Chapter 1: Conspirator
In Harry Potter’s third year of Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney decides a mess of tea leaves in a teacup is not a mess, but a Grim, the black dog of death. Everyone ignores this after the initial fuss dies down, but it isn’t exactly forgotten.
It’s reasoned, in Houses that are Not Gryffindor, that Potter has actually tried to die for the previous two terms already. Trelawney might be an incense-laden fraud, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Three times, even, if you’re in possession of a Time-Turner.
Thus, on Christmas Day, everyone staying over during the hols awakens to find that the massive gaudy star on the Great Hall’s Christmas tree has been replaced with an ornament painted up to eerily resemble the head of the Grim.
Harry thinks it’s hilarious. He waits until the holiday is over to thank the twins for giving him a laugh.
George and Fred glance at each other. While an excellent idea, this was not their doing.
This is unacceptable. Their status as the school pranksters is at risk.
The twins decide that they will find this obvious Kindred Spirit and enlist them in the joys of terrorizing Hogwarts’ staff.
What they don’t expect is how difficult this task will be. They also don’t expect the result: a Hufflepuff so unassuming that they looked over the kid’s dark hair at least twice before realizing they were overlooking their culprit.
“Oh, that’s just the curse,” the Hufflepuff says after introductions are completed.
“Aren’t you a Muggle-born?” George asks.
The Hufflepuff shrugs.
After a bit of conversation, George and Fred decide two things:
The Hufflepuff is a quiet, elusive, pranking genius.
They are adopting the Unassuming Hufflepuff post-haste.
Well, three things, really. Unassuming Hufflepuff is so unassuming that they could get away with murder, if they were so inclined.
None of them realize that this new alliance means that they will eventually save the school from Sirius Black.
Unassuming Hufflepuff tilts their head and accepts their new title with equanimity. Focusing on pranks will be a grand distraction from the fact that there is apparently a mass murderer out to kill them all, but mostly it’s a grand distraction from the bloody Dementors.
Once the duo of pranksters becomes a trio, George and Fred start getting away with absolutely amazing things because no one can ever prove it was them. Solid sterling alibis, they have.
They keep stationing themselves near Snape when it’s go-time. This is driving Snape spare because he has to keep telling McGonagall that the twins didn’t do anything.
He knows it was them. It is always them. They’ve just suddenly found a way to be subtle.
(Snape will go to his grave refusing to admit that he is proud of a Gryffindor for developing subtlety, especially a Weasley Gryffindor.)
Unassuming Hufflepuff is so unassuming that they’ve walked directly past Argus Filch three times with the evidence right in their arms and Filch doesn’t notice. Then they do it again, because seriously, they are not invisible, people really do talk to them!
Granted, Uh does live in a castle full of ghosts. It might be a good idea to double check. Unassuming Hufflepuff walks by McGonagall with a single Dung Bomb in hand and at least gets acknowledged and told to dispose of that mischief immediately.
Phew. Not dead or invisible.
Harry Potter is an all right bloke for someone that half their House is convinced is mental (not that they’re wrong). Like Harry, Unassuming Hufflepuff also makes friends with the large stray dog on the grounds. They did get their inspiration directly from the black dog, after all, so it is time for a thank-you delivery of dog-safe biscuits. (They asked the elves.) Uh and Harry trade off on who is sneaking treats out to the dog so that they aren't stalked by suspicious professors.
Of course, this also becomes kvetching time for Uh because the twins want them to do So Much. Some of their plans are ridiculous and might actually get even the Not-Quite-Unnoticeable Hufflepuff noticed. Unassuming Hufflepuff does not WANT to be noticed, thank you very much. Their entire family tends to be noticed, and they would like to break that trend at least a little.
Mid-rant, the black dog turns into a crazy person and advises Unassuming Hufflepuff on how to fix Fred and George’s hair-brained idiocy so that it will fly instead of fail.
Actually fly. They didn’t think of that.
Of course, they are also currently trying not to wet themselves in terror. “Are you going to kill me?”
The crazy person—who really needs a bath, Uh notes—stares at them blankly. “No. Why would I?”
Unassuming Hufflepuff thinks this is fair. Not even the Slytherins are all that interested in doing anything to them. Granted, they’re usually paying far too much attention to the Gryffindors. “Did…then what about Harry?”
The crazy person gives them another blank stare. “Why would I want to kill my godson?”
Fair point, Unassuming Hufflepuff acknowledges again. Still terrified, though. “What about, er, the Potters?”
“No!” Crazy person who is Also a Dog finally startles them. “I just want to kill the person who did kill them!”
Unassuming Hufflepuff blinks. “A painting killed them, then?”
Not-Really-A-Dog blushes. “She’s never going to speak to me again for that.” Then the crazy person becomes a dog again and runs off to go bark at the birds.
All right, then. Fortunately, family life prepared Uh for this sort of thing. Don’t react; think.
They go off to the greenhouses and tell Professor Sprout that Sirius Black is on the school grounds pretending to be a dog.
Professor Sprout gives them detention for lying. Unassuming Hufflepuff scowls and thinks that normal secondary school could not possibly be filled with this many daft people.
(They’re wrong. It’s just as bad.)
Unassuming Hufflepuff thinks throughout their detention on what to do next. Strangely enough, they believe the crazy person who is sort-of-a-dog. People who are mental tend to be so honest that everyone around them would just like them to give telling porkies a go just for a change of pace, and Not-a-Dog is definitely mental.
Then Unassuming Hufflepuff puts away the cleaning supplies and scowls all the way back to the barrels, because Professor Sinistra forgot to send them to bed at midnight. Honestly! They are easily overlooked, not bloody invisible!
Uh dismisses the idea of telling Harry that the dog is really a godfather. Potter is still not a bad bloke, but like Not-a-Dog, he is screamingly honest, and would immediately do something mental that would turn this entire year into another debacle. Or Potter would get himself eaten by Dementors, and Uh does not want to listen to Draco Malfoy be that unbearably smug about anything.
They go to George and Fred instead, who are at least sane enough to sit down quietly and listen before rushing off to do something stupid. This time it is a planned something stupid—the twins are running distraction while Unassuming Hufflepuff slips out of the castle and bribes Not-a-Dog with an elf-packed basket of lunch. Once Not-a-Dog is no longer rabid and starving, he tells Uh about who he’s trying to kill.
That pun is so obvious it is not even funny, and Unassuming Hufflepuff says so. Not-a-Dog shrugs and says it’s not fair to rats at all, most of whom at least do him the courtesy of being delicious instead of murderers.
Uh asks Not-A-Dog why he isn’t using mouse traps to catch someone who is currently a literal rat. Not-a-Dog asks what a mousetrap is.
Unassuming Hufflepuff makes a face, thinks terrible things about Pure-bloods, and sends off an owl that evening that will take a letter to the local post. Their mum might write a nasty letter to the Headmaster about allowing pests in the dorms, but they know she’ll send them all the rat traps and mouse traps they want. Mum gives them out to the neighbors so that no one will ever suffer a mouse in their house. The neighbors think she’s a bit touched.
They’re not really wrong, but it’s not the way they think.
It was just the one mouse, too. It would have been fine if the mouse had been anywhere else in the house except the kitchen. Mum has a thing about pests in the food, though, and that one spot on their kitchen floor has never been the same. Mum was too scared of potential disease to dispose of the mouse and gave it a middle-of-the-floor Viking sendoff with lighter fluid instead.
Uh tried to remind their mother that it is now the twentieth century and those diseases are treatable. Mum counters that Uh has never had to throw out perfectly good food and face potential starvation because a single mouse got into their food stores.
Among the collection of traps Uh receives, some of which are spring-loaded strongly enough to crush small dogs, there is a live trap. Unassuming Hufflepuff takes that to the twins, and they spend an entertaining evening figuring out how to make an Animagus trap with the original. Uh also spends quite a while talking the twins out of trying to become Animagi. No one needs that sort of headache, Uh included.
They have to test the trap to be certain the traps won’t, er, do anything permanent to anything they catch. To Uh’s surprise, they really do catch a rat right away. It’s not the correct rat, but it does, at least, tell them that the trap will work and won’t kill the rat.
Uh gives the captured rat to Lovegood, who is in a lower year. Lovegood spends the next week with a triumphant-looking rat riding around on top of her blonde hair. Since it’s Lovegood, no one knows if it’s a familiar or just an affectation, so not even the teachers say anything.
Uh is just glad that those idiot Ravenclaws stop stealing Lovegood’s shoes for a week. They’re too scared of the rat.
Honestly, this school. They receive mail by owls who sometimes use the breakfast sausages as their morning toilet, but it’s the rats that are frightening?
The twins invite Uh up to the Gryffindor Common Room so that Uh can also participate in the setting of the trap. Uh glances around and comments that it’s quite homey, for a tower, if rather scarlet. The twins assume that the Hufflepuff Common Room is obviously thus very yellow.
It’s not very yellow at all. It’s very Viking, instead, and makes Uh suspicious as to that Sorting Hat and its song about Helga. There were Vikings in Wales, and in northern Scotland, and sometimes everywhere in Britain if they were in a mood. Reducing Helga Hufflepuff to “likes all children” with no other details whatsoever says a lot about someone’s actual reputation. Uh’s mother likes all children, too, but she is also terrifying.
They set up their magicked live trap in the in a dusty corner of the Common Room under a bookshelf no one pays attention to except Hermione Granger. Then they have to build more traps the very next week, as Ron Weasley and Granger have a spat and now there is a ginger cat stalking around the castle, angry about being accused of eating a rat it did not have the pleasure of eating.
“How do you know Granger’s cat didn’t eat the Not-A-Rat?” they ask Not-a-Dog.
“Dogs and cats understand each other pretty well, Puff.”
Unassuming Hufflepuff frowns. “That isn’t my name.”
“You didn’t tell me your name!” Not-a-Dog protests. Uh notices that Not-a-Dog is much cleaner and wonders if they figured out cleaning spells again.
“Just call me Uh. Everyone else does.” Now they do, anyway. Before the Weasley twins came along, no one but the teachers really spoke to them—and that didn’t happen very often, either.
Not-a-Dog stares at them. “Why?”
“Well, when I tried to introduce myself at the beginning of first-year, I was really nervous. And I stuttered. I managed to say, ‘My name, is, well, my name is Uh…’ and then words decided they were done with me for the day.” Their Housemates don’t even remember what name Professor McGonagall called out for Uh during the Sorting. “The twins call me Unassuming Hufflepuff. It fits together.”
Not-a-Dog shrugs and says there are definitely worse things to be called. But only as long as Uh wants to be called that.
Uh tells Not-a-Dog that their real name is really so much worse. They’re named after their Dad. They would rather not share in that sort of infamy, thanks. There are still countries on this planet which have warrants out for their dad to be arrested on sight because some people just can’t figure out that things can change and laws really aren’t mere suggestions.
Besides, not everyone is named after a verbal pause.
“Eh, true. Beats being named after a star in a household full of fellow-named stars who are all psychopaths.”
Uh does not point out that Not-a-Dog is pretending to be a real stray dog living on the school grounds of a castle instead of finding a Capable Adult to catch the rat, which probably puts him in good company.
Who are they kidding? This is Hogwarts. The only adult who might really be capable of anything is McGonagall, but she’s a Scottish woman with a temper. Everyone would be dead before anything useful was accomplished.
In April, they catch a rat. It isn’t the trap in Gryffindor Tower that lights up, but one in the kitchens. The house-elves make certain Uh comes along to get the trap, as none of them want anything to do with its contents, saying it smells bad.
Inside the trap is the most sickly-looking rat Uh has ever laid eyes on. They use the Tube over the summer; like most riders in the Underground, they are nearly an authority on rats.
They take the rat, still in the trap, to the twins. Granger’s cat follows them the entire way, yowling and clawing at their ankle. “Look, I know, can you just not?” Uh asks the cat. Thankfully, the menace backs off and follows them with far less noise and scratching.
“That’s Scabbers, all right,” Fred says.
George is scowling into the confines of the trap, and looks menacing enough that the sickly rat stirs and squeaks, quaking with fear. “Pettigrew the Paedophile, more like,” he mutters. “Creepy bastard. Are we ready for the next phase of the plan, Unassuming Hufflepuff?”
Uh digs out the scroll. “Got it.”
“Should we maybe show the chap-dog first?” Fred asks. The cat yowls in apparent agreement.
Uh stares at Fred. Maybe the twins really are mental and just hide it better. “Look, do you want to carry out the most helpful prank in existence, or what?”
“Prank,” the Weasley twins chorus. Thank goodness they’re easily convinced.
They use a school owl and send off their package, its passenger, and the scroll on the outside. The scroll itself is blank, and just happens to be treated with one of the most amazing charms that Uh has ever found in a library book.
The next day, a package is dropped off on the desk of the Head of Magical Law Enforcement by a Hogwarts owl canny enough to avoid Ministry Security, who would have bolloxed up the entire plan. When the scroll is opened, it triggers Uh’s charm, which releases the Unbreakable Charm on the live rat trap. This releases the third spell, the Animagus Reversal spell that Fred convinced Granger to find.
Madam Bones actually does hex Peter Pettigrew’s bollocks off with a screech of outrage when a naked man suddenly appears on her desk. She never regrets doing so, though possibly she quietly wishes to have done so in a more painful and permanent manner. Her secretary, a very well-trained Auror with twitchy reflexes, stuns the naked man—who has some very rat-like features.
When Bones recognizes Pettigrew, the Ministry is consumed by chaos for the entire day. The next morning’s Daily Prophet is a bit sparse on details, but Cornelius Fudge is sacked for reasons never made publicly clear. Bartemius Crouch Senior is demoted to…something or other. Uh didn't really care about that part; they don't know who that is. Madam Bones’s secretary gets a promotion.
Pettigrew is announced as alive, a Death Eater with the Dark Mark, a secret Animagus, and best of all, most likely extremely guilty of betraying the Potter family in 1981.
Uh exchanges high-fives with Fred and George while everyone is distracted. The only downside, they mourn in private, is that they didn’t get to witness the revelation.
The next day, Harry is so distracted that it’s a really good thing the Weasleys decide to escort him everywhere. If Not-a-Dog really had wanted him dead, it would have been a great opportunity.
Professor Snape is just as distracted, and does not hand out points when one of Uh’s classmates blows up their potion. Professor McGonagall is often caught dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Professor Flitwick’s voice hits pitches so high that no one can understand a word he says.
Adults are so bloody odd.
Nothing is said in the Prophet about Sirius Black until the third day, as if they forgot about him in the mad rush to deal with Pettigrew. Uh takes the newspaper out to Not-A-Dog and shows them the headline of Black’s assumed innocence, pending the official inquiry. It’s followed by the public request that Sirius Black contact Madam Bones within the Ministry in whatever method he likes in order to discuss the details of his parole and eventual pardon.
Uh escapes when Not-A-Dog sits down and cries with his face buried in a newspaper. Crying people are terrifying; comforting crying people is not their job.
After the initial furore dies down, Fred and George want to tell everyone. Uh tells them that if the twins do so, they’d best leave them out of it. “But why?” George asks, his jaw hanging open. “You’d be bloody famous, mate!”
“I don’t want to be famous!” Uh retorts. “I have a famous family, and that is just famous enough, thank you.”
“People’d notice you,” George says, but he doesn’t sound nearly as shocked as Fred.
“I don’t want to be noticed,” Uh mutters. “People who get noticed get into trouble.”
“What exactly is your family famous for, anyway?” George asks, frowning. “I mean, you’re a Muggle-born.”
“Er. Not exactly.”
“Not exactly what?” Fred asks, but then it’s time for class and Uh can escape without needing to answer. For Uh’s peace of mind, they don’t ask again, and Uh is fine with that. Their brother Bill works in Egypt. If the twins ever put any effort into looking up Uh’s name, they’ll know everything.
Uh hopes they remain distracted for the rest of their lives.
Harry Potter leaves school a month early instead of completing the term, something about dealing with family issues. Uh translates that as “godparent” and leaves it alone. Everyone else can gossip about it all they like—unfortunately—but it’s not their business. Besides, with Harry not in Hogwarts, the end of term might be normal. It will be nice to find out what that’s like.
Normal, it turns out, is really dull.
The twins get too frustrated by the abundance of Normal and get caught. Uh does not, which is sort of frustrating, as Uh was standing right there, but that has been their entire life so far. They might not want to be noticed, but sometimes how overlooked they are is ridiculous. Uh didn’t take Gran seriously about being cursed in the womb before they came to Hogwarts, but they most certainly take it seriously now. If actual wizards and witches think Uh is that easy to miss…
Well, it’s convenient unless Uh decides on a career which requires that other people notice their existence on a regular basis.
Maybe Cat Burglar can be a real career. It isn’t as if it’s entirely out of line with family tradition.
Uh says goodbye to everyone at the station in London, which always draws lots of confused gazes from the other parents. They’ve been doing this for three terms now; you’d think they would be used to their kids telling Uh to have a nice summer.
Gran is waiting for them with Granddad. Well, Gran is waiting patiently, looking as smart as always. None of the Purebloods ever notice that she’s not magical because Gran stopped bothering to update her wardrobe after the 1940s. It’s Granddad who has wandered off, as usual. He’s comparing fencing canes with the older Pureblood sets who are not the Malfoys, because it’s Granddad and people really don’t like firearms in train stations anymore.
“Mum’s off again?” Uh asks Gran after getting a nice hug.
“Yes, dear. She has itchier feet than your father.”
Uh frowns. Their dad’s itchy feet is a sore subject, mostly because Dad got itchy about traveling and forgot to ever come back. Gran insists that Dad is still alive, because Uh’s uncle is with him. Gran always swears that her brother will never be able to die without infuriating everyone to such an extent that all of Europe would know about it. Granddad usually points out that Uh’s uncle would be dead already if he hasn’t really angered someone in Hong Kong and earned them the second family curse. Or maybe the fourth. Or eighteenth.
Uh can acknowledge all of that and still annoyed about their dad disappearing just before Uh received their Hogwarts letter. “Gran, how does Mum do her job when she’s so terrified of rodents?”
“God knows,” Gran says, glaring at Granddad in hopes that he will notice it’s time to leave. Not that it ever works. “What an odd topic to greet me with just after getting home from school!”
“It was on my mind, is all.”
Gran raises an eyebrow. “I see. And it has nothing to do with you asking your mother to mail you far too many of the rodent traps your father designed. Or the news in the Daily Prophet about a man who can turn into a rat who was guilty of murder, and another man who can turn into a dog who wasn’t guilty at all.”
“Absolutely not,” Uh replies cheerfully. Gran knows better, of course, but Gran understands when to be quiet about things. So does Mum. It’s Granddad who will never, ever shut up about it once he realizes what happened in school this term. There is a reason why Uh goes to such trouble to stay out of mischief in school, and that reason is their entire family.
“By the way, you wouldn’t be too upset with me if Mum never finds a counter-curse and I go with being a cat burglar, will you?” Uh asks.
“I suppose that depends entirely on what you intend to steal,” Gran says. “I borrowed a bit too much from others to be too critical, darling.”
“I could steal from the British Museum and give things back to the places they were stolen from in the first place.”
Gran looks at them. “I put quite a few things into that museum, Alex O’Connell.”
Uh shrugs. “I won’t steal from the bloody Egyptology section.”
Gran nods and smiles, appeased. “Well. No harm done, then.”
Chapter 2: Friends, Probably?
Through no fault of their own, Harry Potter meets Uh's family.
Summer at the manor is quiet except when Granddad insists on morning target practice in the range set up in the back garden. Doctors argued with him about it, but Granddad insisted that shooting revolvers kept the arthritis at bay.
Doctors, Uh has noticed, really do not like it when a cure that should never work actually does work.
“MY NAME IS UH, GRANDDAD!” Uh shouts back, closing their book with a sigh.
“WHATEVER!” Granddad replies. “YOU HAVEN’T BEEN ON THE RANGE YET THIS WEEK!”
Uh puts their book aside, vacates the bench on the balcony, and then climbs down the support column to land in the back garden with a thump. “Granddad, I have a wand. I don’t need to shoot anyone when I can hex them. Besides, guns don’t work at Hogwarts.”
“No, modern guns don’t work at Hogwarts,” Granddad corrects Uh cheerfully, clearing the barrels of both revolvers before handing them over. “But if you go old school…”
“Fine.” Uh gives up, loads the revolvers, obliterates the two remaining targets the manor staff have yet to replace, and then hands the emptied weapons back to Granddad. “There you are. Can I please read my book now?”
Granddad is staring at the targets, a distant look in his eyes. Uh would almost call it sadness.
No, not feelings, not again! This is still not Uh’s job!
“Sometimes it amazes me how much you take after me,” Granddad says, tilting his head at the targets. “Then it’s your Gran, and the way you both bury your heads in books. Then it’s Lin with the magic and the swords…and then there’s your dad.”
“I don’t take after Dad at all,” Uh reminds Granddad.
Granddad reaches over and ruffles Uh’s long hair. “Alex always wanted to fix things, too, sweetheart.”
Fine. Uh will at least admit to that. But at least they don’t go wandering off and get lost for three years and counting.
Granddad knows what they’re thinking. “Sweetheart, I still blame your Uncle Jonathan for that.”
Uh nods. That is also likely. Uncle Jonathan is…like that. Gran always says he took after their great-grandfather, who was a bit mad, and then Jonathan’s service in World War I made everything worse.
Uh is halfway back to the manor before they realize. “Wait. Granddad! Old school? That was a terrible pun!”
Granddad shrugs and holsters the revolvers, the same way he always does if he’s carrying them. It’s a habit that has been set for decades, and he always says he sees no need to stop being efficient now. “I wasn’t great at Dad jokes when your father was a kid. Thought I’d give it a try.”
“You succeeded. Congratulations,” Uh says dryly. They go inside to be with Gran in relative sanity.
Granted, Gran is in one of her not-flashbacky moods and speaks to Uh in Ancient Egyptian, but that’s all right. Uh was fluent in the language before they began primary school.
“Oh, and what are you going to wear for dinner tonight? A dress?” Gran asks in English, apparently snapping out of the minor Egyptian phase.
Most of them are minor. Some of them are just odd, and the one person who has the context for what Gran will talk about during those times is Granddad—who never bothered to learn Ancient Egyptian. Those are fun days.
“No, not a dress. Slacks, Gran.”
Gran nods. “Nice slacks, I assume?”
“You’re hosting a stupid dinner party, Gran,” Uh says, sighing. “Of course they’re nice. I will dress to be incredibly nice and still be completely overlooked.”
Gran begins collecting the notes for her latest research project, putting them away before stacking three massive tomes upon them. Dust flies up in a cloud; Uh rolls their eyes and pulls their wand long enough to get in a brief cleaning spell.
“Thank you, darling,” Gran says, watching as Uh puts their wand away. “I wanted to…to ask. Are you happy?”
Uh blinks a few times. “Sure. Ecstatic. Why?” Then they frown. “Is this about me not wearing a dress?”
“No! God knows I know of far too many cultures, ancient and modern, who recognize more than one societal gender.” Gran settles her glasses upon her nose in true librarian style. It always serves to make her look a bit terrifying. “I just want my little girl to be happy with the choices that she’s made.”
“I’m just me, Gran,” Uh whispers. “I don’t really feel like that. Or like a boy.” Uh adds the obligatory, “Boys are gross.”
Granted, Uh probably will lean towards liking boys, regardless, but they are just thirteen. Uncertainty regarding that is a minor inconvenience, not a horror. They have plenty of time to figure it out, really.
“They and them and thee and thou it is, then,” Gran replies cheerfully. “Would you like some help with your hair before dinner, darling?”
“Yes, please.” Uh does not like doing a thing with their hair, which is dark like their mother’s used to be, but acts like uncontrollable stickweed like their father’s.
Uh definitely blames Dad for that one.
“Who or what are we having a dinner party for, anyway? It’s not anyone’s birthday.”
Gran looks amused. “I didn’t think you heard us discussing it, what with your nose buried in that book.”
“It’s a book about how maths govern magic,” Uh says defensively. “Of course I ignored you.”
Gran isn’t magical, but she’s been involved with so much outright magic that it doesn’t faze her at all. “That sounds fascinating. I take it you’re sticking with this Arithmancy course at school?”
Uh often feels like a mental Ravenclaw when trying to explain this. “I want to understand magic. It’s one thing to do magic, Gran. But to understand how it works, how it fits in with physics and genetics and biology and botany and the stars…”
“If anyone can learn to understand magic, then I truly believe that it’s you. Now, the party tonight is apparently part of the Lord Black’s grand tour of everyone welcoming him back to society.”
“Then why is he coming here?” Uh asks in confusion. Gran and Granddad are familiar with magic, yes, but aside from Uh and Mum, this isn’t a known magical household.
“Oh, Lord Black wrote and asked for a visit. Your grandfather spends enough time discussing weaponry with some of those magical families at the train station that he knew just who else to invite who might otherwise neglect to do so.” Gran gives Uh a proud smile and then leaves to call for their butler Jeffrey, who already looks put-upon regarding the dinner party. Uh now realizes that it’s because Jeffrey is convinced that a manor full of wizards and witches will bring ruin upon them all.
Uh knows better. It will just bring politics—and maybe Granddad offering to teach a wizard how to shoot pistols. This might be fun to watch, after all.
Then Uh lets out a quiet meep of dismay. Sirius Black asked to come here because of them. Bugger! Uh didn’t want anyone to know a bit about their helping Not-a-Dog! People might actually remember this and try to notice Uh!
Uh rests their face in their hands and groans. It doesn’t matter that there is also the tiny remaining fraction of the Bones family who will attend—who have been friends and allies to the Carnahan bloodline since time out of bloody mind—other families with Muggle-born students in Hogwarts, and several Pure-blood Wizarding families like the Greengrasses and the Changs.
