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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 1: Late Night Visitor

NOTE: With the exception of any original characters my mind may create, no one else belongs to me. All characters and places belong to the brilliant J.K. Rowling. That said, this is my first fan fic so be kind, or honest, whatever you want. Read, Review, Enjoy!



A hot wind swept down Privet Dr, lending no relief to the sweltering mid-summer heat. While most slept soundly in their homes comforted by their cool air machines, one teenager remained awake, abandoning the stuffy air in his small bedroom to climb onto the roof where it remained only a few degrees cooler than inside. He ran his hands through his sweaty hair, lightly brushing the lightning shaped scar he wore upon his forehead. Adjusting the round glasses which framed his emerald eyes, he brought the book he’d been given closer to his face, trying to read in the moonlight.

Harry gave up with a heavy sigh. This wasn’t helping him stay awake and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could fight the grogginess that always came over him when it was so hot outside. Tossing the book aside, he wondered how Hermione had finally convinced him to read Hogwarts: A History. Climbing to his feet and taking a stealthy walk around the roof to revive himself, he silently cursed his uncle who had closed off the vents going into Harry’s room so that the rest of the house would receive more of the synthetic cold air. He didn’t know but often wondered what he had done to warrant the treatment he’d received his whole life. It was a problem he often tried to figure out the answer to, but he didn’t have much of a chance this time, becoming distracted by the familiar image of a snowy owl flying toward him on her way back from hunting. Smiling widely, he held out his arm so that she could easily land. Hedwig, always careful not to dig her claws in too deep, latched on quickly before walking up to his shoulder where she perched herself and cooed quietly in his ear as if asking why he was still awake at such a late hour.

But no matter the hour, Harry couldn’t fall asleep; the incident at the Department of Mysteries was haunting his conscience. If I don’t sleep, I don’t dream, he silently answered the owl’s unasked question. The dream, or nightmare rather, was always the same- a flash of imagery that included Neville’s bloody nose, Luna helping Ginny walk on a broken ankle, Ron being attacked by brains, Hermione’s unconscious body, and ending with Sirius falling through that dark veil. He shuddered to himself just remembering it all and felt a sudden flash of anger. All of it, every bit, was his fault because he’d let himself be tricked by Voldemort and those working with him. The famous Harry Potter had gotten his friends hurt because he just had to play the hero again. And what had happened? Sirius and the others had needed to come save him instead, resulting in the death of his godfather.

"Harry Potter!" a small voice shouted in excitement, knocking him out of his fevered reverie. He was so startled, he lost his footing and landed hard on his back before sliding helplessly to the edge of the roof. He desperately grabbed for the gutter and caught it with both hands, leaving him to swing helplessly a few stories above the ground. "Harry Potter must hold on! Dobby is helping!"

And sure enough, the funny little head of Dobby the house elf appeared above him, clad in three large unusually shaped hats. "Hi Dobby." Harry said tiredly as he hung from the roof.

The elf rubbed his knobby little hands together. "Harry Potter lets go now."

"Are you sure?" He asked looked down. He knew the fall wouldn’t be great enough to kill him, but he couldn’t help but wonder just how many bones he could break if Dobby screwed this up.

"Harry Potter must trusts Dobby now sir."

And so he did. Carefully letting go of the gutter, he found himself floating in midair until he was once more able to feel the springy roof beneath his feet. "Thanks." Harry said as Hedwig hooted angrily from the window ledge. "I’m okay." He assured both her and the elf.

"Dobby is very sorry sir! Dobby did not mean to surprise Harry Potter, Dobby was sent with a message. Professor Dumbledore trusts Dobby and no one else to delivers Harry Potter his letter." He said proudly as he presented the envelope.

Holding it up in the soft glow of the nearly full moon, Harry recognized Hermione’s small, neat writing. "This isn’t from Dumbledore."

"No sir, Professor Dumbledore only asks Dobby to brings a message from Harry Potter’s friends. Professor Dumbledore says Harry Potter will be happy to have news on his birthday." Dobby answered with a wide smile.

"Well, come on, let’s go back inside before the neighbors wake up." He began making his way through the window, the small elf following close behind him.

"It is too hots in here sir." Dobby said looking uncomfortably around the room as he tossed the book Harry had forgotten on the bed.

"Sorry about that." Harry said, wanting to tear open the envelope but having the decency to try and wait for the visit to be over.

"Dobby can fix it." The elf answered, once more rubbing his hands together and ending with a sharp snap. Harry was amazed as the temperature dropped instantly and he began to see his breath puff out in the air in front of him.

"Too cold I think." He said through his suddenly chattering teeth, as the frigidness mingled with the sweat and turned his skin cold and clammy.

Dobby made an adjustment and the room evened out to a comfortably spring-like coolness. "Harry Potter likes this better?"

"Yes, thank you very much." Harry smiled and stretched away the sleepiness that the heat had brought over him.

"Dobby will leave Harry Potter to his letter. Dobby must be getting backs, sir, as we is preparing the castle for the students to return. We is very busy now, cleaning and scrubbing. Dobby likes being busy all the time and must gets back."

"Well, I won’t keep you. Thanks for bringing this to me, and I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself."

"Dobby is excited to have Harry Potter back at school soon." The small elf looked down shyly, the three hats he wore swaying on his head. "Happy Birthday!" he added before disappearing with the snap of his fingers.

Alone in the room at last, he let go of the small bit of patience he had and tore into his letter. As soon as the envelope was open, Hermione’s voice floated out of it quietly surrounding him as she began.

"July 30 8:00 p.m.
Dear Harry,
Ron and I and the rest of the Weasley’s just arrived at the usual place. We had expected to use an owl to get this to you, but as I’m sure you know by now, Dumbledore showed up with Dobby. But speaking of OWL.s, have you gotten your grades yet? I know WE haven’t. I shall have to speak with Dumbledore the next time he’s here. We were supposed to get those weeks ago. I know you were expecting a letter from Moony or Tonks, but they agreed to let us tell you the good news. I’m sorry I haven’t written more over the summer, I wanted to but they had told us it wasn’t a good idea. But that’s over now! Oh, hold on. Ronald wants to say something."

"Hey Harry mate. Can you believe how she begins a letter? Personally the longer it takes to get back our OWL results the better. I wanted to write too, of course, but mum and dad said we could put you in danger, having owls swooping all over your house now that You-Know-Who is looking for you. But boy do I have a lot to tell you! So much has happened, but I think it’d be better in person, now that we’re so close to seeing each other. Anyway, how are the muggles treating you? A fair lot better I expect after the Order talked with them end of last year."

Harry closed the envelope there and took a minute to reflect. True, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had been better to him, for about two weeks. They of course made sure Harry wrote "his freaks" every other day, but they monitored what he put into the letters, breathing down his neck as he wrote. There was no way for him to mention that his food portions were getting smaller by the day as Vernon and Dudley made themselves fatter. Or that he was getting the occasional smack around for not doing chores in a timely manner. It seemed that this year, when Harry most wanted to be left alone, they were always there. Uncle Vernon especially had turned meaner than he ever had, never once all summer calling him by his name. It was always "Boy" or "Idiot boy" or "Freak" and there was always something Harry was doing wrong that deserved discipline; being too loud, being too quiet…. breathing.

If only he could do magic to emphasize the point the Order tried to make when they’d threatened the Dursleys. But no, Harry could face evil wizards, centaurs, death eaters, trolls and dementors, but the muggles he has to stay with he can not lay a hand on, or wand in this case. If only you could see me now Ron. He thought bitterly. Big strong Harry Potter, forced to scrub toilets and getting beaten if they aren’t spotless. Harry looked at his arms which were covered in small finger shaped bruises and scratches from being grabbed and thrown around by the massive man. If only Vernon weren’t so much bigger than him, he might be able to fight back.

And then he smiled with remembrance. It had been two weeks, but the memory still held great satisfaction. He had been out back mowing the lawn and wrapped up in thoughts of his friends and why they hadn’t written him. Distracted he had accidentally mowed over part of Aunt Petunia’s garden. A very small part, he had thought that no one normal would notice. But Vernon had been on him in an instant, as if he had been watching for Harry to screw up. The shouting red faced man had been storming toward him and seeing the garden hose on the ground, he’d pictured it wrapping itself around his uncle like a snake, stopping his tirade in it’s tracks before he could inflict harm on his nephew. Harry had reached behind him, had felt his wand in his pocket. He never went anywhere without it. And then suddenly, though he could have sworn to himself that he hadn’t said a spell, hadn’t even pulled his wand out, the hose had tangled itself around Vernon’s feet, tripping him so that all his mass landed hard and bounced slightly as he fell to the ground. Harry had watched in amazement as the thing wrapped itself around and around the terrified man. And then he had run and hadn’t come back until well after he was sure the family had turned in for the night. Vernon hadn’t bothered him for three days after, and they had been the best of his summer thus far, left alone in his small room. He smiled again in the present moment, remembering the fear in his uncle’s eyes that day. Of course, when no further occurrence took place, Vernon had regained his false sense of bravery. With a sigh, he opened the envelope again, hoping for the good news Hermione had alluded to at first.

"Hope you’re doing alright with those horrible people. Hermione keeps pushing me and I keep telling her aghh-"

"Ronald is done now. Anyway, Harry, as I’m sure you won’t get this till after midnight, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Mad-eye told us that we could tell you to expect them at your house tomorrow. You’ll be coming here for the rest of summer again! Lupin has insisted he go with to bring you here, so expect him at noon. I know you may be sad being back here with all the memories, but at least you get to leave the Dursleys’ house and we miss you so much! Oh-"

"Jeez, Hermione sure knows how to bring up bad stuff. Girls. You just can’t explain them."

"Please, if Ron would try to explain anything his head would explode. Girls are not that complicated. He’s just a slow learner. Besides, to scold me on poor topics when he goes and brings up those muggles… Anyway, see you tomorrow, Harry. I can’t wait."

"WE can’t wait. Now it’s my turn to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, mate! See you tomorrow!"

"Love,
Hermione and Ron"

Harry smiled in real joy for the first time in awhile. His best friends couldn’t even "write" a talking letter without fighting with each other. At least he now knew they weren’t mad at him, that the order had kept them from sending letters. He had been so scared that they would blame him, hate him even for what they had all gone through. That didn’t seem to be the case and a sense of relief washed over him. Now he only had to worry about how much he blamed himself.

Glancing at the clock, he realized that it was in fact about a quarter past midnight. He began packing immediately, both in anticipation and as a welcome exercise to stay awake. It didn’t take long since he hadn’t unpacked most of his school things in the hopes that he would be leaving sooner than usual, so he cleaned Hedwig’s cage next. Finally with nothing left to do and the clock showing it was only just past two thirty in the morning, he reluctantly picked up Hogwarts: A History and began again from the beginning. He made a mental note to never again say he was bored around Hermione lest she suggest another big boring book.




NOTE: Please stay tuned. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 2: Surprise at Number 12, Grimmauld Place

A/N: Characters and places are not mine, they belong to J.K. Rowling. A little more to read about in this one, so go ahead, Read, Review and Enjoy!



Harry had been waiting on the stairs since eleven a.m. staring at the door and fireplace, unsure how his rescuers would be arriving. Of course he wouldn’t feel the need to be rescued, had they not forced him to come back here. Despite the sweltering heat outside, he’d made sure to wear long sleeves so that his bruises wouldn’t show. For a moment when dressing that morning, he had considered baring his arms and letting the Order all know that they had failed in protecting him from his own family. But the embarrassment of his abuse outweighed any satisfaction he might have felt from exposing it. Besides, he just wanted to go, to get away from these people and never have to see or think of them again.

Peering into the parlor, Harry saw his aunt and uncle lounging in front of the television but Dudley was no where in sight. He had no idea where his cousin had gone after breakfast, nor did he care. Early this morning, he’d decided to warn the family that their house was going to be infiltrated by wizards- he’d quickly changed his mind about that after Vernon threw the frying pan at him during breakfast. Let them be taken by surprise when the others arrived, he hoped his massive uncle’s heart gave out and he died of the shock. Shaken by the dark thought, he forced more pleasant images, like the reunion with his friends and with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. But that led him to think of Dumbledore and how he had left things with his Headmaster, and that of course brought him to the prophesy. It was the reason his godfather was no longer alive after all.

Then he began to wonder, with Sirius gone, who would make sure he got information? Were they going to keep him in the dark again? Dumbledore had said that not informing him had been a mistake, so were they going to tell him everything now? He felt his temper rising; they already hadn’t told him anything in any of the short letters they’d sent, it had all been about plans for school and telling him to be patient. So were they expecting him to just sit in Black Manor and keep being a good little boy? They better tell me everything, I’m sixteen now, no need to be coddled, he thought miserably.

At exactly noon, the room began to crackle and out of nowhere, Remus Lupin appeared in the parlor, startling Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. Harry laughed as silently as he could, just in case he had to come back. He walked in to greet his friend, the last true Marauder, as Vernon started up. "What the HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? YOU CAN"T JUST-"

"I can do anything I like." Lupin cut him off and turned to Harry. "How are you? Ready to go I presume?"

"Since I got here." He smiled up at Lupin and gave him a hug, forgetting his anger from a few minutes ago. He was just so happy to be leaving.

"Hey!" Vernon shouted. "I’m tired of my home being invaded by you freaks! Petunia, pull the shades, we don’t want the neighbors to see anything." He ordered his wife as he stood, trying to look intimidating while approaching Lupin who appeared unconcerned.

Before anything more could be said between the two men, the air crackled once more and Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared looking both aware and amused. "Harry! Good to see you again." He said placing a large heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder in greeting before turning to his partner. "The street is all clear Remus. Nothing to worry about."

"Actually, we may have a problem. Mr. Dursley here seems unhappy with us." Lupin said, winking at Harry.

"He does?" Kingsley asked in mock horror. "Well, Mr. Dursley, what can we do to make things better for you? After all, we’d hate to leave you upset."

Vernon, though not the brightest man, quickly caught on to the mocking tone in the wizards’ voices. "You can get the hell out!" he shouted, his face turning purple as they laughed at him.

"Well since you asked so nicely." Kingsley chuckled. "I’d hate to face the wrath of this muggle."

"Get out! And don’t come back! Keep that boy, he’s possessed anyway!" Vernon screamed, turning another shade darker in his fury.

"Alright Harry, Tonks and Mad-eye are out in the car. Shall we go then?" Lupin asked, his amusement at Mr. Dursley’s anger clearly evident.

Harry merely nodded and left without a word to his relatives, who were now silently fuming that they were once more disrespected in their house but too scared to do much of anything about it. Following Lupin out with his trunk and Hedwig, he saw a small car waiting patiently at the curb. He had a feeling that it was charmed to be as big as a bus inside, and by the crooked way it was parked, he also had a feeling of who was driving.

They put his things in the rear and then climbed in the backseat with Hedwig. Harry saw that he was right, Tonks was in fact sitting happily behind the wheel. "Wotcher, Harry" she said. "Happy Birthday." She smiled then turned the car on and began to drive.

"Potter." Mad-eye said by way of greeting from his place in the passenger seat.

"What about Kingsley?" he asked.

"He’s in the air above us with a few more Aurors. We all have to be extra careful now." Mad-eye answered without turning around. "Constant vigilance, how easily some forget." He muttered, pulling out his flask and taking a swig. As they got further away from Privet Drive, Harry settled into the seat feeling lighter. He tried to never think of the happier life that he could have had if his parents had lived and it was much easier to do that away from the Dursleys, where life actually offered a few happy moments.

A short while later, Tonks screeched to a halt and parked the car quite a few feet away from the curb. She and Mad-eye got out to survey the area as Harry leaned toward Lupin. "Why was she driving?" He asked, a little unnerved from all the close calls they’d had on the road.

"Because Mad-eye is officially listed as disabled and I was never allowed to get my license." He answered, looking just as shaken as Harry felt.

"And she was the next best choice?!" Harry asked in bewilderment. Lupin simply laughed in response as they got out of the car at Tonks’s signal.

Out of nowhere, number 12 towered over them, the other houses shifting out of the way to make room for it. Lupin pushed Harry ahead of them. "After you." He said with a slight bow.

Feeling anxious, he opened the door revealing the dark, foreboding hallway. "Remember," Tonks whispered so as not to wake the screeching portrait of Mrs. Black, "watch out for that damn umbrella stand, it comes out of nowhere. Just go straight into the parlor." He nodded and stepped inside, hoping his friends were already waiting for him. But the parlor was dark and he couldn’t remember where the light switch was located.

As Harry was groping along the wall trying to find the light, the room was suddenly illuminated and a group of people shouted, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY!!" He was astounded to find Hermione, Neville, Luna, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Lavender Brown, and Parvati and Padma Patil standing in the middle of the room. Kingsley had arrived before them and was standing off to the side with some Order members whose names Harry didn’t remember. All of the Weasleys- with the obvious exception of Percy- were huddled near the entrance.

As Harry tried to gather his bearings, Hermione ran up and gave him a hug that almost knocked him over. Once she let go, Ron grabbed him in a brotherly hug as well. He was in shock; no one had ever thrown him a birthday party before, let alone gone through the trouble of arranging a surprise. He felt on the verge of tears.

"For goodness sake." Mrs. Weasley came forward, "Let the boy come in. Hello Harry dear, where you surprised?"

"You have no idea." He answered, still not sure how to feel.

Ginny came up next to hug him. "Do you like the decorations? We’ve been working on them all morning." He took in the hundreds of balloons covering the ceiling, streamers at every corner, bubbles floating generously throughout the party guests and the hugest pile of presents he had ever seen, even compared to what Dudley normally got.

"They’re wonderful." He answered, nodding hello to Bill and Charlie as the others led him away to get some punch.

Everyone began chatting as soft, happy music filled in the background. The teens went off to a corner, with people occasionally coming over to say Happy Birthday again. Hermione had been the one who had invited all of their school friends and Harry was glad they were there, though he found it a bit unsettling to come from someplace where he was lonely and unwanted to all of this. When he finally admitted to never having a party before, Ron had all the incentive he needed to start some party games.

Though Harry caught a sense that the others felt bad for him as they realized he’d never really celebrated his birthday before, he didn’t care. He felt happier than he had in months and for a little while, was able to forget about everything plaguing him. By the time cake came around and everyone gathered to sing, he couldn’t keep a smile off his face.
 


NOTE: Up next, Harry receives some news about Sirius and they all get their owl results. See you next time!

Chapter 3: Good News, Bad News and OWL’s

NOTE: All characters and places belong to J.K. Rowling. I wish I had thought it up first. But then again don’t we all? I decided to just post as I finish the chapters cuz I’m really impatient, but please review and I’m going to try and answer all reviews so if you have a question or comment please post.

 

"PRESENTS!" Ron yelled and ran back to the parlor. Everyone had just finished their cake and followed him at a much slower pace, their stomachs not as used to being stuffed full as his was. Once they had all settled Harry began opening his gifts, feeling awkward that everyone was watching him. He supposed most people were used to this sort of positive attention, but it was definitely something he was still uncomfortable with… the last thing he wanted was to be the center of attention. Pushing those insecurities down deep, he kept a joyous air about him for the benefit of the those who’d gone through the trouble of giving him this party. Besides, after opening a few gifts and getting used to the upbeat atmosphere, part of him actually liked that people were paying attention to him without yelling or throwing things.

From Ron, he got a muggle toy called "Magic 8 Ball," with a card that read, To remember old Trelawney and the fact that we never have to take her class again. The boys shared a grin as Harry reached for the next gift, which happened to be from Tonks. She gave him a new broom servicing kit and flying goggles that she’d had fitted with lenses containing his exact prescription. He thanked her profusely as Ginny excitedly handed her gift over next- an indoor quidditch set that everyone wanted to try right away, Harry included. But Mrs. Weasley quickly called for order, insisting they not be rude by ignoring the rest of the presents.

Eager to play the new game, Harry quickly opened the rest of the wrapped packages in front of him. Fred and George gave him a sample pack of all their new merchandise along with a gift certificate for their store, The Weasley Bros. Laugh Emporium. While he found it amusing, he decided the twins’ gift was something he should look through later, based on the face Molly was making. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley gave him a new wristwatch, which Harry believed to be far out of their price range. Though he sincerely thanked them, he made a mental note to try and find a polite way to give it back for something less costly later.

