A Serpentine Path

Disclaimer: All of this is based upon the lovely J.K. Rowling's work.

Warnings: AU, Language

AN: This is basically an extrapolation on how a truly cunning Harry would behave. It's mostly canon compliant up to third-year and will jump around quite a bit. Updates will be very far part, I'd say.

Recommended listening: Ambling Alp by Yeasayer.

Part One

For all his plots and plans, the most important moment – the gust of wind that sends the whole beautiful mess plummeting off a cliff – is true serendipity. At least for Harry.

Things are rather unfortunate for Draco Malfoy in the beginning, though Harry can honestly say it probably works out better for both of them in the end. After all, who wants to run around under the Imperius for longer than strictly necessary? Or even at all really?

As it happens, things line up in front of Harry just so, and he still smiles thinking back on it decades later. Considering how differently things could've gone if even one teensy part was different.

It all happens on a boring day towards the end of October in the History corridor. They could've merely passed one another in the hallway, and nothing much would've come from this. But for once, Harry's alone. Hermione's off attending far more classes than should be humanly possible – and yes, Harry will figure out that mystery soon; he just needs more pieces of the puzzle. Ron, in the meantime, has completely misplaced his Potions book and is undoubtedly still turning his trunk inside out searching for it. He won't be joining Harry for some time, not until he realizes that the twins have once again stolen his stuff.

But again, Harry's alone. No other Gryffindors around with several Slytherins in the corridor. Instead of walking by them, he pauses and looks up. Unwilling to let so many people be at his back, especially when they've already shown their dislike for him.

He doesn't have much to worry about, however. Parkinson flounces off in the opposite direction as soon as she sees him, and the other girls follow after. Crabbe and Goyle aren't even there, busy serving a detention from McGonagall for being late to her class too many times in a row. That leaves only Malfoy with Zabini and Nott speaking to each other in the background and not really even paying him much attention.

Harry though is looking, and that's the only reason he sees it. He's close to Malfoy, closer than they've been in weeks without counting Potions where he has to put all his focus on Snape. Malfoy doesn't look at him back, which is strange in and of itself. Malfoy watches Harry almost as closely as Harry usually watches Malfoy, but it's different this time. Malfoy's different.

There's something to his gait, something to the way he holds himself that isn't quite right. It's similar to his usual haughty and arrogant posture, but it's off. Almost like Malfoy is pretending to be himself and isn't even doing a perfect job of it.

It's Malfoy's eyes, when Harry finally manages to see them, that give everything away though. Grey but vaguely glassy. Too dull. Too lifeless and fixed ahead.

He doesn't once look at Harry. Not even when Harry stops right next to him. And that's when Harry knows.

His paranoia's too great and he's researched too much on the Unforgivables to not see it. Trying to piece together why he survived the Killing Curse has naturally spawned some interest in the other two curses, as has his investigation of the war. His attempts to understand Riddle and his parents and the utter insanity and illogical nature of the Wizarding world.

All told, Harry knows what to look for. More than that, he knows Malfoy. Not perhaps as others do. Certainly not as his family does or his friends should. But Harry's spent the last several years watching Malfoy and the rest of Slytherin house by proxy. For self-preservation if nothing else.

Harry glances at Zabini and Nott then, and it takes them a few seconds to realize that he's looking at them.

"Something the matter, Potter?" Zabini asks with a bored tone, while Nott's gaze narrows slightly.

Harry, who's trying to decide the best approach at that very moment, takes the offered opportunity.

"Ah, yes, actually." He tips his head to the side but very blatantly doesn't go for his wand as Zabini and Nott both blink at him. "I was merely wondering how long Malfoy's been cursed."

Zabini snorts before he can stop himself, but it's Nott who answers.

"What are you on about?" he questions with complete disbelief. "Spending too much time with our crazy headmaster?"

Harry gives him a lazy smile that doesn't reach his eyes. He tips his head forward.

"Just an observation," he comments. "Of course, that's assuming you two had noticed, but I suppose not."