It isn’t just Sirius Black who arrives that evening. With him is his godson and new adopted ward, Harry Potter.
Great. Between Granddad and Potter, something may well explode before the main course is served.
It takes Black and Potter three tries to greet Uh, but that’s normal. At least Potter looks just as uncomfortable with everything as Uh feels. “Hello again, Uh,” Potter mumbles, and then repeats the words at a volume that mean people other than rodents can hear him.
“Hi, Harry.” Uh glances up at Not-a-Dog. Sirius Black nearly looks like a human being again instead of a collection of filthy twigs. “Hello, Lord Black.”
“Hi, Uh!” Sirius reaches out and takes Uh’s hand in a cheerful shake, proving that he is just as cheerful as a sane-ish human as he was as a stray dog. “Nice to see you again!”
Informality! Thank you, universe. “Likewise, Sirius. Should I bring you a sandwich, Not-a-Dog?” Uh asks.
Sirius rolls his eyes and places his hand over his heart, as if wounded. “I’m registered. Now I am a legal not-a-dog, thank you very much.”
Uh smiles. Maybe this evening won’t be so bad. They’re both mental, but Uh lives with mental people. This is just a nice change of pace.
“My godfather—I mean, Sirius. He told me that you helped him. That you and the Weasley twins set up the entire plot to capture Pettigrew,” Harry says. He looks to be on the verge of biting his lip, or maybe running and hiding.
Granted, Uh is contemplating wondering if they can learn enough magic to literally sink through the floor to avoid this sort of thing. “I might have done.”
“Oh, there is our host. I’ll leave you kids to have at it,” Sirius says, and then bellows, “Lord O’Connell!”
Granddad, in the midst of discussing something with Madam Bones, flinches. “I told you, Sirius, my name is Rick! Lord O’Connell is dead!”
“Long live Lord O’Connell, then,” Sirius retorts, and crosses the room to be vaguely mad in the company of the adults. Granddad rolls his eyes, but he grins, telling Uh that he’s already decided that Sirius is a friend. Granddad has always been a decent judge of character, Gran says—mostly because Granddad had ample opportunity to learn his lesson.
Uh glances at Harry, who is fidgeting and trying not to tug at the collar of the dress robes he’s wearing. “You know, there is an alcove over there we can hide in.”
“God, thank you,” Harry says fervently, and follows Uh so that they can both lurk in the shadows along with the plants and a random owl that has taken up residence on the balcony railing. The random owl turns out to be Hedwig, Harry’s owl, who seems to have a thing about following Harry around.
After the owl introductions, Harry startles Uh with a hug. “I know you don’t want to be really known for it—Fred and George told me—but what you did was bloody brilliant!”
Uh gently extracts themselves from the hug. At least Harry isn’t crying at them. “You’re welcome. Please don’t tell anyone. I enjoy being overlooked.”
“I’d give almost anything for that superpower,” Harry says, grinning. “You have no idea how much I’m hoping that our fourth year is utterly dull.”
“Given how much shit you’ve gotten into, I believe it,” Uh replies. They decide it’s probably not a good idea to tell Harry that the end of term was sort of dull without one of Harry’s bits of trouble to accompany exams.
“So, tell me about your family,” Harry says after they’ve swiped a flute of champagne each. Harry makes faces with every sip; Uh thinks it’s dry and that the chef went with her tastes instead of what Gran usually prefers.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well…” Harry fiddles with his robes again. “Except for Sirius, and that’s a really new and odd thing…I don’t really have a family.”
Uh frowns. The twins mentioned something about Harry’s relatives in the same instance they were discussing the former glory of the family flying car. “I thought you lived with an aunt and uncle.”
Harry’s expression goes dark and angry in a way that’s disturbing. “They,” he nearly spits, “do not count.”
“Sorry I mentioned it, then.” Uh resettles themselves on the floor and gives Hedwig a nice scritch under her beak. “I don’t really know what to say,” they mutter, but with Harry’s prompting, Uh manages to spill out a decent summary of the Carnahan-O’Connell family history.
Harry looks torn between regret and laughter. “All right, let me see if I have this right. Your grandmother Evelyn is a famous Egyptologist as well as a famous writer, who is also a reincarnated Egyptian Princess, and she actually remembers the whole of that life. Also, she looks really good for someone who is ninety-one years old.”
“That’s Gran, yes,” Uh agrees. “We suspect it’s related to how much magic Gran’s gotten into over the years. Granddad too, honestly; he’s ninety-three and they’re both aging like wizards. Oh, and there was that temporary death and resurrection bit Gran went through in 1933.”
“Moving on,” Harry decides, side-eying Uh for that last bit. “Your grandfather is of undetermined parentage due to being left in an orphanage with only a name and a tattoo. He served in the French Foreign Legion, stumbled over a lost Egyptian City of the Dead and decided that he was not about to stick around to find out why it was trying to eat him. Then he got arrested for a bar fight and was about to be hanged when your Gran rescued him by bribing someone. Then they fought an ancient mummy and defeated him…and then did the same thing again ten years later when someone was stupid enough to wake up the creepy mummy sorcerer. And somewhere in all of this, there is a prophecy where Rick O’Connell is supposed to be a blessed warrior who fights against evil.”
“One day I’ll show you the books that Gran wrote in the 1940s. In the Muggle world, they’re fiction. In the magical world, they’re documentaries. She can’t print what really happened to them a lot of the time in non-magical circles without breaking the Statute of Secrecy. Granddad can’t talk about a lot of other things because he was MI6 during World War II.”
“I want to read those books, if only because it would be nice to cope with someone else’s insanity instead of worrying about my own,” Harry quips. “Especially since you said that your mum is, er…”
“Used to be an immortal guardian and is thousands of years old, and only started aging when they defeated yet another cursed mummy,” Uh says. “She’s also magical, so by rights I suppose I’m a Half-blood, but we think Granddad and my dad are actually squibs, so it’s…complicated. I think most of the rules they’re teaching us in Hogwarts about who can do magic are nonsense, anyway. My dad brought my Gran back to life by reading from an enchanted book. Gran defeated a rather stubborn Egyptian berk the same way, but wands don’t work for either of them. We checked when I got mine. Mum and her mother healed Granddad of a wound that should have killed him by using Herbology and magic, and those things are only supposed to work on you if you’re magical, right?”
Harry nods. “That’s what I’ve heard so far. I guess your family’s encounters with magic are why you don’t really want anyone to realize that they’re your family.”
“People get tetchy about all sorts of stupid things.” Uh sips at the last of their champagne. “Magic working for them even though the Ministry doesn’t recognize them as witches or wizards…”
Harry rolls his eyes and snorts. “Yeah. I’m familiar with that. I’m sorry about your dad, by the way.”
Uh glances at Harry and manages a brief smile. “He’s not dead. Probably. I’m still angry that he vanished right before I got my Hogwarts letter, though. He would have thought it a brilliant lark.”
“Hogwarts is brilliant,” Harry agrees, sounding wistful. “The castle always feels like home to me.”
“I thought Not-a-Dog had a home?”
“Right. That.” Harry grimaces. “It’s a bit of a work in progress. Lots of screaming portraits. Sirius’s family was…set in their ways.”
Harry sighs. “Yeah.”
Uh hesitates a moment before speaking. If they do this, they’re inviting the possibility of attracting Harry Potter levels of intrigue, and Uh really enjoys their status as Unassuming Hufflepuff. The curse of never being noticed, thus keeping Uh from being like their parents and grandparents, will probably help to keep any Potter-related fiascos away from them.
“You know…you could come visit during the summer. I don’t think Gran and Granddad would mind, though Granddad might convince you to learn to shoot at things, and Gran may try teaching you dead languages. Not-a-Dog can come, too.”
Harry bites his lip. “That’s…do you mean that?”
“Certainly.” Not that Uh has ever invited anyone else to the manor before. They sort of want to invite the Weasley twins, but Uh has heard Ron Weasley’s angry diatribes against wealthy families. They’re not certain it would be seen as a friendly gesture. “Why wouldn’t I? You’re perfectly normal when people aren’t trying to kill you.”
That surprises a laugh out of him. “I’d…I’d really like that. The only other people who’ve ever invited me anywhere are the Weasleys. But I don’t want to shoot anything,” he adds quickly.
Uh places their hand over their heart in a dramatic gesture. “Don’t worry. I’ll volunteer to go to the range with Granddad more often when you visit so that he is suitably distracted.”
“That reminds me.” Harry grins. “How in the world did you and the twins pull off all those other pranks?”
That leads to a much more pleasant evening, discussing the ways and wiliness of performing magical pranks in a magical castle without getting caught. It gets a bit surreal when Sirius and third-year Yurika Haneda join them to add ideas of their own. Uh decides it’s wiser not to tell Not-a-Dog and Harry that Yurika is a Slytherin. If Harry doesn’t recognize her—or is polite enough not to mention it—then Uh is not about to shake things up by mentioning it. Besides, Yurika is intelligent, quick-witted, funny, and doesn’t think it’s weird that Uh doesn’t like to be gendered.
Neither does Harry, come to think of it. Then again, Uh has noticed that Harry just sort of goes along with things most of the time except when they’re stupid. That, he doesn’t put up with. The intent is admirable, but Harry could at least try to be a bit more subtle about it.
“I wanted to make it official,” Harry says when everyone is slowly filtering out of the manor after midnight. He holds out his hand. “Friends?”
Uh blinks a few times. Are they?
Well. There is no reason why not. “Sure.” Uh takes his hand and gives it a brief shake. “Friends.”
Harry grins. “Thanks. I don’t have many of those. Cheers, Uh!”
“Yeah.” Uh swallows. They don’t really have many friends, either. “Cheers, Harry.”
* * * *
The next day, Mum comes back from…wherever she’s been. She is sitting at the table in the kitchen when Uh comes yawning downstairs, still removing abandoned hair pins from their hair. “Mum!”
Lin O’Connell looks up and smiles, but does not rise to greet them. That tells Uh that Mum’s knees are probably having a screaming fit right now, which means she returned by airplane. “It is good to see you again, dear one.”
Uh gains a silly smile as they lean down to hug her mother. “You too, Mum. Are you back?”
“For the moment.” Mum finishes making tea, which she brews the same way she has always done for the past thousand years or so. Uh savors a cup, which is always different when Mum makes it. Uh thinks it’s part of her magic, but Mum always swears she simply makes proper tea.
“I’ve something to tell you.”
Uh tries not to choke on the last swallow of tea. “What is it, Mum?”
In answer, her mother pulls out a wide gold ring, a men’s ring with a faceted and glittering tiny onyx set in the center. “This.”
Uh puts down their tea cup and, after first making certain that their mum didn’t hand them a booby trap, picks up the ring.
Then Uh drops it again. “Oh.” They swallow. “Is he…is Dad dead?”
Lin scowls in annoyance, which emphasizes all the faint lines on her graceful face. “No. He and your Uncle Jonathan are elsewhere. “
“What does that even mean?”
Mum picks up Dad’s wedding ring and studies it with the detachment she’s always used in order to avoid emotion. Uh gets the trait directly from her. “They stepped through a door. Given what I found in the area, I believe it was a decision made in haste in order to avoid foul men. To have found this ring tells me that Alex knew they were about to enter a passage that they might not return from. He wished for this to be found. To mark the way.”
“Sooo…Dad’s up to his usual shit, then.”
Mum gives them a sharp look for the language, but nods. “A bit above the usual sort, I think. I will have to journey to seek out old contacts who might know the ways of this path.”
“As long as they don’t eat the food while they’re under the hill, then,” Uh mutters under their breath.
Mum laughs. “That is a ridiculous old tale with twisted truths. Even I heard it in the mountains of the east, dear one. It is not the food they should fear.”
Uh frowns. “You’re not concerned at all, are you?”
“No, I am…upset. I am angry that my husband was forced to choose uncertainty in order to avoid death. However, your uncle was cursed not to die before he ‘learned his lesson’ and your father has magic in his veins, even though he cannot use it. They will survive. They will return.”
“And in the meantime?” Uh asks, annoyed all over again. Partly they are still irritated with their father for ending up elsewhere instead of shooting his way out of the problem, as he normally does. A greater part of them is now annoyed at the people who caused this problem in the first place.
“In the meantime, we write lists of all the names we wish to call them for their stupidity at getting caught in such a ridiculous manner,” Mum replies, smiling like a smug and vicious shark.
Chapter 3: Three Birthdays
Three magical children were born in Britain at the end of July in 1980. One of them would like to continue to be ignored, thank you very much.
(Thus begins the equivalent fourth book.)
Originally posted on Tumblr as my last fic hurrah of 2018, two hours before the New Year.
In their fourth year, Unassuming Hufflepuff becomes Unusual Hufflepuff. Uh does not approve of this in the slightest, and it’s all the fault of that stupid bloody Tournament.
Much like last term’s antics, it begins with Sirius Black. In this case, Not-a-Dog comes to Uh’s house for mid-morning tea with Granddad. Uh sits up on the landing above the parlor, trying to figure out what in the world Sirius Black and Granddad had time to do during the party that would require Sirius to return for tea.
It turns out to be simple, and awful. “You have got to help me,” Sirius says to Granddad, who pauses with a cup of coffee halfway to his mouth. (Granddad really never adapted to drinking tea, but he’ll participate in proper British teatime to make Gran happy.)
“If it’s a mummy, I’m retired,” Granddad says without hesitating.
Sirius stares at Granddad for a moment, nonplussed, before shaking his head. “No, no, no. God, I hope not. I actually don’t know what the hell might be in that house. That’s my point, though. My house is a terrifying pile that should be burnt to the ground, but it’s all that Harry and I have to live in until someone breaks the curse on the manor house near Dulwich Park.”
“We’ll be neighbors, then,” Granddad observes. Uh tilts their head and thinks that there could be worse neighbors to have. Thank goodness the Malfoys are firmly entrenched in Wiltshire.
“It’s just—Harry’s fourteenth birthday is on the thirty-first,” Sirius says abruptly. “The Black Townhouse is no place to give someone a birthday party.”
Granddad shrugs. “If you’re asking for room, we can definitely offer—”
Sirius leans across the table and grabs Granddad’s lapel, a mad and desperate look on his face. It really does highlight that he hasn’t gained enough weight yet to be considered slender instead of stick-like. “Rick, I have no bloody idea how to give a kid a birthday party! I grew up in a household that would poison you for your birthday! Your birthday present was another poison immunity, and wasn’t that just great!”
Granddad frowns, but he doesn’t seem all that bothered by the fact that Not-a-Dog is still clinging. Uh stares down at them. The fact that Granddad hasn’t bodily removed Sirius from his coat is…well. Gran does often comment that Granddad has a talent for immediately making friends with the disreputable. Uh has just never witnessed it before.
Sirius takes a breath. “Harry hasn’t had a birthday party since the last one he was given with his parents. I can’t…I don’t know how to make up for that because I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Look. Calm down. We’ve given birthday parties for Alexandra and we haven’t killed her yet—”
Uh snorts. Their tenth birthday party might have come close. Not their grandparents’ fault, but no one in the family can visit Egypt without something happening. The tomb had been quite the lark before that one very well-preserved queen got out of her sarcophagus and told them off for trespassing.
That one queen had also been quite distressed to discover that she’d been dead for nearly three thousand years, and had yet to reach any sort of afterlife. As far as Uh is aware, Queen Merneferu works for the Egyptian Ministry now. She just had to stop trying to kill Uh and her family first, calm down, and in a very British coping method, be given a spot of tea.
Then Sirius’s words catch up to them. Never had a birthday party since his parents died? Good gods, that sounds even worse than Harry implied.
Granddad finally convinces Sirius to let go of his coat. “Listen. You’re worried over nothing. Considering what you said about Harry’s aunt and uncle—”
Sirius growls. He sounds remarkably like his Animagus form in a temper.
“You could give the kid a cake and an unwrapped present while sitting on your front step and Harry would still love you for it, Sirius,” Granddad continues in a gentle voice. People often forget that he might be a famous archaeologist/trouble-maker, but he’s also one of the kindest men on the planet. “But we’re not going to do that. Write up a list of his friends—”
“The Weasleys and a Muggle-born girl named Granger. That’s it.” Sirius sounds both proud and disappointed.
“All right.” Granddad rubs his chin. “Look, Uh’s birthday is on the thirtieth. We can combine it into one big party, so Harry doesn’t feel like we’re doing too much, and maybe we can expand the social circles for both our kids.”
Uh scowls. There is nothing wrong with their social circle, thank you very much.
When Granddad tells Gran, she immediately gets involved in the planning. Uh makes certain they’re present, because if Gran and Granddad get lost in details, it won’t be a party. It will be a maelstrom of Things and Uh will decide it is wiser to hide under their own bed. Then Mum wants to help.
Uh considers hiding under their bed, anyway.
“It is interesting that they were both born at the end of July,” Mum says while they study their plans and lists and Uh wants to know just as much as they don’t. Gran and Granddad have only said that they’re going to invite a few kids from the proper sort to socialize with, but that could mean anyone. One year they invited goblins. Uh likes goblins, and counting endless piles of gold is oddly soothing, but goblins are very much themselves and difficult to talk to.
“What’s wrong with July?” Uh asks. When Lin speaks in that tone, it usually means mystical crap.
“That particular year, the end of July weighed heavily on the land,” Mum says in a musing tone. “Even your father noticed. He kept asking me if it was an auspicious sign or ill fortune. I told him the truth. It was not good nor ill. It simply existed. On first August, it was gone. I suspect that it will mean those born at the end of July have great destinies awaiting them.”
“People keep saying that Harry is supposed to kill You-Know-Who,” Uh says.
Gran rolls her eyes. “They could at least wait until he’s a bloody adult.”
“I don’t think Wizarding Britain is that smart, Gran.” Uh considers it. “Neville Longbottom was born on the thirty-first, too.” Oddly enough, there isn’t anyone else in their year who was born in July. There has to be someone, but when the monthly birthday lists are posted on the communal student boards, July has only had three names.
Uh should have kept their mouth shut. All mentioning Neville does is cause Gran to drive off to Yorkshire to arrange for the kidnapping of Longbottom. Now all of their birthdays are being celebrated at once. They go into a mild panic over this until they realize that barring the Weasleys (and in Potter’s case, Granger), none of them have any friends anyway, so it isn’t as if there will be crowds to deal with.
“What? He is a very nice boy who…” Gran sighs and looks unhappy. “I don’t think he’s ever had much of a birthday, either.”
“Oh.” Well, that’s depressing.
Everything happens on the thirty-first. (Uh doesn’t mind “sacrificing” their day.) Their grandparents invited all the Weasleys, which is terrifying and Uh had no idea there were that many. They’re half-convinced the Weasleys multiply in number whenever they look away for a few seconds.
Harry and Sirius bring Hermione Granger, who is speaking a mile per minute on how nice it is that a Muggle family is hosting a magical birthday party. Uh sort of wants to correct that misconception, but then they notice the faint smirk on Harry’s face. All right then; someone is in the mood to be a pile of mischief.
“You really need a better poker face, Harry.”
He shrugs. “She never notices anyway, Uh. Maybe I’m trying to teach her to be more observant, instead?”
Uh glances over at Granger, who has redirected the output of her words at Longbottom. He looks sort of engagingly terrified. “Are you sure that isn’t a failing endeavor?”
“Hermione thinks teenage boys are all clueless. Granted, most of them are, but if she hasn’t learned by now that I’m not…” Harry grins. “I can’t wait for Hermione to call your mother a Muggle.”
Uh tries not to choke on a sudden giggle. “Sirius is a bad influence on you. You need someone sane in your life.” As if Uh is prophetic, Harry is promptly kidnapped by Granddad, who wants to teach Harry how to aim a pistol. Just in case.
They sigh. “Okay, so I don’t actually know any sane people.”
Granddad invited the Greengrass girls and the Zabini boy in their year, which isn’t terrible. Not for Uh, anyway. There is some Slytherin-Gryffindor grandstanding before the eldest Weasley who is not a Parent, Bill, whacks his younger brother on the head and reminds everyone that this is not school.
Having Susan Bones and Madam Bones about is nerve-wracking. Uh’s brain is stuck on Wizengamot Wizengamot Wizengamot Wizengamot until they overhear Madam Bones and Mum discussing a recent trial, and how Madam Bones is so grateful that at least the O’Connell family respects the Statute.
Uh walks away from them so they don’t stare. Mum or the entire O’Connell family is blackmailing Madam Bones into looking the other way every time they get into trouble on British soil (which is a lot). Madam Bones seems fine with this arrangement.
Maybe it’s because Uh’s family makes certain the funds are there for the mess to get cleaned up afterwards. Or maybe it’s just because it’s them.
The Patil twins are a nice surprise. Padma and Parvati always look amazing when they ditch all the trappings of Hogwarts. The warm summer means they can run around in silk and colorful saris which make everyone else appear underdressed and dull.
“How do—how do you all know each other?” Neville asks Uh of themself, Blaise, Daphne, Astoria, and Padma.
“We study together,” Blaise says. “Slytherin’s only supposed to be at war with Gryffindor. The other Houses don’t care.”
“Oh.” Neville chews on the side of his fingernail. “Uhm…wh-what if you don’t care about that, either?”
“Your Housemates would castigate you in the halls, Longbottom,” Daphne says. She is very good at hiding concern, but Astoria broadcasts it on her behalf, anyway.
Neville shrugs. “They don’t much like me anyway. Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys won’t mind if I’m hanging out with Slytherins as long as they’re not Malfoy.”
“No one who wants to keep their brain inside their head instead of leaking out of their ears wants to spend time with Malfoy,” Blaise drawls. “Sure. On your head be it, Longbottom. What do you need to study?”
Neville looks torn between weeping and smiling. “Uh—thanks. Uhm…anything except plants.”
Blaise grins. “Oh, that’ll be loads of fun.”
Uh gives up on understanding people. That’s the most they’ve seen Blaise speak to anyone outside of mandatory social functions. It figures he would have a secret “Help a Gryffindor” streak, even if it is probably matched to a very wide, “Make Draco Malfoy Suffer a Coronary” canyon.
Once they’re certain no one else is going to turn up, it means that Uh, Susan, Padma, Parvati, Blaise, Neville, Harry, Hermione, Daphne, Astoria, and a horde of Weasleys are lurking about in the atrium. No one is hexing anyone, everything is civil, and without the threat of war or gossip, even Harry is starting to look a bit more comfortable while speaking to The Enemy.
Ron Weasley, however, should possibly be sedated before he spontaneously explodes. Or not. Uh isn’t cruel, but they are the offspring of an archeologist and a warrior, and the grandchild of yet two more famous scholar-archaeology troublemakers. It’s the draw of the observable phenomena effect.
The great thing about having so many people around is that Uh is entirely overlooked. At least, at first. Then Parvati overhears Uh muttering about observations and science and wants to know more. It becomes an expanding conversation as Mum comes along to herd them out to the garden while the atrium is set up for lunch.
Uh might not really have friends yet, but they quickly discover that they spend time with a great deal of swots. Even Potter is guilty of it, though he is usually hiding behind Ron (who is not) so that no one notices.
“You’re not going to get away with hiding your brain forever, Harry!” Hermione snaps.
“Yes, I will, because it is going to remain inside my skull, where it belongs,” Harry retorts, and Astoria lets out a shriek of laughter.
The Weasleys get it into their heads that birthday parties require Quidditch. Uh tries to escape before Fred snags them by the back of their shirt. “That includes you, birthday person!”
“I don’t play Quidditch!” Uh protests. “Didn’t even try out for the team!”
“Do you own a broom?” George asks in a reasonable tone. Uh notices that Hermione is also being kept from escaping.
“Er, two of them, actually,” because if Uh can’t escape, Granger won’t either, “and yes I can fly, but I’d rather just watch!”
“Nothing doing, Unassuming Hufflepuff!” Fred informs them cheerfully. Uh contemplates beating Fred to death with a broomstick.
“Seven per team, and while we could fill out both sides with Weasleys, Percy and Bill escaped to go help with party things,” Charlie says. “Also, if there is Quidditch, Percy can miss out because I want to fly!”
“No, you’re eldest, and we’re not leaving Ginny on the ground,” Harry says. “You’re going to be referee, Charlie.”
Charlie tilts his head. “Yeah, all right. I still get to fly, and I get to yell at everyone!”
The Weasleys run off to fetch brooms. Uh snags Hermione and takes her to the cupboard next to the sliding door for the house and opens it. “You have to suffer with me,” Uh insists, handing Hermione the spare broom.
“Oh.” Hermione bites her lip as she looks over the broom. “It’s a Nimbus 2000.”
“It’s a decent broom, but I’m…well. It didn’t suit,” Uh says, pulling out the 2001. “Mum and I had to order this one special so I could sit my broom and not fall off.”
“I didn’t know you could order custom brooms,” Hermione says after Uh locks the cabinet.
Uh nods. “It only costs gobs of Galleons if you’re trying to customize something that’s brand-new. We didn’t have the 2001 made until last year, after it had been on the market for two school years and they were ready to release their 2003 model.”
“What happened to 2002? I don’t follow brooms.”
“Nimbus has a two-years-on, one-year-off cycle,” Uh answers. “And I only know this because we had to listen to so many salespeople ramble on about brooms until I wanted to set brooms on fire.”
Hermione hesitates before stepping back onto the grass. “I’m afraid of flying,” she whispers. “I know how to ride a broom, but I’m still scared.”
“If you were riding one of the school brooms, I’m not surprised you’re nervous. Getting on a proper broom makes you realize that the school brooms are completely awful.” Uh tilts their head to indicate the sky. “Come on. Mount up and kick off with me. I’ll prove it.”
