Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 27

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Four.
Or, "Autistic Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Notes: Trigger warning: In the scene just after Harry has woken up from his vision of Voldemort killing Frank Bryce, Harry describes to Sirius what Voldemort looked like, using some terminology that is graphic if you know what it means, or if you Google it. I genuinely don't know how to tag this trigger warning without it being triggery on its own. But when you get to that part, if you want to skip the description, do a CTRL+F (or Open Apple + F or whatever) and search for “Voldemort is a legilimens.” That will take you past the bad part.

I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made. Not by me, anyway.

There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though. And the more this deviates from canon, the less that will happen. But some descriptions and things like that are too good to skip or try to reword.

Just as a reminder, so I don't have to shoehorn in descriptions in the text of the story as a reminder, but in this fanfic Harry and Hermione, apart from having Asperger's Syndrome, are both black as well.

'Italicized text between single quotes is almost always Parseltongue.'

Chapter Three: Familiar Things

The next few weeks flew by in a comfortable pattern of Harry having one or more friends over, or spending the day quietly reading on his own, interspersed with the occasional time spent at his altar. Upon his altar he'd put some pretty stones he'd found in Moonrise Supplies, a couple of incense holders for when he burned cone incense, a small magical painting of a forest scene, and a picture of his parents. He had also added some interesting bits of driftwood he'd found one day when Sirius had taken him to the beach to see the ocean for the first time. Fourteen years he'd been alive, and all that time he'd never seen the ocean.

A full week prior to Harry's birthday, Sirius took him on a special trip. The Muggles had built a tunnel under the English Channel, and there was a shuttle that could transport vehicles as well as passengers, so they drove to Cheriton to take the shuttle into France, where they spent several days taking a motorbike tour of France and part of Germany, staying at a series of Muggle inns for those few nights, taking in some of the sights in places like Paris, and buying things like German chocolate and souvenirs. Sirius had also brought a camera, and they got pictures of themselves in different places, which of course would be made into wizard photos later.

When they came back from their trip, Harry was glad to be home. He'd had a lot of fun of course, but he liked the familiarity of home again. Also, he was looking forward to his birthday party. They hadn't taken Hedwig with them of course, since she wouldn't have liked the wind from the motorbike, but there had been places to send owls from in some of the cities they went to, and so they'd been able to plan Harry's birthday party from abroad.

On the day of his birthday, the kitchen hearth became a thoroughfare as Luna (along with Xeno and Writing Desk), Ron, Ginny, the twins, Percy, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Antigone, Angela, Danzia, and Draco came through. Hermione even came in through the Floo, because Remus had gone to pick her up and side-along apparated her to The Leaky Cauldron to use their Floo. It was such a riot of people that Sirius told Remus to remind him to get the Floo switched over to the hearth in the drawing room later.

Lunch that day was amazing. Kreacher had found out how to make pizza from another elf, and had made half a dozen very large pizzas for the party. The slices were so huge they took two hands to eat, but they were the most delicious pizzas Harry had yet eaten. They'd come in a number of varieties, including pepperoni, Canadian bacon with black olives and mushrooms, a veggie lover's pizza, sausage pizza, and even a Hawaiian pizza that was a hit with the Weasley twins and Danzia. Kreacher had also made spaghetti for anyone who didn't want pizza (or wanted it in addition to pizza), and breadsticks with marinara dipping sauce.

There were several puddings to choose from as well, including spotted dick and chocolate gatto. And, of course, there was a cake. It was very tall, being three-tiered, and each tier was a different flavor. One was chocolate, another was yellow cake, and the top was strawberry. It was all covered in vanilla icing, that had been made with real vanilla. Even Writing Desk had a slice of cake, preferring strawberry cake. The bird was wearing a party hat that he had apparently made with Luna's help before coming over, much like the origami admiral's hat he'd worn many weeks ago, except this one was glued together due to its conical shape.

Next, of course, was presents! Sirius got him a two-way mirror that linked to one of his own. Harry had to mark it with an S to differentiate it from the one that linked to Luna's mirror. Sirius also gave him a bag full of spending money.

Like Harry and Sirius, Hermione had also been to the mainland via the Chunnel this summer with her parents, and had spent a few weeks in Italy, so she'd bought him a birthday present there, a little snow-globe of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Being a wizarding snow-globe, it didn't need to be shaken to make the snow; the snow was constantly going down, vanishing when it hit the bottom. Also, there were minuscule little people and motor vehicles moving around in it.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley got him homemade fudge, cakes, and a pie. Ron got him a medallion of wood that he had somehow burned the shape of a triskelion into. Harry was surprised, especially as it was rather well done, if a simple version of the symbol. He turned to Ron.

“Wow, thanks Ron! It's lovely! How'd you make it? I thought wood-burning kits were electric.”

Ron shrugged, grinning. “I had Percy use his wand to heat up the tip of a metal tool and burned it into the wood that way. Took a few tries to get it right, but I managed it.”

“You went to all that work for it? Thank you, Ron! I'll put it on my altar later.”

Ron blushed. Harry set the piece aside gently and went on to the next present.

From Angela he got several Chocolate Frogs and a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. The twins got him some Zonko's products of the non-noisy variety. Remus got him some more photos of his parents that Remus had dug up somewhere. Danzia got him a wizarding phonograph player, that was built into a portable wooden box. Being magical, it didn't need any speakers.

“I didn't know what kind of music you like, so I couldn't get you any records. You'll have to get some later.”

