before I finish this letter, let me remind you that you must be vigilant at all times, especially during the winter holidays. Pickpockets and worse will wait around every corner.
I look forward to meeting you in front of the Leaky Cauldron on December 31 at 11 o'clock.
A/N 1: Snape's DADA interaction is paraphrased from HBP, chapter "The Half-Blood Prince", page 169 (Bloomsbury Publishing, First Edition)
A/N 2: I am fully aware that there was supposed to be a new DADA teacher every year since Tom Riddle cursed the position but, even though we don't have an exact timeline, let's play a game with numbers:
If the meeting between Dumbledore and Riddle took place in 1969 (one year before the first war officially started), it would mean that until 1991, there were 22 teachers (21 since Quirrellmort was able to return as a teacher) since the curse; that's the kind of number I cannot believe; so I just assume that every kid had at least two or three different teachers throughout their education but not seven.
A/N 3: I may be capable of stringing sentences together into a somewhat acceptable story, but I'm not an artist like Char. However, if anyone has a good idea or wishes to design the Avatar/story image of "Building Bridges", you are more than welcome to do so. I have wanted to change the icon for ages, but my abilities in the Arts department are seriously impaired.