Lupin’s present was strange. It was a blank piece of parchment and a note saying that he would explain about the parchment later. His friend winked at him in a conspiratorial manner before turning to continue a conversation he was having off in the corner with Tonks. Harry shrugged and put the gift in the pile with the rest of his new things before reaching for the next present. It was from Hermione and surprisingly she didn’t give him a book. Instead it was a small box that said, "Open me later when there aren’t many people around." He looked at her quizzically and she just smiled.

It took a lot longer than he’d imagined, but when he finally made it through all the presents, Mrs. Weasley announced dinner for those that were staying, once more delaying the game. Most everyone left, except the Weasleys, Hermione, Luna, Neville, Lupin and Tonks. Mad-eye grumbled something about annoying duties and apparated with a loud crack. Everyone talked throughout dinner, their hearts as light as their moods and Harry reflected that he finally felt at home, for the first time in a long time. More than that, he felt accepted, even loved. They talked and laughed for a long time, the teens all forgetting their desire to play the new quidditch game as they were distracted by such a happy gathering.

Finally the clock struck half past nine and it was time for Luna and Neville to take their leave through the floo network. They each wished him a happy birthday one last time before stepping into the fireplace and disappearing to their individual destinations. Harry was exhausted, but gave no argument when Hermione and the Weasley kids wanted to talk privately in his and Ron’s room. They all headed upstairs in a noisy ruckus, everyone still in a carefree party mood; once they situated themselves comfortably around the room it seemed everyone was talking at once, each trying to catch Harry up on what he had missed while stuck away at the Dursleys. With a headache threatening to break loose, he made them go one at a time.

"It’s Fred and George, Harry!" Ron said grinning madly at his brothers. "Their shop is doing so well, and they’re giving a lot of money to the folks! We’re not poor anymore, thanks to them."

"Aww, you embarrass us little brother." Fred said with mock modestly.

"Really, it was nothing." George piped in.

"Dad getting a new job helps too, you know." Ginny put in, attempting to keep her brothers’ heads from swelling any further.

"The store and a new job, so that explains the wristwatch! I was going to have your mum return it for something else." He stared down at the gift sitting comfortably on his wrist and wondered what Arthur’s new position was.

"Not a problem anymore." Ron couldn’t keep the goofy grin off his face as he looked through all of Harry’s new things. He suddenly became distracted by something he found. "Hey! You should open this box Hermione gave you now." He held the small, white box out to him.

Harry glanced at Hermione who was sitting next to him and she nodded her agreement. He took it from Ron’s hands and shook it gently, his curiosity peaked at the unusual sound buzzing inside. As soon as he opened it, something small and glittery zoomed up and out. On instinct alone he reached out and caught it mid flight, though it took a second to realize what was struggling in his hand. "Where did you get this?" He asked her.

"I took it from the practice box at the end of last year. I figured you’d like a real one to practice with, and you told us your dad had one." She looked down shyly at she admitted she had stolen the snitch.

"Well done, Hermione!" George said proudly.

"A girl after our own hearts." Fred complimented her, looking positively gleeful that she was starting to come around to their way of doing things.

"It was a one time thing. Something special for Harry for his birthday." Hermione assured the twins in a scolding tone before peeking at Harry out of the corner of her eye. "Do you like it?" She asked him nervously.

"Of course! This is so much better than a book or homework planner!" He said, throwing an arm around her shoulders and pulling her in for a hug.

Everyone laughed as someone knocked, interrupting the fun. Mrs. Weasley opened the door and walked right in. "Here you all are!" She exclaimed as Harry quickly hid the snitch behind his back. "Harry dear, Albus is downstairs and would like to see you, as well as Ron and Hermione."

"We’ll be right down." He promised. She closed the door and everyone looked at each other.

"Maybe he has our OWLs!" Hermione jumped up and ran from the room. With that thought, Ron and Harry followed much slower each trying not to be the first downstairs. When they reentered the parlor, Dumbledore was sitting by the fire and Hermione was practically dancing around him in anticipation.

"Ah, Harry. So that Miss Granger doesn’t strain herself, I will say that, yes, I do have your OWL results with me, but first there is something important I must discuss with all of you. Remus! Thank you for joining us as well." Everyone turned to see Lupin in the doorway. Dumbledore waited patiently while they all settled into the ugly furniture. Lupin slumped into the armchair near the door, but Harry chose the couch closest to his headmaster as Ron and Hermione took a seat on either side of him. All three teens were anxious to find out what the big news was, certain Dumbledore wouldn’t bring them word of anything bad on Harry’s birthday. They soon found out how wrong they were.

"Now, Harry, what I have to say may upset you but it must be said." The old wizard began carefully. "Tomorrow you, Remus, Hermione and Ron will be accompanying me to the Ministry of Magic for the reading of Sirius’s will. Apparently, he left us all something and we all must be present."

"He left Ron and me something?" Hermione asked, shocked not only by Sirius’s generosity but by the subject they were discussing. Harry felt her take his hand in silent support and he was grateful, unsure of his own feelings on the topic.

Dumbledore brought his fingers together and regarded his audience over the top of his small spectacles. "You should know that after he returned here to Black Manor to hide out, Sirius contacted me about changing his will. He now had a godson he cared for a great deal, and two young people who he cared for almost as much as Harry, in addition to a best friend." He paused to nod at Lupin who was sitting quietly with tears on his face. "I made the changes he indicated and now, with his passing, we must hear his final words."

Harry was having a hard time dealing with his emotions at the moment. Sadness mingled with guilt and anger, leaving his stomach churning and his eyes stinging with the unshed tears he’d built up in his anguish. Ron reached over to place a hand on his shoulder as Hermione squeezed his hand tighter, each knowing how tormented he must be feeling- he was thankful for them both. He met Dumbledore’s empathetic gaze. "What time are we leaving?" He asked quietly.

"Around ten o’clock. The meeting is set for eleven and I’m afraid you three aren’t yet old enough to apparate so we must take the muggle way." The headmaster answered quietly.

"I think I’d better go to bed then, I wasn’t able to sleep last night and today was a lot to take in." He said his goodnights, thanking everyone for everything they’d done in throwing him his very first birthday party. Then he quickly went to his room and closed the door. After changing into a T-shirt and sleep pants, he collapsed on the bed feeling both wide-awake and extremely exhausted. Minutes later, he heard a knock on the door and realized he had been waiting for it. "Come in." He called with sigh.

Hermione stuck her head in. "Are you okay, Harry?"

Ron’s head appeared above hers. "Can we come in?" He asked quietly. Harry nodded and they both tumbled into the room. Ron took a seat on the edge of his own bed, but Hermione gently settled herself next to Harry.

"What are you thinking?" she asked him quietly.

"That I wasn’t expecting that." he answered. "I know I probably should have with him being... being... gone, but I wasn’t prepared."

"Neither were we, mate." Ron took a bite out of a chocolate frog and shook his head at the floor.

"What can we do for you, Harry?" Hermione looked upset and eager to do anything to make him feel better.

He shook his head helplessly. "I just want to stop thinking about this and I don’t want to talk about it either."

"Well, Dumbledore gave us our OWLs. We haven’t opened them yet, we wanted to wait for you. Maybe that will help." Hermione held up three envelopes.

"Anything to see your grade, eh Hermione?" Ron teased.

"Oh shut up, Ronald. Here." Harry reached to take his and Hermione jumped back in horror. "Harry! What happened to you?!"

Ron grabbed Harry’s arm before he could hide it under the covers. He had forgotten that he hadn’t put on his sweatshirt to hide the marks. "Was it the muggles?" his friend demanded.

"It’s nothing." Harry was flushed with embarrassment and hoping they’d just let it drop.

But Hermione appeared livid. "You have to tell Dumbledore. I can’t believe it. And after the order talked to them-"

"Let it alone, Hermione." Harry pleaded, cutting her off. "It’s over. I’m here now and next year, I’ll be of age and able to use magic to defend myself."

Hermione looked angry and unsure, but finally she dropped her eyes and silently handed him his envelope. Ron took his too, though he was still positively fuming. They read though them, Hermione getting more and more excited. "You first Harry!" She said eagerly.

"Why don’t you go first?" He responded, sharing a smile with Ron.

"Well if you insist." And with that she spread the paper out on the bed so they both could read it.

Miss Hermione Granger,
We are pleased to report that you have received the highest marks in your grade. Below are your individual scores. Congratulations and keep up the good work.
Sincerely,
Griselda Marchbanks

Arithmancy - O
Ancient Runes - O
Astronomy - O*
Care of Magical Creatures - O
Charms - O
Defense Against the Dark Arts - O
Herbology - O
History of Magic - O
Potions - O
Transfiguiration - O
*Due to unforeseen circumstances, your Astronomy grade is based solely on what you had completed.

"Wow, Hermione! You got all O’s!" Harry was stunned, he knew she’d do well, but all O’s?!

"What did you get Harry? You go next." He spread his paper on top of Hermione’s letting the others take a look.

Mr. Harry Potter,
Below are your individual scores. On behalf on the entire board, I would like to congratulate you on receiving the highest grade in Defense Against the Dark Arts in over 50 years. Keep up the good work.
Sincerely,
Griselda Marchbanks

Astronomy - O*
Care of Magical Creatures - O
Charms - O
Defense Against the Dark Arts - O+
Divination - A
Herbology - E
History of Magic - E
Potions - O
Transfiguiration - O

"Wow, those are good marks, Harry!" Ron marveled.

"How did you get an O+?" Hermione demanded. The boys looked amused.

"I showed my patronous for an extra point. The tester offered it, I didn’t ask for it." He said, hoping to appease her jealousy.

"I could’ve shown my patronous too." Hermione said sourly under her breath. Then she shook her head and returned to normal. "Anyway, your turn Ron."

Ron grumbled to himself as he leaned forward and put his paper on top of the other two. He obviously wasn’t as pleased with his grades.

Mr. Ronald Weasley,
Below are your individual scores. Good luck in the next two years.
Sincerely,
Griselda Marchbanks

Astronomy - A*
Care of Magical Creatures - O
Charms - E
Defense Against the Dark Arts - O
Divination - P
Herbology - A
Potions - E
Transfiguiration - E

"Oh Ron." Hermione shook her head.

He dropped his head, looking worried. "How long do you think I can keep mum from seeing these?"

"Probably only till you wake up, if that." Harry laughed as Ron’s face twisted into an expression of terror.

"Two O’s! She’s going to kill me. Even Fred and George managed three each!"

"At least we both got good enough grades to continue potions." Harry said, trying to cheer him up. He knew Dumbledore had gone over Snape and nullified the professor’s threat not to accept any student with less than an O.

"Yippee." Ron said sarcastically. "Two more years with Snape."

"We need it if we’re going to be Aurors." He reminded his friend. "Besides, the grades aren’t the worst in the world and you passed everything important with good marks."

Ron got up said goodnight and crawled into bed, pulling the covers over his head. Harry and Hermione grinned at each other before she looked down at the floor again, avoiding his gaze. "We should probably go to bed too, Harry. We have to be up...early...you know." She hesitantly said goodnight and made to leave for her and Ginny’s room.

"Thanks, Hermione. For keeping the Dursleys a secret for me." Harry said, trying to ensure that it would remain a secret. She gave him a weak smile and left without another word. "You too Ron." He said to the lump on the bed next to his.

From somewhere under the covers, Ron mumbled "You’re welcome." Harry put his glasses on the nightstand and got under the covers. He hoped that he was tired enough to not have any nightmares and after awhile finally closed his eyes to thoughts of flying on his broom with Hermione and Ron right behind him, all trying to catch the snitch she’d given him for his birthday.

(BREAK)

Hermione quietly closed the door to her room, noting that Ginny was already asleep. She lay in her own bed, wide awake, thinking of how sorry she felt for Harry. He was holding so much in, she was afraid he would burst someday soon. They were all sad Sirius was gone, but they had others to fall back on. Harry formed very fast and very strong attachments to people, probably because he’d felt so alone for so long. Sirius of course had been no exception and to take him away from her friend was simply cruel.

And those muggles! How Harry could continue to suffer in silence for what those horrid people did to him, she just didn’t know. She figured it was probably because he was embarrassed, but she didn’t care. She wished the Order had done more than threaten the Dursleys, she wished they’d cursed them straight to hell.

Tossing and turning for more than an hour, she finally gave up on sleep and kicked off the covers. There was nothing she could think to do to help Harry through all of this… she certainly couldn’t force him to talk to her. And if he didn’t talk to her, how was she ever supposed to be able to try and make him feel better? Frustrated, she knew the only thing she could do was wait patiently for him to decide he needed to talk to someone. She just hoped she was the one he turned to.

(BREAK)

Ron got up as quietly as he could, not wanting to disrupt Harry. He’d seen the heavy dark circles beneath his friend’s eyes and as his usual roommate, he knew how horrible Harry’s sleeping patterns were. And Harry needed his rest more than any of them to make it through what was shaping up to be a very sad tomorrow. So in an effort to let Harry continue sleeping peacefully, Ron made his way down to the kitchen for a glass of milk.

His own restlessness he attributed to a combination of his anger on Harry’s behalf for what the muggles had done to him as well as his poor grades. There was nothing he could do about the Dursleys, especially if Harry didn’t want the adults to know about it. So he attempted to put all of that aside- after all, if Harry could do it why shouldn’t he be able to?

As for his grades, while he hadn’t exactly failed everything like he thought he would he’d done no where near as well as his friends. Hell, he hadn’t even done better than the twins, and they couldn’t have cared less about school. Of course, he knew Fred and George were smart in their own right, but still… he’d actually tried to do well. Or maybe he hadn’t. Truth be told, his mind hadn’t fully been on his exams last year, there had been too much going on at the time. But saying that he’d been distracted by the goings on at the end of last year was an excuse and nothing more. After all, it hadn’t affected Harry much and it certainly hadn’t stopped Hermione. He poured his drink and sat at the table, trying to feel tired.

A small sound behind him startled him so badly he thought he was going to jump out of his skin. Ron whipped around to find Kreatcher exiting his cupboard. The strange, cranky little elf walked through the kitchen and out into the hallway, muttering softly to himself. Though Ron couldn’t hear what exactly he was saying, he figured the ugly thing was upset to once more have the house invaded by wizards he deemed unworthy. He was a bit curious as to what the house elf was up to, but the last thing he wanted was to have any interaction with Kreatcher.

With a heavy sigh, he put his now empty glass in the sink before heading back up to his room. Once more he took great care to not wake Harry as he slipped back into his own bed. As he pulled the covers up around him and closed his eyes, he only hoped his mother would go easy on him. As for this school year, he was determined to do better. Maybe he would ask Hermione to help him study… Yes, that was a great idea! He rested easier, now that he had a plan. Especially since it was one that would give him an excuse to be around Hermione even more. Drifting off to sleep, he pictured how great this year would be and the things he’d finally have the courage to say and do. He was determined to make this the best year he ever had. Perhaps it was too much to wish for, but at the moment he didn’t care.





A/N: Coming next, reading of the will, trouble at the ministry, changes at Grimmauld place. Look for it soon!

Chapter 4: The Ministry of Magic

NOTE: Once again I own none of the characters or places unless they are original work from my twisted and cluttered mind. That said, Read, Review, Enjoy!




Harry awoke to shouting from downstairs. By the sound of it, it seemed Mrs. Weasley had found out about Ron’s grades. He reached for his glasses and glanced over at the other bed, sure enough it was empty. As Harry got up there came a light knocking on the door. He opened it to reveal Hermione and Ginny standing awkwardly before him. "We had to get out of the kitchen, so we volunteered to come see if you were awake yet. Can we come in?" Ginny asked as she walked past him and plopped down on Ron’s bed, not waiting for an invitation.

"Sure. Um, yeah it was hard to sleep through all that yelling." He motioned for Hermione to come in as well. She sat awkwardly next to Ginny. "Where’s Fred and George?" he asked, yawning widely.

"Oh they’re still down there. They love it when someone else gets yelled at for a change." Ginny smirked.

"You should get dressed, Harry. It’s almost nine and Dumbledore said we were leaving at ten." Hermione was wearing a somber dark blue dress and a sad expression. Harry nodded and grabbed his nicest clothes to go change in the bathroom.

Ginny groaned as he came out and they started for the kitchen where Mrs. Weasley was still loudly berating Ron. Walking in quietly, they took seats as far from the argument as possible. Fred and George however were right near the action, occasionally egging their mother on. "Yeah, Ron, at least we got three O’s." Fred taunted.

"At least I didn’t drop out of school!" Ron shot back and Mrs. Weasley turned to the twins.

"Good influence the two of you are on your brother!" She yelled. From behind her, Ron stuck out his tongue.

"It was a smart business move mother. At least you know we’re doing something with our lives as simple as you might think it is." George said trying to turn her wrath back on Ron.

"That’s right!" She shook her finger in Ron’s face. "What are you going to do with yourself, with grades like those? Oh, Harry, I didn’t see you come in!" Harry who had been enjoying watching the boys manipulate Mrs. Weasley’s anger was embarrassed to suddenly find himself the center of attention. "Here, have some breakfast, dear. And you girls eat up too." Ron looked positively relieved that Harry had drawn away his mother’s fire and he silently mouthed thank you. Mrs. Weasley looked Harry over. "Don’t you have a nice T-shirt you can wear, it’s so very hot outside."

Harry looked at Hermione in panic "It gets cold in the ministry though." She said quickly on his behalf.

"Right you are dear, darn near freezing in there it is." She agreed, turning back to the stove.

"Thanks." Harry whispered.

"Sure." Hermione responded absently, staring down at her plate and shuffling food around.

"Alright, everyone. Come on, eat up before you leave." Mrs. Weasley turned back to the teens. "Oh, Harry, Hermione. How did you two do on your OWLs?"

"We did okay." Hermione carefully answered, glancing at Ron.

"Well! Let me see your scores!" She requested, as excited for them as she was for her own children.

They looked at each other quickly, trying to decide how they could help Ron. "Um, we left them in our rooms." Harry told her.

"No problem. Accio OWLs," she said with a wave of her wand. In a second, she was holding their letters. They quickly finished eating while she looked over them so they could leave before the yelling started again. Sure enough, as they rushed out of the kitchen they heard, "Ronald Weasley! When are you going to learn to apply yourself?!"

They ran back up to Harry’s room, where at least the noise was muffled. "I’m guessing you both did a lot better." Ginny grinned.

(BREAK)

Ron felt his ears grow warm and was certain his entire face was flushed with embarrassment. He listened as his mother went on and on about how he was better than what he was producing and that he just needed to learn to focus. "It’s not like I failed out of school." He grumbled.

"It’s not like you got all O’s either!" She yelled, brandishing Hermione’s scores in her hand.

"Hey! Hermione’s like a robot or something! You can’t compare me to her!" he protested.

"She is a bit brighter than the average bulb, mum." Fred joked.

"Yeah, Ron’s bulb just flickers a little, that’s all." George added with a grin.

He glared at his brothers, who weren’t helping his cause. Of course, he’d never helped theirs either, and they were in trouble on a far more frequent basis. "That’s not funny." Molly scolded the twins before turning back to him. "Okay, if you feel Hermione is so special at school, then explain why you couldn’t do as well as Harry!"

"Oh that’s good. Compare me to Harry Potter, like I don’t get that enough!" He yelled in frustration.

Before his mother could answer, someone knocked loudly on the front door. Looking flustered, she went to answer leaving him alone with his brothers. "Well, that was…interesting." George said of Ron’s outburst.

"Shut up and leave me alone." He answered grumpily. Hearing Dumbledore’s voice, he rose to join the adults in the hallway. Despite the tragic reason they now had to leave the house, he was glad for the chance to get out.

(BREAK)

After awhile of playing with the snitch, Harry and the girls realized the house was silent. "It’s ten till ten." He announced after looking at his new watch.

They headed downstairs just as someone came knocking at the door. Mrs. Weasley rushed to answer it before Harry could, admitting Dumbledore into the house. "Are you all ready to go?" The headmaster asked as Ron came out of the kitchen. Harry and his two best friends nodded sadly. "Then let us be off." He turned and led the way outside.

Waiting at the curb was the same small car that had brought Harry yesterday. Lupin was already in the back but this time there was a ministry driver behind the wheel. Without realizing it, Harry sighed in relief knowing the ride would be far less turbulent without Tonks driving. The trip was a silent one… no one dared speak or even knew what to say.

Staring out the window, Harry watched the houses give way to businesses and saw more and more people on the street. He knew most in this part of town were muggles and they were all rushing around, living their lives completely unaware that their world could be ended at any time by a danger they knew nothing about. How could the muggles ever understand the threat Voldemort presented? He wouldn’t have six years ago.