“Sounds like something to do tomorrow,” Sirius said, smirking.

“Thank you, Danzia! A music player that will work in Hogwarts, that's really cool!”

“Yeah, and even better, it came with these,” she said, handing him what looked like wooden earmuffs with cloth padding on the ears.

“What is it?”

“Magical headphones. To switch from the main 'speakers' to the headphones, tap them with your wand. To switch back to the 'speakers,' tap the phonograph's box.”

“This is amazing, Danzia! You must have spent a fortune on it.”

“Er, actually I didn't. I have a friend who knows a guy, so I got a discount on it,” she said, glancing at Antigone for some reason.

“Huh?” Harry said.

“Oh, you'll find out,” Danzia said.

“She's talking about my dad,” Antigone said. “My dad is an artificer. Wizarding phonographs are easy, he could whip one up in his sleep, but this one was likely made by one of his underlings. They're probably one of the cheapest magical artifacts there are, not counting small things like Sneak-O-Scopes.”

Harry opened Draco's gift next. He carefully removed the wrapping paper, as he always did because he kept it. (Dudley always tore his off and threw it away. Naturally, Harry did things differently.) Opening the box, he pulled out another, smaller box, that was flat and long. Curious, he took the lid off the box and revealed what was either a long knife or a short sword, Harry couldn't really tell, except that the blade was thin enough he was leaning to the side of 'knife.' It was oddly plain, for a gift from the wealthy Draco. It was polished and bright, and looked to be made of silver, but it had no decorations on it, not even simple lines. It had a wooden handle, and even that hadn't been carved.

“A knife? Or is it a sword?”

“You can think of it whichever way you like,” Draco said. “It's not sharp, don't worry about that. It's not meant to cut anything. It's a magical athame. If you cast your circle with it, calling the elements with it, it will let you draw lines of light in the air, like some of the rituals ask you to do, so you can do it without your wand. Won't set off the Trace, you see. Also, it can find true north. Hold it, say 'Point me,' and it will move your hand toward north.”

“Oh my goodness, this is cool! I've been wondering how to do rituals during the summer. I mean, technically I could use my wand here because of Sirius, but I couldn't help worrying that the Trace would figure it out and get me in trouble anyway. Thank you, Draco!”

“You're welcome, Harry.”

“Er... is this silver?” Harry asked, glancing at Lupin.

“Why?” Draco asked, then noticed Lupin. “Oh. Right. Sorry, I didn't think of that. Yes, it's silver. As long as Mr. Lupin doesn't touch it by the metal part, though, he should be fine.”

“Oh, no worries there. It's very rude to touch someone else's ritual items without permission. I doubt I'd ever have reason to want to touch it no matter what it was made of.”

For some reason, Percy got Harry a pair of books, one about the wizarding culture in France, and another about the wizarding culture in several of the countries in eastern Europe, mostly Slavic nations. The look on his face told Harry there was some special significance to this, but he refused to tell anyone anything about it. Harry looked through them a bit and was surprised to find that there were two other schools of magic in Europe – Beaxbatons Academy and Durmstrang Institute. He'd figured there had to be other schools, but he hadn't known anything about them until now.

The next gift to open was from Luna, in a smallish box. He opened it up. There were three things inside it. The first thing he pulled out was a necklace of a five-pointed star, which as Harry knew represented the four elements and spirit. He put it on, thanked Luna, and took out the next thing, which was...

“Er... a stone with a hole through the middle of it? And it's on a leather cord?” Harry said, confused.

“It's for seeing Faery creatures through. Some creatures from Faery are invisible unless you look at them through a stone with a hole in it.”

“Oh, uh... okay,” Harry said, putting that necklace on as well. He now had three necklaces, and it was a bit too much. He'd have to put one or two of them away later, but for now he was fine.

“There should be one more thing in there,” Luna said.

Harry reached in and pulled out a bracelet. It was like a bangle bracelet, but it was covered in dragon hide.

“You told me one night that you loved the sensation of dragon hide under your fingers, so I got you that so you could feel it whenever you want.”

“Thanks, Luna!” He put the bracelet on, and immediately started caressing it.

“Okay, Harry, one last present,” Antigone said. “I think you'll like it. My dad's company made this, too, but Daddy made this one himself.”

The box was big enough to put a loaf of bread in, but not the size or shape of a breadbox. He opened it up and reached inside. What he pulled out baffled him. It looked like a very large bracelet, or like one of Wonder Woman's arm cuffs, but more than twice as long, made of what looked to be bronze rather than gold, and one side of the thing was thick enough to hold a paperback book in it, but was curved like the rest of the thing.

“What is it?”

“It's a custom-made piece. My dad invented it, he only made seven of them, and there's nothing else in the world like them. Put it on, with the thick side facing up.”

“What is it, though?”

“It's better if I show you before I explain. Put it on! The thick part goes on top of your arm.”

Harry sighed, and put it on as instructed. It slid on so easily he wondered how it would stay on until it suddenly shrunk its circumference to exactly fit his arm, which it didn't do until the thick part was facing up.

“Okay. It's a fancy bracelet?”

“Oh, it's more than that. Here, come over here where there's plenty of room. Yes, right there. Now before I tell you what to do next, remember you need to expect a sudden loud noise and movement when you open it, and move your hand toward your body first, to get it out of the 'blast radius.' Got that? Good. Now point the top out, and say 'Volvere.'”

