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Pink is the New Black

Umbridge’s pale, wide face and saccharine smile covered the frontpage. Columns of type ran from the top of the page by her beret to her high, shining heels. In the light and crackle of the common room fire, the glint in her eyes held almost the same red gleam as Tom Riddle’s.

Educational decree twenty-five. Harry skimmed the print. Student-run organisations. He tossed the paper into the common room fire. Somebody talked. One of those two Ravenclaw girls who left with Cho, since it’s been a few days and nobody’s fallen afoul of Hermione’s enchanted list.

‘Opportunity knocks.’ He smiled and pulled out the Marauders’ Map. ‘Cho… Cho… There you are in the library.’

He stuck the map away and hurried off, disillusioning himself. If Umbridge trusts her enough to get an education decree on the back of her word, she’ll trust her when I need to bring Dumbledore’s Army to her attention one day.

Harry darted through the library door as Hermione shoved her way out bearing her bulging bag in both eyes. He crept through the library shelves, sliding past a pair of sixth years, and found a seat with a good line of sight to Cho’s fine, dark hair and her pair of friends.

Marietta Edgecombe and Lisa Turpin. Could be either. Harry judged his line of sight. Marietta’s easier to get.

He palmed his wand in his sleeve and pointed its tip at Marietta. ‘Legilimens.’ Harry skimmed only the faintest amount of magic off for the spell.

A brief flutter of unintelligible images flashed before his eyes. Too weak a connection.

‘Legilimens,’ he murmured, drawing a little more magic.

A Ravenclaw boy’s image hovered in her thoughts, his jawline, his eyes, his cheekbones, his hand clenched tight round his quill, and the web of veins running up the inside of his forearms. Cedric. Her best friend’s boyfriend. Classy girl. Harry conjured up an impression of pink in his mind and slipped it in amongst Marietta’s daydreams.

Umbridge’s face welled up from Marietta’s mind. The taste of sugared-swamped, milk-drowned tea crept onto Harry’s tongue and words spoken about an organisation created to flout the Ministry spilt from his lips.

Perfect. Harry smothered his satisfaction before it spread to Marietta and broke the connection. Marietta will be the one who tells Umbridge.

He slipped back out of the library past Marietta, who pressed her fingertips into her temples and winced.

‘Are you ok?’ Cho asked.

I wouldn’t fuss, Cho. Harry glanced down the empty corridors, then dispelled his invisibility and headed back toward the common room. She’d throw herself at Cedric the moment you turned your back if she thought he’d have her.

Katie bounced round the corner from the staircase of Gryffindor Tower. ‘How was Arithmancy this morning?’

Harry grimaced. ‘It’s not easy and it’s not as interesting as I hoped, but it isn’t boring, either.’

‘Like all subjects then.’ Katie beamed. ‘It’s not your strongest area, so I wouldn’t worry about it.’

‘I wasn’t worrying. I’m much better at Charms and Transfiguration, but Arithmancy’s very useful. It’s helpful in understanding why certain things happen in… some areas of magic.’

Rituals, warding, and enchanting mostly.

‘Have you seen the Daily Prophet?’ Harry asked.

‘No?’ Katie’s fingers curled round his wrist and her lips twisted. ‘Did you do something, Harry?’

‘It’s not to do with me.’ He screwed his face up. ‘Well, it’s not directly to do with me. I’ll show you at lunch, someone always has a copy lying around to read while they eat.’

She bobbed her head and tugged on Harry’s arm, leading him past the unfortunate younger Creevey who’d both feet and an arm stuck in one of the trick steps.

‘Confundo,’ Harry murmured, wrapped his fingers round his wand.

‘Thank you!’ Mini-Creevey cried. ‘Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been here for almost fifteen minutes.’

Katie laughed. ‘Someone must’ve stuck him in it. Even Mini-Creevey can’t have managed to get three limbs stuck on his own.’

‘Ever had an unfortunate incident with a trick step?’ Harry asked.

‘Got stuck in one after curfew once, but Alicia and Angelina got me out.’ A wicked glint rose in her mahogany eyes. ‘Good thing it wasn’t you with me. Who knows what sort of thing you’d’ve made me do to get out? And what choice would poor, helpless me have had but to do whatever you wanted?’

