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OLD MAGIC

Chapter Text

It was near dusk and the air was foul with evil. The huge man stood staring at the burned out wreck that had once been a warm and comfortable home full of love.

He had tried to get here swiftly, warnings and portents having told him something wicked was walking Godric's Hollow, but an untimely call for help had detoured him so he arrived too late. Now all he could do was stare in anger and despair.

Standing there waiting for the rest of the order to arrive, a faint cry reached his ears. It came from the house. Frowning in concern, he hurried forward, pushing his way through the nearly blocked entryway. The door had been smashed to pieces but it was parts of the demolished roof that now choked the entryway. However, it proved to be no deterrent to the man who simply bulled his way in.

The cold, anguished-faced body of James met his gaze as it lay in the living area where the father had tried to stop the enemy. Shaking his head in sorrow, the man offered up a prayer for the departed wizard then continued on up the barely intact staircase. In a small bedroom with a huge hole in the ceiling clear to the roof, lay another cooling body. Lily looked as if she were asleep but he knew it was a lie. Her lovely smile and warm laughter were gone forever now.

The soft cry, he'd followed up here, came again, emanating from a dark corner of the room. The crib was upended as was an old rocker nearby but he was able to navigate around them to reach the origin of the sound. Poor little Harry Potter huddled there, emerald eyes filled with horror. A red smear of blood glistened on his forehead just visible in the flickering light of a nearby candle still sitting on a small table that had somehow survived the violence.

Making soothing sounds, the man carefully approached the child and knelt. His gentle manner and voice convinced the one year old the man meant no harm. Unhesitatingly, he raised his arms anxiously seeking comfort.

Smiling warmly, the man picked up the tiny child who nearly vanished within his big arms then stood up carefully.

Pressing his head against the man's huge chest, little hands clutching the rough shirt, Harry felt safe and protected.

The man wrapped his thick coat protectively around the child then carefully retraced his steps to the outside. There was no sign of anyone about. He stood for a moment in thought then came to a decision. Raising his left hand, he muttered a spell and made a strange gesture. Instantly, a blue glow covered the home and grounds for a few moments before winking out.

Satisfied the man hurried away from the house and into the darkening woods, vanishing into the deepening darkness.

Barely ten minutes had passed before a tall, lean, scarecrow of a man with lank, black hair appeared suddenly in the front yard. Making no move to enter the home, the man waved his wand, spoke a spell then waited. The results rent a scream of wordless grief and anguish from his mouth. With unshed tears glittering in his black eyes, the man disappeared in the blink of an eye.

His image had barely dissipated when barreling from the woods came a huge, shaggy, black dog. It came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the forest and stared, panting. Abruptly, it dashed to the house porch, halted again, sniffed the air, then made cautious entry, nose leading the way. But only minutes later it came racing out heading for the forest in a flat out run as if hell was chasing it, howling it's grief to the heavens. It too vanished from view.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"James and Lily are dead and there's no sign of the child," a dark cloaked man stated grimly to a tall wizard holding aloft his wand to provide light as the sullen moon did little to aid them in their search.

"You can't find a trail...anything to tell us his fate?" The tall wizard demanded, his face tight and worried.

"No sir ... sorry. All we've been able to find were the obvious evidence that death eaters had done this but if someone else had been here to whisk the child away, they left no trace of themselves."

"There's something else here ... ," a grizzled and battle-scarred wizard suddenly interrupted, his magical eye rolled in its socket reflecting his agitation. "There's a lingering trace of old, old magic. Nothing like modern wizards or even death eaters use."

Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, frowned. Turning away from his associates, he stared at the remains of the Potter's home, his mind working furiously. The salvation of the wizarding world was missing, lost, or kidnapped. They had to find him. But where to look? He shook his head and sighed. No matter how long it took, they must find the boy. Failure meant evil would soon swallow up their world and that must never happen. With a heavy heart he prepared for a long hunt.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Far away from the tragic scene, a huge man strode tirelessly through the forest until he came to a quiet glen at the very heart of the woods. Halting, he raised two fingers to his mouth and whistled a piercing note. In ten minutes there was a response. Out of the darkness an odd shape stalked sedately from between two huge oak trees. It stopped some twenty feet from the man. Pawing the ground with one hoofed foot, it raised its head, gave a harsh caw and flapped enormous wings. It cocked its head questioningly.

The big man made a bow with just his head, eyes firmly focused on the creature's own then waited. The creature returned the bow, lowering its long neck halfway to the ground before raising up and staring with sharp yellow eyes at the man, waiting.

In quiet tones, the man said, "Greetings, my old friend. I need yer help. This be a foul night, full of wicked deeds, and this little one has paid the price of it. I needs to take him to me mum's home. Are ye willin'?"

The creature had been listening intently. When the man finished, it raised its head and gave another caw before walking fearlessly toward the man, stopping as he came along side his friend.

"Thank ye. May yer family line never falter and always fly the skies in peace," the man said then climbed onto the creature's back, grabbing hold of the neck feathers.

With another roar of sound, the creature raced over the ground, down sweeping its broad wings, before leaping upward using its powerful legs. Surging upward, it reached a respectable distance from the ground within minutes before leveling off and heading south and east through the midnight sky.

Dawn's rosy glow was creeping over the land when the long flight ended. The creature made a smooth landing, not disturbing the smallest passenger it carried when it hit the ground at a run that slowed to a walk. It trotted the rest of the distance to a huge cottage that nestled beneath the trees at the edge of the forest. The view from the cottage's broad porch was of a pristine lake where water fowl floated majestically across its nearly glass-like surface. To the right of the dwelling, fields of grain, ready for harvest, waved in the morning breeze. Beyond that were orchards laden with a variety of ripe fruit needing to be plucked before winter set in. Behind the cottage, a small barn resided nearly hidden in the trees, where the voices of many animals bawled for their breakfast.

Reaching the porch, the creature bugled a call as it halted, allowing its passengers to climb off.

"Thank ye again for yer kindness." The man stepped away from his ride and gave another polite nod of his head. Dipping its head briefly in return, the creature turned and raced off, leaping into the sky just moments later, flying back the way it had come.

The creature's bugle had brought a few of the occupants of the cottage out to see what the hullabaloo was about. A huge woman, taller by two heads than the man who'd arrived, blinked in surprise. "Rubeus! How wonderful to see you but why are ye here?" She cried, stepping from the porch and hurrying toward him.

"Something terrible I'm afraid and be easy with the hugs, mum. The wee bundle I hold can't take a giant's greeting," Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys of Hogwarts, warned his mother, gently fending off her attentions.

"Ach now! Where didst this wee bairn come from?" She asked halting beside him and looking down at the bundle he held. Using one of her large fingers, she gently moved the blanket covering the child's face to peer at it closely.

"This be Harry Potter. Lily and James were slain by Voldemort last night. I arrived too late to save them." His voice was harsh with anger and sadness.

She sighed. "Ah son ... even you cannot be everywhere. Do not berate yourself so over it. It's on Voldemort's shoulders the blame be set and no other." She gently patted her son on the back. "So, this be the savior of the wizarding world, eh. Well, he's nothing but a wee thing right now. Let's be going inside where its warmer and we'll talk of why you and he are here." She turned away and walked back to the cottage, Hagrid following two steps behind her.

In the doorway, another face peered out, curious but shy. As the two reached the door, Hagrid smiled down at the smaller figure watching them.

"I see you have company, mum."

"Aye, this be little Farley," his mother said, smiling. "He's your sister, Sherilyn's, fourth child. I'm just babysitting for a bit while she's off on one of her jaunts around the world. The other bairns are with her but little Farley didn't want to go so I said he could stay with me."

The small boy (though truly he was as tall as a twenty year old human) was only six years old and stared up at Hagrid with wide, curious eyes.

"Hello, there nephew. I'm your Uncle Rubeus and how are you this early morn?"

Eyeing his uncle for a moment thoughtfully, Farley suddenly smiled, making him look rather angelic with his mop of blond hair and bright blue eyes. "I be fine uncle. What you got there?"

"This be a very important little wizarding baby what had his parents killed last night. He's now all alone 'cept for us. Do you think you could be his friend? He's going to need one so he won't be lonely or sad once he's old enough to understand what he's lost."

Farley's eyes grew round at the tale of the little baby then very sad when his uncle finished. "Ohhh, the poor thing. Yes, I be his friend, Uncle and I will protect him from all the bad men too!" He swore, his face solemn.

"There's a good lad." Hagrid ruffled the boy's hair affectionately before walking into the warm, homey kitchen where his mother had gone to make some cocoa for them.

"Here, son, let's set little Harry in yonder cradle near the fire. He'll be warmer there and you can watch him for us, Farley...yes you may take your cup with you...there's a good laddie," Hagrid's mother said warmly as she set three steaming mugs on the table then handed one to her grandson.

Hagrid had done as she asked, placing Harry in the huge, beautifully carved, cradle. His mother tucked a few blankets around the child to make him feel more secure since he was completely dwarfed by his new bed, then left Farley, who had taken a seat beside the bed, to watch over little Harry.

"Come! Sit down at the table with me, Rubeus." She took a seat and her son sat across from her at the big oak table. "So, you wish me to help care for the wee bairn, eh? This be a grave responsibility you are undertaking Rubeus." Concern was on her face as she eyed him thoughtfully.

"Aye, I knowt it. But we knew this day might come. Elder Jason told everyone what to do if sommit like this happened. He knew what a threat the Dark One would be and what the spirits of the forest had warned we must do if this came to pass and how to save our world from the evil that walks among us. The foretold child will be guided down wrong paths by his kind so it be up to us, the forest folk, to set the lad on the right one."

"Meaning teach him the old ways." She confirmed, nodding to herself as she too remembered the warning they'd been given two years earlier.

"Aye, the old ways can help him better prepare for the prophecy laid upon him. Though, I haven't forgotten he needs to know wizarding ways too so I won't hold him back when he receives his letter from Hogworts. However, we must make certain he knows muggle ways too. Long has wizarding society ignored muggle kind to the sorrow of us all. While we sit in the dark ages, muggles have pushed forward and created things that help mankind but have also invented other more terrible things that they've already inflicted upon themselves and our world. It would not take much for them to turn those death dealing things upon wizarding kind." His face was grim as he remembered all that he'd learned over the past decade.

"Tis good to know you've paid attention during those stuffy elder meetings." She flashed him a brief smile of amusement. "We have been forcibly reminded muggle inventions are powerful enough to wipe all life from this world as we observed their destructive ways during all their endless wars but even more so the most recent ones they are involved in now, while wizard kind blithely ignores the danger. That fool, Voldemort is so fixated on his pure blood bigotry, he fails to see the true danger hovering outside our small world and continues to treat muggles with disdain and undeserved scorn. His intrusions into their world will not go unnoticed for long and will eventually bring down a terrible retribution on us from the muggles with their knowledge of science."

Hagrid could only nod. "Aye, tis true, mother. I fear for our lives if Voldemort isn't stopped soon."

Friends of theirs that lived half in the muggle world and half the wizarding one, made it their business to keep the old ones current on muggle affairs. All he had heard had only reinforced his fear for the magical world's continued existence. The modern world outside the outmoded and slow to advance wizarding society was a far more deadlier enemy than all the armies Voldemort was trying to raise.

"Tis a shame we could not use some of those muggle ways to take care of Voldemort ourselves. But being in spirit form makes it hard to capture the evil thing so we are left doing this the hard way and continuing to lose many a friend as we try to put an end to him."

Hagrid snorted in agreement then sighed. He could only concur with her assessment. Their only hope lay with Harry Potter and the training they could give him.

He let his mind drift back two years to the passionate speech Elder Jason had given the Elder council. He was the one who had advocated training the child expected by the Potters in the old ways when the prophecy had first been heard and the spirits had told them who the prophecy pertained to. Though the plan had been to approach Lily and James to gain their permission, that was no longer necessary. Jason's ringing words filtered back to him with the same clarity as when he'd first heard them.

"I'm warning you all ... muggles can wipe us out despite our use of spells and incantations simply because they out number us a 100 to one due to their much faster breeding. They already cover the earth in numbers that have us hemmed in. And let us not forget what muggles are like when they panic, becoming a deadly unthinking mob that will kill in fear and hatred for that which they don't understand." His eyes glowed with passion as he laid out the threat many had not wanted to believe existed.

"It isn't just their weapons, bombs, and modern vehicles wizard kind has to fear. Muggle science has also developed viruses and plagues that could decimate whole populations and there is no way to know if magical races are immune until it be too late. And, lastly, with the muggles abilities to see and be anywhere in the world in seconds with their communications systems and in person, within hours, by way of their vehicles and planes, our ability to apparate is no longer an advantage. Our only protection is our magical barrier but that won't hide us for long if Voldemort keeps attacking them. Once the muggles realize whole villages are being decimated, their tenacious nature will keep them digging to find out why and retaliate. So I say to you now, we must step in and take control of our future and that future is the Potter child."

Hagrid remembered the outrage and objections those attending hurled at Jason but the half giant didn't back down and was firm in his belief of the danger that faced them. After more than four days of heated debates, discussions, and deliberations by the council which was comprised of one member from all the magical races except wizards because they considered them part of the problem, it was decided the Potter's progeny would be trained in the old ways. However, no one had determined who would take on this responsibility by the time the meeting ended. Jason soothed them by saying the spirits of the forest would decide who that would be when the time came.

Apparently, he knew something none of them did because here Hagrid was in the unenviable position of taking on the responsibility but he wouldn't have it any other way. He had loved Lily and James and he was certain he would love Harry just as much so it wouldn't be a burden for him to do this for them.

His mother interrupted his introspection with a pointed comment. "So, little Harry will become our advocate for moving wizard kind toward the future and better relations with the muggles, eh?"

"Yes, that's the hope ... besides, of course, doing away with that evil spirit still lurking about."

She looked over at the cradle, a thoughtful expression on her face. "A heavy burden for such a tiny thing," she mused.

"Aye, it tis, but with many good friends and mentors at his back, Harry should rise to the occasion." As Hagrid eyed the cradle too, a feeling of heavy sorrow settled in his heart over what the child would face as he grew older. "Don't worry Harry, I'll always be by yer side," he solemnly promised.

"As will we all," his mother murmured.

Chapter Text


It was a grimmer than normal meeting of the Order of the Phoenix that met in Grimmauld Place two weeks after the tragedy at Godric's Hollow. A lengthy search turned up no sign of the Potter's child, Harry and, at first, they thought he'd been taken by Voldemort.

However, they had since learned Voldemort had destroyed his physical body when he tried to kill the child after dispatching the parents. Apparently the Avada Kedvra cast on Harry boomeranged back on the Dark Lord but somehow failed to take the child's life as well. They did know Harry was injured by the small spot of blood found under the rocker in the nursery that proved to be his but did not indicate how badly the baby had been hurt.

"So we're free of the Dark Lord at last?" An anxious and hopeful Doge asked.

"Extremely doubtful," Moody grunted, his face set in grim lines, his magical eye roving restlessly as it monitored everything around them.

Doge eyed the old auror with anger and confusion. "How can he be alive with no body?"

Dumbledore grimaced. His blue eyes that usually twinkled with warmth and good humor, now reflected sorrow and cold fury making the other members shiver a bit, reminding them just how powerful and intelligent the man truly was despite his facade of being slightly dotty. He cut in before Moody could respond, his voice heavy with certainty.

"Alas, Tom Riddle spent far too much of his life in magical research, searching for ways to become immortal. He has succeeded in mastering many dark and evil magic so it is with more certainty than I wish, that I know he has found a way to remain in this world despite being only a spirit. He will be focused on keeping his spirit alive through heinous and dark methods while he locates a way to regain a body."

Everyone except Moody, shuddered at the thought of that evil regaining a body to continue his reign of terror.

"Until he does, his spirit can still cause all manner of misery. His death eaters are very much alive and still following his last orders," Moody added.

"Then what of little Harry? How had he managed to survive the killing curse?" Molly Weasley asked, more concerned for the baby now lost to them than Voldemort's present whereabouts.

"Old magic! Lily's sacrifice of herself for Harry created a protection Voldemort could not break through which is why the unforgivable rebounded," Dumbledore explained, patiently.

"Then he's alive." Molly's voice held a hesitant note.

"The Hogwarts Attendance Book still lists him as a prospective student so Harry is alive. But where he is and who has him, is a mystery which our members have tried to solve without success since the incident occurred." Dumbledore looked even graver as he reported their failure. "If we don't find him before that time, we must hope he will appear at Hogwarts when he reaches eleven."

"But, that means someone else will raise him! How do we know he's not in evil hands?" Molly exclaimed, very upset.

"We won't stop looking for him, Molly, my dear, but other than what's being done now, there is nothing else we can do. I sincerely hope he is in gentle, caring arms this moment. I refuse to entertain otherwise." Dumbledore prayed he was right though it had ruined his own plans for molding the boy into the weapon they needed him to be. He only hoped he could make up for lost time when little Harry attended Hogwarts.

None of them were happy with that answer but as the Headmaster had said, there was nothing more any of them could do.

Just as the meeting was breaking up, the front door slammed open and moment's later, Sirius Black charged wildly into the kitchen of his ancestral home where everyone was gathered.

"Has anyone seen Peter Pettigrew?" he demanded, fairly thrumming with anger and concern.

Moody and Lupin eyed him in surprise.

"Not recently. Why, is he missing?" Remus Lupin asked his best friend.

"He was James and Lily's secret keeper."

"What? But I thought you were..." Arthur Weasley blurted in shocked surprise.

"I was supposed to be but I told James it wasn't a good idea with the death eaters sniffing closely on my heels so we decided Peter should take the responsibility. When I discovered what had happened at James’ home, I raced to Peter but could find no trace of him." Sirius was practically pulling his hair out as he paced the kitchen.

"This is grave news. I want a search made for Peter immediately. We need answers," Dumbledore ordered. Remus, Moody, and Doge hurriedly went out to do his bidding. Sirius began to follow them when the Headmaster halted him.

"What do you think has happened?" he asked.

Sirius stared longingly at the door but forced himself to stay still and answer. "I think those bastards have done something to him otherwise they wouldn't have found James and Lily." Suddenly, a horrified look crossed his face. "Harry! Dumbledore where's Harry?"

"Unfortunately, someone spirited away the boy before any of us arrived on the scene..." Dumbledore began to say when Sirius nearly screamed in fear and frustration. "Sirius! Calm yourself. The boy is not with the death eaters...that much we were able to ascertain but who has him is a mystery. We can only hope it is someone who cares for him and before you say it...no...he is not dead. We are certain of this."

Sirius' shoulders slumped in relief. "Then it’s more important than ever we find him and Peter. Let me go, Dumbledore! There are other places I know of to search."

"Very well, but be careful. Report to me on anything you find."

"I will." With that final comment, Sirius whirled around and raced from the room. The sound of the front door was heard, slamming.

"Oh headmaster, I dearly hope they find little Harry," Molly said.

"I hope they do to, Molly and soon."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It had been a bleak October when Harry Potter went missing and now it was August and a new school year was about to begin.  The Headmaster stared down at the latest report he'd received in the hunt for the Potter's son. Shaking his head in angry dismay, he flashed the missive into ash with a muttered word then turned to stare pensively out his window at the sunny day.

With the school year about to begin, may of his hunters would be forced to return to prepare their lessons and classrooms. The rest of the Order of the Phoenix would have to continue the search on top of their normal duties of ferreting out marauding death eaters and traitors to the light.

He worried how the boy was doing and in whose hands he was now residing. The thought that someone could be abusing him right this moment snuck into his thoughts, sending shivers down his spine but he squashed it and did what he had told Molly to do, think only positive thoughts about Harry's guardians.

It frustrated him deeply that not a whisper came their way of the baby's location. As he replayed those first few days after the horrible discovery, two things disturbed him, where had Hagrid been? And where was Peter Pettigrew.

Hagrid had been tasked with delivering an urgent message to James and Lily that very night. Recent intelligence had told them there was a strong possibility Voldemort was on the move and that they might be the target.

The fact Hagrid was not at Godric's Hollow when the Order arrived was worrisome, even more so when it took nearly twenty-four hours before he suddenly appeared at the castle as the morning light of another day was rising.

He had called an early meeting with a few of the members of the light to discuss what happened.  Moody, McGonagall, and himself, were in his office when Hagrid burst in.

"Where have you been?" Moody barked, slamming his staff on the floor in angry agitation. "You were supposed to have been there to warn James and Lily."

"Yes sore, I know...I'm sorry. But I was pulled away by an urgent plea for help by the centaur leader. I had to respond. We need them on our side you know. Anyways... I got free as fast as I could but it were too late," Hagrid said, anguish and distress plain on his face and in his voice at his failure while displaying more skill at hiding the real truth of that night's events than any there would have guessed or believed possible.

"Then where were you when we arrived?" Moody demanded, not placated, his magical eye scanning the half-giant for any whiff of a lie but detecting none.

"Fang and me went hunting in the Forbidden Forest hoping we'd catch a scent of who might have taken the wee tyke or encounter any of the forest dwellers that might have seen what went on. Unfortunately, whoever it were, left nothing behind to track and none noted their passing. Finally gave it up about dawn this morning. Took me this long to get back. Sorry."

The story sounded totally plausible and none felt the need to press the giant further, though Dumbledore couldn't shake the feeling Hagrid wasn't telling them the complete truth but that just wasn't possible. Everyone knew Hagrid as a simple soul, not given to lying nor doing it well when he did.

He sighed and shelved his misgivings on that subject. Another problem also vexed him. During that first week's search, Sirius had come to them asking where was Peter Pettigrew? Since that night, he searched over the past months for the man with no luck.

Checking Pettigrew's home after the incident at Godric's Hollow, found nothing disturbed...it appeared he had left for the day but never returned. A thorough canvas of the area and all his contacts could find no one who had seen him recently which was suspicious in and of itself.

The suspicion that Pettigrew might have had a hand in what happened to the Potters was growing among his former colleagues. His best friend couldn't believe it but the evidence was mounting that Peter wasn't innocent and a slow fury was beginning to build within Sirius.

When the order met at Grimmauld place,  more than two months after the event, he arrived looking worn out and angry. At this meeting he had nothing good to say about his former friend.

"What little I've been able to gather is he's been distant, almost secretive of late. When I asked him, the last time I saw him in the Three Broomsticks what he'd been up to lately, as none of us had seen much of him the past few months...he'd said he was trying to keep under the radar of You Know Who."

"What? Why would he think he was under observation? He wasn't involved in the Light's work and his job certainly wouldn't have gained him any watchers," Arthur Weasley asked, frowning.

"I asked him that and he said he'd heard rumors that somehow the Dark Lord had learned he was the secret keeper. It terrified him so he kept a low profile to avoid any death eaters," Sirius told him, though his voice clearly said he was skeptical.


"That's nonsense. Peter had only been made the secret keeper a month before. We’d hoped the Dark Lord’s minions would believe Sirius was the keeper and go after him, keeping our friends and their baby safe," Remus objected.

"But no one did...come after me that is, and it appears Peter conveniently vanished after our friends were killed and hasn't been seen anywhere since," Sirius snarled. "He was always a follower and bit of a coward. It's possible he was captured and spilled the beans without much force being used." Disgust oozed from his voice.

"Humph...I have to agree with you. It's entirely possible he was taken. Everything is pointing to that possibility. He might have even decided to change sides," Moody scowled, not liking the thought of a former Light member turning traitor. They needed to find out if this was true or not and deal him quickly before more damage was done.

By this point, all of the members were dismayed and angry that one of their own could turn on them so easily. Those that knew Peter personally knew him to be a timid and cowardly person so taking the side of the one he would have thought would win in this conflict was certainly something he might be tempted to do.

"We need to prove his guilt first before going off half-cocked," Arthur warned them, trying to cool the rising anger filling the room.

"Agreed. But we have to find him first," Moody grunted. "We need to intensify the search.  There is someone else who has been missing a rather long time as well,” he added.

“Yes, where is Professor Snape?"  Arthur asked.

“I haven’t had word of him since a month before that night and am growing concerned,” Dumbledore said, grimly.

“Then we best search for him as well.  Though knowing Severus, he does manage to take care of himself fairly well but with the Dark Lord out of commission, he might have run into trouble,” Moody said, thoughtfully.

“Yes, that is my fear as well. It’s quite possible Severus has the information we seek on Pettigrew so it is imperative that we find them both and soon,” Dumbledore said.

“Aye, we’ll be off then.” Moody gave a curt nod then apparated out as did the other members leaving only Dumbledore behind.  He prepared to leave when suddenly a man slipped into the room and stood before him.

“Severus!”

"Not here.....in your office!” Snape whispered, then apparated away before Dumbledore could respond.

The headmaster sighed in relief, thankful the man was alive and apparently unharmed.  Anxious to hear what the potion’s master had to say, he apparated to the gates of Hogworts then strode hurriedly over the wet grass to the main doors of the castle.  When he walked into his office some minutes later, there was Snape, waiting near the fireplace warming his long, slim fingers.

Nodding at the man,  Dumbledore walked past him to go to his desk and sit down in his comfortable swivel chair. He took out his tin of sherbet lemons and offered one to Snape who shook his head then he took one of the comfortable chairs sitting before the huge desk and folded his hands. The old wizard popped a lemon in his mouth and waited for Snape to speak.

"Seems the information I came by just before the death’s of the Potters, will confirm Black's suspicion about Pettigrew.  I’m only sorry I couldn’t get it to you sooner.  MacNair, as nominal leader, decided to keep us holed up in Riddle Manor until the search parties of the Light and aurors had died down. We were only allowed to leave late last night.”  Snape’s voice and eyes betrayed the anger he felt at being kept mewed up with a bunch of angry, upset death eaters for two months.

“I’m just relieved you are alright Severus. It must have been an extremely difficult time for you,” Dumbledore said, a questioning eyebrow raised.

"I managed to stay out of everyone’s way by working in my potion’s lab.  None but MacNair, dare to disturb me there. So here is my report, late as it is:   I was completing a task for the Dark Lord just a few hours before the attack took place and overheard Rookwood and MacNair whispering outside the room I was working in. They'd obviously not realized I was even there as they didn’t bother to guard their tongues. This is what I heard:

Rookwood: (happy voice) I won our Dark Lord's favor tonight.

MacNair: (sour tone) And what did you do to make you so giddy?

Rookwood: Why I brought in that little mouse the Lord has desired for so long. He squealed so sweetly and the Lord didn't even have to raise a hand to frighten him into spilling what he knew. The coward gave away a secret that had the Lord beside himself with joy. So much so he allowed that fool to live and rewarded me.

MacNair: With what?

Rookwood: (sniggering nastily) I'm not telling you.

MacNair: (grumbling angrily) So what was this big secret the coward gave up?

Rookwood: (smirking) The whereabouts of those troublesome Potters.

MacNair: (voice stunned) Truly? Well hell looks like we'll be hunting tonight!"

Rookwood: We are indeed. Better ready yourself for the call, it could be within hours.


They moved off down the corridor and I heard no more. I had hoped to slip away as soon as I finished my task, but Avery arrived to warn me I was expected to join the hunting party and it was leaving now. Having no choice, I hurried back to the Dark Lord's meeting room. He signaled me to stand beside him then apparated us all to Godric's Hollow. He wasted no time charging the house, killing James then going upstairs to kill Lily. There was nothing I could do." Snape halted, his voice suddenly too tight with emotion to continue, a stricken look, laced with helpless fury, cracking his normally stern features.

"I'm sure you would have prevented it had you been in a position to do so, Severus," Dumbledore murmured softly, trying to comfort the obviously distraught man.

He knew how much Lily meant to Severus. She had once been his closest friend until he said an unforgivably, nasty thing to her when they were students, costing him that friendship. He could see Lily's death was fairly eating Snape up inside but there really wasn't anything he could have done to prevent it as to do so would have destroyed his usefulness as a spy for the order.

"Except it would have uncovered me as the spy I am and ruined my use to the Light," Snape choked angrily, echoing Dumbledore's unspoken thought. His eyes shone as if unshed tears hovered there but he recovered himself and continued his report. "I myself never entered the house but moments later MacNair came running out, fear and anger on his face.

"His body has been killed! I don't know how! We need to get out of here before the order gets here! Everyone to the manor....NOW!" He shouted then apparated away. I had no choice but to follow the rest of them but I didn't go back to the manor right away.  It was a great risk but I had to know if the baby was alright.  When I reappeared,  I dared not go inside and leave my scent inside but I did use my wand to see if I could detect the baby within but there was no sign of him nor of who took him then I quickly apparated back to the manor. Luckily, no one noticed I wasn’t there right away.....too much arguing and chaos going on.   I listened to what was being shouted about and learned a bit of what happened when the Dark Lord’s body died."

"What did you find out?" Dumbledore asked, tensely. He'd detected the unforgivable curse being used three times but the last one cast had a strange flavor to it, now maybe he'd find out why.

"For reasons MacNair was unable to guess at, the unforgivable cast on the baby backfired and struck the Dark Lord instead, leaving the baby unscathed except for a scar which was all MacNair had time to note before he fled the scene, leaving the child there."

Sitting back in his seat, Dumbledore frowned in thought, his hand caressing his long beard. After several minutes he said, “we already know it was a bit of old magic that saved the child.  Lily’s love cast over the child at the moment of her death was why the curse was deflected back on its caster."

"Ah, I’ve not heard of that before but it makes sense,” Snape sighed, nodding.
“I see that you too, do not believe the Dark Lord is no more.

Snape snorted derisively.  “His body is gone but his evil soul did not.  I know he’s out there still.  My tattoo is not gone and he was involved in to many dark magics to allow himself to be killed so easily.  No, he’s around but now his focus will be on staying in this world and finding a way to return.  At least we now have a brief break in this interminable war.....”  He sighed, letting his sentence drift off.

“Yes, a much needed one that will hopefully allow us to find a way to end him permanently before he succeeds in finding a new body.   It is also hoped the child, Harry, is in good hands and will appear at Hogwarts on his eleventh birthday.  Though I would hope we find him sooner than that.”

Snape just glowered at that. He personally cared not if the child was alive or not.  It was because of the prophecy that said Harry would end the Dark Lord, that made him continue trying to locate him.  It was Lily he had wanted but she was gone.  Shoving that grief aside, he said, “so there’s been no word of who has the child or where he’s gone?”


“No.  We’ve been searching everywhere with no trace of the child being found.”  

Silence fell for a long moment. The only sounds were the fire crackling as it burned low and the faint chirp the Headmaster's familiar made in his sleep.

Suddenly, Dumbledore spoke, "what did you feel when you went back to the scene, Severus?"

"What do you mean? I told you I picked up nothing," Snape asked, confused.

"I want what you felt as you stood there...your impressions...you're not exactly human so it's quite possible you may have detected something we could not."

Snape scowled. He didn't like to be reminded of his mixed parentage. It was a secret his family kept tightly guarded from others. He was the last of his line and except for Dumbledore, none knew he wasn't completely human, with the possible exception of the goblins (they seemed to know everything) but they weren't given to lose lips.

Huffing out an irritated breath he was about to repeat his previous statement that he hadn't sensed anything when Dumbledore held up a hand.

"Easy, Severus. I know very well how you feel about what you are but it is that difference I'm praying will give us some clue. Think...go back in your mind and listen closer to what you felt at that moment. It's important."

Sighing, Snape rubbed his face. Much as he hated it, the Headmaster was right. He might have sensed something that his conscious mind hadn't listened or paid attention to in that moment.

"Very well, I'll try." He agreed reluctantly. Closing his eyes, he relaxed his body and sent himself back to that moment in the woods.

The night air was crisp but over that was the pall of death. He listened with all his senses ... the feel of dark magic was the first thing he detected...it nearly overshadowed everything else but he persevered and finally managed to detect the faintest whiff of some odd magic. He tried to pin it down but there was too little of it. Giving up after another few minutes, he returned to himself and glanced over at the old man who was watching him keenly.

"You found something," Dumbledore said with certainty.

"Well, yes but it was still too faint for me to identify. Also, it was not like the magic we or the Dark Lord uses," he admitted softly.

"It was old magic. Something I've not sensed in a very long time as it isn't used much anymore by wizard kind, though that is not true of the rest of the magical population that isn't human..." Dumbledore murmured more to himself than his companion.

"You think the forest dwellers might have had something to do with the child's disappearance?" Snape asked, surprised.

"It's possible...I just don't know for certain. The forest dwellers harbor only bitter feelings for wizards now and have become more distant...more secretive..."

"Can you blame them? We have turned our backs on the old ways and treat those not human as something undesirable. I do not blame them for snubbing wizard kind," Snape said coldly.

"Aye, I well understand your anger at that injustice, Severus," Dumbledore murmured, sympathetically.

Snape's dark, fathomless, eyes hid what he thought of that statement and asked blandly, "if there is nothing else, Headmaster, I would like to get some sleep tonight."

"No, we're finished. Thank you for bringing this invaluable information to me and welcome back. Sleep well."

The potion's master nodded, got up and left the room with a swirl of his robes.

Dumbledore stood up and approached his familiar, Fawkes...a red and gold Phoenix. The bird had only pretended sleep so was not startled when his master petted his head. He raised it and stared intently with his beautiful eyes at the old wizard.

"So, what does the old ones want with Harry, my friend?"

Fawkes gave him a knowing smile but shook its plumed head.

"Somehow I knew that would be your answer," Dumbledore sighed in disappointment. "Then I sincerely hope Harry is being treated well and is happy."

Fawkes gave a trilling cry giving his friend as much reassurance as he could.

Dumbledore sighed again, he would just have to be happy with that. However, he still hoped his own people might get lucky and find the boy and bring him to Hogwarts. Tired, he gave the Phoenix another gentle caress then headed to bed.  Tomorrow he would have to send word that Severus had returned and what he’d learned to the members of the light.


































Chapter Text

Time passed with no sign of Harry Potter or Peter Pettigrew. The Order of the Phoenix never stopped their search but it wasn't priority as the death eaters were making sure they were all kept busy trying to save wizarding kind from their depredations.

Hogwarts went on as usual, though Dumbledore was more pensive than normal. He was known to go off wandering throughout the summer months, searching for Harry Potter while Sirius hunted Pettigrew. Neither was successful and the years passed. No word of the Dark Lord was heard either, though his workings through his death eaters was clearly visible.

The inhabitants of the local community and London blithely went about their days believing that sniveling Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge's assertion that Voldemort was dead and they had nothing to worry about. The order knew otherwise but were shouted down and shunned.

It didn't matter. They continued their vigilance regardless and dealt with the things the minister did his best to ignore.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

In a certain cottage on the other side of the Forbidden Forest, little Harry Potter was enjoying a glorious and happy childhood.

Good to his word, little Farley, now twelve years old and more than six feet tall, spent a great deal of time playing and protecting the greatest hope of wizard kind. They enjoyed each others company and grew to be great friends.

Today he was going to teach six year old Harry how to fish.

"Here now, you can't be squeamish about using a worm, Harry. It's what attracts the fish, don't you see?" Farley said, patiently as he expertly hooked a worm.

"Ewww. That's just gross," Harry spatted in disgust as he stared at the dangling worm on his line.

Farley just sighed and shook his head. "Stop holding it in the air and put the line in the water, ya silly bugger."

Sticking his tongue out at his companion, Harry did as he was told.

For more than twenty minutes, they held their lines in the water, catching nothing. Harry fidgeted. "I'm bored. They aren't biting, Farley," he complained.

"Fishing isn't something you can do quickly, Harry. It takes time and patience...something you have to learn," Farley said placidly.

Harry huffed and was about to make another complaint when something grabbed his line. So surprised was he, he automatically gripped the pole and was instantly dragged out into the lake.

Farley shouted in alarm, dropped his pole, and dove in after the child. His cry brought help but he was already under the water, frantically searching for Harry. He had just spotted the flailing form when something snatched Harry and whisked him away.

His heart nearly stopping, Farley swam as fast as he could after the swiftly moving creature. But when he managed to get close enough, he saw it was a mermaid. It had Harry firmly wrapped in its arms and was taking him to the surface.

Relieved, the little giant followed, arriving at the shore just after the mermaid. A centaur was standing on the shore and reached down as the mermaid shot the boy, spluttering and gasping, upward to him.

Farley gave the mermaid a formal gesture that meant thank you to their kind when it turned to leave. It nodded then vanished into the murky deep once more. The young giant heaved himself out of the water and hurried to Belize's side to see if Harry was alright.

"No worries, Farley," the centaur murmured in his deep voice, cradling the child close to his chest and beginning to walk toward the cottage. "He's just scared and wet."

Harry clung to the centaur's rough, hairy chest and whimpered. His body was cold and he hated all the water that had gone up his nose and mouth. He spluttered and coughed to be rid of it.

"Whist now! What happened to the wee bairn?" Agatha Hagrid demanded, coming out of the cottage to see what the commotion was about. Belize approached her and handed over the sopping child..

"I was teaching Harry to fish, Gran, but something managed ta pull him inta the water. A mermaid rescued him faster than I could, even though I did try to get him meself," Farley told her, earnestly.

"I'm sure you did, Farley. Did you thank the mermaid?"

"Yes, Gran."

"Good boy, I'm proud of ye." She gave Farley a kiss on the cheek then turned to Harry in her arms. "Well, now lad, let's get you into some dry clothes and have a cup of herbal tea to prevent a nasty cold from grabbing hold," she said. She paused long enough to address the centaur. "Thank you for responding so swiftly to ma grandson's call, Belize."

The centaur nodded. "I am glad I was near to hear it, Miz Aggie. Perhaps, young Harry should be taught how to swim so none will worry so about him near the lake?"

"A good thought and one I had planned to have done for when he was a wee older but seems he must learn now. Thank ye and good day."

"Good day." Belize took off for the forest where he'd been chopping wood.

Cooing soft words of comfort to Harry, Agatha whisked the child into the cottage and to his small room she had made up for him. Quickly and efficiently, she stripped the boy of his wet clothing and took him to the bathroom.

An hour later, clean and dressed in warmer clothes, Harry hugged a mug of tea as he sat before the roaring fire while guardian made bread in the kitchen behind him. Farley had put away the fishing gear while Harry was being tended to and was now sitting beside him with his own cup of tea.

"Well, Harry, that was some adventure. It isn't everyday one is rescued by a mermaid," he said, amused.

Harry grimaced. "Some adventure...I would have wanted the fish instead."

Farley laughed. "Well, next time you just might get it but you'll have to learn to pull back when the line tugs or you'll be swimming again with them instead of catching them."

A small fist punched the giant in the shoulder, but Farley barely noticed the blow, he just continued to grin while Harry huffed in annoyance then smiled as he saw the humor in it all. He looked forward to swimming lessons. He didn't want to remain on the shore all his life.

Sighing, the soothing tea warming him up nicely, Harry contemplated his warm home. He vaguely remembered another place and a beautiful face. When he mentioned this to Gran, she told him gently that he was remembering his mother's face and his former home. She told him his parents had died when he a year old and he'd been brought here to be cared for.

It saddened him that his parents were no more. He had asked what happened but Gran shook her head and said, "when you are older, my lamb, I'll tell you what you need to know. All you need to remember now is how much they loved you."

He sighed in annoyance this time. That was what he heard a lot lately...wait until you are older...when was that he wondered. It was maddening. But he didn't let it bother him for long. In the way of a young child, such things didn't hold their attention long before something new distracted them.

When Farley suggested a game of exploding snaps, he eagerly agreed, slipping to the floor before the fire and enjoying the next hour or so being in his friend's company.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"Be still, Harry," Firenze scolded the boy.

"Sorry."

Firenze, the centaur, nodded, sighing inside. Harry was a good boy but he was given to fidgeting a lot and these lessons were important. He had been tasked with teaching the young wizard on the history and descriptions of all the magical creatures as well as astrology and divination. The boy was a good student but it was hard for such a young child to hold their attention on such subjects for too long a period. He decided another hour should do it for today.

"Harry, I want you to list all the constellations then we'll be done for the day."

Harry smiled happily at the prospect of leaving, so crunched up face in concentration and began rattling off what was asked. Though he hated tests and some of the more tedious subjects like divination, Harry actually enjoyed listening to Firenze's lessons, especially when they went on nature hikes to actually meet the various magical creatures he'd been told about that inhabited the woods.

His favorites were:

Unicorns that allowed him to ride their backs and took him to really cool places within the forbidden forest.

Hippocampus, the half horse/half mermaid that would give him and Farley rides around the lake and beneath it once he'd learned to swim as well as the merfolk that taught him how to swim and fish.

Hippogriffs, especially Thiralon and his family, who along with his mate, would take him and Hagrid to see the wizarding world from the air so he would be familiar with the geography of the land he lived on.

Thestrals, the weird looking, carnivorous flying creatures, invisible to all except those who have seen death, and who were very gentle, would take Hagrid and him over muggle territories as part of his world history/geography lessons.

Kneazles, a cat-like creature, semi-intelligent, who could detect whether a person was dangerous or not. One had become his companion after he'd fixed its injuries when he found it in the forest. It could always be seen at his side like a small shadow. He named it Wine, meaning friend in old English.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry had many teachers of different species educating him on all the subjects they felt he needed to know to be able to face his fate with the proper protection and knowledge.

His other centaur teachers were: Ronan, who taught him how to hunt and what the dangers were in the forest to be alert to and avoid and Magorian, the leader of the centaurs, who taught him the laws of the old world and the ones imposed by the wizards.

The present laws governing magical creatures offended Harry who would argue passionately with Magorian that something should be done about the blatant unfairness of the laws as written. Magorian would agree but insisted he learn what the laws imposed by the wizards were rather than argue about changing them. Perhaps one day he might be the one that does that but for now he needed to be aware of how things were done at this moment and not be concerned about how unfair they were.

Harry had stoutly declared that he would see the laws abolished. Magorian could only smile privately at the little human's spunk. He wished Harry good luck with his goal, perhaps, Gods willing, he would succeed and they would finally be free.

Agatha Hagrid besides being his surrogate mother, was Harry's teacher on Herbology, some medical training, potions, cooking, sewing, and basic housekeeping.

He loved being by her side, her gentle voice guiding his little hands as they kneaded bread or guided him on the proper way to harvest herbs, what each herb was used for, and how to prepare them. She was infinitely patient with him which helped him learn faster and, of course, there was Farley who was by his side as often as his chores and own lessons let him, teaching the simple things about just being a kid.

Rubeus Hagrid, when he was able to be there from his job as Hogwarts Keeper of the Keys and Grounds, as well as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, would teach him animal husbandry, tanning, capturing creatures to help them when injured and caring for the various non-intelligent livestock they kept around the cottage. He was also his guide to the world of wizards, with Harry disguised with fairy glamour, stronger than the wizarding form, to take him to Diagon Alley. Harry adored Hagrid and would follow him willingly everywhere and listen closely to everything the half giant had to tell him. He thought of the man as his adoptive father.

The Hagrid's muggle friend Darian Langston, volunteered to indoctrinate Harry in the strange and modern world of the muggles. He figured the most effective way to do this was to enroll him in a primary school for a year.

So when Harry turned nine, he was sent to a school in Darbury, a fairly large city in England where he wouldn't be scrutinized too closely as being a bit odd and where he would be around a large group of children from various walks of life. It was also where modern technology had a good foothold unlike some of the smaller villages.

Darian rented a little cottage in the area and used that as the address for the enrollment and where Harry could bring friends and interact more. It turned out to be the most exciting year of his life as well as his most disturbing.

Seeing all the marvels muggle kind used in lieu of magic was a culture shock for Harry but being young, he picked it up faster than an older person would. So he learned to use a computer, CD player, TV, Ipods, cell phones, microwaves, modern stoves, washer and dryers, cars, and many other modern devices.

What was less fun and more scary were the parts of muggle life that showed him how cruel, destructive, and dangerous they could be to themselves and to the magical world if they'd known about them.

Though he had learned he was very wealthy, Harry had seen what money could turn wizards and muggles alike into and wanted no part of it so very rarely used his money at all. He learned of war and the weapons used to wage it; the abuse laid on mates and children; the sad fates of the drunk, drug abuser, destitute, homeless, street walker, and mentally defective; the uselessness and destructive nature of gangs; the dishonesty of the governments meant to protect the people; and diseases with no cures or those untreated due to no money. Such things happened in wizarding society, he learned, but were more hidden than in the more media-driven muggle society where privacy wasn't honored.

It was heartrending, disturbing, demoralizing, and sometimes made him so furious he couldn't thing straight...lessons. He wished with all his heart that he could change things for the better for all mankind.

Hagrid smiled at this passionate desire, pleased the boy felt things so deeply but he told Harry, gently but firmly, that God gave mankind the right of choice...a very precious gift. The fact that many continued to choose the wrong path mattered not...it was still their choice to make.

It was a hard lesson for Harry to accept but that was normal for the young. Only time would make him see how important this right was and that he could not fix everything he saw wrong no matter how much he wanted to.

Besides all the academic and life lessons he was being taught, physical fitness and fighting abilities were also instilled in him despite how young he was. What his life was prophesied to be meant he needed to know as much as possible on how to defend and protect himself from harm.

Toward that end, the Centaurs taught him how to use bow and arrows as well as knives. The Fae taught him sword fighting and hand to hand. Darian, his muggle instructor, sent him to learn karate and street fighting as well as how to use as many types of guns his small arms and hands were capable of holding and using. This part scared him the most at first until he became more at ease with their use but he would never like using them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

In Harry's tenth year, Hagrid felt the boy needed a special teacher to train him on how to protect his mind from invasion, something it was prone to since he was old enough to realize what the nightmares he suffered were about. The forest dwellers did their best to shield him but the boy needed to know how to do this himself before going to Hogwarts.

So toward that end, Hagrid went and talked with the most skilled person he knew in the field of mind control. The problem was convincing the man to do it. After a long and difficult discussion, Hagrid finally got the stubborn man to agree to do the task. The half-giant had told him that the future of all magical creatures rested on this little boys shoulders and that he would benefit from what he did now if the boy survived to adulthood and beat the prophecy hanging over him.

So in March Harry was given his final and most important lesson to date and being taught by the most unlikely of teachers. Harry faced his newest teacher with a puzzled look on his face. Their lessons would be conducted in a place that was deep in the forest at an ancient meeting site for the centaurs. Magorian's people would insure the pair's safety during the lessons.

The man was very lean and tall with black, stringy hair that came to his shoulders, dark, black eyes stared with piercing intensity, and had a dour expression on his face. He wore black robes that fanned around him like a bat when he moved. His voice was deep and his speech measured and precise.

"My name is Professor Snape and I have been asked to teach you how to guard your mind."

Chapter Text

"You mean you can teach me how to keep Voldemort out of my mind, sir?" Harry asked, eagerly.

Snape winced involuntarily at hearing the Dark Lord's name spoken so innocently and boldly.

Harry noticed the reaction and tilted his head, studying his teacher intently. "Why do you react so? It's only his name...being afraid of it seems silly and besides gives the owner far too much of a big head and power he doesn't rightfully own," the boy observed.

The man in black was totally blown away. He didn't know what he'd expected of James' son but this bold and intelligent child with the guileless eyes, certainly wasn't it. With his first words, Snape knew Harry was nothing like his father except in looks...the eyes though...those were Lily's and it nearly stopped his heart to see them.

Shaking off his surprise, he nodded his head. "You are correct, failing to give Voldemort his true name, which actually is Tom Riddle, gives him far too much power over us. I stand corrected. Now, shall we begin our lessons? Why don't we make ourselves comfortable...sit here before me." Snape pointed at the blanket that had been laid at the foot of a huge rock, folding himself gracefully into a cross-legged seated position.

Harry jumped down from the rock he'd been standing waiting on and took a similar position in front of Snape, his face eager and attentive.

"I understand he's been invading your mind while you sleep?" Snape asked, getting their lessons started. He could already see the boy wasn't going to waste his time which he appreciated. Though, how much the boy was still going to be so eager once they got going with this, they would have to wait and see.

The boy grimaced and nodded. "Yes sir, he has. Some of it is truly horrible. What a nasty man he is or was..." he frowned in confusion and gave Snape a questioning look. "How can he be bothering me so when he's supposed to have died?"

"Do you actually see him in your mind?"

"Uh...no...when my parents were killed I seemed to recall a handsome face twisted with evil but after that, it was just a nebulous feeling of evil and the results of his attacks on the innocent through the eyes of other hard eyed men," Harry explained as best he could.

"The Dark...Voldemort's body is dead but his spirit is still bound to the this world by magic most foul."

Harry nodded gravely. "Of that I did hear from the elders, sir, and that he uses others to continue his evil work toward taking over the wizarding world."

Snape eyed the boy with new eyes. It was obvious the training Hagrid and the forest dwellers had provided Harry was as complete as they could manage. Snape had been doubtful but now he was forced to reset his thinking. Perhaps he should speak to Hagrid and find out just what the boy had been taught so he wouldn't repeat it when Harry went to Hogwarts.

"Because his spirit is still around and he is metaphysically attached to you by the aborted killing curse, we, meaning the elders and I, believe he is accidentally spilling his thoughts into your mind. We don't' think he is even aware of it because he is preoccupied with finding a way to regain a body."

Harry grimaced in disgust. "Ohhh that's just nasty. Someone would have to die for that to happen or be possessed," he said matter-of-factly.

"They would indeed. That is why we're all trying to find him so his spirit can be destroyed."

"Good, so what do I need to know, sir?"

Snape gave him a small smile. It was refreshing to teach someone this young who was willing to learn. "Very well. First is Legilimency, the ability to extract emotions and memories from another person's mind. Although the word literally translates as 'mind-reading', this is considered a naive interpretation of the art by its practitioners. The second thing you must learn is Occlumency, which is the art of magically defending the mind against external penetration, sealing it against magical intrusion and influence - the defensive counter to Legilimency. Do you understand these terms I've given you so far?"

Harry didn't answer immediately, his face scrunched up in concentration, then he nodded. "Yes sir."

"Good, then let's begin with Legilimency. This works best when the spell-caster is physically near the target, and when the target is off-guard, relaxed, or otherwise vulnerable. Eye contact is often essential, so it is useful for a Legilimens to verbally manipulate his or her target into meeting the Legilimens' eyes, with the fringe benefit that the target's emotional state may bring relevant associated memories to the surface. Understanding how it works and how to use it will help you be able to prevent it being used against you," Snape explained ponderously.

"Now what I want you to do is stay relaxed and look into my eyes..." In that first look into the mind of Harry Potter, Snape was taken aback by how well organized it was, and how calm and serene...something he'd not encountered even in an adult mind and it seemed the boy already possessed a rudimentary form of shielding.

A flash of an image showed him the face of the centaur leader staring back at him. He blinked and blocked his own mind quickly. 'Okay, he's being protected by the forest dwellers but they are not skilled at mind protection so now I understand better why I was asked to teach the boy.' He sighed to himself and prepared to do his utmost to give Harry the best shield he could. He already knew the boy would succeed, this mind was sharp and strong, it just needed guidance.

As Snape had guessed it had taken Harry only a week to grasp the principles and a couple of months to hone his mind into an impenetrable fortress that even he couldn't enter.

During their times together, Snape had developed warm feelings for the boy both for his quickness of mind and his moral standards. He did think Harry had a bit of the 'save the world' attitude but he wasn't insufferable about it. Besides, it was typical of someone this young who thought they could make such huge changes in the world. He didn't put the boy down for such thinking. As he got to know Harry better, he began to think if anyone could succeed in making their world a better place, Harry would be the one.

By the time his birthday came along, Harry and Snape were comfortable with each other, if not really friends.

On the last day they had a session together, Snape warned him, "Harry, as you are aware, I must behave as if I hadn't met you and I'm rather abrasive with all my students. So it might seem I'm picking on you or being overly harsh, understand, this is not how I truly feel..."

Harry held up his hand to halt his mentor's speech. "As you said, sir, I am aware of your precarious position between the Light and Dark. I will play my part in pretending I'm upset by your treatment of me. I will protect your mission with my life," he said solemnly. "However, if ever you need someone, you have only to speak to me here," he said, pointing to his head.

Snape blinked in surprise. "But you shield so well, how will you know who's knocking?"

Harry smiled. "That's easy. I recognize your mind's touch. Trust me, I'll know it's you."

A smile was tugged at Snape's lips as he nodded and felt a warmth spread through him. Though the boy was so very young, his mind was filled with so much knowledge he far surpassed his peers. More importantly, his life experiences aged him courtesy of the forest dwellers and his time spent among the muggles. He'd learned Harry had been deliberately exposed to how cruel and senseless humans could be so wasn't shocked by death.

So despite his physical age, Harry was far older in mind and for that reason, Snape felt relief that he was no longer alone in his position as a spy. With Harry able to hear him, he now had someone to relay important information to, send for help if he was in trouble, and to simply be there when all seemed darkest and he needed a ray of hope to keep going.

It was a precious gift. "Thank you, Harry. I truly appreciate the offer. It could well mean the difference between life and death for me," he murmured, humbly.

Harry's face softened as he reached out to gently touch his mentor's cheek. "I know, which is why I offered. I want you safe when all this is over. I know its hard to entrust such important as well as horrific news to someone my age, but I hope you've learned enough about me to trust I can handle this. I will be there for you."

Snape touched the boy's hand gently and smiled back. He would carry this memory of perfect understanding with him to the battle against evil but prayed with all his heart, Harry would survive its terror intact. He would hate to lose this warm, bright soul to the dark.

To break the overly emotional moment, he cleared his throat and said, "we'd better finish up before your guardians come looking for you."

Harry grinned and sat back. "Won't happen...they want me kept out of the way as they prepare a big party for me. You are coming aren't you...it just wouldn't be right if you weren't there."

Snape smiled. "Of course, I wouldn't miss it."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry's birthday was the end of July and was always a festive occasion for the forest dwellers but his eleventh birthday was something special as he'd received his letter to attend Hogwarts. Because of this, his party was to be the biggest he'd ever had and the most important.

His adoptive family, mentors and teachers were presenting him with gifts geared toward aiding him in the coming struggle.

That special day arrived bright and sunny with the party being set up on a huge table placed in the deepest part of the woods. A beautiful cake sat at one end with a pile of colorfully wrapped packages, and everyone he knew stood or sat around the table and watched him open his presents.

From the centaurs, he was presented with a bow and quiver full of hand made arrows, the Fae gave him an ancient fairy sword with sheath small enough for him...a larger one was also made for him but would be kept at his home for now; Hagrid gave him a strong knife with protective runes built into it; Agatha gave him a protective charm to wear around his neck and books on Herbology, First Aid and basic potions; Darian gave him a pair of small guns with Harry's initial's carved in the handles as well as a hidden holster and bullets; the rest of his friends offered special treats from the forest: nuts, homemade bread, berries, special stones, and other small items of protective magic like a wooden coin made from a sacred tree and a moonstone ring.

Snape gave him a very special book. It was old and well used with notes in the margins. "This was mine once. I want you to have it but it's not to be used until your sixth year."

Harry took the old book from him and studied the title, 'Advanced Potion Making'. He smiled and hugged it to his chest. "Thank you, Professor. I will keep it hidden in my trunk until needed."

It had been the best party of all and Harry thought the gifts were over the top, thanking everyone for their thoughtfulness. The cake was fantastic and vanished quickly down many appreciative throats. While many of the party goers left after the gifts had been received, others hung around and played games with the boy as well as encouraged him to try out some of his new gifts.

He went to sleep that night pleasantly stuffed and excited about the upcoming trip the next month to Diagon Alley to get his school supplies. He would be sad leaving everyone in September, but knew many of them would be on the edge of the forest watching over him as well as his adoptive father being right there in the thick of things at the school so he would never truly be cut off from them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

When the middle of August rolled around, Hagrid took a disguised Harry to Diagon Alley. No one thought much of the blond haired, blue eyed boy of medium stature as he went from shop to shop picking up what he needed. At the pet shop, a snowy white owl made it very plain she was his by flying from her perch to his shoulder and nipping lightly on his ear.

"Well hello to you too. So you want to be with me, eh? I think that's grand and thank you," Harry said politely to her then named her Hedwig.

In the wand makers shop, his disguise did not hide his true self from the unusual eyes of Ollivander. Harry suspected the man was not fully human but Hagrid never enlightened him.

"Aahh...Mr. Potter," he said softly, insuring his shop was unoccupied except for them before addressing Harry. "I've been expecting you."

Harry was stunned but Hagrid just nodded knowingly to the wand maker. It took several tries before Harry managed to find the right wand.

"With your many other abilities, a wand is really only to help you focus during spell casting rather than as a defense. Do not rely on it as much as your fellow wizards do as your life will be far more perilous and require more unseen methods of defense than a wand can provide," Ollivander advised. "Good luck to you Harry Potter."

"Thank you, sir."

They left and finished up at Gringotts. The Goblins also knew who they were dealing with and were appropriately discreet and respectful of the young man. From his vault, Harry only retrieved enough money for the coming months and nothing more. He'd already been here a year ago and withdrew enough for his school supplies in the muggle world and for his wizarding ones later. Of that money, he still had an appreciable amount of it left over.

Now properly equipped, he returned with Hagrid and waited for the day school would begin. He could hardly wait.

Chapter Text

There were many heartfelt farewells on the day he left for school that sunny September morning. Farley hid his tears, he would miss his friend but would see him on holidays and would keep watch on the border of the Forbidden Forest that lay next to Hogwarts. He gave his friend a tight hug an gave him a really cool picture of them both near the lake. The neat thing about the picture was only Harry could see the image. If anyone else looked at it, the image would be of his departed parents.

"Oh Farley, this is really great and I love the picture of my parents. Who found this?" Harry asked as he stared at the two images that moved back and forth at his command.

"Hagrid. He had got some photos from friends of your parents," Farley told him, pleased he had picked the perfect gift.

"It's wonderful and I'll tell him so when I see him. Thank you so much," Harry enthused, putting the picture carefully a way in his trunk. They hugged and a meow/growl complained within Harry's clothing.

Farley stepped back and eyed his friends moving chest in surprise. A small head popped out of a hidden pocket of Harry's jacket. The young half giant smiled and reached out to scratch the Kneazle's head.

"I see Wine is going with you. Good, you need an extra pair of eyes around you."

Harry smiled. "It's not like he would have stayed anyway, Farley, so Hagrid felt it wise to allow him to stay with me. Wine's very good at staying out of sight but, as I'm allowed a familiar besides an owl as a mail carrier, no one should comment."

"That's good to know," Farley said, giving Wine a parting pet before stepping back. "Well time for you to be off. Take care and see you at Christmas, Harry."

Harry flashed him a sad smile at the thought of leaving his friend, then turned away to get into the car waiting for him. Everyone waved madly and shouted farewells as he climbed in. The only one missing from the well wishers was Hagrid as he was doing his job greeting the new first years at the train station. Agatha had already given him a warm hug, a small package filled with fresh herbs, his favorite sandwich and pastry, and a warning to keep his wits about him at the cottage.

Darius, his muggle friend, was the one who volunteered to take Harry to the train station and they were using his car for the trip. He smiled as Harry climbed in beside him then started the car and drove off. The centaurs followed for a little ways until the car left the forest.

Cars weren't normally seen inside the forest so they had a large group studying it for a bit when it arrived then taking off when Harry got in. The road, which was little more than a dirt pathway that nearby farms used to collect wood, was full of ruts which made the car bump along, jarring their teeth. Finally, they got on the cobbled road that ran through this little village and were quickly on their way.

It would be a couple hour drive getting to the station so Harry's favorite music station was playing while he and Darius talked about the things he would see at Hogwarts.

No one would truly recognize him as the missing Harry Potter because it was thought safer for him to travel under a very well executed Fae glamor. It was the same one he'd worn when he went shopping in Diagon Alley. Now he would be nothing more than just one of the many eleven year olds milling about at the station.

When they reached London, Harry oohed and aahed at all the sights of a huge city. It was exciting and very noisy. The train station was even more chaotic but it didn't bother Harry as he found it all rather exciting.

He had a cart that carried his trunk and Hedwig's cage on top which he rolled easily toward the platform he was to leave from. When they halted at the tracks, Harry looked around for the platform he was supposed to meet the train on, but couldn't find it. Before he could ask Darius, he was distracted by a large family hurriedly moving closer toward them.

Darius saw the family as well and noticed where they were heading. Smiling he leaned close to Harry and said, softly, "watch that family closely, Harry."

Puzzled, Harry studied the noisy group. There were a set of twin boys around thirteen or so years old, a boy about his own age, and a much younger girl. A smiling, buxom woman stood behind her brood and was looking around a moment. When there was no one close except for Harry and Darius who weren't in view as they were standing behind another pillar but could see the group easily, she said in a brisk, warm voice, "George...Fred...make sure you have a running start..."

"We know mum," one twin said. "We've done this before you know, the other twin said cheekily, in the same identical voice as the first. Then the pair raced toward another brick pillar, with one behind the other, disappearing through it. "Alright, Ron...your turn," the mother called out.

The boy eyed the pillar uneasily but did as instructed, disappearing without a sound. Smiling, the mother took the little girl's hand and hurried through the pillar and out of sight.

Harry blinked in fascination at the neat trick. "That is so cool!" he said, amazed.

"And that's how you'll get to your platform," Darius chuckled, amused. "Here is where we part, Harry." He gave the boy a warm, farewell hug. "Good luck and stay alert. Send me letters on how you're doing, alright?"

"Of course. You stay safe as well and I'll see you over the holidays, Darius," Harry said, warmly. He flashed his mentor a huge smile, then moved his cart into position, took a deep breath and ran forward quickly. He burst through to another platform where an old steam train waited...it was magnificent. Breathless from the odd sensation of traveling through the pillar, Harry shook himself out and hurriedly pushed his cart down the platform, taking in the sights along the way.

He spotted Hagrid with no difficulty. The half-giant was directing the first years into the train after relieving them of their belongings that he would stow aboard the baggage car. Harry hurried up, gave Hagrid a small, secret grin as he turned over his trunk, received a small wink in return, then he made for one of the many passenger cars and climbed aboard.

The aisles were filled with children babbling to each other, older ones saying hi to their friends and the sounds of many doors sliding open and shut.

Peering into several of the compartments, he found them already filled. He was almost to the end of the car when he lucked out finding a nearly empty compartment. Sighing in relief, he slid the door open and went inside.

Sitting pensively in his seat was the red headed boy he'd seen earlier. The boy looked up and smiled tentatively. "Hello, my name's Ron, what's yours?"

"I'm Harry." Since his name was so common, his family felt there was no need to give him a fake one as it would only cause confusion when they learned who he really was.

"Pleased to meet you, Harry."

The door banged open just as Harry took a seat across from Ron. A female with big bushy hair stuck her head in and frowned. "Have either of you seen a toad? Neville apparently lost his familiar on the train somewhere," she said, sounding rather annoyed.

"Uhm, no can't say I have," Ron answered. Harry just shook his head.

The girl sighed, looked back down the corridor a moment before commenting, "well, I'm certain it will turn up somewhere. May I join you?"

"Certainly." Harry said with a shrug and a smile. Ron nodded too, eyeing her curiously. She smiled, closed the door, then sat down on the seat next to Harry.

She eyed both of them a moment then said, "my name is Hermione Granger, and you are?"

"Ron Weasley."

"Harry," he said with a polite nod of his head.

She frowned at him. "Harry what?"

Harry gave her a quiet smile and shook his head. "I'd rather not say, if you don't mind. Everyone will hear it later at the ceremony."

Hermione stared at him in puzzled confusion but decided not to push it. "Okay. Are you excited about going to Hogwarts?" She asked, brightly.

"Oh yes, very much. I've heard a lot about it," Harry said enthusiastically.

"I've been reading up on it in Hogwarts: A History and its really an incredible place," Hermione said, her eyes sparkling with excitement.

"Oh yes, I've read that too and you're right, if half of what I read is true, Hogwarts is flat out amazing," Harry enthused.

Hermione looked pleased that someone else had a love of reading. "I think we're going to get along famously. I love to read and I intend to graduate at the top of my class."

Harry smiled at her enthusiasm. "Well I'm just hoping to do well and make friends. Across from him Ron grunted and sighed. "Not fond of school, eh?"

Ron blushed. "Not really but you can't go around without learning how to use your magic, can you? So school is necessary." He sighed then brightened. "However, there is Quidditch, my favorite game and I'm hoping to make the team."

"Oh, well that sounds like fun. I've watched a couple of games and thought it rather interesting," Harry admitted.

"Interesting? It's only the most exciting thing in the world!" Ron said, scandalized that Harry wasn't as enthused as he was about the sport.

"Well, there are other exciting things, Ron. That just happens to be one of them, and I hope to enjoy it as a team member too," Harry said, chiding the boy a little.

"Huh. You can keep all those other things but I'm glad you want to play. Maybe we'll get to be on the same team," Ron grinned, now in a better mood.

"That would be nice."

Hermione just rolled her eyes about the sport that Ron was so ga-ga over. She'd heard about it but wasn't all that in love with it. She was here to learn not play some silly game.

Suddenly, the door slid open again just as the train was beginning to move. The person had to hold onto the door or be knocked off their feet. The boy had amazing white blond hair and a haughty look on his face. His blue eyes stared at all of them with a faint look of distaste.

"May I sit in here, everywhere else is full up," he asked, reluctantly.

"Oh sure, come on in," Harry said, easily, not taking offense at the other boy's rather stiff manner.

Hermione eyed the blond haired boy with interest. "My name is Hermione Granger, what's yours?"

The boy eyed her with disinterest. "Draco Malfoy."

Ron straightened in his seat and stared hostilely at the stranger. "I know all about your family and none of it is very nice," he said coldly.

Draco gave the red head a frigid stare of his own. "I'm sure I don't know how you know anything about my family as I'm certain we don't travel in the same circles. Red hair and hand me down clothes mark you as one of the Weasley clan," the boy said, rather haughtily as he took a seat as far from Ron as he could.

Ron's face flushed with anger. "Not all of us are, oh so mighty aristocrats Malfoy. We don't consider ourselves that important in the scheme of things. The Weasleys have always been honest, hardworking folk. At Hogwarts none of those haughty airs will be tolerated as we're all supposed to be treated as equals so don't think you'll be getting any special privileges," he said nastily.

Malfoy eyes narrowed in anger but his voice was calm and flat. "I don't need or want special favors, but I do intend to be top of the class so stay out of my way Weasley and we'll be fine."

Harry was disturbed by the hostility both boys displayed. It sounded like a long time feud between their families. Time to step in and put a stop to the rising tension. "Excuse me, but we haven't been introduced. My name is Harry. Pleased to meet you," he interrupted quietly, extending a hand to the newcomer, a welcoming smile on his face while at the same time casting a wandless calming spell.

Draco blinked in surprise at the other blond haired boy with green eyes. "Uh pleased to meet, you," he said, showing he did have manners and that the spell was working as the anger had died from those ice blue eyes. "What might your last name be? White blond hair is very rare and I don't recall another family with the same trait as mine. Perhaps we're related?"

"No, I'm afraid we're not and I'd rather not give my last name just now. You'll hear it at the welcoming ceremony. I'm surprised to learn that these looks are rare. I must admit with blue eyes, they make you look rather stunnin," Harry said honestly.

He was rather intrigued. His own, temporary, appearance was derived from a close Fae friend of the family so he was a bit surprised to see a wizarding family with those same traits. He suspected the Malfoys had some Fae blood in them. How interesting.

Draco didn't know how to respond to this boy. Something about him was very different than anyone he'd met before. Harry had very good manners and was quiet assuming with an aristocratic air about him that he had. But he couldn't determine what family the boy could possibly be from. The fact he didn't want to give his last name led Draco to think Harry might be from a very prominent family and his name would cause a stir. He could hardly wait to find out what it was. Perhaps it would be wise if he made friends just in case.

"Actually, it is quite rare that's why seeing you with the same looks is rather a surprise," he admitted, fascinated. "I hope we can be friends?"

"I don't see why not. That's what I hoped find, new friends," Harry said, smiling sweetly.

Though calmer now, Ron still harbored resentment against the Malfoy boy. Not able to continue his tirade, he turned to stare at the passing scenery as the others began to talk about Hogwarts in general.

When he could get Harry alone, he would warn the boy about the Malfoy's and how much trouble and grief that family had caused so many wizarding families. He didn't want to see Harry misled or harmed by Draco by becoming friends with him.

Chapter Text

 

 


As the children got to know each other a cart came trundling down the narrow corridor outside. The door was slid open and a pleasant faced older woman smiled at them.

"Anything from the trolley dears?" She asked sweetly. Her cart was loaded with all manner of goodies and sweets.

Harry stared in surprise. Though he certainly had candy from both the forest people and muggles, he didn't recall seeing anything like what was on the cart.

A wistful look passed over Ron's face as he pulled out a small bag of obviously home made goodies from home. "No thanks, I'm good," he said, reluctantly.

"I'd like to try something," Harry said eagerly. He got up and went to the cart to study its wares, selecting at least four of everything. He paid the exact amount, careful not to flash how much he was carrying. He'd been taught how to use muggle and wizarding money so he wouldn't be caught having to ask anyone how to convert it and have them see just how much he had on him.

Taking his haul to his seat, he noted Draco purchased only a couple of things while Hermione chose to get nothing.

Smiling at Ron, he held out the extra items he'd gotten. "Here, share with me and tell me what some of them are."

Ron eyed him in surprise then smiled and accepted the gift. There was a suspicious snort from the vicinity of Draco but Harry quickly diverted Ron before the boy could get angry again.

"Bertie Bott's every flavored beans?"

"Oh yea, when they mean every flavor, they really mean just about everything, like: spinach, broccoli, beets, different fruits, and nastier things like earwax, dust, or vomit. My brother swore he got a bogey flavor once."

Harry grimaced in disgust and set the box of beans aside. Instead he picked up a strangely octagonal box with a pull string. It said 'chocolate frog'.

"Oh those are really cool, the frog is spelled to hop but what's more important is the collector cards of famous wizards inside," Ron explained helpfully, his mouth full of something Harry didn't want to know about.

He pulled the cord and there lay a chocolate frog done in perfect detail. As he stared at it, up it jumped to the window and out, the wind whipping it away.

"Ahh, too bad. They only have one good jump in them," Ron commiserated.

"Oh, I"ve got Dumbledore," Harry announced staring at the collector card that had a very old man with a long beard on it. "He's the headmaster, right?"

"That's right, Harry and he's one of the most powerful wizards in the United Kingdom," Hermione said.

Draco grimaced distastefully at that. It was obvious he didn't think much of the headmaster of Hogwarts. But he wisely said nothing. Harry reserved judgement until he'd met the man himself. He'd been told about the wizard from Hagrid but the half-giant simply said Dumbledore was powerful and could be manipulative if it suited his purposes. Harry had been warned to keep his mind guarded at all times around the man and to use his own judgement on whether he trusted him or not. He promised he would.

After testing out most of the candy, the rest of the long trip was made in silence. Draco opted for a nap as did Ron, while Hermione read a book. As for himself, Harry watched the lovely scenery of Scotland pass by until it got too dark to see anything but the moonlight glinting off the mountains.

Just before they pulled into the station Hermione announced, "we need to get into our school robes," with that she jumped to her feet and went out where others were heading toward the baggage cars to do the same. Once properly attired, they returned to their seats and waited for the train to roll into the station.

When the train stopped finally, steam rising into the night air, the exit doors slid open and the children began to offload. Immediately, a loud voice was heard calling to them. "First years, line up here with me!" Everyone hurriedly headed for the huge figure holding a lantern aloft.

"Come on...all First Years gather here...don't worry about your belongings, they'll follow after...let's hurry up now!" Hagrid called again.

Harry hurried up to the big man and smiled, receiving a broad smile in return. Next to him, Ron said 'wow' obviously never having seen a man so big and tall before. Draco simply eyed the man blandly while Hermione also seemed a bit awed by the half giant.

Once he had all the First Years gathered, Hagrid beckoned them to follow. He turned and like ducklings following their mother, they marched along in a ragged line for a short ways down the platform until they reached the end then turned sharply to the right. Here was a dirt pathway that led through a small woods and down a slight embankment to a dock. Spread out as far as the eye could see was a huge lake that glittered in the moonlight. Tied and strung along the dock were many little boats. Already lighted lanterns on an iron hook affair were affixed to the center of each boat, lighting their way.

"Everyone get aboard a boat now, no shoving," Hagrid ordered.

Excited chatter filled the night air as the children climbed into the small boats, four to each. Hagrid had a boat to himself. Without anyone paddling them, the boats took off and glided smoothly toward a lighted castle set on a high hill. Hogwarts was an awesome sight lit up that way and looking so imposing.

Looking down into the dark water a moment, Harry caught sight of a mermaid who smiled up at him. He grinned back but told no one what he'd seen as he returned his eyes toward the castle as they got closer.

As each boat reached the dock, Hagrid urged them to climb out and gather a little ways off until everyone had arrived then he turned and led them up a long path upward to a huge pair of wooden doors that hung open. He halted beside the door and gestured for the children to go on ahead of him.

They walked across a large foyer then climbed a broad staircase that turned twice before getting to the top where a tall, thin, older woman stood waiting, dressed in a long dark green robe trimmed in black and wearing a black pointed hat with a feather in it.

"Welcome to Hogwarts. I am Professor McGonagall. In a few moments you will pass through these doors and join your fellow classmates. But, before you do, you will be sorted into your houses. They are Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, and Slytherin. Your houses will be like your family. Your triumphs will earn house points and rule breaking will cost points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points wins the house cup. Now follow me and we'll get you sorted." Finished with her speech the professor turned around and everyone dutifully followed her the rest of the way up the stairs to another set of doors that also stood open.

As Harry walked with the group, he frowned in thought. The idea of separating the students into houses and having them compete against each other made him unhappy and concerned. It seemed too much like the involuntary separation that occurred in muggle schools. The formation of cliques (jocks, geeks, rich, poor, druggies, and troublemakers) were common there and caused hurt feelings, anger, hatred, jealousy, arrogance, bullying, and low self esteem to reign supreme.

Of course, he had no problem with healthy competition in the spirit of learning new things, making friends and having fun. However, just separating whole groups of students into separate houses and make them rivals of each other for a trophy at the end of the year, to his mind, was unproductive, would cause bitterness and hatred that could last a lifetime, and served no useful purpose to society as a whole.

He would have to watch this situation carefully and not get sucked into it no matter what house he was placed in. His attention was drawn back to the moment at hand when they stepped into the huge hall.

It was amazing! He had been told what to expect but it just wasn't the same as actually seeing the place. It was simply incredible. He stared at the ceiling just like all the others, in absolute awe.

That's because it looked like there wasn't a ceiling as the night sky shown above them with moon and stars and a few clouds passing by. Harry heard Hermione explain to another that it really wasn't open to the sky, it was simply spelled to look that way. Well, however it was done, it was amazing as were all the thick white, lighted candles that hung in the air above them.

When he could draw his eyes back down from the marvelous spectacle, he noted they were walking down the center aisle of the room and on either side of them were long rows of wooden tables where the older children sat watching and chattering about the newcomers.

As they reached the front, before them was a raised dais where another long table sat, behind which, were the teachers of Hogwarts. At the center was the headmaster. Before their table, sitting on a plain wooden stool, was an old, brown, pointed hat that drooped.

"Stand along here...hurry now," Professor McGonagall ordered, gesturing for them to spread out in a ragged line before the teacher's table. "Your attention please! Headmaster Dumbledore has a few words to say to you all."

The man with the long beard, tall, pointed hat and bright robes, rose to his feet and stared at all of them a moment before saying in a pleasant, grandfatherly voice, "Just a few important things you need to know, the Forbidden forest is off limits to all students and there are some closed corridors on the upper levels of the castle which are not to be explored unless you wish to experience a slow, painful death." Still smiling benignly, he took his seat again.

'What kind of message was that? No welcome, just a warning where not to go. How very strange,' Harry thought, confused.

"When I call your name, please come forward and sit on the stool," McGonagall instructed, holding a sheet of paper before her eyes with one hand and reaching out to pick up the hat with the other. "Susan Bones..."

A rather plain looking girl, tall for her age, came up and sat down. The professor placed the hat on her head which was soo big it dropped far enough to cover her eyes. She grimaced at the smell of it but sat still. A voice muttered softly for a moment which startled her though she had known what to expect, her mother having prepared her, then the hat announced loudly, startling those first years who didn't know the hat could speak at all.

"Hufflepuff!"

There were cheers from the table where that house sat and kids were waving her to join them. With a look of relief, she got up, removed the hat and set it down before hurrying to sit with her new housemates.

Several more students were called and sorted. Hermione and Ron ended up in Gryffindor and Draco went to Slytherin. Harry didn't miss the headmaster's searching gaze as he watched the sorting closely. He had a feeling the man was looking for him. Hagrid had told him that he'd taken the responsibility of caring for Harry without permission or knowledge of the Order of the Phoenix. He'd already been briefed to not tell anyone where he'd been all this time for his safety and the safety of the non-human magical community.

Harry understood very clearly why and it made him sad. It was one of the things he argued with Magorian about and fervently hoped to change if he could.

Suddenly his name was spoken. He pushed through the line of kids in front of him and stepped up to the stool. McGonagall eyed him in surprised confusion. This boy didn't look like a child of Lily and James Potter...what was going on?

Harry took a seat on the stool then allowed his glamor to fade away, like mist over water.

Stunned gasps and exclamations filled the air as everyone stared in shocked surprise. The formerly blond, blue eyed boy was now a messy raven haired kid with emerald green eyes and a distinctive scar on his forehead.

Draco gaped in stunned disbelief. The way the kid's disguise disappeared with such ease spoke of controlled power and a firm grasp of magic which someone his age shouldn't have been capable of. Where had he been to learn such a skill?

All the wizarding children had heard about the Potter child and the doubts as to whether he was dead or alive. The Daily Prophet had, that very morning, asked, "WILL HARRY POTTER APPEAR? Harry Potter, the boy who lived, should be eleven years old by now. Will he show up at Hogwarts or did he die like everyone suspected when his parents were killed? Only the first day of school will provide the answer!"

The question had been answered alright, but there were many others the Hogwart's teachers wanted answered, the main one, where had he been all this time and who had raised him? Of course, Professor Snape knew but wasn't telling. His face remained made of stone but inside he was laughing at them all. Dumbledore was utterly stunned. He had hoped Harry would show this year but never dreamed he'd be so skilled. Who had been teaching him?

"How did you do that?" McGonagall blurted.

"I had excellent teachers."

"But why disguise yourself?"

"To keep me safe from my enemies."

Harry's short uninformative answers made her frown but before she could ask anything else, Professor Dumbledore interrupted her.

"I believe such questions should wait for a more appropriate and private time, Minerva. Please continue with the sorting."

"Oh, yes...of course..." She said, blushing a bit at forgetting herself. She stepped forward and placed the hat on Harry's head and stepped back, her mind swirling with questions.

"Greetings young forest dweller. I have been awaiting your arrival with much anticipation. You will do great things and our world will be better for it," The hat said ponderously

"I hope I don't disappoint you, sir," Harry answered mentally, a bit embarrassed by the hat's assessment of him.

"Believe me, you won't. As for sorting you into a house, I find myself in some difficulty, Harry. Each house has a certain characteristic but you possess all of them in equal measure so how can I decide which is best for you? Have you a preference?"

"For my purposes, Gryffindor should do fine."

"Excellent choice," the hat agreed then shouted. "Gryffindor!"

Though a bit uncertain about Harry, the Gryffindors still cheered and felt honored to have been chosen as the boy-who-lived's house. Smiling, Harry removed the hat reverently and set it down on the stool before heading to his new house.

The sorting continued without any further surprises and when everyone was seated, Dumbledore announced. "Welcome all to Hogwarts! May your time with us be an enjoyable one. The house elves have outdone themselves for you, please, enjoy the feast."

He made a grand, open armed gesture and the tables instantly filled to groaning with all manner of food. The first years' eyes were wide with amazement but quickly turned to hungry eagerness, filling up their plates high with food. The air filled with the chatter of happy voices.

As the children dug into their dinner, Dumbledore and McGonagall traded uneasy looks. The mystery of Harry Potter had dulled their appetites, their thoughts totally focused on the many questions they needed answers for and the mild annoyance of having to wait to get them.

How had the boy learned to use a glamor so skillfully? What else was he capable of and where had he been the first part of his life? They would need to pull him into the headmaster's office and have a talk with him as soon as possible.

As they ate their dinner, Hermione and Ron sat on either side of Harry, acting as a buffer to all who wanted to badger Harry with questions. Though burning with questions themselves, the two knew if they wanted to be friends of Harry's, they would have to wait until he was willing to talk to them so kept their conversation to the food and their new temporary home away from home.

After dinner, they were escorted by Ron's older brother, Percy, who was rather pompous and full of himself, to their new quarters. He lead them up multiple staircases and hallways causing many to feel lost and confused.

"Stay close, the stairs have a habit of moving on their own," Percy said, blandly.

The first years were confused by that comment until they stairways high above them move from side to side with no rhyme or reason. Equally intriguing were the portraits they passed . These were huge oil paintings in elaborate frames of people from older times. What made them odd was, instead of being still, they actually moved and said hello to them. It was weird and cool at the same time.

Finally, the tired students were stopped before a painting of a fat woman in Victorian clothing. She asked for a password and Percy gave some huge mouthful of a word that was going to be a challenge for the children to remember. When the portrait swung open, they were greeted by a huge room done up in rich shades of red and gold and filled with stuffed chairs, couches, bookcases, desks, and a huge fireplace.

"This is the common room where you can do your homework, congregate, and play games. Girls dorms are up those stairs to the left, the boys are on the right. Your belongings are already at the foot of your bed. You have an hour before curfew. If you have any serious needs, bring them to me and I will contact Professor McGonagall who is our house leader. Anyone up past curfew will cost us points," Percy told them then left them to their own devices.

Harry sighed, ignored efforts made by some of his new classmates to talk to him and made for stairs to the boys dorm. He wanted to take a shower and get ready for bed before the crowd arrived. Fortunately, everyone respected his privacy...at least for the moment.

In the Slytherin dorm, Draco admired the rather expensive furniture and the incredible window that looked into the underwater world of the lake. He already knew they were in the dungeons but hadn't thought one of the dorms would actually be covered by the lake. That was so cool! However, there were some that felt claustrophobic being in the dungeons and complained bitterly at the lack of a window to the sky.

Draco snorted. Better stop whining now. No one is going to listen nor care. But he didn't say that aloud. The one thing he'd already noticed about this house was how cold, self centered, and unfriendly much of them were. Fortunately, there were a small number of fairly decent guys and gals, but the majority were downright nasty. Living here was going to be a trial. For just a moment, he wished he could change houses but quickly shoved that melancholy aside and studied his new home.

The color scheme of the room was silver and green with an emphasis on snakes. Their images were on the walls and ornaments around the room. He grimaced at that, not having a real liking for the cold blooded creatures much. But as he overheard the rising tone of anger from some of the older students, snakes seemed to be the perfect mascot for them.

It seemed their were upset by the fact Harry Potter was indeed alive and many were the speculations as to where the git had been hiding. Discussions ran hot as to how he'd managed to hide his true appearance without the use of polyjuice and how he did what he did when he was supposed to be as green as the rest of them in magical skills.

Draco was disinclined to participate in the angry debate. He didn't know what he felt about the trick Harry had pulled. He'd thought the boy had been someone important or even from his own bloodline, but never dreamed he would be the boy-who-lived, the survivor of a vicious attack by Voldemort.

Should he make friends with the boy or treat him as the enemy this house insisted he was? His own first impression of Harry was of a nice person who didn't seem to have an evil bone in his body. A far cry from the kids he'd been forced to be friends with by order of his father.

Thinking of his father made him unhappy. Lucius Malfoy was a brilliant but hard man who felt the Dark Lord was his ticket to power and wealth. If he found out his son harbored thoughts of making friends with the one who was his Lord's mortal enemy, he'd be beat black and blue and disowned. The last part didn't worry him as his mother had wisely set aside money for him in another name. But the threat of harm from his father did give him pause.

He sighed and stared gloomily out the window looking into the dark lake that presently mirrored how he felt inside. No matter what his true feelings might be about Potter, he had to pretend they weren't friends at least openly. If he did make friends it must remain a secret or the consequences for him would be dire.

His mother openly stayed firmly on the fence on the issue of the Dark Lords plans for wizarding kind which kept her safe...for now. As for him, he pretended to go along with his father's wishes, though all he really wanted was to enjoy life and make friends. The pure blood issue just didn't interest him.

Home was a mind field of traps that he got tired of trying to avoid. It was too much like living with a spell trap...never knowing what would set it off. It didn't make for a pleasant or happy place to be most of the time which was why he didn't fancy going home on vacations.

However, school wasn't that safe for him either as it wasn't far enough away from his father's machinations, so wishing he could stay on school grounds until he graduated wouldn't protect him. What he wouldn't give for a safe sanctuary for him and his mom.

Shrugging off those wishful thoughts, he left the hotly arguing snakes and went to his dorm room to go to bed. Tomorrow was going to be very busy.

 

Chapter Text

 

Alone in the boy's dorm room, Harry quickly found his trunk at the foot of a heavy wooden bed

with red curtains and canopy. He pulled the curtains closed around his bed and gently coaxed his kneazle, Wine out of his shirt.

He petted the creature's head and murmured, "I saved you some food." He pulled an odd flat packet made from a napkin out of his robe and laid it on the bed. Muttering a soft word, the napkin suddenly enlarged and spread itself open to reveal several types of meat. Wine made a low rumbling sound of pleasure and attacked his meal.

Smiling, Harry left his pet alone to enjoy its dinner, closing the curtain behind him. He went to his trunk and removed his personal care kit, bathrobe, and pjs. Pulling his robe off, he folded it neatly and placed it in the trunk along with his tie, jumper, and shoes. Then closed his trunk and padded off to the bathroom.

Pushing the heavy door open he was greeted by a rather ornate bathroom. The sinks were in a circle and the toilets were along one side. To the right of the door was another door. He walked toward that and pushed it open, gaping at the sight before him. The bathtub was the size of a small swimming pool. Wow! Smiling in excitement, he quickly stripped and hung his things on hooks on the wall then jumped into the water. It was wonderfully warm and it bubbled around one's body in a soothing way.

Sighing with pleasure, he washed up then climbed out of the pool. Passing a hand over himself, he was instantly dry. Pulling on his pjs and robe, he had just pulled his outer clothing off its hook when he heard the other boys just arriving outside the door. It pushed open and in poured several of his new classmates.

"Oi! What a fantastic looking bathtub," one exclaimed when he peered in.

"How was the water, Harry," Ron asked, coming up to his side.

"Like heaven! It's the perfect temperature," Harry said with a warm smile.

"That's for me after that long train ride," a tall lanky boy said, stripping off his robe and dumping his other clothing on a bench before jumping into the water with a loud whoop.

Still smiling, Harry quickly left before he got wet by the splashing boys enjoying their bath.

Going back to the dorm, he found a few others skipping the bath and already climbing into bed, the sound of curtains shushing over the rails was heard as Harry made for his own bed. Leaving his robe on his trunk, he pulled the curtain a little ways and climbed on the bed, closing the curtain quickly behind him.

He needn't have bothered as Wine had disappeared leaving only the empty napkin, clean of food, behind. Harry smiled. He wasn't worried for his pet's safety as Wine was well able to take care of himself. Yawning he sighed, picked up the napkin and dropped it on the floor then crawled under his covers and was fast asleep in minutes.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

While the children prepared for bed, in another part of the castle a harsh voice speaking in a loud whisper ranted in anger, "he should be dead...dead as my body is...how could he still be alive?"

"I-I-I-I d-d-don't know master!" a different voice stuttered violently, obviously terrified.

The scary voice grumbled for several minutes, his words unintelligible then, in a much calmer, colder voice, "perhaps this isn't as bad as it seems...his body is young and would suit me well...but if that doesn't work...then I will make sure he dies this time!"

His servant shivered with fear. He lost his will when this foul thing took up residence within him. He wept in a small part of his mind that was still his own. 'I hope you don't succeed you monstrous thing! I hope Potter takes you down and frees me!' As hopes go, he clung to this one with all that was still left of his own spirit.

Such a fool he'd been going to that part of the Forbidden Forest. He'd been looking for a plant that only flowered under the first full moon and was so rare that only this part of the forest was rumored to have any left. It had been a trap, carefully laid, just for him. The darkness had flitted from its hiding place before he was aware of it and took over his body and mind before he even had a chance to fight. His mind shields proved to be inadequate against the invader.

From that time on, he lived a furtive existence, cutting all ties with the ones that had known him, being forced to lie, cheat, and even kill as the thing inside him carried on its insidious and horrific plans to take over wizarding England. Then horror of horrors, the thing had him apply for an open position at Hogwarts. He feared for the children but was unable to do anything about it.

Now with the arrival of the thing's enemy, perhaps he could finally be set free if the power he could see shining like a second skin over the boy was any indication. To his amazement, the thing within him didn't seem to see that power nor feel it. He hoped the situation stayed that way and he would do what he could to keep the thing blind to it. He just wished he could warn the boy.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A small form, barely visible to the naked eye padded silently down the quiet corridors, exploring. It found its new, temporary home, fascinating as well as a bit dangerous at times. He'd had to avoid a cat belonging to a grouchy, ugly little man carrying a lantern and another time, a ghost that drifted through a wall just in front of him on its way to somewhere else.

Perhaps later he'd make friends with one or two of them but right now he wanted to remain unknown. He wanted to insure there was no other serious dangers around before exposing himself. Though his master was quite skilled for one so young, the boy still wasn't old enough to handle some of the truly nasty things that moved in the night. Wine would guard his master fiercely for none had treated him with as much respect and care before and this was his way to repay that debt.

Sniffing the air currents, Wine scented a familiar odor. He followed it down yet another of the myriad of corridors this castle sported. A familiar form walked the hall ahead of him. He hurried to catch up and soon came abreast of the swiftly striding figure.

Making his form visible and giving a soft, rough, mew, he got the man's attention.

Professor Snape stopped in his tracks and stared down at his feet in surprise. "Wine is that you?" The kneazle purred and rubbed the man's ankles in response.

Looking around carefully and seeing nor hearing anyone, Snape knelt down and petted the magical creature. "Well, I see our mutual friend decided to bring you along. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to keep to the shadows?"

Wine snorted and gave him a hard stare.

A small smile tugged on the potion master's lips. "I didn't think so. I'm glad you are here. There's no such thing as too much protection and with so many enemies, he will need it. If ever you need assistance, don't hesitate to seek me out. I live in the lower areas of the castle, just follow your nose. And you are welcome in my apartment any time but be very cautious as I would hate any of my enemies to harm you," he murmured softly, giving the kneazle a final scratch behind its ears before standing once more. "I'm making my rounds as I usually do, you're welcome to join me." With that Snape headed off down the corridor again, a small shadow keeping him company.

Snape didn't find it unusual holding a conversation with the creature. Wizards considered the creature only a little smarter than the ordinary house cat but the professor knew them to be extremely intelligent, even more so than the owls used to handle messages, and possessing a small amount of magic of their own, especially in keeping invisible to most eyes until they wanted to be seen.

They were fierce little creatures and known to take on animals more than twice their size and winning. He would never underestimate one and was glad Harry had thought to bring his along. It would protect the boy but it would also provide him with a friendly companion as well. The position Snape was in was precarious and dangerous which didn't allow for friendships as his enemies wouldn't hesitate to kill or use them against him. Having Harry and now Wine as friends that no one knew about eased his spirit and made his ordeal as a spy much easier to endure.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Dumbledore found sleep impossible so was sitting in his office staring out at the moonlit night and the silent grounds of Hogwarts. In the distance, smoke trailed from the chimney of the grounds keeper, telling him that Hagrid had not yet gone to bed either but then the half giant was known to roam the woods at night looking for injured creatures or ones for his class as he was the professor who taught The Care of Magical Creatures class for Hogwarts besides being the Keeper of Keys and Grounds for the school.

Sighing, he turned away from the window and went to sit at his immense desk that was laden with all manner of things. He took a small tin and opened it, popping a sherbet lemon in his mouth to suck on while he thought.

He glanced to his left and noted his Phoenix was sound asleep, head beneath a wing. Fawkes wouldn't answer his many teaming questions so he left the bird alone.

Where had Harry Potter been? Who had raised him? It was obvious the child had been taught some serious magic but how much and how skilled was he? Was he skilled enough to protect himself from the enemy that still haunted their world? So many questions. It chaffed him to have to wait for answers.

Pulling his small spectacles off his nose, he rubbed his tired eyes. Sighing, he put them back on and got up from his seat. Sleep was indicated, even if he didn't feel like it. He headed reluctantly off to bed. Tomorrow, hopefully, he would get the answers he sought.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

After a quick patrol of the area and giving the centaurs a report on how Harry's reveal had gone, Hagrid returned to his hut around midnight. A small shape waited for him on his doorstep. He smiled warmly and opened the door to allow the small creature into the warm interior.

"Well, had a nice snoop around, Wine?" He asked warmly as he puttered around, stoked the fire, and prepared for bed.

The kneazle leaped onto the old wooden table and sat down. In answer to Hagrid's question, the small creature nodded its head.

"Would you like some water?"

The small head jerked from side to side.

"Did you get plenty to eat?"

Wine gave a kitty version of a smile, purred, and waved its tail lazily back and forth.

"That's good. Harry settle in okay?"

Wine nodded enthusiastically.

"Good to know, though tomorrow will be his true trial of keeping his temper when he's asked for the hundredth time where he'd been all this time, eh?"

Wine gave Hagrid a quiet stare, which the half giant understood as being a concerned one. "Don't fret none. Harry will do okay and we're here to help him too. Want to stay the night here?"

Wine seemed to debate this a moment then repeated its negative head movement.

"Ahh, going to return to Harry then," Hagrid said with certainty and smiled. He reached down and patted the small head. "Then I'll bid you good night and see you around."

Wine meowed then jumped down to the floor and walked to the heavy door. Hagrid opened the door and the kneazle strode out. "There are some of Aragog's young hunting close by, best be off to the castle for tonight, save the exploring for another time," he warned, quietly.

Wine mewed his understanding and headed off to Hogwarts at a run. Hagrid closed his door and went to bed, tomorrow would be a very busy day for all of them.

More than thirty minutes later, Wine slipped into the dorm room. The portrait was quite taken with him and allowed him entry by way of the front door though he'd found a way out through a large mousehole earlier. Going to Harry's bed, he slipped under the curtain and clawed his way up the bedding until he was on top then walked to the sleeping boy's side and curled up to sleep.


Chapter Text

 

 

Arising early with many a groan and complaint at getting up at this hour, the boys headed for the bathroom in clumps of twos and threes. Harry was just as reluctant to leave his warm nest but Wine nipped at his fingers to get him up.