Confused, Harry did as he was told, holding the top of the bracelet? Gauntlet? Whatever it was called, he held it top out, and said, “Volvere.”

With a very loud SNAP!, something green and flat had snapped open like a cross between an umbrella and a car's airbag. The green thing, whatever it was, was flat and covered Harry's entire body from view of anyone in front of him.

“What is it?”

Looking and sounding extremely excited, she said, “It's a basilisk-skin shield.”

The whole room gasped and then muttered.

“Say what?” Harry said.

“Dumbledore was selling off parts of the basilisk for more money for the school. Dad heard about it and bought some of the skin. Most of it, really. Dad used the basilisk skin he bought to make this shield. Harry, this shield will deflect most curses. And since it's a solid object and is magically reinforced on top of the basilisk skin's existing magical properties, it could even take a hit from a Killing Curse without taking much damage. I know because he tested it on a small bit of basilisk skin before making any of these. If it only gets hit by one or two Killing Curses, the damage is repairable, but on the third one it would lose its extra protection and start to get scorched. Fourth time, and the Killing Curse would burn a hole right through it, and you'd die.”

Harry was speechless. He just stared at the shield, amazed, examining the skin, the metal slats that held it open, and the bronze part of it. Then he noticed there was a realistic-looking snake emblazoned on the bronze part.

“It's got a snake on it,” Harry said.

“Special design just for yours. It's just in case you want to change the password for opening it to something in Parseltongue.”

“Oh, cool. This is... I don't have words that are good enough. Amazing? Awesome? Spectacular? Something like that.”

“You're welcome, Harry. Dad likes inventing things, and given your history so far, running into old snake-face twice in two years, he thought you could use something like this. Dad's one of those people who's certain that old what's-his-ugly-face will come back some day.”

“Thank you both. Man, I'm going to have to write one heck of a thank-you letter for this!”

“Yeah Harry, you could buy a small mansion with that!” Percy said. “Antigone, your father just gave this to Harry? When he could've sold it for a fortune?”

Harry's brow creased with thought. “You know, that's a good point,” Harry said. “There's this... then there was that box you gave me last year, the antique that opens with parseltongue. I know you said it was probably a replica, but still...”

She stared at them, looking confused. “He just wants Harry to say that Apollyon Dreyfuss made it, if anyone asks. I mean, he likes Harry as a person for being my friend, but still, Harry Potter wearing something my dad made would be great advertisement for daddy's business. Not that he really needs the advertising, but still, why not?”

“What do you mean he doesn't need the advertisement? And why give me something he could sell for a fortune? I mean, I know you said he made seven of them, but still...”

She looked even more confused now. But then something clicked in her mind and she said, “Ohhhh! Wait, you mean you guys don't know?” she asked.

“Know what?” Percy and Harry asked in stereo.

“Um... well, not to brag, but we're bloody loaded. Filthy rich. Daddy has made and sold things that make the two gifts he gave Harry look like cheap baubles by comparison. He made his fortune founding Dreyfuss Artificing.”

“Your dad is the founder of Dreyfuss Artificing?” Percy asked, bewildered.

“What's that?” Ron asked.

“They sell magical artifacts all over the world. Her family is probably richer than the Malfoys! Hell, her dad's company probably made that athame Draco gave you, too.”

“It did, actually,” Draco agreed, nodding.

There was a lot of muttering at this.

“Yeah, well I didn't want to make a big deal of it,” Antigone said, blushing. “I wanted people to like me for me, not for Daddy's money. Still, I thought word would've gotten around to you lot over the years.”

Angela leaned over and kissed Antigone on the lips briefly. “And I do love you for you, Tig, you know that. We were dating for a year before I found out, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember, Angie,” she said, kissing her girlfriend a bit longer this time. “And you didn't treat me any differently after you found out.”

“Did you know about this, Danzia?” Harry asked.

“If I had, I would've asked for 1000 galleons for my birthday. Just kidding, Tig!”

“That nickname is reserved for Angie's use only,” Antigone said haughtily.

“Sorry, Antigone.”

“You're forgiven, 'Zia.”

Danzia stuck her tongue out at Antigone and blew a raspberry at her.

“Antigone, I thought your father was a historian?” Harry asked.

“Well yes, but it's not his primary thing. He and mum have that in common. She's the real serious historian, though. For Dad, it's mostly a hobby though it's useful for his line of work at times too, but for Mum, it's her life and her living. They met at one of her lectures.”

“Cool.”

“How did none of us guess Antigone Dreyfuss was related to the founder of Dreyfuss Artificing?” Percy said.

“No idea. Does it matter?” Harry asked, getting up to try out some of his new gifts.

With presents and drama over with now, the party changed shape. Harry got out his magical phonograph player, and Sirius got out some of his own records to play for the party. Everyone there started dancing, or at least all the kids and some of the adults danced. Since Sirius was playing something by The Kinks, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley opted out, the music too strange for them. But even Writing Desk the raven was getting in on the action, unmistakably dancing to the music by bobbing up and down on his little legs and spreading his wings, sometimes rocking his body back and forth to make his wing tips go up and down.

During the party, there was butterbeer and other things to drink like apple cider and pumpkin juice, as well as some light snacks people could eat once the memory of lunch was a bit more distant in their bellies.

Ron was looking down, upset about something. Harry went over to talk with him.

“What's the matter, Ron?”

“What? Oh, nothing, Harry.”

“Don't give me that line, I know something's up with you. Out with it.”

