“You’re back!” Neville cheered. He was already seated in their normal spots at the Gryffindor table, along with Fleur, Katarina, and Gabrielle, each of whom were now staring at the happy couple trailing behind Hermione. While Hailey felt it acutely, Ginny didn’t realize she had drawn the attention of their entire friend group until she sat down next to Hailey.
“What?” she demanded, glaring at everyone staring. Hailey smirked, catching the blush that Ginny’s bravado was meant to hide. If she was also hiding the weird butterflies in her stomach, no one needed to know.
“In case you forgot, Gin, you’ve been avoiding us for a couple of weeks now,” Hermione chided. “Neville’s got good reason to be confused.” The seven of them, and Luna, had taken to eating meals together ever since Fleur and Hermione got together. But after Ginny’s poor reaction to Hailey’s coming out, she and Luna had been splitting their time between eating at the Ravenclaw table and with Romilda’s group of third years further down the Gryffindor table.
“She’s got you there,” Hailey chuckled, and Ginny shoved her lightly.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on my side now?” she scoffed, and Hailey felt like her entire face was on fire as the eyes of the table shifted in her direction again. Thankfully, Luna came to her rescue.
“I’ll be on your side, Ginny,” she assured, as she slipped in beside Neville. “What did you do?”
“Luna!” Neville shouted, wrapping her up into a hug. Luna indulged him for a moment before quickly pushing him back into his own seat and smoothing down her robes.
“I am happy to see you as well, Neville, but we mustn’t get too excited. Not while the thestrals mourn one of their own.” Katarina and Gabrielle shot Luna their usual exasperated, disbelieving looks, but Hailey and Ginny were quick to nod along with Luna and immediately adopt a more somber appearance. They had already heard about the death of one of the school’s thestral herd and knew it was important to their friend.
Fleur, on the other hand, was quick to press the newest arrival for information. “Luna, darling, what a joy it is to have you back with us this morning. I am surprised that you and young Ginevra are not sitting at the Ravenclaw table?” Fleur mused.
“Thank you, Fleur. That’s quite kind. But why would Ginny and I sit all the way over there if we could sit here with our friends?”
“I do believe you two are playing coy with us,” Hermione answered, then glanced at Hailey pointedly. Hermione hadn’t been around when Hailey and Ginny got back to the common room the night before, but Hailey felt sure her big sister had already deduced what was going on. “Or should I say the three of you?”
A quick glance at Ginny told Hailey that her cheeks shared a matching blush with Hailey’s. Hermione knew just how to embarrass her, like no one else. Oddly enough, Hermione had been running late that morning, but Hailey had waited for her, even after Ginny came down. Truth be told, they had nearly forgotten about waiting on Hermione, Ginny convincing Hailey to lay her head in her lap while she played with her hair. When they heard Hermione coming down the stairs from the dorms, Hailey had practically leapt off the couch in surprise. Even so, Ginny had refused to tell Hermione what was going on, insisting that they needed to get to breakfast given how late Hermione had slept in. Hailey was surprised that Hermione didn’t push them on it, but maybe she could sense that Ginny wanted to talk to everyone at once.
So now, of course Hermione was going to get in as much teasing as she could. The rest of the group just watched on in curious silence, waiting for someone to explain. And finally, with an exaggerated sigh and an equally theatrical eye roll directed right at Hermione, Ginny gathered the attention of the entire group.
“Yes fine, okay, I know I’ve been something of a twat the last good while, but everything is fine now—better than fine, really, because—” she glanced over at Hailey and grinned, “—Hai—Harry and I are dating now!”
Hailey blushed at the same time Hermione grimaced at Ginny’s slip-up, but the three members of their friend group who didn’t yet know Hailey’s secret either seemed to have not noticed or to not care. Neville, in particular, just seemed happy that the rift between his two friends had been healed.
After a series of congratulations, both sincere and teasing, everyone settled down into the usual mundanity of breakfast. The only real difference was that Hailey was forced to eat with only one hand, since Ginny had taken her hand as she announced their new relationship to their friends and had yet to let go.
So then, of course, it was just as Hailey finished her last bite that her plate suddenly disappeared, replaced with a small bit of parchment. She released Ginny’s hand in surprise, lifting the parchment up to read it.
I was hoping that you might meet me in my office this morning before classes, to discuss some matters of personal importance.
Yours most sincerely,
P.S. have you ever had a cockroach cluster?
Hailey’s eyes rose to the staff table of their own accord, only to find that the headmaster had already disappeared from the Great Hall.
“Who sent you blank parchment?” Ginny asked, voice soft but clearly incredulous. Hailey flipped the note over before anyone could see the words ‘Ms. Potter” in electric blue ink, and only then did Ginny’s words register.
“What do you mean, blank? You couldn’t see what it said?” Their eyes met for a moment, then Ginny placed her hand on the parchment, pausing for a moment to give Hailey time to stop her if she didn’t want Ginny reading it. She didn’t, and Ginny perused the note with a look of befuddlement written across her freckled face.
“I guess it’s not meant for me to read,” she guessed, and Hailey smiled softly at that. Clearly Professor Dumbledore wanted to protect Hailey’s privacy, and she appreciated the gesture.
Taking back the note, she leaned in to whisper in Ginny’s ear, “Professor Dumbledore wants to talk to me about something before morning classes. I’ll tell you all about it later, but can you let Hermione know where I’m going?”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed briefly, but she nodded without much hesitation. Hailey smiled brightly, then stood and stepped away from the table. “Sorry to eat and run, everyone, but I’ve got a bit of an errand to run before class. See you later!”
As she passed through the open Great Hall doors and turned towards the Great Staircase, Hailey felt a pang of anxiety about her spur of the moment decision not to include Hermione. Hailey trusted Hermione, but she didn’t fully understand her vendetta against Professor Dumbledore. Everything that happened with Sirius cast Dumbledore in a new light for Hailey, but she still felt like, deep down, the headmaster was looking out for her. Especially when it came to the subject of Hailey’s transition.
And that is how she ended up standing, practically paralyzed, in front of a gargoyle statue.
Before she could decide whether to push forward or run away, however, the statue began to move. For a brief moment, Hailey considered running away as fast as her legs would take her, but something kept her in place long enough to meet the seemingly welcoming gaze of Albus Dumbledore.