"I'm up...honest..." he groaned, sitting up and stretching then reaching out a hand to give Wine a scratch. "Going to breakfast and classes with me or off on your own?" he asked softly.

Wine answered by walking away and slipping off the bed, disappearing as he did so.

"Guess that answers that." Harry sighed, shoving the curtains aside and crawling off the bed. He grabbed his robe, slipping it on as he hurried off to the bathroom himself.

Thirty minutes later, he and the rest of his classmates poured into the great hall for breakfast. Just as dinner had been, the table was groaning with food. He worried that he'd quickly put on weight so decided to go light and picked out a small amount of toast, bacon, eggs, and applesauce.

"Is that all you're going to eat?" Ron exclaimed, piling an obscene amount of food on his plate and digging in.

Harry could only stare in amazement at the monster stack of pancakes, bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy as well as cantaloupe on the boy's plate.

He shook his head and said demurely, "Don't want to gain too much weight."

"Harry, magic takes a lot of energy out of you, as does running around a huge castle to get to all the classes they loaded us with. I promise you, you won't be gaining weight. If anything you'll have a hard time keeping it on," Hermione cautioned him, her own plate bearing a balanced and more normal level of food...bacon, an omelet, some fruit, and a bowl of porridge.

"Uh...okay, I'll try and remember that." He put a little more food on his plate to appease her. Fortunately, he was rather hungry this morning anyway.

"What's this stuff?" he asked, holding up a glass filled with an orange drink that didn't smell like anything he'd had before. He had opted for water last night though he had seen this drink then too. Many of his classmates were drinking it in obvious enjoyment.

"Pumpkin juice!" Hermione answered.

"Really?" He sipped a tiny amount then smiled at the taste and drank more deeply. "Hmm, that's delicious."

His friends smiled at his reaction. The moment presented Hermione with the perfect opportunity to get some information about her new friend. "I like it too. I never heard of making juice from pumpkins before and I know my parents, who are muggles by the way, wouldn't think of it either. However, you are from a wizarding family, I would have thought you at least would have drank it before."

Harry eyed her warily over the rim of his glass. Setting the cup down, he said carefully, "I guess my guardians never cared for it." He knew that answer wasn't going to make anyone happy.

He was right but before she could question him on it, Ron jumped in. "Really? Blimey, I thought everyone liked it. Were you raised by muggles, then? Everyone knows what happened to your parents but no one has a clue who took you away as a baby. Why the big mystery now?"

"Ron!" Hermione snapped at him, punching him in the arm.

"What?" Ron blinked at Hermione in affronted surprise. He had no clue what he'd done wrong.

"How can you be so insensitive? Harry did lose his parents in a horrible way you know and here you are shoving that fact in his face," she said, angrily.

The red head's face turned the same color as his hair as he mumbled an apology. "Oh ... uh ... I'm sorry Harry I forgot...didn't mean to..."

"No, it's alright Ron. It was a long time ago and I was only a baby at the time. As for why I won't reveal who took me in, the answer's obvious, my enemies are still hunting for me and I certainly don't want to lose my guardians to them in the same manner as my parents, so they must remain unknown for their safety and mine. Understand?" Harry asked, softly.

Embarrassed looks were on many of the faces sitting near him that had been listening in on his conversation. Understanding and nods of their heads told Harry his classmates understood only too well the need for secrecy so wouldn't be hassling him about it any longer. Of course, that didn't mean other houses wouldn't ask but he'd deal with them when the time came.

"Oh...how stupid of me...of course you're right to be so cautious...sorry Harry, I won't bring it up again," Hermione exclaimed, ashamed she'd not thought of that herself.

"I'm sorry too, Harry!" Ron said quickly, feeling equally stupid. He'd read about what had happened to Harry in the Daily Prophet just before coming to Hogwarts. It had made him angry and sad for the wee babe that had lost his parents in such a horrible way then was taken and no one had known where. Thankfully, whoever it was had taken good care of Harry because here he was safe and sound and Ron decided, at that moment, he would make it his mission in life to see the boy stayed that way.

Harry smiled forgivingly at them and returned his attention to his food. However, the fact his classmates had no problem understanding and accepting his reasons for keeping his past secret, made him sad. It brought home to him more clearly than ever about the kind of life these children were forced to exist under. The constant fear of ones family being killed by this hidden evil had taught then well about the need for guarding their tongues and being on alert for danger at all times.

It hurt him inside to know his classmates lived in the same state of fear and anger as those muggle children living in war ravaged countries or brutal homes. The only difference, really, were these children feared spells that could kill with a word while the muggles dodged bullets and bombs.

What made this all so hard to handle for him was the fact only a small portion of the United Kingdom was involved in this deadly war while the rest of the country was, all unknowingly, enjoying peace and prosperity. It just seemed so wrong.

He hid his sorrow at this state of affairs and looked around the room. The huge hall was noisy with the constant chatter of the children and the adults sitting at the teacher's table. He briefly caught Snape's eye and mentally knocked on the man's mind shield then waited patiently to be acknowledged while keeping his attention on his food.

Snape never reacted to the touch outwardly, continuing to eat his porridge while scanning the room and listening in on the conversation at the head table with consummate skill.

"Yes, Harry?"

"Just wanted to say good morning and to tell you how I dealt with the questions of the day: who was my guardian and where have I been."

"And what was your response?"

"I said I was protecting my guardian from the enemies who killed my parents and mentioned nothing of where I'd been all this time. It was accepted far too easily. It saddens and brings home to me just how precarious their lives are here."

"Yes, it is a very sad state of affairs and one I hope we can bring to an end before more die."

"I hope we...or I can do this and soon."

"I commend your desire to bring peace to wizarding kind, Harry. But to do this with any real hope of defeating the Dark Lord, you must first learn more about being a wizard and grow in strength and size. You are still a very young boy and I want you to live long enough to reach your full potential," Snape said, gently. He well understood the boy's feeling of urgency but it really was important he wait until he was truly strong enough to take Voldemort down permanently. Though, honestly, he fervently hoped the Light might do it first without Harry.

Harry's mind voice sighed, bitterly. "I understand, but it's hard to stand by and watch so many die while I take time to get bigger and stronger."

"I know, waiting is very hard but necessary, my young friend. Best eat up quickly, nearly time to leave for class. I will see you later but remember, I will treat you rather nastily...be prepared."

Harry snorted in amusement. "I think I've learned to be a pretty good actor, professor. Don't worry, I'll play my part. See you later." He caught an amused snicker from Snape before closing the contact.

Seeing his companions were nearly done and many were leaving, Harry quickly finished his meal and hurried out of the hall with Ron. Hermione was already gone.

Throughout the meal, Dumbledore sent many glances toward the boy whom everyone pinned their salvation on. He seemed a likable fellow and bore a striking resemblance to his father with the deep green eyes of his mother, Lily. He had so many questions to ask the young man but they would have to wait until much later. They both had much to do on this first day of school. The enigma of Harry would have to wait.

Hagrid had joined the table that morning as he usually did at the beginning of the school year. He'd given a friendly nod to all the teachers and a longer glance at Snape, who returned it cautiously. They understood each other well, both having a vested interest in protecting the boy.

His eyes strayed over the Gryffindor table and was pleased to see Harry at ease and being treated well so far. He hoped the boy's classes would be the same. Too bad he wouldn't see the boy in his class until third year, more's the pity. He sighed, finished his breakfast, said farewell to his fellow teachers and headed out the main door for outside, children flowing around him like a rock in a river as they hurried off to their classes.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Ron looked lost as he and Harry began hurrying to class.

"Come on, Ron, I know the way," the black haired youth declared confidently, striking off down a corridor at a hurried pace.

"Blimey! How do you know where to go? This place is immense," Ron demanded, following on the boy's heels.

"Remember, I said I'd read the Hogwarts: A History just like Hermione. It had a map which I studied closely before coming here."

"Why would you do that?"

"Safety!"

Ron gave him a confused look as they approached a heavy door and Harry was reaching for the knob to open it.

Harry ignored his expression and stepped into a medium sized room filled with their fellow students. He grimaced. He hated being late. Searching the room, he spotted two seats at the front of the room and hurried for them, already knowing they were late and McGonagall was not pleased.

"Made it. Can you imagine the look on McGonagall's face if we were late?" Ron asked, relieved the teacher was not around or so he thought.

Harry rolled his eyes and waited for what would happen next. On the huge oak desk that was the teacher's, sat a pretty gray stripped tabby cat. Just after Ron spoke it leaped forward and morphed into the professor herself.

Ron's eyes widened in shocked awe. "That was bloody brilliant!"

"I'm glad you think so Mr. Weasley, now may we get on with the day's lesson since you finally graced us with your presence?"

Ron blushed hotly, casting his eyes downward in embarrassment.

Harry smirked a little. He'd known what the cat had been as Snape had told him about those wizards capable of taking an animagus form and instructing him on how to detect them. The professor rather thought Harry would be able to do the spell as well. Harry thought that would be cool and had many a pleasant daydream about what form he might take.

The next class was History of Magic taught by a ghost of all things and incredibly boring. Harry was hard pressed to stay awake as Professor Binns droned on and on.

Professor Snape's class was next. The room was dark with barely enough light coming through a row of windows high near the ceiling, candles were set around the room providing a little more light. As promised, Snape did do his best to single out the Gryffindors by asking questions they couldn't possibly answer at this stage, except for Harry but he wisely kept his mouth shut and simply said, 'I don't know, sir'.

Harry had to admire the excellent acting job the professor displayed before his students. He did a grand performance of sweeping into the room, his robes billowing around him, his expression flat and cold, which only made him look more sinister. Then there was his cold, precise way of speaking, scorn dripping from every word as he intimidated and browbeat his students. Despite the theatrics, though, Harry was pleased to note Snape was a good potions instructor. He was excited to further the education begun by Agatha Hagrid so listened closely and took copious notes.

Charms class was fun and amusing. During the break between classes, he watched as one of his classmates attempted to transfigure glass of water into wine but only succeeded in exploding the glass. In Charms class, that same student managed to blow up his feather. Harry and Hermione managed the spell, levitating the feather, perfectly.

By far the most anticipated class was flying a broom. It was late afternoon and they were standing in two rows facing each other, with a broom by their right foot. Their new teacher was an odd looking woman with slit pupils. She was brisk and authoritative in her manner as she instructed them on how to call their brooms. Ron had problems getting his broom to obey but not Harry who smirked a little at his friend's difficulty.

"Shove it, Harry," Ron huffed, but wasn't angry just frustrated. After several more attempts, he finally managed to get the broom to listen to him.

Madame Hooch told them to mount their brooms and take off from the ground then land. Unfortunately, Neville's thought processes were so chaotic that his broom couldn't understand and thought it was supposed to take off and go.

The boy wailed in fright as his broom proceeded to take him on a wild, uncontrolled ride that was dangerous and could result in death at the speed it was going. Harry couldn't let that happen. He took off like he was born to ride and was soon in hot pursuit of the wayward broom. He flitted between the spires of Hogwarts many towers with surprising skill, fast catching up to poor Neville.

The broom veered back to the practice field then up the side of the castle, very close to the wall. Neville's robe caught a flag stanchion which snatched him off his broom leaving him suspended dangerously high above the ground.

But Harry arrived just as the robe began to tear.

"Grab my broom!" he shouted as he swung close to the boy.

Sheer terror raced through Neville as the robe tore completely and he began to plummet to the ground but it was then he heard and saw Harry. Desperately, he reached out and snatched at the broom behind Harry's rear as the boy passed, succeeding in getting a death grip on the handle with both hands while his body swung freely in the air below.

"Just hang on Neville. I'll get you down safely," Harry assured him as he ordered his broom back to the ground.

The terrifying event hadn't gone unnoticed. Professor McGonagall had glanced out her window and saw the rescue in stunned disbelief. She'd never seen such skilled flying since...well since the boy's father, come to think of it. She quickly got to her feet and hurried downstairs.

Outside, Madame Hooch quickly grabbed hold of the frightened boy hanging from the broom and insured his feet reached the ground as Harry came closer. Once both boys were safely on the ground, she gave them an stern glare.

"Mr. Longbottom what were you doing?"

"I-I-I'm sorry...the broom wouldn't obey me." Neville stuttered and blushed, ashamed at being such a klutz at everything.

Madame Hooch shook her head. This was going to be a problem child, she could feel it already. "You must have a calm, clear mind when ordering your broom to do anything, Mr. Longbottom. A chaotic mind results in exactly what just happened. We're going to have to work on that." He nodded miserably at her and stared at the ground. She then turned her attention to the other boy.

"Mr. Potter, thank you for rescuing Mr. Longbottom before he could be injured. It appears you've had some training on a broom." Her voice held a questioning lilt.

"No ma'am. I've never been on one until now."

Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Oh, a natural then. Well, at least you won't be taking long to learn but here me now...no flying without permission or outside of class, understood?"

"Yes, ma'am." Harry was both pleased and embarrassed at the comment.

"Madame Hooch, excuse me." A voice that was slightly out of breath said from behind them all.

The group parted to reveal Professor McGonagall. Hooch frowned at her, surprised. "Yes?"

"I'd like to take Mr. Potter away, please. He won't be back today."

"Oh, well alright. Mr. Potter study the handbook on care of your broom and first commands. I'll ask you questions on it tomorrow," Hooch told the boy.

"Yes ma'am." Harry left his broom and followed McGonagall, totally confused. What could she want with him but she said nothing except to indicate he follow her as she set off at a brisk pace for the inside once more.

Chapter Text

 

 

 


McGonagall led Harry through the back door, up to the first floor then down a corridor he hadn't been to yet, before stopping at a closed door which she opened.

Inside he could see a man with a turban on his head holding what looked like a giant iguana.

"Excuse me Professor Quirrell," McGonagall called. The odd fellow turned and eyed her nervously.

"Y-Y-Yes?"

"Would you lend me Oliver Wood a moment, please?"

"O-o-f course," Quirrell stuttered, nodding at someone before going on with his class while a tall, lanky youth rose from his seat and headed toward them.

McGonagall smiled at the young man but didn't speak until she'd lead them further along the corridor so they wouldn't disturb the class. "Mr. Wood, I have found you a Seeker. This is Harry Potter." Her voice was excited and pleased to Harry's confusion.

The young man eyed Harry in pleased surprise. He gave the younger boy a thorough looking over and with a broad grin held out his hand. Still at a loss as to why he was here meeting this person, Harry shook the proffered hand.

"Pleased to meet you, Harry. Know anything about Quidditch?" Wood asked, beaming.

"Uh, only what I've read and I did get to see a game once," Harry admitted.

"Perfect. Meet me on the Quidditch field after classes today. I'll answer any questions you might have and get you set up on the team."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "I'm on the Quidditch Team?"

"The skill with which you flew your broom and the way you managed to rescue a classmate, makes you the perfect Seeker, Mr. Potter," McGonagall assured him. "Now run along to your next class," she said, smiling warmly.

Still stunned by this turn of events, Harry did as ordered, hurrying back the way they'd come and catching up with his friends heading to Herbology Class, which was held outside in Greenhouse 3. When he told them what happened, they were stunned by the news.

"Woah! No first year has ever been considered for a Quidditch Team before," Ron exclaimed, a little envious.

"Oh, I didn't know that."

"It's in your blood, Harry. I saw the trophy room on the third floor and there is a gold shield with your father's name on it. He was the top Seeker all his years at Hogwarts so it's really no surprise you would be too," Hermione told him, smugly.

Harry blinked at her in shock. "My father was a seeker?" She nodded. "Wow!" A smile lit his face. It was a wonderful thing to learn he had something in common with his long dead father. It made him feel more connected to the man. He would definitely have to make time to go see the award Hermione found.

"Well, looks like we've both been considered star material," a voice suddenly spoke from behind them as they entered the Herbology classroom.

They turned their heads and saw Draco Malfoy standing there.

"Oh, you've been selected as well?" Harry asked, genuinely pleased.

"Yes and I'm a Seeker too," Draco added, rather proudly and warmed that Harry approved.

Ron scowled at the boy hostilely, jealously burning even hotter knowing an enemy had also been chosen for a team. He knew he couldn't even try out until next year and here two of his year mates were getting a jump on it. This was so not fair, he huffed bitterly to himself. He was about to say something scathing to the Syltherin boy but their teacher, Professor Sprout began calling to them to order.

"Students, please take a seat," she said in a cheery voice.

Ron pushed rudely ahead of the others who paid him no mind as they talked to Draco until they were forced to part ways. The Syltherins had taken the left side of the room and Draco knew he had to join them or be ostracized.

Harry wasn't happy when they were forced to separate but was pleased to note Draco hadn't liked it either. Harry was smart enough to know not to say farewell or anything else that would indicate friendship with the boy. He didn't want to cause him trouble. Taking a seat between Hermione and Ron, he pulled out his book for the class, but his mind was on the stupidity of house separation being observed even in the classrooms...wasn't mealtime bad enough?

Only the first day of school and already I can see this is only going to cause serious trouble, Harry huffed to himself. Sighing, he shoved away the unhappy thought and focused on what Professor Sprout was saying.

He learned this class would teach them the differences between good plants and the ones to definitely avoid if you wanted to remain living. No real hands on work would be done until second year, so he sighed and began to take notes.

The last class of the day until astronomy class around midnight, was The Defense Against the Dark Arts on the first floor. For the second time that day, Harry got to see the strange, stuttering teacher. They had filed into the room and took their seats, their teacher absent from the room at the moment.

As soon as everyone was seated, Professor Quirrell walked in from a back room and passed down an aisle between the desks, coming very close to Harry. Immediately, Harry's personal shields went up. Something was very wrong about this teacher.

As Quirrell began the lesson, beginning with an overview of what they were expected to learn this year, Harry eyed the man more closely but his concentration was being ruined by pain from the scar on his forehead, It had begun to throb painfully as soon as the man had entered the room and was not easing off. He had to resist the urge to rub his head to relieve the discomfort, not wanting to draw attention to himself. It had never bothered him except for those times when he had bad dreams about Voldemort. So why was it hurting now around this teacher?

Quirrell reeked of evil yet his face and manner spoke loudly of a scared rabbit of a man. Was it an act? He also wore a turban, something only worn by certain races by custom, but he didn't look like one of those races. Was it just an affectation? Something was seriously off here. Too many suspicious things about him alarmed Harry. Perhaps speaking with Snape would be a good idea.

He dutifully wrote down notes from the class but kept his eye on the professor, watching for anything else odd about the man. Class ended with no problems and they were released to get some research done on their papers in the library or elsewhere until dinner time.

To his relief, the pain stopped the moment he left the room and was in the corridor. Weird! Shaking his head, mentally, Harry said farewell to his friends, telling them he had to meet Woods at the Quidditch field and would see them at dinner then hurried off to his quarters to leave his books and things. Dropping them onto his bed, he turned and left again, heading down stairs then out the doors to the huge Quidditch Field behind the castle. Wood was waiting for him, smiling. He gestured for the boy to follow him to the locker room where they retrieved an odd truck which Harry helped Oliver carry back out to the field.

They spent the next hour going over the different items involved in the game and the rules. Harry thought it was really cool, especially the snitch he was expected to chase and catch during games. He could hardly wait for practice, the first one scheduled for that Saturday.

He still had an hour left before dinner,so he hurried back to the Gryffindor quarters. The common room was filled with people doing homework or playing games. Many said hi to him as he passed through to go to his room to retrieve his homework. Grabbing what he needed, he returned to the common room and set his books down at the end of a table where Ron was sitting, a chess board before him.

Ron obviously wasn't in too big a hurry to do his homework and grimaced at Harry as the boy pulled one of his books toward himself as well as quill and parchment and began to study. Time to interrupt, he thought.

"Oy, Harry...we have a week to get that done so why not join me in a game of chess?"

Harry looked up from his parchment paper to squint at Ron in the, not very well lit room. He wondered how on earth they were expected to see to get their work done when only candle light was provided. Even the fireplace, which apparently was always lit, didn't provide enough steady light. This had to be the most dismal and poorly illuminated place he'd ever been. Must want us to go blind, he snorted to himself. What I wouldn't give for a good lamp about now. It was bad enough they were forced to use quills instead of ball point pens...honestly...how far in the dark ages did they have to be?

Shoving aside his pet peeves, he shook his head at Ron's request. "No thank you, Ron. I prefer getting it done immediately while it's still fresh in my mind. Besides, if something should interfere like Quidditch practice, I won't be stressed about not having it done and falling behind."

Ron rolled his eyes but could see he couldn't dissuade Harry so called to another classmate, who was perfectly willing to leave off homework to play a while first.

Though a bit on the noisy side for proper studying, Harry did manage to get his homework done. Sighing, he took his books upstairs and put them away just in time to be called out to dinner. The last meal of the day was just as sumptuous as the first two.

It just boggled his mind at the amount and quality of the food served them. Regret passed through him at all the starving children in the world who could benefit by being fed this well. He wondered who was responsible for doing all the cooking and where all the food came from.

Wait! He remembered now. A passage in the Hogwarts: A History said creatures known as house elves kept the place clean, washed the laundry, and cooked the food. He'd seen a drawing of one but hadn't encountered one in person yet. Well he would make an effort to try and speak with one and ask them what their thoughts were on the starving people of the world. Was there a way they could help?

Yet another thing to add to his growing list of questions, he thought ruefully, and to think this was only day one of school. As he ate and glanced around the room, he saw Professor Snape eating soup which reminded him of the urgent matter he needed to discuss with the man. He briefly caught Snape's eye then shifted away to see what the headmaster was doing.

Fortunately, Dumbledore and McGonagall were involved in a rather animated discussion with Professor Sprout and Flitwick at the moment, so Harry felt safe knocking on Snape's mindshield.

Snape wasn't particularly surprised to be asked for entrance by Harry yet again. The boy was a thinker, his mind always busy so Snape had no doubt he was in for millions of questions before half the school year was over.

"Yes?"

"Sorry to be bothering you again so soon, sir, but there's an urgent matter I need to speak to you about tonight. I suggest we communicate mind to mind when I'm abed and you're on your rounds or in your quarters."

Snape frowned mentally. Something urgent? What could it be, after all, it was only the first day of school but he could clearly feel Harry's concern and tension through their link. Whatever it was, had him worried.

"No problem. I know you wouldn't trouble me if it wasn't important. Tonight is good for me and your suggestion sound. Until later..."

"Thank you, sir." Harry cut their connection quickly. He felt too exposed despite their communication being mind to mind. Since he didn't know Quirrell's abilities and the man was seated very close to Snape, Harry felt it wise to err on the side of caution.

His plans were doomed, however, as others in the castle had something else in mind for him this night.

~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~

Besides all the usual problems that crop up on the first day of school, Dumbledore had to contend with the press and the Minister of Magic's demands to meet and talk with Harry Potter now that the child had actually put in an appearance. The Headmaster had to politely but firmly insist everyone back off for a few days and allow the boy to settle in before insisting on a press conference.

If he had his way, he'd try to cancel it permanently but the Minister would only raise a louder stink about it, not caring one whit that he put the boy's life in danger by parading him publicly in the news. It didn't matter to the pompous fool that Harry Potter's life was in danger because Fudge didn't believe the Dark Lord was still about causing trouble. He just wrote off all the attacks on muggles and wizarding kind on disgruntled losers of the war which he felt was over.

So, much to Dumbledore's disgust, he had to agree to a press conference on Friday during the morning break.

Then there was Sirius Black and Remus Lupin to be dealt with. Since Black was the boy's Godfather and Lupin a long time friend of Harry's parents, Dumbledore couldn't very well insist they wait to see the boy they'd been afraid was dead or worse. So he was forced to allow them to see Harry tonight before evening curfew.

The two had only just returned from searching for Pettigrew in Europe following a tip they'd gotten that turned out to be a deliberate red herring. Angry and tired, they'd returned to find out Harry had reappeared. Black was ecstatic and had to be restrained by Lupin to not go haring off into whatever class Harry was in and sweep the boy into his arms. He'd been so inconsolable at Harry's disappearance that only the hunt for the one they knew had gotten the boy's parents killed, had kept him from sinking into a deep depression.

It had taken Lupin a lot of coaxing and arguing to get Black to wait until nightfall to see his Godchild. Dumbledore had given them an empty guest room on the first floor to rest and eat while they waited, giving them strict orders to stay out of sight so they wouldn't disturb the children.

The Headmaster had hoped he would be able to get the information he desired by listening into the conversation between the boy and these two but then before late afternoon arrived, he was told by the rest of the order that they too wanted to interview Harry. He tried to put them off, but Moody and Shackelbolt were adamant that Harry be questioned on his whereabouts and who his guardians were. The fear the boy had been taken in by someone of Voldemort's camp was very real so the suspicion had to be eliminated first thing before any could trust him. Dumbledore had to admit that was a very valid concern, so instead of a small gathering, this was going to be a large meeting. Black, he knew, was going to be incensed but there was nothing he could do about it.

As he ate his dinner, later that evening, Dumbledore was more than a little surprised to hear Harry had been selected as a Seeker for the Gryffindor Team. First years weren't normally allowed such a thing though there were exceptions and this, apparently, was one of those times.

He had wanted the boy to be less visible for the first few years to give him time to get used to his notoriety as the boy-who-lived but McGonagall had told him it would be criminal to deprive Harry of the opportunity when he was especially gifted and he had to agree... his father had been the same after all. It would also help Harry integrate into wizarding society, that is, if he hadn't been living with wizards in the first place.

He sighed, too many question and waiting was making him antsy. Despite learning patience over his many years of life, this one occasion was pushing that hard won skill to its limits. Shaking off his annoyance, he glanced over at the Gryffindor table and noted Harry seemed to be settling in well. He appeared happy, as he saw him laugh at something one of the others near him had said. Well, let us hope his good humor won't be ruined by tonight's meeting. He finished his food and with a brief nod to all at the table, departed for his office.

~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~0~

Finishing his meal, Snape returned to his office to correct papers. A couple of hours later, as he dropped the last student's paper on the pile and got up to stretch, he received a call to report to the headmaster's office.

Frowning, concerned at the reason for a meeting at this hour, he hurried through the halls as the huge clock in the hall chimed eight. He arrived at the gargoyle that guarded the staircase to Dumbledore's office and barked, "Ding Dongs," grimacing distastefully at the ridiculous name.

The gargoyle began to slowly turn away revealing the staircase hidden behind it. When it was completely visible, he walked up them to the heavy door at the top and knocked. Inside, a voice called him to enter. Opening it, he stepped through and nearly rolled his eyes at who was waiting within besides Dumbledore.

Closing the door behind him, he walked toward the large group near the headmaster's huge desk which was set near a window that overlooked the grounds. Pacing, his body tense with anger, was Black, Lupin hovering nearby as usual. Sitting in many of the chairs Dumbledore had obviously conjured were Tonks, Shacklebolt, Molly and Arthur Weasley. McGonagall was sitting in a chair on the other side of Dumbledore's desk facing the others and standing by the window was Moody...the core of the Order of the Phoenix were here.

Tensing inside, Snape presented a cool exterior as he took an empty chair next to Tonks which wasn't far from Fawkes' perch, crossing his legs and fingers as he stared around at everyone with a jaundiced eye.

Moody's odd magical eye followed the potion's master intently as the man walked across the room then took a seat. The old auror suspected there was much more to Snape than anyone knew. He was aware of the story about how, as a young man, the wizard had made a stupid mistake, joining up to become a death eater then later recanting when he'd seen what a monster his Dark Lord was and became a spy for the light.

Snape's trustworthiness wasn't in question and Moody admired the man's willingness to put his life in danger day after day for little reward as a spy in Voldemort's camp but there was just something not quite human about the man that set his senses on alert. That something else, he was sure, was why Snape had managed to survive so long in Voldemort's employ.

Despite many years of digging into Snape's past, Moody had not been able to find out much about the Snape family beyond the basics everyone knew already. There were rumors that not all the Snapes were truly human but then, many wizarding families could point to odd pairings between wizard and magical creatures in their lineages so that wasn't really unusual.

He didn't think whatever Snape was threatened them, but it did cause him to doubt the man's true intentions at times when it concerned the battle against the dark. Moody felt Snape had a different agenda, one that was still on the side of the light, but working at cross purposes of the Order of the Phoenix's. However, he couldn't prove it, hence his constant vigilance around the man.

Snape could feel Moody's eye on him as always. He wished the man would just give up already. Snape was never going to tell the ex-auror what made the Snape family unique...ever. Snorting mentally, he glanced over at Fawkes who gave him a soft chirp and a wink. He nodded slightly but made no move to pet the bird as he didn't want anyone to know they were on friendly terms or understood each other more than they should.

He focused his mind on why they were all here. Pettigrew came to mind. Despite having told Dumbledore that Pettigrew was suspected of being in Voldemort's camp, no one had been able to apprehend him even after so much time had passed. Snape suspected but couldn't prove it as he'd not seen the rat-faced fool himself, that McNair might be hiding Pettigrew. He wouldn't be surprised if that were true.

However, he suspected Pettigrew wasn't the subject of this meeting as he glanced over at Black who was still pacing. He had an uncomfortable idea he knew what, or better yet, who was on the agenda tonight. His suspicion was confirmed when the Headmaster addressed him suddenly.

"Thank you for coming so quickly, Severus," Dumbledore murmured then directed his next comments to the room in general. "We are here to interview Harry. I hadn't wanted his first meeting with me to have been with a crowd but I have been prevailed upon to do it this way, especially considering what's at stake. We must determine if Voldemort had any hand in the boy's disappearance and subsequent rearing. I think I can safely say, none of us wants to think Harry might have fallen into our enemy's hands but we must be sure."

"NO! I refuse to believe Harry's been made an enemy," Black shouted.

"But you can't swear to it, Black so we must interrogate the boy to be sure," Moody said, bluntly.

Sirius nearly leaped at Moody but Lupin was already there restraining him. "Stop it Sirius. This has to be done and you know it." His friend nearly smacked him in the face for saying that, however, Sirius calmed down a bit and sat in a chair near the wall and glared at everyone. Lupin sighed and took the seat next to him.

Snape grimaced unhappily. He knew this might happen but had hoped they could have waited. Should he warn Harry? He knew the boy hadn't been anywhere near the Dark Lord but he couldn't tell anyone how he knew that without betraying Hagrid and that he wouldn't do. A soft chirp next to him made him look up at Fawkes. Snape knew exactly what the bird wanted and made his decision based on it.

Sending his mind outward, knowing Fawkes would hide him doing it, Snape reached out to Harry. After only a moment, he was answered.

"I was just going to contact you," Harry said quietly.

"You're about to be ordered to the headmaster's office where I and others will interrogate you...prepare yourself," Snape said quickly then cut off his communication, not daring to risk a longer explanation despite Fawkes' help. Glancing over at Dumbledore, he sighed in relief to see the powerful wizard was not looking at him but at McGonagall, sending her out to retrieve Harry. Moody's attention was on Black.

Whatever happens now, Fawkes and he would do what they could to protect Harry. Fortunately, the boy's shield were more than adequate to protect him from anyone probing him. And something that would surprise those in the room except for himself was the fact Harry was resistant to Veritiserum. They would have to ask him the old fashioned way which wouldn't make anyone happy or certain of the boy's true allegiances. There was nothing he could do about that.

Harry wouldn't be intimidated by anyone in this room, not even Moody, but the real question was...would Harry trust Dumbledore enough to willingly give them sufficient information to allay their suspicions without giving away who his guardians were? That was the question he couldn't answer. He would have to wait and see like the rest of them.

Chapter Text

Harry blinked in shock as he sat on his bed. He hadn't changed for bed as he still had Astronomy class tonight (which he found rather weird having a class so late at night), so he was at least dressed when McGonagall sent a classmate up to get him as females weren't allowed in the male's dorms. Showing appropriate confusion on his face, Harry met her in the common room.

"Something wrong, Professor?"

"Your presence is desired in the Headmaster's office," she said primly.

"This late? But why?"

"You'll get your answer when you see Professor Dumbledore. Now come along," McGonagall said briskly, not enlightening him.

He was glad Professor Snape had been able to give him a forewarning. Following behind his hurrying house leader, he worked at strengthening his shields and preparing to defend himself against whatever he faced.

In silence they hurried through the silent corridors until they reached an ugly looking gargoyle. Harry wondered why they'd stopped as he couldn't see a door or stairwell anywhere.

"Ding Dongs!" McGonagall muttered.

Harry blinked in surprise to hear her mention a strictly muggle treat here of all places then was further surprised when the gargoyle began to move to the side revealing a hidden staircase. McGonagall headed upward immediately leaving Harry to shake his head and follow quickly after her, reaching a heavy door moments later. She swung it open without knocking, gesturing for him to precede her.

Inside, he saw the same thing Snape had, except Harry didn't know who these people were except for four of them. He halted in his tracks just a few feet over the threshold, his body unwilling to go further, but McGonagall put a hand to his midback and gently pushed him forward toward an empty chair. Since everyone there were sitting in a half circle, the chair was set in the center of the open space where the circle would have met. This allowed them to see him easily and he them without turning his head like an owl.

"Sit," she said, briefly, before leaving him to go take her seat next to Dumbledore's desk.

Gingerly, Harry sat down on the edge of the padded chair, clasping his hands in his lap, then gave all the strangers a curious stare while waiting for someone to tell him why he was there. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Snape sitting a short distance from him...he didn't turn his head nor make eye contact. Glancing up at Professor Dumbledore, he let his face show confusion and a little fear but inside, he was calm and ready for battle.

"Forgive the late evening meeting, Harry but we need to ask you some important questions," Dumbledore said without preamble. "You see, at the time of your parents death, they were members of this group known as the Order of the Phoenix. We were too late to save them but did hope to rescue you, however, you were already gone. I'm sure you can appreciate the concern it caused us?"

"I guess, sir, but why does it matter now? It's obvious I'm fine," Harry said, frowning.

"Yes, but your disappearance caused a considerable stir as well as understandable grief and concern for your Godfather who didn't know what happened to you. He feels guilty as he was supposed to have seen to your safety should something happen to your parents," Dumbledore admonished him quietly.

Harry felt his face burn with shame as he looked over at the black haired man with the anxious expression on his face. Of course, Hagrid had told him when he was nine years old the terrible story of his parents death, about the man who had been made his Godfather, and their werewolf friend Lupin but, even though he was happy to have someone that had known his parents very well, he'd firmly decided there would be no contact with them. He feared for his guardians safety should his location be found out.

Seeing the man now, Harry felt he might have been a bit too hasty about that as Sirius Black looked haggard and worn from years of fighting the enemy and concern for Harry's welfare. He supposed he should have gotten word to Sirius somehow but that was water under the bridge now, all he could do was apologize and tell the man why he'd not contacted him.

"I am sorry Sirius. I was told, when I was old enough to understand, about my parents death and the names of their closest friends as well as the danger that still existed around me. Because of that, I forbade all those protecting me from telling anyone of my whereabouts. I couldn't bear for them to come to harm as well. I didn't mean to upset and worry you so," he said sincerely.

Sirius leaped from his seat and hurried to Harry who stood and allowed the man to hug him tightly.

"Oh Harry, you were but a little tike when last I laid eyes on you. I was so devastated when we could find no sign of you," Sirius moaned, nuzzling the boys hair a moment longer, so relieved to see the boy alive and healthy...Lilly and James would be so pleased at how well he'd turned out.

Taking a deep inhale of the boy's scent, he finally relaxed and stepped back a bit, his hands still on the boy's shoulders as he stared into those green eyes, so like his mother's it hurt deep in his heart.

"You look well. Someone treated you with proper care...now look at you, so much like your parents it's amazing," Sirius said, smiling warmly.

Harry returned the smile. He instantly liked the man. Despite his wild appearance, Harry could feel an inherent goodness within Sirius. He could see why his parents liked and trusted him well enough to entrust their only child to his care.

"I hope we have time soon for you to tell me about my parents," Harry said, sincerely.

Sirius smiled broadly. "Oh we shall, never fear."

"If you please, Sirius...we still must question the boy," Dumbledore interrupted quietly.

Sirius rolled his eyes but only Harry could see him do it, causing him to nearly laugh in amusement. His Godfather was a rogue and a prankster according to Hagrid but possessed a kind heart. Sirius winked at him then reluctantly released him to return to his seat.

Sitting down himself, Harry waited for the interrogation to begin.

"I'm afraid we must ask you a great many questions, Harry and you must answer as truthfully as you can. There is much fear about what your guardians may have taught you and where their allegiances are in regards to the those fighting for the light so it's important we determine if you are trustworthy," Dumbledore said, solemnly.

"I don't know how I can assure you that you have nothing to worry about so please ask away and I'll tell you what I can, though I suspect you will not like the answers," Harry said seriously, dropping his fearful and worried look for a more adult calculating and assessing one.

Dumbledore blinked in surprise. This was not the reaction he'd expected from a child of only eleven. When Harry stepped into the room, he was every inch a scared, little, boy but now there sat someone with old eyes gazing out of a very young face. Eyes that had seen much and held a great deal of knowledge. How could that be?

"Who took you away that night?" Moody barked, impatient with all the niceties going on and a little taken aback himself about the boy's demeanor though he didn't show it outwardly.

Harry gazed into Moody's odd eyes with no fear and said politely but firmly, "I can't tell you that, sir."

"Why?"

"For the same reason I wouldn't contact Sirius, to protect my guardians from harm."

"But if they are on the side of the light as we are, then they should unite with us to bring down this evil or are they just standing on the sidelines?" Shacklebolt stepped in to demand.

"They fight the darkness in their own way, sir, but feel joining with you is not in their best interests," Harry countered.

Affronted, Shacklebolt angrily asked, "Why do they think that?"

"The Order has suffered betrayal hasn't it?" Harry returned, bluntly.

"How the devil did you know that?" Was the shocked rejoinder from their ministry liaison.

"We know a great many things. There is so much evil in the land at the moment that trust is much like a snowflake in a storm, fleeting and hard to pin down. Mankind is so easily swayed by money, power, and greed that my guardians and their friends and allies feel it safer to keep their distance and watch from outside than become mired in the mess which is wizarding England."

"So they're not wizards. Are they muggles?" Lupin asked, curious.

"Are they pacifists?" Sirius demanded at the same time, disgusted. Not liking those kind of people.

Harry couldn't hold back the laughter that bubbled out. Just the thought of the centaurs being pacifists was enough to send him into gales of laughter. It took him a moment to control his giggles. He also ignored Lupin's question.

"Oh no... ha ha...not pacifists. They fight when they need to, keeping their borders free of the evil that seeks to invade them at every opportunity. Though they do prefer peace, as all intelligent creatures do, they don't hesitate to defend the right of all creatures to go about in peace and happiness. Anything that threatens that is fought fiercely and destroyed. Even now, they hunt continuously for the evil that is behind this unspoken war but Voldemort is sly and hides himself well however, his time will end soon enough." Harry's eyes were cold with certainty. He deliberately used the man's name to shock and disturb those in the room, keeping them off balance.

Everyone but Severus winced at the sound of the Dark Lord's name spoken so easily from Harry's lips. Even Moody paused to stare at the boy with surprised caution. How could one so young be so fearless and so knowledgeable? Someone taught him well but who?

Snape was smiling inside. Way to go Harry! Hope he can keep this up and get out of here intact.

"You seem incredibly well informed about who we're fighting and not frightened of him when your elders are terrified of just speaking his name." Moody questioned, trying to penetrate the boy's mind and finding himself completely blocked. Such a strong mindshield was unheard of in a child. Everything about the boy was an enigma. They were no closer to their answer than when they'd begun.

Harry shrugged. "Give evil the fear he wants and he's won half the battle. It's just a name and not even his true one...what is there to fear from a name? Speak it boldly and remove half his weapon, that is the way to win this war," he said wisely.

Sirius could only gape in amazement at his Godson. He was nothing like James except in appearance, that was for certain. But exactly who was this boy and how did he know so much?

Dumbledore felt they were being skillfully manipulated. He too couldn't pierce the boy's mind at all. The only thing he could detect was enormous untapped power that only waited for the boy to grow older to be used. He would be a formidable warrior as an adult though, he had a bad feeling despite his young age, Harry already knew more of war than he should.

Already the boy possessed uncommon wisdom and intelligence. He glanced around the room and found everyone were clearly taken aback by the boy's coolness under the pressure they were applying. Someone taught this boy how to protect his mind and armed him with every fact they could so he wasn't ignorant as his classmates were about their enemy. No one seemed to know what to make of this.

"Someone has seen to your education, that much is obvious but you won't tell us who was responsible for it even now, will you?" McGonagall asked, certain this was true. He simply knew too much and she had a suspicion he was already ahead of his fellow classmates in many subjects but he was hiding that well.

Harry looked over at her, his eyes calm and regretful. "No, sorry, professor. I will only tell you they were good to me, raised me with love and caring and, yes, lots of education." He grimaced at that last part, remembering some of the boring lessons he'd had to sit through, making Molly Weasley laugh suddenly.

"Some was fun, some wasn't, eh?" She said, knowingly, a warm smile on her lips.

"Isn't that the way of learning?" Harry snorted, returning her smile with a wane one of his own. She had a kind face but he could sense she was a fierce fighter and witch. The perfect mom for Ron that's for certain and no push over...he could feel the strength of her magic against his own. The skill levels in here were strong...these were powerful wizards and witches and he could sense no traitors here, thankfully.

"Oh aye! My children will vouch for that," she agreed, laughing merrily, her husband grinning in agreement.

Moody struck his staff angrily against the floor, demanding everyone's attention. He was frowning at Harry. The boy was actually controlling this interrogation. Time to change that... "With his refusal to identify his caretakers, we still don't know if we can trust him. So we must give him Veritiserum." He glanced over at Dumbledore questioningly.

"Regrettably, you are correct Alastor. Severus, if you please?"

Snape jerked inwardly. He had brought the serum as he'd been instructed but was extremely reluctant to use it however, he had no choice. He pulled it from his robes. Standing he walked over to Harry.

Harry stared up at him trustingly and opened his mouth without hesitation. Moody stiffened. The boy shouldn't have been so unafraid unless he felt none of the adults here meant him any harm or he knew something else. He limped over to stare down at the boy more closely as the serum was fed to him. Harry sat placidly as they waited the five minutes needed for the serum to take effect.

"What is your full name?" Moody barked, taking over the interrogation.

"Harry James Potter."

"Do you know anyone in this room?"

"Professors Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall and Sirius Black."

"Did you know any of them before coming to Hogwarts?"

"Only Sirius." Which of course was a lie since he'd met Snape over the summer.

"Who cared for you since you were an infant?"

"I can't tell you."

Moody gaped at him then jerked his head toward Snape.

"Don't look at me. That is a perfectly made batch. If you don't believe me, try it on someone else," Snape said flatly.

Scowling, Moody looked around the room. "Who'll volunteer?"

"Sorry, won't work on me," Lupin said, shrugging. Tonks shook her head. Others looked at the floor.

"For Heaven's Sake, I'll take it," Molly sighed, resigned. Someone had to do it and it was obvious no else would volunteer. She grimaced when the serum touched her tongue, glad it numbed it after the first disgusting taste. "You make the most nastiest potions, Severus," she remarked.

"I try," Snape snorted, a tiny smile tugging his lips. He liked Molly and she knew it as she gave him a tiny smile back.

Grumpily, Moody quickly tested Molly and found the serum worked just as Snape said it would. Scowling even more, he turned back to Harry. "You felt nothing from the serum?"

"No sir, sorry."

Turning his head to Dumbledore, he growled. "Well now what do you suggest we do, Albus?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Compromise

"I say enough!" Sirius roared, leaping to his feet, directing his ire toward Dumbledore. "He's been as honest as he can be. Anyone can plainly see he's been well cared for and loved, as well as educated and trained to protect himself. There's no evil in him! What more do you want?"

"It doesn't prove he wasn't reared by someone with an agenda that's in line with the Dark Lord's," Moody snapped, mulishly.

"But, there is no way to prove that," Arthur Weasley said. The interrogation of the child these many hours had made him uncomfortable and angry. "I agree with Sirius. Enough of this questioning."

"He's a child and we have no right to continue berating him this way. I can feel he's not got an evil bone in his body, why can't you?" Molly shouted, equally angry.

"I agree! How ya goin' to prove he ain't good when everything about him feels fair not foul, if you know wat I mean?" Tonks interjected, always willing to tweak Moody's grimness with her irreverence at any opportunity.

Moody was about to blast her with one of his security lectures when Remus Lupin stood up.

"Perhaps I can settle this matter...my senses are keener than any of you...even yours Moody. If he's been in contact with our enemy, I should be able to sniff it out," he suggested, eyeing Dumbledore questioningly.

"Good idea, Moony!" Sirius cried, hoping his friend would solve their dilemma with his wolf nose. Moody glared but said nothing as Dumbledore didn't object, nodding at Lupin to go ahead.

Lupin smiled and walked toward Harry, stopping before the boy and looking down. Feeling no threat from the werewolf, Harry smiled back and waited.

"Hello, Harry...may I do a little sniffing?" Lupin asked, quietly.

"Of course, if it will stop all this questioning, please do," the boy agreed, relieved. He was getting hardily tired of fencing with everyone and wanted to end this quickly.

Lupin nodded and leaned closer to the boy, sniffing deeply, his eyes going wolf amber for a moment. No whiff of evil clung to the boy but something else certainly did. A form of magic he'd only had brief encounters with when he was in the forest during the full moon. It always lingered around him for a little while when the wolf receded at sunrise.

Knowing the forest dwellers were keeping watch over him eased his fears of harming any innocents the wolf might encounter during the night. He didn't think they did it because they cared about him in particular, they were most likely more concerned for their own kind but he appreciated their watchfulness nonetheless.

Suspecting Harry had been taken and reared by those that used old magic, he felt he owed them a debt for caring and keeping the boy safe so he chose not to reveal his suspicions. The only thing he would impart was the scent of a benign magical source on Harry's body. Let them try and figure out what that might be.

His senses also told him the boy harbored a great deal of power, heavily shielded. It spoke to him of someone who could become more powerful than Dumbledore and the Dark Lord given time. Hope sprang in his chest at the thought of when the boy became a man, it was possible this war would finally be ended if Harry was even half as powerful as his young body seemed to promise. Pleased with his discoveries, he stood straight again, winked at Harry conspiratorially, before schooling his features to a more serious mien as he turned to face his fellow Order members. Time to get the heat off the boy.

Stepping away from Harry he addressed the waiting group. "I scent no evil clinging to Harry but I do smell a strange form of benign magic lingering on his person. I have no idea what it could be but it isn't evil either."

Snape's eyebrows rose at that rather bland and misleading statement. He knew Lupin's senses would have detected the aura left by the forest dwellers just as he could but had decided not to report that to anyone here. I wonder why? He mused. Perhaps he should have a little chat with the werewolf sometime soon.

Dumbledore eyed the boy a long moment while Moody grumbled under his breath about using werewolves to detect evil when they were supposed to be evil themselves. Lupin shot the ex-auror a glare of anger but wisely didn't respond, returning to his seat next to Tonks. Sirius was still standing, a look of triumph on his face.

"So, can we end this farce now?" he demanded.

Molly couldn't help but roll her eyes at Sirius' disrespect but knew it was useless trying to make the man change his ways...he was a rebel... plain and simple and always would be.

"I hardly think a quick sniff is sufficient to ally our concerns," Shacklebolt objected.

Dumbledore sighed to himself. It was a stalemate. He knew what that benign magical aura was and suspected Lupin did too but it was just as obvious, neither of them wanted the others to know most likely for different reasons. Anyway, Lupin's findings only confirmed the clues he'd gotten from Fawkes and Severus. Harry had been in the keeping of the forest dwellers but no one here except for those that already knew, would believe that, so keeping it a secret was for the best right now, though this certainly made it difficult to convince Moody why they were so certain Harry was not a minion of the Dark Lord.

This didn't mean Dumbledore wasn't more than a little miffed the forest dwellers failed to tell him the whereabouts of the boy from the beginning. But he let that go as they had sent him the boy after all, though more trained and wiser than he had wanted. Still it meant Harry wouldn't be easy prey for the Dark Lord and his minions and that was a good thing. So he really couldn't complain.

Glancing over at Alastor, he could see the old ex-auror eyeing the boy intently with his magical eye. Dumbledore wondered what he saw. Shaking his head, he knew Moody would not reveal his suspicions to him until he'd done some investigating. Doubtful he would find out much as the forest dwellers had no love for the man. Sighing, the Headmaster returned his attention to the patiently waiting boy and his impatient Godfather.

"I'm afraid it will have to do," he began then raised a palm to signal quiet when Alastor and Kingsley tired to object again. "There are no other tests we can safety conduct nor other questions that would get us the answers we seek so we must assume he is innocent of any association with the Dark Lord's minions," he said firmly then looked down at the boy. "Harry, please forgive our need to test you this way. The Dark Lord has many ears and eyes about, even here, so I am grateful that you're not naive about the dangers and seemed to be more adequately prepared than your classmates. I am certain this was because of the care your guardians took to rear and train you. It sets my mind more at ease about your safety here. You may return to your dorm to get some much needed rest as you have a very busy day ahead of you tomorrow," he said kindly, his blue eyes twinkling.

Relieved, Harry gave the Headmaster a small smile and a nod then rose from his seat and hurried toward the door. He hadn't quite reached it before his Godfather halted him by wrapping his arms around the boy's body and hugging tight.

"When we can make some time, we need to get together so we can get acquainted and I can tell you about your parents as well as answer any other questions you might have," he promised.

Harry smiled more broadly and hugged the man back. "That would be wonderful, Sirius. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Sleep well, Harry," Sirius said warmly, pulling back and ruffling the boy's messy hair affectionately before releasing him.

"You too," Harry murmured before turning and leaving the room. Once on the staircase, he nearly flew down the stairs to the main floor and hurried back to his dorm, relieved he'd made it through the interrogation without giving away any important secrets. He only hoped they would leave him alone now.

A small dark shape appeared by his side, its small legs running to keep up with the hurrying boy.

It mewed to get his attention.

Harry halted his headlong flight to squat down next to his furry friend. "Wine, you've been waiting for me?"

Wine nodded his head and purred under Harry's scratching fingers between his ears.

"Then you know what went on. Let our mutual friend know what happened please and that I'll try and slip away to see him if I can sometime soon."

The kneazle nodded, accepted another scratch before turning away and heading back down the hall toward the main entrance, his body vanishing from view before he went more than a few paces.

Smiling, Harry stood up and hurried off again. Reaching the portrait he quickly muttered the password, the lady smiled warmly at him before swinging open the door. In the common room a small group of his classmates stood or sat around waiting, they all looked tired and grumpy. Harry frowned a moment in confusion before remembering they had astronomy class tonight. Glancing up at the old clock on the wall he saw he'd made it with forty-five minutes to spare. Rolling his eyes, he realized he'd been in Dumbledore's office over three hours.

"Oy! Where have you been," Ron asked, coming up to Harry's side where he still stood just inside the closed door.

"Professor Dumbledore needed to speak with me," Harry sighed.

"Oh, bad stuff that, you look a bit worn out. They badger you a bit?" Ron asked, concerned.

"A bit but it's all okay now" Harry refused to elaborate.

To his pleased surprise, Ron didn't ask for an explanation. "Good," he said, smiling then covering a yawn that caught him by surprise. "Blimey, who ever heard of a class held at night?" He groused.

"Well, when did you think you'd be able to see the stars?" Hermione's voice spoke up from behind Harry.

"I don't see why we even need this kind of class in the first place," Ron complained. That set Hermione off on a wordy and long winded explanation of the need for astronomy in the creation or casting of some spells and potions.

Harry only listened with part of his attention. He realized not only did he have this class to attend but he still needed to speak to Snape about Professor Quirrell. Hope I get some sleep tonight, he mused, then yawned. It had already been an impossibly long day and the night was beginning to look like its mirror.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"I don't trust him." Moody said flatly the moment the door was shut behind Potter.

"I must admit, I don't trust him either," Shacklebolt agreed, a look of concern on his dark skinned face.

"For goodness sake's! He's only a child," Molly Weasley exclaimed, annoyed with the pair of them.

"That boy behaved like no child should or could at his age. He's too sure of himself and his shields are far beyond a child's capabilities."

Molly snorted in exasperation. "Of course he's sure of himself! His guardians trained him to be that way so he could defend himself as much as possible since they could not be with him. It's what any parent would do to protect their child. But none of that changes the fact Harry is still just a child. He has much to learn and a body to grow into."

"With the skills he possesses already, I suspect he could very well defend himself nearly like an adult already. You cannot call him simply a child with the power of those shields holding against us with ease," Moody pointed out caustically.

"It just means he's had good teachers and possesses the seeds of the power we saw in his father and mother," McGonagall retorted, defending her student.

The Headmaster saw it was time to intervene as Sirius was ready to go to blows with Moody and Molly was boiling over with fury at the old auror's obstinance. "Enough!" He ordered, power behind his voice forcing obedience.

The Order went silent, turning to stare at him in startled surprise.

"I understand your concerns Alaster...Kingsley... but let me assure you, Harry is only a child with exceptional training and education. He is not evil as the castle spirit and Fawkes would have detected it."

Fawkes chose that moment to sing a long, clear note of agreement to that statement, making everyone blink and stare at him in bemusement.

However, Moody was not to be quelled that easily. "Neither reacted to Tom Riddle so that doesn't fill me with much confidence.

Dumbledore's eyes reflected sorrow. "He was but a child too who had been sorely abused, not evil at first but certainly misguided in his thinking. I blame myself for not addressing his needs immediately, allowing his anger at his prior treatment at the orphanage to fester and grow. By the time he departed before his seventh year, the castle spirit was ready to reject him but by then it was already too late."

Moody scowled, though he hadn't been aware of Riddle's treatment as a young child, it didn't change what kind of child he'd been. "Matter's not how he was treated and nothing you could have done would have changed what he turned into Albus...he were born a sociopath and the castle obviously didn't detect that."

"I wasn't aware you even knew muggle medical terms," Snape said, snidely.

Moody glared at him but said civil enough, "though we aren't normally prone to such things ourselves, we would be lax in our vigilance if we didn't consider our muggle-born students could have such conditions which is why I made it my business to know about such things."

Snape eyed the man with new respect and private concern. He would have to be extra careful around the old auror than he already was.

"So are you saying my Godson is a budding sociopath too?" Sirius bellowed, fists clenched in fury, Lupin holding onto the furious man's shirt to keep him seated.

"Of course not, but he does bear watching. He is too powerful and not under our control which makes me worried about him among the other less capable children," Moody insisted.

"I wouldn't have it any other way, my friend. Now, it's very late and we've spent enough time on this subject. Time to seek our beds."

"Good idea," Tonks grunted, rising from her chair and heading for the door, followed by the Weasleys.

Kingsly stood with stately grace, nodded his head at Dumbledore in respect before leaving himself.

Moody gave Dumbledore a hard look before stomping out the door.

Sirius hung back, lingering near the Headmaster's desk. Lupin rolled his eyes at his friend but remained at his side, waiting.

"When can I be with Harry," he demanded when he had Dumbledore's attention.

"I know how anxious you are to renew your ties with the boy, Sirius but he has many busy days ahead of him..."

"Do not tell me I have to wait until an official school break. It's not happening!" Sirius interrupted him, rudely.

Dumbledore sighed. "Then perhaps you could wait until at least the following weekend? Harry must still face the Minister of Magic's questioning this week and will be annoyed and angry, I'm certain, this weekend. Not a good way to begin a familial relationship, I should think."

"You'd be wrong! That is the perfect time to be with him as he will want comforting and reassurance," Sirius countered firmly.

Shaking his head at the obstinance of the man, the Headmaster capitulated. "Very well, this Sunday as Saturday he'll be occupied."

"Done!" Sirius grinned triumphantly then turned and headed for the door before the man could change his mind, Lupin on his heels.

"Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with the mutt," Severus's voice floated to Dumbledore's ears.

He turned his head to stare at his Potion's Master with mild annoyance. Snape merely shrugged his shoulders. "I bid you goodnight, Headmaster," the sallow man murmured silkily, leaving the head wizard alone as he stepped out the door, closing it firmly behind him.

Standing up, Dumbledore went to his familiar's side and gave the bird a gentle caress. "When did I lose control here?" he murmured, annoyed and tired.

Fawkes chirred soothingly to ease his friend, only a little sad for his familiar's frustrations but not sad enough to divulge the secrets he held. Harry's safety and well being came first.

Chapter Text

 

 

Astronomy class was interesting but hard to pay attention to after such a long day. When they were released it was moving past one in the morning. By the time they readied themselves for bed it was one-thirty.

Harry was so tired he forgot he needed to speak with Professor Snape. He simply slid gratefully into his soft bed and was quickly asleep.

Meanwhile in the dungeon, Snape eyed the old clock on his mantle with a tired sigh. It was a quarter of two...obviously Harry had forgotten their original appointment but he could hardly blame the child after all he'd been through this night. He would make an effort to pull Harry aside later today and find out what had been so important.

He yawned, finished his glass of wine he'd been drinking while he waited then rose and made for his own comfortable bed.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The day went fairly well to Harry's mind as he and his new friends made their way to their Defense Against the Dark Art's class. No one had hassled him and though he knew he was under close observation by the Order, he felt safe enough to relax and just enjoy being a student just like everyone else.

The only irritant were the students that hero worshiped him. Now that was annoying. He was very grateful that Hermione and Ron were willing to act as buffers for him. Ron's methods were rather rude (pushing people away and calling them names) while Hermione's sharp tongue sometimes shamed the person to leave. Unfortunately, there were still the die hard hangers-on that just didn't get the message.

A particularly annoying flea was a little shaver known as Colin Creevy whose passion for photography made him a right nuisance with his need to capture every event on film. Harry never knew when the little blighter would appear and flash him in the face. So far, Creevy had taken no less than six photos since this morning at breakfast. Fortunately, he wasn't in any of Harry's classes.

His good mood evaporated the instant he stepped foot into the Dark Arts classroom. Just as before, a taint of evil permeated the air. Looking around he didn't see Professor Quirrell as yet but knew the man was the source. Now that he thought about it, he wondered why the castle spirit hadn't felt it as well and expelled it from the Hogwarts by now?

He'd met the castle spirit when a light feathery touch tapped against his shields the moment he'd crossed the threshold of Hogwarts. At the time, so much was going on he dismissed the touch but that night in his sleep, the spirit had made itself known to him. It welcomed him and promised to aid him should he need it.

Harry had felt awe that such an old spirit would be willing to talk to a lowly student like himself. It was a little frightening too considering how much magic Hogwarts held but he thanked it for its thoughtfulness. Nothing like another layer of protection, he'd thought at the time.

Anyway, as everyone took a seat, it was then Professor Quirrell entered the room. The evil reached out and made his scar burn with pain. He was quick to smother the sudden gasp he might have released at that sudden discomfort. His eyes narrowed as he tried to not reach up and rub his head, watching the Dark Arts Professor go to his desk and prepare for the day's lessons.

He roundly cursed himself. This was what he had wanted to speak to Professor Snape about last night and had forgotten. And now he knew why the castle hadn't detected the evil. It was hidden by the thin layer of a pure soul. Beneath that was a solid core of evil that fully engulfed the thin, nervous professor's body. Harry was hard put to hold onto his calm, disinterested expression, covering his consternation at his discovery by pulling out his paper, quill, and DA book.

The poor man was possessed! He thought, horrified. The castle cannot sense it because of that thin, barely intact layer of what was left of the man's soul.

Suddenly, the pain soared for no discernable reason. Quirrell wasn't looking at him as he told them the days lesson in that stuttering speech of his. Apparently his discomfort was plainly visible because Ron leaned close and whispered to him.

"Are you alright, mate?" he asked softly.

"Uh...just a headache, no worries," Harry managed to say, his voice tight.

Ron looked doubtful but didn't press him, returning his attention to the front of the classroom.

Harry pressed his hand against the scar while his eyes squinted up at the teacher. Quirrell wasn't looking at him as he was writing something on the chalkboard yet Harry couldn't shake the sensation that eyes were staring at him intensely, attempting to bore their way past his shields.

However, those shields were strong and resisted the intrusion firmly but not without giving poor Harry a giant headache while the battle was going on. It seemed like forever but was actually only minutes when the pressure ceased and class went on as if nothing had happened. And to the students nothing had. Quirrell acted as if nothing had happened either as he faced about and answered someone's question, but Harry couldn't make out what he was saying through the fierce aching of his head.

He'd never been soo glad when class was over and he could escape. He grabbed his books and slipped away before his friends realized he'd gone. Hurrying through the crowds of students he headed for the dungeons.

It was fortunate their next class was potions as he really needed to see Professor Snape before class began. His headache made his stomach ill and he could barely see where he was going but somehow he managed to reach the potion's classroom ahead of everyone.

Professor Snape wasn't in the room but Harry knew he was around and opened his shield just enough to call for help before shutting them tightly again. Only seconds later, Snape hurried into the room from a side door and rushed to Harry's side.

"What's the matter? You're white as a sheet," he asked, quickly.

"Uhh...headache...fierce...God it hurts...scar..." Harry stuttered, collapsing in a seat so he could lean down and hold his head with both palms.

Saying nothing more, Snape hurried to a cabinet and removed a bottle from it. Going to another cabinet he retrieved a tinier bottle and a glass. From the larger bottle he poured a greenish liquid into the glass to about halfway. Stoppering the bottle again, he opened the tiny bottle and carefully tapped three drops into the glass. Instantly, the mixture turned blue. Quickly, he hurried back to Harry and urged the suffering boy to drink the potion.

Harry did as ordered. His eyes nearly bugged from his face and he nearly spat the horrid stuff out but did manage to down it all.

"Oh! Gah! That's nasty!" He gasped.

A small twist of a smile pulled at Snape's mouth. "None of my potions taste nice but they do work. How do you feel now?"

Harry blinked. His mouth tasted rather like an ash tray now but his head... "wow, it's gone...the pain is gone...that's bloody amazing!" He said, grinning then grimacing. "Oy, you think you can give me something to take that gross taste away?" He begged.

Snape smile in amusement, turned with a swirl of his robes back to where he'd left the bottles. He picked them up and put them away then fetched something that looked like a wafer and brought it back to Harry.

While Harry put that in his mouth, Snape walked briskly out of the room and back into the side door he'd come through. Puzzled at his sudden departure, Harry was about to get up and follow when he heard the sounds of students arriving.

Ah, that's why he left, Harry realized. Well at least my head feels so much better and the cookie or whatever it is got rid of that awful taste.

"Oy! Harry! Where the heck did you get off to? One would think you were in a hurry to get in this dreadful class," Ron asked, dropping his book to the desk and eyeing his friend in puzzlement.

"Yes, Harry. We were rather concerned when you disappeared like that. Ron said you didn't seem well," Hermione said, setting her stuff on her desk a little ways away.

"I did have a headache and the noise from everyone was making it worse. I'd hoped Professor Snape would take pity on me and give me something for it."

"You asked him? And did he give you something because you seem okay now?" Ron asked, studying his friend's face closely.

"Yes, but the cure was almost worse than the problem," Harry said, making a face.

"None of his potions taste good but apparently work really well or so I heard," Hermione said. "Guess its true as you seem fine now."

"Granger...Weasley...if you will take you seats we might be able to get class started," Snape's voice startled them, his manner cold and annoyed.

The two quickly took their seats, faces red. Harry smirked inside. Snape liked doing that far too much, he thought, then focused on the day's lesson.

When class ended with Snape giving them over two feet of homework to do, Harry quickly sent an urgent call to Snape.

"Sir?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"I still need to speak to you about a very serious problem with Professor Quirrell. It's urgent. When can we meet or should I just give you a quick report now?"

"Quirrell? I don't have time later. Though I don't like it, better give me what has you concerned."

"Right! The professor is possessed. Very little of his soul remains but enough is there to form a thin skin around the evil that has taken over which is why the castle spirit didn't detect it."

Snape didn't say anything at first, too shocked by the news to respond. Meanwhile, Harry was on his way to his next class. It made him nervous to have his barrier down this long.

"Professor?"

"Sorry, the news was upsetting. I'll look into it. Don't touch him or be alone with him for any reason, understood?"

"Of course, sir. However, I think you need to get with Hagrid about this immediately."

"Hmm, yes...you're right. Go focus on class and leave this up to me."

"Alright, sir." Harry quickly shut his shields but wasn't completely happy about Snape's decision. He felt he should do something about poor Quirrell's situation himself. This would require some deep thinking but he would need time alone. It wouldn't be easy but he would have to shake his friends again. They would just have to get used to him doing that from time to time. He should speak to Hagrid as well but knew he couldn't be seen going to the man's cabin so he'd send Wine out with a message tonight.

Later at dinner, he was feeling anxious. Professor Quirrell wasn't seated at the teacher's table. That didn't bode well. Where was he and what was he doing right now? He rushed through his meal and it wasn't easy shaking his friends but he finally managed it.

Letting them think he'd gone to the library, he headed to his bed instead and there he waited for Wine to show. Thankfully, the kneazle didn't take long to appear.

"Good evening, Wine. I have some urgent business for you tonight. Here's some food I saved you." He placed a napkin on the bed and opened it. "Tonight was chicken."

Wine mewed with delight and attacked the food. Harry waited politely until his friend was finished. Pleasantly stuffed, Wine rubbed himself against the boy's knees in thanks.

"You're welcome. Now, here's a message I want you to take to Hagrid," Harry put a ribbon with a message tied in it around Wine's neck. "Also, I would like you to see if you can find out what Professor Quirrell is doing as he wasn't at dinner tonight. The poor man is possessed."

Wine gave Harry a grave look. He mewed and nodded.

"Oh, you know about that already, eh?"

Wine nodded again.

"Okay, then you tell Hagrid what you've found out and thank you."

Rubbing against Harry's knee again, Wine mewed softly then jumped down off the bed, turning invisible as soon as he landed on the floor.

Harry sighed. There was nothing more he could do now but get his homework done. He reached for his bag and dragged out his quill and paper. If he was lucky, it would only take him three hours to finish.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Wine moved with ease along the wall as students passed by. He reached the main doors just before they were being closed by Filch. Mrs. Norris, his cat, froze and stared at Wine who gave her a rather smug look then ignored her as he slipped through the doors and out. Mrs. Norris hated the little creature but knew instinctively that the kneazle was not to be trifled with if she wanted to stay alive.

The night was fair and only moderately cool. No one bothered Wine as he trotted along toward the Grounds keeper's cabin. Reaching Hagrid's home, he realized the half giant wasn't home at the moment as he caught a fresh scent leading away from the cabin and into the nearby woods.

He sat on the porch and gave a loud cry. After a long moment, a strange hooting cry answered him. Nodding to himself, he settled down to bath himself. Hagid knew he was waiting and would be back presently.

 

Chapter Text

A huge shape stepped from the darkness of the forest and walked across the green to the rustic hut that was the groundkeeper's home. Wine came alert and mewed a greeting.

"And a good evenin' to you, Wine. What brings you by tonight, eh?" Hagrid asked, as he dropped his load of firewood onto the woodpile near his front door.

Wine responded by rearing up in the air, forepaws waving, head raised upward.

"Ah, I see," Hagrid murmured, untying the ribbon that held the small paper tube around the kneazle's neck. Giving Wine a gentle caress to the head before standing up, he unwound the ribbon allowing the note to unroll. Frown lines creased his face as he read the missive then used a bit of magic to incinerate it when he'd finished. Glancing down at the kneazle, he said, "Thank you for deliverin' the message. Harry give you other instructions?"

The kneazle nodded dropping his body and going into a stalking pose as if he were hunting a mouse.

"Ahh...wants you to watch Professor Quirrell, eh? Good idea, but mind you don't let him spot you. Return to me if you see him doing something suspicious, especially if he's lurking about in areas he don't belong," Hagrid warned then suddenly he and the kneazle went still and alert, staring in the direction of the castle.

A dark form, it's clothing flapping around its body in the light evening breeze, was hurrying swiftly toward them. The warm light spilling from one of the hut's windows spilled over the approaching individual revealing a worried Professor Snape.

Saying nothing, Snape nodded toward the hut. Hagrid inclined his head in understanding, reaching out to open the door to his home then gesturing for the thin man to precede him. Giving Wine a brief nod farewell, Hagrid stepped inside, closing the door behind him.

Now alone, Wine sniffed the air, seeking any sign of danger. Finding none, he took off at a run for the castle.

Inside the hut, Hagrid eyed his guest thoughtfully, then asked, "Would you like some tea, soir?"

"No thank you Hagrid. I assume Wine has brought you a message from Harry about a certain professor?" Snape asked, taking a seat before the fire and getting down to business while he warmed his hands.

"Aye, just moments ago. I understand the boy's concern, something must be done quickly and he's taken the first step." Hagrid sat down in a huge chair he'd built for himself.

"And that is?" Snape asked, glancing up at the half-giant.

"Wine."

"Ahh, good idea. I only learned of this earlier today when Harry came to me with a headache caused by being in the presence of this malevolent spirit."

Hagrid flashed him a concerned look. "Harry's alright though?"

"He's fine. Except for the headache, nothing else seems to have happened to him. I gave him a dose of one of my better headache potions and it set him right immediately," Snape was quick to assure him.

"Tha's a relief, though the cure is often just as nasty as the pain itself," Hagrid teased, having been a recipient of some of the Professor's potions. "Would it kill you to try to make them taste a little better than Thestral piss?"

"What would be the fun in that," Snape said haughtily, a smile tugging at his lips.

Hagrid rolled his eyes and smiled at Snape's attempt at humor before getting back to the more serious subject at hand. "So, do we know what's taken up residence in the Dark Arts teacher?"

"I wager we both know who it might be but there is no way to know for certain unless we confront it or Wine is lucky enough to find proof of its true identity," Snape said.

The half giant frowned. "Aye, and confronting it be a bad idea, so we wait."

"Unfortunately, yes but once we know who we're dealing with then we must have a way to force it out of Quirrell and destroy it before it jumps to another body or escapes," Snape warned.

"Forcing it out mayn't be easy if Professor Quirrell has been possessed for too long, sir. Do you have a clue when this might have happened?" Hagrid asked.

Snape grimaced. "Everyone has noted Quirrell's been different since he returned to teach this year. He has an appalling lack of self preservation and has been known to traipse around the Forbidden Forest alone hunting for supplies, so the odds are good that it happened sometime this past summer."

Hagrid sighed and shook his head, his expression grave. "I'm afraid tis too late then, sir. All that can be done now is free the poor man's soul...what there is left of it."

Snape shivered at the finality of Hagrid's words. He may have not cared for Quirrell much as a person nor as a teacher but never would he wish such a fate on anyone. "Harry said he could only sense a thin shell left," he murmured, sadness in his tone.

Hagrid's eyes narrowed with anger. "The foul thing must be gotten rid of quickly. If it is our enemy then careful plans must be made to prevent him from escaping our grasp," he rumbled deep in his chest.

"But how do we destroy it?"

"My elders will know how to remove and destroy this thing, sir, have no fear of that," Hagrid assured him, solemnly.

"That's good news," Snape said relieved.

"However, we do still have another problem."

Snape raised his eyebrows in a questioning look.

"Professor Quirrell must be coaxed out of the castle and into the forest. We don't want anyone else to come to harm when this be done."

"That will be difficult as I've noted he trusts no one."

"But there's something he wants more than anything... that's if he be possessed by Voldemort."

Snape stared at the half giant, puzzlement in his eyes then a light went off as he realized what or rather who, Hagrid meant. "No! Absolutely not!" He shouted, fear and anger clogging his voice.

"Easy sir. You know I would never endanger the lad if it weren't the only way to do this. Harry's mind is well protected and he is the only thing that evil wants."

"I don't like it!"

"Neither do I and if you have a better idea, sir, I would be glad to drop mine for it," Hagrid admitted, quietly.

Snape jumped to his feet and went to stand near the window to stare blindly out into the night. Finally, he turned back to face the half-giant who stared at him quietly...waiting.

"I can't think of another way to do this," he admitted, bitterly. "Your plan does have the best chance of drawing Voldemort out of the castle and to his destruction. However, I insist on being at hand when it all goes down as extra protection for Harry," he said firmly.

"Aye, I thought you would," Hagrid nodded, smiling a little.

"So what is the whole plan?"

"Harry will leave the castle for the forest at dusk. We, meaning you and I, will be near wherever Quirrell may be and let him 'overhear' us saying Harry had been seen going into the forest alone and that I was going after him. You'll show some reluctance about me going alone but I convince you to stay and let me handle this. You go off on your normal rounds while I head outside," Hagrid explained.

"Once you're out of sight, slip outside and head toward the Whomping Willow. Come around from that direction toward my hut then go beyond the paddocks and into the forest at that point. That is where I'm sending Harry. I will head openly toward my hut so Quirrell can follow easily."

"How will we know if he's taken the bait? I certainly don't want to accidentally run into him and ruin the plan," Snape asked, concerned.

"Wine will be our spy. He'll keep by Quirrell's side and when he takes the bait and heads where we want him, Wine can hurry ahead to let me know, alert Harry and the others, then inform you so he can bring you to where the others wait."

Snape thought about the plan for some moments then nodded. "I see no flaws in it," he admitted reluctantly. Coming back to sit across from Hagrid, he sighed. "Then what's left to be done is for you to contact your elders while I return to the castle and pretend nothings going on. Do you want me to tell Harry what we planned or do you want to do it?"

Hagrid frowned a moment. "I do need to leave by sunrise to speak to my elders ... hmm ... perhaps, you best do it as I mayn't have time between notifying who I need to and returning to set up the trap. Also, you would be easiest for Wine to contact with what he finds out."

"True. It's fortunate Wine has the ability to be invisible. Even though the Dark Lord feels all non-wizard creatures are beneath his notice and no threat, he does know a kneazle in the castle means someone's familiar and will be careful of giving himself away."

He turned his head away and stared out into the night, saying nothing more for some minutes. Hagrid let him, his own thoughts preoccupying him until Snape broke the silence again.

"Quirrell is a poor Dark Arts instructor but I can't help but feel some pity for the poor fool for getting into such a situation with no way out...nothing to do but watch himself be eaten away bit by bit." He shuddered at the thought. "I do have to wonder how he came to be possessed. What little I know about it, the host has to be willing."

Hagrid gave him sad eyes. "...and normally that'd be true Professor, however Voldemort is na normal spirit. His dark magic is well up to the task of taking what he wants..."

"...which is why we are nearly certain it is he in that body..." Snape finished unhappily.

"Aye."

Sighing again, Snape rose to his feet. "Time for me to return to the castle. I hope I have something definitive to tell you when you return, however, it could be days before Wine has something for us."

"Aye, I'm aware of that but I'll at least have the plan in place till that moment we can strike."

Snape nodded. "Do you need me to provide cover for you?"

"Only if someone asks," Hagrid said, grateful for the man's assistance. "You can tell them I've gone to speak with the leader of the centaurs... it be only partly a lie as I do need to speak with Magorian about the plan and his part in it. I should be back by day after tomorrow."

Snape nodded. Hagrid rose and escorted the man to the door, opening it and saying, "Have a quiet evening and be careful, Professor."

"You as well, Hagrid." Snape turned away and hurried off toward the castle, the door of the hut closing behind with a thud.

As he walked, Snape thought about the evil walking the halls of Hogwarts right this minute. It would be the end of this damnable war if they succeeded in destroying it but he wasn't that optimistic. The Dark Lord always seemed to come out on top and he was afraid he just might do that again even if he was nothing more than a wandering spirit.

Reaching the heavy doors that guarded the castle, he pulled one of them open and slipped inside. Stalking across the foyer he made for the dungeon as the clock struck eleven.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

In a little used corridor, a dark figure wearing a turban on its head was pacing back and forth, muttering to itself. Hidden from view and watching from the thick heavy crossbeams of the ceiling, a pair of eyes peered down and listened hard.

"We must get the boy alone!" A sibilant whisper ordered, harshly.

"B-b-but m-m-master! How will I d-d-do that?" Quirrell stuttered, nervously, licking his lips and looking around to ensure they remained alone.

"Watch for an opportunity then do what I demand!" The eerie voice snapped, annoyed with his minion.

"Y-y-yes sir," the poor man said miserably then headed down the corridor, an invisible form following him.

Chapter Text

 

 

The next morning shone bright and sunny though fall's cool temperatures was beginning to be felt by the signs of frost on the ground through the windows and the chilliness of the dorm rooms when one woke. Harry shivered a bit as he and his dorm mates hurriedly dressed. Warmth was found at the breakfast table as they dug hungrily into the bounty set before them. As he dug into his own large portion of eggs, hash, toast, and bacon, Harry received a light knock on his shields.

"Good morning, professor."

"Good morning, Harry. I and Hagrid met last night to discuss the problem of Professor Quirrell. Here's the gist of what we discussed..." Snape went on to brief him on who they suspected was the evil spirit, how they hoped to destroy it, and what part he would play in it all. "Do you have any questions?"

"None I can think of right now. It's a dangerous thing you all plan. I hope it works." Though concerned and troubled by what he'd been told, Harry never let on outwardly that anything was amiss as he drank a healthy swallow of his pumpkin juice and continued the conversation.

"You are in the most danger, Harry. That thing could try to possess you, which was why I was adverse to the plan in the first place."

Harry nearly choked on his toast at that statement but he was also a bit pleased by the warm concern Professor Snape had for him. "I can certainly understand why, sir. But I promise to stay alert and get out of the way when the trap is sprung. That's the best I can do." He paused as a sad reminder occurred to him. "It's too bad Professor Quirrell must die, though."

Snape felt warmth in his heart at Harry's compassion for someone he barely knew. "Yes, I agree but it really is a kindness as there's very little of the poor man's soul left."

"I know," Harry sighed.

"You be careful around him, Harry. We don't know how long we must wait to implement the plan so keep your mind closed tightly and never be alone with him. We don't want him to get even a hint that we're on to him. Wine is shadowing him at this moment. I know he's careful but...

"He's more than careful, sir, but I know that evil thing could still sniff him out. I'll warn him to be watchful but there's nothing we can do if that happens. At least Wine is able to take care of himself and get away quickly," Harry interrupted.

"I'm certain he can, Harry," Snape agreed then sighed. "I sincerely hope the plan succeeds and it's who we think it is."

"As do I. It would mean we're finally free of him and averted more years of war," Harry said, flashing a grim, mental smile at Snape.

Snape returned it before saying, "Enjoy your day."

"You too, sir," Harry returned warmly before cutting the connection.

He sighed mentally as he finished his breakfast and prepared to leave for his first class. He hated the thought that yet another person had to die because of that vile spirit. Shoving the sadness away, he rose and joined Ron and Hermione as they left for Charms class.

As he prepared to listen to Professor Flitwick, the incredibly short-statured man teaching Charms, he mused on how strange the course schedule was for this school. Unlike the normal British one, Hogwarts had their students only take four classes a day and different ones at that. Of course, each class was also incredibly long, nearly two hours. They had two breaks, one before lunch and one after. At first, he couldn't fathom why they'd need two breaks until he saw how much they had to do for each class (like research or supplies they had to collect) and the distance between many of the classes. He hadn't really believed Hermione when she said they had to keep their calories up until he realized how much he burned just getting from class to class...lots of stair climbing, outdoor classes far from the castle, etc..

Impossible to be obese around here, he thought, amused, remembering his portlier classmates in the muggle world.

His ruminations ended abruptly when a classmate sitting a few seats from him, set fire to his feather he was supposed to only levitate. Harry's nose wrinkled in distaste at the nasty smell. Getting his attention back to the class, he performed the spell flawlessly just as Hermione had beside him. Ron scowled unhappily as he failed over and over again, not able to figure out what he was doing wrong.

Hermione sighed and shook her head. When they were directed to practice, she spent the next thirty minutes trying to get him to stop waving his wand as if it were a weapon or orchestra baton, and to listen and watch as she demonstrated several times for him. However, even with the professor's assistance and advice, Ron still didn't quite get it.

"Don't worry, Ron. You just need to practice and speak the words a bit more slowly and distinctly," Harry encouraged the disheartened young man with a friendly clap to the shoulder when class ended.

The bell sounded sending them all scurrying to their next class.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Lunch time arrived as did some later mail deliveries. Mail call was normally breakfast time but apparently, some had gotten in late and was being allowed delivery. Ron had received a newspaper that morning but a letter from his mother had arrived later making him frown as he opened it.

Harry was surprised when Hedwig appeared carrying a small white envelope. He'd not expected any mail yet. After all, it was only the second day of school but his eyes lit up when he saw the tiny symbol on the rear flap. It was a hand displaying two fingers in a universal muggle sign. The only other thing on the envelope was "Harry Potter, great hall, Hogwarts".

He grabbed a piece of bacon from his plate and fed it to Hedwig who happily snapped it up before giving him a brief hoot and taking off for the owlery where she stayed when at the castle. Excited, he hurriedly opened the small envelope and read the short missive. He smiled as he read...

"Dear Harry,

I just wanted to test the mail system which is why you're getting this from me. Hope things are well with you and you're settling in alright. Send back so I know you got this.

Warm regards, D."

"Hey! Whose D. Harry?" Ron asked, finished with his letter that only told him he'd forgotten something at home and his mum would be sending it later.

Harry stuffed the note from Darius back in its envelope and tucked it into an inside pocket of his robes. Giving Ron a small smile, he said, "It's just a friend I know. He was asking how I was settling in and testing the mail service."

Ron frowned at the vague answer but knew better than to pry. "Glad you had friends wherever you'd been kept," he said sincerely.

"Thanks, Ron. You're one of them too you know," Harry said, grinning.

Ron's face lit up. Giving Harry a friendly punch to the arm, he returned to eating his lunch. It made him feel good that Harry considered him a friend. They had only just met and he hadn't been too certain about their relationship yet so the confirmation gladdened his heart because he found the boy fascinating and was glad he'd made friends with him. It wasn't because he was the boy-who-lived, either, he said firmly to himself.

Hermione, sitting on Harry's other side, had been just as curious about the letter but had the good sense to not say anything but was glad Ron had. She wasn't any happier about Harry's vague response but was glad to see real evidence that he had friends outside the school.

After lunch was a break which Harry used to go study alone in the library. Hermione had a class and Ron had a free period so had gone outside to play with his older brothers.

While Harry sat there laboriously writing out his potions homework with the ridiculous quill, pain suddenly struck his scar. Hissing, he reached up to rub it and looked around. Passing a few feet away from his table and heading for the restricted section was Professor Quirrell. Frowning, Harry watched through squinted eyes as the man opened the door and stepped through, vanishing from view. Fortunately, the pain vanished with him.

But the encounter reminded Harry he urgently needed some kind of better protection from that malevolent spirit. It was the word spirit that gave him a possible idea. Looking around, he found himself alone for the moment. Closing his eyes, he opened his shields just a little and reached out to the castle spirit. Seconds later a familiar presence was asking what he wanted.

The spirit didn't communicate in words. It was more feelings and vague impressions but Harry didn't have any difficulties understanding it nor making himself understood. Most weren't aware the castle was even sentient, certainly the students didn't know but the faculty and, of course, Dumbledore did. That was because it refused to communicate with anyone but the current headmaster. But, to Harry's surprise, the spirit had made it plain that it thought Harry was someone special enough to warrant its attention.

Using images rather than words, Harry was able to convey his problem and what he needed from the spirit. He felt immediate anger not at him but at the fact such an evil had managed to penetrate its defenses.

He wisely said nothing and waited. The spirit seemed to rant a bit to itself before it quieted and went silent. It was silent long enough that Harry decided to return to his work while he waited. Some fifteen minutes later, he felt a tapping at his shield and carefully opened it. The spirit conveyed unhappiness and a request that it be notified when the evil was to be eradicated. Harry promised. Then, something that felt like a blanket, covered him. It was some kind of ancient magical spell. The spirit conveyed satisfaction and hoped this would keep Harry free of the evil's influence.

Harry dutifully thanked the spirit and closed his shield. Sighing in relief, he was able to finish his work and just before he was about to pack up and leave for his next class, Professor Quirrell came out of the restricted area looking weary and defeated. He never noticed Harry and, thankfully, Harry no longer felt pain from the evil presence as the Professor left the library. The castle spirit's protection had worked.

Which was a good thing as his next class was with the man. He hadn't relished the idea of nursing a headache through two hours of class time and having to run to Professor Snape for more headache remedy. In a happier mood, he hurried off to class.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The annoying children had run out an hour ago and he had plans to make about the Potter brat. Quirrell could hear the evil thing muttering to itself which allowed him to do some thinking of his own. He hadn't missed the fact Harry wasn't holding his head in pain like yesterday. Though his back was turned, he could feel the evil spirit try to probe the boy's remarkable shields. It wasn't happy that it failed and growled angrily for hours afterward. But Quirrell was ecstatic. Harry was far stronger than anyone could guess. Also, it appeared the boy had someone aiding him as he wore an extra layer of protection today which had the taste of the castle spirit. Though he couldn't touch the spirit he knew it was there by the way it would occasionally brush against the shields the evil thing had erected around his body to keep itself from being found out.

Oh how he wished he could make contact with it! If he could, he'd be cast out of the castle and maybe even freed but it was a useless dream. The creature was far too powerful and was never careless in maintaining its shields.

He sighed sadly to himself and cast his eyes about the room for lack of anything better to do. He did have papers to grade but the Dark Lord wouldn't let him near the desk as it paced using his body to do it and continued muttering about its grand plan.

Suddenly, his eyes caught sight of a small form slipping into the room and running under one of the many heavy cabinets against the wall. He'd seen this little creature before, following them silently, not drawing attention to itself. It was rather unusual to have a kneazle as a familiar but not unheard of. Whoever it belonged to, it was obvious to Quirrell that it was spying on him.

Did it know what he harbored within? A tiny flame of hope rose within his speck of a soul. Yes! That had to be it! Someone knows! And hopefully that someone would set him free. He nursed that nugget of hope to himself and prayed his nightmare would end soon.

Chapter Text

Hagrid had returned a day later from his trip and was at the breakfast table talking to his table mates when Harry arrived in the great hall himself. As he passed the high table, he gave Hagrid a brief, meaningful look and a smile then went on by to his table. Later that evening, before curfew, he went down to the lake on the forest side and stared out over the water.

Hidden in the darkness of the trees, Hagrid's voice floated out to Harry. "The elders need a bit of time to figure out what spell will work against that evil thing so we have ta wait. No telling how long that'll take so ya needs to keep yourself safe, Harry."

Keeping his face toward the lake, Harry didn't show any sign he was anything but alone as he responded in a voice just loud enough to carry. "I've taken care of that, Hagrid. I asked the castle spirit if it could help me and it laid a protective spell over me which works incredibly well! I don't feel that thing trying to get at me any longer."

"That were a bright idea, Harry," the giant said pleased with the boy's solution and very relieved. "I should have thought of that meself."

"You can speak to the castle spirit?"

"Aye. It's spirit is nearly as old as the forest dwellers themselves and we've always had close ties with it. But since the dark lord's appearance, Hogwart's been rather lonely as none of the forest dwellers dare to be close while the war goes on. Dumbledore don't chat with it much except when the need arises and the ghosties care only for their own concerns so it calls to us who hear it and we make time to listen and chat."

"Amazing. I guess it took a shine to me. Ever since my first day, it's taken to chatting with me some evenings when I'm just going to sleep," Harry admitted, casting a quick glance toward Hagrid flashing him a brief smile before turning back to his perusal of the lake's placid surface.

"Which be a good thing and makes me feel better about your safety. Now, how about telling me how you've been doing in school so far."

Harry was happy to comply and told his adopted father about being selected for Quidditch, his new friends, and his secretive budding friendship with Draco Malfoy.

"Malfoy, eh? That be interesting."

"How so?"

"The Malfoy family is in the Dark Lord's camp ... firm believers in the right of pure bloods to rule wizarding England. Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father, is a cunning and devious man. Be wary of him. Don't know much about Draco though."

"He seems to be nice though a bit aloof but I think that's to protect himself and I guess I know why now," Harry said, thoughtfully.

"Hmm, possible the young man don't share the same politics of his father, but still be cautious about him until you are certain where his loyalties lie, Harry," Hagrid warned.

"I will. My sense of him is someone who dearly wants a friend but is afraid. I'd like to be that friend but I will go slow on it. I could tell he would suffer badly at the hands of his house mates if I showed him any outward friendship."

"Good that you realized that early and saved you both some grief. It would be a wonderful thing to have one from that house to be on the side of the light," Hagrid mused. "I'll be watching you on the first game of the season. Incredible thing getting chosen in your first year, Harry. We're proud of you. But now it's time for you to be getting back to the castle before you're missed." He turned to leave.

"Wait!" Harry raised his voice a little. Needing to speak face to face, he dared to walk slowly away from the lake then veered closer to the trees then turned his body so that it was half facing the castle and half turned toward Hagrid.

Hagrid stopped and eyed the boy questioningly over his shoulder. He was nearly invisible beneath the trees.

"Why can't I just talk to you at your cabin? It'd be so much easier and warmer than out here. You're a teacher and no one said I couldn't be friends with teachers," Harry demanded.

"No, it's not against the rules to be a little friendly with the teachers. But in me own case, the other teachers don't like the students fraternizing with creatures like meself despite my position. You already know wizards think of us as less than powerful and barely useful to them. But ... " he held a huge hand up to forestall another outburst from Harry. "...it don't matter, we both know the truth so who cares what they think. I certainly don't."

"But it isn't right! The arrogance of wizarding kind..." Harry began to rant, eyes flashing with anger.

Hagrid smiled to himself, but his face was serious when he answered the boy. "I appreciate your outrage on my account, Harry, but the situation works for me. It allows me to pretend to be a simple soul with no one the wiser of my true abilities and knowledge. Now isn't that more important in these dangerous times?"

Harry blinked in surprise then sighed and nodded. "Of course, you're right. I forgot that for a moment. Guess it's always going to bother me though that you're thought of as barely worthy of respect. That's one of the things I want to change when we're free of the evil that hangs over us." His manner grimly determined.

The half giant smiled warmly at the young man. "I believe you will Harry. But now, just be a student and get ye up to the castle...scoot!"

Harry snorted but complied. Waving goodbye, he hurried back across the huge lawn for the great doors.

"Such big dreams that little one possesses," a deep voice murmured from behind Hagrid.

Without turning around, Hagrid nodded. "Aye, but can you think of anyone who has a better chance of seeing those dreams come true?"

A chuckle answered him. "No, I can't, Rubeus. The little firebrand will do everything he says he will for he has the will to make it so. Though you and I both know some of those dreams will never be fulfilled that doesn't mean he won't try."

Hagrid laughed. "You'd be right, Magorian. Our little Harry will make a difference even in the things he can only make small changes to. He'll be a force to be reckoned with and the great spirit help those who get in his way."

Another laugh from the centaur followed that statement as the two watched their charge slip into the castle.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Fortunately for Harry, it was Snape who caught him slipping into the castle after curfew. Giving the boy a raised eyebrow, he made a finger gesture for the boy to follow him.

Sighing, Harry pretended he was in trouble and followed the professor with slumped shoulders and furtive looks as if wanting to escape, in case anyone was watching them.

They walked silently down the halls, passing a couple of prefects who nodded at Snape respectfully and giving Harry a questioning eye but no one said a word as they hurried on by. Fortunately, neither had been the Gryffindor prefect.

After a long walk in silence, they reached the potion's lab. Snape gestured Harry in and shut the door firmly behind them, only relaxing when it was locked.

"You went to see Hagrid." Snape said with certainty.

"Yes, thought I'd see what he'd found out and get a chance to talk. I miss him even though I see him every day," Harry said wistfully.

Snape gave him a sad, commiserating smile. "I understand. Well you saved me a trip. What did you find out?"

The boy sighed. "We wait. The elders aren't certain what spell will work yet. Might be awhile before we hear from them."

Snape sighed too then studied Harry closely. "You haven't come to me for a headache potion. Has that evil thing stopped trying to get into your mind?"

"Actually, I don't know professor. When you told me to guard myself, I thought of a solution that might work. The castle spirit has taken me under its wing so I asked it if it had a way to protect me. It tried a spell that was successful as I can't feel anything from Professor Quirrell now."

"Ahh...very good. You're using your head and I'm surprised but pleased to find the castle wishes you safe. It's protection is worth all the gold hoarded by the goblins."

"Can you speak to it as well?" Harry asked, surprised and curious.

"Sometimes. It isn't that pleased with me at the moment even though it does understand why I must be a spy. It upsets it, especially the tattoo from my so-called master on my arm. The evil magic from it causes a ripple that disturbs it but it's wise enough to know to leave it and me alone."

"You have a tattoo? Can I see it?" Harry asked, surprised Snape would have such a thing.

Snape grimaced but pulled his robe's sleeve up a distance and showed off a truly ugly and frightening image engraved in his flesh.

"Yuck. That wasn't done with needles," Harry said with certainty.

"You're right. It was a nasty and painful spell." The man allowed his sleeve to cover the obscenity again.

"I hope with that thing's death the image on your arm will be gone," Harry said, flatly

"That is my hope too, Harry."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

As busy as his days were that first week, Harry could be excused forgetting the meeting he was to have with Minister Fudge. He also was unaware that his godfather had insured he would be spending time with him this weekend as well so when Saturday shone bright and warm, he was real unhappy when someone shook him awake when he thought he was allowed to sleep in.

"Wha...leave me be...want to sleep..." he grumbled, voice muffled by his pillow.

"Sorry Potter, but I've been sent to get you up and dressed for a meeting with the Minister of Magic," Percy Weasley said, firmly, continuing to shake the boy until he sat up rubbing his head and staring blearily up at the prefect.

"Minister?"

"Yes. Don't tell me you forgot?" Percy shook his head in disgust. "Better get up, showered, and dressed. You're expected in Dumbledore's office in thirty minutes."

Harry's eyes widened as he fumbled with his bedding then hurried off to the bath. Twenty minutes later he was feeling irritated and hungry as he was hurried down the hall to the headmaster's office in Percy's wake.

At the gargoyle Percy muttered 'Cadbury' and the statue leaped revealing the staircase. As they walked up, multiple voices were heard, all talking at the same time. Harry rolled his eyes, squared his shoulders and took in a deep breath, letting it out a moment before Percy knocked.

"Enter!"

The tall, red headed prefect opened the door and gestured for Harry to precede him. Harry wasn't surprised when Percy didn't enter but closed the door a moment after Harry had stepped through. The room seemed to be filled with people but as he stared more closely, he found there were only six here despite the noise level. Harry walked as far as Fawkes' stand then stopped and waited for someone to make the first move.