At last, they pulled into an underground parking area and parked the car next to a wall covered in shadow. Dumbledore got out his wand and tapped in certain places, just as one had to do in order to enter Diagon Alley. The wall slid back silently and they hurried through the makeshift doorway. He felt his heart rise up in his throat as he recalled the last time he’d been at the ministry just a few weeks earlier… his felt his entire life had changed that day.

After a long walk down a deserted corridor, they found themselves in the lobby. It looked quite different since Harry had seen it after the showdown between Dumbledore and Voldemort- it had been in ruins then. Now, the statue in the fountain was gone replaced with a simple chalice until a new sculpture was produced. Some of the walls were still being repainted and repaired and there were tarps everywhere. He didn’t understand why they were doing it without magic.

"It’ll be stronger if we rebuild it ourselves and reinforce it with magic." Dumbledore answered Harry’s unspoken question. He looked at the older wizard and realized the man hadn’t actually said anything outloud. Harry wondered if Dumbledore was in his head or if it was the other way around, since the other gave no indication that anything was going on at all.

They reached the lifts and squeezed in the nearest one. Dumbledore muttered something under his breath and the elevator went up one floor instead of down to the others. "Law Department" a voice announced. They got off and went down another long corridor. At precisely eleven, they entered an office simply titled, Last Will and Testament. The decor was ordinary considering where they were; it was just like any standard office with a desk, chairs and lots of books, files and folders. Harry sat between Lupin and Hermione, Ron on her other side and Dumbledore took the seat behind the desk.

"As a favor, I asked that I be allowed to read his will to you. Thankfully they thought me qualified. Now, are there any questions before I begin?" Everyone was staring at the floor, obviously wishing they were anywhere but there. "Alright then. It begins, ‘I, Sirius Black, am obviously not here if this is being read.’" Everyone looked up at this. Dumbledore regarded them all with a sad smile before continuing. "‘Hopefully, those present are my heroic godson Harry Potter, the brilliant Hermione Granger, the bravely loyal Ronald Weasley, and my long trusted, well-loved friend Remus Lupin. A side note for Moony, if you haven’t told her yet mate, do it soon, you know who I mean. Just a little advice.’" Dumbledore paused.

Everyone had tears in their eyes; they were sad but also amused that Sirius wrote his Will as if he were still here talking to them. Passing the tissue box around, the old wizard continued reading. "‘It’s a sad business, reading Wills since it almost always means that someone has died. Unfortunately, this is my Will and I just want you to know that wherever I am right now, I am missing all of you. I know that my death was not in vain, that it was a sacrifice for the good guys, and that I will have taken out as many of the bad guys as I could reach before it happened. I know that I will have died fighting the good fight, and Harry, Remus, believe me when I say there is no other way I would have chosen."

"Now, I suppose it’s on to business as you must be wondering what I have left you. To Ron and Hermione, I leave the sum of 20,000 galleons each. To Albus Dumbledore, I leave 30,000 galleons to be used for any Hogwarts business. I feel that it’s the least I can do to make up for various activities that may or may not have involved James, Remus and myself. I also leave you the knowledge that you did everything you could to tame us and our, pranks shall we say, in no way reflected our opinion of you. Remus, dear friend, last of the original Marauders, I leave you 100,000 galleons and the contents of my safe, you know the one I’m talking about. For Merlin’s sake, buy yourself some new clothes.’" Lupin gave a small laugh at that, tears flowing freely down his face.

"‘Harry, I wish things were different for you. I wish that we would have had all the time in the world to know each other, but unfortunately things turned out differently. Whatever you do, do NOT blame yourself in any way for my death. No matter the circumstances, no matter what you think happened, the choice to fight was ultimately my own. That said, I leave you Black Manor, or more precisely now, Potter Manor. Not quite the same ring to it, but it’ll grow on you. I also leave you the rest of my fortune to do with as you please. The sum is great, but I know that things like money don’t matter to you. Family matters, so look around you and see these people here with you now. They ARE a family, the one you made for yourself. I love you all, good luck, in battle and in life. Someday, somewhere, we are destined to meet again. Just don’t make it too soon. For all of eternity yours, Sirius "Padfoot" Black.’"

The room was unearthly quiet as all reflected on what they had just heard. Silent tears were spilling over in everyone’s eyes, and Harry wondered if things would ever be better for any of them.

(BREAK)

Hermione watched the torment that played across Harry’s face as he tried to make sense of his life. Although a few tears had escaped, she saw how hard he was trying to hold them back. She didn’t know how he was able to, her own face was wet and she felt like doing nothing but sobbing hysterically. It was all so tragic in her mind.

Sirius had been like a big kid once freed of Azkaban, and while he’d been a very capable man she’d never pictured him as a real fighter. Sure he’d had skills, never backed down and had effectively proved he would defend himself and those he loved to his death, but the fact that he’d had to do so at all seemed completely unfair. It wasn’t the life he was meant for, but it was the one he’d had to deal with since being framed for the death of his friends fifteen years before. For that long, his memories, anger, and guilt had tortured him. His future had been taken from him in one fell swoop. And then Harry had come along and once more it seemed the man had something to live for, something beyond his desire for revenge against Peter and ultimately Voldemort. Unfortunately, he’d proved how immature he was, letting his need to get even override his need to care for his godson when the boy’s parents couldn’t. Or maybe the two things had been equal in his mind when he’d gone to the ministry with the others to help them. She didn’t know and would never have the chance to ask.

Glancing at Harry again, she saw how much he was struggling to be strong. She wanted to shake him out of it, to tell him to let himself cry and release some of the pain he always carried. She wanted to take him in her arms and comfort him, assure him it would all get better someday even if they both knew it was probably untrue. Instead she kept her hands clasped in her lap and waited for it to be time to leave.

(BREAK)

After a long while everyone had more or less pulled themselves together and Harry knew it was time to leave. He felt a bit regretful, wanting to stay in the presence of that document- his last link to Sirius. It was silly and he knew it, so he remained silent. Without a word from anyone, they exited the office and headed toward the lift. Once they were all on, he faced the corner to try and hide the fact that he had to wipe his tears away. Unfortunately, Hermione seemed to notice and as he turned around she reached out and squeezed his hand. Although embarrassed, Harry squeezed back thanking her for her silent support.

Something was obviously wrong when they reentered the lobby. People were running everywhere shouting as they prepared for something unknown. Tonks appeared before them out of breath and panicked. "Albus...the dementors...they have left Azkaban. They have joined his forces and are attacking the ministry!"

Dumbledore turned to the group. "Ron, take Harry and Hermione to your dad’s office and stay put until he or I come and get you. Remus, come with me."

"Come on." Ron said as the adults hurried away. He led them back to the lift and they rode it all the way down to floor one.

Harry was confused as he followed his friends down the bright hallway. "Ron this isn’t the floor your dad’s office is on."

His friend simply smiled in reply and led the way into a large, beautifully furnished office, locking the door behind them. The nameplate on the desk said Arthur Weasley, Minister of Magic.
 



A/N: Uh oh, the dementors are out of control…. We’ll see where that goes. Stay tuned for the next installment, coming relatively soon. Thanks for reading!

References to Sirius’s death and fighting in the ministry from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.
Chapter 5: Potter Manor

NOTE: This may be repetitive, but once again, I do not own any of the characters or places unless they are original and if you are a true fan, you will know the difference. That out of the way, read, review, enjoy!

 

 
Harry looked at Ron incredulously. "Your dad is the new minister?"

"We didn’t get a chance to tell you last night, with Dumbledore interrupting us and then the OWLs." Ron answered, unable to keep himself from grinning with pride.

"How did this happen? What happened to Fudge?" Harry asked, bewildered. He’d never imagined that this was Mr. Weasley’s new job.

"His worst fear." Hermione grinned. "Fudge was overthrown, but not by Dumbledore. The Daily Prophet wrote all about it, but you probably didn’t get those while you at the Dursleys. There was a hearing to go over why he didn’t take your story seriously back in fourth year after the tournament and they voted him incompetent and incapable of doing his job. They told him that all threats, real or imaginary concerning Voldemort must be taken seriously and investigated. Basically they said, ‘Harry Potter had another student’s dead body and a story that he couldn’t have possibly fabricated in the short time he disappeared, it should have been investigated further.’"

Harry turned to Ron. "Wait, what about Percy then? Wasn’t he Fudge’s secretary or something like that?"

He shook his head angrily. "The git still won’t admit he’s wrong. V-v- you-know-who shows himself and Percy still acts like a total prat. He resigned his position, saying that he just couldn’t work for dad. Couldn’t face him more like it. Anyway, Dumbledore and my mum convinced dad to put his name in for the position. And he got it!"

"Well, with Dumbledore’s help. He’s the one who convinced them all to give Arthur a chance." Hermione added. Before Ron could reply, they heard someone nearby scream. Pressing their ears to the door, they heard people running by yelling for assistance.

"We should help them, we can all do a patronous!" Harry whipped out his wand.

"First of all Harry, we aren’t allowed to do magic and second…"

"Hermione...Harry…." Ron interrupted her. "Um guys, I think we should start calling our patronous." Harry and Hermione stopped arguing and realized that the temperature in the room had dropped considerably as they began to slowly see their breath. The three stepped away from the door, their backs to the wall as the lights flickered wildly before going out completely. They raised their wands ready for whatever came out of the darkness. Hermione’s free hand was digging painfully into Harry’s arm- he barely noticed. Ron on the other side of him was shaking badly, his knees knocking together, but he stood tall and his wand arm was firm and ready.

As suddenly as it had come, the cold disappeared and the lights sprang back on. They kept their wands up, not wanting to let their guard down as the door lock clicked open. Dumbledore poked his head in and collectively, all four let out their breath. Harry, Ron and Hermione lowered their wands as the headmaster walked in, looking sad, tired and extremely old. "The dementors are gone. Some did not escape their attack." He somberly told the teens before turning and walking away without further comment. They followed close behind him.

Once more entering the lobby, they saw several people lying silent on the floor, worse than dead; they were soulless. Others attended the victims, but not much could be done. Harry tried not to look- though his eyes didn’t have much time to register anything anyway. Dumbledore wasn’t actually running, but he was moving so fast that the three teenagers had to sprint to keep up with the old wizard as they made their way back down the long hallway to the parking garage. The little car pulled up in front of them, squealing to a halt as they were all ushered quickly into the back.

"Dad!" Ron said in relief. Mr. Weasley himself was behind the wheel, looking grim. He gave them a weak smile before turning his attention back to the road. Two more ministry cars pulled out with them, one in front and the other behind. Harry looked up at the sky, and sure enough he caught glimpses of several people on brooms.

"Shouldn’t these people be back at the Ministry helping out instead of seeing us home?" He asked suddenly. Ron and Hermione looked up, interested in the answer.

Mr. Weasley sighed. "We are still trying to determine if it was just an attack on the Ministry, or...." he trailed off, obviously not wanting to think about the "or".

"Or what Mr. Weasley?" Hermione asked though she had that look that said she already knew and just wanted to confirm her suspicions.

It was Dumbledore who answered. "Or if Voldemort had found out that Harry was going to be there."

Anger and guilt hit him in waves. Couldn’t he even go to the reading of his godfather’s will without looking over his shoulder? Constant vigilance, he heard Mad-eye’s voice in his head. Well, screw that. Was there nowhere, no time when he could feel safe? And what about his friends? He slumped down in his seat and glared out the window. The others must have noticed his reaction, because no one said another word until they reached home.

(BREAK)

"The mail’s here!" Ginny called up the stairs. She walked into the parlor as she flipped through the letters, happy to see several envelopes from Hogwarts. Their school letters had finally arrived, Harry’s sitting proudly at the top of the heap. She couldn’t help but smile as she read his name.

"Anything for us?" George asked as he and Fred bounded into the room.

She handed them their business letters and flipped through the rest to be sure she hadn’t missed anything. She was surprised by what she found. "Hey, you both got something from the school."

"What could they possibly want." Fred grabbed the envelope bearing his name and the Gryffindor crest, studying it closely before tearing it open. "Oh no. George, we have to keep mum from seeing these."

"Seeing what?" Molly asked suspiciously as she walked into the room.

"Nothing." George answered quickly, hiding the letter behind his back.

He wasn’t quick enough. With a wave of her wand, both of the twins’ Hogwarts letters were in her hands. "Oh my goodness! This is wonderful!" Molly exclaimed happily. Ginny saw the twins exchange a look that told her they disagreed. She took a deep breath and made herself very still and unnoticed so that she’d be able to stay and find out what was going on.

"We aren’t going to do it mother." George said evenly.

"Oh yes you are." Molly returned.

"But there’s no point!" Fred protested.

"Of course there’s a point! And you’re both going to do this!" She argued back.

"We have to get to the store and don’t have time for an argument." George answered.

"Besides mum, we’re seventeen. You can’t make us." Fred continued to push.

Molly seemed to take the statement as a challenge. Her face turned hard. "Ginny, dear. Please go up to your room while I discuss a few things with your brothers."

She didn’t want to, her curiosity was peaked. "But mum-"

"Go!" Molly ordered in a tone that implied she was not to be argued with.

"Fine!" Ginny yelled, stomping up the stairs to her room and slamming the door behind her. Sometimes, she felt like she wasn’t even a part of the family. Just that morning, the twins had been allowed to stay for Ron’s dressing down, so why couldn’t she witness theirs?

Looking for a distraction, she turned to her own mail. Putting aside her Hogwarts letter she picked up the other one, the one Dean Thomas had sent her. By the end of last year, she had finally agreed to date him after he refused to relent. It wasn’t something she was particularly excited about but she figured it was better to be with someone rather than alone. Especially since she’d recently begun to suspect that the boy she really wanted seemed to want someone else, even if he wasn’t aware of it yet.

As she tore open the envelope, she felt slightly guilty. This was the tenth letter Dean had sent her since summer began, and she’d only sent him one back.

Dear Ginny,
I don’t know why you aren’t writing to me but I hope you’re okay. If you are, then it’s starting to become obvious that maybe you just don’t want to write me. Listen, I’ve liked you for awhile now, and maybe I should have waited until we came back to school to ask you out, so that we’d actually be able to see each other. So here’s the deal, if I don’t hear from you again, I’ll assume you’ve changed your mind and no hard feelings, alright? I really hope I hear from you though.
Sincerely,
Dean Thomas

She was both relieved and distraught. He’d placed everything in her hands, now she just had to figure out what she wanted.

(BREAK)

It was after dinner later that night and all the teens were crowded in the kitchen discussing what had happened at the ministry and what it meant. The adults had gone off into a mysterious new room that had magically appeared next to the pantry, whose door read "War Room."

"With the dementors on his side, all those Death Eaters you guys put away last year will escape in no time!" George looked really worried for the first time in a long while.

"If they haven’t broken out already." Fred grimly added, just as concerned as his twin. They had gotten home from work right before dinner and had been shocked to hear about Ron, Harry and Hermione’s day.

Harry had been shocked when he had first walked in after Mr. Weasley dropped them off and as the others talked he let his mind wander back to that moment. It had been unsettling to walk in and discover that the entire décor and layout of the house was completely different- though it was definitely more suited to him and for the needs of the Order. Most importantly, the screeching Mrs. Black had disappeared- Hermione had guessed that Kreatcher had taken the portrait and run off, since none of them could find him later. Apparently the spell that kept her stuck to the wall had been disabled when ownership of the house switched families. It didn’t matter much to Harry if that particular piece of the Black Family history was gone, nor was he upset that the tapestry holding the family tree had disappeared. And if Kreatcher really had run off with them all the better, he’d been glad the house elf had kept himself hidden the short time they’d had to coexist.

Beyond the entrance, the hallway had been bright and airy, the ugly umbrella stand gone and replaced with a simple vase used for the same purpose. The parlor was spectacular. The walls had become an emerald green almost the color of Harry’s eyes. There were large, overstuffed, blue chairs and couches on one side, a large gaming table on the other and bookshelves scattered throughout. Hermione had laughed and collapsed into one of the chairs while Ron had inspected the table. "Harry! We can play pool, table tennis, poker, anything we want! This is amazing."

But Harry hadn’t been paying attention to either of them at the time. He had turned and stared up at the painting placed so decidedly above the fireplace. It was a portrait of Sirius and himself, though neither had posed for it. Sirius had his hand on Harry’s shoulder and they both looked so happy in the image, so confident. Hermione had stopped examining the bookcases on the opposite wall when he’d let out a small sob, going to him and putting her arm around his shoulders. Ron had already gone off to inspect the rest of the changes to the first floor, leaving the two alone.

Harry had taken off his glasses and dropped to his knees, crying for what had seemed to him the millionth time in the last two days though he knew that was the first time he’d allowed himself to actually shed tears. She’d sat next to him looking up at the portrait and rubbing his shoulder, her eyes welled up as well. "I guess this makes it official." He’d whispered to her. "The house is mine."

"Harry?" He snapped out of his thoughts and back to the present. Looking around at everyone, he realized they were staring at him.

"Sorry." He mumbled. "What did you say Ginny?"

"I said, do you think Mr. Malfoy will continue using Draco to spy on us? I mean he is locked away in Azkaban now…"

"I wouldn’t put it past either of them." Ron said scowling. "We’ll have to watch what we say and where we say it."

"Yeah we will!" George said enthusiastically.

"What do you mean we?" Hermione asked, everyone now staring at the twins.

"We got letters this morning after you left with Dumbledore and before we fed Buckbeak. They are officially inviting us back to complete our last year."

"And after a nice yelling match with mum, we agreed." Fred added. "We decided it would let us be able to better monitor our Hogsmeade branch."

"You guys are extending to Hogsmeade?" Harry was impressed.

"It seemed like a natural idea. Most of our clients are students, so why not make it more accessible during the school year?"

"That was a smart move." Hermione said, impressed despite herself.

"Oh, letters came for the rest of you also." Ginny said handing out the envelopes to Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Harry opened his, finding his supply list for sixth year along with a letter from McGonagall. He eagerly unfolded the note, wondering what his professor had to say.

Mr. Potter,
I am pleased to announce that your lifetime ban from quidditch has been lifted and thusly I would like to appoint you our team captain this year since Angelina has graduated. I assume you will be taking your place as seeker, so please inform Miss Weasley that she is now positioned as chaser. As I understand things, our beaters will be returning this year as well, so you will need to hold tryouts for two more chasers only. See me in my office after classes the first day so that we can set all the necessary dates. I expect that cup to stay in my office, Mr. Potter. Do not disappoint me.
Sincerely,
Professor Minerva McGonagall.

"Looks like you get to be a chaser for quidditch, Ginny." Harry smiled. Finally, he had some exciting, good news.

"Yeah I figured that was going to happen." She smiled back. "Are you captain?"

"That’s what the letter says."

Ron looked happy. "Does that mean you’ll let me stay on the team?"

"Of course Ron!"

"You mean she picked you over one of us!" Fred grabbed the letter to read for himself.

"To be fair," Hermione started, "Harry still has two years. It makes more sense."

"Plus do we really want that much responsibility, Fred?" George asked. "Or any at all for that matter?"

"You have a point." And he let it go at that.

"Hey!" Ginny jumped up startling everyone. "You three haven’t seen upstairs yet!"

It was true. Shortly after they had finished checking out the new additions to the first floor, Mrs. Weasley had announced dinner. Harry, Ron and Hermione hadn’t even changed out of their dress clothes yet. They all followed Ginny, looking around the second floor first. There were now four bedrooms on this floor and each door had a nameplate. The first said Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

"We can’t open the door to look inside. They’ve all been magicked for privacy. Fred, George and I already tried." Ginny explained. The other doors read Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, and Buckbeak. The bathroom was down the hall.

"Buckbeak has his own room?" Ron marveled as they climbed to the next floor. There were three bedrooms here, the doors reading Fred and George Weasley, Ginny Weasley, and Guest. Walking into Ginny’s room first, they marveled at the difference. Three of the walls were now a soft blue, the fourth covered in a collage of pictures of her friends, Harry, Ron and Hermione in most of them. Fabric in several shades of purple draped down from the ceiling giving the room a feeling exotic yet soft aura. A large four poster bed was placed against the far wall, adorned with tons of pillows and looking like the most comfortable place in the world. A nightstand and small writing desk completed the pleasant décor, along with a single bookcase holding texts on magic, quidditch and music.

"This is really nice, Ginny!" Hermione said.

"I guess it’s meant to be my home away from home." she smiled, ushering them out and down the hall to the twin’s room.