Nott frowns, and he doesn't exchange a look with Zabini, but that's a near thing. They don't go for their wands, but then, that would be too Gryffindor of them, too overtly aggressive. Instead, they shift ever so slightly. Just enough so that Harry's in their direct line of sight and the wall is at their backs. It's a perfectly sensible move, one that Harry thoroughly approves of, even if the whole thing weren't so terribly ironic.

And still, throughout all of this, Malfoy hasn't even moved. Hasn't so much as said a word. That alone makes Harry's point beautifully. Nott seems to get it slightly faster than Zabini, but Harry knows they both do when Zabini's hand clenches and Nott breathes out slowly.

"Look at him," Harry says then and makes a gesture at Malfoy that still doesn't earn him a reaction.

Whoever has cast the spell is strong enough to have full control but doesn't have the power – or finesse – to make Malfoy act as he normally would. After all, there's no way in seven hells that Malfoy would ever let Harry get this close without at least two snarky comments and a few insults.

Nott and Zabini, having caught on fully, are now looking at Harry like one would an impending broomstick crash. Dawning revulsion and horror but unable to do anything else.

"Look at him," Harry repeats.

And finally, they do.

It takes them longer than Harry, even though they're looking for it. Not unexpectedly, Nott sees it first, and his hand goes out to grip Zabini's sleeve as he suddenly leans in to whisper something. Zabini's normally dark skin turns an interesting bloodless color, and Nott lets out a harsh breath. They stand there for a long minute as if completely unsure what to do.

"I think we should go to the Hospital Wing," Harry carefully offers then.

They glance at him again, as if suddenly remembering that he's there. A quiet exchange follows, spoken with eyes and brows and tightened hands. Nearly a minute later, they turn back to him and Malfoy, who's still standing there blankly.

"Lead the way, Potter," Zabini finally allows with an elegant gesture.

It's all the invitation Harry needs. He merely turns and snags Malfoy's sleeve. The blond doesn't even put up a protest as Harry starts steering him in the appropriate direction. Zabini and Nott trail after but a little off to the side. Harry doesn't need to see them to know that they're staring.

The walk is made in silence, but even as Harry escorts all three of them, he has to fight to contain the racing of his heart and the bubble of glee in his belly.

This is a beautifully wonder, completely unexpected, perfectly golden opportunity. One that has just fallen right into his lap and is practically begging to be used.

Harry plans to exploit it fully.

Once at their destination, it takes a few moments to convince Pomfrey of his sincerity, but she gives in readily enough when the other Slytherins step forward. She casts a quick diagnostic. That's swiftly followed by a furrowed brow, another diagnostic, and then a sudden paling of her skin.

Her eyes have gone wide as she whirls to look at Harry, but he can only offer a shrug. It's not like he's the guilty party after all. He has several suspects in mind but no true idea who's done this. That's a matter best left for others. Something that Pomfrey soon realizes, and she has all three of them sit on the sidelines as she turns back to Malfoy.

Her gaze has gone hard then. Determined even. Eyes lit with a fire that Harry's never seen in her before, no matter how injured he's been when brought to her care.

She lifts her wand in a motion that Harry doesn't recognize but is determined to commit to memory as he watches the spectacle. It doesn't seem like much on the surface, but he can feel magic rising as she casts. The air is heavy and staticky enough that Zabini closes his eyes and flinches away, but Nott merely moves further back.

Harry fights not to lean forward in interest.

It takes less time than expected, but he feels the curse break as she pours power into the spell. Harry knows that Malfoy's free when suddenly blinks and starts looking around as if coming out of a dream. The expression of absolute disgust that settles on his face immediately afterwards isn't surprising, nor is the fact that he jumps unsteadily to his feet and stumbles to the loo.

Pomfrey follows him briskly. The two remaining Slytherins look at each other and then Harry, but nobody says anything until Malfoy comes back. The blond is silent though, meekly sitting on the bed Pomfrey indicates before she turns to the others.

"You'll stay here while I contact the headmaster," she orders as if daring them to contradict her.

Harry, of course, is planning to do just that.

"Just the headmaster?" he asks, keeping his tone and voice as mild, polite, as possible.

Pomfrey considers for only a second. "I suspect I should send for Professors McGonagall and Snape, too."