“I didn’t forget to give you the password, did I?” Hailey just stood there, feeling like a deer in headlights. He had given her the password, and they both knew it. As if sensing her unease, Dumbledore smiled softly as he moved to the side and gestured in towards the staircase to his office. “That’s quite alright. Please come inside, if you like.”
All of a sudden, Hailey felt that she could move again, and blushing a little at her own behaviour, she shuffled quickly past the headmaster. She hesitated again once she reached the open double doors at the top of the stairs, but Dumbledore strode past her at a normal pace, beckoning her to follow him inside. The professor did not pause even as he wordlessly shut the doors behind them, and as he stepped up to the inner sanctum of the office, he invited Hailey to sit on one of the plush chairs that sometimes did and sometimes did not sat neatly in front of his desk. “Please, have a seat. Would you like some chocolate?”
Hailey sat and without thinking much about it, slipped her hand into the large glass tub of miniature chocolate dragon eggs resting on the desk. Nibbling a bit on one, her nerves began to settle. From behind Dumbledore, Fawkes trilled in greeting, and Hailey smiled brightly at the large bird who had once saved her life. “Hullo Fawkes,” she offered softly, feeling reassured by the phoenix’s presence and apparent good spirit.
“Thank you for coming,” Dumbledore began. “Before we converse, I want you to know that anything you say here will be kept in the strictest confidence. I have no desire to pressure, embarrass, or insult you. I simply wish to be of aid, if possible.” He cleared his throat, and for a moment, he almost appeared uncomfortable. “I feel as though I should apologize as well. For making any assumptions when last we spoke.”
Hailey frowned. If Hermione was right about Dumbledore’s legilimency, he didn’t assume anything. But he seemed genuine in his apology, even if he wasn’t being fully honest, and Hailey was genuinely curious about what sort of help he could offer. So, after finishing off the chocolate egg, she met the headmaster’s gaze and nodded.
“You weren’t wrong, but thank you for saying that.” She paused, not really sure where to start. Fortunately, with the question of what this meeting was really about out of the way, Dumbledore seemed happy to take the lead.
“Have you ever wondered how Hogwarts knows which children to send letters of acceptance to?” The apparent non sequitur caught Hailey off guard.
“I guess not?”
“Ms. Granger still has not convinced you to read Hogwarts, A History, I see.” Hailey shrugged in answer, drawing a smile from the headmaster. “Well, if you had read it, you would know that there is a powerful magical artefact colloquially known as the Quill of Acceptance. As far as we can tell, it was created by the founders of the school, along with its companion the Book of Admission. These are intelligent magical artifacts capable of detecting and recording the names of every magical person in the British Isles.”
Still unsure of where Dumbledore was going with this, Hailey reached out to take another chocolate egg. If the headmaster cared, nothing on his face showed it. Instead, he continued his story. “Since she’s been deputy headmistress, Professor McGonagall has attended to these artifacts, reviewing the book on an annual basis for the names of all magical children eligible for admission to Hogwarts in the new school year. Other than that, I’ve found it best to leave these objects be, except when I have to convince an irate parent of their child’s lack of magical potential.”
Pushing his chair back far enough to stand, Dumbledore moved to the side and gestured to Hailey to come around the desk. She did so, quickly finishing her second egg, and when she came to stand on the other side of the headmaster’s chair, she saw that an impossibly large leatherbound book lay open on the desk. Beside it was a quill with a long, faded greenish feather resting in an otherwise empty silver inkpot.
“On a hunch, I went looking through the Book for a particular name, and I found quite the interesting result. Please, take a look at the page on the left, towards the bottom of the page. I suspect you will be pleased with what you find there.”
Hailey looked, and her heart leapt into her throat. The page featured a list of names, neatly written in silvery ink and accompanied by a date. She recognized a few names as she skimmed by, but they were instantly forgotten when her eyes fell upon the name. A name that had not existed until just a few months ago.
“Hailey Evans Potter,” she read aloud. “July 31, 1980.”
Wide, startled eyes sprang from the page to the headmaster. “How?!” she gasped.
Dumbledore chuckled. “An excellent question, to be sure. Though, more interesting questions might be when and why. I suspect you could give me an estimate of when, and I myself have quite a few thoughts about why. One thing I am almost certain of is that this page has not always contained the name ‘Hailey Evans Potter.’ I cannot confirm this myself, not without revealing information to Professor McGonagall that is not mine to reveal, but I believe that until recently, this page read ‘Harry James Potter’ next to your date of birth.”
He directed Hailey to take her seat again, and with a couple of swift wand movements, the book, pen, and ink disappeared from his desk. As he sat back down, Hailey could see his eyes sparkle above his half-moon spectacles. This was the moment when she decided to get honest—clearly, there was a lot going on that neither she nor Hermione could have imagined, and Hailey wanted to know whatever else Dumbledore could tell her. Whatever Hermione’s issues with the man, Hailey felt she could trust him with the truth of her identity, at the very least.
“I decided on my name the last week of February, a few days before the Second Task,” Hailey confirmed. “But I’ve known this about myself since a little after Yule. That–that I’m a girl, I mean.”
“It can be a difficult thing, sometimes,” Dumbledore mused. “Coming to know yourself. Especially when the world does its best to convince you you’re something else entirely. It is something to be celebrated, in my view.” The sentiment resonated within Hailey, as if her life’s story could be summed up in such a short, but powerful statement.
Everyone always seemed to think they knew who she was. Until recently, Hermione had seen Hailey as a younger brother to be protected from all the pain a dark future would inflict upon him. To Ginny, she had been a chance at normalcy, a trophy to share proudly with her overbearing mother. Her peers expected her to be a variety of things, depending on the school year—quidditch prodigy, arrogant attention whore, even the terrifying heir to Slytherin there for a bit. Snape had hated her from day one because he never expected her to be anything but James Potter in miniature.
The magical world thought of her as the Boy Who Lived, a legendary figure rather than a human being. A child. Had she ever gotten to be a child, really? The Dursleys had only ever seen her as a freak. An embarrassment whose only function was to be of service to them and otherwise stay out of their way and be grateful for the meager existence they allowed her. Is it any wonder that she never really had a strong sense of self?