“But the game—”
“I am still trying to avoid that part, thank you.”
Hermione is a lot more comfortable after she follows Uh around the grounds and the outer perimeter of the manor. “We can see London, but they can’t see us, right?” she asks in the air.
Uh smiles. “Oh, yes. My mum makes certain of it.”
Hermione’s broom wobbles. “But your mum is—”
“Not a witch or a wizard, but not a Muggle, either,” Uh says, grinning. Harry will have to find some other means of mucking with his friend. “My mum practices Eastern magic. Has done for a long, long time now.”
Neville plays Keeper for the other team. Astoria, Harry, and Ginny have a bit of a verbal tussle over the Seeker position before Harry glances at both girls, holds up his hands, and concedes the Seeker positions to them. He goes up as a Chaser, muttering about how he hopes Sirius doesn’t completely freak out. Ginny is their Seeker, Parvati is their second Chaser, Hermione and Ron are the Beaters, and Fred finally joins them as their third Chaser. Uh tries not to roll their eyes at the entirely Gryffindor lineup.
On their team, Blaise, Padma, and Susan choose to be Chasers. Astoria is their Seeker. Daphne and George are their Beaters. Uh sucks in a breath and takes the Keeper’s spot in front of the goal posts that Charlie has conjured from the garden ground.
(Gran is probably not going to be best pleased about the use her gazebo was put to.)
The Quidditch game is terrible. Or maybe it’s amazing. Uh doesn’t know, but if this is how Quidditch is supposed to go, it must be played by thrill-seeking lunatics. Their heart spends a lot of time in their throat, and they’re only guarding the stupid goal!
George comes swooping along to make a goal. Uh swerves their broom and kicks the Quaffle away. “Not that easily, George Weasley!”
“Wow!” George grins. “Way to go, Unassuming Hufflepuff!”
George laughs and goes to try to steal the Quaffle away from Blaise, who is flying towards Neville at a speed that is making Longbottom very, very nervous. Neville does not succeed in blocking the Quaffle; Padma crows out their victory. George shouts at Blaise while Harry snatches up the Quaffle and passes it to Parvati, who has a surprisingly deft hand with it.
Just because Uh doesn’t want to play doesn’t mean they weren’t paying attention.
The game is called on account of lunch. Thank goodness. Uh flies down to the ground in a slow circle until their feet are dragging the grass before hopping off. They are sweaty and a bit tired, but not in a bad way.
They still don’t want to do that again, though.
Lunch is amazing, less a feast and more a table filled with savory treats from three different continents. Uh gets to introduce some of the others to modern Persian breads and spreads, Ancient Egyptian dishes, a smattering of Vietnamese selections because Mum left home and immediately fell in love with someone else’s food, British nibbles for those who aren’t feeling adventurous, and enough lemonade to drown them all. Granddad takes hosting these sorts of things very seriously. Gran always likes the results, but she isn’t the meal planner. That’s Uncle Jonathan…when he’s here.
Uh bites their lip. They miss Uncle John, who is really getting on a bit when it comes to going traveling with Dad.
They really miss Dad. Dad will probably be confused for an entire year as to why Uh is a they instead of a her, but he won’t hate them for it. He’ll still call them Alex, or Alexandra Zi Juan O’Connell when they’ve buggered something up. He would find the nickname Uh, and the reasons for it, to be hilarious.
“You all right?” Susan asks.
Uh blinks away the edge of tears and nods quickly. “Of course!” Bugger! No one has ever noticed before. “I was just wool-gathering. Wishing my dad could be here. That sort of thing.”
Susan smiles, a hint of wistfulness to it. “I know exactly what you mean.”
The cake proves to be a well-timed distraction. Thank goodness. Uh is terrible with feelings and would not know how to discuss the extermination of most of the Bones family with their Housemate.
Harry and Neville insist upon being gentlemen when it comes to opening presents. Uh gets a pile of books, which they expect, but also a new pendant made of silky smooth white jade. They hold it up to the light to highlight the carvings in the thin rectangle, but Uh doesn’t recognize them. “What is it?”
“Protection,” Mum says, but nothing else. That is usually a hint to ask later. Uh nods and slips the leather cord over their head, letting the jade hide beneath their shirt. It’s warm against their skin.
There is also a new robe for Wizarding dress, something to wear for when they visit a Pure-blood manor. It’s cut and styled not like a man’s or woman’s robe, but utterly neutral. Perfect.
The chocolates are a lot less nerve-wracking. Thank you for a normal gift, Greengrass sisters.
Granddad gives them a knife. An impressive one. Uh grips the hilt and knows at once that Gran designed the wooden handle, which is detailed with glyphs and designs from the Old Kingdom. It feels like magic is holding its breath. Neat. Not a great portent, but neat.
Neville gets a rather high number of books on plants accompanied by plant clippings, but he looks pleased. That’s accompanied by expensive biscuits and chocolates, a gorgeous new quill that is spelled to point at the reference book Neville needs while writing up an essay (Uh wants one of those!), a certificate to spend fifty Galleons at Honeydukes any time Neville pleases, and an offer from Harry to spend the rest of summer at Grimmauld Place in London, if he wants.
Uh wonders if Harry can breathe through the hug Neville subjects him to. That looks a bit painful. They think that also means, “Yes, thank you!” in Neville Hug-Speak.
Harry seems bewildered at having more than one present to unwrap. Uh thinks dark thoughts about horrible families. He’s given a pen knife that will open any lock (Uh and Granddad both want one; Sirius claims they have to wait for Christmas), and a delicate selection of marzipan that Harry finds baffling, though he is very polite in thanking the Greengrass sisters for giving him something new to try. Hermione also threw books at Harry, who winces at the massive history tome among the collection but thanks her graciously. Blaise’s book makes Harry pause, glance up at Blaise, and then look down at the book again. “Thank you,” he says quietly.
“What did you give him?” Uh asks later, when everyone is slowly leaving the manor at dusk.
“A book. Well. A biography.” Blaise glances around to make certain no one is looking or listening. “No one in Wizarding Britain wrote a biography of his parents and their families after the war ended, but some intelligent and enterprising bloke in France did. I had it translated to Italian and gave it a read. Looks like they did it right. So, I had it translated to English and brought that copy here.”
“Wow. That’s…” Uh blinks a few times. “That was really thoughtful, Blaise.”
“Just because we’re supposed to be at war doesn’t mean I can’t bloody see,” Blaise responds, a hint of a frown at his lips. “No one ever wants to talk about that man’s family, and that’s not right. Even a Half-blood should know where they came from beyond a few useless school anecdotes.”
“You’re a good person, Blaise.”
Blaise grins. “I know. Don’t tell anyone. It would ruin my reputation as a cold-hearted Slytherin bastard.”
“On my honor as a troublemaking O’Connell, I’ll say not a word,” Uh promises, smiling.
Blaise nods, takes a few steps away, hesitates, and comes back. “Look, I know we’ve seen each other once a summer since about age nine—”
“Seven,” Uh corrects, amused.
Blaise’s frown decides to stop hiding. “Seven, then. I suppose. But I just…I feel like I’ve never really seen you before, mate. You know? I know your name and your family and what you look like, but this is the first time I really feel like you’re here. That—probably sounds rude,” Blaise adds, ducking his head.
“No, it’s fine,” Uh says in a faint voice. “I, er, know exactly what you mean. I’m not offended.”
Inside their head, they want to wail in despair. Uh liked being ignored and overlooked! Uh is terrible with people and feelings and complications and people are bloody well complicated!
“Well. It was lovely to be here,” Blaise says. “I hope we do something like this again soon.”
It’s a farewell repeated by everyone, until finally it’s just Uh and Harry standing on the front steps. “Well. That wasn’t a disaster,” Harry says.
“Speak for yourself,” Uh mutters, wondering if they can yell at their mum enough for Mum to go figure out how to put the curse back.
“Oh, nothing. It was fine. Not the Quidditch, though,” Uh says.
Harry laughs. “You were a natural! You should have tried for the team, Uh. You’d make up for some of Hufflepuff’s daft flying.”
Uh winces against a full-body shiver of Nope. “No, thank you. I like flying, but not the sports part. Did you—did you have a nice time, Harry?”
Harry looks to be thinking about it. “Yeah, actually. First time I’ve had a birthday that I really, truly looked forward to. Thanks for that.”
“Thank Sirius. He’s the one who came here and begged my Granddad to help him supply you with a sane birthday,” Uh replies.
“This wasn’t sane,” Harry says. “That’s what made it great. See you later, Unassuming Hufflepuff!”
“Arak lahiqaan, majnunin.”
 Arabic: See you later, lunatic.
Chapter 4: Curses
If being noticed is going to lead to this sort of fun, then Uh will learn how to tolerate it.
“There was something weird about the party.”
Uh’s mum looks up from her paperwork. “Yes?” She’s been filling out travel visas again, and Uh doesn’t want to know. It’s either related to finding Dad, related to finding contacts to find Dad, or it’s related to possibly assassinating someone who doesn’t know how to leave things alone even when the warnings are explicit. Dad is still lucky that he is Dad, and not Random Buried Corpse—especially since, Uh’s grandparents are fond of pointing out, he should have known better than to dig up a cursed army.
“Okay, so, uhm…I spent the party paranoid about Madam Bones being here. The Wizengamot bit. Except Madam Bones comes to our house all the bloody time and it never bothered me before!”
Lin O’Connell stares at Uh for a long moment before bursting out into loud laughter.
Uh stares back, nonplussed. “Why are you laughing? No, seriously, this is highly inappropriate!”
Mum wipes at her eyes. “Child. Your curse meant that others did not often observe you unless they chose to do so, and that would require quite the stubborn will. But that lack of attention means that you also were not paying attention to the danger they might have represented, as they were not a danger specific to you.”
“That makes no sense whatsoever.”
“Hmm.” Mum smiles. “You did not seem overly concerned by the very large creature Petrifying students during your second year of Hogwarts.”
“Well, no…” Which, in retrospect, is kind of stupid. They weren’t even all that afraid of Sirius Black until he was suddenly standing in front of them instead of being a dog. Or of the Dementors…
Blaise talked all about how they felt like they’d only just now noticed Uh’s existence.
“YOU LIFTED THE BLOODY CURSE?”
Mum looks pained. “No, I found the one who placed the curse and made them remove it.”
“Please stop shouting, child.”
“NOT UNTIL YOU GO OUT AND MAKE THEM PUT IT BACK!”
Uh stops shouting and settles for glaring.
“Better,” Mum says, and takes a moment to breathe. “All curses are detrimental. Bad for you. No matter how much you think you might have benefitted from your own, it ultimately would do you harm. I did not want that to happen.”
“What sort of harm?” Uh figures it might actually be worth it. Being noticed in this family is a recipe for disaster.
“Death, usually,” Mum replies in a dry voice. “That is why they call it a curse, child.”
“But I liked being ignored!” This explains why Blaise was being weird, and why Susan paid attention to them, and even the Weasleys, the Greengrass sisters, and the twins never once overlooked Uh during their visit. Uh had hoped it was just the birthday party, but of course not. They’re not that lucky.
“And it was already blinding you to the dangers that surround you every day. You began to rely on it not only as a means to avoid undesirable social situations, but for everything.” Mum retrieves her delicate spectacles from her pocket and puts them on, which means Uh has given her a headache. Great; now they’re not cursed, and they’re wracked with guilt. “You have always been an intelligent child. I know you have already discerned this for yourself.”
“Are we blackmailing Madam Bones, then?” Uh decides to ask. It seems safer than wailing about the lost curse again.
“That, too,” Mum says, as if it isn’t a big deal. Granted, not a lot fazes Mum. “I am given to understand that there is an established tradition for it among Wizengamot members. Are you readying yourself for your return to school?”
It’s a blatant change of subject, but Uh finds it convenient. They can go panic about everything else later. “Yes. About that…” Uh holds up this year’s supplies list. “They’re requiring dress robes this year.” Hogwarts never asks you to bring dress robes. It’s been a huge relief for Uh, who didn’t like wearing dresses even before they realized the not-a-girl thing.
“The robes gifted to you on your birthday for visiting with twits are not pleasant enough?”
Uh sighs. “Blaise, Sirius, Neville, and even bloody Hermione say they’re not dress robes, just very nice formal robes.” At least Harry looked just as disturbed at the idea of those robes not being dressy enough. It means that the dress robes he’d worn this summer to the dinner party aren’t good enough, either.
Uh definitely teased Harry about there being no dress robes composed of plaid flannel. Harry threatened Uh with forced repetitions of the band Nirvana on vinyl. Uh is politely waiting for him to discover that there is more than one Muggle band in existence, and most of them are better dressers.
They are also not looking forward to the day when Harry and Sirius discover that they’ve been listening to a dead bloke for the last two months. There might be feelings involved, and Uh does not want to participate in that conversation.
Hermione’s unending adoration of Ice-T for his “social conscience” is only marginally better. Bonus: he also is not dead. Blaise told Hermione that if she wanted Social Conscience, she needed to find Rage Against the Machine, which Hermione took as a duly issued challenge.
Before owls can go swooping about, making arrangements for Diagon Alley (and tailors, ugh), Uh receives a far more interesting Firecall from Neville. “We have a problem,” he announces after getting their attention.
“We do?” Uh asks after calming their pounding, startled heart. Problem number one has already presented itself: they really need to never again forget that their sitting room fireplace, just off their bedroom, is on the Floo Network. Uh doesn’t even remember why their fireplace is on the Network, just like the big fireplace in the library downstairs, but there was probably a good reason for it. They get up and walk over to the green flames before squatting down to face Neville properly. “What’s wrong? It’s been four entire days since you were here, and you’re not Harry. You can’t have gotten yourself into that sort of trouble in four days.”
Neville laughs and then looks startled to have done so. “Er, right. It’s about Harry, actually.”
“For fuck’s sake, what did he do now?” Uh asks in disbelief.
“He didn’t—well, Sirius—well.” Neville snaps his mouth shut and frowns in thought. “Okay, so, I know I’m not the brightest student ever—”
“You shut that nonsense right now, or I’m going to douse this fire,” Uh warns him.
Neville goes wide-eyed. “Okay! It’s just. I came over to Grimmauld Place today to stay the rest of summer, just like Harry invited me to do at the birthday party. And I’ve seen your manor, and I heard some of the tales, and it’s just…”
Uh cocks an eyebrow. “Just what?”
“You really need to bring your family over here, is what. Immediately.” Neville swallows. “This place is terrifying, but I think it’s Muggle archaeology terrifying.”
Uh grins. “Is that invitation from Sirius official? Because I know for certain that we’re not doing anything today, and this sounds like fun!”
Neville stares at them. “No wonder Fred and George like you. You’re a mental Hufflepuff.”
“I’m not!” Uh protests. The rest of the family far surpasses any attempt at mental that they could make.
“Yeah. I’m sending a piece of paper through the Floo, or else you’ll never find this place. Fidelius Charm.”
“Why can’t we just go through the Floo? The one downstairs is large enough,” Uh says.
Neville makes a face, like he tried to eat a bubotuber. “I wouldn’t trust the Floos in this place not to eat a Muggle, but Muggles can’t use Floos, anyway.”
Uh manages to nod, while thinking, Nonsense. Her Gran and Granddad traveling through the Floo was quite the lark, though Mum won’t use them. They make her sick up. “Right. Then we’ll see you in a bit if traffic’s not bad.”
“Right.” Neville glances behind him. “Please hurry. I think this house-elf might be trying to murder me.”
Uh frowns at the flames when they return to normal. Not using the Floo…
Oh, right! Uh hasn’t thought about that contingency plan since first-year. Hufflepuff Common Room is on the Network, though no one is supposed to know that. (Uh learned so much about Hogwarts during those first three years by being overlooked, and the entire staff probably does not want them to know most of it.) Mum arranged the connection saying that if Uh was in danger, or so homesick they needed to rest in their own bed in order to be alert enough for schooling, to Floo home to their bedroom for the night and go back off to Hogwarts again in the morning.
Uh only used it that first night, when everything was overwhelming. Barrels and underground and where are the windows and Nope. At least their sixth-year Prefect noticed Uh’s discomfort with living in a “cozy” dungeon and magicked Uh a window illusion next to their bed the next evening, before Uh decided to spend their entire education Flooing back and forth every night.
They had best always remember to be wearing clothes in this room from now on. If they are no longer cursed, and there are going to be social things happening. Uh refuses to be caught naked for them.
With a brief flare of green, the promised strip of paper pops out of the fireplace. Written in Neville’s rounded handwriting are the words: The Black Family Townhouse is Located at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, London.
Uh twitches when they feel the sensation of a broken charm twanging in their head. “Right, then.” Then they run to go get their exploring kit, as fit for magical archaeology now as it was originally fit for the more mundane and mummy-laden sort.
A magical house that demands an archaeologist. If being noticed is going to lead to this sort of fun, then Uh will learn how to tolerate it.
Chapter 5: Grim Old Place
In which pretty much everyone has Opinions about Things.
Yeah, I went with the original pun for the title. It was fitting.
The drive to Grimmauld Place might have been boring under other circumstances, but Gran heard “magical townhouse” and “archaeology” and hasn’t been able to stop talking. If Neville is being accurate—Uh doubts Neville could dissemble to save his own arse—then it’s the first relatively modern British archaeological undertaking regarding magic that Gran has ever heard of, and is thus over the moon. Even Granddad is enthused, but he is always a lot happier about archaeology when there is zero chance of mummies.
Mum is muttering under her breath about curses. Uh doesn’t realize why until they’re out of the car and on the walkway. They stare up at the revealed townhouse for the first time, and discover a building that is silently shouting I HATE YOU at everything passing by. Uh thinks so, anyway. It certainly isn’t rolling out a welcome mat, figuratively or literally.
“Well. That’s…charming,” Granddad says. “Now are you glad I brought the gun?”
“I think I’m glad I brought a gun,” Uh mutters under their breath. Their wand is fine, and between Mum and Professor Lupin actually teaching Defence last term, Uh can defend themself well enough with magic, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with relying on more than one method of saving your skin.
They try to ring the bell, but instead of clanging when the rope is pulled, it remains mute. Gran shrugs and knocks on the door for what turns out to be several minutes before someone comes to let them in. “Sorry!” Harry gasps out, looking winded. “I was upstairs, and we didn’t hear the bell—”
“It didn’t work,” Granddad says, glaring at the bell in question.
Harry’s expression darkens. “That figures. Come in, please. Don’t even worry about wiping your feet; your shoes are probably cleaner than this house. In fact, don’t take your shoes off at all. It’s safer that way.”
Uh stares at the dim entry hall, the dank stairwell, the angry portraits on the walls, and wonders why Not-a-Dog just doesn’t go out and rent a flat. They smell mold and dust in horrific amounts, and there is something moving in the walls that has no fear of noisy humans. It’s interesting, but Uh wouldn’t want to live here.
Then Harry leads them around the first storey of the townhouse, and Uh forgets about the dank mold entirely. “This place is amazing!”
“This place is a dump,” Granddad counters, glancing around at the decaying furniture.
Gran just frowns, eying things as they walk around. Granddad and Uh share a concerned look; that is not Gran’s Archeology Face.
When Sirius finally joins them, dusting off his coat and extending his hand to properly say hello, Gran marches right over and grabs Sirius by the ear. “SIRIUS ORION BLACK III!”
Uh resists the urge to start snickering at the shocked look on Not-a-Dog’s face. “Yes?” Sirius yelps. “Hello, Lady O’Connell and Lord O’Connell and Madam Lin and Uh and welcome to my pigsty—”
“Your middle name is Orion?” Harry looks bemused. “And there were three of you?”
“SIRIUS BLACK, WHEN ONE INHERITS AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL TREASURE TROVE, ONE CONTACTS AN ARCHAEOLOGIST. ONE DOES NOT MOVE IN AND LIVE IN IT!” Gran shouts.
“Especially not a cursed one,” Mum adds in a dry voice. “Hello, Master Longbottom.”
“Hallo, Madam Lin,” Neville replies, pulling cobwebs off of his hair as he enters the room. “Tallest bloke always finds them first,” he mutters when he notices Uh watching him.
“But—” Sirius yelps again when Gran gives his ear another firm tug.
“BUT NOTHING! YOU ARE WEALTHY AND FLATS EXIST FOR A REASON!” Gran lets go of his ear and scowls. “You magnificent idiot.”
“It looked fine after Azkaban?” Sirius tries to explain.
“Yeah, sure.” Granddad looks at Harry. “I know you’re smart, son. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Harry stares at them. “My bedroom for ten years was the broom cupboard under the stairs. This is a vast improvement. It just needs cleaning—”
Mum finally turns her full, fiery attention to the goings-on. “Your bedroom was WHAT.”
Uh cringes. They know that tone. Uh just hasn’t heard it since the last time Dad really buggered something up.
“Er, my relatives didn’t like me. I did mention that, right?” Harry is edging towards the door. Uh takes a moment to recognize that Harry Potter has far more of a sense of self-preservation than he is usually given credit for.
Gran pinches the bridge of her nose. “Lin, please calm down. I think there has been enough shouting for the moment. Harry, darling, you’re not fibbing about that, are you?”
Harry’s expression falls into tired resignation so fast that Uh is shocked. “Does it matter?”
“You’re damned right it matters!” Sirius yells. So much for Gran’s injunction against more shouting. “You never mentioned that!”
“Because no one ever did anything about it!” Harry yells back. “The Dursleys told everyone I was a delinquent, just look at my background, a mentally deficient throwback, a poor unfortunate mixed Indian orphan they cared for out of the goodness of their fucking hearts, who could only be trusted with hand-me-down clothing and constant chores to keep me out of trouble! Then they locked me in the cupboard every single time I was inconvenient to them, which was so often that I can describe every single detail of that stupid cupboard even though I haven’t been in it for three years! If a teacher said anything about the bruises, the Dursleys made certain that teacher knew I did it to myself! Even when those teachers watched my bloody cousin kick the shit out of me, they looked the other way! TELL WHO, SIRIUS? TELL THEM WHAT, EXACTLY?”
Uh’s excitement with magical archaeological treasure is absolutely gone, replaced by awkward, empty horribleness. The room is so silent that Uh can hear Neville’s wheezing, shocked gasps, the ticking of some distant clock, and more rodents scurrying in the walls.
Sirius and Harry are staring at each other. These are the sorts of Feelings that Uh is not prepared for. What does one say to that? What could ever make that better?
“Me,” Sirius finally breathes. “You told me, kiddo.” Then he grabs Harry in a hug and refuses to let go. Harry looks gobsmacked until he realizes it’s a hug and not an attack. Then he practically disappears into Not-a-Dog’s arms.
“Well, blimey,” Neville mutters. “Hey, Uh, does your Mum really assassinate people? Because I know I’m supposed to be a Gryffindor, but I suddenly want a lot of people to die.”
Uh glances at Neville. Apparently there really are proper sorts of things to say. “You’re going to tell me I’m mental again if I tell you that I’m proud of you for saying that, right?”
Neville shrugs. “Probably. I mean, it’s not what you’re supposed to do, is it?”
“No.” Granddad looks tired. Weighed down. He doesn’t look that way often, and it always makes Uh worry. “We try children’s services through the local authority first. Magical or mundane, I don’t care which, but…”
“Legalities first, yes,” Mum murmurs, which Uh thinks is a major concession. “But if legalities fail on both sides…”
“Wait, are you guys talking about assassinating my relatives?” Harry gapes at them after Sirius lets him go. “Because that’s—”
“They locked you in a cupboard, dear, and we’re a bit old-fashioned,” Gran says. Then she sighs. “But we will respect your wishes on the matter. I just don’t understand—the Children Act passed in 1989, and it was just for problems like these!”
“The what act?” Harry, Neville, and Sirius all say at once.
“Oh. Never you mind. That can be explained, but after therapy,” Gran says.
Sirius immediately takes a step back, but Harry gives them a mulish look. “I don’t need therapy. I’m not a nutter!”
“Darling, that isn’t what therapy is for, and anyone who told you otherwise was just trying to be certain you wouldn’t…well,” Gran trails off when Harry’s mulish expression turns to hard anger. “Not quite difficult to put those pieces together, is it?”
Harry shakes his head. “No, ma’am.”
“Harry, dear, I’ve told you that my name is Evy,” Gran says, “and you should get used to calling me that, as you and Sirius are both going to be living with us until this house is properly sorted and catalogued.”
Harry looks boggled again. Sirius starts shaking his head. “Evy—”
“Oh, don’t you even start with me,” Gran interrupts in a scathing voice. “You are living with us and seeing a counselor of some sort until you are capable of recognizing that bringing a teenager here to live in this place was a terrible idea from the start. Aside from the curses that my daughter-in-law has been counting in every room, there is mold everywhere, Sirius Black! This place is sickness waiting to happen for anyone living here—GOODNESS!”
Gran leaps back when a very, very old house-elf suddenly Apparates into the room. He looks around at them all before his surprise-wide bulbous eyes turn to narrow-eyed venom. “BLOOD TRAITORS AND MUGGLE FILTH IN MY MISTRESS’S HOUSE! YOU WILL BE GETTING OUT OF MISTRESS’S HOUSE RIGHT NOW!”
Uh resists the urge to cover their face with both hands. “That would be the murderous house-elf, Neville?”
“Yep.” Neville has backed away to hide behind Granddad.
“Kreacher, now is really not…” Harry tries, but Kreacher rounds on him and looks like he wants to be holding a knife.
Mum shoves her way forward and glares down at the house-elf, who looks so spindly-limbed and ancient that Uh wonders how he’s even still alive. “You will mind your manners,” she hisses, “and cease your threats against my family, or you will cease to exist!”