A pompous looking man dressed in elegant and well made robes, presented a broad smile that was insincere and extended his hand toward Harry. Dumbledore made the introductions.

"Harry, this is the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge...this is Harry Potter."

"So nice to meet you at last, Mr. Potter," Cornelius Fudge said in lordly fashion.

"Uhm...pleased to meet you, Minister," Harry said politely, applying just enough grip then letting go so he wouldn't have to touch the man's cool palm long.

"We we're very concerned when you were taken so suddenly after your parents had died so tragically but it appears wherever you were fostered has been good to you," Fudge said, his voice indicating that some answers about that were required.

But Harry wouldn't play that game and said innocently, "Yes sir, I was very fortunate to have loving people care for and protect me from those that wished me harm."

"And who might these people be, may I ask?" The Minister of Magic launched the first salvo of the interrogation.

Hovering close but mindful of the warning they'd been given by the minister to keep themselves in check and let him ask questions were the two members of the press allowed at this meeting. One could see they were truly chomping at the bit to be allowed to ask their own questions. Behind them and nearer to the windows were Shacklebolt and Moody. Standing beside Dumbledore who was next to the minister was Professor McGonagall and slipping in the door at that moment was Professor Snape who remained near the exit, his arms crossed over his chest, looking anything but happy to be here.

Okay, here goes, Harry said to himself. "I'm sorry Minister Fudge but that is personal information that I'm not required to divulge. My guardians are in as much danger as I am from Voldemort. If I were to tell you who they were, Voldemort would learn of it then, either kidnap or harm them to force my compliance with his deadly plans and that I won't risk."

The speaking of the evil's actual name caused a gasp among the visitors. Fudge's face tightened with barely suppressed anger.

"Young man, I'll have you know that particular evil has been vanquished, though I will admit his followers are still around to cause some trouble but our aurors are hard at work capturing them. Why just the other day two of his former lieutenants were arrested," he said haughtily.

Harry gave him a grave look that made Fudge feel uncomfortable for some reason. "I beg your pardon, sir but I know he is not gone and, yes it is good that you're managing to take out his minions but my unfortunate encounter with him has insured I would always be aware of his presence among us. No, he is not in a living body but his evil spirit is still here and influencing his followers as we speak."

A shiver of fear raced down the spines of the visitors, even Fudge though he refused to believe it. The reporters began to clamor for more information from him, disregarding the warning they'd been given. With a tight smile on his face, Minister Fudge raised a hand for silence and got it.

"Nonsense, Mr. Potter. I don't know what you think you might be feeling, but his spirit, I'm certain it is not. Let's have no more mention of him ever again, especially speaking his name, understood?"

Harry cocked his head and frowned at the man. "Your pardon, sir but that would be lying and you haven't said his name at all. Don't you know that not saying his name is giving him the power he wants? He doesn't deserve that kind of blind obedience. It proves he's won when he can make you cower like sheep in fear just by saying his name. Well, sir, I refuse to give him that power. I may be young, sir, but Voldemort killed my family and I know he's still around. So I will not lie nor pretend he is gone just to make you feel better. He is a very real threat that hasn't been destroyed and you do your people that look up to you a serious disservice to say otherwise," he said, firmly and with absolute conviction. He'd been told the minister was pretending the threat was gone but he seriously thought they were exaggerating. However, after listening to the fool spout such nonsense, he realized they'd had been right. How could the people of this land continue to allow such a fool to be in charge? He wondered, confused.

Poor Harry really didn't understand politics at all. Because he still saw the world with the eyes of a child, a mature one but still a child in many ways, everything was fairly black and white though he was learning there was a gray area to all things, even if he was still having difficulties accepting that idea.

Shacklebolt was barely able to keep a straight face. From the mouths of babes, he thought, highly amused. The boy's in for it now.

The press were absolutely gleeful at hearing the pompous minister being put in his place by a child but they were also fearful, angry, and excited by the very idea that their enemy might still be around though in spirit form. The anger was for being lied to by their leader, though, admittedly, they couldn't be sure Harry wasn't just telling tales as many children were wont to do at his age. However, they felt the minister's defiant assertion the enemy wasn't around held no truth sense recent evidence from the captured death eaters seemed to contradict that belief.

Snape though amused by Fudge's predicament, realized this interview could only end badly...for Harry so very carefully extended a questing touch to Harry's shields. It was a serious risk doing this with so many powerful wizards around but he hoped they were too preoccupied to notice his light use of magic.

Harry showed no outward sign that his shields had been 'knocked on', carefully maintaining his polite mask. However, inside his mind, he opened a small hole to speak to Snape.

"Yes sir?"

"Harry, I know you feel strongly on this subject but Fudge is a stubborn fool and he will see this as a threat to his position. Back off politely and give ground without giving up your principles. Allow him to save face."

Inside Harry fumed but bowed to Snape's more experienced lead. "Very well, sir." He shut his shields and waited.

For being only a child of eleven, Fudge was stunned by the very adult point of view Harry was expressing. It didn't remotely sound like a child's prattling but he couldn't admit that without also admitting that he could be wrong. At that moment, he wished he could demand the miscreant be locked up in Azkaban for his inflammatory comments but in front of the press and being only a child could seriously backfire on him.

"Mr. Potter. I'm sure the loss of your parents was very upsetting to you and you feel you need to cling to the belief the one who killed them is still around so you might feel in some fanciful way to fight this enemy and thus be avenged. However, I assure you the enemy is gone and his minions will be arrested and things will be getting back to normal. So no threat is hanging over you. Which means, though we are grateful to these guardians, your welfare is paramount with us so your case must be reviewed, your parents will must be checked to see who they had intended to care for you. Their wishes, after all, should be honored. So, I ask again young man, who are these guardians so we might speak with them."

Harry felt like rolling his eyes but stopped himself in time. Much as he wanted to obey Professor Snape, he simply couldn't ignore the ministers attempt to sweep this under the rug.

"I beg your pardon, minister, but I was but a baby when my parents were killed and trust me, no way would I have known who the killer was even though I did see him, albeit briefly when his form went poof before my eyes. I wasn't told who it was nor shown an image of him until I was nine. Even then I had no way of knowing that the images I was seeing when sleeping were from him until seeing the same images in the newspaper. No way would I ever be able to come up with some of the horrific events I was unwittingly viewing. So, no sir, I am not making this up nor thinking it is some fanciful wish to avenge my parents. It is an unwanted invasion into my mind by the enemy. Training by my guardians has helped me lock him out but that only happened this year. And again, I must refuse to answer your question on the grounds it will threaten their safety."

Fudge was nearly apoplectic with anger and beginning fear while the news reporters were excited and writing down everything. This was going to cause an uproar among the population, exactly what Fudge didn't want to happen but events were rapidly overtaking him and he had no idea how to stop it unless ... an idea came to him.

"Since you seem to be very certain the enemy is alive in some fashion, I will have my enforcement section research your allegation to check the validity of it. Until then, I want you to speak of this to no one until that investigation has been completed. Is that understood, Mr. Potter?"

Harry didn't like it but realized this was a way to let Fudge save face and end this line of questioning. "Yes sir."

"Good. As for you, the members of the press, you may not print one word of this interview..." Furious objections were flung at him but Fudge was adamant. "If I see one hint of anything that was discussed here on the news, that person will spend some time in Azkaban. Understood?" He demanded, his eyes steely, his lips tight.

Grumbling in anger, the two reporters gave their word. Relieved he'd managed to stop disaster, he gave Harry another warning look before deciding a strategic retreat would be wise right now.

"I think we will end this interview now. I hope you will pursue your studies with due diligence, Mr. Potter and we will be getting in touch sometime in the near future. Good day all." With that, Fudge turned and marched to the exit. Snape very graciously opened the door and held it, Fudge barely noticed him. In minutes, the visitors were gone leaving only Shacklebolt and Moody as the only outsiders still there.

"I'm afraid you may have made an enemy of the minister, Harry," Dumbledore said, his expression troubled. "That was something you did not need right now."

"I don't see how that was my fault, sir. He was insisting, after all, to know my personal business and I didn't feel that was his right. Also, calling me a liar is rude and uncalled for though I have seen adults do that to children especially if they themselves have been caught in a lie. It's very bad behavior," Harry said, rather indignant that Dumbledore hadn't prevented what went on and now actually trying to make him feel guilty for being honest.

"He is right, Dumbledore. We all know the Dark Lord is not gone and that the minister is trying to pretend that isn't so. However, it disturbs me to learn, Harry, that your dreams were invaded by this evil. Are you certain you are now safe from his mind?" Shacklebolt asked the boy.

"Absolutely certain, sir. I believe Mr. Moody and the Headmaster can attest to the strength of my shields," Harry said.

Kingsley's eyebrows rose. "I was aware how strong your magical core is, Harry, but I hadn't been made aware of that. Who trained you?"

"Sorry sir..."

"Ahh, yes your mysterious guardians. Beware Harry, Minister Fudge could make a case that you should be in the hands of the ones your parent's stipulated in their will. Does anyone know who that might be," he paused to ask the room at large.

"The will said Lily's sister Petunia Dursley," Dumbledore answered, reluctantly.

"I don't know her nor do I want to. I'm perfectly happy with my present arrangements. Is she a witch?" Harry asked, curious.

"No. Your grandparents were muggles and the only witch in the family was you mother. So your Aunt Petunia lives in the muggle world with her husband and son."

Harry grimaced. "An even better reason not to live there. I would have no protection and my last living family would not be able to defend themselves from my enemies."

"True, but there is a way to accomplish it that allows you to be hidden while living there which would keep all of you safe," Dumbledore told him.

"Harry shook his head. "Still not happening and I don't really think the minister will want me in some muggle's home either."

Shacklebolt sighed. "He has a point Dumbledore."

"I wouldn't like it either as it is outside our jurisdiction," Moody spoke for the first time. "I believe you should insure Fudge doesn't try that angle, Dumbledore."

The Headmaster wasn't happy to be overruled. In point of fact, he had wanted Harry to live there. One, so he could mold Harry into the weapon he was supposed to be and two, because he could be more easily monitored by the Order than going back to guardians he was certain were the people of the forest. But now that option was out the window. He would not be able to convince Moody that the muggles would be a better place for the boy.

"I will see what I can do," he said, less than enthusiastic about it.

"Well since there is nothing else to do here, I will take my leave," Shacklebolt said. "Coming Alaster?"

"Yes," the old auror gave Harry a searching look before stumping off in the black man's wake.

"May I leave now, sir?" Harry asked, plaintively. He was starving and would like very much to go back to bed.

"Yes you may, Harry. And thank you for your forbearance with this trying interview," Dumbledore said by way of apology.

Harry simply shrugged his shoulders, gave Fawkes a brief caress that earned him a sweet chirp, walked to the exit where Snape again opened the door. He gave the man a brief roll of his eyes then slipped away, glad to be gone.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The rest of the day was spent in the Gryffindor Common Room catching up on homework and playing chess with Ron. His friends had heard he was seeing the minister and had asked how it went. Harry wasn't very forthcoming with answers deciding he wanted as few people as possible to know what went on. Dinner was rather quiet, some of the older students had gone into town.

When he lay his head down to sleep that night, he spent an hour speaking with Professor Snape as the man did his rounds for the night accompanied by Wine. They discussed the mess with Fudge.

"How can someone that cowardly be head of the wizarding government," Harry had asked.

"He won the most votes," Snape said drily.

"The people should ask for a recount or at the very least, get their heads out of the sand," the boy said, disgusted.

"People as a whole want safety and that is what Fudge offered. They don't want to know about inconvenient things like dark lords."

"Doesn't make such people disappear by pretending they don't exist."

"No it doesn't but that's just the way things are."

Harry ruminated on that a moment then sighed and changed the subject. "Do you think they'll try to send me to that aunt I don't even know?" He asked a little anxiously. Though at the interview he had sounded confident, he really wasn't.

"No, I honestly don't think so, Harry. You brought up a very valid point. The minister wouldn't want you staying with muggles. I have a suspicion the headmaster had indeed planned for that to happen but now that it's out in the open, he wouldn't dare suggest it," Snape said, with some certainty.

Harry sighed in relief. "Good. I love my family and would hate to leave them for some stranger."

"So would I, Harry. Now off to sleep with you."

"Yeah, I am tired. Good night, sir."

"Good night, Harry."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It was pushing past nine o'clock on Sunday morning and Harry was still buried beneath his bedding sound asleep.

Suddenly, his shoulder was being shaken. Angry at being wakened again on a weekend morning, he growled sleepily, "Gerruf...leave me alone!"

"Is that anyway to address your Godfather," a familiar voice demanded.

Harry came out from under the covers in a hurry and sat up. He fumbled for his glasses and put them on and stared at the dark haired man sitting on his bed, grinning at him.

"Sirius! What are you doing here?"

The man frowned. "Didn't Dumbledore tell you I was going to take you out on Sunday?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "No."

"That..." Sirius almost swore but bite it off and lowered his voice when he realized they were a bit loud for the rest that were still sleeping. "Well, since he didn't tell you, do you want to go out with me or stay sleeping?" He asked more calmly.

"Are you kidding? I can sleep anytime but I don't get chances to be with you. Let me get ready and we can go," Harry said excitedly, climbing out of his bed and scampering off to the loo. Sirius smiled. A second later he was startled by something brushing against his leg. Looking down he stared into a pair of green-gold eyes as a small kneazle came out from under the bed.

"Hello. Who are you and what are you doing under Harry's bed, hmm?" He wisely didn't pick the creature up and watched as it leaped onto the bed then turned and sat to stare back at him.

"Well aren't you an interesting creature. Most cats or cat-like critters don't like being around me. May I pet you?" Sirius knew kneazle were smarter than people thought and treated the little fellow with the respect it deserved.

Instantly liking the human and sensing he was someone close to Harry, Wine pushed his head against Sirius' raised and waiting hand. Smiling the man rubbed and scratched the kneazle's head.

Some minutes later, Harry came back into the room, drying his hair. He smiled when he saw Wine and Sirius getting acquainted.

"I see Wine has made friends with you."

"Is that his name? Is he your familiar?" Sirius asked.

"Yes. I saved his life and he's been with me ever since," Harry said, getting dressed.

"Well, hello Wine. My name is Sirius and I'm Harry's Godfather," Sirius formally introduced himself.

Wine cocked his head and mewed. "I guess that means I'm accepted," Sirius said, grinning. "I'm glad you have someone like this to watch your back for you."

"Yes, he's very good at that. Well, shall we go?"

"Certainly."

"Wine, do you want to go with us?" Harry asked the kneazle. Wine seemed to think about that a moment then shook his head, jumped from the bed and vanished from view.

"I can't get over how they can do that. Wish I could," Sirius said. "Let's go then."

The two left the castle. Sirius promised Harry a meal in London and had already gotten permission to take Harry off campus. As soon as they cleared the gates, Sirius apparated them away.

The two had a very enjoyable day. They went to the London Zoo, did some shopping, ate dinner and spoke of his mother and father. Sirius was full of stories of their days at Hogwarts and when they fought the enemy as members of the order.

Appearing at the gates of Hogwarts again, Sirius escorted his godson back to his common room.

"I had a great time, Sirius. Hope we can so this again soon," Harry sighed, happily.

"I'd like that. How about we plan on spending a little time together around Christmas, eh?" Sirius asked.

"Well, I do want to spend it with my family and friends but I think I can manage a day or two to spend with you."

"Great. Baring anything coming up with the order, it's a date. Good night, Harry. I love you," Sirius said softly at the door to the common room.

"Good night, Sirius and I love you too," Harry said, giving his Godfather a tight hug.

They parted ways and Sirius headed back out of the castle, whistling a tune to himself, pleased at how well the day had gone. Harry was a good kid and he liked him a lot. He hoped this bleeding war wouldn't take either him or Harry away not when he finally had found him again.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

By Halloween, there was still no word from the elders. However, the evil seemed content to bide its time and hadn't done anything that Harry could detect.

Everyone was excited about the Halloween celebrations. Harry was surprised and pleased that it was very similar to the trick or treating in the muggle world though here at school they couldn't leave to go to the village and do that. But there was singing, plenty of sweets and good food and games so that was even better. The weird ceiling in the great hall was filled with not only candles but huge floating jack-o-lanterns. It was way cool!

Wine even allowed Harry to dress him up in a tiny cape and hat so he could take pictures with his camera he'd brought. Darius had found an old fashioned flash camera and had shown him how to use it since his digital wouldn't work here. It was a great evening and everyone went to bed tired, full, and happy.

So, he got absorbed in the festivities and thoroughly enjoyed his Quidditch practices though it was ridiculously cold during them. He had to use a warming charm to keep his body from freezing on his broom...his new personal broom that is. Sirius insisted on getting him the latest broom on the market. It was a real beauty and flew like a dream.

Being on a broom in the first place was exhilarating. In this, wizards had it good ... actually being able to fly without a plane or balloon. He knew quite a few muggles who would absolutely die to have the chance to do what he did nearly every day.

The only thing that dampened these frantic days of fall was the endless pleading looks Professor Quirrell's sad eyes bestowed on him every time they came in contact. He couldn't comfort the man as there wasn't any way to speak to him that the evil inhabiting him wouldn't hear so he ignored the man as best he could though it made him feel bad to do it.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Wine had spent the past two months getting a working knowledge of the grounds and the castle while tailing Professor Quirrell. He was careful to not do this daily, choosing to spy on the man at different times and days. Sometimes he watched from a high spot above the great hall, another time, hiding in plain sight when the man went to a little used tower to mutter and plot. He would climb into the rafters and watch from above, staying invisible.

Despite his surveillance, he didn't learn anything beyond how much the thing hated Harry and how he wanted to take the boy's body if he could get him alone. But Harry was smart enough to never do that. Even when he went off towards the woods, he knew he was being watched by the forest creatures and was perfectly safe. It was inside the castle that he had to be on guard and never be caught alone.

Wine regularly kept his three contacts, Snape, Hagrid, and, of course, Harry, aware of everything the man did. It was concerning to all three that it wanted Harry's body so desperately which only confirmed in their minds the identity of the spirit.

"No surprise it would want Harry," Snape said over a cup of hot chocolate in Hagrid's hut. "It gets him revenge and a new body to continued his war."

"Aye, I agree that all the evidence little Wine has brought us that it be the Dark Lord." Hagrid nodded, eyes narrowed in anger and concern. "My last contact with the elders was a bit more hopeful. They think they've managed to cobble together a spell that should do what we all want."

"That is good news, but do they intend to test it first," Snape asked, relieved this might come to an end very soon.

"Aye, but it's finding a candidate that fits their needs, that's the problem now," the giant said a bit gloomily.

Snape sighed. "Yes, I'm certain it is. How many evil spirits inhabiting people have you heard about?" he asked facetiously.

Hagrid just grunted. He felt the task was impossible too but what could he say about it ... nothing.

"They may just have to do it on Quirrell untested, though I shudder at what might happen if it doesn't work," Snape said worriedly.

"Ahh that doesn't bear thinking about, sir. Because as you and I both know, he'll be alerted and most likely put whatever evil plot he's been hatching into action before we can stop him."

"Yes, my concern exactly."

Hagrid sighed and rose to put his empty cup into the sink then he turned and leaned against it to study the professor. "There's nothing we can do about it. If they can't find a test subject, going ahead and doing it is the only option left."

"I agree." Snape rose too. "All we can do is wait and with that, I'll be saying my goodbyes. I have rounds to do yet."

"Good evening to ya, professor," Hagrid murmured, seeing the man out and watching to insure he made it up to the castle safely. Running from the garden patch was a small shadow that caught up with the wizard and kept him company up the hill.

Hagrid nodded in satisfaction to himself that Wine would keep the professor safe and stepped back inside, shutting the door against the chill night air.

Chapter Text

November swept in with blustering winds and billows of snow. Between classes children could be heard squealing from well thrown snowballs and seen building snowmen in the courtyard. Elsewhere in the castle, not everyone was as happy as the children.

"Those fools!" Quirrell's voice hissed. His eyes flamed with fury as he paced angrily back and forth in his empty classroom at the end of yet another interminable day.

While Voldemort ranted, the real Quirrell was laughing with glee. Word had reached their shared ears that Dolohov and McNair had been arrested by the aurors. It warmed his heart that not all the ministry had been corrupted. Despite Fudge's interference or lack there of, Voldemort's minions were being caught and the reign of terror he'd worked so hard to build, was crumbling.

"Without my physical guidance they are making stupid decisions!" The stuttering that Quirrell was known for was completely absent as the malevolent spirit continued to rant. "I must have a body of my own and soon or all my efforts to cow these sheep will be ruined." He degenerated into angry muttering which was fine with Quirrell as he was hardily tired of hearing his voice spewing such vileness about.

His good mood evaporated minutes later when Voldemort halted in his tracks and said, "Yes! That's it! I'll lure the boy into the forest with tales of an injured unicorn. That will get the brat where I want him and away from his hidden protectors. But first I'll need a unicorn."

Quirrell shuddered within his mind with fear and disgust. He'd already been involved with the deaths of two unicorns already and it sickened him. He desperately wanted to warn someone, especially Harry about what the fiend planned but, as always, he was completely helpless.

As the dark spirit made his plans, Quirrell could only stare around his classroom in misery. Suddenly, a movement under the huge cabinet in the corner caught his eye. He stared there for as long as Voldemort allowed his head to be in that direction. Just before his body began to move off, he saw what it was he'd spotted. The little kneazle that had been spying on them for months carefully eased itself from under the cabinet, vanishing from view before it was fully in sight. A sigh of utter relief filled the possessed man.

"Thank Merlin! Potter will be warned." With that worry dealt with, he allowed himself to recede within that part that was still his own and rest. He might be of help later when the boy's guardians tried to put an end to the wizarding world's most deadly enemy. He prayed they succeeded and set him free.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"HARRY!" A voice shouted behind the black-haired youth. He turned and received a snowball in his face.

Laughter filled the air as he removed his glasses, shook them off and brushed the wet stuff off his forehead and cheeks. A softly muttered cleansing spell cleaned his glasses which he put back on.

"You asked for it Harry," Ron laughed. "We'd been yelling at you forever it seemed. Where your mind get to?"

"Very funny, Ron," Harry snorted, giving his mate a friendly shove. "I was just thinking about what I need to get for Christmas presents when we go to Hogsmeade this weekend."

"Bugger it! I hadn't even thought about shopping. Me mum will be furious with my thoughtlessness so I'd better be thinking of something to get them all. Thanks for reminding me, mate." Ron's face scrunched up in concentration as the two of them headed inside to warm up and get ready for dinner.

"You're welcome," Harry said, smiling.

They reached the portal leading to the Gryffindor Common Room a few minutes later, Ron giving the password so they both could step through. There were many others there before them so the room was noisy with all the chatter. The pair pushed their way through the mob and went up to the boy's dorm.

As they stripped off their clothes to change, Ron asked, "Harry, you going home then?"

"Uh huh." Harry's voice was muffled by the jumper he was pulling on.

"Will we get to meet your friend or friends at the station?"

Harry was pulling on his robe when he turned to eye Ron for a moment before shaking his head. "Sorry that wouldn't be a good idea, Ron. Their anonymity keeps them safe, remember?"

"Oh aye, that's true. Sorry, I did forget but still it's sad we can't meet them," Ron said, unhappily.

"When it's safe in the world again, I'll be happy to introduce you to them all, Ron...promise," Harry comforted his school friend. Ron's smile returned.

"I'll look forward to that. Now, let's eat. I'm starving!" The redhead lead the way as they hurried to follow their fellow Gryffindors down to the great hall for dinner.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Saturday came with sunlit skies though it was very cold and snowy. The children allowed to go into town were already up and eating breakfast. Their happy chatter filled the air making most of the teachers smile indulgently down at them from their high table.

Dumbledore, though smiling at one and all, wasn't as happy. He didn't want Harry to go into town but had no legitimate reason, beyond concern for his safety, to keep him from joining his classmates. If he forced the boy to stay behind it would only foster hurt feelings and make him even more wary around the headmaster than he already was. No amount of kind treatment and attempts to befriend the boy had worked and Dumbledore had no idea why.

Most all the children trusted him except for the Slytherins, for obvious reasons. Even Harry's friends trusted him but not Harry himself. He blamed the forest dwellings for that. He was certain they had warned the boy away from him. But that didn't stop him from trying to establish some kind of relationship with Harry. It was imperative the boy learn to trust him if he was to be molded into the weapon they desperately needed against the Dark Lord, which was why he couldn't keep the boy at the castle when it was obvious he so wanted to go.

To salve his conscious and concerns for the boy's safety, he recruited Snape to be Harry's shadow. That worthy was very unhappy with his orders and made no bones about just how upset he was about it.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"Why should I be the one to trail after a gaggle of teens. Send one of the others who actually like being amongst the noisy brats," Snape snarled in his most haughtiest tone, only pretending to be angry as he stood rigidly at attention before Dumbledore's desk the night before.

"Now Severus, we can't very well let the boy go into such a dangerous situation without some kind of guard and we can't keep him here or he'll become resentful," Dumbledore soothed the potion's master.

"You still can't get him to trust you, eh?" Snape asked, shrewdly.

Dumbledore lost the twinkle in his eyes as he stared at the sallow man with undisguised annoyance. "That has no bearing here. You are the most skilled in defensive spells and are a member of the Order of the Phoenix which makes you the best person for the task."

Snape rolled his eyes but said, "As you wish, Headmaster." He turned about and stormed out of the office.

Once back in his own quarters in the dungeon, he relaxed and got ready for bed. Being sent as Harry's bodyguard was exactly what he'd wanted. Both he and Hagrid were very concerned about what the malevolent spirit inside Quirrell might do when the boy was away from the safety of the castle. Hagrid had already assured him that he too would be in town but couldn't be seen shadowing Harry so it was up to Snape to take that role.

However, he couldn't make it seem as if he willingly agreed with Dumbledore when ordered to do the job. Like Harry, he didn't trust the old wizard either. Let the fool think he was reluctant and angry. It didn't matter what he thought as long as Harry was protected. He hoped the day would be just an ordinary day but planned on it being just the opposite.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

With breakfast out of the way, the handful of teachers going on this outing led the way into town, the children stretched out behind them like so many beads on a string with a sour looking and unhappy Snape bringing up the rear. Hagrid had left a few hours earlier so it would appear his errands were unrelated to those of the children.

Somewhere in the middle were Harry, Hermione, and Ron chattering excitedly about all the different places they intended to go.

"I've got to check out the new stuff at Zonko's Joke Shop," Ron said, gleefully.

"Well, I need some new quills and writing paper so I'm going to Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop then to Honeydukes for some chocolates. What about you Harry?" Hermione asked.

"I'd love to see Zonko's and, over course, Honeydukes but I also need to stop at the quill shop, Dervis and Bangs, Gladrags, and finally, the Three Broomsticks for some butter beer and hot buttered scones."

"Blimey Harry, that's nearly the whole village," Ron exclaimed.

"Well, I did say I needed to do my Christmas shopping, Ron," Harry snorted.

"Then I suggest we go together since I do need to stop in those places too," Hermione said with finality.

Ron rolled his eyes but Harry just laughed and nodded.

The morning went very well and was successful to Harry's mind. He'd had good fortune finding great gifts for family and friends, all were safely shrunk and tucked within a pocket in his robe. They were waiting on Hermione to make her purchases at Gladrags before moving on to Honeydukes then a nice hot lunch at the Three Broomsticks.

As they'd moved from shop to shop, Harry wasn't oblivious to his surroundings as his two friends were. His senses were on high alert. He knew very well how vulnerable he was here and knew exactly why Professor Snape could be seen hovering not far away anytime he looked up. Hagrid he saw only once. For someone so large, it was amazing how the half-giant could be practically invisible if he chose. But thankfully, nothing suspicious seemed to be going on, no odd people taking too great an interest in him, nor sign of death eaters about. However, he didn't let his guard down.

As they finally left Gladrags and made for Honeydukes, Harry felt the fine hairs on his body rise with apprehension and though he didn't know what the danger might be he simply reacted by grabbing Hermione's arms and yelling at Ron to follow then ducked into the Owl Post Office they were just walking past. Confused, Ron was about to demand what was wrong the moment they were behind the door when a blast shook the ground and sent up a cloud of snow to obscure the area, blinding everyone. Peering out the window next to the door, Harry saw a group of five Death Eaters appear near enough to make them out clearly.

Screams of fear and anger peppered the air. The Postmaster behind them dropped down behind his counter while the mail owls shrieked in anger and fear at the loud commotion.

"What the hell was that?" Ron cried, trying to see out the window too.

"Death Eaters!" Harry hissed, tugging Ron out of view of the window. Hermione huddled between them. All three peeked carefully out the window and watched as the dark cloaked and skeletoned-masked group began searching for something with wands out and pointed. People continued to run and scream, trying their best to find places to hide.

Two of the menacing Death Eaters turned to approach the Owl Post Office but before they'd taken more than a few steps, a bright light spat out and sent the pair flying backward to hit the wall of a nearby building. Appearing like dark ghosts against the settling snow mist were Professors Snape, Sinistra, Flitwick, and Vector with their wands held out. They spread out and took after the Death Eaters.

"Looks like they have things well in hand..." Ron began to say when the back door of the Owl Post Office exploded inward revealing yet another Death Eater. The man ran in and snatched Harry's wrist in a powerful grip. However, before the man could use his want to disapparate them, Harry swiftly chanted a anti-disapparation jinx silently in his mind preventing the thug from taking them away.

"What tha...?" growled the Death Eater in shocked confusion, trying to repeat the spell never sensing the person coming up behind him until he fell unconscious to the floor from a well placed blow to the head. A triumphant Draco Malfoy stood there with a huge rock in his hands that he must have brought in from outside.

"Great work, Draco but you'd better get out of here before you're seen by your mates. I don't want you getting hassled," Harry warned, giving the Slytherin a quick smile. Turning to look out the window he noted Snape was heading their way. "And before Professor Snape sees you too."

Draco nodded his understanding, dropped the rock, and turning about, leaving the way he'd come in, vanishing before the front door swung open to reveal a very worried potion's master.

"Is everyone alright," Snape demanded, going over to the fallen enemy to insure the man wouldn't be getting up and taking off the man's mask. He snorted as he recognized the fool but said nothing.

"Yes sir. We're fine now," Harry answered for all of them. "Is it safe?"

Casting a binding spell on the prisoner, Snape answered, "It seems so. It wasn't a large group as they most likely figured they could get in and out fairly quickly. Since the danger seems over, everyone is being sent back to Hogwarts. Unfortunately, you and several others will have to wait here until the aurors finish questioning you."

An auror suddenly stepped through the open door with wand at the ready. Seeing the body on the floor he addressed Snape. "Only one here?"

"Apparently. One of the children seems to have managed to hit him on the head when he wasn't looking," Snape said, carefully. The lump on the head and the rock on the floor had told him that but not who had done it.

"Excellent. We'll collect him now." The auror glanced at the children a moment. "We will have to question the children though."

"I understand. I was taking them to the Three Broomsticks to wait on your pleasure," Snape said smoothly.

"Good idea. One of us will be round as quick as we can so you may escort them back to Hogwarts," the auror looked satisfied with that arrangement and allowed Snape and the threesome to leave.

The street had returned more or less to normal except for the absence of most of the students. A few were still around, being questioned outside Honeydukes and not far from Zonkos. They continued on until they reached the small bar and went inside.

Since this was where they'd intended to go in the first place, the three ordered a butter beer and the day's menu item...hot turkey sandwiches. They settled with their food in a far corner. The room was filled with excited and angry patrons but no other students. Many of the adults eyed them curiously but none approached. Snape sat near them and questioned them on what happened. His eyes widened when he heard what Draco had done but otherwise made no comment.

"Hmm, it seems luck still follows you, Mr. Potter," he sneered, staying in character.

"Yes sir," Harry, playing along, said in a tight voice.

Snape stared at the three a long moment then said, "I would not mention Mr. Potter's skills with a jinx spell nor Mr. Malfoy's appearance. I care not what kind of story you concoct to explain how that man got the knot on his head but be consistent when you tell it. Only the headmaster should hear the truth of the matter, understood?"

Hermione looked like she wanted to object but then thought better of it. Ron had no such problem and just mutely nodded his head. "We understand, sir," Harry muttered.

Nodding his head, Snape rose and went to take a seat at the bar where he could watch both exits and the children where they sat. He ordered a butter beer and relaxed only a little. He really didn't expect another attack but he wouldn't discount it. He was very relieved nothing had happened to Harry and grateful the boy knew how to cast an anti-disapparation jinx though none his age should even know that spell. Obviously, the attack was planned to coincide with the children's normally scheduled visit to Hogsmeade. But the attack was poorly planned and executed to his mind.

Most likely due to the fact their leader was still a disembodied spirit and the two next in command were in Azkaban, Snape mused. He secretly smiled. We're winning. If we can keep chipping away at his command structure, the Dark Lord won't have anyone but idiots running things. Now if only we can do away with that spirit inhabiting Quirrell this madness will finally be over.

He sighed and drank his beer. All in all not a really bad day after all.

In the corner where the three sat nursing their butter beers and finishing their sandwiches, the three reflected on the attack.

"How did you know how to stop that guy from disapparating with you, Harry," Hermione asked, frowning. None of them had been taught this and though she'd read about it, she'd never attempted it knowing she didn't have the magical skill or strength to do it yet. No one their age really did.

"I had very good instructors, Hermione," Harry demurred.

"But no one our age is really able to do that..." Hermione began to object.

Harry leaned forward and hissed, "Hermione, I'm not like you, okay? I just happen to have been trained at an early age and have a much stronger magical core than most or so I was told."

"Oh.." She blinked at him but subsided and focused on her food.

"Oy! What I want to know is why that git, Malfoy bothered to save us in the first place," Ron growled, taking a sip of his beer and slamming the glass back on the table, his expression glowering.

Harry couldn't help rolling his eyes. "He's not a git and I'll thank you to hold your tongue about him if you can't say anything nice. I've put up with your animosity, Ron but it's beginning to get very tiresome besides being very immature."

Ron gaped at Harry, shocked his friend would stand up for a Syltherin. "He's a Slytherin, Harry. We don't consort with them because their parents are pure bloods who believe in that rot He-who-must-not-be-named spouts off about. They can't be trusted."

Harry shook his head, anger rising in him. "Not all of them are in collusion with the enemy, Ron. Just because they are in a house name for a snake, does not automatically make them evil. If I could, I'd find a way to do away with the separate houses." Ron gasped. "Dividing a school up like this is a recipe for just what you're displaying; distrust, foolish jealousies and unreasoning and unsubstantiated hatred. How stupid is that?" He ranted then shook his head. "Enough of this. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

They were silent a moment before Harry spoke again, a bit more quietly. "We have to come up with a story to tell the aurors. I say, tell them Ron managed to hide near the back door and snuck up behind the guy and clocked him one...no more no less and that should take care of it. Sound good to you?"

Ron was still shocked and angry but nodded his head in understanding and agreement and Hermione did the same, though she too was surprised by Harry's rant about how wrong it was to have separate houses. She'd never heard anyone say anything like that before and it set her to thinking...was he right?

Chapter Text

 

The incident in November was forgotten in the excitement of the impending Christmas vacation though some of that enthusiasm was dampened by the increased course load the teachers had laden them with. With many a grumble, they worked hard to finish the lessons before their departures homeward.

The past weekend had been the final Quiddith game of the old year. It had been an exciting game between Gryffindor and Slytherin ending in a tie, much to everyone's surprise and many an unhappy complaint from members of both houses. But Harry wasn't one of them. He knew Draco was just as good a Seeker as he was and the pair of them much enjoyed vying against each other in friendly competition.

Draco would have loved to be able to congratulate Harry on a fantastic game played but he was forced to keep to the character he portrayed as the spoiled, rich boy with the haughty demeanor. So he could only give Harry an angry and annoyed face when the teams passed each other on their way to their lockers.

Harry's reaction was to give him a conspiratorial wink, letting Draco know the boy was just as pleased by the outcome as he was. This warmed Draco inside and allowed him to put up with the anger and bad tempers his team displayed as well as some of the nasty remarks directed at him for not doing his best to defeat their enemy.

What they were really unhappy about was their team mate's refusal to cheat. Draco fended them off with an arrogant snort and a knowing look letting them think he had a plan in mind for revenge ...which he didn't but it did the trick of getting them off his back.

No way was he going to tell them why he wouldn't cheat which would get him in hot water with his father who would expect him to do whatever it took to win. This was where he and his father differed dramatically and something that would get him killed. Cheating to him was wrong as it prevented him from actually improving his own skills and it only left one with a hollow sense of victory that wasn't truly earned. He wanted nothing to do with it but did have to at least pretend he did if he wanted to survive. This was one of those times when he wished he'd been sorted into some other house then he could just be himself.

Sighing mentally, he shoved his unhappiness deep inside and strode with head held high and shoulders back, a haughty expression plastered on his face, as shoved his way to his locker and changed.

Not all his team mates were fooled by his air of superiority. They were the tiny minority who also didn't like the morals of their house but wisely, knew better than to gather in a clique as many of like minds did because the danger was too great. The majority of his team mates, however, had bought Draco's fake promise of a nasty plan to come and tried to guess what it might be, their guesses making the more honest souls disgusted and sick. Draco just pretended not to hear.

As he changed clothes rather hurriedly then left the locker area, Draco sighed unhappily. He was tired of play-acting the snobbish aristocrat who firmly thought everything should be handed to him on a plate due to his family's position in society. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Oh, their family was an ancient bloodline but they weren't as wealthy as all that. His father just put on airs that they were but if it weren't for his dabbling in the dark side of society, they would be out on their ear and their ancestral home would be up for auction. Lucius Malfoy was not as astute a business man as he claimed to be. His son was better at juggling figures and people but he was careful not to display that ability to anyone.

His mother on the other hand, was smart and cunning. Draco knew for a fact, she didn't really buy into this pure blood thing but followed because to do anything else would mean suicide. He had discovered, quite by accident, one day last summer that she was stashing money away in an account she'd inherited from a cousin that had loved her dearly. Even her mentally unbalanced sister, Bellatrix didn't know about it.

Just thinking about his aunt made Draco want to shiver. Now there was one seriously insane individual that he did his best to avoid. She plain creeped him out. If she ever learned he was shamming his allegiance to the Dark Lord, she wouldn't hesitate to kill him.

So he was forced to continue the charade of haughty arrogance he truly didn't feel so that no one in his family would suspect his heart wasn't in this game of evil. He truly liked Harry and wished more than once, he could just be friends with the boy.

The subterfuge he was forced to play was causing him serious strain and he was certain ulcers were forming in his poor stomach from worrying about being discovered. In bed at night, he dreamed of a better life while during the day, he outwardly pretended to those of his house, that he was a good little snake and was stringing Potter along until the right moment when he could bring the boy down. That was working so far.

It was a dangerous game but one his father had taught him how to play since he was barely six years old, although that worthy would be furious to learn his lessons were being spurned by his only heir.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

As Christmas vacation loomed, Harry's sharp, knowing eyes, could see Malfoy's growing worry and fear about the upcoming holiday. Though the snotty mask was firmly in place, Harry saw through it to the very scared little boy behind it. He had a fair idea why and wished he could provide the blonde with an alternative option to going home.

It weighed on him so much that he decided to discuss the matter with Snape and Hagrid just two days before Christmas break.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A hot steaming cup of chocolate, the delicious sweet scent rising to his nose, waited for him on the thick, scared wooden table in Hagrid's warm and comfortable hut when Harry arrived Thursday afternoon after classes had ended for the day. He sighed in relief as he wrapped frozen fingers, gratefully, around the hot mug. He took a tentative sip, not wanting to burn his tongue.

"There now me lad. Warm yourself before telling me what brings you to me home with such a worried frown on you face," Hagrid said, closing the door behind the boy then heading to his own large chair and huge cup of cocoa waiting for him.

Harry did as he was bade, feeling the warmth take the chill from his bones. Sighing with pleasure, he drank a healthy amount before setting the cup down and addressing his adopted father.

"I'm worried about Draco. I have a bad feeling his Christmas will be filled with not so enjoyable things."

Hagrid frowned down at his mug in thought. He didn't need an explanation of what fears Harry was talking about. He and the others were well aware of what nastiness the elder Malfoy was involved in.

"Afraid you're right to be concerned, Harry. Word has reached me that the boy's father is planning something that will put a stain on the holidays for many folk and that he will certainly force his son to participate in."

"Then we must find some way to keep Draco at Hogwarts or somewhere else he'll be safe!" Harry exclaimed, anxiously.

The half-giant leaned back in his chair, eyes troubled. "I don't know how we could do that, Harry, without raising his father's suspicions and causing the boy more grief and pain."

"There must be some way to keep him safe," Harry insisted. "I was going to ask Professor Snape if you had no suggestions."

"Oh Aye, he just might have one at that but he's a very busy man right now though..."

"I know which is why I normally talk to him when we're all in bed but we have very little time to set up a plan before we all leave."

"Then he must come now."

"He won't be happy about that but you're right." Harry got up from his seat and headed for the door. "I'll summon him with my Patronus." Stepping outside, Harry concentrated and summoned the ethereal white stag that was his symbol and told it to have Professor Snape come to Hagrid's cabin immediately. It bobbed its head then leaped away toward the castle, it's feet not touching the ground. Satisfied, Harry went back inside.

Since starting at Hogwarts, he'd learned calling a Patronus wasn't taught until third year. He thought that irresponsible as first years needed such a protection early on to keep them safe from all the dangers inherent to having a dark lord around. He was rather glad Hagrid had felt he should know this and taught him just before he began at Hogwarts.

"That was well done, Harry. Now all we can do is wait," Hagrid said warmly as Harry sat back down to finish his cocoa. Harry smiled back with pleasure at the compliment and relaxed in the warmth of the cabin.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It was a half hour before Professor Snape could safely get away. He trudged through the snow toward the cabin grumbling rather irately to himself. He had far too many things to get done before the students left and begrudged any time away. The door opened just as he reached it and was gestured inside by a silent Harry Potter.

Snape eyed the boy with a raised eyebrow, wondering why he was here, but said nothing as he took a seat and gratefully accepted a cup of cocoa.

The hot drink warmed his slender fingers and his cold middle. The two waited politely for him to drink and get warmer.

Setting the rather large mug on the table again, Snape eyed them with a hint of annoyance in his dark eyes. "What was so important you felt the need to drag me away right now?"

Hagrid nodded at Harry. The boy quickly explained his concerns about Draco, finishing with, "We hoped you might have a solution."

The dour professor's eyes widened in surprise then narrowed in thought. Leaning back in his chair he sighed. "I too have been worried about my Godson. I know more than you do what Lucius plans are and I've been racking my brain for a solution as well. But none has come to me that wouldn't get the boy seriously punished or killed."

Harry's face fell. "There must be something... wait..." a sudden idea came to him. It was just wild enough to work. "What if we have him kidnapped and taken into the forest?"

Hagrid and Snape gaped at him. The professor was the first to recover. "No...absolutely not!"

"Why not?"

"Because then Minister Fudge would send a force into the forest and many innocent forest dwellers could be hurt," Snape said bluntly.

Harry made an impatient gesture. "No they wouldn't. All the forest dwellers are under cover for winter now. The minister's men would be floundering around in the deep snow and finding nothing of them."

"He's right, Severus. You know our enclave is very far from here. Wizarding society has never discovered it over the centuries and they won't now no matter how many search for it. Harry has the right idea," Hagrid said, slowly.

"But you'll be giving that secret away to a wizard," Snape reminded him.

"Nah, young Draco will be blindfolded and then kept at my home for the holidays. Let the aurors search as long as they like. When the holidays end, we'll bring him back and concoct some plausible story that covers his time away. He'll have to be roughed up a bit to make his story good but I think the boy will have no trouble accepting that as a trade for having a bit of Christmas cheer this year," Hagrid said, liking this idea very much.

Snape thought about it for a long while then nodded. "Very well, if you think the risk worth it then I have no objection except one."

"That would be..." Harry asked, confused.

"That I too must disappear. The dark lord's minions will want me to aid in the search and I don't fancy being caught by the aurors we're sure to run into nor run afoul of Lucius. However, I do need to be there at the start to give them a plausible direction then after that I will need an exceptional reason for my absence."

A wicked smiled tugged at Harry's lips and his eyes were full of mischief. "Then you'll just have to be kidnapped as well..."

"Oh, now wait a minute..."

Harry held up his hand and Snape subsided still frowning. "If we have you kidnapped a few days after Draco, it will make the threat from the forest more frightening and keep all the searchers, both aurors and death eaters running scared and worried about who would be next. It might even succeed in causing them to run into each other," he laughed at that, "...which isn't bad as it allows more of the death eaters to be taken into custody. The added advantage is it will allow you a vacation of your own, professor, then when you reappear, you'll be able to add your account to Draco's when he's returned, keeping him from suffering his father's wrath. The downside, however, is the forbidden forest will be doubly restricted and watched but that's not a real problem for the old ones."

Snape and Hagrid sat silent for some minutes thinking over Harry's plan.

Shaking his head, Snape could only smile. "You are a very devious young man, Harry Potter."

"Why thank you," Harry beamed at the compliment.

"I've not had a vacation in many years. I think I'm overdue," Snape said, his smile reaching his eyes as it rarely did. He looked forward to this unexpected break from being under watch by Voldemort's minions. He could use the time to trade with the forest dwellers for herbs he needed, as well.

"Then all that's left is to have Draco kidnapped. Any ideas?" Harry asked.

"Hmm, since you've come up with the scheme itself, I reckon it's up to Professor Snape and I to figure that out. Best you not know Harry then you can act appropriately surprised."

"Good idea. Then I best be going. See you both in the forest later." With that Harry rose to his feet, gave them a cheeky smile and was out the door heading back to the castle.

Chapter Text


"That dere is one cunning little devil," Hagrid snorted when the two of them were alone.

"I agree. Obviously, he paid attention during those lessons in strategy he'd been taught, hmm..." Hagrid just smiled. Snape finished his cocoa, his mind working furiously on how to implement Harry's plan.

"I suggest Draco be snatched as they walk toward the train. This would be the only way to insure everyone thinks something from the forest took him," Snape said, slowly.

"Aye, agreed. But it is the how we're having to come up with here."

"Hmm..."

Silence filled the warm room as the two men planned a kidnapping.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"Oy, Harry! Where the have you been," Ron shouted when he spotted the black haired boy ducking into the dining room at supper time later that evening.

"Seeing Hagrid. I wanted to give him my gift before I forgot in all the excitement of packing and leaving," Harry said quickly. Point of fact, he hadn't given his gift as he intended to put it under the tree at home but it made a great excuse.

"Oh, okay, though I don't know why you felt the need to give him a present. Anyway, I've gotten that cruddy homework for Professor Snape done at last. Why the teachers thought we had to be loaded down now is beyond me."

"Maybe so we enjoy our holiday better," Harry snorted. It had been a lot of homework and he'd only just gotten his done last night though there was every chance the teachers could give them one last batch to make the misery of the past week complete.

"Hello, you two! Ready for vacation," Hermione said brightly, just arriving and taking her seat between them.

"Yeah, I'm all packed," Ron said, grinning.

"So you've finally finished your potion's homework?" she asked, knowing how well the boy always procrastinated.

Ron smirked. "I turned it in today...so there."

"Good for you."

The food appeared suddenly before them and the children dug into the wonderful Christmas bounty. Desert was sure to be fantastic as well.

"I'm going to miss all this incredible food," Harry commented wistfully, filling up his plate and sniffing all the delicious aromas.

"Why? Don't they feed you well wherever you live?" Ron asked, surprised and concerned.

"Oh they do but it's all 'healthy' food," Harry complained as he loaded up with sweet potatoes, turkey, sweet breads, cranberries, and other delicious choices.

Ron rolled his eyes as he loaded his own plate high. "Sucks to be you. My mom will have nearly as much food as we have here and my whole family will be there even Charlie who's been working in Romania. I can hardly wait as it's been a long time since I saw him last."

"That's wonderful, Ron. Sounds like it will be a grand time for you," Harry said politely.

"My parents have decided to go to my grandparents for Christmas this year. They live in Boston, Maine in America. I'm really excited to go," Hermione said, filling her plate with only a small sampling of the foods laid out. She wasn't that big an eater but did like the variety provided here at the school.

"Wow! That's cool, Hermione. Hope you have a great time there," Harry said sincerely.

"Hey, bring back plenty of pictures and souvenirs," Ron said, excitedly, wishing he could take such a trip one day.

"I promise." The three stopped talking so they could dig into their food.

As he ate, Harry glanced up at the high table. Professor Snape was talking to Professor Sinestra who had decided to sit next to him. He looked relaxed so perhaps he and Hagrid had come up with a plan. He hoped so.

Turning his attention away, Harry looked over at the Slytherin table. Draco wasn't smiling despite his fellow classmates grinning, joking, and eating on either side of him. It also looked like he barely had an appetite as his plate held very little and even that he was only shoving around the plate with his fork.

It made Harry sad to see how miserable the boy was. He hoped the plan worked and he'd see a happy Draco over the holidays. He'd keep his fingers crossed that nothing went wrong.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The day of leave taking finally arrived. Unfortunately, it had turned into a moderate snowstorm that had sprung up overnight, making the trek to the train a miserable, blinding affair with everyone holding onto a rope held by Hagrid who was making a narrow path with his huge body for them to walk through easier.

Complaints and curses were heard all down the line despite them being happy to be going home. No one could remember having a storm blow in on Christmas break before but this was Scotland and the weather could be unpredictable at times.

By the time half the students got aboard the train, they were cold and wet. The older students, prefects, and teachers that were going home had applied warming charms to keep themselves warm on the trek but the first years who had not quite perfected the spell were crying about how cold they were. The teachers went about warming them up so were too preoccupied to know something had happened outside the train.

A scream of fear filled the air, making students nearby yell and scream as well. The single scream of terror could be heard fading off away from the line of students. Those left behind were beginning to cry or curse.

Teachers bringing up the rear which included Professor Snape, hurriedly pushed their way up the line to see what was going on. It was then they discovered that someone or something had snatched Draco Malfoy.

The hysterical students said something big had grabbed the boy then disappeared into the storm.

"Get the children into the train. I'll send a message to the Headmaster," Snape shouted over the wailing children. He watched as two other teachers did as ordered then stepped away from the group so the storm hid him which allowed him to delay his message to Dumbledore. This storm had been sent by Hagrid's mother for just this reason.

He was rather amazed at how powerful she was to be able to conjure something so dangerous as a snowstorm. It was very impressive and he reminded himself to never make her mad at him. It was Magorian who had spirited Draco away. Even now, the centaur leader was most likely deep in the forest by now. Weather didn't hamper the creatures at all.

Thinking he'd delayed long enough, he conjured his Patronus. The beautiful doe waited for orders. "Bring the Headmaster here to me." It bobbed its head and disappeared into the storm.

He shivered as his body became covered in snow. Conjuring an umbrella and increasing the strength of his warming charm, Snape waited. He could hear the train's engine from where he stood but nothing else which meant all the students were now aboard. Suddenly a voice called to him. It was Professor McGonagall. She had been at the head of the line of students with Hagrid.

"Here!" He called, igniting his wand so it glowed, guiding her to him.

A dark shape came through the blowing snow to his side. "For goodness sake, Severus. Why didn't you come to the train when you were through? No one can see in this storm and it makes no sense to stand here in it," she scolded him, carrying her own umbrella.

"I'm warm enough," he lied. "I thought I'd stay out here to listen for any sound but there's been nothing but the train's noise to hear. Whoever took the boy is long gone by now."

"Oh dear! Who could have done this and why?" She asked, worriedly, trying to peer through the whiteness of the storm.

"I have no idea but only a forest dweller would have dared to face this mess and not fear getting lost or dying in it," Snape said, planting the seed of their deception.

"Forest dwellers! Why on earth would they be interested in Draco Malfoy?" McGonagall exclaimed, totally bewildered.

"I have no idea, Minerva," Snape said, flatly.

Another dark shape approached them. This one came from the direction of the castle.

"Minerva, Severus...what's happened?" Dumbledore asked. He carried a bright pink parasol that barely kept the snow from covering his face.

"Something has kidnapped Draco Malfoy," McGonagall blurted out before Snape could speak.

Dumbledore looked shocked and concerned. He looked around and frowned before raising his wand and beginning a low chant. Snape shivered. Dumbledore was one of the most powerful wizards of their time, though, he firmly believed Harry would one day surpass him. The wizards weren't aware that, Hagrid, his mother and some of the forest elders were equal in skill and strength as the Headmaster. That would blow his mind, Snape thought, smirking inside.

Dumbledore would be able to disperse the storm but it took a lot of energy which was why he hadn't done it to allow the students an easier passage to the train. Now there was no choice. Messing with the weather could have serious repercussions so it wasn't done except for the direst of reasons which this qualified but it had to be done very carefully. The Headmaster had to coax the storm to move on a little faster than it normal would have and send it toward the mountains. This took him about fifteen minutes before the storm finally moved off enough for them to see the fields that lead to the forest's edge and the gates of Hogwarts in the distance.

There was no sign of anyone moving over the whiteness and all traces of tracks had been thoroughly destroyed by the storm.

"We can never hope to find them ourselves. We'll have to contact the minister and have him send out the aurors for a major search," Dumbledore said, unhappily.

"Agreed. You want me to take care of that?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes, please. I want to interview the students and see what they might have seen then get them on their way as quick as possible. We don't want their parents to panic if the train is too late arriving," Dumbledore said, moving off toward the train. "Help me get this done quickly, Severus," he told the potion's master over his shoulder. Snape sighed and trudged in the headmaster's wake while McGonagall hurried back to the castle.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"Did you hear? Draco Malfoy was kidnapped!" Hermione said, breathlessly as she burst into the compartment where her friends were settling in.

"What? Why would anyone want him for?" Ron blurted, surprised.

"Are you certain, Hermione?" Harry asked for forms sake. He was thrilled. The plan had worked and Draco was on his way to safety though he was certain the boy didn't think that was what was happening.

"Yes. I heard the Slytherins talking about it as I passed through their car. Many of them are scared and unhappy, fearing one of them might be next," she said, taking a seat next to Ron.

"Doesn't make sense to me," Harry muttered.

Ron thought it was good riddance but didn't' say that out loud knowing how Harry felt about the Slytherin. "I'm sure Dumbledore will call the ministry to have the aurors start a search."

"You're right. I just hope they find him before he comes to harm," Hermione said, worriedly.

"Just keep positive thoughts, Hermione. That's all we can do," Harry comforted her. He didn't want her to worry too much about Draco and ruin her Christmas. Too bad he couldn't tell her the boy would be alright without endangering all of them.

They learned the headmaster and potion's master were aboard questioning the ones who had been near Draco during the snatch and they would have to wait a little while longer before the train could leave. Many used the time to speculate about why and who could have taken the boy while others simply ignored the whole thing. An hour later, the train finally began to move out.

Harry could hardly wait to see Draco and wished he could get to their destination faster. The trip was going to take awhile so he decided to catch up on his sleep to pass the time. Hermione was still worried but buried her concerns in a book. Ron played exploding snaps with Neville for a little while before they too decided to sleep.

Chapter Text

Draco cursed the blinding snow. He wasn't cold and wet as his father had taught him the charm for warming as well as ones for other basic needs, but he did hate how it stung his face and kept him from seeing anything. And the hulking idiot, Goyle kept kicking his heels as they walked along. If he weren't trying to keep his feet under him and one hand on the rope that kept them from going astray, he'd hex the stupid oaf.

When Goyle yet again bumped into him clumsily, Draco turned his head to shout at him when suddenly something huge reared up before his eyes and a pair of large hands reached out and snatched him by the waist, forcibly yanking his hands from the rope.

He yelled in terror and kicked frantically with his feet but it availed him nothing as whoever had him held his wildly struggling body away from themselves, then seemed to leap away from the line of students and run in a strange galloping fashion into the storm. The weird running motion took him some minutes to interpret and when he did he was even more terrified.

"Let me go! What do you want with me?" Draco yelled at the centaur holding him in a hard grip that made his waist hurt. He could actually feel the creature's fingers digging into his belly.

Much to his surprise, his questions got an answer though not one he wanted to hear.

"Easy lad! No one's going to hurt you, just calm down!" a deep voice shouted over the storm.

"You've kidnapped me! How the hell am I supposed to be calm?" Draco shouted back, shocked and mad.

The voice chuckled and began to slow down. The snow seemed to be lessening, at least enough so he could see not only the centaur carrying him but the Forbidden Forest they were walking deeper into, the centaur making nothing of the deep snow as he lifted his hoofed feet high.

"If you'll remain calm, you can ride my back to safety rather than be carried with your legs dangling and easier on me too," the centaur said gruffly. Holding the youngster this way was starting to seriously strain his arms. However, he didn't stop moving deeper into the forest, much to Draco's distress.

At first, Draco couldn't believe what the centaur was saying and it was hurting his neck to turn it to speak to the hairy creature in the first place. When it appeared the fellow was serious, Draco couldn't resist asking, "Who the hell are you and why did you kidnap me?"

"I be Magorian, leader of the centaurs and I'm taking you somewhere safe as I'd been asked to do. You'll get your questions answered when you get there, young wizard, if you'll just be patient. Now, would you rather ride or be carried in this indignant fashion?" The centaur asked again.

"How can you be taking me somewhere safe? I wasn't in danger!" Draco snapped, angry and upset.

Magorian rolled his eyes, shook his head in mild disgust and made the decision for the boy. "Fine, my hands are tired anyway..." So saying he turned his upper torso around and dropped Draco onto his horse-like back then turned forward and warned, "Hold on tight."

Draco nearly fell off before he quickly wrapped his arms around the waist of the creature as Magorian went into a swift gallop. It was obvious he wasn't going to get any answers right now and dropping off into the middle of the forest when he had no idea where he was would be suicide so he held on grimly and tried to keep brave for whatever met him at the end of this trip. He would not shame himself by being cowardly.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The rest of the train ride was uneventful and soon the Hogwarts Express was pulling into the station by early evening. Harry said farewell to his friends before ducking away to reach the baggage train before the others. Collecting his trunk and Hedwig and placing them on a nearby cart, he made for the pillar that was the entry portal to the muggle King's Cross Station. He'd been so quick, he managed to slip clean away before any of the other students had even made for the platform. No muggles were near when he burst into the busy train station, took a sharp left toward another group of pillars behind which was his friend, Darius.

"Harry, so good to see you. You're looking well," the man said, giving the boy a quick hug.

Harry returned it with a huge smile then began pushing the cart along the track line, keeping himself from view to prevent any of his classmates from spotting him. Darius had parked the car just outside the closest exit so they were able to load up and leave quickly.

Only when Darius was moving out into traffic and heading away from the station did Harry completely relax. He hated having to be so sneaky but the safety of his family was more important than his friends hurt feelings.

"So how is everyone?" He asked, reaching for the box drink and ham sandwich that was waiting for him on the dash. Settling back, he peeled the wrapping from his sandwich and took a big bite.

"Everyone's fine and can't wait to greet you when you get home," Darius said, grinning. "So give me a bit of a head start on the news..."

Snorting in amusement, Harry finished his snack then gave his friend the low down on his first four months of school. He briefly glossed over his classes, the new friends he'd made, Draco's situation, and the threat he, Hagrid, and Snape were trying to deal with.

Darius' eyes flashed with anger. "Aye, I heard about that bit of nastiness. You think it is this Voldemort character then?"

"We're nearly 90% certain it's him. I just feel so sorry for Professor Quirrell. I wished I could reassure him and let him know we'll help but..."

"But you can't because it would also tell the monster he harbors inside. I understand and I'm sorry too for the poor blighter. There's no hope of saving him is there?" Darius asked, sadly.

"No. I could feel only a sliver of his soul still left before the castle helped put a barrier between me and his unwanted guest," Harry sighed.

Darius let that subject go as it was too upsetting for them both. "So how did the kidnapping go?"

Harry's sad expression quickly morphed into a smirk. "Went well as far as I know since I wasn't nearby when Magorian made off with Draco. The rumor mill swept through the train like the wind, telling the tale."

"Wonderful, though I dare say the poor young man is, or was since he is most certainly at your home by now, quite terrified," Darius said, amused. "Anything we have to worry about when people begin making guesses as to what happened to the young man?"

"Fortunately, no. Of course, I know Professor Snape planted the seed that the forest people were responsible and I helped it along a bit by pretending confusion and wondering aloud as to why they would take him. I'm certain Headmaster Dumbledore has contacted the aurors and a search is in progress as we speak but with the deep snow hiding Magorian's tracks and the wizard's reluctance to invade the Forbidden Forest, they won't be able to find him."

"Well, I'm glad it worked but I'm still concerned about how the boy will be treated once he's allowed to 'go free' as it were at the end of Christmas Break," Darius voiced his concern.

"What his family had planned for him would have been far worse than the tongue lashing he might get, Darius, but really, nothing should happen to him by anyone as he is the innocent party though we'll have to come up with a good reason for him to tell everyone why he hadn't tried to escape sooner. Otherwise, I expect him to have a wonderful holiday and, for a short time, feel safe and wanted rather than put through some brutal rite of passage that would scar him for life," Harry said, flatly, his eyes flashing with righteous anger at what he'd learned was to happen to Draco if he'd gone home.

Darius eyed the boy with grave concern but didn't comment further. He turned the subject to lighter fare for the rest of the drive.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Two hours later they passed through the small village just outside the part of the Forbidden Forest that was Harry's secret home. Darius drove as far as he could on the rutted forest path once they'd left the cobbled roads of the village then finally came to a halt when the car couldn't go any further.

Out of the forest surrounding them poured their friends. Farley was in the lead, reaching Harry first as the boy alighted from the car. Harry leaped upward and was caught and whirled around in a tight hug by his friend.

The giant teen already stood over ten feet tall and held Harry some three feet in the air, leaving the boy's feet dangling. Harry laughed for joy at seeing his friend.

"Wow! You've gained even more height since I saw you last!"

"Oh aye. We do grow fast ya know," Farley laughed, setting his friend back on his feet.

Other friends (Fae, centaurs, and other non-human creatures) came close and hugged or slapped Harry on the back in greeting as they gathered round him. A couple collected his things from the boot of the car, one released Hedwig from her cage. With a glad cry she flew over their heads then headed over the forest to hunt. Laughing and talking, the group including Darius headed for the Hagrid's homestead for a welcome home party.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Magorian was waiting on the path leading up to the house when the group cleared the trees. He smiled broadly at Harry! "Ah lad, so good to see you looking so well."

Harry grinned and hugged the centaur leader warmly. "It's good to see you too, sir. So how is Draco? Did he survive his kidnapping alright?" Harry asked as they walked the rest of the way toward the house where smoke curled from the chimney in welcome.

The centaur laughed. "Aye, your young friend be okay, Harry. Though afraid, he were a brave lad during the cold, hard ride. I added to his warming charm so he weren't frozen when we got here but he was exhausted so your Mam coaxed him to take a nap."

"I imagine how tired he was and I don't think I would enjoy being whisked away by unknown people and dragged off into the forest without so much as a by your leave," Harry said, smirking.

"Beware young Harry. That fellow will want to take your head off once he learns it was you that instigated this," Magorian warned. "And he be nearly as well trained as you in spell craft."

Harry nodded his head. "Yes, I know...his father's insistence which in this case was a good thing. Don't worry, sir. I'll take due care but he will be much happier here over the holidays than the foul thing his father had planned for him," he said more seriously.

"Oh aye, you'll not get an argument from me on your decision to do this. I will leave you now as I wish to get home before full dark. We'll be seeing you on Christmas Eve," Magorian said, warmly giving Harry a final hug before calling to his people. The boy watched the herd turn and gallop off into the forest before turning back and preparing to enter the house with Darius and a few of the others that were staying the night.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The bed was unbelievable soft and he was loathed to want to leave it. The room he was in smelled of lavender and sage and was located in the attic. He blinked in the dim light before gathering his wits. Memories of what happened rushed to the forefront of his brain making him lunge upward and stare around wildly.

The small, simply decorated room, was quiet. He turned his head toward the only light which was coming from the small window with the lace curtains. The sun's rays were dim and fading telling him how late it was.

When he'd arrived at this amazing home in the forest, he was bone tired from the long ride but at least he wasn't frozen through. When he was helped off the centaur by a young giant his legs wouldn't hold him up. The giant chuckled kindly and picked him up from the ground and carried him to the house.

Draco felt hugely embarrassed to be carried like he was a child though in the arms of this giant he did seem like a small child. Determined not to show his discomfort to these odd people, he studied the house they were approaching. It was a lovely cottage, well maintained and huge, nearly the size of his own home. But inside it had none of the grandeur of the Malfoy mansion however, it had a quaint charm of its with comfortable homemade furniture and works of arts, beautifully woven rugs on the wood floor and carvings on the doorways and lintels. It had a feeling of warmth and safety.

To say he was shocked and surprised was putting it mildly. He'd thought for certain he was headed for some rustic cave somewhere and he'd be forced to do lots of nasty chores but none of that happened. Instead he was asked if he wanted cocoa or tea then coaxed to take a nap in this comfortable bed until some others that were expected, arrived to answer his questions. The female giant was intimidating in size but gentle and nice in manner.

Draco was thoroughly confused. Why had he been kidnapped then put in such a nice place? No matter how hard he tried to wheedle an answer to his questions, everyone just smiled and shook their heads. Frustrated, he opted for the cocoa then allowed himself to be taken to this nice room and bade to rest. Since he was exhausted, it wasn't hard to obey.

An enticing odor penetrated the closed door. Hmm, smells like dinner. Guess I better get up and go downstairs, that's if they'll let me leave this room, he thought. Shoving the bedding off, he put his shoes back on, availed himself of the basin with fresh water in it, combed his hair then, hesitantly, checked the door.

Surprisingly, it wasn't locked and when he opened it, he saw no guard. How strange. Still cautious, he retraced the steps he'd taken earlier and headed downstairs. At the bottom landing, he had no idea where to go. Ahead of him was the parlor, off to the left was a hallway, and to the left was a shorter hall with a closed door. From that direction came many voices and the source of the wonderful food smell.

Draco didn't move at first. Just to his right was the huge foyer and main door he'd been brought through earlier. He could just walk out but then how would get back to the castle? From the length of his ride, it was a long ways away through the deep snow. The answer was obvious ... he couldn't. He was stuck here which was why he wasn't guarded, he felt certain. Sighing in resignation, he turned and made for the door with the voices behind it.

Opening it, he was greeted by the sight of a lot of strange people and two muggles...wait one of those muggles was Harry Potter!

His fists balled in anger, Draco stormed across the huge dining area until he stood toe to toe with Potter. "Why did you do this to me? I thought we we're friends?"

Harry eyed the furious boy calmly. "We are and because of that fact, I felt you needed saving so I had you kidnapped and brought here."

Draco back up and sucked in a breath. "What do you know?"

"That your father planned some kind of nasty rite to induct you into the Death Eaters. I could see how scared and horrified you were so I got with people I trust and found a way to help you escape that fate, at least for the holidays," Harry said simply. "You are safe here."

"Safe? Are you mental? My father will find me..."

Harry held up his hand and shook his head. "Trust me, Draco, no one will find you here. We're deep in the Forbidden Forest. Not even the aurors, who I know are searching for you, will find this hidden place. Until we take you back, you're free to enjoy yourself."

Draco's mouth hung open until he looked rather like a fish out of water. Shaking his head violently, he finally managed to say, "My father will have me severely punished for this."

Harry eyed him in concern. "Would he really, when it clearly isn't your fault?"

The other boy paused a moment in thought then looked rather uncertain. "Honestly, I'm not really certain what he'll do. But if I appear whole and unharmed with no explanation of where I've been or with who, my father will suspect I had something to do with my own kidnapping."

Harry relaxed. They had already thought about that problem. "Don't worry, Draco, we will have a plausible story for you when its time for us to go back, promise. Meanwhile, please, enjoy your Christmas Holiday with us. It is a time of joy and togetherness and I wanted you to have that."

Draco stared at the boy for a long moment then glanced around at the people who were discretely finishing dinner preparation and giving the pair some privacy though he knew they'd heard every word. No one seemed upset or concerned about his being here. Perhaps, he could enjoy himself. It was true, he had been scared and unhappy about what his father had planned but now he could be safe instead though he did worry about his mother. She would be very worried about him once she heard he'd been kidnapped.

That thought made him wince with guilt. He wished he dared to have someone tell his mother he was alright. He hated the thought of causing her needless worry, especially this time of year.

As if reading his mind, Harry leaned close and asked, "Is it safe to tell your mother you're alright but not where or why?"

Draco blinked at the boy in surprise then sighed. "I don't know. She wouldn't tell anyone about you but I don't know if it will endanger her to know," he admitted.

"Hmm, I'll ask one of the elders what they think then we'll go from there, okay?"

The boy was amazed Harry would even consider doing this for someone he barely knew. "If you think you can then I would be really grateful. I don't want her to worry. If she knows I'm safe, she'll do a fine job of acting the concerned, distraught mother then slip away to somewhere safe for the holidays herself, though I'll miss being able to see her and exchange gifts."

Harry dared to gently hug the boy, offering what comfort he could. "I understand. I can't make any promises but I will ask if a message can be sent to her."

A shy, relieved smile broke out on Draco's face for the first time since the Christmas season had begun. "Thank you," he said softly.

Harry smiled warmly. "You're welcome."

Chapter Text


"Now that's settled, how about sitting down to eat, hmm?" Agatha Hagrid asked, smiling benevolently down at the boys. She moved so silently they'd not heard her until she stood right behind them. Draco nearly jumped out of his skin but Harry was used to her ways and smiled up at his adopted mother.

"Brilliant! I'm starved!" Harry exclaimed rising and following in her wake. Draco wasn't that far behind him. The rest of the guests were already taking their seats but there were two not far from a window and they quickly took those.

Draco shook his head in amazement. The table fairly groaned with as much variety of food that was offered regularly at Hogwarts. He wasted no time in serving himself up. Despite his rather abrupt method of coming here, he was already feeling happy and relaxed.

The air was filled with chattering voices as people served themselves. By tacit agreement, no one spoke about the kidnaping or the problems Harry was having with a certain evil spirit. Instead the conversations dealt with problems encountered within the forest and, to Draco's surprise and confusion, the doings of muggles.

After listening for some minutes, Draco turned to a Fae male beside him and asked, "Why would any of you be concerned about what muggles are doing? They aren't a threat."

Conversation instantly stopped. All eyes turned to Draco in surprise and consternation. Draco nearly wanted to hide but forced himself to sit there and meet their gazes bravely. But what had he said to cause such a reaction.

"What?" he blurted when no one offered an explanation after the silence became rather uncomfortable.

Harry sighed beside him and turned, a serious expression on his face. "Draco, despite what your father might believe, muggles aren't harmless nor stupid. They pose a very real threat to wizarding kind."

Draco's face scrunched up in disbelief. "Oh come on . . . you've got to be exaggerating. None of them can do magic so how much of a threat can they be?" he scoffed.

"They may not have magic, Draco but they have something far better and scarier . . . science. They know how to design diseases that can wipe out all mankind including wizards and bombs that can burn our world to a cinder in the blink of an eye and no magic could stop it in time because we ignore them so thoroughly. But even without that known threat, there's their numbers. They breed faster than us and presently they outnumber us by more than a million souls to one. With numbers like that they could overwhelm us easily," Harry said solemnly.

That gave Draco pause but he wasn't completely convinced. "How do you know all this? What's your proof?"

"I was made to attend their schools for a couple of years so I wouldn't have the same blind bigotry the rest of wizarding kind does. I read their books, played with their children, watched how the adults interact in larger cities, took in their movies, TV, and news. Listened to their scientists, humanists, political leaders, and saw and used their technology. They are a mighty race and we're just an unknown speck in their eye," Harry said grimly.

Draco shook his head. If what Harry said was true then the Dark Lord was an idiot to think he could take over England then the world.

Leaning close, Harry said firmly, "Muggles are both a force for good and a nightmare cesspool of evil, worse than Voldemort could ever be. He's a fool to think he can tame them when they'd just blow him up before he can open his mouth to say a spell. Hell, they wouldn't even give him the chance to think a spell before they fried his ass."

Draco blinked at Harry's use of such language but no one corrected him. All the faces at the table were as grimly serious as Potter's was. A shiver of fear slid down his spine. Was his father wrong? Were muggles that great a threat?

Seeing Draco's doubt, Harry said, "I think you need to see for yourself, Draco, so we'll take a brief trip into the muggle world. The parts I doubt you've ever seen or been before. You need this wake up call."

He's right young fellow," Darius interjected. "However, not everything and everyone is dangerous in the muggle world. There are lots of people trying to protect nature and make life better for all mankind, just like in the wizarding world. Its just too bad people with evil intent are the ones to make things miserable for all. Especially the ones who prefer to make war over differing ideologies, religion, politics, lack of food and water, as well as greed. But as Harry said, fear is the single most dangerous thing about us. A mob has no brain and when it's filled with fear it's a monster that destroys everything in its path. Learning there are people out there that can do real magic would make you a target of that fear. It's a sad but true fact of life. So to me it seems truly ignorant for a whole race to pretend they are more superior when they're very much in the minority."

"Educating wizarding kind on this very thing is my goal in life, Draco. Our people need a wake-up call that we aren't the most dangerous thing in this world. If muggles learn of our existence thanks to Voldemort, then heaven help us all. With the weapons and technology they have at their disposal they'll obliterate us in an effort to destroy what they fear. Just like in the dark times of the world, fear made people think all witches were evil and burned them," Harry said gravely.

Draco shook his head. "We heard about that in school but there's nothing to fear from such a thing happening again because we put up a magical barrier between us and them," he said with certainty but faltered when all the heads around him shook them in the negative.

"That barrier is no good against their technology. Oh, for now we're still screened, barely, from their radars and such but they are pushing forward with their technology and have even gone into space. They have eyes and ears all around the world. They don't need brooms to get from place to place as they have jets and fast cars to get there faster than we can," Harry said.

"But we can apparate and they can't," Draco interrupted, wanting to stop all this terrible information that was beginning to scare him.

"Yes that's true but not for long, Draco. While we stand still in time, muggles have been moving ahead at a rapid pace. They might not be able to apparate yet but probably a couple of centuries they'll find a way to scientifically teleport people and things. For certain, they'll find us with their advanced technology before then or begin another one of their endless wars only on a much bigger scale that could annihilate us all." Harry sighed and paused to drink some milk.

Agatha broke the momentary silence. "Young fella, we've had no war that can possibly match the deadliness of a muggle one not even that ancient nonsense of a goblin war. Yes we can kill with a word and kill our target but muggles don't single out one person, oh no. They kill thousands at a time in very bloody fashion and rip up the landscape while they're doing it. And don't forget wars destroy supply lines, communications, transportation, and bring devastating diseases in their wake, killing millions more."

"Under those conditions, it would be kinder to just be blown up. Even wizards wouldn't be able to escape the fallout of such a war. So far muggles have managed to avoid starting one like World War II but not from lack of trying. There are many hot spots out there where peace is very shaky at best. All it would take would be one little thing like finding out about your kind or an assassination of one of their leaders that could set off another world war," Darius said shaking his head. "I sincerely hope I'm not alive should such a thing ever happen."

"That's where I'm hoping wizarding kind can sweep in and force peace but very carefully. We have to be very aware of all the factors that led to the disagreements before we can find a way to end it. It's a very delicate balance," Harry said, knowingly. "While at the same time limiting their knowledge of us."

Draco stared at Harry in amazement. How did someone as young as Harry know such things, much less understand it?

"You're right Harry. Instead of living in the dark ages, all magical kind must take an active role in protecting the world as a whole not just our magical one and that means keeping abreast of what muggles be doing at all times." Agatha nodded in agreement.

"I'm sorry but I'm finding all this really hard to believe," Draco admitted, looking troubled.

"I understand, Draco. I doubt I would have believed it myself if I hadn't lived among them and saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my ears. But since I had the advantage of such an education, I find it shocking how far behind our kind are. I mean we still use quills, wood stoves, and fire calls for goodness sake and they are more than a couple of centuries ahead. Wizarding kind must know the danger and understand it before it reaches out and destroys us utterly," Harry said passionately.

Draco sat back and stared at Harry with new eyes. It was obvious Harry truly believed every thing he'd said. Draco had an odd feeling that Harry Potter could become a force of nature with that kind of passion pushing him. He reluctantly admitted that he was nearly convinced himself.

Others began to talk about all the advances muggles had made recently and it sounded almost too fantastical to Draco but they spoke with absolute certainty and apparent experience. He ate with less appetite now as he listened and gathered in all this new information. He couldn't believe how much all these creatures knew about muggles that wizards didn't. Maybe Harry was right . . . their bigotry and snobbishness could get them killed by remaining ignorant of what muggles were capable of.

By the time dessert arrived, a marvelous selection of incredible pastries, cakes, and chocolates, Draco made the decision to take Harry up on his offer. It was time he went out and saw things for himself rather than believe in what his father had taught him.

Chapter Text


Professor Snape sighed mentally as he sat in the great dining hall after a fruitless search in the Forbidden Forests that had lasted a long, cold, ten hours. The house elves had provided them with hot chocolate to restore body and mind before heading off to bed as it was well past nine at night.

With only a small handful of children staying through the Christmas holidays, it made doing the search easier though many of the teachers were desperately wanting to go home to their families too. Unfortunately, they had to remain to help in the search but most weren't really qualified nor skilled enough to be traipsing in the dangerous woods and ended up being more of a detriment than a help, he thought ruefully.

His attention was pulled back to the here and now when Dumbledore spoke. The headmaster looked all of his over two hundred years as he addressed his teachers.

"I know we are all extremely tired and some of you wish to leave on your holidays so don't think me ungrateful that you were willing to stay and help with the search. For you that are ill equipped to handle such a rigorous search, I excuse you with my sincere thanks. You're free to go home. Please enjoy your Christmas holiday."

Sighs of relief met that order, followed swiftly by a mass exodus of people heading for their quarters until there was only Snape, Quirrell, Flitwick, McGonagall, and Hagrid left in the big room.

Dumbledore eyed them silently a moment. "I will be honest with you all, I have never had to deal with such an event since I became headmaster of this school. It is a terrible black eye to Hogwarts to have something like this happen. It needs to be resolved quickly. Does anyone have any suggestions what we should do next?"

Snape blinked. He was rather surprised the old wizard would admit to being helpless and turning to them for help. He cast his gaze around the room a moment. Quirrell he already knew wouldn't help since he was the enemy but, of course, no one knew that but himself and Hagrid. Flitwick was a formidable warrior despite his diminutive size. McGonagall was a powerful witch and good to have at one's side. Then there was himself and Hagrid. Naturally, they knew what had happened to Draco and what was going to happen to himself but they had to keep up the pretense that they were helping.

What an amusing situation, but he was extremely careful to display only irritation to the others. He could hardly wait to get out here himself but he needed to play his part first.

"The aurors and members of the Light are already doing what they can, Headmaster. What do you expect us to do that they aren't already?" He said, flatly.

Dumbledore studied his prickly potions master a moment then sighed. "You are right, of course, Severus but it looks bad for us to not be a part of the search. After all, we are responsible for our students welfare not the aurors. It is bad enough that the minister is understandably upset and has been firecalling me frequently for results. I know I'm asking a lot of you all, forcing you to miss your holiday but we must add our assistance to the aurors ..."

"Even if they don't want it," Snape interjected under his breath.

Giving Snape a sharp look of admonishment, Dumbledore continued, "...and show solidarity that we are just as concerned and interested in finding Mr. Malfoy as they are."

"I assume Lucius Malfoy is already part of the search team?" Snape asked silkily, knowing for a fact Lucius probably threw a fit when he found out his son had been snatched. He didn't doubt the man had taken a large group of death eaters and his own servants out to search as much of the woods as he could before it became far too dark to see anything even with the help of their wands. It certainly wouldn't look good for his image if he didn't look for his son. Though I'm sure he's furious at the poor timing and ruination of his careful plans. The boy's very lucky to be gone right now.

A look of annoyance flashed in Dumbledore's eyes at being needled like this. "I've heard he has been searching with the aid of his own people but without success. If no one has a better idea of what action to take then we'll go with the one of joining the aurors tomorrow morning, early. Please get some rest and hope that in the light of day we'll be more successful in finding the boy."

No one said a thing as they rose to leave.

"Hagrid, please stay a moment," Dumbledore requested.

Snape gave the half-giant a quick glance that wasn't seen by the headmaster. Hagrid's look was placid and calm. He gave the man a tiny nod of assurance. Without another word or look, Snape took his leave.

"What can I do for you, Headmaster?" Hagrid asked, politely.

"I know you have ties to the creatures of the forest, Hagrid. Have you spoken with any of them since the kidnapping occurred?"

"Of course, sir! Well...at least those that I could find. Ya know they hide deeper in the forest in winter time and aren't too happy to be rousted," Hagrid said, keeping in character. "But those that I did speak with hadn't seen or heard anything. They swear the centaurs are in their winter quarters so think we're a bit barmy to think they'd be out and about in this stuff, much less stealing a student." He shrugged his shoulders.

Why don't I believe him? Dumbledore thought, confused. He's never been dishonest with anyone but for some reason I just don't believe him. He sighed mentally. "Thank you for trying Hagrid. Best you go home now and rest. See you in the morning."

"Begging your pardon, sir but it be a waste of time. The snow is deep and strange things like to hunt the weak when food is scareharder to find and they be nasty creatures to run into. The aurors are good but even they won't find the forest dwellers if they don't want to be found."

Dumbledore studied the half-giant keenly. Hagrid had a natural mind shield, so he was never able to probe the man which always discomforted him. The man was well versed in the creatures of the forest and was considered one of those forest dwellers he was mentioning. Was he covering for them? But why? He hated all these questions but trying to browbeat the half-giant was an effort in futility and Veritiserum didn't work on him.

His frustration mounting, he was more gruff than normal. "If I didn't know better, Hagrid, I would suspect you of stonewalling us."

Hagrid continued to look innocent and a little hurt by that accusation.

Dumbledore shook his head. "As the ones responsible for our students welfare, Hagrid, we must do all we can to show we are doing our best to find Draco, even if our efforts come to naught in the end. I only pray he's in safe and caring hands and will be returned to us in the same condition he left."

"I will hope for the same, sir," Hagrid sighed. "Goodnight, Headmaster." Dumbledore just nodded and Hagrid took his leave, giving Fawkes a friendly scratch in passing and receiving a pleased trill in return.

Only when he was outside the castle and heading toward his temporary home away from home did he sigh loudly. Nearly caught me there, he did. Best be more careful around the headmaster as he apparently senses I'm not exactly being honest with him. Wish I could go home though. Don't fancy more hours of fruitless searching in the snow. Shaking his head, Hagrid opened his door and slipped inside to get some needed sleep.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape had made his sedate way to his quarters, bidding farewell to his fellow teachers when they split up near the great hall with Quirrell walking swiftly away from them without a word. Eyes and shakes of head followed him.

Snape wondered what they would have said if he told them that was the Dark Lord striding away from them? Probably be furious then try to use the Cruciatus Curse on him. Unfortunately, as deadly as that spirit was, it would be them that would be harmed instead. Which was why he didn't say anything as he left them and headed down into the dungeons. He was already packed for his vacation and had shrunk it to the size of a pack of cards. Tomorrow would be a very hectic and dangerous day

Unlike Draco's kidnapping, his would be far more difficult because it would involve a battle and the aurors. He didn't want anyone hurt in the fracas and thought they'd managed to reduce that danger but battles were fickle things...all manner of disaster could befall them despite their careful planning.

However, he refused to dwell on it as that would be unproductive. A battle, they felt, was the only way he could conceivably be taken and not be thought a traitor by both sides. He prayed that for once things would go his way.

The end result of all this was a vacation unlike any he'd ever had since he was young. He soo looked forward to having an enjoyable Christmas for once in his miserable adult life. Of course, Draco would soon learn of his deception but he had no problem with that. Actually, it would make it easier for him to protect his godson this way.

Smiling to himself, he made ready for bed.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The next morning was sunny, surprisingly. The storm clouds had moved on leaving the snow covered ground glittering brightly in the morning light.

A still tired group met for a sketchy breakfast then headed out of Hogwarts for Hagrid's hut. They had been notified by the aurors that morning that they'd all meet in the area where the centaurs were known to congregate. Even though the aurors had already searched this area, it was decided to start at that spot and push further inland in large groups.

The professors from the castle met up with Hagrid who was waiting for them near his pumpkin patch. From there the group trudged doggedly through the deep snow toward the meeting spot.

A group of some fifty aurors waited for them. All were using warming charms as it was bitterly cold despite the sunshine.

Moody was there as was Shacklebolt and Tonks who nodded at them in greeting. Quirrell had bowed out of the search, stating he was feeling a bit unwell.

I just bet he is, Snape snorted mentally when he'd heard. Just as well. We don't need that evil thing out here right now complicating things.

Bartemius Crouch senior, leader of the aurors, called for their attention. "Listen up, please!" The deep silence of the forest beat down on them when all voices went still and they turned to face their leader.

"We will break up into groups of six and head out in different directions. Be extremely watchful. Though most forest dwellers are hibernating, there are still hunters out there so stay alert. We will meet back here before dark."

Without speaking, the people sorted themselves out. Snape, Hagrid, Flitwick, Proudfoot, Dawlish, and Tonks formed one group. Dumbledore chose to join with Crouch, Moody, and Shacklebolt plus two younger aurors.

By unspoken agreement, Snape's group allowed Hagrid to lead the way as they knew he was far more familiar with the forest than anyone there. They struggled through the deep snow for more than an hour, seeing nothing of note...not even a scrap of evidence that their target had gone this way at all.

They could hear the other groups as they spoke to each other or cursed from fighting their way through areas where brush was hidden by snow...a nasty trap for the unwary.

But those that followed Hagrid were spared any of that as the half-giant led them sure-footedly through pathways only he knew about.

As a second hour passed, Snape began to get restless. He knew any moment now the attack they'd planned would occur but it was hard to remain calm about it. However, just as he finished that thought there was an outburst of fear and surprise from his companions caused by the appearance of fox sized, ugly, black things that turned out to be spiders. They dropped from trees and sprang up from the snow in a horde that had them surrounded.

Hagrid bellowed and batted off the spiders without really hurting them but no one knew that. The baby Acromantula's scuttled here and there, lunging at people then slipping away before getting hit though some weren't fast enough and got toasted or swatted into trees.

Hagrid knew the mother wouldn't be that upset at losing some of her young as it was difficult to feed such a horde. They made the perfect sneak assassins which was why he was using them as his diversion.

Though he was expecting it, Snape still yelled convincingly when he was suddenly swept off his feet and carried off abruptly. He had to abort an automatic spell of defense or he would have harmed his snatcher. With difficulty as he was being bounced along by the running centaur, he put his wand away. When they were far enough from the others they couldn't see them, only then did the centaur, Belize, pause long enough to set Snape on his back then leap off into a gallop once more.

Snape held onto the centaur's waist for dear life and kept his eyes closed and head pressed again Belize's neck to keep from being slapped by branches as they plowed through the forest at breakneck speed.

Back in the clearing, the Acromantula scurried away and vanished leaving the aurors puzzled and winded.

"Was anyone hurt?" Hagrid asked.

Everyone looked around and at each other and were surprised to find themselves uninjured, however, there was someone missing. "Where's Snape?" Tonks shouted.

Exclamations of dismay galvanized a quick search of the area, hoping the man might have only been knocked out and buried under the snow but after more than twenty minutes of hunting, they were forced to give up.

It was Dawlish who made a surprise discovery. "Here! There's signs of a horse running off from here. Bugger! Another centaur snatch! What the bleeding hell is going on?"

Hagrid did his part by coming closer and staring down at the tracks. "Ye be right, these are centaur tracks...too large for unicorns. Don't rightly know what's gotten into them. However, I did hear a rumor that a few members of the herd had falling out with the leader and took off. Though, I really doubt they'd do something like this. What would be the reason?" He scratched his beard thoughtfully.

Flitwick frowned. "There's no doubt it was a centaur, Hagrid. You can think of no reason for them doing this?"

Hagrid shook his head. "None, Filius."

"Well this is evidence something is up with the centaurs and Crouch needs to know about it as well as the fact Snape has been taken," Proudfoot declared.

"But we still have to search for the boy!" Tonks objected.

Proudfoot growled in annoyance, uncertain what they should do now. Dwalish had no such problem. "The rest of you continue the search. I'll go find Crouch. It shouldn't be too hard as they were paralleling us."

No sooner had he made that observation then Crouch and his group came running through the woods toward them.

"What happened? We heard fighting?" Crouch demanded, winded and covered in snow from his run through the trees. Dumbledore and the rest hurried up behind him.

Dwalish quickly briefed their leader.

Crouch looked angry and confused. "What the devil is going on with the centaurs?" He asked no one in particular.

"And you don't know what might have stirred them up to do this, Hagrid?" Dumbledore asked. This was the first time he was hearing about a possible division in the local centaur herd and he wasn't happy. Hagrid should have told him earlier.

"I'm sorry, sir. Even being close to them as I am, there be things they keep private among themselves. I only heard rumors about this dissension and I have no idea what might have caused it." He looked properly dejected.

"This just doesn't make sense. Now we have two missing people." Crouch stood silently thinking and staring blindly into the forest.

Dumbledore was no happier and could think of nothing that could make the search more efficient or faster. It was frustrating and now his potion's master was missing as well. Things were fast getting out of hand.

Crouch spoke suddenly. "All we can do right now is continue with our original plan. My group will head back to our original position and your group will go on from here. Just be more watchful for those damnable spiders."

"Yes sir," Dawlish said briskly, though not completely happy they weren't trying to chase down the centaurs.

Turning away, Crouch strode back over the path they'd taken, his group trailing behind him. Dumbledore nearly stumbled as his mind was more on the issue of a splinter group of centaurs than the ground beneath his feet.

It was Shacklebolt that kept him from falling.

"Oh, thank you, Kingsley."

"I don't like this Albus. Something just isn't right here," Shacklebolt muttered, worriedly.

"I completely agree but I don't know how we can get the forest dwellers to listen to us and help," Dumbledore said, unhappily.

Shacklebolt grimaced. "We burned our own bridges centuries ago with them, I'm afraid, Albus." He sighed. "And you're right, if we'd been on good terms with them this probably wouldn't be happening."

"Unfortunately, true." Dumbledore sighed as another downpour of snow dropped on him from a tree disturbed by the ones ahead of him. It was going to be a miserable night's search and he feared it too would be unsuccessful. He offered up a prayer that it was the forest dwellers that had taken the two wizards, while at the same time trying to figure out why they would do this in the first place.

Chapter Text


It had been a bruising ride as Professor Snape could attest as he slipped off the back of Belize and nearly went straight to the ground because his legs wouldn't support him. He held onto the centaur grimly as he waited for circulation to return.

"I am truly sorry for your discomfort, sir. We are, after all, not meant to be ridden," Belize said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

Snape rolled his eyes but didn't let the beast see him do it. "And I will be glad never to have to endure such a thing again," he said, tightly. He tested his legs and found he could stand, albeit rather painfully. "Thank you for aiding us in this harebrained scheme," he added, allowing a little humor to leak into his own voice.

"Yes, it was rather daring and a lot of fun as well. Here comes your host. I bid you good evening Professor Snape."

"And a safe one to you too, Belize," Snape said politely. It didn't do to be rude to a centaur. He watched the male go galloping off into the trees while he rubbed his abused tailbone and sighed. He'd thought it crazy to ride a centaur when Hagrid suggested it and introduced him to Belize. But the plan had worked at the cost of his sore rear.

"Good evening Professor Snape and welcome to my home," a pleasant tenor voice with a heavy Scottish accent said somewhere above his head.

He turned and stared into a huge, well endowed chest, blushed then quickly pulled his gaze upward to the smiling face waiting patiently for him to speak.

He offered her a warm smile in return and a small nod of his head."Good evening, Mrs. Hagrid and thank you for allowing me to join your family for Christmas," he managed to say. The giantess was well over twelve feet tall, matronly but not fat, and rather short for her species, for which he was glad. He felt dwarfed enough as it was beside her. She had a lovely fall of blond hair with strands of gray running through it that didn't detract from her handsome face. Obviously, she was of mixed race as giants weren't known to look pleasing to the eye at all.

"We were happy to do so, sir and please, do call me Agatha. We're not formal here. Now please follow me and join my other guests, though I know of one that will be shocked and surprised to see you."

"And how is Draco?" Snape asked as he followed the huge woman back to the warm and inviting cottage that was more the size of a standard mansion. It was better than those cold edifices as far as he was concerned. Taking a quick glance around, he saw the lake, now covered in ice, and the fields and barns. It was a serene place that he would very much like to see in the summer...he suspected it would be breathtakingly beautiful, though it certainly was pleasing to the eye even hidden by winter white. What a wonderful place Hagrid had grown up in.

He had been surprised to learn the Hagrids had such a place in the forest rather than in the high mountains where the giants preferred to dwell, when the half giant told him where he'd taken Draco. To live in that hovel at the school when he had this must be hard to take at times.

"Aw, the wee bairn is settling in fine, sir," Agatha told him. "He was a bit put out at first and so very afraid. But we soon set his mind at ease when we'd told him of our plans that would get him home again without blame being placed on his wee shoulders. Only then did he finally relax and has been enjoying himself since, as well as getting an education on muggles."

"Ahh, he's showed his ignorance and bigotry about them, has he?"

"Yes indeed. Appalling what wizarding kind has done to their children. Left them completely defenseless," she huffed, indignantly.

"I couldn't agree more, Agatha." Snape was truly grateful to Harry coming up with this plan. Not only would Draco have a safe holiday but he'd finally get his eyes opened, just as he himself had during the past summer, about the true state of affairs on muggles. What he'd learned had been terrifying. By the time he'd finished his own research into muggle kind and been taken among them by Hagrid's friend, Darius, he'd been furious at the ministry and wizarding kind for their arrogance thinking themselves so above normal humanity.

To ignore the very real threat muggles posed to wizarding kind was the height of stupidity and could be the genocide for them all. He found himself in full agreement with the forest dwellers that magical kind needed to be educated on the dangers of muggles and their science and especially their propensity to destroy things they didn't understand. That had scared him to the bones.

And, another more important thing needed to be done with wizarding kind...bring them out of the dark ages...fast. He'd been seriously taken aback by some of the amazing scientific and technological advances muggles had made while wizards remained static.

His musings were interrupted by their arrival at the front door. Agatha opened it and they were greeted by a rush of warm air and the sounds of voices somewhere out of sight.