Ron sighed. “Well, only because you're gonna keep pestering me about it until I do. I'm annoyed that so many people were giving you gifts so much better than I could.”

Harry paused a moment, cleaning his glasses while he thought.

“Ron, money's easy to spend when you have it. Remember there was a time I didn't have much money either; I had to earn money myself by mowing lawns and stuff. I know what it's like to be poor. You put a lot of thought and effort into this,” Harry said, taking the wooden medallion out of his pocket. “Even more thought than Remus put into his gift, and probably a lot more effort than his, too. All he had to do was send some owls or visit people. Not that I don't appreciate his gift, I do. But you put what, hours? Yes, you put hours of work into this gift, possibly days, you talked with Percy to get him to help you, and it can't have been easy burning a shape like this into wood when you had to have Percy keep heating up the tool with his wand. I'm going to cherish this, Ron. It's going to go on my altar. The home one for now, and then the school one later.”

“You really are? You'll really cherish it? I mean, it's just a bit of wood.”

“A very beautiful piece of wood that you made even more beautiful with your hard work and skill, Ron. Of course I'll cherish it.”

Ron was blushing and looking down at his feet. “Well, thanks, Harry.”

“In fact, let's go up to my room right now, I'll put it there right now.”

Harry and Ron went upstairs then, and Ron watched Harry put the piece prominently on the altar.

But that hadn't been the only thing bothering Ron. Harry asked him what else was wrong. Ron was hesitant at first for this one, too, but finally it came out. As Ron pointed out, Writing Desk had been acting so much like a person during the party – eating cake, dancing to the music, even cawing to the tune of the birthday song they sang for Harry before the cake was served – that since they were up there already, Ron got out Harry's Sneak-O-Scope and they went downstairs and checked the bird with it. The Sneak-O-Scope spun and whistled, but Xeno told them that didn't mean anything; he'd tried a Sneak-O-Scope around regular corvids and it often went off around some of them, too. Ravens and crows were just natural trouble-makers, and magical ravens could be a lot worse. Hermione confirmed this a little by saying she'd seen a scene in a nature documentary once showing a raven hopping onto the back of an eagle, grabbing some feathers in its beak, and riding the eagle like it was a hippogriff, much to the eagle's chagrin. Ron still made a point to tell Harry he was going to run the bird past Crookshanks later just to be sure. Harry didn't blame him at all for this paranoia, after Scabbers.

To try to put Ron's mind at ease, though, he got out his necklace that Luna had given him last summer and pressed the button that made the sound that only Harry and animals could hear, making sure to be out of sight of Writing Desk so he couldn't fake it, but with Ron watching the bird. Harry pressed the button, and Writing Desk at the party along with Hedwig upstairs both went nuts, the raven going nuts first because he was closer to the noise. Hedwig was shrieking very loudly, and Writing Desk was cawing and flapping around the room angrily trying to locate the sound. Harry turned it off, but the bird was still hunting for the source of the noise. When he finally located it, he glared angrily at Harry and very pointedly pooped right on Sirius's carpet before flying off again. Harry told Sirius about this, and once Sirius stopped laughing, he cleaned it up with his wand.

“I'm still not convinced, Harry. I mean, you can hear it too, even if it doesn't bother you like it does them. What if Luna's bird is an animagus with Asperger's? He might be able to hear it well enough to fake it. I'll wait til Crookshanks can check him before I warm up to him.”

Harry shrugged. “Okay. That makes sense.”

~

The day after Harry's birthday, Remus and Sirius took him out into London to find the Muggle shops that still sold phonograph records so Harry could get some of his own music, after first exchanging some of Harry's spending gold for Muggle money. Since the albums he got failed to deplete the large bag of spending money Sirius had given him, they went to Diagon Alley. First they stopped at Flourish and Blotts to browse the books. Remus and Sirius having an in with Dumbledore, they got most of Harry's books for school year while they were at it (Sirius bought those himself.) Since there wasn't a new DADA teacher yet, and they'd heard that Binns was being fired but they didn't yet know if there would be any new books for History of Magic, they couldn't get all of them.

Harry also missed Cleo, the snake he'd rescued from Snape's wand in second year. He'd had to get rid of her because she was venomous. Even though he had an owl already, he decided to get a snake, too. They went to the Magical Menagerie, and he browsed the selection of snakes. On his way there, though, he noticed something colorful in a cage and made a detour to check it out.

“'Occamy,'” Harry read from the plague. “'it can shrink or grow to fill the available space. Price on request, special handling licenses needed. Very aggressive species, do not attempt to put your fingers in its cage.'”

“I guess you're not getting an occamy, then. Given they're endangered, I'm surprised there's one for sale here at all,” Sirius said.

“Oh, I don't want to buy it. I just saw an actual, honest-to-goodness feathered serpent and had to test a theory, which I will now do.”

As the two men stared at each other in confusion, Harry cleared his throat, then spoke in Parseltongue to the occamy.

'Can you understand me?' Harry asked the occamy. The snake-like bird cocked its head at him quizzically and chirped several times. Harry didn't understand the chirps.

“I guess that's a 'no,'” Harry said. “Too bad. It would've been interesting to hear what an occamy was thinking.”

His curiosity satisfied, he examined the various magical snakes available, which weren't many. Harry suspected the owners had the same silly superstition against snakes a lot of people did, which especially annoyed him since he knew the pagans of old used to worship snakes. Just because some of the venomous ones could be used in dark magic didn't mean they were evil themselves. After all, bicorns and boomslangs could be used to make Polyjuice Potion, and they weren't considered evil.