But that isn't who Harry really means or wants, and that isn't nearly enough. Not for something like this. And perhaps that's really Hogwarts' problem. The fact that so many illegal – dangerous – things get swept under the rug and conveniently forgotten.

But Harry hasn't forgotten. Not Quirrell. Not Tom Riddle's diary. Not the basilisk. There's no way any of the parents could possibly be aware of their true realities. Not and keep the school open or for Dumbledore to not still be receiving Howlers every day.

And that's got to stop now. Harry might not have parents who care if he dies anymore, but Malfoy certainly does. For once, that's going to work to Harry's advantage.

"Not the Aurors? Not Malfoy's parents?"

It's a question still. But also a suggestion.

Pomfrey doesn't catch his undercurrent as she immediately dismisses him.

"The headmaster will call them as soon as he's aware." She makes an unconcerned gesture. "It'll all be settled."

Harry knows it won't though. And despite the fact that this is an opportunity for him, despite the fact that it's Malfoy who was cursed, despite any of it, the fact that she's so easily distancing herself from this already, that she's shunting aside responsibility when an Unforgivable was cast on a student… well, that just pisses him off. For this alone Harry wants to see how much she'd like being cursed and then abandoned. Or worse.

And knowing Malfoy Senior when he finds out, Harry suspects it'll be much worse.

Harry is on his feet before Pomfrey can even turn away. He doesn't touch her, not even close, but he blocks her way. Forces her to take a step back.

"I've been hurt quite a lot since I've come to school here," he says then, and while he keeps his voice calm, it isn't at all friendly. "A few times by faculty members even. And not once did anyone, including the headmaster, contact law enforcement. Much less my relatives."

Pomfrey's face is something between startled and glaring. He can't see the Slytherins but knows they're watching the by-play. Assessing. Deciding.

They won't be the issue. It's Pomfrey he needs to worry about. It's Pomfrey who needs to do more than wave her wand and give a stern lecture for once.

"I may not be a legal expert," Harry continues oh-so reasonably, "but I'm fairly certain the first people we should be contacting when an Unforgivable is cast aren't the professors in a school. I'd also think a healer would know that. Would also have the decency to send for his parents when he needs them."

Pomfrey flushes then, and while her face is tight and the look she gives him is approaching angry, Harry knows he's got her. Particularly when her head lifts and shoulders square, eyes flicking to Malfoy momentarily. She turns on her heel then and promptly marches for the fireplace. In the same gesture, she flicks her wand and throws in a powder from the jar on the mantle.

"Ministry of Magic, Auror Department."

Harry doesn't hear what else she says with the subsequent ward she casts, but her head is in the fireplace for over a full minute, and Harry sees Nott and Zabini nudge one another from the corner of his vision. Malfoy, on the other hand, doesn't move at all. When Pomfrey finally pulls back, her eyes have that same glint again, and it becomes even more apparent as she comes over to them again.

Harry knows exactly what she's going to say before she even opens her mouth.

"I'd also think that having our heads of house here is a recipe for disaster," Harry points out before she can even mention them again. "I mean, Slytherin and Gryffindor. We won't be able to get a word in edgewise once they learn we're here."

Pomfrey, unsurprisingly, doesn't even argue with that assessment. She merely gives the four of them a cool glance before turning back to Harry.

"Who do you suggest then, Mr. Potter?" She taps her foot loudly on the floor as she crosses her arms, but she's no longer in charge no matter how she tries to rein him in now. "The faculty needs to be involved. Even if the headmaster isn't here."

Just like that, she's gone from possible hindrance to ally. It's so easy that Harry can hardly believe this is happening. It's as if she wants him to lead her down the garden path.

"How about Professor Flitwick?" he suggests, amazing himself with how innocent it sounds. "Professor Sprout'd also be a neutral party."

There's a noise from one of the Slytherins behind them – Zabini, Harry thinks – but he doesn't turn to look. Instead, his attention remains on Pomfrey, who again bows down without much effort. Perhaps she's not used to someone standing up to her like this. Calmly, rationally. Not whining like a child she won't let leave early. More like an adult that she can't bully by her position in the school alone.