Hailey was only just beginning to uncover the truth of herself, and even that was a gauntlet, painful and confusing and difficult every step of the way. But whatever it was, it was hers. And it was real. Not some imagined concept of a person created from poor treatment, burdensome legends, or deeply held prejudices. Hailey Potter was a person in a way that Harry Potter—in this timeline or any other—had never quite been.
A cleared throat broke her from her reverie, and only then did Hailey realize that she was crying. Dumbledore held out a handkerchief, and she took it, awkwardly dabbing at her eyes. Feeling overwhelmed, she was only able to focus by the sharp anxiety the brief thought of the Dursleys had conjured inside her. As seemingly kind as Dumbledore was being now, he still had every intention of sending her back to them, against her will.
With a deep breath, she raised her emotional walls again.
“You don’t think I’m a freak?”
At this, the headmaster laughed, and Hailey couldn’t help but frown at the unexpected reaction. “My apologies, Ms. Potter, but surely you must be aware that I am, myself, seen as quite eccentric, yes? You are certainly a unique and remarkable young person, but I think it best to avoid unnecessarily charged words like ‘freak.’”
“O-okay. Um. So then, what’s next? I mean. Is that why you asked me here? Just to sort out my name?”
“It is as I said when you first arrived: I asked you here so that I might offer you my support and aid on what is no doubt to be a difficult personal journey. Now that you have confirmed my suspicions, I thought it might be a good time to discuss next steps.”
“I wondered, for example, if you might be more comfortable in the girl’s dorms.”
Hailey shook her head without conscious thought, terror releasing into her veins. She would like nothing more than to be like every other girl her year, but wishing wouldn’t make it so. All of them still thought of her as Harry Potter, after all. “I don’t see how that could work. They all see me as a—” she hated the word, but she forced herself to spit it out, “—boy, and I can’t imagine I would be welcomed.”
“A fair concern,” Dumbledore conceded. “But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to discuss some options you might not have considered.”
The rest of the day had gone by in a blur. Hailey had trouble focusing, her mind wandering through all the possibilities her morning conversation with Professor Dumbledore had uncovered. She had barely found time to talk to Hermione in stolen moments of privacy between classes and meals, and Ginny had insisted that she get Hailey for the evening, telling Hermione that she had her own girlfriend to spend time with.
Now, as the two of them accompanied Luna to the owlery to send her dad a letter, Hailey still felt practically euphoric about Ginny’s behaviour. She made Hailey feel so wanted, in a way Hailey had never experienced, and she could tell that Hermione understood. Normally, Hermione would push to get her way on something like this—especially given her suspicion about all things Dumbledore—but she had immediately backed down, a soft smile on her face as she conceded to Ginny’s demands. Hailey had promised her that they would talk later, and then allowed herself to be taken by the hand and led away by Ginny.
Ginny and Hailey settled against the sill of one of the large, west-facing windows while Luna tended to her owl, Elida. ‘Window’ was perhaps too generous a word to describe the massive square openings spread throughout the tower’s upper third, but it left their sprawling view of the Hogwarts grounds and beyond nearly unimpeded. And so, they were able to enjoy the most gorgeous view of the sun setting over the Forbidden Forest and the distant mountain range. Hailey leaned forward, resting her weight on her arms, and Ginny did the same, her elbow coming to rest firmly pressed against Hailey’s.
“Alright, Potter. Spill. Tell us everything about your secret errand after breakfast.” Ginny’s faux stern expression did nothing to hide her adorably impatient curiosity, and Hailey couldn’t help but smile at her girlfriend. I can’t believe I have a girlfriend! she thought excitedly.
Glancing over her shoulder to be sure Luna was near enough to hear the story, Hailey answered, “Professor Dumbledore wanted to talk to me.”
“And what sort of overly dangerous nonsense is he trying to push you into this time?” Hailey smirked at this. Oh, you have no idea what sort of dangerous nonsense I’m involved in.
“No. Um, he wanted to talk about my transition, actually.”
“Did you tell him about yourself or did he invade your thoughts?” Luna asked, approaching from Hailey’s right.
“Wot?!” Ginny exclaimed. “He can do that?”
“Oh yes, Professor Dumbledore is one of the most powerful legilimens in Europe.” Luna explained.
“It’s like mind-reading,” Hailey answered. “And yes, he used it on me, but look, he’s trying to help, alright?” If Luna was skeptical of Dumbledore’s motives, she didn’t show it. Ginny, on the other hand, looked as though she might march off to the headmaster’s office and hex Dumbledore herself. Trying to soothe her, Hailey added, “He’s going to put me in touch with a potion master he knows who has created some potions to help people like me.”
“Well, that’s better than Hermione experimenting on you with her concoctions. I know she’s brilliant, but potions aren’t exactly her thing, are they?”
Hailey frowned. “You’re probably right, but Hermione’s better with potions than you think. At least, she has been this year.”
“I thought your magic was already helping you emerge from your chrysalis,” Luna mused, her soft eyes meeting Hailey’s before turning back to the horizon. Feeling a bit uncomfortable with Luna’s easy insights into something that she had only ever discussed with Hermione and her diary, Hailey took a moment to decide how much she was comfortable sharing.
“I dunno. Magic’s done some random things of its own accord. Not really sure how it works, honestly. But I guess there’s only so much it can do, and Madam Vance can make potions that will fix my hormones, replace what I’ve got going on with proper girl hormones. Help things along.”
Hailey blushed wildly, finding it extremely difficult to discuss her own body without using words that made her feel deeply uncomfortable. She couldn’t bring herself to tell them about all the possibilities offered by Madam Vance’s potions. Dumbledore had given her one potion to start taking until she could meet Madam Vance in person and start getting potions from her, tailored specifically to Hailey’s biology and magic. The anti-puberty potion would stop her body from going any further into boy puberty, and there was a chance this alone could produce some better results in terms of her physical transition. Magic was, for some mysterious reason, clearly trying to help her body match up with her identity and gender, that much she could tell from the breast buds she was developing. The whole conversation has been stilted and awkward, but Hailey got the sense that her magic and her biology were somewhat at war with each other, and the anti-puberty potion should stop her biology from resisting the changes her magic was trying to make.