Though he'd read about magical species of snakes like runespoors and horned serpents, these snakes were magical versions of normally non-magical species of snakes like boas and pythons. Harry wondered if they were naturally born magical like wizards and witches were, or if there was something else that made them magical, but had no way to answer these questions.

Harry looked at a lot of different snakes, of the ones they had available. A few boas, some corn snakes, a couple pythons. And then Harry spotted a beautiful Rosy Boa that was black with yellow stripes, and about a foot long.

'Hello there, you're very pretty.' Harry said to it in Parseltongue.

The snake looked up at him. 'If you wish to mate, you're not my type. I'm a male.'

Harry chuckled. 'Well I'm a boy too, and anyway, I'm not even a snake, or hadn't you noticed?'

Harry could have sworn he heard the snake chuckle, too. 'Oh I know. You're one of the humans who can understand and speak our language. Well, I use “speak” rather loosely here, as snakes are deaf.'

'So all this hissing and spitting we humans hear when I speak snake-language isn't what you hear?'

'No, it's not. I don't hear anything. I just feel the meaning slither into my mind.'

'Fascinating. I guess that makes sense, since it works on all sorts of species of snakes. So would you be interested in being my pet?'

'I think you mean you would be my pet, human. After all, all I have to do among humans is sit around looking pretty, and I get warmth, food, and shelter. But yes, if you're willing to be my pet, I would like that.'

Harry laughed again. 'I like you, you have a good sense of humor. I'm glad you want me to be your pet, I think we'll get along great.'

'Good. Tell the human currently caring for me of our decision so I can get out of this awful place. I may not be able to hear anything, but the noise is often strong enough to feel, and the smell leaves much to be desired.'

'Alright then, I'll do that.'

The clerk, who had been conspicuously ignoring Harry while he talked with the rosy boa, was still absent. Harry had to enlist Sirius and Remus to help get her attention, and she came over only reluctantly. Once she came over, she quickly handled the necessary steps as quickly as possible. They bought the snake, a 20-gallon magically-reinforced glass terrarium for it, some interesting gnarled branches for it to crawl on, some moist moss in a smaller tub, a magical heating box for the enclosure, some aspen bedding, and a container full of magically-preserved dead mice.

“How often do I need to feed him?” Harry asked the clerk.

Not looking at Harry as she spoke, she said, “He's pretty young, that one, only a year old as of yesterday. So feed him every week until he's three. Once he turns three, you can feed him once every two weeks, but they're still going to prefer weekly feedings even at that age. There's some books about caring for snakes over there,” she said, pointing at a display rack of books. Harry picked one up and added it to the pile. “You'll need it.”

They picked up a copy of the book and added it to the pile. When all was paid for, Sirius called Dobby and Kreacher to move the terrarium and supplies back to Harry's bedroom, while Harry kept the snake curled up around his arm, inside his sleeve.

'What's your name?'

'Snakes don't have names, usually, but I'm smarter than the average snake, being magical. You may call me Mouse-Stalker.'

Harry laughed again.

“That must be a very funny snake,” Remus said. “You keep laughing at things it says.”

“He is, yes. He just told me to call him Mouse-Stalker.”

Remus smiled. “Sensible name for a snake.”

“Does he do any tricks?” Sirius asked.

“You mean like magic stuff? Well he said he's magical, so I suppose so. Let me check.”

'Hey Mouse-Stalker, you said you're magical. Do you do any tricks? Do you have any powers?'

'Yes, I do. I can predict rain, snow, frost, storms, earthquakes, and other weather or natural disasters about an hour before they happen, longer for some things. That's not my only power, though. I can also sense attacks and other dangers, sometimes. It's not foolproof, as it isn't every time, but it's an edge when I can do it.'

'How do you communicate the threat of danger to those who don't understand your language?'

'I have my ways. You humans have Parselmouths, we magical snakes have Apemouths, which is what we call the ability to communicate with humans. And I am an Apemouth. Observe.'

Mouse-Stalker turned his head to face Sirius, who wasn't watching where he was going. Instead of running into someone, like he almost did, Sirius instead danced gracefully around the person, looking almost like a ballerina.

“Holy... why did I just do that?”

Mouse-Stalker turned to face Remus, who slapped himself on the face.

“Harry, did Mouse-Stalker just make me do that?” Remus asked.

“I think so.” 'Did you do that?'

'Yes, human, I did. It took a lot out of me, though, since they are not my humans. If you were a normal human, it would be the same with you until we grew closer. But of course, I can 'speak' my own language instead around you, which is much easier.'

“He did, but it's not easy for him. He was just demonstrating one of his powers. Did either of you hear anything when he did it?”

“Just the sound of my hand smacking my face,” Remus said. “Sirius?”

“Not a thing.”

'So, Mouse-Stalker, I assume this Apemouth doesn't register in people's minds consciously?'

'Not usually, but it can. Some species' versions of the ability are quite different. I've heard stories that the horned serpents of the New World can make themselves understood by humans, in a way that the humans realize is a form of communication, and not just with Parselmouths like you. And if you were a normal magical human, you would eventually be able to hear my meaning in your mind.'

'Amazing.'

Turning to Sirius, Harry relayed the snake's words back to them.

“Apemouth, eh? I find the name somewhat offensive,” Sirius said.