Harry choked. ‘What?’

‘What?’ Katie shot him an innocent look.

Someone would kill both of us if anything like that happened.’

Katie giggled. ‘It’d be worth it.’

Harry chuckled. ‘Not if you’re not in that seashell bra.’

‘I doubt I’d be in any bra in that sort of situation,’ she murmured.

‘I think you’ve forgotten about a large number of portraits who’d be watching us the whole time,’ Harry quipped. ‘You’d be joining me in detention with Snape every week.’

Katie wrinkled her nose. ‘Urgh. Yeah. Wouldn’t want any of them seeing me with my boobs out.’ She tugged him by his wrist to the nearest empty seat, shooing second years further up the table. ‘So what’s happened?’

Harry glanced down the table, caught sight of an unattended paper, and stuck out his hand, shaping his magic for the summoning charm.

Katie blinked, then beamed. ‘That’s really impressive,’ she gushed. ‘You’re so powerful and brilliant, my lord.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘No need to worry about seashell bras getting in the way now, huh, Harry?’

Harry snorted and cut himself a slice of pie. ‘Hush, you. It’s taken me hours and hours of being too lazy to get up and carry books around to be able to do that, I’m allowed to show it off.’

‘How many hours?’ Katie stole his pie and unfolded the Daily Prophet the top of it.

He cut himself another slice. ‘Probably at least ten. I kept trying it without my wand until I could remember the shape and intent of the magic well enough. It’s like learning drills for quidditch, you have to do it so many times it sinks in and becomes a reflex.’

Katie waved her fork at the teacher’s table. ‘So it probably took Dumbledore hours of practice to be able to light the candles on his lectern like he does to impress the first years every year.’

Harry laughed. ‘I’d never thought about that, but yes, probably.’

‘So what did you want to show me?’ Katie flicked back through the pages from the quidditch results. ‘Haven’t seen anything particularly shocking except for Chudley Cannon’s managing their only win of the season.’

Harry turned the paper round and tapped Umbridge’s face with his finger. ‘That.’

‘Educational Decree Twenty-Five,’ Katie read. ‘That doesn’t sound good.’

‘Every student run club or organisation has to apply to her for permission to continue.’ Harry took a mouthful of pie, savouring the rich taste of gravy.

Katie dropped her fork into her lap and went pale as a sheet. ‘The quidditch team….’

Harry choked on his pie. He coughed until a few crumbs came back up out of his lungs, then swallowed hard. ‘The DA. Someone must’ve told her and she must’ve written to Fudge to try and stop it.’

‘Since when were we calling it the DA?’ Katie asked.

‘Do you want to be heard talking about Dumbledore’s Army and sent to see Umbridge?’ Harry asked.

Katie pouted. ‘Not when you put it like that. I’ve not seen anything of Umbridge today, though, and apparently she wasn’t in her class this morning.’

Harry hid a smile. ‘Has anyone had detention with her recently?’

‘Colin Creevey. Again.’ Her eyes widened. ‘You tampered with her quill… You don’t think that’s why, do you?’

Harry allowed himself a small, cold smile. ‘I hope it is, otherwise she’s probably causing trouble for someone somewhere.’

‘Maybe she’s redecorating her office,’ Katie suggested. ‘It’s about time someone pointed out to her how hideous it is.’

‘Maybe that’s why Creevey had detention,’ Harry murmured. He chuckled into his pie. ‘She probably has I must not criticise the colour pink permanently scarred onto her hand now.’

Katie screwed her face up. ‘So who do you think told her?’

‘Nobody whose name’s on that list,’ Harry said. ‘Otherwise we’d know.’

‘Well, we aren’t likely to find out who, then.’ Katie growled. ‘Damn.’

‘You’ll have to settle for hexing firsties,’ Harry said.

A group of first years edged a little further down the table, tugging their plates after them. Katie glanced after them and giggled.

‘There you are.’ Nev collapsed onto the bench beside him. ‘I’ve been looking for you since the end of your first class.’

Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Why?’

‘You said you’d have a look at my shield charm for me,’ Nev said. ‘And now I have to teach it to a load of people, I need you do it soon.’

‘Well, if you come with me in a moment, I’ll take a look in an empty classroom,’ Harry said.

And by that, I mean Umbridge’s classroom. He stifled a thin, cool smile. Let’s see if she’s fallen afoul of her own quill yet.

‘Thanks.’ Nev released a long sigh. ‘I don’t know why it trembles, it’s like I can’t quite get my magic to do what I want.’

‘Hopefully, we can figure it out. Have you decided what you’re going to teach first?’

‘The shield charm, then a few of the jinxes,’ Nev helped himself to the Daily Prophet and frowned. ‘Have you seen this?’

‘Yeah.’ Harry nodded. ‘Someone ratted us all out to Umbridge, I’ve not seen any hint of Hermione’s curse, though.’

Nev grimaced. ‘Looks like we’ll have to be careful, then.’

A good reason to give me the list, maybe? Harry weighed up the risk. No, better to get him to hide it somewhere he thinks I don’t know, but can still find. Can’t have myself turning up as a suspect later.

‘Keep an eye out for anyone who doesn’t come to the first meeting and then take their badge back if they’ve backed out,’ Katie said. ‘If Umbridge knows about a few of us and gets her hands on that badge, she’ll manage to track us all down.’

‘Where’s the list?’ Harry injected a trace of worry into his tone. ‘Can’t have her finding that and I’d bet she’ll be after the power to go through everyone’s stuff soon, if she’s not already.’

‘Hermione has it,’ Nev said.

Hermione… She’ll figure out it’s something to do with me if I’m more than half-involved. Harry wracked his brain. Let’s see if I can get Nev to put in the Room of Requirement’s room of hidden things. He might’ve discovered it if I’m lucky, otherwise, I’ll need to choose my words carefully so he goes looking.

‘Make sure she hides it somewhere safe,’ he said. ‘Umbridge will be looking for any proof the group still exists and she’ll be able to go through all our stuff and anywhere teachers can get if she asks Fudge for more decrees. The meetings are safe since we’re in the Room of Requirement, but that list will get us all on Umbridge’s detention roster.’ Harry picked his next words with great care. ‘Hermione’ll want to find a room where it will stay hidden.’

Nev blinked, then grinned. ‘I know where she can hide it. If we’re safe in the room, then the list will be too, right?’

‘I guess.’ Harry buried a quiet sense of satisfaction behind a shrug. ‘If there’s a place to hide things.’

All it will take is a few words to find their way to Umbridge about a room of hidden things on the seventh floor that appears when you need it, then that list and I will be a step away from being able to act. Harry finished the last few mouthfuls of his pie while Katie interrogated Neville about the Room of Requirement in heated whispers. Things are starting to fall into place. Once Dumbledore and Umbridge are off my back, I can see Fleur more often and go find out about that prophecy.

‘Coming, Nev?’ Harry watched Umbridge take her seat on the staff table out of the corner of his eye. He glimpsed a clean, white bandage wrapped around her right hand.

Perfect. The corner of his mouth curved up a fraction and the same quiet sense of satisfaction coiled in his breast. Let’s find out what she got Creevey to carve into her own hand.

‘Yeah.’ Nev straightened his robes and stood up. ‘I’m coming.’

‘What about me?’ Katie demanded. ‘Just because I refused to let you do whatever you wanted to me if I got stuck in a trick step, you’re going to ditch me?’ She made her lip wobble and bowed her head. ‘Fine, if that’s what it takes, Harry. I’ll let you have your way with me however you like.’

Nev turned bright red from his chin to the roots of his hair.

Harry laughed. ‘You’re terrible, Katie. Nev might explode if you keep saying things like that.’ He patted her on the top of the head. ‘You’ve got Charms now, anyway. Nev and I are free for the rest of day.’

‘I’ve got Herbology last thing, actually,’ Nev muttered.

‘Well I’m free all day.’ Harry smirked and waved goodbye to Katie.

She shot him a playful glower, then winked. ‘Catch me later, Harry.’