Fred and George’s space was almost like a lab. Around the identically dressed beds were tables set up with beakers and vials, chemicals, tubes, cauldrons and burners. Several bookcases lined one wall, holding books about potions, herbs, crystals, and minerals. Two lab coats and two sets of goggles hung next to the door, ready for use by the wanna-be potionmakers. "Everything we need to drive mum crazy." George said proudly.

"And to make our products." Fred added.

"Right, that too. Come on, we’re dying to see ickle Ronniekins room!" They laughed as they led the way to the last floor.

Ron’s was the first room they came to. He opened the door and peeked inside. "Wow!" he said throwing it open for the others and walking in. There were posters of quidditch teams covering every wall like wallpaper, his favorite The Chudley Cannons featured most prominently. Off to one side was a broom cabinet, full of everything you would need to service a broom. The bed was much like the ones at Hogwarts, except in the colors of blue, black and silver. "This is so cool!" He walked around, examining all of his things as if he had never seen them before. "Guys! Look I have my own bath!" He said, opening a door. It was clear he wanted to stay and relish in having his own room, but with a lot of persuading, he finally went with the others to see more of the new rooms.

Hermione’s was next and she squealed with delight when she saw that bookcases lined every wall, floor to ceiling, and contained information on anything and everything one could ever want to know. Above them, the ceiling had been magicked to show a nighttime sky full of stars, the moon shining big and bright as it lit the entire room. Small reading lamps with soft green shades sat on the bedstands, giving off extra light. The bed seemed to be floating in midair and Ginny sat down cautiously to try it out- it seemed to be as sturdy as if it were on the floor. "You have your own bath too." Ron said opening a door.

Finally, they were outside Harry’s room but he hesitated as a sudden surge of sadness overwhelmed him. "I don’t want to go in there." He said quietly. The others looked anxious and puzzled, except Hermione.

"Why not Harry? I’m sure yours is the best of all!" Ron gave him a little push forward.

"Because..." He started, but was unable to say more.

"Because it’s Sirius’s old room." Hermione whispered for him, having realized where they were in the old floor plans. The others looked down not knowing what to say or do. Harry stared at the door, which proudly displayed Master Harry Potter on the front and decided he couldn’t let his memories control him like this. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the knob and threw open the door before he could change his mind.

Everyone was speechless as they slowly entered, trying to take it all in. The walls were a deep red, and the bedding, curtains and ceiling were gold, his two favorite colors. There was a bookcase on one wall that held nothing but books on Defense Against the Dark Arts and quidditch. Over the headboard of his bed, hung three pictures that he’d had, only they were made to be three times their normal size. One was of his parents, the second of Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Fred and George, Neville and Luna, taken on the train home last year; the new Marauders. The third was of Sirius, Lupin and Harry’s mum and dad from when they were in school; the old Marauders. Hedwig had her own corner of the room with a perch made just for her and Harry’s broom was mounted over his very own broom cabinet. His room was at least twice as big as all the others and it made him feel very small.

The snitch that Hermione had given him was flying freely around the room and Crookshanks, who had wandered in after them gave chase trying to get it. He knocked over some things that were on a small writing desk in his mad scramble of a pursuit. "Bad kitty!" Hermione tried to grab him.

"It’s alright, Hermione, he didn’t break anything." Harry sounded exhausted even to himself as he picked up the quills and ink. The others must have noticed how tired he was and said their goodnights leaving only Ron, who was helping Hermione coax Crookshanks out from under the bed. Harry laughed when he glanced over at Hedwig- he couldn’t help it. She had puffed herself up, put her chin up and was making quiet squeaks as if to say, You would never see me behave in such a way. I’m a good pet. Ron gave up and left, eager to check out more of his room. Hermione was still half under the bed when she screamed.



A/N: next up a trip to Diagon Alley. See you next time!
Chapter 6: Showdown in Diagon Alley

NOTE: I bet you know what I’m gonna say here! I own nothing unless it’s original. Read and Enjoy. Please review so I know whether this is worth my time.

 

Heart in his throat, Harry quickly grabbed Hermione’s legs and pulled her out from under the bed just as the snitch, followed closely by Crookshanks, flew by. They missed her face by inches. "Sorry Crookshanks, fun’s over." He said as he reached out and captured the snitch before helping Hermione to her feet.

"Sorry." She mumbled, her face flush. He could read her embarrassment and merely grinned at her. "Goodnight." She quickly gathered Crookshanks in her arms and headed off to her own room.

Harry looked around, knowing at once that he would not be able to sleep in this room- not yet. He quickly changed out of his clothes into jeans and a sweatshirt before grabbing one of the books from his shelf. On the way down to the parlor, he was stopped on the landing of the third floor by a tiny explosion that had come from the twins’ room. Smoke was billowing around the edges of the door and he could hear the boys’ muffled argument as they blamed each other for the mistake. He shrugged and continued on his way trusting that whatever just happened, Fred and George would get it under control.

The next few nights he stayed in the parlor dozing on the couch and it suited him just fine. That is until Mrs. Weasley finally caught him one night and sent him to his own room. "It’s my house now." He grumbled as he climbed the stairs. "I should be able to sleep where I want." Though instead of going to his room, which he only used to change, he decided to take over the guestroom… It appeased Molly and kept him from having to confront the feelings that arose when he thought of taking over Sirius’s room, making it the perfect place for him to hide.

(BREAK)

With a week left till school started, Molly had finally agreed to take them all to Diagon alley for books and supplies, much to Ron’s relief. The attack on the Ministry had been proven to be just that. His, Harry and Hermione’s presence had been a coincidence and this fact is what allowed them to finally be let out of the house. Good thing since they all felt cabin fever creeping into their brains.

Traveling by the floo system, they arrived at Fred and George’s shop, coughing through a cloud of dust as they began batting soot off of each other. Harry and Hermione had never been to the store before so Ron and Ginny led them around, browsing through everything as Molly scolded the twins for never cleaning their fireplace. A particular product called Spew Chew, which promised the jokester that whoever bit into the candy would have their mouths filled with the retched taste of spoiled garbage, made Ron wonder if he could ever again accept any food from his brothers without fear.

Their first stop after saying goodbye to the twins was Gringott’s to pick up some money. Ron now had his own vault housing the generous amount Sirius had given him, and he made his mother allow him to use this to purchase his own school things, as she let Fred and George use their own funds. After a bit of an argument she agreed, though she seemed saddened by the thought that yet another one of her children no longer seemed to need her. He felt bad, but also liked the taste of independence that spending his own money afforded him. Molly went off with Ginny to buy her some new robes, leaving him and his friends free to shop at their leisure for the hour until they were to all meet up at the bookstore. Much to Hermione’s dissatisfaction, they spent a bit of time in the sporting shop. Amused by the sour faces she was making, Ron suggested their next stop be the stationary store, though she didn’t perk up until after she had bought several new quills and rolls of parchment.

As they made their way back down the street, Harry pointed out Lupin sitting outside the ice cream shop, the first time they had really seen him since the Ministry. He had been staying at the house of course, but Tonks brought him his food and he only left his room for Order meetings. Now he greeted them with a smile as they approached, happily agreeing to stay a little longer and have a treat with them.

"What have you been up to?" Hermione asked as the waitress brought their desserts. "We never see you. You’re like a shadow."

"I’ve just been thinking a lot." Lupin assured her. "Plus the full moon is coming, so I’ll have to be leaving soon. And…" he paused to dramatically take another bite of his ice cream. "…I need to decide what I am going to teach all of you this year." Harry dropped his spoon in shock and the three of them stared at Lupin excitedly.

"Are you going to teach Defense again?" Ron asked, his mouth still full. He swallowed the cold lump, feeling it cooling his insides as it slid down. "What about all the parents?"

"Albus sent out a letter to every parent, letting them know his plans. He’s using the money Sirius left him to take out insurance with the ministry for me. That seemed to appease most of them, enough for the motion to pass anyway." Lupin checked his watch. "Well, I better be going. I still have a few things to take care of around here before I can go back home. See you all there!"

After he left, they leisurely finished their treats, talking and watching the people go by. "Would you mind if we stopped in at the pet shop? I need to pick up some owl treats." Harry asked as they finally rose to leave.

"Sounds good to me. I need to see if I can find a bigger cat carrier for Crookshanks… he just seems to be getting bigger and bigger." Hermione sighed.

"Maybe because you feed him all day long." Ron teased. "You spoil that cat too much."

"He’s special." She argued simply, crossing her arms and turning away from him.

"Whatever you say Mione." Harry grinned, joining Ron in teasing her.

"Yeah special doesn’t have to equal most spoiled housecat ever." He added. Both boys laughed as she stomped ahead of them into the pet shop.

Leaving them to pick things out for their animals, Ron went off to inspect the critters on display. He was sad that he no longer had Scabbers, though as he reminded himself how that had turned out he decided that maybe another pet wasn’t the way to go. Although, he really did miss having something to care for… well maybe he’d talk to Hagrid- or better yet, Charlie. So putting the thought aside for later reflection he continued on, fawning over the various animals that came to check him out.

Neville found him a bit later, quite busy playing with the puppies. Apparently he was there to buy yet another cage for Trevor the Houdini of toads, and following Ron to the front, he was greeted warmly by Harry and Hermione. They completed their purchases while catching up, since they’d last seen each other at Harry’s birthday party. With a few minutes to spare before they had to meet Molly and Ginny, they all four stepped out on the street to plan their next stop. Upon trying to enter the candy store they literally ran into another foursome trying to exit, causing Neville to fall backwards into the street. Looking up, Ron took in the sight of none other than Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson and their moron body guards, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. He and Harry glared at them as they helped Neville to his feet.

"My dad will be out of Azkaban soon, Potter. Expect payback." Malfoy quietly threatened.

"You really think you scare me? After what I’ve been through, you really expect me to be shaking in my shoes?" Harry returned.

"If you’re as smart as you pretend to be." Malfoy sneered.

"What makes you think you or your father are scarier than Voldemort?" Hermione returned.

"How dare you speak the Dark Lord’s name in my presence, mudblood!" he turned to her, his eyes wide.

"Can’t you at least come up with new insults?" She asked impatiently. "Half breed, mudblood, Weasel. It’s all getting a little boring."

"Mind your own business frizz head." Pansy said pushing Hermione. Instantly, Harry had his wand out, followed quickly by Ron and Neville. For a moment, the Slitheryns looked scared.

Then Malfoy’s face twisted into a grin. "Go ahead! Use them."

"Normally, you aren’t worth getting kicked out of school for, Malfoy. But if you make me use this wand, believe me, I WILL make it worth my while." Harry glared never moving his eyes from the other boys. Ron tried to make himself appear as menacing as his friend.

"Um Harry?" Hermione put her hand on his arm and he lowered his wand looking around. Malfoy and his minions were also taking in the scene, terror evident on their faces, and apparently just as surprised as Ron to discover that Gryffindors and members of the DA had so suddenly surrounded them. There was: Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan, Luna Lovegood, Parvati and Padma Patil with Lavender Brown, the Creevey brothers, Ernie MacMillan, Zacharias Smith, Hannah Abbot and Susan Bones, and Lee Jordan with Fred and George. They obviously came to see what the fuss was about, as everyone of them had their wand out and ready.

Harry grinned with pride. "Looks like you’re a little outnumbered, Malfoy. Unless you feel you could take us all on?"

"You’ll get yours, Potter." Malfoy promised hollowly. And with that they retreated.

Without a word, everyone else went back to what they were doing as if nothing had happened at all. Hermione looked at the three boys, her face full of worry. "We’ll definitely have to be careful this year you guys. Did you catch what he said?"

"No, what?" Neville asked.

"He called Voldemort, the Dark Lord." Harry answered for her, still watching Draco’s retreat.

"So?" Ron asked as they began making their way to the bookstore.

"Ronald, honestly, how do you walk and talk at the same time?" Hermione asked, letting her frustration show.

"Lots of practice." Ron grinned, though the comment hurt. He didn’t like knowing he didn’t catch on to things as quickly as his friends; and he especially didn’t like knowing they thought it too. He wanted so badly to look good in Hermione’s eyes, just once.

"Ron, only Death Eaters call him the Dark Lord." Harry shook his head and added quickly, "Now is not the time or place to discuss this. We have to meet your mum and Ginny."

They waved goodbye to Neville and hurried into the bookstore where Molly was tapping her foot impatiently. "And what took you three so long?"

"We ran into some kids from school." Ron answered honestly and he, Harry and Hermione hurried in the store.

(BREAK)

Later that night in Hermione’s room, they told Ginny and the twins exactly what had happened, including Malfoy choice of words.

"Do you really think he joined Voldemort?" Ginny asked.

"Don’t know, he was wearing long sleeves so we couldn’t see if he had the mark." Hermione said searching the shelves for a book.

"Maybe he wanted to cover it. The dark mark isn’t exactly something you want the public knowing you have." Fred suggested.

"Just because he was wearing long sleeves in summer doesn’t mean he’s hiding anything. Harry wears them all the time." George pointed out.

She caught the scared look Harry quickly shot her and Ron. "That’s right." Hermione agreed definitively. "Besides, do you really think Malfoy has what it takes to deal with Voldemort? His father, yes… but him? Come on."

"So why did he say it then Miss-I-Know-Everything?" Fred asked, clearly teasing her.

"To scare us? To make himself seem more important? Because it’s how Voldemort was referred to as he grew up? There are a number of reasons." She found the book she was looking for and quickly changed the subject. "Harry! Look what I found out earlier."

Pulling the book caused the entire thing to swing open, revealing the back of Harry’s bookshelf. She pushed and Harry’s room was visible through the makeshift doorway. "There’s another one on this side leading to Ron’s room through his broom cabinet. Our rooms are all connected to each other." She grinned.

"Whoa!" Ron said, running to his room. In a second he had found the trip to open the passage way to Hermione’s room and pushed open her bookcase. "This is so cool!"

Hermione wondered why their rooms were all linked to each other, but Fred and George had merely been interested to know if there were any more secret things scattered throughout the house. Their excitement was infectious and everyone left to check their rooms. Hermione sat alone on her bed, feeling uncertain. When Grimmauld Place had housed the Blacks, it had been a foul, dangerous thing. Was it really that different? Perhaps she was just too suspicious; after all just because good things rarely happened didn’t mean they never happened. And besides, Sirius had given Harry the house and she trusted Sirius. Sort of. The man had seemed to like danger the same way Harry and the other boys did. She just hoped they didn’t come to similar ends.

(BREAK)

After awhile, Mrs. Weasley called dinner and the teens gathered on the landing to head down. They were all surprised to see Luna Lovegood seated at the table as Molly bustled around the kitchen. "Hi." She greeted them with a friendly smile, as if her being there was nothing out of the ordinary.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you, I invited Luna to stay until school starts." Ginny said turning to Harry. "We ran into each other in Diagon Alley and she said her father had to go out of town. You don’t mind, do you, Harry?" she added sweetly.

"Of course not, the more the merrier." He said calmly, though he was panicking on the inside. Having Luna here meant the guestroom would be used, which meant he would have to sleep in his own room, Sirius’s room, tonight. He couldn’t exactly turn Luna away, he would never turn away any of his friends if they needed a favor… especially someone as innocent as Luna seemed to be. The girl may be strange, but that also made her interesting and he found he actually liked having her around as he never knew what she was going to say. But as much as he decided he liked Luna, he also really didn’t want to be forced into being stuck in a place that so decidedly reminded him of his godfather. He didn’t know what to do and remained lost in his own thoughts until Lupin, who had decided to join them at the table that night, stood up so fast that his chair toppled over.

"I can’t take it anymore!" He yelled. "Sirius was right, I just have to do it! No more waiting, no more games!"






A/N Sorry to leave it there, cliffhangers are a bitch, but I will have chapter seven up as soon as I finish it. Please review and let me know what you think.

Chapter 7: Confessions

NOTE: I don’t own the characters or places, obviously. I’d be a lot richer if I did. Anyway, thanks for returning and please as always, Read, Review, Enjoy!



"Nymphadora Tonks, I’m so madly in love with you that I can’t think straight! I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I know you probably don’t feel the same and that’s alright, but I just couldn’t hold it in any longer!" The room was silent as everyone stared at Lupin in shock. Quietly, he picked up his chair and sat down, trying very hard to look as if nothing had happened as his face reddened.

They were all now looking at Tonks waiting with bated breath to see what happened. She simply shook her head and with an embarrassed laugh said, "Well, Remus, I guess that means I’ll have to forgive you for calling me Nymphadora." Ron snickered and the girls all smiled at each other. "Can I talk to you in the other room for a minute?" She got up and went to the parlor. Lupin once again knocked over the chair in his haste to follow.

Fred and George were already getting out a pair of extendable ears when their mother glared at them. "Just curious." They both mumbled putting away their invention.

"What do you think she’ll say?" Ginny asked excitedly.

"She’ll probably admit she likes him too." Harry said.

"But he doesn’t like her, he LOVES her!" Ron said laughing.

"All of you go to your rooms." Mrs. Weasley snapped. "And leave them alone in there!"

Harry liked that, being ordered around in his own house. If it were anyone other than Molly Weasley, he might have said something. But he couldn’t bring himself to do anything other than obey the woman who worked so hard to care for him the way she did all her children. Besides, a large part of him enjoyed that she treated him no differently than one of her own.

The teens made their way back up to Hermione’s room where they endlessly discussed the different outcomes for Lupin and Tonks as well as their excitement to be returning to school. Harry found he was very much enjoying himself, talking, joking and laughing with his friends. He had missed this while being locked away with the Dursleys.

"Well," George said as he and Fred got up after a long while, "we’re going to get a head start on our homework, it being NEWT year and all for us."

Everyone looked at them in amazement. "You aren’t serious?" Ron demanded.

The twins laughed, "Of course not little brother, we do have some experiments to get to though." Fred said with a wink as they apperated to their room. Harry, Ron and Ginny laughed, while Luna didn’t even bother to look up from her upside down copy of the Quibbler. But Hermione was sullen.

"Those two. They’re only coming back to play quidditch!" She said angrily. The other three only laughed harder.

Eventually Ginny and Luna left to really go do some homework since they were both in their OWL year. When Hermione kicked the boys out so she could read, Harry challenged Ron to a game of Wizard’s chess in an attempt to avoid his own room a little longer. After winning three games in a row however, Ron decided he wanted to go to bed. He tried to go to Hermione’s room to "borrow a book that would put him right to sleep" only to find that she had locked him out. "Well! I like that!" he said with his hands on his hips, looking so much like his mother that Harry had to stifle a laugh. Ron settled for a book on the history of quidditch and no longer having any excuse, Harry went to his own room.

After changing to his usual T-shirt and sleep pants, he warily climbed into bed. For almost an hour, he tried to sleep but every time he closed his eyes, horrible images from his nightmares flashed through his mind. After a final toss and turn he gave up, realizing he needed to talk to someone, to get these images out of his head. But who? Lupin was probably still dealing with Tonks- or they were busy doing something he’d rather not interrupt. Ron would be snoring by now, and though friends with Ginny and Luna, they just didn’t know enough about him. That left Hermione, who was always so smart and practical. She would undoubtedly know what to say.

The fire in his room had gone out so he wrapped his blanket around himself as he got out of bed and went to the secret door, hoping that Hermione hadn’t locked him out as well. She hadn’t. Slowly opening the bookcase so as not to wake her if she had fallen asleep, he let out a sigh of relief upon seeing she was indeed awake, sitting up in bed reading.

"Couldn’t sleep?" She asked with concern as she glanced up from her novel, seemingly unsurprised to see him.

"Too much is going on in my head, I just can’t...." Harry broke off, still unsure if he should bother her with his problems.

She sighed, put her book away and patted the huge space next to her on the bed. "I knew you’d give in sooner or later."

He looked up as he settled himself comfortably beside her. "What do you mean?"

"Harry, we all know how much you’ve been through and yet you feel the need to keep it all to yourself. It was only a matter of time before it’d all need to come out. I’m not trying to be ‘Miss-know-it-all’ as Fred likes to call me, it’s just that I do know you so well, and no one could go through so much without suffering side effects."