“Well, humans are apes, so the term makes sense.”

“Pardon me? I am not an ape. I'm a dog.”

Harry sighed. “Remind me to get you some books about the theory of evolution.”

“It was just a joke, pup. I know about evolution. Lily told me about it once.”

'Come to think of it,' Mouse-Stalker said, 'I think if I practice my Apemouth skill enough, I can be understood by even ordinary humans on a conscious level. But that make take months to master.'

'Well it sounds like something to try, anyway. It could come in handy if you do. Like, if I got in danger I could release you and you could fetch help.'

'I could do that anyway even without the practice, but it would be less work if I could make them understand consciously.'

'Good. It's a plan, then.'

~

Harry, Sirius, and Mouse-Stalker got into a comfortable routine over the next few weeks. Sirius occasionally had to leave Harry with Lupin, while Sirius went to see his solicitor or others. Some of the highlights, from what Harry heard, was the Ministry settling out of court for damages from Sirius being imprisoned for 12 years without a trial or even a proper questioning; they apparently settled for 374,400 galleons plus Sirius's old job back as an Auror, for which he would have to retrain. That would start in September, while Harry was at Hogwarts.

Also, after a month of fighting with Mr. Rowle over it, Sirius got his family's seat on the Wizengamot back. He named his solicitor, Ms. Pennyroyal, as a proxy in case he was ever unable to attend the Wizengamot meetings.

According to Sirius, the first couple Wizengamot meetings he went to were dreadfully dull, but he'd always had the kind of mind that could tune out the dull while pretending to be daydreaming and still get the important information, something that had given his teachers a lot of grief in his school days.

“I won't bore you with the details,” Sirius said, “but that anti-werewolf legislation that Umbitch woman proposed is not progressing in either direction very fast, and apparently that's pretty normal. Ms. Pennyroyal said it could be almost a year before they're ready for a final vote on it, and in the meantime there's a lot of little votes to fix wordings and stuff, make amendments or retractions, that sort of dull rubbish. Then there's a lot of bloody politics involved as well. She's hired on someone to help me with that aspect of things.”

One new thing was Harry taking the Floo a couple times a week to go to Dumbledore's office to learn occlumency. He wasn't very good at it, as it was kind of the opposite of something he did a lot to cope; usually, he had to tune out the outside world and get lost in his own mind to block out the excess input, but in the case of this skill, he had to try to close his mind of emotion. Strangely, Harry found this easier the more overwhelmed he already was, and his ability to occlude his mind was rather hit or miss as a result. Not that he was doing very well anyway; in a month, he kept Dumbledore out of his mind a few times, but never for very long. Worse, it didn't feel like Dumbledore was trying very hard yet.

So it was probably no surprise when he had some kind of vision in his sleep, of a cowering Wormtail helping Voldemort get healthy in a new body. Harry somehow managed to get a glimpse of Voldemort just as he murdered an old man who was the caretaker of the house Voldemort was staying in. The image was grotesque, and horribly familiar.

Sirius came running when Harry screamed in his sleep, and woke Harry up by poking his shoulder. Harry immediately hugged Sirius like a drowning man might clutch a life raft.

“You're awake now, Harry, it's all over. It was just a nightmare.”

Harry wiped his eyes and sniffed, only then realizing he'd been crying as well.

“Thanks, Sirius. But I'm not going to be able to sleep now.”

“That bad, is it?”

“I don't think it was a normal dream. I don't know how, possibly the same way I sense him when he's near, but I think I had a vision of Voldemort.”

Harry explained what he could of the nightmare, which was fading fast. He could only tell Sirius that Wormtail was nursing Voldemort back to health in a horrible small body, and that they were planning something to do with Harry, which wasn't terribly surprising. Harry looked about ready to cry all over again when he came to the point of trying to describe what Voldemort had looked like.

“I don't know how I saw it, but I saw Voldemort, his temporary new body. It... gods, I'll never forget what it looked like. Mainly because I've seen something like it before.”

“You have? Where?”

Harry paused, weighing his words before speaking.

“Have you ever heard of something called 'harlequin-type ichthyosis'?”

“Can't say that I have, pup.”

“Years ago, I was reading through some medical texts in the library once, in Little Whinging, and stumbled onto a picture of it. It's a birth defect. The babies with it are born with a horrible deformation where their skin grows into these thick diamond-shaped plates. It affects their whole appearance, and no written or spoken description does it justice. The condition is horribly painful, makes it hard to breathe, and most born with it die within a month. Apparently the symptoms can be... eased somewhat. But given what they look like, and the agony they must be going through, I'd say death is probably the most merciful thing for them. The day I saw that image was the day I stopped believing in the Christian God.”

“That... wow. Just... wow. That must've been a hell of an image, Harry.”

“Yes. If you don't want nightmares for a year or more, I suggest you never, ever look up pictures of anyone with the condition.”

“And in this vision, Voldemort looked like one of these babies?”

“Not an exact match, but close enough that I'll be having nightmares of it again, I'm sure. Only thing I don't understand is how I could see it at all. I was seeing Voldemort from the old man's perspective, there at the end.”

“Well, Voldemort is a legilimens, remember. Maybe you were viewing the old man's thoughts as Voldemort was using legilimency on him?”

Harry nodded. “Sounds about right. But then of course, how did I see into Voldemort's mind at all? I think there's something Dumbledore isn't telling us. He told me Voldemort transferred some of his powers to me the night he tried to kill me the first time, and that explains the parseltongue and being able to sense him, but it doesn't explain this vision thing. There's some missing piece of the puzzle, Sirius.”