Probably. It was the other potions that Hailey was most excited about, even if she didn’t feel comfortable discussing them out loud. One would ensure that her body produced girl hormones—estrogen and something else that had a silly name Hailey couldn’t quite remember—and another would actually change her body. Like Polyjuice, but only certain changes. Hailey had been fantasizing about precisely that ever since her little experiment with Hermione, only this time she wouldn’t be struggling with the weirdness of being in Hermione’s body, because it would be her own body. Fortunately, Madam Vance’s potions lasted for a month rather than an hour. Hailey couldn’t imagine how much of a pain in the arse it must be for the Death Eater who was posing as someone in the castle.
Before she could get too lost in her own head, they heard the sounds of footsteps coming up the stairs to the owlery. Sensing the sudden tension in Hailey, Ginny grabbed her hand and stepped away from the window. “Let’s head somewhere a bit more private, yeah?”
Hailey was happy to be pulled along, and Luna kept pace with her and Ginny as they moved down the steps, walking past a couple of Hufflepuffs on their way up. As they neared the ground, Luna stepped a bit close to Hailey and Ginny and asked, “Would you like to accompany me to visit the thestrals?”
“In the forest?” Hailey faltered, shuddering slightly at the memory of nearly being eaten alive by spiders.
“It’s not a big deal,” Ginny reassured, speaking as if from experience. Hailey wondered what sort of capers she and Luna had been getting up to on their own the last couple of years. “Luna’s a bit of a good luck charm, it turns out. Nothing menacing has ever come after us.”
“Uh, okay.” Luna looked absolutely chuffed, and she slipped her arm through Hailey’s as the three of them started out towards the forest. Hailey kept looking around to be sure there weren’t any professors or staff watching them, knowing they would be in trouble if they were caught. But before she had a mind to ask how exactly Luna was such a good luck charm, the Ravenclaw asked another unexpected question.
“Are you talking about Inanna Vance?”
Hailey’s head jerked to the side, confounded both by the accuracy of Luna’s guess and the hopeful tone of her voice. She nearly tripped over her own feet, she was so caught off guard. “Come on now, Luna, how could you possibly know that?”
The younger witch smiled brightly, completely unfazed by Hailey’s exasperation. “Aunty Ina’s a good family friend. She was my mum’s best friend. I’ve known her my entire life.”
“Lu, are you saying your Aunt Ina’s like Hailey? How did I never know this?!” Ginny exclaimed, hand settling on Hailey’s arm as she sped up her pace to look past Hailey and directly at Luna.
“I thought you knew.” Luna’s attention was still on Hailey, who could tell she was positively thrilled with the idea of two of her favourite people meeting. “If you like, you could visit me during the Easter holiday and meet her then.”
Hailey’s mind was racing. She had a vague understanding that British magical society was much smaller and more interconnected than muggle society, but this was unfathomable. Dumbledore offered to put her in touch with a close, personal friend, the first trans woman Hailey had ever heard of (other than herself) who had devoted her life and talent for potioneering to make her life, and the lives of other trans witches and wizards, more bearable. That alone was enough to blow her mind, and Hailey found herself wishing more than once that she had confided her truth to Dumbledore much sooner.
Then, mere hours later, one of her best friends just casually mentions that this trans potion master was basically her aunt. ‘Small world,’ hardly covered it. But it made a certain kind of sense, all things considered. It certainly explained how Luna guessed at Hailey’s gender long before she had sorted it out for herself.
“Bloody hell.” It was so much to wrap her mind around. Her entire life had changed so radically over just a few months, and the more she embraced her new sense of self, the more she realized how much love and support she had around her. It wasn’t something she fully trusted yet, but she wanted to.
Hailey noticed the hand on her face slowly, as if she was being gently drawn back into the natural world around her. It seemed as though the world had grown darker around her, though she couldn’t have been lost in her own head for more than a few moments. She blinked rapidly, realizing that they had already walked into the dense coverage of this part of the Forbidden Forest’s canopy. And she hadn’t even noticed.
Her eyes returned to the two witches in front of her and found that both watched her with looks of concern written across their familiar faces. Surprisingly, it was Luna’s hand on her cheek that pulled her from the swirling storm of confusing thoughts and emotions, though Ginny gripped tightly at her arm.
“Hailey, are you okay?” Ginny demanded, worry clear in her voice. “Where did you go?”
“It’s just a lot,” Hailey whispered, still feeling overwhelmed. She cleared her throat as she tried to clear her head, and winced at the sound of it, hating how she noticed how harsh the noise growled out of her throat. She smiled, then, when Ginny kissed her cheek softly.
“I’m sorry, Hailey,” Luna lamented, her hand lowering to her side.
“What? Why?” Hailey was baffled as to why her friend felt guilty for anything. Hailey was the one who had spaced out while they were talking.
“I never thought to introduce you to Aunt Ina, even when I knew you were having trouble. Quite a terrible failure in my imagination, and I could’ve helped you sooner.” Luna’s eyes focused on the ground, the fingers of both hands coming together to fidget nervously. “I guess I still have a lot to learn about being friends with someone other than Ginny.”
Hailey pulled Luna into a hug without thinking. Luna stiffened, but leaned into it after a moment of hesitation. “Don’t ever think you’re a bad friend.” She pulled back and felt awkward about her sudden display of emotion, glancing nervously from Luna to Ginny. “Learning all this stuff, all the possibilities and all the people who are ready to help me with all this . . . it’s overwhelming, yeah. B-but, I’m just so grateful. And if it wasn’t for you, I might never have figured this out about myself. You really saw me when no one else did. When even I didn’t. You’re a great friend, Luna!”
Just like that, Luna was smiling brightly again, and she reached out to grab a hand each from both Hailey and Ginny. Ginny looked a little apprehensive, but her lips shifted into a tentative smile as both Luna and Hailey beamed at her. The three of them stood there, indulging in this warm moment between them, until Hailey stepped forward and held out an arm for her girlfriend and her friend to take. The three of them kept walking, spirits high.
“So if these potions are going to help your body become more feminine, what does that mean for school and stuff?” Ginny asked nonchalantly, sharing her thoughts without filter. “I mean, even now you look a little girlier each day—at least to me—and aren’t people going to catch on? Are you going to tell everyone about who you really are? Is Professor Dumbledore going to help?”