The house-elf turns to glare up at Mum before suddenly reeling back and cowering on the ground. “Yes, Mistress!” he gasps. “Kreacher will be minding his manners around the Mistress’s family!”
“What…the fuck.” Sirius’s jaw is hanging open. “How did—he only listens to my mother’s barmy, bigoted portrait!”
“She is the MISTRESS!” Kreacher howls. “YOU WILL NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE MISTRESS!”
Granddad rubs at his forehead. “Great. Which one?”
The house-elf trembles for a moment. “BOTH!”
“Lin, honey, you’re still terrifying,” Granddad says to Mum, who preens at the compliment.
The rest of the afternoon is far less stressful, because if there are more Feelings, Sirius and Harry are politely keeping them to themselves in favor of showing the family around the rest of the townhouse. “Severed heads on the walls!” Uh says in excitement as they find the house-elf heads on trophy plaques lining the stairwell. “Gran, severed heads!”
“Oh, excellent!” Gran lowers her spectacles as she studies them. “Well, actually, rather barbaric, but this place! It’s like a time capsule displaying how magical pure-blood families in Britain behaved culturally several centuries ago!”
“Not much different from the rest of Britain, then,” Granddad says dryly.
“Bad news for you—my family was still behaving this way during this century,” Sirius informs them. Uh thinks that explains a lot about Not-a-Dog. Everything, really. Especially the part where Sirius was going to kill Pettigrew instead of remembering that it’s not a good idea to eat the evidence that might save you from a terrible death.
“As long as it was consistent behavior that matched the previous centuries, that won’t matter at all,” Gran says, undeterred. “No other Pure-blood magical family we’ve visited behaves in such a manner any longer, so there has been little to learn about previous cultural habits. This is going to be such a delight!”
“The Malfoys might be like this,” Neville ventures. “I mean, it’s…them.”
Sirius shakes his head. “No. I know Cousin Narcissa. The Wiltshire Manor would be so pristine that you could eat off the floors for every meal and not a spec of dirt would dare to interfere with dinner.”
Harry blanches. “That is…that’s actually worse than any of this.”
Mum side-eyes Harry. “Chores, you said?”
“Yeah. All of them,” Harry mutters.
“Hmm,” Mum says in her particularly dangerous tone. Harry edges closer to Uh for protection, but really, it’s not Harry who needs to be concerned. If Mum doesn’t happen to them, then Uh is well aware of the fact that she is literally Lady O’Connell, Heir to the Noble House of Carnahan and all of its monies and estates. Gran and Granddad have the means and reputation to make Harry’s relatives suffer a bureaucratic punishment that would make the guillotine seem a kindness.
It still irritates Uh that there is no gender neutral title for the family’s ranking. Uh would be satisfied with Lord, but the very idea gives many other noble families of England hives and rashes. They still want Uh’s mother to change Uh’s family name to Carnahan so as to get rid of the Irish-American “influence.” Utter pricks.
Sirius sneezes when they reach the third floor. “And this is the cleanest part of the house. Molly Weasley has volunteered to come over with her brood and give this place a good scrubbing—”
Gran tears into him anew, informing Sirius that one does not scrub down an archaeological site until after the cataloging is done! Then it’s still a specialized task, especially in this instance.
“Or until the entire structure has collapsed because someone pulled the wrong lever. Whichever,” Granddad says, and is glared at by Gran. “What?”
“No levers,” Gran orders, turning away to continue to investigate with pad and pen in-hand.
Granddad rolls his eyes and follows her. “It was the one time, Evelyn!”
“Once was quite enough!”
Harry lingers next to Uh and Neville. “Are they always like this?”
Uh nods. “Pretty much. Why?”
“It’s just…it’s nice,” Harry admits, and then pushes open a door that leads into an obvious bedroom. Uh decides it’s wiser not to follow him and just advises him to start packing, because yes, Gran Is Serious.
Sirius hears Uh’s instructions, looks confused, and then heads up another set of stairs to the fourth storey. Curious, Uh follows him, with Neville trailing along behind.
“It’s his bedroom up there, him and his dead brother’s,” Neville tells them in a soft voice.
“I didn’t know he had one.”
Neville sounds uncomfortable. “Died young, during the Wizarding War,” he whispers. “Death Eater.”
Sirius packs up his room’s belongings with a British Wizard’s dramatic flair for turning simple magic into a spectacle. (Uh keeps getting in trouble at Hogwarts for succeeding at spells with far less bloody wand-waving.) It’s all shrunk and packed into a single trunk in less than a minute. “The rest of it, Evy can…well.” He waves his hand at the rest of the room, which now only holds a barren four-poster, wardrobe, two bedside tables, and the original décor on the walls—including a Gryffindor banner and several yellowed newspaper clippings. “Permanent sticking charms. Didn’t want the house-elves making off with them again,” Sirius explains, and then leads them to the other bedroom with a grim expression. The name Regulus Arcturus Black is engraved on the front, painted in fading gold. “And this would be little brother’s room.”
Uh peers around Sirius when he pushes the door open. Sirius went Gryffindor-mad when decorating his room, but dead Regulus tried to one-up his older brother by going Slytherin-mental levels of décor. “I’m…sorry for your loss. The family part, not the…other part,” Uh stutters, feeling terribly awkward again.
Sirius doesn’t speak at first, making Uh think they’ve really gone and botched it. Then he says, “Thanks,” he says. “I’ll ask your grandmother to leave that one be until I’m up to…dealing with it.” When he closes the bedroom door and puts his hand on it, Uh hears the sound of tumblers turning and a lock engaging. Neat trick; they want to learn.
“So, er, I’m supposed to be staying with Harry for the rest of the summer,” Neville says after they go back downstairs. Gran and Granddad are poking at a glass case full of what Mum says are cursed objects. “Mind if I tag along back to your place, then?”
Uh freezes for a moment. Three house guests? They’re still figuring out how to cope with two!
“You don’t have to—”
“No! It’s fine!” Uh hurries to say, trying not to panic in Neville’s face. “It’s just—houseguests! Are not a thing I’ve had! Ever!”
“What, no one?” Neville looks confused.
“Well. Uhm. Uncle Ardeth and his family, sometimes, but they’re practically family without the blood bit, so that’s never really…you know.” Uh chews on their lip. “Look, I don’t do People. Not well, anyway. I’m trying, I am, but…people are hard. It’s why I liked being the Unassuming Hufflepuff, like Fred and George call me. I didn’t have to…do. This.”
Neville blinks at them a few times before he starts laughing. “And I thought I was the worst sort of social nightmare Hogwarts had ever seen! You’ve just made me feel like I’m bloody debonair!”
“You’re welcome,” Uh retorts crossly.
“No, it’s…look. We’ll make sure we’re the best houseguests ever. I just hope no one starts any inappropriate rumors,” Neville adds.
Uh stares at him. “What? What for?”
Neville blushes. “Because you’re a…well, you do still have girl parts. Harry and I are blokes.”
“Oh.” Uh waves off that concern. “I’m not bothered. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen—shit.”
“What?” Neville glances around in alarm. “Did something move? I swear these statues keep moving!”
“No, not that. I just said something stupid.” Uh smacks themself in the face with one hand. “Ten galleons that comes back to bite me in the arse later.”
“It’s you, Alex. No one ever bothers you, or even notices you most of the time,” Neville says. “I can’t take that bet. It’s too easy, and not fair to you, besides.”
Uh grimaces. “I hope you’re right.” They just have a terrible feeling that fourth year is going to be a disaster, and it hasn’t even started yet.
“You really want us to live with you,” Sirius is repeating when Uh and Neville find the others again.
“For the eighth time: yes,” Granddad insists, looking as if he’d prefer to punch something. The house must not have volunteered. Smart house.
“And Harry. And…” Sirius lowers his voice, but Uh has excellent hearing, and neither of them have noticed Uh and Neville yet. “And you’re all right. With the danger. Because of You-Know-Who.”
“My son’s wife warded our house, Sirius. I’d like to see that undead idiot try to get past the things she did,” Granddad says, proud and smug at once. “I always did want to find out how Voldemort would respond to large caliber weaponry.”
Sirius frowns. “Guns don’t work on wizards.”
Granddad just grins at him. “Trust me, Sirius: that depends on the gun.”
* * * *
Harry stays quiet for the car ride back to Carnahan Manor. The O’Connell family believes in rather nice automobiles, so even with three extra passengers, it’s just a bit of a tight fit in the back instead of a sardine tin. The Dursleys would be turning themselves inside-out with jealousy.
All he wanted was family, and to not have to go back to the Dursleys. He was quite fine with family being a half-mad godfather, a sort-of-godfather in Professor Lupin (which Sirius has yet to properly explain, not to mention the lack of godmother), and an old, moldy, dank, smelly townhouse. It needed cleaning, sure, but he’s good at that, and at least this would have been cleaning for good reasons.
Instead, Sirius’s house is being declared an archaeological site that is off limits to cleaning—and living in—and now he’s going to live in Uh’s house. With Uh. And Sirius. And Uh’s mother and grandparents.
It’s a nice house, too. Uh’s family might not be his family, but they’re certainly acting like they’re going to adopt Sirius—whether he likes it or not—and Sirius already promised that Harry goes where Sirius does.
It’s everything he’s ever wished for aside from getting his own parents back. Therefore, he is trying very hard not to panic.
At least Uh’s home isn’t new. He’s been here twice already, so he doesn’t stare around at things like a gawker who has never been let out among civilized people before.
Evy and Rick (they insisted on that, again, and Harry is not pushing his luck) and even Uh take the time to remove a scary amount of guns and knives, locking them up properly in a safe that seems magicked to open to the right touch. Harry glances at Uh’s mother, Madam Lin, and wagers she’s responsible for that idea. “Should I, er…my wand?” Harry asks, wondering if it should go into the safe, too. It’s what the Dursleys would have done. Sirius wouldn’t, of course, but Sirius also assured him that 12 Grimmauld Place was not only immune to the Trace, Harry was safer keeping his wand with him.
“Don’t be silly. You will need your wand for practice this summer,” Madam Lin informs him, but then she turns and leaves to go do…whatever it is that scary ancient Chinese assassins do in their spare time.
Uh gives him a surprisingly flat look. “Voldemort, Harry.”
Harry swallows. No one has ever wanted him to learn to—
Great. Now he has another reason to panic, and it’s a stupid reason.
The O’Connells lead them upstairs, and Evy pushes open a door that leads into a room large enough to be a sitting room and a bedroom, with still more space leftover. “This is my brother Jonathan’s room,” she explains. “He’s…not available, but I don’t think he’ll mind if you use it until he finds his way back home, Sirius.”
Sirius looks baffled by the fact that the room is clean. Then his eyes widen. “Wait, are those—”
Rick snatches a lacy pair of knickers from the bedpost and growls. “Jonathan.”
“At least this time he didn’t leave them out on the stairs,” Evy says, amused.
“I’d like to hope we would have noticed that by now,” Rick retorts. Harry decides he is just going to be confused, though Sirius has a broad grin on his face for reasons that are known only to Sirius.
“Neville and Harry, you’ll need to share, but when Neville goes home before school starts, this will just be yours,” Rick says, and pushes open another door. It’s a bright open space, smaller than the room they just gave to Sirius. The bed isn’t a single and is a bit larger than a small double, but nothing monstrously large that could sleep four people like the bed in Jonathan’s room. He can tell by the simpler paint and the lighter color of the furniture that this was probably a room for kids, not adults.
“It was mine, actually. When Jonathan was considered to be the one who was going to inherit the title, he had the room that Alex uses now,” Evy tells him without Harry needing to ask.
“That does rather explain the books,” Neville says.
“Maybe we should save this one for when Hermione visits,” Sirius suggests. “Because Merlin knows that girl is going to be insistent, Evy.”
“I own an entire library. She will simply have to cope with a guest room,” Evy retorts, but she seems to find it funny. “You two go ahead and get settled, rest up, and there is a bath through that door. Dinner is at six, and after today, I believe we all need it.”
“Sure,” Harry says, and adds, “Thanks,” when he remembers that manners are a thing and he should use them.
“Don’t mention it, really.” Rick reaches out and pats his shoulder. It’s such a grandfatherly gesture that Harry wants to start crying, because he can tell it’s not just for the appearance of it. It feels real, and genuine, and he has no idea what he did to deserve any of this.
To his surprise, Uh lingers after their grandparents leave. “I have to interrogate you,” they say apologetically, and then they untie their hair from the tail that was keeping that stick-straight hair under control. Harry’s black hair has a mind of its own and does what it wants in a curling mess, but Uh’s somehow manages to do the same thing. It’s odd, but the entire family is odd, so it fits, too.
“Interrogate? We just got here,” Neville says, smiling.
“Yes, but trust me, you want these questions to come from me instead of Mum,” Uh replies, frowning. “What you said—no one is teaching you how to deal with You-Know-Who, are they?”
Harry glances at Neville, who looks startled, before shaking his head. “No. I just—no.”
“That’s bloody stupid,” Uh declares flatly. “Just—that is utter rubbish! Do they want you to die? You had to deal with a Death Eater spy in bloody first year!”
“No, that was uhm…actually Voldemort,” Harry says, and Neville cringes. “Possessing our Defence Teacher.”
Uh stares at him. “What the fuck. All right. That’s what Mum will be wanting to know, and I almost feel badly for our teachers.”
“What? Why?” Neville asks. Harry is wondering the same thing.
Uh raises an eyebrow and looks almost exactly like their gran, which is weird. “Because Mum is going to be asking every single one of them why they’ve not helped you to be a better wizard, Harry. Otherwise, how the bloody hell are you going to survive this stupid war?”
“But…school?” Harry tries weakly. He knows Uh is right, and that’s part of the reason why he’s panicking.
“That’s not the same thing as being a target, Harry,” Neville says quietly.
I’m not a target, Harry wants to protest, but it’s not true. He’s been a target for his entire life.
Chapter 6: Precautionary (Sensible) Measures
"I feel like something is constantly crawling up behind me."
People want Uh’s attention all the time.
All. The. Bloody. Time!
They never noticed the difference from the lack of Useful Curse when it was still just themself, Mum, and their grandparents in the house. It wasn’t even so bad when Harry and Sirius moved in, though Neville might as well have moved in, too, since he was meant to spend all of August with Harry. Uh is accustomed to Harry, Neville, and Not-a-Dog, though it struck them that all three called for Uh’s attention a lot more than usual.
Then the visitors start turning up. Hermione Granger. Ron Weasley—followed, of course, by more Weasleys, usually the twins as well as Ginny. Then Blaise somehow discovers Harry’s new living situation, spreads the word, and then he, the Greengrass sisters, Susan, and the Patil twins are back in Uh’s hair.
Uh likes them. Really, they do. Except this time, they are all of them, every one of them, paying attention to Uh, all the time.
It is terrible. All of it is terrible. Uh feels like they can’t escape this constant stream of attention.
Mum forbids Uh from hiding in their own bedroom. Or anywhere else in the house. “You should begin to adjust to this now, daughter,” Mum says. “Hogwarts will feel worse.”
“Forget Hogwarts,” Neville points out after buttering his toast. “We’ve still got to go to Diagon Alley to finish kitting out for school!”
Uh thinks about the crowds that surge through Diagon at this time of summer and groans before putting their head down on the table. “Oh, no.”
“Dearest, your hair is in the jam,” Gran says. Uh retrieves the offending hair and groans dramatically once more.
“We could go look at brooms,” Harry suggests to Uh, because once Harry’s panic wore off, he went to the trouble of proving that he is sort of evil. Mum finds it to be a useful evil, and that he is also the right sort of student to be taught by her directly—which Harry is still confused by and Hermione still yelling about how Harry has been overlooking the obvious for the entire time.
“That I’m evil?” Harry had joked.
“No, that you’re intelligent,” Hermione snarled back, and refused to speak to him for the rest of the day. Or perhaps she just got lost in a book, considering she entered the library, didn’t come out, and had to be politely dragged to dinner by Granddad.
“We should all go to Diagon together,” Susan says when everyone is visiting that afternoon. (Blaise keeps knowing when it’s best to visit and informing the others. Uh is going to strangle him.) “That way, we can sort of circle around Uh and Harry both to keep the lunkheads away.”
Uh glances at Susan. “I love you. Marry me.”
Susan grins. “No, but thank you for the compliment.”
“Uh said it first, is all, but same,” Harry says to Susan. “I just—Diagon was all right the first time I was there, when almost no one recognized me. It’s sort of been nightmarish ever since.”
“And we can all be fitted for dress robes together!” Parvati exclaims. “It’ll be a treat!”
“Only if we go to my family’s tailor,” Uh insists, scowling. “Every time we’ve dealt with Malkin, the bitch has tried to insist I need a fucking dress.”
“Language, darling,” Padma says, but she gives Uh a commiserating pat on the shoulder. “She hates our Indian dress robes, too. As long as your family’s tailor is flexible…”
“So. Many. Jokes,” Blaise mutters with a sly smile, and is firmly elbowed by Daphne.
“Our family tailor caters to Gran’s need to visit Egypt without getting into trouble with some of the, er, extremists,” Uh says. “And to Mum’s need to sometimes really revisit the past. And to Granddad’s tailoring for his pistols. The best part is that we can invite them to come here.”
Astoria’s eyes light up. “You mean we won’t have to be fitted in a stupid public room?”
“Saves us a stop in Diagon, too,” Blaise says thoughtfully.
Hermione shakes her head. “We still have to get our school robes from Madam Malkin’s. She’s the only one licensed by the Ministry to sell them.”
Blaise snorts. “She could try doing a better job of it, then. All right, a brief stop at Malkin’s. Then we have time for other things.”
“Like food,” Ron declares. “Or Florean’s!”
“I’m sorry, you said food and then you mentioned iced cream, so you are no longer discussing proper food at all.” Daphne sighs. “Not as if we can afford either option.”
Harry and Uh glance at each other. “Sure we can. My treat,” they say at the same time, and start laughing.
“But you shouldn’t—” Ron starts to protest.
Hermione slaps Ron on the back of the head. “Shut up and say thank you, dingbat!”
“But it’s like taking charity!” Ron whines.
Harry’s eyes narrow. “It is, huh? It was taking charity when you ate all of the treats from the trolley on our first ride, was it?”
“Uh—well—” Ron stutters. Uh should probably not find this so amusing, but Fred and George are terrible influences.
“If I have the means to do for my friends what no one would bloody well do for me, then I’m doing it. You can cope,” Harry says icily, before he stands up and stalks off.
Ron turns faintly green. “Shit. I didn’t mean…shit.”
The Weasley twins pat Ron on his shoulders, one twin on each side. “One day, little brother. You’ll learn. Maybe.”
“When the Heir to the Noble House of Potter and to the Ancient and Noble House of Black says that he’ll pay for your dinner, you graciously accept.” Daphne is glaring at Ron. “You do not act like a prideful—you don’t act like a Malfoy!”
Ron immediately turns red and starts to shout protests, but too many of them are laughing for any of it to be audible. Uh notices Astoria pop up and go rushing after Harry, and is glad of it. That means someone else is dealing with the Feelings, and Uh has another blissful moment of it not having to be them. That’s been happening so often that Granddad hasn’t had to demand Uh come to the range and practice. Uh goes out on their own to shoot the blazes out of things, because no one bothers them with fucking Feelings when they’re aiming a pistol!
“I can’t bloody afford new dress robes, all right?” Ron finally shouts, losing his temper in true ginger fashion. “I’ll have to use something from the attic from Merlin knows who!”
“We can’t either, genius,” Fred says.
“Which is why retailoring and Transfiguring old robes is a thing people do,” George finishes, rolling his eyes.
“You think we’re made of money, Weasel?” Daphne asks scornfully. “We can’t afford new dress robes, either, but we know how to bring in the best old ones we can find to have them fixed up!”
Ron stares at the twins, then at Daphne, before slumping down in his chair. “I’m an idiot.”
“An idiot from a magical family who forgot that magic fixes problems, yes.” Parvati grins. “Honestly, Ron. How have you made it to fourth year?”
“Seat of my pants,” Ron replies. “And there are holes in those seams!”
Uh’s grandparents make it all a moot point, anyway. That evening after dinner, Gran asks them all to meet in the library instead of allowing the others to Floo home.
“All right, kids,” Granddad says, leaning against a heavy table and crossing his arms. “The parents of Hogwarts students got a letter this week informing us as to why you all need those fancy robes, and how we’re supposed to keep it a secret. I’m not doing it.”
“They’re bringing back the Triwizard Tournament,” Mum says, her eyes flashing with anger. “They say they have set limits so that no one under seventeen will compete, but limits can be overcome!”
“And there is a madman out there who kind of wants you all dead, particularly Harry, and we like him alive,” Granddad adds.
Harry raises his hand. “Sorry, Muggle-raised idiot here. I’ve no idea what a Triwizard Tournament is supposed to be.”
“It’s an ancient competition fueled by idiocy,” Mum says before Hermione can start spewing out an explanation, one no doubt provided by Hogwarts: A History. “An enchanted goblet was crafted by magicians who lived during the Persian Empire. Its purpose was to choose those who would compete once a year for the Emperor’s pleasure—the three most talented of magicians would fight their way through terrible obstacles. The surviving winner would then have the glory of holding the Emperor’s attention for an entire year. We heard about such madness even in my homeland.”
“They don’t exactly fight to the death anymore,” Hermione interjects, brow furrowed. “They even have a Yule Ball, if they hold to the tradition.”
“But people still die during this contest. It hasn’t been hosted by any country in centuries for just that reason, and I’m appalled that it’s being brought back now,” Gran says in a complete fury. “It’s a—it’s a rotten distraction!”
“Ministry decision,” Blaise interprets. “I’m flattered that you trust me, Lord and Lady O’Connell, but I have no desire to participate in a contest that might make me dead.”
“It isn’t about that. Not entirely,” Sirius says, speaking up for the first time since the impromptu meeting began. “I have to ask you all a very serious question, and the pun is not intended, so stop giggling, Astoria.”
Astoria’s eyes are watering with suppressed laughter. “Okay!”
Sirius looks at Blaise, Astoria, Daphne, Susan, Padma, Parvati, Neville, Ron, Hermione, Uh, Fred, Ginny, and George. “Harry has told me what it’s been like for him at school, and how much he’s enjoyed the fact that he has friends here.”
“Sirius!” Harry blurts out, cheeks flushing dark red.
“Quiet, kiddo.” Sirius takes a breath. “You’re all of different Houses in school, but here, you’ve been friends to my godson away from that social disaster. I know how hard it is to be friends with someone from another House. I lived that shit, too. I also know how easy it is to have enemies in another House. I want to know if you’ll continue to be Harry’s friend when you return to Hogwarts.”
The Weasleys speak up at once, all of them agreeing and looking insulted that Sirius even asked. “Duh,” says Uh, because being Harry’s friend is easy, and they don’t care about inter-House anything. Uh just wants to do well in school and not die if Voldemort decides to have another go at them.
(Harry told Uh and Neville the full story of what happened with Quirrell during first year…and then he told them the whole story of what went on with the basilisk and the diary with its ghost of Tom Riddle, he who would become Voldemort. Uh now has nightmares about basilisks and ghosts that can possess you with a simple touch. Neville has nightmares about being eaten by Voldemort’s face while it’s still on the back of Quirrell’s head. No one has really been sleeping well, Harry included, and it sucks.)
“Absolutely,” Blaise says quietly. “I know I’m going to catch hell for it in the dormitory, but I’ve never wanted anything to do with You-Know-Who’s lot. Harry’s a decent bloke when he’s not attracting trouble.”
“He’s decent even when he’s attracting trouble,” Astoria retorts. “He was really nice to me after that terrible year with the basilisk because I was afraid of snakes! He took me outside and showed me how he could also speak to a garter snake, and convinced it to curl up in my lap and sleep while I got to pat it!” Then she blushes scarlet.
“I’m obviously tied up in it for life,” Hermione says while Parvati gives Astoria a brief hug. “I mean, it’s partly my fault we were able to confront Quirrell at all. I’m certainly not going to stop now.”
Susan shrugs. “My aunt would kill me if I decided to be that petty.”
“We’ve no problems with being his friend, but we don’t have the same difficulties,” Padma says, with Parvati nodding her agreement. “Of course, now that we know there is going to be a Ball—”
“Why else would they bother with dress robes that are black tie?” Parvati points out.
“—we’d like Potter to man up and ask one of us to attend with him.” Padma finishes, grinning.
Harry looks scandalized. “But—I don’t want to date anyone! I don’t—girls—guys—I can’t—”
“Oh, mate.” Blaise shakes his head. “We’ve definitely got some work to do to get you to the point where you can discuss dating without turning into a stuttering wreck.”
“Harry, you’re Harry Potter,” Ginny reminds him, smiling. “You’re going to cause a stir no matter what you do for this ball, but the stir will be worse if you show up with no one at all.”
Uh grimaces. Ginny’s right, and they hate it. It means they will have to find a suitable date, too. The rumors their solo presence might now generate just aren’t worth dealing with. Being told they’ve snogged someone is much preferable to being mocked for being too something to ever be snogged at all.
Daphne has been quiet the entire time, but then she looks up, her jaw set. “I can’t do it outright. The girls in our year—I think all of them are for him. Given who their families are, associating with Harry outright at Hogwarts might actually put my life in danger. They’ll forgive it of Astoria, thinking she’s too young to be reasonable. Blaise will only have to deal with the idiot boys in our year, but I don’t trust Parkinson and Davis not to try something.”
“Millicent might be okay,” Blaise suggests. “She’s never spouted off that nonsense.”
Daphne frowns. “I really don’t know, Blaise. She spends most of her time listening instead of speaking. I don’t know even know who she would fight for—aside from that bloody cat of hers.”