“Hmm... you may be onto something there, Harry. Of course, I doubt Dumbledore will tell me unless I know occlumency as well. I suppose I should learn, too. I'll talk with Dumbledore about it. In the meantime, pup, if you can't sleep anymore tonight, then feel free to do whatever, as long as you don't make too much noise or break any laws or rules. Also, don't leave the house.”

“I won't, Sirius.”

“One quick thing before you go, Harry.”

“Sure. What is it?”

“About how far away would you say Voldemort is.”

“I don't know. Far. In Britain somewhere, but not very close to London. Wherever they were, Voldemort seemed familiar with it, like he'd been there before.”

“Well Dumbledore has been digging into Voldemort's past for years, maybe he'll find it.”

“I guess we'll find out later, eh?”

“Yeah, I reckon he's sleeping at the moment, we wouldn't want to wake him.”

Harry nodded. “Well, Sirius, you can go back to bed. I'm going to stay up and read or something, since I don't think I'll be able to get back to sleep.”

Sirius nodded and left the room to go back to bed. Harry got up to grab a book. As he did, he couldn't help but feel a bit more scared now that Sirius wasn't in the room anymore. It wasn't likely Voldemort was in London, and the wards on the house would hold him back long enough for them to escape if he was. But even the thought that Voldemort was a weak, ugly, baby-looking abomination didn't ease his frayed nerves much.

'I smell fear, Master. Are you in danger?'

Harry jumped with fright, turning his wand on the source of the voice. He put it down as soon as he saw it was his pet snake, Mouse-Stalker.

'No. At least, I don't think I am. I just had a scary dream.'

'Would you like me to keep you company? If danger comes, I will most likely be able to sense it. Depending on the nature of the danger, of course.'

'Sure, that would help.'

He picked up the snake, draping it over his shoulders. The black and yellow snake tickled his cheek with its tongue, making Harry laugh as he retrieved his book and sat down in an armchair to read, idly stroking Mouse-Stalker's scaly head and neck, enjoying the sensation of the scales under his fingers. Mouse-Stalker had been right, he felt much better now with the comforting weight of the snake around him, such as it was for a snake that was only currently a foot long. And if the information in the book he was reading was accurate, Mouse-Stalker would only ever get two, maybe three or three-and-a-half feet long, depending on which specific kind of Rosy Boa he turned out to be.

When Sirius walked by Harry's room a couple hours later to check on him after having gotten up to go to the loo, he saw Harry asleep in the armchair, his book in his lap but having closed itself when he let go, and Mouse-Stalker still in place around his shoulders. Sirius thought it was looking at him at first, until he remembered that snakes don't have eyelids. He carefully closed the door and went back to bed.

~

The next day, Harry woke up still in the armchair, Mouse-Stalker stirring in response.

'I hungerrrr for fleeeesssshhh...' Mouse-Stalker said in a half-joking tone. 'Mouse-Stalker demands his weekly tribute! Appease him, mortal, or suffer his wrath! FEEED MEEEE!' The snake wiggled its head around in the air in a funny way at this last bit.

Harry – who had been suppressing giggles from the moment the snake started to talk – burst out laughing at that last bit of silliness.

'Fine, fine,' Harry said in response. 'Patience, youngling, while I fetch the tribute.'

Harry lay Mouse-Stalker down in his terrarium and went over to the container of magically-preserved mice.

'Would you like a pinkie or an adult?'

'Oooh, choices, choices. Hmm... give me a pinkie. I'm only feeling slightly peckish today.'

Harry got out one of the dead baby mice with the metal tongs and set it down in front of Mouse-Stalker.

'At some point, Master, I think it would be fun to hunt and eat a live one every so often, for the thrill of the hunt and to hone my skills in case we ever need to rough it in the wilderness. Do you think you could arrange that sometime?'

'I'll look into it. In the meantime, eat your dinner.'

Mouse-Stalker flicked his tongue out at the dead mouse.

'It's too cold. Make it warmer.'

Deciding to trust that the Trace wouldn't be able to tell if the spell came from him or Sirius or Lupin, Harry got out his wand and cast a warming charm on the dead mouse. Mouse-Stalker flicked his tongue again.

'Acceptable. Thank you.'

'You're welcome.'

Harry stayed put to watch the snake eat its meal. It was fascinating, how Mouse-Stalker bit the mouse to hold it and constricted it even though it was already dead. Also fascinating was how his jaws unhinged, and he swallowed the baby mouse whole.

The snake done, Harry went about his morning routine, and went down to his own breakfast.

“Hey pup. I noticed your snake helped you get to sleep last night.”

“Yeah. It was comforting having him around my neck. And I like the feel of his scales under my fingers.”

“Ah yes, that makes sense. Similar to dragon hide in that way, I suppose. Oh hey there, Moony!”

“Hello Sirius, Harry. What's for breakfast?”

It being Saturday, Dobby had made breakfast. There was eggs, bacon, sausage, toast with jam, and fluffy, fresh-baked croissants. Harry ate with gusto.

“You did remember to wash your hands after handling that snake all night, right? Reptiles do have some diseases humans can get.”

“Yes, Sirius. I took a shower this morning. Dried my hair with magic.”

Sirius chuckled. “Yeah, might as well take advantage of that convenient loophole in the rules, Harry, that's what it's there for.”