Sighing in relief, he dropped his warming charm and removed his outer cloak once he stepped over the threshold and she had closed the door. Agatha deftly took his cloak and hung it on a row of pegs near the door before turning back to him.

"Go on into the parlor," she gestured toward a door to the left. "I'll get you some hot cocoa to warm you up and help you relax. Do you need something for your nether regions? I know riding bareback is quite painful."

Snape blushed but shook his head. "No thank you. I have what I need to solve that problem and the cocoa will be greatly appreciated."

"As you wish. There be a very fine tub near your room that you can avail yourself of and I highly recommend you do so if you wish to sleep tonight and be able to walk on the morrow," she said with a wink then walked toward an open doorway which must lead to the kitchen.

Sighing, Snape straightened as much as he could, his back and rear protesting fiercely, and headed for the indicated door. He could hear the rumble of voices that burst upon him more loudly when he went into the parlor.

Heads turned toward him as he stood surveying the room from the doorway before entering then closing the door behind him. He knew everyone there and they gave him cheery greetings but one was shocked as he expected them to be.

"Severus!" Draco exclaimed, jumping from his seat next to Harry Potter and racing into his Godfather's waiting arms.

"It is good to see you healthy and well, Draco," Snape said warmly, giving the boy a tight hug. He didn't miss the look of surprise and pleasure on Harry's face. The boy apparently wasn't aware of Draco and his relationship.

After the greeting, Draco released the Professor and stared at him in confusion. "Why are you here and how did you get here?"

"Same way you did though in my case a bigger diversion than a storm was needed to help me be 'spirited away' as it were."

"But why?"

Snape gave a rare smile. "Don't you think I deserve a safe Christmas too?"

Draco blushed then smiled shyly back. "Of course I do. You more than anyone else I know besides myself." He turned to stare at Harry. "You planned this didn't you?"

Harry smiled and shrugged. "We, meaning Hagrid and I, thought he deserved a break from his deadly duties and it would keep the death eaters and your father from hounding him to find you."

A grateful look filled Draco's eyes. "Thank you. I don't know how to pay you back for such a kindness."

"That's easy. Keep your mind open to what you'll be shown and told over the next two weeks and tell no one of this place nor who my guardians are and that will be thanks enough," Harry said more seriously.

"The second part of that will be a dangerous secret to keep and I'm not trained well enough to protect my mind," Draco objected, worriedly.

"I can remedy that, Draco. I'll give you more intense lessons like the ones I used to teach Harry this past summer," Snape interjected.

Draco gaped at him. "You knew about Harry before school started and didn't' tell me?" He demanded, feeling betrayed.

Snape shook his head. "You and I never had a moment together that was safe and for Harry's safety, that was something I had to keep to myself and like you said, you're not able to guard your mind that well yet and the school was filled with people who could pierce your shields with ease."

The blond boy blushed in embarrassment. "I apologize. You're right. Then I'll be your most attentive pupil, Godfather because I don't want to be responsible for the enemy finding this wonderful place or people," Draco said solemnly.

Snape nodded. Everyone listening were pleased with his response indicated by their nods and solemn expressions.

Draco turned back to Harry. "I promise to listen and learn what you have to teach me as well, Harry." Harry smiled and nodded. A bright smile spread across Draco's face then as he returned his attention to Snape and tugged the man's arm. "Come join us!" he said, leading Snape to a seat next to him and Harry on the couch.

"I'd be happy too," Snape said cordially. However, sitting down, at first, produced a wince of pain until he sank into the wonderfully soft, thick cushions. He sighed with relief. Draco leaned close.

"Riding a centaur is no way to travel, especially for ones behind," he said in commiseration and amusement.

"I quite agree," Snape snorted.

At that moment, Agatha returned with a steaming mug that was large enough for both his hands. She handed it over carefully. Nodding his thanks, he held it firmly between his palms then took a sip. It was heavenly...not too sweet and not too hot. He hummed with pleasure.

"This is delicious," he told her.

"You're welcome, laddie," she said warmly then sat down in an old, very large, rocker.

The warmth of the room, the cocoa, and the feeling of welcome and safety enveloped him with a sense of peace. This was what he needed. He hadn't realized till this very moment how very tense and hyper-alert he'd been. His time here would allow his poor battered spirit a chance to rest and recuperate.

Since it was only just going on lunch time, his flight through the forest having taken over three hours, food was being prepared. He was nearly drooling from heavenly odors drifting to his nose. While they waited, the group around him talked about many different subjects but the primary one cropping up was muggles.

Since learning how important it was to know what the muggles were up to, Snape listened and asked questions along with Draco. To prove their facts, many books and magazines were produced for the pair to read at their leisure. Some they discussed right then.

A break for lunch didn't end the discussion. It carried right over into the dining room where a delicious feast had been prepared then went back to the parlor once more. Time passed, as the Slytherin pair learned much about the world they'd been kept ignorant about. A lot of the discussion was very sobering and frightening.

"I still find it difficult to believe that their bombs could be more dangerous than our magic," Draco said, frowning.

Darius eyed the young man thoughtfully a moment. "Harry, would you get one of each type of grenade you have, please."

Realizing what he intended to do, Harry nodded and left the room returning five minutes later with a small but apparently heavy wooden box.

"Let's go outside, shall we?" Darius rose and left the room followed by Harry, a few of the guests that wanted to watch, a rather gingerly moving Snape (he was even more sore from sitting), and Draco.

The group pulled on their coats/cloaks and trooped outside. They walked down to the edge of the lake and halted.

"This should do," he said looking around the quiet lakeside and forest. "Please throw a smoke grenade, Harry," Darius ordered.

Again Harry nodded and set the box he was carrying down on the ground. While Snape and Draco watched closely, clearly fascinated, Harry pulled out one metal looking egg thing with a ring attached near the top. Harry stood up, moved off aways, pulled the pin, then threw the egg thing as hard as he could out over the lake then used wandless magic to take it further and higher.

Only seconds later, the egg exploded, making Snape and Draco duck but no one else, they'd seen this before. A thick, cloud of white filled a large space above the lake.

"That is a smoke grenade. Next one Harry!"

Harry nodded, picked another metal egg, pulled the pin, and tossed. This one made only a loud noise that hurt the ears when it exploded. Without waiting to be told so, Harry lobed another out. Noise and an incandescent light, bright enough to sear the eyes went off. And, lastly, one that showered shrapnel everywhere which could be seen as glittering particles against the snow.

"Those are called grenades and each one has a purpose. The first ones he fired would cause an enemy to be blinded or deafened. The last two can cause harm by serious burning or blowing up a building or a group of people. Most muggles know exactly what these things are and immediately take cover but imagine, if you will, one of the shrapnel ones being rolled into a room full of wizards and they didn't see it or if they did, knew nothing about it? Boom, they'd be dead."

Draco and Snape shuddered, picturing the aftermath easily.

"And this is only one of the smaller destructive weapons. Muggles have many more bigger, more deadlier ones. I know you have some passing knowledge of muggle guns but hunting rifles and hand guns are nothing like the automatic weapons that can rip through metal or larger bombs that can take down whole buildings. And for taking out important targets, nothing is as good as a well trained military or assassin sniper. They are much better trained and know how to hide than any wizard with a wand. For you to get a true feel for what war with the muggles would be like, I'll be showing you videos of what passes for entertainment in my world. It will be a real eye opener. But enough of that for now, let's get back inside before we freeze out here...or at least this muggle anyway," Darius said, smiling wanly at them before turning and leading the way back to the house.

Harry collected the box and followed with Draco walking beside him, asking lots of questions. Snape walked a little apart, thinking hard about what he'd seen.

He may be getting a well needed vacation but the education he was going to get might cancel out all its benefits. Sighing, he shook his head. He might be having some difficulties sleeping tonight after seeing and hearing what he had today.

A/N: I'm certain there are lots of dangerous things out there but I'm not conversant on it and don't want to delay this story longer than necessary to do more research so cut me some slack on my lack of knowledge here please. By the number of readers and reviewers my story has touched a lot of people. Thank you so much. It's what keeps me going. Ulyferal

Chapter Text

Sunlight poured through the large windows, the view a spectacular wintry scene of the lake and forest but it was ignored by the pair hunched over a laptop. They sat at a beautifully carved oak table that took up residence against one wall of the large library.

A rock fireplace on the opposite wall had been laid with applewood and pine and was burning brightly providing warmth and sweet smells to the well appointed space. The rest of the walls held built-in shelves that were filled with books, maps, magazines and all types of interesting artifacts collected from around the world. A thick blue Persian carpet covered the polished wood floor while comfortable sofa chairs had been placed about coaxing one to enter and stay awhile.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

When Severus and Draco entered it that first day after they'd arrived, escorted by Agatha, they'd stared in appreciation of the beauty and ambiance of the space.

"What a wonderful library," Snape said, honestly, looking around.

"Thank you. It's my favorite place in the house," Agatha said proudly. She went to an old fashioned roll top desk, opened it and pulled something out. She carried it over to the table and flipped it open.

"What is that?" Draco asked staring at the strange flat metallic object.

"It's called a laptop or computer, if you will. Darius gave it to us and showed us how to use it. One of our bright lads figured out how to make it work around magic. Now give me a moment and I'll boot it up for ya." She pressed some buttons and a picture flickered on then steadied.

They watched in fascination as she typed a lot of strange symbols until the screen showed a man frozen, sitting at a desk with pictures displayed behind him.

"There you be. This is a one of the lessons Darius suggested you review. Come closer and I'll show you how to use this..." Agatha said. The two came closer and watched as she gave them simple basic instructions. "Well, I'll leave you to it. If you have any problems, I'll be in the kitchen." With that she left them to their studies.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

At first, it had been a novelty to view the world with such clarity, color, and sound but now five days later, it was simply an expeditious method of learning that had kept them totally absorbed for several hours each day.

Silence held sway as the pair watched the small screen intently. The light from the screen reflected off the highly polished surface of the table where they sat on high backed, but comfortably padded oak chairs. As Christmas Day loomed, their heads buzzed with all they'd learned and it hadn't been a pleasant experience.

Their lessons had shown them it was the beginning of the Industrial Age that muggles embraced science and technology, leaving wizard kind still in the Dark Ages in many ways. Even their teaching methods had failed to make any attempt to modernize. So, even though muggles didn't have magic, they did have all kinds of machines that could do nearly the same things wizards could and advances in medicine that far outshone anything they had in potions.

The only advantage wizards seem to have left was in healing things that would kill a muggle, fewer diseases, longer lives, ability to alter their form, move through time (which, actually was a significant advantage), the ability to move things without need of huge machines, and transport themselves anywhere without the need of a vehicle of any kind.

But what good would those abilities be if the world were blown up beneath them? They certainly wouldn't know about it until too late because no one seemed to be monitoring what the muggles were doing, that is, no one in the ministry...the old ones had been smarter. They'd set up an intelligence network a century ago and been monitoring the best they could of muggle progress.

However, even with their intelligence, convincing wizarding kind of the dangers before it could be stopped would take too long due to their bigotry and arrogance that nothing the muggles could do would harm them.

What was frightening to Snape, was the fact muggles had come close to total destruction on two different occasions! The only thing that had saved the world was the power they'd unleashed during World War II had frightened them enough to cease using their H-bomb but not from stockpiling them. Not only that, they foolishly enough began stockpiling deadly diseases as well and there was no certainty those things wouldn't be a threat to wizards too.

It was madness to constantly flirt with danger this way yet muggles did it without thinking, calling it a necessary evil to protect themselves from future attacks by their enemies.

Draco's reaction to all this was to get angry and focus only on the threat to wizarding kind but missing the larger threat to the world.

"With all this new technology muggles have, what's to stop them from discovering and destroying us?" He demanded, jumping to his feet and beginning to pace. "Especially when the Dark Lord keeps deliberately spilling our war into their world. I'm surprised they haven't attempted to take us out by now!"

Still shaken by the threat that hung over the Earth, Snape wasn't giving his Godson his full attention. He answered with the information he'd learned when in school not thinking how it might not be that viable now.
"It won't happen, Draco," he said firmly. "And there are two reasons why..."

Draco stopped and glared at him but listened.

"First, most muggles don't believe in magic and we do our best to insure they never do. That is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Magic to insure our world remains unseen and unknown by muggles. I know your father drummed that into you when you first began using magic. Correct?"

Draco nodded.

"Secondly, the office of the British Prime Minister does know about us though the monarchy does not. The same is true of all other countries, though in America it's the President that is aware of magic's true existence. All the Ministries of Magic work with these officials to keep our worlds separated. All have agents trained in maintaining that secret. Because of those efforts, magic has been relegated to the realm of myths and legends in muggle minds."

"Ahh, I see...I'm glad to know that...however, how good is that agreement if the Dark Lord continues to break it by intruding into the muggle world and killing them? Wouldn't that get the British government angry at us, perhaps enough to retaliate?" Draco persisted, not completely reassured.

Snape sighed and rubbed his face. He remembered a whole village being wiped out and the mess it took for Dumbledore, the Ministry, and the British government (who weren't happy about it) to cover it up.

"Unfortunately, you're correct about that. Recently, when the Dark Lord wiped out that village both sides did their jobs and the incident was quietly buried. The Prime Minister warned that if more muggle villages were struck during this war of ours they will be forced to take certain measures. Dumbledore told me Fudge ignored the threat as the worthless mouthing of a bureaucrat...typical and stupid. Due to what we've learned here, we know their threat is not something to ignore. However, there is still one thing that will stay their hands..."

Draco frowned. "What would that be?"

"The small chance the general public would learn about us and end up causing a riot of epic proportions." Snape shuddered at the thought of what mobs of muggles could do to wizards if they ever learned their myths and legends were real. The world would burn and wizards would die in a cataclysm greater than anything Voldemort could ever generate. "However, if the Dark Lord does take more muggle lives, their government may think the risk of exposure would be worth taking us on..."

"...And their agents that know about us could sweep in and use their superior technology to force peace on us," Draco interrupted him, his face tight with fear and anguish.

"Yes they would. But, fortunately for us, they're still willing to give us time to end this war ourselves but they demand it be soon. We're trying..."

"...Without a lot of success," Draco grumbled, interrupting Snape again..

"Only because of that incompetent Fudge," Snape said, tightly, holding onto his temper. It wasn't Draco's fault for being rude. Everything they'd learned this past week would test anyone's temper.

"He isn't the only thing that's a problem in the ministry. A serious house cleaning effort would have to be done to insure there's no agents of the dark buried within," the boy observed, caustically.

Snape blinked and stared at his Godson in surprise. The insightful comment for one so young caught him off guard. Though he knew Draco was in the middle of this mess due to his father siding with the Dark Lord, he hadn't thought the boy troubled himself to pay attention and notice what was going on around him.

"You've been listening in on conversations you shouldn't, I think. Be careful, Draco...I wouldn't want you hurt for speaking your mind where you shouldn't," he warned his Godson firmly.

They simply had to end this war now before the British government lost their patience and came down on them like a ton of bricks. Snape groaned inwardly. Harry Potter had been right all along, muggles were indeed a serious threat.

He rubbed his face and groaned. "I'm sorry, Draco. You're right. Our chances of keeping this under wraps for much longer is rapidly running out."

"Well that's bloody depressing," Draco groaned. "So Harry's fears are justified?"

"Very much so."

"Then we have to work harder at getting rid of our thorn in the side and his Death Eaters before the muggle government loses patience with us, now not later," Draco said, echoing Snape's own concerns.

"Just so."

"But that doesn't solve our problems completely," Draco continued, thoughtfully. "We still have to contend with the muggles ruining the world that it becomes nearly uninhabitable or blowing it up."

Snape sighed. "According to what we just viewed, I don't think that's too likely yet. Remember, there are muggle groups that are doing everything they can to keep their world safe. It may be we only have to give them a secret hand to make their job more successful but that is still something that will have to wait until our first problem is dealt with."

"Yes, I know." Draco relaxed and swung his arms a bit to relieve the tension that had been building in his shoulders. After a long moment of silence passed between them, Draco said, "But when that problem has been dealt with, I know Harry has a plan to solve our other problem. I can see it in his eyes!"

"Yes, he's told me about it many times, but he's still only a boy as are you. He has to grow to maturity and learn all he can about our world before he can fix what's wrong," Snape warned.

"But...by then it could be too late for us all!" Draco objected.

Snape sighed. "Let's hope not. I understand and feel your frustration too but the Dark Lord and his minions must be our present focus. We have no choice but to wait for the other. After all, it wont be easy changing the minds of people who have held the same beliefs for generation after generation."

Draco shook his head. "If Harry has his way, it wont take long to make people listen despite all that's on his plate right now."

A wane smile lit the professor's face. "I have no doubt Harry Potter will begin teaching his peers about the dangers so that when all have reached maturity, he'll already have a willing army of helpers. He is a very charismatic young man and a very determined one."

His Godson smiled back. "Yeah, he is at that."

"However, it will still take time but now that we two know the danger, it's only a matter of trying to get those around us to believe the same way."

"The principle of starting with a grain of sand and building a pyramid, eh?" Draco said, solemnly.

Snape eyed his Godson with new eyes. The boy was very perceptive. "Exactly. I'm glad you understand so well. For each one of us that converts another and that person does the same, that grain of sand will create a new mindset. One that will save us all in the end."

"It's unusual to hear you say something so positive, Severus," Draco said, surprised at this unexpected side to his Godfather.

"Am I? Perhaps a certain black-haired young man is already giving me hope that we may see peace and safety in our time."

"We'll make it happen, Severus...we'll make it happen," Draco said sincerely.

"I truly think you will."

Silence fell between them as their thoughts drifted to a certain black haired youth that fate seems to have decided would be responsible for saving their world from its own intransigence.

****************************
A/N: I've rewritten this repeatedly and still aren't certain it makes sense so I'm going to post it as is. I'm trying to have specific goals for the them to solve and not get to far afield. I hope what I said makes sense. Let me know what you think.

Chapter Text

The boy under discussion was at that moment miles away from the Hagrid homestead and deep within the Forbidden Forest awaiting instructions from his mentor and adoptive father.

His training had begun when he was barely six years old and now, despite going to Hogwarts, his guardians continued the training of mind and body to ensure he could withstand any attacks against him when he was away from their protection. Unlike his peers, Harry was more physically fit and had better control over his magical core. But he was far from being skilled or powerful enough to take on an adult enemy.

So he had to endure countless training sessions on weapons use, physical training, and working at increasing his magical 'muscles' as he continued to grow. He wouldn't reach his maximum potential until his late teens...nothing could hurry that. Though it chaffed Harry sorely that he couldn't speed that up somehow.

He began to shiver even though he wore plenty of warm clothing. The scarf wrapped around his face plus his warming spell didn't entirely keep out the bitter cold that had swept in during the night and left the day truly frosty. He didn't want to increase the spell's strength because he knew the workout Hagrid had planned would have him sweating soon enough. Hagrid's gruff voice dragged his attention back to the reason he was out here in the cold a day before Christmas.

"Alright there, Harry. You're doing wand less spells today. So, I want you to practice the four strongest defensive spells I've taught you until you can do them easily and swiftly with barely a thought to execute them. Don't be concerned they haven't much kick behind them. That will come as you grow older and stronger."

"Yes, I know...but it's hard to get a feel for how strong the spells should be when I'm not able to produce the full effect," Harry complained. "And with the danger to us all being present now, its hard to wait until I'm ready to actually deal with my enemies who continue to get stronger as I wait to get older."

Hagrid sighed and gave the boy a small smile of understanding. "Aye, I know lad, but there's naught we can do to speed your growth and we wouldn't want to. Life is a series of experiences, Harry. Without them you wouldn't have the wisdom and experience to use your gifts safely ... only time can give you that. You must be patient! Maturity can't be rushed. Now, no more complaining. Get to work!"

Harry sighed. He knew what Hagrid said was true but it still rankled and made him antsy about all the harm he could see happening around him and knowing he could nothing about it yet.

Stop whining about it, Harry, it won't change a thing, he scolded himself mentally. Pushing his ire to the back of his mind, he took several cleansing breathes and began his lessons.

Over the next few hours, he practiced until each spell came with barely a second's thought and effort. But it had come with a cost...his mind felt like mush by the end and his focus began to waver when Hagrid finally called a halt. He'd been monitoring the boy by mentally standing on the edge of the young wizard's awareness. He was pleased by Harry's progress. The boy was far ahead of anyone his age.

"Very good, Harry but enough for now. You need to rest and recover. If you're up to it after dinner, Aurelious wants to put you through more sword work."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Bloody hell, maybe I should have stayed at school," He said facetiously.

Hagrid snorted and gave the boy a light bap to the back of the head which nearly knocked Harry off his feet. "No more than usual, Harry." Then more seriously, "Your life depends on you being more skilled than your enemies expect you to be, Harry."

"I know...believe me, I do," Harry said grimly. Hagrid smiled approvingly, laid his arm on the boys shoulder then apparated them both back to the house.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"Ahh, just in time for lunch, Rubius," his mother said, smiling at the pair as they entered and stripped off their heavy outerwear. The boy's hair was sweaty and standing up like some punk rock star. "Looking a mite peaked there, Harry. Get some food in ya then shower and take a wee nap to recharge," she ordered, lightly.

"Yes, mum," Harry muttered, smothering a yawn as he hung his winter gear on the pegs near the door.

Hagrid hung his heavy cloak beside Harry's then headed to the library to see how their two other wizards were doing. Pushing open the door, he saw young Draco slouched down in one of the sofa chairs, one leg over the arm, the other on the floor, staring into space and frowning in thought. The potions professor sat in another chair across from the boy, pouring through a book, a deep frown on his face. The laptop was closed and still sitting on the oak table.

"Sobering lessons weren't they?" Hagrid commented, a small smile tugging at his lips when the pair startled at his sudden appearance then gave him twin expressions of dour discontent in response to his question.

"That's an understatement," Draco growled.

"Aye, I'm sure it tis. Well, leave off for now and come have lunch. If you have questions, we'll try to answer them," Hagrid said.

"Food? After what I've been reading I'm not sure I'm hungry at all." Draco shook his head and grimaced.

"An empty stomach will only distract and annoy you, so eating and a lively discussion might ease your mind, young fella, and perhaps give you a new perspective on things," the half giant counseled then turned away to head back toward the dining room.

Silence fell between the two once more. Then Snape sighed, closed his book, leaving it on his chair, and rose to his feet. "He's right. Let's be off and leave this feeling of doom behind for now."

Draco said nothing in response. Snape eyed his Godson a moment longer then left him alone. The boy stared at the ceiling for several minutes, lost in his morbid thoughts. Suddenly, his stomach growled making him scowl down at it. Sighing, he climbed to his feet. Perhaps Hagrid was right. Being around people right now and getting something hot to eat were better than listening to his own bitter thoughts and trying to ignore his angry middle's complaining.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The number of guests were fewer than when Snape and Draco had arrived so everyone sat at one end of the huge dining room table so they could talk and pass the food easier.

As he was serving himself from a platter that held a delicious smelling fish pie, Darius eyed the two men thoughtfully. Passing the platter to Harry, he asked, "You two seemed unusually disturbed after today's lessons...want to talk about it?"

Snape frowned, put a small amount of mushy peas and a single banger made of venison on his plate then sipped a little of his spiced cider before answering. "We...had a discussion on what issues need addressing and in what order of precedence they should be dealt with."

"Ahh...that's good. Let's hear it then and see if it coincides with our thoughts on the subject," Darius encouraged.

Hagrid nodded agreement, filling his plate full. He drank deeply of his large mug of mead before settling to eat and listen.

Agatha set a bowl of Apple Fool down on the table and a dish filled with the offal of the fish she'd made the pie from on the floor for Wine who appeared instantly from his place near the fireplace in the kitchen, giving the cook a soft mew of thanks before digging in.

"You're welcome," Agatha murmured before taking a seat next to her son and filling a plate for herself, her attention tuned to the two wizards.

In brief fashion, Snape told them what he and Draco had discussed then everyone began a lively question and answer period that only marginally made the pair feel better about what they'd decided.

When the conversation wound down, Hagrid gave Snape a quick glance before saying, "Aye, it's true Voldemort needs to be ended permanently and his minions ferreted out before any true progress toward protecting our world as a whole can be begun, however..."

"However, how do you find him when he's in spirit form and could be anywhere? And if you do get lucky and find him, how do you dispose of him? I hadn't heard anyway to disperse a spirit except by exorcism and the Dark Lord isn't about to hang about long enough to allow that to be done," Draco interrupted, frustration clear in his voice. Though the food smelled wonderful, he found he was still too upset to eat and was only pushing around his sausage and peas without truly eating any of it.

Harry flicked a glance at Snape and Hagrid. He wondered if they should tell Draco what they knew but a tiny shake of Snape's head made him keep silent.

"It's not as hopeless as you think, Draco. There are those who know the Dark Lord's present whereabouts. They only wait for the right opportunity to put an end to him," Snape answered without revealing too much.

Draco blinked in surprise at his God Father. "Does that mean you know?"

"Yes, but I can't tell you anything. The fewer people that know about this the less likely the Dark Lord will get wind of the plan and escape again."

The blond looked only mildly mollified by this answer. "Fine, that's certainly understandable. I hope that means the threat will be dealt with soon?"

Snape sighed and took a drink of his wine. "That is our hope." Silence fell for some minutes, everyone focusing on their food and thinking about what had been said.

"Would anyone like some Apple Fool?" Agatha asked, adroitly putting an end to the solemn atmosphere. She picked up the bowl and served her son then herself before passing it on to an eagerly reaching Harry.

"I adore this dessert, mum!" He said, grinning widely, serving himself a huge dollop.

Darius smiled in amusement, taking the bowl from the boy and serving himself a healthy amount of the creamy concoction.

Though still a bit out of sorts, Draco couldn't resist having some as well.  The rich dessert made of mushed apples, fresh whipped creme and sugar with a slice of apple on top was to die for.  His face was rapturous after the first bite.  He had to admit, this was the best Fool he'd ever had.  It wasn't something made at Hogwarts at all and his mother wasn't a cook.  He was truly getting spoiled by all the good food served at the Hagrid's home.

"Brilliant dessert, Mrs. Hagrid," Draco said, grinning. Others chimed in with their enthusiastic agreements as bowls were emptied quickly.  Snape smiled in amusement at his Godson's reaction to the dessert.  He'd passed on it as such things weren't something he normally indulged in.

"Thank you, all. Glad you're enjoying my Grandmother's recipe," Agatha said, pleased at the response all around.

"I've got to get the recipe from ya," Darius said. "I always forget when I'm here."

Agatha laughed. "Of course. I'll send it to your e-mail."

Draco paused in licking his spoon to stare at her in surprise. Then he shook his head. It always stunned him on how much the old ones knew about muggle technology. It made him feel positively prehistoric in comparison.

Chapter Text

Through the partly open curtains, brilliant sunshine heralded the beginning of a beautiful, yet cold day. It's light fell across the sleeping figure. Harry blinked his eyes open sleepily, wincing at the bright light until he realized what day it was. With a broad smile, he reached for his glasses, threw off his bedding and got up. Running to the bathroom, he paused long enough to knock hard on Draco's door and shout, "It's Christmas Day! Get up!"

Inside the quiet room, Draco bolted up in bed, his heart hammering in his chest. He looked around wildly before his brain caught up and reminded him, he was safe and it had been someone shouting that had rudely awakened him. Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, he yawned and stretched before pushing his blanket off.

He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment just thinking. How strange and wonderful it is to wake up in a house that smells and sounds so warm and inviting, he thought, bemused. In my house we'd be gotten up by the house elf, served a formal, stiff breakfast, then go to look at the tree the elves put up. There would be only a few brightly wrapped packages under the tree (only about two per person), father didn't hold much with the holidays but did it because it was expected. That always left Draco feeling empty somehow. At school he would listen with envy at all the excited chatter around him about how Christmas was celebrated in all the other houses. Slytherin students weren't so fortunate. Except for a few rare exceptions, his house had only special dark ceremonies to look forward too each year. Christmas was given lip service for appearance sake and was never enjoyable.

Except . . . he dimly recalled a time when he used to thrill at the sight of the Christmas Tree set up in the parlor, gifts piled beneath it and a warm smiling face that urged him to go open them. It had been his mother when he was very young but soon, around his sixth year, the fun and joy ended. Though a tree was still put up and presents were exchanged, the occasion had become a more solemn event always followed by the frightening ceremonies he would attend in the evenings that gave him nightmares.

No, Christmas wasn't something he looked forward to any more but this year, for the first time in so long, it was different.

A broad smile split his face and he jumped to his feet. Putting his robe on, he hurried to the bathroom. Harry was just leaving, grinning from ear to ear. Draco smiled warmly back then ducked into the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later, the two boys, dressed in their nice clothes, rushed down the stairs, excitedly. Pushing through the parlor door, they halted at the sight of a huge tree near the windows that looked out over the lake. The tree was magnificent and beautifully decorated. The decorations were handmade and small lit candles had been carefully placed on the ends of many of the upper branches. Beneath the tree was a pile of brightly wrapped packages.

"Oh wow! It's fantastic!" Harry shouted, running forward to hug his adopted parents.

Standing near the fireplace with a hot drink in his hand was Snape. He smiled warmly at Draco's happy, excited face. His mind went back to the few times he managed to have Christmas at the Malfoy's manor. It was a cold and uninviting place, the holiday even more so. He went so Draco would have someone else there that cared about him besides his mother even though he couldn't truly show it. Lucius wouldn't stand for the boy to be 'cuddled' as he called it.

Christmas wasn't a happy time for him either. His own father had been a cruel and vindictive man, not interested in such things as Christmas or any other holiday so they never celebrated. His mother, though, would secretly hold a private Christmas ceremony, just the two of them, in the attic when his father went out to do business neither wanted to know about. He cherished those times. They were all he had of his mother that reminded him of better days. After her sudden death, Christmas only meant pain and fear even after he attended Hogwarts.

Well, not completely . . . Lily Evans always seemed to know when he was sad and mistreated, especially around the holidays, and would make a special effort to do something nice for him. That is, until he did the unforgivable and lost her friendship. That had left an ache in his heart that had never gone away. But when he looked into Harry's green eyes, he could see the woman he had cared so deeply for and was reminded of happier times. It helped his spirit immensely.

His reverie was interrupted by Draco racing over and hugging him warmly. Smiling, he set his cup down on the mantle and returned it.

Draco looked up, unshed tears shimmering in his eyes. "Merry Christmas, Severus!"

"Merry Christmas, Draco," Snape murmured warmly. They hugged a moment longer then Draco went to the tree when Harry called to him.

They dropped to their knees and began reading the packages. Draco found one for Severus and hurriedly raced over to the man.

"Look, there's one for you!" Draco said, pleased and surprised. Snape looked equally surprised as he gingerly took it from the boy who turned and raced back to the tree.

"I wasn't expecting anything . . . " Snape said confused, glancing over at the other adults in the room.

"We couldn't exclude you there, Professor. I know the holidays haven't been kind to you so we made sure this one was very special," Hagrid told him, warmly.

Snape felt his cheeks flush with heat. Emotions he kept buried, rose to the surface and threatened to undo him. Swallowing he managed, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Agatha said. A cry of joy from near the tree drew her attention away.

"It's a laptop!" Draco shouted in amazement. "But how can I use it?" He asked, suddenly deflated as he caressed the shiny surface.

"I have a way," Harry said, smiling mysteriously.

Draco frowned at him in confusion.

Laughing, Harry said, "Hagrid has the internet secretly hooked up in his cabin. Whenever we can get away, we can store and use our laptops there."

Draco's mouth dropped open. "You're joking?"

Harry shook his head. The blond could only shake his head in disbelief. "But, if I'm seen making frequent trips to his cabin . . . "

"You won't," Harry said more seriously. "You more than anyone are too aware of being under constant surveillance especially by your Slytherin classmates. You won't make that mistake and will be very circumspect just as I will be. Remember? That's how we can be friends at school without anyone being the wiser."

"You're right but it's still a huge risk."

"Certainly but life is full of risks. However, you and I have a mission that requires us to continually monitor what's going on in the muggle world."

"Oh! You're right."

"Does that mean I will also be welcome to use your devices?" Snape interjected, his tone partly amused but serious at the same time.

"Of course, Professor. You're part of the team," Harry said, firmly.

Snape bowed his head, thanking the boy. It was a strange feeling to be considered part of such an endeavor by someone he knew, if he and Harry survived the next few years, would do great things. He felt humbled by the boy's trust in him.

"Come on Harry, open something . . . " Darius urged, pulling everyone's attention back to the tree.

"Oh sure . . . " Harry searched the packages and picked up several then stood up. "...but first I want to make sure everyone has one . . . " He handed a package each to Agatha, Hagrid and Darius.

They all grinned and very much appreciated Harry's good manners. Soon everyone was opening their packages and oohing and aahing at what they'd received.

Snape tore the paper off and saw a small casket. Opening it, he stared at the many vials inside. Pulling one out, he read the label and almost dropped it. Hurriedly, he checked all the vials then closed the casket carefully, his face stunned and amazed. Glancing over at Hagrid, he said, "These are the rarest ingredients known to wizard kind. How did you manage to obtain them?"

Hagrid smiled. "With a little help from my friends and family. Weren't hard and we were glad to do it. You may not be the best teacher but you are the greatest potion's master alive today. You deserve the best supplies. Let me know if there is anything else you need and I'll get it for you."

"I . . . thank you . . . no one's ever done something so nice for me before and I'm very grateful," Snape managed to say, overwhelmed by their generosity.

"You're welcome."

The great morning's start was followed by a terrific breakfast. When everyone was stuffed, it was decided to go outside and work off the great food as well as get the animals fed. No one shirked the chores, not even Draco.

It took about a couple of hours to get their tasks done then all returned inside to have some cocoa. The boys left the adults to go upstairs to Harry's room and play with their new gifts.

Snape enjoyed sitting in the parlor and talking on various subjects with Hagrid and Darius. Agatha was busy manning the kitchen preparing for the huge Christmas dinner she was serving that evening. She ordered the house elves to prepare rooms and help her setup for all the guests they were expecting to arrive after lunch and that would be staying until the morrow.

Lunch was a light repast, served in the parlor as the dining room was being used as baking space. Pies, cakes, cookies and other desserts were being laid out on the huge table. Agatha pretended not to see the boys snitch a few cookies later in the day. After lunch, the guests began to arrive.

Harry and Draco went out to greet them. There were two half giants, an elf named Alier, a vampire name Sanguini and his wizard friend Eldred Worple (a small, stout, bespectacled man with a friendly manner), centaurs...Ronan, Magorian (leader of the centaurs) and Firenze (some time teacher at Hogwarts), three goblins: Ragnok, Gornuk, and Gringott, and, surprisingly, a Veela (who didn't have a name they could understand so everyone called her Vee).

Draco wondered how such an eclectic group could sit down at dinner together but everyone seemed to get along well. But where were all these people supposed to eat dinner at? He got his answer when Harry dragged him out to the huge barn behind the house. Stepping into the space he gaped at the scene before him.

To accommodate their guests, Agatha and Rubeus had converted their large barn into a fantastic Christmas wonderland.

On the cleared floor, huge wooden trestle tables had been set up and decorated with beautiful tablecloths, mini-Christmas trees, and china place settings. Chairs had been brought out from the house though at one table there were no chairs to accommodate those that stood to eat. Around the walls, garlands of fresh green with big red bows had been hung filling the air with their pine scent. Another Christmas tree stood at the back wall with more packages beneath it.

"Wow! This is soo cool. The gifts are for the guests?" Draco asked, looking around in admiration.

"Yeah . . . "

"Harry!" Agatha's voice sang out from the house.

"Oh . . . she must have something for us to do . . . " Harry said. He hurried off for the house with Draco on his heels.

"Ah, there you are lad. Here you go . . . you know what to do," Agatha said handing Harry and Draco two huge bowls a piece. One was filled with seed, fruit, grains of all types and little waterproof bags. The other held raw meat.

As they turned away, Draco frowned down at what he carried. "What's this for?"

Harry gave him a secret smile. "Wait and see." He hurried off down toward the lake. Stopping at the shore, Harry set the bowls down then picked up the little bags. Puzzled, Draco copied him.

Harry threw the bags out into the water. The moment they hit, webbed hands reached out and snatched the packages then vanished. He laughed at the expression on Draco's face.

"We always send a treat down to the merfolk. They're friends of the family."

"Oh, that's really nice," Draco said, surprised, then hurled his bags out into the water too. When they were done, he looked down at the bowls. "Now what?"

Harry picked up his bowls and started off. Draco followed as they walked along the shore and reached the edge of the forest. The black-haired boy gave a sharp whistle then dumped the bowl full of dry goods onto the ground. Draco did the same but no one came to the call.

"They won't show up until we're gone. It's for the unicorns and other creatures," Harry told him then put the empty bowl beneath the meat one and took off again. This time he went up the tree line then entered and walked for about ten minutes before halting. Here, in a small clearing, he gave a weird hooting call then dumped the meat on the ground. Confused, Draco did the same.

Harry didn't move or make a sound at first then, suddenly, he raised his hand and made a soft cooing sound but there was nothing there at least nothing Draco could see though Harry was definitely petting something.

"What are you doing and what's eating the food?" He asked seeing meat disappearing from the ground.

"You haven't seen death yet, huh?" Harry asked softly.

"No."

"Only those who have witnessed a death can see a Thestral," Harry explained. "They are gentle creatures and very magical but they don't look pretty. I'll show you a picture of them in my Care of Magical Creatures book. They pull the carriages at Hogwarts besides give rides to those in need."

"Have you ever ridden one?"

Harry smiled. "Yes, many times. It's almost as much fun as riding a broom."

"Wow. I'd loved to do that but not if I can't see one," Draco said, fascinated.

"We'd better be getting back in case mum has something more for us to do," Harry said, picking up his bowls and heading back to the house.

Draco stared as the last piece of meat disappeared, then shook his head and hurried after Harry. This was turning out to be the most fascinating and fun Christmas of his life.

Dinner was an amazing affair. The air was filled with voices talking and the soft strains of Christmas music playing in the background. The food and conversation were fascinating and interesting to Draco and Snape. They learned many new things and enjoyed some truly amazing food. There were two geese and four turkeys, many types of potatoes and vegetables, and different fruits and other sides.

As for dessert, the Apple Fool might have been amazing last night but tonight's centerpiece surpassed it and there was no word to describe it. Despite all the pies, cakes, cookies, and other delicacies, the Trifle, a familiar British concoction, took center stage. Agatha Hagrid's special family recipe had made it a glorious burst of flavor and richness in Draco's mouth, something he couldn't remember ever having before. He gave the hostess a blissful look as he spooned another mouthful in.

Harry was savoring every bite as well. His adopted mum had a fantastic way with dessert. It was a wonder he didn't turn into a blimp from all the good food she'd served him over the years.

"This is to die for!" Darius sighed as he finished his helping. Many a cheerful agreement was added to his comment. Magorian was on his third helping . . . this being his favorite dessert and the reason he loved Christmas with the Hagrid's every year.

Agatha beamed with pleasure at all the happy sounds reaching her ears. Though she had many excellent skills in various areas, cooking was the one she took the most pride in.

Snape shook his head. It looked so amazing that he had to try a little despite his aversion to most sweets. His first bite made his eyes nearly cross with delight. He listened as Agatha explained how the dessert was made to a rapt crowd.

In several crystal bowls, she'd filled the bottoms with sponge cake that had been soaked with a little bit of fire whiskey then added a layer of chopped fruit and gelatin and set it outside to chill. Once they'd set, Agatha poured a layer of rich egg custard in then added a thick layer of whipped cream that had been mixed with sugar, ginger and rose water. The top was decorated with tiny bits of chopped apples, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries then sprinkled with colored sugar that sparked and danced on each bowl. It was dazzling.

After everyone had finished, the house elves cleared the tables with a snap and the gifts for the guests were handed out. Harry did the honors with Draco willingly carrying the packages for him.

A round of drinks followed, as well as some dancing and fancy displays of magic by several of the guests in thanks for the food and gifts. The centaurs and elves brought Harry gifts as well. He received a new bow with arrows and a sword and knives.

Draco eyed them in amazement. This was the first time he learned that Harry had been taught other forms of defense that didn't include a wand. Considering what Draco had learned the past week, perhaps he should learn such things too. Maybe he could get Harry to teach him. He'd keep that in mind when they were alone again.

The day drew to a close and a beautiful moon rose in the sky casting its light on the lake. Some of the guests went home while others sought the comfort of the lodgings Agatha had set up for them.

As Draco went to bed at last, he couldn't help but sigh and smile. This had been the most wonderful Christmas he'd ever had in his life. He was grateful to Harry for giving him such a fantastic gift. He would never forget it. He doubted his Godfather would forget it either.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: A Nasty Price to Pay for a Holiday

The next day rose cloudy and cold, the sun had vanished and there were signs more snow would fall before the day was over.  It was a bit of a let down to Draco after all the fun and joy they’d had yesterday but there were guests still around and new rounds of conversation to enjoy so it wasn’t too bad.

Snow did fall by that evening, but fortunately, the guests had left just ahead of it.  Harry and Draco spent the evening cruising the internet for fun rather than study.  Draco was endlessly fascinated by all the cool things muggles made and used as well as all the great programs about nature, science, and technology.  He spent hours asking Harry questions.  Fortunately, the boy-who-lived didn’t mind and answered all to the best of his ability.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Over the next few days until New Years, they spent time on the internet and playing outdoors.  But there was one thing that Harry was doing that Draco hadn’t been aware of.  On the second day after the guest had left, he watched as Harry began dressing after breakfast, in a strange outfit.  

“What is that you’re wearing and what are you planning to do in it?”  Draco asked.

The outfit was solid black, made of cotton, with rollback cuffs, a collar and odd looking buttons that fastened the shirt.  The pants were even stranger as they weren’t slacks or athletic pants. He wasn’t certain what they were but they ballooned a bit from Harry’s legs and had elastic bands that pulled it tight against his waist and ankles.  It looked oriental.  He’d seen something similar when he’d been to China with his parents.  

Apparently, while he and Snape were engrossed in learning about muggles on the laptop that first week, Harry had been off doing something interesting, though what it could be he hadn’t a clue.

“This is my martial arts clothing,” Harry responded, pulling on some soft black boots.  “Come watch and you’ll see what I’ve been up to while you were surfing the web.”

Fascinated, Draco quickly dressed in warmer clothing and followed Harry downstairs.  They paused to get heavy cloaks on then went out the back door.  Harry led the way to the barn.  Inside a man waited.  He wore the same outfit as Harry and  stood on soft green mats that now covered a large section of the barn floor.

After closing the door behind them, Harry walked to the edge of the mat, took off his shoes and cloak then stepped on the mat and paused within arms distance of the man and bowed. The man bowed back.

“Sifu, this is my friend, Draco Malfoy.  He wishes to observe my training.  Is he permitted to stay?” Harry asked formally.

The man stared at Draco, studying him thoroughly which made the boy feel uncomfortable and unwilling to meet his eyes.  There didn’t seem to be anything threatening about the man that Draco could discern but he could feel the barely leashed power the man exuded just standing there with his arms loose at his side.  The fellow didn’t appear very dangerous, being rather short in stature and lean in body.  But he was very muscular and stood lightly on the balls of his feet as if he was ready to attack at a seconds notice.  His eyes were a dark brown and he wore his doe colored hair cropped short to his head.  His skin color was a nut brown though Draco couldn’t determine what nationality he might be.  

“He may stay.  Are you ready?”  The man said in a pleasant tenor voice.

“Yes sir.”

“Hai!” The teacher barked suddenly making Draco startle as the pair were suddenly sparring in quick, fast movements.

He could see Harry was very good at this form of fighting which Draco realized he had seen while in China and on the internet.  As he watched, he saw Harry succeed in dropping his teacher to the mat at least once and holding the man at bay for a long period before his teacher expertly dropped Harry to the mat on his back, the man’s arm across Harry’s throat.  It had happened all so fast that Draco only realized at that moment that he’d been holding his breath.  He let it go with a whoosh.

Harry heard him and gave him a cheeky smile as his teacher released him and helped him to his feet.  Then his attention was back on his lesson.  The two bowed then took a defensive posture and were at it again.

The two worked out for over an hour.  Draco never noticed the time passing, totally fascinated by the beauty and deadly grace of the pair sparring.  When they finally stopped, Harry and his teacher bowed once more.  

For the next thirty minutes, Harry’s instructor show him some new techniques and had the boy run through them before he was satisfied.  They bowed to each other again, the teacher sent a small smile toward Draco then simply apparated away.  

Draco blinked in shock.  The man was a wizard!

Mouth still open, Draco turned to Harry but couldn’t say anything.  Harry laughed at his friend’s expression as he used a towel to wipe sweat off his face and neck.  

“Yes he’s a wizard but he was born into a muggle family.  His parents are both martial arts teachers and taught him since he was very young.  Despite learning he was a wizard, he never stopped using and training in the art.  It makes him a very dangerous man.  He can pluck a wand from your hand before you could utter a spell.”

“Wow! That’s incredible.”

“There are more wizards like him that have been trained in various forms of muggle fighting but in some cases they’ve given it up for a wand and spells....a bad mistake to my mind.”

Draco frowned.  “You’re right, that is a stupid thing to do.  If you have other fighting abilities you shouldn’t stop using them simply because you can do things magically.”

Harry smiled.  “You only say that now.  But before you knew more about muggles, you would have been just like them, yes?”

Malfoy’s face blushed red.  “Uhm....you’re right about that.  Using muggle methods was thought by purebloods to be beneath them.  Glad I don’t think that way now.  Can you teach me that and all the other things I bet you’ve been taught?”

“Sure, but it will take a long time to reach my level and we’ll have problems getting away to practice,” Harry reminded him.

Draco’s face fell then firmed in determination.  “We’ll find a way.”

Harry slapped Draco on the back.  “That’s the spirit.  There is much I can teach you though using guns might be difficult as I still don’t know enough about them to know what to purchase.  We’ll have to ask Darius.  He’s the one who taught me to shoot.”

Draco’s head came around quickly so he could stare at Harry.  “You know how to shoot a muggle weapon?”

“Yes.”

The boy rolled his eyes.  “They certainly made sure you were prepared.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Harry sighed.  “Come on.  Time for lunch.”

Draco’s mind was in awhirl as he waited for Harry to put on his shoes then his cloak.  On the way back to the house, he thought about how the two of them could get together for training when they returned to Hogwarts.  There must be someplace they could meet in secret and he wouldn’t rest until he found it. Whatever it took, he wanted to be just as prepared as his friend was.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

During the next few days, Draco got his wish.  He joined Harry for most all the lessons his friend was taking.  The only ones he was forbidden to see were the magical ones.  Draco simply wasn’t ready for those but Snape softened the boy’s disappointment by promising to give him the training in mind protection as he had Harry.  That cheered Draco up.

He needed it as he felt totally inadequate next to Harry.  It did no good to remind himself that Harry had years to train, it still made him anxious to be just as good.

Archery was difficult and frustrating for him but using knives proved to be something he had a natural knack for so they focused more on that.  As for martial arts training, he was a long ways from Harry, he realized ruefully, as he nursed the numerous bruises and sore muscles he sported from just a few days practice.  But it felt good to be learning other ways to defend himself.  Though he did have a better grasp on magical spells and flying a broom compared to his peers, he wasn’t as strong physically.  Working with Harry would ensure he would be very soon.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

New Year’s arrived swiftly and soon it would be time for the two to return to the real world.  Draco found he dreaded this most of all.  How were they supposed to appear as if they’d been kidnapped?

Snape was just as concerned but all his questions were deftly diverted into other subjects.  The only thing he got from Hagrid was not to worry.  When the time came they would have legitimate injuries and an explanation as to what had happened to them.   

Well time was up!

After a wonderful but calm, New Year’s Eve and another fabulous dinner and wizarding fireworks display, the morning after brought anxiety and the time for the final guests to leave, even Harry, who needed to catch the train to return to Hogwarts for school starting the next day.   

Agatha provided a large breakfast for all then handed Snape, Draco, and Harry a package.  Snape and Draco’s package resembled a pack of crumbled and dry crisps.  They stared at her in puzzlement.

She smiled in amusement.  “When you’re home and alone, only then whisper Engordo.  It’s a variation of the engorgement and restoring charm.  It will return my surprise to its original form but for now, it will appear as something you might have been given as a joke by your captors.  Also, Rubeus will be the one to carry your presents and belongings to Hogwarts for you.”

“How ingenious!” Snape said in admiration.  “Thank you for having us.  It was a wonderful  holiday, we won’t soon forget.  

“You are most welcome, Severus....Draco.  I hope in the future we may do this again.  In the meantime, do keep each other safe.”

“We will try, Agatha,” Snape said.  Draco hugged the half giant tightly and whispered his own thanks.   Then the two said farewell to all those who were seeing them off, including Harry.  Oddly Hagrid was missing from the group as was Magorian and his centaurs.

“So what are your plans for returning us?” Snape asked Agatha.

“Aahh...as to that, only Rubeus can answer.  He’s waiting for you both in the barn.  Safe journey to you both,” she said warmly though her eyes were sad.

Harry gave Draco a warm hug as well.  “See you at Hogwarts later tonight or tomorrow morning in case you’re both detained by the aurors for questioning.  Don’t worry, everything will work out fine.”

“I hope so.  Later then,” Draco said, afraid but working hard not to show it.  He pulled away and went to Snape’s side.  They both traded worried looks but said nothing as they waved goodbye to everyone then, wearing only the clothing they’d arrived in, turned and headed for the barn.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Stepping through the open barn door, they were greeted by Hagrid, Magorian, Firenze, Ronan, and surprisingly, Gringott, the goblin.

“Alright then, here’s where we have to make you look like you spent a lot of time in rough quarters.  Sorry for the pain you’re about to suffer but I know Madame Pomphrey will fix you right up,” Hagrid said, grimly.  

“First, though....” Gringott spoke in his gravely voice, “...we have a demand letter for you to take with you.  The elders have thought long and hard about this and they feel it is time for wizards to know how we of the forest feel about their war and our part in it.  We don’t expect anything to come of it but at least they can’t say we didn’t warn them.”

Snape’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  “I thought you all wanted to remain hidden and unknown.  Why would you desire giving wizarding kind a warning?”

“One is to cover your time away and two, if the plan to get rid of Voldemort is successful, then we need to insure our wishes be known when Harry begins his campaign to educate them on muggles.  All of us know, the boy won’t wait until he’s older to begin changing the world so we thought it best to jump aboard in the beginning,” Gringott explained.

Snape found himself nodding halfway through the goblin’s explanation.  “Sound reasoning and you’re right.  He’ll start the moment he thinks the time is right. But that won’t save me from what I face with the Death Eaters.”

Hagrid gave him a bleak smile and responded,  “You’re right Severus.  That’s why Ronan will be taking you to the gates of Riddle Manor where we have spied the dregs of Voldemort’s minions.  As I’m sure you know, not many of the smart ones are left so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty convincing them about your whereabouts. Since you are considered one of Voldemort’s favorites, what you say should be believed.  I would suggest you tell them we want nothing to do with them and that you serve as an object lesson as to what will be done if they enter our woods.  I’m sorry you’ll have to be roughed up much more severely than Draco, though for your ruse to work.”

“Do not be concerned.  I have suffered far worse.  But it must be thorough or they won’t believe it.  They are rather stupid you know,” Snape warned with a grim smile.

“Not to worry, it will be,” Hagrid said equally grim.  He gave Snape a warm handshake.  “I am glad we were able to ease your burden even for a little while.”

Snape returned the shake.  “Thank you for having me.  I truly enjoyed it.  Now let’s get this over with.”

“As you wish.”  Hagrid went to the boy and looked down at him with warm and sympathetic eyes.  “It grieves me to do this to you, young fella but tis necessary.”

Draco swallowed his fear and stared up at Hagrid bravely.  “I know sir.  Do what you have to.  I too enjoyed my stay.  Thank you for giving me back the joy of the season.  I will cherish it always.”  

Hagrid smiled, hugged the boy, put a rolled scroll into his shirt then stepped back.  “Ready yourselves!” He barked suddenly.

With that as the only warning, wand less magic was used to rip and tear at Snape and Draco.  Draco gasped and cried out at the sudden pain that seemed to strike him everywhere but did his best to withstand the attack meant to help him.  

It was grueling and nasty but fast.  When the attack stopped, Draco sported bruises, cuts, a dirty body, leaves and grass in his filthy hair, rope burns and sores on his wrists and ankles, and a black eye. His clothing was barely covering his body and was ripped, torn, and filthy with blood, dirt and the smell of smoke.

Snape looked far worse.  His face looked like a raccoon with twin black eyes, a serious cut above one eyebrow, a dirty face and hair, multiple bruises, and the same rope burns as Draco.  Drag marks could be seen on his back and legs, the clothing there nearly stripped off him.  They had made it appear as if he’d been dragged over the ground.

Staring down at himself, Snape nodded but felt something more was needed. Talking through a fat lip that was slowly bleeding, he said, “I will have to have a broken ankle to explain why I didn’t try to run.”

Hagrid winced but nodded and made a gesture.  A loud snap filled the air and Snape gasped, dropping hard to the ground, his ankle at an unnatural angle. Draco quickly went to his side in concern.  But Snape shook him off.  Hissing in pain, he managed to grit out, “It’s alright, Draco. I’ll be fine.”  He looked up at Hagrid who had come to stand over him.  “Thank you, that will do.”  The half giant nodded, his face grim.

“Come on, Draco. Time for you to leave.”  Hagrid announced, picking Draco up like a sack of flour into his huge arms then carrying him toward the waiting centaur, Firenze.  Before he was hoisted up on the centaur’s back, Draco’s legs and ankles were suddenly tied up with ropes then he was tied to the centaur to prevent him from falling off.

Moving to the boy’s face, Hagrid leaned down and said, “I’ll be there waiting for you at Hogwarts.  Since no one can approach a centaur unless they allow it, I’ll be the one doing that.”  Draco sighed in relief and nodded though it was awkward from his upside down position.  

Without further words, the centaur headed out the open door and immediately began running toward the forest at a brisk clip.  Poor Draco had to keep his mouth clamped shut or suffer his teeth being painfully bounced together, possibly chipping some of them or cutting his lip though that might be a good idea.  The hard bouncing was already making his chest hurt and he could feel the cold biting into him.  He was certain he would be frozen by the time he got to Hogwarts.

Behind him, Snape was receiving the same treatment as he was placed on Ronan and tied in place.  So he wouldn’t suffer needlessly, Hagrid tightly wrapped Snape’s ankle that he had realigned then tucked another scroll into the man’s torn shirt, tying it to a piece of shirt to insure it wouldn’t fall out.  Magorian would remove it when they arrived at their destination, for he would lead the way to Riddle Manor with several other centaurs as guards.  

As soon as Snape was secured, the pair of centaurs took off in the opposite direction of Draco.

“I’m sorry they had to suffer pain.  It had been such a wonderful holiday.  To end it in such a manner seems obscene,” Harry murmured, having come up behind Hagrid while he was putting Snape aboard Ronan.

Hagrid looked down at his adopted son and gently ruffled the boy’s hair.  “Aye, it is but they have their memories and all their hurts will be healed quickly enough unlike poor muggles who have to suffer weeks of pain while they heal.”

“That’s true.  We are lucky that way,” Harry agreed.

“You best be off, me lad.  Don’t want to keep Darius waiting,” Hagrid said, lightly.

“I know....just wanted to give you a last minute hug before leaving,” Harry said, smiling.  Hagrid lifted the boy into his arms so he could hug the half giant’s neck.    “Love you!”

“Love you back,” Hagrid murmured warmly then put Harry down.  The boy ran off to meet Thiralon, the Hippogriff, waiting near the lake’s edge.  The creature would fly Harry to the edge of the forest where Darius was waiting for him to take him to London in his car.  Wine was tucked into his shirt and his trunk was shrunk and tucked into a pocket of his clothing along with the package his mum had given him.  Flying overhead was Hedwig who hooted once then flew off.  She would meet him at the train station where she would get in her cage for the ride to Hogwarts.

 
 

Chapter Text

Dumbledore sat with a cup of tea, stirring it mindlessly, as he stared out the window of his office. The first day of the new year had started sunny, but deteriorated as the day progressed and now promised more snow, the skies leaden and gray which matched his mood.

He shivered a bit, his body still cold from being outdoors all day. Ever since Snape and Malfoy had been snatched, several members of the Order of the Phoenix and over twenty aurors combed the Forbidden Forest and surrounding countryside for the pair. They could find no witnesses and, despite questioning a few of the forest dwellers willing to speak to them, no reasons for the snatch.

As time passed, a grim despair began to grip the searchers. The longer the pair went missing, the less chance of them being found at all. Christmas Day came and went and still no trace of the pair could be found. The days continued onward and now it was New Years Day and the school session was about to start anew tomorrow.

His mind went back to the conversation he had with the searchers when they'd stopped to rest and reconnoiter a few hours ago.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It was nearly dusk when the three groups of searchers returned to the designated meeting place on the far north side of the forest from Hogwarts. A magically created fire had been set up and cups of either fire whiskey or hot cocoa had been passed around to revitalize the near exhausted teams.

"They might be dead by now," Auror Dawlish muttered, staring into his cup, a morose expression on his face.

"Unlikely," Dumbledore interjected quickly. "Though they have no reason to be our friends, I've not heard any whisper of the forest dwellers killing innocents."

"We never heard of them kidnapping them either," Moody growled.

"Well that's not completely accurate, Alister," Shacklebolt corrected. "There has been reports of Death Eaters being taken and never being found again. As a matter of fact, I heard more of them have been ending up dead. I don't know why the Death Eaters are interested in our missing people but they've gotten death from the forest for their efforts. That's in our favor since that means fewer of them to cause more harm."

"And that is good news as it means they aren't aligned with them," Dumbledore reminded them all.

"True, but they're not aligned with us nor aiding us either," Shacklebolt retorted.

Malfoy's reaction to their conversation was to maintain a blank and uninterested expression, no trace of his growing anger at the loss of the Dark Lord's minions showed. The magical beasts were troublesome and needed to be ferreted out and destroyed if they could find a way to do that didn't end in more fatalities for their side. It didn't help matters that their master wished to make alliances with some of them to aid in his war. Malfoy had always felt that wasn't in their best interests but never dared to say so to Voldemort's face. Right now though, he was losing men and the ones that were left were becoming very leery of continuing this seemingly worthless endeavor.

Only fear of the Dark Lord's displeasure if his pet potion's master wasn't found alive kept them even looking at all. None of them cared about a wizard's child being missing even if it did belong to one of their own. Lucius knew only too well if Macnair was still among them, he would have argued against this mad search before it even began.

But he had no choice. Draco was his heir and it would look bad for his reputation if he simply abandoned his son to his fate without making an attempt to find out what had happened to the boy. So he must keep up the appearance of a distraught and angry father (even if he didn't' care a whit if his progeny ever showed up again). Time to put on his act so they could finish this mad running around in the woods at night.

"I care not who's side they are on. I just want my son found and those that took him punished!" he snarled convincingly. He lunged to his feet and stormed off, picking a random direction that hadn't been searched yet, his team of less than savory characters hurriedly tailing after him.

The rest eyed his retreating back for some moments while they finished their drinks.

"Break time's over, let's be off!" Moody barked, suddenly, making his cup disappear, then getting to his feet, pointing his staff at the fire and extinguishing it before heading off into the opposite direction of Malfoy's group, taking half the aurors with him.

The rest rose to their feet and prepared to head out except for Dumbledore. "I'm sorry, but I must leave you all. The Hogwarts Express will be arriving very soon and I must prepare for the students and find a temporary replacement for my potion's instructor."

Crouch scowled in annoyance but gave the headmaster a brisk nod of understanding. "Of course. We don't want the students upset nor disrupt their normal schedule if it can be helped. You go ahead, Albus. I intend to hunt until it's too dark to see. We'll see you at the castle later."

Dumbledore nodded. "I will have hot food and drinks waiting. Good hunting!"

Crouch said nothing as he turned away and stomped off into the cold snow once more. Tonks, Moody, Shacklebolt and the rest of the aurors following after him.

Shivering and sighing, Dumbledore apparated to the gates of Hogwarts then walked in the growing gloom, up to the main entrance. The halls at this hour were quiet, the students most likely in their common rooms waiting for the dinner hour.

Meeting no one, he headed for his office. Once inside, he sighed in relief as heat from the brightly burning fireplace began to thaw his cold body. Pulling off his wet cloak, he hung it on a nearby coat rack and went to his desk.

"I would like a cup of hot tea," he murmured to the air and instantly a house elf appeared and placed a full mug, steaming gently, before him. "Thank you. Be alert to the return of the hunters when it gets full dark. They will need hot food and drinks as soon as they walk in." The elf nodded his understanding then vanished.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

His mind returning to the present, he took a deep swallow of his hot tea instantly feeling the warmth thaw his insides very nicely.

Glancing over to the perch nearby, he saw his Phoenix was sound asleep. He wished he could be doing that right now. He was getting too old to be traipsing around the woods in the cold. A scowl of annoyance briefly appeared on his face as he stared at his familiar unhappily. The search wouldn't have been necessary if the dratted bird had been willing to tell them where the pair were. However, for reasons of its own, Fawkes had not been forthcoming with that information hence the waste of a search in the cold.

He thought of it as a waste because it was obvious by the bird's behavior, the pair in question were safe and unharmed by whoever had them. But, because he didn't want a war begun between wizards and the forest dwellers, he couldn't tell anyone of his suspicions.

The whole event was maddening and hurtful because it proved his familiar didn't quite trust him on this one subject and pushed home the fact the Phoenix had divided loyalties. That didn't sit well with Dumbledore. Such a thing shouldn't be possible with one's familiar. So he was forced to wonder what he'd done to incur such mistrust?

Apparently sensing his bond-mate's displeasure and hurt, Fawkes woke and raised his head to stare into Dumbledore's blue eyes. He made a soft warbling sound in his throat.

"Well it feels like you don't trust me," Dumbledore snapped, his temper getting the better of him.

More sounds from Fawkes, ones that sounded conciliatory.

The headmaster shook his head. "I don't care how sorry you feel about it, it's just not right to be keeping secrets and still be my bond-mate.

Fawkes rolled his eyes in frustration then reared up and shook his feathers as if to try and dismiss the tension between them.

"I'm sorry, but that's how I perceive this situation between us! I don't know how we can resolve it as it leaves me uncertain of your loyalties," Dumbledore said, feeling tired suddenly and sad.

Fawkes flew to Dumbledore's shoulder and proceeded to rub and coo, attempting to soothe his familiar's ruffled feelings. There was little else he could do. The boy's safety was his paramount concern though he was unhappy that it caused his bond-mate pain.

Dumbledore sighed in resignation and gently caressed his longtime companion. "Yes, I know you're only trying to protect Harry, but so am I." He went silent for a long moment then quietly murmured, "I'll let this go for now, however, I want a full explanation when you're able to give it."

The bird nodded its head then returned to its perch to preen. It had done all it could to give comfort. Answers would be forthcoming soon, patience was needed for now.

Shaking off his uncertainty where his bird was concerned, Dumbledore focused on preparing for the students arrival and who he would have temporarily take care of the potion's class.

Suddenly, he realized he had another issue to deal with...Hagrid wasn't there to see to handling of the students baggage.

The half giant was part of the search, though he chose doing it alone. He had said it made sense he not be accompanied by any of the wizards as it was they the forest people resented. Going alone ensured he might have better luck getting them to speak to him.

Dumbledore had been forced to agree that was a good reason (though surprised Hagrid had thought of it). So he had allowed the half giant to head off on his own but to return at the end of each day to compare notes.

Tonight, Hagrid had yet to return and he wasn't certain if the half giant would be back in time to do the task he normally undertook. Pushing his glasses up, he rubbed his tired eyes. A solution came to mind a moment later and he summoned a house elf.

One appeared immediately. "You called, sir?" It squeaked.

"Yes, I need a group of you to handle the students baggage, please. Hagrid is otherwise detained."

"Yes sir. We take care of it."

"Good, thank you." The creature flashed a brief smile than vanished.

"That's dealt with ...as for the class, I suppose I will have to be the instructor for now. Here's hoping Severus returns soon," he thought aloud making a note to himself. Now that those issues had been taken care of he moved his attention to the small amount of paperwork he had to do so as to make the time pass faster.

An hour and a half later, he was warned of the train's arrival by its horn sounding when it arrived at the small station in the woods. It wasn't too much later when the sound of excited children could be heard echoing up the stairs, as he made his way down to the ground floor. The students were just pouring into the great hall in preparation for the dinner service as he reached the main foyer. He nodding at them as they passed him in a stream and sang out his name. After such a long trip, they were always very hungry, so it wasn't a surprise they made a hurried beeline for their house tables.

He made for the head table when suddenly he was stopped by a loud pop just in front of him. An excited house elf stood there, wringing its paws.

"Sir, scary auror told me to fetch you. Student missing has returned!" It squeaked excitedly.

McGonagall, who had silently brought up the rear of children, sighed in relief. "Thank Goodness! I'll take care of things here, Albus you go on and see what's happening. I do hope Draco Malfoy is alright but there was no mention of Severus...," her voice drifted off worriedly, her eyes monitoring the children as the stragglers took their seats.

"I'll let you know as quick as I can, Minerva," Dumbledore said distractedly, his attention on the house elf. "Where are they?"

"I take master!" It snapped its fingers and the two of them vanished only to reappear not far from Hagrid's hut.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snow had begun to fall lightly outside and immediately covered his glasses, obscuring his vision. Frowning, Dumbledore cast a soundless cleansing spell that would keep them clean so he could see what as going on. Before him was an angry group and standing silent and still in front of them was a centaur.

Apparently, the search parties had ended the hunt for the night and had just gathered at this spot before heading to the castle but spied the centaur first and halted to investigate. Seeing it was carrying a burden, the group of aurors and others immediately formed a semi-circle around the creature but didn't quite dare to enter the forest behind it to bracket it completely in fearing it might bolt back where it came from with its burden still on its back.

Recognizing the centaur, Dumbledore quickly pushed through the group to reach the creature before he was hurt by one of the others.

Lucius Malfoy stood within ten feet of the centaur, his fair face suffused with anger. Holding his cane high and pointing it menacingly at the centaur, he roared,"Let my son go, you worthless creature!"

"Peace, Lucius. Yelling abuse at him will not get him to do what you ask. Be patient and we'll see if we can't reason with him," Dumbledore quickly interjected, smoothly inserting himself between the centaur and the furious wizard. He knew the boy would not come to harm though he was puzzled and upset as to why Firenze, a sometime teacher of Divination at Hogwarts, would be a part of this affair. Perhaps he might get some answers at last at what was going on but only if he managed to keep hot tempers in check.

It was at that moment Hagrid chose to appear. For such a big person, he moved with quiet stealth out of the forest just behind the centaur. Apparently understanding what was transpiring, he veered to the right so as to come up beside Malfoy and the headmaster.

Fresh snow covered the half giant's head and shoulders making him look like a shaggy snowman. Hagrid eyed the situation quietly. "Excuse me, Professor Dumbledore, sir...but if you'll allow me, I might be able to persuade him to release the boy..."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The long trip to Hogwarts through the dark, cold forest had been brutal. To survive it, Draco reminded himself that this would be over soon and he'd be in the hospital wing getting his injuries healed. The thought of a long soak in a tub of blissfully hot water, some warm food for his poor abused stomach, and a warm bed after, made all he was going through almost bearable.

He was so focused on trying to keep his pain and discomfort at bay and just endure, he had failed to notice Firenze had slowed to a walk. It wasn't until the centaur halted completely that he realized the trees had thinned and they were on the edge of the forest at last. From his awkward, upside down position, Draco could just make out Hagrid's hut to their far right.

Firenze had felt the boy move and softly warned, "Speak not! They come!"

Draco realized the sounds he'd been hearing for some minutes, were the mutter of many voices getting louder as they approached the two of them. Firenze kept the forest at his back and Draco could feel his muscles tense as if he might turn and flee. The boy could hardly blame him. It sounded like an army swooping down on them but was most likely the search parties hunting for him and Severus. He made himself very still and listened.

The group halted and spread out. Draco knew this because he could just see the cloaks of three people from his position. Then one voice shouted, silencing the rest. It was a coldly angry and very familiar voice that made Draco wince in fear but he continued to hold his body still not daring to show he was aware of what was going on...not yet. However, he dearly hoped this standoff wouldn't last long.

His whole body hurt and he couldn't remember being this miserable before except for that one time, at age eight, his father sought to teach his son a lesson for misbehaving that day by leaving him outside the mansion doors in a snow storm for over an hour. His mother had been furious but she hadn't dared to interfere. He'd gotten a terrible cold and fever because of it.

This time, however, he'd willingly allowed himself to be mistreated and he was paying for it with his whole body aching fiercely and nearly frozen from the cold despite his use of a warming charm and Firenze's efforts to make the trip as quick as possible for him. At least he knew he wouldn't suffer for very long...that is, if his father allowed Mrs Pomfrey to treat him. The man could decide to take him straight home. There he would be questioned and, very likely, not receive treatment until he'd answered his father's questions and perhaps not even then. That possibility made him shiver with fear.

Please don't let that happen, he thought, anxiously.

He went limp with relief when he heard Hagrid's voice speaking softly to Dumbledore. He'd been worried the half giant wouldn't get here in time but he had and Dumbledore was here as well. Perhaps he would be able to stay as the headmaster wouldn't allow Draco's father to just waltz off with him. He listened as Hagrid asked to remove him from Firenze's back but, before the headmaster could answer, his father refused to allow it. Draco was left waiting to see what Dumbledore would do now but Firenze broke the deadlock.

"To you alone, Rubeus Hagrid, have I been tasked to deliver the boy."

Hagrid's voice came closer and he spoke directly to Firenze. "Then I will relieve you of your burden and thank you for its deliverance," he said quietly. He ignored Malfoy's hiss of anger.

Draco felt Hagrid's huge hands undo the rope that held him to Firenze's back then his body being lifted. "Thank you, sir," Hagrid said politely to Firenze then stepped away.

Using Hagrid's blocking body, Firenze wheeled about and quickly bolted off into the woods despite the shouts of 'Halt!' by Moody who shot a spell off but failed to connect as the centaur dodged it adroitly before vanishing among the trees.

"Curse it! We needed to question that beast!" Crouch snarled, angry and annoyed giving Hagrid a suspicious look which the half giant ignored as he turned to make for the castle.

But Malfoy stepped quickly in his way and shoved his arms out in a demand for his son. He too wasn't pleased the centaur had been allowed to escape but there was nothing he could do about it. Taking his boy from the half giant, he noted Draco's wrists and ankles were bound and muttered a spell that forced the ropes to left go and drop to the ground.

Draco, are you alright?" His father asked, pretending concern, as he held his son in his arms and noted all the injuries.

"Hurt...cold..." Draco moaned, not having to fake it at all and keeping his eyes closed.

"Let us get him inside, quickly," Dumbledore urged, coming closer to stare down at the boy in concern. "He needs to be seen by Madam Pomfrey to have his wounds treated and to be warmed immediately." He knew Lucius would want to take the boy away but with the aurors standing around wanting to question Draco, he didn't think the man would dare defy them. He was right.

"Very well, since it is closer, we'll do that, but I want to take him home for a few days afterwards so he can recover," Malfoy insisted.

"Nonsense! Once his injuries have been taken care of and he's warmed, he'll be fine. I must insist we be allowed to question him as soon as possible. After all, Professor Snape is still missing and your son is the only clue to him," Crouch insisted, waving off the father's concerns and rights.

Malfoy was annoyed but hid it well. He would rather take the boy home and question him there but he didn't dare disobey a member of the ministry. "Fine! Then let's be off." He stalked toward the castle, jolting the boy all the way.

Draco wisely refrained from cursing his father and clamped his teeth together to keep from crying out in pain due to his father's rather callous handling. He did shudder though and it wasn't because he was cold.

Dumbledore kept pace with Malfoy while behind them hurried the rest of the search party. Hagrid paused to watch Moody pick up the lengths of rope he'd used to tie Draco. He frowned a little in worry but didn't' think the retired auror would be able to detect anything from the ropes. Shaking his head mentally, Hagrid easily caught up with the group and followed close on their heels. He knew he couldn't just slip away without causing some suspicion. But his other reason for staying was to help Draco maintain their charade and to protect the boy from his own father. It was a bitter thing to see a father care so little for his own progeny but he'd seen it a lot in the wealthy and it filled him with disgust.

Chapter Text


While Draco was being carried off to the medical wing of Hogwarts, Snape was using his considerable will power to grimly keep pain at bay. Every bounce set his broken ankle to stabbing him like hot needles despite the care Hagrid had taken to stabilize it.

"How are you faring, Professor Snape," Ronan asked over his shoulder.

"As best as can be under the circumstances," Snape through tightly clenched teeth.

"My apologies for causing you even more pain. However, your misery is nearly over, we're within sight of the manor."

Snape peered around Ronan's shoulder the best he could from his upside down position and saw the upper floor of Riddle Manor against the darkening sky as his companion stepped out of the woods and began to climb the weed and brush choked hillside.

Riddle Manor had once been the pride of Little Hangelton, a beautiful and shining example of wealth, perched as it was on a high hill overlooking the village itself. However, it's fall from grace was plainly evident as seen by some of its windows being boarded up, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spread unchecked over its face. The place was a damp, dingy, and spooky hulk of its former self. The hillside, once a beautifully well tended place of lawns, gardens, and shade trees was now thoroughly overgrown and hidden making it nearly disappear into the landscape.

He knew the inside was just as bad. Only a few rooms had been made habitable the rest was allowed to look abandoned as if no one lived there for a very long time which was the Dark Lord's intention. It kept normal folk away by its strong feeling of evil emanating from it.

There were no house elves to make those areas the Death Eaters used clean and tidy as the poor creatures couldn't have handled leaving sections of the house deliberately messy.  Also, Voldemort didn't want their large ears hearing anything they could pass onto the Light. Though loyal, the creatures did have a habit of answering anything asked of them unless strictly ordered not to.   So no house elves to take care of even their basic needs. He hated living there the times he was required to by Voldemort. Not many of the others would either.  At this moment, there should be no more than four or five in residence at this moment...he hoped.

His musings were rudely interrupted when a swinging branch slapped against his face. The centaurs were finding it hard going as they forced their way through thick tangles of head-tall weeds and overgrown brush. Having his arms tied up kept Snape from preventing the plants from slapping, poking, jabbing and nearly pulling him off Ronan's back. The only luck he had was his hood covered his head and most of his face providing some protection.

Oh how he wished he was at Hogwarts with Draco receiving Madam Pomfrey's rather acerbic tongue-lashing while getting her undeniably gentle and excellent care, he sighed, wistfully. But no...here he was arriving at the most inhospitable place imaginable in the most humiliating position and being forced to wait to care for his own injuries. He shoved his brief bout of self-pity away and focused on what he was going to say to those waiting for him in the manor.

He and Magorian had chosen the rear approach to the house (despite knowing it would be a harder passage) because there were less homes and a small copse of woods nearby that would hide them as they traveled.

They'd arrived in Little Hangleton by apparition courtesy of Hagrid and Magorian (much to Snape's shock and surprise because he like other wizards hadn't been aware centaurs could do such a thing) after traveling to the edge of the Forbidden Forest near Hogsmeade. The reason for walking at all was to make Snape look like he'd been out for hours over a centaur's back.

The trip through the Forbidden Forest had taken more than a couple of hours and he could feel the results in his rib cage that was now thoroughly bruised and sore and his poor ankle throbbed incessantly, but it was vitally necessary for their cover story to work.

After arriving in Little Hangleton, Hagrid wished them a brief good luck before disapparating. He had to appear at Hogwarts before nightfall to play his part in all this. Once he'd left, their small group headed out using every bit of cover they could so as not to be seen by the mostly muggle population.

The day before this cold and pain-filled trip, Snape had taken Magorian aside to brief him on what they would encounter at Riddle Manor. Spell traps had been set at the rear entry from the copse of trees to the edge of an old pathway to the house. From there the wards extended around the house. His concern was how Magorian intended to get past both of these barriers. Obviously, Snape could not give him the spell to pass through the wards without giving away his status as a spy.

Magorian understood that very well and had shaken his head at Snape's question.

"Don't be concerned, Professor, I am quite capable of disarming the traps and as for the ward, I intend to bring it down not attempt to pass through it. You might say it's my less than subtle way of knocking on the door," he smirked.

Snape brows had risen in surprise. "I take it this has to do with the message you're giving them?" He not been told the contents of the message so he would appear just as surprised as those reading it. Magorian nodded.  Snape had shaken his head but didn't question the centaur further. He just hoped he wouldn't regret the surprise the elders had planned with that message of theirs. After all, he would be the one left to deal with the aftermath when they left.

He sighed then winced at a particularly sharp stab of pain from his ankle as Ronan made his way through a large patch of gorse bushes. They reached the first of the traps some minutes later but it didn't hold them up more than a moment as Magorian dispatched them with a casually muttered spell and a sneer of disdain at the lack of sophistication then continued onward.

Snape stared at the sad abode that drew closer and closer. A few lights shown from a couple of the upper windows signifying that some Death Eaters were indeed inside. Their journey finally ended when all felt the warding spell guarding the house. They halted and waited for Magorian to dispel it.

But before he did that, he signaled his warriors to hide themselves. The thick plant growth was an advantage now as it made it easier for them to vanish from view but still be at the ready for their leader's signal. So, within moments, only Ronan, Snape and Magorian were left in the open.

With very little effort, Magorian broke the ward with a brilliant pulse of purple light from his hand that lit the entire area for a brief moment. Satisfied, he trotted up the broken cobbled path that lead to the back door with Ronan staying just behind him, their hoofbeats muffled by the snow.

However, before they got within ten feet of the door it slammed open. Four people stood there in black robes and Death Eater masks with wands drawn, tips glowing green. They'd been prepared for an attack by the Light or the local constabulary so were surprised and wary when all that greeted them were two centaurs, one of which had a human tied to their back.

Both sides stared at one another for several minutes before the four Death Eaters cautiously stepped outside and onto the small porch, keeping the unwanted visitors under careful scrutiny and searching around for any other possible danger.

"What do you want here and how did you break the wards," one of them demanded in a harsh voice. Snape instantly recognized it as Nott.

He grimaced. Nott wasn't someone he wanted to deal with tonight but at least the man wasn't as bad as Mulciber. That worthy, fortunately, was still languishing in Azkaban.

Magorian stared coldly at the four, his arms across his chest, his posture unafraid and commanding, for several long minutes, making the Death Eaters uncomfortable and uneasy.  When he finally spoke, it was with a condescending tone, clearly showing his disdain and lack of fear. "We have something you've lost. Come take him and the message he holds."

Their body language showed the four were surprised and suspicious.  No one moved, as if they weren't certain how to react to this command.

"Be quick about it or we'll take him away again!" Magorian growled, stamping a front hoof to show his impatience.

"What is going on out here? Why haven't you dealt with the problem yet?" A female voice demanded angrily from inside the house.

"Hold on...we're trying to discover what's going on..." Nott called back to her over his shoulder, his voice angry at her interruption.

"Well it doesn't sound like you're even doing that. Let me pass and I'll see if I can get some answers," the female said nastily, now at the door and seeing what was going on and obviously not happy about their lack of action.

Snape could just picture Nott gritting his teeth while holding onto his temper. He wasn't particularly enamored of Bellatrix Lestrange but apparently didn't feel like dealing with her as in the next moment he stepped aside to let her pass him while keeping guard. Snape didn't like her either and wasn't happy that she was here tonight.

He watched surreptitiously as she approached. She wore no cloak against the cold and was dressed in her normal attire, a dark, long gown, with a tight bodice. The bottom of it swept the snow away as she walked toward him. Her hair was dark brown and was a wild mess of curls that rose high atop her head then draped about her face in long messy tresses like a mass of snakes. Her wand was out and pointed toward the three waiting patiently before her, halting a short distance from them.

Though it was plain they weren't happy with the way she was handling this, the male Death Eaters came forward and formed a protective wall behind her.

o*o

Bellatrix's expression was cold and haughty, the eyes holding a hint of madness as they raked over Magorian and Ronan before settling on the long form in black that draped inelegantly across the centaur's back.

"And who might this be that you've brought us?" She asked in a low throaty tone.

Magorian didn't respond. His eyes studied her in turn, his gaze as frosty as hers. After a pregnant moment, he gestured toward the body suggesting she come closer and look for herself.

Eying him suspiciously, Bellatrix stepped closer while keeping Magorian under careful watch. Reaching the body's front end, she used one hand to raise the head by its chin and stared in surprise at Snape's swollen face.

"Are you going to simply stare at me or get me off this bloody animal," Snape snarled, staring at her with anger and pain, not completely feigned.

"Well, Severus ...what have you gotten yourself into this time?" She asked archly, her eyes amused. "We've been searching for you for weeks."

Snape glared at her mutely.

"Take him or not but be quick about it. We don't intend to stand around this foul place any longer!" The lead centaur spoke suddenly, startling her, though she pretended he hadn't.

"You'll do what we say, if you know what's good for you," Bellatrix warned, stung by his manner and commanding tone.  She flicked her wand threateningly at him.

The leader, which she suspected was who he was, gave her an impatient look before making a hidden signal. Suddenly, the Death Eaters found themselves partly surrounded by well armed centaurs.

"Do you think me a fool? I would not come to a viper's lair alone," he sneered at her, tone dripping scorn.

Bellatrix looked around warily. They had wands on their side but the centaurs showed no sign of fear.  Since their abilities were largely unknown by wizarding kind, she wasn't certain how to proceed.

She decided to err on the side of caution. It bothered her the centaurs had not only found their hideout but had the power to dispel a ward made by their Dark Lord. That shouldn't be possible! Also, it was disturbing to see these the centaurs taking such a step when they'd been previously neutral in this war. None of these things made sense and it caused her to hesitate which, of course, made her angry. However, fighting these creatures when they were clearly bringing back the Dark Lord's favorite would be a stupid and dangerous move.

Bellatrix might be a bit insane but no one ever accused her of being stupid. "You needn't be rude about it. We'll take him," she said silkily, pretending she didn't care either way and putting her wand away. Turning to the watching Death Eaters, she barked, "Two of you get Snape down."

Hesitating only until they got a nod from Nott, which made Bellatrix even angrier, two of them put away their wands and cautiously approached the burdened centaur. One untied the rope holding Snape to the back of the creature while the other used his wand to vanish the ones around the man's wrists and ankles.

They helped him slid off the centaur's back only to grab him again before he was fully on his feet when he cried out in pain and started to fall.

"My ankle is broken you idiots!" Snape hissed at them.

Snorting in annoyance, Bellatrix pointed her wand and cast, "Wingardium Leviosa" at Snape's form which immediately became as light as a feather in the men's hands. Snape sagged a little in relief despite the odd sensation of feeling weightless. The two men on either side of him steadied and kept Snape from floating off.

"You can go now and don't come back here,"  Bellatrix said haughtily then strode to the doorway, turning her back on the centaur.

Expressionlessly, the leader gave a signal that sent his centaurs wheeling about.  They quickly vanished into the brush again, their leader bringing up the rear.

"Nott, you should probably put up a new ward. I'll take Severus to his room," Bellatrix ordered casually.

Nott's shoulder's tensed. He glanced after their vanished visitors a moment longer before responding to her. It pissed him off to have her treat him like some lackey even if the ward did need to get done.  Time to reassert some authority here.  "Fine. But don't question him until I'm present."

Bellatrix merely shrugged and headed inside. Turning her head to the other two men she said, "Help him to the potion's lab."

Without comment the pair did as ordered, gently guiding Snape's floating body toward the house like he was some kind of balloon.

"Make sure you don't bang his broken ankle against anything," she added somewhere ahead of them.

"Go open the door to the potions lab," she ordered the other man not aiding Snape. He pushed past the group, went down the hall then took the stairs that led to the basement.

o*o

Snape felt truly weird floating like this but at least his injuries weren't getting bumped or handled badly. However, it was very disorienting so he kept his eyes closed. He used the time to get his story straight. He hadn't expected to find Bellatrix here. She was harder to fool and dangerous to deal with.  Putting her off balance immediately, would be the best way to handle this, he thought. He'd have to try because injured as he was, he wasn't much of a match for her and four others right at the moment.

The two guiding his body placed him over his narrow bed in the corner of the potion's lab then Bellatrix released the spell, none too gently, causing him to fall the rest of the distance to the bed. He allowed a stronger cry of pain to escape him so she would think him more seriously injured than he was.

"That was uncalled for," he hissed at her angrily.

"Oh...does it hurt that much?" She said in a vicious, sugary way.

"What's been going on while I was imprisoned?" He retorted, not responding to her baiting.

Her eyes narrowed angrily. "Why should I tell you anything? You managed to get yourself kidnapped then returned. A much more important question is how did that come about and I suggest you answer or we can make your pain much worse."

"And incur the Dark Lord's wrath? I highly doubt even you are that stupid," Snape said snidely.

Her eyes widened in fury but she held herself back...barely.  He'd made her mad but not enough to strike him, perfect.

"Fine. Have it your way." She stalked around the room, touching bottles and books knowing it would make him irritated but he was careful to keep his face from showing it. "However, he will want answers so you might as well tell us..." Bellatrix returned to his side and leaned close to his ear to whisper, "...because he doesn't really care if you're hurt more during questioning as long as he has the potions he wants." She smirked nastily at him before moving off again.

Long practice helped him hold the snarl he wanted to vent from emerging. She was right about that. The Dark Lord had a habit of 'punishing' his followers for the least little reason and being injured wasn't enough to stay his hand. Not even he was immune from that behavior. Voldemort might not have a physical body right now but his presence, especially through Bellatrix, could still be a threat he could not ignore.

At that moment Nott arrived, at least the man's return had pulled Bellatrix's attention off him.  Snape could tell Nott was annoyed and pissed that he had to restore the wards then find his cohort trying to question their injured potion's master against his express wishes.  It was to Snape's benefit to keep them at each other.

He could see Nott was about to say something but then Avery spoke up and said something intelligent for once.  

"That centaur said there was a message..." he reminded everyone.

Okay, that would work as a distraction and besides, he was curious too about what he carried.  

Bellatrix stared at Avery as if she'd never seen him before then turned back to Snape, returning to his side. "Is that true? Do you carry a message?"

"I believe there is something pressing against my ribs on the right side. They stuck it between my shirt and robe," he admitted, freely.

Frowning, Bellatrix reached down and fished inside his robe, none to gently, and came up with a rolled parchment. She stepped away and proceeded to pull the ribbon off then unrolled the message. The others crowded around her as she read what it said aloud.

"We, the forest dwellers have stood by and watched wizard kind mismanage our world over the centuries. The stars say we will not have to tolerate this state of affairs much longer. Among wizard kind is one who holds the seeds of change for our world.

Here now is the prophecy of the stars that speaks of this new world and how it will come about! Pay heed to its words if you wish to survive what comes!

Those who follow darkness shall die,

Those who follow ignorance shall fall,

But those who follow the one who will bring a message of peace, progress, and a mission...

Will see our world be transformed!"

"What nonsense is this?" Bellatrix demanded of no one in particular.

Well that was vague enough to keep them from harming him, Snape thought, smiling inwardly.  It should also keep them busy for quite a while trying to interpret it too.

Chapter Text

"There now, is that better?" Madam Pomfrey asked, tugging the blankets up again to keep her patient warm as he lay propped up against some pillows.

Draco nodded, sipping the hot cup of cocoa she'd given him and sighing in relief now that all his pain and injuries had been drawn away instantly by some nasty potions. He was the only patient and had a corner of the ward to himself, however, he wouldn't be alone long once the medi-witch told those waiting he was fit again.

During his treatment, he focused on the story he and Snape fabricated for this moment. It was carefully crafted to contain just enough truth with the lies to, hopefully, keep him from being too closely questioned. Thankfully, using Veriteserum on minors was illegal or he'd be in real trouble. Though privately, Draco thought they might over rule the law in this case if Crouch felt it necessary. However, Snape had shook his head when his Godson voiced his concern.

"Professor Dumbledore wouldn't allow it and, fortunately, Crouch isn't inclined to over rule the headmaster." Draco only hoped he was right because now wouldn't be a good time to be wrong.

His Godfather had spent a couple of hours, the day before, grilling him like an interrogator so that Draco's answers were automatic and believable. It had been grueling but he thought he was ready. However, it's one thing to have a close family member do this but quite another when its your father, aurors, and Headmaster Dumbledore.

His only other defense were his newly trained mental defenses. Over the two weeks, he had been a diligent pupil for his Godfather and had worked for hours on his Legilimency and Occlumency skills.

Unlike Harry, Draco had been taught these things by his father to a rudimentary level, strong enough to protect against low level skilled wizards and fellow students, but not adepts. They had been unpleasant but effective lessons. Snape took that training to a higher level, improving them to the degree that the potion's master felt satisfied the boy could stand against skilled adults and even Dumbledore.

All that still didn't make Draco feel confident enough not to be nervous as he waited for his interrogation to begin. And here they come now. He warily watched the grim group approach his bed. A chill of fear ran down his spine at the cold look on his father's face. That alone almost made him want to hurl, if only to keep from being questioned. But that would only delay the inevitable and possibly make things worse.

Doing his best to swallow down his fear, he composed his face, letting the tiredness show (which wasn't feigned) and allowing a touch of fear, as any child in his position should be feeling, to appear in his eyes.

"Feeling better, son," his father asked, solicitously. He pitched his voice with jus the right amount of concern but his eyes betrayed his true feelings.

Draco's eyes dropped from those cold blue ones and murmured, "Yes, sir...a bit tired though..."

"Understandable!" Crouch interrupted in that brisk and rather rude way he had about him. "Now that you've had your injuries treated, we need some answers, young man."

"Yes, sir," he muttered sullenly. A behavior they all expected from him.

"Where have you been these past two weeks?"

The minister toady obviously had pulled rank which was why Dumbledore and his father didn't object though their faces clearly showed they weren't happy about it, Draco surmised. He wished Hagrid was here giving him strength by his presence but the half-giant had been dismissed almost immediately, something he had warned the boy would likely happen.

Anger flashed in him for a second about how shabbily Hagrid was treated, but that was immediately followed by guilt. Not so long ago, he too had treated the man as if he were a non-entity.

'Never judge a book by its cover' should be my standard from now on because it's proving true too often lately, he thought ruefully.

Steadying himself, he prepared to handle this all alone. "Only that I was taken deep into the Forbidden Forest for miles then shoved into some dank cave for two weeks," he grumbled, hoping he was putting on a convincing act of resentment.

Frowning, Crouch, demaned, "...and who took you?"

Draco grimaced in distaste. "Centaurs...smelly creatures."

"Why?"

"I have no idea!" He huffed. "They didn't deign to talk to me! Didn't say much but grunt and mutter things to each other. Their leader, I guess that's who it was, did check on me every other day or so but never spoke to me nor answered my questions." His voice dripped with disgust and annoyance. "Mostly, I was left alone with about four of those creatures and guarded round the clock."

"They had to sleep sometime..." Lucius interjected flatly, eyes narrowed in suspicion. He smelled a lie but couldn't be certain. "You should have found a way to escape."

His interruption earned him a cold stare and a warning from Crouch and an order that didn't allow Draco to answer his father, for which he was grateful. "This is my interrogation, Mr. Malfoy," he warned Lucius coldly then turned to Draco again. "Young man, I want you to give us a complete and as thorough a report you can from the moment you were taken to when you were released," he ordered.

Sighing, Draco pretended to think hard then told a tale of complete fabrication to his listeners. The story they'd concocted told of his harrowing trip through the dark forest, the arrival at a large, deep cave in a mountainous area, his incarceration in a smaller cave within, the number of guards and how often they were switched out, Magorian's visits, the taking of his wand, etc.

Then he added things he knew his father expected him to complain about which would make the whole thing even more believable. "They fed me only once a day. I was never allowed out of the cave so I had to use a small section of the space as my toilet...it was so humiliating. I had only hay to sleep on and a rude sort of blanket that smelled of horses to try and keep warm. I suppose I would have frozen if the leader hadn't cast a warming spell on me..." he was immediately interrupted, as he knew he would be.

"Warming spell?" Lucius shouted, shocked. "Centaurs shouldn't be capable of spell casting." His eyes flashed with outrage.

Dumbledore was shocked as were the other aurors. The forest dwellers were magical but none were known to actually use magic the same way as wizards did. This was unprecedented and could cause a panic if the general public learned of it.

Crouch was just as stunned but also annoyed with the senior Malfoy. "If you cannot be silent, I will cast a silencio on you, sir."

Lucius glared at the man. "How can the ministry be unaware of what these creatures are capable of?" He demanded, ignoring the threat.

Crouch's eyes flashed with anger but his voice was flat and even. "We at the ministry have no more idea how these creatures can do such things than you, Mr. Malfoy. That is why this event must be thoroughly investigated but right now I need what the boy knows so stop interrupting! This is your last warning!"

Lucius almost spoke again but snapped his mouth shut at the look of determination and the appearance of Crouch's wand to know the man meant business. He settled into sullen silence.

Draco shivered. His father would be especially hard on him later he was certain.

"Please continue, boy," Crouch barked, drawing Draco's attention back to his fake explanation.

He shrugged. "Not much more to say except that I did try to escape, once! But once was enough to know I wasn't going to leave my prison unless they let me. It was the third day being in the cave when all four centaurs went outside. I thought this was my chance and made my way to the front as quiet as I could. Peering out, I didn't see my guards and looking about I spied a way for me to scramble up the rocks where the centaurs couldn't follow me. I made it halfway up the embankment when I was jumped by spiders. I admit to screaming as I turned and fled back the way I came. I slipped and fell to the cave mouth and my captors arrived in time to keep me from being eater...or so I thought. Once I was tossed back in my tiny cave, only then did I realize the spiders hadn't made an attempt to bite me at all so I had to believe they were being controlled or working with the centaurs. After that, I never tried again." Draco paused to sip some of his cocoa as his throat was getting dry and sore.

No one moved or said a thing while he did this so he went on. "Days went on like that until one morning, very early, I was unceremoniously picked up, hog tied like a lamb to market, then thrown onto the back of a centaur. It was a long, cold, painful trip. The rest you know," Draco finished. He fervently hoped they bought his story.

"And the centaurs never spoke to you...not once the whole time?" Crouch asked again.

"No...not at any time. I had nothing to do but sleep and stare outside my hole. I listened but none of them said anything I could understand so I gave up. I hated how I was missing Christmas and New Years and was very miserable."