Hailey tried her best not to let her tension show. She was still very much terrified of how the larger Hogwarts community would react to her truth, especially the Slytherins. Malfoy, while annoying, had never really been able to hurt her, no matter how mean his insults were. But that was only because insults were never substantial, never based in anything that could actually hurt her. Once she was fully out as herself, Hailey would be vulnerable, exposing her deepest insecurities to enemies who would take pleasure in making her suffer simply for embracing her fullest self. Hailey swallowed hard, trying to bury that fear deep down so that she didn’t cause her friends to worry again.
“I told Dumbledore that I want to wait until the beginning of the school year. I’ll just finish out the year with everyone still thinking of me as Harry Potter and wait until the summer to start taking these potions in earnest. Start out fresh in my fifth year as my true self after I’ve had a few months to really prepare myself.”
Ginny’s arm tightened in Hailey’s, and her free hand rose to squeeze reassuringly at her forearm. “If Malfoy says anything, I’ll hex him into next week. You know that, right?”
Before she could respond, however, the path opened into a large clearing, and Luna pulled them to a stop. Her demeanor grew slightly more solemn, and both Hailey and Ginny were in tune with her enough to follow her lead. Hailey wanted to ask what was going on, but something about the way Luna held herself stopped Hailey and Ginny from speaking.
Luna pulled free and stepped forward, Hailey and Ginny following on either side of her. “Hello,” the young Ravenclaw called out, her voice gentle and full of compassion. They waited quietly, until a small smile broke across Luna’s face and she reached up a hand to brush against something Hailey could not see. Whatever she was petting, it responded to Luna’s attention in a way that caused her to giggle pleasantly.
Part of Hailey was a little surprised to find something actually here. She had gotten used to Luna’s passion for various odd magical creatures that Hailey had never heard of, but she had previously believed they were all imaginary. She had followed Ginny’s lead and always been happy to indulge Luna. It was fun, and her wild imaginings didn’t hurt anyone.
But of course, Hailey should have known better than to doubt Luna.
“These are my friends, Hailey and Ginny,” Luna introduced. She took Hailey’s hand, then Ginny’s, and guided them slowly into the air. Hailey couldn’t help the tiny squeak as her hand brushed against something that felt strangely smooth and cool, almost like the way the webbing between her fingers felt when she was transformed by the gillyweed.
“Whoa,” Ginny breathed. Hailey got a chill as the invisible creature moved, and she felt its breath as it sniffed at her hand. Then, apparently satisfied, it brushed against her hand further, as if demanding to be petted. So, as weird as the whole thing felt, Hailey obliged. Hailey hadn’t really spent any time around animals other than Hedwig and, to a lesser extent, Crookshanks. And this was nothing like petting Crookshanks.
“Are these the thestrals?” Hailey asked, only to have Luna shoot her a wide grin and an energetic nod as she began to move gracefully through a crowd of the unseen.
“Can you see them?” Ginny asked, following closely behind Luna almost on her tiptoes, as if afraid to step wrong and collide with a thestral. Luna whispered a sweet word to each thestral she (apparently) touched, then answered Ginny. “I’ve always been able to see them, since my first day here.”
“Why can’t we see them?” Hailey found herself wondering what a thestral could look like. She could tell she was petting this one on some sort of elongated snout, but she was careful not to move her hand too much, afraid to poke an eye or otherwise offend the beast. If she had to guess, she would say it was taller than her. It was impossible to say by how much, and Hailey couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the thought.
“Some people think you can only see them if you’ve witnessed death,” Luna explained, before bursting into laughter as her face scrunched up and she took a step back. “Someone’s in a good mood,” she giggled, her hand rising to pet the thestral that had just made her laugh.
Hailey’s hand fell to her side, but she was afraid to move from where she stood, lest she bump into another thestral. “What do you mean? I was there when my parents . . .” Her voice trailed off, not wanting to say the words out loud. Immediately, Ginny began walking tentatively back towards her, hands in front of her so as to avoid colliding with the invisible creatures.
Luna’s back was still to Hailey as she answered, though Hailey could hear the care in her voice. “Honestly, Hailey, thestrals are extremely misunderstood creatures, and no one really bothers to understand them fully. I wouldn’t take it personally. You were getting along nicely with that one, weren’t you?”
As Ginny reached her and slipped her hand into Hailey’s, she settled a little. It was still unnerving being surrounded by a bunch of invisible beasts associated with death, but she trusted Luna. Hailey leaned in against the warmth of Ginny’s body beside her and asked, “What do they look like?”
Luna pondered this for a moment as she finished making her rounds. “They are sweet creatures, a bit sad sometimes because people see them as something they aren’t. They are dark, very thin, and like a stoic mix of horse, bat, lizard, and bird.” She stood on her toes and whispered something that Hailey couldn’t see, and then after a brief nod, gracefully swung herself up on top of a thestral, her robes fanning out in the air as she straddled the apparently horse-sized void she had previously been petting. “Lovely steeds,” she explained. “Very empathic and happy to help. They take their jobs moving the school carriages very seriously.”
The ethereal moment was broken by a sharp snort coming from Ginny as she fell into a fit of giggles. Luna smiled fondly, but Hailey couldn’t help but gape at the unexpected reaction.
“Sorry, Lune, but you look like something right out of a myth, some fair maiden of justice riding her invisible steed,” she emphasized the last word, making it clear she found the term ridiculous. Almost as an afterthought, she muttered, “pretty hot though,” before immediately blushing, her eyes turning to saucers. “So the carriages don’t just pull themselves?” she asked in almost a shriek, clearly trying to distract from her previous statement.
Hailey felt completely befuddled by the entire situation, and she could not have formed words even if she knew what she wanted to say. Luna, on the other hand, just beamed at them both and answered Ginny’s question as if she hadn’t just embarrassed herself. “Oh no, it’s always been the thestrals. Common misconception, of course, which is quite infuriating isn’t it? They work so hard, and no one even notices. That’s why I always thank them as I leave the carriage.”
“Holy shite, that’s right!” Ginny exclaimed. “I always thought you were just thanking the carriages.”
Luna frowned, her nose scrunching adorably in an expression almost of outrage. “Why would I thank the carriages? They’re just carriages.” This brought a smile to Hailey’s face as Luna slipped down from the thestral, patting its flank affectionately. Even Luna Lovegood found carriages to be entirely mundane.
“Fair ‘nough,” Ginny conceded. “We should probably head back though, it’s almost completely dark out.”