"You have no idea." He proceeded to tell her about the nightmares and how he hadn’t been sleeping in his room because it scared him. Once he got started, words kept pouring out of his mouth, things that had been weighing on him for years. It was as if once he let out one secret, he couldn’t stop the flood waiting behind it. Without meaning to, he told her what it was really like for him as a child with the Dursleys, what he had to endure as Vernon’s unwanted nephew. He confessed how he feared that his victories over evil were all luck, how guilty he felt about Cedric and Sirius, and what had really happened at the end of the Tri-wizard tournament, with his parents coming out of Voldemort’s wand along with Cedric to help protect him. She listened without saying a word, her face becoming angry in certain parts and concerned in others. "What if I’m not who everyone thinks I am, Hermione? What if I’m nothing but the Boy-Who-Got-Lucky-and-Lived?" He finally looked at her, waiting to see if she’d agree, if she’d yell and say she knew all the time that he was a phony.

"Oh, Harry." She sighed as she lay down. He lay too, so that they were facing each other. Now that he was done talking, he realized that he was exhausted. "Maybe you did get lucky, the first two times. I mean as a baby, there really wasn’t anything you could do, your mother’s magic protected you then. And our first year, well, he wasn’t at his full strength, which was why he needed the sorcerer’s stone. But what about everything else, Harry? No one is that lucky. Sure you had help, you had people looking out for you, but when it came down to it, your determination did it all."

He was skeptical "I don’t know. It’s just that-"

"No." She interrupted. "Harry, why are you so set against yourself and your skills? Who taught a Defense club last year? Who got an O+ on their grades? Who, time and again, risks his life for the people he cares about? It’s not that you’re playing the hero, Harry. It just that you are the hero, it’s in your blood, and as long as you are you, I will follow, no matter the danger, as will Ron and anyone else who believes in you." She looked like she wanted to say something else, but was holding back.

He didn’t push for more though since he already had tears in his eyes and was determined not to let them fall in front of her... she’d seen him cry enough. But these were the words he had so desperately needed to hear; that it wasn’t his foolishness but his courage that had made the others want to follow and forgive no matter where he led- that people believed in him.

Hermione took his hand and smiled at him sadly. "This is the life you were given, it may not be fair, but now you know you don’t have to hold everything yourself. Just look around and there will always be people more than willing to help you, because you are as much the mascot of good as Voldemort is of evil." She added softly.

Me… the mascot of good. He thought. That’s what it will come down to in the end, me and him. He pondered whether or not to also tell her about the prophesy. It was the only thing he had held back, not wanting her to be scared for him. "Hermione, there’s something else."

"If it’s about those horrible people you live with all I can say is that they better watch out for when I come of age, because they’re going to be in so much trouble." She looked at his arm, which still had a few faded marks on it.

"No, it’s about the prophesy." He answered, smiling in spite of the gravity of the secret he was about to share.

"The one that got smashed? I thought no one heard it."

"I did, later in Dumbledore’s office." He admitted.

She sat up in surprise. "Well?"

"Basically, it said that a child would be born at the end of July who Voldemort will mark his equal." Harry paused to reveal his scar. "One of them will have to take out the other, because apparently they can’t both live together on this planet at the same time." He finished paraphrasing, not bothering to hide the frustrated hopelessness he felt. "I think it’s pretty obvious who the prophesy was talking about."

"So you have to kill or be killed?" Her astonishment quickly turned to anger. "Why didn’t you tell us sooner? There’s got to be another way."

"I don’t think there is, and I don’t think I can do it. For all my hatred, all my pain and fear, for everything he and his followers have taken from me, I don’t think I could live with myself if I murdered him."

She lay down and took his hand again. "We’ll find another way." She promised. "Maybe it just meant that you will be the one to find a way to stop him." She added hopefully.

"Maybe." He replied without much conviction. Despite the current thread of their conversation he did feel happier, lighter somehow. It apparently helped a lot knowing that he had someone he could trust with everything, every part of himself. There was just one thing left and he knew it was silly, but he still didn’t want to sleep in his room. "Um, Hermione?"

"Of course you can sleep here, you already have your blanket." She answered with a sad smile.

"Thanks, I’m just not ready yet, to accept..." he trailed off. There were so many things he wasn’t ready to accept as fact.

"I understand, Harry." She said quietly. Within minutes, he was on his way to a restful, dreamless night.

(BREAK)

Hermione watched as Harry’s breathing evened out and he fell into a deep sleep. He’d confided so much to her, her head was reeling with information. Of course she’d known his childhood hadn’t been the greatest, but to find out the true depth of his unhappiness and how unloved and unwanted he’d felt for so long, it broke her heart. Her own parents were supportive though strict with certain ideas about what their daughter should be… but she knew they loved her as long as she continued to be successful. To try and picture a life where it hadn’t mattered to anyone whether you were there or not, it was unfathomable. Thinking of the life he could have had if his parents had survived, she felt Harry’s anger towards their headmaster justified. To go so long believing you are nothing to anyone and then slowly be fed information about just how wanted and needed you were, she just couldn’t imagine the hurt and frustration he must feel.

As to the rest, she now better understood his doubts about himself. Sure she’d questioned him and his judgement in the past, and would probably continue to do so. But that was due to her own flaws, not his. She found it incredibly difficult to live the way the others did, to just jump in without thinking and get things done. She would always see all the problems, the ways things could go wrong. Harry and the Weasley children may look at everything they’ve been through as adventurous, but she only saw a dangerous disregard for authority... not that it had ever stopped her from going along.

And now this prophesy, it couldn’t be true! Logically she knew there were casualties in war and that’s what they were at the beginning of, a horrific war of wizards. It had never occurred to her that Harry could lose, and it didn’t seem feasible now. But before, she’d always thought that it would be a sort of team effort- that no one would have to do anything alone. Well screw the prophesy. She would be there in the end, as would the others she was sure. Just because some seer claimed it was going to happen that way didn’t mean they couldn’t change it. Besides, that sort of thing was so open to interpretation, who knew if it actually meant what it seemed to?

Still holding her hand, Harry squeezed it in his sleep looking peaceful at last. She sighed out her frustration and closed her eyes, letting her tiredness take over. Whatever was going to happen with Harry would happen in it’s own time, for now she was happy just to be here with him in the moment.

(BREAK)

The next morning at breakfast, everyone was anxious to find out about what had happened between Lupin and Tonks and when she walked into the kitchen alone, all eyes were on her. Harry watched her blush a little at finding she was the center of attention before smiling shyly as she asked, "Has anyone seen my boyfriend this morning?" With that the teens were up and cheering, and somehow little fireworks escaped into the room. Fred and George only cheered louder when Mrs. Weasley turned to yell at them.

Everyone settled down after Molly threatened not to feed them if they didn’t. When Lupin walked in a few moments later though, they all erupted into cheers again. This time, even Mrs. Weasley was smiling and waited a full minute before silencing them. "Well, done Moony." Fred and George said as Lupin took a seat next to Tonks. He awkwardly kissed her cheek, and the teens either groaned or made kissing noises.

Lupin turned bright red and Tonks muttered, "Grow up."

"We’re in the process of doing just that." Ginny said smartly.

(BREAK)

The next few days passed pleasantly. Without being asked by Harry, Hermione kept everything that was said between them to herself, even the prophesy, though she did urge him to share that piece of information with the others. He wasn’t ready to do that yet nor was he ready to sleep in his own room. Hermione allowed him to stay with her but had told him that he better be ready by their winter break from school because she wasn’t going to let him be scared of Sirius’s memory forever.

The day before they were to return to Hogwarts Harry, Ron, Ginny, and the twins begged Mrs. Weasley to let them visit the Burrow so they could practice quidditch out in the open, using every persuasive tactic they could think of. After only an hour, she agreed and twenty minutes later they arrived by floo powder.

"She’s losing her touch." Fred remarked.

"Yeah, usually it takes at least three hours before she gives in to something she didn’t want to agree to in the first place." George added with a wide grin.

"Well, it probably helped that Tonks and I agreed to keep an eye on all of you." Lupin told them.

"Keeping an eye on us? If that’s what you two wanna call it." George shot back. Both adults blushed before walking to the edge of the yard to watch the kids play their game.

In order to get some fresh air, Hermione and Luna had gone with and were sitting on the grass reading and talking. At one point when Harry looked over, they were deep in conversation, their heads close together. "Weird," He said to himself, "normally, they don’t even like each other."

Harry gave the Weasley kids a game plan he had been working on in his mind and under the twins’ taunts about being captain, they perfected it. It felt so good to be out in the open, to zoom through the air and feel the pull of the wind as it whipped through him. On his broom, he was weightless… he was free. Flying gave him the escape he needed and part of him wanted to turn his broom and head for the horizon, to leave behind this life and keep going until he could no longer stay in the air. Of course he couldn’t do that, not now… but maybe someday when this war was all over and he could be assured of the safety of everyone he cared about.

They played until sunset, which was when they’d been ordered to be home, and they arrived at Grimmauld Place dirty, sweaty and happy. Mrs. Weasley immediately sent the teens to wash up and they raced to comply before hungrily invading the kitchen. It seemed that Molly had outdone even herself that night at dinner. The going away feast she’d prepared was spectacular, with enough delicious food for all the occupants of the house as well as the several guests who had come by to see the teens off. Bill and Charlie, who had taken some time off from their normal jobs to help the Order, were entertaining the girls with muggle magic tricks, while Moody and Kingsley were deep in conversation with Tonks, Lupin and Arthur. Everyone was in good spirits and the mood was light and happy. After awhile, Mrs. Weasley broke up the small party, sending the teens to finish packing and go to bed since they had to be up early.

Harry quickly threw everything in his trunk, changed into his sleepwear, and started for the secret door to once more bunk with Hermione. But something made him pause and he turned, looking around at the room that was so meticulously made up to suit him. True, it had been Sirius’s room… but Sirius had wanted Harry to have it, to have the whole house. Perhaps being so close to returning to Hogwarts was making him sentimental… but more than that, something told him he needed to toughen up to get through the next school year. The fact that the tiny voice in his head telling him these things sounded very much like Luna Lovegood was unsettling, considering they didn’t know each other very well, but he couldn’t argue that the voice made sense. After all, how was he ever supposed to go against Voldemort when he couldn’t even face the memories haunting his room? Making the decision to be a big boy and sleep there tonight, he went to tell Hermione.

"Harry!" She said as soon as he entered. "I promised I wouldn’t tell, but it’s just too funny!"

"Tell what?"

"Promise you’ll keep it a secret?"

"You mean like you are?" He teased and she glared at him. "Alright, I promise."

"Luna has a crush!"

Luna, who he’d just been thinking was somehow in his head giving him advice. "It’s not on me is it?" He asked nervously. Though he wasn’t sure what his type of girl was, he didn’t think Luna was it. But then again, that wasn’t fair… he didn’t know anything other than that the girl was strange and oddness wasn’t necessarily a reason to dismiss a person.

"Someone’s full of himself." Hermione said. Her tone joked, but her eyes were saying something different, something he could almost see…. "No, it’s RON!" she added quickly, breaking off his concentration.

"What about me?" Ron asked coming through his side of the secret passage. Apparently, Hermione had forgotten to lock it.

"Nothing." Harry and Hermione said together. They glanced quickly at each other.

"Okay… Well, Harry I, uh, wanted to ask you something about tomorrow." He gestured that they go into Harry’s room. "Privately."

With another look at Hermione, Harry followed him into his room and closed the bookcase. "What’s up?"

"What were you guys saying about me?" Ron asked right away.

"Nothing." Harry quickly answered, remembering his promise to keep the secret. Besides he was sure Luna would be mortified if she knew they had told Ron before she was ready… or before Ron was ready to hear it.

"Did she say something about someone liking me?" He pressed.

Harry was nervous. His friend had hit the nail on the head. "Um...."

"I knew it. She told you she liked me, right?"

He was taken aback for a moment. "Um, no. I can honestly say she said nothing about her liking you."

"Oh. Do you think she does?" Ron asked hopefully, though it was clear that he was also nervous to finally breach this topic with anyone.

"In a more than friends way? I can’t say for sure... but I don’t think so." Harry could feel heat rising to his face. He knew he was blushing and figured it was the uncomfortable topic they were discussing.

"You don’t?"

"Sorry mate, I don’t think so at all."

"Oh." Ron’s face fell. "Do you think she could?"

"Why are you asking me?" He was thrown off by his sudden anger. He didn’t understand why this was bothering him so badly.

Ron also seemed surprised by Harry’s tone. "Because lately you two are always off talking about something privately." He answered defensively.

"And you think all we do is talk about you?" The words were out before he realized what he was saying.

Ron looked hurt. "Fine, she doesn’t like me, or at least tell you she likes me. Sorry."

"She doesn’t tell me she likes you because she doesn’t. Not in that way. Maybe you should get a new crush." Why was he saying these things? Harry’s mouth was completely out of his control, speaking before thinking. Ron turned without another word and left the room through the normal passage and Harry heard a door slam down the hall.

Within seconds, Hermione entered his room through the bookcase. "What was that all about?"

"Nothing." He turned his back so she wouldn’t see his face.

"It didn’t sound like nothing. What happened?" she asked, full of concern.

"Nothing alright? By the way, I’m sleeping in here tonight. Gotta get used to being by myself." He said moodily.

"Harry...."

He turned to her, carefully keeping his face blank. "I’m really tired, okay. I kept Luna’s secret since that’s what you really want to know, so goodnight." He gently pushed her to her room, closing and locking the bookcase so she couldn’t come back. Grabbing a book, he angrily threw it across the room. What was wrong with him? Why was he yelling at Ron about liking Hermione? A sudden thought crossed his mind, but he quickly dismissed it. It was just impossible. He turned out the light and got into bed, welcoming the nightmares in place of what he was thinking, because what he was thinking was more than he could handle right now.

(BREAK)

Ron didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t understand what Harry’s problem was! They were all growing up now, and sure Hermione maybe wasn’t the girl he’d envisioned himself with, but he couldn’t help what he was feeling. As much as the girl annoyed him, as much as she corrected him and as much as she threw her intelligence in their faces, there was something about her that made him want to be near her all the time. All he had hoped was that Harry could provide insight, that Hermione had confided in their friend that she had feelings similar to his own. So why had Harry jumped down his throat?

He kicked off his covers, unable to sleep. He was too upset. Deciding on a game of pool to calm himself, he silently made his way downstairs and into the parlor. "Hey." A voice in the corner of the dimly lit room made him jump.

Turning he found Ginny sitting in one of the armchairs, a small book and pen in her lap. "What are doing down here." he demanded of his sister. "You scared me to death."

"A bit of an overstatement." She smirked. "I couldn’t sleep so I came down here to write in my diary. What are you doing down here?"

"I couldn’t sleep either. I wanted to shoot some pool. You up for a game?" he asked hopefully, suddenly glad of the company.

"Sure." She smiled slightly. "So, what’s keeping you up tonight?"

"A small fight with Harry." He answered shortly as he racked the balls.

"About what?"

"Nothing."

"Really? A fight about nothing is keeping you awake?" she asked standing next to him, waiting for her turn.

Ron felt embarrassed. But maybe his sister, who was friends with Hermione as well, could give him the insight he’d been denied by Harry. "It was about this stupid crush I have on Hermione. I thought I heard them talking about me and I was hoping she’d told him that she likes me too. Instead, he got all mad and told me to find a new crush."

"You’re an idiot." She smacked him hard on the back of his head.

"Ow! What the hell?" he rubbed his head, looking at her warily.

"Of course he doesn’t want to tell you she likes you, he wants her to like him!" Ginny said.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"He likes her, and she likes him. They’re both either too shy or too stubborn to admit it. Anyone can see it though. I know I can." She sounded upset and he remembered her own crush.

"What’s wrong, Gin? You want him to like you instead?"

"Well, wouldn’t you want her to like you instead? It’s just not the way it is."

"Is this something she told you?"

"Of course not. I can just tell."

He leaned over to line up his shot, his head a whirl of thoughts and emotions. Once more, Harry was going to get something that he wanted and it hurt. "How come I didn’t see it?" he wondered out loud.

"Because guys never pay attention to anything important." She answered bitterly. "Between my brothers, my guy friends and my boyfriends, I feel like you all just shut off your senses to anything that doesn’t demand your attention, including me."

"Trust me Ginny, you are pretty hard to ignore."

"Yeah, so says you. Meanwhile I move to the back of your mind as soon as your friends show up."

"They’re your friends too, you know. And you’re my sister. You’ll always mean more to me than they do."

"We’ll see." She said quietly under her breath as she took her shot, sinking in two balls.

"There’s no hope for me and Hermione then?" he asked.

"Not until she and Harry get each other out of their systems. Right now, whether they even know it or not, they are only interested in each other. That could change given the right stimulus I suppose, but why bother. They’ll probably tire of each other pretty quickly."

Ron didn’t think that was the case. While they finished their game, he tuned her out for the most part, thinking back to everything he knew about his two best friends. Nothing seemed to point to any great love affair, but at the same time, all he could think was how much sense it made. Okay, so this would be one more thing Harry bested him at- he could live with it. At least, he hoped he could.



A/N: Next up, they head to Hogwarts and the train ride gives the gang a few problems. Let me hear your thoughts on this chapter and the story thus far and stay tuned for more Harry Potter and the Ring of Mykele.

NOTE: References to the prophesy from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Chapter 8: Drama On Board the Hogwarts Express

NOTE: Blah, blah, it all belongs to J.K. Rowling. You know the drill. Read, review, enjoy!

 

Harry awoke the next morning to yelling from all over the house as everyone prepared to leave. He got dressed quickly, glancing around the room to be sure he had everything he needed. His eyes landed on some blank parchment on his desk and intuition told him not to forget it. Picking it up he realized it was the gift Lupin had given him for his birthday and he instantly felt a pang of guilt. He had never gone and asked about it like he was supposed to. Not that Lupin hasn’t been too preoccupied to come remind me. Harry thought with a wry smile. Lupin and Tonks had become inseparable in a few short days, letting little else occupy their time except each other. Well, there would be time enough at school to ask about the strange gift.

Happy to be reminded that his friend would be back teaching that year, he threw the parchment in his trunk and dragged it downstairs along with Hedwig’s cage, letting the owl ride along on his shoulder until they reached the bottom. She seemed unhappy yet resigned to being placed in her cage for the trip and Harry was sure to throw some extra treats in to make up for her temporary confinement. From the doorway to the parlor, he caught Ron and Hermione’s eyes and motioned them over. Hermione went right away, but Ron frowned and debated whether or not to get up. In the end, he followed Hermione.

Last night, Harry had stayed awake for hours trying to figure things out. Now he knew. He knew that his feelings for Hermione may have begun to run deeper than friendship, he knew that Ron had liked her in the same way for at least two years, and because of this, he knew he couldn’t say anything to either of them. The only thing he didn’t know, was whether Hermione liked either boy. And that was something he just wasn’t ready to know, because if he was being honest with himself, these feelings may have been there all along, unrecognized. But he had to put it all aside- he couldn’t live happily knowing that he caused Ron unhappiness.

"Ron, I just wanted to say sorry for yelling at you. I don’t know what happened, it was just unexpected and I was tired and stressed. To be honest, I really don’t know the answer to your question, but it could be possible." Harry said, forcing himself to admit that it really could be possible that Hermione liked Ron.

To his surprise, Ron gave a small grin looking between Harry and Hermione. "We’ll talk later." He told Harry and walked into the kitchen to get breakfast, leaving his friend bewildered.

"I’m sorry I snapped at you too." Harry said shaking his head and turning to Hermione next. "I really didn’t mean it and I would tell you everything that happened, except it’s probably something Ron would want to keep between ourselves right now."

"I understand, Harry. I was just worried about you putting more stress on yourself by fighting with Ron." She quickly squeezed his hand and followed Ron into the kitchen. Harry smiled; she was worried about him. But then a voice in his head said, Who isn’t these days? He sighed and went to get his last meal before going home to Hogwarts.

An hour later, they were all packed in a large car Mr. Weasley had sent from the Ministry, speeding toward the train station. Tonks was once again behind the wheel and all passengers were hanging on for dear life. "Can’t you say something to her about her horrible driving?" Ron asked Lupin as he was thrown to the floor when she stopped at a light.

"No." Lupin answered looking just as shaken as everyone else.

"But she’s your girlfriend!" Ron whispered violently.

"And I’d like to keep it that way. A little turbulence can make the trip exciting." Lupin gave a weak smile. Finally, they pulled up to the station, much to the relief of all inside the vehicle.

"Everyone out!" Tonks said happily.

Two at a time, they fell through to Platform 9 and ¾ and with fifteen minutes until the train left, Lupin pulled Harry away from the others. "You never came to ask me about your birthday present." He said quietly as he nervously glanced over his shoulder.