He drifted through the corridors toward Umbridge’s room.

‘Which empty classroom?’ Nev glanced into every single one they passed. ‘There’s loads…’

‘This one.’ Harry grinned and ushered him into Umbridge’s room, pulling the invisibility cloak out from under his robes.

‘Not again, Harry,’ Nev moaned.

Harry slipped into Umbridge’s office. The pink drapes were askew, a handful of telling gaps marred the collection of decorative china pieces on the walls, and a small stack of parchment rested on the corner of her desk. A single line of rust-brown ink marked the top of the first.

I mustn’t blindly believe the lies of others. He released a soft laugh and slipped back out of the office. Perfect.

‘Are you done?’ Nev demanded.

‘I haven’t done anything,’ Harry said. ‘I just wanted to see what Creevey had written. I suspect it’s left an impression.

Neville fought a smile. ‘I hope it didn’t do too much damage, though. That’ll just make things worse.’

Harry waved his hand at Nev and sat on the nearest desk. ‘Show me your shield, then.’

‘Protego,’ Neville intoned, raising and waving his wand.

A glowing wall of silver light sprang up around him. A faint tremor rippled through it every few seconds, moving in random directions like gusts of wind across the surface of the lake.

‘I d-don’t know what’s wrong with it,’ Nev muttered. ‘My pronunciation, m-my wand motion, and my intent are all clear.’

They were all fine. Harry touched his wand to shield and closed his eyes. It’s malformed. Twisted. His intent and everything’s clear, but the magic comes out twisted.

‘Any idea?’ Nev released his shield with a low gasp and let his wand drop.

That’s his father’s wand. Maybe it’s not the best fit, like Salazar said mine might not be after the ritual.

‘One,’ he said. ‘Try not to be offended.’

‘I-I’m not g-good enough to do it, am I?’ Nev muttered.

‘If I’m right about what’s wrong then it can easily be fixed,’ Harry said. ‘It looks like something’s going wrong with your magic after you’ve cast the spell. Which means it’s not your fault.’ He pointed his own wand at Nev’s. ‘That’s your father’s wand, right?’

Nev nodded.

‘It’s possible that your problem is due to using a wand that isn’t quite right for you,’ Harry said. ‘You’re unlikely to be perfectly suited to your father’s wand and you might be better off getting one of your own.’

Nev’s eyes blazed and his knuckles tightened on the wand until they whitened. ‘There’s nothing wrong with the wand.’

Touchy subject.

‘Here.’ Harry held out his own. ‘Try using mine.’

Nev took his wand and raised it. ‘Protego.’

A faint shimmer of silver light surrounded him, then Nev hissed with pain and dropped Harry’s wand on the desk. The shield faded.

‘It burnt me!’ Nev turned his hand to show Harry the thin red mark along the length of his palm and his swollen fingertips. ‘See?’

‘Sorry.’ Harry retrieved his wand. Memories of Bertha Jorkin’s failed fire spell and her weak conjured ropes rose from the back of his mind. ‘I think it’s quite strongly bonded to me. It doesn’t play well with others.’

‘I take your point about not using a wand that isn’t suited to you.’ Nev laughed, then winced and rubbed at the burn mark. ‘I’ll talk to Gran about it, if I find a wand better suited to me at Ollivander’s then maybe that will fix things.’

‘It should help you with everything,’ Harry said. ‘A wand’s the conduit through which you use your magic, the better matched to you it is, then the easier you’ll find performing magic.’

‘That makes sense,’ Nev murmured. ‘But still…’

Harry glanced between the wand and the faint gleam of disappointment in Nev’s eyes. ‘Just because you’re not a perfect match for his wand, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be proud of you. You’re like your father and your mother, Nev. You’ll need something in between them both.’

Nev slid his father’s wand into the pocket of his robes. ‘Did you have any other suggestions?’

No, but this is as good a moment as any to try and convince you to take up occlumency. Harry calculated the risk. It’ll benefit him as well as me, I’m hardly taking advantage, even if I’m not being completely honest.