The three of them chatted about this and that while they ate, Sirius finally finishing but choosing to stay at the table to read the paper. Harry was on his third helping of bacon when Hedwig flew into the room, dropping a letter in Harry's leftover egg yolks. He gave her a strip of bacon and read the letter.

“Glad we got that owl-window installed. I remember when I lived here before, we had to go to a special room in the back of the house to send and receive owls.”

“Oh hey, it's from Ron. He says his dad can get tickets to the Quidditch World Cup. Wants to know if any of us want to join him.”

“The Quidditch World Cup? Wow, how's Arthur paying for that? Those tickets cost a fortune!”

“Says here he's getting them free from Ludo Bagman.”

“Ah, that would explain it. Anyway, doesn't Ron know you don't like Quidditch?”

Harry sat there, thinking and chewing his bacon, for several moments. He knew it was something that didn't happen often in Britain, and Ron liked Quidditch. He liked hearing Ron talk about it, even if he couldn't watch his fellow students playing it. But this was different. He thought some more before finally speaking.

“I want to go,” he finally said.

“What? But I thought... I heard you had a panic attack the one time you watched a Quidditch game,” Sirius said.

“Yeah, because friends of mine and other fellow students were playing a dangerous sport. I think I could watch professionals play, though. They know what they're doing, and they're adults. Plus, I don't know any of them.”

Sirius and Lupin both gaped at him.

“Harry,” Lupin said, “what about all the noise? Both visual and auditory. I thought you had issues with those?”

“Oh I do. But I've got those sound-blocking earmuffs. And between the two of you, you could probably modify them to be able to let the commentary through while still blocking out everything else. Also, if the visual noise gets to be too much, I've got those special sunglasses.”

The two men looked at each other, then back at Harry. Harry shrugged.

“What? It's a difference between being prepared or not. If I'm prepared for it mentally, I can deal with it.”

“What if you're wrong?”

“Then I put the sunglasses on, take a headache cure, and close my eyes. Anyway, Luna and her dad have already been there a week.”

“Ahhh,” both men said in stereo.

“It all makes sense now, Remus; Luna is there,” Sirius said, grinning wryly.

Harry's face felt hot for some reason. “Hey, Luna's like me, even if her dad thinks she's one of the Fair Folk. If she can do it... well, I want to at least try. At least two of my friends will be there.”

“From what I know of the World Cup, Harry, the stands are quite high. Higher than the ones at Hogwarts. And if Ludo Bagman is providing the tickets, it'll be up in the nosebleeds. Probably the Top Box, since that's where the commentator sits, which will be Ludo's job.”

“It will also be very crowded, Harry. Lots of people crushing their bodies up against one another.”

“Earmuffs, sunglasses, headache cure, calming draft, something to stim with,” he lifted up his arm, showing off the dragon-skin bracelet he was wearing. “I'd be prepared. It may still be a challenge, but I think I'm up to it.”

The two men still looked uncertain.

“Am I Griffindor or am I Griffindor?” Harry added.

Sirius barked with laughter. “He's got us there, Moony. The Hat did sort him into Griffindor. What do you say, Moony old pal? Since you're the voice of reason.”

Remus sighed. “I suppose if you're willing to try, then we'll go.”

“Yes!”

“But if it gets to be too much for you,” Sirius said, “don't hesitate to let us know. I don't know if they'll allow apparition there or not, so getting out of there fast might be difficult.”

“Does the letter say who all is invited?” Lupin asked cautiously.

“It's addressed to all three of us, and asks if any of us want to go. We could always fire-call for clarification, though.”

“I guess so. If you want to go do that, go ahead. You know where the Floo is.”

Harry got up and ran to the drawing room, where the Floo had been relocated to. Before long, his head was in the Floo for the Burrow, and he was talking to Ron. Ron still hadn't remembered Harry's usual problems in his excitement, but Ginny happened by mid-conversation and expressed the same concerns Sirius and Remus had done, which got Ron siding with her now that he remembered. But he told them he was going, had convinced Sirius and Remus, and he explained his preparations to them as well, which finally convinced them. And so they had finalized plans for Harry, Sirius, and Remus to join them at the Quidditch World Cup.

Endnotes: Cutting this chapter a little short because the next part is the World Cup, which will be longish because while I won't be including everything, there are enough differences that it'll be enough for its own chapter.

Yes, ravens and other corvids do sometimes ride eagles and other large birds like they're hippogriffs. It's hilarious to watch. Corvids are my favorite birds. Of course, real-world crows ravens are intelligent enough that frankly, I think they should be given personhood recognition. Speaking of which, just to clarify something, Writing Desk is not an animagus, he's just a smarter than usual raven because magic. But someone sent me a comment wondering if he was an animagus, and it made sense that Ron would be suspicious, which is why I included those parts. Ron will become convinced in time.

I hadn't been planning on giving Mouse-Stalker any powers, but then I realized he was being bought at the Magical Menagerie, and instead of having them go somewhere else instead, I looked up snake symbolism and use in magic, and came up with some powers for him. Like he says, it's not foolproof.

Also, my apologies if anyone looked up [that thing that's triggery] on Google as a result of this chapter, or had PTSD flashbacks of such images, but I did put in a trigger warning at least. Anyway yeah, when I first read about Voldemort's ugly homunculus/baby body being so hideous it made a seasoned war veteran scream in horror and drop his cane, that's the image that came to mind.



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