Harry was taken aback. Having just been thinking of that parchment a short while ago, it almost felt as if he had sent the thoughts directly to his friend. "Yeah I know… it slipped my mind actually, with everything else going on and all. But we can talk about it at school right?"

"So you packed it?" Lupin asked anxiously.

"Yeah. Of course." Harry’s curiosity rose a little higher. "What is it?" He couldn’t help but ask.

"It is a list of clues to something I think you might find incredibly useful. Sirius, James and I found the object and hid it in case we’d ever need it. However it was something we’d hoped we’d never need. I had forgotten about it until I came across the parchment last month while going through some old boxes. I figured you’d want to use it."

"But what is it?" He asked again.

"I can’t tell you, Harry. I don’t want to say too much here, you know… too many ears. To read the clues, tap it with your wand and say," he paused, looked around, then leaned in close to Harry’s ear. "Say ‘We need to talk.’" He whispered.

Harry nodded to show that he had heard even if he didn’t understand. Why did everything have to be shrouded in mystery? Why couldn’t he ever get a straight answer from anyone? The conductor yelled, "All aboard!" and with a last wave to Arthur and Molly, Harry hurried after the others to get their usual compartment.

As they pulled away from the station, he asked Ginny and Neville to bring back refreshments for everyone, giving them a handful of money. After shooting him a strange look, Luna followed them out saying she was going to help carry everything back. Harry was glad she seemed to have realized he wanted a minute alone with Ron and Hermione.

"Before you go to the Prefect meeting, I just wanted to say sorry again." He started. "I know everyone is stressed out and the last thing anyone needs is me being all moody."

"It’s okay Harry. We’ve had bigger arguments before." Ron smiled and got up.

Hermione rose too. "Relax Harry. We’ll be back in no time, only the fifth year Prefects have to patrol the train." She left and the boys could already hear her yelling at people in the next compartment.

"I think she’s a little too perfect for this job." Ron laughed.

"Are you going to ask her if she has feelings for you?" This was the question Harry had been wanting to ask Ron since early that morning and it burst out of him before he could stop himself.

"Naw, I think you’re right. I need to find someone new. Besides, she likes you, and how can I compete?" He shrugged and turned to walk out the door.

"What do you mean?" He yelled after him, but Ron kept going as if he didn’t hear. Harry sat back down confused.

Ginny and the others returned with drinks and they settled in to play a game of exploding snap. But he couldn’t get his mind onto anything other than Ron’s last words. Though he’d been happy to hear that his friend believed Hermione liked him instead, the tone of his voice had still carried a lot of hurt under the I-don’t-care-attitude he’d tried to portray. The compartment door opened and Harry turned to say something to Ron, only to see that it was someone completely different.

"Hi Harry, how was your summer?" Cho Chang asked with a sweet smile.

"Um, good. Can I help you with something?" Harry was confused. At the end of last year she’d been avoiding him, so what did she want now?

"Can I talk to you privately for a minute?" She asked shyly.

Harry looked at his friends. Ginny shrugged her shoulders, Neville was staring at the ground and Luna was looking through an old book with the appearance of being completely disinterested in anything at all. No help was forthcoming. "Alright." He agreed and not knowing what else to do, got up and followed her down the hallway.

(BREAK)

Ginny didn’t know how to feel anymore. Between having to admit outloud to Ron that Harry liked Hermione, trying to avoid Dean for as long as possible and watching Harry walk off with his ex-girlfriend she was tangled in an emotional knot. She tried not to show it, putting on a happy face as she, Luna and Neville entertained each other until the other three returned. Apparently she wasn’t doing a good enough job.

"What’s wrong?" Neville asked her sweetly.

"What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong." She answered sharply.

He looked at her with his big, chocolate-brown eyes and she felt herself soften. "I don’t know Ginny, you just seem different…quieter somehow."

She smiled at him, her first real smile in a long time. "So if I’m not loud and obnoxious then there’s something wrong?"

"You’re never obnoxious." He answered shyly.

"Just loud." Luna joked as she put her book down. "But you are okay, right?" She asked seriously.

"I’m fine. What’s wrong with you two?" Ginny returned, feeling more than a little defensive.

"Is it about Dean?" Neville asked suddenly. "I’d heard you two were a couple."

Although upset that they wouldn’t let the subject drop, she once more couldn’t help but smile. She knew Neville had a small crush on her, and while she thought him incredibly sweet, she knew she would eat him alive if they were ever to be together. It still didn’t stop her heart from warming when he looked at her the way he did. "You’re right, we were a couple. I’ve decided we aren’t one anymore. You see? I chose not to be with him so there’s no reason to be upset. I promise you both, I’m fine."

Neville seemed pleased to hear she was once again single, but Luna appeared unconvinced. "I’m here if you need someone to talk to Ginny. Always." She promised.

"Thanks, but like I’ve said a million times now, I’m fine." She insisted.

Luna simply nodded and opened her book again. "If you say so." She said quietly.

(BREAK)

They ran into Ron and Hermione outside the empty compartment Cho had brought him to. "I’ll be back in a minute." Harry told them. Ron shook his head and smiled wryly, but Hermione looked like she was fighting the urge to say something. Grabbing his arm, Cho pulled him into the compartment and swiftly closed the door, cutting him off from his friends before settling herself comfortably. She patted the space next to her indicating that he should join her. Instead, he chose the seat across from her and crossed his arms, waiting for her to speak.

"Harry, I think the time away from each other did us some good. I know that it did for me, I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’m sorry about the way things wound up between us. Maybe we should give it another try." She twirled her hair around her finger and smiled. Last year, Harry would have found that cute, but now it was annoying him and he didn’t know why… something about her was setting off alarm bells in his head and he instinctively became suspicious.

"Give what another try?" He asked carefully.

"Us." She answered softly

"Us?" His confusion grew.

"Yes, us, you and me Harry. I think we should try to be together again." She appeared to be getting frustrated with his inability to understand her.

"You weren’t even talking to me at the end of last year." He sputtered out, unsure exactly what was going on.

"Like I said, the time apart has done us good, don’t you think?" She was smiling, but Harry felt like there was something else behind it, and he could almost see what it was… something dark and foreboding. "Harry?" she prodded interrupting his concentration.

He shook his head and said the first thing that came to him. "To be honest, I haven’t thought about us at all this summer." He hadn’t meant that to be so rude, but her face implied that’s how she took it. He really wasn’t too worried about it. "Sorry." He said lamely as he got up and left.

Everyone turned as Harry reentered his own compartment. "What was that all about?" Ron asked. It was obvious they had been talking about him because no one would meet his eyes. Hermione was staring intently out the window.

"Nothing." he answered as the door slammed open behind him.

"You can’t just walk out on me in the middle of a discussion." Cho said angrily coming in and closing the door behind her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ginny do a silencing charm on the compartment and pull the shades. He was grateful.

"It was a discussion I didn’t want to have." Harry said, turning to face her and not caring if his words were harsh. She was the one who had burst in and embarrassed him in front of his friends after all.

"How could you say you hadn’t thought about me all summer?" She demanded.

"Because it was true! I’ve had other things on my mind." He yelled.

"In case you didn’t know, Voldemort is back. There are other things for Harry and the rest of us, yourself included, to worry about. So maybe you should save this for sometime later, when you two can discuss it calmly and privately." Luna said, never once looking up from her book. Harry admired her in that moment- she really didn’t care what anyone thought of her.

"Oh shut up." Cho yelled. "This is between Harry and me!"

"It was, you’re the one who brought it to us." Ginny snapped back.

"Just shut up!" she screamed.

"Cho, I think you should leave now." Harry took her elbow and guided her to the door.

"No! You’re an idiot! Do you know how many guys would love for me to ask them out?"

"Then go find one of them to bother!" He shouted in her face.

There was knock on the door, interrupting the verbal spew of fury Cho had been about to unleash on him. The door slid open and the Weasley twins entered, huge grins plastered across their faces. "Well, if it isn’t our second favorite seeker!" Fred exclaimed.

"We were just eavesdropping," George said holding up a pair of extendable ears, "and we thought maybe it was time to break up this lovely reunion."

"A shame we have to intervene, considering there are two prefects in here." Fred added shaking his head.

Cho glared at them and turned to Harry. "You’ll be kicking yourself later." She warned.

"He’ll take that chance." Fred guided her out.

"See you on the quidditch pitch!" George yelled after her. "Well, with Lee gone, I guess we now know where to find our entertainment." They looked around at their siblings and their friends. Harry slumped down in his seat between Hermione and Ginny.

"Now, on to business." Fred started. "What will we Marauders do as our first act of rebellion."

"First act of rebellion?" Ginny raised an eyebrow. "I seem to remember a swamp that still exists in a Hogwarts corridor."

"We meant as a group. We all have had our little squabbles with authority, haven’t we, sis?" George teased.

Before she could answer, the door slammed open again to reveal Draco Malfoy. This time, Hermione and Ron stood up to perform their prefect duties and make sure there was no trouble. "Out, Malfoy." Hermione snapped.

"I am a prefect, and have every right to investigate any disturbances on the train." He sneered.

"You’re the only thing on this train that’s disturbed." Ron shot back.

"Really?" Malfoy said angrily. "Well, I just passed a pretty girl crying about how much she hated Potter. Figured I’d come make sure you didn’t do anything too unseemly to Cho Chang."

"Go to hell." Harry snarled.

Malfoy was unfazed. "Well, what is this? The weirdo convention?" His gaze landing on Luna and he sneered again.

"Get out of here, or I’ll report you." Ron growled, taking a step toward the other boy.

"For what?" Malfoy didn’t move, but his eyes flashed concern.

"Being an annoying ass." Ron said through gritted teeth.

"Watch your mouth, Weasley. That is not prefect language. I could take your badge for that."

Fred and George stood up behind their brother. "Try it." They said together.

"Well look at you three! All new robes! Did your mum resort to stealing?" Harry jumped between the Weasleys and Malfoy as the three redheads tried to reach their quarry. Unfortunately, the evil little twit didn’t stop there. "It can’t be because of that tiny store of yours. Oh that’s right, I heard that Black fellow left Ron here some money. Shame he’s dead. Wish I could have seen that." He laughed.

Harry turned to punch Malfoy in the face, but Hermione and Ginny jumped in front of him, now trying to hold back Harry, Ron and the twins from doing something that would get them thrown out of school. Draco only laughed harder but was cut off suddenly as a worm crawled out of his nose.

"What the..." The worms were coming from everywhere, his nose, mouth and ears. "Which one of you did that?" He demanded, more worms spilling from his lips as he spoke. Everyone else stepped back in disgust. "You’re all getting expelled!" Malfoy yelled, covering his mouth and running down the hall.

"Scourgify." Hermione said as she waved her wand and the worms disappeared. Everyone sat down and stared at each other.

"Are we really going to be expelled?" Neville asked timidly.

"I doubt it." Fred said. "We’ll just say it was Harry, he gets away with everything."

"Who did do it?" Harry asked.

Neville slowly raised his hand. "Sorry." He said quietly.

"What for?" Ginny asked with a smile.

"Yeah, that was bloody brilliant!" Ron said and patted Neville on the back.

"Don’t worry Neville. I’ll tell Dumbledore, McGonagall or Snape that it was me. That I got mad because of what he said about Sirius and they’ll let me off."

"They always do!" George said proudly.

"Besides, they’ll understand if Harry did it, since he’s still struggling so hard to get over what happened at the ministry a few months ago." Luna said, returning to her book. Harry looked over at Hermione accusingly, but she shook her head. Was it really that obvious to people? So obvious that even Luna picked up on it. Harry began to suspect that maybe Luna’s weirdness was at least in part an act. No one noticed her unless she wanted them to, and that allowed her to observe people at her leisure.

"Plus they wouldn’t let Harry be expelled and forced to leave one of the safest places he could be right now." Ginny was saying. Harry took comfort in that logic. Did that mean, no matter what he did, he couldn’t receive the one punishment that scared him most? Could he really never be sent away from Hogwarts?

(BREAK)

Hermione stared out the window as the scenery rolled by. Now that the excitement had died down, her friends were all talking excitedly about school and to her dismay, quidditch. Tuning them out, she let her mind wander but it kept coming back to the same thought- Harry and Cho. It shouldn’t bother her, but she couldn’t lie to herself. It bothered her a great deal that the other girl apparently wanted to worm her way back into Harry’s life. Though she’d tried to be supportive last year and help Harry navigate a budding relationship with Cho, the other girl’s inconsistency and lack of convincing feelings for her friend had turned Hermione against her. Or maybe it was her own feelings that made her so dislike the girl. Either way, she was worried. Harry may not seem interested in rekindling a romance with Cho now, but that could change at any time. She was his first crush, his first attempt at having a girlfriend. But Hermione was convinced- Cho was not the right girl for her best friend.

"You okay?" Harry asked her quietly while the others chatted. He leaned over and gently nudged her arm until she turned to look at him.

"Just thinking." She returned with a small smile.

"Can’t wait to get to school for that?" He joked.

"Not everything about me is academic you know."

"I know." He whispered, his emerald eyes twinkling. "You’re smart about everything in life." She grinned at the compliment, feeling heat rising to her face.

"What are you two whispering about over there?" Ginny interrupted.

"Nothing." Harry answered quickly straightening himself. "Anyone up for a game?"

Everyone agreed, but Hermione begged off claiming a headache. In truth, her head did feel warm and as she rested it against the cool glass she felt her mind grow numb. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what she thought about Harry’s choice in girlfriend. Although she’d long ago discovered her own feelings for him, the implications, even the very thought of being with him was inconceivable. It didn’t change the way she felt though, that was something she just couldn’t help.




A/N This will probably be the last chapter until after Christmas, since there’s no computer where I’m going. Please, let me know what you think so far. Happy Holidays!



NOTE: References to the swamp and Harry and Cho dating from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling


Chapter 9: Consequences

NOTE: Okay, THIS is the last chapter before Christmas. I finished more quickly than I thought I would. Please, let me know what you think, I appreciate all the reviews I have gotten so far and always welcome constructive criticism as well as a ‘good job’ or even a ‘you suck.’ But be prepared, because I do try to respond to every review.

 

 
They got off the train to Hagrid’s familiar call. "Firs’ years, this way!" The gang went over to greet him. "Hello, Harry! Sorry I could’na make it to yer party. Come an see me later for yer gift. All o’ you are welcome ter come too." He nodded at the others.

"Okay, Hagrid." Harry agreed quickly before he was ushered along.

As they approached the coaches that would bring them to the school, he, Luna and Neville deliberately ignored the thestrals that were patiently waiting to pull them. The ride up was quiet for Harry as he simply listened to everyone else chatter about their plans for Draco Malfoy, who had reportedly stopped coughing up worms about ten minutes before the train pulled into the Hogsmeade station.

Upon arriving at the castle, they hurried to the Great Hall as Ron was "famished." Even Hermione’s reminder that the feast wouldn’t be served until after the sorting did nothing to lessen Ron’s anxiousness to get to the table. Luna broke off to go to the Ravenclaw table and sit awkwardly by herself… Though she didn’t seem to care, Harry felt sorry that she had to leave people who actually did want her around to be forced to sit with those who refused to take the time to get to know her. She glanced directly at him, wearing a wide smile as if she knew what he was thinking and wanted to assure him she was okay and quite used to the way things were.

When the first years entered the Hall a short while later looking intimidated yet determined, a few pointed in Harry’s direction and whispered to each other. He lowered his head and tried not to bring any more attention to himself. He hated how recognizable he’d become; even eleven year-olds knew his face. How was he ever supposed to go out into the world without drawing out his enemies?

"Finally it’s starting." Ron grumbled under his breath. Harry turned his attention to the Head table, eager to see who the new Gryffindors would be and even more interested to see the new Slytherins.

Professor Minerva McGonagall stood in front of everyone with the Sorting Hat, looking tall and commanding. She loudly cleared her throat and the Hall immediately fell silent- it seemed even the new students realized she was not a woman who tolerated much. Without introduction, the hat began its song.

"Many years ago, four friends together stood
And decided to build a school
Where all with power could,
Learn to use their tool.

Never were such great friends,
As Slytherin and Gryffindor.
Except for Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw,
Who perhaps loved each other more.

For a while, the school was strong within,
Much like these four friends.
Only to be torn apart, and
Contentment there meet it’s ends.

The ones whose blood was pure,
Slytherin chose.
The bravest of the brave,
Gryffindor took those

Ravenclaw decided,
Intelligence was the best trait.
Good Hufflepuff took the rest,
those yet to find their fate.

I was then made smart
To make a tough call offhand,
Placing students where I knew
They were destined to land.

I was good at my job and since then,
My song is heard every year.
But now listen closely,
For there is reason to fear.

A threat is hanging above our school.
And while all within are strong,
There are those among us
Who will ignore my warning song.

Band together,
The four houses unite.
Only as one,
Can we hope to win this fight."

There was hesitant clapping after he finished his warning, and many students at the other tables were looking at the Slytherins who had made themselves the predictable antagonists. They had received a similar warning from the hat before, and Harry took it just as seriously this time. McGonagall loudly cleared her throat and the Hall once again fell silent, all attention on her.

"When I call your name come forward to be sorted into your house. Jennifer Applebloom." She called. Jennifer quickly walked up and sat under the hat.

"Ravenclaw!" He called out as the Ravenclaw table burst into applause.

McGonagall went quickly through all the first years, and the sorting was soon over. Once the new students were all settled at their tables and the older students had quieted down, Dumbledore stood. "There are the usual beginning of term announcements. All first years, and certain other students, should be aware that the Forbidden Forest is always off limits. Our caretaker, Mr. Filtch, has asked me to let you know that the list of items and actions banned from the school is hanging outside his office. Thanks to a couple of pranksters, the list has grown immensely since last year." He paused to look at the Weasley twins who weren’t even trying to hide their proud grins. "I would also advise that you stay clear of the bit of swamp that became a part of our hallway decor last year. It has been roped off for your safety." The teachers all looked down to hide their laughter, remembering how and why the swamp was there; except for Snape, who looked as grim as ever.

"Lastly, I would like to introduce a new member of our staff. Some of you may remember, Professor Remus Lupin. He will once again be taking up the post as your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher." The hall burst into cheers as those who remembered Lupin grew excited he had returned. Dumbledore waited until the noise had died down at the Gryffindor table where the cheering was loudest. "Now that’s all out of the way, tuck in!"

As the Headmaster sat, notes suddenly appeared in front of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, Ginny and Neville. Harry read his then leaned over to read Hermione’s. They were the same.

Please report to the Headmaster’s office after dinner.
Professor McGonagall.

"I think we’re in trouble." He said.

"Huh?" Ron looked up. He had been so intent on piling his plate with food that he hadn’t even noticed the note. As he read it, his eyes widened. "Do you think Luna got one too?" They all looked over to the Ravenclaw table where sure enough, Luna was holding up her note to show them. "Uh oh." He gulped.

"Relax, Ron. First of all, I did it, remember?" Harry folded the note. "Second of all, Malfoy’s the one making the complaint."

"Yeah, they’ll definitely believe that Harry was provoked into casting the spell." Hermione added.

"But I’m the one who actually did it. Are you sure you want to take this on yourself?" Neville asked.

"Don’t worry. The worst I’ll get is detention. It’s nothing new." Harry shrugged, thinking detention with McGonagall or Snape would be an incredible improvement over the ones he’d served with Dolores Umbridge last year.

Neville looked relieved. But all through dinner, he kept making sure that Harry really wanted to take the blame until Fred finally told him to shut up as Ginny reached over and rubbed his shoulder in reassurance. Harry was confident in his decision, after all how bad could the punishment for worms be? And why let Neville mark his record when Harry’s own was already so tarnished?

After dinner, the others waited outside the Great Hall while Ron and Hermione performed their Prefect duties. Once all together again, they went up to Dumbledore’s office. "Popple Snaps." Hermione said and the Gargoyle guarding the entrance sprang to life.

"Hey! That’s one of our candies!" George said in surprise as they stepped onto the stairs.

"They literally explode in your mouth." Fred explained proudly to the others.

The Headmaster’s office was once again neat and tidy after Harry’s rampage at the end of last year and despite the reason they were there now, he suddenly really did feel guilty. He wanted to believe he would never again lose his temper in such a destructive way, but it was a promise to himself that he wasn’t sure he could keep.

Waiting inside along with the Headmaster were Professors McGonagall and Snape as well as Draco Malfoy. The last sneered as the teens approached the desk. "Well-" That’s as far as Dumbledore got before being interrupted.