‘It’s possible you aren’t quite focused enough, there’s a branch of magic I can teach you that can help. It’s not easy to learn, though, and you’d have to keep it a secret that I taught you.’

‘It’s not something dark, is it?’ Nev’s voice wavered.

Harry laughed. ‘No. It’s called Occlumency and it’s about organising your thoughts and controlling your emotions. It’s meant to protect your mind, but the basic principles are very helpful for focusing your intent and that’s why most wizards learn it.’ He caught and held Nev’s eyes. ‘I can teach it to you, it’s not dark, just a bit obscure. Voldemort’s supposed to be very good at its opposite, which is why I’m learning it.’

‘I want to learn it,’ Nev said. ‘If it helps me perform magic better and stops wizards attacking my mind, then I should learn it.’

Perfect. I didn’t even really have to lie.

‘It won’t be easy to learn. It can be painful and you need to trust me.’

‘I trust you. You’ve not led me wrong yet. I’ll learn it however you think is best.’

I wish I didn’t have to deceive him. Harry smothered a soft swell of sadness. Fleur’s blue eyes and delicate pout hovered before the eye of his mind. But I can’t tell him about Fleur. If words gets out, someone will try and take her away from me. Someone always does.

‘When do we start?’ Nev asked.

Harry stifled a sigh and drew himself up. ‘You’ve got to do the first bit yourself. Practice emptying your thoughts, forcing your mind to go blank, even when you’re angry, or upset.’

‘I’ll finally have something useful to do in Umbridge’s lessons,’ Nev muttered.

Harry chuckled. ‘Yes, I suppose you will.’

‘Let’s leave before Umbridge gets back,’ Nev said. ‘I need to nip to the hospital wing for this burn and start planning some teaching.’

‘I’m sure you’ll think of something.’

‘You’re my assistant,’ Nev said. ‘This is on you, too.’

‘We both know that’s just an excuse to get me in so I can teach you all the Patronus Charm.’ Harry shot him a grin. ‘How long did Hermione bug you about it before you gave in and decided to just get me to teach everyone instead of learning it from me and passing it on?’

‘She might’ve mentioned it a few times.’

‘Thought so.’ A small smile curved Harry’s lips. ‘Knowing her, she’s probably been trying to do it since I did it. She hates it when anyone manages to do something she can’t.’

She didn’t have any friends before Ron and I. And we always asked her for help. A small stab of guilt pierced his gut. I suppose she must’ve mistaken that for friendship. Not so smart at everything, in the end, huh. She only needed to be there when we needed her. That’s all.

Nev nudged his arm. ‘You’re not coming to many of the meetings, are you?’

‘Of course not,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t have any reason to help them. I’ve not forgotten how quickly they turned on me during the tournament, no doubt the moment it becomes convenient, they’ll do it again. I’ll join and teach the patronus because dementors are horrible creatures and you can’t use that charm against me, but that’s about all I’m helping them with. I owe them nothing.’

That’s what they want me to be, after all.

‘Will you at least come to the first meeting?’ Nev asked.

‘I’ll come to the first one and whichever one you want to learn the patronus in, but that’s all I’m promising. I don’t have time to waste, Nev. Voldemort’s not going to wait for me to get stronger.’

‘I understand.’ Nev headed toward the hospital wing. ‘I’ll see you later.’

Harry nodded and hurried toward Myrtle’s bathroom. Now I just have to start finding out about that prophecy. Once I know why Voldemort’s after me and have Dumbledore and Umbridge out the way, I can start doing something about it.

‘Myrtle?’ Harry glanced around.

‘Harry!’ She zipped out of her cubicle and across the flooded bathroom floor to hover in front of him.

‘How’ve you been? You haven’t been here the last few times I’ve come.’

‘I don’t spend all my time here, Harry. There’s all sort of interesting places to go if you know. I saw that red-headed boy you came here with in the second year in the prefect’s bathroom a few days ago. He has freckles everywhere.’ She giggled. ‘That nice Hufflepuff boy, too. He ran out of bubbles last year when he was trying to solve that egg clue, you know.’

Harry shuddered. ‘I’m glad you’ve been having fun, Myrtle.’