"They didn't give you a message...nothing?" Crouch pressed, unable to believe they would just take the boy for no reason then return him. It didn't make sense.

"Oh...yes they did... the leader stuffed a message in my shirt..." Draco made as if to get it then remembered he'd been stripped the moment he got into the hospital wing.

"I believe I saw that when I took his clothes off...just a moment," Madam Pomfrey said and hurried off. Moments later, she returned with a roll of parchment in her hand.

Crouch took possession immediately before anyone else could and unrolled it. He frowned in confusion after reading the brief message.

"May I?" Dumbledore asked, pointedly holding his hand out. Crouch was reluctant to let go of the parchment but did so after a long moment's hesitation. Unrolling it, Dumbledore read it aloud:

"We, the forest dwellers have stood by and watched wizard kind mismanage our world over the centuries. The stars say we will not have to tolerate this state of affairs much longer. Among wizard kind is one who holds the seeds of change for our world.

Here now is the prophecy of the stars that speaks of this new world and how it will come about! Pay heed to its words if you wish to survive what comes!

Those who follow darkness shall die,

Those who follow ignorance shall fall,

But those who follow the one who will bring a message of peace, progress, and a mission...

Will see our world be transformed!"

With the same looks of confusion and puzzlement that the Death Eaters greeted the missive, those listening had the same expressions.

"What the devil does all that mean and why would they send such drivel to us?" Malfoy asked, scowling.

"Centaurs are known for their cryptic messages, especially those divined from the stars. Though I've never heard of them being able or willing to give such a precise message before. Theirs are mostly vague warnings of coming wars, large scale conflicts, and such," Dumbledore said, thoughtfully.

He had some inkling of who and what this meant be pertaining too but he needed some time alone to study it first before he could assume anything. He waved his wand over the parchment and made a copy before Crouch could object, knowing the ministry official would insist on taking the original missive to do tests on it. Scowling, Crouch took the original back. As Dumbledore thought, the man wasn't happy about having someone else with the document.

He then asked a question of Draco that he wasn't certain Crouch would bother considering how he felt about the potion's master. "Draco, did you see Professor Snape?" Do you have any idea where he might be?"

Draco made his eyes wide as if hearing this news for the first time and asked, innocently and with concern, "Professor Snape? Was he taken too?" Dumbledore nodded. "No sir, I never saw or heard anything about him. Is he still gone?"

He must have done a good job of acting because the headmaster seemed to believe him, looking only dismayed and unhappy. "Yes he is. I'm afraid you were the only one returned."

Insuring his face showed only his distress about his head of house, Draco said, "Perhaps, he'll be returned soon then since I was?"

"We can only hope my boy." Dumbledore turned to Crouch. "Are there anymore questions you need to ask of Draco, Minister Crouch?"

Crouch frowned and studied the boy keenly. "Not at the moment but I reserve the right to question him later if something new comes up."

"Of course."

"Then, we'll leave and let the boy get some rest. I want to take this document back to the ministry so we can examine it properly," Crouch said, more to himself than the rest in the room.

Taking that as meaning the interrogation of Draco was at an end, the other aurors began filing out and disappearing through the floo network, leaving Crouch, Dumbledore, and Malfoy near the bed with Pomfrey hovering not far away.

Malfoy eyed his son narrowly. "I still think I should take my son home..."

"Unless he wants to go, I see no need to disrupt his schooling, Lucius," Dumbledore said quietly.

"I'd rather rest a bit and go to school tomorrow, father," Draco, said carefully.

Malfoy's eyes flashed annoyance and anger but kept a veneer of concern on his face. "If you are certain, Draco?"

"Yes, father."

"Very well. I'll let your mother know you're safe and well," Malfoy said reluctantly then turned to Dumbledore. "I expect to be kept informed of his health and what progress is made on finding out why he was kidnapped in the first place."

"I'm sure Minister Crouch would be the person to ask about that, Lucius. But on your son, if anything changes we'll notify you immediately," Dumbledore assured him.

Scowling, the senior Malfoy eyed Crouch sourly but nodded and stalked from the room for the floo. Crouch rolled the parchment up with a snap, tucked it into his coat, gave Dumbledore a curt nod then left as well.

Draco went limp but eyed the headmaster warily. The old wizard seemed to be thinking deeply but he roused enough to give Draco a warm smile. "Get some rest Draco. I am sorry you missed the holidays and, if you wish it, I could have the house elves send you up some of the treats you missed, eh?"

Draco wanted to smile but that wasn't in character. Sighing inwardly, he put on a sulky face and said, "I would have rather been home enjoying the riches of my home but, I guess what you offer is better than nothing. Thank you."

Dumbledore hid a small smile and gave Draco a grave nod before leaving the boy alone. He felt the boy was only being prickly because it was expected of him but he knew it was mostly an act. He sighed sadly as he prepared to floo back to his office. Poor boy, his is a hard life.

Throwing a handful a powder into the fireplace, he said firmly, "Headmaster's office!" Then stepped in and disappeared.

Madam Pomfrey stepped forward and checked Draco a moment, took his empty cup and insured he had fresh water nearby. "I have no objection you to having a treat, but no leaving the bed and I expect you to rest. I'll be sure to wake you in time to go to your house to prepare for school."

"Thank you." He said a surely. She nodded, taking no offense, and disappeared into her offices.

With her departure, Draco could finally relax completely. It seemed he their ruse had succeeded much to his relief. He closed his eyes for a bit while he waited for the house elves to arrive with his treat.

Though his vacation had ended on a nasty note, he did at least have a truly wonderful, exiting, and information-filled, Christmas Holiday...the best he'd had since he was very little. He refused to think about what his father had planned for him and that it was still a possibility if Harry's plans to end the Dark Lord didn't happen before the next time he went home.

I hope Harry and Severus put an end to that creature soon so my mother and I can live in peace finally. Maybe next Christmas, Harry could come spend it with me, he smiled to himself. Mother would be shocked.

Just then, a house elf appeared holding a silver tray filled with all manner of treats and laid it on the small table next to his bed. He didn't feigned his pleasure and thanked the elf who smiled in surprise then popped out of sight leaving the boy alone.

Once replete with goodies, he sighed, drank some water, then sank down into his bedding and went to sleep, a smile on his lips.

Chapter Text


"What are we supposed to do with that?" Nott asked, voicing his disgust at the message Bellatrix still held unrolled in her hands.

"Interpret it, of course. When the Dark Lord returns he will want to know about this as soon as possible and it would be to our benefit if we'd found the answers to the riddle rather than present him with it as is," Snape drawled, insolently, then winced as he moved his broken ankle injudiciously.

Bellatrix glared at him. "Of course we have to figure it out, but it makes no sense...so how do we start getting answers?" She reluctantly asked. Figuring out puzzles was not her forte and she knew it so despite her annoyance with Snape, she knew she would have to work with him on this or Lucius. She grimaced at that last thought.

Malfoy had been involved in the search for his son as well but had only succeeded in losing the Dark Lord even more of his supporters. She thought of him as a posing fool, always fawning at the master's feet while scheming behind his back. Snorting, she turned her thoughts back to the problem at hand and Snape in particular.

"I'm afraid I'm in too much pain to do any researching right now. I need my potions and rest..." Snape began before she rudely interrupted him.

"You should answer my questions first, Severus. How did you come to be kidnapped in the first place and why didn't you escape before now?" She demanded.

Nott scowled at her, angry that she would think she was in charge. However, since she was far more intimidating (not that he would admit that aloud) than himself, he would allow her to try and get some answers before stepping in himself.

Snape glared at her haughtily. "You are not in charge, Bellatrix...McNair is. The only reason I'm not next in line is my duties as spy keeps me too occupied," he reminded her coldly.

Her eyes narrowed as she leaned over him menacingly. "McNair and Dolohov are both in Azkaban and, as you said, you are not normally available and since it is you that is involved in this event, it is you that must answer for what happened," she said with perfect logic.

She was right, damn it. Snape sighed inwardly. Well he hadn't intended to make this that hard so began to give the carefully crafted lie Hagrid and he had come up with. "You should already know how I was taken, but in case you weren't paying attention to what was going on..." he said, deliberately disparaging their abilities in keeping tabs on the order knowing it would irritate and, hopefully distract them. It worked a little...making Nott's eyes flare and Bellatrix's lips tighten with anger and annoyance.

"... I was part of that benighted search for Draco when my group was set upon by a swarm of Acromantula. As we were trying to beat off the attack, a centaur came charging through and snatched me. The brute swung me up onto his back and in the process, hit my head against a tree so I was no longer aware of much after that. I woke with a severe headache and hypothermia from the cold just as the centaur arrived at a cave somewhere in the Forbidden Forest. Three others waited him there and one hauled me off the other's back like I was nothing more than a sack of flour. I was carried into the cave which was mostly empty and fairly small. Setting me down in a smaller cave at the back, I was allowed to rest...one of them shocked me by setting a warming spell on my body then deliberately broke my ankle all with wandless magic. Of course, they had already disarmed me so I couldn't retaliate."

"Tha...that's impossible! They can't possible use wandless magic!" Nott stuttered, shock and disbelieve warred on his face.

"I beg your pardon but were you there? That is what I saw and felt," Snape said coldly.

"That's not possible. They're just beasts..." Nott repeated, unable and unwilling to believe what the potion's master was saying.

Though equally stunned, Bellatrix wasn't so stupid that she didn't realize what the implications of what Snape had revealed could mean to the Dark Lord's plans. Her face tightened as she thought hard on what to do next.

"How is it we know so little of their abilities?" She demanded to know.

"I would assume extreme prejudice as exhibited by Nott and all other wizards is responsible. We believe what we want to believe even if it isn't true. It turns out, many of the forest creatures aren't as dumb as we assumed. Witness what they just did by working together to kidnap me and perhaps Draco as well, hide us, then return me without a single auror finding me," Snape said bluntly. "By the way, do you know if Draco was found?"

"No, we haven't heard anything from that direction since you both were taken," she answered, shortly, unconcerned about the Malfoy boy. "So they broke your ankle and used wandless magic?" He nodded. "What else did you learn and why didn't you attempt to escape?" she demanded, pacing before his bed in angry agitation.

"Nothing as no one would speak with me. My demands for answers were met with indifference. I might as well have been an inanimate object. Anyway, even if I could have managed to get past the agony of broken bones, I still couldn't have escaped with a hoard of those Acromantula's surrounding me."

Nott couldn't resist shivering at the thought of a whole swarm of Acromantula watching with all those eyes. He blinked as something occurred to him. "How did they keep those spiders from attacking them? I didn't think those buggers listened to anyone or had enough brains to do more than hunt, eat, and sleep."

"That's when I learned they aren't as stupid as we thought. They were working with the centaurs not for them or controlled by them," Snape told him, smirking inwardly at the reaction to that news by the pair. Actually, that had surprised him as well when he learned of it from Hagrid. Never again would he think that all the creatures in the forbidden forest as being mindless beasts. Too be sure there were some that were just animals but there were a nearly equal number that were actually intelligent.

Nott just gaped at him, Bellatrix on the other hand...

"I don't believe you. Intelligent spiders...really!" Snape just looked at her. "Fine, whatever. So you expect me to believe the centaurs said nothing to you nor talked among themselves the whole time you were there?" Bellatrix looked askance at him, not believing a word.

Snape just stared at her like she was some dimwitted student, knowing it would make Bellatrix angrier. "I don't care what you believe or not, it's what happened. It was a miserable and cold two weeks. I was kept barely fed and warm the whole time. Then suddenly as the sun was coming up this morning and without a word spoken, a centaur came into my cave, tied my legs and wrists, carried me out to a centaur waiting outside, and threw me on its back. We took off at a good clip through the forest and were met by a larger group at midday. They never stopped to eat, just kept traveling for hours through the snow before finally pausing in some clearing where they apparated as a group to arrive beside the river some miles from here. Then we traveled here and it was obvious to me they knew exactly where they were going as they never asked me for directions."

"How did they manage to travel so far and not be seen," Nott asked, not thinking.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Not difficult if one stays in the woods and it being winter, no one was about to see them."

"How did they bring down the traps then the ward?" Bellatrix asked, suddenly. Apparently, she realized what else the centaurs had done they shouldn't have been able to.

"I wasn't really in a position to see. I only know they didn't seem to have any trouble deactivating the traps and I could only feel the ward go down but not who did it among them," he lied smoothly.

Nott shook his head finding this all hard to believe while Bellatrix looked worried and angry.

"The Dark Lord needs to know about this..." she muttered more to herself than him.

"Certainly, but since he's not been around at all, that will be difficult," Snape reminded her.

She glared but said nothing as it was only the truth. "Regardless, we need to figure this message out and find a way to deal with whatever it says," she decided.

"Good idea but I recommend you getting Lucius to help you. I need to heal and rest from my ordeal. Nott, I need some potions from that cabinet..." Snape requested, pushing himself to a seated position, wincing at the pain that still thrummed through him.

Bellatrix snorted and shook her head. "Not just yet, Severus...why did they take you and maybe Draco? What made you two the targets? How did they know to bring you here when they could have taken you to Hogwarts?"

Snape rolled his eyes deliberately. "Did you miss the part where I said they didn't talk to me Bellatrix? I don't have any answers to your questions. And we don't know if that's what happened to Draco though the odds are high it's true. Someone needs to check with our spies within the ministry or ask Lucius if there's been any news on the boy. If I was returned Draco may have been also. We need to see if his story matches mine. Perhaps they took me because they know of my affiliation with the Dark Lord and wanted that message to get to him? I just don't know."

Bellatrix eyed him thoughtfully. "Not a good situation for you Severus if they do."

Snape was smart enough to pretend that bothered him. "Nothing I can do about it if they do. However, since they have no love for wizards on either side, I doubt they will care what side I'm on as long as their message got where they wanted it."

"That means they may have sent a similar message with Draco," Bellatrix mused thoughtfully. "Hmm...you may be right Severus, we do need to find out. Avery, go find Lucius and tell him we need to see him as soon as possible."

Avery who had been standing in a corner trying to look invisible started. "Where am I supposed to find him? If he's with the hunting parties I can't seek him there nor go to Hogwarts."

Bellatrix huffed out a breath of irritated air. "His home, you dolt!"

"Right," Avery said, quickly then disappeared out the door. His footsteps could be heard running up the stairs.

"Now may I get what I need to heal myself?" Snape demanded.

Bellatrix smirked nastily at him and left without saying anything. Before Nott could follow her, Snape stopped him.

"If I must heal at a normal rate, than I can't help with the puzzle of the message now can I?" He said coldly.

Nott stared out the door indecisively for a moment before turning back with an irritated look on his face. He walked over to the potion's cabinet then asked, "What do you need?"

Inwardly Snape smirked evilly. He could easily get them himself once Nott left but he needed to assert his authority a bit more over Nott so the man wouldn't get any ideas he could lord it over Snape. That attitude could cause the potion's master trouble later so he was glad to get the big lunk to obey him.

"The Skele-Grow is in that bottle to your left and I need those two green bottles just above it and a spoon from the drawer."

Scowling, Nott grabbed the indicated bottles with ill-grace, jerked open the only drawer in the cabinet and grabbed a large spoon then turned back to the bed to hand the items over to Snape.

Hurriedly, Snape quickly unstoppered the Skele-Grow and took a healthy two spoonfuls, grimacing at the taste then took a tablespoon each of the other two bottles. Though his mouth had a gross taste in it now, he sighed in relief as he felt the potions go to work.

"Here, put them back. I'll need to rest for as long as I can. I suggest you get your report ready in your mind of what happened and write it down so you have it ready when he finally asks for it," he warned Nott.

Gritting his teeth at being reminded the Dark Lord might very well return at any moment and demand a lot of answers, he angrily took the bottles and thumped them onto the cabinet sideboard then stomped out of the room, shutting the door behind him. Only when Snape heard his footsteps vanish from the stairs, did he finally allow himself to relax.

Using wandless magic, he conjured a large glass of water which he gratefully chugged down, both to get rid of the taste in his mouth and to cure his intense dehydration from the long ride.

Setting the cup on his night stand, he laid down with a long sigh. He gestured and made his shoes come off, hissing as his freed ankle throbbed violently. Another gesture stripped his outer clothing off so he would be comfortable. Next, he gestured for the thick quilt laying over a chair nearby to float toward him then drop to cover his body. And, finally, he set his wards so the others couldn't sneak in on him and see he'd made himself comfortable and wonder how he'd done it.

Now wouldn't they be shocked to know I too can do wandless magic, he smirked to himself then winced as pain throbbed throughout his body. It took a concerted effort for him to shut out the pain and allow the potions to send him off into the darkness of oblivion.

Chapter Text


Harry gave Darius a tight hug then pulled away, smiling as he said farewell at King's Cross Station. "I'll miss you all. It was a fabulous Christmas."

"It was indeed, Harry. I just hope poor Draco and Severus are doing alright. Please send me an owl as soon as you know their status," Darius requested.

"I will. I just hated how it had to end that way," Harry sighed. Then shrugged. "Ah well, that was the way it had to be. Ready to go Wine," he said to his familiar who rode on his shoulder at the moment.

"Meow!" The kneazle said emphatically. Both the humans laughed.

"He must really like Hogwarts to be in such a hurry to get back," Darius observed, amused. "I dare say, we hardly saw him around when we were home."

"That's because he spends a lot of his time with his fellow kneazles and others of the forest when we're there." Harry said, shrugging. A loud train whistle interrupted them. Sighing, he prepared to leave his friend. "Guess, we'd better get going. Take care."

"You as well." Darius stepped back and watched as Harry placed Wine inside his coat then grasped his cart and made for the pillar that would get him to the proper platform. Within minutes, he was walking along the cars of the Hogwart's Express. He paused a moment before reaching the baggage car to wait for Hedwig to arrive.

She had been on a roof nearby and called to him to warn she was flying in. She landed daintily near her cage then stepped inside. Harry shut the door and gave her an owl treat. "Hello, my love, have a nice flight?" He asked as he began to move again. She hooted at him and bobbed her head. "That's good to know. You get some rest and I'll see you at the castle," he said as he handed his things over to the loading crew. She gave him a parting hoot.

Smiling, he headed off toward the passenger cars and boarded. He hadn't seen his friends yet, as he searched for an empty car or them, whichever came first. About halfway through the third car he traveled, he heard familiar voices. Stopping, he pulled open a door and was happy to see Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Luna. They shouted happy greetings to him as he found a seat next to Hermione and sat down.

"Harry! We were beginning to worry you'd miss the train," Hermione said.

"I was running a bit late but I least I did make it," he said smiling. "Everyone have a great Christmas?"

"Oh, definitely! Wait till I tell you about all that my family saw in America," Hermione said, excitedly and proceeded to regale them with all the exciting things she'd seen and did.

For once her scholerly manner of speaking made the events of her holiday interesting and not boring to the ears. Everyone took turns asking her all manner of questions about America until they'd rung nearly everything out of her.

Though she liked to talk, Hermione was hardily glad when the trolley lady arrived with her cart full of goodies. Her voice needed a break, but she was happy nonetheless as everyone was just as taken with her trip as she had been.

Harry treated everyone to a nice sampling of all the things on the trolley, ignoring protests that he really shouldn't. He enjoyed doing this once in a while. Money was meant to be spent not hoarded (though he did know it was a good idea to have enough for the future set aside).

As everyone enjoyed the treats, Harry asked, "How was your Christmas, Ron? Did your older brothers make it?"

Ron's face lit up with joy and pleasure as he remembered how great this year had been. "Oh yes, and it was the best Christmas ever, with lots of things to eat and wonderful stuff Charlie and Bill brought as gifts. And, best of all, no attacks by Death Eaters to spoil things."

"I'll second that!" Neville said, smiling shyly. "I'm afraid my Christmas was fairly quiet but it was nice...for once." That last he said more softly than the rest.

Normally, he was stuck with stuffy visits to people he didn't know well but were part of his Gran's circle of acquaintances. But this year, to his surprise, his Gran had taken him to see his parents at St. Mungos,then, to ease the sadness of that visit, they went to a London mall and walked around seeing all the wonderful Christmas decorations and light displays. And when they'd gotten tired and seen their fill, she treated him to a very nice dinner in a popular joint rather than one of those upscale, snobby places. He didn't know what had prompted his rather tight-laced and proper grandmother to do this but it had made it a marvelous Christmas for the first time since he was forced to live with her.

Harry gave him a rather sad smile. He knew it was very rough for Neville living with his rather demanding Grandmother since his parents were at St. Mungo's in the mental ward due to a curse from Bellatrix. Snape had told him about it and it had made him very angry. His smile went hard as he thought of how he'd like to put her away ... permanently and find some way to cure Neville's parents. He'd asked Darius if there was any muggle way to help but his friend shook his head with a regretful look on his face.

"Since it was a curse, I'm afraid not, Harry," He'd said, sadly. "But perhaps, the old ones might know something?"

"Hmm, well I guess I could get Hagrid to ask..." Harry said thoughtfully then hadn't found the time to do that yet.

Well with the holidays over he needed to bring it up, as well as the other matter they had to deal with as well. He sighed and returned his attention to the present just as Ron asked him how his Christmas had been. "Very interesting and a lot of fun. We had lots of guests and great food with fantastic gifts. I think it was the best one I can remember."

"That's great, Harry." Hermione smiled, glad the orphaned boy had such a loving family to protect him since the loss of his parents. "What about you, Luna? How was your holiday?"

"Oh, my father put up a small tree, we decorated it, then went hunting for a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. We didn't find one but we did have an enjoyable holiday," the girl said, smiling vacantly.

Everyone else made polite noises then Hermione asked, "Did anyone hear if Draco has been found?"

Ron snorted derisively, but answered readily enough. "My dad had to muck around in the snow for most of the holiday looking for that git...uh...him," altering what he was about to say when he saw Harry's eyes narrow in displeasure.

"They couldn't find any signs and he was allowed to go home while the rest of the order and aurors continued on with the search. Didn't hear no more about it since then. By the time the holiday was over, there still wasn't any word on him nor Professor Snape either. Hey! Do you suppose that means we'll have a substitute for potions? That would be brilliant!" He finished grinning at the possible prospect.

"Who knows. Guess we'll find out when we get there," Harry said, carefully, while hiding his amusement.

"I would like to know who did it and why," Hermione said, frowning. "Are their any guesses?"

Ron shook his head. "My dad was very tight lipped about it all. No one's talking so we'll just have to wait and see if anyone at school knows anything."

"I heard it was the forest dwellers," Luna said, tranquilly. The others (except Harry) gaped at her.

"Why on earth would they want to do something as daft as that?" Ron blurted.

"Perhaps to get the wizarding communities attention. They are, after all, always being put down and belittled. They might be doing this to tell everyone they've had enough, or so my father suspect," Luna said, her guileless eyes seeming to look through them and beyond as she spoke.

Harry eyed her curiously. Luna was a puzzle but he had a suspicion she wasn't as air-headed as she seemed. Nor was her father as radical and odd as everyone said he was. Hagrid might find their beliefs and way of thinking rather interesting. As for himself, he thought she might be a good candidate for his growing inner circle of believers who want to change the wizarding world's attitudes on a number of subjects. He filed that away for now and promised to get to know Luna a bit better in the days to come. He would need people like her when he set his plans in motion.

After more speculation about who might have done the kidnapping and why the pair had been taken in the first place was hashed out over the next hour, the group finally drifted off to their own pursuits as the train continued on into the falling night.

With it quiet now within the car, Harry turned his head and stared out the falling snow as it hissed past his window. It had been a great Christmas, he thought, but I wish I'd had time to see Sirius. They were supposed to have gotten together sometime during the two weeks but something had come up. A message had reached him from Sirius that the man was being sent on a secret mission and wouldn't be back until the middle of January.

Poor Sirius! He would have liked the Christmas we had, but then I'd have to tell him about the Hagrids. The elders were firm that this must not happen. They knew of Sirius and felt the wizard was not completely trustworthy enough to know just how involved the forest dwellers were in the affairs of wizards and muggles. So Harry was not to say anything about his affiliation with them until they declared Sirius safe.

Though they did admit Harry's Godfather was peripherally aware of their existence, they said his interaction was limited and he still held the same attitudes as the rest of wizard kind about them. His prejudice was the greatest detriment against him right now.

Harry had objected to their summation of Sirius but was over ruled and had to accept that, in this, the elders were more informed than he and were only thinking of his welfare and safety. But he still didn't like it.

As his eyelids began to droop in sleep, his last thoughts were, I hope he's safe wherever he is.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Hours later, the Hogwarts Express pulled into the quiet station at Hogwarts. The whistle blew loudly announcing its arrival to one and all. Students poured from the cars, excited voices filled the air as they streamed to their vehicles for the ride to the castle proper. Many voiced surprise when they weren't met by Hagrid as normal. Instead many house elves appeared to take snap their baggage to their rooms, startling many of the familiars in their cages as they were disapparated from the baggage car to the dorm rooms or owlery in the blink of an eye. The owls were immediately released from their cages and fed while the others would have to wait for their owners to appear.

The children poured into the school foyer and into the dining room immediately. Nearly all were starving. Another surprise awaited them. Professor Dumbledore wasn't there to greet them at the high table. As they took their seats, questions were rife among them as to what was going on. The younger ones were a bit fearful.

Harry was probably the only one who wasn't concerned. It simply confirmed to him that Draco had made it back safely and, though he didn't see the boy over on the Slytherin side, he knew Draco would be down probably by tomorrow if Ms. Pomfrey released him by then. Smiling secretly to himself, he began to serve up.

After escorting her charges into the hall, Professor McGonagall stood at the table and demanded attention.

"As you all can see Headmaster Dumbledore is absent to greet you. As many of you know, Draco Malfoy had been kidnapped at the beginning of the Christmas break. You will be happy to learn, he has been returned and is, presently, in Madame Pomfrey's capable hands. He should be back with you tomorrow or the next day. I hope you all had a restful and enjoyable holiday. Please eat and go directly to your rooms after dinner. You may begin..." she said the last with a flourish that made the food appear instantly before them.

Voices erupted in speculations and gossip about Malfoy as they all set to serving themselves. Added to the cacophony were their shared news about everyone's holidays. McGonagall seated herself but didn't look very happy, her eyes straying toward the entryway every few minutes or so. She also didn't encourage the other teachers to talk with her except for a brief word or too.

Harry could imagine she was fairly eaten up with curiosity about what Draco was telling those up in the medical ward. He just hoped the boy managed to keep his secrets against the formidable array of adults facing him.

"Well, there's your answer," Ron said, heaping his plate full. "The git is back."

That nasty comment made Harry bristle but he said nothing as he had about given up trying to make Ron see Draco in a different light. Until the boy was taught the world didn't' revolve around separate houses and their petty rivalries, there was no point in trying to change Ron's mind. However, he was pleased to see someone else wasn't happy with the red head's comment.

"Ron...that's not nice and I'm tired of hearing it from you," Hermione snapped at the boy. Ron gaped at her in surprise. "I'm glad he's been returned unharmed. Now if only we knew why he'd been taken..." She continued as if he was beneath her notice. That stung him even more. She chose some turkey and potatoes from huge platters set near her refusing to take the offer of a roll from Ron.

Harry smirked to himself. Maybe there was hope for him yet as Ron hated being snubbed even if he didn't care for girls just yet.

In a more sulky tone, Ron grunted, "Don't know if we'll get those answers even when he's released. Have to wait until the gossip goes round to find out." He went back to eating but left one parting remark. "He's probably being grilled as we speak." He didn't' hide how that pleased him but someone else was just as concerned by Draco's welfare, much to Harry's surprise.

Neville, sitting next to Ron, grimaced unhappily. "I don't envy him that attention," he said quietly, putting more sweet potatoes on his plate. Though he had no love for Draco, he didn't wish such a thing on the boy. It was no fun being the center of so much harsh adult attention. Even someone with an arrogant attitude like Malfoy's wouldn't fare so well with Aurors staring and barking questions at them.

Neville would have been surprised to know that Harry shared his concern and worry. I just hope he fends them off but the worst will be his father. He'll be lucky if he manages to keep from being taken home. That thought sent a shiver down his back. What the elder Malfoy would do to his son if he managed to have him alone, wasn't something he wanted to even thing about.

He nibbled on a biscuit and worried. I'm going to go crazy wondering what is happening in the medical ward right now. And forget trying to sleep. Wait! I could send Wine to check for me. He hid his smile. I'll send him out as soon as we're all to bed. Oh, I'd better save him some of this feast too.

He produced a small ziplock bag from an inner pocket of his robes and began slipping small samples of meat into it then sealed it closed, returning it to his pocket. He loved these bags. Far better than a napkin that had to be washed and weren't very good for transporting wet goods at all. He used the ziplocks for a lot of things but kept them hidden as he didn't want them confiscated as being inappropriate for wizards...which he thought totally ridiculous.

Darius had been amused when Harry had asked him to purchase a box of the nifty bags, made by the Americans in some form or other since 1968, for him at a large market in London. Most villages near the forest didn't use much of the modern marvels from out in the world but the larger cities did.

The only downside of the bags were their inability to break down once disposed of. Because of that, he usually washed and reused them until they wouldn't close or tore from continued use. He did hear, though, that recently the bags were being made of biodegradable material and that this was true for a lot of plastics being made lately. At least muggles were finally seeing the error of their ways and were trying to rectify their mistakes. But there was still a lot of stuff out there filling landfills that would never vanish no matter how much time had passed.

Suddenly, an idea struck him. He wiped his hands off and quickly produced a ball point pen and small notepad. Hiding it beneath the table, he quickly wrote down his idea of using wizards to help ease the problems of pollution. Smiling, he quickly tucked both items away again. His little notepad was nearly filled with all his ideas of how wizarding kind could redeem itself and help the environment as well as well as dozens of other ideas for helping the planet and muggle kind.

Everyone was so wrapped up in the return of Draco and their own news that no one had seen him writing but he knew he had to be very careful. Until he was ready to begin his campaign of reeducating wizarding kind, he had to keep his ideas and writings secret.

Looking around, he saw dinner was nearly over and just walking through the entrayway came a concerned and tired, Professor Dumbledore. Everyone else also noticed the headmaster's arrival and began to quiet down.

Dumbledore took a stance at the center of the room and waited until all was quiet before speaking.

"As you've been told, young Draco Malfoy has been returned to us safe and more or less unharmed. His injuries are minor but he is exhausted and is presently resting as we speak. He may be returning to classes tomorrow but that decision will be Madam Pomfrey's. Please don't harass him for answers. If he wishes to tell you anything, I'm sure he will but if he doesn't then please respect his wishes. It was a trying ordeal and I'm sure he would like to put it behind him. I hope you all had wonderful holidays and are well rested. Tomorrow starts another school day so get some rest and be ready bright and early to work. Dismissed."

Voices started up again as the tables magically cleared and students rose to their feet and headed for their dormitories.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It was an hour later before Harry was able to close his bed curtains and bring out the food he'd saved for Wine. The kneazle appeared to view, laying upon Harry's pillow. He rose, stretched then walked regally to the food Harry laid out for him on a plate he'd conjured from a piece of cardboard.

Smiling, Harry caressed the kneazle's head briefly before allowing it to eat undisturbed. When Wine was done, Harry disappeared the plate. "Draco made it back alright," he told his friend in a very low voice.

Wine paused in his grooming to eye Harry questioningly. "Yes, I would like you to check on him and see how he's doing and whether he suffered any problems from the interrogation. My worst fear is whether or not he'd been spirited away by his father..." Harry said worriedly.

Wine made a soft mew of concern. "Yes, that would be very bad. So let's hope that's not the case. Safe travels," Harry said as his familiar jumped down from the bed and disappeared. Sighing, the boy crawled beneath the covers, put his glasses away in its case and placed it under his pillow before laying down. Hope I don't fall asleep before he gets back, he yawned.

Chapter Text


Draco jerked awake and stared around with frightened eyes. The medical wing was dimly lit and silent, Madame Pomfrey apparently already abed. His heart thundered in his ears but he saw nor heard anything that could have awakened him until a soft meow brought his attention to something on the floor by the bed.

He leaned over and stared owlishly down at... "Oh, Wine...it's you...bugger...you scared me!"

"Mrr," Wine said, ears back a little, an apologetic look in his yellow-green eyes.

"S'alright, just really tired. Checking up on me for Harry?" He asked, exhaustion making his voice slur a bit. He laid his head on his hand and stared sleepily at the kneazle. Now that he knew what had scared him, his body was beginning to relax. It definitely wanted to go back to sleep but he knew his friend needed reassurance that he was alright.

The kneazle gave a short bob of its head in response.

Draco smiled. It felt good to have people who truly cared about him finally. "I'm fine, just sore and tired but the potions have fixed some of that and more sleep will take care of the rest. I think I'll be able to go to classes in the morning."

Wine listened then purred to signify that this was good news. Then he made a questioning noise in his throat that made Draco's eyebrows knit in confusion as he tried to think what Wine wanted to know then his expression cleared as the answer came to him.

"Oh ... yes ...they accepted the story, even my father and, obviously, they convinced him to leave me here or he would have taken me home."

The kneazle growled and shook his head from side to side.

"I agree that would have been very bad. So just let Harry know everything is alright so far." He said by way of farewell before he remembered something else he needed to ask. "Wine?" The kneazle paused in mid-motion and looked at Draco questioningly. "Has there been any word on Severus?"

Wine sighed and shook his head again. Draco's face tightened with worry. "I do hope he's not run into too many problems with the Death Eaters..."

Wine leaped onto the bed and rubbed against Draco's face, purring and trying to offer what comfort he could.

"Yes, I know...don't worry...that's hard advice to take but thank you anyway. Have a good evening and see you again soon," Draco sighed, gently giving the kneazle a scratch on the head then watched as Wine jumped to the floor and headed out of the room disappearing like smoke as it did so.

Draco yawned, settled back under his covers, and closed his eyes. Hopefully tomorrow would bring good news about his Godfather.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

With his mission complete, Wine thought he should check on one other person before returning to Harry. Wending his way, silently, through the many corridors and stairs of the castle, the kneazle finally reached the room he was looking for. Unfortunately, the occupant was gone. Frowning, he sat on the cold floor and thought a moment.

Coming to a decision, he headed upward toward the astronomy tower. Normally a place where trysting students hung out, it also had other spaces where privacy could be found when needed. No students were about, though, as everyone was too tired from the long train ride, so he had no worries about being interrupted. Wine headed upward then halted at the landing to the tower. To the right was the area used by the astronomy class, its door shut tight. But to the left was a door that was normally found the same way, however now it was open a small crack.

Someone had gone in but hadn't bothered to close the door completely. Remaining invisible, Wine slipped through the crack and halted. The single slit window on the opposite wall of the small room allowed moonlight to shine in on a totally bare space that had layers of dust and cobwebs about, showing the room wasn't used much but someone was there. Their footprints disturbed the dust on the floor. He had found his quarry.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

"I must find a way to get that boy's body soon. My energies are waning despite the unicorn's blood I took several days ago. Now that the children have returned, I must get him outside and into the forest where I can spring my trap," Voldemort muttered fretfully while he paced back and forth in the small space.

He stopped to stare outside at the moon drenched woods and the lake nearby that glimmered in the silvery light. His hideous face, the turban unwrapped so he could see, was pinched with anger and frustration, the eyes glowing with madness as he contemplated his vicious plan to take Harry Potter.

"It will have to be within a week ... when the moon is gone...perhaps Thursday..." he muttered.

"B-b-but...the students w-w-will be kept in as they c-c-catch up before end of quarter," Professor Quirrell stuttered.

Voldemort hissed. "Doesn't matter...you will make sure the boy feels a strong need to go to the spot I've made ready."

Quirrell shuddered. "Understood?" Voldemort shouted when the man didn't answer.

"Y-y-yes!" The poor possessed wizard stuttered. His master snorted then muttered some more to himself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Narrowing his eyes, Wine waited a bit longer but when nothing new came to light, he slipped away, hurriedly heading for the Gryffindor dormitories again.

When he arrived at Harry's bed, he leaped up onto lightly and noticed the boy had fallen asleep while he waited. Making a cat-smile, Wine stepped closer and licked Harry's face, rasping his barbed tongue against the human's smooth cheek, attempting to wake him.

Groaning, the boy tried to sweep off the annoyance but Wine persisted. Snorting, green eyes opened to stare blearily at the small face looking back at him. Blinking rapidly, Harry woke more fully and reached a hand out to the kneazle, giving it a caress.

"So...is Draco alright?" He asked softly.

Wine nodded his head. He sat and waited for more questions. "They bought his story?" Harry continued. Another nod. "Good. He'll be back tomorrow?" Another nod. "Anything else I should know?"

The kneazle put on a threat display...eyes glowing, fangs peeled back, fur raised. Harry eyed his familiar grimly, though the kneazle was but a fuzzy blur to his bad eyes he could see enough to know what message Wine had brought.

"Voldemort! You saw him?" Wine relaxed from his threat stance and nodded gravely. "Did he say anything useful tonight?"

Wine nodded vigorously. "Did you hear if he was going to make his move on me soon?" A mew was his answer. Harry nodded. "How soon?" Wine patted the bedding five times with his right paw. "Thursday?" Another nod. "Day?" A negative head shake. "Night then?" A positive nod was his answer. Harry sighed. "Right, then I need to find a way to speak with Hagrid, tomorrow as soon as possible." Wine gave a soft mew of agreement.

"Sleep now. We'll see what tomorrow brings. Thanks for the recon, Wine," Harry said, yawning. Wine just gave him a kneazle version of a smile. Sighing and very tired, Harry settled down again and closed his eyes. Good thing he was very tired or his familiar's news would have kept him awake. With a soft purr, Wine moved away and laid down in a curled ball near Harry's feet and soon they both were sound asleep.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The night passed quietly, thankfully. By the time morning light filtered into his basement lab, Snape was feeling much better. However, he took another dose of potions to hurry the rest of the healing. He wanted out of here and back at Hogwarts as fast as possible.

Rising carefully, he found he was able to put weight down on his broken ankle. The bones had begun to knit enough to bear his weight though it was a little painful yet. Walking carefully, he took care of his basic needs then left the lab, locking and warding it before heading upstairs.

Reaching the main floor, he headed down the hall to the destroyed living area then stopped and listened carefully. No footsteps creaked above his head, no voices drifted through the thin walls. No one was here. Sighing in relief, he prepared to leave.

Must be at Malfoy Manor...he guessed. None thought I'd be up and mobile so soon so no guards about. Perfect. As he turned around to leave by the rear of the manor, he smirked to himself. I wonder how Lucius is doing with that cryptic message from the Elders? Probably cursing its vagueness and getting into an argument with Bellatrix. With luck, it will keep them occupied for some time while Harry, Hagrid and I rid ourselves of the Dark Lord.

He reached the kitchen, which was chilly. Wrapping his outer cloak tightly around him, pulling on his thick gloves, then setting a warming spell on his person, he opened the rear door and was immediately slapped by the icy winds that blew across the yard. The watery sunshine provided no warmth but at least there was enough light to see by this early in the morning.

Shivering, he pulled the door closed behind him then walked gingerly across the snow covered patio for the edge of the wards. He could feel Nott's spell work as he approached and used his wand to open a hole in the ward so he could pass through. It wasn't the tightest ward he'd ever seen but then Nott wasn't very good at this sort of thing anyway.

Closing the ward once he was on the other side, Snape wasted no time apparating himself away and back to the gates outside Hogwarts. There was no one around when he appeared and looked about himself. At least that was true a moment ago but now a half giant appeared suddenly beside him making him start a little. It was still a bit disconcerting to know Hagrid was fully able to apparate just like any wizard though no one knew that but the forest dwellers, Harry, and himself.

"Good morning, Professer...glad to see you up and about," Hagrid rumbled, his eyes showing amusement, knowing he'd startled the man. He was also very pleased to see Snape in better condition than when he'd left him.

Snape rolled his eyes. "You enjoy doing that," he said in mock disgust. Hagrid just shrugged his shoulders. "Did Draco make it alright and is he still here?" Snape asked, his voice reflecting concern and hope.

"Aye...everything worked out well and Lucius was forced to leave without his son much to Draco's relief, I can tell ya," Hagrid said, smugly.

A sigh of relief came from the lean man. "That is good news." He began to walk toward the castle with Hagrid striding beside him, matching his pace to the other man's slower, limping gait.

"Does your ankle still pain, you?" Hagrid asked, solicitously.

"Only a little...the potions are working as fast as they can," Snape reassured him, knowing the half giant was not happy about what he had to do.

"I'm bettin' your students would have preferred you were gone a bit longer," Hagrid said, amusement twinkling in his eyes.

Snape almost laughed but hid his amusement with long practice. "Oh, I'm certain of that so they will be 'horrified' by my sudden appearance."

"Oh, aye...that they will be!" The two shared a moment of merriment then Hagrid changed the subject and took on a grimmer expression. "I fear our hidden enemy will na wait much longer to make his move."

Snape's lips tightened. "That is something I hope we can now take care of. Have your elders tested the spell they wish to use?"

Hagrid's eyes were like flint when he answered. "Aye...nasty bit of business it was too but they are certain it will do what we want it too. All that's required is to set the trap and be done with the foul thing once and for all."

"Good! You give the word through Wine when you want to do this. I'll be ready and insure Harry is informed as well," Snape said with cold satisfaction.

"It twill be within a few days...after the moon wanes," Hagrid told him. "Get plenty of rest until then."

"I will. Until later..." Snape nodded then broke away from Hagrid to head for the main doors while the half giant turned and strode briskly away down the hill toward his cabin. He had preparations to make.

Snape pushed open the heavy right hand door and slipped inside. It was blissfully warm compared to outside and he relaxed a little. His ankle tinged as he began to limp toward the headmaster's office. What he really wanted to do was go to his quarters. There was still time for him to sneak in a small nap before classes began, however, he knew very well that he needed to let Dumbledore know he had returned.

He was halfway to the hidden staircase when Professor McGonagall appeared coming from the opposite direction.

"Severus!" She exclaimed, hurrying to his side. "When did you get here?"

"Just now, Minerva. I thought to report to Albus before going to lie down for a bit."

"Do you need to go to the infirmary?"

"No...I took care of my hurts. They just need time to heal," Snape hurriedly demurred. He did not want to see Madame Pomfrey. He turned to the gargoyle and said, "Cadbury!" The statue immediately leaped to one side and the stairs wound their way into view.

Clamping his lips together so he wouldn't let on how much his ankle hurt, he limped his way up the stairs followed anxiously by McGonagall. Reaching the landing, he knocked firmly, waited a moment, then opened the door and limped on in.

Dumbledore looked ready for the morning despite the early hour making Snape wonder if the headmaster had even gone to bed. A look of pleased surprise and relief flooded the older wizards eyes as he came toward the pair.

"Severus...it's so good to see you returned safely," he said sincerely, allowing the younger man to head for one of the comfortable chairs near the fire and sit down. "Would you like something to eat or drink?" He asked solicitously.

Snape was about to say no but his stomach grumbled. "Perhaps I should. I left without breakfast. Some hot tea and crumpets would be fine, thank you."

"Certainly. Minerva, would you like anything as well?" Dumbledore asked. She shook her head and took a seat next to the potion's master. "Elf service, please," he spoke clearly to the air. A second later one of the house elves flashed into view. Dumbledore repeated the breakfast order and the elf nodded and vanished.

Dumbledore went to the chair across from Snape and waited. Seconds later, the elf reappeared with a filled tray which it sat on the small table between the three then popped out of sight again.

Snape leaned forward and made his cup of tea to his liking and grabbed a crumpet covered in a layer of honey. He sipped the hot tea and sighed as it warmed his cold insides quickly. He really needed that.

The other two spoke quietly to each other allowing the younger man to eat first. They covered the morning's schedule and other mundane subjects.

"If you're ready, I'll give you my report," Snape said when there was a pause in the pair's conversation.

"Go ahead, Severus." Dumbledore nodded, settling back in his chair, preparing to listen.

Snape proceeded to tell them the same tale he'd told his fellow death eaters. He kept it simple and to the point. When he finished, Dumbledore asked a lot of probing questions which the potion's professor had expected and responded to with practiced ease.

Thirty minutes later, Dumbledore finished the interrogation. "So now both sides have this riddle to solve. Do you have an insight into what it means, Severus?"

"I think the first part is self explanatory but the end is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you," He said archly and with a fake snort of disgust.

McGonagall eyed him sharply. "How is the beginning of the riddle self explanatory? Oh, I do understand that the first part about evil has to do with He-who-must-not-be-named..."

"Minerva...really...can't you even say his name after the insufferable boy made it plain that not doing so was giving Voldemort too much power?" Snape derided her.

Though she shied from hearing the name spoken aloud, her features blushed an angry red. "I'm surprised you seemed willing to accept that from a person you loathe so much," she retorted.

Snape gave her a look of disdain. "I may dislike the boy but what he said made perfect sense and I am not given to ignoring sound advice despite who mouthed it. Simply stated, the boy was right."

She gaped at him in astonishment. Dumbledore merely shook his head, unconcerned by Snape's seeming turnabout in attitude. The man was a cypher most times, like now.

"Back to the riddle at hand, let's take each statement shall we..." He made a gesture and the copy he'd gotten of the missive appeared in his hand. "Now, the first sentence, I translate to mean the forest dwellers believe that all they have been forced to suffer under wizarding rule will be overturned by some savior ... do you agree?"

"Yes that sounds right to me," McGonagall said. Snape just nodded.

"The next statement we've already established is about Tom Riddle, yes?" Dumbledore adopted Snape's and Harry's stance on calling their enemy by his name...his real name.

"It's the only evil that's front and center at the moment," Snape grunted then took a bite of his crumpet and a sip of tea.

"But who is inferred in the next statement: 'Those who follow ignorance shall fall' ?"

"Sounds like the Ministry of Magic to me," Snape drawled. "And anyone else who denies Riddle still exists."

"I'm forced to agree," McGonagall said, reluctantly.

"I'm afraid the next statement has me completely stumped," Dumbledore admitted, reading it aloud for the two. "'But those who follow the one who will bring a message of peace, progress, and a mission..' Who could that be? It doesn't sound like Harry."

"The boy is full of himself but being the savior for the whole wizarding world...I don't think so," Snape said, derisively. He didn't want them to know they were right...not yet. They needed to get rid of Riddle before all would be revealed.

"But why not?" McGonagall objected. "After all, the prophecy said that Harry Potter must destroy R-R-Riddle ..." she stumbled over the name but gamely kept going, "...and when he did there would be peace so why wouldn't he be the one they are speaking of?"

Snape shrugged. Dumbledore frowned. "It's possible Minerva but how to prove it..." He let the sentence hang.

"Well excuse me from entertaining any more ideas on this. I've already been badgered by Nott and Bellatrix and I'm hardily tired of discussing it further. Now I would like a brief respite before class begins..."

"You should go to your quarters and get some rest," Dumbledore interrupted, eyeing the younger man with concern. "Someone else can teach your class for at least one day."

"Absolutely not! I can handle it...thank you, Albus, for your concern. Now if you don't need me further, may I leave?"

Dumbledore sighed but nodded. "Certainly and thank you for briefing us immediately. Where do you think the Death Eaters are and what will they do about their copy of this missive?"

"That's easy..." Snape said, rising to his feet carefully. "I'm certain they are at Malfoy Manor trying to decipher it as we speak. It will take them longer as they won't accept they are the ones spoken of at the beginning and certainly, they won't think of Potter at all at the end. Meanwhile, as they fight over what the message means, it gives us more time to sweep them up and send them to Azkaban."

"Hmm, you may be right...I'll have to speak with Moody and Shacklebolt about it, I think," Dumbledore said more to himself than the other two. Please go and get some rest Severus and if you think of anything else we might need to know..."

"I'll inform you immediately," Snape interrupted him then limped to the door. "Thank you for the breakfast," he said then opened the door and passed through, closing it behind him, very relieved to be out of there finally.

Chapter Text

 


Bong...bong...bong.... Hogwart’s huge clock chimed the hour as hordes of students poured from different hallways and staircases heading toward the great hall for breakfast their first day back since the holiday break. Their many voices filled the great hall with holiday chatter.  But threading through the tales of fun and frolic were also concerns and speculations about the Malfoy heir’s safe return and the still missing potion’s professor.

As all got seated, occasional glances were cast toward the teacher’s table, watching for Dumbledore to give his usual speech and make the food appear.  Suddenly, cheers rang out from the Slytherin table drawing all the other house’s attention toward the hall’s entryway.

Walking in on still rather unsteady and aching legs, was Draco Malfoy.  Face paler than normal, he neither smiled nor smirked at the rousing greeting he was getting as he moved toward the table then took a seat between two students who were firmly neutral on the subject of blood purity.

Surprised annoyance and shock graced the faces of those who thought of themselves as Malfoy’s friends but Draco didn’t care as he had enough of being grilled and wasn’t ready to go through it again from his house mates.  The pair he sat between eyed him in confusion but when he didn’t pay them any attention, they simply shrugged and did him the courtesy of keeping the others from badgering him.

His house mates angry attempts to get answers from Draco were cut off when sudden silence fell over the hall.  Looking around in surprise, they gasped when a familiar figure limped his way through the main entrance.  

Draco allowed a small smile of relief to flash on his face before resuming his bland expression.  Thank God, Severus made it back safely from the Death eaters ...sort of...he thought frowning at the limp his Godfather was still sporting.

The rest of the room watched Snape’s ramrod straight form limp up the stairs of the high table’s platform then walk behind his fellow teachers, making for a seat next to Professor Sinestra.

She turned to give him a relieved smile which he merely returned with a cool nod as he took his seat and turned his attention to the room at large, his expression flat and cold.

The moment he was settled, the shock of his arrival faded to be replaced with a rush of whispers about where the Professor had been and how he’d been injured.  Comments ranged from relief by the Slytherins at the return of their house leader to disgust, fear, and dismay by the rest of the houses that their least liked instructor was back.   

Inwardly amused by their reactions, Snape let the sound of their voices roll over him as he scanned the room.  Spotting Draco, he relaxed and felt a bit of surprise at seeing him deliberately segregate himself from his so-called friends.  That might not be a good idea for dealing with the inevitable questions, but Snape couldn’t blame him for wanting to delay the onslaught just a bit longer.   He would make time to see the boy soon and was a bit concerned that Draco still looked rather pale.  He traded a brief, meaningful look toward Draco, receiving an understanding one in return, before giving his attention back to Dumbledore.

Professor Sinestra leaned close to try and question him but he shook his head just a little to let her know he wasn’t in the mood.  Only a little miffed, she nodded her understanding, gave his arm a gentle pat before turning her attention to the headmaster just getting to his feet.  

Seeing the Headmaster standing, the students fell silent.  “Let’s give thanks that Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy have returned safely to us.”  He clapped his hands and after only a moments hesitation, the rest of the room followed his example.  

When it grew quiet again, Dumbledore continued, “... Though it is understandable that all of you wish to know what happened to them, they are under an order of silence from the ministry to answer no questions at this time while the investigation is on going.  Please honor that requirement and leave them be on the subject....”  Both Snape and Draco blinked in surprise at that statement as they’d not been told any such thing, though they were careful not to let on.

Snape frowned in thought.  He could only assume this was Albus’ way to keep people from harassing them though he had no doubt the ministry would have given those orders ... eventually... careless of them to have not done so yet but then none of them were very bright except for Shacklebolt but the man wasn’t in charge of this case ... mores the pity. Things would be so much easier if he was, anyway, Dumbledore’s action was a wise idea and one he hardily endorsed.  He’d not been looking forward to the many attempts by his fellow professors to pump him for information.  

Unfortunately, the stricture wouldn’t help Draco as children were too curious and persistent to let a request like that hold them back.  He wished he could protect his Godson but knew he couldn’t be with Draco all the time.  The boy would just have to do what he could on his own.  He was a smart and resourceful soul after all.

His thoughts were interrupted by Dumbledore as the headmaster finished his speech.  

“... I have only one announcement to make.  No one is allowed outdoors for the next week as the ministry continues to search for clues on the perpetrators.  Now...as we have a very busy day ahead let us begin with a hardy breakfast.”  As he said ‘breakfast’ food appeared immediately on all the tables.  

With a cheer the students hungrily served up and conversations again filled the hall with noise.

As he served up his food then began to dig in, Harry sighed with relief. I’m glad he survived his ordeal with the Death eaters and his ankle seems to be mending, he thought. That’s a relief considering what we have to do very soon.  Speaking of which, I’d better send him a mental message as I head to my first class so he’ll be prepared when we meet later.  Glad I already sent a message off with Wine to Rubeus before coming to breakfast.  I wouldn’t have wanted Severus to walk too much until his ankle completely heals.  Sighing, he finished breakfast, pushed his plate away and rose to leave, Hermione and Ron doing the same behind him.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape sighed and dug in ravenously.  Healing bones took a lot of energy and though he was more inclined to eat lightly, he knew he needed the calories right now.  He was glad his fellow teachers allowed him to eat in peace even though their eyes were alight with a thousand questions.  Let Albus satisfy them.  

The last students had vanished from the hall when he ate the last bite then finished his tea.  Since he had no class until ten, he planned on getting in a short nap with his sore ankle raised up.  With his belly uncomfortably full, he rose and left the table, heading for his classroom as fast as his sore ankle would let him.  As he headed down the stairs toward the dungeon classroom, he felt a light tap against his mental shield.  Not really surprised, he opened to his visitor.

“Professor...glad to see you back.  How are you faring?” Harry asked.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking.  Still a little stiff but mending.”

“Got away from your friends too, I see....” Harry’s mind voice smirked.  Were you able to fend them off successfully?”

Snape allowed a hint of amusement to color his own response.  “Better than I thought I would.  The message successfully distracted them from asking me too many difficult questions.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said, cheerfully before taking a more grimmer tone, “However, I have some not so good news for you.”

“Oh?”  Snape had a feeling he knew what it might be.

“Our enemy has made firm plans it seems for my demise.  We need to prepare for his attack by Thursday night.”

“Ahh...the night of the full moon, eh?  Are the plans we made still suitable?”  It was as he thought...Voldemort was going to make his move at last.  Snape felt oddly relieved, but at the same time worried their plan of attack might not work.

“I believe so, though getting the facts from Wine are, by necessity, rather lacking in exactly what was said.  However, I did get the impression our enemy still intends to lure me into the forest at day’s end.”

“Good! Has Rubeus been informed?”

“A message carried by Wine was sent this morning.  I asked for a meeting tonight at his cabin...you agree?”

“Yes.” Snape said, satisfied.  “However, with this being the first night everyone is back, I would think getting out would present a problem for you.  Need help?”  A snort of amusement greeted that question.

“Not likely.” From the time he could walk, Harry had been taught the art of stealth by the forest creatures.  He could now move like the unseen wind, even inside a building, with ease.  No one would see or hear him if he didn’t want them to.

His tone amused, Snape said, “Meet me at the main doors by midnight and we’ll go together to Rubeus’ cabin.”

“Right, see you then,” Harry responded then closed their mental connection.

Snape had reached his class room when their conversation ended.  Whispering under his breath, he broke the ward that kept his door closed from intruders then opened it and walked through the classroom toward his quarters at the back.  

He sighed inwardly.  I hope we get the bastard on this first time.  I don’t want to even think what it will take to try again once he’s alerted we’re on to him.  With that less than happy worry on his mind, he disappeared into his quarters and shut the door.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The day was long and grueling as both Draco and Snape were bombarded by questions from the curious.  They held out and kept their mouths shut, though it did cause Draco a lot of angry hazing and pushing around by those required to get answers for their Death eater parents.  He wanted to strike back but was still too sore and tired.  He did his best to simply avoid being hemmed in by any of his less than happy house mates which meant a lot of sneaking around and avoiding, making him even more tired.  

As for Harry, his day went fairly well except for some considerable discomfort in the DADA class when he had to work hard not to acknowledge the urgent pleas poor, doomed, Professor Quirrell sent him with his sad eyes.  He truly wished there was something he could do for the man but all avenues had been explored by the elders.  They could only free the man’s spirit but not save his life.

Snape found the day to be filled with stress and no little pain.  He had hoped to keep off his ankle as much as possible but Neville’s disaster with a potion during the first years class had forced him to stand far too long as he dealt with the resulting mess.

Mixing two ingredients at the wrong time had resulted in a spectacular explosion of purple goo all over the room, covering students, walls, desks, and floor.  Fortunately harmless, it nevertheless caused a panic among the first years.  It took a lot of time to calm them down though it only took seconds to clean the mess with a simple cleaning spell.  Sighing in annoyance, he managed to get the class under control long enough to give out two feet of homework before the bell rung.

From that less than auspicious beginning, his day just went down hill from there as the students were too full of energy from their holiday to settle down and concentrate. He was ever so glad when the day finally ended and he could go rest his foot.

Too tired and hurting to make it to the great hall, he opted to eat in. After making himself comfortable, he called the house elves to bring him an ice pack and a meal which was roast pork, greens, and sweet potato mash with a cold glass of pumpkin juice.

In very little time, he was settled into his over stuffed chair by the fire, his foot with requisite ice pack, raised on a pillow that was perched on an ottoman before him.  He reached for his glass of juice and two phials that contained a pain and healing potion, respectively, from the side table.  Downing them, he set them aside, drank some juice to clear the nastiness from his palate before setting the glass down and reaching for his plate of food.  He ate and rested, allowing his body to do what healing it could before making the demanding trek to Rubeus’ cabin later that evening.






Chapter Text


The castle was finally silent after the long day had ended. Even the most dedicated of students who liked to put in some late hour studying were asleep since it had been an arduous first day back. This was advantageous for Harry. When all he could hear was silence and various snores around him, he quietly eased from his bed. Already dressed, he slipped, without a sound made, out of the dorm and down to the commons.

The fire was mostly embers in the huge fireplace and it's flickering light aided Harry in crossing the room without running into things left by students on the floor. He pulled open the door and peered out...all was quiet...no one was about. Closing the portrait, he nodded at the fat lady who had been about to sound the alarm but relaxed when she saw who it was.

"Where you be off to this late at night young sir?" She asked, softly.

All the paintings in the school had been told by the castle spirit to allow Harry the freedom of the castle whenever he needed it ... the rules for students not applying to him. And to keep secret his doings from the staff including Dumbledore.

"I'm on an important mission out of the castle. Don't worry I won't be alone," Harry told her, before quickly heading down the hall on silent feet.

"Be safe, young lord!" She called quietly after him. He didn't acknowledge as he was already vanishing from her view. Another silent form hurried past the painting, unseen, as it raced to join the fast moving boy.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Hissing a little, Snape adjusted his cloak over his robes and stepped gingerly, as his ankle was still sore, out of his quarters. He needed to hurry as he'd overslept from his comfortable nap.

He barely made the rendezvous point near the main doors when a quick moving shadow joined him. Snape started a little at Harry's sudden appearance. The boy had not made a sound and had seemed to have been invisible until the moment he appeared beside him. That was ridiculous as he knew Harry didn't have such an ability but it certainly had seemed that he did.

Giving Potter a quick nod, Snape turned and pushed open the left hand door leading outside. The two slipped through, the door closing silently behind them, a third figure easing out with them unseen.

Saying nothing, the two began the trek away from the school, keeping to the shadows so as not to be seen. Only when they were halfway to their destination did Harry dare to speak.

"You're still limping. I thought your potions would have healed that by now," he observed, concerned.

Snape shook his head in annoyance. "It should have and I'm at a loss why it hasn't."

"Best have Hagrid look at it. It's quite possible his magic might have accidentally countered some of your potions."

The lean man blinked in surprise. "I hadn't thought of that..."

"And neither had I," Hagrid's voice suddenly sounded from nearby though neither could see him yet. "My apologizes, professor. I should have thought of that meself and fixed it when I saw you earlier."

Snape jolted. He had not detected the half-giant at all and they were still some distance from the cottage. "I do wish you wouldn't do that, Hagrid," he complained half-heartedly.

A soft chuckle sounded closer and was immediately followed by the familiar hulking shape of the groundskeeper, appearing less than a few feet from them. "It keeps you on your toes, professor. Now let me see that ankle..." They all stopped walking and Hagrid knelt down.

Harry moved to stand behind Snape to steady the man if he needed it when he lifted his foot so Hagrid could see it.

Gently probing the ankle, Hagrid elicited a hiss of pain from Snape. Tsking to himself, Hagrid did something that filled the ankle with intense heat. The professor gasped then sighed when the pain vanished an instant later. Hagrid lowered the foot to the ground and stood up.

"I can see that's fixed you right up, sir. We need to be going now," Hagrid urged as he turned away and led a brisk pace to his cottage where a ghostly tendril of smoke drifted skyward into the clear night from the chimney and the glow of a lantern could be seen through a window.

"Thank you. That was much appreciated," Snape said, walking with more ease.

"You're welcome and to pay for my thoughtlessness, there be mugs of hot chocolate waiting for you," Hagrid said warmly.

Minutes later they reached the cottage and the half giant opened the door letting the warmth within spill out. He gestured for his guests to go ahead of him.

The old boar hound thumped his tail on the floor from his resting place beside the roaring fire...too lazy to get up to greet them. Harry walked over and leaned down to give the dog a scratch behind the ears which earned him a warm lick on the hand, then he went to take his seat at the table. The shadow that had followed the three appeared revealing Wine who strutted forward to give the hound a friendly lick on the nose in welcome. The dog huffed at him then flopped his head down to continue his nap while Wine leaped onto the table to enjoy a bowl of milk Hagrid had thoughtfully set out for him.

Taking Snape's cloak, Hagrid hung it on the back of the door before turning to join the two at his huge wood table. Picking up his mug that was as big as two of theirs together, he took a deep swallow then thumped it down firmly, face serious.

"Since our enemy has obligingly decided to go inter the forest for us rather than be led there, we need only change our original plans a little."

"That's true, however, I don't believe he'll use the ruse he planned of an injured unicorn since none are around," Harry observed.

"Nay, I see no reason whyn't he wouldn't 'cept fer not being able to actually find one to bait his trap. Using poor Professor Quirrell's abilities he could simply transfigure some poor defenseless creature to look like one for his purposes." Hagrid shook his head.

Snape looked confused. "Why would he not be able to find a unicorn?"

"Because Hagrid warned them away from here," Harry interjected, smirking.

"Ah, I see. So what else has changed about the plan?"

"Not much really, 'cept for you coming on yer own later and me already being in the forest waiting is all. Just so we're all clear, here's how it'll go down: when that evil thing lays his trap and passes the word to Harry, he'll send word to me by Hedwig so I can warn the elders and the centaurs to hot foot it here." Smiling, Hagrid nodded at their surprised expressions. "Aye, we'd discussed how we'd keep that thing from escaping and hit upon this plan. Like nearly all wizarding kind, the thing doesn't know what we're capable of and won't expect a trap by us which is why we intend to surround and take it by surprise when we cast the spell."

Nodding his head, Snape had to agree it was a good plan. "That gives me more confidence we may succeed, however, you're not leaving me out of this," he warned.

"Of course not, professor...ease yourself. Well I know of your desire to see this to its end and it be important that you're there anyway because we need to see if yer mark disappears. That will tell us fer certain if we'd succeeded in getting rid of that evil fer good."

Snape was surprised and a little chagrined. He should have thought of that himself.

Turning to Harry, Hagrid added, "Sorry I am to lay this burden on you, lad, but only you will know when the trap will be set. Insure you get the word to me and the professor quickly, eh?"

"Don't worry, I will. And don't be sorry. That evil is fixated on me so nothing else would have worked," Harry said, philosophically.

"Aye that be true alright. Anyway, to continue ... when we get the word, professor, you need to slip out of the castle an hour before Harry does and head fer the Whomping Willow. That direction will keep you hidden from watching eyes and allow you to slip past my hut and the paddocks to enter the forest from that spot. I'll be meeting you there."

Relaxing back in his seat, Hagrid took another gulp of his cocoa. Setting his mug down, he reached over and scratched Wine behind the ears as the kneazle groomed itself just like a cat would. "Any questions?"

"I do have one reservation," Snape said, frowning. "There were some doubts as to whether the spell your elders cooked up would work. What happens if it fails?"

Hagrid's expression turned grim. "Then we hope we figure out a way to quickly take the foul thing out before it takes revenge on we who attempted to end it, especially Harry."

Snape shuddered. "Then failure is simply not an option." He pushed his mug aside and got to his feet. "Time for us to return, Harry."

Harry nodded and quickly downed the last of his cocoa before rising as well. Snape pulled his cloak down and drew it over his shoulders as Hagrid rose and walked toward the door and opened it.

"I hope it ends this week. I'm tired of this danger hanging over us," Harry said as he stepped outside, Wine jumping off the table and running outside to join him.

"Oh aye. You'll get no argument from me on that. Keep safe," Hagrid said in farewell as Snape stepped outside as well.

With Wine in the lead, the two wizards strode off into the night heading briskly back toward the castle.

Chapter Text


Waiting is always hard. This was very true for Harry as he waited for Thursday to come and he could finally put an end to the roadblock holding him back from his plans to change the future of wizarding Britain.

Voldemort's extinction was the first of many steps in his grand plans but that was Thursday and this was Tuesday. With their plans already set, he needed to get his nose fully into his studies so the time would hurry by.

With the holidays behind them, it was hard for him and his classmates to focus on their work with the bitter cold and dullness of January weighing them down. No one felt like doing much listening but in the DADA class Harry noted the rising sense of anticipation from Professor Quirrell but it wasn't coming from the poor man's flagging soul but the malevolent spirit eating away at him.

Harry was surprised. He really shouldn't be feeling anything thanks to the castle spirit protecting him but this sick enthusiasm had managed to get through. And it didn't help to see the mad light in the man's eyes every time he glanced Harry's way as his mouth droned on about vampires and other nasty creatures. It made his stomach roll queasily. How could anyone be thrilled to kill someone just so they could live?

Shaking his head, he sighed and tried to pay attention to the lesson instead. At least he would be putting the real Professor Quirrell's spirit to rest. Something good was going to come out of this nightmare.

Harry was ever so glad when class finally ended and he could dash out ahead of the others. As he joined the group heading for their next class, Herbology, he realized, with a start, that after tonight, there would be no DADA teacher.

Huh! Wonder who they would get to teach it on such short notice? Then shrugged his shoulders and dismissed the concern. That was Dumbledore's job not his.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The rest of the week did move along quickly and with little fanfare, Thursday arrived.

After putting in another long day, Harry along with his fellow classmates rushed to the great hall, their voices echoing off the stone walls as they chattered about their day. After being seated then listening to a few words from Dumbledore about the continuing investigation about the kidnapping, they were digging into a hearty meal.

"Going to the library after dinner, Harry?" Hermione asked. She was delicately nibbling on a sugary desert the house elves had made. It had lots of sprinkles on top and a gooey pudding-like center, a rare treat.

Harry grimaced as he stabbed a piece of pie and brought it up to his mouth. "Yes, I suppose I must. I can't believe all the homework we got today."

"I'll say!" Ron chimed in, a sour look on his own face. "Hermione would you help me with Potions? That git positively loves to give us rolls of homework," he snarled in annoyance. He hated potions but that was because he was so bad at it.

Hermione rolled her eyes and sighed. "Only if you try to do what you can. I do have a lot to do myself." Ron groaned but nodded in agreement.

Harry winced, not liking Ron's nasty comment about Snape, but then the Professor did put on a perfect performance of being totally unlikeable. Still, it bothered him to hear his friend and many others disparage the Potion's Master. However only he knew it was just for show so he had to suck it up and not give away his displeasure. Snape's cover was all that kept him safe from the Death Eaters. Sighing, he finished up his meal and prepared to leave.

The three got up and joined the beginning exodus toward the dorms.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The library was fairly busy just after dinner but as the evening waned it grew quieter and quieter until there were but ten students, a few teachers, and, of course, the librarian, still about.

Ron's head was resting on his upraised palm while his other hand wrote laboriously on a sheet of parchment paper. Intense boredom shared space with annoyance on his face as he worked to solve a tough question from Potion's class.

Next to him with several books piled around her on the huge wooden table and one open at her elbow, Hermione was writing rapidly on a long sheet of parchment whose beginning had disappeared off the table, the scratching of her quill pen loud in the quiet.

Harry sighed, scratched his head and frowned. He'd reached a particularly knotty problem in his really boring History of Magic class. Thinking he needed a different book to find the answer, he rose from his seat and headed into the stacks of books nearby. His search took him to the far end of the library. No one was around as he studied all the titles trying to find the one he wanted.

Suddenly, from a stack over, a voice was heard arguing with another in low tones. Frowning, Harry couldn't resist listening in while trying to figure out whose voices they were.

"I tell y-y-you t-t-there are no unicorns l-l-l-left in the woods nearby," one of the voices stuttered. That was obviously Professor Quirrell, he realized.

"And I'm telling you I saw one, injured and laying only a short distance within the forest, a straight walk from the Whomping Willow," the other, more colder voice stated. It sounded almost identical to the professor's except it spoke with perfect diction.

"Well w-w-what d-do you want m-m-me to do about it?"

"Nothing! But you needed to be aware of this as there are some students fool enough to want to enter the forest and try to save it so every one of the staff needs to be on the alert."

"How would t-t-they know about it?"

The other voice snorted. "You know gossip travels faster than a spell around here. It's probably all around the castle by now."

"W-w-well that's certainly t-t-true. A-a-alright, I will be s-s-sure to keep my eyes out and n-n-notify those I s-s-see," Professor Quirrell agreed meekly.

"You do that! Goodnight."

"G-G-Goodnight."

Then the voices went silent and someone moved off away from him.

Harry stood still, not daring to move until he was certain the persons or person (as he suspected was really the case) was gone. When he thought it was safe, he continued his search for the book he needed while his mind went over the furtive conversation he'd just heard.

How odd to hear two voices coming from the same person. If anyone else had heard that they would have thought the person was barking mad. Harry shook his head. It's obvious by that lame conversation, Voldie has set his trap. Shows how much of an ego maniac he is to think I would be so stupid as to not see this as the trap it is. A cold smile touched his lips briefly. If all goes to plan, this will be the last time that twit will harm another living creature. So, time to warn the troops the plan is in motion.

He paused to find the book he needed then sent a silent call to his familiar. Returning to the table, he sat and began to work on his homework. After all, it still had to get done and he couldn't go out until much later tonight anyway.

Deep into his studies, he nearly forgot about his sending until a hard head butted his leg under the table. Glancing down he saw the kneazle looking up at him with a question in it's green eyes. Giving it a 'wait a moment' gesture, Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his notepads and a Bic pen. Furtively hiding what he was doing behind a propped up book, he scribbled a short message then gave it to Wine who carefully took it into his mouth. The kneazle eyed the boy a moment longer. Harry displayed two fingers, Wine nodded it's head then went invisible. No sound gave away the kneazle as it hurried off on its mission.

With his messenger off and away, Harry glanced quickly to see if anyone had seen him doing something odd but both Hermione and Ron were still busy with their work and had never looked up. Sighing in relief, he returned to his boring assignment. He still had a foot of parchment to do for Herbology after this lesson so he needed to pick up the pace. It was going to be a very long night before he sought his bed.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry didn't know it but someone else had heard the odd conversation between the stacks. Draco had been cursing under his breath as he hunted for a book he was told might give him the answers for Astrology class but so far he wasn't having any luck locating the bleeding thing. He had been searching on the last aisle over and was about to give up and face Mrs. Pinch, the librarian, when he heard that idiot of a DADA teacher stutter something to someone else.

He listened and frowned in confusion. Why did the two voices sound like the same person? And what was that about an injured unicorn? Confused and very curious, he itched to walk around the stack to see who was talking but didn't dare as the other voice sounded like someone he definitely didn't want to meet.

The odd conversation lasted only moments then both voices fell silent with only one set of footsteps walking off. Waiting, holding his breath, Draco couldn't hear any noise nor of anyone else walking away. Shrugging, he finally dared to walk to the end of the stack and peer down the one the voices had been ... no one was there.

Whoever that second person had been they walked like a ghost. Who knows, perhaps it had been one of them. A ghost would know about such things like an injured unicorn and would tell the staff about it but he didn't recall ever hearing that voice before. It had sort of sounded like Professor Quirrell but with a firmer and more confident voice. He shook his head. No, that was just a ridiculous notion. The only thing of any interest was what they had said. Should he speak to Harry about the unicorn? Or perhaps Hagrid? Or better yet, Severus?

Yes, perhaps that would be a good idea and wouldn't make any of my Slytherin shadows suspicious. They are getting rather annoying, sneaking around and spying on me. Draco sighed and looked rather forlorn. He was getting tired of avoiding most from his house and missed the friendship he'd made with Harry. While those unhappy thoughts chased him, he returned to his hunt for the book he needed.

I just wish they would leave me alone but that's not what they've been taught. He grimaced. I wish I'd been sorted into Ravenclaw. At least there I wouldn't be hounded because my father is in league with the dark lord. They are thinkers and don't judge as quickly or stupidly as the hard headed houses of Gryffindor and Slytherin.

If wishes were horses, I'd be riding one of them out of here but they aren't and I have to just suck it up. Ah, here is the bleeding thing finally. He pulled out a thick book that stank of mold and other unpleasant odors. He carried it off to the table he had been sitting at, passing a stack of books that teetered on the edge of a table with three people around it. A quick glance told him it was the golden three (what Harry, Weasley, and Granger were called by most of the school). He nearly paused but changed his mind and continued on. None of them had noticed him.

He needed to finish his homework then go looking for his Godfather. Something bad was going on, he could feel it. Hopefully Severus would have some answers for him.

Chapter Text

Drinking a cup of tea with his feet up, Snape stared into the flames within his fireplace. He'd just finished the onerous task of grading papers, very few had passed his rigorous standards. His mind, though, wasn't on the dismal efforts of his students. A special guest had dropped by leaving him an important message. Wine had appeared at his side with a missive in his jaws. How he'd gotten into Snape's quarters, he knew not nor cared. The warning he'd brought was far more important. After saying farewell to the kneazle who had wasted no time departing, Snape contemplated what this night would mean to him for the future.

At last. Freedom is near at hand and when the rest of his minions are arrested or dead, I can finally reveal the game I was forced to play in this ruinous war. I cannot wait to see the guilty looks on all those sanctimonious faces who thought I was working with that abomination. A brief smile teased his lips as he dreamed of the day.

I think I will quit teaching. I so hated being forced to deal with idiot children who cared not one whit about potions, though there were a few brilliant exceptions, however, not enough of them to subject myself to the rest of the dunderheads any longer. No, it's time for me to do what I've been wanting to do for years . . . bury myself in pure research with the hopes of developing some of the potions I've been thinking about these many years. Who knows what cures I could develop when it is the only task before me. I don't even care if my name fails to be vindicated. Let them think the worst of me if they are so small-minded. Just the thought of doing what I truly love is thanks enough, plus the money I'll make doing it.

Anticipation warmed a place in his heart that had been cold for a long time. But daydreams faded as he reminded himself the Dark Lord hadn't yet been defeated. And if there were a misstep in the plans tonight that evil could still kill him and those he cared about.

He sat up straight and set his cup down with a loud clatter. No! I must prevent that from happening. Perhaps I should increase our chances with a few weapons of my own. With that in mind, he rose to his feet leaving his empty cup behind as he hurriedly made for his lab.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

It was an hour before moonrise when a furtive figure hurried across the starlit grounds in the direction of the Whomping Willow. Voldemort goaded his hapless slave toward the forest taking the most direct route, though he did insure Quirrell carefully avoided the willow's outstretched limbs that had a nasty habit of pounding the unwary into the ground for getting too close. Within moments, Quirrell's walking dead body vanished within the dark forest.

As they made their way toward the spot where the final end to all his plans would take place, Voldemort occupied himself with what he intended to do once this bit of tedious business had been taken care of the outcome of which would give him a body of his own. He could almost taste victory as he made his slave weave between the trees and step over logs. His evil mind was filled with dreams of taking control of the weak-minded wizarding world then the muggle one thereafter. The world would tremble beneath his terrible power. And the first step toward that goal must succeed tonight.

In preparation, he'd slipped away the evening before to search and capture the bait he required for his trap. It had taken more effort than he'd desired and longer than he'd anticipated but by midnight, he'd succeeded. Though he'd been furious at not finding a single unicorn, he had succeeded in finding a suitable alternative. Now he was ready to use it to set his devious and clever trap. Having already put about the rumor that a unicorn was injured in the forest where Potter could hear, he was certain the troublesome brat's overburdening curiosity would push the boy out here to see if it were true and right into Voldemort's hands at last.

Only a few minutes more and he finally reached the small clearing only 30 feet within the forest. Voldemort allowed Professor Quirrell to pause a moment to create a small light with his wand. Only the thinnest of moonlight managed to pierce the stygian darkness beneath the forest canopy and he didn't want his slave to make any kind of mistake setting the trap. Unwillingly, Quirrell's body walked across the clearing eventually halting at the base of a huge oak tree where an ugly creature was restrained to it by thick chains . . . a creature not normally seen in England.

The bit of soul that still remained of Professor Quirrell could only mentally shudder at the thing staring balefully at him. It sickened him to know he'd been a party to killing two unicorns and was hardily glad the creatures had decided to vacate the area. But what Voldemort had found to use for his trap instead was far worse.

The thing was known as a Bicorne. It had been spelled into silence so though it's fanged mouth was wide open to roar it's defiance no sound was uttered, which only made it more furious. The beast was said to be of demonic origins and was known to eat human flesh. After involuntarily helping to capture the thing yesterday evening, he well believed those tales. It had been a harrowing and deadly encounter that he had wished had ended in his death but he'd not been so fortunate. Voldemort's power and control over him were absolute.

Returning his attention to the Bicorne, he studied the ugly thing more closely. It was a hodge-podge of creatures with only a nodding resemblance to any of them. The first thing grabbing one's attention was the very distorted, ugly face of a human female with eyes that were solid black. Then there was the wicked set of short pointed horns that only vaguely resembled a unicorn's coming out of its forehead. Thick, tangled, gray hair covered its head and fell in dirty waves to it's massive shoulders and a pair of pointed ears with tufts of fur on the tips, pushed through the mess. It stood nearly four feet high at the shoulders and had a long, vaguely panther-like body (though chubbier rather than sleek) that was covered in thick, but short, dark fur. Its four big paws sported deadly retractable claws like a cat that, at the moment, were digging into the ground in its agitation. A thick fur-covered tail that had a prehensile tip like a possum whipped behind it in agitation. The only reason anyone would even seek out one of these things was for their horns which were just as valuable as a unicorn's. One of the more important potions they were used for was making polyjuice.

Quirrell's attention was jerked back to the reason he was here when Voldemort made him turn around and remove the turban that covered the other face he hid. Once able to see, Voldemort smiled at the nasty thing snarling at him with pleasure and malice.

"You know what to do," he said coldly, sick pleasure oozing from his voice.

With no choice, Quirrell turned back around and stunned the creature with his wand, watching dispassionately as it fell to the ground, unconscious. Tucking his wand in a tree crevice to provide light over the creature, he then moved forward to unchain the Bicorne before pulling a long, sharp knife from a hidden sheath beneath his robe. With an economy of movement, he neatly sliced the creature's throat from ear to ear, carefully avoiding the vomiting black stream that shot out. Then he retrieved his wand and waited.

"Excellent! Now the trap is set. Back to the castle! The boy should be leaving very soon and I don't want to miss him." Voldemort stared at his handiwork for the length of time it took Quirrell to wrap and hide his face once more. Nothing should interfere with his plans now he thought smugly as the body he rode retrieved the chain then returned quickly to the castle.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Watching from above, hiding among the thick leaves of the oak tree, Wine hissed mentally in disgust at the smell of death. He had no love for the Bicorne but did feel sorry for the way it had suffered and died. He'd followed Quirrell when the man left the castle and observed everything while maintaining his invisibility and a safe distance so the evil thing didn't detect him. Now, as he watched Quirrell disappear from view, he decided to remain rather than follow. Climbing down, he avoided the dead body and hurried through the dark woods.

By now the moon was up and slowly rising above the horizon, it's light shining brightly on the grounds of Hogwarts. But within the forest the darkness held sway. However, it hindered Wine not at all, his eyes adapting easily to the dimness allowing him to traverse the mind field of thick undergrowth surefootedly.

As he neared his destination, his ears and nose picked up the horsy scent of Centaurs, as well as the scents of other forest denizens on the evening air. Pushing his way through a shielding thicket, he came upon the ones he sought.

A cluster of Centaurs stood in a tight group murmuring to each other in their own language. The others; a giant, elves, and the elders of the forest, plus Hagrid who stood further away, spoke in tones low enough to merely sound like the wind sighing through the trees.

Suddenly, one of the centaurs raised his head to sniff the air, others joined him and many heads turned his way.

He'd been discovered.

"We have a visitor," the centaur announced.

With no further reason to remain hidden, Wine allowed his body to appear.

"Ahh, it's our little spy. Good evening, Wine," Magorian, the leader of the centaurs, greeted the kneazle. "What news do ye bring?"

Sitting down between the two groups who were now eyeing him intently, Wine used the sign language designed for his kind among the forest dwellers to tell them of what he'd witnessed.

Rumbles of displeasure issued forth from the listeners when he'd finished.

"Bad business this is but at least the poor beastie served its purpose and didn't suffer long. We need to finish up and be ready for the lad to arrive as well as that foul thing. Professor Snape should be along soon as well," Hagrid warned the others.

The oldest of the elders nodded agreement and in silence, the group converged to work on the final workings of the spell they had all pinned their hopes on while Hagrid stepped away to do one more check of his own preparations.

Walking toward a section of woods, Hagrid plunged in only a few feet before halting. Wine, who had taken refuge in one of the half giant's pockets in his thick, shaggy overcoat to avoid getting stepped on, eyed the trees above them warily.

He had reason for being nervous. Dangling from a cluster of nearby oaks like bits of ungainly fruit and swaying a little in the light evening breeze were hundreds of baby Acromantula. The kneazle's fur rose in tension at being so near these creatures. He didn't like the things one bit even though he knew they wouldn't attack him. They were just hungry eating machines that he was wise enough to avoid whenever he was in the forest. He was hardily glad they could be controlled by Hagrid.

When the Acromantula were in place, Hagrid smiled in grim satisfaction before returning to the group. He would be hardily glad when this night's work was done.

A sudden smirk touched his lips briefly as he stepped into place beside the other elders. Once their enemy was gone peace would be theirs but not for long. His thoughts strayed toward a certain young wizard who intended to shake up that peace. If the wizards thought things had been rough under the past dark wizards wait until they learned the harsh truths young Harry had learned about the true danger of what muggles were capable of and what the boy planned to do about it.

He nearly laughed out loud at the thought of how the ministry incompetents would react but things were too dire at this moment for levity.

With a mental sigh, he pulled his mind to the work at hand. Time was running out.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Nerves made Harry jumpy and tense as evening began to grow older. It was nearly time for him to pretend to be foolish enough to go out into the forest at night. And there was one more thing he needed to do right this moment.

Insuring he was alone in the boy's dorm, he reached out to Professor Snape. His mental knock was answered almost immediately.

"Yes?"

"Using Professor Quirrell, Voldemort insured I'd hear him talk about an injured unicorn just as we thought he would. I've already sent Wine ahead to warn Hagrid. You should probably be off soon, sir."

"Agreed. I'm just finishing some preparations of my own. Be careful lad. We'll do all to protect you but you must stay alert."

"I will, sir. Do not worry. See you soon." Harry closed the connection between them and began slowly counting the time until he could safely slip out of the dorm and out of the castle. He spent the time preparing himself and fervently praying that all their plans succeeded.

Meanwhile another student was making his secret way to Snape's quarters. None had seen Draco slip out of the Slytherin dorm and hurry down the corridor toward the potion's lab, much to his relief. At the potion's classroom door he whispered the spell that would allow him access past his Godfather's ward. It shimmered a moment then went out. Hurriedly, Draco opened the door and slipped inside resetting the ward behind him.

He hurried through the classroom, reaching the lab beyond and was surprised to find his Godfather there rather than in his quarters at this time of night. Snape was just as surprised to see him and obviously not happy about it either.

"Why are you here?" Snape demanded.

"I'm sorry Severus but it was urgent that I see you. I heard something very disturbing in the library tonight that I thought you should know about." Quickly the boy described the strange conversation he'd heard.

Snape sighed mentally. This was not good. He really didn't have time to deal with his Godson right now, time was slipping away and he needed to be off. However, if he told Draco nothing the boy might take it into his head to follow.

"I don't really have time to discuss this with you right now, Draco. I'll explain things when I get back I promise ..."

"But Severus I'm certain something bad is going to happen ..."

"Yes, something is but I and others know all about it and are dealing with it tonight. Thank you for telling me about this though. However, I really must go. Get back to the dorm and say nothing about this to anyone." Snape pushed his Godson out of the lab and through the classroom until they reached the door leading out to the corridor.

"But I'm sure Harry's in danger too!" Draco objected, dragging his feet.

"Yes, he is. It's a trap for him but we already knew about it and are taking care of it. Now go!"

That only made Draco even more worried but he knew very well once his Godfather had made a decision there was no changing it. Since he didn't know what exactly was going on, interfering might make things worse so with a heavy heart he complied but still balked once they reached the door leading out.

"Whatever you're up to tonight, Severus please be careful and keep Harry safe too."

A warm smile he'd never show to anyone else flashed briefly across Snape's lips before disappearing. Giving Draco a quick, strong hug for comfort, he said softly into the boy's ear, "I promise I will do everything I can to come out of this alive and Harry too."

Releasing the boy, Snape opened the door, peer out to see if the coast was clear then urged Draco to leave. Giving his Godfather a last worried look, Draco turned away and slipped out, disappearing down the corridor at a soft-footed run.

Shaking his head, Snape sighed, stepped out, shut the door and set his wards again before hurrying in the opposite direction from his Godson. Time to put an end to the terror in their lives.

 

Chapter Text

Using a little known exit near the dungeon, Snape slipped outside the castle. He shivered a bit in the coolness and quickly cast a heat spell. He had exited on a side of the castle most wouldn't know about, feeling extra caution was warranted. This part of the castle grounds faced the lake with few windows looking out so he felt reasonably confident he wouldn't be spotted. Hurrying across the lawn, he skirted the edge of the lake then disappeared into the Forbidden Forest.

Once he was within the thick darkness provided by the numerous trees, where even the moonlight failed to penetrate, Snape made a small light with his wand. It didn't cast much illumination but this was where his "special difference" provided an assistance. With eyes nearly as sharp as Wine's, Snape was able to navigate through the stygian darkness of the forest with fair ease. With this ability and the surefootedness of a hunting cat, the potion's instructor headed for the rendezvous point at a quick pace.

In very little time, he arrived at the edge of the clearing where Voldemort had set his trap. He might have startled the others with his near silent approach if not for Wine's more keener senses detecting him. The kneazle yowled a soft warning to those waiting around him. Only moments later, the professor appeared, like a shadow, at the edge of the clearing, only his face visible. Pale like a disembodied lantern.

"I trust you had an untroubled journey here, Prafesser?" Hagrid's voice rumbled softly from somewhere across the clearing.

Snape flashed a small but grim half-smile in the half giant's direction. "Yes. For once the students were too tired to make a nuisance of themselves."

"That be a good thing, tonight of all nights," Hagrid agreed, relief in his tone. "Come around to us, avoid the center."

After casting the dead "unicorn" leaning against the hoary old oak tree a disgusted look, Snape tracked Hagrid's voice to the far left side of the clearing. His abilities allowed him to see through the unicorn's disguise and though he'd only seen a Bicorne once during his training in potions (horrible creatures he never wanted to encounter again), it angered him to see what Voldemort had done to it. Nothing should suffer like that.

Joining Hagrid, Snape looked around and noted they were surrounded by the entire herd of centaurs that lived in this forest. Their strong musk filled the area and for such large creatures, they made no sound as they stood like statues waiting for orders. Despite their scent, they melded well with their surroundings which was why they were hard to find or see by ordinary people or even wizards.

Standing nearby and on other sides of the centaurs and half-giants were many other forest dwellers.

Quite the turn out, Snape thought. Hope we won't need them all.

The centaurs opened their ranks and one of the oldest half-giants he'd ever seen approached him. Snape couldn't help but be struck by the sheer presence of the creature.

"This be Elder Jason, head of the Elder Council," Hagrid formally introduced.

Snape eyed the half-giant with respect and caution. Jason stood at least two heads taller than Hagrid. His face was deeply lined with eyes that seemed to glow from even deeper sockets. He wondered fleetingly what color they might be. The generous mouth possessed full lips and, surprisingly, smile lines creasing either side of the mouth and eyes. Jason's ears were large and hairy, sticking out either side of his head that was crowned with a mane of silver and white, thick hair, neatly trimmed and banded at the forehead by a silver and feathered headpiece. No beard graced the huge chin. Which was a surprise as he seemed to recall the mixed breed of giants prided themselves on their huge, long beards. But this one seemed to like a cleaner face. And a fierce face it was. Though Snape sensed a much gentler soul resided in that huge body. Not that the half-giant wasn't able or willing to do terrible things when pressed to it. Snape could clearly see the evidence of a formidable warrior by how well Jason kept his body trim and well muscled. And by the feel of the rough palms and fingertips that showed sword callous' when they shook hands. It wouldn't surprise Snape if the half-giant had lived and fought during the Goblin Wars, albeit most likely towards the end of them.

Nodding his head respectfully, Snape said, "I've heard much about you, sir. It is an honor to finally meet you."

"And I you, Professor Snape," Elder Jason said, his warm tenor a far cry from the harsh voices normal giants had. "I'm aware of what your part has been in this benighted war and what you've sacrificed to gather the intelligence needed to end it. You have more to gain if this night's work is successful, yes?"

Snape was surprised at the perceptiveness of this Elder. He had not thought anyone on the council had kept track of him that closely. It was obvious Jason was fully aware of what Snape had to do to get into Voldemort's camp. "Everyone gains, sir but, yes, it will be a relief to have that gone as well."

Jason smiled a little and gently patted Snape on the shoulder. "And I hope we succeed for that to happen."

Snape found himself returning the smile. Jason was an easy person to be around and that was rare for the potion's master to admit.

The smile disappeared from Jason's face as he turned his attention to the group at large waiting silently around him. Besides the centaurs, there was the entire Elder Council, which was made up of other half-giants, dwarfs, Fae and other lesser known creatures of the forest. The first time the council had ever come together in many centuries and for such a dire purpose.

"As all know, we're here to end the evil that has plagued our world for years now. For the spell to work, we must all focus clearly on what we want it to accomplish..." For the next 20 minutes, Jason made sure all were conversant with the spell they were attempting and answered any questions before turning any other area needed discussing over to Hagrid.

Snape had been impressed with the workmanship that went into this deadly little spell. He fervently hoped it was never needed again for it was a fearsome thing. Just saying it sent the tiny hairs on his body to rise and made his skin tingle unpleasantly. If this doesn't kill that thing, I don't know what else will, he mused.

Hagrid quickly told everyone about the defenses he'd put into place to ensure Voldemort didn't leave this place alive.

"First, I've had Acromantula babies guard the outer circle just to ensure that fool Dark Lord doesn't manage to escape his fate. Outside their circle be all the others with sword and magic as an extra precaution. Of course, we're all hoping those precautions aren't necessary if the spell works as it's supposed to.

Everyone nodded and shook their fists in the air in agreement, none dared to utter a sound as the enemy was due very soon.

Snape spoke up quickly before all moved into their positions. "I too have prepared some special spells and potions if they are needed. Where would you like me to be so I might be effective if it comes to that?"

"Thank you, prefessor for your foresight. I think up that tree yonder would be best. We don't want old Voldie to get whiff of you, do we?" Hagrid said, a cold smile briefly lighting his lips.

Raising his eyebrows at the thought of being up a tree, Snape wasn't as sanguine to the idea at all. "I may look like a crow at times but I assure you Hagrid, winged, I am not."

Hagrid shrugged. "You wanted the best position, soir … a tree is it."

Snaped sighed and rolled his eyes. "Very well. Which tree?"

With a gasp of surprise, he suddenly found himself in the undignified position of being astride a massive branch that hung over the clearing, affording him an amazing view of the trap zone. "A little warning would have been appreciated," he called, caustically from his precarious perch. A flash of a wicked smile from Hagrid was his only answer.

Making himself as comfortable and as invisible to those on the ground as he could, Snape prepared himself. He pulled from various hidden pockets of his robe, bottles which he carefully cached in the branches near at hand. With wand in hand, he was ready for whatever came this night.

"To our positions now," Jason commanded the others, giving Snape a quick salute before vanishing from view himself.

The rest spread out, vanishing just as effectively until there was no sign or sound of their presence. Silence fell and the waiting began around the cooling corpse of the poor Bicorne.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape would have been upset to learn their enemy had used the very same exit he had to leave the castle. It was fate and luck that the potion's master had managed to depart before Quirrell had decided to do the same or things would have gotten nasty.

Once outside, the possessed professor hurried across the lawn and under the trees but remained close. Raising arms upward, nimble fingers swiftly removed the turban hiding the ghostly face of evil. Turning his back to the castle, Quirrell allowed his master to watch for their target. Feral eyes stared with hot anticipation as he waited staring at the main doors of Hogwarts. Very soon a small, cloaked figure slipped through to the outside and headed for the forest. Smirking with glee, the evil creature ordered his minion to move. Anguished and unhappy, Voldemort's slave ghosted quickly after it's quarry, soon distancing the boy so he could be at the trap site ahead of Harry Potter.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

With extreme trepidation and worry, Harry managed to reach the main doors to the outside. It had been a nerve-wracking trip trying to avoid still awake classmates, ghosts, and Filch with his cat (that had been close since the man had chosen just then to pass by the Gryffindor dorms) and Professor McGonagall (why was she out this late?). At least, he hadn't managed to run into Professor Quirrell. Hopefully, that evil thing had already left ahead of him. Wouldn't be much of a trap if he was still inside. Harry snorted. Not likely. He wanted Harry too badly to make such a mistake.

It was chilly outside but Harry didn't want to bother with a heat charm and quickly ran toward to the forest. He wanted this over as soon as possible.

We have to succeed! I don't want to think what could happen if we fail.

Reaching the forest's edge, Harry paused to look back at the castle longingly before turning back to the darkness before him. Unfortunately, he didn't have Snape or Wine's eyesight so he was forced to whisper a spell to his wand that caused it to illuminate his path. Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he plunged into the darkness.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Draco was afraid and extremely unhappy. When he returned to the dorms after speaking with his God father, he was met with an uproar of voices all competing to talk at the same time. Because of the excitement no one saw him enter from outside. He slipped further into the common room then sidled next to one of his classmates, Ted Nott.