Pomfrey simply tips her head and jabs out her wand with a muttered spell. A misty form shoots forward, but it's indistinct at first, taking several seconds to coalesce into an actual shape. Pomfrey's entirely unfazed by this and bends down to whisper to the bear before it quickly rumbles off.

Harry watches it leave with satisfaction. The power dynamics are still in his favor, but he's content to leave things as they are while they wait. He settles for helping himself back to his seat and assuming a relaxed posture as he glances at the Slytherins.

They're anything but unperturbed.

Zabini's staring at Harry like he's a new and fascinating – but very frightening – species. One that may suddenly choose to attack if he breathes too heavily. Meanwhile, Nott seems torn, gaze going back and forth between Harry and Pomfrey like he can't quite decide what to think. Malfoy, still shaken from the Imperius, merely watches his hands and doesn't once look up.

Flitwick's there in minutes. Indeed, he beats the Aurors by a good amount of time. Though to be fair, they do have to go get the elder Malfoys, while all Flitwick has to do is walk up a few flights of stairs.

Either way, the professor doesn't seem all that surprised to see Harry and three Slytherins in the Hospital Wing, but he does look to Pomfrey for an explanation. Harry's more than happy to chime in as she hesitates. When he finishes, his Charms professor is already in the process of doing a very good impersonation of McGonagall with how thin his lips become and the narrowness of his eyes. Regardless, he doesn't have an opportunity to say anything since the fireplace chooses that second to flare to life, and whatever comments he has are lost as Pomfrey moves to allow five more people to join them.

A woman who Harry can only assume is Malfoy's mother is the first to move, rushing to her son's side. Mr. Malfoy moves at a more sedate pace and with only a single assessing glance around the room. The others following them are in red Auror robes, and the woman out front has an air of authority and a familiar look to her. Amelia Bones, Harry realizes after a moment, recognizing her from the pictures in the paper detailing the hunt for everyone's favorite Azkaban escapee.

Who, by the way, has been out for months and still hasn't been caught. Despite the Ministry's bungling efforts.

The introductions are terse, tense, and not very informative since Madam Bones doesn't really bother to mention the names of her Aurors. Not to Harry at least since the adults seem to know them. Only Flitwick catches this omission though, but before he can get a word in, Bones is already turning to away. Pomfrey has already given her the bare basics it seems, but Bones has chosen to turn to the Slytherins first.

Nott shakes his head though while Zabini curtly informs her that he is merely here for moral support of a friend and classmate. Effectively leaving Harry to either rise to the occasion or completely take the fall on his own. How Slytherin of them. But not Slytherin enough. Not by a longshot.

Of course, they also have the elder Malfoys to vouch for them and see to their interests. Especially since Zabini is apparently something of a cousin and Nott's father a family associate.

Further leaving Harry out to dry.

Not that it matters. In fact, it only helps him when the Aurors seem to realize this.

"You, Mr. Potter, should have your guardian here," Madam Bones states very firmly. "Can't speak to you formally without a representative. Dawlish, fetch the headmaster then-"

Harry lets out a little laugh in perfect interruption, but it gets the exact reaction he wants.

"Something funny, Mr. Potter," she asks, and her voice is all too heavy.

It's perfect really.

"My guardian's Sirius Black," Harry answers almost cheerfully. "Surely, you know that."

From the startled gasps that echo the room, apparently not everyone did. But Bones doesn't look nearly so surprised. Oh, she does because he mentioned Sirius Black by name, but the gleam in her eyes tell him everything. She knew. Completely and utterly. Knew that legally speaking there's only one man with any real authority over Harry, and that man was conveniently imprisoned without trial and is now on the run.

That more than anything earns her a black mark in his tally. Several of them even. She merits very close watching in the future. Perhaps she's bidding her time to await justice. Maybe she's even been angling for an investigation. Or perhaps she's just like the rest, content with pretty lies and leaving the innocent in a cold, dark space to die.

Harry, however, says none of this. Instead, he has a quick glance around the room to study the various expressions of shock. Or the lack thereof. Mr. Malfoy and his wife aren't nearly so stunned. Neither are Flitwick or Pomfrey. The Aurors are, unsurprisingly. As for the Slytherins, they are more or less. But within the reasonable limits of children.