She drifted a little closer to him. ‘Nobody’s come looking around here,’ she whispered. ‘But nobody ever comes in here except you anyway. I always know if anyone comes in here’

‘Thanks, Myrtle.’ He flashed her a smile and opened the entrance to the chamber.

‘What’s down there?’ Myrtle peered into dark. A strange expression crossed her face. ‘I feel like I ought to know, really, but I don’t remember anything about it.’

Harry grinned. ‘Nothing anywhere near as interesting as the boy’s in the Prefect’s Bathroom I assure you. Just what’s left of a very big, dead snake and a bit of space for me to relax.’ He picked his way across the puddle and disappeared down the stairs towards the chamber.

‘I’m back, Salazar!’

‘So it would seem.’ Salazar squinted down at him through the coils of his serpent. ‘I was having a nice nap.’ He peeled the snake off. ‘Although, this wretched creature has mistaken itself for a nightcap again.’

Harry waited for Salazar to rearrange his serpent. ‘I need to speak to Sirius, but afterward, I’ve a few questions.’

Harry fished Sirius’ mirror out of the top drawer of Salazar’s desk and walked back over the bridge. He conjured a seat up and turned his back toward one of the dark alcoves. There, Sirius can’t see anything particularly suspicious now, just in case he says anything to Dumbledore.

‘Sirius,’ Harry murmured at the mirror.

Condensation crept across the glass, then it flared white and his godfather’s face appeared.

‘Harry!’ Sirius grinned, displaying sparkling white teeth. Fewer lines marked his skin than last Harry’d seen him, his cheeks weren’t quite so hollow, his hair neater, and the shadows under his eyes had lessened.

‘How’ve you been?’ Harry returned his grin. ‘Cleaned out the whole house yet?’

‘No,’ Sirius grumbled. ‘Gave up a few days back when I discovered that Kreacher was just keeping every single artefact we tried to throw away. Bloody place. Wish I could burn the whole thing down to the ground some days.’

‘Kreacher?’

‘House-elf,’ Sirius said. ‘He comes with the house and knows too much for us to free him or send him away. He’d just pop right off to Cissy.’

Whomever that is.

Harry wracked his brain for a way to direct the conversation to Dumbledore. ‘So what are you doing if you aren’t tidying?’

‘I’m organising the members of the Order who help out down at the Department of Mysteries.’ Sirius winced. ‘Which I was explicitly told not to mention to you. Oops.’

Now that sounds interesting.

‘What’s down there?’ Harry asked.

‘Sorry, Harry.’ Sirius gave him a rueful grin. ‘Dumbledore was adamant about not telling, I was outvoted.’

Harry frowned. ‘If it involves me, then I think I deserve to know. I’ve had to do a lot of adult stuff already, it’s a bit late to try and play the you’re just a kid card.’

‘I’m on your side,’ Sirius said. ‘But they made me promise.’

‘Well our conversations are going to be short, since nobody wants to tell me anything.’ Harry scowled and swallowed down a cold ball of rage. ‘I haven’t even spoken to Dumbledore all year. I nearly killed a student by accident and he sent me a note telling me I have detention.’

‘I heard about that.’ Sirius grinned. ‘That Malfoy kid probably deserved it, especially if he’s anything like his father. Don’t know what Cissy was thinking, marrying that slime.’

Cissy’s Malfoy’s mother? Harry tried to picture her. An image of Lucius Malfoy with breasts and high heels flitted through his mind. And that’s enough of that.

‘He’s a lot like his father,’ he said.

‘You should’ve finished him off, then,’ Sirius muttered. ‘One less potential Death Eater.’

Harry snorted. ‘Malfoy’d make a poor Death Eater. He doesn’t have the guts to do anything more than run his mouth.’

Sirius’ expression darkened. ‘You’d be surprised. Lucius doesn’t seem like all that much either, all pretty robes and words, but I have it on good authority that he’s quite a handful in a duel. He curses first, then claims the Imperius Curse made him do it later.’ Sirius chuckled and his face lightened a fraction. ‘What’re you doing at Hogwarts? Carried out any nefarious plans that I’d be proud of?’