"Oy Nott, what's the to do about?"

Nott turned to frown at him. "Where have you been?"

Draco shrugged. "The loo."

"Oh, well Zambini ran in with a bit of gossip he heard in the library. An injured unicorn has been seen not far into the forest. Some of these blokes want to go see it and maybe collect some of its blood and horn. You know unicorns have a lot of uses..." Nott said enthusiastically.

Draco allowed a frown to crease his face as he interrupted the boy, "Well yes they do but who would be mad enough to want to go out into the forest at night?"

Nott snorted, giving Draco a disgusted look. "Can't go any other time that a teacher wouldn't stop us. What, you a coward?"

"No," Draco snapped, anger making his pale face glow red. "But I'm also not stupid enough to risk being killed by spiders and other things roaming the woods at night."

The other boy blinked in at that retort and thought about it a moment before shrugging the concern off. "Yeah, there's that but don't think they'll come around when there's many of us. I've been told by my da that most of the creatures in the woods don't like us much and prefer to stay away."

"That's barmy! Spiders aren't afraid of us. They love how we taste. That's just stupid talk" Draco said it sarcastically. He happened to know Nott senior wasn't the smartest tool in the shed and wouldn't want to take any advice from the fool.

Nott's face reddened with anger and he brought a fist up to shake in Draco's face. "My da says it's safe enough and he's just as smart or smarter than your da."

Before Draco could find a way to get out of a fight with the angry boy, others interrupted with a shove and yank of Nott's sleeve as a small group of not so bright boys headed toward the door.

"Come on, Teddy. We're going to find us a unicorn!" Crabbe said, excitedly, pushing the other boy out the door ahead of him.

"Hey, lay off, Crabbe. I can get there on my own, thank you very much," Nott said affronted, pulling away from the bigger boy. He halted, lowered his voice and looked around. "And keep it down you idiots. Don't want the prefects to hear us." The others heeded his warning and shut up. They moved single file, keeping close to the wall, as they hurried down the corridor.

Aw Brillant! I've got to find a way to stop or delay them somehow, Draco thought frantically. They could ruin whatever Severus and Harry have going on out there. With fear for his friend and Godfather dogging his heels, Draco raced after the fools.

The small group halted short of the main corridor. Shushing each other they listened hard for either Filch or prefect roaming the halls for ones just like themselves illegally out after curfew. Seeing and hearing no one, the group raced the short distance to the main doors, slipping out as quick as they could. Soon the gaggle of students were making for the forest in a rush of flying feet, a frightened and worried loner running in their wake

Chapter Text

Navigating a dangerous forest at night is stupid but here I am, Harry thought bitterly as he hurried as fast as he dared through the trees that seemed to rise up in front of him suddenly. Wait, you idiot, you're not supposed to know where the unicorn is so slow down and at least pretend to be searching, he scolded himself. Slowing down his frantic rush to a stumbling walk, he deliberately tripped over branches and ran into bushes to make it seem more believable to anyone watching.

And he knew he was being watched … both by his friends and the enemy they came out here to kill. His friends he couldn't sense at all but the enemy … now that thing made his skin crawl. He was certain he could feel that malevolent spirit's cold soulless eyes staring holes in his back.

Sweat from fear and exertion trickled down his back as he tried to hurry but not seemed to hurry. Who knew pretending like this could be so hard. Thankfully the trap site wasn't far within or he'd be a shaking, wet wretch of nerves by the time he'd gotten to his destination.

He forced himself to halt in his tracks and take a look around. Harry knew where to go but had to get there in a circuitous way. Peering into the darkness, he couldn't really see much of anything. Sighing, he decided to go left a ways before going back to the right.

Harry wasn't alone but something else was stalking him. Slinking along through the brush was a small dark figure. It followed the human closely, slitted eyes never losing sight of the boy as it got closer and closer to its target.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

That's it boy. You are closing in on your destiny and mine, the malevolent spirit in question chortled silently. Just minutes now and I will rise again.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A ghostly shape swooped low as it spotted something alarming, winging away silently, it hurried back the way it had come. Landing in an old oak tree, it hooted softly. Slipping close was another small creature. It halted beside the owl and stared a question.

The owl and the kneazle had a short conversation then both creatures took off in a hurry.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry thought he'd gone far enough in the wrong direction so turned back and made a little more speed toward the clearing he was supposed to go. His wand cast only a small amount of light so the boy could be forgiven not seeing the shadow that had been tailing him for some distance now.

The shadow crouched down and prepared to leap onto its quarry. Without warning, a white ghost dropped from the sky with a loud hooting cry causing the shadow to halt in startled surprise. Before it could react in anyway another dark shadow leaped onto its back.

Instantly there was a loud caterwauling and fighting going on.

Harry gaped in shocked surprise as he saw Hedwig and Wine attack something large and dark that had huge claws and teeth.

"Bloody hell! What is that thing?" He asked aloud.

The enemy cursed silently at the untimely attack and watched in tense anger waiting to see if the boy would be smart enough to run away while those other creatures were otherwise engaged. Much to his disgust, Harry continued to just stand there, mouth agape.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Not far away, another group of people were invading the forest. All held lighted wands aloft to see their way through the darkness. So far nothing Draco had been able to say or do would halt the idiot boys from their path. Especially Crabbe who seemed bent on finding the unicorn no matter what.

He was at his wits end at what else to do when an ungodly racket filled the air. All of them halted in their tracks. Forming a circle with backs toward each other, their wands pointed outward, the boys stared into the darkness.

"What the hell is that?" Goyle asked, eyes round with fear.

"How should I know?" Crabbe snapped trying to hide his fear with fake bravado.

Nott was clutching his wand tightly. Though this trip had sounded like a great idea at first, he was beginning to realize why going into the woods at night was such a bad one. "We need to get out of here! Whatever it is could attack us next!" He took a few steps backward but no one did the same. "We have got to go!" He begged.

The two bigger boys ignored him and didn't move. Desire for the money gained from a unicorn warred with fear making them indecisive and unwilling to give up their quest.

When the screaming and snarls continued unabated and seemed to be coming closer, Draco used that distraction plus something of his own to galvanize the rest to move.

Having more spell training than the rest, he used a well placed blasting curse to a distant tree and a caterwauling charm to scare the boys.

The sharp crack and boom of the tree falling and the wild ululating ruckus of the charm caused the boys to scream in fear and bolt back the way they had come, much to Draco's relief.

Looking around him quickly, he still couldn't see what all the racket in the distance was. Not wanting to meet whatever it was, Draco picked up his heels and ran after the others.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Deeper in the forest, Harry was relieved when the huge animal had enough of the two smaller ones and took off running into the forest. It had looked something like a black panther though how that was possible, Harry hadn't a clue.

Quickly, he ran forward to check on his familiar but they had disappeared into the brush as silently as they had come. He realized they hadn't wanted him to give away the fact he had defenders nearby which meant the enemy was indeed watching him right that moment.

The altercation must be making everyone nervous and worried by now, Harry thought. Putting on an act of looking worried then indecisive about continuing on, he played the part of a youngster being afraid and wanting to leave but needing to save a unicorn just as strongly. Finally, he pretended making a decision, then headed off again further into the forest. He hoped his acting had seemed believable or all of this would have been for nothing.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The boys hadn't been the only ones to hear the altercation. Snape had seen Hedwig fly into the area with some urgency. She landed in a nearby oak and was met by Wine. He watched them seem to communicate before both took off together. Frowning, he wondered if he should follow.

"Something's up ..." Hagrid murmured somewhere near him.

"Yes. Should one of us go see …." Snape began when a godawful noise filled the air. Snape and Hagrid's bodies were nearly in motion to run toward the trouble when Elder Jason's sharp command stayed them.

"Do not! I believe the pair will solve whatever is going on or summon us if needed. We dare not tip our hand to the enemy that is surely somewhere watching nearby," he warned.

Though unhappy, Snape and Hagrid shared a look of reluctant agreement that Jason was right. But it didn't help their feelings of worry especially when the noise seemed to be escalating. However, only moments later silence fell and nothing more happened.

Still the two remained alert and concerned. They were only a little relieved when the two small defenders reappeared in the same oak some minutes later. Snape could see Hedwig seemed to be favoring one of her wings a bit and Wine was grooming his head a bit more fastidiously than normal. He would have to make a point to check them both over when this mission was done.

"It seems the problem is solved and Harry should be arriving soon," Elder Jason murmured. "Everyone on alert!"

The tension ratcheted up with all eyes staring in the direction Harry should appear. What seemed like hours was only fifteen minutes later when the boy-who-lived finally walked cautiously into the clearing and made for the fake unicorn.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry licked his lips as he reached the clearing and saw the dark form of the dead unicorn. Briefly he wondered what the animal's real appearance was under the seeming laid upon it but shook off the thought.

He had to remain focused on the here and now. As he walked nervously and cautiously across the clearing, he could hear his heart nearly thudding out of his chest with fear as he closed the gap between himself and the dead creature knowing full well his enemy was going to attack him at any moment.

The plan was forhim to reach the unicorn corpse then leap over it and roll on the ground until he was out of sight in the brush. He was not to come out and be visible at any time. This was to prevent Voldemort from trying to jump into his body when the Dark Lord realized he was surrounded. Though jumping into Harry's body was exactly what the enemy wanted to do there were some very specific and careful steps he needed to perform first before trying it. However, there was the possibility the evil thing had a spell that would allow him to do the deed anyway the moment he had the chance. And it was because of that possibility that his guardians had him jumping out of sight as quick as possible hoping that would surprise and delay the enemy from responding.

Just as Harry stepped close to the blood pool near the unicorn, Voldemort finally made his dramatic appearance. He stepped from the trees and walked with inflated dignity toward the boy.

Harry jolted from that evil voice and unwillingly turned his head toward the being. There was poor Professor Quirrell with his head uncovered and bald, his face expressing cold hatred though the eyes still held a plea for deliverance. He halted in the center of the clearing and turned around. Now Harry was faced with the ugly countenance of Voldemort.

"At last we meet boy!" The evil creature hissed, grinning maliciously.

While Quirrell was turned around so that Voldemort could speak to the boy face to face, so to speak, he was surprised when he caught a glimpse in the trees of hidden others. He couldn't really tell who or what they were but hope suddenly leaped within him. Could they be here to stop the Dark Lord? Oh, I dearly hope so. His heart galloped with excitement and joy. He would soon be free!

Harry was nearly frozen in place but knowing what could happen to him, he spit out a quick answer, "You won't have me you evil thing. Go to hell and stay there!" He turned away and leaped over the unicorn, hitting the ground hard on the other side. He tucked himself into a ball and rolled from view getting seriously scratched up in the process.

Voldemort was shocked by the boy's sudden leap away. Harry's defiance was no surprise but that the boy had realized what was in store for him was. Roaring in anger, he forced Quirrell to turn around and race toward the corpse. But he didn't get far before he was struck by a powerful spell.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape felt the air tighten and become hard to breathe when the spell activated. It was truly stunning in its strength. It held Quirrell's body fast in place making it impossible for the evil within from raising a hand to use a wand. This was what they had prayed it would do. Now if only it succeeded in dispersing the enemy. The brilliant red light that lit the clearing was slowly turning a sickly green.

The spell casters were working in concert, their faces showing the strain the spell was taking on them but it didn't compare to what it was doing to its victim. Within the spell nimbus, Quirrell with his evil abductor shuddered violently, the hideous second face reflected pain and fury as it tried to fight back.

Suddenly there was an explosion of light and power as the spell violently dispersed releasing Quirrell. Absolutely furious at the interference of his plans, Voldemort raised his wand and fired a volley of spells into the forest around him.

Though they had hoped this wouldn't happen, the forest dwellers were not unprepared for this eventuality. Using their more ancient magic, they repelled the evil's attack though not without causalities of their own as spells flew everywhere.

Snape joined the battle, firing some of the prepared spells he had designed for just this moment. He kept to the trees as he fought his way toward Harry's last known location. He had to make sure the boy was alright and get him out of danger. It took too many nerve-wracking minutes and a lot of ducking and firing before he finally managed to reach the area behind the dead Bicorne but the boy wasn't there much to his fear and annoyance. Thinking Harry might be trying to get to Hagrid's side or some of the others he knew, he continued on around the clearing, carefully avoiding the Acromantula.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Harry hadn't meant to worry his professor but he quickly realized he should move from this location since Voldemort had seen him go this way. He felt it would be wiser if he moved further away and thought to move closer to his guardians where he could be protected. Unfortunately, the direction he chose was away from the rapidly approaching potion's professor.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Cursing under his breath, Snape ducked another volley of nasty spells that passed through where his head had been moments before. He snapped a few of his special spells at the moving target that was Voldemort. They simply had to defeat that thing here. He could not be allowed to continue his reign of terror.

The battle raged in near silence except for the brilliant splashes of spells going off or the sudden outcry of someone who failed to duck quick enough. Voldemort had taken refuge behind the oak where Harry was supposed to have hidden and, surprisingly remain silent as well. Since the evil spirit was giving as good as he got from that spot, one hoped Harry wasn't anywhere near but Snape didn't think that should be taken for certainty. He realized someone had to rescue Harry before the Dark Lord was able to find him. Choosing himself as that person, he began working his way around the clearing. Running with his head down and using the trees as cover, Snape found getting to Harry nearly impossible as his way was blocked by fighters and flying spells. Frustration, worry, and a feeling of urgency made him do something he had refused to do ever again in his life since his youth.

Looking around quickly to ensure no one was close to see he began muttering something arcane and ancient, soft enough for no one to hear.

Within seconds, where had stood a man now was a huge black bird with an enormous wingspan that looked oddly like a crow only three times larger. Without a sound, it pushed its way through the brush and stepped into the clearing only far enough to be able to launch itself skyward swiftly and silently.

Sharp cries of surprise, spells, and arrows were sent its way but it easily evaded them as it grabbed air and flew high enough to be safe but still able to scan the ground. Heading for the spot where the boy was supposed to be, it was relieved to see Harry wasn't there only Voldemort who aimed a nearly well placed shot at it.

Ducking away, it moved further off searching the forest and clearing with eyes sharper than a normal bird's and ones that could also see in the dark.

As it searched, it noted the battle turned in the favor of the forest dwellers. Apparently, the Elder Council had managed to reengage the spell and augment it with volunteers, increasing it's strength. The sky lit with the spell's even brighter and stronger nimbus that nearly blinded all those using it.

Screaming in fury, Voldemort seemed to be withstanding the renewed effort but just barely. It was a race to see which side would give out.

It was more important than ever to find the boy and insure his safety should Voldemort be the victor.

Feeling the urgency intensify, the flying creature increased its efforts until, with a cry of triumph, it dove towards a section of forest, talons extended.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

When the battle began, Harry realized he needed to make some distance from where Voldemort had seen him last. Scrambling along the ground without standing up was hard going but he didn't dare make a silhouette that evil thing might see. When he thought he was far enough, he began to circle back toward those he knew could protect him. He never thought about going back to the castle, though that might have been the better choice. He needed to see this to its end so kept trying to work his way around but he ran into the same thing Snape had.

As he halted to take his bearings and see what might be the most clearest path, sharp claws suddenly snatched him by the cloaked shoulders and yanked him skyward. He was hard pressed not to cry out in terror as he watched the ground drop away rather abruptly.

He did try to reach for his wand but he was being swung about too much then the battle below caught his attention. The Elders were still attempting to overcome Voldemort with their spell but he was unable to tell who was winning when the flying creature swung him away and beyond the forest. Within moments they were approaching Hagrid's cottage. Here the creature swooped down so quickly Harry's stomach nearly rose to his throat before being released suddenly to fall to the ground. Harry barely had time to brace himself before hitting the wet grass with a teeth jarring thud. Despite the abrupt landing, he managed to roll to his feet and confront his abductor … wand out … spell on his lips.

Said abductor back winged then made a perfect landing a few feet from him then, before its wings even settled around it, the creature morphed into …

"Professor Snape!" Harry was totally gobsmacked.

Shaking himself out then fastidiously straightening his clothes, Snape gave the boy a tiny smirk as he walked toward him. Giving Harry a thorough once over with eyes and hands before stepping back, he let go a breath of relief. "Well, at least you managed to keep from getting hurt."

Harry was still gaping at the man before he realized he was being extremely rude. Shaking his head and shoving his unruly hair back from his face, he eyed the man with confusion and interest.

Tucking his wand away, he said, "That was a brilliant snatch and grab though I wasn't really in that much danger. What are you anyway? I don't recall ever reading about or seeing something like you before."

Snape rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders self-consciously. "An ancient family secret that I must insist you never reveal to anyone and I mean anyone. I would hate to have to use a spell on you to ensure that secret."

Harry shook his head in the negative. With grave sincerity, he stated, "I, Harry Potter, swear upon my magic, I will never reveal what you have shown and told me today." There was a shiver of energy felt by both that clearly said the magic had heard and his promise had been sealed.

Snape blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected the boy to take such a drastic step to make his promise irrevocably binding. "You didn't have to do that ..."

Harry held up his palm to halt further words. "Yes, I did," he said firmly then returned to the previous question Snape had still to answer. "So what are you?"

"Blackfeather … similar to a crow but much bigger, solitary creatures, and extremely rare. I'm afraid I may be the only one in existence, at least in England."

"Must be as I've never heard of such a creature before. And that might be true about England but a search of the internet might find others like yourself. However, that's a subject for another time. It must be amazing to be able to fly like that and change your shape. You once told me I might be able to do something similar."

"Hmm, yes I remember. An Animagus Transfiguration Spell but that's not until your sixth or seventh year. It's very intensive and dangerous training." Snape turned toward the forest and frowned. "You need to stay here. We can't risk Voldemort getting even a chance at taking you over. Wait inside Hagrid's home." He raised a hand to halt the objection he could see in Harry's eyes. "No! You may not come with me. I'm willing to let you stay here rather than making you go back to the castle. Accept that and don't leave here no matter what!" He said sternly.

Harry's shoulder's slumped but he accepted the stricture knowing Snape only had his safe welfare at heart. "Yes sir, I promise. But you be careful as well."

Snape gave the boy a small smile. "I promise. Now get inside and don't light anything." He waited until Harry had disappeared within the cottage before taking his other form once more and winging his way back to the battle.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Returning to the scene, Snape saw the Elder Council had managed to pin Voldemort again in the nimbus of the spell and were even now pressing their advantage to dissolve the evil spirit. The body holding that spirit was spitting curses of the darkest and foulest kind but the rest of the forest dwellers were doing their best to either bounce them back, avoid, or shield. Now that they had succeeded in wrapping the spell around Voldemort's stolen body and using it to squeeze the body tighter and tighter like a tube of toothpaste.

From his position high above the scene, Snape suddenly saw a threat coming from a totally unexpected direction. Though the forest dwellers had Voldemort completely surrounded, this danger was coming in from the air. He whirled to meet the threat headon.

An ugly Banshee, her breasts sagging down an equally saggy body, bobbed as she swooped closer trying to aid her master with some well aimed arrows at the defenders below. Her quiver of arrows were slung behind and between her wings. Before she could do more than shoot off one arrow, he was on her, tearing at her wings with his sharp talons.

She screamed in fury and pain.

Hagrid heard the noise overhead and spared a quick glance. "Seems there was an ambush planned from above. Severus has it well in hand."

"Let's end this before more trouble finds us," Elder Jason growled. With a hand signal, the rest of the council followed his lead and began moving closer to Voldemort keeping their magic pouring into the evil spirit until it glowed like the flame of a candle.

Brighter and brighter Voldemort glowed, his hideous eyes burned red with fury and madness while poor Professor Quirrell's eyes reflected only pain and desperation for all this to end. In the next explosive moment it did. Quirrell's body burst into ash, his spirit crying it's freedom as it vanished into the other world while Voldemort's spirit was shredded until no bit of it was left.

As if to punctuate this dramatic end, a screech and a falling body announced the death of the Banshee. Snape landed heavily, blood dripping from one wing. His form returned to human revealing a torn and bleeding shoulder.

Hagrid was the first to hurry to Snape's side, his mother arriving moments after. The rest of the council had simply collapsed wherever they stood. Too exhausted to stand any longer. Those still able took care of them. Relief and happy chatter filled the air as all realized the war was finally over.

"That was well done, Severus. Now allow us to tend to yer wounds," Hagrid said, gently cutting away the shredded portion of the man's robe.

"Here sit down Severus before you fall down," Agatha urged guiding him to a stump.

Sighing, Snape did as told. But suddenly he moved to raise the sleeve off his right arm and stared in amazed relief. "He's gone. He's truly gone."

Hagrid and Agatha stared at the now pristine arm where the ugly tattoo had been. "Aye, he is truly gone, praise be," Agatha murmured, a warm smile lightening her tired face.

A/N: From the Mythical Creatures Guide: Blackfeather - a very large crow-like creature. It stands approximately three times as tall as an American Crow, and has beady red eyes that seem to look almost human. It is said by many that Blackfeather does not get along well with other living creatures except for ravens, crows, and shadow dragons.

There are some who say Blackfeather is just one bird, but others claim to have seen small groups of these strange birds. Usually found living in dense forested areas, Blackfeather is rarely seen in groups of it's kind. Because of it's solitary tendencies, few are even aware of the existence of such a creature! It is said that when Blackfeather shows itself, bad things are sure to follow.

Chapter Text

Watching the fire as it flickered to coals in Hagrid's fireplace, Harry sighed, glanced toward the door for the millionth time, then back at the fire. "I wish someone would come tell me what's going on," he muttered to Fang. The Boar Hound just flapped his tail a bit in response. Then, suddenly, he raised his head and woofed, eyes staring at the door.

Frowning, Harry stared at the dog a moment before getting to his feet and making for the door. He halted again, hand on doornob, and looked again at the dog but Fang didn't show any sign of being afraid or angry. His mouth hung open in a friendly doggy smile and his tail was waving madly. Harry took that to mean whoever or whatever was outside wasn't dangerous to him. Sighing, he opened the door a crack. A streak dashed in and leaped onto the table.

"Wine!"

The kneazle gave a loud meow and lashed his tail.

"The battle over?"

Wine nodded his head and gave a cat-like smile, showing some fangs.

Harry cheered and leaped in the air. Walking up to his familiar he reached out and scratched Wine under the chin.

"So does this mean I'm allowed out?"

Snorting in amusement, Wine jumped down from the table and went to the still slightly open door. Turning his head to look over his shoulder, he meowed again then went out.

Grinning happily, Harry hurriedly pulled on his cloak and went out the door insuring he closed it firmly before dashing after Wine.

Dawn was flickering over the horizon though not much of it could penetrate the forest floor as Wine and Harry entered and made a beeline for the battle site.

What he found on arrival was a cluster of exhausted fighters laying or sitting around four firepits. It was obvious the fighters were simply too tired to move far. A few had suffered injuries but Agatha Hagrid was already busily taking care of their wounds while Rubeus was handing out bowls of something hot as well as mugs of drink.

Harry quickly joined Hagrid in his chores receiving a tired smile of welcome and thanks. He worked his way around the makeshift camp handing out the soup and drink. Pausing by a dwarf and centaur laying together, Harry was careful to not step on the long limbs of the centaur as he handed over a bowl and mug to each person.

"Thankee lad," the dwarf said in a very deep voice. Surprising for one so small in stature. He took a deep draw of hot chocolate then smacked his lips in pleasure.

The centaur nodded tiredly as he took a deep slurp of the soup. Nodding his huge head, he finished the soup in one go and sighed in repletion. "Ahh ... Delicious as always. Agatha is an exceptional cook."

"Aye, that she is."

Harry smiled in agreement then moved on down the line. The next person turned out to be the potion's master. Snape sat on a thick, plaid blanket, his left arm bandaged and strapped to his side. Noting that everyone else had now been served, Harry decided to sit with Snape, hoping the professor would be willing to tell him the details of how the battle had gone. Snape obliged, leaving nothing out.

Harry gave a low whistle of amazement. "A Banshee ... really?" Snape nodded. The boy shook his head. "Never thought one of those would do what Voldemort wanted. At least there was only one to deal with. Glad you're weren't hurt worse."

"Thank you, so am I."

They were silent for a long moment. "Are you certain he's really gone?" Harry asked, worry shining in his eyes.

Snape sighed. The boy could be forgiven his doubts as that evil had defeated death before. To prove the validity of his claim, he set down his mug and bowl then rolled up his right sleeve.

Harry studied the smooth arm a moment then raised his eyes, triumph and joy lighting within them. "Finally!" Snape smiled with him. "So now that Voldemort is gone, there is still the matter of ridding the Ministry of Magic and other important businesses of all the death eaters insinuated within their ranks."

"At least you are aware the work isn't finished not like some who will not believe or insist there was no danger in the first place because of the blather Fudge spread about." Snape grunted, shifting his body a bit to ease his wounded arm. He had no potions with him and had only what little magic Hagrid still possessed to ease the worst of it. He couldn't wait to get home and deal with it himself.

"That is going to be a major problem," Harry admitted. "How do we convince the public that Fudge was lying? And how do we get the aurors to hunt more diligently for the death eaters?"

"Very carefully. Unfortunately, we must proceed slowly and cautiously. We can't very well effect change if we're in jail, eh?"

Harry scowled. "Why would they do that?"

"One, no one but the Order of the Phoenix and our allies even believed Voldemort was still alive. Two, only those here are aware of our enemy possessing a teacher at Hogwarts. Three, only we here know Voldemort is truly dead and how he died. Four, no wizard, especially the aurors and the Ministry of Magic believe the Forest Dwellers are any kind of threat much less that they were able to kill Voldemort."

Harry's face fell and he groaned in annoyance. Snape was right. "So what happens now?"

"I suspect the Elders have a plan to insure the Ministry of Magic can't sweep this under the rug once the truth is known. That first step happened when myself and Draco were 'kidnapped' which laid the seed of fear within the Ministry of Magic's minds that the forest dwellers are very unhappy with wizard kind and are not willing to be treated poorly any longer. They've demonstrated clearly they will take action to get their concerns aired."

"I hope whatever they intend to do is strong enough of an incentive to keep Minister Fudge from trying to discredit them and pretend none of this happened or worse yet call us and them liars!"

"Oh, I'm fairly certain the Elder Council has something up their hairy sleeves to prevent that from happening."

Harry frowned in confusion. "What would that be?"

"I have no idea … yet. Remember, I'm not privy to their councils. However, I know they will take action quickly. What happened here and at Christmas will be their weapon to force the government to realize the forest dwellers mean business." Snape gave the boy a pat on the shoulder. "Have patience, Harry."

Rolling his eyes and heaving a great sigh Harry shook his head in disgust. "That's what I'm always being told."

Snape's eyes shot him a question.

"You have to wait or be patient, Harry!" The boy snorted. "I'm tired of hearing them or the other equally annoying truism they give me, "Wait till you're older."

The professor couldn't help but chuckle at the boy's plaint. He well understand the boy's frustrations. "No child has ever liked being reminded they are too young but nothing can hurry maturity and that is the state of mind and body you will need." Picking up his bowl of soup, Snape went back to eating his soup and relaxing in a way he'd not been able to do in a very long time.

Walking away, Harry said in parting, "I know … believe me I know but that doesn't make it anymore palatable."

"Ah youth ..." a deep voice sighed near Snape. The professor glanced over and realized Magorian was laying behind him nestled in a patch of soft pine needles. "He has such fire and need within his heart to set the world aright."

"He does indeed. I shiver sometimes at what I believe he'll accomplish in his life. But for right now, getting him to reach adulthood alive and with his idealism intact will be our greatest task."

"Oh aye. And with his sense of urgency, he'll make as many new enemies as friends in his fight to change the world," Magorian heaved himself upward until he was back on his four hoofed feet again. Shaking out his mane, he took a few steps and seemed reasonably recovered.

Snape sighed and set his empty bowl down. Leaning against the tree behind him, he looked up at Magorian with a grim expression. "Of that, I'm certain so it's up to me and those that care about him to keep him from making dangerous and ill-thought out decisions without stifling his enthusiasm."

"Humph, a difficult balancing act that will be and wish you the best in managing that." The centaur leader gave the potion's master a wink of understanding. "As for now, we should be returning home and recovering. As soon as can be managed, weal have a council meeting to decide what actions to take now that our worst enemy is gone. Rest, heal, and weal be seeing you soon, Severus."

"I'll be waiting."

Magorian made a soft whistling call and was soon joined by the rest of the centaurs. The group wheeled about and took off deeper in the forest, vanishing quickly.

After their departure, the rest left in small batches until the clearing was nearly empty. Agatha raised a hand and made a simple gesture. Within seconds all the fires were vanished as were all the dishes leaving a nearly pristine clearing except for the body of the Bicorne.

Hagrid approached the body and stopped to stare down at the creature. Shaking his head, the half-giant muttered something softly then waved his hand in a sweeping gesture. The Bicorne glowed red a long moment before turning to ash.

Finished with his task, he returned to Agatha, Snape, and Harry … waiting for him near the path that lead to his cottage and Hogwarts.

"Do you want a lift home, Severus," Rubeus asked as he reached their side.

The potion's master thought about it a moment then nodded. "I am still rather fatigued and don't want to stress my injuries too much. Thank you, Rubeus."

"You are welcome. See you later today. We need to bring Professor Dumbledore up to date with the night's doings."

Snape grimaced. "That will be a miserable experience and he will certainly be quite angry as well."

"No doubt."

"Let me be there as well," Harry begged, interrupting them.

The three adults traded a look then Hagrid sighed and nodded. "Alright, Harry. However, this meeting will also reveal my deception so things will get rather nasty fast."

Harry eyed him in surprise. "Are you sure that's necessary?"

"He must." Snape gave the boy a grave stare. "There is no way the rest of the Order of the Phoenix will believe us when we tell them the danger is over and who had accomplished it."

"He's right, Harry. Time for some hard truths that wizard kind don't want to hear …"

"And will fight hard to not believe," Harry interrupted again, bitterness lacing his words.

"Aye, that be true but I intend to insure they will not be ignoring me words or abilities," Hagrid said, tone grim.

Harry frowned and looked worried. Hagrid smiled gently and clapped a big hand on the boy's shoulder.

"No sense worrin' about that na' Harry. Time for sleep." He looked up at the brightening sky. "And not much of that so let's be off." Hagrid turned to Snape and eyed him questioningly.

"I'm ready when you are," the professor said, standing slowly and swaying only a little.

Hagrid nodded, made a gesture. With only a soft pop the professor disappeared into the ether and back to the castle on the wings of a well placed traveling spell.

That is definitely better than a portkeying or disapparation and gentler too, Snape thought as he carefully walked from the back of the classroom where he'd appeared to the potion's cabinet to fix himself a potion for pain and one for repairing his wing faster.

Back in the forest Hagrid turned to the boy. "Now it be your turn, Harry."

"If you don't mind, sir, I'd rather walk back so I can carry Wine. He took a few swipes from something big with claws earlier. Come to that, so did Hedwig so I'll be stopping by the owlery to check her too."

"Ah so that be what made such a ruckus earlier, eh." Hagrid eyed the kneazle as it walked up to Harry and the boy leaned down to carefully pick it up. Wine was moving a bit carefully. It didn't seem too serious as the kneazle didn't show much pain, just stiffness and exhaustion. He would allow the boy tend the hurts of his familiar rather than interfere.

"Do you know what it was?" Harry asked bringing the half-giant's attention back to him.

"There have been rumors of a big black cat roaming the Forbidden Forest. I suspect it be someone's pet panther from the muggle side of the magical barrier. Being an animal and all, the barrier doesn't halt their passing through it though most normal critters are not partial to the odd beasties that walk in our lands so they keep out. This newcomer was more afeared of his world than ours so has been lurking about."

Harry's eyes widened in shocked surprise. "A panther?! And that is just walking about?"

Hagrid snorted, amusement glinting in his eyes. "Ah, he be only a small cat compared to what else roams these woods." Before Harry could object to a panther being anything but little, the half-giant continued. "However, he's been getting a might too close to the castle of late so I may have to deal with him."

"You wont cage him will you?" Harry asked anxiously. He didn't want the poor creature to suffer. It wasn't it's fault that it's former owner was a get.

"Of course not. I'll send him back to his true home..."

"Would that be South America … the Amazon perhaps?" Harry interrupted.

Hagrid smiled. "Aye, the Amazon."

"But if he was a pet, would he be able to survive in the wild … wait …" Harry smacked his forehead. "Must be tireder than I thought. Of course it can. After all, it's been living well among the weird creatures here so it should be fine with creatures that are more 'normal'."

"And that's wat I thought as well, Harry. He'll be happier there. Now don't you worry. I've just not had time to deal with him until now. So let's be off."

"Aye, it be getting very late and you need some sleep before facing the headmaster," Agatha said, a bit facetiously.

Harry rolled his eyes at her levity then frowned. "Aren't you going to be there as well?"

Agatha looked surprised. "Whist now. Why would I be there? None of those sorts know who I am anyway and I'd much prefer to keep my anonymity for now. I don't need them in my business."

"Oh … good reason. Won't that be a problem for you as well, Hagrid?"

The half-giant scratched his beard and thought a moment before speaking. "Aye, no doubt. But there's no avoiding it as Dumbledore already suspects me of knowing more than I should. However, we need him informed about what happened tonight at least. The rest of the wizarding government will just have to wait until we're ready to face them head on. So the meeting tomorrow will be just be you, me, Severus and Dumbledore. That be enough right now."

"Right. That makes sense." Harry sighed and shook his head.

"Let's be getting back." Hagrid repeated. "See you later, mum," he said over his shoulder.

"Take care son and you too, Harry." She smiled then disapparated.

The two males began the trek back to the castle.

Chapter Text

It was an exhausted young man who finally dragged himself into the Gryffindor common room after a stop in the owlery.

Hedwig had greeted him with a small hoot. He sighed in relief as his examination of her body and wings showed she had suffered no damages. Giving her a caress, he murmured softly, "I'm glad you're alright. I was very worried there when that panther took a swipe at you."

His owl made comforting sounds and butted her head against his hand telling him in her own way that all was alright and that she loved him too. He smiled and gave her a treat before bidding her goodnight and escaping into the night air again.

He hurried along the open pathway toward the door leading back inside. He was cold and wanted warm as soon as possible. By the time he reached the Gryffindor common room he was dragging. Smelling of owl dung, dried sweat and covered in leaves and forest debris from his exertions of the evening, all Harry wanted was take a bath and get into bed. Unfortunately, there was still one more task he needed to take care of.

Reaching into a hidden pocket of his cloak, Harry wrapped a gentle hand around his familiar and drew forth Wine who had ridden within the pocket the whole way from the forest to the owlery and now back in the dorms. It was the kneazle's turn for a little TLC. The boy laid his pet on the bed and spent several minutes examining the little body. The sleek fur was nearly unmarred except for some already healing scratches on flank and right cheek. None of them were dangerous or needing care. Sighing in relief, he picked Wine up and placed him on the plump pillow. Giving the kneazle a quick caress and receiving a sleepy murr in return, Harry could now take care of his own needs.

Barely able to move, he stripped off his clothes, tossing them down the chute meant for them then grabbing a towel and toiletry kit, he hurried off on silent feet to the bath. In under fifteen minutes, he returned feeling clean at last. Climbing into bed, he pulled the covers over himself and used a tiny bit of magic to close the curtains around his bed. He was asleep the moment his head laid on the pillow.

All too soon it seemed, a hand was shaking his shoulder and calling urgently to him.

"Oy, Harry! Get up or you'll be late for breakfast," Ron said.

Groaning, Harry growled, "Leave me be. Not hungry."

Ron stared down at his friend in surprise. "Are you okay? It's not like you to miss a meal," he said, concerned.

"Fine … just soo tired. Want to sleep a little more …" Harry mumbled into the bedding.

Still frowning, Ron shrugged and closed the bed's curtains. Hurrying off to do his own toilet, he warned others off his friend. Harry might not be hungry but he was starving.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Sitting down at the Gryffindor table in the huge hall, Ron was immediately inundated with questions as to where Harry was and all the boy could do was shrug his shoulders. Hermione was definitely not happy with that response.

As she filled her plate with pancakes and fruit, she told Ron, "I think you should take some food to him and insure he's up for class in time. It wouldn't look good if he late or missing."

Ron rolled his eyes and sighed but agreed. "He didn't look or sound sick, Hermione but I'll take him some food and make sure he gets to class," he promised. "Can't figure why he's so tired though. We all went to bed nearly the same time last night."

Hermione could only shake her head and look worried. She made a note to herself to ask Harry what was going on with him, the first opportunity she had.

Across the room at the Slytherin table, another set of eyes also showed concern. Draco tried to ignore all the noise and attempts to speak with him as ate his breakfast and stared worriedly at the empty spot at the Gryffindor table. Wondering what Harry's absence could mean, he ate with little appetite.

I do hope he's alright. Last night had to be very dangerous. Just as he was thinking that, the sight of a tall, lean figure just walking in, captured his attention.

Looking a bit tired and moving rather stiffly was his Godfather who took his seat at the high table and immediately served himself up food with more gusto than was normal for the taciturn man. Except for his limp, Snape looked alright.

Draco sighed in relief. If he's alright, then I'm certain Harry is too. Maybe he's just too tired like my Godfather looks, to come down to eat. After what may have gone down last night, I can't really blame them. Hope I can get a word with Severus or Harry to find out what happened and if the Dark Lord is gone at last. Oh I do hope that's true. More at ease, Draco finished his meal with more energy. He had a feeling today was going to full of excitement.

o~o~o~o~o~o~

Ron's plans to wake Harry never got accomplished as others seemed to have decided to have that honor.

As the boy-who-lived tried to catch a few extra minutes of sleep a persistent knocking on his mental shield caused him to groan aloud but before he could answer that summons a second request for his attention was licking his cheek with a very rough tongue.

"Ahh … stop … I'm up!" He said both aloud and in his mind. Wine desisted and gave the boy a satisfied look before deciding to groom himself.

"Excuse me? I know you've not had enough sleep young man but yelling is hardly necessary ..."

"No, sorry professor … Wine was just trying to get me up at the same time you were, is all," Harry hurriedly apologized.

"Ah, then you are forgiven. However, now that you are awake and since you failed to appear for breakfast where I could speak to you, I'm using this method to warn you Hagrid and I are presently heading to Dumbledore's office now. You should arrived soon thereafter so get up and hurry, young man, understood?" Snape said mind to mind.

"Oh … right! On my way." Closing his shield, Harry shoved his bedding off ending up covering Wine who meowed a complaint. Ignoring that, the boy grabbed some clothes from his chest at the foot of the bed and ran for the bathroom. After a sketchy toilet, Harry pulled his robe over his head, grabbed his wand then ran out of the dorm making for the headmaster's office.

o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape had not said much to Dumbledore when he paused to speak with the headmaster as they walked to their table at breakfast except to say he had something very important to discuss with the man. Dumbledore frowned in puzzlement but agreed to the meet with one request.

"Would it be alright if Minerva joined us?"

Snape paused in thought before responding. It might be wise if she was included as she was next in command and would hear about it anyway. Probably best she get it direct rather than second hand too. Sighing mentally, he nodded.

"Yes, she will need to hear this too but no one else, please. You'll understand when you hear what I need to tell you, that is ... what Hagrid and I need to tell you."

That addition made Dumbledore's eyebrows rise to his hairline with surprise. However, before he could ask any questions, Snape raised a hand and shook his head. The headmaster subsided and said nothing but it was obvious he wasn't happy.

Now, with breakfast ended and the children off to their first classes, he gestured for the headmaster to precede him but did not follow immediately. That gained him another frown but Dumbledore made no comment as he walked out of the great hall, only pausing a moment to speak with McGonagall before the two of them disappeared amid the throng of youngsters.

Hagrid walk up to Snape's side and eyed the man questioningly.

"Minerva has been added to the meet," Severus said rather tersely.

"Ah … makes sense. Shall we go? Wont be pleasant no matter how slow or fast we get there."

Snape snorted but lead the way out of the main hall.

At the gargoyle statue, Snape called out 'Cadbury' and watched the statue jump aside. As they climbed the stairs, he commented, "Wasn't that the code just last week?"

"Aye. Headmaster seems to be getting a mite lax with security."

Snape shook his head. With their main threat disposed of he supposed that wasn't too concerning but Dumbledore didn't know that and should have been more security conscious so what did this mean to them? He didn't know but decided to keep his eyes and ears open for other problems that might not be immediately visible. Sighing, he thought, So what else is new?

At the oaken door he knocked.

"Come," was the immediate response from within.

Giving Hagrid a 'here we go' look, Snape took a deep breath then let it out before opening the heavy door and stepping through. Hagrid ducked his head as he too stepped into the large office, closing the door securely behind him.

Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk watching them alertly as the pair crossed the tiled floor.

Snape flicked his gaze to the other person in the office. McGonagall was standing straight and tall beside one of the huge windows. The morning sun cast her form in shadow while at the same time illuminating the room to show off all the intriguing things Dumbledore had collected in his long life. Even the Phoenix, sitting on his perch, shone with even more brilliance than normal under its warm light. That warmth wouldn't last, he knew and sighed within. A low buzz of sound told him the portraits of all the former headmasters were awake and gossiping among themselves about why the two were there. They were in for a shock this morning, he thought in sour amusement.

Returning his attention to the others in the room, Snape noted the confusion and concern reflected on McGonagell's aged but still graceful face. He sighed mentally again. She was soon going to have an expression of outraged shock in those eyes when I and Hagrid drop our bomb.

He wished he was anywhere but here right now. He hadn't wanted his true part in all this known as he felt it would only create more problems. However, he'd been persuaded that this action actually would start him on the road to a better life.

He remembered what Magorian had said recently to him, "You more than any here should be allowed a normal life. Ye've lived under a shadow for more than a decade worth of years. The wizarding world needs yer special gifts with potions and ye can't give yer full attention to those gifts if ye're still hiding."

"That may well be true but revealing my part in this will only make many think that evil still taints me and I'll be tarred with the brush of spy and death eater for the rest of my life." Snape had said tautly.

The centaur leader clapped him on the back. "Aye that might be true, but once Harry begins his crusade, all that will be forgotten and the public will have a new target to follow or vilify, eh?"

Snape frowned in thought. "That's certainly true. Perhaps you're right. Our futures will be changing and this just might be the first volley in a very long revolution. And, besides, the boy will need all his allies if he's to succeed."

"Well said. Keep yer wits about ye Severus and don' forget, the forest dwellers will be standing behind ye all the way. And I promise, we won't betray ye."

That more than anything else convinced him to do this but standing here at this moment still made him wish to run far away. Dumbledore brought Snape's attention back to the room and the fate that awaited him.

"Please have a seat everyone. Would anyone like a sherbet?" Dumbledore asked, as always. Holding the tin of candy out. Both men shook their heads as they closed in on the headmaster's desk.

However, they both paused near the Phoenix.

Hagrid cooed, "Good mornin' there Fawkes. How ye be?" The gold and red bird trilled a sweet note in response and allowed the half-giant to caress his head. Hagrid smiled then gave the bird a gentle pat in farewell before moving on.

Snape also greeted Fawkes. "Good day old friend," he murmured, gently giving the bird a caress down its back then a scratch under its chin. Fawkes was ecstatic, rubbing against Snape's hand a moment and trilling again. When Snape made to move, Fawkes suddenly uttered some odd chirps that sounded like a genuine attempt to communicate.

Dumbledore, McGonagell and the portraits all gasped in shock when Snape uttered similar sounds in response. No human should have been able to produce such sounds but there was Snape doing so. Whatever the potion's master had said caused Fawkes to nod his head and wear a look of satisfaction. Snape left its side and ignored the gobsmacked looks as he took one of the two seats Dumbledore had made appear for them.

Neither the headmaster nor his second in command could speak for a moment. Then McGonagell came to herself and transfigured a seat for herself from a nearby potted plant. She sat prim and proper but her face still held numerous questions and a new wariness around Snape.

Dumbledore's world had just been upended. He had known there was something special about Snape and had always known it had to do with some member of the Snape family mating with a magical creature in the past. But it had been suspicion only and never what it might have been in the gene pool. However, he had a vague idea he knew what it might be given what Snape had just done.

That knowledge disturbed and unsettled him. He realized Snape might well be much closer allied with the forest dwellers than he had first imagined. But that revelation would have to wait for a better time. Something else was going on here and the sooner he focused on the here and now the sooner he'd have some answers. Though, he had a feeling he wasn't going to like those answers at all.

Sighing mentally, he stared at the two men, waiting but neither seemed to have the desire to speak. Wanting to roll his eyes, he resisted the urge. His mouth was just beginning to open when there was an unexpected knock on the door. Frowning at the pair, he called out, "Yes?"

"It's Harry Potter, sir. I'm expected."

The headmaster blinked in startled confusion turning to Snape in question. The potion's master simply nodded gravely.

"We've asked him to be here as it pertains to him."

Forcing his expression to one of imperturbable patience, while internally seething with curiosity and a touch of annoyance, he called again, "Come in, Harry."

The boy slipped inside. Keeping his eyes lowered, Harry hurried across the floor but paused when Fawkes chirped at him. He paused and gave the bird a questioning look. Fawkes simply stared at the boy.

"Beware … stay alert … with you I am ..." came the staccato method of mind speech the bird used with only the rare people he trusted.

It had been a very startled Harry who had learned the bird possessed very human-like intelligence when it contacted him that first time they met after Harry's arrival at Hogwarts. It had been an amazing revelation speaking with the old bird. Fawkes had warned Harry to keep his wits about him and that he could seek his help at anytime. That last Harry had never abused. That didn't mean the two had regular conversations. That wasn't Fawkes way. Only when he had something urgent and important to impart did he deign to speak to anyone.

Back in the here and now, Harry acknowledged the message with a brief nod of his head and a gentle caress of the bird's head before heading toward the waiting group.

So intrigued and confused by what was going on, Dumbledore failed to conjure Harry a seat. He was even further discomfited when, in the next moment, Hagrid, himself, did the deed, making a padded stool appear beside his own chair. Harry nodded his thanks and sat down, hands clasped in his lap waiting for what was going to happen next.

Chapter Text

McGonagell looks something like a fish out of water, Harry mused, noting the gaping mouth and open, stunned eyes of the second in command.

"There appear to be many things you three have kept hidden from us. Dare I hope we are about to be informed on what that is?" Dumbledore asked. His voice sounded mild and merely interested but his eyes betrayed his intense and growing annoyance.

The three had not given any thought to how they were going to approach this bomb-worthy information nor who would start first. They gave each other looks but no one spoke.

Frustration making him rude, Dumbledore finally demanded, "I'm afraid the suspense is undoing even my extensive patience gentlemen, so I will ask the questions to get this strange meeting started." Turning to Harry, he asked, "Are you now prepared to tell me who your guardians are?"

Harry straightened, glanced right again for a second and receiving a small nod from Hagrid, gave answer. "Hagrid and the forest dwellers, sir. Though I believe you already suspected the latter."

"I did, yes, but not Hagrid's involvement," Dumbledore barely managed to say, so stunned was he to learn that the half-giant had indeed 'stolen' the boy all those years ago.

Giving only a brief smile, Hagrid dropped all pretense of being some kind of bumpkin. "My apologies Prefesser Dumbledore, sir. I have been pretending slowness and ignorance to better protect those I love and those I owe allegiance to."

"And that would be the forest dwellers rather than I and the Order?" Dumbledore felt saddened by this news. He thought he had the humble game keeper's trust but apparently that had been a lie and wishful thinking on his part.

"Partly, sir. I was born a forest dweller, as you well know, and it be natural that I give my whole heart and soul to them. However, I do respect you and the teachers here at Hogwarts even when I was wrongly accused of betraying your trust as a child when it weret Tom Riddle that had killed that poor girl."

Dumpledore blinked in shocked dismay. He hadn't known that because Hagrid had never tried to implicate the boy. "But ... why didn't you tell me that back then? You said you were innocent but never provided facts to back you up."

Hagrid shrugged. "It wouldn't have done me any good, sir. He be a human and I'm not. Tell me ... who would you have believed?"

"I … don't know and that doesn't sit well with me. It's unsettling to know I might harbor such a prejudice. I am truly sorry, Hagrid."

"That be water under the bridge now, soir. It matters not anyway as I was already mostly trained in the magical arts when I came to Hogwarts. The only reason I was sent here at all were the Elders thinking I needed some contact with wizard kind and your methods. They thought this be a way to go about it. It's too bad I couldn't continue that training but thanks to your kindness in giving me a place at the school, I still managed to learn much that helped my kind in remaining safe from wizards depredations against us."

McGonagall winced at that bald statement. "We haven't been very kind to you people that is true," she admitted, feeling some shame for that prejudice which she realized she shared as well.

Hagrid offered her a an understanding smile before returning his attention to Dumbledore. "Now, as to why I took Harry into my care … some years before his birth it were decided that any who found themselves at hand should somethin happen to his family, would be responsible for taking him into the forest to be raised. It so happened that were me. Me family and I took the raising of him and proud we are of what the young man has become." He paused to give Harry a warm smile the boy returned with a shy one of his own. Turning back to Dumbledore, he said with gravity, "We did our best to prepare him for the enemies we knew would be waiting for him here."

Leaning forward, Dumbledore fixed Hagrid with a cold stare. "You thought your people were better equipped to teach the savior of the wizarding world rather than his own kind?"

His tone more steely than the headmaster's, Hagrid said, "Our seers saw a different future for Harry, one more great than the one your seer prophesied. And killing Voldemort was not it. So, since your path was the wrong one, it was our duty to see that he reached the potential the spirits had decided for him. The stars told our Elders that this boy could lead all magical kind into a better future. Using that guidance, we trained the boy in a broader range of subjects. Not the more limited one you had planned for him."

Dumbldore's eyes flashed with anger at that pointed dig before he could say something unforgivable, McGonagall interrupted. "I won't attempt to debate whether your people's prophecy trumps Sibyll's. However, I do demand to know what you did teach Mr. Potter."

She didn't know what to think about a totally different prophesy. Admittedly, she hadn't liked the first one. Who ever heard of a young boy being responsible for killing a powerful wizard all on his own? It seemed totally unreasonable to her. And, equally stupid, was wizard's belief that the forest dwellers were little more than unskilled sub-humans. They were far more dangerous and possibly more powerful than any wizard alive had ever guessed. The only good news out of this disaster was the one about the boy himself. If he was to be someone of great import in the future, then it was good fortune or, she paused to reflect, maybe good care and love from the right people, that Harry wasn't against wizards. That would have been disastrous for all.

No matter how Albus felt, it would be she who saw to the rest of Potter's training, so it behooved her to learn what the child was taught so she could better place him within the school system. Later, if Hagrid was amendable, she would make it her business to learn more about the forest dwellers.

A rueful thought flashed through her mind, Wizarding kind is in for a rude awakening when it's learned just how magically skilled and powerful these creatures ... no people ... truly are.

"Harry ..." Hagrid interrupted her racing thoughts by nodding at the boy to answer her question.

"Well, it consisted of a lot of what you are already teaching me but with a few differences, professor. That's why I'm here at Hogwarts ... to learn what those differences are and add them to what I already know. I became personally familiar with all the creatures of the forest and have friends among them. When I was nine, I was sent to live with a muggle friend of Hagrid's for year so I could attend a muggle school. From that environment, I learned science, government, history, human biology, geography, and actual experience of what its like in the muggle world rather than all the rumor and misinformation wizarding kind has been fed all these years."

"Hagrid ..." he paused to smile at his foster father before continuing. "... took me to many places around the world and I was taught several languages. I'm fluent in Latin, German, Japanese, that one was really hard cause I wasn't allowed to use a spell to learn it the easy way … uh … ancient Celtic, and Italian. On our travels I picked up a smattering of French, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Korean, Mongolian, and Russian. Those were for getting the things I needed or asking directions, that sort of thing." McGonagall looked pleased and impressed which made Harry feel vindicated a little.

"I was taught many forms of self defense and shown how to use a variety of weapons … both muggle and wizard. Martial arts is one form of self defense that I enjoy the most and possess a brown belt in, that's near master level. So, obviously, I'm still taking lessons in that. And I do know how to duel with sword, knife, and wand besides my fists. Though I do realize that I don't have the body strength yet to take on a stronger more skilled opponent, I have learned to avoid a fight and run when I must. I have full confidence in my abilities so have no need to prove anything to anyone. So you don't have to worry about me losing my head over some insult and try to prove my 'manliness' any time soon." That got him a brief smile from those listening and relieved some of the tension in the room.

"I'm able to create a stag Patronis like my father, James. I've learned to do basic potions, fourth level defense spells, and am totally skilled at Occlumency and Legilimens."

"Which explains your strong shields," Dumbledore sighed, resigned to this line of questioning. It had allowed his temper to cool and his focus to be on what Harry might reveal in his explanations. "That is a difficult subject and there are very few who can teach it properly. Who instructed you?"

"I did."

"Severus!" Dumbledore gasped, whipping his head to the right to stare at the potion's master in shocked surprise.

"Yes, headmaster, I was asked to teach the boy the summer before he was to arrive at Hogwarts," Snape drawled unconcerned by the older wizard's reaction.

"Which means you knew all along where Harry was and never told anyone," Dumbledore accused, anger flaring in those brilliant blue eyes … no twinkle there now.

"Yes."

"Why?" McGonagall demanded before Albus could, also hurt by this further betrayal of trust.

"I owe no allegiance to wizarding kind, Minerva," Snape said in his usual blunt way. "Hagrid asked a favor and I saw a chance to redeem myself with my own people. I just made my own contribution toward that better future the Elder's saw. That was more important than my barely tolerated status here at Hogwarts and with the Order."

"You truly believe that," the old wizard murmured, thoughtfully stroking his beard. Amazement thrummed within him at this revelation. "What about our enemy? How does defeating him fit in with your 'change of heart'? You know he is not gone and his threat is very much a cause for concern."

Snape snorted in self disgust. "While we've been chasing him all over England, Voldemort was right here within these walls with no one the wiser. Not even Hogwart's spirit had guessed its enemy lay within its very walls. The Dark Lord could have continued to do his evil on our society and the children we teach here if not for Harry. Voldemort had been very clever up to that point but his greed for a body, his arrogance, and dismissal of anyone being a threat to him and his plans, caused him to tip his hand early."

"What?" McGonagall blurted, shock and horror on her face.

"Where is he?" Dumbledore demanded, nearly the same time.

"Within Professor Quirrell. We all knew the man was acting rather odd since his return to school, yet no one, least of all me, ever thought to ask him if he was alright nor investigate why he now stuttered so badly. Everyone seemed to accept his lie about running into a Death Eater and barely escaping. He did run into someone alright but it wasn't a Death Eater."

"You must be mistaken, Severus. How could Professor Quirrell have anything to do with He-Who-..." McGonagall stopped when Harry made a disgusted noise in his throat. Blushing with angry embarrassment at having an eleven year old call her to task for cowardice, she quickly corrected herself though it was hard to break a habit of years. "... I mean Voldemort. That's absurd!"

"He has everything to do with our enemy," Snape snapped coldly. "The poor fool was possessed by Voldemort's spirit during one of his many unguarded travels through the Forbidden Forest."

Shock and disbelief rolled off McGonagall and Dumbledore.

"Are you certain of this? How could Harry have discovered such a thing and no one else had?" Dumbledore demanded. His mind whirled with the implications of having the Dark Lord within the castle around all these children.

"Positive … and Harry learned of it when he suffered severe headaches from Voldemort's attempts to break past his shields every chance he got. That's when the boy realized something had possessed Quirrell but not who or what."

Dumbledore relaxed a little. "Then he doesn't know for certain this was our enemy."

Snape sighed. "At first that was true. We didn't know who the spirit was so surveillance was done. It was during that we discovered what or rather who we were dealing with. It became fact when conversations Voldemort had aloud with Quirrell that we were dealing with our enemy who wanted Harry's body and would stop at nothing to get it."

Alarm galvanized the headmaster to his feet. "We need to alert the Order ..." he began, his mind scrambling to think ahead to what needed to be done and quickly.

Hagrid stood and raised both huge hands. "Easy, easy soir," he soothed. "The danger be over as of last night."

Too many shocks took the legs out from under Dumbledore as he sat rather heavily into his chair and gaped at Hagrid. "What have you done?"

Hagrid sat again and explained. "When he confided in me that he'd discovered this evil in the castle. Snape and I suspected who it might be and planned to take him out. I went to my Elders and they came up with a spell that would, hopefully, rid us of whatever it was. As Snape has already said, the spirits own actions gave us the answer of its true self. From there it be a matter of setting a trap and luring the evil thing there using Harry as bait."

"You endangered a child to catch this thing?" McGonagell objected. "He could have been possessed by Voldemort. What were you thinking?" She demanded angrily.

Harry interrupted. "I volunteered. And no other bait would have worked. Voldemort was fixated on me. He wanted my body." He looked disgusted at that. "To be rid of that evil forever was worth the risk to me and everyone else knew the risk and did everything they could to prevent Voldemort from taking me and it worked!"

"Aye, it worked though it were a close thing. Voldemort were stronger than we'd guessed which made the battle to exorcise him take longer but in the end we were victorious. The forest dwellers suffered no casualties praise to the Goddess, only exhaustion. However, with Voldemort's destruction poor Professor Quirrell also perished. But, at least, his spirit is free. And a poor, innocent Bicorne suffered torture and death at the hands of Voldemort to set his trap for Harry."

Silence fell.

"There was no way to save him?" McGonagall finally asked, meaning Quirrell.

Snape shook his head, sadness in his eyes. "Sorry, no. Harry was able to determine there was very little of the man's own personality left. It was that thin sliver of soul that kept Voldemort from being detected. His long occupation simply ate away Quirrell's soul." McGonagall winced at that. "We will need a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher now," he added, quietly.

"If it helps, Minerva, Quirrell's spirit sang with relief when he was set free," Hagrid stated with certainty, hoping to relieve her concerns.

Sadness and a single tear fell down McGonagall's cheek but she nodded her thanks for that information.

Dumbledore, meanwhile, sat completely stunned and at a loss for words for the first time in his long life. It was a lot to take in and he was trying to accept that all these unknowns had taken care of the evil they'd hunted so long and with seeming ease. However, he was still skeptical that Voldemort was truly gone.

"What is your proof he's really gone?" He asked.

Snape took his left hand and rolled up his right sleeve.

"Oh my! It's gone! That horrible tattoo is gone," McGonagall said, softly. Rising from her seat she walked over to Snape.

He allowed her to take hold of his arm and touch the spot where the tattoo had been. Feeling a slight warmth against his skin, he guessed she had done a brief spell to determine if he was using some method to hide the symbol. After a moment, she let his arm go.

Looking both relieved and stunned by this turn of events, she offered him a weak smile which he returned before turning to Dumbledore. In a near breathless voice, she said, "It's gone. No trace remains. Unbelievable as it seems, Albus, our enemy is no more."

Dumbledore leaned back in his seat and stared at them all. The death of Voldemort changed everything.

While the headmaster was silent, McGonagall turned to stare at Harry, thoughtfully a moment, before returning her attention to Hagrid once more. "Well, now that the threat is gone, I just have a few more questions to ask about Potter's education."

"Certainly, prefesser. Ask away."

"It sounds like you have done a thorough job of teaching Potter. From what you have told me he has received a much better and more well-rounded curriculum than our students are presently being taught. But the amount of education you have force-fed such a young child concerns me. Are you certain he was able to absorb it well enough to truly understand what he was taught?"

"Children be like sponges, prefesser. They grasp far more than most adults give them credit. But Harry, now, he be much smarter than the average bairn. Because of that, his teachers were able to give him the equivalent of up to year four for wizard school and at least middle of secondary school … that be about …" he thought a bit about the equivalent since none here were familiar with muggle schooling, " … year seven in academics here. As for proficiency levels … well, he be a long way from reaching sum of them because of his age. As you well know many of the magical teachings must wait until a body is mature enough to handle it. Same be true about physical skills with both fighting and weapons. He needs time to grow into his body and magical power to reach any of those goals. I will say, all his teachers are pleased with his exceptional progress for one so young. And all those teachers were experts in their own fields so you needn't be worried about being taught poorly. You are welcome to test him, of course, but I feel you will find he knows more than ye expect him to."

McGonagall still looked skeptical. "Most, if not all of his teachers were non-human, I suppose?"

"Yer prejudice is showing prefersser," Hagrid chided her gently. McGonagall had the grace to blush in embarrassment as she realized that was very true. "But, Aye, most his teachers were forest dwellers however, don' forget there be muggle instructors as weal."

McGonagall shook her head and looked genuinely confused. "Why Muggles for goodness sakes?"

"We wanted him to know both worlds. It were extremely important for the future of us all. Ye will soon learn why as the Elders intend to make an announcement soon," Hagrid said, mysteriously.

Frowning, Dumbledore, who had returned to the conversation, asked, "What kind of announcement?"

"Sorry soir, that is not for me to say. You must have patience."

Dumbledore's expression was sour at that but knew nothing he could say would get him a different answer.

Hagrid merely smiled and said nothing more.

Chapter Text

Shaking his head, Dumbledore felt adrift at the moment, something he'd not experienced in a very long time. It seemed the war was over with him sitting on the sidelines during the final battle. He didn't know how to handle that. He was used to being in control and clearly he wasn't and hadn't been since the day the boy, Harry Potter, had been taken into the forest.

He was still grappling with the fact Hagrid wasn't as stupid or powerless as they had all thought. And even more terrifying, it appeared the forest dwellers were more powerful and skilled with magic than any in the wizarding world had imagined. He wasn't sure he wanted to actually see what they were capable of but if what Hagrid was hinting at, they would all learn just how much of a threat the forest dwellers could be if they so chose.

And that was the question, wasn't it? Did they mean the wizarding harm or did they simply want recognition that they weren't an object of ridicule and distrust. Nor did they wish to continue to be ignored as creatures of no account in the scheme of things.

Shaking his head again, he stared at everyone in turn. Spreading his hands on his desk, he noticed just how old they looked. At that very moment he was feeling every one of his some two hundred years.

"So what now?" He asked of the room at large, rather plaintively.

Snape was surprised. He hadn't thought the headmaster would cave in this way or perhaps it was just too many shocking facts that laid waste all his carefully made plans? He shook his head. It hardly mattered, things would begin changing drastically for everyone the moment word got out that Voldemort was gone.

Suddenly Harry spoke. He stood up and faced McGonagall and Dumbledore, a grim expression on his face.

"What now? Why clean up, sir. We have a lot of evil to eliminate."

Dumbledore frowned at him.

"Though Voldemort is dead his minions, the death eaters are not. We know they must be hiding within the Ministry of Magic and among the movers and shakers of the wizarding world. They must be found and taken down before a true peace can be declared," Harry said earnestly.

The headmaster blinked in surprise and amazement. "That is very true, Harry though, if you'll pardon me saying so, not something I would expect to hear from someone your age."

Harry just shrugged. "A great many people will underestimate me, sir, and will continue to do so until I'm able to prove I can do what I say. As for what I suggest be done, it was only logical and something I am certain you would have come up with when all the shocks you've received have passed."

Snape hid a small smile. Way to go Harry. Say what you need and then soothe the old man's ego so he will be on your side.

"Thank you, Harry, but I don't need my ego stroked," Dumbledore managed a weak smile in appreciation of the boy's attempt.

Busted! Snape hid a snort. Still a sharp buzzard after all, he thought, amused.

Harry blushed and shrugged.

Dumbledore sighed, stretched then stood up. "Whatever my feelings on these matters, it doesn't change the fact that you are correct, Harry. That is the next logical step but, unfortunately, the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, will have to be convinced there is a need then get the cooperation of the aurors to get it done and as you well know, the Minister has refused to even believe such a threat exists. It will be a daunting task to force him to see reason."

"Yes sir, I haven't forgotten how little the Minister likes being told Voldemort was still around so I understand things have to be done slowly if cleaning up is to succeed. I also know the key to making Mr. Fudge listen will be the announcement the Elder's plan.

The headmaster gave a sigh but nodded. "That might be true though whatever their plans it will have to be a big enough display to make the rest of the wizarding world listen."

"Too right, sir. However, there's nothing we can do until the Elders make their move first. I just hope they don't take too long taking action."

"Why? Is there some kind of deadline we don't know about?" McGonagall asked, still stunned and trying to cope.

"Only that the longer the death eaters are allowed to run free the more chances there are that one of them will try to become the new leader and cause even more grief. And don't forget, Voldemort does have many non-human allies that can also cause trouble."

"Ah, he be right, Professor Dumbledore. One of his minions, a Banshee, showed up during our battle last night and glad I am there were only one of them to deal with," Hagrid said, adding, "... and that Professor Snape here was able to end it taking a wound in the effort."

Dumbledore and McGonagall both turned to stare at Snape in dismay.

"I am well, have no worries," the potion's master assured them.

"That is good to hear, Severus," the headmaster sighed in relief then turned back to Hagrid. "I'm surprised he didn't bring others," he mused.

"Aye, so did I but I believe we can attribute the reason to that insufferably big ego he had. The fool didn't consider Harry a threat and, of course, he weren't aware the boy had allies that weren't wizards. That were quite a surprise for him, I can tell you," Hagrid snorted, satisfaction glittering in his dark eyes.

"Yes, Tom was always arrogant and far too certain of his prowess with magic. Being too dismissive of others is and was his ultimate downfall." Dumbledore sighed in regret. " Such a terrible shame losing a talented and powerful wizard like that ... but then he was lost from the time of his birth if Moody is correct. What did he call it ... ah, yes born with sociopathic tendencies. Another new term we have learned from muggles." He grimaced.

McGonagall shook her head. "A condition I wished we had known existed. How do we prevent such an occurrence from happening again?" She wondered aloud, not really expecting an answer.

"I took it upon myself, Minerva, to have Moody give me the data he had collected on the various psychosis' that exist in muggles that would be dangerous or detrimental to wizarding kind and passed that on to Hogwarts. The castle spirit has incorporated that in its criteria for finding young wizards. Be assured those that have any of these mental problems will be stricken from the attendance list," Dumbledore said.

"That's a relief."

"Excellent move, headmaster, and one I am glad you had the foresight to take care of. I'm ashamed to admit, that I had completely forgotten that bit of shocking information Alastor had given us. I intend to rectify that oversight quickly and read up on the subject for myself," Snape added.

Dumbledore smiled sadly. "Better late than never, I believe some muggle said."

"So true."

"So are you going to tell the Order of the Phoenix about what we said today, sir," Harry interrupted. Though the brief sidetrack in subject was interesting, it wasn't as important as what he wanted to know now. "Personally, I have no desire to tell my story yet again before a room full of powerful wizards who will be outraged and shocked. So, if you don't mind, sir, I'd like to skip that confrontation. One is enough for me for the day that has been way too long already." He quickly smothered a yawn.

Dumbledore eyed him narrowly. The boy looked exhausted which meant the battle must have ended not too long ago. Sighing, he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes then put them back on before answering. "No, you don't have to repeat this again, Harry. I will have to resort to using my Pensieve to convince them. Something this volatile requires the true event to be seen to believe. But even then this many shocking truths are going to cause much disturbance." Snape snorted at his use of such a mild word for how the Order would react. Dumbledore gave him a warning glance before continuing. "However, upset they may be, it's important they be ready for whatever the Elders plan."

"Best extract a promise that they do not release this information until the Elders have done so first, sir," Hagrid warned.

"Now that will be difficult to arrange as Shacklebolt will feel honor bound to do just that and will insist it be released to the Ministry immediately." Nobody looked happy about that fact.

"As to that, sir, I will be attending to back up your words. And show a bit of truth about meself as well to ensure compliance. I believe even Mr. Shacklebolt will hold back if he is sufficiently worried and afraid of what the Elders might do," Hagrid said coolly.

"And, of course, I will be there as well, Albus. Between the two of us, I doubt anyone will be willing to spill the beans, as it were," Snape smiled, showing all teeth like a wolf.

The great wizard found himself shivering at the unspoken threat in Snape's tone and manner. "I hope you are right, Severus. We will just have to wait and see."

"It will be a headache inducing meeting to be sure," McGonagall muttered.

I quite agree, Dumbledore thought to himself.

"What time do we meet, sir?" Hagrid asked, bringing his attention back to those waiting.

Dumbledore grimaced and thought a moment. "Around seven tonight, I think. I will send the owls immediately. Meanwhile, we have the day's tasks ahead of us so off with you all. I could excuse you from classes, Harry, if you're too tired ..."

"No, that's alright, sir. Though I would give anything for a few hours more sleep that would start gossip about what is going on and we don't want that. I'll muddle through somehow and do my best not to fall asleep in class." Harry's stomach chose that moment to growl. "Uh, however, I do need to get some food first. I missed breakfast."

"Ah, that is easily remedied. Rusifer!" Dumbledore called to the air. A house elf immediately appeared. It was rather young with rusty colored hair in wisps everywhere about its head and wearing a very old and stained Hogwart's tea cloth.

"You wish somethin' master?"

Dumbledore nodded at Harry to speak his need. "Oh, uh, could I have a ham sandwich and some pumpkin juice, please ... oh, and deliver it to my room. Thank you," he told the elf. "I still need to get my books and things," he said in aside to explain the detour. The headmaster nodded his understanding.

Clearly dismissed, the house elf nodded and snapped out of view.

"Thank you again sir. I'll leave you all now."

"Have an easy day, Harry. See you at lunch."

"Yes sir," Harry said briefly before turning and leaving as fast as he could.

Once the boy was gone, Dumbledore turned his attention to Hagrid and Snape. Both had risen to their feet preparing to leave. "Have a peaceful day. See you tonight."

"Till then, sir," Hagrid acknowledged. Snape simply inclined his head and the two began to head for the door together.

"Severus, please remain for a few minutes more," the headmaster requested, halting the potion's master just inches from the door.

Raising an eyebrow in surprise, Snape stopped and returned. After only raising a bushy eyebrow in mild surprise, Hagrid continued on out, closing the door behind him.

McGonagall hadn't moved when Dumbledore turned to her. "Please go Minerva. I will see you at lunch."

With only a small frown on her face, McGonagall stood, inclined her head in a brief nod. Silence reigned for a few moments after the door closed behind her. Finally, the headmaster sat back down and eyed Snape curiously.

"You may refuse to answer this, Severus, but I feel compelled to ask it anyway … are you human or only half?"

Snape eyed the man warily. The question wasn't unexpected but whether he answered or not wasn't an easy thing to decide. However, did it really matter now with his entire family and Voldemort gone?

"It's not something I am willing to discuss, Albus, as I have been trained to keep this a secret from all but family."

"Yet you revealed it to the forest dwellers ..."

"Actually, no. They knew I was different but not why. They learned my secret the night of the battle because my abilities were needed."

"To defeat the Banshee ... I see. So you have never revealed this thing to anyone even after the death of your closest family." He paused and studied the young man a moment before asking hesitantly, "Since you have revealed this secret at last, could I be trusted to know it as well?"

Snape sighed and thought about it. To give himself some time he wandered over to Fawkes. He and the bird eyed one another for a long moment then Snape spoke to it in that strange gargle and chirp language he'd used earlier.

Albus cocked an ear and listened to the odd conversation, wishing, fleetingly, that he could communicate with his familiar in the same manner or mentally which he suspected Harry had done earlier. Then sighed as he realized that apparently wasn't the nature of his relationship with Fawkes. When he was taught about familiar's, he had been told the familiar determines the type of relationship and method of communication when the bond is made. And that method, whatever it is, remains in force until one of them dies. So apparently he had only been allowed an emotional bond with the Phoenix.

Ignoring the headmaster's curious stare, Snape asked advice of his friend, "What should I do? This secret has been kept in my family for centuries."

"True … but unnecessary it is now ... none to hurt ... but to be known help all ... you most of all," Fawkes said firmly.

"What? But why? What I am has no bearing on what I do from now on so is it really necessary that anyone know?"

Fawkes tilted his head then leaned forward until their eyes were close. "Important you are ... educate wizarding kind of who we are ... this part of better future seen. Trust hard but security ... safety ... for you ... some aware should be ... and worthy he is."

"Really?"

The Phoenix made what sounded like a snort. "My familiar he is ... know him I should." Snape blushed at the mild rebuke and glanced over at Dumbledore who eyed him back with hope in his vivid blue eyes. Sighing, Snape turned back to Fawkes and gave a brisk nod. "Thank you for your insight."

"Welcome you are."

Leaving Fawkes, Snape returned to the headmaster and stood before the seated man a moment, cocking his head much like a bird would as he studied the man. Dumbledore said nothing and waited with bated breath. Then suddenly a blur came over the man and in the next moment a huge black bird stood there, nearly as tall as the man had been, wings held tightly to his body so as not to knock any of the precious artifacts off their perches.

Instantly cacophony of excited voices burst forth from the canvas' on the walls as the portraits exclaimed in shocked amazement … some because they recognized the ancient form … others because they thought he was an Animagus that Snape had not reported as required by wizarding law.

Dumbledore's reaction was more subdued. He rose from his seat and walked around the desk to stand before the giant bird in utter fascination.

"Positively amazing. I don't believe I've ever seen such a form before nor was I aware you were an Animagus, Severus," he said, making the same erroneous mistake the portraits did.

Giving a caw, the big bird shook it's head in the negative.

The old wizard frowned in confusion. He walked a circle to study the creature from all sides before halting in front of it again. "You are not? Then what are you?" The form began to dissolve which caused Albus to make a sound of regret. In seconds the magnificent creature was gone and Severus appeared in his usual black clothing. Now that was interesting especially if he wasn't an Animagus.

"I am not an Animagus, Albus." Snape confirmed. "As you well know those kinds of wizards have an affinity for their spirit animal and, with specialized transfiguration training, are able to assume that shape. However, my form is inherited. An ancient ancestor of mine was so enamored of these birds and their ability to fly that he dared to design a spell to combine human DNA with those of the Blackfeather species. He got what he hoped for in his progeny. But the gene doesn't breed true consistently so very few are born with the ability."

"And how often might that be?" Dumbledore asked, fascinated.

"Perhaps only one in several generations."

"Is it sex linked?"

"No. Though there have been more males than females."

"How extraordinary. But because it's a natural talent, I suspect you would have needed specialized training to learn to control the change, yes?"

Snape grimaced. "Oh definitely. The ability to change occurs around puberty and mine appeared at a most inopportune time … during my thirteenth birthday party. Thankfully, it had only been family in attendance. However, it still had caused quite a stir as there hadn't been a Blackfeather born in my immediate family for at least a century."

"Oh dear. Then you had no one to train you on how to use your abilities?"

"And that's what we all thought, however, apparently I got lucky. A reclusive relative, none thought was still alive, suddenly appeared days later and took me under his wing, as it were. He was a very ancient soul but still sharp and spry enough to handle and train a gawky teen. And, though the training was hard, he at least treated me with kindness and affection. I loved him dearly." Snape sighed at the memory.

"And then you were returned to the less than tender mercies of your father," Dumbledore added, sadly, knowing about the harsh treatment the elder Snape bestowed on his only son. Fortunately for Severus the man died when he was fifteen but by that time much of the damage to the body and mind of the boy had been done. It was that cruel treatment that had led the boy toward the dark in the first place.

Snape snarled with hatred at the reminder of his father's cruelty. "I might have been spared that if my mentor had not died shortly after my training was completed, but the man was over four hundred years old and couldn't be expected to keep going. I was extremely lucky he even lived that long in the first place."

"You, you were indeed. And perhaps his longevity was because somehow he knew one would be born. You did say he seemed to be the last, eh?"

A surprised look flashed over the still young face. "I never thought of that. You could be right. Anyway, …." Snape shook off the old memories. "... unlike an Animagus, I need no spell to change back and forth."

"Hmm, that means your clothing shouldn't survive the change ... yet yours does. How is that possible?"

Snape blushed a bit when he remembered the embarrassment he experienced that long ago birthday when he returned to his human form stark naked. His mother was quick to transfigure a blanket around him but the damage to his ego had already been done.

"Correct, Albus, which is why my mother strongly suggested, shortly after my birthday, that when I went to Hogwarts I should take the Animagus Transformation Class to learn more control and how to keep my clothing present. I did as she advised and never regretted it."

"She would have been proud of you, Severus. You transform with ease and are dressed impeccably afterward so you have learned your lessons well."

Snape bobbed his head and smiled, genuinely pleased by the compliment. "Thank you, sir. I trust that has answered all your questions?"

"It has for now my boy. What a rare creature you are and I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. Are you the last?"

"I fear I may be. Though Harry seems to think I should look further afield before resigning myself to that possible fate. His knowledge of muggle computers is extensive and it has opened a whole world of knowledge that even living among them as a child, I never knew about. But, then I was sheltered from them a lot by my father."

"Computers?"

"Yes, a very effective machine muggles use for learning and communication. They are generations ahead of us in nearly all areas except magic. While we remain mired in the past and that is the true danger for our kind."

Dumbledore cocked a skeptical eye at his potion's master. "I am aware the muggles are more sophisticated than wizard kind but I hardly think that makes them a serious threat."

"And that attitude and mindset is exactly why we will be unprepared when their world inevitably smashes into ours," Snape said.

The headmaster was surprised and dismayed by Snape's certainty that a new danger, this time with the muggles, waited just beyond their borders. What could he be missing?

Chapter Text

After hurrying out of Dumbledore's office, Harry made a bee line for his dorm, managing to avoid meeting anyone along the way. Everyone was in class, which meant he was late but that couldn't be helped. Ducking through the disapproving portrait guarding the Gryffindor entry way, Harry rushed upstairs to the dorm.

His breakfast waited suspended on a tray above his bed and Wine was beneath it, nose in the air sniffing it.

Giving his familiar a quick pat and the chicken leg the house elf thoughtfully had on the plate for him, Harry quickly got his school things together before sitting on the bed to stuff his meal down rather hastily. Washing it down with the pumpkin juice.

Grabbing his books and things, he gave Wine a verbal farewell (since daring to touch a kneazle who was eating guaranteed a bitten hand) and raced back out of the dorm. His first class of the day was Transfiguration.

Since McGonagall knew where he'd been, he had no need to explain his tardiness. She had left a lesson on the board for everyone to practice and take notes on in her absence but she had since returned and was presently walking between the desks studying the resultant products of the students when Harry entered.

As quiet as he could, he quickly slipped into his seat. Ignoring his friends questioning eyes, he immediately got out quill and paper to write down the lesson. Since it wasn't a difficult spell, he was done writing and performing the task several minutes before the professor finally reached him to check his work. She bestowed a small, approving smile on his excellent 'cup into mouse' transfiguration before moving on.

By the time class had ended, Harry's burst of energy was seriously flagging so he could be forgiven being a touch irritable when his friends buttonholed him on their way to the next class, demanding to know where he had gone.

Ron pressed close so others wouldn't listen in, asking, "Where were you? I went to wake you and bring you a bit of food but you were gone … vanished!" He was more than a little annoyed that his concerned gesture ended up being needless and nearly costing him house points for being tardy to class (and wasn't it lucky McGonagall hadn't been there?).

"I'd like to know the answer to that as well, Harry," Hermione interjected softly.

Harry wished he could just tell them to 'saw off' but that would have been unconscionably rude and he had been taught better manners. Sighing mentally, he did his best to curb his temper and give them an answer, he hoped, satisfied and held off more questioning. "Sorry. Not my fault. I was ordered to report to Professor Dumbledore's office. McGonagall and Snape were there too."

Ron gasped and gave his friend a worried look.

"What for?" Hermione asked. "Are you in some kind of trouble."

Harry shook his head. "No, I'm not, don't worry. However, I'm not at liberty to say what was discussed nor why I was so tired this morning so please just let it be, alright?"

Twin blinks of surprise and more concern flashed on his friend's faces.

"Blimey, you do get into some interesting situations, Harry, but I'll keep mum, promise," Ron gravely agreed.

"And so will I. But I do hope you can tell us something later," Hermione qualified.

Harry could only give them a strained smile and nod. He was grateful they didn't ask him anything more as the three friends swung in behind a small knot of students momentarily blocking the door to the potion's classroom. Snape had returned just ahead of his students and was writing on the blackboard.

Everyone hurriedly took their seats, pulled out their books, quills, and paper then set to copying. Silence reigned for some minutes. With the energy boost wearing off, exhaustion dragged at Harry making his head ache. Just trying to do his work was making him wish desperately that he could just curl up and sleep for days. A groan wanted to force its way past his lips but he firmly kept them sealed and tried to ignore his body radiating how distressed it was.

Of course, Snape, who was circulating the room, knew what Harry's hunched posture and pinched face meant. But he didn't dare speak to the boy nor make mental contact as that would make things worse nor did he 'pick on' Harry, as usual, for the same reason. But he thought it wise to deflect attention from Harry by choosing a few miscreants from his own house.

When he finished his tour of the room, he headed to the herbal cabinet and began pulling ingredients together. Minutes later, Snape was distilling something rather nasty looking in a cauldron, to the puzzlement of his students as he hadn't said he was going to make them do something else.

However, as time went on, the students realized it was something of his own he was doing, they had no more concern except to try and complete the lesson they'd been given. So in ones and twos, they walked to the supply cabinet and collected what they needed for the day's potion.

Seeming to ignore his students (they thought), Snape continued to work on his decoction then set the small caldron with it's boiling hot contents to the side to cool before doing a second walk around to inspect his student's work.

Class ended without any explosions for once. However the ringing bell was still loud enough to make Harry grind his teeth in pain. His dragging exhaustion had added a demon of a headache to his woes. He desperately needed some kind of relief so dragged his feet on departing the classroom. When the last student had exited, even his puzzled friends he had waved to go on ahead of him, he could finally turn to Snape.

To his great relief, the potion's master was already at his side with a test tube full of something that fizzed and smelled foul. Without hesitation, Harry downed the potion, gasped and nearly spit it out but manfully managed to keep it down. His exhaustion and headache had vanished instantly though he now had a nasty taste in his mouth.

"Ugh! Why can't you make those taste better!" He complained.

Snape smirked. "But what would be the fun in that?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "You are just evil when you want to be."

The man snickered then raised his other hand and opened it to reveal something smooth, round, and white. "Here ..."

Frowning, Harry carefully took what looked like a pill and eyed it suspiciously.

"Chew don't swallow," Snape warned while still smirking.

Sighing, Harry popped the small thing in his mouth and chewed. His eyes widened in surprise. "Hmm, that's amazing! What the heck was that?" He asked, licking his lips to get the last bit of sweetness.

"It's called a Pina Colada Chewy Sour Ball. They are my favorite but hard to get since it is a muggle treat."

"They're smashing. I could most likely get them for you through the internet though you would have to have a credit card," Harry said thoughfully.

Snape snorted. "Not likely I would bother with one of those but thank you for the thought. Now you must hurry if you are to make your next class."

"Right. Thanks again!" Harry smiled back then ran for the stairs. He noticed as he hurried to the main doors and out to Herbology class, that he didn't feel all that rested as the first time but then he realized, Snape hadn't wanted to over medicate him as that could lead to him collapsing during class or in the corridors when this dose wore off. If he guessed right, his strength should hold out through the rest of the day until after dinner then he must be off his feet.

When lunchtime rolled around, he was ravenous. He noted that neither, Snape nor Hagrid spoke with Dumbledore or McGonagall. Most likely waiting until tonight when the discussions would be heated and unpleasant. Harry didn't envy them that and was hardily glad to be missing it.

As Harry ate and talked with his friends, Dumbledore cast him, Snape, and Hagrid occasional glances. His expression worried and introspective.

Finally the day drew to a close. With his extra boast waning rapidly, Harry hurried to finish his homework ahead of the others, much to Ron's surprise and disgust, then disappeared into the dorm. Fortunately, no one bothered him about why he was retiring early (most likely due to Hermione's intervention … he must thank her later).

After feeding Wine and taking care of his bedtime preparations, Harry shut his curtains and blissfully collapsed into deep slumber. Not even the sound of the students arriving much later that evening, woke him up.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Number twelve Grimmauld Place echoed with the sounds of raised, angry voices. Auror Alaster Moody was not pleased to have been dragged back for, what he thought, was another useless meeting that had nothing to do with pinning down Voldemort's location and his minions that kept eluding them successfully.

Kingsley Shacklebolt, auror and a member of the Ministry of Magic, wasn't any happier and was irritably complaining to Tonks sitting nearby.

"What the devil is Albus up to? I shouldn't even be here. Minister Fudge has been breathing down my neck to do 'something' about the forest dwellers 'attack' on wizards and innocent children. Though how I'm supposed to get one of these creatures to give me an answer, I have no clue."

"Attack? Wot attack? Snape and Malfoy's brat weren't harmed that badly and I say bully for those forest guys. It's wrong how the ministry and wizarding kind treats them. I don't blame them for making a stand the only way they can." Nymphadora Tonks glared at Shacklebolt.

"They didn't help their cause snatching people and hauling them away for two weeks, Tonks, despite their legitimate complaints," Shacklebolt insisted.

Remus Lupin took exception to that. "It's the only way they can get anyone's attention, Kingsley. They have been vilified, ignored, and treated most shamefully for generations."

"Aw gere off it, Lupin. They ain't but animals mostly," Sturgis Podmore interjected, eyeing the slender man with some annoyance.

"Now see here, Podmore ..." Lupin hissed, turning to the heavier man, fire flashing in his eyes. His friend, Sirius Black jumped to his feet and glared at Podmore too.

"ENOUGH!" A powerful voice, magically magnified, shouted. All froze and went silent as they realized Dumbledore had arrived and was standing in the doorway of the parlor glowering at the belligerents. "I will tolerate no more disparagement of the forest dwellers. You'll realize in a few minutes why your disdain for them is unwarranted and dangerously ignorant."

Podmore frowned at that statement but kept silent and retreated across the room. Lupin and Tonks fumed but took their seats with Lupin tugging Black down beside him.

Next to appear through the doorway were, Snape and Hagrid … together, which caused raised eyebrows. Just Hagrid being here was unusual as the half-giant was not normally included in these meetings unless he would play a part in some plan or other, but his arrival with Snape was unprecedented.

The two late comers opted for standing to one side of the doorway opposite Dumbledore rather than taking a seat. Besides, there was no space left for another chair, no matter how small, as nearly every member of the Order that had managed to make this special meeting were seated except for a few others that stood too.

Starting near the fireplace, standing beside it, was Alastor Moody leaning on his staff. His magical eye roamed the room, restlessly. Arabella Fig, squib spy, was rarely invited to one of these things yet here she was. Her eyes bright with curiosity as to why she was here, she sat primly, spine straight on a small folding chair a few feet from the taciturn auror. On her other side, cramped together on a low settee, sat Lupin, Black, and Tonks. Still fuming, Tonks' appearance kept changing … hair from bright blue to flaming red, face going from stunningly beautiful to looking like a crone … randomly ... matching her mood.

Across the room Shacklebolt sat on another folding chair, eyes thoughtful and brooding. Sitting nearly lost in an old, but comfortable sofa chair, was old man Doge, his silver hair sprouting like a hedgehog beneath the silly hat he insisted on wearing everywhere. A few feet from him, nervously twitching and alternating from foot to foot was Dadelus Diggle. His expression worried and fearful, hands in constant motion twisting the violet hat he always wore. Eyeing Diggle with some annoyance was Podmore. Preferring to stand as well, he rested his massive back against the wall and waited alertly for the meeting to begin. Sitting together on an old Victorian loveseat near Dumbledore, who still stood, were the Weasley's, Molly and Arthur. Their sons, Charlie and Bill stood behind them leaning against the wall and on either side of an old Victorian painting of a hunting scene. Lastly, sitting squeezed together on an old couch, were portly Hestia Jones and slim-as-a-stick Emmeline Vance. Both women held the same expression of worry.

"Thank you all for making the effort to be here for this special meeting. I have some astonishing news. Voldemort is dead." Dumbledore dropped the bomb, eschewing his normal method of working up to a sensitive subject.

Instantly a roar of voices, all trying to speak at the same time, filled the room. A gesture and a steely look from those normally twinkling blue eyes cut the sounds off like a light switch. None needed the reminder that Dumbledore was a powerful wizard and only playacted the part of a kindly old coot to put people off. With varying expression of disbelief, excitement, and worry the group waited for their leader to continue.

"With the aid of Mr. Potter as a lure, the forest dwellers …"

"THEY DARED TO USE HARRY?" Black leaped to his feet, roaring in fury unable to hold his tongue . His friend, Lupin immediately stood and wrapped his strong arms around Sirius to restrain the angry man to keep him from doing something extremely stupid.

"What! How could you allow such a thing?" Arabella shouted, equally shocked and on her feet.

"Albus! When did this occur ..." Moody thundered, stamping his staff into the floor.

The small parlor vibrated with angry voices sounding like a disturbed hive of bees.

Annoyed that he could not finish even one sentence, he shouted a silencing charm wandlessly, something he rarely did as he hadn't wanted anyone to know just how powerful he was. The only ones spared his wrath were Hagrid and Snape.

Stunned expressions met Dumbledore's steely gaze as silence reigned yet again. Moody surreptitiously removed the charm but kept silent and waited.

Huffing air, the headmaster got his anger under control and continued in a more even tone. "Now that I have your undivided attention and silence. I will show you what transpired in my office this morning so there will be no misunderstandings."

Making a gesture, his Pensieve appeared, hovering before him. The members blinked in surprise. Dumbledore never took this from his office. Something untoward was about to be revealed and no one was happy about it. The old wizard pulled his wand out and touched it to his forehead extracting the necessary memory then depositing it into the water-like substance in the basin.

"Attend," the headmaster ordered.

Hesitantly, the Order moved to stand around the basin. It was tight as everyone had to stand face to back to be able to reach the basin at the same time. When all were in place, each reached out with a single finger. Immediately, they were plunged into the event of the morning.

It seemed to take forever but was actually only ten minutes before all withdrew to return to their original places in the room, various expressions ranging from outrage, shock, disbelief, and fear on their faces.

Dumbledore made his Pensieve disappear. That seemed the signal for many to try and speak but the spell prevented it. Before anyone could vanish the charm, Dumbledore turned to Hagrid.

"If you would remove the charm, Hagrid ..."

Shocked expressions and gaping mouths followed Hagrid's casual gesture of his huge fingers that removed the charm … without wand or speech.

"Then it's true!" Remus gasped, the first to find their voice.

"Aye …" Hagrid said, smiling benignly.

"Why did you hide?" Shacklebolt demanded.

"Why the did you take Malfoy and Snape?" Moody chimed in at the same time.

That started an avalanche of questions from all the members. Hagrid shook his head and gestured again, instantly restoring silence.

When the angry wizards made a gesture toward removing the charm, Hagrid halted them, "If you would just be patient, I will explain. I will not be shouted at."

Everyone stilled and stared at him. Hagrid had spoken firmly and clearly. Though his speech remained rustic and heavily accented, there was none of the hesitancy and slowness one normally associated with him. "If you will remain quiet, I will remove the charm. I will try and answer most of the questions I and the Elders of the forest know you are most interested in. Once I've done that you may ask what you may though I cannot guarantee I can answer all you want to know. Will you be still?"

With nods of agreement, the group sat or stood quietly and waited though many twitched with impatience. Hagrid removed the charm.

"Why pretend to be less than we are? That be simple ... we had no choice as no wizard saw us as anythin but barely educated barbarians or worse ... animals. You did accept we were magical but not that were capable of casting spells same as you. Only those from Hogwarts were a little more aware of the few among us with skills but only because they had use of them. And even them they didn't always accord much respect … begging your pardon, headmaster."

"I am aggrieved that this was so, Hagrid."

Hagrid smiled grimly. "Even you were not free of prejudice, sir." Dumbledore flushed a little with shame and anger but the half-giant had already turned away. "However, wizarding kinds ignorance toward us worked to our advantage. Your blindness kept us safe and apart from most of the wars you fought amongst yerselves. That is until the appearance of the dark lords who saw us as tools to aid them in their attempts at conquering the wizarding world. Having little choice, we secretly began aiding the Light while taking care not to expose ourselves. However, as time dragged on and yet a second war began, our kind began to chafe at being treated as little more than beasts to be used as canon fodder on both sides of the conflict."

Hagrid paused and gave each Order member a hard look. Many couldn't stare him in the eyes for long while those that could had frowns or shame on their faces.

"We be just as important to this magical world as you. We will no longer accept your treatment of us and demand we receive equal standing among you. That means … before you ask Mr. Shacklebolt ..." Kingsley subsided, outraged but also embarrassed. "We demand to be included in the running of our world both in the Ministry and within the Wizengamot. And before you try and object, we do have members just as magically skilled as Professor Dumbledore … a few his equal or better in power." That caused angry mutters of disbelief and anger to circle the room. Hagrid ignored it and pushed on.

"As for why we took Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy? I am not at liberty to answer fully. I can only say it did get your attention. Now, be there other questions?"

"I wish to speak!" Shacklebolt said before anyone else could. Hagrid nodded at him. "First, thank you for your help in ridding our world of the latest Dark Lord. Second, I agree with Harry that something must be done about the remaining Death Eaters. But I too agree that now isn't the time to try and convince Minister Fudge of Voldemort's demise. Which leads me to my third question, what is this plan you say the Elders have? I must admit, it would have to be spectacular if it's to convince wizarding kind your complaints and wishes are to be heeded."

"No thanks were necessary, Mr. Shacklebolt. The threat was to us all. I'm just glad we were able to finish him. However, I'm sorry I cannot say what the Elder's plan is. I am not privy to their council. But, I have been assured they will be taking action within a week. I'm sorry I cannot be more precise than that."

"I don't like it!" Moody burst in truculently. He stomped forward until he stood toe to toe before Hagrid. "How can you stand there and tell us we must simply sit on our hands until these Elders do something that could put people in harms way?"

Hagrid shook his head. "No one will come to physical harm. This I swear on my magic!"

Everyone gasped. No one made such a binding pronouncement without due care as they could be stripped of their magic or die. But Hagrid remained untouched.

"You said "physical harm" does that mean there might be emotional or other harm?" Moody pushed not willing to let go of this line of questioning.

"I cannot tell you more," Hagrid said firmly.

"Or you will not!"

"I cannot!"

"Dumbledore ..." Moody turned to appeal to their leader.

But the headmaster spread his hands and shook his head. "On this I have no say nor power to change, Alastor. The Elders could have done a great many things to us in our ignorance yet they have stayed their hand and have, instead, decided to find a peaceful way to get their needs met. We must show we are willing to see what that is."

Moody scowled and stared equally at Dumbledore and Hagrid but both men remained unmoved. Something in the auror's eyes moved the half-giant to act. He murmured something softly and suddenly Moody was frozen in place. Shock and anger glared from his good eye and the magical one glowed as if to do something unforgiveable to the gatekeeper.