"It was Harry!" Seven voices said at once. They all looked at each other and lowered their heads to hide their laughter. Dumbledore was smiling and for the briefest of seconds, Harry could have sworn he saw McGonagall grin. Snape however looked unamused that no one was taking this seriously.

Harry stepped forward. "Headmaster, Professors, since I can only presume we are here because of the incident on the train, then they are right, I made worms come out of Draco’s head." Unable to hold it in any longer, his friends burst out laughing after he said this. One warning look from McGonagall quieted them all. Although she also seemed amused, Harry knew she didn’t like it when students cursed other students, even if it was Draco Malfoy.

Snape was furious. "I don’t believe him." He said turning to Dumbledore.

"What reason would he have to lie, Severus?" The old wizard asked.

"He’s protecting one of his friends." Snape turned and eyed them. "My guess would be Longbottom. He looks the most scared."

"Sir," Harry stepped on Neville’s foot to keep him quiet, "I did it and I’m not sorry. All I can say is that I was provoked and lost my temper. It always seems to get away from me when Malfoy is around."

"How were you provoked, Potter?" McGonagall asked.

Harry looked down at his shoes. "He said things about the Weasley family and then he said something about Sirius."

"Ah." Dumbledore sat back and put the tips of his fingers together. He turned to Draco. "May I ask, Mr. Malfoy, what it is that you said exactly, so as to provoke Mr. Potter to make worms come out of your head?"

"I didn’t say anything, Headmaster." Draco said sweetly. "I heard a disturbance in the compartment and as a prefect, I went to check on it. I guess they didn’t appreciate being told to quiet down and next thing I knew-" He was cut off as the others began to protest. Harry could feel his anger building up. Dumbledore held up a hand to silence them and Malfoy continued. "Honest, all I said was to keep it down a little-"

"You said you’d wished you had seen him die!" Harry yelled. McGonagall gasped and his friends all stared at the ground, aware of how such a statement would affect him. He took a deep breath and began again a little more calmly. "You said something snotty about Ron, Ginny and the twin’s new robes and accused Mrs. Weasley of stealing. Then you said something about remembering that Sirius had left money to Ron and how it was a shame you hadn’t been there to see him die. You’re lucky it was just worms." He said darkly. Hermione and Ginny each had a hand on his shoulders and Ron, George and Fred were glaring at Malfoy. Luna was inspecting something on one of the tables looking as if she had accidentally walked into the wrong place, while Neville was staring at him. They all knew that had Harry really been the one to cast a spell on Malfoy at that moment on the train, it would have turned out far worse.

After a moments pause, McGonagall started in. "Mr. Malfoy! How a person could be so cold hearted I have no idea! To say that-"

By then Snape had regained his composure and cut her off. "Minerva, if I may remind you, Draco is the victim here. I propose that Potter be punished for such a gross misuse of his magic." McGonagall looked livid. She was about to give Snape a piece of her mind when Dumbledore interrupted.

"May I ask, out of personal curiosity, Mr. Malfoy, how it is that you knew Ron Weasley was left money in Sirius’s will?" Malfoy looked down, not meeting the Headmaster’s eyes. "I thought as much." Dumbledore continued. "Professor Snape, may I ask you what you feel the appropriate punishment would be for Mr. Potter?"

"Well...." Snape looked positively gleeful. "All the past detentions have obviously not done any good, so I think we should do something that will get his attention and make him think twice before he loses his temper. Perhaps once again kicking him off the Gryffindor quidditch team?"

At this, even McGonagall joined in the other’s cries of protest. "I just got back on!" Harry yelled above them all.

Once again, Dumbledore raised his hand for silence. "It seems, Severus, that there are two guilty parties. Many times, it is Mr. Malfoy’s words or actions that cause Mr. Potter to lose his temper. Would you suggest the same punishment for him?" Snape looked away angrily. "I didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this situation cannot go on unnoticed. My decision is this. Harry, while it is clear that you had been provoked enough to do this, I don’t fully believe you are really the one responsible. However, since you are so determined to protect the real guilty party, I’m afraid you must deal with the consequences. You are hereby stripped of your title as Gryffindor quidditch captain." He raised his hand against the protests and Harry again had to step on Neville’s foot so he would keep his mouth shut. "Understand that I have not forbidden him to play, I simply took away his title as team leader."

He then turned to Malfoy. "Draco, this is not the first time I have heard of you abusing your privileges as a prefect. I hereby remove your title as well. You are no longer a prefect and since this is an extreme case, I will personally select your replacement."

"But, Sir-" Snape started.

"Severus, your student has proven to be unreliable with the responsibilities bestowed upon him. The things that he said today were hateful and it is my understanding that he has uttered similar words to various students for the past five years. It is time that something be done to correct this. I will not have anymore discord within these walls. If I again hear of anything hateful directed to any student, my next move will be expulsion. Tread lightly Mr. Malfoy."

"What about Granger and Weasley?" Snape growled.

"What about them?" McGonagall asked just as fiercely, subconsciously taking a few steps in front of her students as if to protect them.

Snape glared at her. "They are prefects as well and all of this took place right in front of them. According to Draco they were a part of all this."

"That’s right Headmaster." Malfoy piped up. "Ron threatened me. And Hermione hit me!"

"I did not!" Hermione yelled indignantly.

"She was trying to break it up!" Harry protested. "And Ron only told him to leave!"

"Liar!" Malfoy yelled.

"I’m a liar?!" Harry yelled back. "You just accused an honor student of hitting you!"

"Headmaster, I find it hard to believe that Granger hit him." McGonagall said slowly obviously trying to keep her own temper.

"She did before!" Malfoy protested.

"Only because you were being a complete jerk to me, and you were staked out to watch Buckbeak’s execution. Which was your fault if I remember correctly. You and your father!" Hermione yelled.

"You see? She just admitted it." Malfoy said excitedly.

"She admitted to one time in our third year, long before she was a prefect!" Harry shot back.

"If she did it once, Headmaster, what’s to say she didn’t do it again?" Snape grinned.

"Honestly, Severus. You are starting to sound like a child." McGonagall scolded.

"Enough." Dumbledore said quietly. It was almost a whisper, but the force he put behind his words left the room deathly silent. "Fred, George, Ginny, Neville and Luna, you may wait for your friends outside. And I will know if you are listening in, either with your own ears or with manufactured ones." After they had left, Dumbledore produced enough chairs for all those left. He sat behind his desk for a long while staring at each of them and Harry had the feeling that he was reading their thoughts.

At last he spoke. "I will not wish to repeat myself so listen closely. This fight between Slytherin and Gryffindor has gone on long enough. Minerva, Severus, how can you honestly expect your students to get along when you are so openly airing your rivalry? You are on the same team here." He looked at them meaningfully and Harry knew he meant the same team in terms of the Order as opposed to as fellow teachers. Both professors looked down. "Severus, can you honestly say that you don’t feel Draco’s words were inappropriate?"

Snape took a deep breath. "Perhaps it was just a bit out of line." He finally choked out. "However, it was also inappropriate to charm worms to come out of his head."

"I agree." Dumbledore paused. "However, there is a battle to deal with raging outside these walls. I do not wish an instigator to have a position of power starting a war inside. Mr. Malfoy, your punishment stands and I meant it when I said I would expel you. My patience is wearing very thin for you and a few of your comrades. Keep that in mind the next time you wish to cause Mr. Potter or his friends a problem."

He took a deep breath and turned to McGonagall. "Minerva, I know you don’t believe Harry’s punishment is warranted, and neither do I, since neither of us truly believes he is the responsible party. But we both know that he is nothing if not loyal to his friends and since he is taking the place of the real culprit, he must meet with a punishment fitting to the crime. This was a spell that could have seriously gone wrong. So I ask you now, not to take out your anger on Severus or his students and keep in mind that I have allowed Mr. Potter to keep playing."

"I understand." She nodded still looking unhappy.

"And Severus, I don’t want to hear one word about you taking out your frustrations on the Gryffindors this year. In the past I have heard many complaints that you favor your own house and this year, I expect that all be treated fairly. I want this eternal fight between these two houses to stop now." Both McGonagall and Snape looked at the floor wearing an unmistakable expression that said, ‘yeah right.’

"As for Draco’s accusations against Hermione, they are dismissed. What Miss Granger did in the past before she was a prefect has no bearing on whether or not to strip her of her title now. I don’t believe for one second that she struck you on the train, Mr. Malfoy and this is the last time I will allow you to blatantly lie to my face. Now on the other hand, I completely believe that something Mr. Weasley said may have been viewed as a threat. However, when one’s family is under attack, verbally or otherwise, it becomes hard to hold one’s tongue. I understand this. But it was still inappropriate and therefore I must issue one night’s detention with Professor McGonagall to be carried out tomorrow after classes and dinner." Snape rolled his eyes.

Dumbledore looked them all over one more time. "You are dismissed."

They all went down the stairs together, Snape and Malfoy breaking off and stalking down the hallway toward the dungeons. No one made to stop them. "Potter, and all Weasley’s come with me. Granger and Longbottom, I suppose you may come as well though this will be quidditch business." McGonagall briskly started off down the hall.

"What happened?" Luna asked Ron.

"I’ll tell you tomorrow." Ron called out as he hurried off after the rest. Harry smiled. Maybe Luna having a crush on Ron would be a good thing after all... it would certainly make him feel less guilty about his own feelings for Hermione if those two coupled up. And besides, both Ron and Luna needed someone in their lives to give them the attention they deserved.

McGonagall ushered them all into her office, closing the door before turning to them with a look of pleased determination on her face. "Ginny, you are acting captain and Potter, you are co-captain as the Headmaster said nothing about co-captaincy."

Harry and Ginny looked at each other in surprise before sharing a smile... McGonagall was a crafty old cat. Ron turned to his sister in a panic, knowing how she could be. "Please let me stay on the team. You saw how hard I practiced over the summer!"

"I’ll think about it." She answered slyly.

"Relax Mr. Weasley, your position is safe for now. Alright, gather round. We might as well set up try-out dates since the whole team is here." McGonagall got out paper and a quill and for the next hour, they worked out all the details.

Around midnight they finally returned to the empty common room in Gryffindor tower, where they stayed up for another hour filling Ginny, Neville and the twins in on what had happened after they left Dumbledore’s office. Hermione finally stood up and announced that she was going to bed and reminded them that they all had classes in a few hours, expelling a groan from everyone. When Harry reached his room he realized just how exhausted he really was. Though he had wanted to look at Lupin’s parchment, he couldn’t keep his eyes focused. Deciding to save it for later when he could go over it with Hermione and Ron, he climbed into bed and immediately fell asleep.

(BREAK)

Draco stormed into the Slytherin common room, feeling a sort of frustrated satisfaction. He had known it wouldn’t be easy to get Potter in trouble, especially since they’d seen through the lie and knew he hadn’t actually been responsible for the spell. Hopefully his new secret partner in crime would have better success, it was his job to see that they did.

"Hey how’d it go?" Pansy asked, startling him. She had apparently been waiting up for him, much to his annoyance.

"As expected. Potter and his ragtag bunch of scum can do no wrong here. Not with Dumbledore in charge." He answered. It was so unfair, and it always had been. But the god-like way Potter was treated definitely made it easier to hate him, because lately… he just didn’t understand the obsession. Sure Potter could very possibly bring down the Dark Lord someday. And Draco understood the reasoning that it was best to destroy him before he reached a more capable age, but here at school he was too well protected. Lately… well it just seemed that since the adults had all failed miserably against Potter and his helpers, they were pushing the next generation to take action. He didn’t want to be a lamb pushed out for sacrifice but that’s exactly what he was in the current plan that his father and the Dark Lord had him involved in. And tonight only proved that it would work.



A/N: HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!!!!!

NOTE: Reference to Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Reference to Buckbeak’s execution from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Chapter 10: Discoveries

NOTE: Anything not original= J.K. Rowling. Anything original= mine. Hope everyone had a good holiday, read and enjoy. Oh, and please review if you like it or even if you don’t.

 

Harry awoke the next morning feeling more exhausted than when he had gone to bed. All night he had been plagued with the same nightmares as before and he couldn’t understand why. Perhaps it was being back at school, where the whole sequence of events leading to Sirius’s death had begun. He decided not to think too deeply on it as he attempted to stretch away the sleep from his bones. With a lot of effort he forced himself to get up, get dressed, and make his way down to breakfast.

The others were already in the Great Hall when he entered, dragging his book bag behind him. As he sat he realized they were excitedly filling the other Gryffindors in on the fact that Malfoy was no longer a prefect. He smiled with satisfaction at the memory, for once Malfoy had suffered some sort of real consequence for all of his past utterances and misdeeds against him and everyone else. It may have taken five years, but at least it had happened. He glanced over at the Slytherin table and grinned wider when he saw how unhappy Malfoy was.

After breakfast, he, Ron and Hermione got up to begin the dreaded walk to Potions. They passed Luna in the hallway and he was struck by the odd look she gave him, as if she were trying to communicate with him. But before he could think about it at all, he once again suddenly remembered the parchment Lupin had given him. This time he would be sure to do something about it.

"Can you guys meet me by our study tree before lunch? I have something to show you." He whispered to his two best friends as they took their seats in the dungeon classroom.

"Sure." They both agreed. He settled himself between them, a small thrill of nervousness surging through him when he felt Hermione’s elbow touch his as they both leaned on the desk.

A minute before class was to start Snape strode in and slammed the dungeon door. All chatter died away instantly as he eyed his class with disgust. "It is my understanding that some of you present have not gotten the O grade that I had required to continue. Lucky for you that you’re here." He sneered at them all. "Unfortunately, the Headmaster decided to make allowances and forced me to accept the sub par students whom received a grade of E. However, know that those of you with less than satisfactory grades at the end of this semester will be kicked out of my class." He paused to sneer at Ron, Neville and Dean who hadn’t gotten an O. Harry wondered if any of the Slytherins had gotten a "sub par" E, and looking at Crabbe and Goyle, he couldn’t believe they’d even managed that.

Snape took a moment to glare around the room before a sinister smile emerged. "Now, I believe some seating changes are in order to assure me that all receive the grade they truly deserve and not one based on how well they copy their friends. Weasley, you will be moved here to the front away from Granger and Potter." Ron got up and with a murderous glare at Snape took a seat next to Pansy Parkinson. "Longbottom, you will be here next to Crabbe. Thomas, you will be here with Goyle. Malfoy, why don’t you go sit between Potter and Granger." He surveyed the room with a pleased air. "There, that’s so much better. Now, here are the instructions for our first potion." He pointed his wand at the board. "You have one hour."

It was one of Harry’s worst Potions classes. Malfoy constantly muddled his attempts by switching the ingredients. At the end of the hour, Harry turned in his sample sure that he had received a T thanks to Malfoy’s sabotage. But he knew better than to tell Snape. He did however complain to Ron and Hermione the whole way to Transfiguration. "It’s not fair at all. He kept mixing up my stuff and I never knew what I was really putting in my cauldron." He whined.

"Well, next class, I’ll share with you so he can’t mess with anything." Hermione offered as they all sat at a desk in the back.

"You think you had it bad? I had to listen to Pansy telling Millicent Bulstrode all hour how cute she thinks Malfoy is and how she thought they would make the perfect couple." Ron grumbled pulling out his wand. This class passed much more quickly and by the end, they had all turned their toads into footstools even Neville, though he’d predictably had the most trouble.

With an hour free before lunch, Harry, Ron and Hermione hurried out to the tree at the edge of the lake. Once they had settled themselves comfortably, Harry pulled out the parchment and explained everything Lupin had told him on the train platform about what it contained. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Hermione asked, inspecting the paper carefully.

"If Moony gave it to him, then we know it isn’t anything bad, right? So it’ll be fine." Ron eagerly grabbed it from her and thrust it in Harry’s direction. "Go on, do the spell and let’s see what it says."

Harry shrugged at Hermione before placing the tip of his wand to the parchment and saying, "We need to talk." They all leaned in to read what it said.

To whomever it concerns, the following is the first clue to find a very important object hidden away for protection by us, The Marauders.
Good luck,
Masters: Mooney, Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail with the assistance of Wildflower
Clue 1: First you must know what you are looking for, if you do not already. This is knowledge you won’t find in the library, but in what the library houses. You can find this knowledge in an expected place, guarded by a trusted friend. Here, I will only tell you that the hidden object is questionable in the purpose of its existence.

"Wildflower?" Ron looked at Harry.

"Probably my mum."

"Oh yeah, ‘Lily’ I get it." He said quickly.

"Well, we’re looking for a book." Hermione said. She sighed in frustration at the confused looks she got from the boys. "Think about the first part, ‘you won’t find it in the library, but in what the library houses.’ It’s a book that’s not in the school library."

"Oh, I knew that." Ron grinned.

"The book must be in the school, where else would expect to find knowledge?" Harry pointed out.

Hermione thought for a minute then jumped up. "I’ve got it! It’s in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom."

Harry reread the clue. "That’s what it appears to say."

"How?" Ron said taking the clue and scanning it.

"‘The hidden object is questionable in the purpose of its existence.’ Where else would you find a book full of information on questionable objects?" Harry smiled. He hoped that when they found the next clue it would be as easy to figure out.

Ron threw down the parchment. "I’m not good at riddles or clues or anything with words."

"Oh Ron." Hermione shook her head.

"I’m not!"

"I don’t have time to reassure you of your cleverness, Ron. I have to go talk to McGonagall about something. We can meet with Lupin before Defense today." The boys nodded their agreement. "See you guys at lunch." Hermione said as she hurried off.

"Bye." Harry called after her, glad to be left alone with Ron. They hadn’t had a chance to really talk in a long time and there were certain things he needed to discuss.

Ron sensed what was coming. "You want to know why I said Hermione likes you right?" He asked right away.

"Well, I guess- I mean if you’re certain. I, well, are you sure you’re over her?" he managed to stumble out.

"I think so. It’s hard to like someone knowing they’re into you." Ron shook his head.

"But how do you know she likes me in that way?" Harry asked calmly, though inside his heart was beating fast in anticipation.

"I didn’t, it was Ginny. She just flat out told me." He admitted.

"Ginny? She told you what?"

"And I thought I was dense. She told me Hermione liked you."

"When?" Harry asked desperately.

"The night before we left for school. You know when we fought? I couldn’t sleep, so I went to play pool and Ginny was already down there. She asked what was wrong and I told her all about our argument. She smacked me on the head."

"She hit you?"

"Really hard!" Ron rubbed his head with remembrance. "Anyway, she said that I’d better get over Hermione fast because she liked you."

"How did she know?" He pressed.

"Hermione didn’t tell her or anything. All she said was that girls were perceptive on this sort of thing. She also said something about how boys don’t pay enough attention, but I don’t remember exactly what she said. I guess I was proving her point by not paying attention." He grinned.

"Oh." Harry stared off, his mind as cloudy as the sky above him.

"You like her back, right?" Ron grinned again as Harry looked down, nervously pulling up blades of grass. "I knew it. Though to be fair, Ginny was the one who first thought you did."

"I didn’t even know until you started asking me about her."

"Yeah, well, according to my sister that’s normal for guys. You know, I don’t think she’s handling her breakup with Dean very well. She doesn’t have very many nice things to say about the male gender lately." He replied with a frown. Harry smiled in response, knowing once she got past whatever happened with Dean, she’d have her pick of guys. Ginny was a cute girl, made all the more attractive by her confident and outgoing personality- regardless of how her brothers may feel about it.

When it came time for lunch they headed in together, talking and joking like they used to. He saw Hermione’s pleased smile and knew she was happy they had taken steps to repair their rift. Taking a seat next to her at the table, Harry told his friends that they all needed to meet tonight in the library. "Why the library?" George asked.

"Yeah, we have kind of made a point of avoiding it for the last six years." Fred added.

Harry stared at his plate as the conversation progressed, not knowing what to say around Hermione anymore. She noticed his silence and repeatedly asked him what was wrong, but he couldn’t tell her. Finally he looked at Ron for help to steer the conversation elsewhere. "What was so important with McGonagall that you ditched us earlier?" Ron asked between mouthfuls.

"Oh, that." She was still looking at Harry with concern. "I wanted to ask her about restarting the DA and making it a legal club." Ron, Harry, Ginny and the twins all stared at her.

"You did what?" Harry asked bewildered.

"Well, I thought-"

"You mean you didn’t check with Harry to see if he even wanted to do it again this year?" Ron asked, angry on Harry’s behalf.