Luna nodded her assent before taking first Ginny’s, then Hailey’s, hand. “Say goodbye, please?” Hailey thought she could see a flicker of sadness behind Luna’s pale blue eyes. She and Ginny locked gazes momentarily, then smiled up at the creatures scattered throughout the clearing.
“Goodbye, you hardworking lovelies,” Ginny praised, while at the same time Hailey said, “It was so nice to meet you all.” Hailey almost felt like she could sense the presence of the thestrals for the first time, as if the kind words allowed them to be seen even while invisible. Not for the first time this year, Hailey found herself in awe of the sorts of wonders that magic was capable.
And with that, the three of them headed back to the castle, their spirits lifted immeasurably.
Hailey was summoned to the headmaster’s office again less than a week later. She was in the Gryffindor common room doing homework with Ginny, Hermione, and Neville when Professor McGonagall entered through the portrait hole.
Immediately, Hailey brightened, and began to put her books away. She had been waiting most of the day for this, ever since word had spread about the outcome of Sirius’ trial. Hailey had immediately run to find McGonagall and ask when she could see Sirius, and the professor had assured her that it wouldn’t be long and that she would come get her when the time was right.
And here she was.
“Is he here?” she asked, already stepping forward to meet McGonagall.
“The headmaster would like to see you in his office, was her droll answer, but Hailey thought she could see the slightest hint of smirk form at the corners of her mouth. Hermione and Ginny stepped up on either side of Hailey, but McGonagall shook her head. “Sorry, girls, but my instructions were to bring Mr. Potter alone.” All three of them flinched back at the honorific, which McGonagall misinterpreted. “I know you want to be there for your friend, but I really don’t see the need to make such a fuss about it. He’ll be back shortly, we just have to take care of some things.”
“Professor, I don’t see—”
“That’s enough, Ms. Granger.” McGonagall’s voice was nearly as stern as her expression. “Honestly, what has gotten into you?” She put an arm around Hailey’s shoulder and turned them both around and toward the open portrait hole. Hailey followed begrudgingly, not understanding why it mattered if Hermione and Ginny came with her.
The walk to the headmaster’s office felt short to Hailey, who was too lost in her thoughts to make small talk with the Head of Gryffindor House. McGonagall seemed to sense this, given that she made no effort to force conversation between them. Even so, after giving the gargoyle the password to the office, she offered Hailey a soft smile. “Go ahead, I know Sirius is excited to see you.”
And that was all the encouragement Hailey needed to spring past the gargoyle and up the stairs. She knocked once and was immediately beckoned inside, where she found Sirius already standing up from one of the chairs in front of Dumbledore’s desk. He looked much better than the last time she saw him. She had never seen him clean-shaven, and he looked so much younger this way. His mess of dark curls had been cut shorter and was well coiffed, falling to the right side of his face in the sophisticated but rakish manner of a poet. Tawny eyes carried a renewed spark of life, and as he smiled, Hailey could see that his teeth had been whitened. The last son of the House of Black still looked malnourished but stood tall in plain but neatly kept black robes.
Sirius had barely knelt down and opened his arms before Hailey rushed across the room and collided solidly with his chest. Hailey wasn’t entirely sure what had come over her, but in the moment, it just felt right. She felt safe in his arms, in a way that she didn’t really ever feel safe unless she was hidden away with Hermione in her secret Reading Room. It was an odd feeling, especially to have about a man she still did not know well. Even so, she had no desire to question her instincts on this.
She pulled back and locked eyes with her godfather. “You’re really here,” she whispered. For a moment, everything was perfect, and her mind flashed with images of possible happy futures where she actually had a reliable father figure and a loving home to grow up in.
Then, as unfortunately happens so often with such moments, everything was cast into uncomfortable discordance again as Sirius answered, “I’m really here, Harry. And I’m not going anywhere ever again.” Despite the warmth in his voice, that name continued to rankle Hailey every time she heard it.
Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat, and Hailey jumped at the sound. He locked eyes with Hailey, and she could almost feel him pressuring her to correct Sirius’ use of the wrong name. She glanced at Sirius, who towered over her without malice or any ill intent as he put a hand on her shoulder and led her into one of the chairs. Hailey said nothing, but Sirius didn’t seem to notice the downturn in her mood. “Your hair is looking mighty stylish, kiddo. Are all the kids wearing their hair so long these days?”
Hailey blushed, quietly pleased that he liked her hair and that he talked about it without pointing out that it was an odd style for a boy. She wore it like she did most days, half in a little bun on top of her head, with the rest falling in waves to just past her ears. Not fully sure how to respond to the compliment, all she could muster was a timid, “Thanks, Hermione showed me how to do it,” as she slipped into her chair.
Once they were all seated, Dumbledore said, “I was wondering if perhaps our young student has something to tell you, Sirius.” All at once, Hailey panicked. She wasn’t ready for this. She hadn’t planned on coming out to her godfather, not yet. What if he didn’t understand? What if his offer of a year ago—to come and live with him and be a real family—what if he changed his mind? What if he wanted nothing to do with her?
“No,” Hailey blurted out louder than intended, the words bursting forth without any real thought. “I mean—” she blushed, not sure what exactly to say, as she looked warily from Dumbledore to Sirius and back again. “Nothing pressing, I mean. I want to know what happened at the trial.” Her eyes stopped flitting about, and she focused on Sirius. “And what happens next.”
Hailey could feel Dumbledore’s disapproving gaze on her, and while she appreciated his apparent belief that Sirius would accept her for who she was, Hailey was not prepared to take that risk yet. Not until she could trust that Sirius wouldn’t abandon her. So, she kept her focus on her godfather and waited for him to begin talking.
“Well, as you probably know, we won,” Sirius marveled, almost as if he still didn’t believe it. “It turns out that the DMLE can actually conduct something like a fair trial when they actually try to follow the rule of law. It certainly would have been easier if we tracked down that coward Pettigrew, but fortunately, even if everyone thought I was guilty all these years, the standard is innocent until proven guilty. And Fudge had very little actual evidence to prove anything.”