Hm… Harry can still work with this.

"He's my godfather," Harry offers with a shrug. "He's still listed as my legal guardian. I had it checked," he puts in an aside. At the look he gets, he adds, "What? You thought I wouldn't find out as much as possible about a man aiming for my head."

There's a very long pause after that revelation.

"Be that as it may," Bones finally allows, "you can't truly speak with us without an advocate. I don't believe Professor Flitwick will be enough."

Meaning they're already running into legal shenanigans, and they haven't even taken a statement yet. Pathetic. This is an opportunity that could easily slip into a nightmare. Especially if this goes to some sort of trial. And even more so with the Boy-Who-Lived involved.

Fortunately, Harry knows just who to ask for.

"I'd like my account manager then please. He's already representing my interests elsewhere and will here, too." He even offers a little pause for effect. "Steelclaw Bloodletter, if you will."

Madam Bones is tactful enough not to actually shout out the word goblin, but her face all but screams it. The Malfoys have much better poker faces as a whole – not that Draco is paying much attention, even as he's squashed in next to his mother – but Malfoy Senior still lifts a brow in a move that isn't entirely scripted. Flitwick closes his eyes for a second, but doesn't say anything, while Pomfrey makes a pained sound. The nameless Aurors, Nott, and Zabini make varying faces before the latter two manage to control themselves with appropriate Slytherin decorum.

"Your account manager, Mr. Potter?" Flitwick asks finally. "No one else?"

"Who else in the magical world looks after my best interest? Not many," Harry points out. "At least, not the people who should."

That earns him another round of surprise, but it really shouldn't. There's a flash of something a lot like anger on Flitwick's face, and his eyes smolder in agreement. Harry's sitting close enough to feel Flitwick's magic rising to the surface before he can pull it back in.

Interesting. Seems like not everyone is very happy with how Dumbledore has played things so far. Harry will keep that in mind.

"Are you certain, Mr. Potter?"

"I can trust he'll look out for me," Harry replies. "I pay him after all."

That earns him a cool look from Madam Bones, but she complies after a long moment and suggestive cough from Flitwick. Soon enough, the Floo is burning again. Only two people step out instead of the one Harry's expecting.

This is even better.

"Steelclaw," Harry greets jauntily, rising to his feet. "Mr. Frost."

His account manager gives a subtle glance around even as he walks over. While his face is blank as usual, it's his eyes that give him away. For all that goblins aren't prone to showing much emotion around humans, Harry can tell that he's very concerned. Particularly when his gaze flits to the Malfoys.

"Mr. Potter, interesting company you keep," Steelclaw finally states with a regal nod of his head that Harry returns fully. "It seems that your typical luck is once more in play. Fortunately, I took the liberty of bringing your solicitor as you see."

"I was in Gringotts anyway," Mr. Frost offers, but it's not nearly as reluctant as it should be.

"Oh? Talking about me again?" Harry asks with a grin.

Mr. Frost gives a small smile of his own. "Among other things."

He looks very composed as usual, greying hair and blue robes perfectly in place, face a pleasant and blank mask. So very put together. A good thing with all the bombshells that Harry likes to drop on him. Which is why Harry has decided to pay him more than the going rate. He's most certainly going to be working for his money, and it's not like Harry's worried about running out anytime soon.

Apparently for legal matters, Harry could access more than just his trust vault. A very nice loophole that Steelclaw had found for them, one that's earned him a bonus as well. For all the jokes about lawyers – and goblins, too – Harry finds that he prefers them to most people. Pay them, they treat you well. Don't pay them, they no longer work for you.

Much more trustworthy than most relationships.

But anyway.

Everyone's brought up to speed soon enough with helpful – and not so helpful – interjections from various parties. After what feels like a million questions, a look in Malfoy Senior's eyes that promises forthcoming vengeance, and several honest to Merlin tears from Mrs. Malfoy, Harry feels like they're all finally on the same page.