Oh yes. Harry allowed himself a small smile. You might not be so proud of them, though.

‘You can’t smile like that and stay silent!’ Sirius rubbed his hands together with a gleeful grin. ‘Spill.’

Sirius likes an eye for an eye, he’ll appreciate what I did to the quill.

‘I got Umbridge again.’

‘What did you do?’

Harry pressed his lips into a thin line. ‘She has an enchanted quill she uses to make students write lines with. It etches the words written into the back of the hand and writes in blood.’

Sirius’ smile froze. ‘That woman has been torturing students! I’m going to murder Dumbledore, he said everything’s in hand!’

‘She won’t be doing it again, not if she’s learnt her lesson.’

‘What did you do?’ his godfather demanded. ‘I hope it was bad.’

‘I changed the enchantments on the quill.’ Harry stifled a thin, cold smile. ‘It changed its source to the creator rather than the user. She’s been wearing a bandage around her hand today.’

‘Good. Bitch deserves it. She’s the reason Moony can’t get a job.’

Wherever he is. Probably off somewhere doing something for Dumbledore. Haven’t heard from him in over a year. Some friend of the family he is.

‘She banned me from playing quidditch for life,’ Harry said. ‘That was for cursing Malfoy.’

Salazar’s muffled yells drifted from study.  

‘I’d better go,’ Harry said.

‘It does sound like something’s happening.’ Sirius cocked his head. ‘Lots of shouting about something.’

‘We’ll talk again soon.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Maybe I’ll be able to be briefed by then.’

Sirius nodded. The shadows hovered in his eyes again. ‘See you soon, Harry.’

The mirror went blank.

No luck. Just something about the Department of Mysteries, whatever that is. Harry stalked into the study.

‘Done chatting?’ Salazar demanded.

‘You’re not my supervisor.’ Harry glared at the painting and crossed his arms.

The snake stared back, flickering its forked tongue at him.

‘Well?’ Salazar tossed the serpent over his shoulder. ‘What’re you focusing on?’

‘I need to find out about the Department of Mysteries and get better at duelling.’ Flashes of the hail of curses Voldemort had unleashed streaked past Harry’s mind’s eye. ‘A lot better.’

‘Can you defend your mind?’ Salazar asked. ‘No point being able to duel if you can’t do that.’

‘Yes.’ A quiet satisfaction coiled in Harry’s chest. ‘My idea’s not… pleasant, but it works. While I feel nothing and think of nothing, anything they try see or show me is lost in that too. I just have to make sure they can’t follow the void, but Snape couldn’t endure the feeling, so I doubt anyone would chase it.’

‘What about your legilimency?’

‘I’ve convinced Neville to let me teach him. I’ve got the hang of how to do things, I just need practice.’ Harry sat on the edge of the desk. ‘So, duelling?’

‘There’re ways to improve yourself to give an advantage.’ Salazar’s green eyes bored into Harry’s. ‘Your eyesight’s a weakness, your glasses could easily be exploited by an unscrupulous foe, and the faster your reflexes and greater your strength, the better you’ll fare.’

‘More rituals?’ Harry turned the idea over in his head. ‘Fine.’

It’s just power. Fleur’s face floated behind his closed eyes. I intend to use it to keep hold of the one perfect wish that came true, nothing more.

Salazar stroked his goatee. The serpent’s head rose up over his shoulder, its eyes fixed on Harry. ‘We’ll use blood as a medium, of course, but you’ll have to get your hands on some magical ingredients. We can create a ritual to imbue certain properties unto yourself.’

‘What’ll the sacrifice be?’ Harry asked.

‘Nothing too dear,’ Salazar murmured. ‘Time. Blood. Pain. Guilt. Innocence. All things worth trading to survive.’

‘What will I need?’

‘Wormwood and bayberry to fix your eyesight.’ Salazar fixed Harry with a long look. ‘Griffon’s claw and salamander’s blood to improve your physical body.’

Harry frowned. ‘How does it actually work?’