Harry gives Daphne a strained smile. “Believe me, I get it. I won’t be offended if you ignore me at school. Just—if we do get that sort of privacy where the others won’t find out, we can talk then. Right?”
Daphne lowers her head in a gracious, very Pure-blood nod, the sort that is a silent vow. “Of course. As Blaise said—you’re a decent person, Potter. My family certainly wants nothing to do with your opposition.”
“Glad to hear it.” Sirius has an odd sort of crack in his voice. “Because we know You-Know-Who is up to something.”
“How?” Hermione asks at once.
“I had a—I had a dream. Last week,” Harry admits in a shaky voice. “Voldemort, he killed someone named Frank Bryce, a Muggle.”
“We were able to confirm it,” Granddad says quietly. “It happened in a village named Little Hangleton. It made the news because the murder happened in the same place as another famous set of unsolved murders.”
Uh watches the other kids, who are sitting in mute shock. Most of them are extreme shades of pale. They don’t feel all that great, either.
“You can’t kill anyone unless you have a body to do it with,” Hermione whispers. “Professor Dumbledore said he didn’t have a body!”
“Yeah, well, he’s got a something, and it’s enough for him to point a wand and murder someone.” Harry runs his hands through his hair. Uh feels badly for him. Their family gets up to weirdness so often that it’s old hat, but Uh never got to experience the days when the O’Connell’s worst enemy was an ancient mummy sorcerer with the bad habit of not staying dead. It was not, her dad told Uh once, the sort of thing he ever wanted to repeat.
Then he woke up a mummy sorcerer of his own, one with an entire army, so Uh isn’t sure Dad ever learned his lesson.
“There was more—Peter Pettigrew was there.”
Uh stares at Harry, which is pretty much what everyone except the adults are doing. “But—he’s in Azkaban. He’s supposed to be in bloody Azkaban!” Ron exclaims.
“He’s not. It took quite a bit of digging for Cousin Tonks to get the information, but he escaped weeks ago.” Sirius buries his hands in his coat pockets and scowls at the floor. “The Ministry won’t announce it—they don’t want anyone to know. My getting out of Azkaban looks bad enough for them, even if they’re now trying to make that right.”
“Right. Trying,” Harry snorts.
“But two escapes in two years? I think the new Minister for Magic would eat his own hat before he’d let anyone admit that Pettigrew is free,” Sirius says.
“Okay. Tournament. Yule Ball.” George gives Uh’s grandparents a surprisingly adult look of concern. “My brother and I are oldest. Are we playing bodyguard?”
“Dear God, I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Gran says. “But with the lot of you confirming that you’re going to remain friends with Voldemort’s primary target, we’ve decided to take a few…steps.”
“Those dress robes you all need are now being paid for by us, brand new,” Granddad says, and Uh blinks a few times in surprise. “No complaints allowed, because they’re going to be tailored in such a way that you’re going to be armed the entire time you’re wearing them.”
“You will be able to carry your wand without notice, which is important, as the ball’s rules state that wands are not to be carried during that particular evening,” Mum says. Her mouth curls up in a little smirk. “You will also be able to carry a blade. If you wish it, a pistol capable of working within the school’s walls is also a possibility.”
Fred lets out a loud whoosh of air. “Oh. Wow. You’re taking this seriously.”
“No one else seems to be,” Granddad says sourly. “I’m not going to let you kids get hurt because your teachers are a bunch of idiots.”
“They’re not all idiots, darling,” Gran murmurs.
“That,” Mum says, “remains to be seen. I will be speaking with them all before the school term begins. I am certain it will be enlightening.”
“At least find out if our DADA teacher is going to be a moron,” Uh requests. “Lupin was competent, but—”
“None of the others have been,” Harry says.
Mum smiles. “Lupin is still your Defence teacher.”
“Wait. What?” All of them perk up, intrigued. “But what about the curse?” Blaise asks.
“Professor Lupin is already cursed,” Mum informs them. “Therefore, the curse on the position of teacher for Defence studies…I believe you would say they canceled each other out.”
“Lupin’s cursed. That sucks,” Harry says in concern. “What’s wrong with him?”
“That’s private, Harry,” Sirius quickly says, and then puts on a bright, false smile that instantly makes Uh suspicious. “If Remus wants you to know, he’ll tell you, but please don’t go prying into that. It upsets him.”
“And you should do your best to keep this particular instructor for that class,” Mum adds. “You will need competent teaching to survive what is to come.”
Uh listens as everyone agrees, with varying levels of enthusiasm, to the necessity of altered dress robes and weaponry. They do need to warn Granddad that the Weasley twins should possibly never be allowed near gunpowder, ever. Otherwise…otherwise, this conversation could have gone so much worse.
Uh wasn’t noticed during their first three years of Hogwarts, but they listened. They heard fears, dread, speculations, wild fantasies (ugh), blame, fault, anger…and hatred.
When people are afraid, they want someone to blame. Uh witnessed and learned that lesson before they ever set foot in Hogwarts, and three terms have solidified it into truth. Even if Voldemort never attacks Hogwarts, there are people like that idiot Malfoy, Parkinson, and too many others who might decide to act on their own. Uh would rather see their friends prepared for the worst, even if the worst they ever experience are hexes cast by idiots.
“You’re taking a pistol to school,” Granddad tells Uh the next morning.
“And I don’t want to hear any arguing—wait. Okay?” Granddad pauses in confusion.
“I said all right.” Uh bites their lip. “I dunno if Mum’s Seen anything, but Granddad, I feel like something is constantly crawling up behind me. Things are going to get bad.”
“I feel that way, too. So does your grandmother.” Granddad sits down beside them. “Do you want to go to a different school? Stay home and learn from your mother, maybe?”
Uh shakes their head. “No. I wouldn’t want to leave the others to fend for themselves.” Harry is with Mum this morning, as usual. Mum thinks Harry a good student, though the moment she learned about the dream he had about Voldemort killing someone, she began teaching him mind magic.
Dueling lessons are going well. Mind magic lessons are not.
Neville is just glad that he can go hide with the plants. At least until it’s his turn in Mum’s barrel.
Granddad smiles. “You’ve got friends.”
“I know.” Uh makes a face. “I’ve got friends, and it’s weird.”
“But you’d do whatever it takes to protect them,” Granddad says in a soft voice.
Uh swallows hard and nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I would. And I will.”
Chapter 7: How to Make Friends and Influence People (the O'Connell way)
While the children are off to Diagon Alley, Lin O'Connell introduces herself to Hogwarts.
“How are you dreaming about You-Know-Who doing things?” Blaise is the first to ask at their next meeting, which is shopping day for Diagon Alley. Uh isn’t surprised that it’s him; Blaise listens and plots and then bluntly asks whatever it is he wants to know. It would be sort of not-Slytherin except for the way he goes about it, especially when he prioritizes things that might make him dead.
“Madam Lin, she thinks…” Harry lifts the mess of his hair and points at the lightning-bolt scar on his head. It’s been edged an angry red for days now, but Harry says he hasn’t dreamt anything more of Voldemort. Thank God. “Madam Lin thinks that this is a cursed scar—”
“Harry, it was caused by the Killing Curse. Of course it’s a cursed scar!” Parvati exclaims, and then takes in the scowl that forms on Harry’s face. “Oh. No one ever told you that it was a cursed scar—only that it was a scar. Did they?”
“No.” Harry drops his hair, which seems to make the others relax. Uh thinks people are weird about what they get worked up about, but they really don’t have much room to judge. “Madam Lin thinks the curse is some sort of link to Voldemort. That’s why I had the dream about what he was doing with that poor old man, and probably someone from the Ministry, too.”
“Bertha Jorkins,” George whispers, but he shakes his head and won’t say anything else about it.
“So, he could just…” Daphne looks faintly green. “Could You-Know-Who do something to you?”
Harry looks angered by the very idea. “I bloody well hope not! But Madam Lin doesn’t want to take chances, so she’s teaching me mind magic. Uh, mental shielding? Telepathy?”
“Oh! You mean Occlumency and Legilimency!” Susan speaks up, smiling. “That’s dead useful. My aunt’s teaching me.”
Blaise nods. “I learned both of them, too. My mother insisted.”
Neville holds up one hand. “I’m learning Occlumency, too. Gran says it’s a Pure-blood thing, but puts her foot down about Legilimency. I think she just doesn’t want me figuring out what she’s thinking.”
Uh shrugs when they glance at them. “It’s my mum, guys. I learned it while I was learning to read.”
Astoria and Daphne glance at each other. “Our parents are so sacked,” Astoria mutters. “I wonder if Madam Lin will teach us, too.”
“I asked,” Hermione says. “Madam Lin says her priority is Harry because of You-Know-Who, but once she thinks he’s got the lessons down, she’s willing to teach anyone else who wants to learn.”
“Your mum is a badass, Alex,” Neville says, to which there is general agreement.
“Everyone ready for the Alley?” Granddad asks when he meets them in the library. Gran is already waiting, looking as posh as any Pure-blood. Granddad always dresses down; it’s the tailoring of his clothes and the carved sword cane he keeps with him that will tell anyone with a good eye that he definitely has money.
“You’re going with us? Through the Floo?” Ginny asks, going wide-eyed. “I didn’t know Muggles could Floo!”
“Pish tosh. There is absolutely nothing about the means of a Floo that should exclude anyone, provided you have the activating powder, are part of the system, and are quite clear in enunciating where you are going,” Gran responds, her voice just on the edge of tart. It’s her teaching voice for when she’s frustrated by ignorance, but trying not to take it out on the poor student with the lacking knowledge.
“I just thought it was a trip for us kids this time, I suppose,” Ron says, trying to look innocent. Uh thinks he shouldn’t bother. No Weasley ever looks guileless unless they are Ginny.
“Oh, you guys can still go do your own thing,” Granddad says, “but we’re going to be about. Just in case.”
“Because if there is a You-Know-Who with a body, there might be such lurking souls as never went to Azkaban for him, thinking maybe they’re feeling brave again,” Fred surmises.
Gran nods. “Exactly so. I hope not, but there was that crowd of masked idiots who cast the Dark Mark at the Quidditch World Cup.”
Uh feels their skin prickle with unease. They were originally supposed to go to the Cup, all of them, until Mum woke up the morning previous to the trip and said Absolutely Not. The news the next day, blathering on about Death Eaters torturing Muggles, certainly explained why. The article also ended the constant whinging from most of the others about how it was Not Fair that they didn’t get to attend.
Not from Harry, though. As much as Uh knows that he’s Quidditch mad, he also is starting to trust Mum. Mum finds this to be a miraculous occurrence, expecting it to have been a venture of a year or more, but Harry has this thing for latching on to people who are honest with him. Uh also thinks that maybe Harry is used to not getting to do things like that. Neville, too, given how quiet he was about the World Cup ban.
Why do Uh’s closest friends have to be so bloody complicated? Uh is going to make a point of getting to know Ravenclaw Lovegood better just to have someone in their life who is less difficult to cope with. They need another Ravenclaw in their odd little enclave, anyway; Padma is rather outnumbered.
“Where is Madam Lin, anyway?” Astoria asks. “Isn’t she coming to Diagon Alley with us?”
Gran and Granddad share a look. “Lin is going to Hogwarts today,” Gran says in a very neutral tone.
Uh winces. Their grandparents don’t expect it to go well.
They hope Hogwarts still has staff left to teach after Mum gets through with them.
* * * *
Lin gives the castle a searching examination without turning her head, taking in details with her eyes. It is obvious that it was once built with its defence in mind, but the expansions made, the high towers, and the places she notes away from the safety of those stone walls—those are vulnerabilities an enemy could exploit.
There are wards on these school grounds. She passed through them with an ease that is disturbing, and wonders if the school’s Headmaster would be amendable to her offer of a remedy to that problem.
“Madam O’Connell.” It is not the Headmaster that greets her at the doors to the castle, but young Harry’s Head of House, the Transfiguration teacher.
“Professor McGonagall.” Lin inclines her head in a brief bow of respect. They are physically of an age, and Lin senses steel in this one that is far too often lacking in the magicians of Britain. “Please refer to me as Madam Lin. It is to my preference.”
“Of course, Madam Lin,” McGonagall replies. She does not offer a similar courtesy in return, but Lin approves. This woman is in a position of authority on her home ground, and does not need to lower herself to still accommodate a guest properly. “I must say I am surprised you came to visit. Most Muggle parents…do not do so.” McGonagall peers down the path towards the gates. “But I do not see your guide.”
Lin smiles. “I am not, as you say, a Muggle. I had no need of a guide; merely an address.”
McGonagall raises an eyebrow. “Mx. O’Connell has never spoken of their mother as being a witch.”
Lin definitely likes this one. Alex has mentioned that there are still teachers within Hogwarts who do not respect her child’s gender choices. Lin has only asked of Alex that she still be allowed to refer to Alex as her daughter, which Alex does not mind, particularly as Lin does not do so often.
It is also interesting that McGonagall recalled Alex at once. The breaking of the curse will bring her child good fortune, even though Alex does not agree with the results.
“Alex is circumspect when it is required, as any intelligent magician should be. I am not a witch in British terms, Professor McGonagall. I am a magician of ancient Eastern traditions, and my titles do not translate very well.”
“How interesting!” McGonagall leads her into the massive Entrance Hall, which hosts walls covered with moving paintings. Lin has always been fascinated by this branch of Western Magical Art, though her husband is not fond of the idea of paintings that can speak. “If you do not mind my asking, what are your specialties in magic? In British terms, I mean.”
Lin chooses not to mention the mind magic. It is a curious instinct, but she heeds it. “I am skilled in the making of herbal concoctions of a magical nature, what you call Potions. I suppose you could always say I am learned in the magic of Charms. I never had need to learn any changing magic, your Transfiguration. I am quite proficient in building proper wards and protections, and excel as a breaker of curses.”
“Transfiguration is not for everyone,” McGonagall says in a politely neutral voice. Given that her chosen subject is a core requirement of Hogwarts, Lin finds her words to be quite politic. Once they have settled in McGonagall’s office—filled with objects mindful of the woman’s obvious Scottish heritage—the other woman graces her with a smile. “Now, what is it I can do for you, Madam Lin?”
“I have come to discuss one of your House with you. Harry Potter.”
McGonagall’s only reaction is to widen her eyes. “I see. Why is that, Madam Lin?”
“My husband’s parents, myself, and my child were invited to Sirius Black’s home in London for a visit. We discovered it to be an in appalling state. I find its number of curses waiting to ensnare the unwary to be of particular concern, though my mother-in-law was far more concerned by the preserved archaeological nature the house represents. Thus, my family has insisted that Sirius Black and his ward, Harry Potter, live with us, and they have willingly done so since the first week of August.”
“I admit I did have a few concerns regarding Sirius’s renewed guardianship of Harry so soon after the charges against him were properly dropped, but the Black family home was not among them,” McGonagall admits. “It is…very kind of you to take them in.”
“It is no mere kindness. It is what one person should grant to another because it is right and just,” Lin says tersely. There are implications within McGonagall’s statement that she does not understand. “Since that time, I have tutored Harry in magic, as I have also done for Alex. What I have discovered is a woefully undereducated young man. I came here because I wish to know why he has been allowed to remain so.”
McGonagall draws herself up, pride in her shoulders and eyes. “Mister Potter is a proficient student who does well in his classes, and performs well in his exams every year. I admit that his grades are nowhere near top of his year, but I don’t find his education to be lacking!”
Lin blinks once. “It is lacking when he is the target of a madman who wishes him dead.”
That rattles McGonagall, who takes a moment to collect herself before she responds. “It is the belief of many that he should not be concerned with You-Know-Who’s attempts at mischief until he is of age.”
Lin nearly laughs in her face. “Is that your opinion, or a consensus you have no choice but to agree with?”
McGonagall narrows her eyes. “If I said it was both, would you understand my meaning?”
Lin thinks on it before nodding. “I believe I do, yes. You are his Head of House, Professor McGonagall. Should Mister Potter not be receiving the lessons he needs to survive if Voldemort were to appear before him in Diagon Alley this very day?”
McGonagall flinches at the man’s name. “I do hope that will never come to pass, but…” She clenches her jaw. “My specialty is Transfiguration, but before Hogwarts, I served in Magical Law Enforcement within the Ministry of Magic. I was a proficient duelist. If Mister Potter is amendable, I will ask if he would be willing to take time from his evening schedule to see me in this regard.”
Lin smiles. “Yes, that is good. It will mean the lessons in dueling I am currently granting him will continue. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.”
McGonagall nods before standing. “And while I am not officially allowed to state this opinion, thank you for being so willing to assist Mister Potter. I don’t give a damn about prophecy—no child should be expected to defeat one of the most terrifying wizards of this century!”
“Prophecy?” Lin frowns. “What prophecy do you speak of?”
“I am afraid you will have to address that question to the Headmaster.”
That is who Lin greets next, though she is required to go up to his tower; he does not come down to meet her. That sets her on edge. She has disliked the idea of approaching a throne since she was old enough to understand the concept. A magician on a throne is dangerous.
“Greetings, Madam Lin,” Dumbledore says. His manners when he stands and bows in response to her are perfect, yet he is using mind magic to such an extent that it makes his eyes sparkle. Irritating.
Dumbledore calls for tea, which is brought by a house-elf clad in white. They might be bonded creatures, but it is an idea that makes Lin uncomfortable. “What is it that Hogwarts can do for you today?” Dumbledore asks her once there is tea in both their hands.
Lin briefly explains the new arrangement of Harry living within her household. Dumbledore disapproves at once. “I am not certain that is wise. I allowed Sirius to take Harry to live with him in the Black family home in London due to the numerous protections on the building, not to mention its Unplottable status and embedded Fidelity Charm.”
“If you believe young Harry to require so much protection, why was he not granted such before?”
Dumbledore frowns. “I do not discuss this with many, but I believe you understand the nature of sacrificial magic. I have read your work, you see,” he adds, an extra bit of twinkle to his eyes that appears to be professional delight.
“I am glad it was appreciated. Yes, I understand it. There is sacrificial magic attached to Harry, magic that is quite loving in nature. Given the stories, I assume it comes from his mother?”
Dumbledore gives her a grave nod. “It does indeed. Lily Potter’s refusal to step aside when Voldemort demanded it granted Harry the protection of her blood, but it needed to be reinforced by his living with Lily’s blood relatives.”
Lin does not allow her expression to change. Preposterous. If Dumbledore were paying her proper attention, he would realize that Lin has revealed that the protective magic still exists, and Harry has not been in the house of his foul relatives since the previous summer. “I see. You need not concern yourselves regarding the protections of a home in young Harry’s regard. My warding is exceptional compared to what shields the Black home.”
“Of you, I would believe it, or I would already have been forced to intervene when news of Harry’s relocation came to me,” Dumbledore says.
Lin does not smile. He would not have succeeded, no matter what type of intervention he might have planned. “I am in the process of furthering young Harry’s education, but did not know there is a prophecy regarding his entanglements with Voldemort. I wish to hear it.”
Dumbledore leans back and takes on an air of regret. “I’m sorry, Madam Lin. I cannot share the prophecy with you. It is known, in part, to only one other. I am the only one aware of its entirety, and that information must stay with me in order to safeguard Harry.”
Stabbing this man with the blade within her robes would be a pleasure, but all too brief. “Then tell me why he was targeted. Tell me why Voldemort still seeks his death.”
“Voldemort still seeks Harry’s death because of Harry’s defeat of him, though in truth it was Lily’s sacrificial magic that did the deed. Such details would be irrelevant to Voldemort.” Dumbledore acts as if he is thinking on what to tell her, but she knows better. He is a tactician.
She does not like tacticians, especially those who place themselves above others.
“Part of the prophecy stated that a child born at the end of July to parents who had thrice defied Voldemort would have the power to vanquish him,” Dumbledore finally says. “Voldemort knew of only two people to fit that description—Harry, and Neville Longbottom.”
“And he chose Harry.” Lin wonders if young Neville is aware of how much danger he was in as an infant.
“He did, yes.” Dumbledore studies her. “It has recently come to my awareness that your daughter was also born at the end of July. You had a history of standing against Voldemort during the war.”
We all did, Lin thinks. Rick still regrets that he was never granted the opportunity to place a bullet in Voldemort’s skin. “Alex was, yes. I am fortunate that they were not involved in Voldemort’s plans.”
I am also angry that I must be grateful to the one who placed the curse. He told me there was an important reason for it, but insisted I would find that truth at the correct time.
Ardeth Bay still should have informed Lin of the concerns the Medjai held regarding the granddaughter of their British allies. The Medjai, much like the British Ministry, often cannot help being busybodies who think they must solve all problems on their own, even when the problems look to be insurmountable. Even Lin’s mother, one of the most stubborn beings this world has ever known, understood when it was time to accept help to defeat the re-awoken Emperor Han. There were other ways to safeguard Alex from Voldemort rather than a curse of being unnoticeable—even if it was an effective curse.
Lin does not ask Dumbledore for assistance in teaching Harry. He wishes for young Harry to be kept ignorant, and Lin cannot discern his motives. Without such knowledge, it will not be wise to assume he would guide Harry to victory and survival. Instead, she sees to the other staff of this school.
Pomona Sprout is a woman of the earth, and her concerns are twofold: plants and Hufflepuffs. Alex has expressed frustration with Professor Sprout in regards to their lack of thought to Alex’s existence, though with the curse dispersed, that will most certainly change. Lin asks polite questions of the Herbology teacher and leaves satisfied in regards to her teaching of the proper ways of dealing with dangerous magical plants. It is Harry’s knowledge in other herbs and trees that he lacks, but Lin will see that remedied.
The groundskeeper and Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Rubeus Hagrid, greets her as if she is a long-lost friend. To her pleasure, he invites her into his home, shares tea with her that he prepares himself, and asks her to partake of his cooking. This is a man who understands hospitality, even if Lin has to use a quiet bit of magic to soften his baking into a substance she is capable of eating. It is still hard on the tooth, but the flavor is nice. Rubeus also desires to see to Harry’s safety, and declares he would willingly die for the child. Lin smiles and says she hopes that is never necessary, but he is a kind man to think so much of a child that is not his responsibility.
“Mayhap not, but I’d have raised him m’self if Albus had let me,” Rubeus says, looking grieved. “Couldn’t be done, y’see. Too many busybodies would’ve looked at me, at me Mum and Dad, and known the truth at once. Nobody’d ever have gone along with the idea of a half-giant raising the Boy Who Lived.”
“Of course not,” Lin says dryly. “Entrusting an endangered child to a man who is naturally immune to many spells of attack, has the size to defend him, and has a heart in his breast full of love? That would require the British Ministry of Magic to be sensible.”
Rubeus blushes scarlet, so bright it is visible even through his bushy beard. “Well—thank you, Madam Lin,” he mumbles. “Nice to have someone say it, even if it…you know.”
Lin leaves Rubeus’s home in pleasant spirits. There is not much Rubeus can do for Harry’s education other than continue to introduce the magical creatures of their world, but that will do. The man’s obvious love for young Harry is a balm for her ward, one she is glad he is receiving.
Professor Filius Flitwick is rather excitable. He spends so much time reminiscing over Lily Evans’ proficiency in his subject that it is hard to question him regarding Harry at all. Even then, it is only for Flitwick to express disappointment that Harry does not seem to be as skilled in the subject as his mother.
“I see,” Lin says, and departs in a carefully hidden temper. Flitwick is not a bad man, but he is not nearly as observant as one in his position should be. With proper encouragement under her instruction, Harry has had no such difficulties at all with British charms, or even the Eastern spells she has been introducing that work well with Western ideas of magic. It was encouragement he lacked. Flitwick has already given up on Harry progressing in any fashion other than what he has already displayed in classes, and Harry responded to that on such a deeply subconscious level that Lin is still trying to dig out the root of that poison. She knows the cause, but Harry will not discuss it. She will simply have to continue as they are. He will learn, regardless.
Lin meets Cuthbert Binns, stares at him a moment, and then turns and walks away. There is no point in conversing with him. She will have to find appropriate tomes of history for her new student, ones that will recapture his interest in a subject taught by a very dull ghost.
She will also be informing Harry that he is to stop bothering to attend such a useless class. Once she discovers what is necessary to pass those ridiculous O.W.L.s in Harry and Alex’s fifth year, she will provide the necessary materials to both of them herself. Alex certainly will appreciate escaping the teacher she has complained about since starting school. Lin is only frustrated that Alex always neglected to mention that the school’s history teacher was deceased, or this situation would have been remedied already.
She might very well do all of Harry and Alex’s companions the same favor. It is not a hardship, and they will appreciate the escape from the oppressive nature of Binns’ classroom.
Aurora Sinistra is the teacher of Astronomy for the school. She seems to be a kind woman, but she teaches only of the celestial bodies of their solar system, and only Western ideas of the constellations. There is not yet discussion on how those same celestial bodies affect the casting of magic. Lin thinks on it and decides she will review the texts the students are expected to use before making a decision regarding further tutoring.
She nearly chokes on her own spit when McGonagall provides an escort to a distant tower and introduces her to Sybill Trelawney, teacher of Divination. Trelawney has the gift for it, a shine that is obvious to Lin, but she does not know how to teach it. She also does not understand that teenagers prefer to be able to breathe, given the sheer amount of incense and candle smoke polluting the tower.
Lin should discuss this with Sirius first, but she suspects he will agree once she explains her reasoning. “Harry Potter will be dropping your subject this term,” Lin says to Trelawney, hiding her frustration and disgust through clenched teeth. Such potential. Such utter waste. “Professor McGonagall, please make a note of this decision. Sirius Black will send word of his approval of the change to the castle by owl within the week.”