"Don't." Hagrid warned, his tone deceptively mild.

The air around the two was charged with tension and no one, even Dumbledore, felt they should do anything to interfere. At least not yet.

Hagrid moved to stand before Moody. "I understand your fears and suspicions Alastor but I truly am not your enemy. Please, I beg you, be patient. All will be revealed and you will not be unhappy when it is over though life as we know it will be irrevocably changed but for the better."

Moody glared but slowly it dimmed to resignation though not defeat. Only then did Hagrid release him. The auror felt the spell leave him but didn't move. He frowned into the half-giant's face for a few silent minutes before finally speaking.

"I find that impossible to believe and will keep my eyes and ears open for trouble. If I'm still not happy with the results we will finish this."

"I understand."

Staring at Hagrid a moment longer, Moody nodded sharply and moved away. Turning to Dumbledore he demanded, "Are we through here?"

"Do you have any more questions," the headmaster asked quietly.

"Only one. Why was it so important that Potter learn about muggles?"

"Ah, that also be something the Elders will speak of." Hagrid was apologetic but firm.

Moody snorted in disgust. "Then, no, I have no more questions and have other things I need to be doing."

"I understand. You may leave," Dumbledore said equitably. Without another word, Moody stomped from the room. The front door was heard slamming moments later.

"I, for one, don't like any of this. Too many questions … no answers and we're expected to wait for the world to explode around us," Podmore snarled, the first to speak.

"What I don't understand is if Harry was supposed to destroy the Dark Lord what happens that's so important now that the enemy is gone? What's Harry's part in all this changed future?" Molly Weasley asked, bewildered by all that had been said tonight.

"Didn't you hear? That's wrapped in whatever the hell these Elders have to say to us." Sirius stormed, leaping to his feet so he could pace.

"I would like to know how I'm supposed to handle Fudge when the Elders inform him that our enemy is dead when our esteemed Minister refused to admit an enemy even existed. Or how to deal with the aftermath of what is sure to be a media storm and uproar within the ministry," Shacklebolt said acidly.

Before more members could chime in and a full out storm of angry outbursts could commence Dumbledore put a halt to it by the simple expediency of shooting a bright burst of light from his wand toward the ceiling. Everyone stared at him in annoyance but went silent and gave him their attention.

"All very good questions but until the Elders do what they plan this continuing demand for answers is moot. Shelf it. We have other concerns we can and will deal with instead. With Voldemort disposed of his minions are leaderless but that doesn't mean someone in the pack wont try to take over. We must do what we can to root them out before they can do more harm. Let us focus on that. As for the other … all we can do is be ready and alert on that day. Are we agreed?"

Grumbling and complaints, softly voiced, continued for a bit longer as they thought about this then, one by one, gave grudging agreement.

"Excellent. Then you know what to do. I declare this meeting ended." Still unhappy, everyone dispersed leaving Hagrid, Snape, and Dumbledore alone.

"I believe that went as well as could be expected. I'll take my leave sir. I've some hunting to do of my own." Bowing his head in respect, Hagrid departed, moving silently. One could barely hear the door close behind him, seconds later.

"I am glad no one decided to question my part in Harry's training," Snape said with a sigh of relief.

"I believe the other news was far too distracting."

"True. Well, if there is nothing else, Albus, I too will retire."

Dumbledore looked distracted but nodded and waved his hand in dismissal. Saying nothing further the potion's master left the head wizard alone with his troubled thoughts.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 44: Strategies

For no apparent reason, on a crisp and cold evening near the end of the week after the Dark Lord's true death, the Weasley twins decided to set off a grand fireworks display. They were exceptionally skilled at designing these specialized fireworks which were very detailed and huge, spreading across the sky like immense canvas' of color and noise.

The teachers had made a concerted effort to try and corral the pair but, as usual, the Weasleys were too skilled at keeping out of sight and out of the magic reach of their professors while they continuing to bewitch and regale their fellow students out of their doldrums.

At the first explosion at midnight, students startled and nearly ran screaming and hiding, fearing an attack from Death Eaters but it wasn't long before they learned what the noise truly meant. Spilling out of doors and peering out windows, many clad in night wear while others were still in their school robes having been attending Astronomy Class the students cheered and screamed their delight.

Harry with his friends, shivered in the very brisk night air cheering just as madly as their fellows at each spectacular design bursting across the dark sky. He and his fellow classmates had just been released from the only night class given at Hogwarts and were the first to have seen the fireworks when they began. Class was always held on the tallest tower of the castle which gave them an excellent view of the display. It had been the perfect night for Astronomy Class to be held (which was why class was held that night). The sky was a crystal clear canvas with only a spray of stars as a backdrop, no moon to ruin the dramatic array.

"I don't know what possessed George and Fred to do this tonight but I'm glad they did. It's better than their last one," Ron said, suddenly gasping as a particularly detailed firework of Professor Dumbledore's visage smiled down at them, spraying across the heavens briefly before fading away in flickering sparks.

"I agree it's a brilliant bit of work and done so masterfully," Harry shouted back, smiling broadly. "It's even better than the ones done by the Muggles and theirs are really elaborate."

Ron smiled ecstatically, eyes still turned upward as he responded. "Oy you better believe it. No one is as good as my brothers when it comes to a right beautiful display!" He was very proud of George and Fred. The two were always top rank at pyrotechnics. Harry just chuckled concurring with Ron on that assessment.

"They shouldn't upset the professors so much but you are right, everyone needed something like this after the holidays some endured," Hermione agreed reservedly. "Your brothers may be the most reckless and annoying people at times but their hearts are certainly in the right place. It is a good way to begin the New Year, I must say." She shivered a bit and wrapped her cloak more tightly around her. Standing sandwiched between her two best friends also helped stave off the chilly wind blowing across the tower walls. Her expression was animated as the rest of the students enjoying the exhibition.

"I believe you may be correct, Miss Granger," Professor Sinestra's sultry voice spoke from behind them. "Though I don't approve of disrupting routine, it was a very trying year to be sure and this is just the thing to raise everyone's spirits."

"Nice of them to launch their show just after Astronomy Class too," Neville spoke up, standing on the other side of Ron. He rocked back and forth and stamped his feet to stay warm, wishing again that he could do a warming charm but they were only just learning that spell. He knew a great number of students had been taught the simple charm when they were younger but his parents had been taken from him and his grandmother, with whom he resided, hadn't spent that much time with her sudden house guest. He was lucky she took any interest in him at all or, he winced, too much interest in his school work. He shoved those unhappy thoughts away and lost himself in the show above him. He promised himself a hot toddy before heading to bed.

"It was indeed," Professor Sinestra agreed with a small smile.

Down near the huge entry doors, McGonagell and others of the staff stood staring upward admiring the flagrant violation of house rules while trying to spy out where the guilty pair were hiding. That the brothers were on brooms was a foregone assumption but it was how they were hiding themselves on such a clear night that was the stumper. To be truthful, though, none of them were really trying that hard to find the pair, except, perhaps, Filch. The sour little man and his equally nasty cat were most likely prowling around the castle reaches trying to spot the pair from above.

Good luck with that effort, she mused.

"I do wonder why they felt the need to do this kind of thing now. It's not a holiday," Professor Sprout murmured. "I really didn't enjoy being frightened awake by a loud boom so close to the castle during these trying times."

"I would hazard a guess it might be to alleviate some of their fellow students tension and fears about just that thing, my dear. Those dreadful kidnappings were enough to send some of the younger ones into terror filled nightmares," Professor McGonagell sighed back. "If that were their intent then more power to them, the young scoundrels. It isn't just the students that could use a bit of cheer right now."

"Oh Aye, you could be right, Minerva. It has been a frightening time indeed. The scamps may be irritating, disrespectful, and willful at times, but their hearts are always for their fellow students well being," Sprout agreed, quietly. "It is a truly spectacular exhibition I must admit."

"Yes it is," McGonagell said distractedly, her mind elsewhere though her eyes were still staring upward. Though the display was indeed excellent as was it's timing, it didn't mitigate her feelings of foreboding. No it simply dragged the things she had wanted to forget if only for a little while into the light once more.

A small gasp of appreciation escaped her at the image of a unicorn. Pulling her cloak closer to her body, she softly chanted to increase the level of her warming spell. It was really cold out here for her old bones. As she watched she gave her mind free rein to rehash over the troubling events that had occurred only days ago. Was it really that short a time ago? This time her shivers weren't from the cold.

She shook her head, her mind still in a state of shock and confusion engendered by that fateful meeting in Albus' office when Potter, Snape, and Hagrid (of all people), dropped the bomb that their enemy, the infamous Dark Lord known as Voldemort (and wasn't that a surprise that she could now say his name) was finally ended, body first and now spirit, and that the Forest People had been responsible. The news should have been cause for celebration rather than this stomach twisting inducing event it really was.

She was happy the evil that haunted them for so many years was gone but the knowledge of who, how, and what had done the deed was what had chilled her soul. It was the realization that more than half the creatures they, meaning Wizarding Kind, looked down on as less than intelligent or barely sentient, and possessing no magical skills, were nothing of the kind. It turned out nearly sixty percent of the known magical creatures in the world were actually as intelligent and, even more shocking, as powerful (if not more) magically as Wizarding Kind. And even more shocking, those listed as beasts possessed enough sentience to follow the orders of their more intelligent brethren. All that had soundly shaken her very world.

The very creatures Wizards had used for centuries as beasts of burden, their parts for spells and potions, as servants, and shamelessly as cannon fodder during wars, as well as for sport by the wealthy, were, in truth, thinking beings with laws and a governing body of their own. Beings who were no longer willing to be so used nor maligned and intending to fight back for their right to be accepted among Wizarding Kind as equals.

As Equals! Now wasn't that a stunning thought. She could barely wrap her mind around the very idea. But no matter how she felt about it, times were changing and she and her kind needed to change with it. A mirthless chuckle escaped her as she thought of how Wizarding Kind would react to that news.

"Most likely yell, scream, threaten, or demand the beasts be put down," she thought bitterly. "I wonder how the creatures expect to overcome a mindset held for centuries? Just learning there is an Elder Council out there that's been in place as long as we have existed is going to cause riots."

She shuddered inwardly at the thought of so much chaos that will occur very soon. The war with Voldemort will seem like a child's schoolyard argument. She feared what things would be like when the Elder Council makes their demands. It didn't help no one had but a nebulous idea what they intended to say.

One of the obvious demands, she was certain, was accepting their inclusion in the Wizengamot and the Ministry. Another might be allowing their own children to attend the magical schools and to be teachers within those schools. That wasn't an unreasonable assumption but one normal Wizarding Kind definitely wouldn't accept easily.

What else they might want, desire, or need, she couldn't fathom and that was galling. And it made it worse that she, like the rest of the world would have to wait to know what was going on when their leaders deigned to tell them.

"Oh to be a fly on the wall of the Wizengamot," she thought. "I wish it would be this week but Hagrid could only tell us soon, how galling." She paused a moment then realized, "... I wonder if Severus would be willing to tell me?" Then she shook her head. "No that is just as likely as Hagrid or even Fawkes giving it up. Now that was the most peculiar thing of all to my mind. How Potter and Severus were apparently speaking to Fawkes and in such a way that I could tell Albus had no access to. I thought that bird only had an emphatic ability and only with his bonded but I saw proof otherwise. What is Severus? I strongly suspect there is some kind of mythical creature in his makeup for him to allude that he too was a member of the forest people. But what he is I have no idea. Shaking her head again she thought about all the secrets being kept from her and the others. It made her angry and a little sick.

"Just how much don't we know about the real world about us? And what is this business surrounding Potter? Because she knew in her heart that he was the reason for this to be happening not just because Hagrid had told them a different prophesy said the boy would play an important part in all the changes that could be coming. "And what did muggles have to do with all of this? So many unknowns..." It made her head swim.

Just for a moment, she wished she was still ignorant of these events but knew that was foolish. Her world was changing and she needed to keep a clear head about her to deal with the fallout this would bring to the school and her students.

She sighed and shook her head trying to free it of some of the clamor begging her to do something. But there was nothing she could do but wait like everyone else. However, if there was a silver lining to the coming chaos, it was the sign that not all the intelligent beasts wished to retaliate against Wizarding Kind for their cruel and arrogant treatment of their kind. Hagrid was a good example of someone who had a good reason to hate Wizarding Kind. But no, he had remained a good person and staunch advocate of Hogwarts. He had done his level best to keep the people here safe.

She had to hope that many of the wronged creatures watching them were just as compassionate and desiring of peace as everyone else. Though any complaints they wanted addressed were justified and should be heard and responded to rather than ignored.

But she wasn't that ignorant nor stupid. There would be those on both sides who harbored more than hurt feelings. They possessed more than their share of prejudice and hatred on both sides to cause further chaos during the transition. It was those kinds of mindsets that would try to make this a new war.

Staring around at the children she was responsible for, she couldn't help but be concerned what the answers to those questions would mean to them and how they would affect their lives from now on. Her fervent hope was it meant changes that would bring peace at last and not more trouble but she knew life was never without trials and tribulations. It's how they dealt with it that made the difference. And it would be hers and all the other teachers responsibilities to help the children under their care manage those difficulties and move forward to whatever waited them.

Suddenly with a burst of roaring noise, a particularly loud explosion drew her eyes back to the sky. A volley of stars in many colors exploded surrounding a magnificent dragon, roaring and belching flames. She smiled in appreciation and, for the moment, set aside her worries and simply enjoyed herself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

From his office window, Headmaster Dumbledore mulled over the same questions that plagued his second in command as he watched the fireworks with his familiar Fawkes who perched carefully on his shoulder, cooing in delight at each explosion showing his approval.

"Yes, it is indeed a fine display this year and seems appropriate for the start of these new and interesting times for us all," Dumbledore murmured, wrinkled fingers caressing the bird's chest lightly, to its delight and pleasure. Fawkes chirped and nudged the hand, demanding the man look at him.

Dumbledore turned from the view to stare into his familiar's dark eyes. For a few minutes the pair communed then the old wizard sighed and nodded before turning back in time to see a huge dragon splash across the sky in hues of red, purple, and green with orange fire shooting from it's mouth.

"I'm not sure I'm as certain as you are my old friend about all the portents that face our world. I worry we at Hogwarts may be entering into yet another conflict, this one pitting our students against their muggle counterparts. Though for the life of me I cannot fathom what the danger from them could be."

Fawkes sighed but did nothing else to try and reassure his familiar on the subject of their changing futures. Yes, times were changing. With the death of one enemy, a new challenge awaited them all. And one Harry Potter would lead the way toward. However, first the challenge needed to be seeing that the young wizard grew to adulthood alive and healthy.

Many enemies, left from Voldemort's army, were still alive and needing capturing before they could succeed in gathering and picking a new leader, though it was more likely the fools would fight among themselves for some time before a single leader would emerge.

Actually that would be a good thing as they would be too busy continuing their attack on Wizarding kind. But before long they would be back to terrorizing the populace through their hidden agents once more. This must not happen. So, cleaning house, as Harry so eloquently put it, had to be the first step toward a temporary peace.

The next challenge would be more frightening and more resisted by the Wizarding World and that would be when the true war would begin. He shook his feathers out and glanced at the sky again. It seem the show was over. Dumbledore carried him back to his perch and with a final pat to the head, made his tired way to bed. Fawkes watched him until he disappeared behind his secret door that led to the man's quarters.

Spreading his wings, Fawkes flashed himself out of Dumbledore's office and out into the cold night. He needed to think and he did his best thinking on the wing. The air was brisk but as a fire bird, he didn't feel it as he glided over the quiet landscape with only the stars as his companions. Occasionally bats would cross his path and an owl would glide silently below him hunting mice or rabbits. Rising higher, he reached the higher thermals that would keep him afloat without him having to flap his wings at all. As his body floated along, his mind went back to its cogitations.

Change. Humans hated change. However, this magical world hidden from the rest of humanity needed to change and soon. They knew not the danger of this new enemy because they refused to believe Muggles were a threat. Wizarding Kind was oblivious to the fact they were frozen in time. Oh yes, some of the ancient times were much more comfortable and there should be no reason not to keep some of the traditions but the lack of technology was the biggest detriment to remaining invisible and safe. One needed to know ones enemies not blindly continue thinking there were harmless. That way lay their imminent destruction and eventual extinction.

A shudder thrummed through him at that thought. He had lived so very long and still had no desire to meet the sunset with no return. No, there was so much more to human kind that he had yet to know and see. Harry Potter, if they could succeed in seeing him grow into his magic, was the true hope of their kind. There was no reason their world had to be discovered if precautions were taken early enough. He knew not all that Harry might do to accomplish his goal to drag Wizarding Kind into the future but he had seen enough of the future to know it would be a glorious and exciting time well worth reaching for.

But they had to clear the way for all that which meant ferreting out all the old enemies. The Order of the Phoenix's new mission would be cleaning the old house and make way for the new challenges that awaited them all. And he would be there with the Forest People seeing that it got done and soon while protecting their savior at all times. With that last decision in mind, Fawkes turned and flew home again.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

After the truly spectacular and unexpected fireworks show had ended, Draco and his fellow Slytherins drifted back to their dorm in the dungeon area. Some stayed up a bit longer in the common room while others like himself decided it was time for bed. Once he was laying under the heavy, thick overs of his specially made quilt his mother had commissioned, the curtains tightly pulled, Draco stared at the curtained ceiling. The nights events had helped cheer him up a little, however, now that the unexpected excitement had ended, he found sleep eluding him.

His mind raced with many thoughts zipping here and there and no attempt on his part would quiet them so he gave them free rein hoping it would settle him. A pleasant memory was first. During that idyllic Christmas holiday, his hosts had managed to arrange a secret meeting between his mother and himself. Hagrid had approached him one morning shortly after another excellent breakfast.

"Draco. I have a small surprise for you," Hagrid said with a broad smile.

"A surprise? But you have been already very generous in that area. I couldn't accept anything more," Draco said, sincerely though warmed Hagrid wished to grace him with something else.

"Oh to be sure, you'd be wanting this gift, young fellow," Hagrid assured the boy. "Grab a coat and we'll be on our way. We must go to a certain place at a certain time so we must hurry while the next snow holds off."

"Uh, alright." Draco shrugged in confusion, grabbed his heavy sherpa lined great coat, pulled it on and hurried after the already departing half giant.

He noted they were heading for the barn. Once inside Draco stared at the magnificent white sleigh and two ordinary muggle draft horses harnessed to it. He gaped at it as Hagrid heaved his heavy bulk up into the seat and grabbed the reins in his two powerful hands.

"Well, get up here," Hagrid chided the boy.

Shaking his head, Draco ran to the other side of the sleigh and climbed in. He'd barely taken his seat when Hagrid gave a sharp whistle and slapped the reins. The beautiful, nearly all white horses immediately began to move, slowly at first until they were out of the barn then gathering speed as they moved across the large apron of snow covered lawn and headed into the thick the forest on a barely seen trail.

"Why this method of travel," Draco asked, evading branches that sometimes brushed too close.

"The least suspicious mode to where we're going," Hagrid said mysteriously. Draco frowned but remained silent for the rest of the ride since it was obvious the half giant wasn't going to say more.

The ride too about thirty minutes and except for the noises made by the horses hoofs and the sleigh shoosing over the snow, it was quiet. Hagrid had opted for no bells on the harnesses and the harnesses themselves barely made any noise. Suddenly, they were clear of the trees and were heading for a road that made it's way through a tiny village. He had never been here before and hadn't known such a place existed just outside the Forbidden Forest. We they even in the Wizarding part of the world or outside it?

"Where are we?" He asked staring around at the quiet town. It seemed to consist of a small street market selling various wares, a blacksmith, an herbalist...but it was the clothing store that told him he was still in the Wizarding World. It held cloaks and various medieval styles of clothing. It was almost like Diagon Alley only on a much smaller scale.

Hagrid pulled up before a nice little eatery. Unlike the Three Broomsticks, this was painted yellow and white, a very cheerful exterior with gingerbread edging all around. Through the large window he could see a scattering of tables with needlepoint style tablecloths, candles, and autumn flowers in vases. It was nice. The window declared "Sacred Woods Cafe" in lavender letters surrounded by garlands of leaves in gold.

"Here we be," Hagrid announced holding the reins but making no effort to get down. This little village is known as Unicorn Glen. You wont find it on any map and the people hereabouts like it that way. Your surprise be inside. I'll be back in a few hours. Have a good time. Off with you now."

Still confused, Draco nodded his head then jumped down. He walked around the sleigh and up to the front of the cafe. Behind him the sleigh took off again. Shaking his head, Draco opened the door and walked in.

The smells inside were wonderful. He could detect roast lamb, cinnamon, coffee, tea, and other sweet and savory scents. Staring around the small space he finally noticed there was one customer and she sat at the rear at a table for two. A large smile wreathed her beautiful face.

"Mother!" Draco exclaimed and hurried up to her. She rose to give him a tight hug and a kiss to his forehead.

"Oh, Draco, my little love, it is so good to see you," she said softly, tears hovering in her eyes. "After I heard about the kidnapping I was so frightened for you. Are you well? You seem to be fine." She frowned, pushing him back a bit so she could study him better.

"I'm better than fine, mother and have been having a wonderful Christmas," Draco said, so glad to see her safe and healthy. Her eyes were less shadowed and there were no signs of abuse.

"Sit down and let's have some tea. You can tell me what has happened to you and why you are with that Gatekeeper from Hogwarts of all things."

"Let's just say he's the reason I'm having such a wonderful holiday and leave it a that. I'm not allowed to tell you more than that but promise its nothing bad. My situation is far better than it would have been with father," Draco told her as he sat across from her.

A sweet faced young girl with long dark brown hair and wearing a Dirndl Bavarian Dress of white with purple flowers came to take their order for tea and sweet biscuits. When she hurried off, Narcissa eyed her son in worry and confusion.

Draco forestalled her with a palm. "I promise, when I'm allowed you will know the full story but things are too dangerous to go into any of it now. How are you, mother, and where are you staying?"

Unsatisfied but understanding the need for secrecy, she sighed and told him of her time away from England.

When she finished her tale and her tea, Draco sighed in relief. "I'm so very glad you managed to get away for the holidays. Did you like my gift?"

"Oh yes it was beautiful but where on earth did you acquire it?" Narcissa asked.

The waitress returned and inquired if they wanted more tea or anything else. They both ordered more tea and waited till she left before Draco answered.

"I can't say but glad you like it," He smiled and said then leaned closer toward his mother, his expression more serious. "Mother, is there any way you can remain away from the United Kingdom for … say a few months more before going home?"

Narcissa's widened in surprise. "What? Why on earth for?"

Draco expression took a more grim turn. "Because a great many bad things are about to happen and I don't want you harmed by any of it especially by father."

The waitress returned, poured fresh tea, smiled at them both and left. Narcissa's face puckered tightly into a frown, an expression she'd worn far too often in the past few years.

"A great many bad things have happened dear so what could be worse than what we have suffered so far?"

"Trust me mother, with the Dark Lord still hanging about in spirit form, things with father can indeed get more ugly. I'm hoping to avoid most of it myself but it would be far easier if I knew you were out of it at least until well past Christmas and New Year. I have a bad feelings the danger is either going to increase or finally end. I wish I knew which but that's all I know right now. So please, can you stay gone?" Draco took a long drink of his tea while watching his mother worriedly.

Narcissa eyed her son in concern. It didn't help that his statement only made her worry about him more. Setting her cup down she sighed. "Yes, I can tell your father I'm looking into some of the things he's been worried about while doing nothing of the kind and travelling a little more. I wish you could be a bit more forthcoming on what the danger might be."

He shook his head.

She sighed. "I'd wish that you too could come with me but that will raise even more suspicions. You'll keep in touch?"

"As best as I can manage, mother. And thank you for trusting me. I hope things will turn out for the best but things just don't look good right now. Also, don't believe in rumors or stories about me. No matter how bad they sound, trust me, it wont be the whole truth of the matter, alright?"

"I like that even less but fine. As long as you keep yourself out of harms way if you can, I'll do the same," Narcissa agreed against her better judgment.

Draco relaxed his shoulders only then realizing just how tense he'd been holding them. Smiling at his mother warmly, he drank his tea and told her the doings at Hogwarts until his ride returned.

His mind returned to the present, a small smile on his lips. It had been good seeing his mother and he had been very grateful to Hagrid for finding a way to see her that protected them both. He hoped when things ever returned to some kind of normal, he could find that wonderful little village again. Then he sighed.

Not being able to tell his mother about the death of Voldemort, the hunting of the remaining Death Eaters, and that he had never taken up the cause his father favored and was now a friend of their enemy Harry Potter worried him greatly. He knew his mother wouldn't be too upset that he had chosen to follow another path but wasn't too certain how she felt about Potter.

Shaking his head, he let the issue go. After all, there was nothing he could do until the council of the Forest People had made their announcement or more like warning. He couldn't speak of it anyway. Perhaps all he could do was insure she continued to stay away from home a bit longer. As far as he was able to find out, she was still traveling around the middle east but that would have to wait.

A huge yawn caught him and his eyes grew heavy at last. Time to try and get some sleep and put all these worries to rest at least for now. Sighing, he rolled to his side and snuggled down, asleep within minutes.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Hidden eyes admired the display from many areas of the Forbidden Forest. From trees, small clearings and hills, the people of the forest watched with as much enjoyment as the humans at the castle.

Surrounded by his people as they lay or stood at rest, heads titled back to watch the show above them, Magorian, sighed inwardly.

"Don know why those red-headed human twins decided to do one of their bonny displays now but it was well timed, methinks," Bane, his second in command, observed.

Magorian grunted his agreement, eyes still staring above. His mind, however, was elsewhere. McGonagell might have been surprised that her concerns were the same as his. Though he was a member of the council for the Forest People, he still had doubts on what they planned to do very soon.

"Still worried about our choice?" A soft and familiar voice said in his ear.

Magorian turned his head to stare into the knowing eyes of Firenze, their resident soothsayer and teacher of their young and sometime instructor for Hogwarts budding new wizards.

"Don you?" He asked quietly.

"Of course. In spite of what the stars whisper to me, I too have some doubts but the great spirits that rule our lives have spoken and we have followed their commands. What will be … will be," Firenze intoned, a rhythm of prophecy tinging his words.

"Aye, that be true though some of the outcomes will not be decided by the spirits but by how yon wizards react to what we have to tell and show them."

Firenze nodded gravely to his leader. "And that be when we are needed most. We be responsible for guiding them all toward the path lead by the savior who knows in his heart what the true goals of magical kind will be...peace, prosperity, security and a mission to keep in trust for the rest of our lives."

Magorian thought on that for a long moment before nodding his head in agreement and intoning, "So be it."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

While his familiar soared the night skies, the students filtered back to their quarters, and the castle settled down for the night, sleep evaded Albus Dumbledore. He couldn't shake from his mind all that had happened that truly stunning moment in his office was it just a few days ago?

He thought the biggest shock had been Hagrid revealing how he had been hiding how intelligent and powerful he truly was.

A masterful bit of acting … a wolf in sheep's clothing as it were, but one with a good heart fortunately for all of us. And a master spy, he realized. He played me like a fool and I was so blind not to see it. Everyone was fooled and The Order of the Phoenix would do well to remember that as Hagrid could have taken each of us out of the war at any time and we would never have suspected him as the perpetrator. Now that's a cold thought. He shuddered and pulled the heavy coverlet higher on his chest. Well now, hopefully, he will be more our ally and certainly no servant any longer, but a spy, oh yes, definitely that alright.

But he wasn't just that, oh no, what an excellent surrogate father and teacher he turned out to be as well. He always was a good and compassionate instructor if a little absent minded … but wait that was obviously a ruse too, keeping everyone from guessing he was much more than he pretended.

Good lord. The man is full of surprises. I'm still amazed and stunned at how all he and his associated have taught the boy. Young Potter is demonstrably farther ahead of his peers in all areas and even ones not even taught by Hogwarts. Yet he has still managed to retain a goodness that shines from his eyes like a beacon. But there is steel there as well. He has the makings and proper heritage to become a powerful wizard, surpassing even his father and mother. I can see him becoming a wizard to be in awe of when he grows to manhood, he mused. Now that his training has been effectively taken from my hands, all that's left is to ensure we here at Hogwarts push him hard in the coming years to be ready for this new destiny he is supposed to be heading leading us toward for I fear that is what the new prophecy meant in that missive from the Elder Council.

Meanwhile, it is important that the Order rid the world of the rest of the evil nest of Death Eaters still hiding within the ministry and elsewhere," his thoughts grim with foreboding. The ones on the loose could still be a great threat to all and especially Harry Potter. And not just the Death Eaters but the parents and children of Slytherin house. Everyone in the castle would have to remain vigilant and on guard for the foreseeable future.

Closing his eyes, he sighed. After that fateful Order of the Phoenix meeting and the uproar it caused, they were left with more questions than answers about what the beasts wanted as part of this new world they say was coming. Some of the more urgent questions he would liked to have answers to were: Why would they give up their secrecy? They could have continued deceiving Wizard Kind for as long as they wanted. What were the Forest People going to do to prove they were a force to be reckoned with? What was Harry Potter's part in all this? And the new worry, why were Muggles considered a serious threat? What had they been doing? Spying on the muggles? For what purpose? Or was he just reaching?

No, he shook his head. No, they have a definite interest in the doings of Muggles? The reason could hold the answer to why Harry had been sent to a muggle school. Just how long had they been spying on muggles and how much did they know? That last left an odd feeling of foreboding fluttering up his spine.

So many worries made his belly ache as well as his poor brain. He chafed at having to wait for those answers. He particularly hated the fact he couldn't tell the students that the first hurdle to peace had been accomplished. Voldemort was truly dead and, my, didn't that feel good say aloud. But he his hands were tied. To announce without telling the Wizengamot who had been responsible for the Dark Lord's death was to be angrily denounced and ordered out of the chamber despite being the leader. No, waiting for the Elder Council to make their move was all he could do right now and it chafed.

Groaning, he rolled over and pushed his concerns into a closet in his mind. Sleep was what he needed right now. He would be no good to anyone if he was muzzy headed now. Soon he would need all his wits about him. Unfortunately, one last thought caught him before he could firmly will himself to sleep.

"Oh bother! I need to find a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor again and I have no prospects. Yet another but more immediate problem to deal with. I need a vacation, he sighed to himself. Enough! Tomorrow which is already upon us will be soon enough to deal with it."

With that final admonition to himself, he pulled sleep over him.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 45: Evil Takes a Meeting

(A/N: Major edit job was done to this and the following chapters, suggest rereading them and thanks for reading and reviewing. It's much appreciated.)

Malfoy Manor's once beautiful and stately grounds had fallen into neglect as more and more of Lucius' time had been taken by the Dark Lord who had commandeered the manor as his headquarters much to the dismay of Lucius and Narcissa as they weren't happy their home had been so invaded without their permission. Though they knew better than to object if they valued their lives.

It pained them both to watch helplessly as their home's interior and belongings were abused while the exterior fell to ruin. But it was especially painful to watch their beautiful white peacocks die or take off for better pastures.

It was gradual loss of her home, lack of privacy, the slow disenchantment with the pure blood movement and the danger facing her son that prompted Narcissa to take leave of her home and to stay away much to Lucius' annoyance and unhappiness.

It didn't help Lucius' state of mind to have her gone from his side nor to put up with the lack of care by those lower station family members of his fellow Death Eaters that had been forced to come in and take care of the manor. The Dark Lord was adamant that no house elves were allowed as he was afraid of them spying on him. And he had strict orders that the family servants were only allowed in the house to clean on the days the manor was empty and must depart immediately upon completion of their work.

The temporary servants, of course, could only do a sketchy job of cleaning in the time allotted to them so the manor gradually grew dirtier and grimier as time went on except for the massive drawing room. That was maintained to the Dark Lord exacting orders on pain of death. This was where he met his minions and conducted other unsavory business so it had to be kept in immaculate condition at all times.

It was painful for Malfoy to watch his home fill with cobwebs, dust piling up in corners and on surfaces, and dirt dulling the floors and carpets, everywhere. So, as soon as he dared, he sent those unwanted servants back to their former homes. Then he retrieved his one house elf, Dobby, whom he had sequestered at a trusted friend's home, just forty-eight hours before the meeting he had planned after learning of Voldemort's death.

Lucius set his servant to cleaning the house as fast as possible but had him pay particular attention to the small parlor. Obviously, when their leader still possessed a body and ran things personally, his minions had met in the huge drawing room sitting at the great wood table but seeing as how there were so very few members of the inner circle of Death Eaters remaining it seemed stupid to sit in the huge drafty room, so Malfoy opted for the smaller, rarely used parlor nearby.

On the day of the meeting, Lucius ordered the house elf to insure the huge stone fireplace in the parlor was clean and a fire going by evening and that he prepare finger foods (sandwiches and the like), and insure the bar was filled with everyone's favorite beverages. Then he paced around while he waited for everyone to arrive which took far longer than he thought it should have. With their leader true dead, there was much to discuss and plan.

The parlor was ready but his guests still hadn't arrived. He stared around the room critically. Dobby had ensured the furniture was clean and that more had been added which now filled the room forming a curve before the now roaring fire. A laden bar stood in the far corner and an empty table stood ready in the opposite corner. Suddenly, a heavy thud at the door announced the first arrival.

Igor Karkaroff stood there on the stoop, angry and irritable. As Malfoy stepped to the side to allow the man in, apparating right on Karkaroff heels were Crabbe and Goyle seniors. They only glanced at Malfoy as they hurried in from the cold, shaking snow from their outerwear.

Dobby stood ready to take their coats which the three simply hurled at him. The elf caught the coats and cloaks, sending them away to a holding area with a snap of his fingers then waited for the next arrivals.

"Through to the parlor, gentlemen," Malfoy told them. Eyeing him in surprise they changed direction and made for the open door to the left.

Barty Crouch, Jr. sneered at his host when he was greeted at the door and began striding past to the drawing room before being redirected. With unhappy looks on their dowdy faces, the Carrow siblings shed their wet cloaks and dumped them in Dobby's arms before heading for the parlor as well. They were followed by an equally furious and upset Mulciber who tossed his cloak in the general direction of the house elf who deftly caught it.

"We need to take action immediately," Mulciber shouted shaking a finger in Malfoy's face.

"I know and we will but we need to wait for everyone else to arrive. I have food and drinks ready. But we are meeting in the parlor so go and take a seat and get you a drink," Malfoy soothed. He did not want to get into a row just yet.

Scowling blackly, Mulciber snorted and stalked past the man, the Carrows at his heels.

The last to show and looking like they had been running for their lives were Bellatrix, Nott senior, and Avery.

Snarling in fury, Bellatrix tossed her cloak without looking and whirled on Malfoy. "Aurors are everywhere. I don't know how they found us but I think they may have taken Snape. It is fortunate he did not have that message on him," she growled angrily.

Malfoy gaped at her in angry surprise and worry. He had sent the three to retrieve Severus so he could get the man's first hand account rather than the translated one by Belle. But even second hand the news she had brought had been a stunning revelation. The message from the so-called Elder's Council had still not been deciphered which was why he had sent for Snape in the first place.

He remembered the moment Bellatrix had rushed in a few nights ago:

"Lucius! Severus has been returned and brought us a message!" She cried holding the scroll aloft as she stormed into his house.

He frowned at her as behind her came an angry Nott and worried Avery but no Snape. He shut the door and escorted the agitated threesome into the drawing room.

"Now what is this all about and where is Snape if he's been returned?" He demanded taking his seat. Nott and Avery sat but Bellatrix remained on her feet and paced around. She told the tale Snape had told them and why he wasn't with them now.

"Don't forget the fact those centaurs brought down the master's wards and traps with no effort at all and they definitely weren't afraid of us either," Nott interjected. Bellatrix scowled at him but didn't contradict him.

"What!? But centaurs don't use wands! How did they do that?" Malfoy demanded, dumbfounded.

Bellatrix frowned and shook her head. "I have no idea but forget that. It's this message they had Snape give us that matters. I thought it important that we try and translate it so we can determine if it is cause for concern before telling our lord about it."

Frowning, Malfoy reached for the scroll which Bellatrix reluctantly handed over. He read it slowly and then read it again. "I don't know who or what they are talking about. It just sounds like one of those divination nonsense they are prone to make. I can't see the danger in any of it," he finally stated.

Bellatrix shook her head in agitation. "That doesn't mean there isn't any. And what is this Elder Council? How can those bloody creatures do such powerful magic without the use of wands. No one has ever seen them do magic and certainly none at this level. Is it just the centaurs? Or if not who are these others on this so called council? You see... there are too many questions and no answers. And answers we must have if we are to prove it is truly nothing to be concerned about."

Malfoy wasn't convinced.

Nott chipped in his feelings on the matter, "I agree. The whole event was strange and made me uneasy. The Lord's ward and traps were powerful. These creatures should not have been able to take that ward out at all much less all the traps set around the grounds, yet they did!"

Malfoy hated to admit they might be right about this but without more information, there was nothing more he could do. Shaking his head, he said, "We need to question Severus more thoroughly. Perhaps he might know more than even he realizes. Go! Bring him here and we will see what we can fathom of these strange events before our lord gets wind of it."

Bellatrix was about to object and tell Malfoy to go get Snape himself but froze when he added the need to clarity this information quickly. The Dark Lord was not forgiving if they didn't do the investigation right and something happened none of them would be happy about.

Huffing in annoyance she headed back out the way she had come with the equally reluctant Nott and Avery following. Neither male would have gone but they couldn't let the touchy witch handle it by herself because, should something go wrong, they too could be in serious trouble with their leader for not having gone along as guards.

And things fell apart even more than they had dreamed from that day to now. First, Nott, Avery, and Bellatrix had failed to return that day at all. Despite a search hampered by a sudden increase of Auror patrols, the three had not been found. Then, a couple of days later, he had received word that Snape was now at Hogwarts just after his son's return, but no word on how he had gotten there. And as if that were not bad enough, by end of the week their Death Eater tattoos disappeared which meant the end of their Lord and no one knew where he had been when he met his demise. Now, tonight, here were the missing three with a tale of hiding from hunting parties of Aurors.

"Severus is at Hogwarts and has been there since the day you were supposed to have brought him here," he informed her.

"Bloody Hell! How did he get there and why did he go?" She cursed.

"He must have left not too long after we did though I would have thought that break in his ankle would have bulloxed his ability to walk at all," Nott swore angrily. "That makes me suspicious that his reasons are not to the benefit of his fellow Death Eaters."

Malfoy frowned. It was suspicious behavior alright, especially in light of the message that needed translating. He didn't like this at all. It just added to all the other questions mounting up that if they didn't get answers and soon, they could be caught by Aurors themselves.

Fortunately, no one suspected he was involved …. wait … his heart sank. If Severus had turned traitor, the Aurors could be coming here looking for the others because they still had suspicions he wasn't on the side of the light but that was only because he had been a Syltherin. The fact it was true hardly mattered. But wait now, the Aurors have had days to arrest him and the others but still hadn't. Could that mean they didn't have enough evidence or proof to arrest him? That would be good but he wasn't so certain it was true.

Though very uneasy, he decided they were safe enough for tonight. There was no choice and no where else they could go right now so better to discuss what had happened, find out what everyone else knew, and settle all the other major problems they were faced with now … like who the new leader would be.

"Come, let us join the others. We have much to discuss and you can rest and have a bite to eat and drink." He gestured them toward the small parlor.

Seething, Bellatrix stormed into the parlor as requested. Nott and Avery, looking tired and disheveled, stalked after her without a word. It was plain they were trying to keep some distance between themselves and the irate witch.

Malfoy sighed and barely kept from rolling his eyes. Things had gotten even more complicated than he had first thought. The Dark Lord dying was bad enough but a suspicion that Severus might have been a double agent was worse. It didn't help that the volatile Le Strange was on the verge of one of her insane rants which would bog down any chance of getting things accomplished. All their fellow Death Eaters were here so perhaps something could get done tonight, he hoped.

As he stepped into the parlor, he saw most had availed themselves of the bar and were already seated. Nott and Avery were waiting for Alecto and Amycus Carrow to be finished finding what they wanted before taking their turn. Standing behind them rather impatiently was Karkaroff. Malfoy grabbed his glass from the small table next to his seat and went to refill it. Very shortly, all were seated except for Bellatrix who didn't get a drink and was pacing angrily and impatiently behind them all.

Taking his seat again, Malfoy stared around at all the grim and angry faces of what was left of the Dark Lord's inner circle. The minor minions were still scattered everywhere and should have already known of their leader's demise due to the loss of the distinctive tattoo's on their arms. All were in the dark about why it had happened and where the Dark Lord had met his end. All they did know was they were now leaderless. However, one thing Malfoy had gotten done was to notify all he could that someone would be made leader and get word out to them all on what to do next.

But staring around at everyone except for the one pacing, ranting and cursing in a voice just below a screech, Malfoy didn't think a leader much less solutions were going to be had very soon. He gulped down his scotch in one go then winced, gritting his teeth, as Bellatrix stalked behind him yet again.

Despite the opulence of his very excellent armchair, with it's thick cushions patterned in a red/gold filigree and the thick arms covered in equally cushioned dark leather, the kind of armchair one would find in such a place, it might as well have been a miserable kitchen chair for all the comfort it provided him at the moment. His right hand clutched the now empty beautiful cut crystal tumbler. Near his right foot sat the nearly half empty bottle of good 1946 Glenlivet single malt scotch whiskey he had taken from his wine cellar an hour ago hoping it's sweet creamy and smooth flavor would dull some of the screech he knew he would be enduring from Bellatrix. It wasn't helping and sat like lead in his stomach.

He no longer looked the part of an English gentleman. His normally lustrous blond hair hung limply down around his shoulders and was desperately in need of a wash and trim but he couldn't be bothered to waste magic taking care of his appearance. And his clothes, once very fashionable and neat as a pin, were now barely serviceable but were at least clean. He scowled inwardly. Most of the reason for lack of personal care was his wife's absence and the serious deprivation of house elves.

However, when it was clear their Dark Lord was gone, he immediately had the main areas cleaned with the caveat of cleaning the entire house over a period of time. After all he had only one house elf. But Dobby had applied himself well so the master bedroom and several guest rooms were cleaned, the bathrooms were scrubbed and restocked, the halls and stairs cleansed, and the foyer made spotless.

It felt wonderful to have clean clothes, bed linens, and fresh towels again. The kitchen was now spotless and the odor of food drifted on the air. When winter receded, the grounds would be returned to their once beautiful appearance. Meanwhile, he had to restrain himself from working Dobby too hard. He had no time or extra funds to buy more house elves so Dobby needed to be allowed time to recover. The fireplace was filled with sweet smelling pine and burning brightly with the bar in the far corner replenished with liqueur and wine from the cellar and clean glasses waiting to be used. It helped a lot that his wife had the foresight to make many large meals and stored them in the cold box before she left on her extended holiday. So there were plenty of soups, sandwiches, casseroles, and complete meals available.

His eyes narrowed at the thought of his wife. Why did she need to be away so badly? Oh he understood that some of what was going on was not to her more delicate tastes but she belonged by his side especially now. However, he did care enough for her to allow her the distance but he didn't have to like it. To take his mind off that subject, he studied the others.

To his left, drinking his favorite beverage, butter beer, slouched Nott, looking even more drawn and sweaty in the light of the fireplace. It was obvious he was exhausted from hiding and running for the past few days. His face was lined with worry. The loss of their lord was still wending its way through all of them.

None of those here except for Bellatrix, Nott, and Avery even knew about Snape's return and the message from those creatures of the forest. Now with all gathered except for McNair, Dolohov, and Rookwood who were in Azkaban, he would have to bring them up to date. No one would be happy. On top of that, he couldn't shake the feeling those damnable forest creatures had something to with the Dark Lord's death but he couldn't fathom how even with what Bellatrix had described that could possibly have happened.

Avery sat huddled on one end of the couch nearest Nott and stared morosely into the fire. He too looked exhausted and dispirited as he cradled a mug of hot rum that he took slow sips from every few minutes, apparently trying to get drunk as much as to soothe himself after nearly getting caught by the Aurors.

Crabbe and Goyle seniors sat beside Avery each with a pint glass of vodka and eyeing the man thoughtfully though they hadn't made a move to question him yet.

Malfoy snorted at their choice of beverage.

Next to the couch was a fancy settee, thick cushioned like his armchair and with the same pattern embroidered on it. The Carrows were drinking some kind of wine that was blood red. They resembled a pair of black crows in their black suits and their medium long hair that framed their thin, cold faces. Their eyes were on Bellatrix, small smirks gracing their thin lips as usual. They were no fan of hers and didn't mind making her lose her famous temper frequently. Bellatrix may be cold, cruel, and cunning, but she also possessed a hair trigger temper which was far too easy to make her lose her cool (as his son would have said).

Thinking of his son only caused his own temper to flare. He had not had a single opportunity to speak with Draco to find out what really went on with his kidnapping. It almost seemed the boy was avoiding him as well. Grimacing as he poured another round of whiskey for himself, he cursed himself for not being more forceful in getting his son away from his Hogwarts guardians so the boy might be grilled on what had happened to him. Well, he would retrieve his son and soon. They needed answers in light of what had transpired days ago.

A deep throat clearing drew his attention to his other 'guest' ... one he wished he could boot from the manor if it weren't for the ramifications that action might cause. The werewolf wasn't someone you messed with lightly if you wanted to retain your life or your human form. Fenrir Greyback sat with his legs stretched out before the hearth. The flames enhanced his harsh and cruel profile bringing an unwanted shiver down Malfoy's back.

That creature needs killing, he thought, his body tightly coiled and ready to run from the dark predatory look in that thing's eyes. If he didn't need the wolves he'd find a way to do just that. However, if what he had heard was correct, the Dark Lord's army had been severely cut in number of creatures to fight the war. It sounded as if only the most barbaric of the magical creatures were the ones they could recruit.

Though Greyback was not normally invited to these meetings except when their leader desired it, Malfoy was forced to allow the creature here because they needed the wolves. But by the looks on the others faces none were too happy to have him there either and shot the werewolf nervous looks except for Bellatrix.

However, it seemed all the other beasts out there: centaurs, goblins, dwarfs, elves, half giants, and the like were more intelligent than they had guessed and had banded together, as outrageous as that sounded. He still had trouble believing any of the rumors but he couldn't just dismiss them either. He was alive because he didn't toss out ideas just because they seemed too incredible to be true until they proved otherwise. So now what were they going to do?

He glanced around again and met the flat cold dark eyes of Mulciber. The man saluted him with his snifter of brandy, its dark color glinting in the firelight as he lifted to take another drink. The man was dressed all in brown as if he were trying to hide in the background. His eyes flicked toward Bellatrix, his face showing no emotion.

Suddenly Bellatrix was standing in the center of the group rather than storming back and forth behind them. Her fists were planted on each hip and she was giving all of them the evil eye.

"Well! Did you hear me? We need to find out what happened to the Dark Lord and kill the ones who did it... now!"

"There's no point, Bella. He is obviously gone and trying to chase down the ones who did it could land us in a trap," Malfoy snapped. "What we need to do now is consolidate our power base, pick a leader, and try to decipher that message from the damnable beasts of the forest, because they are at the heart of what is going on, then attack them in force."

She shut up a moment to respond but Mulciber jumped in first.

"What message and what is this about the beasts of the forest? What have they to do with anything?"

"That is something more I needed to discuss with you all. It started several days ago just before Christmas. As some of you might know or heard about, Severus and my son had been kidnapped..." He proceeded to tell them what had happened over the holidays. No one interrupted but expressions grew angrier and angrier as he reached the part where Severus had been returned with a message.

"Intelligent Acromantulas ….are you mad?" Karkaroff barked.

"I am only relaying what was told to me ..." Malfoy defended.

"What the bloody hell...are you saying these beasts are intelligent and magically powerful enough to bring down wards and break the Dark Lord's traps? It sounds like fantasy," one of the Carrows, Alecto, snorted, disbelief dripping in his tone and manner.

"I was there! You calling me a liar?" Bellatrix snarled back, getting in Alecto's face.

"No, but you can understand how insane it sounds to the rest of us," He retorted, eyes flat and cold. Bellatrix's eyes flashed fire and she would have launched a spell attack if the room were not already occupied with the immediate possible retribution from the others that didn't care if she lived or died. She hissed in frustration, clenching her fists but at least her want remained holstered. She possessed some sense left.

"Never mind all that, its done and can't be undone and wastes time besides. I want to know what was in this message they sent that's caused such a stir up?" Barty Crouch, Junior, demanded.

"Why? What difference does it make what those ignorant animals are trying to say to their betters. Ignore them and do what needs to be done … pick a new leader. The war is not over only on hold till we can reassemble our army and push forward again!" Mulciber snarled, disgusted by all the pussyfooting that was delaying things.

Greyback snorted derisively, flashing his over long teeth. "What army? All of them seemed to have run off or are in hiding. The cowards!"

Mulciber said something truly foul at the creature which set Bellatrix off again this time directed at their so called followers. Greyback just smiled toothily, showing off much longer teeth and fangs than a human had but was, for once, not letting her set him off. A good brawl was something he thoroughly enjoyed but it seemed for once he finally showed some intelligence in that thick skull, showing full understanding of the gravity of what had happened and what a detriment it might mean for his army of werewolves.

His restraint is the only good thing happening right now, Malfoy thought sourly. But it didn't ease his own desire to stun the lot of them into submission. Unfortunately, he wasn't powerful enough to pull that off alone.

Just as he feared at the start of this blighted meeting, none of his associates were going to get anything resolved...more interested in fighting, carping, blaming, and casting threats of dire consequences to all and sundry. Meanwhile, absolutely nothing constructive was being accomplished. Only briefly did he wish McNair and Rookwood were here and not languishing away in Azkaban. But, no, not really a good idea. The pair were sometimes worse than the Carrows or Bellatrix combined.

He sighed and turned his mind to the prophecy style message they had received from the so called creatures of the forest. That missive said more than it's face value. If only they could decipher it's hidden meaning and get at the possible threat it might be conveying. But on it's surface it seemed like the usual psychic nonsense the centaurs believed in or so he had been informed when that one centaur taught at Hogwarts some years ago.

More importantly to Lucius was the face the words on the scroll sent unwelcome shivers down his spine. He didn't know why but somehow he felt certain that whatever those creatures were planning (and he felt certain they were up to something), it would be very bad for what was left of Voldemort's army. However, getting any of this lot to discuss the message's content carefully and make some suggestions as to its meaning wasn't going to happen this night. They were all too upset and furious (and if they would admit it … afraid) to discuss their next moves.

He downed the rest of his scotch and poured more. It was going to be a long and fruitless night with Bellatrix getting more and more wild-eyed, irate and furious. Woe betide anyone trying to get her to do listen much less cooperate in any way when she reached the point of where she shot off spells, not to target anyone in particular but close enough make them fear her. Which was why Greyback wasn't retaliating in some fashion, proving he wasn't as stupid as some of the wizards in the room thought.

Sometimes the truly insane can get away with anything, he thought sourly. The old clock on the mantel chimed the hour … precious time was slipping by. Though he was fairly certain they were all safe from the Aurors, he didn't want to push his luck. They needed to get their plans set up and leave his home quickly before the risks outweighed any effort to get their war back on track.

Girding himself, he raised his voice over the tumult. "Enough! We have much to get done tonight so let us table all the in fighting and discuss plans and make decisions."

"You mean pick a leader don't ya?" Mulciber butted in immediately.

Lucius pursed his lips in anger but didn't retaliate as that wouldn't get them anywhere. "Yes that is one of the things on the agenda but..."

Mulciber interrupted again, his tone even nastier, "And since when are you in charge of us, hmm?"

"Since this is my home and I am the host. Besides it is the only place left for us to meet now so I would think you would be a bit more thankful for that at least, Mulciber. Also, though I am not under the eye of the Ministry as yet, that doesn't mean I wont be if they get wind of so many so called "criminals" meeting in one place," He pointed out acidly. As he had hoped, all of them shut up, a few looking around them a bit nervously. Going on in a bit calmer and more in charge voice, Malfoy said, "I feel I am more qualified to at least guide us in our discussions so we may get something together and disperse before we stretch the limits of the Auror's blindness."

Mulciber scowled but said in a milder tone,"The only reason I'm even willing to entertain that notion is because you may be right and I'm lacking a good deal of information to make a decision on anything so go on with you, Lucius." Having made his point, Mulciber settled back in his seat and sipped his drink, eyes watchful and intent.

"Thank you for that reluctant endorsement," Lucius said, his tone mildly sarcastic. Fortifying himself with more alcohol he turned to Bellatrix. "Before we begin, Belle please sit down you are too distracting."

She glared at him but for once did as asked, strolling behind him before taking her seat next to him.

"And one more thing … Dobby, bring food!" He called out and instantly food appeared on a side table. "Eat so empty stomachs don't interrupt us further."

There was a volley of grumbles but since it was supper time and many had been running or hiding before arriving here, nearly everyone was famished. So for the next twenty minutes, bodies rose from seats and proceeded to load up plates and refreshing drinks before returning to their seats and eating rapidly, foregoing speech for the moment.

Even Malfoy decided to eat a little as he didn't want to get drunk right now with so many unhappy frenemies sitting around him. When everyone seemed to be sated, calmer, and willing to listen again, he started the meeting.

"As Belle had stated earlier we need to know who, where, what and how our Dark Lord met his end. And, more than that, whether this new mystery of strange behavior and magical abilities the forest beasts seem to be displaying is true or some new subterfuge they are playing at and what their message brought to us through Severus' kidnapping and subsequent return could possibly mean to our future plans."

"Ahh, about that, I still find it hard to fathom all the blather you just spouted about what happened precisely when good old Snape was returned to Riddle Manor," Barty snorted derisively. "Sounds like some bleedin' fairytale to me."

"If you insist on delaying our more important business, then fine," Malfoy said tightly, seeing others echoing Barty's dissatisfaction with the answers they were hearing in their eyes and manner. "Belle will you please give us a thorough report on everything you witnessed and did at Riddle Manor and why you took so long to return here after bringing me the message?"

Sighing with disgust, Bellatrix spent the next fifteen minutes repeating the story of Snape's kidnapping and return. "Then after getting nothing out of that message, we decided it would be best to come here so Lucius could study it with the better resources at his disposal for figuring this thing out."

"And Snape? What about him? Why didn't you get more information out of him before you hied your way here?" Barty, Jr. demanded to know, a deep scowl on his face.

Bellatrix snorted. "He was evasive and unhelpful. I'm not sure what he's hiding but I think he hasn't been completely truthful with us. Be that as it may, with his broken ankle and worse for wear appearance, it didn't seem like he would have been able to leave his bed much less get up the stairs and walk the distance necessary to apparate away."

"Yea, he weret looking too good when he was hanging off the back of that Centaur like a new killt deer. They had tied him on and there were no telling how long a ride it had been. When we left him he wert in a lot of pain despite taking some of his foul tasting potions," Avery corroborated.

"Bellatrix is right though... about Snape being evasive. Told us he didn't have a clue what the message was about … that the beasts tucked it into his shirt before the ride and when we read it, he had no input to give us but I just don't buy it," Nott growled.

"Why? It is not as if his kidnappers were going to let him in on their plans or they would have simply told him rather than given him a message tucked in his shirt," Malfoy said, wanting to trust his former friend though he was beginning to think that trust was misplaced.

"He just felt off and, like I said, evasive. And if that weren't suspicious enough, look how fast he lit out after we left. Don't know where he has gone to either," Nott said angrily.

Bellatrix took back the narration again, "I suspect he went to Hogworts because of what came later. But at that moment, I didn't think we had time to wait around until he was mobile nor waste more time trying to get answers from him, so we headed here. When Lucius asked us to return to get Severus and bring him back, that's when we ran into the pack of Auror's. They were inside the manor and we were nearly caught before we realized they were there."

"Now why is that?" Amycus drawled, snidely. "Wouldn't the wards have been down?"

"They were not!" She hissed at him. "Those bastards had reset the wards! And not just reset them but they did it exactly the way we left them." Her eyes narrowed at them waiting for them to understand the implication.

"What!?" Nott shot to his feet. "I reset those wards myself and Snape had to have done the same before he left."

"YES!" Bellatrix exclaimed as she put the pieces together in her head. "And Snape most likely did. That way no blame would be set on him, however, he made a mistake because when we returned the Aurors were waiting for us inside the manor which means …."

"That rat bastard! Snape sold us out!" Mulciber exclaimed, furious. "We must leave here … NOW! They will be here next for there is no way Snape didn't tell him of your lies, Malfoy."

Lucius was stunned and also lunged to his feet. This was the sense of alarm he had been feeling all evening. Now he was glad Mulciber had wanted to hear the accounting of facts. He turned to Bellatrix, fury in his eyes.

"Why did you not tell me this when you first arrived? You have endangered us all," He snarled at her.

"Because I hadn't time to put the pieces together until now. The Aurors nearly caught us but made a blunder that caught my eye when I nearly stepped over the threshold. The instant I caught sight of them, Nott and Avery and I turned and fled. They were hot on our heels for hours even though we split up. I tried numerous times to attempt to get back here but they were hanging about and you had your wards up and tight. I dared not try and contact you for fear of giving away your secret to them. However, it appears that was wasted time."

"Wait...wait...if Snape had departed so quickly after you then the Aurors should have been here by now! Why aren't they?" Malfoy demanded. His heart was pounding in his chest rapidly and his mouth was dry.

"Maybe they were just waiting until we were all here," Mulciber said angrily, standing as the rest of them were … preparing to run if necessary.

The clock on the mantel chose that moment to chime the hour. Malfoy stared at it a moment, frowning. Everyone had been here more than two hours now, yet his wards still remained up and undisturbed.

"My wards are still up," he said aloud.

Everyone paused to think about what that might mean.

"Maybe you are wrong and he hasn't betrayed us," Lucius said cautiously.

Eyes shifted around questioningly but nerves were still visible in a few.

Greyback sniffed the air for several minutes then shook his head. "I smell no danger close."

The tension that had been ratcheting up seemed to ease off a little. Malfoy dared to relax enough to take his seat again.

"Then I suggest we get what business we can done quickly before that changes," he decided.

The others stared at him and each other for some minutes then by some mutual decision they took their seats again.

"Alright then let's hear what the missive from those beasts has to say," Mulciber grunted taking his seat and picking up his drink to take a deep swallow as he listened.

Malfoy nodded, fished out the message scroll from his suit coat and read it out loud.

Hear now the prophecy of the stars that speaks of this new world and how it will come to pass! Pay heed to its words if you wish to survive what comes!

Those who follow darkness shall die,

Those who follow ignorance shall fall,

But those who follow the one who will bring a message of peace, progress, and a mission...

Will see our world be transformed!"

"What the bloody hell is all that nonsense?" Mulciber growled, annoyed.

"That is what we are going to have to figure out," Malfoy said with a sigh. "Let's take the first line...what new world could they possibly be talking about?"

Mulciber waved his hand dismissively. "To me it only means some rubbish about things changing for peace or some other bleeding hearts wish on their part."

"I agree," Barty Jr. said.

A few other heads around the table nodded their agreement to that assessment.

"Very well, on to the next statement where it seems the warnings begin," Malfoy said, feeling as they did about the opening statement.

"Sounds like wishful thinking on their part about us," Greyback snorted.

"Heh...heh, yeah that do sound right," Alecto laughed.

Malfoy shrugged and decided to move on since it did indeed sound like what Greyback had surmised. "So the next might be about those wizard sheep Fudge keeps in the dark about us, yes?"

Mulciber snorted a laugh. "Seems to describe them to a "T" it do. Which means the true threat must be in the next statement."

"That one sounds like a warning about some messiah coming to save everyone," Bellatrix said thoughtfully and not looking happy about that observation either.

There was silence this time as everyone mulled that over.

In a more grim tone, Lucius growled, "The only so called messiah I have heard about is that brat Harry Potter. I refuse to believe one untried and wet behind the ears child is some kind of threat."

"That is what the Roman's thought about Jesus when he was born," Avery said softly.

Everyone stared at him in astonishment.

After a long silence, Bellatrix spoke. "Bloody Hell! There actually is a thinking brain in that head." Avery scowled at her but wisely didn't respond.

"Much as it pains me, Avery is actually right. And it also pains me to recall what the Roman leader decided to do to change that prophesy and how badly he lost everything in attempting it. In this case, Harry Potter was supposed to be responsible for the Dark Lord's demise..." he froze the moment those words left his mouth.

"Bugger It! You think that little brat killed our Lord?" Mulciber spat, leaping to his feet in fury.

"No way, no f**king way!" Crabb spit also jumping to his feet.

"Not alone he couldn't," Malfoy breathed as he thought through the possibility of what might have befallen their leader. "Look at what has happened. I know his spirit lingered around the Forbidden Forest and possibly near Hogwarts. Those beasts might have had some way of detecting his spirit. And this message from the beasts...it damn well sounds like Harry Potter might have indeed fulfilled the prophesy but with the help of those beasts!" His voice was ringing with certainty when he finished.

There were shouts of denial but an equal number of those realizing this could be the truth.

"We must kill him!" Bellatrix screamed.

"Wait!" Malfoy shouted. The room took several minutes to quiet somewhat, Bellatrix was still muttering expletives under her breath but he ignored her. "We need proof! No matter what our guesses, we need more sound proof that Potter is responsible before we can get everyone to fight behind our banner once more. They may spook off once it gets out the prophecy was fulfilled. But if we prove Potter didn't do it alone we might get a larger Army with an ax to grind against these beasts. Victory would be more assured."

"And where do you propose we get this proof?" Mulciber growled derisively.

"Does anyone know where Peter Pettigrew is?" Malfoy asked.

Many startled looks were sent his way. His seemingly change of subject had been jarring. But it was Bellatrix who knew the significance of the question.

"No, I don't but I do know he was never far from our former Lord's side."

"And I believe, he hangs about Hogwarts … perhaps in his ratty form?" Goyle suggested, speaking for the first time.

"Then we find him and quickly. We need answers and it's quite possible that rat has them," Malfoy said firmly.

The rest thought about that a long moment then heads began to reluctantly nod.

"So, it seems my wolves and I are on a rat hunt," Greyback smiled, showing his perfect white teeth.

"We need him alive!" Malfoy reminded him.

"Yes, yes I got that...wont hurt a whisker. I vow we'll find him before any of you with our heightened sense of smell," he smirked. "And we wont be waiting for daylight either. So while you all sleep I'll be leading a hunt for our ratty friend as soon as I take leave here."

"You might catch a whiff of him with your nose says you, but I think asking our sons might get us an answer much sooner," Goyle said, eyes glittering with anticipation on being first to get his hands on the missing Death Eater.

Greyback didn't have a come back to that so just scowled and crossed his arms across his broad chest.

"Doesn't matter who finds him first as long as we find him soon," Malfoy said firmly.

"True. So we be needing to leave quickly, but first, where do we meet up again since this place may be compromised?" Alecto wanted to know.

That halted everyone. So much business hadn't been addressed, especially the acute need for a new leader, but there wasn't time or safety for any of those discussions. Finding a meeting place took priority and leaving here quickly, even more so. But where could they go? Most if not all of their favored meeting places were compromised. Before anyone could voice any other possibilities, Malfoy shouted a suggestion.

"Nurmengard!"

"Where or what is that?" Mulciber demanded. Varying expressions of confusion showed no one else had any idea what Malfoy was talking about.

"Don't you know your history?" Malfoy snorted. Not waiting for a response, he plunged on, "It was where Grindelwald is said to be imprisoned. It's empty but for him. The perfect place to meet safely."

"Wait, if Grindelwald is there, who is guarding him?" Barty, Jr. demanded.

"House elves ... from the ministry but they never go anywhere else in the prison...in and out...nothing more," Malfoy answered.

"And how do you know any of this?" Alecto asked disbelief clear in his tone.

"I read and I listen. You can learn a lot from books and the gossiping of bored workers at the ministry," Malfoy told him snidely. When no one responded he snarled, "Well? Does anyone know of a better place?"

"I don't like it!" Barty, Jr. snarled, uneasy about going to a prison even if it was unmanned.

"Neither do we, but my brother and I have no other suggestions so let us stop wasting time we don't have," Alecto reminded them.

Sounds like the perfect place to me," Bellatrix said blithely, undisturbed about the location.

The other undecided males glared at her but what could they say to counter her statement?

"No other choices, it seems to me. I vote we go there," Greyback said with a shrug.

"Good then give us the coordinates and let's be on our way before we are found," Bellatrix demanded.

Despite the continued grumbling, Malfoy felt they had all reached an agreement.

"Glad we could come to a consensus. Here's the location," he said, waving his wand to send the coordinates to everyone's wands. "Meet there in forty-eight hours with a report of what you found or with Pettigrew in hand. Agreed?"

Though still unhappy there was no dissension. Malfoy lead the way to the front door where Dobby appeared to hand everyone their coats or cloaks as they passed through the door then apparated away, Greyback running off into the darkness before doing the same.

As he prepared to ward his home against intruders, Malfoy paused a moment in indecision about his house elf then made a quick decision. "Return to your work," he ordered. Dobby nodded his head and flashed away. The house elf knew to stay hidden no matter what or who tried to enter the manor or grounds until he, Malfoy, summoned him. With that concern taken care of, Malfoy quickly stepped out of his home, locked and warded it and the grounds then apparated away.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 46: The Elder Council

"Thank you Farley for making time to help me," Agatha said.

The two were setting up the barn with the table used during the recent Christmas celebration held at the Hagrid's farm. Since there were soo many that had been asked to attend this important occasion it was thought their farm would be a more conducive location for the gathering as well as being safer and more secure as well.

"Glad to help out grandmother. I know this be an important occasion. Wish I could listen in," Farley said wistfully as he helped set the immense table in the center of the barn's huge space with a wave of his hand.

"Och, you might find some of it interesting I'm sure laddie, but the rest are details that would bore you. But more importantly grandson, there are many things you should not be informed of for your own safety. There be many Death Eaters and beasts with bad intentions out there and the less you know the safer you will be," she said gently as she magically set chairs where they were required.

"Oh aye, I know grandmother," Farley sighed as he set lights about from the rafters with a casual wave of his hand. "But this be grim times and I had only wished to be prepared is all."

"That be a good reason but unfortunately laddie, not a good enough reason to allow you attendance," she said understandably. He nodded. "Well I think that does it. Now we need to prepare a meal since the council will be convened for some hours. Come along and let's get started." She walked toward the back door of the house.

"Coming, grandmother," Farley said, waving a hand to close the barn doors then trotting after her.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

By late morning, members of the Elder Council of the United Kingdom apparated, walked, or flew into Hagrid's barn, as well as more than ten outsiders. After meets and greets, the council took their seats around the table while guests sat in a circle of comfortable chairs or stood, based on their biology, in a circle of their own, behind them.

"Now that the foul being has been dealt with, I'm guessing you be telling us what our next move will be and when, Jason?" Magorian, the centaur leader, asked the half giant sitting at the head of the long table. Magorian represented centaurs, intelligent water beasts (like the mermaids and the giant squid in Hogwarts lake), and other four footed beasts (like the hippogriffs).

Jason, leader of the Elder Council and representative for the half Giants, nodded at his friend and fellow council member. "Yes my friend, and I have thought on this subject for some time. I have since realized that just forcing a meeting with the Ministry may not be enough to keep our needs and desires from being ignored or dismissed. With advice from others here, I have decided to use some methods that have worked well elsewhere in the world to push our agenda across before the unveiling to the ministry."

Looks of confusion spread over many faces except those already in the know about what Jason was talking about.

"Severus, I asked you here for several reasons but the first concerns how we may go about infiltrating the Wizarding Wireless Network and News outlets and if you have any ideas on how to access it for our purposes?"

Snape blinked in consternation and surprise. He had surmised the council would have him come to this important meeting for his input on Death Eater movements so this question was a complete surprise.

"Why would you want to? I thought you wanted to announce your intentions to the those in power before those of the public in general?"

Jason shook his great head. "I have been persuaded this is the wrong step to take and after listening to their arguments, I am forced to agree with their reasons. A few of the important objections were: Cornelius Fudge is a stubborn fool. Though his heart be in the right place as to his concerns for his people of Wizarding England overall, it be his many prejudices against intelligent beasts and the poor of the wizarding world that are a hindrance to his listening ear. Plus, I'm told he be a bit of a coward and will take the path of least resistance to retain his beliefs that the peace he harbors is real even going as far as breaking the law to do it. This be why the poor fool insists on clinging to the belief that Voldemort and his minions don't exist despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So we must take a more circumspect path to obtaining the support we need to have our needs heard clearly."

"Ahh, yes. Fudge is particularly afraid of losing his position as Ministry leader besides the reasons you mentioned. And yes, despite his good intentions, he isn't above using illegal and corrupt means to keep his position and the peace he thinks he has," Snape agreed.

"Just so. That being said, thanks to Darius I have decided to take a lesson from muggles on how they manage their political difficulties. This be the second reason: it seems that if they wish a certain point of view to be heard and the ones they wish to hear it are stubborn, they will flood the media and airways with protest ads announcing what it is they are trying to force notice of to the public garnering as much support as they can before they attempt to gain the true ears of those with the power to make those changes," Jason explained.

"But our people have used that method too. What makes the muggle way any different?" Broadrig the Boss-Eyed, objected. He had been selected to represent all goblins. He was especially suited because of his work with the Brotherhood of Goblins who had been working to get wand usage by their kind accepted and recognition as beings not beasts from wizarding kind for centuries.

"That be true Broadrig, but we also do not have as many avenues nor protections from our government that allows protests as the muggles do. They are usually placated and have the law on their side for peaceful congress while we have no such rights and are immediately arrested or put down," Jason reminded.

Broadrig grimaced. "Aye, that certainly be true alright and it doesn't help that the wealthy wizards are automatically prejudiced against us and that the bloody Daily Prophet prints only what the wizarding government sees fit to let it print."

"And they tend to exaggerate that truth and care less about any facts that contradict what they spout," Darius warned, he was seated just behind and to the right of Jason since the table was for the council only.

It was unheard of to have a muggle attend a meeting of magical beings but it was his background they sorely needed in this instance. And besides, it was he who had a hand in raising Harry Potter and keeping the council apprised of what the muggles were doing outside wizard society so he had a right to attend.

"Yes, so I have heard which is why we will insure any information that is disseminated is accurate and has proof along with it. However, we can't make people believe despite the proof we provide them. Which is why our hopes are to reach the ears of those who are open minded enough to hear and question what they are being told as our best chance of getting the Ministry to listen because these people's outrage and anger would force the government to heed the message or at least give it a hearing before trying to dismiss it. It is hoped this way we can prevent Fudge and company from attempting to bury our cause," Justin explained gravely.

"Aye, I can see how that may be a better way to get this done then," Broadrig conceded. "Then might I ask how it will be done and by who when we do send our message?"

"That was what I was asking of Severus," Jason said, turning his attention to Snape.

"Yes, you did ask me that question," Severus said, a frown on his face. "But I'm afraid I haven't the skill set to address it. My interactions with the media have been limited as my whole mission was to remain undercover and out of the public eye as much as possible."

"Aye that be the unfortunate truth, Jason," Hagrid spoke up. "However, I do know who we should be asking this question and that would be Darius and his friends with the tech knowledge we lack."

"Oh?" Jason's eyebrows rose in curiosity and question. Taking that as permission to continue, Hagrid said, "What I mean to say, sir, is these folks know how to push through their own messages into those already established media outlets most particularly the Wizarding Wireless Network. As for the printed news, I believe we should seek the assistance of Xenophilius Lovegood. He prints the Quibbler that many do read even if they don't always believe what's printed."

"You must be joking!" Alier the Elf and Sanguini the Vampire said at the same time. Alier was leader of the elves and Sanguini was the Vampire representative for the Vampires that were on the side of the Light.

"Now, now, I do know they print a lot of outlandish rubbish but there has been a time or two when they have printed impressive news that the public gobbled up and took more seriously. Our news would be like that. Unlike the Daily Prophet that the government controls we can get Lovegood's cooperation without much effort since this be up his alley," Hagrid insisted.

The objectors thought about that a moment. Heads began nodding as they thought through the idea a bit more.

"Hmm, that is certainly true. Since it appears Darius may be the best option for the wireless communication, should I be the one to speak to Lovegood about publishing our message?" Snape asked Jason.

Jason frowned in thought. "I do not know Lovegood myself, what think you Hagrid?"

"I do know Xeno. An odd fellow he be but honest and true. He does not think much of me either, good or bad, but I believe he may heed what I have to say. At least he wont be that skeptical of the subject matter," Hagrid said, a ghost of humor in his voice.

A few chuckles greeted that observation.

"Very well, council … do all agree allowing Darius and Hagrid to be our representatives in getting our message out to the public?"

"Aye!"... "Any objections?"... No response. Jason nodded his head and waited for his scribe, a dwarf with excellent penmanship and attention to detail, to finish writing. Now let's next item we need to address, the meeting place when such finally comes around. When we have the public riled up in our favor, we hope, we need a safe and impartial location to hold this momentous event. I am sure I need not mention why the Ministry of Magic is not an option?"

Magorian snorted, amused. "No indeed but where else can such a meet be held that will be safe and secure as well as large enough for the number of people we think will be there as I'm certain it wont just be the Wizengamot you intend to invite?"

"You are correct, my friend. Such an occasion requires many witnesses so with that in mind the Quidditch Trillenium Stadium has been put forward," Jason stated quietly. Stunned silence greeted that announcement. A brief objection floated out about the press but was soon discounted as it was realized the more witnesses the better their chances at being heard but only if the witnesses were on their side or at least impartial enough to listen.

"Uhm, a bit ostentatious is it not?" Sanguini ventured, in a soft, mellow voice.

"Yes, but we are only going to use the Quidditch Pitch area. We'll have bleachers set up surrounding a central table. The table is where the ones in power that have the authority to sign an agreement will sit. The bleachers will hold all other interested parties, including the press," Jason explained.

"Well I think that be an excellent choice, Jason," Broadrig said, "But wont security be difficult to maintain."

"I would handle that. We be using a special type of spell similar to a portkey but one capable of managing a great number of people with less side effects. It's not generally known as yet but it has been tested with great results. We're quite pleased with its performance," Blayrock said in his deep, gravely voice, his thick lips curved in a broad smile.

Dwarfs were very well known for their work in metals, jewelry, weapons, and more recently combining their skills with tech to create things never heard of before. Before, the use of magic had the bad tendency of shorting out any modern technology but over the decades dwarfs and certain squibs from muggle families with science and tech skills had formed a co-op think tank that studied and developed ways to combine magic and tech to form new spells, weapons, devices, and such. Very cutting edge stuff. So it wasn't really surprising they had found a way to handle a great number of people while maintaining a high level of security.

"Excellent," Jason said, approvingly. "And how goes the method by which we intend to send our message to the attendees?"

"Oh you are going to truly love this," Blayrock said with pride, rubbing his thick palms together with glee. "We managed to finally fix the glitch that kept the devices from reaching their destination and self destructing too soon. They work perfectly now and should impress the recipients. And more importantly, convince them we mean business and are powerful enough to back up our claims."

"They still might not believe enough to attend despite the push by the public we be hoping to get," Magorian warned.

"Aye, that we know so when all have been given their devices we will send special, uh, helpers to pick up those who are reluctant to use them," Jason told them.

"But what is to prevent them from using these things to simply leave before hearing anything?" Ronan, Magorian's second in command, objected.

"Easy, the devices stop working as soon as they arrive at their destination. They will only work again when Jason gives the secret command hidden in it," Blayrock assured them, smirking.

Fawkes gave a trill of delight causing everyone else to smile.

"Things are indeed going forward toward our goal, I see," Jason said smiling with pleasure but not for long. His expression drew down as he continued. "However, despite having all this decided we still must wait to release our message. Using the discussed method for disseminating it means it will take longer to accomplish and see results."

"Yes, it certainly will and cause the Order to become even more worried and angry about being forced to continue holding off announcing Voldemort's demise. And don't forget this means I must maintain my position as double agent, at least until the remaining Death Eater inner circle is captured," Snape reminded everyone.

"I am most afraid that boat has already sailed, Severus," Hagrid spoke up. "I already have heard rumors of your defection to the Light."

Snape grimaced but before he could speak Justin said, "Aye, I too have heard such rumors as well." Turning his head toward Snape who sat between Hagrid and Darius, he continued, "I do not intend for you to return to such duties, Severus. Your skill as a spy for both sides has waned and become quite deadly for you. But we do still have need of your talents and to that end, we wish you to continue teaching at Hogwarts. I do know this will force you to deal with all the Death Eater's children and others like minded but I know you can handle this challenge. But do, please, be watchful. We don't want to lose you."

Before Snape could respond, Magorian made a suggestion. "I could ask Firenze if he would take that teaching job that was offered in Divination so that you may have someone covering your back."

Snape was about to say no then stopped and realized the enormity of just how many hands would be against him at the school besides elsewhere. Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he nodded reluctantly. "That would be kind of you Magorian. I normally am able to handle my own safety but I now realize that with that part of what I was exposed, I could indeed be in serious danger. Thank you for thinking of that." A small smile touched his lips. "And there is also young Harry too."

"Oh aye. There be nothing to keep that young scamp from jumping in, more's the pity," Magorian sighed in agreement.

Many were the smiles in the room about the bravery and determination of the young firebrand that held the future of their world in his still young hands.

"I'm afraid that since I have been compromised, that I am also unable to perform my part in finding the Death Eaters except for identifying them for the hunters as well as finding them within Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. And might I ask if our people will be assisting the Order since they are the ones doing the hunting right now? It might also help them learn to trust and work with us...stop treating us like unintelligent beasts, for that is half the battle we face now with our supposed allies," Snape reminded them.

"Ahh, you have made a valid point, Severus but I'm not sure we would be welcome..." Jason began.

"I agree in part that we need the Order's trust but say nay to actually providing active assistance as the more inhuman of us would only make them more resistant to our aid. Besides, we have done well hunting them on our own when they invade our forests and mountain retreats but we be not of much use outside it," Tongra, leader of the few ogres willing to be represented by the council, interjected.

"Aye that be true unfortunately, but I bring news that many of that evil brotherhood have taken to hiding in the small villages that border the Forbidden Forest and other small towns and villages around the world. No reason we cannot ferret them out and take them captive or kill them if they resist hard enough or threaten the innocent," Apolline Delacour, who represented the Veela on the council, stated coolly. "I and mine are able to use our abilities to capture them alive for questioning if that is desired."

"That be an excellent idea," Annis Black, the only Hag on the council and alive in this century, agreed, eyes gleaming with anticipation of such a hunt.

"Do all agree to Apolline's plan," Jason asked the council. "Aye!" Was the resounding cry.

"Any objections?" He asked.

"Only of the hunt for the Death Eaters hidden in most businesses and the Ministry," Snape interjected before any could respond. "That will take great finesse and skill to dig those out."

"True," Jason nodded, thoughtfully. "What do you suggest we do about them?"

"For spying and determining who be a Death Eater, there might be one we could convince to help us and has the added advantage of actually working with the Ministry of Magic. He is so insignificant that he could hear and spy on all those we suspect as being Death Eaters and might even know who they are himself..." Broadrig interjected.

"Who might that be?" Snape asked, frowning. All the ones he knew were part of the Order.

"His name is Eric Munch, a nondescript wizard most pay no mind to except when he is checking their wands before they enter the ministry. Of late, I have noted he has been absent from his post but seen here and there in other areas. Perhaps we should investigate why and see if we can recruit him?"

"I would never have considered him. I surmise you noticed him the times you have been attempting to get your case heard, yes?" Snape asked.

"Aye."

"That means you also are familiar to all there. Do they bother you or ignore you?" Snape asked, an idea perking in his brain.

"Most times ignore me. What be you thinking, Severus?"

"That you too would be an excellent liaison. If Munch does agree to help then he would need back up in getting that information out to our hunters. We can't very well have him try to apprehend them since he has to remain undercover but he needs only to finger the culprits and our hunters pick them off once they leave the ministry at end of day. We may be fortunate enough to take them all quickly if all or nearly all could be identified. Otherwise, if we only manage a few here and there they will get suspicious and perhaps disappear or take out our spy," Snape explained.

"Oh aye, that's a given." Broadrig scratched his hairy forehead in thought. "I like it but I have something else to add. I send many of my own people to the ministry when I haven't the time so that increases the number of eyes and ears for our needs."

"That takes care of discovering who the enemy is but who will be the ones that capture those identified, especially if it is a large number?" Alier, the Elf Leader asked, speaking for the first time.

"Aye. That be a huge undertaking and not one we who are not human or accepted can take on," Broadrig warned.

"That was the next thing I was concerned about," Snape responded. "Though the Order can help with some of that we are too few for as many we fear are out there so this is why I fear we must bring the Auror's on board as they have as much to lose as we do and they have more numbers."

An uproar of disagreement met that statement. For some minutes people argued and shouted in heated debate for and against the idea. Jason let them be. They were more likely to come up with solutions or run out of steam before long. Either way it would allow them to vent before he would need to step in and get the discussion back on track.

"Please, everyone, hear me out," Snape raised his voice and receiving silence moments later. "I do realize that nearly half the Aurors are prejudiced against those that have been classified as beasts and barely give a listen to those thought of as sentient. But if we do not convince them we are more than they realize magically and are capable of aiding them they will be a detriment and blockade when it comes time to capture the ones we've identified. They might even be worse as they try to take us out as well as the Death Eaters. Thus it is equally important to win them over as it is to get the public to see us as more than animals or intelligent beasts. We must convince them or we will fail before we can even begin and the Death Eaters will have succeeded in restarting their war because we will all be too busy fighting amongst ourselves to stop them."

People gaped or frowned in response to that information which then devolved into many conversations discussing the pros and cons of what Snape had brought up.

"Your argument has merit, Severus," Jason said soothingly to him alone. "Give them time and they will see it as a necessary evil and mayhap find ways to accomplish it."

He too had failed to realize what leaving the Auror's out of the equation could do to their plans but this was why a meeting such as this was necessary so no detail was left out. He felt sure with so many different minds working on the problems, that they, unlike their enemies, would be more successful.

Hagrid, surprisingly was the first to emerge as the central speaker for including the Aurors. All conversations stopped to listen. "I know trusting the Wizards at this junction be hard but the good news is the leader of the Aurors is a tough minded, fair, and shrewd wizard. If anyone be open minded enough it be her."

"You are correct Rubeus," Severus agreed. "As a member of the Wizengamot, Amelia Bones is considered an unbiased judge who will listen to both sides of an argument before making a decision. When she is part of a team of interrogators in court, Madam Bones' success in keeping the trials fairly unbiased is legendary and this despite her defiance in the face of Fudge's threats to fire anybody loyal or friendly to the Light. Often times she has to remind the court that under the rules laid down by her department, the accused has the right to provide witnesses and evidence in their defense and to use magic in front of Muggles if circumstances threatened the safety of all present, something Fudge tries repeatedly to deny the accused. Her stance on Muggles and the rules Wizards must abide by are stringently upheld by her office. This is in our favor during these swiftly changing times. Having her on our side is definitely a plus for our cause. Of all the members of the Wizengamot, Madam Bones is the one most likely to hear our case without bias and who will fight her peers for our right to be heard and not ignored. She wont bury her head in the sand as Fudge does, to avoid unpleasantness nor does she care if her job is threatened. She will always do what is right."

"Aye, she be a right little fighter who wont give up when she thinks the little guys rights are being abused. She wont hesitate to admit publicly that the enemy has infiltrated everywhere, not caring if the delicate feelings of the upper crust of Wizarding society are scandalized. She will take care of business and ruthlessly clean house," Hagrid added with a wolfish smile.

Snape smiled back, not upset at being interrupted. "Indeed Rubeus, she will. No better person in the ministry could we get than Amelia Bones to be on our side. I am glad you think her a viable candidate. We need to inform her of what is going on and get her working with us because, I promise you, she will be a formidable opponent if against us."

Most of the council were suitably impressed so when discussions began again it was to go over the ramifications of including the Aurors for some little while but, eventually, none could suggest a different plan, person, or idea.

Noting this, Jason took back the meeting. "I am glad we've reached a census on this matter and I am grateful to you Severus for bringing this up. So to clarify what our first steps must be toward capturing the enemy: one, contact the leader of the Aurors, Amelia Bones and gain her cooperation for the hunt and capture or kill. Second, the Veela will hunt our enemy in villages, towns and larger businesses. Third, the goblins will identify and report back to the council the names of the enemy in the Ministry and will work with watch wizard named Munch, if he can be found and convinced to aid our cause, to gather those names. Does this sum it up?" Heads nodded. "Do you all agree?"

A loud trill interrupted before a consensus could be taken. Jason nodded at the Phoenix gravely, "The council recognizes Fawkes."

Snape turned to the Phoenix, who represented all flying beasts of intellect, familiars, and house elves and held a seat at the council table. For today's special meeting, Snape had been called upon to translate Fawkes' thoughts to those not part of the council. Members of the council were perfectly capable of understanding Fawkes during their regular meetings because the old bird would allow mind to mind speech with them for ease of communications and getting the wishes of those he represented heard.

"I wish to remind the council that there are house elves who would be willing to act as hidden eyes and ears at the Ministry and at some of the wealthy homes that aren't associated with our enemies. I would be willing to contact them and relay the information to Severus who passes it to the hunters. Also Thiralon, the Hippogriff, has asked to be included in the hunt. His people have suffered much from the incursion to the north of the Forbidden Forest by these evil persons and wants his pound of flesh. And do not forget the familiars at the castle. They too can be counted on to find and seek our enemies among Slytherin House." He could speak clear and concise English when he wished especially if he wanted his message clearly understood. Also, for today this made it easier for Snape to translate for everyone else.

"The more eyes and ears the better, I say," Blayrock, the dwarf's leader, shouted his agreement and banged the table with his heavy fist to emphasis it.

"I agree. So say all?" Jason asked.

Again he was halted by Severus. "Forgive me but we still haven't addressed including the Order of the Phoenix. They too are actively hunting the enemy as well but avoiding the Aurors and our own hunting parties. You must admit with all these agencies running around, we are very likely to run into each other and infighting will occur and the enemy will be able to slip by us while we all squabble."

"Oh aye, that have the same stench as the problem with the Aurors," Blayrock groaned. Others sighed in agreement.

"Do you have a suggestion for this Severus?" Jason asked, keeping them on task.

"Only suggestion that would work is bring Dumbledore into this part of our plans as we are about to do with Aurors. He and the Order are already aware that Voldemort is dead and that hunting the rest of his minions needs to be taken care of. With so many hunting parties, it becomes clear we must coordinate our efforts or our mission will fail," Snape said, gravely.

"Och, this be winding up to be a great mess...too many crows in the pie as it were," Broadrig grunted, disgusted.

"It certainly could be but it seems the only way to prevent this becoming a disorganized mess. So it does make sense to have all leaders involved coordinate with each other at all times so no ones efforts are wasted," Jason said gravely. "That would mean Magorian for our hunters, Bones for the Aurors, Broadrig for those monitoring the Ministry for Magic Headquarters, and Dumbledore for the Order and Hogwarts, agreed?"

A loud "Aye" was his answer. "Any objections?"

"I'm afraid I have one more objection," Darius quietly interrupted, surprising everyone. "In the muggle world this would be called an operation with the mission being "take out the bad guys." Surprised chuckles greeted that cliche. Darius smiled briefly before hurrying on, " We've made a good start by selecting group leaders and designating what each groups responsibilities are during the operation. However, what hasn't been done is designating who is the ultimate leader of this operation? A central leader is absolutely necessary to ensure this operation succeeds. They keep all groups focused on the task at hand, deals with any personality conflicts, keeps communications flowing, and acts as liaison between the groups and anyone trying to stop them from completing their tasks. This person will also need a staff that will help with communications, collection and dissemination of information to the group leaders, guard the prisoners, who I strongly recommend not be allowed to be taken to Azkaban or the jail located within wizarding headquarters. If that happens then we lose control of the information gained from the prisoners and risk the chance they might be used as pawns, killed, or rescued by their fellow Death Eaters. This is a big thing we are trying to take on. We need to insure we don't miss anything that will risk it being a success."

Silence greeted him when he stopped speaking then multiple conversations began but no shouting or arguing.

As this went on Jason eyed Darius with new eyes. "There is much we might learn from you friend Darius. You are correct. This operation as you call it does need a leader."

"I think it should be you, sir," Darius said, sincerely.

Jason looked mildly surprised. "Nay, I am a leader, yes, but not a military one nor a strategist of the degree we need for such an endeavor but I thank you for thinking I might be sufficient."

"Then what about being a co-leader?" Snape suddenly interjected. He'd been listening to the interchange between Jason and Darius very carefully and when Jason declined being leader for the 'operation' he had a burst of inspiration that he knew was going to be unacceptable. But the person he was thinking of was the only viable choice.

Jason frowned at Snape as did many of the other leaders. "What do you mean, Severus?"

"We need a leader that the Forest people will listen to but we also need a military leader to take charge of the army we have formed with this meeting. I recommend Kingsley Shacklebolt." The room erupted with objections and confusion. Not many knew of Shacklebolt except as a member of the Order.

"Peace everyone," Jason said more loudly than was normal for him. Silence fell but faces were very unhappy. "Please explain your reasons for this person, Severus."

"For those that don't know him, Kingsley Shacklebolt is a member of the Order of the Phoenix as well as an Auror in the Ministry of Magic. The man is calm and controlled in any situation and is a powerful wizard in his own right. A well liked and respected wizard of both the ministry and the Order, he has also developed the exceptional skill of dressing and acting like a muggle allowing him access to the seats of power in the muggle world. His sharp intelligence has served him well as a spy for the Order within the ministry and within the British parliament. Kingsley is level-headed and a good judge of character which allows him to trust individuals, regardless of age, based on his knowledge of their character and abilities and believes in equality and fairness for all wizards and muggles. However, even though he can be a faithful and devoted individual, he does not blindly follow those he works for, using his own judgement instead of waiting for orders and isn't afraid to speak his mind when things don't seem right. More importantly, for us, it is his flexible mind that is able to deal with any situation and find an effective strategy to get the best results that makes him the perfect man for this job," Snape summarized.

Many a considering look was cast his way when he finished. Small discussions broke out as everyone had their say about this important decision. Jason relaxed and closed his eyes for a moment introspection of his own, his ears tuned to some of the things being said around him.

After about an hour, he felt there had been enough time to hash out any serious disagreements on the selection of this leader so it was time to declare a vote be made.

May I have your attention, please?" His deep voice rang out. Silence fell immediately and all eyes turned toward him. "Now that we have covered all aspects of this huge endeavor we have planned, do we have a full consensus on the previous items discussed and listed with the addition of Kingsley Shacklebolt being approached to be our co-leader for this operation as Darius has coined it?" Jason asked gravely. A resounding "aye" filled the rafters. "Any nays," Jason asked. No one responded. "Excellent! Then I suggest we have Severus and Rubeus approach Mr. Shacklebolt with our proposal and hope that he gives a positive response. We need an answer within the week. Is that going to work for you two?" Jason turned to the two named with a raised eyebrow.

Severus had already guessed he would be the one to ask Kingsley so glanced toward Hagrid to see if he was up for this. Hagrid simply nodded his head, his expression grave. Answering for the both of them, Snape said, "We will get with him as soon as possible."

"Excellent. I will await your report." Pausing to look around, Jason gathered his thoughts before announcing, "I believe we have covered matters needing addressed. I am sorry we cannot relieve the stress of those who must now remain silent about Voldemort's demise except to Auror Madam Amelia Bones but please inform them that the wait will be hopefully only another week as our agents get the needed information disseminated to the public and we see their response."

"I understand the delay but how will we know when the time is right to set the meeting and send the devices?" Blayrock demanded to know.

"I do not know at this time, good friend, but I will be watching and listening for the right moment so stand ready," Jason told him. Blayrock sighed but nodded.

"One last thing before we adjourn … as suggested by Darius, we do need volunteers to be the staff that helps collect data, act as runners, handle communication, and all other aspects of keeping the information flowing back and forth from the field to the command center, security, food preparation and other personal needs."

"We really do sound like an army now," Magorian rumbled.

Jason nodded but didn't respond as he continued with his orders. " I would like each group to provide at least five to ten people to do this. To protect them and the precious information they will be dealing with, I also want a command center and housing to be set up and placed in a secure underground area within the Forbidden Forest. This needs to be done before the week is out. Any objections?" There were none. "Good. Now … are there any other matters needing addressed by this council?" Jason asked more formally. Heads looked at each other then looked back at their leader … no one responded. "Then this session is ended. Thank you for your attendance."

"Good people, food has been prepared so if you desire it please stay and enjoy," Agatha Hagrid announced from the door. She had been warned the meeting had ended by Fawkes.

"Food! Yes I could eat a whole pig," Blayrock exclaimed, rubbing his palms together in greed.

Many appreciative comments peppered the air as people broke up into smaller groups and waited for the food to be set out. With a snap of her fingers the food appeared on the meeting table along with plates, cups, and cutlery … buffet style. Everyone dug in.

Having filled a plate with some of the offerings, Snape went to the outlying chairs to sit in peace but was soon joined by Hagrid and Jason not long after.

"Your mother is a fine cook," Jason said grinning, eating daintily sitting very tall in his chair.

"Thank ye, Jason, she does indeed," Hagrid said, digging into the huge mound of food on his plate.

"Might I ask why you chose to sit with me," Severus asked politely as he too dug into his more modest pile of food.

"Aah... that would be my fault, Severus," Hagrid admitted. "I know you will be facing more than just hatred and difficulties from the students but also from a few of the teachers. There be some pressure from Headmaster Dumbledore and Professer McGonagell as well. The Order will also be a problem. I offer myself as your advocate and protector."

Snape gaped at him and nearly choked on his food. "Does that mean you intend to be who you truly are in front of all at the school?"

"Aye. Jason has agreed it be time. Change is coming and Harry will need my support and assistance more than I've been able to offer up to now. Don't forget, you will need access to my humble cottage to connect to the internet too," Hagrid said smiling.

Snape blushed. He loved the internet and missed it when he returned to Hogwarts. "That is certainly true. Does that mean things will be changing for Draco as well," he asked, worried for his Godson.

Hagrid frowned. "Now that be something I failed to remember with all else going on. What about his mother as well?"

"I believe she will be alright for now but she wont be able to return home until Lucius has shown himself to be a Death Eater. Remember he's managed to pull the wool over everyone's eyes so far and she has been seen as just as innocent as most of the high society mavens. So getting him arrested could take time. In the meantime, Draco is still his son and in significant danger from him," Severus warned.