“Yes, Cornelius is in very hot water now, I imagine.” Blue eyes sparkled with mischief behind half-moon spectacles, and Hailey wondered if the headmaster was maybe done pretending to have a civil relationship with the Minister of Magic. He focused again on Hailey. “The testimony you and your friends gave to Madam Bones was extremely helpful, when paired with the memories provided by Sirius, Professor Lupin, and myself. Enough to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the Wizengamot.”
“I hate to admit it,” Sirius added, chuckling, “but Snivelous was surprisingly helpful, even if he looked like he was sucking on a sour candy the entire time.”
“What do you mean?” Hailey inquired, full of curiosity. She could not imagine Snape doing anything to help Sirius. The two hated each other.
“Mr. Black, it would do you well to speak more respectfully of a Hogwarts professor, especially one who, as you just noted, was essential to securing your freedom.” Dumbledore’s voice was sharp, his face stern. “I’ll not have you passing on your prejudices to impressionable young students.”
Hailey snorted at this, and she thought Dumbledore almost rolled his eyes at her cheek. They were both aware that Hailey’s negative opinion of Snape was all her own. Rather than dwell on it, Hailey pressed forward to the real question she wanted answered. “So, that’s it? You’re really free? Cleared of all charges? No more running and hiding?”
So maybe it was more a series of questions than one nagging inquiry, but Hailey couldn’t help herself. She needed to know. This was the moment she had been waiting for, ever since Hermione told her the plan to ensure Hailey never had to return to the Dursleys.
Sirius’s smile was wider than she had previously believed possible. “No more running,” he confirmed. “They didn’t even punish me for being an unregistered Animagus, though I’m registered now. There’s a lot of details to work out, none of it helped by the state of disarray my dearest mother left the House of Black in with her oh so tragic passing. But for now, Remus has offered to let me stay with him until I can find a place of my own.”
“You did inherit a perfectly fine home when Walberga passed, despite her very best efforts to bar you from its premises.” Dumbledore reminded Sirius, earning himself a derisive glare that Hailey didn’t really understand.
“Yes, yes, a perfectly fine home that I intend to burn down at the first opportunity,” Sirius scoffed. “I have no intention of returning to the source of all my childhood trouble, Dumbledore, and I’m certainly not going to subject Harry to it.”
Despite the uncomfortable pang in her chest at the name, Hailey’s mind fixated on the rest of Sirius’ statement. She was filled with a sharp anticipation at the implications. “You mean . . . ?”
As he realized what he had let slip, Sirius’s face shifted into an expression of bashfulness, but he didn’t retreat from it. “Yes. I meant it when I asked you if you wanted to come live with me. I should have all my issues sorted by the end of the semester, and now that I’ve been cleared of all charges, I am your legal and magical guardian.” He glanced warily at Dumbledore, who wore an expression Hailey couldn’t decipher, and then placed a hand on Hailey’s arm. “I also thought, well, if you might be interested—I know we don’t exactly know each other that well yet, but I . . . well, it’s just that I promised James and Lily, and even though you were just a wee little thing back then, I’ve always loved you, kiddo. Like my own. And I’m sorry I let my despair and self-loathing keep me away from you for so long, but hey, it can’t hurt to ask, right?”
Sirius looked at once mischievous and vulnerable, and Hailey could feel her whole body pulse with anticipation of what the man was trying to ask her. He seemed just as nervous as she was, but if she was right about what he was asking, he had no reason to be. Even though she was still terrified of what would happen when she came out to him, Hailey had been dreaming of this moment for nearly a year. All he had to do was ask.
“I was thinking, would you like it if I adopted you?” A wave of delight crashed warmly over her heart, and then she was out of her chair and hugging him again.
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” She breathed the word into his robes as they held each other tightly. His scent was masculine, but not in a bad way—like spicy fruits and reassuring tinges of a well-worn wood. All her life, all she had really wanted was a parent. A real one—not the abusive jailors she was forced to grow up with or the ghosts of her dead parents, lingering memories of people she would never truly know. She wanted desperately to believe Sirius could be that for her, that he would love her unconditionally and protect her against the hostile world she had always lived in.
“I am very sorry to have to say this,” Dumbledore lamented, causing both of them to turn and look at him, “but I don’t believe that would be a good idea at this time.” Hailey moved aside as Sirius stood up to his full height behind her, and he tried to project an image of strength over the sense of betrayal at Dumbledore’s words.
“What are you talking about?” Sirius exclaimed.
“There are a great many things I have kept from you both, because the time was not yet right.” The headmaster sighed, and he looked weighed down by whatever was in his mind, suddenly seeming even more ancient than usual. “I’m not sure now is that time, but I cannot ask you to give up so much without explaining what is at stake.”
Dumbledore paused, sinking back into his throne-like chair for a moment of thought before launching into his explanation. “On that fateful night all those years ago, I thought only to keep you alive, child. Voldemort had been vanquished, or so our world was so eager to believe, and as such, I was likely the only one who realized how much danger you were still in. His supporters were still at large, angry, desperate, and violent. And even then, I was sure that Voldemort would return, and when he did so, he would not rest until he killed you.”
“Already, we have seen his efforts, through Quirinus Quirrell and through Slytherin’s basilisk, to harm you. He came perilously close to doing so, if not for your bravery and Fawkes’ protection.” He scrutinized Sirius as he mentioned the dangers Hailey had experienced in her first and second years, as if testing him for what reactions the news might provoke. Given that Sirius had suddenly gone pale, Hailey wondered if this was the first time he was hearing this information.
“It is important that you both understand the nature of the dangers we face. When I trusted the Potter child to Lily’s sister, I did not do so lightly. I knew that Voldemort’s knowledge of magic was extensive and that even my most complex and powerful protective spells and charms were unlikely to be invincible if he ever returned to full power. But I knew too where he was weak. So I trusted you to an ancient magic of which Voldemort knows, which he despises, and which he has always, therefore, underestimated. Your mother loved you and died to save you. In doing so, she gave you a lingering protection from him that flows in your veins to this day. I delivered you to Lily’s only remaining blood relative because I trusted the magic imbued into Lily’s blood by the power of her sacrifice.”
“But she doesn’t love me!” Hailey protested. “None of them do. I’m not safe, I can’t be safe with them.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Dumbledore retorted. “Petunia took you in. She may have taken you grudgingly, furiously, unwillingly, bitterly, yet still she took you, and in doing so, she sealed the charm I placed upon you. Your mother’s sacrifice made the bond of blood the strongest shield I could give you.”