Naturally, it's at that point that Bones motions for one of her Aurors to test Malfoy the younger for spell residue, and when he gives her a sharp nod a moment later, she pulls out a very odd looking purple quill. To this point, her Aurors have been using green ones that write without any human input, but even without the color change, Harry knows this is much more official. He's seen such a quill before, has even used one when signing documents for Steelclaw and Mr. Frost.

Bones catches his comprehension as he glances at her. "Use of an Unforgivable is a very serious matter," she informs them all and seemingly Harry in particular. "This is now a formal investigation."

She motions to her Aurors, who've already brought out different quills of their own. The one who's once again casting on Malfoy is using blue, while the other who's just cast a Tempus charm is using red.

"Are you willing to testify to all of this, Mr. Potter? To everything you just told me?" Bones half-asks, half-demands without preamble. "And understand that this case will with all likelihood lead to a lifetime imprisonment for the culprit."

Really, for all that she looks similar to Susan, the personality is all wrong. Susan is a very sweet if naïve girl. There's nothing sweet about her auntie though as she looks at him over her monocle.

"With Veritaserum, I assume," Mr. Frost cuts in then. He casts a look at Harry when she gives a curt nod.

They've already talked about this before. Several times in fact over the summer.

Harry offers a nod of his own.

"Are you sure about this, Mr. Potter?" Flitwick inquires, and Harry is actually touched by the concern in his voice. Out of all the staff, Flitwick is probably the one who truly looks out for all of the students regardless of house or reputation.

"They're only going to ask me a few questions," Harry replies with a gentle smile and a cackle in his soul. "What harm can the truth do?"

He's already reaching for the vial Bones has just now offered. The potion is tasteless, and Harry can feel the effects almost immediately. He expects it though, has known somewhere along the line that it's likely he'll be dosed for one reason or another. He's prepared for this, studied and watched. Had flipped through and looked over information in Moste Potent Potions countless times last year while Hermione was distracted by brewing Polyjuice.

If only she'd known. If only she'd bother to pay attention. Her and everyone else.

Harry tells them the truth. It's simple really. He'd been walking in the corridor, noticed Malfoy, figured out something was wrong, brought him here. End of story.

Only Amelia Bones doesn't seem to be buying it. Neither does Flitwick. Not really. But it's Bones who is the real concern.

But at the end of the day, for all that she's an adult, for all that she's supposedly a trained investigator, she's also a pureblood from the Wizarding world with none of the cold, hard logic born from Muggles. There's a reason, after all, that majority of the greatest magicals in recent times are either Muggleborns and half-bloods or others with one foot firmly in reality. A reason that the best discoveries and most useful inventions are from the same population. From people actual able to use their brains.

Yet, even with that… at the end of the day, wizards – and witches, to be fair – are so very easily duped.

"What aren't you telling us, Mr. Potter?" Bones questions then, more rhetorically than anything.

If Harry weren't under Veritaserum, he'd have to try very hard not grin. This is all the opportunity he needs.

The next few minutes are met by nothing less than stunned, stabbed through the heart, silence as Harry details the events of his first year. The mention of Voldemort on the back of Quirrell's head earns him quite a few gasps, but no one stops him as the awful truth keeps coming when he moves on to second year. They don't even think to ask him who gave Ginny the diary, which is probably a very good thing with Malfoy Senior sitting right there.

When he gets to the part about the basilisk, Pomfrey makes a wounded noise in the back of her throat, even as Madam Bones nearly jerks out of her seat. Beside him, Flitwick is vibrating with fury, and Harry actually feels his magic burning beneath the surface.

The rest of the room is in much the same straights. His yearmates are openly gaping now, even Malfoy the younger. The three Aurors are in various states of controlled shock and fury, while Mrs. Malfoy looks ready to faint. Malfoy Senior holds his cane with a death grip. Steelclaw and Mr. Frost, the only ones who've heard the story before, exchange a single, pointed glance.

It's only because of the Veritaserum that Harry doesn't laugh and keep laughing. He will. Later. When he's had time to congratulate himself on a job well done. When he's waiting for rest of the fun to start.

And it will. So very soon.

AN: Another fic that's been languishing on my hard drive for some time. I'll try to be good and actually finish it.

Ever Hopeful,