"Is there not a way for the boy to be made a ward of the school if his life at home is a threat?" Jason asked.

"Only if that could be proven and it can't...not just yet. I hate having him in danger but for now there is nothing we can do except ensure he isn't taken home and even then we are treading a fine line of interfering with parental control. However, if his mother were the one who gave the order, Draco might be allowed to choose to stay or go and perhaps change houses as well..." Snape drifted off as he thought about how radical a change he was suggesting.

Hagrid reached out and touched Severus on the arm. The man stared at him frowning. "I know you love him very much. We will do all we can to insure he comes to no serious harm. I think your idea to switch houses be a good one. I believe Narcissa wants what's best for her son. But would she be willing to do this to protect him?"

"Yes, yes I believe she would. She would be unhappy about him changing houses but I think I can convince her and I believe the boy would be safer and happier in perhaps Ravenclaw. He's smart enough. Also, it would allow him to finally be open friends with Harry," Snape said, feeling this was the right choice for his Godson.

"Then I suggest we try and find Narcissa and ask her then make our case to the Headmaster," Hagrid said.

"Dumbledore will not be happy," Jason said with certainty.

"No, he wont but he also will listen to reason. And when it's a child in danger he will not hesitate to do what he can to protect them."

Snape sighed and set his half empty plate down, appetite gone as he realized his problems were only beginning. "You realize I'm going to be under fire from the Ministry once word slips out about my association with the Elder Council and it will. In addition to learning I was a spy for both the light and a Death Eater, though without the tattoo as proof they might not believe that now, though I believe Bones will. I will still be considered an enemy until I prove myself otherwise. This means the Aurors will want to arrest me."

"Aye, I know. Speaking to the Aurors as we plan to do should prevent that," Jason said heavily setting his own plate aside. "You still will encounter enmity and that can't be helped I'm afraid. One of your proofs may have to be you revealing your true self to get them to realize you are not just a 'beast' sympathizer," he added.

"Oh now wont that just set things on fire for me," Snape groaned.

"I wish I thought you were exaggerating but I know that be only the truth you are seeing," Hagrid sighed. "Well, all we can do now, Severus, is take each problem as it comes and deal with it. Just know you are no longer alone while you travel this even more treacherous road yer on."

Snape rolled his eyes but managed a small smile. "Thank you, that does help..some."

Jason gently patted the man on his back. "We will all be there if you need us. You are a very strong person, Severus, and will survive this. After all Harry Potter is going to need you when he starts his revolution for a better future."

"There is that," Snape smiled broadened, feeling a bit better about his chances.

Tomorrow would be an interesting day.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 47: The Tasks Begin

After a sound sleep, the first in a very long time, Severus rose to a new day. Today was when everything in his life would change and so would Draco's.

Rising, he took his time with his morning toilet and breakfast in his quarters. He had decided he needed the quiet time to plan the day's moves. Since he had no class to teach until after lunch, his first step was to contact Narcissa. From a recent conversation with Draco, he knew where to find her.

The day was clear and cold as he stepped from the castle and headed to the Hogwart's gates. No one accosted him as he slogged through the newly fallen snow and reached the gates. Stepping through, he wasted no time apparating to his destination.

Sighing, he soaked in the Mediterranean heat that struck his face. He loved Spain this time of year after the frigid cold of Scotland. He had arrived in the tiny magical enclave located at Tnerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. It saw very little traffic as it had few of the amenities most wealthy wizards enjoyed but then most came here for it's private beaches and quiet, peaceful village life, and, most importantly, it was safer so he wasn't surprised to find Narcissa here enjoying a break from all the stress in England.

He had appeared on a brick terraced pathway that ran the length of the beach. He stared out at the blue, blue water of the sea and sniffed the salty air appreciatively before checking his location. Narcissa, by necessity, did not give her son her exact address to protect him and her from any who might follow. This spot where he stood was supposed to be a safe zone for those apparating in for a vacation without actual residence or hotel destination. He knew she was but a mile from this spot due north so he began walking briskly up the beach path. Surprisingly, there were few people about or maybe it wasn't surprising as many liked to sleep in after a late night partying.

After about a fifteen minute hike, he arrived at a quaint little villa, maybe large enough for ten people and their servants with a wrap around porch, three sides of which faced the sea. He walked to the shaded entryway and rang the bell. By the sun's placement in the sky he guessed it was around late afternoon.

The door popped open and there stood the statuesque form of Narcissa Malfoy. "Severus, so good of you to visit though I'm surprised to see you here on a weekday," Narcissa said, a pleased expression on her tanned face showing she was enjoying Spanish sun a great deal. She had actually opened the door herself rather than use a servant. She was wearing a beautiful black floral print V neck Beach Boho Maxi Dress which was definitely muggle styling rather than wizarding and looked becoming on her. Her hands reached out to him in greeting.

Snape took them in his and squeezed gently before letting go. "As I'm sure you have realized this is not a casual visit. I have important matters to discuss with you and have very little time."

"Ah, I see, come in, we will sit out on the veranda and have some tea while you tell me what brings you here on a school day. Or do we need a more private place for this discussion?" She asked, her expression more serious.

Severus looked around a moment before answering. The villa was located on a small hillside, her nearest neighbor some distance above hers with none below. "No the patio will be fine. I'll simply cast a silence spell so our words don't drift to unwanted ears." She nodded and led him through the well appointed space with high end furniture and lots of windows that were open to let the sea air flow through. They reached a large patio door that hung open. Passing through he stared out at the sea again before taking his seat at a very comfortable settee with thick cushions beside Narcissa who was already serving herself from a fine tea service waiting for her.

Before making himself a cup, he took out his wand. Muttering a few words and waving his wand caused a slight blurring of the air before it was gone. Satisfied the silence spell was working, he returned his wand to its holster inside his robe then set to making himself a cup of tea.

Sampling her tea, she waited until he was settled before speaking, "So what did you need to speak to me about?"

"Much has happened since Christmas and for reasons of security I cannot divulge much of it but suffice it to say, matters concerning myself and Draco have changed," he told her. He proceeded to give her a rather sketchy retelling of his and Draco's kidnapping that the boy hadn't been able to tell his mother when they had last met. Announced the death of Voldemort (because they wouldn't get her cooperation without her knowing their leader was true dead), his departure from membership in the Brotherhood of Evil, the stunning discovery that the beasts thought to be barely sentient was untrue and their announcement of forcing a meeting with the Wizengamot (but he excluded his true situation with them as she didn't need to be involved in that part yet), and, finally, the danger her son was in and what was needed to be done to protect him.

Narcissa had sat without interrupting. When he stopped speaking, she set her cup down, clenched her hands tightly together and simply gaped at him. It took several minutes before she could finally speak at all and her first words were fairly predictable.

"He's dead! You are absolutely certain?" Narcissa demanded, a look of relief mixed with worry making her face pale.

Snape nodded then bared his arm as proof that the tattoo was gone. She stared at it blankly for a long moment before turning away and frowning. "So who is in charge?" She asked carefully not looking at him.

"No one yet. I am assuming Lucius, Mulciber, and whoever is left of the inner circle are even now discussing that very thing. I am confident Bellatrix is still free and with them."

She winced at that information. She and her sister had been at odds of late. She knew Belle would be furious if she knew Narcissa had fled the country and was staying away for an indefinite amount of time. But, Narcissa didn't care. All that mattered was her son's safety and Bellatrix never cared what happened to him. She did miss her husband but he couldn't see that things were falling apart and that it wasn't a good idea to continue remaining part of the Brotherhood. Perhaps she could convince him to escape with her and stay safe until things at home had settled. She would think about that later when she was alone. Right now though her son was her only focus and the only one who could see to that stood before her.

"How will you keep him safe? His father would prefer to send for him and keep him by his side..."

Severus shook his head halting her words. "That would be an incredibly bad idea. Lucius is in a very precarious position that could get him killed at any time. No that is not a safe place for Draco right now. Besides, the boy does not want to be anywhere near this conflict."

"What...what are you saying ….Draco is no coward …." She stood abruptly, angry now in her son's defense.

"Calm yourself, Narcissa. Draco is a brave boy but he is also a compassionate and sensitive lad one who isn't suited for the position you and Lucius forced on him." He held up a palm when she would have snarled at him. "I have been in your son's company more often than you of late so I am in a better position to know what is in his heart and mind. He wants nothing to do with this pure blood war that serves no purpose and kills many. He wants to fight on the side that wants peace and if that's the light then so be it. And he is anxious to escape the position he's been placed in by you both," Severus said bluntly.

She sat down abruptly and stared down at her hands. Her son had lied to her. Or not lied exactly just hadn't been forthcoming on how he truly felt. She was forced to admit fear had a lot to do with that and if he didn't feel strongly about what the Brotherhood stood for, then nothing she said would change that mindset.

Her shoulders slumped and she raised a hand to rub her now aching head. "He never let on he felt that way but I actually feel he is right in a small way. And I am relieved that he has stepped away from that now poisonous relationship but that will leave him open to dueling threats from his fellow Syltherins. How do you propose to protect him from that and his father?" She asked, looking up at him, her face tight with worry.

"I am glad you can see past Draco's betrayal of what you two held as gospel and the danger he now faces. My suggestion will perhaps set your mind at ease and make the boy much happier with his life," Severus said, inwardly relieved by her attitude. This will make things easier.

Narcissa winced at that bald statement but couldn't argue with it. She did want her son to be happy and flourish. That couldn't happen in the now changing landscape of this seemingly endless war. She was tired of it all too, truth be told.

Shaking her head, she sighed. "So what is this solution you have found for Draco?"

"I warn you, you will not like it," Severus said. "Have him switch houses."

"What? Our family has always been Syltherin!" She objected sharply.

"Yes, and what has that gotten him … death threats, frenemies, always having to watch over his shoulder, required to spy and report what he sees, and what about the things Lucius would have him do, hmm?" Snape said coldly.

Her face froze then flushed with anger. "He was trained to do his duty," she fired back but as Snape simply stared at her, her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Fine, that is unfortunately true but changing houses … wouldn't that still leave him in danger?"

"Yes, but to a much smaller degree and with new friends likely that will protect him besides myself, of course."

"What house do you suggest?" she asked more subdued, still not liking this at all.

"Actually, it was he that had suggested Ravenclaw and I agree. He is certainly smart enough to hold his own there."

Narcissa grimaced in distaste but sighed and nodded her head. "At least it isn't Gryffindor or Hufflepuff."

Snape snorted. "Too true and neither would accept him anyway."

"And what about you? Will you be able to protect him as well. You say you will but as a spy for the Dark Lord you would be seen as breaking with them if you attempt to defend him.

"As far as I am aware, my cover has been blown so I have been ordered to cease being a spy for the Dark …. and the Light," Snape dropped the bomb on her.

She gaped at him. "You traitor! You played both sides?"

"Only after the Dark Lord killed the Potters. I loved Lily, Narcissa! She would have been mine if I hadn't been so jealous of James Potter that I stupidly joined with Voldemort and his cause and lost her to James."

She blinked at him in shocked surprise. This she had never known or suspected. He had been a private person so never confided in anyone...this secret most of all. But it certainly explained why he had never been in a relationship as long as she had known him.

"When that mad bastard killed her, I swore vengeance and went to Dumbledore who absolved me but only if I remained a spy and kept him and the Order of the Phoenix informed of the Dark Lord's movements. So you see, Narcissa, I have even more of a reason to end this war. I want my life back. I want to be happy. But killing Voldemort was only the start. As you well know his minions are still deeply entrenched and have to be ferreted out before true peace and safety can be achieved. Until then we must watch our backs which is what I will be doing at Hogwarts with myself and Draco. I love my Godson and would do anything to keep him safe and happy or as happy as anyone can be during this trying time. But you should also know I bear a life debt to Harry Potter which means you will hear of me keeping him close and guarding him which will earn me enmity from my own house. If that were not enough, you will hear of Draco's fraternization with Potter which will also earn him the same enmity." He paused to grin at her gobsmacked expression.

"Yes, it seems the pair have struck up a secret friendship beneath everyone's noses. So as soon as word gets around of Draco's change of houses, his allegiance from the Dark to the Light, and his friendship of Potter, he too will be ostracized until the darkness is finally no more."

Narcissa could only shake her head in shock at all that Severus had revealed to her. It was just mind boggling how well all parties had managed to keep such damning secrets to themselves.

Shaking her head, she whispered more to herself than Snape, "His father will never forgive him..."

"That is his loss. Draco has a brilliant mind and will do great things with the right connections, Narcissa. Now that he has better influences around him."

"But the threat to him will be even greater than before!" She said heartbroken and frightened for her son's chances at staying alive.

"Actually, he's far better off now than he had ever been. He has a new circle of protectors around him and he will never go back to Malfoy Manor, at least not while his father and his associates are there."

She frowned. "His father will interfere..."

"No, he wont as he will be too busy running from the Aurors," Snape interrupted her. "...yes, it is only a matter of hours or days that his cover will be blown and he will be branded a Death Eater."

She set her cup down and shook her head in disbelief. "You know this for certain?" Snape simply nodded. Her shoulders tightened so that her head began to hurt. There was just so much to take in. She thought a bit on what he had already said. Finally, a frown pulling her face tight, she asked, "Besides you and Dumbledore, who else do you mean to have guard my son because I do sense you mean many others?"

"Those I cannot name as yet. Very soon everyone will know how many serve the Light now even though it might seem they are only doing so for reasons of their own once you know who they are but trust me, they are Draco's protectors as well. No, the dark will not get either Draco or Potter. They will have to kill us to do that," Snape assured her darkly. "The Light has gained many allies, Narcissa. The Dark Lord's hold will be broken utterly when we are through."

Narcissa studied him for some minutes then sighed, picked up her tea and drank, turning her attention to the sea.

Snape drank his tea and waited her out.

"Despite what you might think of me Severus, I do love my son very much. Your plan seems sound except for insuring the laws don't favor my husband should he decide to remove Draco from Hogwarts. Have you a way to prevent that? Lucius will certainly be furious when he learns of Draco changing houses. So why did you seek me out with this plan? What do you want me to do?"

"I plan on speaking with Headmaster Dumbledore about this switch for Draco. The parental rights issue could have been a problem, but Lucius will be kept too busy hiding himself once it's learned he is a Death Eater to concern himself of what Draco is doing. So getting your permission is all that is needed so Dumbledore can proceed to change the primary parent from Lucius and you to you alone then no one can remove Draco."

"Very well, I'll do it for Draco's safety and well being. But I reserve the right to remove him if I deem he would be better off with me," she warned.

Snape shook his head. "That would not be wise, Narcissa. So far no one is bothering to look for you but should you appear to take Draco, you compromise your safety which will upset him."

Snape touched her arm gently. "I don't plan on keeping him from you forever, Narcissa. We will ensure you have time with him but it must be done very carefully and in utmost secrecy. You must continue to keep on the move. Can you do that? Can you trust that I will do everything I can to keep him safe?"

She stared into his very dark eyes and saw sincerity in them but then he had never lied about matters that concerned Draco. "Very well. I will do it and keep myself out of reach and contact until you tell me it is safe again for Draco's sake."

Snape smiled and drew forth a document from within his robe. "Here is the form you need to sign that gives you parental control. Please hurry as I must be on my way. I have a class to teach soon and have other errands to get done before that," Snape said, holding the scroll out to her.

She took it and read through the short form before making a quill appear, signing her name and handing the document back, the quill vanishing.

"Thank you." He rose to his feet as did she.

"Wait! There is one more layer of protection I can give my son. Before he could object she called out, "Dobby!" A house elf suddenly appeared. As house elves went, he wasn't that bad looking but seeing that old and tattered pillow case with the Malfoy house emblem on it was rather off putting. He was also barefoot as most house elves were unless their masters allowed them footwear.

Dobby eyed her in confusion as he took in where he was. "Dobby, I know my husband has you maintaining Malfoy Manor but I intend to set you free if you will do one thing for me," Narcissa said gravely.

Dobby gaped at her in shock. "You would free Dobby? Has Dobby done you wrong, mistress?" He asked, twisting his hands together in distress.

"No Dobby, you have done well for our family but these are dangerous times and I have a better job for you that will keep you safe as well as my son." Dobby continued to stare at her in fear and confusion. "I wish you to go to Hogwarts with Professor Snape then I want you to have my son Draco set you free. Your mission after that is to protect my son …" she paused then took the plunge she never thought she would do, "... and Harry Potter. Will you do this for me, the Light and all other creatures like yourself?"

Dobby blinked at her stupidly.

Was what she said too much for the creature? She never thought much of these sentient being's intelligence level except the fact they could and did manage a household very well. But recently, she had heard and seen some odd behavior with house elves of late and with what Severus was alluding about them, she felt erring on the side of caution would be a safe idea. It might behoove her to rid herself of her prejudices as they only kept her from seeing the real world around her. A world that was turning into a place she didn't recognize which was a bit frightening. If she didn't want to become their enemies, she needed an attitude adjustment starting now. Being a pure blood was out. Being on the side of the Light was in. Simple. Then again maybe not, as she stared at Dobby and still felt a lingering ick factor about them.

Better get that thought out of your head, she warned herself. She needed Draco protected and a house elf was a creature no one would suspect of being able to protect someone from harm. It was only the fact the creatures felt the need to be attached to wizards that no one thought much else about them.

Besides, on a purely selfish whim, she wanted to deprive Lucius of one more comfort. She hoped to push him back to her side and away from those who would kill him. She had grown tired of all the bloodshed and carnage that followed Voldemort. And it didn't help matters that the man had been growing increasingly insane. She had already decided it was time to pull out. This with Draco was the impetus she needed to stay out permanently and pick a side that might offer hope instead of death. She never used to believe in such things but matters had changed and she needed to change with them.

And she never had cause to disbelieve Severus on anything despite the things he had hidden from her.

Snape for his part, had been taken aback by what Narcissa was willing to do to keep her son safe. This was quite the shocking development.

As for Dobby, he was totally bewildered. His mistress wanted to set him free then asked him to protect Draco giving him something very important to do. He had wanted his freedom for a long time now but hadn't the means to do it. Now here was his mistress telling him she would have this done. He was speechless.

"Dobby will you do this for me?" Narcissa asked again.

"This be a great burden and honor you bestow on Dobby, mistress," Dobby said carefully. "Dobby will do it! Dobby will protect Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter from the dark enemy!" Dobby said though his heart was threatening to plunge through his chest.

"Excellent. Thank you," she gave the house elf a brief smile before turning to Snape. "I want you to promise on your magic that you will protect my son to the best of your ability even onto death."

Snape eyed her a long moment. This was a dangerous thing she asked but in these last few minutes she had gained his respect and admiration. "Yes, Narcissa, I swear by my magic that I will keep Draco Malfoy safe from harm and death to the best of my ability even if it causes my own death," he swore gravely, feeling the spell set into place.

"Thank you."

"Now I must be off. Come Dobby," Snape said nodding at Narcissa before he and Dobby disapparated.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Appearing again in his quarters, Snape sighed and adjusted his original plans in his head. Now he had to deal with a house elf of all things. "Draco is in class right now so we must wait to free you," he told Dobby who stood nervously beside him.

"It must not be too long, Professor Snape, sir. My master can still summon me and you haven't the right to call me back," Dobby reminded him. "And Dobby must tell you that bad people met at Malfoy Manor last night. Most of inner circle Dobby think. Left in hurry near midnight. Dobby heard they hunt Peter Pettigrew thinking he might know where and what has happened to the Dark Lord. Think you have betrayed them to Aurors, they do, Professor Snape, sir," he said gravely.

Snape stared at him in astonishment. Hidden ears and eyes indeed. What Dobby had said was very important information and he needed to pass it off as soon as he could. "Thank you, Dobby. That was extremely helpful to know. But what you said first is equally important, seeing you not be taken from us. I will have to get my business done quickly then we need to get Draco. You wait here and I will be as quick as I can."

Dobby simply nodded. He trusted Snape as he was fully aware of the professor's place among the forest people. Things were happening as he had been told by others of his kind. He didn't know if they be good things or bad but change was coming whether he will or no.

Snape hurriedly left his quarters and made his way upstairs. Opening the door he peered into Professor Binns History of Magic class. The target of his search sat about midway in the room looking just as bored as all his fellow students sitting around him. Harry Potter and his friends were in a row at the front and nearest the window. Harry spotted him and raised an eyebrow but Snape looked away to catch the attention of the teacher.

"Yes?" The diminutive professor asked eyeing Snape in surprise. Binns ghostly form pretend- stood atop a stack of books so those that were a bit leery about ghosts were more at ease. Though he hardly needed to worry as his course "The History of Magic" was extremely boring and most of his students simply paid no attention (most sleeping as a matter of fact). Perhaps a more current teacher might give the course more umph than someone centuries old but no one wanted the job.

"I need Malfoy for a few minutes, please," Snape told him. The class had turned to stare at him curiously.

"Oh, of course. Run along Mr. Malfoy," Binns instructed before returning to the lesson.

With a confused look on his face, Draco collected his things, rose from his seat then hurried through the door on his Godfather's heels.

"Something the matter, Severus?" He asked hurrying to keep up with his Godfather's long, quick strides.

Severus didn't answer as he led Draco down the hall around the corner, stopping at a little used room. Waving his palm over the lock, a soft snick announced it was open. He pulled the door wide and gestured for Draco to enter while making sure no one saw them. As soon as he stepped in he closed, locked, then cast a silence spell before finally giving Draco his full attention.

"A great many actions are taking place as we speak, Draco and you are involved in just one of them and it will cause some major repercussions for you but it will also put you in a better position to keep you safe," Severus said, bluntly.

Draco's face scrunched up in even more confusion but before he could utter a sound, Snape continued on.

"When last I spoke with you, I had said matters with the Dark Lord and Harry would be settled that night. You must keep what I am about to tell you in strictest confidence for your sake and mine, understood?"

"Yes, Severus."

"Good. That night Voldemort died for good."

Draco's face lit up in relief and joy. "Brilliant!" He pumped a fist in the air. Snape smiled a little at his enthusiasm.

"However, as you and I had discussed over Christmas, the danger isn't completely over ..."

His face now grim, Draco nodded. "Now we clean house, like Harry said."

"Yes, indeed. Toward that goal, many things have been set into motion. You and I are not involved with anything outside of Hogwarts. There are many involved in that portion of this 'house cleaning'. No, our job is to do what we can to identify those who work for the enemy within Hogwarts."

"Ah, yes, of course and being in Slytherin we are in the best position to do that ..." Draco began before Snape cut him off with a negative head shake.

"No that will be me. You will do what you can from a new house."

"What? Why?"

"Do I really need to explain?"

"Yes, perhaps you should, Severus," Draco said, anger tightening his voice.

Rolling his eyes, Snape sighed and waved the boy to sit down at one of the desks as he did the same. "Your life is miserable now just imagine what it will be like once word is released that our enemy is gone? The faction that still wants war will establish a new leader and the war will try and start again. Meanwhile, your life will be forfeit and under constant siege by those sympathetic to Voldemort's cause. To make it harder to harm you and disrupt your education, it has been decided that you should change houses. Don't forget those that hate you will do anything to either take you or kill you. And not just you but any bystanders as well. Removing you from the environment means you can form a new circle of friends that will watch your back and allow you to at least have a safe place to do your homework, eat, play, and learn. You can't help Harry with his dream for Wizard Kind if you begin to fall behind in your education due to the enemies attempts to end you."

Draco's shoulders slumped in defeat. He hadn't thought past the need to simply rid Hogwarts of the enemy. Severus was right. He would become the focal point for the enemies hatred once it was learned their leader was gone.

"Right, I understand, Severus. So do I get a preference as to what house?"

Severus smiled gently and laid a hand on Draco's tightly clenched ones. "I do believe you will not be unhappy, Draco. Ravenclaw seems imminently suited for you."

Draco couldn't help but choke in surprised chagrined. Snape couldn't have known, of course, that Draco had thought about Ravenclaw during a particularly low moment last month. To be told he was actually going into Ravenclaw seemed fated in some way.

He smiled rather raggedly. "Yes, that would definitely work for me but it will feel strange. When do I move?"

"Well, I still have arrangements to make but before the days over I should think."

"Wait, my father wont accept this! How do you intend to deal with him? Father or mother could even have me removed from Hogwarts!" Draco said, voice rising in alarm as he realized there were other more serious considerations involved with this decision.

"Give me a little credit here, Godson. I have already spoken with your mother and after much hesitation and argument, she came around and has already signed a document transferring parental control to her, locking out your father."

Draco winced and fear gleamed from his eyes but before he could express his concerns, Snape spoke again.

"Now do not be concerned for her welfare. She knows the danger better now with what I was allowed to tell her and will begin moving about so she will be hard to locate even by your father. As for Lucius, he will be too busy running from the Aurors as he is about to be revealed as a Death Eater."

The boy's eyes widened in shock and worry. "I don't want father killed," he said miserably.

"That will be his choice, Draco. I hope he will see trying to continue as he is will only lead to death for him. I believe him to be smart enough to guess when it is time to separate from his erstwhile associates before he is swallowed alive by them," Snape said grimly, refusing to sugar coat the truth of what might happen.

Hunching his shoulders, Draco felt bereft. His father was at times cold and power hungry but inside, he knew his father loved him and his mother but would it be enough to turn him back to them? He sighed and scrubbed his face trying to wipe the fear and anguish away. Severus was right, it was his father's choice. He would have to pray it would be the right one.

"Right!" Severus said standing once more. Draco followed suit still a bit distraught. "Return to class and speak nothing of this to anyone until I give you permission."

"I understand, Severus." Severus drew the boy into an unexpected hug, something he wasn't known for doing. It felt good and right, allowing the tension and some of the anguish he was feeling to drain away. Smiling warmly up at his Godfather's face, he nodded. Snape let him go, returning the smile as he watched his Godson hurry out.

Sighing with relief, he waited a few minutes more before hurrying out after the boy. Relocking the door behind him. "Well first step done now I have just enough time to see Dumbledore. Hope this goes well too."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape made his way back downstairs, document still gripped in his hand. He wasn't accosted along the way to the great hall and with the students in class he made much quicker passage to the bottom of the hidden staircase leading to Dumbledore's office.

"Clark Bar," he said to the gargoyle statue. It leaped aside and the stairs revealed themselves. He climbed to the top and knocked on the heavy oak door.

"Come in."

Severus let himself into the spacious office crammed with moving portraits of former Headmasters on the walls, heavy furniture and bookcases plus a large assortment of magical odds and ends. A four foot high perch sat just to the right and below Dumbledore's big old desk. And that was where Dumbledore was attending to his familiar, Fawkes. The Headmaster had his head turned toward the door thick, bushy eyebrows raised in puzzled surprise.

"Albus, good morning. My apologizes for bursting in so abruptly but I have many things to accomplish before my class. Do you have time to speak with me?" Severus said, walking closer then halting an arms length away. Waiting.

"Good morning to you too Severus. Fortunately, my time is free for a bit yet, what troubles you and what has you so busy this early?" Dumbledore asked turning away and walking toward a small sitting area where tea had been set up.

Taking the unspoken invitation, Severus walked behind him then seated himself opposite the Headmaster who was already making himself a cup of tea. In politeness, Severus did the same even though he had just had tea with Narcissa earlier.

"The Elder Council has met this past weekend to discuss how best to deal with what's left of Voldemort's army and how to approach the wizarding leaders with their demands in such a way it wont be ignored or covered up. During the discussion it was decided to delay the announcement for at least another week. In advance of that, I have been tasked with many things I need to accomplish before end of day. I also have some news I am allowed to pass on to you." Snape then proceeded to bring Dumbledore up to date with what little the council felt he should know at this stage of their plans.

"The first task is really just a corroboration between you and the council about what my job will be now that I am no longer functioning as a double agent. I have been ordered to remain in Hogwarts and its environs but not outside that unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, I am expected to identify, report and monitor any of the enemy within Hogwarts. Third, I will be responsible for guarding Harry Potter and keeping him safe as we neutralize the enemy as quickly as we can. Especially before they can reorganize, find a new leader, and attack us again. I will be sharing that duty with Hagrid. But there is someone else I will also be guarding, my Godson Draco. His life will be in constant danger as he does not hold the same views as his house mates. My additional job is as acting liaison between the Elder Council, you, and other members of the forest people that work and live within Hogwarts."

"And still teach I assume … goodness, Severus that is a great deal of responsibility you are taking on." Albus shook his head. "Keeping all this from the children will be difficult you know but I agree such actions must be taken and I don't object to you doing this just as long as you keep me in the loop. Now what are their plans for all this?" Dumbledore asked, a shrewd look in his eyes.

"I will explain, sir," Snape said. "To make capturing the enemy more successful it was suggested we pool our resources. We want the Order and the Aurors to work together in hunting down the Death Eaters and their associates. You two already are hunting but getting in each others way. We want you to work together and with us. First, though those of us who are able to walk about the Ministry and other businesses and governments will identify all the enemy wherever they have infiltrated before gathering all our forces to make one strike rather than multiple smaller strikes and warning the inner circle which will allow this benighted war to continue on for more years. So banding together secretly, using the data collected on where the enemy is, we can swoop down on them all at once and end it quickly.

When he had finished, Dumbledore was frowning in consternation. Shaking his head and saying nothing, he walked away to stare out his office window for some minutes. Snape let him alone to absorb it all even though time was slipping away from him.

Finally, Dumbledore sighed and turned back to stare steely eyed at Snape. "A sound and workable plan, Severus, though it would have been more proper if I and the Aurors had been invited to sit in on the decision making. But even if you had, I am not so certain you will be able to convince the Aurors to cooperate with us. They consider us outlaws, remember?" As for the Order, considering wizarding kinds present relationship with yours it makes sense to have not included us until all parties have come to a consensus then approached us like you have done now. I may not like how you had to go about it but I accept the arrangement. It is my hope the situation between our kind changes by the time the enemy is completely vanquished."

"As do I Albus. Now there is one more matter I need to address." Snape quickly explained the need to move Draco to Ravenclaw and handed over the document he had Narcissa sign.

Dumbledore felt blindsided. So many things were going on that he wasn't a part of except on the periphery and he didn't like it. He was used to being in control and that was the one thing he didn't have in all this. Frowning, his eyes flashing with annoyance, Albus glanced over at Fawkes. The Phoenix cooed soothingly informing his familiar that it would be alright and to trust him and Severus. Shaking his head, Albus let go of his anger and sighed resignedly.

"Very well," He reached out for the document Snape offered, read it, then countersigned his agreement. He made a magical duplicate and sent it off to Hogwarts archives while he kept a copy in his own personal files. "Do you wish me to make the arrangements?"

"That would be appreciated as it might make it easier for Professor Flitwick to accept the change of house, especially since its rare to have this happen in the first place and especially with someone with a family long associated with Slytherin house," Snape demurred.

"That is an understatement," Albus grunted.

"One last thing, Albus..."

Dumbledore stared at his potion master with a jaundiced eye but waited to hear what else he was going to have to endure.

"Narcissa has requested her house elf, Dobby, be freed. She then gave him a personal mission to guard and take care of Draco."

Eyebrows at full staff, Albus was stunned. "That is a very unusual action to take. Who would free him and would this house elf be willing to do such a thing? They are very fierce defenders of their family and don't do well free of such attachments."

"Yes, I am know but surprisingly, Dobby has always held the desire to be free, making him a most unusual house elf indeed. He is waiting in my quarters and I must get this done quickly before Lucius commands him to return. I wont be able to retrieve him if that happens," Snape warned. "And as for who should free him, Narcissa requested Draco should have that honor."

Dumbledore just shook his head. "You are right, a most unusual situation. It makes me think that I and the other professors should look at house elves from a different perspective. There might be others with such a mindset and I do not like the thought of a rebellion brewing amongst them.

Fawkes made a sudden, rather commanding trill of sound. Both men turned to stare at him but it was Snape who apparently knew what the bird wanted and nodded in what apparently was in response to what the Phoenix had said.

Turning to Dumbledore, Snape told him, "There is no fear of that Albus. Fawkes is the speaker for all things intelligent that fly and house elves by their own request. The only house elves to be wary of are those in league with the enemy not those that must work with them. For those there is a plan to free them and allow them to attach to a different house, business, or family or stay free as they choose."

Albus relaxed a little. "Well that is certainly good to know. Will Dobby hide out in the castle as he does his watch duty? Because, if so I need to tell the castle spirit."

"Hmm, I think Dobby would be more happy and adjusted if he joins Hogwarts elf population but he won't be at call to anyone but myself, Draco, and Harry Potter."

"Harry? Why divide Dobby's attention?"

"Harry is also in significant danger as you well know and though the castle, you and I and Hagrid will be watching him, a house elf sees but isn't seen so makes the perfect watcher and guard. They have a great deal of power in those little bodies making them very formidable."

"Yes, I know and it is only their need and desire to be … hmm … helpers to wizard kind that keeps them from using all that potential. But Dobby will be a free agent ..."

"Yes but he is also very loyal and a good person. I can't think of a better house elf to trust, Snape assured him. He'd had ample opportunity early in the war to see how badly Dobby was treated and yet the house elf was always unfailingly helpful and loyal to the Malfoys. And obviously, Narcissa knew this as well which explained her willingness to let her best house elf leave her service.

"Very well, do what you think is best, Severus, and I will count it as another layer of protection for all those of the Light in Hogwarts," Albus reluctantly agreed. "As for the transfer of young Draco, I will speak with Filius as soon as possible. I will also be convening an emergency meeting with the Order, excepting you, of course, and bring them up to speed with what you have been able to tell me and discuss joining forces with the Aurors. I know that wont go over well. When will your people be speaking with Madam Bones about this?"

"As soon as we can make an appointment to see her, sir. I don't know who is taking that message yet," Snape said quickly before Albus could ask him. He suspected it was himself and Hagrid but wouldn't tell Albus that yet."

"Humph, it would be better if she could be enticed to attend our meeting, blindfolded and brought there by one of us, of course. We don't want her to know our location."

"I will see if that will be possible, Albus. Perhaps you should wait a little for that meeting until I can see if we can get Madam Bones to agree? I agree this way would speed cooperation up a bit more," Snape demurred.

Albus snorted but nodded. "Yes, that would be a good idea as long as it's soon, Severus."

Snape nodded agreement. He suspected Dumbledore knew he wasn't being completely forthcoming on everything the Elder Council was doing or what he was doing for that matter but the old wizard was a strategist and though he didn't like being left in the dark he could and did understand the reasons for it better than most.

"One more thing, Severus, please keep me in the loop on what you are allowed to tell me from the Elder Council, eh?" Albus said, firmly.

Well that answered the question alright. Snape nodded and rose to his feet. "Of course, sir. See you at lunch." He began to leave the office but then realized there was a possible way to find Peter Pettigrew and leave the information, Dobby had given him. Pausing before the familiar, he bowed then began speaking in that peculiar verbal language they spoke between them. It took only a few minutes to relay what he knew.

Fawkes cocked his head and was silent a moment then trilled a response. "Have my people keep their ears and eyes alert to anything that might lead to this Peter Pettigrew, I will. Anything particular to him is there that might help seek him?"

"I do know he is an Animagus taking rat form and it is possible he might have made himself a familiar to one of the students but I have no way to know what house. This would allow him closer to things going on within Hogwarts, evade Sirius Black who has been searching for him, as well as be able to come and go to Voldemort when he had good information," Snape said thoughtfully. As large as the castle was and how the familiars were able to go about unseen as they pleased, he knew it was nye impossible for him to find Pettigrew by himself which was why he enlisted Fawkes help.

"That be helpful. Relay that I will and keep you inform of what is discovered," Fawkes said then fell silent.

"Thank you." With another nod of his head, Snape turned and left the office.

Dumbledore simply frowned at his familiar unhappily.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

When the door closed behind Snape, Dumbledore stood and stretched a bit before walking toward his familiar's perch again. "Well my old friend, what an important position you hold. Keeping many secrets still aren't you?"

Fawkes just chirred peaceably and conveyed his desire for Albus to go along with the flow. All would work out in time.

Albus shook his head. "I will try but you and the others make it very hard to trust with so little information to go on. But I will hold my peace for now," he said unhappily. He was ill at ease and out of sorts about all this, but he would try to do what Fawkes was pushing him towards. Events were rushing ahead with wizards trailing behind like trainees rather than already experienced warriors and it chaffed.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Snape made it back to his quarters just as the bells rang change of classes. Dobby sat waiting anxiously for him in a seat before the dead fireplace, jumping to his feet when the man burst into the room. Snape was relieved to see the house elf still there.

"Dobby go retrieve Draco and bring him here quickly but don't let anyone see you or him leave."

Surprised, Dobby said, "Yes sir!" He disapparated with a soft pop. He was back before Severus had even begun to pace.

"What on earth, Dobby, what are you doing here?" Draco had been in the process of asking, shocked expression on his face that morphed into confusion when he noted where Dobby had taken him and who was waiting. "Wha … Severus, what is going on? Why did Dobby come get me?"

"There isn't enough time for explanations right now, Draco," Snape hushed the boy. "I need you to listen and do what I ask of you. Take off your tie and give it to Dobby."

Draco gaped at him in confusion but did as he was asked.

Dobby stared at the tie in his hands, nearly shaking with emotion. With tears in his eyes, he hugged the tie to his chest and stared at both men before stuttering a spate of grateful words, "You have freed, Dobby! Dobby has dreamed of this day! Dobby is eternally grateful to you for your kindness and generosity! In repayment Dobby will do all in my power to keep my promise to the mistress to guard you Draco Malfoy."

It was Draco's turn to stare at Dobby in confused bewilderment and shock. "What do you mean you are free?"

"Draco Malfoy has given me clothing. When a master does this truly wonderful thing it frees their house elf from service," Dobby explained, trembling with happiness.

Draco turned to his Godfather a demand for answers in his brilliant blue eyes. "That is the rule, Draco. Your mother insisted this be done so that Dobby would be free of your father's influence but she still wanted him to serve and protect you and that is what he just promised. There is one more thing I must tell you then you must be off to class as must I. Dumbledore has been informed and has agreed to place you in Ravenclaw. He is going to contact Flitwick here shortly and you should be prepared to move by end of day into your new house. But tell no one until the order is official. Later this evening we will talk, I promise," Snape said laying a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder.

Shaking his blond head, Draco was taken aback by all these changes that were happening so abruptly to him but forced himself to not ask anything at least not right now. "I will hold you to that Severus. There are a great many questions I need answered. He gave Dobby another bewildered look before ducking out of the room and running hurriedly off to his next class.

"Professor Snape, sir, is there nothing else Dobby may do while keeping watch on Draco and Harry Potter?" He was twisting his pillow case nervously, all these wonderful things that were happening had him very giddy but still a bit scared.

"I see no reason why you can't join the Hogwarts house elves, Dobby and Headmaster Dumbledore has agreed to allow it. Besides it will provide you cover as well so no one questions why you are here especially those in Slytherin House who might know you belonged to the Malfoys. Though doubtful they will even notice since your kind are normally beneath their attention."

Dobby gave a devious smile of agreement on that.

"Since you are a free agent, you have more freedom than your fellow elves and they might wonder about you...

"Aye, Professor Snape, they would," Dobby interrupted then looked shocked that he had done so. "Dobby sorry ..."

"No, no, it is quite alright," Snape said smiling reassuringly at the house elf. "That is what makes you so unique. Go ahead, what did you want to say about the other elves?"

Dobby smiled shyly but continued. "If Dobby tells them he was transferred by the Malfoys to Hogwarts and I wished to say no more about it, they understand and leave Dobby be."

"Excellent! That will make things even easier for you to freely move about the castle though your fellow elves may begin to wonder when you are seen with Draco and Harry more than anyone else but they will all know why soon enough. I would also recommend you put on Hogwarts livery and put on some shoes to make the transition easier."

Dobby beamed happily at him and snapped his fingers. Instantly he was properly dressed as a Hogwarts servant in a neat pillow case with the Hogwarts emblem prominently displayed in the center and a pair of red boots on his feet.

"My you do look dashing," Snape said grinning. Dobby smiled back feeling very pleased with himself. "I need to be moving on to other things but I do have something else to tell you," Snape said more seriously. Dobby nodded and took a listening attitude.

"I do not know if you have heard but the Elder Council requests house elves loyal to the Light to identify our enemies and report their names to Fawkes or me."

"Dobby has heard rumors, Professor Snape, sir. Glad Dobby is to hear it confirmed. Dobby will keep ears and eyes on the lookout for nasty spies of the enemy."

"Excellent. If you do see or hear something that is suspicious or alarms you, do not hesitate to report it to me but in private. We don't want the enemy to catch wind that we are monitoring them more closely now. Remember this Dobby, I will protect you. But try and keep yourself safe so I don't have to. The Light is counting on you."

Dobby looked amazed and pleased at that last statement. "Dobby is honored, sir. No one has ever thought enough about me to offer such a thing. Dobby not forget this."

"You are welcome, now I must be off." Nodding at the house elf, Snape left for his class.

Smiling happily, Dobby popped away.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 48: New Member for Ravenclaw

"You want to do what?" Filius Flitwick, the Charms instructor, asked, shock making his voice squeak more than usual.

Dumbledore sighed. He knew Filius wasn't going to like this but once the man understood the situation he would come around quickly. He loved his students and protected them fiercely so all he had to do is get the little man to listen.

"Filius, please hear me out," he pleaded in as soothing a tone as he could manage.

Professor Flitwick snapped his mouth shut, crossed his arms and waited. Those that didn't know him would think him comical standing there so proud and strong even though he stood just under four feet but he was part goblin and could be fierce in battle. The best charms instructor known this century and former duelist of the highest caliber, Flitwick was no one anyone would want to mess with.

Patiently and carefully, Dumbledore briefed Flitwick on what had been happening with the Malfoy family and what information Severus had imparted of the boy's need to be moved for his own safety.

Flitwick blinked in surprised shock as one piece of information caught his attention among all the other stunning revelations Dumbledore relayed. "Draco Malfoy has turned from the dark and made friends with a Gryffindor … when did that happen? I've never seen anything but enmity displayed by the young man for his rivals since school began and worse during their first Quidditch Game. And won't there be trouble from Lucius Malfoy over the switch?"

"Oh yes, I am certain there would be if Lucius Malfoy had the time to hear of it but I have been told, on good authority, he will be soon running from the Aurors as a revealed Death Eater."

"I knew it! I suspected he was lying all this time!" Flitwick said with great satisfaction. "Alright, then if his father isn't going to rail at us what about his mother? Narcissa is just as fierce about her position with the Dark Lord."

"Mrs. Malfoy has turned to the Light or at least taken a neutral stance on the matter and has signed a document that states only she may make decision for her son. And, what's more, she has provided another layer of protection that I am not allowed to divulge. Suffice it to say you wont see this protector no matter how hard you look because it isn't someone you would believe is acting as such which makes them the perfect guard. Draco Malfoy is presently being apprised of his new place at Hogwarts by Severus," Dumbledore said.

"Amazing!" Flitwick said, shaking his head. "Then I assume it is the suspected Death Eater children that is the true threat here?"

"Yes, and any other collaborators we have not unearthed yet," Dumbledore added.

Flitwick rubbed his face thoughtfully then nodded. "Right! Then I agree to the transfer and will warn my students of the dangers. You say Draco has many protectors?"

"That is correct. There are ones as I said, that I cannot divulge but the ones I can are: Severus, Hagrid, and myself, course, you, your students, and the castle spirit."

"The castle spirit … truly? From what you have told us, it doesn't really involve itself with individuals, only the population within as a whole. This has changed?" Flitwick asked, surprised.

"You are correct, Filius, but matters are changing so much, it has informed me that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy play a significant part in those changes and must be protected. I know not what it is alluding to and since I can only get impressions not words from it, I cannot fathom what might be coming in our futures only that significant changes to our world is coming."

Flitwick felt a chill slither down his spine. He had heard rumors of a new prophecy but not its context and here was a new clue that things were happening that most of the faculty were not being informed on.

Frowning, he asked, "When will the rest of us learn what you do know, Albus? I don't like working in the dark this way."

Dumbledore sighed. "Believe me, Filius, I don't either. Even as head of the Order, I know very little and am being given only the barest details by those who are apparently in charge of whatever is going on. I am told it is for reasons of security and ordered by the others who represent the magical beasts of the Forbidden Forest, who are responsible for some of these events."

Flitwick gaped at him. Being a half breed, he had to decide early whether to accept his goblin half or go with his human half and had chosen his human half so he was not cognizant of anything out of the ordinary with the magical beasts that inhabited the world and wasn't aware there was even a council.

"What do you mean representatives of the magical beasts? There is some kind of formal group? Albus you are making no sense."

"I know and I wish I could tell you what I do know so far but I can't. However..." he held up his hand when Flitwick was about to interrupt, "... I have been informed that everyone will be in the know on everything very soon but that is all I have been allowed to say."

Flitwick flicked an eyebrow up at that. "And you don't like that at all, I'm sure."

A look of annoyance flashed in Dumbledore's eyes a moment before he replied. "No it does not. It doesn't sit well to be "sidelined" as the saying goes when it seems we are all at the cusp of world changing events."

Grunting Flitwick shook his head. "No, I wouldn't either. I hope this "soon" is not a long wait."

Dumbledore grimaced. "So do I. Now about Mr. Malfoy..." he said deliberating changing the subject.

Flitwick acquiesced despite the burning questions still on his tongue. "So I understand you want Mr. Malfoy transferred today?"

"Yes, please, Filius. Notify your students before evening so the transition can be accomplished while the students are occupied with homework and private time."

"Very well. I will take care of it and keep you informed on how it goes."

"Excellent. Thank you, Filius."

Filius simply nodded and left for his own offices. As he strode down the stairs to the main hall he couldn't help thinking, "What a strange day this has turned out to be! What could be going on that even Albus wasn't told about? I like not all this secrecy. Better keep my ears sharp because I feel trouble and changes are in the wind."

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Lunch was a very noisy affair in the kitchens of Hogwarts as Dobby wandered about getting familiar with the area. Elves were hustling about with finished dishes of food while others were putting finishing touches on what they were preparing at huge side counters and at the multiple stoves that filled one wall.

"Hey, who you?" A rather ugly and large house elf demanded, stepping in Dobby's way.

"Dobby, my name is. Headmaster Dumbledore sent me here. Dobby new house elf to Hogwarts," He said rather bluntly. Here among his own kind they weren't so subservient to each other and could more or less speak their own mind if they wished. He had already insured his charge was safe and in class along with Harry Potter so decided to see where he could be of help and check in, as it were.

"Heh, you are huh? I am Firg, head house elf. What house you come from?"

Dobby shook his head and looked down, an obvious sign of emotional and possibly physical abuse, one too many house elves were familiar with.

The leader of the kitchen staff huffed but asked no more questions as that would be impolite. Instead gave Dobby the most common commandment house elves follow, "Find a need!" He instructed. The saying meant one should look for what needed to be done and do the task.

Dobby nodded and did as told, noting the delivery of food to the apparition table needed some assistance and hurried off to help.

As he worked, a voice spoke to him in his mind. "Welcome to Hogwarts, protector of Harry Potter. Summon me if you need my help. I will aid you immediately." Dobby startled and nearly dropped the huge bowl of mashed potatoes he was hugging to his chest, to the floor.

"Who speaks to Dobby?" He whispered, not wanting any to hear him. "I am Hogwarts," the voice said simply, speaking in understandable words, something it rarely did. Dumbledore would have been angry and upset to learn it was capable of doing that but chose not to with the Headmaster. Dobby blinked at that bald statement a long moment then remembered what his mother had told him a long time ago. A myth handed down from house elf to house elf.

He set the bowl on the apparition table and smiled. "Thank you sir." He said back to what he knew now was the castle spirit. The fact the spirit had been willing to speak to someone as insignificant as Dobby was a great honor. He hugged that thought as well as the blush of warmth that had passed through him from the spirit itself as a gift to treasure.

He already loved it here despite the danger that lingered like black sticky fingers left behind in the shadows. A fierce thought struck him, "Hogwarts will be clean and pure once more! Dobby will make sure of it!"

Promise made, Dobby returned to work with renewed determination.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

The day passed swiftly with the students totally unaware of all the events that were going on behind the scenes. As promised, Flitwick had gathered his students in their common room just before dinner and announced the placement of a new student in their house and met the expected shock and dismay.

"Draco Malfoy! Why is he transferring in here?" Terry Boot demanded, not happy about this turn of event at all.

"I have been informed the young man has been secretly allied with the Light and needs to be removed from Slytherin House for his own safety. And, no, he is not a spy for the dark. He has been cleared of that accusation by Headmaster Dumbledore and Professor Snape. Additionally, I was told Malfoy is a secret friend of Harry Potter. Because the threat to his life is real and present within Hogwarts, Draco is under the direct protection of Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor Snape who is Draco's Godfather, myself, and apparently many others I haven't been given names of." He eyed his students to see how they were taking the news then spoke again before any could respond. "I want you all to welcome him and help him settle in. He really has had a bad time of it and is grateful for a chance to finally be safe."

"Oh, poor boy. He deserves a chance at what we all take for granted within Ravenclaw, safety and comfort," Luna Lovegood spoke first.

"Once a Slytherin always a Slytherin," Robert Hilliard growled, an ugly expression on his face. He was the captain of Ravenclaw Quidditch Team and had been exposed to the Slytherins cheating ways during games … before, during, and after. He wasn't in the mood to be terribly forgiving.

Flitwick gave him an understanding but firm look. "We do not judge a book by its cover here, Mr. Hilliard. I expect you to give Draco Malfoy a fair hearing before giving a snap judgement based on association. Has he done you some type of harm? Think hard before you answer and I am not talking about what liberties his house has taken on the Quidditch field. Only what Draco Malfoy himself may or may not have done to you personally."

Robert blushed, snapping his mouth closed on some more ill chosen words and thought about what Professor Flitwick was demanding of him.

In Ravenclaw, thinking before speaking was respected while blurting gossip or heresy was cause for censure by their fellow students.

He took a moment now to really think and review his many interactions with Malfoy. As he did so, Hilliard realized Draco had never done by word or action anything against him or his friends. Blushing with embarrassment, he swallowed his shame before responding with a more carefully thought out answer.

"My apologizes, professor. I was indeed going by what Slytherin House was known to do and not what Draco Malfoy personally has done. I am ashamed to admit that, nay...he has not offered injury, foul words, threats, nor any other actions against myself and my mates. I will treat him as I would any new student, sir."

"Well said and thought out, Mr. Hilliard. Sometime between now and after dinner, Mr. Malfoy's belongings will be delivered then sometime after that, when he is ready, Draco will present himself. Again make him welcome, tell him the house rules, answer any questions he may have, and show him his bed space. I know you will not disgrace your house with any ill thought out words," he said, smiling benignly. " You may go about your business now. Good evening." Everyone murmured the same back then Flitwick was gone, back to his offices in the highest part of the tower.

As soon as the door closed behind Flitwick the students began discussing and arguing over this stunning news. From her seat near the door to the corridor, Luna Lovegood just smiled. She had felt in her soul that Draco had a good heart and was glad to find she had been right. She couldn't wait to welcome him. And to relay this bit of news to her father as well.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

They had him pinned down in Myrtle's bathroom on the first floor. He had taken to hiding in the haunted bathroom when the hostility within Slytherin House had gotten too much for him. It was difficult despite his father's "lessons" on how to act around stupid, uncouth, or supercilious people with the appropriate haughty manners but it sickened him to be spouting some of that pure blood nonsense and seeming like he was all in on causing as much mayhem he could on Gryffindor and others that weren't on their side. It simply grew too tiring.

So this had become his sanctuary as no one wanted to deal with Moaning Myrtle, the poor girl who had been killed in this bathroom a couple of decades earlier. But when he first ducked into here and Myrtle appeared it seemed she knew somehow what he was dealing with and commiserated with him and a new friendship was born.

He treasured that friendship and the safety the bathroom provided. He did have to take great care in not being seen coming in here so often or his enemies would surely use this as a new place to torment him, that is, if they could ignore Myrtle. He smiled at that. Despite being a ghost, Myrtle could be formidably scary.

If there was a down side to the relationship it was Myrtle's incessant need to wail about her woes but that is what ghosts do. Fortunately, he was able to get her to talk about other things and she did so adore the latest gossip from him even though she did hear from other ghosts on what was going on around the castle. But it was the personal knowledge aspect she hungered for the most besides the company that Draco provided. She even let him in on the secret that the castle spirit did speak to a rare few in the castle and was aware of what was going on within it. That news had made Draco a bit wary. Before it had just been a myth that the castle was sentient but knowing that something as huge and powerful as the castle was in fact listening to them and protecting them was a bit intimidating and spooky.

"Want me to scare them off?" Myrtle suddenly spoke right next to his ear startling him back to the moment. She hadn't appeared when he had entered some minutes ago but she did that sometimes to allow him to be alone with his thoughts if she thought he seemed to need it.

His heart already beating fast in fear of those outside the door, nearly jumped from his chest at this second fright. "I wish you wouldn't do that Myrtle." She merely gave him a naughty smirk. This was one quirk of hers he never enjoyed but it was the one thing that delighted her so he let it pass with just a snarky remark.

About to reply to her suggestion in the negative, he froze when he heard Marcus Flint shout, "Stop being such girls and pull him out!" Other voices joined his so he knew there were quite a few students collecting outside the door.

"Brilliant," he thought, sourly. "I guess you should do your thing, Myrtle or I wont be leaving this bathroom without receiving a beating."

"Oh, this will be so much fun," Myrtle giggled before bursting through the door and enlarging herself to three times her size then screaming horribly at the small group getting ready to charge the door.

Screams of shock and horror sent nearly all the students running off down the corridor, all except Flint, Nott, and Derrick who flinched but stood their ground.

Laughing uproariously at her trick, Myrtle ignored the three Slytherins and disappeared as ghosts are wont to do. But she did reappear in the bathroom before the waiting Draco.

"Three are left...that horrible Flint boy, the idiot Nott, and I don't know the last one," she reported.

"Thanks, Myrtle," He had just enough time to say before the three boys shoved the door open violently and looked around for him, faces ugly with anger. Myrtle hissed at them but they ignored her.

"There you are you wanker!" Flint crowed victoriously. As he closed in on Malfoy, he snarled, "We heard the Dark Lord is gone and that you or your father had something to do with it!"

As he backed away quickly, Draco blinked in shocked surprise. That was not what he expected to hear. How the heck did they know already? He thought that secret was still unknown to most everyone.

"What the hell are you talking about? I haven't heard from my father since I was returned to Hogwarts and if you have forgotten, I was a prisoner so I couldn't have done anything about anyone. And how do you know the Dark Lord is dead?" He demanded, trying to pretend he held the upper hand in this conflict.

It worked … sort of. Flint did pause, frowning at Draco's words, but then shook his head and as the apparent leader of this motley group, began stalking Draco who had managed to keep his distance from the three boys by keeping the round, fountain style, sink between them and himself. But it was beginning to appear as if no one was using what few brain cells they had and were more interested in giving him a beating.

They apparently had been building up to this in the days since the kidnapping of both himself and Severus. It could have been because since that event, he had begun to distance himself more from all his fellow Slytherins. Unfortunately, in hindsight, that seemed to have been the wrong tactic to take under the circumstances and only managed to make the worst of the Slytherins more suspicious of him and the things they thought he might be up to.

Pulling his wand out, Draco prepared defend himself with the judicious use of the spells and charms he was skilled at. But suddenly and without any warning all three boys vanished.

"Wha?" Draco managed, lowering his wand and gaping at the empty space. No one could apparate due to the Anti-Disapparition Jinx within Hogwarts so how did they disappear.

Myrtle made a squeak of surprise too then gasped a second later at what suddenly appeared before her friend.

"Are you alright Draco Malfoy?" Dobby asked looking concerned. "Dobby sorry. Dobby only just noticed danger the young sir was in and sent evil boys to the Dark Tower. It has cells but Dobby put them in the center of the room. They have long walk to main floors," he told Draco, worried the boy would be angry at him.

Draco relaxed and grinned assurance at the welcome sight of the house elf. "It's alright Dobby. All that counts is you did make it in time though I think Myrtle might have managed to help me if I needed it."

Dobby blinked then noticed the ghost. "Oh, Dobby sorry. Did you wish to aid Draco Malfoy?"

Myrtle eyed the house elf in surprise, floating down to face him more fully. "I might have but you did a better thing. You are new here. Why did you protect Draco. House elves at Hogwart don't do that."

"Must keep secret, ghost..."

"My name is Myrtle," she interrupted.

Dobby nodded his head quickly. "Must keep secret of what Dobby do, Ms Myrtle. Dobby under orders from Headmaster Dumbledore to protect Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter."

"Oh, that is so wicked! I have never heard of a house elf being a guard. Don't worry I wont tell anyone. I may like to gossip but I do know when to keep secrets," Myrtle promised.

"Dobby thanks you for being such a good friend. Hope Dobby be your friend too."

"Oh sure, that would be brilliant," she grinned.

"That was nice of you Dobby. And thank you for coming to my rescue. And brilliant solution sending them to the Dark Tower." Then his pleased grin fell off his face when he realized what Marcus had said meant for the Light. "Oh no. What the Slytherins seem to think has happened is not good. Dobby you must tell Professor Snape that apparently a rumor is going around that the Dark Lord is dead and that I or my father were being held responsible. He needs to know that secret is circulating sooner than he hoped."

Dobby didn't look happy at that news either. "Dobby tell. Does Draco Malfoy desire me to send him somewhere first?"

"Wait!" Mrytle cried. "I haven't heard this … the Dark Lord is truly gone?"

"Yes," Draco said.

"You swear?" She demanded.

"I swear it is the truth. I got it from Professor Snape and I saw the tattoo was gone from his arm as proof. But despite the rumor circulating, Myrtle don't confirm that with anyone please until Professor Snape gives us permission. Alright?"

She stared at him for a long moment then nodded her head, expression grave. "I understand. This could mean real trouble with the Death Eaters." Then a brilliant smile broke out on her ghostly face. "But for me, it's the best news I have ever heard but no one will hear it from me. Have a better evening Draco," She said before disappearing.

"You too" Draco said to the air knowing she would hear him.

Then he turned his attention back to Dobby's previous question. He thought about that a moment. "Have my belongings been sent to Ravenclaw yet, Dobby?"

"Dobby collected and delivered your things over an hour ago, Draco Malfoy."

"Good then just send me to the entry corridor for Ravenclaw so I can appear to have walked there, and thank you for your all your help, Dobby."

Dobby smiled broadly. "You are welcome Draco Malfoy." Then he snapped his long spindly fingers.

Draco barely had time to blink before he was in the Ravenclaw corridor and he was alone. "Wow! What an easy way to travel. I never felt the passage at all", he thought bemused. Shaking his head in wonder at yet another example of just how powerful house elves were. He could kick himself for being so blasé about them before now. With his mind full of what he needed to say and do when he met his new house mates, he walked toward the entrance to Ravenclaw Common Room.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Draco used the big brass eagle hanging in the center of the door to bang against the wood. The eagle woke up and began to ask a riddle but the door opened from inside instead saving him the effort of answering the usually difficult riddle.

"Welcome, Draco Malfoy to Ravenclaw," Luna said, beating Robert, the prefect, in answering the door.

"Yeah, welcome Malfoy," Robert said belatedly, annoyed at Luna. The pair stepped aside and allowed Draco to enter.

"Thank you," Draco began then halted in shock as he took in the common room. It was unlike all the others he had seen as it could get. "Wow! What a cool place. I love the blue accents," he said sincerely.

Those willing to meet Draco were sitting around the room as a fire roared in the huge fireplace. Smiles wreathed their faces when they heard his compliment of their common room.

Robert was surprised and pleased by the response from the former Slytherin and was more willing to entertain a different mind set about Malfoy. Now that the boy wasn't standing amid those of Slytherin House he seemed like a really nice guy and it was obvious he was grateful for being accepted here.

Luna smiled happily at the positive impression Draco had made on her fellow Ravenclaws. She grasped his hand dragged him into the center of the room and began a slow, methodical introduction of everyone there which Draco appreciated.

But as he was being introduced he couldn't help continue his perusal of the amazing looking room. First of all it was wider than Slytherins and it was circular with an airy feel to it. The arched windows let in lots of natural light and they were hung with blue and bronze silks as drapes. A midnight blue carpet graced the huge floor and was covered in a pattern of stars which, when Luna pointed upward, was reflected onto the domed ceiling. Smiling broadly, she led him to the windows so he could gasp at the excellent view of the school grounds from up here which included the lake, Forbidden Forest, Quidditch Pitch, Herbology gardens, and the surrounding mountains.

"What an amazing view. One can almost feel they are at the top of the world if it weren't for the fact the Astronomy Tower is taller," Draco said admiringly.

He turned away from the windows and admired the furnishings. Not only were there many tables and chairs for studying, there were nice comfy couches set before the fire and around the room were bookcases and by the doors leading up to the dorms stood the tall statue of Rowena Ravenclaw made of white marble. It was just breathtaking. But more than that it had a feeling of warmth and friendship instead of the cold and unfeeling sensation one got in Slytherin's common room.

"Is it drafty up here?" Draco asked, being so high up meant lots of wind.

"Only a little. I find the sound of the wind whistling around the windows is relaxing when one is trying to go to sleep," Robert said, smiling a little. "Do you want me to show you your bed now?"

Draco thought about it then nodded. "Sure."

"Draco, please come back and talk with us," Luna begged.

He eyed her a moment. Draco had always thought of Luna as a bit of an airhead but he had since learned there was a brilliant mind under all that freakishness she liked to spout. Besides that she was very pretty, open, and honest. A refreshing change from the girls in Slytherin. An image of brutish Millicent Bulstrode flashed in his mind before he shoved it hurriedly away.

He gave her a warm smile. "I would like that. Be right back."

Robert lead him up the right hand door to the boy's dorm

In the sleeping quarters things weren't much different than his Slytherin one and, he discovered, he was in about the same area of the room as in his former quarters and he told Robert that.

The prefect gave him a genuine smile. "Well that's brilliant. Then you shouldn't have any trouble adjusting here then."

"Trust me, I am going to be glad to get my first true calm nights sleep without having to worry about being attacked," Draco said soberly as he checked his trunk and other things before deeming all was well. He didn't even miss the green and silver curtains that used to grace the bed. These were a deep blue with bronze trimming...very soothing to his eyes.

"I hope you have gotten your new colors," Robert said in a questioning tone.

"Oh, I don't really know," Draco said, surprised he had forgotten that in all the excitement before the actual move. He went to his trunk, spoke a soft word that would unlock it, then lifted the lid and searched his robes. Sighing in relief, he held up one of the ties and a robe showing off the change in color of the tie and the attachment of the correct house emblem

on the robe. "Brilliant! Looks like someone ensured that had been taken care of," he said in relief.

"That is good news and proves what we've been told. You have protectors taking care of you. Don't worry," Robert said raising a soothing palm. We were only told of two of your protectors and that the rest were on a need to know basis at least for a bit longer. Though we are curious as to why that is, we wont be asking you about it."

Draco smiled at him. "Thank you for your forbearance. Trust me you will know what is going on very soon. I have that on good authority."

Clapping Draco on the back, Robert nodded to the trunk. "Lock up and let us go back downstairs. Maybe someone may have ordered some evening refreshments and I could use one now."

"Me too." Draco closed and secured his trunk then followed Robert back downstairs. He had been worried a bit about what Robert Hilliard's reaction to him would be and was greatly relieved that his fears were unfounded. Everything he had heard about Ravenclaw thinking before acting on anything was true and it certainly benefited him now when rumors about what was going on with him and others were circulating like the powerful winds that buffeted the tower.

Back in the common room, he was given a glass of butter beer by Luna and a seat next to her. The comfortable cushion chair made him groan in pleasure as he settle in and prepared or a light grilling by the students surrounding him on chairs, couches, the rug, and standing near the fireplace. Apparently, more had decided to come speak with him so the room was fairly full.

The session wasn't too terrible and he was able to satisfy some of their curiosity as well as allay some of their fears about his being among them. None of them seemed too worried about that. Treating him as more of a problem to be solved rather than an issue to be too concerned about.

Draco could feel a light current of animosity from a few of those around him but that was to be expected but it was nothing like the suspicious and deadly aggressive anger Slytherins could generate.

The rules of this house weren't as difficult to obey as Slytherins had been as theirs had been all about cheating, reporting information useful to their Death Eater parents, and ways to annoy or beat down students from other houses. The riddles to get into Ravenclaw might be a bit difficult but nothing he couldn't eventually master. He did know he would have to be on his toes academically though. Ravenclaws were very competitive and could even turn on each other at times but not normally viciously. All in all a genial place to be and never boring.

After about a couple of hours he was released. He sank down into the couch more, closing his eyes to soak in more of the peace and feelings of safety he got just being here. He hadn't realized just how tense he had been until all his muscles relaxed and he felt nearly boneless. It was wonderful.

"Don't become too comfortable, Draco," Cho Chang said, amused. "You do have homework to get done after all." Draco's groan was her answer. She laughed pleasantly then drifted off to one of the tables to work on her potion's homework.

"She is right, Draco. It is getting late. I will wish you pleasant dreams when you finally seek your bed and see you in the morning," Luna was the next to speak to him before rising from her seat beside him and heading to bed. She had already finished her work.

He opened a lazy eye and smiled up at her. "Thank you, I think for the first time I may have good dreams. Good night, Luna."

She nodded warmly and walked away, graceful and light on her feet, as if she were floating. He smiled again. "Yes, things were finally looking up for me," he thought. Reluctantly, he reached over to his backpack that he had laid next to the couch and dragged out his Herbology book. It was at least two more hours before he finished his homework and the last of his beer. But as he prepared to head to his new dorm, there was a pop then a head appeared in the fire. It was Severus.

"Draco, I am sorry it is so late but did you want that conversation now?"

Malfoy felt a yawn threatening to escape and his eyes were heavy after such a long day. He really wanted answers to the many questions he had been holding for awhile but he was far too tired right now to even hear the answers.

Shaking his head, he said softly, "No, thanks Professor Snape. I am too tired now. Rain check?"

Snape smiled gently only for Draco, the few students still there were on the far side of the room finishing their homework so didn't see or hear him. "Of course, as you wish. Have you settled in alright?"

Draco smiled widely. "Yes. It was better than I hoped it would be. They have mostly accepted me and the few that don't like it are more inclined to leave me alone than attack. I am looking forward to a good night's sleep. Tomorrow will be very chaotic, challenging, and stressful so I need my beauty rest."

"You do indeed. Goodnight Godson, peaceful dreams."

"Thank you Godfather and you too." Then Snape's image was gone. Still smiling, Draco hefted his backpack on his shoulder and made for bed.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 49: Spreading the Word

While Snape was working through the tasks he had been given within Hogwarts, Hagrid was doing his part outside the school. As he had promised, he had sought out Xenophilius Lovegood at his rather strange looking home that looked like the rook from a chess board. The home was located in Otter St Catchpole in Devon, England among some hills and surrounded by gardens.

Otter St Catchpole was a small, quiet town of rolling hills and fields and much liked by both muggles and wizards who lived side by side here peaceably. Besides the Lovegoods, three other full witch families lived nearby: the red-headed Weasley clan, Diggory and Fawcett.

Hagrid had no classes to teach today so had decided to take care of the task he had been given. He had fire called ahead and though surprised, Xenophilius was willing to meet with him. He apparated at the edge of the gardens and walked toward the odd little house. He sighed and breathed in the quiet and the scent of growing things surrounding him. It was soothing to his soul.

"Such a wonderful little town. Be right bad fer evil to touch this place," he thought reaching the door and knocking gently.

The door nearly whipped off its hinges, as a slightly cross-eyed man with straw colored long hair stared at Hagrid.

"Good day, Xenophilius, it's me Rubeus Hagrid. I called ahead for a meeting with you." Hagrid said, a small smile on his lips.

"Ah yes, Hagrid. I remember. Come in," Lovegood stepped back into the room so that Hagrid could enter.

The half giant politely closed the door behind him then leaned against it. The room was heavily cluttered though that didn't deter it from being quaint and homy.

Hagrid glanced around the room casually until his eyes landed on something that sent a spiral of fear up his back. Moving cautiously, he got near but didn't touch the odd horn hanging from a nail on the wall.

"Ah, you like my Crumple-Horned Snorkack?" Xenophilius asked proudly.

"Ah begging your pardon Xeno, but that dere is a very dangerous Erumpent Horn and it has the bad tendency to blow up when touched. Blimy...I'm amazed you haven't done that yet." Hagrid said, worriedly.

Xenophilius blinked in dismay and disbelief. "Nay Hagrid! I have it on good authority that this is a rare Crumple-Horned Snorkack," he insisted.

Hagrid shook his head. "Nay … sorry Xeno, but it is not. Excuse me but a moment ..." so saying Hagrid raised his hand to cast a Wingardiem Leviosa spell to make the Erumpent Horn gently raise from it's perch until it was floating in the air. The door to the house opened on its own and the horn moved lightly outside all the while under the control of Hagrid's spell.

"Hagrid! What do you intend to do with it?" Xeno pleaded, beside himself with need to safeguard his precious artifact but Hagrid kept him from moving with an unseen and unheard immobulus spell. Xeno couldn't move a thing and continued to watch helplessly as Hagrid sent the horn a short distance from the house then let it go. He was so distraught, he never realized that Hagrid was performing magic without a wand and the fact the half giant wasn't supposed to be able to do magic at all.

A strong explosion caused the house to rock alarmingly before settling down again. Out in the small area that was only field not garden, the ground had been blasted until a large hole had been left.

Hagrid quickly released Xeno from the immobulus spell. In shock, Xenophilius walked to the door in stunned disbelief. His treasure was gone.

"Sorry about your yard, Xeno. I can fix it if you wish," Hagrid said gently.

"No... that is quite alright. I can use it to make a pond," the man said, rather distractedly still too shaken to take in what had just happened. But seconds later, he shook himself all over, stepped back from the door and shut it. Hagrid had already retreated to the living area but hadn't sat as he was too heavy and big to sit in any of the chairs.

Carefully ignoring what just happened, Xeno noticed Hagrid still standing and realized why. "My apologizes, why don't we sit in the garden? It will be more comfortable for you and I don't mind sitting in the warm sun as it has been very cold for some time. One should enjoy the beauty of nature when she shows herself, eh?"

"You be right about that," Hagrid said warmly and followed Xeno back outside. They avoided the new hole in the yard and went to the right where the gardens had gone to sleep for the winter. The snow was minimal here so Hagrid chose a spot that was apparently meant for a patio and was covered in flat red hued flagstones collected from he knew not where. He dropped to a cross legged position and waited for Xeno to join him.

The odd man had dragged an old iron chair from near the house, set a warming charm on it than sat facing Hagrid which put his face on the same level as the half giant. "Thank you for saving me from myself. I was certain that was a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Have you seen one before?"

"Nay, Xeno I'm afraid I have not but would be happy to ask around for you if you would like?"

"Oh that would be wonderful. With your experience of magical beasts I'm sure you might have more luck than I. Now to business, what can I do for you Hagrid?"

"I have been tasked with asking you for help by the Elder Council of the Forbidden Forest."

Xenophilius blinked in confusion for a moment before what Hagrid had said made any sense and when it did his mouth gaped open for a moment before snapping shut. "Then there truly is a council of the beasts?" He asked leaning forward excitedly.

Hagrid winced at that description. "We be intelligent people that include those that don't look human and those that do. We are just as magical as wizards, some more so. We seek to be recognized as equals to the wizarding society. No longer do we wish to be thought of as merely intelligent beasts, barely tolerated by the ministry and labeled haphazardly as beasts with no magic or intelligent beasts with some magic and allowed wands. We are one people and wished to be accepted as such."

"Truly! This is extraordinary. Why have you come to me? Why are ... your people you said," he paused to stare at Hagrid for confirmation. Hagrid nodded his head. "Your people want to be considered equals? What do they hope to gain insisting on this?"

"Acceptance! Freedom to move about as they do! Freedom to chose to work with wizards or not! No being forced to be servants, fodder for wars, or used in experiments! We want a say in the day to day running of the government. We want a say on any and all judgments being made be it wizard or beast. Put simply, Xeno, we insist on being part of the leadership that directs wizarding society."

"But why?"

"Because a danger is coming that will make Voldemort seem like a simple bully in a schoolyard," Hagrid said grimly. "Because it is time for change, Xenophilius, for everyone."

"What danger?"

"Muggles!"

"Muggles? But what danger are they to us?"

"The Muggles that live with wizarding society are not the ones we need to be concerned about. It be the ones who deny the existence of magic that we need to fear. I will not speak more on this subject for that is for much later and, yes, you will get an exclusive on that as well," Hagrid assured him before he could ask.

"What we need done right now is for you to print our demands in the Quibbler so we might reach all of wizarding society, not just here but around the world. We need to gather as many people to our side as we can so when we force a meeting with the Wizengamot we are not ignored and our wishes are heard and accepted. The time for us to remain in the shadows while wizards tear our world apart is at an end. We killed Voldemort's spirit. He is no more. Now we hunt all his minions until our world is free of his influence."

"He who should not be named...uh Voldemort is gone? Truly? You're not just making this up?"

"Nay Xeno, the tattoos are gone and so is their master. But you cannot speak of that yet. Not one word, Xeno, that be very important!"

Xeno nodded his head numbly still trying to absorb this stupendous news. His world had just changed dramatically and in a good way, an exciting way. He shook off his shock and gave Hagrid a huge smile, his body thrumming with excitement. "Worry not, Hagrid, not one word of Voldemort's demise will slip my lips nor grace my paper but the rest, oh yes, tell me everything you want me to print and I will spread the word most swiftly. This be a great day for me and I am so glad to be alive to see and hear such marvelous events unfolding."

Hagrid smiled in relief. He had thought Xenophilius would believe him but there had been a smidgen of doubt which was gone now. From his immense, shaggy coat, he withdrew the scroll Jason and others had worked hard to put together into just the right message they wanted heard.

"Here you be. Please print it exactly. Many have worked to produce this document that will hopefully gain us the support we so desperately need before the next step can be taken."

Xeno took the scroll reverently. "I will do as you ask. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this momentous event. I will ensure the widest disbursement of it as quickly as I may."

"That be excellent, Xeno. You are a good man. I would warn you, though, to be most careful of your safety once this gets out. I would be sore unhappy to hear if you took harm doing this fer us," Hagrid said.

"I understand. Perhaps it is best that I hie myself to a few of my favorite places once this has been circulated. I want to see what is happening not become a statistic of its fallout," he assured Hagrid. "But I do want one assurance and it be an important one."

Hagrid nodded. Xenophilius continued, "Since you work at Hogwarts, I want you to ensure the safety of my daughter Luna. She be my heart and soul. It would break me should harm befall her or she be captured by the enemy."

"On my magic, I swear to protect and keep safe one Luna Lovegood," Hagrid said solemnly, the magic setting in place immediately.

Xeno gaped at him as he too felt the promise. He had never expected a promise made on ones magic by someone like Hagrid. He was stunned and humbled. Tears fell down his cheeks and he smiled, relieved his daughter would indeed be safe with such guardians around her. "Thank you."

"It were only right as we are asking much of yew. Now be that everything?"

"Oh, yes, nothing more."

"Excellent, then I must be off. Have many more errands to do," Hagrid said, rising ponderously to his feet. "Oh, and before I forget ..." He reached for something in one of his cavernous pockets and retrieved a small bag that jangled. "Here be your payment. As we are asking for a wide disbursement it be fitting to insure you have the funds to accomplish it." Hagrid handed over the bag.

Xeno had jumped to his feet when Hagrid had and was taken by surprise as he accepted the bag with some uncertainty. He opened it and stared at all the gold coins glimmering at him. His mouth dropped open as he jerked his head up to stare at Hagrid in disbelief.

Hagrid simply smiled.

Shaking his head, Xeno quickly closed the bag and secreted it within his shirt. "I thank you for such a large bounty. I'm normally not paid until the work is done..."

"Nay, not this time, my friend. I know times have been hard for yew and this project be very important to many. We did not wish to strain your income to do this task. Accept it as your due," Hagrid reassured Xeno then began to walk off.

Xeno hurriedly joined the half giant as they walked to the road. Stopping at the end of Xeno's property they automatically looked both ways ... nothing moved on the road or in the fields nearby.

Turning to Hagrid one more time, Xeno asked hesitantly, "When it is safe, I want to get answers to all my questions. Do you think you can do that for me?" He knew without knowing why, that there was much more here than what Hagrid had said so far... much more. But he knew there was great danger in asking for answers right now. Though danger meant very little to him, he didn't want his daughter caught in it. So he would bide his time until it was safe enough to get those answers.

"Aye, Xeno. You will have all the answers your heart desires when it is time. I will personally see to it," Hagrid said warmly. "Good day to you. Keep safe."

"You too my half giant friend," Xeno said. Then gasped when Hagrid simply disapparated. "But they are not supposed to be able to do that not without a wand and he didn't use one!" Xeno gasped aloud. Then he remembered just how many magical spells Hagrid had done in the short time he had been there and he gasped again. "Oh this is much bigger than I could have imagined." Still muttering to himself, Xeno hurried back to his house to begin setting in motion the biggest change wizarding society had ever seen.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Now that the paper had been notified, time to work on getting the word out over the wireless. So thinking, Hagrid headed home. He had apparated outside the front door and upon opening it was greeted by the sweet smell of warm cider. Smiling, he hung his coat on the wall coat rack and headed for the kitchen. No one was about but a kettle was waiting on the stove and hand made mugs stood on the counter beside it.

Taking the invitation, Hagrid poured a steaming mug full before heading off to the drawing room. As expected he found his friend Darius fiddling with a huge old fashion wireless sitting on the dining room table. Beside it open and ready was Darius' laptop. He appeared to be working on hooking the two systems together.

Hagrid walked up and took a dining room chair out and placed it beside the hardworking muggle.

"How goes it, my friend?" Hagrid asked sitting down then taking a nice long drink of his hot cider. He saw a half empty mug like his own sitting not far from Darius' right hand, no steam flowed upward so he suspected it had long gone cold.

"Ah...it's going but slowly. Meshing tech and magic is tricky stuff," Darius said distractedly as he fiddled with wires then checked his screen, cursed, went back to fiddling some more.

"Where be your help? I thought you had others that could aid you in this?" Hagrid asked, frowning as he looked around the room and saw no one else but did spy miscellaneous belongings on the floor and on the couch in the next room.

"Oh, they have but had to run for more parts, expecting them back any minute." Noise from the kitchen at that very moment seemed to corroborate that. Bouncing into the room, Darius' cousin, Jepard and his friend, Gleason carried in white plastic bags with some kind of muggle logo on them.

"Hi, Rubeus," Jepard said, cheerfully, setting his bag on the table and beginning to pull things out of it. Gleason just smiled and waved as he too unloaded his bag.

"What be all that?" Hagrid asked frowning at all the wires and other electronic dodads.

"Oh just more connectors and such to try and get this old beasty to work with the laptop. It's being stubborn," Jepard said off-handedly.

"Not just stubborn but downright contrary it is," another voice said just appearing through the door leading to the basement. "Good day, Uncle Rubeus," said Farley, his half giant nephew.

"What be the major problem?" Hagrid asked, giving his nephew a quick hug then letting the boy go.

"The magical factor of course. I'm still having difficulties getting the two to mesh well enough to overcome some of the poor reception issues as well as pushing the signal through the ministry blocks," Farley said, disgusted.

"Ah, I see … tell me what you have tried," Hagrid suggested. Farley mentioned a few odd spell combinations using transfiguration as his base spell that he had attempted and their results. Then told him of some new ones he wanted to try. Hagrid frowned. He wasn't a spell master but even he knew one of those choices might not be wise. "I suggest you forget attempting that one, nephew. It would blow through your laptop and out yonder window."

Farley hissed out a frustrated breath. "Truth, I did not think this twould be so difficult, uncle. I have had much success in meshing tech and magic before but this old wireless be defeating me."

"Hmm, well if this be the snag then it be time to call in some expert help. Give me a bit to contact him and see if he has any time to aid us," Hagrid said rising and heading toward the kitchen.

The group in the drawing room heard the front door open and close.

"Where to you think he be going?" Jepard asked.

"Most likely to speak with Severus. He be the only one he could ask for help. Severus be very skilled at spells so it be a good choice. I hadn't wanted to ask as the man has been given enough tasks to do already," Farley said, unhappily.

"It is what it is boyo. We can't hang about too long trying to get this working, you know," Darius said still working out the other problems they had.

Sighing, Farley went about sorting through what the others had brought seeing what could be used and what not as they waited for us uncle to return.

Hagrid appeared outside Hogwarts gate again and trudged across the lawn to the main entrance. He hoped Severus had time for him. The poor man had a lot to do today and here be one more to be dealt with.

He checked the clock on his way in and noted Severus' class be over now and he should be in his office bout now. Working his way through the throngs of children, he made his way to the stairs leading down to the dungeons.

Fortune smiled on him as he found Severus sitting at his desk writing something. He knocked on the door frame to gain the instructor's attention. Severus looked up in surprise.

"Rubeus, what brings you here?" Severus asked, putting his pen down and beginning to stand.

Hagrid stepped in and closed the door. "I hated to be bothering you Severus but it seems me crew trying to set up our radio report over the wireless has run into some significant issues pertaining to the use of transfiguration spells. The wireless is proving resistant to accepting tech assist from the laptop. Until that issue can be resolved we are stopped."

"Ahh, I see, hmm..." Severus thought about the problem both the one Hagrid was asking about and his problem of making time. He had accomplished much this morning and had only one or two other things to deal with. "It seems you are in luck, Rubeus. I do have some time if we go now."

"Excellent, shall we go?" Hagrid said smiling with relief.

Severus nodded, turned to put the papers away in a desk drawer . Hagrid waited for him outside the door. Stepping out himself, Snape locked and warded his door then the two of them headed to the stairs.

They encountered no one outside as they strode purposefully toward Hogwarts gates. Unbeknownst to them familiar eyes watched their progress with curiosity and concern.

Dumbledore had been staring outside for some minutes now trying to decide between two possible candidates for Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. With the kind of unfortunate bad karma the class had engendered of late, selecting someone wasn't as hard as trying to decide who was he willing to risk suffering the whammy of bad luck next. That was when his eyes caught sight of the unlikely pair heading off campus.

"Now where could they be off too?" He said aloud. Suddenly Fawkes flew to his shoulder and stared out as well. The familiar gave an excited chirp then vanished. Albus blinked in surprise at Fawkes' abrupt departure. Staring outward again, he just witnessed Fawkes airborne above the pair still walking toward the gates before they disappeared from sight. "Well, now what brought that on? I do so hate being left in the dark," he grumbled sourly. Muttered agreements floated down from the portraits on that observation. Shaking his head, he came to a decision. At least there was one thing he had control over.

"Hmph...I think Remus Lupin would be the right person for the job considering all that is going on right now. Maybe he will even survive the position." Decision made, he went to his desk to write an Offer of Employment Letter to Lupin. As a hidden werewolf, jobs weren't very plentiful now a days so he didn't think it would be refused but one never knew. Once he had it sealed he summoned an owl to take it to wherever Lupin could be found.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

As soon as they were through the gates, the pair apparated to Hagrid's home in the forest. Only twenty minutes after he had left, he and Severus were walking into his home and hanging their coat and cloak then walking into the drawing room.

Seconds later, Fawkes appeared hovering in the air behind them. He trilled a greeting.

Hagrid and Snape turned in surprise.

"Hello my friend," Hagrid said. "What brings you here?"

"Curiosity. I wanted to see what had drawn Severus away from Hogwarts," Fawkes said.

Both Severus and Rubeus laughed. "Well you are certainly welcome."

"Severus, Fawkes hello," Farley sang out, glad to see them both. Fawkes trilled a greeting and flew past them to perch on a chair nearby.

"Hello Farley. I hear you have run into a thorny problem?" Severus asked moving closer to where they were all working and staring at the mish-mash of machines and wires. Fawkes also leaned closer to study the project with avid attention.

"You could say that," Farley sighed. "Here's what I have tried so far..." He repeated his experiments and what results he was trying for.

Severus grimaced. "You don't want much do you. Alright let me give it try. Are you ready for this stage to be done?" He asked first.

Farley looked over at Darius questioningly. "Almost," the man said his attention still on his wiring job between the two machines. "There, that, hopefully, will do it. Now let me set this darn program up..." Another ten minutes went by before Darius touched a last key on the laptop and reached out to a switch on the wireless. "Got it! Give it a try now Severus and let us see if we finally get the old girl to let us through."

Everyone moved back from the table and let Severus have the field to himself. Snape had spent the waiting time coming up with some spells he hoped would do what they wanted. With his wand because he wanted as fine a control as he could get, he let off first one then when there was no reaction, let the second fly.

The wireless spit, sparked, then hissing noise came from the speakers for a moment before words could be heard.

"Yes, that's the WWN station alright. So, let's see if we can break in and broadcast our own message before getting cut off. I have it set for wide dispersal. You ready, Gleason?" Darius asked, setting a speaker up so Gleason could transmit.

A little nervous, Gleason took Darius' place before the wireless and held the scroll with the same message Hagrid had given Xenophilius. He had a great speaking voice so had volunteered to do this but still he was nervous. It was the first time he was doing something with so much earth shattering potential for their world.

Resolutely shaking off his nerves, he nodded at Darius who flipped a switch and pointed at Gleason to begin.

"Attention all you wizards, witches, and other magical people out there. The intelligent beasts of the world have a message for you to hear..." Ten minutes later Gleason stopped speaking and sagged in his chair. "Well hopefully its out there and being heard."

"There be nothing more we can do now. You have that on loop?" Farley asked Darius.

"Yes until we are cut off but I'm hoping the security block I put in place will work to keep the ministry from being able to do that for many hours," Darius said.

"Still with a hope and a prayer to the mother goddess, our message will still be heard," Hagrid said quietly.

"Only way to know is to tune in," Farley said jumping up and leaving the room for several minutes then returning with an ordinary wizarding radio. It was strange looking thing. Shaped like a person's head though covered in a semi-frosty coating hiding the works. Farley set it carefully down on the table and turned it on. After fiddling with the dials set in a panel at the base of the thing for some minutes, he finally found what he had been searching for.

Gleason's voice speaking loud and clear through the hidden speaker.

"Yes!" Everyone did high fives except for Fawkes who sang a sweet song of triumph, his wings spread wide.

Smiling, Snape prepared to leave again. "Glad to be of service gentlemen but I must get back. Good day."

"Thank you so much Severus and Good Day to you too," Farley said enthusiastically.

"Aye, thank you for taking time from your very busy day, Severus," Hagrid said, smiling. "Oh, and I have good news, Xenophilius Lovegood is excited about printing the council's message and can't wait to get it disbursed far and wide."

"That is great news and now with the message going over the airwaves we should see a response very quickly. Things are going to get very exciting by morning," Severus said, grinning.

"Oh aye," Hagrid smirked.

Still smiling, Snape saw himself out with Fawkes choosing to head out with him. The two apparated back to Hogwarts separately. Upon arrival, Snape began his walk to the main entrance as Fawkes sang a farewell and flew back to Dumbledore's tower. A smile still graced the potion master's mouth for a little ways as his mind went over the day's successes. "A very productive day indeed," he thought, pleased with their small successes so far. He knew that wouldn't last but he would celebrate the good days to keep his spirits positive.

Chapter Text

OLD MAGIC

Chapter 50: Surprises, Reveals, Plans, and Confrontations

After the best night's sleep he had ever had in a very long time, Draco woke to the sound of voices that were still strangers to him but it didn't bother him as he knew those voices meant safety.

Throwing his bedding off with glee, he quickly grabbed his bathing things and headed off to the bath. After an invigorating shower, he dressed quickly in his new robes.

"Well you look bright eyed and alert this morn," Robert said, pleased the newest member of his house was looking happy rather than worried or angry. This made him even more at ease with the former Slytherin.

"I am, thank you. And I'm starving," Draco said, grinning from ear to ear.

"You aren't worried about what is going to happen when we get to the great hall," Terry Boot asked, a concerned frown on his face.

"Yes and no. Of course I am concerned. I know several Slytherins will be furious at me and will seek some form of vengeance. But I am not worried as I have many protectors, like you Terry," Draco said sincerely.

Terry looked surprised at first before a smile of pleasure spread across his face at the compliment. He wasn't afraid of Slytherins but was duly cautious when called for. It warmed him that Draco could consider him honorable and brave enough to be his protector.

"Blimy, I guess I will just have to show those Slytherins, Ravenclaw wont let them bully one of our own," he said proudly, clapping a hand on Draco's shoulder.

"So will I," Robert agreed, not to be outdone. "Let's go eat!"

The group joined others streaming out of Ravenclaw and heading for the great hall. Without much conscious thought, Draco's new fellow students formed a protective ring around him. When they entered the hall and made for their table, no one could actually see Draco until they all sat down. And only then did the proverbial excrement hit the fan.

"Oy, why is Malfoy sitting with Ravenclaw," Ron Weasley hissed, anger suffusing his face. He had been looking around waiting for the food when he saw the familiar blond head in the wrong place.

"Yes!" Harry exclaimed, happiness glowed from his eyes. "Now he is safe at last."

Hermione stared in stunned surprise and didn't know what to say or think.

"He doesn't belong there," Ron growled, wishing he could draw his wand and wipe off the grinning face of the former Slytherin.

Seconds later, he was stunned when a furious Harry Potter turned on him and grabbed his tie, pulling it so they were face to face.

"I told you he was not an enemy! You will accept he was never someone to fear and that it is just your prejudice against the Malfoy family that has you so blind to the fact that not all the Malfoys are your enemy or you and I will no longer be friends," he hissed furiously in the shocked boy's face.

"I will not abide people around me who are so stupid and filled with hatred that they can't see things for what they really are. Draco is not responsible for what everyone else does in Slytherin House nor what his father is doing. Maligning Slytherins just because it so happens the pure-blood fools have their children attending here is no excuse for condemning the whole house. I told you this time and time again. But you never listen, so sure your long held prejudice was right." He shook Ron using the tie to yank him back and forth.

"Grow the f**k up for bullocks sake! Or stay away from me permanently!" Releasing Ron's tie suddenly and adding a shove for emphasis that nearly made the boy fall from his bench seat, Harry made it very clear how angry he was with his troublesome, red headed, friend as he also turned his back on Ron.

Ron gaped at his friend's back in shock. Straightening his tie without thought, he turned back to the table which was still empty of food and swallowed hard.

The rest of his house were also shocked by Harry's behavior and words. Moving a bit further away from Weasley, the rest of the students began furiously whispering among themselves about this unusual event, and casting glances at the object of all the turmoil, Draco Malfoy.

Ron ignored everyone else as he grappled with what had happened. He had always been taught that no good comes from Slytherin House so he had ignored Harry's insistence that he was being blind and stupid about that prejudice. So was Harry right? Was he clinging to a prejudice without real cause? He better figure it out or it would cost him an important friendship and, he was certain, lock him out of all the odd and interesting doings that surrounded Harry.

He carefully glanced toward Harry who had returned his gaze toward Draco who was smiling back, he realized. Giving Draco a more studying stare, he realized for the first time just how relaxed and really happy Draco looked. He frowned in consternation. Was he really wrong? Had Malfoy been as unhappy and faking obedience to his house before to keep himself safe and not because he liked being mean?

Suddenly he felt sick inside. Had his hatred prevented him from seeing how things really were with the students of Slytherin House? Oh yes, there were bullies and real evil there as they had to protect Harry from the worst of them but now that he truly thought about it he realized that had only been the same few people all the time. A smaller number of them never joined in the harassment and did their best to distance themselves from that element.

Ron turned away from Ravenclaw and really looked at the students of Slytherin House. Seeing them with new eyes. He quickly spotted the students that clustered together at the end of their table furthest from the high table, noting they kept mostly to themselves avoiding the other end of the table that were still glaring at Malfoy with malevolence and fury.

"Bloody hell, now we're in for it and I'm a stupid asshole," He muttered to himself. He had to change because it was clear he had been a fool. And it looked like real trouble was about to erupt any second now across the room.

Hermione gasped as several of the worst Slytherins made their ire known by lunging to their feet.

"Traitor!" Marcus Flint roared, pulling his wand, a truly stupid thing to do. And three other fools were doing the same but then that wasn't terribly surprising considering they were Crabbe, Goyle, and Derrick … being blind followers after all.

"Cease!" Professor Snape barked and without a word or a wand, he froze the four idiots.

That silenced the room instantly in shock and bewilderment. A great many were uncertain what was going on as they looked about them, staring at the frozen Slytherins and at Snape.

The drama in the room had been so intense, that no one had taken note of the teachers entering at all. They had all just sat down with Dumbledore sitting last when the reaction of Draco Malfoy's switch in houses registered. Of course three at the high table knew what was going to happen but the rest were taken by surprise.

"For the offense of drawing wands, detention in the Dark Tower is warranted, don't you agree, Headmaster?" Snape stated more than asked.

Dumbledore was furious but not surprised at the reaction of the worst of the Slytherin rabble but to draw down in public like this was just down right stupid. "I agree Professor Snape. For this is a most grievous of offenses we will discuss a more suitable punishment in my office later," he said frostily, glaring at the four miscreants.

Snape nodded, eyed the four coldly for a moment before again wandlessly and wordlessly made the four disappear.

Stunned shock from many of the Slytherin students was aimed at Snape. None remotely thought their house leader would do such a thing to his own students. Snape hadn't even objected but offered the harshest response to what the others felt was a justified threat to their house. None of them knew what to say and do and could only mutely stare at each other in sick fear and anger. However, the ones sitting at the far end of the table shared amazed and relieved looks. Perhaps things were looking up? Is what most seemed to be thinking.

"Bloody Hell," Ron breathed barely above a whisper. "He took out his own students."

"Because they did something really stupid, Ron," Hermione whispered, her tone harsh and unforgiving. "No one draws a wand, certainly not in a crowded room of innocents and to do so could be cause for expulsion."

"They deserved worse than that but I think they will think twice before pulling that again. Unfortunately, they are so stupid and arrogant I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they try to catch Draco elsewhere to either beat him or kill him," Harry muttered darkly.

Ron flushed white as he realized how deadly the situation had gotten. It brought home just how much danger Malfoy was in within the walls of Hogwarts. No student should have to fear going to school but he now realized that just being in the wrong house could be a death sentence and that seemed wrong. And what was worse, he realized he too had been part of that problem. He felt real shame bloom in his cheeks. Yeah, his mum would not be pleased with him right now.

On his other side another soft voice spoke up, "Draco was brave to manage to ge