“Will he approve?” McGonagall asks. Both of them are ignoring Trelawney, who sniffed in complete derision, declares she knew already that Mister Potter would be departing her classroom forever, and goes to have a snit in a corner—by the scent of it, one accompanied by strong liquor.
“He will.” Lin considers what she has seen of Harry’s intelligence, when he dares to display it. It is unfortunate that Hogwarts has so few electives in which to study other branches of magic. Runes. Magical Art. Magical Music. Arithmancy. Magical Theory. Alchemy. Harry should be educated in them all, but even she knows that adding those classes to those he already attends would be overwhelming.
Muggle Studies is not even worth the contemplation. Hermione Granger ranted at length in regards to that subject’s complete failings.
Lin considers it. If Harry is not concerning himself with the coursework in History save for passing the exam at year’s end, he will have two classes’ worth of time. Lin can teach him Magical Theory by letter and by selected books to read, so that will not be necessary. A child should have art and music as part of their education, but she does not know which he would prefer. Alex prefers music; perhaps they might share a class.
That leaves Alchemy, Arithmancy, and Runes.
Gods, but she does not want this child to despise her. “Alchemy. Is that a subject Harry could enter?”
McGonagall shakes her head at once. “Absolutely not. That is a N.E.W.T. level class for those who’ve passed their Potions Owl with an E grade. While the subject veers away from traditional brewing, it still requires the groundwork of Potions.”
Good. “Then Sirius Black’s letter will also be informing you that Mister Potter is to be added to the classroom rosters for Arithmancy and Runes. There will potentially be an artistic class to be added as well.”
McGonagall stares at her. “Madam Lin, I am certain you mean well, but Mister Potter—he is a good student, but he struggles to maintain that status.”
“He struggles because it is expected that he will be perfect, and then is mocked endlessly for the slightest failure,” Lin retorts, feeling the burn of her anger beneath her skin. “You will help me to teach him that a lack of perfection is not a failing, or we will have harsh words beneath a clear sky.”
“I will do my best,” McGonagall grants Lin after yet another internal debate. Lin wonders what, or who, McGonagall argues with in those moments. “But aside from meeting the teachers in the subjects you wish for Harry to take on…there is a difficulty.”
“The Potions teacher?” Lin asks wryly. “Alex has informed me that he has a certain temperament.”
“That might be putting it mildly.” McGonagall smooths out her robes. “For the sake of what truce Severus and I have, you will need to seek him out on your own.”
She encounters Remus Lupin, who has visited her home twice this month, on her way down to the dungeons. “Snape, huh?” Remus shakes his head. “Good luck with that.”
“You do not sound as if it will be a pleasant meeting.”
“A word of advice?” Remus glances around, as if searching for prying eyes and ears. Only a portrait is nearby, but the occupant is sleeping. “Severus hates Harry. I hate to say it of any adult, any teacher, but he does. Harry reminds Severus too much of James, and it’s just…well, James and Severus spent most of their time at this school at war. Sirius and Pettigrew, too.” He glances down at the ground. “I was in on it, too, to be honest. I tried to be better about it, but I really didn’t succeed.”
Lin tries not to draw breath through clenched teeth. Remus is kind, if cursed, but this is information she needed at the beginning of her association with Harry! “How dire was this war, Remus Lupin?”
“I don’t know if I should say. It’s really not my place.”
“It would be no difficulty at all for me to take on the position of teacher for Magical Defence,” Lin says in a flat voice. “Nor would it be difficult for me to make certain no one ever found your remains.”
He blanches stark white, highlighting the scars across his face. “I keep forgetting that you’re terrifying. Sirius nearly got Severus killed in our fifth year. He’s never apologized for it.”
Lin nods while considering whether or not she should simply curse them all. “Who started the war, Remus Lupin?”
Remus grimaces. “Much as I’d like to claim otherwise…it was James and Sirius.”
“I wasn’t there, so I really don’t know. James just always claimed he didn’t like the look of Snape, and since he was a Slytherin, it made him an enemy of Gryffindor. Lily hated it—handed James his own arse more than once during those first five years—but they wouldn’t knock off with it.”
Cursing them all is not enough. Lin must go downstairs and contend with a man who loathes a child for resembling a father who was cruel, who is the ward of a man who attempted to cause his death, while he also must work professionally with the third member of that quartet—who not only did not stop this war, but participated in it.
“Wait. You mentioned Harry’s mother. She acted in this man’s defence?”
Remus looks edgy, as if he wished he hadn’t mentioned it. “They were friends until…an incident. Severus called her a Mudblood when she came to his defence while James was levitating Severus upside down in front of everyone out on the grounds. That pretty much decided all of us: he was obviously in with the Death Eaters, so who cared?”
“Your friend was torturing a fellow student, and thus was no longer worthy of concern?” Lin seethes. “No matter his political thoughts at the time, you were all still children! What nonsense floats through your head that you still think this justified?”
“Look.” Remus’s expression goes flat and angry, with a bit of the curse of the wolf in his gaze. “Severus might have gone into the Death Eaters working as a spy for Albus, but his behavior has always been abominable. That hasn’t changed at all. I despise the way he treats my godson, but Albus won’t do anything about it. Some days I think the Headmaster bloody well encourages it!”
“Always abominable?” Lin smiles, feeling the predatory pleasure she often turns upon her enemies. “You are saying, then, that the woman who loved her son with such strength that her death granted him protection from Voldemort…was a fool? If you believe Severus Snape was foul, but Lily Potter remained his friend for five years, then perhaps your vision is as flawed as your wardrobe!” She scowls at his jacket. “You have a partner who will provide for you. Allow him to do so. You look foolish.”
She turns on her heel, dismissing Lupin, and discovers that their conversation has been overheard, after all. A tall, gaunt shadow is standing in the archway that leads down the stairs to the dungeons. The man is dressed in solid black to match his black hair and dark eyes. His pale skin makes him seem ghostly in the dim light. He uses his height and profile to his advantage in order to seem a constant, waiting threat.
“Lupin.” The man’s eyes flicker to the Defence teacher. “I believe that our guest has a valid point regarding the ludicrousness of your wardrobe. If you wish to retain the attention of Hogwarts’ host of dunderheads for your second attempted year at your post, you will have to do something more spectacular than grace them with your shabby presence.”
“Severus. I shall take that under advisement,” Lupin replies in a grating voice before stalking away. Lin rolls her eyes. She has met far too many men in her life who easily forget that they are no longer children.
“You must be Professor Severus Snape,” Lin says to him. “I am Madam Lin. I wish to speak with you.”
The shadows hide any expression he might make. “So I have gathered.” He turns around and sweeps down the stairs at such speed he might well be levitating. “I am certain it will be interesting to converse with a woman who has such interesting opinions.”
Lin does not hurry her steps, which eventually forces him to slow his own. “My child says you are an excellent brewer, but your means of imparting lessons to others are less than favorable.”
This time, it is easy to view his sneer. It is quite elegant, and likely the envy of any Pure-blooded idiot upon this isle. “And which child do you lay claim to?”
“Alexandra Zi Juan O’Connell. My child might also be listed on your roster as Alexandra-Ji.”
Snape’s steps falter, though he does not stop moving forward. “You would be the same Madam Lin O’Connell who has a recognized mastery in Potions and Alchemy in Britain, most of Europe, and several countries in Asia, including China?”
“I doubt you will find anyone who else shares my name in this country,” Lin says blithely, amused by his sudden hesitation.
“That does explain Mx. O’Connell’s lack of incompetence in my classes,” Snape murmurs. Lin is pleased to hear him refer to Alex properly. Not everyone has done so, but she imagines Alex will be happy to correct anyone in the traditional O’Connell manner once the new term begins.
Severus Snape’s office is also a laboratory, and hosts a stand of books devoted to his craft. She glances at them, noting that her own tomes are among them—even the eldest one, written in Mandarin—before accepting his invitation to sit before his desk.
“Why are you here, Madam Lin?”
Lin smiles. “I believe, given what you have overheard, that you are capable of discerning that for yourself.”
“Indeed.” Snape is quite good at imitating the hooded gaze of the riled serpent. “What is it you wish me to do? Cease my ill treatment of your newly acquired celebrity dwelling in your household? Ignore his failings in my subject, as he is too spoiled to study? Pamper him and pass him along to the next term simply based on his fame?”
Lin raises both eyebrows. “Celebrity, I could understand, given Wizarding Britain’s ridiculous idolization of an infant, though young Harry would settle for stability rather than infamy. Spoiled, you claim? Only if you consider a prisoner to be spoiled by the generous allotment of table scraps to feast upon. Pampered? Perhaps if you believe that of a slave granted the barest necessities of life.”
Snape’s glare intensifies. “You are a fool if you do not see the truth. That child is nothing more than a trouble-making dullard, just like his father.”
Lin smiles. “And the mother who birthed him contributed nothing at all? I believe you know better.”
“And what would you know of this supposed lack of pampering? Of course he was treated like a golden child!” Snape scoffs, his anger growing like a conjured storm.
“While living with a woman named Petunia Evans Dursley?” Lin asks quietly.
Snape stills. “Petunia would never have raised Lily’s child. She refused to have anything to do with her sister.”
“Someone must have convinced her, though I do think ‘raised’ is the correct term to use at all. Not when one is treated as more vile than the dung collected on the underside of one’s boot.”
“How do you know this?” Snape asks. His voice has gone as quiet as hers, his face blank, but his anger has not departed. It has changed form, and is seeking something new to feast upon.
“I am teaching young Harry the beginnings of mind magic. The cursed scar he bears links him to his enemy in a foul way, and until I find the means of removing it, Harry needs to learn to block that connection in his mind.” Lin pauses. “The nature of teaching what you call Occlumency, however, does mean that you will find yourself in whatever thoughts a panicked mind might focus on.” She pauses again, watching a muscle tic beneath his eye. Interesting. “He is often panicked in our presence, but not because he expects us to harm him. He expects us to be rid of him, as that is what he expected of his family for his entire life.”
“Sharing this information with me might be a mistake,” Snape says in a level tone.
“If you are referring to your continuing need to spy upon Voldemort—” Snape flinches at the name as if struck— “as Remus Lupin so foolishly mentioned in my presence, you need not concern yourself about holding the information regarding that scar as a secret. Voldemort is already aware of its nature, though fortunately, he does not yet understand how to use it to his advantage.”
“Fortunately, yes,” Snape murmurs, though he still winces at the repetition of Voldemort’s name.
Lin watches him for a few minutes, content to let him ponder their discussion. Finally, she thinks it time to ask. “Has no one in your life ever once shown you kindness, Severus Snape?”
Snape stands upright so quickly that it knocks his chair to the floor. “You know nothing of me!” he snarls, looming over her with hatred burning in his eyes.
Lin’s mouth curls up in amusement. “Do you seek to intimidate me? Truly? Professor Severus Snape of Hogwarts, Potions Master of Great Britain: I am a magician who is literally thousands of years old, born with the death of a mad Emperor magician who desired to be immortal. I stood guard over his tomb for most of my life, and when he was awoken by the uneducated, I fought in the war that ultimately ended his life. That war granted me my husband even as it took my mother from me. I live and breathe millennia. If I so chose, Voldemort would be but an insect, a minor irritant that I would brush aside as I took hold of all of my power and thus, took control of the whole of this world.
“Fortunately…” Lin smirks at his startled look. “I have no interest in such things.”
Snape flicks his finger, straightening his chair with wordless magic, but does not reseat himself. “Then what is it you find interest in, Madam Lin?”
“I wish to see to my only child’s welfare, survival, and their thriving future. I intend to see to it that my current houseguest recovers from an unjust imprisonment, and that he learns the ethics of life that his dead family failed to instill in him. My goal is to see to it that my child’s friend, Harry Potter, is educated enough to thrive and survive the war that Voldemort will not let him escape. Or do you foolishly believe, as others do, that a madman who attempted to conquer Britain, littering its countryside with Inferi to doom the unwary, will happily wait with baited breath for his chosen enemy to grow to manhood?”
Snape’s eyes flick up and down her person. “Albus Dumbledore was not present in this school when Professor Quirrell, possessed by the Dark Lord, attempted to steal a stone that would have given him renewed life. I was. I pried a smoking corpse off of an unconscious child and was witness to the moment when the Dark Lord’s soul fled Quirrell’s dying body. I carried that child to the hospital wing myself, though he does not and will not ever know this.
“I do not believe the Dark Lord will wait for his enemy to gain strength. I believe he will act as soon as he is able to destroy him.”
“Then why,” Lin asks, “do you do so little to educate and prepare that child for the terrible wizard who wishes his death?”
Snape’s eyes darken further. “Because I must.”
Lin tilts her head. “Because you have been ordered to do so.”
He does not speak, but the brief tap of his fingers against his trousers is answer enough.
“I will grant you the same warning I gave to Remus Lupin, and rest assured, I do not lie or bluff when I say these words.” Lin straightens in her chair and stares directly into his eyes. “You will become the teacher that the child I educate and protect requires, or I will dispose of you and replace you, so that all of Hogwarts’ students gain the education they will need to survive the war to come, and I will not feel a single ounce of regret.”
Snape breathes out through his nose. “If I do as you…suggest…I will be sacked from this post, and possibly placed in Azkaban when the one who testified in my defence at the end of the last war recants his words.”
Lin glances down at her fingers, studying the wedding ring that Alex placed upon her finger while gazing into her eyes. She told him everything that she was, all she had done, and still he loved her without regret or reservation. “Perhaps I should rephrase my words. I would have no difficulty in disposing of anyone who is fool enough to endanger those under my protection.” She catches his gaze again. “Choose wisely, Severus Snape. I prefer my allies to be intelligent, and would hate to dispose of one before he had the chance to prove himself to be either.”
Lin smiles. “If nothing else appeals, there is bribery at hand. Think of the conversations regarding potions there are to be had—if you can find it within yourself to look past a dead man’s ghost and a brave woman’s spirit to see the potential of what lies beneath their memory.”
Chapter 8: Schooling Others (In Multiple Senses of the Word)
The kids are getting an educaiton. Sirius is possibly going to lose an ear if he doesn't shut up.
“You want me to do what?” Harry squawks in disbelief. Uh almost feels bad for him, but they already know exactly how this conversation is going to pan out.
Not-a-Dog and Mum are standing together in solidarity. “You need more of an education than you realize, kiddo,” Sirius says, though he looks apologetic about it.
“You must become aware of all of the magical options available to you, if you are to be educated enough to survive this war,” Lin intones darkly.
“But I don’t need to become a bloody swot to do it!” Harry protests.
“Well, your dad certainly wasn’t, but your mum and I? We were definitely the swots of the group,” Sirius admits with a cheerful smile. “Are you going to stand there and insult me, Uh, and Hermione?”
“No one is going to out-swot Hermione,” Harry responds flatly, but then he glances at Uh in surprise. “Wait. I didn’t know you were doing that well in Hogwarts.”
Uh shrugs. “You’re right that nobody is going to out-swot Hermione, but I do okay. I think they’re right, by the way.”
“Oh, yeah?” Harry glares at them. “How many classes are you taking?”
“Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, Astronomy, DADA, History of Magic, Herbology, Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures, and Magical Music. I took a year of Magical Theory before I leapt past the material thanks to Mum. What?” Uh asks, when Harry stares at them.
“I know some of those double up thanks to Hermione. She has to use a Time-Turner.”
Uh nods. “I know. I had one last year, and Professor Sprout will give it back to me when we return to Hogwarts. The work load will be a bit easier this year now that Mum’s given us permission to skive off on History of Magic.”
“A ghost. Teaching!” Lin hisses in a temper. “That is utter foolishness, and a waste of your time!”
“So…no history?” Harry looks hopeful.
“Yes, history,” Sirius counters, smirking. “You’ll just be reading books that aren’t dull as bloody dust. Skip the class, take the exam at the end of the year without fretting about every single goblin conflict in existence, move on with your life.”
“Huh. And you really took me out of Divination?” Harry looks insulted. “It was an easy grade!”
“Your education is not about ease. Your education is about survival. Voldemort will not care about Trelawney’s clouds of incense,” Lin retorts angrily. “Were you learning anything at all of substance in that room? If you can truly tell me yes, then your guardian and I will reconsider the decision.”
Harry sighs and gives up. “No. She’s entirely ridiculous. I suppose it’ll be nice not to listen to her predict my death every other week. But Arithmancy and Ancient Runes? And I have to choose music or art? When am I going to sleep?”
Neville lets out a loud snort. “Harry, you don’t sleep half the time, anyway!”
“Okay. Yeah. Fair enough,” Harry admits. “But I’ll still be a year behind!”
“That will not matter. You will have tutors in myself, in Sirius—” Lin smiles when Harry looks doubtful. “No, he is not nearly as foolish as he looks. Not about education. Other things, however…”
Sirius stumbles back, heart on his chest. “Merlin, woman, you certainly know how to stab a man.”
“Alex is proficient at Arithmancy, but especially knowledgeable in Runes, perhaps even more so than Hermione. You will have assistance, Harry,” Lin promises. “This will not be a path you will walk alone.”
Harry chews on his lower lip for a moment. “Music, then. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard enough of it, and I don’t have the patience to memorize artists, dates, and paintings on top of whatever history you’re going to toss at me.”
“Definitely less on goblin wars,” Sirius says again. Uh thinks that after Binns’ obsession with goblin wars, dates, names, and insult-based causes, almost anything else will seem like a cakewalk.
“I have spoken to all of your teachers. Your Head of House approves of your new schedule, though she has concerns based on your past academic performance. I told her to disregard them unless you are truly failing to learn the material she presents.” Lin pauses. “She has also volunteered—” Uh really doubts that volunteer is the correct term— “to continue your lessons in magical dueling.”
Harry raises both eyebrows in surprise. “Wow—she can—okay. Great! I think?”
“We should make it a group activity, at least the three of us. I’m not so certain the others will be all that down with dueling when they’re going to be preoccupied by a Triwizard Tournament,” Uh says.
Neville gives them a betrayed look. “Alex! I don’t want to learn to duel in the first place!”
“Target, Neville,” Uh reminds him. “If not for yourself, then for Harry.”
Neville frowns and then straightens his shoulders. “You fight dirty.”
“I fight to win,” Uh counters, pleased that they convinced him so quickly. Some days Neville is still certain that he has no spine at all.
“There is…another thing to discuss aside from your shift in education, Harry.” Lin’s arm darts out; suddenly she has Sirius grasped by the ear and has pulled him down so his face is level with hers. “Do we not, Marauder?”
Sirius is making pained faces while struggling to keep his balance. “I did a lot of things as a Marauder, Lin. You’re really going to need to be more specific!”
Lin scowls and then explains, in rather horrifying detail, what sort of people Not-a-Dog, Professor Lupin, and James Potter (along with Pettigrew) had been in school. That also includes their exploits. Much of it involved targeting Professor Snape for reasons that are so terrible that Uh would think this all a ridiculous tale—but Mum never does that. Mum doesn’t like lying. She’s more fond of scaring the pants off of people with the truth.
“Yes, fine, that all happened! What did you expect?” Sirius asks, still looking puzzled. “We were just kids. None of it meant anything.”
“And the attempt at causing Professor Snape’s death in your fifth year?” Lin asks. Uh knows by Sirius’s whimper and wince that she’s pinching his ear even harder than before.
Not-a-Dog, you complete fucking idiot, Uh thinks. This explains rather a lot about their Potions Professor’s hatred of Gryffindors. It no longer seems irrational at all—mental, given that the man obviously needs some serious therapy—but completely understandable.
Sirius’s expression turns dark and shockingly hateful. “He’s a greasy, evil git! If I’d succeeded, Remus might’ve hated me, but then that bastard would never have been able to join You-Know-Fucking-Who as a Death Eater!”
Neville is staring at Sirius like he’s never seen him before. “I—you—what?”
“Death Eater?” Harry repeats. Uh gives him a worried glance. He doesn’t sound angry or shocked, and that is one of the biggest tells with Harry Potter that they’ve figured out. This is going to be bad.
“Professor Snape was a spy against Voldemort,” Lin informs them, but she is glaring at Sirius. “You and your friends bullied others in your school for traits that they could not help. Even something as simple as being a Slytherin was enough for you. Do you not recognize how unacceptable that behavior is?”
“They were just Slytherins!” Sirius exclaims. “Most of them turned out to be Death Eaters, too! What does it matter?”
“Let me see if I have this right,” Harry says in a low voice. Lin’s expression smooths out, possibly also recognizing that there is about to be a bloody explosion. “You bullied Snape because he had funny hair, old, hand-me-down clothing, because you didn’t like where he was from, what he looked like—because he was a freak?”
Sirius tries to shrug, which is awkward considering he’s still bent over at an odd angle. “Pretty much.”
“Okay.” Harry swallows, but he doesn’t look away from Sirius. “So, when are you going to start treating me that way?”
That definitely gets Sirius’s attention. “What? What are you talking about?”
Harry’s voice drops into a hiss that is mindful of Parseltongue, but it’s still English. “You were just describing me, Sirius. So, when does it start? When do you turn around and treat me like the freak I am, just like you did to him?”
Sirius struggles to get free of Mum, but she isn’t having it. “Don’t be ridiculous! You’re nothing like that greasy, arrogant bat—”
“THAT HAT NEARLY SORTED ME INTO SLYTHERIN, BUT IT DIDN’T BECAUSE I BEGGED IT NOT TO!” Harry yells. “AND BEFORE YOU START NATTERING ABOUT EVIL SLYTHERINS, THE ONLY REASON I ASKED FOR THE HAT NOT TO PUT ME THERE IS BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT TO LIVE WITH DRACO SODDING MALFOY! SO NO, I’M NOT CURRENTLY SEEING MUCH OF A FUCKING DIFFERENCE, SIRIUS! EVERYTHING YOU HATE ABOUT HIM IS MY ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE!”
Lin finally releases Sirius, who is gaping at Harry in astonishment. Neville looks like he wants to be anywhere else. Uh would very much like to join Neville in Anywhere Else Land. “But—kiddo,” Sirius tries. “It’s really not the same thing at all.”
Harry takes a deep breath. “If you don’t get that, then you’re just like the Dursleys,” he whispers. “But at least they were always completely honest about exactly what they thought of me.” Then he vanishes with the sharp crack of Apparition.
“The fu—” Uh looks at their mother. “I didn’t think you’d taught him that yet!”
Lin shakes her head. “I did not. That was the accidental magic of one who desired very strongly to be elsewhere.” She eyes Sirius, who shrinks back from whatever he sees in her gaze. “You have broken the trust your godson placed in you. You have a great deal to learn if you are to ever have a chance at gaining it back.”
“But it’s not the same thing,” Sirius repeats plaintively.
Lin rolls her eyes. “And each time you tell yourself that, you demonstrate your failure to learn.”
Uh catches Neville’s attention and gestures with their head. It is so time to leave. He nods and follows them while Mum is still tearing into Sirius. Uh almost feels sorry for Not-a-Dog, except for the part where he’s being a complete idiot.
“Should we…maybe try to find Harry?” Neville suggests once there is a closed door between them and the adults.
“Probably.” Uh considers the places Harry has spent the most time since coming to live here. “You try your room. I’ll try the back garden. He’s either hiding or flying.”
Neville nods. “Yeah, that sounds about right. I’ll come find you outside if he’s not in our room.”
Uh watches him trot off and sighs. They really hope Harry went to their room, because if he’s outside, then Uh is the one who is going to have to deal with the bloody Feelings. They have zero experience with idiot caretakers. Idiot loved ones, since Uncle Jonathan is mental, but not—nothing like this.
What would Uh want to hear, if they were in Harry’s place?
Harry is in the air, circling the back garden at such speeds that Uh wonders how he hasn’t plastered himself against one of the manor walls. If he sees Uh, he doesn’t act like it.
Bugger. Uh grumbles all the way to the broom cupboard, selecting their customized Nimbus 2001. It can’t keep up with a Firebolt, but Uh can certainly plant themself directly in a Firebolt’s way.
If they fall into the rosebushes because Harry can’t bloody steer a broom, Uh is not above hexing an idiot into sharing the experience.
“What are you doing?” Harry screeches when he has to brake hard on the Firebolt to avoid crashing into Uh. At least that means a lack of rosebushes.
“Getting your attention. Did it work?”
“What do you want?” Harry asks, glaring.
Uh chews on their lip. Out of everything in the world, what means the most to Uh is their family. Harry, too. Maybe they know how to handle this, after all.
“I’m thinking that maybe I’m wanting to remind you that even if Not-a-Dog never gets his shit together, you’ll still be living here.”
“I—what?” Harry stares at them. “What are you talking about?”
“A lack of returning to your nasty relatives,” Uh says dryly. “You really think Mum, Granddad, and Gran would let you live with an idiot, or with those bloody awful people? You’ve practically been adopted as it is!”
“But—Sirius is my guardian,” Harry stutters. “And Dumbledore says—”
Uh snorts. “Yeah, Dumbledore can say anything he likes, but Harry, you keep forgetting something. I’m glad you forget, since it means you don’t act weird about it, but you’re still forgetting something important.”
Harry gives them a guarded, uncertain look. “What’s that?”
“My grandparents are the Lord and Lady O’Connell in the Muggle world,” Uh explains. “So first off, they can claim guardianship away from your awful relatives basically by snapping their fingers. They’re famous, high-ranked, bloody famous, and wealthy. So are my parents. Oh, and Wizarding Britain? The Bones and the Carnahan families have been allies for several centuries, so having the bloody Head of the M.L.E. in your pocket counts for a lot. Trust me, if your godfather decides to keep being stupid, it won’t be our Headmaster who decides where you live.” Uh thinks they should maybe not mention the part where Lin would likely kill Dumbledore if he tried.