‘It’s all about intent.’ Salazar pushed his snake’s head back down onto his shoulder with one finger. ‘Wormwood, bayberry, griffons, and salamanders all come with certain mental associations. You’ll form these for yourself reading about them, if you don’t already have them. The intent of your magic will be created from the runes you write, the relative arithmantic properties of the ritual pattern design, and your mental associations of the objects within it. Very complex pieces of magic require a complicated mix of intentions and no small amount of power. A spell is a single spike of intent, even spells like the killing curse only require simple intent, just in very potent amounts. A ritual is a swirling ball of intentions, too complex to be cast as spell. There’re very wizards with the knowledge, skill, and power to carry out more than the most basic rituals. Even fewer of those can truly muster the will and intent to carry them out.’

So it’s not about what I’m using, but how I perceive it. Harry nodded. Makes sense. My intent’s based on what I know and think.

‘Will it be enough?’

A bitter laugh slipped from Salazar’s lips. ‘It’s never enough, I can assure you of that. Once you get a taste for it, there’s always one more thing you can do, one more piece of magic to try.’ He sighed. ‘But yes. We will fix your eyesight, then give you an edge over most other wizards by enchanting your physical body.’

‘Right.’ Harry stared at his hands. ‘And how does that work? I’m not going to end up hideously deformed like Voldemort, am I?’

Salazar chortled. ‘Not if you do it right. It’s magic, you’re imbued with the traits we will create. Very few physical changes will occur, but you will gain magical abilities other wizards only dream of.’ Salazar paused and drummed his fingers upon his snake’s head. ‘Most of them can only dream of it.’ He gave Harry a soft smile. ‘I’ve not taught this to you as I usually would out of necessity, but understand, Harry, that being able to do magic like this places you in exalted company. And deservedly so.’

‘So I just have to find that list of things.’

‘You’ll need a lot of blood, too,’ Salazar said. ‘There are many runes to write and the blood must be fresh to work best as a medium. It’d be wise to do the rituals separately. Your eyesight’s the most pressing concern.’

Harry gestured at the bag of galleons he’d won from the Triwizard Tournament. ‘I can probably buy most of those, they’re common enough potions ingredients.’

‘Potions aren’t so different to rituals,’ Salazar said. ‘It doesn’t matter what you toss into the cauldron, it’s all about what you intend it to do.’ He scowled and crossed his arms. ‘In the end, unfortunately, Godric and Rowena are right. All magic’s basically enchanting, imbuing something with intent-directed magic.’

‘What about duelling itself?’ Harry spun his wand round in his hand. ‘You must’ve done some. You’re Salazar Slytherin.

Salazar cackled. ‘I won a fair few. Power. Talent. Speed. Knowledge. Efficiency. They’re the staples of duelling. Unpredictability and cunning raises you above the rest.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘Practise turning one wand-motion into the next, the flick of the wrist for the blasting curse can easily transition into the curve of the bone-splintering curse. What do you remember of Voldemort, the two of you share similar strengths?’

Harry swallowed a bitter lump. So I’m stuck emulating him. So be it. I’ll be the wizard he chose not to be.

‘He deflected almost everything I sent at him that was blockable,’ he said.

‘Mastering how to deflect hexes would combine very well with your ridiculous butterfly conjuring defence. The intent behind those ridiculous insects will direct them to swallow curses like the Killing Curse and you can deflect anything else back out at your opponents. Almost anything that isn’t an Unforgivable can be deflected if your intent is strong enough and you’re fast enough.’

‘I’ll practise,’ Harry said. ‘Fleur’s a duellist. She must know how to deflect.’

‘Don’t get too distracted by the pretty French witch.’ Salazar fixed him with a piercing stare. ‘You’ll die, then she’ll go and find herself another man, and you’ll have to watch him steal your dream from the afterlife.’

A shadow wrapped its arms about Fleur in Harry’s mind. She offered it her warm smile and her cute pout, the sweetness of her kisses, and the quiet, perfect intimacy beneath willow leaves and summer sun. Never. A thick, twisted heat smouldered in Harry’s heart. Nobody’s stealing our perfect dream from us.

‘Thanks,’ he muttered. ‘I’m going to go to the library and read about those ingredients, then see if there’s anything about the Department of Mysteries.’

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