"Well, I figured with everyone knowing for sure that Voldemort is back that we’d...."

"But we have Lupin this year to teach us!" Ginny cut her off. "It’s not like he’s going to keep us from learning what we need to know."

"I know, it’s just that-"

"Plus, if we make it legal, the Slytherins will be able to join. Wasn’t it you who said we needed to be extra careful this year?" Fred asked.

"Yeah, with Malfoy there, he’ll be able to report all the progress we’re making." George said angrily. "We’ll lose the element of surprise."

"I already thought of that, so I suggested to McGonagall that-"

"You should have discussed this with the rest of us first Hermione." Ron cut her off again.

"And especially with Harry. He’d be the one in charge." Ginny said in obvious frustration.

Harry had been listening to them attack Hermione as if he were in a fog. Sure he had thought about restarting the DA, but it was only the first day of school. "At least let her get out a full sentence you guys." He said at last coming to her defense, though he was still angry.

"Thanks." She said quietly looking down at the table. "I’m sorry I did this without talking to all of you, but I wanted to surprise you."

"Well, you succeeded." Ron sneered. Harry shot him a warning glare.

"As for the Slytherins, I asked McGonagall if we could have the meetings on Wednesday nights, because that’s when they have their Quidditch practice. Malfoy wouldn’t skip that just to give us a hard time, and besides he’s one step away from expulsion. Anyway, I didn’t make anything definite. I told her that I needed to talk to Harry first. I just wanted to see if restarting the DA was even an option."

"And is it?" Harry asked trying to keep his temper in control.

"She said once we had something definite to come see her and she would make it happen." Hermione answered quietly, sensing that Harry’s grip on control was very fragile right then.

Without a word to anyone, he got up and left, his lunch half eaten. He just needed to think, or to not think, whichever was easier. Not even a week back here and he already felt overwhelmed. He didn’t like it. Harry walked the grounds for a while in a sort of half-asleep daze until his solitude could no longer provide a distraction to hold his thoughts at bay. Not knowing what else to do for the next half an hour, he went down to Hagrid’s since Care of Magical Creatures was his next class anyway. He knocked loudly on the cottage door and offered a friendly smile when the giant answered. "Little early aren’ya, Harry?" Hagrid asked ushering him inside.

"I just wanted to come by and catch up. I haven’t talked to you all summer." He said, taking a seat on one of the massive chairs.

"Oh yeah. Sorry about tha’. Been keepin’ busy for the Order. Plus I had ter take Grawp to his new home. Took a lot o’ work ter get him ready."

"Is he all settled now?" Harry tried hard not to think of the unfortunate introductions he and Hermione had received when first meeting Hagrid’s brother and how little his regard for the massive being had grown. But he wanted to be polite so he feigned interest.

"He’s doin’ great! But tha’s why I missed yer birthday, I had ter take him ter the village and get him all settled in. I have yer present for you though." He placed a large package wrapped in a blanket in Harry’s lap, ending any more questions about his brother.

It shook a little when he picked it up. "Um, Hagrid? This isn’t anything alive is it?"

"Open it an’ see." the giant answered, an excited gleam in his eye.

Harry cautiously unwrapped the blanket. Inside was a small cage housing what looked like a turtle, only it had two heads and it’s skin was purple with a bright turquoise shell. "What is it?"

"Tha’s a Thegar. It’s like a guard dog, only it sings when danger’s near. Very loyal creatures Thegar’s are. They usually live for ‘bout a hundred years, but this little fella’s already fifty. His previous owner died so he’s in need o’ a good home."

"Um, thanks Hagrid. He’s.... cute." Harry poked his finger in the cage to pet it, but Hagrid yelled, startling him so badly he almost dropped the cage.

"Don’ do tha’! You have ter let him know yer his new owner firs’. They bite anyone they don’ know. Make sure you tell tha’ ter Ron and Hermione too."

"Sure thing Hagrid." He said uncertainly. "I guess I’ll go outside and bond with him until class starts."

The giant regarded him with a wide, happy smile. "So you like him then?"

"Yeah, he’s great. Thanks." Harry answered, not wanting to hurt his friend’s feelings. Besides, it was kind of cool despite the hassle that came with being given a living creature. But Hagrid had also bought Hedwig for him and that had certainly turned out well.

Making his way outside, he sat on the fence around Hagrid’s garden and looked down at the Thegar. It stared back expectantly without blinking. "Hello. My name’s Harry Potter. I guess I’m the one who’s going to take care of you now." The creature’s two heads sighed in unison. Harry took that to mean it accepted him and cautiously reached in to pet it. It rubbed it’s heads against his fingers in a gesture he took as affection. It really was cute, once you got used to looking at it. "I guess you’ll need a name." He thought for a moment. "How about, Robin? After Robin Hood. He protected people too. It was my favorite thing to read when I was younger. Actually, it was the only thing I read, because it was the only book Dudley didn’t want for himself." Robin made a sound almost like a cat purring. "Guess you like it." He sat for awhile playing with his new pet. Hearing voices he looked up and saw people walking toward him. Ron and Hermione were at the front of the group.

Harry got up to meet them, and was taken off guard when Robin started singing loudly. He quickly whipped around and with lightning reflexes, grabbed the rock that had been hurtling toward his head. He looked down at it in shock.

"Draco Malfoy! You coward!" Hermione yelled as she and the rest of the Gryffindors hurried over. "Just because you know you can’t beat Harry in a fair fight doesn’t mean you should try to get him with his back turned!"

"You think I’m scared of him?" Malfoy laughed.

"Why else are you throwing rocks at the back of his head?" Ron growled.

"Because it’s fun." He laughed again a loud yet hollow sound. Harry felt his temper flair and Malfoy was suddenly knocked over. He stepped back startled- he’d been picturing himself shoving Malfoy and to have him fall over at the same moment was unsettling.

"Wha’s goin’ on out here?" Hagrid came over to his class as Crabbe was helping Draco to his feet.

"Nothing." Harry said glancing at all his friends who were on the verge of telling what they had just witnessed.

"Harry knocked me over with a spell!" Draco said.

"How could he?" Hermione asked defensively. "His wand is in his bag and his hands are full with that thing in the cage and the rock."

"Rock?" Hagrid looked at Harry in confusion.

"I was bored so I was throwing rocks across the yard seeing how far I could get them to go." Harry answered. He was sure Hagrid would see through his lame lie.

"Well, you should’na done tha’ Harry. People could trip on ‘em. Probably wha’ knocked Draco down." With that, he turned to begin his class.

(BREAK)

Hagrid brought out a fire-eating hummingbird and after a scorching experience in which his entire garden almost caught fire, he took the high road and had everyone break off into groups to draw it. Hermione, Harry, and Ron sat together a little ways from the rest of the class. She felt tense, anxious to make things right, to make it so Harry wasn’t mad at her. As soon as Ron got up to go ask Hagrid a question, she took her opportunity. "I’m sorry that I didn’t talk to you about the DA first before going to McGonagall."

"I guess it’s okay. You just kind of surprised me. I mean it’s only the first day of school and the last thing I wanted on my mind was thoughts of more responsibility." He said calmly though he wouldn’t look at her.

"Well, what I tried to say at lunch was that no one needed to decide right away or anything. McGonagall gave us a month to figure out if we want to continue the DA. I wasn’t trying to make anything official. I just wanted to know our options." She argued the point. "It’s a good idea to restart the defense club, and even better for you to attach your name to it. What better way to have our fellow students take things seriously? Plus this way you’ll feel like you’re doing something to prepare, isn’t it you who’s been saying you’re tired of waiting for things to happen? I think DA would be the best possible distraction."

He sighed and put his drawing aside, finally looking up at her. "I just thought that you of all people would understand that I wanted a little time to not think about Voldemort or any of the danger that constantly surrounds me."

"I do understand that, but Harry, you always have to be on your guard. It’s horribly unfair but it’s true. Especially now… Constant vigilance and all that."

"You need to stay away from Mad-eye for awhile." He grinned. She smiled back, relieved that she had been forgiven. For a moment there, she thought she’d ruined herself. How could she not have guessed that it would so upset him? She knew that he hated being kept out of things- a left over issue from not being able to take control of his life.

"Oh Harry," Ron called for his attention as he returned. "Fred and George decided to meet in the Great Hall instead of the library tonight. They said going in there would creep them out. As prefects, we was able to get permission for all of us to be out after nine." He said proudly as Harry shook his head in amusement. But Hermione felt annoyed with the twins- Fred and George would do anything to keep their illustrious claim of not even knowing what the library looks like.

At the end of class, everyone rolled up their unfinished drawings to be worked on for homework and hurried off to enjoy the hour and a half before Defense class. Hermione went with Harry and Ron back up to the Gryffindor common room to play with Robin who was a strangely amusing creature. Searching her Care of Magical Creatures book, she found a chapter on Thegars and pointed it out to Harry, going to sit next to him on the couch to read and shifting her weight so their arms were touching. She did this often, liking the shiver of excitement that went through her when they touched.

Finally with fifteen minutes left before class, the three friends entered Lupin’s office. He was sitting behind his desk, looking very much like a professor and Hermione felt proud of him. He was certainly a shining example of overcoming adversity to find success. She hoped the same would be true for Harry, as she could tell that he was very different from most everyone else and was already living a very different life.

Lupin looked up from his lecture notes, both surprised and pleased to see them. "Hey guys, was there something you needed?"

"We figured out the first clue, so which book is it?" Harry asked quickly.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about." Lupin looked at him in confusion.

"Come on. You guys made up the clues. Which book is the next one in?" Harry looked around at the bookshelves.

He shook his head sadly. "Lily made the clues. We had no idea where they would lead."

Now it was Hermione who was confused. "Why did she do it? Didn’t you tell Harry that it was you, Sirius, and James that found whatever it is?"

"We did find it." Lupin sighed. "But when we decided to hide it, we needed someone else to do it for us. That way none of us would be tempted to go after it. We trusted Lily more than anyone else, so she made the clues and kept the first one with her. I recovered it with other papers from their house after..." he looked guiltily at Harry, "well, anyway, I had forgotten all about it until I found the parchment again a few months ago. Knowing what it is and what it does, I knew Harry would want it."

"Can’t you just tell us?" Ron asked, obviously annoyed.

"I’d like to, but we all took a bickeross potion."

"A what?" Harry and Ron asked together.

"Bickeross potion." Hermione answered automatically. "It keeps the drinker from revealing the thing they wish to keep secret, no matter what. It’s one of the more powerful truth suppression potions."

"Which is why I’m certain even Voldemort doesn’t know about this object. Though if he did know about it, he would very much want to have it." Lupin sighed. "But we made sure Peter took the biggest amount. It was around then that Sirius and I became suspicious of him. James just wouldn’t listen to us. He wouldn’t see what we saw." He stared off, his face contorted with anger and remembrance.

"Professor?" Hermione touched his shoulder.

He shook himself out of his thoughts. "Right, anyway, if you think the next clue is here, help yourselves to any or all of the books in the classroom." With that he left his office to escape the conversation and get ready for class. She hoped he knew what he was doing, handing this little unfinished adventure from his youth over to Harry.

"Any suggestions?" Ron turned to her as the resident expert on books.

"I think we should just take them all to the Great Hall tonight. It could be any of these books and the more of us there are to go through them, the quicker we’ll find something." She suggested.

"Okay, until tonight then. We’d better get in there. Don’t want to make him look bad by being late for class." Harry said, ushering them into the classroom, which was quickly filling with students.

(BREAK)

"Hey, Ginny! Ron!" Luna called out. It was just after dinner and they were talking to each other just outside the Great Hall. She approached them eagerly, knowing they were already involved in whatever amazing thing Harry was on the verge of discovering. She had to ensure she was a part of it, since she also knew she was supposed to go on this journey with them- just as she’d known she was supposed to go with to the ministry a few months before. They were all at the beginning of… something.

"Hey, Luna. What’s going on?" Ron asked, flashing her a smile.

She couldn’t help but smile back. "What are you guys up to?" She asked, already knowing the answer.

They shared a look and a shrug before Ginny answered. "We’re supposed to be meeting up with everyone to check out some books."

"Remember that parchment Lupin gave Harry for his birthday?" Ron asked. She nodded enthusiastically and he continued. "Well turns out it’s some kind of clue and it led us to a book in the Defense classroom."

"In the Defense classroom?" She repeated in confusion. That wasn’t where she thought the book they wanted was supposed to be, but she kept her mouth shut. To say anything now would only give away her secret and she wasn’t ready for anyone to know. "Need any help?"

"Sure!" Ron clamped a hand on her shoulder. "The more people to look through the stupid books the less I’ll have to read. I’m on my way to meet Harry and Hermione in Lupin’s office."

"Come on, you can come with me to the Great Hall. Neville’s there alone with the twins and he’s not strong enough to keep them in line." Ginny grinned.

"Okay." She readily agreed, glad to see her friend in better spirits. She knew Ginny had been feeling down lately despite what she said and apparently the promise of mystery and adventure was just the thing to revive her. She only hoped it lasted through the shadowy, unknown things yet to come for them all.

(BREAK)

"Where is Ron? What is it with you two finding it impossible to be on time?" Hermione grumbled, grabbing another stack of books to add to their already large pile.

"He’s talking to Luna." Harry answered without thinking. Stopping to wonder how he knew, he realized he wasn’t sure. He’d thought about Ron and seen a flash in his mind of his friend standing in the hallway talking with Luna and Ginny.

"Really? You didn’t say anything to him, did you?" She asked accusingly.

"About her crush on him? Of course not, you asked me not to." He said quickly. He used his wand to float down another stack, but his finesse wasn’t as practiced as hers and as he attempted to add them to the pile, they instead toppled the whole thing over right where Hermione was standing. Letting out a small shriek of panic, she cast a shield around herself as books rained down on her. "Mione! Are you okay? I’m so sorry." He rushed over feeling anxious and embarrassed.

"I’m fine." She answered shakily. "Don’t worry about it, it’s actually not the first time something like that has happened to me." She looked up with a reassuring smile.

"You need to find a safer hobby." He teased.

"Look who’s talking." She shot back as they both knelt down to start picking up books. He reached for a large volume at the same time she did, their hands brushing each other. Surprised by the unexpected contact, they pulled back and locked eyes- they were less than a foot away from each other. This is it.Harry told himself. This was the moment he was waiting for to tell her.

"I thought we were supposed to be getting books not making a mess." Ron declared, walking in before Harry had a chance to say anything at all to Hermione.

Although upset, he was also relieved. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time after all. "We had a little accident. Maybe if someone had been here to help like he was supposed to…"

"Yeah, yeah. Well I’m here now, so let’s get this show on the road." Ron helped gather everything together as neatly as possible to make the trip easier.

They entered the Great Hall with more than a hundred books magically floating behind them and found Fred, George, Ginny, Neville and surprisingly Luna, already waiting for them. Harry was glad to have another helper and merely nodded to her in greeting. She flashed him an odd smile before turning her attention to Hermione who was quickly dividing the books among them, taking the majority for herself since she was the quickest reader.

"What exactly are we looking for?" Ginny asked.

"Anything out of the ordinary, something underlined or a piece of paper stuck in. Basically anything that could be the next clue." Harry answered, opening his first book. For the next two hours, they silently looked through every single one. He kept glancing over at Hermione, who was scrunching up her nose in deep concentration for what she was reading. He knew she always did this while studying, and liked that he did know these little things about her.

A long while later, Fred closed his last book and shoved it aside. "I got nothing." He groaned. "Thanks to you guys I spent a whole night studying, and I didn’t even need to know this stuff!"

"I didn’t find anything either." Luna said closing her book and shifting her weight so that she was leaning closer to Ron. Harry was amused that Ron didn’t seem to notice. Maybe Ginny was right about how much we pay attention, he thought. Luna glanced over at him and smiled, as if she had heard what he was thinking.

"Did anyone find anything?" Hermione asked closing her last book in frustration.

Everyone shook their heads. "Maybe you guys missed something in the clue. Let me see it again." Ginny reached over and Harry handed her the parchment. After looking it over again she shrugged. "Well, it seems to indicate a book in the Defense classroom. Are you sure you grabbed them all?"

"Every single boring one." Ron said glumly putting his head down.

"Ok, so maybe it was hidden in a secret place in there that we don’t know about." Fred suggested.

"I thought you guys knew everything secret in the school." Hermione said slyly.

"Well, we don’t exactly spend a lot of time in classes." George admitted.

"Maybe the book is somewhere else. I mean Harry’s mum was obviously smart. She wouldn’t have made it that easy." Ginny suggested.

"Where else would you find books on something weird?" Ron asked.

"Hagrid’s hut?" Luna suggested quietly.

"Lupin said it was an object, not an animal." Hermione pointed out.

Harry thought for a minute then continued excitedly. "Well, it wasn’t Hagrid’s hut when they went to school here, remember. It was just the gamekeeper’s house! Who was Gamekeeper then?"

"I don’t know, but I’m sure we can look it up. And I think I know where we might find it. I’ll be right back." Hermione ran off.

"This thing better be good." Ginny said. "Luna and I are in our OWL year and have lots of homework."

"Well, Fred and I are in NEWT year and have a lot of work too." George said.

"Yeah, but I actually care about my grades unlike you slackers." Ginny shot back.

"Too true." George conceded.

"We do have products to manufacture though." Fred added.

"If you guys don’t want to help, that’s fine. This is kind of my thing anyway." Harry looked around at everyone.

"Of course I want to help you." Ginny said right away.

"Us too!" Fred and George said together.

"Then quit complaining." Ron scolded. "Harry didn’t have to include you in our little adventure."

"At least this should be a safe adventure right?" Luna said. Everyone jumped having momentarily forgotten she was there. Harry made a mental note to pay more attention to her, she wasn’t so terrible after all, just weird and mysterious.

"I assume so." He answered her, having no reason to think otherwise.

"But you did say that this thing was something Voldemort would also like to have." She looked at Harry in neither fear nor concern, simply curious. He didn’t remember actually telling her or anyone else that part, only Ron and Hermione had been with him in the office when they talked to Lupin.

"Then if we find it first, we don’t have to worry about him getting it." Ron said quietly. Apparently he was unconcerned with how Luna could know something she wasn’t told.

Hermione rushed back in with a large book in her hands, interrupting Harry’s bewilderment. Considering what she had found, it was a good distraction. "I think Luna may be right about Hagrid’s hut, Harry." Hermione laid the book on the table and displayed a page in what looked like a yearbook. Hagrid was standing proudly in front of his Hut, a much younger Fang at his side. "See, Hagrid was gamekeeper when your parents were in their seventh year."

"But I thought we agreed that meant the book wasn’t in his hut?" Ginny asked confused.

"Look in the background." She smiled. They all leaned in for a better look. Studying the picture they were able to see Sirius and James standing near the back of the hut. They were making faces at the camera, while Lupin and Lily stood off to the side drinking out of enormous teacups. Lily was shaking her head at the immaturity displayed by her future husband. "Apparently, they were friends with Hagrid as well. He has all kind of weird things in there- Lily may have given him the book as a present or something. You know Hagrid. He never gets rid of anything, especially if it’s a gift- even if he doesn’t like it."

"So tomorrow, we’ll go down and ask him about it." Ginny said.

"Why wait?" Harry smiled.

"We can’t all fit under your cloak, mate." Ron pointed out.

"Ron may not fit under it at all, as tall as he’s gotten." Ginny teased.

"Oh." He was disappointed and let it show. He wanted the next clue.

"We won’t need the cloak guys." Hermione looked at everyone. "Ron and I got permission for us all to be out past nine o’clock remember."

"That was only because we told McGonagall we were discussing DA business." Ron said.

"You told her it was for DA, I just said we needed to do work." She answered huffily. "But, seeing as how we’d need a place to hold DA meetings, we wanted to ask Hagrid if we could use his garden on days when the weather is fair. He does have a lot of room and might even be able to help when we go over dangerous animals." Hermione smiled.

"Hermione, you become more devious by the day. I love it!" Fred exclaimed.

"Glad we’re rubbing off on you." George patted her on the back.

"So let’s go." Ginny said and they all left the Great Hall to make their way down to Hagrid’s hut.

 

A/N Okay, this one is long, but once I started writing, I just couldn’t stop. Guess I was glad to have my computer back. Please let me know what you think, what you liked, what you didn’t like. Chapter 11 should be up next week.

NOTE: Reference to Hagrid’s brother Grawp from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
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