Harry’s shoulders slump. “I just thought—I thought that maybe I finally had a family. I should’ve known better.”
Uh considers slapping him. “Oh, so I’m that easily overlooked again, am I?” They wish.
“What—no!” Harry blurts out, startled. “But you’re not—you’re my friend!”
Uh rolls their eyes. “Then consider it a bloody stupid upgrade. If Sirius screws it up, Mum will formally adopt you, and then you won’t have a choice anymore. You’ll be stuck with having a family full of crazy people.”
“But…” Harry looks down at his broom handle. “I haven’t—I haven’t done anything to deserve this. I haven’t done anything to earn any of you doing that sort of thing for me.”
Uh blinks a few times. “Please don’t repeat that in front of Mum, or your relatives really will be dead, if that’s the sort of idea they’ve put into your head. You think I had to earn my family? That Neville had to earn his? The Patil twins? The Greengrass sisters? Blaise? The Weasleys? Susan?”
Harry shakes his head with each stated name. “But…it’s not the same,” he whispers.
“No, that’s true enough,” Uh admits, smiling. “You’re just sort of getting swept up in my family’s wake, and once that happens, it’s best to just go along with it.”
“I got that impression, yeah.” Harry sighs. “Sirius is my godfather. I just…really wanted the last bit of family I had to really be my family.”
Uh reaches out and prods Harry’s shoulder. “I want to see Not-a-Dog remove his head from his arse, too. I mean, I kept him alive when he was ready to tear off and eat Pettigrew instead of being sensible about it. At this point, it’s an investment, and Mum probably feels the same way. He’ll learn. Or he’ll suffer interesting hexes until he starts making some serious effort to figure it out. Either way, it’ll work out. She won’t off and dump his body in the ocean.”
Harry’s head flies up, eyes wide. “I bloody well hope not!”
“No, usually it’s a volcano or something with a high acid content, if there’s anything left in the first place,” Uh teases. “But she won’t give up on him, because you love the daft twit.”
“That’s…reassuring,” Harry manages.
Uh tilts their head and grins. “Harry. Mum wouldn’t go interrogate the entire staff of a magical castle on a whim. She loves you, too.”
Harry looks boggled. “Uhm. Uh, you’re great, and your grandparents are awesome, but your mum is fucking terrifying.”
“But isn’t it nice to know that that sort of terrifying is on your side?”
“I don’t know. I mean, it’s barely been a month. No one’s really been terrifying on my behalf except for Hermione, but that’s academic-terrifying. Not really the same thing,” Harry admits. “Ask me again in about a year.”
“You’d best still be alive so I can do just that. Now please, can we land these stupid brooms now? We’re packing for Hogwarts tonight, and we’re off to school tomorrow, and we’ll be leaving all of this serious adult drama behind to replace it with stupid school drama.”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who considers Hogwarts’ drama to be stupid. Except for the deadly parts of it, I mean,” Harry says.
“Even deadly can be dramatic as long as you’re winning.”
Harry gives them an odd look. “So, did you argue with the Sorting Hat, too?”
“Not particularly.” Uh smiles. “It did mutter for a bit about Slytherin and Hufflepuff, but then it decided that the loyalty outweighed the clever conniving.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Harry admits quietly after they land. “About Sirius, I mean.”
“Good, because that’s not your job,” Neville says, startling them both. Uh thinks they are going to tie a bell to Neville’s bloody shoes. Daily. They do need a new set of pranks to be getting up to, if only to distract the Weasley twins. “The adults are supposed to fix their own problems, not make us do it.”
“Well, they’ve done a bang-up job of it so far,” Harry says in exasperation.
Neville nods agreement. “Yeah, but that was before you claimed a Hufflepuff, or vice versa. However that’s working. The O’Connells look to be into fixing anything they get their hands on. Are you guys going to date or anything, by the way?”
“What?” Uh squeaks.
Harry’s jaw drops. “Uhm. Hadn’t…planned on it?”
“Same,” Uh squeaks again.
“Okay, good. Just needed to let the others know. The Patil twins might be plotting to stalk the pair of you for Yule Ball dates,” Neville informs them. Harry continues to gape at him in bafflement.
Uh is feeling far more practical about it. That would solve the lack of dating problem rather nicely.
There is no harm, however, in stringing the twins along for as long as bloody possible in revenge.
* * * *
Their train compartment on the Hogwarts Express back to school is a bit crowded that year. Uh is crammed in next to Harry and Blaise, with the Patil twins shoved in next to them. The other seat is hosting Astoria, Hermione, Neville, Ron, and Ginny. Daphne, of course, is having to tolerate the other Slytherin girls of her year, and looked as if she was marching off for a firing squad when she left to seek them out.
Luna Lovegood is lying on the floor of their compartment, wearing a pair of silly looking spectacles and reading The Quibbler upside down. Susan is lying next to her, making serious noises when Luna points out things of apparent interest. It all sounds like madness, but Susan has a self-admitted great fondness for authors like Lewis Carroll.
Uh didn’t have time to plan out their idea of seeking out and adding the other Ravenclaw to their odd group. Luna invited them all into her empty compartment as if they’d been planning it all summer long—especially since Uh didn’t tell Luna who to invite. She just bloody knew.
Luna should go to the Yule Ball, too, Uh decides. They’ll have to owl home and make arrangements for Luna to see their tailor to give her dress robes for the occasion. Perhaps with shoes magicked so they can’t be stolen by idiots.
“You’ve all heard about the Triwizard Tournament, yes?” Luna asks, unexpectedly lowering her paper so she can look at them through her spectacles.
“Yeah.” Blaise draws out the sound of the word. “How’d you come about knowing, Lovegood?”
“Oh, my father told me,” Luna replies serenely. “I tried to tell a few of the other students while waiting for the train this morning, but no one believed me.”
“That’s because half of what you spout sounds like complete madness,” Padma says frankly.
Luna isn’t bothered. “Everyone’s view of the world is quite different from what they expect of those around them. It’s how the brain works, and magic stirs that up a bit. Think of it in terms of basilisks. Some people see monsters. Some people see tools. Others, like Professor Hagrid, see beauty. It’s all a matter of perspective, anyway.”
“I get that,” Neville says unexpectedly. “I think a lot of my plants are amazing, but most folks are just worried about how many of them might eat them.” He smiles. “To be fair, a lot of them would, but it’s just how they are. It’s not like it would be deliberate. Usually.”
“I don’t think Voldemort has any other perspective aside from evil, though,” Harry says.
Luna seems to concede the point, but most everyone else flinches. “Mate, I really wish you would leave off with saying that man’s name,” Blaise requests. “I know Dumbledore says it, but Dumbledore is mental.”
“He’s the one who told me that it’s just a name, and we shouldn’t give it power!” Harry protests.
“Okay. He’s right, and he’s wrong,” Uh says. “Even I’m careful about where I’ll say that man’s name. In Hogwarts is fine, and in my own home. Otherwise? I’d rather avoid it. Names have power, whether we like it or not.”
“There is also the difficulty of the Taboo Curse,” Susan speaks up from her place on the floor. “If You-Know-Who were capable of gaining enough strength to reactivate it, then he would know if anyone said his name anywhere in Britain. Then he could find them, and do…well. Things.”
Harry stares at them all. “Wait. You mean there is an actual real reason why people say You-Know-Who and that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named crap?”
Every Pure-blood looks at each other in alarm, especially when Hermione doesn’t immediately spout off with how you can find that information in a book. “Oh, shit,” Astoria squeaks. “I mean—oh. Dung. Dung beetles!”
“None of you know. Not you lot who were Muggle-raised or sort-of-Muggle-raised.” Blaise runs his hand down his face, more disturbed than Uh has ever seen. “How could they not have told anyone that? It’s dangerous!”
“They assumed everyone knew,” Susan says bitterly. “If everyone from the war generation knew, then obviously they would tell their kids, and then everything is just fine!”
“Except for the part where there is a significant percentage of children within Hogwarts who are Muggle-born.” Hermione looks furious. “That is just—I know Hogwarts has a loose hand with student safety, but that is reckless endangerment!”
“I wonder if we could convince the Wizengamot to sue for that,” Uh wonders aloud.
“Probably not,” Susan responds. “I bet Aunt Amelia would love the idea, but she wouldn’t be able to get the Wizengamot to go for it on behalf of Muggle-borns. Not enough interest from a Pure-blood dominated audience. Twits.”
“But the education part, maybe. People should know!” Hermione insists.
“Yeah. They really should,” Ron says. “That’s bloody terrifying. I just always thought you were either really brave, or really mental, mate.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”
Uh perks up and smiles. “Harry. We’ll make your sort-of-godparent take care of it.”
“Huh? Oh, you mean Remus?” Harry brightens. “You think he’ll go for it?”
“If he’s as competent as he acted last year, then he’d be a daft fuck not to immediately tell every single DADA student he has,” Blaise says dryly. “Does this mean we have an in with our DADA teacher, Potter?”
Harry lifts his arms in a frustrated shrug. “I don’t know! They still haven’t bothered to tell me what sort-of-a-godparent even bloody means!”
“Probably because Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were dating,” Luna says in a matter-of-fact tone.
They all stare down at her. “Wait. What?” Astoria squeaks again.
“Dating. Daddy told me,” Luna replies, smiling. “I don’t know if they still are, but during the war, before things got really bad, they were talking about marriage and everything.”
“Blokes can marry each other in Wizarding Britain?” Harry asks blankly.
Blaise slaps his hands over his eyes. “Oh, Merlin. Seriously, Harry—we’re really going to get you up to snuff on the basics this year!”
None of them except Uh and Neville understand why Harry immediately groans and tries to beat himself in the face with the snatched-up copy of Luna’s Quibbler.
Chapter 9: Planted Messages
Harry thinks that having Snape as an ally isn't any more comforting than having Snape as an enemy.
“Hogwarts again, Hogwarts again, jiggity jog,” Uh mutters under their breath.
“Isn’t it supposed to be ‘home again’ or something?” Harry asks curiously. “My aunt wasn’t big on sharing the nursery rhymes with me the way she did with my cousin.”
“I would not want to live in Hogwarts,” Uh says bluntly. “Which is why I changed the rhyme.”
Harry tilts his head as they approach the thestral-led carriages. Uh sees that Luna is already seated inside the one they chose; at least one of their fellow passengers will not be a wanker. “I dunno. I wouldn’t mind living here,” Harry says.
“Harry, every single year of school so far, someone has tried to murder you here,” Uh reminds him.
Harry shrugs at Uh as he climbs into the carriage. “Yeah, but otherwise it really hasn’t been that bad. And nobody tried to murder me last year.”
“That’s because Peter Pettigrew, through strange and mysterious circumstances, ended up in a cage on the desk of Madam Bones in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Otherwise, yes, he totally would have tried to kill you, you tit.”
Harry snickers. “You’re going to have to be more careful this year with your language, what with that curse of being unnoticed gone. Teachers might notice that you are, uh…mouthy.”
Uh glares at him after they’re seated. “Thank you for reminding me before we set foot inside the castle that I’m not going to like our fourth year.”
Luna laughs, like delicate tinkling bells. “The nargles do think it’s going to be an odd year, and they’ve not been wrong yet.”
“That’s not helping!” Uh exclaims. “Oh, I forgot to ask: how’d the hunt for the rumple-horned thing go, anyway?”
“Crumple-Horned Snorkack!” Luna corrects them, and then sighs. “Not well, I’m afraid. Father was so disappointed.”
Blaise, Neville, Hermione, and Ron cram themselves into the carriage, filling it up beyond capacity. Uh is squished between Harry and Neville, so isn’t nearly so panicked about the proximity as they might have been. “All good on the ride to school?” Blaise asks casually.
“No Dementors, no serial killers, no You-Know-Who, no possessed teachers. So far, so good,” Harry replies, grinning. “It was like first year instead of…well. The car. And the Dementors.”
“We should probably go check on the car one day,” Ron muses aloud. “I mean, it’s a feral Ford Anglia in the Forbidden Forest. Coolness factor aside, I feel kind of bad for it being stuck in there with all the bloody spiders.”
My friends are mental, Uh thinks. Then they add, And so am I, because they really want to see proof of a magical and sentient but feral Ford Anglia that once crashed into an equally sentient, bad-tempered bloody willow tree.
The Sorting part of the Feast is nice. Uh is always fine with welcoming new members to their House, as long as they don’t have to actually People at them. Besides, Peopling at the Firsties is for the Prefects, and Uh refuses to be one.
(Uh sat down with Professor Sprout in their first term and told their Head of House in no uncertain terms was Uh to ever be considered for Prefect, because Uh would rebel and take all the plants with them. Professor Sprout wisely agreed that Prefecting would be left to someone else.)
The rest of the ceremonial parts of the Feast is so full of moaning and groaning about the lack of Quidditch, followed by excited babble about the stupid Tournament, that Uh can’t hear a blasted thing except echoing voices. They put their head down on the table and groan. It makes them so glad they outgrew their stupidity for danger before Hogwarts, because risking death for a trophy you don’t even get to keep is fucking daft.
Somewhere in Dumbledore’s announcement is news about how two other wizarding schools will arrive in time for the Tournament’s announced competitors—one from each school—and then spend the rest of the year at Hogwarts. Something something international relations something something. Uh is not impressed because they’re both European schools. If Wizarding Britain really wanted international relations, they’d invite the Egyptians or the Nubians or the Japanese or anyone that wasn’t so blatantly Western European.
Only two members of Uh’s new group of friends (still baffling, Help) Hermione and Blaise, understand the problem. Uh lets the entire rant spill out without even thinking overly much about it, and then it’s picked up by Hermione, who’s mixed-race but never said what races, and Blaise, who is a black Italian.
Harry looks down at his pale brown skin while the ranting continues and seems uncomfortable. He gets it, Uh knows, because his aunt and uncle were horrible people that Uh’s mother still wants to murder, but it’s the politics of it all that are new.
Uh thinks maybe they should save lessons in politics for next year. Harry is already half-convinced he’s going to fail out of Hogwarts this term.
Speaking of Hogwarts.
The owls are the same, and Uh is honestly contemplating vengeance against one of the Wizarding Post owls for constantly voiding in the bacon rashers before Uh can get to them. A few more of their Housemates speak to Uh than they’re used to, but Uh solves a lot of that problem by hiding behind Susan.
The professors are not the same. It’s blasted annoying, and Uh hates it.
They’re all paying attention to them like Uh is a new student they’ve never seen before. Or maybe like Uh is a new lifeform they’ve never encountered. Half of them don’t remember that it’s Mx., not Miss, during the first week of term, and that makes Uh grind their teeth. They’ve been having thoughts about their gender again of late, probably because puberty is stupid, but they want to make that decision for themself, not have a bunch of half-brained adults force it on them.
Uh might never like the man, but they’ll give him this: Professor Snape never makes that blunder. Not from the first day. He’s also the only adult in the castle who Uh suspects is studying them like an insect under a microscope for an entirely different reason.
In the middle of the third week of September, Uh finds out why. “Mx. O’Connell. Please remain after class.”
Uh tries not to wince. Professor Snape never keeps students after class unless he wants to rip into them. They know that he does it to the Gryffindors in front of everyone, but the other three Houses are granted sort-of-privacy when they bungle a potion.
Uh is running the entire day’s work through their head, trying to figure out what they did wrong, when the classroom door slams shut. Professor Snape lowers his wand and then gestures, sort of politely, for Uh to approach.
They don’t move until Professor Snape rolls his eyes and puts his wand away. They aren’t that fucking stupid, thank you.
“A Hufflepuff with self-preservation. I’d call it a miracle in line with a Gryffindor demonstrating the same, but that was before I discovered your parentage,” Professor Snape says after Uh is standing before his desk.
“Right. What was wrong with the stupid potion, sir?”
Professor Snape gives them a flat look. “The potion is not stupid, Mx. O’Connell.”
“Angel’s Trumpet Draught has absolutely zero use unless you consider it practice for making the Trace Tonic, and at that point you might as well be skipping the useless potion and learning to brew the tonic, instead.”
“The Angel’s Trumpet Draught doesn’t contain Erumpent Horn,” Professor Snape counters smoothly. “I am not allowing fourth-years to destroy my classroom and possibly half of this school due to their ineptitude.”
Uh wants to argue, but he has a point. A lot of Uh’s fellow students really are that careless. “If I didn’t do anything wrong, sir, then what do you want?” They need to be on time to Arithmancy. Harry is still panicking in class because of the maths involved in learning Arithmancy, because his aunt and uncle forbade him from doing well enough in school to learn it proper, and at this rate, if Mum doesn’t kill Vernon and Petunia Dursley, Uh might do it themself.
“I am asking if you are willing to pass a verbal message along to your mother.”
“Oh.” Uh resettles their bag on their shoulder. “I take it you read up on my grandparents and think it’s genetic.”
“I know intelligence often does not prove to be genetic, and neither do the traits of a spy, but I highly doubt a student carrying a Muggle pistol in their bag has not been taught at least the basics of spycraft,” Professor Snape says.
Uh isn’t stupid. That wasn’t necessarily a threat, just blackmail. “Right. Secret message-passing. What do you want me to tell her? No, wait, why are you bothering with me for this?”
“I noticed on your first day of class that you were a fully trained Occlumens. That is rare outside of Pureblood circles, and thus I have paid attention to you.” Professor Snape pauses. “Oddly, it’s been easier to focus upon you this year, Mx. O’Connell.”
Uh slumps in place. They miss that stupid curse. “Right.”
“Also, you have always acted as if you are a capable young adult instead of a foolish brat. If more parents raised magical children to behave similar to yourself, I would have far fewer destructive incidents to face on a daily basis.”
It’s probably a good thing he never noticed the pranks. Uh is going to have to be a lot more subtle from now on. Or make certain they’re not the guilty party. “Right. Message, sir?”
“I will accept Madam Lin’s terms only if she meets two of mine: that I am guaranteed freedom from Azkaban or other forms of Ministry retaliation, and that I be allowed to retain my post here until I choose to resign it of my own volition.”
Uh thinks about it. Bloody hell, they’re going to be late to Arithmancy. Maybe Hermione and Susan will be able to keep Harry calm when the numbers start flying. Literally. “I know my mum, Professor. She’ll agree to one term, but not both. Not unless you’ve got something to offer her to pay for the second term.”
Professor Snape looks uncomfortable. “I have no sufficient means to bribe anyone, particularly someone of Madam Lin’s existing fortune and talents. Is there anything your mother wants that I am capable of acquiring, instead?”
“Actually—yeah.” Uh is about to be the luckiest Hufflepuff ever, or run into a brick wall. “Mum really wants to know what that prophecy says about Harry, sir. She asked the Headmaster, but he just, and I’m quoting, twinkled at her. I’m pretty sure Mum hates him.”
Professor Snape props his elbows on his desk and presses his hands together. He looks to be plotting, which is a lot more terrifying than him yelling at people. “That really does force me to choose a side, doesn’t it?” he murmurs. Uh is glad they have a mother who tells them things, because they know exactly what the professor is thinking about.
“Tell Madam Lin that I am able to tell her this prophecy she seeks…and in trade for another favor in the future, I can also tell her how to seek out the only existing copy so she can confirm I spoke truly.”
Uh knows both of their eyebrows just flew up in surprise. “Sure. Got it. I’ll let her know, sir.”
They’ve almost escaped the classroom, head whirling with way too much intrigue that they never, ever wanted to deal with at school, when Professor Snape stops them. “Mx. O’Connell.”
“What is it, sir?”
“If I presented you with the fourth-year exam, would you take it in order to test out of this class and concentrate on fifth-year Potions studies?”
Uh turns around, baffled by the offer. “Why would I want to do that?”
Professor Snape rolls his eyes. “We’re both aware that you were raised by a Potions Master and are perfectly capable of brewing everything in your current textbook. You’re wasting your time, and I despise waste. Even if you do not continue into N.E.W.T. studies, at least you would not find my class to be dull.”
Uh feels their face heat. Potions has been dull since day one because of their mum making certain Uh could brew pretty much anything, just like Lin could at the same age. “Only in trade, sir.”
“You should have been a Slytherin,” Professor Snape responds. “Terms?”
“Tell me what tipped you off to the pistol in my bag.” Uh already knows he won’t tell anyone about it, or make them get rid of it. Mum came home from her interview with Hogwarts’ Potions Master certain of two things. The first: Professor Severus Snape loathed teaching, which Uh could have told her. The second: Professor Snape doesn’t want Voldemort to kill Harry, if only out of obligation to a dead childhood friend—and the professor is spitefully frustrated at feeling like he’s been fighting that battle alone. Having allies who are proactive, Mum was certain, is what will convince the professor to reconsider his options.
Granddad said you couldn’t get more proactive than a pistol unless you had a pistol and a wand. Uh carries around a pistol, a wand, and a knife at all times, so they figure they’re ahead of the game.
Snape probably thinks the gun is useless anyway because magic. That belief, that lack of concern, is likely saving them from a detention, though, so Uh doesn’t care.
“Gunpowder, Mx. O’Connell,” Professor Snape says at his driest. “It has an odor.”
“BUGGER!” Uh swears, and then grits their teeth. Scent. They forgot the masking charms for scents. “I knew I forgot something. Thank you, sir. I’ll be fixing that.”
“Don’t shoot anyone who doesn’t deserve it,” is his parting comment.
Uh only nods in response. They never want to shoot anyone, but they’re a Carnahan-O’Connell. The odds aren’t in their favor.
Also, that was probably the weirdest conversation they’ve ever had with a teacher in their entire life. What with their mum being one of Uh’s teachers, that’s saying a lot.
Uh has made it to the ground floor by the time Neville finds them. It’s sort of obvious he’s coming; he’s making a lot of noise. His shoes are trailing long strands of sleigh bells.
“Dammit, Uh!” Neville yells. “This has gotta stop!”
Uh grins. “What does, Neville?”
Nobody notices Fred and George in the background, high-fiving each other and cackling. Their Sticking Charms are the best in Hogwarts.
* * * *
In the first week of October, Uh slides a note into Harry’s hand as they pass him on the bridge. Uh is heading off to Herbology, and Harry, who just came from there, almost wants to warn them, but it’s Uh. Madam Lin probably prepared Uh for all the weird Herbology shit while Uh was still in diapers or something.
Once he’s inside the castle, Harry finds an alcove and unfolds the note, hoping it’s short and not an emergency. Snape might kill him if he’s late to Potions.
Snape and Mum are dating.
He stares at the note blankly for a moment before his brain kicks in. That isn’t literally happening, it’s just a code. Living with spies would be so wicked if all the spying wasn’t about keeping a madman from murdering him.
For whatever reason, however they worked it out, Snape has tossed his lot in with Madam Lin and the O’Connells. Snape’s an utter bastard, but Madam Lin wouldn’t tolerate him if there wasn’t a good reason.
Probably, anyway. Madam Lin is sort of terrifyingly practical.
Still. If Snape is choosing this, that really does mean he doesn’t want Harry dead. It also makes Harry wonder why Snape would quietly ditch Dumbledore, and that’s terrifying to contemplate right before a Potions class. He shoves that right out of his mind for now, because he can’t afford the distraction. He’s bad at Potions, needs to be better, and that means…
After what Madam Lin told him, and what happened over the summer, this means Harry really needs to have a conversation with Snape that isn’t just the two of them screaming at each other. Bollocks.
Harry waits until Potions is ending, and is slower to clean up and pack up than everyone else. Snape isn’t suspicious at all; Harry usually has more of a mess to clean up, anyway, often because some arsehole Slytherin tossed something into his cauldron that didn’t belong.
“Harry?” Hermione whispers. She slings her bag over her shoulder, a clear signal that she thinks it’s time to get out of Snape’s classroom before he starts taking points for dawdling.
“Go on. I need to…” Harry tries not to make a face. “Speak to him. Privately.”
Hermione considers it, nods, and then drags Ron off with her when he starts to protest that Snape and Private could also mean Hexed Within An Inch Of His Bloody Life. Harry doesn’t think Ron is that far off, really, but he still needs to do it.
“Mister Potter.” Snape is suddenly there, looming over him in disapproval. “Why are you still here? There is certainly another class waiting for your illustrious presence.”
Harry bites back the urge to yell. Madam Lin warned him, and he gets it now, but it still sucks—he has to be polite. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Snape’s glacial expression doesn’t change at all. “Granted, though I may still take points depending on what it is you are so insistent on discussing. I warn you that if it is your grade that concerns you, you will have to amend that matter with effort.”
“You’d take points anyway,” Harry mutters. He takes his glasses off, rubs his nose where the new nose pads have been digging in, and puts them back on so he can bloody well see. “I get it. I understand, maybe more than you’d really want me to. But I’m not my father, Snape. I’m not her, either. I’m just me. It would be nice if everyone else would remember that, too, but I’m fine with starting that battle with you. Sir.”
Snape stares down at him. Still nothing on his face, still nothing to tell Harry that Snape was even listening to him. “Are you suggesting that I should be nice to you, Mister Potter?”
Harry snorts in derisive amusement. “I don’t think you know how to be nice. Look. All I know about my mum and dad is that they were awful children who grew up to be decent parents. That’s it. Good parents; terrible students. I grew up listening to my Aunt Petunia natter on about how my father’s drinking problem got them both killed in a car crash, so there wasn’t exactly beaming enlightenment coming from that direction, either. I can’t fling my dead parents at you as a shield because I don’t know who they were, but you act like…like I grew up with them, and that I should…”
He trails off. He can’t finish that sentence; he doesn’t have the words. Also, he might be ready to cry in frustration. He can’t take another year of war with his bloody Potions teacher, not with everything else he’s meant to be doing and learning. He’ll settle for Snape leaving him the hell alone.