This time it was Sirius who interrupted. “You mean to say that Harry’s protected from his reach while he lives in that house?”
“Just so.” Dumbledore’s gaze fell back upon his student. “While you still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by Voldemort. Her blood became your refuge—you need only return there once a year, but only if you still call it home will you be safe. Your aunt knows this, and now, so does your godfather. This is why it would be unwise to pursue anything so formal as an adoption.”
Because if I can call Sirius home, the protection would wear off, Hailey thought. Her heart sank, because it all made too much sense. Hermione told her that Voldemort intended to restore his physical body using her blood for the specific purpose of getting around the protective magic of her mother’s sacrifice. Hailey knew that Hermione didn’t trust the headmaster to have Hailey’s best interests at heart, but nothing she had told Hailey about the future contradicted what Dumbledore was saying now.
If she went to live with Sirius, if he adopted her, would she just be putting him in danger? Did Hermione know about any of this? Surely she wouldn’t have been so dead set on getting her away from the Dursleys if she knew that Hailey was only safe from Voldemort while she called that place home.
She felt even more miserable when Sirius asked her for the truth. “Why don’t you feel safe there? What am I missing here?”
Hailey felt torn in half. Part of her wanted to tell him every last detail of the torture she had suffered at the hands of the only family she had ever known, to beg him to protect her from her abusers. The other half wanted to put up a front of strength, to tell him it was nothing she couldn’t handle, to keep him safe. As much as she suffered the past 12 years, she was sure he had suffered even more so. She shuddered at a sudden flash of memory, the sickening feeling of a dementor feeding on her soul like a thick poison choking through her veins.
Hailey couldn’t say anything. She was paralyzed with indecision. She didn’t know what the right thing was. Dumbledore stepped in to feel the silence. “The Dursleys have not been kind guardians,” he explained to Sirius. “Four years ago, the young Potter who came to Hogwarts arrived neither as happy nor as well nourished as I would have liked, but nevertheless, alive and healthy. It was the best I could hope for, I thought.”
Even though the headmaster was more than sugarcoating Hailey’s treatment by the Dursleys, Sirius looked like Dumbledore had punched him in the gut. His eyes pled with the older wizard as he asked, “All this, because of a fucking prophesy? Are things really so dire, even now, that you would force Harry to stay in a home where he is unwelcome, where they make him feel unsafe?”
Again, Hailey couldn’t speak. Not just because she remained conflicted about what to say, but also because she was studiously avoiding Dumbledore’s gaze to ensure he couldn’t read her mind. Hermione had seemed sure that the Fidelius Charm would protect the future secrets even from legilimency, but Hailey wouldn’t risk it if she didn’t have to. She wasn’t supposed to know about the prophecy yet, nor could she let Dumbledore know how fully aware she was of the very real and pressing danger Voldemort constituted. She wasn’t even sure the headmaster understood the ways in which the Dark Lord was already manipulating the Triwizard Tournament to his advantage.
“If it gives you any comfort, old friend, I am sure that Vernon Dursley is just cowardly enough to be moved by threats from a notorious magical criminal. No need for him to know that you’re not actually guilty of any crimes.” Dumbledore and Sirius shared an almost impish look before both turned somber again. “But other than that, I truly do believe this remains the best option for keeping your godchild safe from Voldemort.”
“And what are you doing to stop his return to full power?” Sirius demanded, suddenly agitated. His voice was harsh in a way that made Hailey want to hide. “How long must Harry suffer at the mere possibility he will possess another creature to send after him?”
At this, Dumbledore’s demeanor shifted. He looked every bit the powerful wizard of whom everyone believed Voldemort was most afraid, brow furrowed harshly at Sirius’ tone. Invisible power and authority almost seemed to shimmer in the air around him.
“I am doing what I can,” he answered cryptically. “And it is not something I am willing to discuss at length in front of the child. While you consigned yourself to the custody of the dementors, I have been working all these years to prepare for this inevitability. You would do well to remember that, Mr. Black.” He spoke to Sirius as if he were scolding a wayward student, and Hailey wondered if Dumbledore saw all his former students as overgrown children, no matter their age.
“I have done my best as the child’s magical guardian in your stead, Sirius, but now it falls to you to do what is right. We can discuss the details later, but I beg of you, prove yourself worthy of the trust James and Lily gave you when they named you godfather. It isn’t an easy burden, but I truly believe that if you seek to formalize your bonds with each other, it will only open up additional advantages for Voldemort.”
Sirius’ shoulders slumped in resignation. Hailey felt her cheeks turn warm and wet as she realized what would happen. But she tried her best to hide her dismay when Sirius knelt down again to speak to her on her level.
“I’m sorry, but I think he’s right.” Sirius placed his hands on Hailey’s shoulders. “I don’t want you to think I don’t want you, because I want to adopt you more than I have ever wanted anything in this world.” His voice cracked, and he swallowed hard. “But your safety is my number one priority, and I won’t choose a path that places you in more danger. You’ve suffered enough because of that nutter’s obsession with power.”
As much as Hailey tried, she couldn’t stop the tears that continued to fall. But she nodded with as much confidence and understanding as she could muster. She wanted to tell Sirius that it would be okay, that she could be brave, but the words still wouldn’t come.
“I know you’re scared,” Sirius practically whispered, his voice almost as ghostly as it had been when she had first met the broken shadow of Sirius Black a year ago. “But I promise you, I would suffer a lifetime in Azkaban before I let anyone, even your aunt and uncle, hurt you. You may have to call them home for the time being, but I will ensure that you have nothing to fear from them.”
As terrified as Hailey was, she believed Sirius when he made this oath. It felt sacred, unbreakable. Something she could finally rely on. She hugged him again, as it was the only way she felt capable of signaling her assent to the situation. A hand rested reassuringly at the nape of her neck, gently stroking her hair as she tried to calm her breathing.
Things will be okay, she tried to tell herself. Hopefully, this was only a temporary obstacle. Hermione’s plan for Voldemort became more certain every time they met to strategize, and if he could be neutralized while the remaining horcruxes were destroyed, there would be no more danger to Hailey. She would be free to finally start her life for real, including life in a safe home with a parent who loves her.
Hailey just had to wait a little bit longer for her dreams. Nothing to worry about.