There is a tense silence that stretches on far too long, and Harry hates it, but he can’t retreat. He grew up with people who taught him that you never back down, not when things are like this. That just makes it worse later.
“She was not.”
Harry blinks a few times. “I—what?”
Snape looks irritated. “Your mother. She was not a terrible person. She had a ferocious temper, and held grudges with a fury that rarely abated, but she was not…awful. I still do not understand what James Potter could possibly have done to earn her forgiveness so she would deign to speak to him, let alone date and marry the idiot.”
Grudges. Several things slot into place at once, but then, Harry has always been pretty good at puzzle-solving. “You couldn’t figure it out, could you? How to get her to forgive you for whatever it was that pissed her off.”
Snape glowers at him. “Get out, Mister Potter.”
Harry sighs and hefts his bookbag. “Getting out, sir.”
He turns around in the classroom doorway. Snape hasn’t moved, and still looks as bad-tempered as always. “Your recent academic…enthusiasm. Why?”
“Why’d I suddenly start taking more classes and learning more magic?” Harry shrugs. “Before this summer, no one ever cared what I did in school as long as I wasn’t actually murdering anyone.” Snape flinches at that, but it’s so slight Harry might have imagined it. “The trouble with people giving a fuck is that suddenly they want you to be educated and maybe not die because of Voldemort. I figured it was worth a shot.”
“Ten points from Gryffindor for language,” Snape utters flatly. “Do you recall the three plants I asked you to identify on your first day in this classroom?”
“When you reamed me out for taking notes about what you were talking about?” Harry almost rolls his eyes, but decides ten points is probably enough to lose. “Yeah, I’ve never forgotten, and it’s four, not three. Asphodel, wormwood, a bezoar, and aconite.”
“A bezoar is not a plant.”
“But it’s made from whatever a goat eats, and goats eat plants, sir,” Harry points out.
Snape looks like he wants to strangle him. “Excellent. Reasoning,” he grates out. “Do you know anything of the Victorian methods of sharing messages by plants?”
“I’ve heard of it, but never could find a book about it in the library in Little Whinging.”
The strangling desire seems to lessen. He hopes. “Why were you already interested in such a thing?”
“Aunt Petunia made me do all her gardening. I figured it would be nice if I could tell her exactly what I thought of her with flowers and she’d never know.”
Snape lifts an eyebrow in his precise, dismissive way. “That, Mister Potter, is very Slytherin of you.”
Harry has been sitting on this gem since his very first day in Hogwarts, wondering if he’d ever get to use it. Maybe now is the best time—maybe the only time. “You should thank Draco Malfoy, sir.”
The eyebrow climbs another centimeter. “Why should I be thanking Mister Malfoy for anything, Potter?”
“Because if he hadn’t acted like a complete prick on the train that first year, I’d be in your House.” Harry smiles when Snape’s composure falters into what he’s pretty sure is gaping shock, or at least his version of it. “Cheers, Professor. I have to get to class so I’m not late!”
He’s halfway up the corridor away from the classroom door when he hears Snape roar, “FIFTEEN POINTS FROM GRYFFINDOR FOR IDIOCY!”
Harry should be angry about that. Normally it would bloody infuriate him.
For some reason, today it doesn’t bother him at all.
When he goes up to his dormitory that evening, there is a small bundle of plants on his bed. Harry skirts his bed carefully, examining the bundle from all angles, and then tests it with his wand. Madam Lin’s training is making him paranoid, but the O’Connells keep telling him it’s not paranoia when people have already tried to kill you, and they’re not done trying yet.
Harry picks up the bundle and sorts through it with a quick glance. Asphodel, aconite, and wormwood.
Why are people leaving Potions ingredients on his bed—
Potions. Plant language. Snape mentioned plant language. Harry didn’t mention that afternoon that he’d studied plant language when he got to Hogwarts just after discovering that Hogwarts’ library did have a book on the subject. Hogwarts’ library has an entire row of books about plant language, and Harry wanted to learn it, so he did, and it stuck. He didn’t give a crap about passing History of Magic that year, anyway.
Asphodel, aconite, and wormwood. Asphodel is for remembrance of the dead, or…regret, sometimes. Aconite is a caution, or a warning about a deadly foe, which Harry thinks is rather fucking obvious. Wormwood means absence, but it can also be used in protection potions. Then there’s the whole “named after Artemis” thing, the goddess of the hunt, archery, the moon, forests…
Ugh. He doesn’t know what this is supposed to mean.
No. Stop and think, idiot, Harry reminds himself. Asphodel is a lily.
Regret for Lily’s death. Okay. That part’s nice to know.
Then the caution, but…Snape’s not warning him about Voldemort. That’d be too obvious. It’s something else, or someone else. A werewolf, maybe? Not that Harry is all that bothered by werewolves, but a lot of wizards are freaked out by the idea.
The wormwood is a reminder that Snape’s been saving his arse since Harry’s first term.
Harry puts the plant bundle on his nightstand and sulks. Snape didn’t have to be so bloody sarcastic about that part.
Chapter 10: Prophecy
That really isn’t going to help the dating rumors, but right now, Uh doesn’t care. They have bigger, deadlier things to worry about.
Mum turns up the day before the other schools are set to arrive, Saturday morning on 29th October. Uh doesn’t know anything about it until someone comes to fetch them from their dormitory, gives them a scrap of paper, and tells them to go to the Headmaster’s office.
Ugh. Uh would rather jump out of a tower than go up there, but it’s the Headmaster, so they go.
Harry meets them at the bottom of the stairs in front of the weird gargoyle statue. “Do you know what’s going on?”
Mum is standing next to the hearth, arms folded, looking very pleased with herself. Dumbledore is twinkling like the star in the nursery rhyme, giving Uh a headache. Harry flinches a bit, as if he picks up on it, too.
Legilimency. The Headmaster wants to know if they know what Mum is up to. Uh is not impressed, but the Carnahan urge to tell the Headmaster to sod off is tempered by their mother’s presence.
“Madam Lin has asked permission to take the two of you to the Ministry today. I’m told you’ll be meeting Sirius there, Harry,” Dumbledore says. When Harry stares at him, Dumbledore seems to sigh before continuing. “I’m not certain why Mx. O’Connell’s presence is also necessary, but as it is not a school day, I see no reason to deny the request.”
“How kind of you,” Uh says, and they mostly manage to keep the sarcasm out of the words. “Hello, Mum. You could’ve warned me.”
“I did not feel the need.” Madam Lin waves her hand and turns the flames in the fireplace Floo Green without using the powder. It creeps out Western wizards, which is funny. Dumbledore simply looks fascinated. It’s legitimate, too, not his weird twinkly thing. “Come along, both of you.”
Harry shrugs. “Ministry of Magic?”
Mum nods. “Yes, Harry.”
“Great. I hate the Floo,” Harry mutters under his breath, but he steps into the fireplace and vanishes. Uh loves the Floo, because it’s one of the most interesting sensations ever, so they hurry into it and announce their intended destination with far too much glee.
When Uh arrives in the Ministry atrium, Harry is picking himself up off the floor. “I hate the bloody Floo!” he declares in a growl.
“If that’s how you come out of it, I don’t really blame you,” Uh grants him. Harry isn’t clumsy. Maybe the twisty parts don’t agree with him? Dad always says the Floo gives him vertigo…
“Ah, you’re both ready. Let’s go,” Mum says from behind them.
“When do we learn what we’re doing here?” Harry asks. Uh just follows their mum; they know from experience that they’ll find out eventually.
“Not yet, please,” Mum requests, and Harry falls silent.
They get their wands measured and tagged and proceed to the lifts. Not-a-Dog is waiting there, hands crammed into the pockets of denims instead of trousers. He probably wore them just to upset any Pure-bloods they might walk past in the Ministry.
“Hey, kiddo,” Sirius says quietly. “I’m sorry about…things.”
Harry bites his lip. “Is this progress, or is this I want to talk to my godson?”
“Bit of both. More the latter, really,” Sirius admits.
“Thanks for being honest about it, then,” Harry says, and a lot of the tension between them drops away. Uh lets out a relieved sigh, glad that the two of them managed to figure out Feelings on their own this time.
The lift takes them down, down, down—sideways for a bit—and then down some more. Mum doesn’t lead them out until the lift announces that they’re on the floor for the Department of Mysteries.
Uh tries not to light up in delight. The Department of Mysteries is one of the only places they would consider trying to work for in the Ministry. They’re the ones with all of the fascinating magical secrets that they won’t bloody share. It would really be nice to know if Uh is getting somewhere with their thoughts about how magic actually works.
Or maybe they’re about to discover that the Department is a load of bollocks. Either way, today has just officially become awesome.
“Why’re we down here?” Harry asks as they follow Sirius and Madam Lin.
“You are here to view a prophecy,” a robed and cloaked figure says. Uh glares at them for the melting-out-of-the-wall trick. British wizards are so bloody dramatic. “Your legal guardians have requested you be allowed to access this prophecy, as you and one other are the only two beings allowed to do so.”
Harry looks bewildered. “Prophecy? Okay. Uhm—why’s that? The last part, I mean.”
“Because the prophecy is about you, of course,” the possible Unspeakable replies. Uh is just making guesses, since Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole didn’t bother to introduce themself.
Uh is smiling until they see the look on Mum’s face…and that Mum is sharing that too-serious expression with Not-a-Dog. That means the prophecy Professor Snape told Mum about probably isn’t a nice one.
Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole escorts Harry into a room filled with glass globes lining endless shelves. That’s all they’re allowed to see of the room before the door is shut in their faces. Uh rolls their eyes and huffs out an annoyed sigh.
When Harry comes back, he’s holding a small cloth sack with a rounded shape sitting at the bottom of it. “You said there was a private room where I could view this thing,” Harry says to Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole. “Show me to the room, please. Also, they’re all coming with me.”
“Only you are meant to view this prophecy,” Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole declares.
Harry scowls. “It’s my prophecy and they’re my family, so I say they stay with me. Or I just drop this sack and shatter the stupid prophecy so you don’t have a copy of it anymore. I don’t really care which.”
Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole makes a grindy sort of noise. “Very well, then.” He shows them to a private room, one with cushioned chairs surrounding a table with a divot in it. “Do not let any of the others touch the prophecy globe. It is cursed to all but you, and the other of whom the prophecy speaks.”
“Cursed globe, don’t touch. Got it,” Sirius says, and then shuts the door in Dramatic Cloaked Arsehole’s face. Uh approves.
“Now will someone tell me what the hell is going on?” Harry asks. Uh takes a step sideways. Harry and Patience apparently do not get on well when Hallowe’en is only two days away.
If I knew my Dad died on Hallowe’en, I’d probably be tetchy, too, Uh thinks, but doesn’t offer sympathy. Even their terrible grasp of Feelings knows that it’s the wrong time for it.
“And what’s with this legal guardians, plural?” Harry adds. “Because I heard that, and I thought we’d all agreed that I would be part of those kinds of decisions.”
“I’m sorry, kiddo. We had to push it through in a rush before anyone got any ideas.” Sirius sits down next to Harry, even though Harry is still standing. “You’re still my kid, even if you’re angry with me right now. Rightfully angry, probably. But You-Know-Who is alive, and that means the last war never bloody ended. Something could happen to me, and I won’t leave you without a family again, Harry. I won’t let anyone leave you to fend for yourself, or worse, think it a grand idea that you go back to the Dursleys.”
“You are already part of our family,” Madam Lin says to Harry, “even if it was not a legal adoption. Sirius Black arranged for Rick, Evelyn, and myself to be your legally binding guardians if he is incapacitated or killed due to You-Know-Who’s future actions, but we are also now your secondary guardians if Sirius is unavailable to act on your behalf.”
“Which means that Uh is kind of your sibling now,” Sirius adds.
Uh’s eyes widen. “What?”
Harry glances at them and grins. “Okay, surprise and me being horrified about the idea of Sirius dying aside, the expression on your face right now is hilarious. Seriously, is the idea that horrifying?”
“There are already rumors that we’re dating, Harry. If anyone finds out that you’re legally sort-of-family, those rumors are going to get creepy.”
Harry pulls a face. “Okay, yeah, good point. So, skipping that, going back to this prophecy thing. Neither of you look happy about it.”
“We were told of the prophecy by a new ally,” Mum says, which Uh automatically takes to mean Snape. Given the expression Harry develops a moment later, he’s caught onto that part, too. “It is a very unkind prophecy in regards to those born at the end of July in 1980. We are here to listen to the original to be certain we have been told the truth.”
“Do you think you were told the truth?” Harry asks curiously.
Mum tilts her head as she considers the question. “Our ally spoke the prophecy he knew of to me, and believed he was being truthful. He was not trying to hide anything regarding its words or its nature. If there is further information to be had, it is information he does not hold.”
“Okay. Good enough. Let’s hear the bad news, then.” Harry upends the bag over the table, letting the prophecy globe fall into the table divot with a loud thunk. Then he reaches out and lays his finger on the globe, which seems to be the thing’s signal to start talking.
The fact that it’s Trelawney’s ghostly green head to rise up out of the lit-up globe is just…annoying. Harry scowls, but before he can comment, ghost-Trelawney opens her mouth and starts croaking out words.
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. The Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives. The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”
Harry yanks his finger away from the globe when ghost-Trelawney starts repeating herself. “I thought she was a charlatan.”
“Yes and no,” Mum answers. “Sybill Trelawney has a genuine gift for prophecy, but she does not know how to properly utilize it. She most certainly does not understand how to teach it. What you have witnessed is most often referred to as Casandra’s Fate, and it is a rare gift. You could read about it in books, but none would do the actual event justice.”
“Cassandra, more properly Κασσανδρα, was a Trojan Princess, a Greek prophetess whose prophecies were always true, but no one believed her,” Not-a-Dog says, though he looks visibly disturbed. “The bit about Cassandra’s Fate isn’t an accurate name because it got mixed up with the tale of the first Oracle of Delphi. Everyone did believe her, but she never remembered her prophecies after she spoke them. If they were naming it right, they’d call it the Oracle’s Curse, but that’s Wizarding Britain for you.”
Harry stares at Sirius. “Okay. I believe you about the swot bit, now.”
Sirius shrugs. “I took Divination, too. No talent for it, but I liked the subject enough to read more about it. It was Professor Thorn in those days, not Trelawney. Complete charlatan—I mean entirely talentless—but the library was always more useful than Thorn was, anyway.”
“Okay, so…summarizing, here,” Harry says. “Trelawney gave a prophecy that I’m assuming was meant for me, Neville, and Uh, since we’re the only Hogwarts kids born in July.”
“The only ones. No others at all?” Mum frowns. “I knew that only the three of you were born at the end of that month. I didn’t know the rest of the month was barren of other births.”
“It was the war,” Sirius says. “A lot of people were too busy fighting for their lives to have kids. It’s why Hogwarts has so few students right now. Give it another few years and that post-war population boom will be crowding the halls.”
“I hope we’ve graduated by then,” Uh mumbles, because Nope. Hogwarts already has too many people. They don’t want to deal with more of them.
“You-Know-Who picked me, which means Neville and Uh were safe after that.” Harry frowns, brow furrowing the same way it does when he’s yelling at his Arithmancy to bloody well make sense already. “Except that can’t be entirely true. Death Eaters went after Neville’s parents. Why didn’t they kill Neville when that happened?”
“Neville gave you very few details of his parents’ fate, as discussing it makes him feel the weight of failure that his grandmother expects of him. Yes, that is the reason why your grandmother despises Augusta Longbottom,” Mum says to Uh, who shudders. No wonder Neville believes he doesn’t have a spine. “Neville’s parents were excellent Aurors who fought during this isle’s most recent magical war, which he himself admitted to you,” Mum explains. “Frank and Alice Max Longbottom were friends of your parents, and of Sirius and Remus, among many others. They were attacked after your infant self ‘defeated’ You-Know-Who, early in November. At that point, it was not about prophecy. It was about revenge. The only reason Neville did not suffer their fate, or worse, is because his parents were still wisely sheltering their son within Longbottom Manor, which one does not approach without direct invitation unless one wishes to die.”
“Neville said that they were in permanent hospice care,” Harry whispers. “What did the Death Eaters do to them?”
“Cruciatus Curse,” Sirius answers in a flat voice. He isn’t looking at anyone, his jaw clenched in distress. “Not just once. Not just twice. My fucking nutter cousin tortured them with that curse until it broke their minds.”
Harry takes that in quietly before asking, “Your cousin?”
“Bellatrix Black Lestrange, spouse of Rodolphus Lestrange, sister-in-law of Rabastan Lestrange. They’re all still enjoying the hospitality of Azkaban.” Sirius swallows with a clicking sound that echoes in the small room. “Cousin Bellatrix is the second-most dangerous person on the isle of Britain—and yes, that means Madam Lin is in first place, and she’s got second. You-Know-Which-Twit is in third place compared to my cousin, and that’s saying something.”
“Yeah. It’s saying something bloody terrifying, is what.” Harry glances at Uh. “Did anyone go after your family? Your grandparents said that your whole family participated in the last war, especially after what happened to the Bones family. Did you fit the thrice-defied part, too?”
“We did,” Lin answers for Uh. “But I knew of no danger from any sort of prophecy. Even if the other person who knew the prophecy had known I was pregnant, I doubt we would have been told.”
“Too well defended,” Sirius states, his voice still flat. “If you’re right about…things.”
“Yeah, but that wouldn’t have stopped Death Eaters from finding out,” Harry says. “Right?”
Uh shakes their head. “You remember the curse I told you about?”
“The one where no one—oh.” Harry’s eyes widen. “The one where people wouldn’t or couldn’t notice you. That sounds like a safeguard more than a curse.”
“It was meant to be a safeguard, but those who used such magic should have consulted with me before doing so,” Mum says crossly. “They still live because they cast that curse out of love for Alexandra-Ji’s family, and because they agreed to lift the curse at once the moment I explained that it had become a hindrance instead of a boon.” She breathes in a slow breath and releases it, but Uh notices it doesn’t do anything to make Mum appear less upset. “There is a tag attached to that prophecy globe. I dare not get close enough to pick it up to read it, but I would like to know what it says. Would you please read it, Harry?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m kinda worried about that whole bit about You-Know-Who and us killing each other, though.”
“It does not mean that. It means one of you must kill the other.” Mum reaches out to pat Sirius’s shoulder. “Calm yourself. This room has space enough for only one of us to be this angry.”
“I have a really bad temper,” Sirius snaps back. “Someone warned James and Lily, and Frank and Alice, that they had to go into hiding because of when their kids were born. That someone had to know the entire fucking prophecy, Lin.”
“I am very much aware of this, Sirius. But you cannot lose your temper within this Ministry,” Lin warns him.
Sirius hisses out a breath. “Yeah. You’re right. But I want to break something when we get back to the manor.”
“Please make certain it is repairable.”
“Uh…” Uh’s head whips back around. Harry sounds like he’s choking, and is suddenly very pale. “This says…S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D. Dark Lord. And there’s a question mark next to my name.”
“Sybill Patricia Trelawney to Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. I imagine the question mark was placed there before the Dark Lord chose you as his prophesized target.” Mum presses her lips into a thin line of displeasure. “I knew I did not like that man. Now I wish to dispose of him.”
“You think it’s on purpose,” Uh says while Harry puts the tag back on the prophecy globe with a shaking hand. “You think the Headmaster…is he using Harry as bait?” They’re offended by the very idea.
“Why not?” Harry asks in a hollow voice. “I mean, Dumbledore’s been doing that this entire time. Why stop now?”
Sirius has to sit and breathe for a few minutes before he can say whatever he’s reaching for. “Lin. Is Albus using my godson as bait so that Harry can defeat the Dark Lord? Is Albus using Harry as bait so that he can defeat the Dark Lord, just like he did Grindelwald? Or is Albus using Harry as bait so that Harry’s death fulfills this stupid prophecy and somehow makes You-Know-Who vulnerable?”
“Those are very good questions,” Lin responds. Her expression and voice are both bland, hiding the depths of what is definitely a huge mountain of Mum Rage. “I would ask them of Dumbledore myself, but I know from past experience that he will not answer me. Whatever his purpose, he prefers to keep it to himself.”
Uh watches Harry swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like he just tried to eat an entire apple at once. “What’s this power I’m supposed to have that You-Know-Who doesn’t know about? What are we going to do?”
“It could be the sacrificial magic attached to you. Lily’s…Lily’s intent to protect you,” Sirius replies. “It worked the first time. There’s no reason why it should stop working.”
“There are ways,” Lin murmurs, but she seems to be thinking. “I will do my best to discern what this prophecy refers to, Harry. In the meantime, you will do just what we have asked of you: learn.”
“Learn how to not die.” Harry swallows again. “Okay. Yeah. I’ll keep on that.”
Bloody hell, Uh thinks. What else is going to go wrong this school term?
* * * *
Uh finds out what else could go wrong this school term in grand fashion, on Hallowe’en, as the Goblet of Fire starts spitting out names. They had no desire to participate in the stupid Tournament, and stayed far away from the goblet’s blue flame. That is old magic, and it does not give a blasted buggering fuck about age lines. If someone really wanted to get through that line and participate—truly, absolutely wanted it—then that age line won’t matter at all.
Of course, they can’t avoid hearing who the Triwizard Champions are going to be. It’s dead silent in the Great Hall until each name is read. Then it gets loud as the individual schools celebrate.
“Viktor Krum!” is called out, and Durmstrang loses their minds.
“Fleur Delacour!” is called, and Beauxbatons bursts into enthusiastic, polite applause. (And a few wolf whistles. Rude.)
Time stops. It has to have, because Uh did not hear what they thought they bloody well heard. No. Not possible. No one would even think to put Uh’s name in there as a joke. They might be noticed now, but it’s not that sort of noticing.
“Alexandra O’Connell,” Dumbledore repeats, and time restarts in abrupt, panicky fashion. “I do believe you are underage.”
Uh makes a squeaking sound in response. Their fellow Hufflepuffs are staring at them in disbelief. Uh hopes the expression on their face makes it clear to their House-mates that they did not do this. The students from the other Houses and schools are muttering in disbelief, but they see more confusion than sour faces. Most of Hogwarts doesn’t really know who Uh is, and Uh liked it that way. The other schools definitely don’t know who they are.
Then the Goblet spits out another slip of paper. Dumbledore, already distracted by Uh being named by that stupid, utterly cracked fucking excuse for a Goblet, nearly misses catching it.
Harry chokes on his own spit as he turns shock-pale. “Bloody what?”
Dumbledore’s expression has become grave and angry. “Your name has been drawn from the Goblet of Fire,” he says, which is when the other school representatives, half the staff, students, and the Ministry representatives start arguing at full volume about how Hogwarts can’t have two Champions, what is this cheating nonsense, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang won’t participate when the contest is so blatantly rigged in Hogwarts’ favor—
“We’re underage, you stupid twit!” Uh finally yells at the Beauxbatons Headmistress, who has to be part-giant like Hagrid to be that bloody tall. “We don’t know even half of what those seventh-years know.” Okay, so Uh is lying a bit about that part, but Uh and Harry are supposed to be hapless little fourth-year students. “That means we’d die if we participated in this stupid tournament, so I really don’t see how that gives Hogwarts any advantage at all!”
Uh doesn’t realize they stood up to address the chaos around them until Susan coughs and tugs at Uh’s trousers. Oh. Oh, shit. They’ve really put their foot in it…but they’re not taking it back. Not doing it. Uh is an O’Connell, and an O’Connell doesn’t put up with this sort of complete nonsense!
Headmistress Maxime looks startled, then thoughtful. “That,” she acknowledges, “is a very good point.”
Bartemius Crouch, Head of Something-Something-Nonsense in the Ministry, is waving for the Champions to join him in the room behind the staff table with an impatient expression. “It has to be all of you. Come along. This will be discussed further in private.”
Their arse, it will be. Uh straightens their spine and gestures for Harry to stay put when he stands up to obey Crouch. No. This is not going to happen. They are not going to be sacrificed on Dumbledore’s altar for the sake of a dumb prophecy uttered by a witch who can’t even use her own sodding gift properly.
“I am the Lady Alexandria Ji Yuan O’Connell, Heir to the Carnahan Estate, long-standing ally to the Ancient House of Bones, recent ally of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. I am formally calling for a lawsuit against this school—” It is absolutely grand when a number of staff flinch in reaction to the word lawsuit, “—for the intentional endangerment of underage students who did not volunteer to participate in a contest that they are not even eligible to enter!”
A vast number of people in the Great Hall are outright gaping at them, Harry included. He really does keep forgetting that part. Uh still wants a gender-neutral title, though.
Malfoy is one of the students staring at them with his jaw hanging down in shock. Okay, so maybe being noticed is a little bit worth it just for that moment alone. Not so much for this stupid Tournament, though.
Dumbledore recovers himself first and nods, though he doesn’t acknowledge the lawsuit. Stupid of him; Uh meant every single blasted word. “Mister Crouch is still correct. The Goblet of Fire is a binding contract. This should be discussed in private. If you would both join Miss Delacour and Mister Krum…?”
Uh squeezes their eyes shut for a moment. If they go into that room, there is no coming back. One look at Harry, and Uh knows that he realizes it, too. “Come on,” they say wearily. “Let’s just get this stupidity over with.”
“You really didn’t put your name in?” Finch-Fletchley asks. He looks a bit gobsmacked, as if he never realized he wasn’t the only Hufflepuff in their House who came from Old Money.
“I’m not suicidal,” Uh retorts.
“Same,” Harry says, still far too pale. He reaches out and snags Uh’s hand in a sharp-nailed, panicked grip, but Uh is clinging back just as tightly, so fair is fair.
That really isn’t going to help the dating rumors, but right now, Uh doesn’t care. They have bigger, deadlier things to worry about.